Emily was incredibly grumpy when she got up the next morning. She hadn’t slept well despite the fact that she ended up drinking almost the whole bottle of wine. Her head hurt from all the wine and she was still pissed at AJ.
Brian and Leighanne were quick to pick up on her foul mood and figured out who was behind it when Brian told her AJ was still in bed and she rolled her eyes. Emily ate her bagel and went back upstairs to get dressed.
“Oh man, sounds like we shouldn’t have left those two home alone together last night!” Brian sighed.
“No kidding! I thought it would have helped them!” Leighanne answered.
Everyone was prepared for things to be tense for the next week due to Emily and AJ’s standoff, but no one was prepared for what happened later that day.
They had all finished eating lunch when the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it.” Brian said, drying his hands from doing the dishes.
He looked through the peep-hole and saw a man standing there he didn’t recognize. He opened the door just a bit, blocking it with his body.
“Yes?” Brian asked.
The man looked startled. “Uh, maybe I have the wrong place. I’m looking for Emily Watkins.”
“Who are you?” Brian asked, stepping into protective mode. For all he knew, this guy could have been a tabloid writer or someone working for Kent White.
“My name is Joe; I’m an old friend of hers.”
AJ peered over Brian’s shoulder. “It’s alright man, she knows him.”
Brian looked puzzled as he turned to look at AJ. “Ex boyfriend. Current loser.” AJ said quietly. Brian nodded as he let Joe in.
“Wait right here, I’ll go get her.” Brian said, casting AJ another confused look.
AJ wasn’t happy at all about Joe’s presence. He had slipped into feeling jealous and protective. He knew what Joe had done to Emily and the last thing he wanted was for him to hurt her again.
AJ leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. “So what brings you here, Joe?”
“I came to talk to Emily.” Joe said, eying AJ up and down.
“Does she know you were coming?”
“No, I wanted to surprise her.”
“Oh, I think she’ll be surprised alright.”
Brian knocked on Emily’s door. “Hey Em, there’s someone at the door for you.”
“For me?” Emily asked, surprised.
“Yeah. He says he knows you, his name is Joe. AJ said it was ok.”
Emily was so surprised that she had to sit down on her bed and catch her breath. “Joe’s here? Are you sure?”
Brian shrugged. “I told him you’d be right down. Are you ok? I can tell him to leave if you want…..”
Emily shook her head. “No, I think I’d better go talk to him. It’s ok Brian, thanks.”
Emily worked up her courage and marched downstairs. She stopped right in front of Joe, her hands on her hips.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she asked, glaring at him.
“Em, come on! I came to see you, Baby! I’ve missed you.” Joe said.
“Right. Like I’m supposed to believe that! How long has it been now? Three years?”
Joe peered around Emily at Brian and AJ who were standing back, watching the scene.
“Em, could we go somewhere a little more private to talk?” Joe asked quietly.
Emily turned her head to follow his gaze. “Fine. Outside.” She said, throwing open the door and stalking out. Joe followed her, closing the door behind him.
“I don’t like this at all.” Brian said.
“That makes two of us.” AJ mumbled.
“Is it ok to leave her alone with him?” Brian asked.
“I hope so. I’m certainly not about to go out there.” AJ replied as he walked upstairs to his bedroom.
Brian shook his head and kept an eye on Emily and this Joe character out the window.
“What do you want, Joe?” she asked.
Joe took her hands. “I’ve been doing some thinking. I miss you, I miss us. What we had together.”
“What we had together?!? Are you kidding? I’ll tell you what we had together. We had a child! We didn’t have love, we didn’t even have lust. All we had was an innocent child who you weren’t even there for!”
“Now wait just a damn minute! None of that was my fault! You were the one who insisted on treating him the way you did!” Joe accused.
“You’re damn right I was the one! You were the one who wanted to just let him die without giving him a fighting chance you bastard!!” Emily said, fighting off her tears.
Joe lowered his voice. “Listen baby, that’s all in the past. I want us to have another chance. I’ve changed. I really have. You didn’t deserve the way I treated you all that time. You deserve much better.”
“You’re damn right I do.” Emily said.
“Please Em.” He whispered. “I love you. I haven’t stopped thinking about you these whole last three years. Give me a chance. Do it for Payton.”
Emily froze. Do it for Payton. Had her son been alive, she would have done everything in her power to keep his family together for him.
“I don’t know, Joe.” She said, letting down her guard.
Joe rubbed her arm. “Take some time to think. I’m staying across town at the Holiday Inn. Here’s my number. Promise me you’ll seriously consider it?”
Emily nodded. Joe gave her hand a final squeeze and got back into his car. She watched him drive off before going back inside. She needed to do some serious thinking and she needed to do it fast. She walked up to her room and shut the door behind her.
“So, are you going back to him?” AJ asked. He was standing at her window.
She knew he’d be there. “I….I don’t know…all this is so sudden.”
AJ shook his head at her. “He’s no good for you, Em. You know that!”
“It wasn’t all bad….” She started.
“What did he say to you? Man, that asshole really knows just the right buttons to push to control you like you’re some fucking robot! I can’t believe after all that you’ve been through, after all we’ve been through, that you would even consider going back to Joe.”
“Well gee, I guess I didn’t even think there was still a ‘we’ AJ.” She replied.
“Is that what this is about? Are you trying to get back at me?” AJ was in her face now.
“Not at all. It’s just an added bonus.” She replied.
“Whatever. Do what you want. Just don’t expect me to be around to pick up the pieces, understand? I’m tired of this shit.”
“Oh yeah? Like you’ve been around the last month? Fuck you, AJ! I’m not the only one to blame here and you know it! Get the hell out of my room!” she screamed.
She didn’t need to tell him to get out; he was already on his way slamming the door behind him.
Emily sat down on her bed in complete shock over what had just happened. Joe was here. AJ was pissed at her again. What right did he have to act jealous anyway? If AJ wanted her, all he needed to do was come get her! Why was that so hard for him to do?
Emily didn’t even know how long she sat there like that, just thinking. It was dark before she had made up her mind what she needed to do. She freshened up, deciding she wanted to look good for him to make him realize what he’s been missing out on. AJ was standing in the hall when he heard her make the phone call.
“It’s me. I’ve made my decision; I’m coming over right now. What room are you in?” she said.
“Ok, I’ll be there soon.”
Emily opened her door and froze when she saw AJ. She could tell by the look on his face that he had heard her talking. He looked incredibly sad at that very moment.
There was so much he wanted to say to her but the words wouldn’t come out of his mouth. Now his pride was standing in the way. He wanted to tell her how much he loved her, how much he needed her, how sorry he was for everything that happened in the last month since her birthday. He just….couldn’t.
They stared at each other for a minute before Emily turned and walked down the stairs. AJ was still standing in the hall five minutes later when Brian came up.
“AJ? You ok?” he asked.
AJ didn’t answer him.
“Where’s Emily? AJ come on man, what’s going on?”
AJ cleared his throat. “Gone.” He whispered.
He didn’t need to explain it any further. Brian understood what he meant.
“Can I….do anything?” Brian asked, awkwardly.
AJ sighed. “You feel up so shooting some hoops?”
Brian smiled. After all these years, he still remembered their code. When AJ had just come out of rehab there were times when he was tempted to drink. Seriously tempted. Brian and AJ had worked out a code. If AJ asked Brian if he felt up to shooting hoops it meant that he really wanted a drink and needed to be distracted. The second part of the code was Brian’s way of determining just how bed the temptation was.
“Sure. How much do you thin you’ll lose by this time?”
“It’ll probably be the worst I’ve ever played in my life.” AJ answered.
Brian had to admit he wasn’t completely surprised. He had seen with his own two eyes how much Emily meant to him. Losing her might very well kill his spirit completely.
“Let’s go get changed, I’ll meet you right here in five, ok?” Brian said.
Brian walked into his bedroom where Leighanne was in bed reading.
“Don’t wait up tonight, AJ and I are going to go shoot some hoops.” He said.
Leighanne nodded. She had seen Emily leave.
“Take care of him.” She said.
Emily’s hands were shaking as she stepped off the elevator, looking at the piece of paper in her hand. Room 427. She found it quicker than she wanted to and knocked three times. Joe answered quickly. He was waiting for her.
“Can I come in?” she asked.
“Of course.” Joe opened the door all the way and stepped aside so she could come in. “Have a seat.”
“No thanks. I’d rather stand.” Emily said, still feeling rather shaky.
“So, you’ve made your decision? You’re coming back to me?” Joe asked.
“I never said that.” Emily replied.
“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”
“No. It’s not.”
“Then why are you here?” he asked, his eyes darkening.
“I wanted to see you.”
“Oh I get it! This is like a booty call!” Joe said.
Emily’s hands flew up. “No, that’s not what I want!”
Joe backed her up against the door. His mouth was only an inch from hers. “No? I think it is. Look at you! You even got all dressed up for me. Just like you used to.”
“Have you been drinking?!” Emily could smell the liquor on his breath.
“Haven’t you heard?” Joe whispered. “I’m on the wagon.”
“I think you must have fallen off the wagon.” Emily replied, trying not to notice the stench of his breath.
“You’re right.” Joe whispered, not moving away from her. “I came here as part of my steps. You know, to make my wrongs right. I came to make it up to you. And look what you’ve done! You didn’t want me, you weren’t even happy to see me! So, I had no choice. I needed a drink. Because of you.”
“Fuck you! I didn’t pour the booze down your throat; that was all your doing.” Emily spat.
Joe pressed his body up against her and forced his lips down on hers. She could taste his stale breath as she pounded at his chest with her fists, trying to shove him off of her.
“You fucking bitch! You know you want it!” he said. “Don’t fight me!”
“Joe, I wouldn’t want you if you were the last man in the whole entire universe!”
“What happened to you? You were always such a little skank. There’s someone else, isn’t there?”
“There doesn’t have to be anyone else for me to know I don’t want you! I’ll never want you again, Joe. That’s why I came here. To tell you to stay the hell out of my life. I want you to leave and never, ever come back!”
Joe froze. He slowly looked up at her. Emily began to get nervous. His eyes had darkened in a drunken state of anger. He never could hold his alcohol.
“When did you grow a backbone, Emily?” he said softly. “Because personally, I don’t think it suits you. Now, I’m not asking you anymore. Either be with me or you’ll regret it.”
Emily’s eyes grew wide. She knew it was definitely time to get the hell away from him before he hurt her.
“Fine.” She said, quickly turning to open the door. Unfortunately, even in his intoxicated state, he was quicker than she was. He grabbed her arm and yanked her away from the door so hard that she lost her balance and fell to the ground. He kicked her hard in the stomach.
“Get up!” he screamed at her.
Emily coughed and tried to catch her breath. She got up as quickly as she could. As soon as she stood up, he hit her across the face. It took all her power and control to stay standing, to stay conscious, but she was not going to let that son of a bitch get away with hurting her. When he thought she was incapacitated, she snuck up on him and kneed him in the groin as hard as she could. Joe fell to the ground screaming like a little girl and threatening her with every swear word there was. Emily knew this was her only chance. She threw open the door and ran down the hall. Not wanting to wait for the elevator, she bolted down the stairs and out into the parking lot, not stopping until she was locked in her car.
She only allowed herself to sit in her car for a moment. She wanted to make sure she got away from him. Her ribs hurt from being kicked and her right eye was swelling rapidly. She didn’t know how she made it home, maybe the shock and adrenaline rush, but the next thing she knew she was pulling into Brian’s driveway. She looked around her before getting out of the car, and ran all the way to the front door.
A few tears spilled over as she caught a look at herself in the hallway mirror. “Not yet. Keep it together, Em. You can’t let him make you cry!”
She decided that the first thing she needed was some ice for her face. She didn’t hear Brian and AJ talking on the deck.
“You ok?” Brian asked AJ as they sat together on the deck, long since worn out from basketball.
AJ nodded. “Yeah, thanks.”
“I’m going to go get a soda, you want anything?” Brian offered as he got up.
“Yeah, how about some of Baylee’s kool-aid!”
Brian chuckled. “You got it.”
Brian didn’t know Emily had come home. He saw her standing at the freezer, her face blocked by the door as she got her ice out.
“Hey Em!” Brian said.
Emily dropped her bag of ice. “Brian! You scared me.”
“Sorry, here let me help you.” He said, walking over to help her pick up the ice.
“No! It’s ok, I’ll get it.” She said. It was too late. Brian had already seen her battered face. Her eye was now nearly swollen shut and very purple. There was dried blood under her nose and she was standing slouched as if trying not to hurt.
“What the hell happened to you?!” he gasped.
“Shh…I’m ok, it’s nothing. Just….an accident.” She said, turning away from him.
“The hell it is!” Brian said, his voice rising as he flipped on the kitchen light. “Look at me!”
Emily kept her back to him. “Really, Brian, I’m ok.”
Brian put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. “Look at me, Em.” He whispered.
“Jesus.” He said under his breath as he got a good look. “Here, sit down, I’ll get your ice.” He said, leading her to the table. “Is anything else hurt?”
Emily shook her head.
“Emily, are you hurt anywhere else?” he knew she was trying to hide it from him.
Brian crouched in front of her. “Where are you hurt?” he asked, with a gentle voice.
“My ribs. I think they’re probably just bruised but they hurt really bad.” Emily said. The shock was starting to wear off and she was becoming more and more aware of how much pain she was in.
“Can I look?” Brian asked.
Emily lifted up her shirt for him to examine her.
“I don’t see much, just some bruising.” He grabbed the ice and pressed it against her face. “Hold this here.”
Emily held the ice to her face, her mind going over and over what happened. Brian gave her a few minutes to compose herself.
“Emily, what happened? Who did this to you?” he asked, even though he was pretty sure he already knew the answer.
Emily looked down at her hands. “I went to see Joe. I wanted to talk to him in person, you know? I was going to go there and tell him to stay out of my life, that I didn’t want anything to do with him. He was drunk when I got there. He said he came down here to work one of his AA steps, to right his wrongs with me. Then he said that since I wasn’t even happy to see him, he had to drink and it was all my fault. Then he tried to…he tried to….” Emily couldn’t get the words out. Brian had his hands clenched in fists as he let her talk. “Well he tried to…you know…but I fought him and he didn’t like that. When I started to leave he knocked me over, kicked me, then when I got up he hit me in the face.”
“How did you get away?” Brian asked.
“I kneed him in the family jewels and ran like hell.”
“Serves the bastard right.” Brian muttered. “Are you sure you’re ok? He really didn’t…force you, right?”
Emily shook her head. Her lower lip was beginning to tremble. Brian got her to her feet.
“You’re alright now, Em. Come on, let’s get you upstairs. You need to soak in the tub, that’ll help you feel better.”
Emily nodded and allowed Brian to walk her upstairs. When he came back down to the kitchen, AJ was still standing in the door.
“You heard?” Brian asked.
AJ nodded. “All of it.” He came inside and dug his keys out of his pocket.
“Where are you going?” Brian asked.
“To kick some ass at the Holiday Inn. Don’t even think about trying to stop me.” He warned.
“Stop you, hell, I want to come with you!” Brian said. “Let’s go.”
Emily stood in front of the bathroom mirror for a good twenty minutes. She couldn’t believe it had come to this. She always knew Joe was an asshole. Asshole didn’t even do him justice really. But to hit her? What happened to him? Maybe the loss of Payton had hit him harder than she thought. She thought she would go over there, tell him to go away, and that would be that. She could deal with AJ in the morning and see if they could patch things up. Now, she didn’t know what to do with herself. She winced as she eased her stiff and sore body into the hot tub. She had thought about calling the cops, pressing charges against him but ultimately, she didn’t want to be dragged into the media spotlight again and she certainly didn’t want Brian or AJ involved either. It was best just left alone. He wouldn’t hurt her again.
“AJ, man you got a plan?” Brian asked as they parked at the hotel.
“Yeah. I’m going inside. Then I’m going to find Joe and beat his ass to a pulp.”
Brian nodded. They stepped inside the lobby. It was nearly deserted at this late hour. AJ walked right up to the reception desk and flashed a smile at the young man working.
“Oh my God! It’s really you, isn’t it?” the clerk said.
“Who do you think I am?” AJ asked.
“Hello! AJ and Brian of the Backstreet Boys in the flesh!”
Brian hid his grin. He didn’t like to use the term flaming to describe someone of a homosexual nature, it being politically incorrect and all, but he couldn’t think of a better word to describe him.
“You got it!” AJ said. He put his arm down on the counter and leaned in closer to the desk clerk. “What’s your name?” he asked, in his most sexy voice.
The clerk cleared his throat. “Craig.”
“Nice to meet you, Craig. Listen, we’ve got a bit of a situation, maybe you can help us out.”
“Oh I’d do anything for you Mr. McLean, and I do mean anything.”
“Well, I’m in town for my buddy’s bachelor party, we’re all coming to crash here later up in room 427. We’d like to play a bit of a joke on him and I was wondering if you could let us in his room?”
“Oh I just love bachelor parties! Of course I’ll help you! Hang on a sec…..” Craig began digging through some keys. “Here you go. Just don’t tell anyone I gave it to you or I’ll get fired!”
AJ reached across and patted Craig on the shoulder. “Thanks buddy, I owe you one!”
AJ and Brian raced into the elevator and up to the fourth floor.
“How did you know what room he’s in?” Brian asked.
“I heard Emily talking to him on the phone before she came over here to be with him.” AJ answered.
“AJ, didn’t you hear her earlier? She came over here to tell him to leave. Not to be with him.” Brian said.
“Well then why didn’t she tell me that?” AJ responded hotly.
“Maybe she felt like she couldn’t talk to you.” Brian met his glare. “Don’t forget, I know how you work, McLean. Don’t blame this on her.”
The elevator chimed, saving them any more conversation on the topic. AJ raced to the room and inserted the key into the lock, knocking as he opened the door.
“Surprise, Asshole!” AJ greeted.
Joe, who was lying on the floor holding a bottle of vodka, sprang to his feet, stumbling as he did so. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” he slurred.
“Kicking your ass for what you did to Emily, that’s what.” Brian answered. “AJ, would you like to do the honors?”
“I’d love to, thanks Brian!” AJ smiled. “This’ll only hurt a lot.” He said before swinging a punch at Joe’s gut. Joe doubled over in pain, turning to vomit in the trashcan as he struggled to catch the wind that had been knocked out of him by AJ’s punch. “Your turn, Rok.” AJ said.
Brian swung and knocked Joe over with a blow to the face.
“Damn, good punch Bri!” AJ said.
“Thanks.” Brian said, shaking his hand out. “You want to finish him off?”
“Yeah. Get up, asshole!” AJ ordered. “Fight like a man you bastard!”
Joe stood up slowly but before he could get his bearings, AJ had him knocked out cold on the floor.
“Damn, AJ! He’s unconscious!” Brian said, kneeling down to check on him.
“He’ll be alright. Why don’t you go down to the ice machine and get him some ice? I’ll get him up onto the bed.” AJ said. Joe was starting to come around, mumbling some nonsense.
“Wake up, Joe! Come on, man. Time to sober up!” AJ said, tossing him on the bed. Joe covered his face with his arms. “Don’t worry buddy, I’m not gonna hit you again unless I have to. You and I are going to have a little chat!”