He made his way around the bar, leaving her standing there with the woman TJ had abandoned without a word. Alex glanced at her—Brooke, if she recalled—and tried to think of something to say. The look of irritation on her face didn't inspire a conversation, so Alex was relieved when she heard a familiar voice call her name. She turned to find her brother.
"I was afraid you wouldn't come," he said.
She smiled. "I couldn't miss this. It's not every day your brother celebrates opening five-year-old bourbon he made with his own hands."
"And it's not every day said brother needs to beg your forgiveness for acting like an insensitive jackass."
Alex's shoulders slumped, and her lips began to tremble the slightest bit. "Dammit, Bean." She reached out and wrapped her arms around him. "I was trying not to cry here."
"Aw, Buzz. I'm sorry," he said, rubbing her back gently. Using their lifelong nicknames was a sure sign that things would be okay. She'd known that they would be, but fights with anyone she loved made her feel panicky. What if something happened and words of anger were the last thing that had passed between them? "Please don't cry. Just tell me you forgive me."
"Of course I do. I forgave you the minute the conversation was over." She could feel the tension leave his body and she pulled back to look up at him, wiping at her eyes just in case.
"You sure? Because I was really out of line."
"Yes, you were. But in your defense," she said, smirking at his look of surprise, "I know I surprised you with my change in plans."
"Very much so." He nodded. "I was looking forward to finally having you around."
She pushed the tears back once more. "It's only a year, Dean. I know you only want what's best for me."
"But you've got to let me figure that out. Even if it ends up being the wrong decision. Or I get hurt."
"I know that, Alex. And everything you tried to tell me earlier makes perfect sense now that I've thought about it. It 'is' best for you to stay busy, to keep doing what you're good at. And what better place to heal a broken heart than a beautiful country like Italy? You're a strong and intelligent woman, and I was being selfish wanting to keep you close so I could make sure you're okay."
Her lips quirked. "How many times did Charlotte have to repeat all that until it sank in?"
"About twenty," he said, looking unsurprised that she'd called him out. "And she'll probably have to keep saying it for the first couple of weeks you're gone."
Alex shook her head. "You're hopeless. But I love you for caring so much about me."
Before he could reply, they were interrupted by TJ. "Jen cut herself. I need to take her to the Emergency Room."
Dean's brow furrowed as Charlotte walked up beside him. "How bad is it?" Dean asked.
"She's okay," TJ clarified. "But she needs stitches."
"Where is she?" Charlotte asked.
TJ nodded toward where he'd just come from. "Men's restroom."
Charlotte's eyebrows went up, but she took off without questioning it further.
"I don't know how long this will take," TJ said to Dean.
"Don't worry about it, man. We can handle this."
"I'll stay and help also," Alex added.
TJ nodded and then stepped forward and gave Alex an awkward one-armed hug. "Thanks, Alex. And it was so good to see you." He pulled back and smiled at her. "Good luck in Italy. We'll all be thinking about you."
"Thank you, TJ. Let us know how Jen is."
He nodded and was gone. For the rest of the evening, Alex felt a lot more at ease. Tension between Dean and her always sucked, although considering he'd practically raised her after her dad and their mother passed away when she was thirteen, they'd had their fair share of it over the years. It wasn't an easy position he was in, wanting to be the cool big brother, but also feeling the need to step up and be the only parent she had.