AN: These stories are connected by the fact that they are vignettes from Xander and J.J.'s past. They can be read in any order you choose. This piece was inspired by the song "Girlfriend" by Alicia Keys. Read Lyrics [url= /Girlfriend-lyrics-Alicia-Keys/]here.[/url]
Disclaimer: Xander and J.J. belong to Columbia and Tristar, etc. Hopefully no one cares that I'm using them. Same goes for any of the brands or companies mentioned in the story. I have no affiliation with any of them and I'm not making any profit, yada, yada, yada…
Summary: 1998 – Xander breaks his leg and has to spend three months in a cast. He meets a girl while convalescing and a relationship blooms. Will he be able to find the balance between his romantic relationship and the relationship he shares with J.J.?
I think I'm jealous of your girl friend – although she's just a girl that is your friend.
I think I'm jealous of your girl friend – she shares a special part of you…
Most days, the parking lot was peaceful, even quiet, though occasionally the silence was broken by a passing car. The few residents occupying those lofts built into the mini-industrial area was unusually insulated from the sounds of L.A. traffic.
While in the night, the meatpacking district came alive as clubs opened and partygoers appeared, during the day, there was little to hear. Well – there was little to hear if Xander Cage wasn't in the area, and today, he was.
The chaos and tumult seemed to follow the extreme sports enthusiast, whether it was the roar of his motorcycle, the blaring of his music, or the keening of wheels on rails, on pavement, on gravel, on sidewalk, on ramps, and anywhere else that Xander's followers chose to ride their bikes and boards when they were paying the man a visit. And they rarely, make that never, came alone.
One could depend on Xander's admirers to be exceedingly disorderly, but there was one person who could quell the fracas with a well-placed look or a word: Xander's best friend and manager, J.J. – unless she was angry. If that was the case, the storm simply doubled in power and intensity. Unfortunately, at this particular moment, J.J. was royally pissed.
As the young woman's black Capris rolled into the parking lot behind Xander's loft, any bystander could have heard the sound of her and Xander arguing, even though all of the car's windows were closed. The little car screeched into a parking space, and as J.J. came storming out, the subject of the argument became as apparent as the volume.
"All I have to say, is when the kids come to me asking why we didn't get the grant, I'll tell them they can thank Xander fucking Cage!" the vibrant blonde nearly screamed as she stomped up the ramp, fishing her set of keys from her purse, "Xander Cage and his temper!"
Not to be outdone, Xander followed her from the car, planting his hands on the railing and vaulting himself onto the ramp.
"You should thank me! I don't care what company he's from – nobody treats you like that in front of me! That slime ball had his hands all over you!"
J.J. was already in the lift, preparing to yank down the door, but Xander ducked inside before she could shut him out. She glared at him.
"I can take a few misplaced hands for a good cause. That 'slime ball' was ready to donate $50,000 worth of new equipment! You know their gym is strapped for resources!"
The slime ball in question was a representative from Nike, one that J.J. had nearly convinced to donate a hefty amount to their local Boys and Girls club. The grant would have covered everything from rollerblades to football pads and dodge balls. Yes, the man was a bit too 'touchy,' but J.J. could have easily survived it for the one hour tour of the Boys and Girls Club's current facility.
Near the end of the tour, however, Xander had ruined everything by asking if he too had to let the executive 'feel him up' in order for the community center to get the donation. J.J. had barely been able to salvage the moment by sending Xander to wait in the car, but only time would tell if she'd be able to salvage the grant.
"He was harmless," J.J. continued, "you'd better pray I can fix this mess."
As they stepped into Xander's home, the athlete mumbled,
"I told you that skirt was too short."
"I know you're not still talking to me," J.J. called back as she grabbed her overnight bag and walked back to Xander's bedroom to change clothes.
"and do not touch Hoff's cookies," she yelled a moment later.
"God, does she see through walls?" Xander groaned around a mouthful of peanut butter cookie, guiltily setting down the tin of cookies J.J. had baked. The two had been invited to a birthday party for Matt Hoffman, Xander's friend and fellow sportsman, though he was known for his skill on a bicycle, rather than a motorbike.
The performer had specifically requested the cookies for his birthday gift, and J.J. had happily complied. Xander frowned, downing the rest of the stolen cookie.
"Why don't you ever make me cookies anymore?" he pouted.
"Because you're an ass," J.J. countered as she came walking back into the kitchen. Xander did a double-take when she came in. Then he scowled. J.J. wore a peacock-green tank top with a cowl neckline that plunged much further than he liked.
Her heels clicked loudly as J.J. walked to the freezer and grabbed the bottle of Vodka that she'd purchased to take to the party. Wordlessly, she packed the bottle and the cookies into a gift bag, then she grabbed her helmet and jacket from one of the shelves in Xander's living room.
A meeker man would have let the argument die out with that, but Xander could hardly be described as meek. Grabbing his own helmet, he gave his friend a once-over. As they shrugged on their jackets, he sniped,
"Is Matt gettin' some cookies I don't know about?"
J.J. stopped mid-step, yanking off her jacket and tossing it over the back of the couch.
"Son of a bitch - I'm not riding anywhere with you," she growled through clenched teeth, stomping over to Xander and shoving her helmet into his already-full hands.
As Xander scrambled not to drop the helmet, J.J. grabbed Matt's gift bag and breezed out of the room. The lift door slammed closed, and Xander let loose a string of profanity, carefully reshelving J.J.'s helmet despite his anger. He clapped his own helmet onto his head, palming his keys and tapping his foot angrily as he waited for J.J. to send the lift back up.
It came with excruciating slowness, and he rushed inside, pacing the small space as the lift descended. Once he stepped out, he raced to lock the door behind him. J.J. was just getting into her car, and he felt the rash desire to beat her to their destination. He jogged over to his bike, which was waiting for him on the ramp. J.J. glanced up, sighing when she saw his hurry.
The engine roared to life, screaming as Xander flew down the ramp. J.J. did not alter her speed in the slightest. Carefully setting the bag between her driver and passenger seats, she watched as Xander raced out of the parking lot, white smoke billowing up from his back tire. Shaking her head, J.J. ducked to get inside her Capris.
As she was reaching toward the ignition, she started, dropping her keys at the loud sound of a grinding screech. A split second later, she heard a metal-on-metal squeal and the distinct, unmistakable sound of a crash. Keys forgotten, J.J. leapt out of her vehicle, leaving the door open, stumbling over her high heels as she rushed through the alley to the edge of the parking lot.
You could see a small stretch of the road from the alley, but the major intersection was obscured by another building. J.J. gasped as she ran, following the burn marks Xander had left in the alley, sprinting to get past that building so she could see -
The road was littered with hunks of red plastic and glass. Across the street, the back end of a blue sedan was nearly wrapped around a light post. The driver, apparently unhurt, had climbed out. He stood there, staring dazedly at the street.
Pulse pounding in her ears, J.J. turned quickly, following the driver's gaze.
"Oh my god –"
A crowd had gathered in the road, obscuring her view, but what she could discern was enough to make her heart leap into her throat. Just in front of the sedan lay a red and black heap of twisted metal and rubber that, possibly, in another life, could have been a motorcycle.
She tried to will herself forward, but her feet felt glued to the road. Mere seconds passed, but it felt like an eternity before she was finally able to move. Kicking off the cumbersome heels, J.J. carelessly ran, barefoot, across the asphalt and glass to push her way into the crowd.
She broke through the circle of people, and a moan was ripped from her chest. The sound was so anguished it sounded more animal then human. She could see it all now. The crowd that had gathered in the street was huddled around a prone body dressed in dark rinse blue jeans and a black motocross jacket.
J.J. eyes flitted back and forth erratically, assessing the damage as she crawled forward on her hands and knees.
She reached out to lay her hand on his chest, anything to let him know she was there.
"Hey, don't move him. This break is really bad and we don't know where else he's hurt."
J.J. glanced up confusedly at the stranger, turning to look where he indicated. She felt her throat close up. She was staring at Xander's thigh, the bone in Xander's thigh, actually. A jagged end was protruding up through a hole ripped in the man's jeans. Someone had tied a rag or a shirt around his upper thigh to stop the bleeding. Thankfully, Xander's helmet was mostly intact, though the face shield was badly cracked.
J.J. inched forward after she'd gained back some composure. His eyelids were fluttering, but Xander was conscious, and his eyes opened fully when he saw her. J.J. could have cried from relief.
"X, I'm here," she managed to choke out, "I'm so sorry. This is all my fault."
He mumbled something back in response, and J.J. tried to quiet him.
"Honey, don't try to talk. Save your strength," she whispered, but he kept repeating the phrase.
When J.J. leaned down to the crack in Xander's helmet, she finally heard him.
"Thank God you didn't ride with me."
The young woman's shoulders were shaking now as she tried to hold back her tears. J.J. said nothing, blindly reaching down to squeeze his hand. She exhaled a huge sigh of relief when Xander was able to squeeze her hand back, and another as she saw the ambulance arrive.
"Twelve freakin' weeks! I'm going to miss the exhibition. Everyone was counting on me!" Xander whined as J.J. wheeled him into his loft. His lap was full of flowers and other get-well gifts he'd received from family and friends.
J.J. sighed, grunting with exertion as she pushed the wheelchair and tried not to drop the bag she carried on each shoulder, in addition to keeping hold of the crutches awkwardly clenched beneath her arm, as well as the kit the hospital had given them to help take care of Xander while he healed.
After two hours of surgery to repair the open fracture of his femur, they'd had to cast Xander's entire right leg. The man had also broken a rib, and he had extensive road rash across his upper back, and lesser bruising in many other places.
Aside from the cast, Xander's torso was almost entirely wrapped in bandages. If he hadn't been hurting so badly, he might have found the situation funny. As it was, the man was in too much pain to be aware of anything else.
"I think the kids will understand why you can't perform – and Matt's going to do his best in your place. Just be happy that Nike still came through with the money. We can still go to the exhibition if you're up to it by then."
"I guess," Xander sighed dramatically.
The sigh turned into a groan as J.J. helped him inch out of the wheelchair and scoot over until he was lying in bed. Xander cursed softly, air hissing through his teeth as the pain hit again.
"Enough," J.J. said, leaving his bedroom and returning with a glass of water and two pills. She held them out to him.
"Take the damn Vicodin."
Xander shook his head, eyes glazed in pain as J.J. adjusted the pillows under his broken leg.
"They make me feel funny. I don't like it," he said resolutely, but he quickly wilted under J.J.'s glare.
"You're folks will be here soon," J.J. told him as he gulped down the medication, "Aunt Luna's gonna make spaghetti."
Xander begrudged her a small smile.
"Spaghetti and Vicodin – breakfast of champions."
"Duke Nukem! Yes! Thank you, J.J.," Xander grinned, and then grimaced as he carefully hobbled over to his television.
Placing his weight on one crutch, he leaned forward to stick the videogame cartridge into the console. J.J. shook her head indulgently, hunting through Xander's fridge for the macaroni salad she'd made the other day.
"I've rented it for you three times now. Maybe you should just buy it."
She grabbed a packet of crackers as Xander slowly made his way back to the couch. Eagerly he grabbed the gun-shaped video controller.
"I swear," J.J. mumbled to herself, "he has the latest gaming system and all he wants to do is play the Nintendo."
Grabbing some plates, a spoon and two juices from the fridge, she walked into Xander's common room. She frowned when she saw the morose expression on her friend's face.
"What?" she finally asked.
"I forgot to plug it in."
J.J. shrugged, barely keeping the smirk off of her face.
"And this affects me how?"
"J.J. please? I can't make the trip again!" the man begged, pitifully reaching toward the television with his grabbing tool. It was nowhere near long enough to reach the screen.
When J.J. didn't move, he found a better use for the tool, turning to start poking her in the arm.
Carefully shifting the food out of her arms and onto the table, J.J. walked over the television and turned on the Nintendo. In the meantime, Xander had helped himself to the food, and he mumbled a 'thank you' through a full mouth.
Gleefully, he yelled at the screen, nearly unseating himself as he got into the game. His body quickly protested the movement, and a hand went his right side as he winced.
J.J just smiled and shook her head, eating in silence as she watched his adolescent antics. When she finished, she cleared the dishes, then walked back into Xander's bedroom. She returned with a T-shirt, tossing it at Xander.
"Put that on," she said, glancing at the clock.
Xander paused the game and did as he was told. The T-shirt went on easily now that he'd been able to downgrade from ace bandages, gauze and ice packs to adhesive tape and Band-Aids for his injured chest and back. He glanced quizzically towards the door.
"We expecting somebody?" he joked.
J.J.'s only answer was a sly smile. After she checked his pillows again, she plopped down beside him. Another few moments passed, and then they heard the sound of the doorbell.
"Oh good, they're here," J.J. laughed, bounding over to the window.
After verifying who was at the door, she buzzed the group in.
"Who's here?" Xander asked, trepidation evident in his voice. He twisted around as much as he could to see.
"This place is in need of a good dusting. And you're welcome," J.J. said cryptically.
Xander took a deep breath. Whatever came through that door couldn't be nearly as humiliating as when his mother had come to help him take a sponge bath those first couple of weeks after his injuries.
He'd thought he was prepared, but when the trio of scantily clad women came walking into his loft he stopped breathing for a good seven seconds. When he was finally able to inhale, the stitch in his rib was so bad his eyes welled up.
Once he'd regained his faculties, he found himself even more confused. The girls were wearing tank tops and leather daisy dukes, but they were armed with buckets, feather dusters, and rags.
Thankfully, J.J. saw fit to explain what was happening.
"X, these young ladies are from the Sexy Kitten Cleaning Service. They're gonna be taking over 'cause I am through cleaning up after your ass."
The three girls giggled at her words, but nodded their assent.
"Ladies, the place is all yours. I'll be outside," J.J. grinned as she headed for the door.
"J," Xander called after her, a little panic in his voice, "you're just gonna leave me here?"
"No, silly," J.J. said, taking a peek out of the window, "they have guys too," she finished with a conspiratory grin, " I got a couple to wash my car – and your new bike. See you in a few!"
J.J. stepped into the elevator, accompanied by Xander's loud protests about how she'd better not let any shirtless 'himbos' touch his bike.
A tinkling laugh caught Xander's attention, and he turned back toward his television, One of the 'maids' was standing in his living room, preparing to wash the windows. She was brunette, hair pressed shiny and straight to fall just below her shoulders. Xander couldn't tell if her tan was natural or synthetic, but it made her eyes look impossibly green. She blushed a little when he looked at her, and the display of shyness, considering the outfit, made him laugh too.
He coughed, trying to do something to break the tension in the room.
"So," he said, idly drumming his fingers on his cast, "I hope things aren't too messy around here."
The young woman just shrugged.
"You have a good excuse," she answered quietly.
They didn't say anything else for a while. They stood and sat, respectively, avoiding each others' eyes like a couple of highschoolers. Eventually, the woman turned and picked up a cloth out of her bucket, and Xander gave a tiny sigh of appreciation as she moved. When she turned toward the sound, he quickly busied himself with his video game.
After a few tense moments, he asked,
"Candice," the young woman answered once she'd figured out why he paused.
"Candice, that's a pretty name. There a big demand for this kind of thing?"
She smiled – she had really white teeth, Xander thought.
"Yeah, actually – it pays the bills, and they're really flexible about letting me go on auditions and stuff."
"Ah - an actress," Xander smiled, mostly to himself. In L.A., that was hardly surprising.
Since he'd been convalescing, Xander really hadn't been around any women, except for J.J., but apparently it was just like riding a bike. He soon found himself engaged in easy, flirtatious conversation.
"You're really lucky," Candice said after a moment, biting her lip, "most guys can only dream about having a girlfriend this open-minded."
Xander grinned widely.
"J's not my girlfriend. She's my manager, but yeah, she is pretty great."
As if to punctuate Xander's statement, they heard J.J.'s laugh from out in the parking lot.
"So you guys never –"
"Nope," Xander shook his head, "she's into assholes in Argyle."
They shared a laugh.
"Hmm," Candice replied, batting her eyelashes a couple of times, "and what are you into?"
Xander stretched his arms, interlocking his fingers behind his head, ignoring the protest from his diaphragm and his obliques.
"I like my women a little more…edgy. You know, someone who's not afraid to get into a little trouble with me."
"Looks like trouble kicked your ass the last time you found it," the young woman retorted, gesturing to his injuries.
Now Xander was blushing.
"I guess I walked right into that one."
Candice's co-workers occasionally passed through the room, speaking to Xander in passing, but she spent the entire time in the same place, carefully washing each of the room's many windows. The injured athlete was glad for the company, and even gladder about the eye candy.
As their time began to wind down, she told him,
"My little brother was so psyched that I was coming here. He's a huge fan…he's really bummed that you're hurt."
Xander nodded appreciatively.
"Well, thank him for me."
After a lengthy pause, she finally concluded,
"It's really inappropriate for me to do this…but is there any chance that I could get your autograph for him? He'd be so stoked."
Xander nodded, grabbing a notepad and a marker off the table. As he scribbled his signature, he replied,
"And I'm probably not supposed to be asking for your number, but I'm doing it anyway."
She blushed nearly scarlet, but she knelt down to accept the notepad and the marker from his hand. She pulled off the first page, tucking the autograph into her pocket, but instead of writing on the notepad, she pulled off the marker cap and instead, scrawled her phone number across his cast, up near his hip.
Xander leaned back abruptly to give her room, and he took an audible breath when she leaned down and pressed her lips to the plaster, leaving a lipstick mark behind.
As the group packed up to leave, J.J. finally made her way back into the apartment. She waved goodbye to the girls, shutting the lift behind them as they left. She took one more look out the window, whistling through her teeth.
"Yeah, I'll definitely be inviting them back. They were just…delightful."
She sat on the couch, contentedly stretching and leaning back with a smile. When she saw the new addition to Xander's cast, her eyes widened.
"Do I even want to know what went on in here?"
"Nothing like that – yet," Xander replied with his own shit-eating grin.
"Shoot, she must really like you if she's gonna wait around for another 6 weeks."
"Ha – there's plenty I can do with one leg."
J.J. quickly covered her ears.
"Jesus, X. Please – I don't wanna know!"
Xander gave a loud snort of laughter.
"Get your mind out of the gutter. I meant things like inviting her to the bonfire with us this weekend."
J.J. looked skeptical.
"Sure you did."
"God, it's like a bad eighth grade dance," J.J. fumed from behind the wheel of her Capri.
"Hey, I'm not in love with the idea either," Xander retorted, folding his arms.
He shifted, uncomfortably stuffed into the back seat of J.J.'s car, his casted leg nearly sticking out of the window.
"Why didn't you just tell her to meet us there?" J.J. continued as she made the turn into Candice's apartment complex.
" I was worried she wouldn't be able to find us."
J.J. laughed abruptly,
"Not be able to find us? How about 'look for the group standing next to the giant bonfire'? I think she could have figured it out. And I'm letting you know now, I'm not playing third wheel tonight. The second we get there I am gone."
Xander just sighed, looking out the window until he spotted Candice's building.
"There it is," he said expectantly.
His companion rolled to a stop and stared through her windshield as Xander dialed his phone. He heard her mumble something about needing a drink, but he ignored it.
His date soon emerged from her apartment building. She was all smiles, dressed in a red denim skirt and a checkered t-shirt with cap sleeves. She stopped short as she reached J.J.'s car, peering through the side window, glancing between the two passengers. J.J. exhaled loudly, leaning over toward the passenger side door and beckoning Candice inside.
"Yeah, you've got the right car."
Slowly, Candice climbed into the passenger seat, but she broke into a smile when she locked eyes with Xander. He grinned as J.J. drove out onto the main road.
"I'm not exactly in driving shape right now. Sorry about that."
"Oh, it's okay," Candice quickly replied, though she glanced furtively at J.J., "I brought a six pack. I hope you like Heineken."
J.J. said nothing, biting her lip, leaving Xander to do the dirty work.
"Um…that's really sweet of you, but I'm kind of not supposed to be drinking right now. It's bad for healing - Dr.'s orders."
"Oh. Well, I guess us girls will have to drink them," she said, smiling tentatively at Xander's friend.
"I can't," J.J. responded, matter-of-factly, "driving."
The girl looked absolutely crestfallen, as she nodded and stowed the beer under her seat. With a soft sigh, she turned to stare silently out of her window.
"Hey, don't worry about it," Xander said, trying to salvage the moment, "There'll be plenty of people at the bonfire who'll be more than happy to help you drink that."
Candice just nodded, continuing to stare at the passing scenery. J.J. glanced up into her rearview mirror, shrugging when she caught Xander's eye.
The rest of the drive was filled with bits of small talk and long silences, but once they arrived at the beach, the mood eased noticeably. It was hard not to feel festive at the sight of the bonfire and the raucous group of people standing nearby.
"Candice, right?" J.J. asked. When the girl nodded, she finished, "do me a favor and grab Xander's wheelchair out of the trunk."
Candice did as she was asked, wheeling the chair forward as J.J. was helping Xander to scoot out of the side door of her car. The younger woman hurried forward to help, but J.J. said,
"Just hold the chair for me, okay?"
Soon, Xander was seated comfortably, and Candice leaned into the car to grab the beer as J.J. pulled a small cooler out of the trunk.
"Hold your Sobes and I'll push," she commented to Xander, handing him the cooler as Candice walked quietly beside them.
The trio was greeted with a loud cheer once they made it onto the beach. Xander waved like a conquering hero and J.J. just grinned. Candice jogged through the sand, sticking the beers into a metal tub of ice sitting off to the side. She grabbed one for herself, then stood back while J.J. and Xander were surrounded by their friends.
After a moment, everyone went back to the party, and she was able to find her way back to Xander.
"Well, I'll catch up with you guys later," J.J. smiled, trying to make her exit.
"J," Xander said quickly, "make me a kebab before you go?"
"Um, I'm sure Candice would be happy to take care of you," J.J. answered, tilting her head to the side.
"She doesn't know that I like," he whined.
J.J.'s eyes widened, as she cast an apologetic look at Xander's date.
"Okay…Candice, come with me. I'll show you what to get."
The girl nodded mutely, and J.J. felt humiliated and embarrassed by proxy.
She cast a scathing glare over her shoulder, mouthing, a silent 'stop it!' to her friend, who had apparently left his manners at home.
The two girls walked through the sand, heading toward the food table.
"I'm so, so sorry," J.J. felt the need to say, "I really don't know what's gotten into him. He's usually not like that. Well not to that degree… "
Candice nodded in understanding, brightening a little at J.J.'s soothing words. She stuck her hands into her pockets.
"It's cool. You guys go way back, huh?"
J.J. to laugh.
"Yeah. High school."
They moved down the line, J.J. pointing to various foods and Candice threading them onto a skewer.
"It was ninth grade. One of his buddies pinched my ass in the hall and I thought it was X. I turned around and punched him in the nose. Oh, no red meat 'til he's healed," J.J. said, pointing to the chicken instead.
Candice added the chicken and J.J. continued,
"I made him bleed, but when he went to the nurse, he didn't rat me out. He told her he fell off his skateboard."
The girls handed off their kebabs and stood waiting by the grill while the food cooked.
"We've been friends ever since. The company just kind of happened naturally."
Candice bit her lip, silently counting on her fingers.
"That's more than ten years."
J.J. gave a theatrical sigh.
"Don't remind me!"
The younger woman toed the ground, and J.J. shot her a knowing look.
"Go ahead," she coached the girl, "just ask me."
"Well…it's weird to see guys and girls who are that close and they never, well – "
"went out?" J.J. finished, saving the girl from having to finish the sentence.
She nodded gratefully.
"Well, look at it this way, Candice. X and I have been friends forever. If we wanted to be more than that, we've had a million chances to do it, thirteen years worth. Yeah, we're a big part of each other's lives, but you don't have anything to worry about, other than X's bad habits."
Candice giggled at the last bit, looking up through her thick lashes, and J.J. commented,
"That's a really different look, with the eye shadow and all - not that I expected you to show up in your uniform," she finished with a smile.
The girl smiled back, shyly.
"Well, Xander said he liked edgy girls."
"Ah – the 'edgy' speech. Look, if this isn't you," she continued, indicating the girl's clothing and makeup choice, "then don't worry about it. What Xander really wants is a girl who's confident, so just be yourself. And call him 'X' by the way – that's what all of his friends do."
When their food was done, J.J. handed the plate to Candice, motioning for her to head back to Xander.
"He's the one who needs to prove himself, not you," J.J finished, "and if he misbehaves you have my permission to whack him upside the head. He doesn't use it much, anyway."
Duly encouraged, the girl walked off, plates in hand. J.J. watched her carefully until she got back to Xander. She saw the athlete look around for her briefly, and when he spotted her, J.J. gave him a quick 'farewell' wave. He waved back, then he focused on his date.
J.J. took a quick bite of her food, laughing to herself.
"He's your problem now," she said gleefully, a slight skip in her step as she went off to socialize.
"You're sure I won't hurt you?" Candice asked from her spot on Xander's couch.
The athlete was stretched out in his easy chair, his casted leg extended across the leg rest. He shook his head, reaching out for her.
"You hardly weigh anything – now get over here," Xander grinned.
Candice giggled, grabbing her beer and hurrying over to sit on Xander's lap. She seated herself on his good leg, leaning back into the circle of his arms.
"You feel so good," Xander sighed, and she giggled again as his voice rumbled in her ear.
"You too," she responded, rubbing her hand along his forearm.
They sat in comfortable silence, watching TV as Xander flipped through the channels. After a few moments, Candice leaned back and placed a kiss on Xander's neck, just below his ear. A deep rumble resounded from his chest, and she smiled. She kissed him again, closer to his jaw line, and got the same response.
Slowly she turned to face him, setting her beer on the floor, and straddling his left leg and the arm rest. She kissed another path from his other ear to his jaw line, running her fingers down his chest and slowly making her way toward his lips.
"Ooh – The Pelican Brief!" Xander suddenly exclaimed, fumbling for his cell phone and nearly unseating Candice.
"What?" Candice asked confusedly as she grabbed the headrest of the chair to keep from falling off.
Xander was pressing a number on speed dial. As he brought the phone to his ear, he said,
"J.J. loves this movie."
Candice just blinked at him.
"Hey, J.J. Your favorite movie's on TNT. Candice, say 'hi' to J.J."
"Hi, J.J.," the girl said quietly as Xander turned the phone toward her.
Xander went back to his conversation, and after a few seconds, Candice sighed. Reaching down for her beer, she climbed off of his lap and walked into the kitchen. Shaking her head, the woman poured the rest of her beer down the sink, rinsed out the bottle and stuck it in the recycling bin.
When she came back to the living room, she plopped down on his couch and reached for her tennis shoes, lacing them up quickly. After a moment, she looked up and saw that Xander had hung up the phone and was watching her.
"Are you leaving?" he asked, genuine confusion painted across his face.
"I have to be at work in a few hours," she answered, tonelessly.
"Oh – okay. Want to hang out later?"
"Whatever. I'll call you when I'm done."
She left without another word. Xander stared after her for a few seconds, then climbed out of his chair to go get himself a drink.
"I don't see why we need to bring someone else into the equation," Xander stated, folding his arms as he watched J.J. bustle around his kitchen.
The woman picked up a pot of boiling pasta and dumped it into the strainer. Leaning back to avoid the barrage of steam, she stated simply,
"I need help, X. I barely have any time as it is, and if we expand the site there'll be even more work for me to do. I just need someone to help edit footage and reproduce tapes. You'll still have the final say over the finished project. They don't have to be corporate. We can hire a film student – like an internship. Of course, it's your decision," she finished as she checked on the pot of pesto sauce.
Xander wheeled himself over to the trash to dump the carrot and cucumber peelings off of his cutting board. He grabbed a set of tongs for the salad while J.J. dished out some gnocchi and ladled the sauce over it. Together, the two set the table, and once they were seated, Xander surrendered.
"Okay – let's put some fliers up at a couple of campuses."
J.J. ducked her head.
"Actually – I kind of already put out an ad. I've got some resumes for you to review."
Xander threw up his hands, laughing.
"Why did you even ask me?"
"Common courtesy. You're the boss, after all."
They'd just started eating, when the doorbell rang.
J.J. looked up mid-bite and shrugged at the question in Xander's eyes.
"No clue," she said.
Quickly, Xander backed out from under the table and wheeled over to the window, moving the curtain aside. He started, surprised.
"Oh, X. Don't tell me you double booked again. I don't think I can take the embarrassment a third time. She's really got to hate me by now," J.J. said quickly, the chagrin bleeding through her tone.
Xander thought about it, and shook his head quickly.
"No, we weren't supposed to hang out. You want me to send her away?"
J.J. stared at him, shocked.
"Do I want you to send your girlfriend home?" she asked him sarcastically. "Wow."
She said no more, going to the cabinet to grab another place setting, and Xander had his answer. He buzzed the girl in.
"X, I've got the best news!" Candice squealed as she dashed into the apartment, "I just won tickets to the Air Guitar Finals, and you're coming with me."
Carefully avoiding Xander's cast, she scrambled into his wheel chair, took his face in her hands and gave him a celebratory kiss. When he didn't respond, she pulled back and stared at him. She saw his eyes dart to the side, and she turned to follow his gaze.
J.J. waved sheepishly from her spot at the table. Candice bit her lip and nodded to herself.
"Hey Candice," J.J. responded, sharing the younger woman's sentiments completely.
"That sounds fun," Xander said in consolation, finally wrapping his arms around Candice's waist.
The girl sat there silently as he wheeled them both back into the dining area.
"Are you hungry? J.J. made gnocchi."
"Of course she did," Candice replied woodenly, but she got up and took a place at the table, accepting the serving spoon that J.J. handed her.
Xander tried to revive the conversation, asking Candice about her day and how she won the tickets. The girl's answers were quiet and brief. When she complimented J.J.'s cooking, the woman's answer was equally brief.
Scarfing down the remainder of her lunch, J.J. scooted back from the table, walking to the counter to pack up her computer.
"X, I've gotta jet. We can go over the resumes later."
"But you just got here! You asked me for this meeting last week."
At that, Candice started to get up from the table,
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know this was an 'official' thing. I'll go, J.J. Don't worry about it."
The girls continued to banter about who was going and who was staying until Xander stated,
"I don't see why anybody needs to leave at all."
The two women turned to stare at him, Candice looking hurt and J.J. looking annoyed. The older of the two turned to finish packing her bag.
" X, spend some time with Candice. We can look at the resumes tomorrow."
It was clearly an order, not a suggestion, and X didn't object. He nodded as J.J. let herself out. After a pause, he turned back to Candice.
"So tell me about these –"
He stopped short when he saw her green eyes brimming over with tears.
"Hey – what's wrong?"
In response, she just shook her head, covering her face with both hands. It took several minutes of coaxing before she finally said,
"Now I really feel like shit. J.J. has to tell you spend time with your own girlfriend," the girl said tearfully, grabbing a napkin and using it to dab at her eyes, "I like J.J. I know she's important to you. She's got a piece of you that I'll never have – I'm willing to accept that."
Xander gave her a small smile.
"Hey, there's plenty of me to go around," he joked, raising his eyebrows suggestively.
"This isn't funny, X. I feel – I feel like I'm coming in second place all the time, and that isn't fair."
He looked concerned then, and she hurried to soothe his fears.
"I'm not giving you an ultimatum. I know better than to tell the great Xander Cage what to do. Just think about what you want and let me know, okay?"
She stood up, and would have left if Xander hadn't caught her by the hand.
He tugged at her arm until she looked at him.
"I know what I want. I want to go to this Guitar Hero thing with you tonight."
His girlfriend laughed softly and smacked at his shoulder.
"It's Air Guitar, silly."
"Air Guitar, my mistake," he smiled, pulling her over to sit in the wheelchair with him.
"And then tomorrow I want you to come over for dinner, and I want you to stay the night."
Her jaw dropped at his words. In the weeks they'd been dating, he'd been relatively quick to make them an official 'item,' but he had never asked her to stay over. She'd hinted at it repeatedly, but he'd never caught on, as far as she could tell.
"But I thought…your leg," she managed to stutter.
"We'll figure it out. Now, no more tears," he said, wiping them away with the pad of his thumb.
Candice nodded, returning his embrace as he hugged her.
"You're still alive! I figured Candice bit your head off yesterday," J.J. laughed as she let herself into Xander's loft.
"Nope," Xander shot back.
J.J. stopped short, casting Xander a strange look. He was sitting in his living room, watching last year's X Games. Setting down her bag, J.J. quickly walked toward him, stepping around the easy chair to face him.
"Oh my god. X, you didn't."
Two bottles sat on Xander's living room table, one of Tequila, one of Goldschlager. Both were a quarter empty. From one glance, J.J. could tell that the man was already drunk. A loud burp was the athlete's response to J.J.'s words.
"X, what the fuck are you doing? You're not supposed to be drinking! You're gonna make yourself sick!"
X shrugged, exaggerating the motion.
"I didn't know what else to do. I'm freaking out."
J.J. shook her head, moving the bottles out of his reach.
"I asked Candice to spend the night."
J.J. was clearly surprised.
"Wow… that's a big deal," she said, "she's never – I mean you two still haven't –"
Xander shook his head,
"We've fooled around. That's it."
J.J. was silent, then she was uncorking the bottles and pouring one shot of each. Xander reached out for one of the shot glasses, but in an instant, J.J. had downed both.
"That's big," she said again, wincing from the burn of the alcohol, "congrats."
There was a weighted pause, then J.J. said, "I'm sure she's 'stoked'," laughing as she imitated Candice's speech pattern.
"Hey," Xander said, shooting the woman a glare.
J.J. just shook her head, pouring another shot of Tequila and tossing it back.
"J.J. what are you doing? You'll make yourself sick," Xander asked in a badly done in imitation of J.J.'s voice.
J.J. rolled her eyes.
"Well you're clearly in no condition to do any work. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
Thirty minutes later, they were both drunk.
J.J. laughed uproariously,
"I'm gonna have to get a cab home. 'Candy's' gonna be pissed when she sees my car here. She hates my guts, you know," she finished matter-of-factly, standing up to grab a bag of chips out of Xander's kitchen.
Xander went along with the joke,
"Yeah, and she's gonna hunt you down and challenge you to a wrestling match – a mud wrestling match – and we could sell tickets and take bets. Ten-to-one odds."
"Please. I'd kick her scrawny little ass," J.J. shot back as she came back the couch.
Xander reached into the bag when she offered, peering at her through squinty eyes.
"Well somebody's jealous," he grinned, crunching loudly.
"Ha!" J.J. laughed loudly.
She stood up to yank back the bag of chips, but thanks to the alcohol, she ended up splayed halfway across Xander's lap. Blearily, she turned, blinking up at him and pushing the braids out of her eyes. She sat up slowly, rubbing the back of her back of her head, and shifted until she was sitting on the armrest. He snaked an arm around her waist to steady her.
"I have nothing to worry about," J.J. replied after she'd gotten her bearings, "'cause I know I'll always be your number one girl."
She finished with a tipsy smile, flashing her bracelet as proof.
Xander smiled back, reaching out to touch the bangle. He'd bought it on a whim after J.J. started college, and he'd ended up giving it to her to help smooth things over after their biggest fight to date.
"Yeah, you are," he admitted, casually running a thumb across her wrist.
Mindlessly, he rubbed at the bracelet, and after a moment, he leaned down and pressed a kiss the pulse point beneath it. J.J. stilled in his arms immediately. Xander smiled softly, threading his fingers through hers and kissing her wrist again.
He glanced toward her, half expecting the woman to pull away, but she didn't, and suddenly his heart was hammering in his chest.
"J," he said softly, leaning to place a kiss on her bare shoulder.
She didn't answer, and he saw her turn to look away from him.
He shook his head, reaching out to cup her chin in his free hand.
"Look at me, sweetheart."
He felt her take some shallow breaths, but she didn't move. Soon he grew frustrated.
Xander rarely used J.J.'s full name, so when he did, she always responded. She finally turned, and his hand slid up to cradle her cheek. They said nothing, Xander continuing to rub her wrist.
Finally, the man took a huge breath, leaning forward a few inches.
"I'm not gonna stop unless you stop me," he rumbled as he continued to lean toward her.
J.J. didn't make a sound. She simply closed her eyes and waited. Xander's eyelids drooped as he leaned closer, but then he stopped a hairsbreadth from her lips.
"Last chance," he said, his voice a near whisper.
Now she was shaking. Her lips parted as if she was going to speak, but then she said nothing, opening her eyes and looking straight into his. The sudden eye contact surprised him, and his breath caught in his throat. A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, and Xander had all the encouragement he needed. He leaned forward the last inch.
And then his phone was ringing – vibrating loudly as it clanked against the bottle of Tequila. J.J. leapt off of Xander's lap, cursing loudly as she ran a hand through her hair. Xander was equally startled. He said nothing as J.J. grabbed for his phone. She cursed again when she saw the caller I.D.
"Candice," she told him, tossing him the phone.
Xander looked at the phone helplessly, then turned to look at J.J. The girl just shook her head, looking positively mortified as she backed away into the kitchen.
Xander took a deep breath, then flipped open the phone. He kept the conversation brief, though J.J. couldn't hear what he said. She'd turned the faucet on full blast, splashing her face with cold water.
"She's on her way," he told her when she came back into the room.
J.J. nodded silently, turning to look for her bag.
"I'm gonna get a cab."
Xander tried to call her back, but she wasn't having it.
"Don't do anything stupid," she told him emphatically as she let herself out.
J.J. sat on her couch, mindlessly channel surfing and eating a bowl of ice cream. Her cell phone buzzed, and she saw Xander's name on the screen. She considered letting it ring, but after a couple of seconds she answered.
"Hey. I didn't think I'd hear from you 'til tomorrow," she answered softly, looking at the clock. It was way too early for Xander's date to be over.
"So what's up?" she finally asked, unsure how to proceed.
There was a weighted pause on Xander's end.
"We broke it off," he stated plainly.
J.J. groaned, exasperated, laying her free hand across her forehead.
"X, you didn't need to do that! Why did you do that?"
There was another pause.
"You know why," was his quite, resigned answer, "she knew why too. There's no way I was gonna be able to lie to her, not after - "
He cut himself off, waiting for J.J. to say something, anything. She didn't.
"But just think," he finally said, putting on a deliberately cheerful tone, "my cast comes off in a few more days, and you can get back to your life of denial."
He knew he was pushing it, but for some reason, he couldn't shut himself up.
"I don't get it," he snapped, "You'll let some preppy off the street break your heart every other day, but you won't let me love you. You know I'd love you."
He sat there in angry silence, but found himself relenting when he heard a tearful sniffle on the other end of the phone.
"Christ – J… J.J., please don't cry. I didn't mean it. I'm just…I must still be drunk from earlier. You know how I love to stick my foot in my mouth."
The sniffles continued, but eventually they ceased. He heard J.J. take a deep breath.
"I love you too, X. You know that. And I love your parents and Aunt Luna, and the 'Xander Zone' and what happens if it doesn't work out? I lose everything. I just – I can't risk that."
Xander finally nodded, though he was alone in the room.
"I know – I know. But, hey – you're still my number one girl, right?"
He heard J.J. sigh.
"Yeah. See you tomorrow?" J.J. asked, and Xander's mood brightened a little when he heard the smile in her voice.
Xander sighed as he hung up the phone. Leaning over to grab his crutches, he quickly used them to stand to his feet. Lumbering agilely over to his television, he popped Duke Nukem into the console, and then trudged back to his couch.
As the game screen came on, he experimentally twisted his torso to the left and then the right. He stretched his arms out to the sides and then up above his head.
The pain was pretty much gone – from his body, at least.