That evening, Emily and AJ were relaxing, swinging on Baylee’s swing set.
“So, what time is your flight tomorrow?” Emily asked.
“Noon.” He answered.
Emily nodded. “Got any big plans for when you get back?”
“Well, I thought I’d go home, play with my dogs a little, return my messages, call you….”
Emily smiled. “It’s nice to know where I rate. After the dogs and the messages.” She laughed.
“What about you? Do you have anything fun planned with Baylee?” he asked.
“Not really. We have to be careful in public lately, you know? So it’ll probably be a lot of crafts projects and cookie baking.”
“You could always take him on a trip to Orlando to visit me!” AJ said.
Emily laughed again. “Now, would that be so you can see Baylee or me?”
“What? Is it so wrong for a guy to want to see his girlfriend?” AJ said.
Emily’s face fell. “Your girlfriend?”
“Yeah.” AJ answered softly. “Isn’t that what you’d call it?”
“Well, I don’t remember anyone ever asking me about that.” She snapped.
AJ was taken aback. “I guess I didn’t think it would be a problem for you!”
“I said I wanted to take things slow, you know, just be friends, and you agreed to that! You said no pressure, remember?”
“Emily, I’m not pressuring you, and we are friends. I just thought that after this week, especially last night, that we had taken a step forward. Apparently I was wrong!” AJ’s voice was rising. “Apparently, last night meant nothing to you. What am I, just some guy to keep you company? Dammit Emily, you know what we have is more than that! Why the hell do you insist on pushing me away?” He was yelling now.
“Why the hell do you insist on pushing me so hard? Maybe I’m just some girl to keep you company! If you care as much as you say you do, why can’t you just respect my wishes?” Emily yelled back. Her voice was starting to crack, but she was not going to break in front of him.
“You’re a real piece of work, you know that? What the hell kind of game are you playing at?” His voice dropped and he was in her face now.
“I’m not playing a game!”
“No? You say you don’t want anything but friendship, yet when we’re together you act like you want more than that, flaunting your body at me every chance you get, acting all interested in me, hell, even kissing me the way you did. If that’s not a game, then I don’t know what is!”
Emily didn’t respond immediately. They stared each other down for a minute.
“Go to hell, AJ.” She said, before turning and walking back to the house.
“I’m already there.” He muttered to himself, kicking the swing set.
Brian and Leighanne had heard the raised voices through the open doors and Brian tried to stop Emily as she stormed into the house.
“Emily…” he said, grabbing her arm.
“Brian, don’t.” she said. He saw the look on her face and realized now was clearly not the time to talk to her. He let her go and she stormed upstairs.
Leighanne let out the breath she was holding. “Man. I don’t know what that was all about but it must have been a bad one.”
Brian nodded as he looked back and forth between the stairs and the deck. He didn’t know who he should talk to. Emily, who clearly didn’t want to talk to him, or AJ, who he could see pacing around the back yard.
Leighanne caught his glances. “Why don’t you go talk to AJ, and I’ll see if I can talk to Emily.” She offered. “We’ll tag team them. I’ll meet you back in our room for the debriefing.”
Brian smiled. “Ok, good luck.”
Leighanne went upstairs and knocked on Emily’s door. There was no answer. She leaned her ear to the door to see if she could hear anything. Nothing.
“Emily, its Leighanne. Can I come in?”
Emily flung open the door. Leighanne was taken aback by the look of sheer anger and hurt on Emily’s face.
“Leighanne, I’m sorry. I know you’re trying to help and I really don’t mean to take it out on you but I just want to be left alone right now.”
Leighanne nodded. “I understand. Come find me if you need anything.” She left Emily to her room. She was, after all, a married woman and understood the need to be left alone when pissed off by the male species. Leighanne decided to go into her bedroom and see if she could hear Brian talking to AJ through their open window.
Brian went out back and found AJ.
“Just stay out of it, man.” AJ said when he saw Brian approaching him.
Brian knew AJ well enough to know when he didn’t want to talk. He also knew him well enough to know when he didn’t want to be alone. So, he joined AJ on his pace through the yard, not saying anything.
Finally, on their third loop through the yard, AJ spoke. “So, did you come out here to find out what happened, or did you come to tell me what I did wrong?”
“I came to find out what happened. Leigh and I split up. She took Emily, I took you.”
AJ managed a smile. “Tag teaming again, huh?”
“It’s what we do best!” Brian replied. “So what happened?”
AJ sighed. “I lost it. I mean, we’re swinging on the swings and I lost it. She wasn’t ready to be my ‘girlfriend’ or whatever, and I flipped out on her and said some things I shouldn’t have.”
“What did she say?” Brian asked.
“She said she didn’t want me pushing her, she wasn’t ready. Same stuff.”
“Do you have any idea why she’s so insecure?” Brian asked.
“Not really, she said something about some things happening in her last relationship but didn’t give any details. Why, do you?” AJ asked.
Brian shook his head. “I just thought maybe you’d gotten more info out of her than I have.”
“I don’t know what happened, I just know the guy must have been a total loser and I’d like to kick his ass for it.” AJ said.
Brian thought for a moment. “I think you need to talk to her. Tonight, before you leave.”
AJ nodded, looking up at Emily’s window. He could see her shadow moving around her room. Judging by her body language, she was still pretty angry. Brian followed his gaze and noticed the same thing.
“Good luck to you, buddy.” He said, patting AJ on the back and walking back inside.
AJ knocked softly on her door. “Em, it’s me. We need to talk.”
Emily didn’t answer.
“Come on, Em. Open the door.”
Still no answer.
AJ sighed. “Alright, I’ll be in my room if you change your mind.”
Emily couldn’t open her door. She couldn’t let him see her so unglued. She was lying on her bed, crying into her pillow. She knew she had messed up. She really wanted to let go of her past and be able to move on. With AJ. But that was much easier said than done, and she just wasn’t sure she knew how to do it.
At some point, Emily had cried herself to sleep. She woke up and looked at her clock. Three am? She rubbed her eyes. Then she realized what had made her wake up. There was a knock on her door. She stumbled out of bed and answered it.
“Were you sleeping?” It was AJ.
Emily nodded. AJ looked her up and down. She was still in her clothes, now wrinkled from sleeping. Her face was smudged and her eyes were red. And she still looked beautiful.
“I don’t want to leave things like this.” He said. “Can we talk?”
Emily nodded again and let him in, closing the door behind him.
“Are you ok?” he asked, gently.
“Are you even awake? You haven’t spoken yet.”
“I’m awake.” She mumbled. Before she could say anything else, AJ grabbed her in a big hug. She wrapped her arms around him and felt her emotions starting to take hold again.
He could feel her body tensing up, trying not to cry. He smiled. “Em, you’re allowed to cry. It’s ok.” He felt her tense up even more. “Would it help if I cried with you?” he teased.
Emily started to laugh, but it came out as a half laugh half sob, and then she let go. AJ wasn’t sure if she was laughing or crying, or both. He just soothed her and held her until she calmed down.
“I’m sorry.” She said, pulling back and wiping her eyes.
“Me too.” He said. “Can we talk about it?”
Emily nodded and sat down on her bed with him.
“What happened?” he asked.
She took a deep breath. “I got scared.” She was looking down as she wrung her hands, trying to stay calm enough to talk.
“Scared of what?” he asked, gently.
“Scared of you. Of liking you so much.”
“Why?” he asked.
Emily sighed. “My last relationship, things just went wrong all over the place and there was a lot of hurt. Enough to last a lifetime. The things that happened, they weren’t just in the relationship. A lot of events happened in my life at that time, and my mind just links all that pain into the relationship. When he left me that was just the last straw. The whole time, I thought the only reason I could get through what I did was because he loved me. But he didn’t. And I haven’t been able to get over that. I’m scared of getting used to someone being there for me and having them bail out on me when I need them the most. It just seemed easier to be independent and do it all myself, you know? It worked for awhile. Until you came along.”
“What happened that was so painful?” AJ pried.
“I….I…..can’t…I mean….I don’t want….it’s just that…..If I tell you…” she tried.
“You’re not ready to talk about it.” He said for her.
“That’s ok.” He said, gently. “When you’re ready.”
“Thanks.” She mumbled.
“Now, my turn.” He said, taking his finger and lifting her face up to meet his. “I overreacted. I was way out of line, and I didn’t mean a word I said, honest to God. I like you, Emily. A lot. And the last thing I want to do is scare you away. And if I never get to be anything more than friends with you, I’d still be the luckiest guy alive. I guess I’m just dealing with some issues of my own, and it’s a nice change of pace.” He admitted.
Emily was confused. “Huh?”
“Which part didn’t you get?” he asked.
“Well, first the issues of your own, and then why that’s a nice change of pace.” She said, scratching her head.
“I have my own fears and insecurities, you know. I’m not perfect, not by any means. Being cheated on after all that we’d been through, that was hell. I had so much invested in that relationship. I thought we were going to get married. I thought she loved me just as much as I loved her. When she said she needed some space, I let her have it thinking that was the right thing to do. It turns out she needed space to go screw another guy.”
“But AJ, that’s not why I…” she started.
AJ held his hand up. “I know. Just like you know I’m not Joe. But it still messes with your head. I’m not paranoid that you’re going to cheat on me, I’m paranoid that if I let you get too far away, I’ll lose you. Does that make sense?”
“Now, all this is a nice change of pace because usually, only one person in the relationship has the screwed up insecurities. And usually, it’s me. So, it’s kind of nice that we’re both basket cases.”
Emily laughed. “AJ, I’m sorry. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but I want to try and explain something. I want to be your ‘girlfriend’. I really do. But in order for me to do that, I have to let go of an awful lot. That’s the part I’m having trouble with. There are things I don’t want to let go of, things that I can’t. I’m afraid that if I jump into this with you before I deal with it, that it will get in the way. That’s why I want to make sure I’ve taken care of me so that we can do this right. I hate that I keep pushing you away, and if you run out of patience I’ll understand. Just please, let me do this in my own time.”
AJ took both of her hands in his. “I understand completely.” He pulled her into a big hug. “Now, enough of this touchy-feely shit, let’s cuddle!”
Emily laughed as he lay down and pulled her against him, holding her tightly.
The characters and events portrayed are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
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