Quit Playing Games
Kat threw down the scrub brush and sighed. It wasn’t much, but it would do. At least the place looked better now that it was clean. Well, clean-ish.
Finding this apartment so quickly had been pretty good luck. Good location. Nice building. The fact that it was tiny was probably a good thing.
Who was she kidding? It was almost claustrophobic. And what was that smell?
"It’ll get better," she assured herself. "Once you get settled. And find something to do. It’ll all be better."
She had returned to the city in a whirlwind. Slipping out of her hotel room just in time; she’d seen Howie approaching her door again and was relieved she’d chosen to take the stairs. Fortunately he hadn’t seen her and she’d managed to get away. Sleeping at the airport had not been a great thing experience, but she’d managed to get a flight home first thing in the morning. By the time they figured out that she’d gone she’d be well on her way.
How could she have been so wrong about them? About Howie? What an idiot! They’d fooled her from the beginning. Stupid woman! See? It was true. She never managed to get anything right. She really was the loser that her….
That was probably what had done it. She had wanted so desperately to believe in something. In someone. She’d just fallen into the Boys’ trap. So damn gullible. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid!
There it was. The smell. Someone had shoved a sandwich between the stove and the counter. How could someone do that and not realize it? Not smell it? Kat grabbed the rubber gloves, a spatula and some paper towels and began to unwedge the greenish mass.
And then when she got home… All she’d wanted to do was just collapse in her bed. Only to discover someone in it.
Her roommate had assumed that she wasn’t going to come back for the full three months. So, little capitalist cowgirl that she was, she’d rented out Kat’s room to a short-term renter. She’d packed away all of her stuff, not that there was much, leaving the room "furnished." Sneaky. She’d even charged the poor tenant extra for having it that way.
Well, at least she hadn’t needed to pack her boxes. They were all ready boxed. After a brief, but loud, argument she’d managed to get all of her things out of there, sold her bed to its current tenant, and gotten all of the rent she’d prepaid back. Not a great solution, because it left her homeless, but still a lot more successful than she’d expected. She must have really looked like hell. She couldn’t ever remember her former roommate ever being that generous.
A week of holing up in a cheap motel room, boxes and small furniture stacked all over, had been all it took for her to find a new place. And it was all hers. Small. Soon to be un-stinky. And hers.
And it had one benefit that she hadn’t even thought of. No one knew where she was. Not her old room mate. And especially no one from the tour. If Howie wanted to get to her to make her keep quiet, he wouldn’t be able to find her. He wouldn’t, would he? I mean, if they went to those lengths to protect themselves from their own girlfriends…
"Stop it. Just stop it. You’re making yourself crazy."
Kat managed to get the last remnants of the sandwich out of its crevice and shoved it into the garbage bag. She scrubbed the area as best she could then gave up. She was getting ragged. It had been a hard couple of weeks. She had to get out of there. At least until it had aired out a little.
She opened every window she could, hoping that a cross breeze would work, and grabbed her jacket. It was only a few blocks to the main street and with the sun shining it was a lot more pleasant than she’d expected. Lots of cute little shops and coffee places. Even a little park. She could feel the knots in her back starting to unravel.
She’d tramped all over her new neighborhood, and was happily exhausted by the time she returned to a now fresh-smelling apartment. And the dreams she had that night… well, they were actually quite pleasant.
"Damn. Shit. Fuck," Howie slammed the phone down. No luck. He figured that if she had returned to the city that she’d have stopped by the With It offices by now. It had been a couple of weeks. Surely by now… And her former roommate had been useless. Yes, Kat was back in town. Or she had been. But she’d left almost immediately after discovering the tenant debacle. And no, she had no idea where she was now. And why did he want to know anyway? Nosy bitch.
Why had he drunk so much? Why hadn’t he kept his mouth shut? Why was he so worried?
Kat wouldn’t say anything. She’d believed him when he said that it was a game they all played. So if she wasn’t talking to him she wouldn’t be talking to any of the others. If they ever found out…
And what was he going to do when he found her anyway? Aside from begging her to keep quiet.
And who would she tell? She could probably try and sell the story to the tabloids or something, but he was sure she wouldn’t do that. She’d been pretty firm in her distaste for ‘yellow journalism’ as she called it. Hated that whole ‘kiss and tell’ scene. No, she’d keep it secret. She’d hate him, them, but she wouldn’t say anything.
What an ass he was. She’d been nothing but honest with him, and he’d treated her like shit. Hidden the drugs that Miriam had started him on. Hidden this. If he had just been more upfront. She could have helped him out of this mess. She was a hell of a lot more dependable than Miriam. And if he had come to her with the other thing…
She would have hated him.
He hadn’t meant for this to happen. It had been a stupid game that he’d been playing with himself. It had gotten out of hand. It had just hurt so much to hear all those things said about him… Howie the troll. Howie the ugly one. The misfit. The one who didn’t fit.
Didn’t they realize? The Backstreet Boys would have never come about if it hadn’t been for him. And AJ. Sure, Nick was there too, but he’d been a child. It was Howie and AJ’s determination that had gotten the ball rolling. So why did everyone say that he wasn’t a worthwhile part of the group? Why was he the least popular one?
And then he’d found a way to prove to himself that he was better than the rest of them. Sweet D. The one who was always there to give comfort.
The one who always managed to find his way into the beds of the other’s girlfriends.
The first time had been an accident. Marissa had had yet another fight with AJ. They were always fighting then: he was never there; she was never happy being the ‘secret’ girlfriend. One minute Howie’d been trying to console her, the next she’d been practically ripping his clothes off.
Suddenly he had a way to make himself feel superior to the others. And he was always there as a shoulder to cry on… So spending time with their girls wasn’t unexpected. And the girls sure weren’t going to say anything about it afterwards. It had all been an accident, right?
After all, who would suspect Howie the troll?
Kat had never treated him that way. If anything she’d freely admitted to him her attraction to Kevin. She knew it was more of a physical thing, and she’d even been somewhat ashamed of it.
And with him, Howie, she’d been open and real. Offering her friendship freely, and asking nothing in return. Sure, he’d orchestrated it so that she had that job, but it was one that needed to be done anyway and she was good at it. And determined to prove that. She had wanted to be with him not because he was a Backstreet Boy, but because of who he was. Or who she’d thought he’d been. Who he had been once. He had let her down so badly.
And even then, she wouldn’t say anything. He was sure of that. Reasonably sure. Pretty sure. Damn, where was she?
Parker hung up the phone and leaned back in her chair. So, Kat was back in town somewhere. And that little runt of a Backstreet Boy was looking for her. Interesting.
Howie’d tried to sound casual in his phone call. Just an old friend checking up to see if Kat was okay. But Parker was very familiar with that little thread of desperation she’d heard in his voice. She heard several times each week from managers and publicists hoping that she wouldn’t trash their acts too badly in her column.
"Now why would a devoted fan who had somehow managed to snag a job on tour with them suddenly take off? And why would one of the group be so interested in knowing her whereabouts?" she mused.
"You say something, Parker?"
She glared at the junior writer who had interrupted her train of thought. "Go work on something," she spat angrily. "And get me a cup of coffee."
"I think someone’s had enough coffee today," Bob said as he came up to her desk.
Parker smiled politely. Never good to piss off the Managing Editor. "You’re probably right, Bob. I’ve just been working so hard recently that I seem to be relying on the stuff so much."
Bob grunted and carried on towards his office, unaware of the glower on Parker’s face as she watched him go. It was his fault she was sure. He’d been the one to cut back on her columns. And to arrange for her to get such crappy assignments lately. He was determined to make her look bad.
"I’ll show him," she muttered. She grabbed the coffee out of the writer’s hand and swallowed a gulp. She just needed a good story. Something so big that it would get the attention of the bigger papers. Something that would finally take her out of this rat trap and into the big time. She’d had enough of being a big fish in a small sea. She wanted to be a big fish in the wide sea.
"Now, as I was saying: what would make a fan leave in a rush and a group member so worried? What kind of secret did that little Kat uncover about the most popular group on the planet? And how can I find out what it is?"
(c) Kat Morgan