In Name Only
Chapter 71: Reunion
The rest had done him good. The last vestiges of his hangover were finally gone. Memo to self: never, NEVER, drink that much scotch again.
It had been a hectic 24 hours. Actually make that 36 hours.
First he’d had to get rid of the cutie-pie he’d found in his bed. That had taken a little longer than he expected. Not that he minded: she had been very imaginative. Still she had been what Leighanne derisively called a "star-fucker," and he wasn’t too proud of himself for hooking up with one of those. Its not as if he'd never run across them before, he just never (okay, rarely) took advantage of the situation. Was "advantage" the right word? I mean he’d obviously been in the mood and so had she… It had been a mutual "advantage" if it had been anything. Hmm. Moral confusion. He’d have to remember to ask Leigh. Then again, she’d just smack him.
Another reason to stop drinking scotch: It gave him too much of an internal monologue.
Anyway, once he’d gotten her to leave he’d had to figure out how to get a flight to somewhere near where he was supposed to be going. It hadn't helped that Jake had gotten the state wrong. "They all look alike up there, kid. And it’s almost in Vermont, so what's the difference?" The difference was between flying into Montpelier and backtracking for almost a day, and flying into Albany and getting there in a few hours. Oh hell, what was he complaining for? The trek he ended up with was a lot less confusing than the one he could have had.
Even so it had taken a day longer than he had wanted to get here.
And he wasn’t the only one having trouble. He’d been treated to an abusive rant from Jake on the phone last night. It took a little while to decipher what "inbred hillbilly Southern drivers," meant (good thing Brian hadn't been around to hear it). Jake's car (his baby) had been rear-ended, and the repairs had put him back a day too.
They were having so much trouble he was tempted to take it as a sign.
Was the sign "go," "yield" or "dead end"?
Why was he doing this anyway? Why hadn't he just passed the information on to Howie or Kevin? "Because we all agreed to keep our eyes open, that's why." Besides, rousting either one of them out on a wild goose chase was not going to win him any brownie points. And they were all working so hard on a "happy" reunion.
"Oh yeah, and I want to personally kick Kat's butt for staying away so long," he said aloud, then looked around cautiously to see if anyone had noticed. Talking to yourself again, Carter. Not a good sign. Well, then stop it, he admonished, this time internally.
He had to admit it was restful up here. The lake wasn’t the ocean he was used to, but it made for a good substitute. And the smell of pine trees that wafted through the town was nice. The people were friendly too. So far no one had recognized him or if they had they hadn’t said anything about it. But that hadn’t stopped several of them from wishing him a good day as he’d walked the short distance from the hotel to the café. He’d have to remember it here for when he wanted a totally incognito vacation.
What was he thinking? He’d probably never come back. This was a wild goose chase anyway. All the stuff that Jake had faxed him... It was pretty obvious that the woman in North Carolina was the better bet. He was only doing this one because it was easier for him to get here than Jake. He'd already booked a flight to Raleigh for the day after next. He’d just swoop into town here, check things and head straight there.
And if that didn’t pan out he’d head on to Orlando and no one would be the wiser. Win-win situation.
It had been after dark when he’d arrived in town. He’d found a nice hotel overlooking the lake, and after several false starts had finally found the café Jake had told him about. Curious George. Okay, a play on the name of the town and an allusion to the books. Promising. There was even a few of the goofy-looking monkeys sitting in some of the chairs, nestled up to the yellow tablecloths.
Kat hated yellow.
Okay, not hated. Just not fond of. And most of the décor inside was that colour. Wasted trip.
He’d glanced at the hours on the door. Obviously more of a lunch place. The only time it was open in the evening was on the weekend. And then it was only until 10 p.m. No luck for him on a Tuesday.
So he’d ambled back to the hotel and given into the exhaustion that had been dogging him. He’d obviously needed it; it was just after noon before he woke up. Jetlag, definitely jetlag. He’d scurried out of the room, just ahead of the housekeeper and pulled his cap down low on his head before retracing his steps from the night before.
"So where is he?"
"Not his keeper, Kev," Brian answered absently.
"Someone should be."
"Oh shut up, cuz. He’s a grown man. He’s entitled to live his own life."
"Not on my time, he isn’t," Kevin growled.
"Kevin, someone better pull that stick out from up your ass. It’s starting to cause brain damage." AJ sat down on the couch next to Brian. "Hey, Rok. He been bitching about me for long?"
"Just the usual," Brian grinned.
"You were supposed to be here half an hour ago, Bone."
AJ tipped his glasses down his nose and smiled mischievously. "A lady must never be hurried, Train."
Kevin snorted. "A lady? With you?"
"Hey! No dissing my mom!"
"Yeah, Kev." Brian turned back to AJ. "How’s she doing?"
"Fine. The swelling is going down and she’s getting better on the crutches. I just have to make sure Panda stays out of her way until her ankles all mended." He shook his head. "I love that mutt, but choosing the bottom stair as a crash pad is really dumb."
Even Kevin had to chuckle. "So is this it? Just us three?"
"Yeah," Brian nodded. "Nick had something come up. He’ll be here in a few days. Howie’s shoot went long. Some footage got spoiled or something. He should be back next Monday."
"He said it might not even take that long if they can get the right props again," AJ put in.
Brian leaned forward. "Well, I guess the question is this: do we really want to do this?"
There was silence as all three men glanced at one another nervously.
"I guess I’ll go first. It’s my fault we broke up before," Kevin said leaning forward. "Hush up, Bone. However it happened, I admit that I played a big part. Look, we’ve been apart for a long time. We’ve each got other things on the go. Maybe it’s too soon."
"I have the most to lose by this and I’m in," AJ said.
"Who says you have the most?" Brian snorted. "Howie got an Oscar nomination, Mr. I-won-a-Grammy. He’s got two movies coming out in the next year. He does this he could be seriously jeopardizing his acting career."
"Yeah, well he’s in too. So what’s your point, Rok?"
"Just trying to take you down a peg or two." Brian turned back to Kevin. "Do you really think it’s too soon? Or are you still angry with Howie? I need the truth here, cuz. I don’t want to really get moving on this and then have another Indianapolis happen."
"Howie and I have spend a time working on that. We should never have let a woman come between us."
"A woman who both loved," AJ said.
"A woman you both still love," Brian amended.
Kevin took a deep breath. "Yeah, that kind of woman."
AJ and Brian exchanged glances, but Kevin continued before wither could say anything. "Look, she’s not coming back. Howie and I have both come to terms with that. We’ve tried everything we could. She is simply not coming back. And we can’t keep beating each other up over whose fault it is. We both screwed up majorly. We both made it impossible for her to stay. We’ve got to move on."
"Can you? You’re the one saying it may be too soon."
"Honestly, Bone? I don’t know. I’ve moved on in my own life. So has Howie. Can we come back and work together and still move forward? I honestly don’t know."
"What about CJ?"
"The best we can hope for now is that he comes looking for his father at some point. D and I, well, we’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it. As for putting the Backstreet Boys back together… Do we really want to do it?"
"I’ve said my piece," AJ shrugged. "I’m in. If we decide against it, I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll just keep bugging you about it until you give in."
Kevin chuckled and turned to Brian. "What did Nick say?"
"Up to the majority. He has little to lose either way. I think he’s kind of lonely and misses what we had. He’s got his little empire going and he’s doing okay."
"So its basically up to Howie and I?"
"And me," Brian reminded him. "I haven’t cast my vote yet."
AJ tossed him a dirty look. "Then do it."
Brian shook his head. "I’m gonna be the holdout, thanks."
"Holdout, it’d be. Howie votes yes," Kevin said, taking a deep breath. "And so do I."
"And you two are going to get along?"
"As best we can. We can’t promise perfection, but we are going to try."
Brian leaned back, resting his head against the back of the couch. Then smiled and nodded his head. AJ let out a triumphant whoop.
"Hot damn! We have a group again!"
"Popular place, this."
"Yes sir, we seem to attract a crowd. You’re actually lucky. It’ll be quieting down soon." The waiter nodded to the line of people filling the benches along the far wall. "They’re mostly the local crowd. Lunch hour’s almost up."
"I guess you can always trust a place that the locals eat at."
"Yes sir. Plus it’s our regular Wednesday special. Rina makes up some of her Mexican chicken rolls. They’re mighty popular."
"Sounds good. What’s in them?"
"Lots of stuff. They are actually enchiladas, but the locals don’t trust names they can’t pronounce," the young man grinned impishly.
Nick grinned and handed the menu back to him. "Then I’ll have the enchiladas, please."
"New York or Texas?"
"Sorry. I mean hot or regular. The hot’s the best, and not really too spicy, but for around here its more than some can handle."
"Hot. Definitely, hot."
Well, no sign of the owner, Nick thought as he watched the waiter walk away. Of course it still is pretty busy. The local crowd that the man had pointed out to him seemed to be lingering over coffee, while the tourists were either polishing off their soups and sandwiches or wolfing down thick slices of pie. Raspberry. Homemade. Okay, he knew what he was having for dessert.
The trilling of his cell phone brought his attention back. "You rang?"
"Kid, that is not the way to answer a phone."
"Don’t call me kid, you old fart," Nick retorted.
"Oh, someone’s feeling better. See? Sleeping alone can improve your disposition," Jake chuckled.
"You calling for a reason or just to piss me off?"
Jake sighed. "A reason. I’m sorry, kid. This was a no go."
"Yeah. The lady here: she’s a real nice woman. Daughter, about ten. And it seems I weren’t the only one who found her."
"What? Jake? What are all those sirens I hear?"
"Cops. Like I said, I wasn’t the only one who was looking for her. So was her ex-husband. He’s why she was lying low. He came barreling in here during lunch and tried to force her to come back to Idaho or some place like that with him. Took a little while to disarm him, but she’s not gonna have to go anywhere."
"She’s okay?" Nick asked worriedly.
"Fine. A little shook. And surprised as hell. He’s in here waving a gun around telling her that he’s the boss and she’s coming home. The folk in here told him to stop being a jackass and to take a hike. Seems she’s a popular little lady. Quiet, conscientious, a good cook. And the people ‘round here like her a lot. She sure didn’t realize that. Having half the town council come to her defense shocked the hell out of her." Jake chuckled. "Anyway, he’s going up for a long time, and she’s got a nice safe life in a town that really wants her."
"I’m glad." Nick smiled at the waiter as he put the plate down in front of him. "So no luck for me, but a lot for her. Good."
"Yeah, kid. I’m really sorry. Anything on your end?"
"No. Like you said, that one was a better bet. At last I got to see some of the countryside while I was up here."
"Really sorry about this, son. It was a long shot. You gonna head back to LA?"
"No. Back to Orlando." He used his fork to cut into the food in front of him. "Gotta find out if I have a group to go back to."
"Well, I wish you luck with it. I’ll keep trying. Maybe try that other publisher angle we talked about."
"Thanks, Jake." He sighed and hung up.
"Everything okay sir?"
"What?" The waiter was hovering over his table. Nick looked down at the full plate in front of him and picked up his fork. "Oh, yeah. Just fine."
Brian put his arms around Leighanne’s waist and hugged her close. "Yes."
"Really?! They said yes? Bri-bear, that’s great!" She turned in his arms and squeezed him back.
"Is it? It could just be a whole pile more headaches."
"It’ll be great. A whole new and improved Backstreet. You’ll see."
"Wassup Paul?" Neither of the women’s heads turned from their contemplation of the contents of the stew pot in front of them.
"Gotta customer here wants to compliment the chef."
"What’d they eat?"
The slighter of the two nudged the other. "Talk to Em. She did them today."
The tall, curly-haired woman chuckled lightly and turned. "Compliments for…." Her voice trailed off as the customer pulled off his ragged baseball cap and she recognized him.
"Geez, Emma. It’s not the first time someone’s liked you cooking. Just talk to…" The other woman turned around to see what Emma was gaping at, "the man."
"Rina… that’s Nick Carter!" Emma whispered loudly to her partner.
"I know, hon." Rina sighed, then smiled politely. "Hello, Nick. How have you been?"
"Fine thanks, Kat. And you?"