Chapter 18: Breaking the News

AJ walked up to Nickís house that evening, surprised to see so many cars in the driveway. Nick had been keeping a low profile the last few months, and whatever was going on now it was out of character. He could see Jordan through the front window. She had stood by Nick through this mess; their relationship deepening. He could also hear the excited yipping of Tyke. So Brian, and probably Faith, was there too. What was going on?

He opened the door, and was dumbfounded by the celebratory atmosphere. He walked past various friends, band members and family, trying to find someone who would tell him what is going on. He found Nick in the kitchen with Brian.

"Whatís going on?"

The two blond heads looked up at him. "Hey Bone," Brian said apprehensively, glancing at Nick who rose from his chair.

"Glad you could make it, AJ. Can we talk in private for a moment?"

"Only if someone will tell me what is going on here!"

Faith came in, carrying Tyke. "AJ, youíre here. Did you hear? They are going to drop the case!" she said excitedly.

AJ turned back to Nick and Brian. "What? How did that happen? I thought they were going to stick it out until the end?"

"Well, KatÖ" Faith started, then stopped as Brian gestured to her to shut up.

AJ turned and pulled a beer out of the fridge, hiding his reaction. Kat. She was back. "Thatís great, Nick. Maybe you could tell me about it."

Nick nodded quickly, and drew AJ into the back den. He shut the door, and prayed that no one came looking for him. "Kat called Kevin yesterday."

"Where is she?"

"Toronto, I think. She didnít say when I talked to her earlier."

AJ took a long pull on his beer. "And you are just telling me this now?í

"Bone, come on. I was a little more concerned about the case than who knew what."

"And now they are dropping the case?"

"Yeah. Kat found out what their big piece of evidence against me was and then demolished their case. Kevin said the prosecutor was very pissed."

"Heís with her?"

"He flew up last night. He didnít tell anyone about her call. I found out by accident."

AJ looked out the window at the ocean. "Whereís Howie?"

Nick was silent for a moment. "Where do you think he is?"

"So you find out Kat is back and you call Howie, but not me?" AJ stated.

"It made the most sense to me."

AJ swallowed another gulp of beer. "Where is she, Nick?"

"I told you I donít know."

"Has he spoken to her? Has she said anything?"

Nick shook his head, "Kevin said that they arenít speaking to each other yet. All sheíd say is that sheíd been out of the country and only got back a few weeks ago. She knew nothing about this, and as soon as she did she called him offering help."

"So you are off the hook."

"Yeah."

AJ finished his beer in another gulp. Then putting his bottle down he turned and grabbed Nick by the shirt, backing the bigger man up against the wall. "Where is she, Nick?"

"Dammit, Bone. I donít know!"

"You must know something. What did Kevin say? He must have given you some clue."

"He just apologized for not calling immediately after the deposition, that Kat had tried to leave and that the drive was longer than he expected."

"Does he have his cell phone with him?"

"AJ, could you let me go please."

"I have to talk to her, Nick. Before she talks to Howie."

"Why, AJ? What do you need to say to her?"

"Does Kevin have his cell phone with him?"

"No, he doesnít." Nick sagged a little as AJ finally let him go and stepped back. "She wasnít just a "fuck" to you, was she? Youíre in love with her and you donít want Howie to get her back."

AJ was silent.

"You and Howie were starting to fix your friendship, but only because of me and my situation. Put Kat into the equation, and youíd gladly walk all over him to get to her."

"Aw, little Nickers is growing up," AJ said mockingly. "Those are pretty big assumptions for a young guy like you."

"And I have a feeling that I am right on the mark."

"Get real, Nick. I have Kimberley."

"Do you? She says youíve been distant for months. And you havenít slept with her since you got back from Toronto."

"Talking to my girlfriend behind my back? Thatís not a nice thing to do."

"Jesus, AJ. Iíve been worried about you. You took Katís disappearance as badly as Howie did. And that was the first time Iíve ever seen you not fight back when someone is trying to beat the crap out of you. Youíve been hitting the booze pretty hard this last while. You may think that youíve fooled Brian into thinking itís because of the case, but you donít fool me."

AJ looked down at the empty beer bottle and wished heíd brought another along with him.

"What really happened, Bone?" Nick said gently, trying to draw his friend out.

"I told you. I forced her." He laughed sarcastically. "You may not have raped that girl, but I practically did Kat."

"Whether she consented or not, for you it was making love."

AJís mind played the scene over and over again. The way her skin had felt against his, the small moans, the play of her lips on his, the way her fingers had driven into his back, the scent of her, the way her body had caressed him inside and out, the way she had cried his name. He remembered it all. And unless he did something quickly Howie would be getting all of that.

"Does she have a phone number I can call?" he asked softly.

"AJÖ"

"Please, Nick. I need to speak to her," he begged.

"She loves Howie."

"You donít know that."

"She told him she did before she disappeared. I donít think thatís changed."

"Sheís been gone for months, Nick. How would you know?"

"Kevin said she didnít react too well to seeing Howie. That she started crying at any mention of him."

"That could be a good sign."

"I talked to her. She loves him. I could hear it in her voice."

"Help me find her, Nick."

Nick shook his head, blue eyes sad, "even if I could, there is no way you could get to her before Howie. Heís there. Heís with her now. No matter what they are going to talk. Soon."

AJ was about to respond when there was a knock on the door. Brian walked in. "I just talked to Kev. Heís on his way back."

"And Howie?" AJ asked urgently.

Brian shook his head, "no. Heís staying with Kat. To work things out."

AJ swore, then brushed past Brian, walking swiftly toward the front door.

"Not good," Brian said, looking at Nick, who nodded. "Not good at all."

Chapter 19