Accompanying Brian to the airport had been a mistake, AJ thought as they pulled up to the curb.
He knew they would be picking up Kevin, and he had really thought he could handle seeing the older man. I mean, he and Tina were over. They had been for a long time. Hell, he and Patti had been living together for more than a year, so he really must have been over Tina. So seeing her at the awards show the day before with Kevin shouldn’t have hurt. He’d known they were still friends and stayed in touch and it hadn’t upset him at all. Why did seeing the two of them together bug him?
“Because you’re a loser who never got over her in the first place. You just hopped into the next relationship as fast as you could and hoped that your feelings would just go away,” he reminded himself.
But as the car pulled up to where Tina and Kevin stood, their arms wrapped around each other, all he could think was “I’m gonna kill that man.”
Brian hopped out quickly, and AJ slowly opened the door. By the time he got over to where they stood, Kevin had wrapped Brian in a huge bear hug. Then turned and saw AJ. He smiled widely and grabbed him in a hug too.
“Bone! It’s good to see you, buddy!” he said with great enthusiasm. And enough alcohol fumes to keep a distillery going.
It took him less than a second to clue in to the fact that Tina hadn’t been hugging him: she’d been holding him upright. Kevin was bombed.
“Bad?” Brian asked Tina.
“Very. We have to get him out of here now,” she replied briskly, noting the buzzing of conversations around them. Orlando had a busy airport, and they’d been spotted pretty fast. She gave AJ a quick smile, then tried to hustle Kevin towards the car. The three of them managed to get the big man into the backseat, where he pretty much collapsed.
Tina sighed, then turned to get her suitcases. “I’ll grab a cab. You two can take him from here?”
“Don’t be silly; hop in,” Brian replied. Then stopped. “Unless you’d rather not. I mean you’ve been a great help in getting him back here in one piece…”
“Don’t give me that Brian. I tried. I really did. But every time my back was turned for a second he start sucking back drinks,” she said angrily. “I swear I could kill that damned stewardess. I told her not to give him anything and she just looked at me like I was some sort of mutant. You better check his pockets. I think she gave him her phone number too.”
“Hey, I’m thanking you! Honest. I know how bad he can be when he’s bent on destruction,” Brian reassured her with a quick hug. “You got him through the last few days, and back here. I’ll straighten him out now.”
She looked at him appraisingly. She’d been surprised at how helpful and supportive Brian had been when she called him and told him that Kevin was more than she could handle. She hadn’t spoken to him at all since her break up with AJ, and was impressed by the change in him. Fatherhood really agreed with him. “Somehow I think you will.” She glanced quickly at AJ who was leaning against the car watching all of this from behind his sunglasses. “It’d probably be better if I just got a cab. Let you two take it from here.”
“Don’t go on my account,” AJ rasped. “I figure you’re going to Kev’s anyway.”
Tina frowned at him. “Why go there? I have work to do at home. I got him here, as requested. He’s your problem now.”
“I just… I thought…” AJ flushed a little.
Brian clued in faster than Tina did. He let out a short chuckle and turned away.
“You think Kevin and I…?” Tina laughed. “Hell, no. I don’t need that kind of aggravation. It is possible for men and women to just be friends, you know AJ.”
He bristled at her tone. “I’m well aware of that.” He turned around and climbed into the car, slamming the door. Even from outside they could hear Kevin’s groan.
“So? Want a drive? Think how much it’d piss AJ off,” Brian asked with an evil grin.
She giggled. “It’d be fun, but I really think it’d be better if I went straight home. Thanks anyway, Brian.”
“Well, it has been great seeing you again. I missed you, Tas.” He gave her a hug. “You sure about the ride? He seems a little jealous, hunh? We could sit there and talk about bunnies.”
Damn Leighanne for telling him the full story about the AJ-Easter incident. “That’s be fun. Cruel, but fun. No. I gotta go. And I have a feeling that getting Kevin settled is going to take a while.”
Brian sighed. “Yeah. Damn, I wish this would just all be over. How can Kat be so unkind.”
“This isn’t her fault,” Tina shook her head. “She couldn’t have known something like this’d happen.”
“She should still come back,” Brian pouted.
“I’m with you on that one, but she had some mighty good reasons for leaving.”
“True,” he sighed. “Okay, gimme another hug. And call more often. Leigh misses you too, you know.”
“His message said he’d be in tomorrow.”
“Tell me about it. Think we can dump all of this on him and make him play referee for a while?”
AJ glanced at Howie as he fiddled with the keys on the control console. He was better: quieter, sadder, but at least not shaking and weeping the way he had been only 24 hours ago. “Maybe. It’d be nice to not be the one doing it.”
“Hello? Me too. I got a teething son to deal with. Not having a lot of fun making my cousin go cold turkey, too.”
AJ patted Brian on the back. “I know, bro. So what do you say we take out our frustration on them for a while? Make them go sweat it out in the studio? Lay some tracks and then tell them that they were off-key or something. Make them do it over an over again.”
Brian sniggered. “Should we turn off the air-conditioning in the booth too?”
“Now you’re thinking! Let’s get a little of our own back at those supposedly older and more mature members of our crew.”
The two men smirked sneakily at each other and put Operation Revenge into action.
A few hours later, Kevin was having trouble standing. He must have swallowed a few gallons of water, but was still overheated. The recording booth just seemed impossibly hot. Which was weird considering Howie had been complaining that the air conditioning was set too high and he was freezing. Neither AJ nor Brian seemed to be having any troubles.
And they weren’t having any troubles with their voices either. Somehow anything he recorded sounded off. Okay, he admitted he hadn’t been practicing much in the past few days, but come on! He couldn’t have gotten that rusty that fast.
And why the hell were those two morons so happy about it? Rok and Bone kept chuckling away conspiratorially and he was getting sick of it. So his voice wasn’t up to par…
That was it. No more booze for him. Ever.
He grunted his goodbye and headed back to his house. His big empty house. Right next to Howie’s big, not-so-empty house. He was pretty proud of the fact that he hadn’t blown up at Howie again. Nor had he said anything about Todd. Pretty good for a man who’d had his heart ripped out by the two of them.
No. Not by them.
He made one mistake. Got angry once, at the wrong time, and she did this to him. No more. He was not going to let her hurt him again.
And he said the same the next day at the studio.
Howie had tried, cautiously, to apologize again, and hadn’t backed off as quickly as Kevin wanted him to.
AJ had made it worse by asking all sorts of questions about how close he and Tina were.
Then Brian just had to jump in and defend both Howie and AJ.
“I said that’s it!” he bellowed, loud enough to shake the walls in the studio. “No more. I don’t want to hear any more about it. AJ, I am NOT dating Tina. Talk to her about it, not me. Howie, I forgive you. You couldn’t have known. But I want it dropped now. I never want to hear anything more about any of this every again.”
Nick cleared his throat nervously. “Am I interrupting something?”
“Frack! Damn, am I glad to see you,” Brian jumped up and hugged him. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Ah… long story. I think I better tell you about it in private.” No, he didn’t think he should. He wanted to tell them all now. Right now. Kevin, especially. Get him on a plane to New York immediately. But Kat had begged for a little more time to think, and push-over that he was he’d agreed. He was still going to tell Brian, though.
“So what’s going on?”
AJ snorted. “Way too much, old son. I think you’d need a playbook to keep up. I’ve been here through it all and I can’t keep track.”
“Don’t be a dumbass, AJ,” Howie said. “Hey Nick. Let’s just say that it’s been a weird week, and just as I was hoping things were rebuilding between Kev and I, I went and blew it. But we have work to do, so let’s do it.”
Brian smiled. That was Howie for you. He’d fallen apart a few times, but was still the consummate professional. Get the job done, and only let a few people see the pain.
“Good idea,” Kevin agreed. “And Howie… Oh forget it. Let’s just get back to work. I hope you’re ready to sing Nick.”
“Let me just look at the music, and I’m ready to go,” he assured the others.
Kevin nodded then headed back to the piano.
“’Rok, you gonna tell me what’s up? Tina and Kevin? And what did Howie do?” Nick whispered.
“Kevin and Tina went to the Billboards together and AJ’s all pissed. Oh, and he and Patti broke up,” Nick gave a sigh of relief. “Yeah, I agree. And as for Howie, well it’d take a while to explain, but he thought he’d found Kat and…”
Nick’s eyes went wide, but he didn’t have time to say anything. Kevin’s hearing was too damn good.
“Brian! I meant it! No more! Don’t you ever mention that name near me again. Do you hear me? Do you all hear me? I never want to hear the name Kat again. She’s gone. She doesn’t exist. Never, ever bring her up near me again.”
Nick flinched under Kevin’s gaze and roar.
Great. Now what was he supposed to do?