I would like to make this the title of an on-going series of relationship-based stories as told from either Rick or A.J.'s point of view. I will add to this from time to time, if it appeals to all you S&S fans out there. The first one is entitled "I Wanted to Tell You," and is based on the episode "Second Swell."
My thanks again to all of you who've given me such positive feedback on my stories.
Between Brothers Series:
I Wanted to Tell You
"I wanted to tell you, Rick," I said, my head down, my hands thrust into the pockets of my jeans, as my brother and I walked side by side along the beach. "So many times, I wanted to tell you..."
As I look back now, I realize I'd acted with the same willful stubbornness that I usually scolded Rick about at least every other day, and that my hard-headed insistence on doing things my way, on my terms, had jeopardized not only my own life, but the life of the woman I was trying so desperately to protect.
Her name was Kristen. Once, a lifetime ago, we shared something very special, something I thought would never end. But end it did, not gently, and in a way neither one of us could've ever foreseen or imagined. In one swift blow, an ugly incident involving a jealous and brutal man would shatter our world forever.
His name was Bracken. Sean Bracken. He'd viciously murdered a man in cold blood, and Kristen had been a witness. But she was too terrified to even think of going to the police. So I went for her, and told a lie--an act that would haunt me every day for years to come. And immediately after this, Kristen deserted me without so much as a word. Ironically, it had taken a lie for me to realize the truth, that I had seriously misjudged Kristen, thought her to be made of tougher stuff. But I suppose she wasn't.
Seventeen years may seem like a long time, but it wasn't nearly long enough for me to ever completely put the memories of her or what had taken place under the pier one warm, summer night, to rest. I guess I learned to live with the thought of it always lurking just below the fringe of things, along with the vague, uneasy feeling that sooner or later the nightmare would return. And on a hot summer afternoon--a summer very much like the one seventeen years before--the monster found me again.
Whether it was the heat or the festive atmosphere surrounding the beach I'll never know, but something caused me to loosen my guard that afternoon as I strode casually toward my destination, not far from the pier. How could anything go wrong on such a perfectly beautiful day? Rick was busy taking care of other matters, and I reassured him that I didn't need the backup of a swat team to serve a routine summons. But things went horribly awry. When I tried to serve the less-than-thrilled recipient, he bolted, leading me in a chase that would end under the pier. I followed in blind pursuit, the thought never even occurring to me that it was all a clever, convenient set-up and that I was running right into a trap.
Sean Bracken couldn't have picked a more precise moment to come calling. And he hadn't come alone. Oh, no...he'd brought along a trio of muscle-bound apes who made King Kong look like an organ grinder's monkey. At first, I tried to talk my way out of it, thinking they were beach punks looking to rob me. But it wasn't money these guys were after, and it became immediately clear that they were here for the sole purpose of breaking my neck. I didn't need to be a genius to know I was in damn serious trouble. I started throwing punches, putting my boxing training to the ultimate test, but it did little against the three hulking brutes whose chests seemed to be made of concrete. I was hopelessly outnumbered, and the musclemen started throwing me around from one to the other like a ragdoll, administering an occasional fist to the gut or a crack in the jaw just for fun.
Finally, the man of the hour swaggered over. Bracken? Sean Bracken? Oh, God! I gritted my teeth hard to keep from gasping out in shock. And even as he taunted and threatened and started pounding away at my ribs and my gut while his three goons held me in an iron grip, I choked back screams of pain, refusing to give the sadistic bastard the slightest satisfaction. With a brass-knuckled fist to the side of my face, Bracken delivered the final blow, and he and his trio of hired thugs took their leave as I collapsed into the sand.
Hours later, I was lying in a hospital bed, my mother and my brother hovering over me worriedly. The excrutiating pain from my cracked ribs --not to mention just about every other part of my body--had dulled to a minor ache thanks to the pills they'd pumped me with. But nothing could dull my growing anxiety and fear. It was payback time, and Kristen was next on Bracken's list.
I was groggy and weak, and in no condition to be playing bodyguard, but I couldn't just lie there and do nothing. And I was most definitely not in the mood for Lt. Abigail Marsh and the storm-trooper interrogation she was conducting at my bedside. With forced calm, I downplayed the whole incident, keeping my answers deliberately vague and insisting I'd simply been the unfortunate victim of a random assault. But the hard-nosed lady lieutenant wasn't buying it. And neither was Rick, who stood by with his arms crossed over his chest and his lips pressed into a grim, tight line, rage bubbling below the surface of his neutral expression. And if I knew my brother, and I did, he was doing a number on himself for not having been there to help me.
Although I knew they all meant well, what I really wanted was for everyone to just go home and leave me alone. I had to think, and think fast, or else Kristen was going to end up dead. It was time to lay this all to rest, and I was the only one who could do it.
The next day, against doctor's orders, I left the hospital. My ribs were aching and I was so stiff and sore I could hardly move, but somehow I made it home.
As quickly as I could, I stuffed some clothes into a duffelbag. The decision was made. I had to get to Kristen before Bracken did, and time was running out. My mind fully occupied with the task at hand, I was sitting at the kitchen table loading my gun when my older brother came striding in.
After voicing his initial irritation at me for leaving the hospital without telling him, he took one look at the duffelbag and the enormous amount of firepower I had armed myself with and started giving me the third degree.
Where was I going and why was I packing enough ammunition to single-handedly take over a small country?
I told him I was going on a little trip and that he wasn't invited.
"It's personal, Rick." I said brusquely, shoving past him as I went about gathering my things. "It doesn't involve you." Taken aback, he wasn't about to let it drop, and stood there glaring at me.
"Since when do you get the livin' crap beat outta you and it's none of my business?! Oh, come on, A.J.," he scoffed, "I know this is about what happened to you last night. Those guys who worked you over, just tell me who they are and what the hell they wanted from you!"
"Rick, there's nothing to tell!" I snapped. "I just--look, I need some time on my own, all right?"
Frowning, he took hold of my arm. "A.J., please, don't shut me out. I wanna know what's goin' on here."
Angrily, I pulled out of his grasp and gave him a warning look. "Rick, I need to be alone on this."
Several minutes later, I was packed and ready to go. I gathered up my duffelbag and my windbreaker and headed toward the door.
"A.J.!" Rick protested for a final time, stepping in front of me.
"Rick, get out of my way," I said and pushed past him, leaving my brother standing in my kitchen with a look of anger and bewilderment on his face.
I had put on a good act, but as soon as I got outside I started shaking all over. God, he would never know just what it had taken for me to do that, how much it hurt to coldly force him aside and shut him out that way.
Rick was my partner, and in that respect he did have a right to know what I was doing. But more important, he was my brother. Would he have understood that I had to do this on my own because I loved him and I didn't want him becoming the target of Bracken's twisted revenge? Last night had merely been a warning for me, just a taste of what was yet to come. The madman was far from finished, and I wasn't about to let Rick become his next victim.
But no, none of it would've mattered, because there was nothing in this world that would ever stop my big brother from trying to protect me. Rick would gladly march into hell with me if I asked. Which is exactly why I had to keep him in the dark. Besides, he'd been away in 'Nam that summer, and somehow, the years passed, and I'd never told him what had happened. God knows I wanted to, so many times, but I could never seem to find the right words, or the right moment. But that was all water under the bridge. Rick had fought more than enough of his own battles, and it was time for me to do the same.
A short time later, Kristen and I faced each other again, and I honestly couldn't say which one of us was more shocked. Suddenly, all the memories came flooding back to me, and seventeen years seemed to have passed in a heartbeat.
She had grown into a beautiful woman--a beautiful, married woman. And she'd married well. Her husband was a very wealthy and influential businessman, and Kristen McCafferty had it all: a palace fit for a queen, servants at her beck and call, tennis courts, a riding stable, and enough jewelry and designer clothes to last two lifetimes. So why was there such emptiness in her expression, such sadness in her eyes? I didn't know, and after what she'd done, I shouldn't have cared--but, somehow, I did. And I had to remind myself that I was only here for one reason--to keep her alive.
Kristen's face paled and her blue eyes grew wide in fear as I broke the stunning news to her that Bracken was out of jail. Trembling, she backed away from me skittishly and began shrugging off my concerns for her safety.
He'd be a fool to come after her now. It had all happened so long ago.
And why should she worry? The house was fully equipped with state-of-the-art alarm systems, and the grounds were patrolled by a private security force. But it was far from the impenetrable fortress Kristen believed it to be, and later that night, she was startled to find me standing in her bedroom. And if I could get in that easily, so could Bracken. Her husband was away on business, and she'd given the servants the weekend off--perfect conditions for a murder.
It was all too convenient, and all too dangerous, and I was more determined than ever to stay. Sean Bracken was out there somewhere, lurking in the shadowy darkness, just waiting for the right moment to strike.
And when he did, I had to be ready for him.
The time I spent with Kristen was a strange, awkward mix of conflicting emotions and bittersweet memories. That old attraction was still there, but, in my heart, I knew it wasn't right. I had no wish to break up her marriage, and I told her so as we sat talking the next evening. And I had to admit that I couldn't forget the way she'd abandoned me all those years ago.
Kristen resented that, angrily insisting that I had no idea what it had been like for her, the hell she'd gone through, how much she'd missed me. Tearfully, she fled from the living room--and ran straight into the arms of the monster.
Bracken had come.
I went for my gun, but it was too late. With his own gun to Kristen's head, Bracken calmly told us the chilling details of his final plans to make our deaths conveniently appear to be the tragic, murder-suicide of two "ill-fated" lovers.
"It'll never work, Bracken," I said. In the next instant, I heard a familiar voice growl out a warning. I shifted my gaze and saw Rick standing a few feet away, his gun pointed at the deranged man's head. In spite of all my efforts to keep him away, my brother had managed to find me anyway.
Everything seemed to escalate from here: Bracken forcing me to admit to my big brother that I'd lied...Rick holding his ground, refusing to let it matter...Bracken suddenly turning his gun on Rick, ready to fire...Kristen knocking his arm away, allowing me to grab his weapon and toss it aside...
And then I had him. It was just Bracken and me, no guns, no brass knuckles, and no musclebound goons coming to his rescue. And I paid him back in spades for the beating I'd taken under the pier and more, years of pent-up anger and frustration finally loosed on him. And through it all, Rick merely stood by; he knew it was my fight and mine alone--one Bracken had coming to him for seventeen years...
My brother listened patiently, the story pouring freely from me as we slowly walked toward the water's edge. I told him everything, and for the first time in seventeen years, I finally felt free of Bracken and all the misery he'd caused.
"I never meant to keep it from you, Rick," I said, wanting, needing him to understand that. "I wanted to tell you, lots of times--"
"I know that," he interjected reassuringly, as if he'd just read my thoughts. "A.J., you're my brother--don't you think I know how you are? How it must've been eatin' away at you all this time?" He frowned. "I'm just sorry I wasn't around then...you know... when you needed me."
"Rick, don't...," I urged, shaking my head. "It wasn't your fault you weren't here. And even if you were, I still would've done...what I did." Hesitating, I lowered my gaze. "I lied, Rick," I said, my voice dropping to a whisper. "I lied."
My brother stopped suddenly, and touched my arm.
"Hold up a minute," he said, and forced me to face him. "A.J. listen to me. You can't change what you did seventeen years ago." He shook his head. "Now I might not've been there, but it's pretty obvious to me that you did what you did because you loved Kristen. There's no sense beatin' yourself up over it now."
"I did love her, Rick," I sighed. "But that doesn't make what I did right."
Rick shrugged. "Sometimes, we do what we think we have to do, but nobody ever said it was always gonna be the right thing. But now you have the chance to set the record straight." He put a hand on my shoulder. "I know it couldn't have been easy for you, especially considerin' how damn honest you are." He laughed softly. "Come to think of it, A.J., you're about the most honest man I know."
"Thanks, big brother," I smiled, giving him a tap on the arm. "For understanding...and for saving my life...too. I tried my best to keep you out of it, but you tailed me anyway. But I guess if you weren't so stubborn, your name wouldn't be Rick Simon, huh?"
Rick gave me look of mock-insult. "Me, stubborn? Oh, come on A.J., you really think I was gonna sit back and leave you hangin' out there with no backup? He sighed. "Jeez, what kinda big brother you think I am?"
"You really wanna know?" I teased him for a moment, but the laughter quickly faded from my voice, and when I looked up at him, I was completely serious. "Between you and me--I think you're the best."
Pleasantly surprised, Rick broke into a big grin. "Y'know, you're not so bad yourself--for a little brother. Aw, c'mere, Kid." My big brother pulled me into one of his famous Rick Simon bearhugs, just like he used to do when we were kids.
"I love you, Kid," he said gruffly, ruffling my hair.
I love you, too, Rick," I said, and I realized how much I meant it.
For a while, we just stood on the beach, gazing out over the ocean in a companionable silence, all things right between brothers, once more.
Please let me know if you liked this and if I
should continue with this series.
I really appreciate the feedback.