A/N: Kind of a shame that out of sixteen people that have read as far as Chapter 4 of this story, only one has bothered to review. Ah well, thats life I guess. My thanx to Paula for the support throughout :-)
(For disclaimer, etc. - see chapter 1)
Chapter 5 - Years In The Making
PJ was exhausted when she got back to her apartment. She was glad today was not a work day for her or Bobby, they really did need to have a serious talk and that was precisely what they had done. She hadn't expected to get so upset when explaining to him why they had to be over, but she guessed it ought to have been an obvious reaction. He was a nice guy, a really nice guy, and like she'd told him herself, any woman would be lucky to be with him. Unfortunately, she just wasn't that woman and she did not belong with Bobby.
Anyone would be mad and upset in such a situation, PJ had expected that, but what she maybe hadn't expected was how well he'd taken it in the end. Sure, he'd yelled and ranted some, asked how long she and Brando had been together behind his back, which had really stung. As if she would do that to him! In the end, Bobby had apologised, knowing what he'd said was wrong and by the time he and PJ parted it was with a hug and sad smile. This chapter of their life was over, the one where they were together as a couple, pretending they were forever when deep down neither of them was entirely sold on the concept.
'Too many emotions, not enough sleep' PJ thought to herself as she trudged up the stairs to her apartment, planning to collapse in a heap just the moment she cleared the door. She got quite a surprise when she realised that there was something blocking her from even reaching her front door, or more specifically someone sat in her way.
"Brando?" she was genuinely surprised to see him sat there, his back against her door and knees pulled up to his chest,
"Peej" he was up on his feet the second he realised she was there, "I was starting to worry about you" he admitted, shifting from foot to foot, looking as if he was seriously considering whether he was allowed to move at all.
She didn't say a word, just walked on over and threw her arms around him, hugging him tight. Brendan hugged back, glad of her reaction to his presence. All he'd wanted to do since they parted ways at Crowleys last night was come see PJ and hold her in his arms again. They'd waited years to get this far, and there was a certain amount of fear in him that worried it might all be over before it had really begun again.
"Oh, I needed that" said PJ with a sigh as she moved out of his embrace a little, not actually leaving the circle of his arms but back enough to see his face, "Brendan, please tell me you're still sure about us" she urged him.
"PJ, c'mon" he said with a shake of his head, "I'm not changing my mind now, no way" he promised her, "It's always been you, and yeah, it took me a while to realise that and to be... I don't know, man enough to say it, I guess, but I'm not backing out now"
"Good, neither am I" she smiled up at him, leaning in to kiss his lips just briefly before opening the apartment door and leading him in by his hand.
"Where've you been all this time?" he asked as they abandoned their jackets over the back of the couch and she headed straight to the kitchen to make coffee.
"With Bobby" she admitted, not even glancing at Brendan as he came to lean his hands on the central counter watching her, "I couldn't start anything new with you until I talked things through with him" she explained, "It wasn't right"
"I get it, I do" her best friend nodded, hearing the emotion in her voice that she was trying to hide, "Hey, Peej, come here" he urged her, walking around the counter to reach for her and turning her back into his arms as she cried.
"I'm sorry" she choked out, "God, I'm so dumb. I must've cried more in the past two days than I have in my whole life" she complained, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand.
"Oh, I don't know" Brendan considered, lifting her chin with his finger so she would look at him, "You remember in college when we had that chick flick movie marathon for Steph's Birthday?" he reminded her, making her gasp and then laugh lightly.
"Oh my God, I was a wreck!" she declared as she recalled the day all too well, "When I offered her anything she wanted at the video store, I expected girly movies but I thought she'd pick out comedies!" she chuckled, "I don't think there was one that ended happy" she complained.
"And you cried like a baby the entire time!" her new boyfriend and oldest friend reminded her with a grin he couldn't help.
"Like you didn't" she countered, slapping him playfully in the shoulder for trying to make her feel dumb.
"Me?" he said, eyes wide as if he were shocked, "No way" he argued, then off her look he realised he had to be honest, "Okay, so maybe a little" he rolled his eyes as he made the admission for her ears only.
It was good to laugh and enjoy this moment, but all too soon reality hit home, reminding them that there was no way they could live this relationship in the past. This was the here and now, and there were more people involved than just the two of them. Brendan looked too serious and PJ already knew what the next words out of his mouth were going to be.
"How'd Bobby take it?" he asked, and she visibly winced as she was forced to recall her mornings activity.
"I don't know" she sighed, turning out of his arms to pour out two mugs of coffee now the machine was done, "He took it well, I guess, if you can take getting dumped well" she said sadly, "I never meant to hurt him. I mean, I do love him, in a way, I just..."
"I know" Brendan assured her, his arms encircling her waist from behind and his chin resting on her shoulder, "I get it, I do"
"Yeah, you get it, and Steph gets it" said PJ, "but how are the other guys gonna handle this?" she wanted to know as she abandoned the coffee to turn around and beg an answer out of him, "I mean, Bobby is their friend too, and besides can you honestly see Kenny, Mike and Andy accepting us as a couple without making every possible joke about it?" she whined, looking closer to further tears than Brendan could bear.
He had no doubt that this relationship was worth it, but it kind sucked that PJ at least had to go through so much trauma for them to get where they were going.
"Peej, they make jokes about everything" he reminded her, "and they'll get bored" he insisted, pushing loose strands of hair off her forehead and back behind her ear, "Besides, Kenny said he was always expecting us to end up together, maybe Mike and Andy will be the same?" he shrugged, apparently much less bothered by everyone else's opinion on their relationship than she was, "And can you imagine the hell Kenny and Stephanie are going to go through when the guys find out about them?" he almost chuckled at the prospect of it all, despite how serious PJ still looked.
"I guess" she conceded, still feeling bad.
It had to be what she'd done to Bobby more than anything. Above all else PJ Franklin was a good person, it was one of the things Brendan loved most about her, but it often led to her suffering. She would beat herself up over the dumbest things. Not that it was wrong to feel bad that she just dumped Bobby in favour of him, it was a tough break for the guy and even Brando felt kinda bad that his buddy had to get hurt in all this. Still, he didn't want PJ feeling guilty about their relationship forever, it would become unbearable.
"And as for Bobby... I don't know, I guess that's gonna take a little more time" he said thoughtfully, reaching past her to pick up the coffee mugs and motioning for her to head to the living room, "but hopefully, one day, he'll wanna come hang out again" he said, not entirely certain that was right but saying it anyway.
Truth be told if it was him, he wasn't sure he could stand the idea of hanging out as just friends with a woman he'd once dated, especially if she was dating another of their mutual friends now. He couldn't see that ever being a problem for him in the future though, because Brendan truly believed he and PJ were for keeps.
"What's that grin for?" she asked curiously as they say down together on the couch and his arm crept around her shoulders, pulling her close.
"You" he admitted, still smiling, "and me. God, PJ, this has been so long coming" he told her, as if she didn't know, "and yeah, okay, I admit it's gotten complicated and it's gonna be that way for a while but... it's you and me, we're together" he said, almost as if he was realising it for the first time as their eyes met, "I think deep down I've been waiting for this since we first met in college" he told her, feeling just a little dumb for being so emotional and sappy right now.
Still, this was PJ, she didn't care if he acted like an idiot in good ways or bad. She always wanted him around, she never judged him too harshly, and she was the one permanent feature in his life that he never wanted to lose. Brendan couldn't picture a life, a future, anything without her in it, and now it seemed he didn't have to try.
"You know I love you, right?" she said in nothing more than a whisper.
"Of course" he smiled down at her, his hand going to her cheek as she moved in close, "I love you too" he promised, as they closed the final gap between them and kissed.
It felt right, it felt good, it felt… like coming home somehow. All the other guys in PJ's life (well, not all of them, but a lot of them) had been really cool. They were kind and funny and good looking, and she couldn't really find fault with them, except for one flaw. They weren't Brendan Dorff.
When she had accused her best friend of shopping at the crazy mall, deliberately sabotaging all his own relationships, it hadn't entirely occurred to her til later what a hypocrite she'd been. Bobby notwithstanding, she'd really had some major screw ups with men, made some lousy choices and all.
Finally, here they were, where they both ought to be, together and happy. Maybe this time it would work out okay after all.
The guys were a little suspicious to have been invited to Poker Night two nights after the original that didn't really happen and all by text message. Something seemed weird, but at the end of the day the offer of a card game and beer was all they really needed to get them to show up. Mike and Kenny arrived together with Andy following just a minute later before anyone had a chance to ask what was going on. PJ and Brando shared a smile as they other sat down at the table and prepared to play.
"Where's Bobby?" Mike asked when PJ started shuffling the deck of cards, sitting down across from him with Brando to her left.
"Um, yeah" she said awkwardly, putting the deck down on the table without dealing a single card and looking from Mike to Brendan and back, "He's not exactly coming" she explained awkwardly, knowing this was why they were all here and yet dreading having to do this for fear of the reaction.
"There's something you guys should know" said Brendan with a pointed look at Kenny since he already had half the information before they even began.
"PJ and Bobby broke up?" he said, making it sound like a total guess in spite of the fact he had to be 99% sure what he was saying was true.
"Oh, sis, you okay?" asked Andy as PJ's eyes went to the table, "You don't want me to offer to kick his ass, do ya?" he checked, his hand on her arm, "I mean I could and I would but…"
"No, thanks, Andy" she smiled, unable to help herself as she glanced up at him and saw the abject relief on his face, "Bobby didn't do anything wrong, we just… we weren't right for each other, I guess" she shrugged her shoulders, hands still playing with the cards on the table, cutting the deck and shifting it around for something else to do, "That's not exactly all the news either" she said, looking to Brendan for help.
"Okay, so me and PJ" he said, picking up her hand off the table and holding it tight, "We're kind of… together now. Like together, together" he emphasised, making sure everyone got his meaning, even Mike who wasn't usually all that on the ball.
"Huh" Andy reacted with no more words than that.
"Cool" Mike threw in, taking a slug of his beer, "Sucks for Bobby, obviously, but… meh"
"Makes sense" nodded Kenny, "So, er, who's dealing first?"
PJ was kind of bowled over by the non-reaction from her friends and brother. She had expected them to be a little more surprised that first she had broken up with Bobby and now she and Brando were together. Sure, she had wanted them to be okay with it and not judge her, but she had hoped for a little more response than this to such a big change in her life.
"Guys, seriously" she said, waving her free arm in some emphatic gesture as Andy reached for the deck of cards she'd abandoned and got to shuffling them, "You cannot just brush this aside like it's nothing, this is a big deal!" she told them in no uncertain terms.
"Peej, if you're happy, we're happy" her brother assured her.
"Exactly" agreed Mike, "And besides, we saw this coming from a mile away. We're talking months ago"
"Years maybe" said Kenny thoughtfully.
"Probably was" Mike agreed with a nod, as PJ and Brendan stared at the three of them in real shock.
Obviously it was great that the guys were cool with them being a couple, but it was still quite the surprise to hear they had been expecting it to happen for so very long. The two of them really hadn't realised it fully until a few days ago, after all!
"To PJ and Brendan" said Andy, raising his shot glass in some kind of toast.
Kenny and Mike followed suit and so the new couple decided they ought to join it too, clinking their glasses and bottles together.
"To no more shopping a the crazy mall" added Brando with a grin in PJ's direction.
"Oh, yeah" she agreed wholeheartedly, clinking her beer bottle with her boyfriend's own and then understanding that wasn't exactly what he meant for her to do as he leaned in closer and their lips met in a brief kiss.
The guys wolf whistled and made a fuss at the display, until PJ picked up a handful of poker chips and shied them across the table at their heads. None of them actually hit anyone, but then she hadn't really intended them to.
"Hey, if you're done with the crazy mall" Mike said to Brando, sipping his beer, "Can I have your discount card?" he asked, tipping him a wink.
"Dude, what does that even mean?" his friend asked him, as all eyes turned to the red-head waiting for an answer to the question in all their minds.
After a moments thought Mike shrugged his shoulders.
"I have no idea" he admitted, as everyone laughed, and the first round of poker began.
PJ glanced from her cards to the faces of her brother, her boyfriend, and two of her best friends. It was sad not to have Bobby here because he was a good guy, and she did hope one day they'd all be able to hang out together again. In the meantime, this was good, better than good even, and given the cards she was holding in her hand right now, PJ could only see it getting better!