Cass was into her fourth bottle of beer on their so-called, ‘date’. A.J. knew she was a hoot, but she was even funnier when she was half in the bag. They just had a nice dinner a few hours ago, just talking about what A.J. had been up to all these years. Second thoughts entered his mind as they sat in a booth in what he deemed a cowboy bar. The only thing missing was the sawdust on the floor. The jukebox kicked out country music, some of it was passable for his palette, some not. He could handle Tim McGraw and Garth Brooks; once the twang started, he told Cass they were outta here.
“Kevin’s a control freak,” Cass smiled with a lop-sided grin.
A.J. laughed, “And you are just noticing this now.”
“He wants everything his way,” Cass poured her bottle of beer into a glass. “I don’t know what to do... I think I made another mistake today.”
Cass had A.J.’s full attention now, “What’s that Cassandra?” A.J. wasn’t sure if he wanted to know after what had happened after the scene in the barn. It was a little hard for him to ignore the wood Kevin had going on.
Tilting her head to the side when she heard him call her Cassandra, she like the way he said it and the way it sounded. “They said Annie might be able to hear, but it’s expensive.”
A.J. took a sip of his Coke, “Daddy Warbucks can handle it, I’m sure. His account took a dent with the divorce but he still has some money tucked away. How can she hear?”
Cass drained the entire glass in three gulps, “Surgery, I don’t want him to pay for it. I don’t want her to have it.” The glass was drained for courage.
A.J. had an inkling but wasn’t positive about his train of thought, “Why?”
“Because then it’s one more thing I owe him. I told him we could talk to the doctor tomorrow. I can’t believe I said yes. Before I knew it, he was talking about us staying at his place in Los Angeles and Annie’s implants. It’s my own fault, I brought it up.” Cass called the waitress over and ordered another.
The waitress gave A.J. a momentary glance and he nodded an affirmation.
“What? Do you have a problem with me drinking?” Cass saw the look she gave A.J.
The waitress, “No honey, as long as you ain’t drivin’”
Cass smiled at A.J. who grinned at her. “Don’t worry my boyfriend will take me home.”
A.J. took on a funny look when the waitress left. He thought they had already settled on best friends, “Boyfriend?”
Cass’s head bobbed as another beer was set in front of her, “Yep, I need a boyfriend. Boy do I need a boyfriend. Do you know how long it’s been since I...” Cass’s voice dropped to a whisper, “I haven’t actually been with anyone in at least a year. Self-satisfaction just isn’t the same.”
A.J.’s eyes squeezed shut; this was not what he needed to hear. He had been battling his feelings for Cass since he first saw the videotape. Cass held a special tender spot with him and always would. Hearing that it had been awhile since she had sex, wasn’t helping him. Her admitting to self-satisfaction had him teetering on the edge. Everyone knew A.J.’s badboy reputation, however this was his friend. This was the mother of the child of his best friend. “Shit,” A.J. groaned.
“See, nobody wants to sleep with me,” Cass was melancholy. A.J. would but only if she pushed him.
A.J. took a drink of his soda again to sooth his parched throat. His eyes rolled around the room, taking in the sights, his ears the sounds.
“I’m not bad.” She drained the beer that had been set in front of her, “Ask Kevin.”
A.J. coughed, his pop rolling out of his mouth and down his chin. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he was grateful for the dimness of the bar. “I don’t think I’ll do that.”
“He said I was controlling,” Cass grinned as she yet received another beer.
A.J. had to agree, Cass was controlling. “You are.” Becoming a little uncomfortable watching Cass get plastered and spill her guts, he decided if they danced he could get her to put the beer down. “Let’s dance?”
“Can the dancing Backstreet Boy dance this?” Cass giggled as she tripped getting out of the booth.
Wrapping a hand around her waist and clasping her hand, he smiled. A.J. led her around the dance floor like a pro.
“You’re pretty good,” Cass laughed.
Tipping one of his trademark cowboy hats, he flashed a devilish smile. “Of course I am.”
“So modest,” Cass let him lead her back to the booth. Two more bottles of beer sat on the table along with two glasses of the pop that A.J. was drinking.
They sat down to talk as the waitress strolled by. “Those are from the gentleman over there.”
A.J. turned to see Chase sitting with a bunch of friends, he raised and tipped his beer towards A.J. and smiled.
“Hi Chase!” Cass shouted across the crowed bar.
Chase’s eyes bulged, as he suddenly understood Cass was drunk. He watched her guzzle down one of the beers he had sent over.
A.J. was trying to use small talk to get her to at least slow down the pace a little. “So what are you guys doing tomorrow?”
“The doctors, some shopping, and lunch. Oh and he has the paperwork filled out and ready to be filed to change Annie’s birth certificate. Sperm Donor is a sticking point with him.” Cass swallowed the beer in gulps. “He’s taking my baby away, he’s buying her.”
“Cass you need to slow down.” A.J. leisurely sipped his drink. Cass was afraid of Kevin in more ways than one, A.J. knew it.
Belting down another half of a bottle, Cass looked him dead in the eye, “That’s what Kevin said when he tied me up.”
“Fuck,” A.J. spit his mouth full of liquid out. “We’re going home. Right now.” A.J. slid out of the booth but not before Cass grabbed the bottle and guzzled down the other half.
Chase approached both of them, coming from behind. He Wrapped his hand around the empty bottle that Cass was swinging a little too freely. She issued her protest on leaving. “I don’t want to go back. I want to run away. He’s overbearing and a jerk. I hate him, we were doing fine without him. If he would have let catch that damn horse we would’ve had it made in the shade, but nooooo, he had to interfere in that too.”
Chase and A.J. exchanged anxious glances, as A.J. helped her stand up and Chase disarmed her.
“I hate him, he’s turning my life upside down, he wants his way all the time. He wants to take Annie shopping tomorrow. He wants the birth certificate changed. He lent me money. He wants to take her to California… well she isn’t going.” Cass’s arms were flailing, not from trying to maintain her balance but from fighting off A.J. and Chase.
Chase knew Cass had been upset. He didn’t think it was a good idea for Kevin to be staying at Cass’s, but it wasn’t his place to say so. His dates with Cass had been just a couple, they were friends who had enjoyed each other’s company. That had not gotten much further because Kevin had showed up on the scene. Cass was a typical emotional red head. Head strong, full of fire, full of love, and right now full of hurt, anguish, and fear. Cass felt threatened, with Kevin’s money and influence, who wouldn’t. “Cassie Jo Collins you’re drunk.”
“Really Chase, I didn’t notice, I thought the floor was moving.” Cass tried to take a step; she weaved, and then almost fell. Both men caught her.
Chase took a deep breath, “You sober?”
“I don’t drink, I’m an alcoholic,” A.J. smiled, no longer ashamed of his disease. He had been clean and sober for a very long time.
Chase didn’t like the looks that Cass was garnering from the male patrons in the bar. “Come on, I’ll help you get her outside before there is trouble.”
“Dude this is the Millennium,” A.J. whispered. His eyes scanned the bar and saw the men watching a little too hungrily at the red head in his arms. “Then again Dodge City might be damn close.”
“He wants them to cut my baby’s head open just so he can fix her. She’s not perfect, but she’s not a mistake.” Cassie hit a crying jag on both men as they tried to get her out of the bar and into the truck.
“What is she talking about?” Chase came around to A.J.’s side of the truck once Cass was buckled in her seat.
“Some kind of surgery and a hearing implant. Annie might be able to hear.” A.J. lit a cigarette. “She’s upset; she thinks Kevin has ulterior motives.”
Chase crossed his hands over his chest, “Does he?”
“Doubt it man, he spent the afternoon paying every freaking dime she owes. I think he maybe looking to settle down and start a family.” A.J. wasn’t really sure what Kevin wanted, hell he knew Kevin wasn’t sure what Kevin wanted, beyond a relationship with Annie.
Chase’s eyes swept over Cass’s form and then back to A.J., “Kevin and Cass?” He chuckled along with A.J. “Mmmm...”
A.J. flicked his ash out of the window. “See ya,” A.J. turned the key. “I have to get her home, Kevin is going to kill me when he finds this out.” A.J. laughed as he pulled out of the parking lot. He sang along on to the radio back to the ranch.
Pulling into the ranch, he pulled as close to the porch as he could. He went up and propped open the front door.
As he did, Kevin came from around the corner. “Hey, why did you guys stay out so late? You know...” Kevin’s eyes searched for Cass. He found her in the truck, passed-out. “You idiot! We’re you drinking?” Kevin’s hand came out to slap A.J.
“No asshole, I wasn’t but Cass is shit-faced, help me out.” A.J. walked back to the truck.
Kevin followed pulling the passenger door open, ready to scream. “Cassie!”
Cass didn’t budge, but her head lolled to the side.
“Great, just great, my day tomorrow ought to be so much damn fun, hangover and all!” Kevin literally picked her up and tossed her over his shoulder. Marching up the front steps and then up the stairs, he dumped in her bed. Shaking his head he pulled her boots off, she grumbled slightly.
A.J. stood at the door to watch, not out of mistrust of his friend, but out of worry for Cass.
Kevin was talking too her, “Cass, this is cool.” He tugged her boots off; then he rolled her under the covers.
“Cool,” she snorted, “No it’s not cool, I’m lonely, that’s not cool... I’m so lonely.”
“That’s your fault,” Kevin was disgusted with her and this little act.
“Is not, A.J. won’t even sleep with me, I guess you guys don’t share... won’t even kiss...” she nodded off before she could finish.
Kevin stood for a minute, his arms crossed over his chest.
A.J. saw the vein bulge in Kevin’s neck and the cheek to tick begin.
Kevin swung around to face him, “Thank you.” Kevin left the room with A.J. standing at the door.
A.J. turned and watched Kevin go directly to Annie’s room, open the door, peek inside, and then close it again, softly. He walked slowly down the hall to his own room and quietly shut the door.
“Oh Cass, he isn’t happy,” A.J. closed the door to her room and headed off to his.
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