Brian and Leighanne had been successfully dodging each other for the last several days. After their last talk, neither one of them really knew what to say or even where to begin. Brian had thought that maybe if he gave her some time she'd see from his actions that he was serious about wanting to move home and work on things. Unfortunately for Leighanne, she needed more from him than his willingness to do the dishes after dinner each night. She needed to know that he would forgive her, that he was sorry for the way he treated her. She needed a grand gesture of love from him. Leighanne also realized that she had some serious apologizing of her own to do and that maybe since she was the reason the whole mess had started, she should be the one to go first. So, after calling Emily to see how she was doing without AJ there, she went to find Brian.
“Could we talk?” she asked, apprehensively.
Brian turned off the television. “Sure. Do you want to sit down?” he gestured to the couch.
Leighanne nodded and sat on the other end as Brian turned to face her. “I just wanted to say I'm sorry.” she blurted out before she lost her nerve. “I'm so sorry for what I did, for not telling you or trusting you. I have regretted it every day since it happened and you can't know how terrible I've felt for it. I really do mean it and I just don't even think that the words I'm sorry can even come close to how I really feel.”
Brian hadn't really been expecting this from Leighanne. She was having a hard time keeping her composure. “I know you didn't mean it the way it happened.” he said. “And I know that you're sorry. But hearing it is nice too.”
“And I'm sorry for the way I've been acting lately, for all the yelling and name calling.”
“Well, we are both guilty of that one, you certainly take less blame than I do for all of that.”
Leighanne nodded. “Yes, I think that's true. Which is why I'm not ready for you to move home yet.”
“What?” Brian asked, totally confused at this new turn in the conversation.
“Look, I am sorry for what I did, and you know that I'm sorry. The problem is you really hurt me with the way you handled all of this. In fact, with the way you handled things before you even found out all of this when we were fighting about another baby. Thinking you didn't love me anymore? Avoiding me? And then the way you wouldn't even talk to me about what Kevin had told you happened, you just took someone else's word over your own wife's! And you were so bitter and angry towards me that you were just downright cruel in the things you did and said. You treated me like you'd just been able to write me out of your life without even thinking twice and that's what really killed me. That it was so easy for you to just dismiss me. How could you do that to the person you're supposed to love? The person you're supposed to spend the rest of your life with? Do you even understand what that felt like?” Leighanne finished, not even noticing the tears that had rolled down her cheeks, streaking her makeup.
Brian was speechless. He knew she was right, but couldn't she understand how he'd felt?
He cleared his throat before he spoke. “Can't you understand how betrayed I felt? Something like that had me questioning every single moment in our marriage. It really rocked my foundation.”
“That's understandable, but it doesn't make what you did right.”
“So what is it that you want from me?” he asked, finally.
“I need a little more time to heal from all of this. If you're really serious, I need you to show it. If you are really still in love with me, give me a sign. I know that you've worried about being able to trust me again and I feel the same way towards you. If you've really forgiven me, if you really still want in this marriage, you have to prove it.”
“Prove it how? How can I prove that to you?”
Leighanne shrugged. “Maybe we should see a therapist. Maybe we should start dating. You and me out of the house. I don't know...just...something. But until I'm ready, it's time for you to move back out. Baylee is fine, there's no reason for you to stay anymore.”
“You're the reason I want to stay!” Brian argued. “This is our home!”
She shook her head. “I'm sorry, but I need this time.”
“Leigh, come on, don't do this.”
“You did this, Brian. Not me.”
They stared at each other for a moment before Brian stood up. “I'll go pack my things and say goodbye to Baylee.”
Leighanne nodded and watched as he slowly walked out of the room.
Brian took his things back to Amanda's apartment but he didn't feel like sitting around. He tossed his bag in the bedroom, grabbed his keys and took off for the one place a man could go to relax and think: the bar.
He wasn't a big drinker by nature but he also realized that some situations warranted it. He sat down and ordered a tall whiskey and downed it before he even allowed himself to think. Had Leighanne really just thrown him out of his own house? When had the tables turned? She manipulated him into becoming a father and suddenly he was the bad guy? How exactly did that work?
After his second whiskey, he decided to be completely honest with himself and admit that he had in fact driven her away. It hadn't been his intention, he'd only wanted time to sulk and get over it before they dealt with it all, but he'd taken way too much time and his sulking had gone from the silent treatment to being downright cruel to her. Calling her a manipulative bitch, questioning her mothering, threatening to take custody of Baylee....he'd said and done it all for only one reason: to get back at her. Except he'd gone too far and she'd had enough.
It was like she needed him to make her fall in love with him all over again, which seemed like a huge and daunting task. Hell he couldn't even remember how he'd done it the first time! How had he been lucky enough to convince a woman like her to go out on a date with him? How had she managed to stay by his side through so much?
Two more whiskeys later and he'd figured it out. She'd stayed with him because he was a good guy. A gentleman. He always treated her with respect. His mother had always told him respect breeds respect. Because he'd always respected her and treated her as his equal, she had come to have a great respect for him as well. His mother also told him that respect was earned, not given. And lately he hadn't been earing her respect. She'd tried to take the civil way through this mess and it had been him who was always making the snide remarks. She'd suggested counseling, talking, anything. He'd been the one to resist. This whole thing may have started with something she'd done years ago but it was the way it was now because of the things he had done and the things he had failed to do.
By his sixth whiskey he was starting to see the humor in the situation. His wife had thrown him out and he thought it was absolutely hilarious that he had no idea how to get back.
AJ had just finished his second to last show and was feeling pretty good for the first time in a few weeks. Knowing that there was only one show left made him feel like a huge weight was being lifted off of his shoulders. He could be home with Emily until it was time for his album to drop in April. Hopefully by then this whole mess would be behind them and they could get back to their lives.
He'd just stepped out of the shower when he heard his phone ring. Thinking it was Emily, he hurried out of the bathroom to answer it but it wasn't Emily, it was Officer Knight.
“Hey, what's up?” AJ asked, anxiously.
“Everything is fine, I was just getting frustrated at our lack of progress so I thought I'd call and see if anything suspicious had happened. Anything at all that you can think of?”
AJ sighed. Even Knight was fed up that they couldn't make any headway.
“Nothing.” he answered.
“Damn. How is Emily holding up? Last time I saw her she didn't seem like she was doing too well.”
“She's not. But at least she's sleeping now, her friend Randy gave her a prescription for some sleeping pills.”
“Is this the ex-boyfriend Randy?” Knight asked, feeling a tingle of suspicion.
“You didn't mention him very much when we talked about possible threats.”
“Well, I mean that guy's a pain in the ass and he's way too protective of Emily but I never felt like he was dangerous or anything, not compared to some of the other guys in her past.”
Knight grunted. “It's always the ones that seem the most innocent.”
“You really think it might be him? After all this time?” AJ asked, not sure if he believed it or not.
“I think it's worth checking him out a little more. Think about it: He knows you're gone, and now he knows that your wife is home, in bed, drugged.”
“But he also knows she has a bodyguard living with her.” AJ countered.
“He sleeps, doesn't he?”
AJ rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah...”
“That's all I'm saying.”
“Alright, so you're going to talk to him or something?” AJ asked.
“I'll re-run his background check tomorrow morning and I'll talk to him sometime in the afternoon.”
“Ok, get back to me as soon as you do.”
“Of course.” Knight reassured.
AJ hung up the phone and sat down on the edge of the bed. Knight had a point. If he knew Emily was practically unconscious because of the sleeping pills, Randy, or whoever the stalker was, would know how easy it would be to snatch her in the middle of the night, or do whatever it was he wanted to do right there in her very own bed.
He picked up the phone and called Tiny.
“AJ, everything alright?” Tiny answered.
“Yeah, listen I need you to do me a favor.”
“Anything.” Tiny said.
“Well Emily's taking those sleeping pills, and something has come up that has me a little worried at the thought of her laying in there alone sound asleep like that.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Knight thinks it would be awfully convenient for a stalker to be able to make sure his victim would be totally out of it to make it easier for him to strike in the middle of the night.”
“You mean he thinks it might be Randy?”
“We don't really know but it's our only lead right now. It isn't much to go on really, but it would make sense.”
“What do you want me to do?” Tiny asked.
“Whatever it is you can do to keep an extra eye on her at night when she's sleeping.”
“Wouldn't be the first time I've worked a night shift. I'll stay up and catch some sleep when she gets up in the morning.”
“Thanks Tiny, I know that isn't going to be easy. Just for tonight while I'm gone. Is she sleeping now?”
Tiny chuckled. “No, she's downstairs talking to your friend Brain. It sounds like he's had a bit of a rough day.”
“Brian, really? Huh. Well that'll be a good story to hear when I get back.”
“Oh you have no idea.” Tiny laughed again.
Earlier that evening, Emily was watching the eleven o'clock news when Brian called her.
“Hey Brian!” she said, figuring he was just calling to check on her.
“Em'ly!” he slurred. “How'sit goin'?”
“Umm...it's going good, are you ok?”
“I'm pretty good...but I need a big favor.”
“What can I do for you?”
“I'm at the bar, and I need a ride.”
Emily laughed. She honestly couldn't remember ever seeing Brian totally wasted before. “What bar are you at?”
“I'm at...hang on...sir, what's the name of this bar?” she heard him ask. “Oh....I'm at Larry's Place. Do you know where that is? I think it's buy Manda's house.”
“Yeah, I know where it is. Stay there, I'll be there soon. Oh and stop drinking!”
Emily put her shoes on and grabbed her purse. “Tiny?” she called up the steps.
“I need to go out.”
“Everything ok?” he asked, coming downstairs.
“Brian's wasted at a bar and he needs to be picked up.”
Tiny laughed. “Alright, let me get my jacket.”
He drove Emily to the bar and escorted her inside to find Brian. He was sitting slumped over on a bar stool with a cup of coffee in front of him.
“Em'ly!” he said when he saw her. “I knew you'd come!”
“Of course I'd come! Are you ready to go?”
“Yep. Let's roll!” Brian slid off the stool and was not expecting to feel completely off balance. Tiny caught him as he stumbled.
“Why don't you let me help you to the car?” he said.
Brian looked up at Tiny. “Ok.”
Tiny walked AJ to the car and helped him in the back seat.
“Thanks Tiny.” Emily laughed. “I'm not sure I'd have had such an easy time getting him out.”
They drove back to Emily's house and she sat him down at the kitchen table with a big glass of water.
“You alright now?” Tiny asked her.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“I'll let you two talk.” he said, looking over at Brian who was busy staring into his water. “Looks like he needs it.”
Once Tiny was back upstairs, Emily sat down across from Brian. “What happened?” she asked.
“Leighanne threw me out of the house.” Emily wasn't surprised as she waited for him to continue. “She says that I have to prove that I love her and that I trust her and that I want to stay with her. I don't know how to prove that!”
“You just need to show her with your actions.” Emily said, gently. “Send her flowers, take her out to dinner, write her a love letter...she just wants to see effort.”
“But she threw me out!” Brian said, sounding a bit choked up.
“And you kind of deserved it!” Emily pointed out.
Brian covered his face with his hands. “I know. I was such a jack-ass. She doesn't deserve me.”
“Sure she does! You're a great man Brian, you just lost track of that for a little bit.”
Brian looked up at her. “You really think I'm great?”
Emily nodded. “Of course!”
“Come on, why don't you lie down on the couch?”
Emily helped Brian to his feet. They were standing face to face as he stood up and regained his balance.
“Thanks Emily.” he said, quietly. “I think you're pretty great too.”
Before Emily could respond, he leaned in and kissed her. Emily was so stunned that it took a moment for her to respond.
“What the hell are you doing?” she asked as she shoved him away.
Brian looked confused for a minute. “I don't know.” he answered. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean it.”
“You need to sleep it off.” Emily muttered. “And hopefully forget about what just happened.”
She helped him to the couch and then she put the trash can by him. “Do not throw on the carpet. Or the couch! Goodnight.”
Emily escaped upstairs as quickly as she could. Brian kissing her had been a totally weird experience. He'd never flirted with her in all the years she'd known him so she could only attribute it to him being lonely and drunk but still....
She took her sleeping pill and then took a long, hot shower. As she was lying in her bed, she couldn't get rid of the feeling of Brian's lips on hers. Every time she replayed it in her head, she actually felt grossed out. She's always recognized that Brian was attractive but she'd come to think of him more as a big brother. She really hoped Brian wasn't going to remember doing that in the morning but the way her luck had been going lately, it would be the only thing he'd remember.
Emily wondered what AJ would think. Despite everything they'd been through, he still carried a small jealous streak to him and she was afraid he'd get mad at her. If he got upset with her, would he then view it as an act of unfaithfulness?
Emily's house was quiet when she woke up at nine the next morning. Tiny was strangely still asleep and she assumed Brian was still passed out on her couch. She threw some clothes on and went in search of breakfast. She put on a big pot of coffee and had a bowl of oatmeal. Tiny hadn't been out to the mailbox yet to get the morning paper so she settled for reading gossip columns on the internet. After deciding there was nothing shocking she needed to read about, she decided to get it over with and check on Brian.
She found him still curled up on the couch with a blanket over his head.
“Brian?” she whispered.
“Yeah....” he groaned.
“Are you alright?”
He peeked his head out from under the blanket. “I feel like hell.”
Emily laughed. “Why don't you take a shower upstairs in the guest bath and then come down and have some coffee and toast? It'll help soak up whatever is left in your stomach.”
Brian groaned again. “Alright. I guess I can't lie here forever, can I?”
“Sorry, AJ's coming home tonight. I doubt you want to be around if you know what I mean....”
Another groan, this time out of disgust. “Say no more.” He slowly sat up and rubbed his face. “What the hell was I thinking last night, anyway?”
“Just out of curiosity, how much do you remember?” Emily asked, anxiously.
Brian thought for a moment and then his face turned bright red. “Emily...I'm so sorry...I....”
Emily held up her hand. “I'd really rather not talk about it. You were very drunk, we were talking, you didn't know what you were doing. Let's just forget it ever happened.”
Brian nodded. “Done.”
“Good. Now go take a shower.”
AJ was just getting ready to check out of the hotel when a large envelope was slid under his door. He figured it was something from management until he saw the writing. He immediately ripped it open and pulled out a black and white photo. He had to admit that of all the things he was expecting this guy to send him, this was certainly unexpected.
The stalker had sent AJ a photo that looked like it had been taken from a telephoto lens. It was Emily and Brian at home in the kitchen, kissing.
AJ sat down and stared at the picture. Why the hell was Brian kissing Emily? Tiny had said Brian was upset last night and he had a large suspicion that might have had something to do with it, but it was still very much unlike Brian. Or Emily for that matter.
He called Tiny, who was still sleeping.
“Jesus McLean, you got something against me getting some sleep?” he grumbled.
“Sorry, it's important.”
“I just received a very interesting photo. I'm pretty sure it's from the stalker, the handwriting on the envelope looks like his.”
“What's it of this time?”
“It's a picture taken last night of Emily and Brian kissing in the kitchen. You know anything about that?”
“Shit...no, I left them alone to talk.”
“Well didn't anyone check to make sure all the curtains were closed last night? How did this guy manage to take a photo like that?”
Tiny sighed. “Emily usually checks them. I'm sorry AJ, I'll make sure and do it myself from now on.”
“It isn't your fault. Just make sure they're closed now, ok? And listen, don't mention any of this to Emily. Not the photo and not the part about suspecting Randy.”
“You're the boss.” Tiny muttered.
AJ hung up the phone and called Officer Knight.
“Yeah?” he grumbled as he picked up the phone.
“It's AJ...you busy?”
“No, just trying to solve a few murders.” he said, sarcastically.
“He was outside my house last night.” AJ said.
“How do you know?” Knight asked, sounding more interested in talking.
“I got a photo taken of Emily and Brian in the kitchen last night. It didn't have a note but the envelope was addressed to me, handwriting looks the same.”
“How did you get it?”
“It was slid under my door this morning.”
“Alright, where the hell are you, anyway?”
“Chicago. Just getting ready to come home.”
“Alright, we'll have someone talk to the hotel staff. Bring the photo home with you, I'll pick it up from you this evening.”
“You run anything on Randy yet?”
“Yeah, the guy's clean as a whistle. I'm going to talk to him in a few hours.”
“Alright. I guess I'll talk to you later.”
Tiny got dressed and followed the smell of coffee downstairs. Emily was in the kitchen making some toast for Brian.
“How is he this morning?”
“Not too good. I sent him to shower.”
Tiny laughed. “Brian never could hold the hard stuff.”
“He's really bent up about Leighanne.” Emily explained.
“I figured as much. When a man like Brian gets drunk it's only for one out of a few reasons. Trouble with the wife is always the most obvious choice.”
“I guess being observant is what you get paid for, isn't it?” Emily joked.
“I thought it was just to stand there and look mean.” Tiny smiled.
“Well, that too.”
“AJ coming home tonight?” Tiny asked as he poured himself a cup of coffee.
“He should be home around dinner time, assuming his flight leaves Chicago on time.”
“Well, I hate to disappoint you but I don't think any flight ever leaves Chicago on time!”
Emily laughed. “Maybe not. But I wanted to ask you about something before he comes home.”
“I was thinking of maybe going to his last show in St. Louis with him. Do you think that's a really bad idea?”
Tiny thought for a moment. “No, I don't really think so. He'll have his own security, the hotel and the venue will almost be safer than it is here with just you and I. I don't know if he'll go for it or not, though.”
Emily nodded. “I had the same thought. Think you could help me reassure him?”
“Have you met your husband? If he gets his mind set on something there is very little that can be done to change it.”
“Well, you leave the hard work to me. All you'll have to do is smile and nod and tell him you think it'll be safe.”
Tiny chuckled. “I don't think smiling and nodding are in my job description.”
“I'll make you some cookies.....” Emily promised.
“Whatever you want.” she said.
“Alright, you've got yourself a deal!”
Tiny and Emily shook on it just as Brian came down from the shower. Emily slid him his coffee and toast and Brian turned green at the site of it.
“Eat up, buddy.” Tiny said, clapping him on the back. “It'll help.”
“Brian I've been thinking about Leighanne.” Emily said. “And I think I know a way that might be able to help you.”
“Really?” Brian perked.
Emily nodded. “I think you should plan a really romantic date with her. What did you two do on your first date?”
Brian thought for a moment. “I took her to a nice restaurant, then to a movie, then out for ice cream.”
“Do that.” Emily insisted.
“You really think that's going to help?” he looked skeptical.
“Leighanne is a very sentimental person. She'll know exactly what you're doing. You're showing her you're ready to start over. In fact...I just had an even better idea!”
“Oh boy, here we go...” he muttered.
“Shut up, I'm helping you here! Before you leave here, we'll sit down and make a list of your most memorable dates. Anniversaries, holidays, vacations...all of them. We'll put them in order and you'll start from the beginning. You'll take her on your first date again. Then you'll take her on the next memorable event you can remember.”
“Emily she won't know what I'm doing, that's a little far-fetched.”
“Trust me, Brian. She'll know exactly what you're doing. And not only will it show you putting effort into winning her over again, it'll show her how much thought you've been putting into it. I'm talking the same things down to the flowers you bought her.”
“Yeah but our dates happened all over the country, do you really want me to fly her all over the place?”
“No, not for all of them, but maybe a few of the bigger, more memorable ones.”
Brian shook his head. “Are you sure this will help?”
“I'm not saying it's going to fix anything but it'll at least be a good start. She needs to know that you're still....you. And you need to know that she's still her.”
Officer Knight was waiting in front of Randy's house for him to come home that night. He got out of the car as soon as he saw Randy pull in.
“Are you Randal Brown?” he asked as Randy climbed out of his car.
“Yes, is there something I can help you with?”
Knight flashed his badge at Randy. “I just have a few questions to ask you.”
“Is it Emily? Is she alright?”
“Ms. McLean is fine. Would you like to go inside?”
Randy nodded and led the officer inside.
“What's this all about?” he asked.
“Where were you last night?” Knight asked, studying Randy's face carefully.
“Just answer the question, sir.”
“I was here. I came home from work, ate dinner, did some paperwork and went to bed early.”
“Can anyone vouch for you? Maybe your girlfriend?”
“Amanda spent the night with her sister Leighanne. What's going on?”
“You and Ms. McLean dated for a few months, isn't that correct?”
“Yes...” Randy was getting angry.
“She must have been a hard one to lose, especially to a guy like AJ.”
“I'd say it's all worked out for the best.” Randy said, crossing his arms.
“Oh yeah? How's that?”
“Amanda and I are really happy together.”
“Happier than you were with Emily?”
Randy shrugged. “It's a very different relationship. Overall though, I'd say yes.”
“Did you give Ms. McLean a prescription for sleeping pills the other day?”
“Yeah, she needed to sleep. It isn't illegal, I'm a doctor!”
“Exactly. So you know the kind of deep sleep that medication induces, don't you?”
“Wouldn't that be why I prescribed them to help her sleep?”
“Do you like cameras?”
“What?” Randy asked, confused.
“Cameras. Maybe the kind with a telephoto lens....”
Randy shook his head. “I don't own anything like that. Are you finished or are you actually trying to make a point here?”
Officer Knight glared at Randy. “This is a very serious case, Dr. Brown. We are very interested in catching this guy and if I were him, I'd watch my tracks carefully.”
“You think I'm doing this?” Randy asked, incredulously.
“I'm saying the guy is bound to get caught soon.” Knight said. “Have a good evening.”
“Wait! You can't just walk around making accusations like that!”
“I didn't accuse you of anything.”
“Look, for the record, I do happen to think she'd have been better off with me. None of this would have happened, but that doesn't mean I'm the bad guy you're looking for.”
“So you're admitting to it?” Knight asked, carefully.
“No! I haven't done anything. That's what I'm trying to tell you. I want to be perfectly clear on the record or off the record, whatever it is you're doing here, that I'm not the one you're looking for. Tell McLean his jealousy finally got the best of him.” Randy said, slamming the door in Knights face.
Later that afternoon, Brian sat down and did just want Emily had suggested. He still didn't think it would work, but he also thought that if he was able to get Emily on his side by doing what she thought was best that might actually help him. He sat down for over an hour thinking about his most memorable moments with Leighanne and writing them down. Then he had to try and remember when they all happened so he could get them all in order. He knew Leighanne would have been able to remember a whole lot better than he could so it was really important to him that he get it right. He decided to end his list with their last anniversary celebration when he'd sent her to the spa for a day and then had a car take her to the nicest hotel in the city where he'd booked a suite, filled the room with flowers and had her favorite meal from her favorite restaurant waiting.
Finally, he sucked it up and dialed her phone.
“Hey...” he said awkwardly. “How are you?”
“I'm alright, how are you?”
“Eh, I've had better days.” he admitted. “How is Baylee?”
“He's great, I'm actually having a hard time trying to limit his physical activity, he's practically bouncing off the walls. Did you want to talk to him?”
“Actually I called to talk to you.”
“Oh...” Leighanne said, hoping he wasn't about to try and convince her to let him move back already.
“I uh...well, I was wondering if I could take you out to dinner tomorrow night?” he asked, cringing as he waited for her reply.
“You want to take me out to dinner?”
“Yes. Then I thought we could see a movie, any movie you want, and then maybe we could go to that ice cream place you love so much.”
Leighanne smiled. “That sounds nice. Pick me up at six?”
“Sure, I'll see you then.” Brian hung up and blew out a long breath. At least she hadn't told him no...
Leighanne hung up surprised that she'd even agreed so easily to go. She remembered that their first date had been dinner, movie and ice cream but she doubted that he was trying to imitate that. Brian just wasn't that clever. Or romantic.
Emily all but told Tiny to take a hike as she waited for AJ to come home. She realized it had only been a few days since she'd seen him last but she'd been in such a funk the last time he was home that she hadn't even really gotten a chance to enjoy his company. Getting sleep was helping her a lot and she admitted that even though what had happened with Brian the night before had been incredibly awkward, it had at least given her something else to think about. Then this morning she decided to throw all of her energy back into getting Leighanne to take him back. Overall, he wasn't a bad guy. People had moments and Brian had had his and now he was ready to move forward.
“Alright Tiny, here's your pizza!” Emily called from the kitchen.
“Why can't I have what you're eating?” Tiny asked as he peered at the pot of homemade spaghetti sauce. “I love meatballs!”
“I promise I'll save you some for tomorrow but they won't be ready for another hour and AJ's going to be home any minute now....”
“And you two are going to have hot, wild sex.” Tiny said, sounding almost irritated with her.
“Would it help it it was just hot sex instead of hot, wild sex?” Emily asked, trying to lighten him up.
Tiny sighed. “There had better be plenty of leftovers, that's all I'm saying. I don't know what AJ did to deserve all this fancy treatment you keep giving him.....”
“I'm sorry I'm keeping you from your real life.” Emily admitted. “You probably have someone back home, don't you?”
Tiny's face softened. “Not really anyone to speak of.”
“Well, still, you put everything on hold to come watch out for me and I really appreciate it.”
“Thanks. But you're worth it, you know.”
Emily blushed. “Take your pizza and go upstairs already, would ya?”
AJ walked in the door right on time and Emily flung herself into his arms.
“Welcome home!” she greeted.
AJ smiled, relieved to see his wife somewhat back to her normal self. “Thanks.” he said, giving her an awkward kiss on the cheek. “It smells great in here, is it what I think it is?”
“My secret recipe meatballs and tomato sauce!” Emily said. “I'm thinking I should learn how to make my own pasta, if everything else on the plate is homemade, store bought noodles kind of ruins it!”
“Well, couldn't you compromise and buy homemade noodles at the store?”
“It's not the same. How was your trip? Are you tired of flying back and forth yet?”
“Almost. The trip was fine though.”
“Are you ok?” she asked, sensing something was off about his behavior.
“I'm fine, why?” he asked, looking away.
“You're keeping something from me, aren't you?”
“Why would you think that?” he said, avoiding answering the question.
“How do you always manage to forget that you've never been able to lie to my face? Now please tell me: did something happen I need to know about? Is it the stalker?”
“Sort of.” AJ admitted, sitting down at the table.
Emily sat across from him. “What does that mean?”
“What exactly were you doing last night?” he asked.
“Well, Tiny and I had dinner like we always do followed by watching TV. Then Brian called and asked if I could come pick him up from the bar. Leighanne threw him out of the house and he got totally trashed, he didn't even know the name of the bar he was at when he called. So Tiny took me to pick him up and then I brought him back here and he crashed on the couch.”
“So nothing else happened? Nothing in the kitchen maybe?”
Emily's eyes grew wide. “How did you know about that?”
“An envelope was slipped under my door this morning from the guy. It was a photo of you and Brian kissing, right here in the kitchen.”
Emily felt like she might throw up. “Oh my God, I'm so sorry...I really should have told you about it when it happened, it's just that he was so drunk and I wasn't even sure he'd remember and he didn't mean it, it wasn't like that, I swear. I am not attracted to Brian! It didn't even last that long and I pushed him away and yelled at him and then I went to bed, I swear, you have to believe me!” she said, without even pausing to take a breath.
AJ cracked a smile. “Emily relax. Brian is not the person I'm concerned about.”
“Why are you smiling? Aren't you mad?”
He shrugged. “At Brian, not at you.”
“No! Emily, I know you'd never make out with Brian! Did you really think I'd get upset?”
“I...I was afraid maybe you wouldn't believe that's what really happened.” she said, looking down.
“Emily, I'm not worried about the kiss. I'm worried about the fact that some creep was able to take a picture of you in our own home. Who knows what else he has photos of? You have to be more careful about keeping the curtains closed!”
AJ was honestly touched that she was so concerned about his feelings. He thought her mind would have jumped right to the stalker first but she was more concerned about him. He hadn't been concerned though. He'd heard Emily say more than once how much she'd come to think of Brian as a brother, especially after she lost hers. AJ had once tried to tell her a story about Brian and Leighanne having sex on the tour bus and she refused to hear it claiming it made her want to throw up to think about Brian and sex.
“Well, good. I promise I'll keep the curtains closed. Now maybe you could come over here and kiss me to make me forget about Brian kissing me.” she suggested.
He smiled and went over to her, leaning down and kissing her gently. Truth be told, AJ was having a hard time feeling up to sex lately. His mind had become so consumed with protecting Emily from the fact that some other man wanted his hands on her that he just couldn't think about anything else.
“I'm sorry baby, I'm exhausted. Maybe after dinner?”
Emily was shocked. She couldn't think of a time AJ had ever been too tired to have sex. “Seriously?” she asked.
AJ sighed. “I'm sorry...it's just, with everything that's been going on plus the tour, I just haven't been all that into it lately.
Emily's face fell. “I get it. Well, why don't you go take a shower. Dinner will be ready in half an hour.”
“Em...” AJ tried to find something he could say that would make it all better. She'd been in such a good mood when he walked in the door and he'd just ruined it all because he didn't feel like having sex. What kind of man was he anyway to turn down sex?
“Don't, it's ok. Reality sucks, I guess I just have to deal with it.”
AJ stood for a minute before going upstairs to take a shower.
While he was gone, Emily tried to calm herself down. She understood where he was coming from but hearing him say it brought back the hard, cold reality of her situation. Not to mention the fact that the creep had been taking pictures of her through the windows and who knew what else he'd seen. She sniffed as she stirred her sauce, determined not to let this get to her any longer.
AJ came downstairs about twenty minutes later smelling fresh of his soap and his hair still damp. He stood behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, softly kissing her neck as he did so.
“I'm sorry.” he said.
“It's ok.” she said, turning to face him. “I just want this to be over.” she admitted as she rested her cheek against his chest.
“Are you hungry?” she asked.
Emily smiled. “Good. Let's eat then. Tiny was mighty upset that I made him hide upstairs tonight.”
AJ laughed. “Why did you do that to him? He loves Italian food!”
“Well, you know, I thought we'd be...needing some privacy. I made him his own pizza, it isn't like I sent him to bed without dinner!” she defended as she dished up two plates and set them on the table.
“How have you two been getting along lately?”
“Really well. He's not such a bad guy for being named after a small dog!” Emily joked. “Tiny is just such a stereotypical name for a big guy like him. I told him I wanted to change it to something else but he seems pretty attached to Tiny. He also says I nag him like I'm his wife.”
“Coming from Tiny, I'd take that as a compliment. I'm glad that it's working out, I was worried you would hate him.”
“I hated the idea of him at first, that's for sure. In fact, he and I were talking today about me going to your last concert with you.”
AJ set his fork down. “Absolutely not.”
“Now come on, at least think about it before you say no! Besides, I don't really need your permission to go....”
“Emily, this isn't about women's freedom, it's about your safety! I won't have you going!”
“But think about it...you'll be covered by ten times the security that I am here, and no one can get to us in the hotel. Tiny can even guard our room while we're not there or something.”
AJ looked up at his wife and immediately recognized that stubborn look in her eyes that told him no matter how strongly he felt, she was going to that concert and there wasn't a damn thing he could do to stop her. “Just promise me you'll really think about it?” he said.
Emily smiled. “I have thought about it. I really need to get out of this house and going to the store to buy groceries isn't quite what I had in mind. It's just for one night!”
“Alright but Tiny stays with you the entire trip. I mean it, you can't even go to the bathroom. I want you to pretend that you're handcuffed to him and can't get away.”
“I'd much rather pretend I'm handcuffed to you.....” she said, under her breath.
After dinner, AJ told Emily he needed to go out for a bit.
“Where are you going? You just got home!”
AJ looked her in the eye and didn't answer. He didn't want to tell her and he didn't want to lie to her either.
“To see Brian.” she answered her own question. “Is that really necessary?”
“Emily it isn't really about him kissing you. Obviously Brian needs someone right now. I need to make sure he's ok.”
Emily sighed. “Fine. Just don't be gone long. You're tired, remember?” she said, with a hint of bitterness to her voice.
AJ shrugged off his wife's unhappiness and drove over to Amanda's apartment. He had lied a little to her, it was a lot about Brian kissing his wife, but it was also about the reason he'd done it: because he was so miserable with his own life. He stood with his arms crossed as he waited for Brian to answer the door.
Brian froze as soon as he saw AJ standing there. “Shit.” he muttered. “She told you?”
“No. Let me in, we need to talk.”
“Fine but if you're going to punch my lights out, could you just get it over with?” Brian said as he stood aside and let AJ in.
“I'm not going to hit you, man. I want to, but I'm not.”
AJ sat down on the couch and waited for Brian to have a seat. “I'm sorry.” Brian muttered.
“Bri, if you're really that miserable, it's time to start fixing things.”
Brian nodded. “Trust me, your wife has already helped me come up with a plan. I think I've become her special project or something.”
AJ grinned. “Good. Talk to me. What's going on?”
Brian leaned back against the couch and unloaded his burdened mind onto AJ. He confessed all his anger at Leighanne and all his hurt feelings that when he was ready to work it out, she wasn't there waiting for him. He talked for over and hour, AJ barely saying a word. Just listening. When Brian was finished, he was amazed at how much better he felt.
“You're going to work it out.” AJ said. “You just have to keep your faith in that above all else.”
“Spoken like a man who knows.” Brian said. “How are things with Emily?”
“They're ok. She's a little mad at me tonight but I'd say given the situation, the fact that we haven't bitten each others' heads off more is a good sign. She wants to come to the last show with me.”
“Jesus, is that a good idea?”
AJ shook his head. “I don't think so but she managed to get Tiny on her side and you know how stubborn Emily is, I literally could not say no to her. At least it's only for one night.”
“You got any leads on the stalker?”
“Maybe. They aren't really sure right now. Shit, I just want this to be over.” AJ said, burying his face in his hands. “It's exhausting. I'm constantly worried about her, I'm constantly terrified somethings going to happen and she'll be gone forever. I don't think I could bear it. If anything were to happen to her....”
“Nothing is going to happen to her. Keep the faith, right?” Brian encouraged.
“Yeah, right.” AJ agreed, halfheartedly. “I just have this feeling that this is all going to come to a head soon, and I'm terrified it isn't going to be a happy ending.”
Brian didn't respond. There wasn't really anything he could offer right now to help AJ feel better.
The characters and events portrayed are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
~BEST VIEWED ON 800 X 600 SCREEN RESOLUTION~