Note: So I kinda fell in love w/ this movie, esp. with AJ ;) This is my first actual fanfiction that I've followed through with and it's also practice for a portfolio I'm putting together for college. I greatly appreciate the time taken to read it- reviews are appreciated as well, and of course, constructive criticism(: I own nothing except the product of my imagination. This takes place after what happened in the movie. Oh and excuse the title- I haven't found a good one and so therefore it's unofficially "The Untitled Takers Project." Enjoy!
The Untitled Takers Project
"You've got to be kidding me." AJ Goode was holding a white felt fedora with a black trim. It was obviously expensive and had just come out of the shiny black box that had been sitting on the marble kitchen counter when he walked in, waiting patiently with an immaculate red bow.
His girlfriend, Juliette, was at the stove, expertly wielding a spatula to flip a pancake. She looked away momentarily to smile at him. "I couldn't resist getting it for you."
"What happened to 'I won't get you anything for your birthday, AJ'?"
"Change of plans," she chuckled. "Well, what are you waiting for? Put it on, I want to admire my good taste."
AJ laughed and shook his head, running a hand through his ruffled blond hair before putting the hat on. "Jules, you didn't have to."
"When you look like that? Of course I did!" She scoffed but grinned, silently appraising the hat and how it made him look. She remembered when they'd gone shopping a few weeks earlier and the hat was sitting in a display case. It had been practically calling AJ, who, months before that, had lost one just like it in a unfortunate brawl with vengeful Russians.
"Nuh-uh!" She waved the spatula at him as he started towards her. "There's more."
"There's more?" he asked, sounding like an eager little boy. Undoubtedly he was an eager little boy that had secretly expected another present or two.
This time Juliette turned off the stove and crossed her arms as she leaned on the counter to watch him.
The white box he pulled out between the tissue paper fit perfectly in the palm of his hand. Inside was another one, smaller, fancier, and made of dark blue velvet. AJ seemed to recognize it, his posture suddenly going stiff and rigid. Nevertheless he remained silent. The box snapped open the same way it did years ago when Juliette's grandfather received it from her grandmother.
AJ wasn't smiling at all. In fact, when he looked up and met Juliette's eyes, she could see the vulnerability he rarely let show. He almost seemed to be in pain. "Juliette." He ignored her shaking her head. "I can't take this—"
"Yes you can," she interrupted, giving him a reassuring smile. "You meant something to him. I know he'd have wanted you to have it." She didn't go any further, letting her words sink in.
He didn't argue with her. So instead he took the ring from the box's hold and walked over. It glinted as it passed through the sunlight streaming through the window behind her. He held it out and asked quietly, "Then would you do the honors?"
She didn't know if it was the morning or even the soft, intimate way he spoke, but Juliette couldn't help but think to herself for the thousandth time how lucky she was, how this man, who loved her more than his own life, was all hers. And he was waiting patiently, regarding her with those eyes she'd easily fallen in love with. They were brooding, the color of transparent sky, and seemed to strip her of any walls she put up, reading her as easily as an adult would read a children's book. It wasn't always easy to do the same with him, but right now she could see the hints of guilt and something else, sympathy maybe, hiding in those cloudy blues. Yet no matter what AJ was feeling, no matter what emotion flooded his eyes, he was always handsome. Juliette looked at him and saw all the reasons why she couldn't let him have what negative feelings he felt right then and there.
She tore away from his gaze and took the ring. She slipped off the existing silver band from his hand, replacing it with her grandfather's. It was difficult to not stare at it; its wonderful gold was untainted and held a kind of old beauty that went deeper than the old-fashioned intricate designs engraved into it. It was more than a reminder of what kind of relationship her grandparents had. Looking down at it, Juliette kissed the ring on AJ's hand.
He reached up and traced his fingers along her jaw up to her cheek. "Thank you," he told her softly, moving closer.
She was suddenly aware of the warmth emanating from his body and the blood pounding in her ears. "I love you" was all she could say as she folded her fingers over his.
AJ said something then but Juliette didn't have time to register it because he was kissing her. Without hesitation she responded, trying to mold herself into him as everything on her mind vanished. The cooled pancakes, the abandoned silver ring, and the surprises she had planned for the rest of the day—they were all gone and replaced with AJ, only AJ. Wrapping her arms around his neck, Juliette ignored the edge of the counter that was digging in her lower back. Her heart was hammering away as AJ's hands found his way to her waist underneath her cotton tee. She sucked in a sharp breath as his ring pierced her with icy coldness but it didn't faze her. Every kiss seemed to feel more desperate than the last and she wanted to breathe but at the same time, his hands were inching further up—
A phone rang.
They jumped and Juliette swore she felt her heart stop. It had been racing while they kissed; surely she'd had a mini heart attack.
AJ strode over to his cell phone and she felt the excitement walk away with him. He glanced at the caller ID. "It's my dad," he said after a moment. His voice was tight and only partly full of surprise.
Juliette turned around, tugging at her shirt. Her skin still burned and tingled from his touch and her heart rate was slowing, but for some reason her hands were shaking as she reached to turn the stove on. She continued with their breakfast, letting herself listen in on AJ's conversation and trying to ignore her unsteady hands.
He seemed to be thanking his father, probably for the birthday greeting. He discussed their move to China, and Juliette, and what had gone on in his life for the past year they hadn't spoken. Juliette could hear his tone of controlled reserve and when she snuck a glance toward him, she saw the tension in his figure. "No, I understand…" he was saying.
She sighed. AJ's father barely kept in contact. After AJ had left for Cornell almost ten years ago, his father had practically disappeared, leaving his mother crushed and confused. AJ would receive a short letter or call from him a couple times a year at most. In the last few years, communication had dropped down to an awkward, somewhat cheesy phone call once a year that involved a father pretending he'd always cared, perhaps to convince not only his son but himself, and a son that didn't bother to pretend and couldn't give less of a damn whether or not he had a father figure in his life. Juliette knew AJ had a low tolerance for him and wondered why his father was even bothering to call and why now. She knew he had apologized for not sending him any gift, but of all the birthdays he'd missed in years… he was saying sorry for this one? She could only imagine what AJ was thinking.
Watching him pace slowly back and forth between the kitchen and dining room, Juliette felt a sudden surge of frustration and anger at his father. He had made it clear the week his son left for college that he was no longer part of his life. Doing this, calling him and apologizing… it only made things worse. It was time for his father to realize his mistake. And she could read that in AJ's eyes as he briefly met hers. He could be having a better day than this, Juliette thought. It's time for him, for both of them, to let it go.
"Well, that lasted longer than I thought it would."
Juliette had just sat down at the glass dining table, staring at the steaming cup of peppermint tea before her as she awaited AJ to get off the phone. It took her a moment to realize he was speaking to her; she'd spent a good deal of the conversation busying herself with how many chocolate chips to put in the pancakes and whether to use plastic or metal knives. She watched him sit heavily into a beige and black suede chair with a sigh, as if he were exhausted, which he probably was.
Before she could say anything, AJ whistled. "I see an aspirin in my future," he said, looking at the plates of pancakes, bread, bacon, and eggs before him. He reached for a slice of bread and a knife.
Juliette couldn't tell if he wanted to talk about his father or not. He was one of those people who, no matter how dismissive, are only sometimes willing to share anything. Juliette wasn't like that—she either said what was on her mind whenever she was upset or remained eerily quiet, and because of this, she wasn't able to relate to him in this way. But seeing how he was almost violent in spreading the butter on his toast, she decided to ask a safe question. "How is he?"
"He says he's fine," AJ replied flatly. There was a pause and Juliette almost thought he wouldn't say anything more when he added, "Still living in Ontario, still 'taking a day at a time' doing what retired men do: golf, golf, and drink. The man's not even fifty-five." Instead of setting the knife down, he stuck it in the tub of butter with more force than needed. "He asked about you."
AJ shook his head. "He acts like you're the best and closest thing to a daughter he's ever had and he wishes you'd have gotten to know each other better last time you met."
"I'm sure if he wasn't the man he is, I'd be glad to concur." There was less conviction in Juliette's voice than there was bitterness.
He smiled. It was a few minutes of clinking china and crunching bacon strips before he spoke again. "When I told him about moving here, he was surprised but…." AJ's eyes were trained on his coffee mug, his finger tapping insistently on the handle. He gave a short, humorless laugh. "He tried to make me feel sorry for him. Apparently the construction company he works for is a little behind in the money-making department."
Juliette stared at him. "He asked you for money?"
His face was blank. "Not directly. But the implication was there." He stopped tapping the mug and downed the rest of the coffee, setting it down with a grimace.
But she was still staring at him, the incredulity and irritation in her voice fighting over each other. "I can't believe he had the nerve to ask you for money! Is he not aware of the shitty relationship—if you can even call it that—he's tried to maintain by a means I can't even begin to comprehend?"
"I didn't even pretend to realize what he was going for. I just said a sorry, good luck and goodbye."
Making a sound of disgust, Juliette turned back to her food, stabbing at the eggs and shoving it into her mouth. "Those aren't the words I would've used." The feelings were back again, ones of annoyance and bitterness… all coming together into fierce protection for AJ. She'd only met his father once, it was true, but she had been with AJ long enough to understand just a little of where he came from.
He'd lapsed into silence, staring at something across the table and living room and through the wall made entirely of glass, so crystal clear it appeared there was nothing separating them from the outside. On the other side of that glass, Beijing city lights twinkled and flickered in the distance like the ones on a Christmas tree. Juliette understood why he would look out there—it was a spectacular view and it did wonders to her artist's eye, but hidden between the thousands of little illuminations were AJ's thoughts and wonders. He loved sightseeing, probably more for the sake of his troubles than a pretty sight. While Juliette preferred to paint and draw what was on her mind, AJ dwelled on his feelings despite how much he refused to be controlled by them.
Not wanting to think about his father anymore, she pointed her fork threateningly in his direction and said, "Unless you hurry up, I'll be wearing that hat today."
He tried to look up at his head, seeming he'd nearly forgotten the fedora there. Grinning at her, he countered, "Thinking you could pull it off better?"
They laughed and Juliette mentally breathed a sigh of relief as she stood up from her chair. He had laughed and made a joke, meaning he wasn't going to be lost in his father business. Now if only he would be like this for the rest of the day, she thought.
"Hey—" AJ stopped her, grabbing her hand. He pulled her down for a kiss and leaned back to smile. "You cook amazing as always. Thanks babe."
It was Juliette's turn to smile. Why did she ever doubt for a second his ability to bounce back? AJ never let anything get the best of him. Look at him now, his father forgotten and Juliette seemingly the only thing of his concern.
She bent down and pressed her lips firmly against his another time. "Anytime."