“Can I come in?”
AJ really wanted to say no and close the door but something stopped him. He stepped back and let Max in; he led her down to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge to distract himself from her.
“What do you want?” he asked and finally turned to face her.
“I wanted to talk to you.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“You and I both know there is.”
AJ leaned up against the counter and took a long sip from the bottle. He watched her fidget in front of him and although she deserved it, he felt bad for her. She looked tired and he could sense that she was hesitant about having come there. Her hands kept tugging at her shirt and she was starting to sway back and forth a little. Deciding that he couldn’t watch her squirm like that anymore, he motioned to one of the high stools by the counter; she set her purse down and took a seat.
“Thank you for letting me in.”
“Don’t waste any more of my time Max. Tell me what you want to say and then get back out on the road.”
His words were like a slap to the face and, although they stung, she knew she deserved it.
“You didn’t waste your time…”
“Yes I did.” he said and slammed the bottle down on the counter, causing water to spurt out. “I opened myself up to you, practically begged you to stay and believed that you would when you made that promise. Turns out, I was just a sucker buying into something that you had no chance in continuing.”
“You lied Max, plain and simple. You never had any intention of staying but you pretended really well. I never even saw it coming; next time I’ll know better.”
“Can I please…”
“Please what? Tell me another bogus story and promise me something else? Or did the truck break down and you figured you’d get another one out of me?”
“I never asked for the first one!” Max shouted and started to tear up.
“Don’t pull the waterworks act with me!” AJ yelled back.
“This was a mistake.” Max jumped off the stool, slipped something off her hand and onto the counter then headed for the door. “I shouldn’t have come here.”
AJ looked down and picked up the item she left behind. It was the ring he’d brought to her apartment the day she left. It was a Celtic Claddagh ring with her brother’s birthstone as the heart. He’d seen it in a store a few weeks earlier and asked the owner if they could make the same type with Sean’s birthstone. Realizing that she’d been wearing it when she got here, he raced out to the driveway to see if she was still there.
Max saw AJ come out and cursed the old truck for picking this moment in time to refuse to start. There had never been a problem before but just as she needed to leave, it betrayed her. She kept trying to turn the engine over, avoiding AJ’s gaze with every ounce of control as she could. After trying four more times, she covered her eyes to hide the tears that were slowly making their way out. Crossing her arms over the steering wheel, she dropped her head down and the tears started to flow
Even from where he was standing, AJ could tell she was crying and, as mad as he was at her, it hurt him to see her so upset. He closed the distance between the porch and her quickly and gently tapped his knuckle against the window. She ignored the motion and her shoulders keep rising up and down. He knocked on the window again and leaned in.
“Roll down the window Max.” he said quietly.
“Yes you can.” he replied and leaned against the door.
“No I can’t.”
“C’mon Max, I’m not going to yell at you.”
“No, I really can’t.”
“This really isn’t the time to be stubborn. I can wait here all day.”
“That’s the problem.”
“There’s no power AJ. I can’t roll down the window and you’re blocking the door.”
AJ realized what was happening and burst out laughing. Watching him crack up made Max loosen up a little and she joined in on the laughter. He pushed himself away from the door and grabbed the handle; as soon as it was open, she slid out and followed him over to the porch stairs. They sat next to each other, AJ still chuckling, and seeing him this way reminded her about why she came.
He noticed the tone of her voice and he got serious quickly. “What is it Max?”
“I miss you.”
AJ was surprised to hear her admit to that and was shocked when she leaned her head on her shoulder.
“What brought all this about?”
“When you came to the apartment the other day, you were right, I was planning to leave.” she said, ignoring his question.
“Ok.” he responded in confusion.
“And I did. I cleaned out all my stuff and I headed out.”
“Where were you going?”
“Honestly?” she replied and raised her head to look him in the eye. “I had no idea, I just had to leave.”
AJ didn’t say much but he did slip his hand over hers and waited for her to continue.
“I came back because I realized that nowhere was going to be as good as here.”
“Because you weren’t there.” she answered and then went quiet for a few seconds. “I’ve spent so much time by myself and I figured that it was the best way for me to live. I didn’t want to depend on, or care about, anyone else and until I met you, that was what worked best for me.”
AJ smiled. “Then you met me.”
“Yes I did.” Max said returning the smile. “And you scared me.”
“Because you made me rethink my whole plan. I made it a few hours from here and pulled over. All the times I’ve been with you were running through my head and I knew that I couldn’t just walk away from this.” she replied quietly. “I couldn’t walk away from you.”
AJ felt the Claddagh ring roll around in his hand and he looked down. He knew she was being sincere but he was concerned that if he opened up again, she’d change her mind at some point and leave.
“I won’t do it again.”
Max’s statement broke through his thoughts and he knew that she figured out what he was thinking about. He paused for a minute before looking up.
“I swear.” she said and reached out for his hand. “I won’t hurt you again.”
“You better not.”
AJ stood up and helped her get to her feet. When she was steady, he reached out and grabbed her hand; he slipped the ring onto her finger and started tugging her up the steps.
“Let’s go before you change your mind again!”