“Seven—“ I groan out as I stab at the steak on the grill.  Why the hell do I smell lemons again when she asks me these types of questions?  Seriously I thought I’d canned the conversation for a while, but I guess she doesn’t have much to be upset about today and is going to harp on this until I give her a reaction.

I'd slipped away--escaped really--with the excuse of being the cook for the night.  Potatoes were wrapped in tin foil and on the grill along with the corn and there are beers and I made sure to pick up some of those fizzy water things that Tammy always has.  It all seems perfect, but there are definitely more than a few issues that need to be discussed.

“We were talking about other things in the car.”  I know that answer isn’t going to get me out of this, probably will get me into more trouble knowing her attitude lately.

Her lips form the words that I've been waiting most of the evening to hear.  “More important things?”  What she doesn't add to the end of that is "Than Me."  Did I have more important things to do than worry about her?

I hook the meat fork on the side of the grill and take a deep breath.  What do I say to that?  Do I tell her that YES the conversation hadn’t really even crossed my mind during the morning or do I tell her that NO she’s the most important person in my life and that I’m an ass because I didn’t march right in there and tell Sonia the first moment that I saw her that I’m going to cross my arms across my chest and hold my breath until they let me be single in the whole PR scheme of things.

“Why are you doing this?” I ask moving away from the grill to lean on the railing of the balcony.  I don’t want to start a fight.  All I wanted to do today was to come home and drink a beer and maybe spend the rest of the night with her, make love a few times, and sleep until the morning.  These are just simple requests for a fairly simple man that of course have now become overly complicated and dramatic due to one little comment.

“Doing what?”  Her eyes widen and she steps back a bit as if my words have knocked her off balance.

I really don’t know what she expects of me.  She’s a fairly proud and stubborn woman and I’m just as proud and stubborn so the battle between us rages on.  I didn’t know that it would be like this when we moved in together.  I don’t hate that she actually has a backbone and isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind, express her opinions, but after the last few days of media stress I really don’t want to battle her.  I want a Mississippi barbeque evening.  Good food.  Good Beer. Good company.  Good silence.

“Being so over sensitive about this—“  I blurt out the statement before I can catch myself.  I think I should just dig a hole and jump into it.  From the look on her face when I say the words, I don’t think though that it would solve anything.  She’d probably just jump in after me and strangle me.

When she doesn’t say anything I get worried.  I push my backside off the railing and walk towards her, reaching to put my hand on her cheek.  It’s totally the guy thing to do…touch their cheek or kiss them on the nose or forehead and they’re all yours.

“I’m sorry,” I say.  I move to lean my forehead against hers and take a dramatic breath hoping that she’ll realize that this is something that is on my mind and I’m going to be getting around to talking to JIVE about it soon.  “But I don’t know what else to say about this.  I told you that I would talk to them and just because I didn’t get around to it today doesn’t mean it’s not going to get done.”

I close my eyes and wait for an answer.  She doesn’t say anything.  Why isn’t she saying anything?  When I open my eyes I can see tears streaming down her face.  “What are we going to do Lance?” she asks.  Fear in her eyes is what I see. Or at least that’s what I assume it is since it’s so unlike her to be afraid.  With her brother I see a strict sense of respect that looks a little like fear, but this is different.  This is nervous, eye tearing, fear.  “Is this gonna break us up?”

My mouth goes completely dry—that cotton mouth kind of dry that happens after you drink your whole New Years away.  “Br-bre-a-ak up-p-p?”  I almost sound belligerent when I say this, sounding like I’ve hiccup the words out rather than say them.

I feel myself stumbling backwards, now as if HER words have knocked me off balance.  No.

She has knocked me for a loop.  No.

NO.  I’m not even gonna think about that.  Right now I can’t even imagine that.

“No,” I finally say when I realize that I haven’t answered her. Her body comes forwards and she kisses me before she moves back and shakes her head as reaches to wipe her face.  “I’m not trying to make this more difficult than it should be.  I really am—“

"Seven, don't talk like that.  I know that it's difficult on it's own.  It's no one's fault."  I sigh.  That isn't quite the truth, but I can't bring up the truth right now.  I have to smooth things over.  If she's at the point where she's thinking that we might break up then I need to do some damage control.

"But I'm the one that is always making it an issue and--"  She let a hiccup rack her.  "I'm just stuck in this--"  Her hands flop in frustration.  "I can't--"

"Seven don't cry like this.  It's gonna make you sick."

"I'm sorry--"  She stomped her foot.  "Shit.  I can't even fucking cry right."

I pull her into my arms and hold her against me.  “Seven,” I say, “Just trust me ok.  I love you enough to do this, but you have to give me some lea-way.  Jake was in the car today and I know that things are always tense between the two of you and I really didn’t want to have the conversation with Sonia while he was there.”

“Aunt Tammy?”

Damn little kids and their great timing.  If it wasn’t for this little one I’d be naked on top of my girlfriend about now, but instead I’m on the porch cooking dinner for them both and hoping that Tammy is going to give him part of her steak because I don’t want to give up mine.  It’s a selfish asshole thing to think, but a man has to have some vices in life and steak and beers are mine.  I swear I get territorial when I’m cooking them and even worse when I’m eating one.  I remember at some point during one of our tours I had ordered a steak especially from the cook and made the mistake of sitting next to Justin when I was eating it.  The guy was only trying to grab a little corner, but I almost gave him a fork through the back of the hand instead of the tiny peace of meat he really wanted.

“What Tadpole?”

I see the look wash over the kid’s face and knowing his father I’m already setting myself up to defend myself.  Having Tammy cry is a no-no in their family and I’m sure that Tad is about to do something to get back at me.  I may not know them well, but protectiveness isn't something that her family hides.  “Are you crying?”

“No honey,” she said, “I’m fine.”

Tad, right on time with the events of the moment turns to me and glares.  “Did you make my Aunt Tammy cry?”

I don’t know what to say to him.  Should I lie and say no or should I tell the truth and get a punch to the balls?  I don’t expect him to do that, but if he swung his arm out I think he’s probably about the right height to hit me straight in the groin.

Tad stomps his foot angrily when I don’t answer.  “Did you?”

“Tad.  Lance didn’t make me cry,” Tammy says.  I know she’s not afraid of the little guy, but more afraid that he might mention this to her brother.  I don’t trust that family.  I’d never tell her that, but truthfully there is something really wrong with the fact that a woman who is almost in her thirties is afraid of her older brother.  Well not afraid exactly, but definitely cautious when it comes to information or actions that might get back to Big Brother Timothy.

“You better not have or I’ll tell my Daddy on you and he’ll put you in jail or in the ground.”

Tammy swats at his but once real quick and startles him.

“Theodore Mitchell I can’t believe you just said that.”

“But that’s what Daddy said he’d do if someone—“  He reaches around and rubs his bottom when she slapped him and stares at me like I was the one who hit his butt.  “He said that he’d make them feel real bad if someone hurt you.”

Tammy looks at me then looks at Tad before she shoos him into the house running her mouth at him as she goes.  “Tad I can’t believe that you said that.”  The slap of the screen door closing against the door frame makes me jump a bit.  It sounds almost like a gun shot which of course makes me even more nervous.  “You don’t threaten people like that.  You hear me.  I don’t care if your Daddy did say that.  You don’t repeat stuff like that to people.”

“I’m sorry.”  I can hear the kid whine from here and I check the steaks again trying to brush off the events of the last few minutes before they come back out here.  “I’m sorry.”  I hear him crying right now and feel like an ass.  It’s not his fault that he’s over-protective.  It’s his Dad’s fault.  I feel like an ass.  A real horse’s ass.

Tammy is still shaken.  I can hear it in her voice.  That slight panic that let’s me know that she had no idea that her nephew was going to say that to me and no idea that her brother had probably even said or thought something like that either.  “You go out there and apologize to Lance.”

My back is to the door now.  I’m taking all this in, but trying not to react to it.  Sure there is a part of me that wants to up and leave right now.  That kind of hostility towards me isn’t something I’ll put up with.  But the thought of walking out that door and leaving her behind here alone isn’t something that I ever want to happen.  Feeling a little depressed by it all, I’ve turned to lean on the balcony again, looking up at the hills a few miles away, the Hollywood sign looking down on me, bright as day.

“Right now MISTER,” she says.

I hear the screen door open and a minute later I feel his hand tugging on my pocket.  “I’m sorry Lance.  I didn’t mean it.”

I glance down at him for a moment and realize that he’s really upset about all of this so instead of moving on with my life and just accepting his apology I crouch down and look him in the eyes.  “I know you are buddy.  Some times people just say stuff cuz they think it’s gonna help, but really it just makes things more complicated.  I know you didn’t mean to say that stuff.”  I sigh and look at how pathetic this kid has become in the last five seconds.  “I’m not going to hurt your Aunt.  She may cry though in the future, but it’s not because I meant to hurt her. Ok?”

Tad looks at me and I swear I’m going to heaven for that little speech.  “Ok.”

“Why don’t you help your Aunt get plates and stuff and we’ll eat out on the porch tonight, ok?”

“Ok.”  He still looks a bit upset, but he moves into the house and starts to look for dishes and silverware.  I can hear him opening cabinets in the kitchen.

“Lance—“

I hold up my hand and dismiss the conversation.  “It’s ok.”  I nod to her.  “He’s protective and he didn’t mean it and everything is fine.  Ok?”

“Ok.”

I try to calm myself down a bit, but as I’m dishing up the steaks a few minutes later I find myself wondering if his father would ever follow out his casual threat.  It probably was a general statement that he made during a family function and didn’t have me in mind when he said it, but for now I feel like I’m not only going to have to look out for my career and my relationship, but also my life.

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