"Hey, dude! Glad you could make it out!" AJ slapped his friend Jason's hand and pulled him in for a pat on the back as a few others joined them. Among their small group was AJ's best friend, Chris, Jason's friend, Greg, Jeff, and his younger brother, Mark.
"Y'all ready to get your drink on?" AJ asked them with a cackle. "Don't worry, it's on me tonight, boys." The five of them cheered as AJ ordered up a round of Budweisers from the passing waitress.
Moments later they were brought to their table. "To a guy's night out, fellas! Drink up!" AJ toasted and they each clinked bottles before swigging the beer.
AJ sighed and turned to Jeff. "Ah...man, this is gonna be my last fun night for quite awhile."
"Oh, yeah, you go back on tour next week, don't you?" Jeff remembered quickly.
"Yep. Kim's made me a prisoner in my own home these last few weeks with Jordan. She's hardly let me go anywhere, to the store and visits to my shrink. That's pretty much it."
"That's shitty, Alex," Mark added.
Chris nodded. "Yeah, dude, we've hardly hung out since you've been home."
"Oh, quit your bitching, = Chris! I don't know who's worse, you, or Alex, over here!" Greg yelled playfully from across the table and drank more of his beer.
AJ just smirked bitterly. "'Cause she's a bitch." He sipped his beer again.
Mark rolled his eyes. "Women."
AJ nodded in approval at this one word. "But, anyway, I leave for Canada on the 27th or some shit for the North American leg. Might as well enjoy my free time while I can, right? So, I organized this little get-together so I could get out, spread my wings. Needless to say, Kim was pretty pissed that I wanted to go out tonight. But, I made sure to make these plans before I told her..."
"So, she couldn't say no," Chris finished for him and gave his best friend a high-five. "Good thinking!"
"Well, she did say no at first. But once I said that you guys were already on your way here, no wasn't really an option," AJ smirked again and drank more of his Budweiser.
"Smart man," Jason agreed.
Jeff spoke up. "Are you guys fighting or something?"
AJ sighed heavily. "Dude, I really don't even wanna get into it. All you need to know is that I've been practically a saint but Kim's been keeping a tight leash on me for God knows what reason."
"Kinky," Chris grinned which earned him a punch in the shoulder from AJ. "What was that for?" he wondered, rubbing his shoulder.
"You know I ain't into that. Well...except maybe that one time..." AJ purposely left more to be desired.
Mark's ears perked up. "You got a kink Alex? Do tell." He leaned forward toward him, ready to listen intently.
AJ put his hands up and looked around at the four of them. "Okay, okay. Keep in mind that I was 22, lonely 'cause I was on tour, and extremely horny. She had a pair purple fuzzy handcuffs—"
"Was she a groupie?" Greg asked.
"I'm getting to that. Anyway—"
Jeff cut in this time. "This was before you met Kim, right?"
"What is with you tonight? What are you, the relationship police?" AJ snapped at his friend. "Jesus...yes this was before her, at least six months before, if I remember right. Anyway, we were in my hotel room—"
"What about the handcuffs?" Jeff wondered.
AJ rolled his eyes at that question. "Do you guys wanna hear the story or not? What is this, '20 Questions' or something?" He paused and looked down at the beer bottle in front of him. You know what, this beer isn't cutting it. Do you guys want something else?" AJ really wanted a shot of Jack, surely that would make him feel better. 'Just one...or ten. Whichever comes fastest.' he thought longingly about his drink of choice.
Mark, Jason, and AJ opted for a drink change: bourbon. They each quickly downed a shot and AJ ordered three more for them as he continued with his story. "I know what you're all thinking: the fuzzy handcuffs sound too cliche. But let me tell you, it was some pretty great sex. This girl was good. Shit...I can't remember her name. What was it...?"
Their waitress came back with AJ's requested shots of bourbon and she passed them out. "Thank you, sweetheart." He handed her a tip. "Keep 'em coming."
"Sure thing," she replied sweetly and left them alone at the table.
AJ turned toward her as she walked away. When he turned back around he noticed that the others were staring at him. "What?" he asked, surprised. "I may be married, but I'm not dead. Jeez." He downed his shot and set the small and now empty glass down.
"Must be the alcohol," Chris snickered.
"Must be," Jeff scoffed lightly.
AJ ignored his friends' comments and continued. "Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, her name..."
AJ threw back his eighth shot of Jack Daniel's in a flash and quickly snapped his fingers at the bartender for a refill. "Another one." he slurred slightly with a chuckle, his words running together with the more whiskey he consumed.
A hand was placed over the empty shot glass before the burly man could fulfill the request. "No more, Alex. You're done. I'm taking you home," Jeff stated and he meant it.
"What-What're ya doin'? That's mine," AJ protested.
The bartender responded, "Hey, if the man wants more—"
Jeff interrupted him. "Is the phrase 'cut off' not in your vocabulary?"
"Well, I—" he stammered.
"Can't you see that he's pretty well pissed, or are you blind? Since he's obviously too far gone to even think about driving home—"
"I'm not," AJ countered and turned to look at Jeff, "I'm fine," he insisted, his voice cracking on the last word.
Jeff turned his attention back to the bartender. "If you let him keep going to the point where he can't even walk out of here, who's gonna pay for a cab? You?" he challenged with a scoff, his voice growing louder with every word he spoke.
"Fine. Get him out of here. Have a good night," he said and went over to wipe down a spot on the bar.
"Right. C'mon, Alex, we're leaving."
"Where's the guys?" AJ wondered, he looked around and didn't see them.
What AJ didn't remember was that the other four of their friends had left about an hour earlier. Most of them had to work the next day, including Chris who reiterated to Jeff numerous times that he would stay with AJ instead if that wasn't the case.
"No way, I'm drivin'," AJ argued and stood, clearly unsteady on his feet. "Whoa." He laughed.
"Give me your keys, Alex," he sighed and held his hand out to receive them.
"I said that I can drive m'self home, Jeff," AJ repeated.
Jeff rolled his eyes. "You are not. You're drunk, I'm taking you home. Let's go." He put his arm around AJ and started to help him out of the crowded bar.
AJ shoved Jeff away from him and stumbled backwards. "I can walk." He took a few steps but ended up walking into Jeff.
Jeff could feel the stares of the other patrons watching and whispering figuring that they had recognized AJ, not Alex as he knew him. He sighed quietly and put his arm around AJ to help him again, to give his inebriated friend some stability as they left the bar.
The pair of them were immediately met by camera flashes and Jeff could see a few guys holding video cameras as his eyes scanned the small crowd in front of the entrance: the paparazzi.
AJ used his free arm to shield himself from the strobe-like barrage of lights while keeping his head down. He could hear them shouting questions at him, calling out his name repeatedly.
"AJ! Over here!"
"Are you alright, man?"
"How was your night?"
"Who were you with?"
"Are you okay?"
AJ just tried to focus on putting one foot in front of the other as Jeff was still supporting him. The paps were also asking Jeff if AJ was alright and who he was. He followed suit and didn't say a word to the camera-donning men who easily kept up with them as they finally made it to Jeff's black Chevy Silverado truck. He opened the passenger's side door for AJ and he slowly climbed into the seat and Jeff shut the door for him and got in on the other side. Shouts and questions were still heard as Jeff turned the engine over and pulled away from the curb and drove out of sight of the bar and the paparazzi.
Jeff sighed heavily in response to the last few minutes that had passed and stole a glance over at AJ who had his right cheek pressed against the cold glass window. His deep brown eyes were staring but not really focusing on anything in particular. Jeff sighed again and turned his attention back to the road in front of him. "You better not throw up in here, I just cleaned inside of here yesterday," he warned.
AJ barked a hoarse laugh, it almost sounded like a cough. "No problem, buddy. Scout's honor..." He proceeded to make the appropriate gesture before dropping his hand next to him and staring blankly at the windshield again.
It was a silent drive back to AJ's house besides his humming of random notes. Jeff could only laugh to himself as he wondered what AJ was thinking about. He pulled into the drive way and cut the engine, pocketing his keys. "We're here, Alex."
"Yeah, you're home. C'mon, let's get you inside."
Once again, Jeff got AJ through the front door after Kim answered it. She was clearly fast asleep just minutes earlier and did not enjoy seeing AJ being escorted to the living room couch with Jeff's assistance along with being woken up so late at night because of her husband's drunk antics.
AJ sort of slumped over toward one end of the couch as Jeff started for the door again, first stopping to talk to Kim.
"How much did he have to drink tonight, Jeff? Honestly," Kim wondered, hands on her hips.
"Well, he ordered a round of beers to start off with, but he and a few of the guys quickly changed to some shots of bourbon. He went back to the beer for a bit but ended up spending most of his time at the bar with Jack," Jeff explained, hoping that Kim would catch his drift.
She did and responded coolly, "I see."
"Is he okay, Kim?" He paused for a moment. "Are you guys okay? He said that he's been home a lot lately, that he needed to get out and 'spread his wings.' And that you're at fault for that."
"Is that what he told you?"
"That's so typical of him, always blaming others. I can't answer your questions honestly 'cause I'm not so sure, myself," Kim sighed.
"This just doesn't feel right...I mean, I haven't seen Alex this trashed in a long time."
"Welcome to the club."
Jeff looked over at AJ's passed out form on the couch. "Has his drinking picked up recently? Do you know?" he wondered.
"I'll admit that it has. He's been holing himself up downstairs inside his studio doing whatever, I've found a couple of empty Jack bottles in the bar trash can over the past few weeks. He has to be sneaking them inside the house somehow. I don't know." She stared down at her feet.
"I'm worried, Kim, have you tried talking to him about this?"
"Yeah, but he continually brushes it off as nothing or changes the subject. You know how stubborn he can be."
"I was afraid of that," Jeff murmured. "I need to get going, Lindsey's probably waiting up for me."
Kim wasn't having that. "Listen, it's late and I'm assuming that you've had a few beers. Just crash in the guest room down the hall for the night. It's the least I can offer and I appreciate you bringing Alex home safely," she said gently.
Jeff gave her a small smile. "Sure."
"And you can take Alex back downtown in the morning to go pick up his car before going back home," Kim added.
"Do you want me to get you something to change into? You'll fit into something of Alex's."
"That's alright, I'm fine."
"Okay, then." She yawned. "Goodnight, Jeff, see you in the morning."
Kim went back upstairs to bed and Jeff left the foyer to go into the living room. He took a look at his sleeping friend. "I wish I knew what's going on in that head of yours..." he whispered and left AJ alone to get some sleep himself.
'Tomorrow should be fun...' Jeff thought as he quietly shut the guest room door behind him.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Morning came all too quickly for AJ as he stirred on the couch. He heard voices coming from the kitchen and decided that he might as well get the scolding from Kim over with for last night. He groaned and sat up, rubbing the back of his neck. He must have slept on it wrong, not surprisingly.
AJ stood and stretched, squinting slightly at the morning sunlight that seemed to pour through the windows of the living room. That certainly wasn't helping his growing headache which was beginning to embed in his skull.
He made his way into the kitchen and could feel both Kim's and Jeff's eyes on him as he went over to the coffee pot.
Kim spoke first. "I don't think coffee is the best thing for you right now."
"Right," AJ muttered, remembering his headache and grabbed a glass and went over to the fridge for some water. He joined the two of them at the island but didn't sit down as they continued to stare at him. "What?"
"I think you know, Alex," Jeff said.
AJ immediately went on the defensive, knowing that he and his wife had backed him into a corner. "So, I went out last night and had a few drinks with my friends, does that make me a bad person?" he challenged them.
"Of course not—" Kim started.
"Alright, then, God knows I've been a prisoner here since..." He paused. "Well, you know..." he trailed off, hinting at the drug incident that happened a few weeks before.
Jeff, of course, had no idea what that meant, but he eyed AJ and Kim curiously.
"Alex...baby...I'm just worried about you, we both are." Her eyes were full of concern as she rose from her seat and touched his arm lightly. Jeff nodded in agreement.
AJ's expression softened for a moment but he tensed back up and shrugged her off. "I'm fine. How many times do I have to tell you? I'm fine!" He was growing more aggravated with each passing second.
Kim frowned and sat back down next to Jeff.
"What do you want me to say? What do you want me to say, huh, Jeff? Apparently your marriage is so perfect, maybe I could use a few tips," he scoffed and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
Jeff ignored him. "Alex...you do realize that the paparazzi followed us to my truck last night, right? Your face and mine are probably plastered all over TMZ by now."
'Shit.' AJ hadn't thought of that. "Great, that's just great." He threw up his hands. "One more thing being thrown at me," he whispered and turned his attention back to Jeff and Kim. "I'm done talking about this. I'm gonna go shower, then we can go get my car, okay?"
AJ left the kitchen before he heard a response from either of them, but for some reason he felt that this conversation was far from over.
"Okay, we're gonna go back down to the bar to go get Alex's car. Thanks for the bed and breakfast, Kim," Jeff said as he hugged her goodbye.
"Oh, it's no trouble. Give my love to Lindsey and the boys."
"I will. Alex, let's hit the road!" he called out.
"I'm coming, I'm coming…" AJ grumbled as he made his way from the kitchen to the front door. He checked his pockets for his car keys and wallet and walked out of the house without another word.
Kim and Jeff just looked at each other and she sighed, frustrated at AJ's behavior.
Jeff could sense this and tried to reassure her. "I'm sure he'll come around, Kim, I think he needs some space, some room to breathe. He'll come to you when the time is right, hang in there, okay?" He hugged her again.
She sniffled. "Thanks, Jeff." She let him go and wiped her eyes. "Ugh, sorry. Hormones."
He chuckled. "It's all good. Take care, alright?"
Kim nodded. "I will."
"Maybe we all can arrange a day out after you guys get back from tour. Us four and the kids."
"That sounds good, I'll run it by Alex, he'd like that." She smiled a little and Jeff returned it.
"I better get out there before your husband decides to drive himself downtown," He laughed.
"You better," Kim agreed with a smirk.
"Call if you need anything, we're here for you guys."
"No problem, see ya." He left the house and shut the door behind him, getting in his truck and pulling out of AJ's drive way.
The drive to downtown Los Angeles was quiet for the first few minutes. Jeff stayed focused on the road ahead but occasionally stole glances at AJ in the passenger's seat next to him. He had his head turned toward the window and was looking out at the traffic and passing billboards. After a few more minutes, AJ finally spoke. He could feel Jeff's eyes look his way every so often. He hated when people stared at him. "What? What are you looking at?!"
Jeff was slightly startled at AJ's reaction. "...Sorry. You just seem...lost in thought."
"Yeah." AJ took a breath and tried to calm down. "I hate when people stare," he mumbled as an excuse and turned his attention back to the window.
Jeff sighed, too, and just continued to drive and wished that AJ would just say what was on his mind, let it out in the open. The tension in the truck cab was uncomfortable to say the least, Jeff didn't get why AJ was so snappy all of a sudden. He was just trying to help, trying to be a good friend. Apparently that's not what AJ wanted at the moment. 'I'll just leave him be, then...' he thought a bit sadly.
Eventually, they made it to the bar and Jeff parked in the lot after AJ got out of the truck. His Porsche was still parked on the street where he left it the night before and he went over to it.
"Are you fucking kidding me?" AJ saw a white slip of paper held in place on his car by a windshield wiper on the driver's side.
"What's wrong?" Jeff wondered as he shut his truck door and walked over to AJ.
"Parking ticket," AJ seethed.
"Oh," was all Jeff said.
"Not helping." He took the ticket off of the windshield. "I do not need this right now." He kicked a tire rim. "Damn it! Ow, that was stupid!"
"Calm down, amigo. How much is it gonna cost you?"
AJ hadn't even bothered to look at the fine. "Fifty bucks," he sighed.
"Well, that's not bad," Jeff reasoned.
"That's not the point," AJ refuted, shooting an exacerbated look in Jeff's direction.
Even Jeff knew when enough was enough, he'd done his duty as a friend to AJ and now it was time to get back home to his own family. "Alright, dude, I need to get going."
AJ nodded. "Sure, no problem. I'll call you later, okay?"
"Sounds good. Drive safe."
"You, too. Thanks for everything, Jeff."
"No thanks needed. Take care, yeah?"
"Will do." They shook hands and Jeff drove off without first glancing back at AJ in his rear view mirror. He was still worried about him, his seemingly excessive drinking, and his relationship with Kim and the stress that his actions and decisions were putting on her. She didn't deserve that and he could only hope that AJ's relationship with Jordan wasn't suffering, too.
AJ stared at Jeff's truck as it shrunk in the distance and sighed heavily. He got in his car and stuck the parking ticket in the visor above him. He buckled up and turned the engine before driving back home. He was tempted to stop to clear his head on the way back, not feeling quite ready to face Kim alone without Jeff to back him up or distract her from the issues at hand. He quickly remembered that they were both on his case earlier about his drinking.
'What do they know? They think that I can just "talk it out". Ha, not a chance...'
AJ turned on the radio for a distraction and drove home in silence, hoping to slip away into his studio once he got back. He definitely wasn't in the mood to deal with Kim's "concern".
AJ could only hope that she would hold out until he was ready to talk, although he wasn't sure when that would be. Until then, he just had to try to hold it together.
And if he knew himself at all, it wouldn't be an easy task.
Don't forget to leave me some feedback about what you think of this chapter and any suggestions of what you'd like to see happen in the story! Thanks for reading!