Howie sighed and shook his head, remembering all the details from the night before. He knew how angry and hurt Nick was but he had been completely out of line, treating Emma like he did. Part of him wanted to go out there and make excuses for his brother but he couldn’t think of anything he should be excused for. His behavior was absolutely horrendous and there was nothing that Howie could say that would make it right. Instead of trying to think of something, he simply poured another cup of coffee and joined Emma outside.
“Hey,” he called out to her quietly. “I made some coffee.”
Emma looked up from the skimmer as she was pulling something from it. She saw her friend’s husband striding towards her and, as much as she appreciated the thought, she hoped he would just leave it and go back inside. Unfortunately, he didn’t and waved her over to the chairs at the shallow end of the pool instead. Knowing he wasn’t planning on leaving, she put the skimmer back where she’d found it and, carrying what was in her hand, joined him by sitting down across from him.
“Here are Nick’s keys,” she said placing them on the table, “I don’t think the fob works any more though, it’s pretty water logged.”
Emma stared at him for a moment; she had expected some kind of response from him but this one surprised her.
“I should probably pay for a new one for him, it was my bright idea to throw them in the pool.”
“You do have pretty good aim.” he replied with a chuckle, fingering the keychain. “I think you shocked the hell out of all of us.”
“I apologize, my behavior wasn’t appropriate and I feel badly for making a scene.”
“Do not apologize.” Howie stated clearly. “His behavior and his words last night were completely unexcusable. He should never have said anything to you, especially not what he said.”
Tears sprang into the corner of Emma’s eyes. She knew how close Howie and Nick were and how much their break-up bothered him. Howie had always been cordial to her but she knew that he still held her responsible for what happened. This new tone surprised her and she wasn’t sure to make of it.
“I’m sorry,” Howie said, interrupting her thoughts and placing a hand over hers. “We all treated you pretty poorly. We wanted to support Nick but in doing that, we made you uncomfortable and allowed his behavior to increasingly get worse. We all should have made an effort to make peace instead of allowing him to continue to behave the way he has been.”
His words unleashed the tears that she was holding back and she just couldn’t stop them. Everything that she had expected was minimal compared to what she had been put through and, as much as she didn’t want to break down in front of Howie, all of the emotions just came pouring out. Instead of letting her cry by herself, Howie pulled her into a hug and let her have a shoulder to cry on. He stayed like that until he felt her stop shaking and then lowered her into a chair.
“Tell me what’s going on.” Howie said, after giving her a minute to compose herself. “I think I need a better idea of what happened when you left.”
“Nick must have told you everything.”
“He did but from his point of view. I want to know why you left and I want to hear it from you.”
Emma hesitated before she said anything; she hadn’t even told Addie or AJ the real reasons she’d left. The reasons were something that she didn’t think anyone else would understand. All she might do by telling Howie is cause more of a rift between her and her friend’s husband.
“No judgement,” Howie told her, as though he was reading her mind. “I just want to understand what’s going on.”
“I’m a smart guy.” Howie chuckled. “I’m pretty sure I can follow along.”
His laugh broke some of the ice and Emma took a deep breath before she started. Her demeanor started to change and, once the floodgate opened, the whole situation poured out of her. She explained that, when they had first met her, she had deserved the nickname AJ gave her; she was feisty and funny and trusting. After Jessie dumped her, she felt scared and her trust had taken a hit. She wasn’t sure where she was going to live or how she was going to make it through that tough time. That’s when Nick stepped in.
Her living arrangement with Nick had obviously turned into a romantic relationship and she was starting to learn how to trust someone again. When he had made the mistake and kissed Lauren, her trusting nature took a bigger hit. She had truly believed that she and Nick could move past the issue but then Nick wouldn’t step up to the plate and ask her not to leave.
After her break-up with Nick and Della’s passing, she had met Stephen. She knew almost from the moment that their relationship started that he would be no good for her. As bad as that sounded, at least she knew his motives and, since she didn’t love him, the verbal abuse and fighting didn’t hurt as much. She knew that the abuse was wrong and that she needed to leave but she just didn’t have the motivation.
Howie had to stop himself from interjecting; her reasoning had definitely changed and he noticed for the first time, that when she was with Stephen and then possibly getting back with Nick, she had lost some of the fight she had when they first met. He remembered meeting them at the concert and AJ immediately calling her Feisty. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, she was right about her changing.
“When Nick came back into my life, I was dead set about not opening up to anyone else. I couldn’t bear to go through another heartache again and it made me keep him at arm’s length for a while. When I finally agreed to move in with him, I had made a promise to myself that I would put the past behind me and start again. Then, when I saw him with Lauren that day, something snapped. I realized that I wasn’t able to do what I thought I could.”
“Why didn’t you tell him that?” Howie asked. “Why didn’t you talk to him instead of leaving?”
“In my mind, leaving was easier. I realized that I wasn’t really capable of opening up enough. I had become needy, I had to had constant assurances that he wasn’t going back to Lauren. I knew that my neediness was going to take a toll on us. I mean who wants to constantly tell someone that their relationship was good and that they could trust them? Eventually, whether anyone wants to admit it, Nick would have gotten tired of telling me and trying to make me believe it.”
“Honestly, I think you should have told him that.”
“I couldn’t. I needed space to be on my own and I needed time to grow up.”
“But you were…”
“No.” Emma said, interrupting him. “Age wise, I was grown up but I wasn’t emotionally. I went through relationship after relationship and never spent any time by myself, taking care of me and getting some help with coping. I’ve spent the better part of my time in North Carolina getting counseling.”
That fact shocked Howie; he never thought that Emma was someone who needed therapy.
“I’ve actually learned a lot and I’ve become more confidant. Well, at least until I ran into Nick again.”
Emma let out a soft chuckle but Howie can see how painful this ordeal had been for her.
“Can I ask you one question?
“Of course.” Emma answered. “Since I’m bearing my soul, I can’t of anything I’m hiding.”
“Do you still love Nick?”
“Yes.” Emma replied with absolutely no hesitation.
“Then why don’t you tell him?”
“Because sometimes love just isn’t enough.”