Chapter 13: Lost Connection
Nick bounded off the plane and into the terminal, sweeping Jordan up in his arms. She laughed as he swung her around, then put her down and kissed her soundly.
"Aw, isnít that cute," Brian teased, but Nick ignored him. He was back with his sweetheart and no one was going to make him feel bad. "How were your exams?í
"Over, thank goodness. Now I have a few days to rest, and I was thinking; who better to rest with than you?"
He kissed her again, "actually I was thinking more along the lines of getting no rest," he whispered in her ear, and she shivered happily. "That would be even better," she murmured back. And then shrieked as he picked her up again and swung her around.
"Can you two keep it down?" AJ was nursing a very bad hangover, and the dark sunglasses he was wearing were not keeping the Florida sunlight at bay. He slunk over to the baggage carousel and grabbed his bags and headed out of the terminal. He climbed into his car and sped off, leave the other four guys, Faith and Jordan staring after him in surprise.
"Whatís up with him?" Kevin asked.
"Donít look at me," Howie replied. "He put away a lot of booze last night and even more on the flight. Maybe he is just afraid to face Kimberley."
"She can be kind of rough on him," Brian agreed. "And he was flirting quite heavily with everything that moved in Toronto. Maybe he is feeling a little guilty."
"Probably. Look, can we get a move on? I want to call Kat and let her know we got back okay." Howie was a little disappointed. She had arrived at the airport only a few minutes before they had to leave. Theyíd been able to say goodbye, but that was about it. She looked exhausted, and said she had been at work all night. He just wanted to hold her and make all her troubles go away, but knew that she was very dedicated to her job. On her return from her trip to Florida, where they had met, she had set down some ground rules with her co-workers and then performed so well she was named division head. Not all of her concerns went away, but the boost in responsibility had meant a lot to her. She was taking charge of her career, and he couldnít very well say, hey, pack it all in and come traipse around the world with me. As much as he wanted to.
He got home, to an apartment that seemed even emptier than usual and called her at home. No answer. He tried her work number but got her answering service immediately; a sign that she was on the phone. He sighed, and headed to the bedroom to rest a while. Heíd call her again later.
The plans for recording a Christmas single progressed even faster than anyone had anticipated. They were in the studio two weeks after their return and the sessions were going well, but slowly. Kevin was distracted because he had asked Alexis to move down to Florida and live with him, and she had said yes. Nick would disappear with Jordan every chance he got, and no one knew what the hell was wrong with AJ. He was always late for meetings, never took his glasses off (even worse than usual), and flinched whenever Howie talked to him. Howie hadnít really noticed it yet; he was too busy trying to talk to Kat, but she was always working.
It was almost two and a half weeks after he left before he finally got her on the phone for more than two minutes.
"I am so sorry, Howie. It is not usually this crazy. It been nuts, and with this promotion I am the one who has to look after it all."
"I understand. I donít like it; but I understand."
"I was hoping you would. I miss you."
"Not as much as I miss you. We still havenít straightened out our fight. But more importantly we havenít had a chance to make up," he said seductively.
Kat hesitated a moment. "Yeah, and it is going to be even harder to do that over the phone."
"Weíll find a way. How about this; imagine my hands running down the side of your body."
"Hmm. I think I feel them."
"And now I am kissing your neck. That little place at the bottom that you love so much."
"Shh. You canít say anything now, because I am kissing you. My tongue is stroking yours. And you are doing that little moan you do."
"Yeah, that is what you are saying as my hands stroke your breasts, hardening those dark pink nipples of yours..."
"Howie! Stop it." Kat shouted into the phone.
"What?" he was startled by her reaction.
"Iím sorry. I just canít do this right now. Its too hard."
"Not yet, but it is getting there."
"Okay," she could hear the disappointment in his voice.
"I just want... Howie, I have to tell you something. And it is very difficult for me," she took a deep breath.
"You are starting to worry me."
"I just need to tell you..."
"You can tell me anything, Kat. You know that. What is it?"
"I love you."
"I said, I love you."
"Oh Kat, you canít do this to me. You canít tell me you love me over the phone. I want to be there with you. I want to tell you, and show you, how much I love you too."
"You do?" she sounded so uncertain.
"More than anything in the world. I love you, Kat. I miss you and I love you and I want you to be here with me. God, if you only knew how much I have wanted to say that. For so long. I love you, Kat."
"Oh Howie." He could hear her crying on the other end of the phone.
"Hey, you are not supposed to cry. Itís supposed to be a good thing."
"I know. I just... I love you so much. I never want to hurt you."
"You never could. Please say youíll come down here. Please, I want to be with you. I want to hold you."
"Iíll try," she weeped. "Iíll be there when I can. I love you. I donít want to hurt you. I have to go, Iím so sorry." The phone cut out.
"She loves me. She really loves me," he yelled joyously, then listened to his voice echo through the house.
Brian sat at the console, listening to the mixes, trying to figure out which sounded better. Kevin and Nick were discussed the previous nightís basketball game.
AJ sat on the piano bench listening to them, throwing in his two cents every once and a while. He was finally started to relax around Howie. How could he have done that? He knew he cared about Kat; had done so ever since he had gotten to know her better. He found her fun to be with, and even more beautiful with each passing day. He couldnít even remember why he had disliked her at the beginning, other than feeling a strong threat to his friendship with Howie. Only she had never done anything to push them apart. And then he had to go and... He missed her terribly. He missed their long chats online, he missed the way her hair fell across her face when she laughed. He missed the way she had twisted slowly beneath him and whispered his name so passionately.
She was Howieís girlfriend and he has slept with her. And he wanted her again. He wanted her to look at him the way she had at Howie. Even at the airport when they left she had avoided him, and had clung to Howie. He wanted to say something, anything, to make her look his way. To acknowledge him. To want him as badly as he wanted her.
"D! Itís about time you showed up," Nick smiled. But Howie walked right past him, grabbed AJ and threw him up against the wall of the studio.
"What did you do to her?"
"Howie! Man, what are you talking about?" AJ said defensively.
"Kat. What did you do to Kat, AJ?"
"D, calm down. Whatís wrong with Kat?" Kevin said as he came up behind Howie.
Howie spun around. "Have you spoken to her? I bet you havenít."
"Sure, we talked..." Kevin stopped. "Itís been almost three weeks," he realized.
"Iíll bet you two havenít spoken since we got back." Kevin nodded his head, agreeing with Howieís assertion. "Itís been the same for me. We talked three days ago. She told me she loved me, and then she wouldnít answer the phone. I havenít been able to get her online, at home or at work. I tried again last night, but her screen names have been deleted and her email account closed. The florist called to say that the flowers I sent her had been turned back. I called her office this morning. They said she doesnít work there anymore; that she had quit. So I called Alexis and asked her to go over to Katís apartment and find out what was wrong. Her landlord said she had just moved out. Had left two days ago."
"Where is she?" Nick asked worriedly.
Howie turned back to AJ, pushing him up against the wall. "Thatís what I want to know. What did you say to her, AJ? You were the last one to spend any time with her. What happened?"
"Hey, I wasnít the one fighting with her."
"We fixed that up, or I thought we had. She wouldnít have told me that she loved me if she was still mad at me. But something else was wrong. Sheís been acting funny ever since that night. And so have you. Why did she keep saying she didnít want to hurt me, AJ? What did you do?"
AJ cringed at Howieís tone. "I promised her..."
Howie slammed him against the wall again, "you promised her what AJ? What did you do?"
"AJ, what happened?" Kevin was starting to lose his temper, and stalked towards him.
"AJ?" Howie pleaded with him.
AJ wanted to say that they had made love, and they had Ė the second time. But he had said that he would take the blame for it if he needed to, and he owed her that much. "I... I fucked her, okay. She didnít want to, but I fucked her."
AJ didnít duck the punch Howie threw at him, or the next one. "I deserve it," he thought as the blows rained down on him. "I forced her into this, and Iíd do it again. Iíd do anything to have her again."
Kevin finally got a good grip on Howie and pulled him off AJ, though the look on his face said he wished that he had been the one throwing punches. AJ sunk to the ground, lip bleeding, broken glasses hanging loosely from his face. Nick stood over him, swearing at him angrily, and Brian tried to push Nick away and help Kevin with a stricken Howie, who was wracked with sobs.
"Ahem," a deep voice interrupted them, and all heads turned to see a tall man standing there, flanking by two police officers. "Is there a problem here?"
"No, sir," Brian stepped forward. "Just a little disagreement. What can we help you with?"
"I am looking for a Nickolas Gene Carter."
Nick looked up curiously and stepped forward. "Thatís me?"
"Mr. Carter. You are under arrest You have the right to remain silent, if you give up that right..." The man continued to read Nick his rights as one of the officers stepped forward and slipped handcuffs on his hands.
"Is this some kind of joke?" Kevin asked. "What is he under arrest for?"
"Sexual assault," the officer said sarcastically. "Your buddy here "allegedly" raped one of your fans."