Ronnie Garrett is standing at the door of a second floor apartment, directly above Murph's sandwich shop. He thought about stopping in for a happy sandwich first to try to calm his nerves, but he's not sure he could properly enjoy it in his current mental state.
After a second to gather his thoughts, he knocks. He hears feet padding across the wood floor and a second later Aubrey Diaz opens the door. She's wearing a tank top and yoga pants.
"Hi," Says she.
"Hi," Says Ronnie, and follows her into the apartment.
It's small, but elegant. Abstract art on the walls, bright colored throw on the couch, neat kitchenette. Two windows over look the street that no doubt let in plenty of light when its day time.
"Something to drink?" Aubrey asks.
"Whatever alcohol you have."
She hands him a beer and then gets one for herself.
"We should talk." he begins.
"No shit." She replies, meeting his brown eyes.
He smiles to himself for a moment, then turns serious again. "What I said at Hannah and Ray's party, it was...inappropriate..."
"Did you mean what you said?"
"You're my brother's girl."
"I'm not anyone's 'girl' " She says sharply. "But it doesn't matter. Nick and I...there's nothing left. If Hannah came to his door this evening and said she loved him and would leave Ray for him, then he would dump me in a second. We're not right for each other anymore. I thought we were the same, but we're not." She looked at Ronnie with a sigh. "We're still 'dating', but I haven't talked to Nick in a week."
It had been two weeks since Hannah and Ray's engagement party. Two weeks since Nick decided to stay in Knight's Ridge instead of going on tour with U2. Two weeks since Aubrey kissed Ronnie.
"Did you mean what you said?" She asks him again.
After a moment, he nods.
"That's good." She replies. "Because I meant what I did after that."
History always repeats itself.
She had been leaning on the counter across from him, but they both move forward then until they have their arms wrapped around eachother, their lips meeting.
It is generally considered wrong, cheating on your boyfriend for his brother. Or making out with your brother's girlfriend. But it seems right. They don't question it. Honestly, at that moment, they are really not worried about Nick in the slightest.
It's a good bit later, in the early hours of the morning, that Ronnie stares at the ceiling, worrying. They say that ignorance was bliss. Ronnie is living proof that that is bullshit.
He's no genius, that's one thing he does know. But if anything that makes him worry more, mostly about the impractical stuff. Not global warming, or war, or poverty, like he should be anxious about, but instead things like heaven and hell, and the existence of the supernatural, or the fact that his brother is going to skin him alive when he finds out about this.
He hears Aubrey stirring next to him, even though he had been completely still in his bout of anxiety. Her bedroom is bathed in moonlight and the glow of the street lamps outside. An occasional car will whoosh by on the damp streets.
"You awake?" She asks him, sliding an arm across his chest.
"No." He replies, complete deadpan.
"What're you thinking about?"
"Nick, and how my face is gonna look after he breaks it."
"Eh, fuck him. Also, I don't see him as being very good with his fists." She tries to console him.
"He's not, but Eddie might help. And maybe Owen."
"All I can say is that this is kinda out of Nick's jurisdiction at this point. He wants Hannah. We all know it. Whether he'll get her or not, who knows. But if he doesn't, I'm not waiting around for him as his back up girlfriend. He's not worth it. Ours was always more of a relationship of the mind. It was my fault that I thought it could evolve into something else." She thinks for a moment. "No legitimate chemistry, I suppose, between Nick and I."
"You seem to have it pretty well thought out."
"I've had time to think it over, after Hannah's party. And don't worry, I'm not just saying you're my back up boyfriend. I think it was supposed to happen this way. Perhaps Nick was just the fateful gateway to where I was supposed to be, which is with you."
"My God, you are ridiculously smart." He smiles at her, his worries momentarily forgotten.
She grins lopsidedly. "I try."
He kisses her gently, and slips his arms around her, burrowing back under the covers.
m m m
They have a lazy morning, with a big breakfast and lots of lying on Aubrey's couch together, catching up on sleep.
At ten in the morning, Ronnie looks at the clock and, realizing that he hadn't told any of his family he had left, decides its time to get going. He shrugs on his plaid shirt and slips into his shoes.
"Come on, you should hang around." Aubrey says.
"No need to make my father worry more than he already does. Probably think I got myself run over or something, me being the idiot child and all." Ronnie says in good humor.
"You're not an idiot." Aubrey opens the door, and pulls him into a kiss. Afterwards, she presses his forehead to hers. "We gotta tell him."
"I don't want to."
"We'll do it together. I'll call him, get him to invite me over to your house for dinner or something, and explain the whole thing." She decides.
"Sounds good." He kisses her again, quickly, and heads out.
She hears his footsteps retreat down the stairs, and then falls down on her couch. Something shiny catches her eye, and she finds it to be Ronnie's watch left on her coffee table, no doubt taken off in the heat of the moment. She thinks about running after him, but knowing she'll see him again soon, she succumbs to her exhaustion, closing her eyes with a smile on her lips.
m m m
Ronnie floats down the stairs in a happy daze.
He is completely unaware of his surroundings as he steps out of Murph's and onto the street, nearly running straight into Eddie Latekka and Nick Garrett.
He nearly jumps out of his skin.
"Hey, bro." Nick greets.
"What's up, Ronnie?" Eddie says.
"Oh, uh...hi." It takes him a moment to remember English.
"Where were you last night?" Nick asks, a mischievous glint in his smile.
"Uh, work emergency. Needed me to help sort things out." Ronnie improvises.
"They needed you?" Nick asks in disbelief.
Ronnie smiles nervously. "Shut up, man. I can be useful."
"If you say so."
"I'll see you at home, okay? I gotta get some sleep." Ronnie starts to hurry off. "Bye Eddie."
Ronnie half sprints down the sidewalk and turns off the road as soon as possible onto an empty side street. He leans his head against a brick wall for a moment.
You're such a dumb ass. He says to himself, and then, How the hell am I gonna tell him?
m m m
"Is it just me, or did he seem jumpy to you?" Eddie asks, looking in the direction Ronnie had just sprinted off in.
"Eh, he's probably tired or something." Nick brushes it off. His brother's weird 78% of the time. "Maybe just really over caffeinated."
Eddie shrugs. "See you later, then."
"Good luck with Aubrey."
"I wouldn't put money on things going well."
Eddie smiles devilishly, before continuing toward his truck, parked on the curb ahead.
Nick says a brief hello to Murph, before trudging up the back stairs to the second floor of the building. He raps quickly on Aubrey's door, shifting his weight from foot to foot as he waits for her to emerge.
He's surprised at what opens the door. Aubrey look disheveled, her hair in a messy bun, her clothes wrinkled sweats. She wears no make-up. Nick glances at his watch. It's nearly noon on a Friday. She should have already had two classes at The Doof by now.
"Hi, Nick." She says, eyes wide. He realizes he's caught her off guard. Aubrey, a woman as sharp as a tack with always a comeback waiting in the wings, is not expecting him.
"Morning, Aubrey." He says, a little confused himself. "Everything alright?"
"Oh, uh, yeah. Everything's fine." She smiles tensely. "Come in?"
"Sure." She leads him inside where he takes a familiar seat on her couch.
He looks around with an inquisitive eye. Despite Aubrey's usual neatness, the apartment was a mess. The dishes were undone, the throw crinkled over the couch's surface. Through the cracked bedroom door he could see the bed was unmade, the sheets and comforting hanging off at odd angles.
Aubrey leaned awkwardly against the partition separating the kitchen and living room. "So, what's up, Nick?"
"Look, I know I've been distant the last couple of days, and I wanted to make it up to you. The Commander's first chemo session is tomorrow and we're getting the family together to have dinner. It'd be great if you could come." He gives her a pleading look.
She raises and eyebrow at his expression. She thinks it should be endearing to her, or make her want to hug him because the hardship his dad is going through, but instead she thinks of Ronnie, and would much prefer hugging him.
While Aubrey is thinking, Nick looks to his left and sees sunlight glinting off a man's watch lying on the end table. It looks familiar, but he can't quite place where he's seen it. He says nothing of the fact that there's a man's watch in his grilfriend's apartment, thinking of the last time he had suspicions of infidelity and what a mess that had caused.
He turns back to meet her eyes.
"Okay," She says. "What time?"
"Probably around six. Come when you like, though, it's casual."
"Alright, see you then." She forces another smile, heading toward the door. Nick takes the hint and follows.
"You sure you're okay?" He asks, halfway out the door.
"Yeah, yeah. Just, uh, been a hectic week at school, ya know?"
He hugs her briefly, she pulls away and meets his eyes. She thinks he might kiss her, and quickly breaks eye contact. There is no passion, though. He mutters a good bye and hears the door shut as he walks back down the stairs.
m m m
On Saturday evening, a nervous Ronnie answers the door to an equally nervous Aubrey.
"Hi," He breathes.
She smiles reassuringly as best she can, and he holds the door open for. As she passes through, she discreetly hands over his watch, which he puts on when no one's looking.
Aubrey hugs Leslie and The Commander, and then gets hugged by Nick awkwardly. Lastly Owen, still living with the Garretts until he can get a good apartment, gets hugged too. They sit down a few minutes later to a meal of roast chicken, salad, and sweet potatoes.
The meal goes fairly smoothly, the conversation light and easy. Aubrey and Ronnie try to shoot each other courage through quick glances.
After dinner, Owen heads up to bed, and Leslie and The Commander settle in on the couch, leaving the remaining three in silence at the dining table.
"Nick, uh, you wanna go for a walk?" Aubrey asks, non chalantly.
Ronnie reaches up to scratch his chin with his left hand, and the light momentarily glints off his watch, catching Nick's eye. Nick freezes for a moment, then glares.
"Yes, that seems necessary." Nick says icily, after a moment.
They get up quietly. Ronnie has turned deathly pale, and Aubrey bites her lip as they walk briskly toward the door.
"Be back after a while, Mr. G." Aubrey calls, grabbing her coat.
"Alright, Aubs." Robert replies, switching on the television.
Nick opens the door, his face dark. Aubrey follows, letting her fingers brush Ronnie's for a moment. Ronnie comes next, not bothering with his coat. He closes the door behind him, and heads out into the night.