In Name Only

Chapter 84

AJís eyes opened sluggishly as the warm body draped across him shifted. He smiled as he stroked the long blonde hair aside to reveal her flushed face. She made a small moue of sound as he did so, then snuggled deeper into his arms.

"Isnít she a little young for you?"

He started at the voice and looked up at the woman leaning against the doorframe.

"I dunno. We make a cute couple though, donít we?"

"Let me amend that. She IS too young for you."

"Oh take a joke, Leigh. We were watching TV and she fell asleep. I didnít want to move her."

"Whatís going on?" Brian asked as he ambled into the room.

"Your buddy hereís sleeping with your daughter."

Brian chuckled. "Didnít we have this conversation already, Bone? Stay away from my baby. Sheís too young for you."

AJ rolled his eyes. "Lookís like you two had a good time. You have what passes for a sense of humour back."

"It was good. Thank you," Leighanne said kissing his cheek. "We needed it and it was great of you to babysit. Let me relieve you of that one."

She scooped Bryleigh off his chest. The little girl protested sleepily, then smiled as she recognized her dad, then slowly waved goodbye to AJ before falling back to sleep on her motherís shoulder.

"Tom was okay?"

AJ struggled into an upright position. "He was fine. Cried a little during the first tattoo, but had calmed down by the time we got around to his piercings."

"Alex, I love you. But you better be joking," Brian warned with a smile.

"He was good. Had to use the gel a few times, but he seems to be getting used to having teeth. Nearly bit me once. Oh, and he hates strained beets. Iíd stop trying to feed them to him if I were you. They look worse coming back than they did going down."

"Gross."

"Tell me about it. And that minx of a daughter of your kept egging him on." AJ shook his head. "Youíre gonna have to put a leash on that one when she grows up, Rok."

Brian sighed. "Donít I know it. Hopefully the worst is a few years off."

AJ looked at Brian, noting the happy glow that emanated from him. "So? Get any?" he asked with a mischievous eyebrow wiggle.

"As if Iíd tell you!" Brian snorted. "Thanks so much for doing this. For watching them. Leigh and I really needed a night out. Itís been hard going recently."

"Yeah, weíve all been way too busy."

"How you doing? We havenít really talked since you broke up with Patti." Brian leaned forward. "You doing good?"

"Well, I slept with this wild young blonde just this evening," AJ smiled. Then he let it fade from his face. "Iím okay. Just never been really good at being alone."

"So? Why are you?"

He shook his head. "Thatís what happened the last time. I rushed into things with Patti. I think Iím going to take it slow this time. Spend some time alone."

"Maybe you just never got over someone else. Someone who I happen to know is currently single."

AJ groaned. "Donít start, Rok."

"Why donít you call her?"

"She and KevinÖ"

"Are NOT seeing each other and you know that, you big dope!"

"I know, but theyíre tight. And itís just too weird. And too soon. Gimme some time to think, Bri. And stop trying to get everyone fixed up."

"Me?" Brian said innocently. "Would I do that?"

AJ snorted. "Go work on Nick; heís your usual project."

Brain shook his head. "Nickís got someone. Havenít you seen him? Those furtive phone calls and the goofy grins? Heís up to something and there is definitely a female element to it."

"Good." AJ adopted a drag-queen-like lisp. "Itís been so long, I was afraid he was going to start swinging Howieís way."

"I have it from Howie that his is an exclusive club and he doesnít want Nick in it. Said something about it bringing down the property value," Leigh said as she re-entered the room, which set both men to laughing.

 

He was almost home when he got the craving, and hell, itíd been a long night. Why not indulge?

He pulled into the parking lot and loped into the restaurant. Alice, the large black woman who ruled the graveyard shift looked up and smiled at him, then smiled even wider when she realized that he was alone. He wasnít sure what had happened but she and his regular bodyguard had had words about something and she always got irascible when they showed up together.

"Hey, babycakes," she greeted him. "Your usual?"

"Yeah baby, you know what I like," he replied flirtatiously.

She chuckled and handed him his order of supersize fries and a cup for his drink. "Its quiet in here tonight. You came at a good time. No shrieking teenies."

"Youíre always looking out for me," he sighed happily as he looked at her over the rim of his sunglasses. "So how come we never hooked up?"

She laughed loudly. "Sorry honey, Iím way too much woman for your skinny ass."

He sighed dramatically. "Probably true, probably true. But you know youíre always first in my heart, Alice."

"Alex, honey, donít let your momma here you say that," she admonished with a chuckle.

She was right. It was dead in there. Only a few people scattered about the overlit room. A couple in deep conversation, and a few others trying to soak up the excess alcohol in their bodies huddling over their food. It was exactly what he needed: fries and quiet.

He was almost finished when he realized that some of the reason he couldnít keep his mind from thinking about Tina was because he kept hearing her voice. He glanced around furtively, noticing her in the corner, in deep conversation with a dark-haired man. Or rather the man was conversing and Tina was sitting there shaking her head.

"ÖI donít understand. Why canít we try again?"

"Gee, let me think about it. How about I canít trust you?" She shook her hair. "Look, I agreed to talk to you because you were driving me nuts with all annoying behaviour at the club, but I am not going to agree to get back together with you just because you say I should."

"But baby, you know we belong together. Weíre soulmates!"

AJ had to work at controlling his laughter. That was a line that heíd heard from so many fans over the years. He could understand that, somewhat; they felt a connection with him for what he sang about or what heíd said in countless teen magazines and interviews. But did they really think that it was the truth? And did this guy really think it was going to work on her?

"My soulmate is a lying, cheating asshole? Well, it would explain a lot, but if its true then I am way better off without you."

"Baby, it was only that once! I slipped up, I admit it. Itíll never happen again."

"Yeah, I know. Thatís what you told me before. Then I heard from that cocktail waitress at the Groove about how sorry she was that we were on "a break" and that she hoped that sleeping with you the night before wasnít the reason. Funny, didnít know we were on a break."

"TinaÖ"

"I am sure you would have mentioned it once you finally pulled out of that redhead I saw you with in our bed when I got home, but somehow I was certain that you were just going to tell me that you slipped up again." She said sarcastically. "Funny, but I didnít see any banana peels on the floor."

Coke coming out through the nose is not a pleasant feeling. AJ should have known better than to take a sip when he did.

Tina glanced across at the man who was chortling nearby. He looked vaguely familiar, but she was too busy to try and figure out where from. "Look, Tim, we could go around in circles on this all night. But we arenít. You arenít listening; I am not interested in getting back together. Thatís it. Case closed." She stood up.

"Hell, no, itís not!" He grabbed her arm, twisting it sharply, causing her to gasp in pain. "We belong together and we are damn well going to be."

"I think the lady said get lost," AJ said as he approached the table. Heíd jumped up as soon as he saw the manís arm move.

"Stay out of this, buddy," the man growled as he tightened his grip on Tinaís arm. Tina blanched even further.

"You okay, miss?" AJ asked, pretending that they had never met. Somehow he knew that letting the other man know that he and Tina had been very well acquainted would not be a good idea.

"I seem to be having some trouble leaving actually," Tina said boldly even as Timís hand continued to clamp.

"Did you hear what she said? I think you better let the lady go."

"She isnít a lady, now butt out."

"Not a lady? Oh. Well, then you wouldnít want to have anything to do with a woman who isnít a lady would you?" Alice said as she waddled up behind AJ.

The man looked back and forth between AJís determined face and Aliceís stern visage, then released Tinaís arm. "Yeah, who needs a bitch like her anyway." He stomped off, leaving the restaurant.

"You okay, baby?" Alice asked worriedly.

"Fine. Thanks," Tina said as she rubbed the feeling back into her arm.

"You sure, Tas?" AJ asked as he took her arm and looked at the small bruises that were starting to show on her pale skin. He swore.

"Just fine, Alex." Tina pulled her arm back quickly, tucking in under the table.

Alice got the feeling that she wasnít needed and headed back to the counter.

"What are you doing here?"

AJ leaned back. "You know me. I need my daily intake of fries or I fall apart."

Tina dropped her head, hoping that he didnít see her grin. Yep, he was that predictable.

AJ saw the grin and flashed her one of his own. "Besides, Alice and I have this thingÖ"

Tina laughed, as tears started to trickle down her face.

"Hey, Tas. Come on, itís not that bad. I admit that Iím not the man of Aliceís dreams, but we get alongÖ"

"Oh shut up, Alex," Tina laughed and threw a napkin at him.

"Wanna play tough, hunh?" He chucked a cold fry at her.

"Stop it, you moron."

"Ha! Made you smile!"

Tina sighed. "Yeah, you did. Thanks."

He smiled and looked at her. "What happened to us, Tas?"

She shrugged. "Too little time. Too many other things going on. We just grew apart. It happens."

"YeahÖ"

"And if you donít mind, Iíd rather not talk about it right now."

He smiled. "Yeah, I figured that. I just needed to ask."

"Its been good seeing you again."

"So thatís your soulmate, hunh?"

"Oh shut up, Alex," Tina groaned, then looked up. "Looks like yours just showed up too."

AJ turned and saw Patti walking in on the arm of some overdressed man.

"Oh shit! Umm, shall we run for it?"

Tina grinned and took his hand.

Chapter 85