Quit Playing Games

Chapter 25

It had taken a lot to convince her to come.

As soon as Nick said she’d been right, all the fear and anxiety she’d been holding under control since his dramatic appearance – and angry departure – came back.

And with it the paranoia that Nick had just been toying with her and that the Boys had decided to use him to get her back into their midst where they could control her.

"There’s nothing worse than having your trust betrayed by someone you believed in," as her mother used to day repeatedly.

"Yeah right. She’s one to talk," Kat muttered.

"Sorry?" the man next to her on the walkway asked indignantly.

"Nothing. Talking to myself," she replied brightly.

It didn’t reassure him and he moved a few steps along, away from her, trailing his oversized Samsonite behind him.

"Fine. Be that way. Didn’t want to talk to you anyway," she mumbled, getting her a wary glance from the lady who was walking past her.

"Stop talking to yourself, Kat," she admonished herself. Silently this time.

She got off the walkway and sat down in one of the lumpy chairs that seem to be specially designed for aggravating airport travelers.

Fine. She’d admit it. She was scared.

Nick’s late night call had come when she really didn’t need it. Printer problems aside, she’d thought that she was finally going to be free of the Boys. Free to concentrate on the things in her life that she needed to sort out and put back together. That lameass psychiatrist hadn’t helped much – hadn’t hurt either -- which was part of the problem.

She’d even thought about going home. Or back to her hometown at least. But there really wasn’t anything there for her. She’d discovered that when she went back to visit just after she’d fled from the tour. Just more painful memories than she could deal with. And the suspicion that she’d just settle back into her old habits and behaviors. She couldn’t do that. It had destroyed every thing she’d known…

He’s called that night and begged. She couldn’t remember Nick ever begging for anything while she’d been around him. All right, so for a Nintendo partner or a fast food pit stop… but not like this. In his voice… it sounded like his world was coming apart. Like he’d discovered that there really were monsters under the bed -- and that they meant him plenty of harm.

She was familiar with that.

Still, she’d told him no way.

But he kept calling. Kept begging. Kept pleading. "No, it wasn’t a trick… he really needed her…"

When he finally convinced her of that (not totally, but enough), then he had to promise to protect her safety. If Howie really was… she didn’t want him anywhere near him. Nick had promised that he wouldn’t let anyone know. That they wouldn’t even go anywhere near Orlando. That she’d fly into Tampa’s airport and he’d take her straight to his house near Ruskin. It was in a gated community, and even though the guys were all on the "okay to let in" list, the guard always called to let him know they were coming. Nick had made sure of that after they had snuck in once to surprise him on his birthday…

Even so… Kat was still wary. But Nick’s desperation was getting to her.

And he was determined. When she finally said yes, he’d found her a flight that left a few hours later, gotten her a first class ticket (nice touch, that), and had a car around to pick her up with half an hour. He was giving her no chance to back down.

So here she was. Halfway through the Tampa air terminal… trying hard to convince herself to keep walking forward. And freaking out her fellow passengers.

She finally got her nerve back up and walked down to the baggage claim, grabbing her small suitcase. She was NOT going to be here long. No matter what how much Nick beseeched her to. She gripped it firmly in her hand, holding it in front of her like a weapon, and walked over to the parking garage. As promised, on level two, he was waiting for her.

As soon as he saw her he was out of the car in a flash. "I was afraid you wouldn’t come," he said as he gathered her into a huge hug. "Thank you. Thank you so much for being here."

She stepped back, a little embarrassed. "Umm. Nick? I thought you said you’d meet me out here because there was less chance of you being recognized? You’re going to blow that by being out of the car."

"Oh yeah," he grinned. "This ‘disguise’ isn’t terribly good is it?"

"Disguise? You’re wearing a disguise?" she joked, looking at his baggy jeans and sweatshirt, his glasses and camp hat. "If that is a disguise, how come you were wearing it on the cover of Tiger Beat last month?"

"Oh, get in the car," he said with a quiet laugh, as he loaded her suitcase in the back seat. "And what were you doing looking at Tiger Beat anyway?"

"It was in the check out line… and on the cover… I couldn’t miss it." Then her eyes clouded over. "And I needed to remember who the enemy was."

He lost his smile. "It’s not me who is the enemy. It’s…" He couldn’t even bring himself to say it. When he talked to her about it on the phone it just didn’t seem real. Now, here… he didn’t want to admit that it could be.

They drove in silence back to his house. He added her name to the "okay" list at the gate, ensuring that she could come and go as she pleased. That simple act when a long way towards reassuring her. He’d also arranged a car for her, which was waiting at the house.

He showed her to her room; a nice, airy suite that looked out over the canal. Then backed out, letting her get settled. He went downstairs to deal with his pugs that had been so exuberant in their joy at his return. They apparently did that every time he came back from anywhere, according to him. And they really were the most adorable things… though that really inquisitive one with the runny nose better gets its face out of her suitcase….

She heard the Nintendo going when she came downstairs and couldn’t help but smile. Same old Nick. Though the way he was just playing listlessly was new.

"You better tell me, now. I agreed to come here, and I agreed to wait until we were face to face. But I need to know."

He flicked off the game and sat up.

"I didn’t believe you. I thought you were just making that one up the same as you had the dolphin story. And I was really pissed off. I mean I know we aren’t angels," he grinned cynically, "no matter what our PR agents say." He shook his head. "But that…"

"What changed your mind?"

"Cut to the chase, why don’t you?" He groaned and leaned back on the sofa. "I’m sorry. I just don’t want to believe this. I mean I’ve lived with these guys since I was 13 years old."

"’These guys’? I thought you said that only Howie was involved," Kat sat down in the armchair across from him.

Nick was silent. "I found out that AJ fooled around once with one of Kevin’s ex’s. But it was after they broke up, so if we use the story you told me, it doesn’t count."

"And Howie?"

He started fidgeting with the game controller in his hand. "I went out to get groceries one night. And I bumped into Marissa. She was…"

"AJ’s girlfriend a while back. I know. Fan, remember?"

"Yeah, we never got along much, she and I. I was surprised that she even said hello." He snorted. "If you can count the insults she gave me a hello. Anyway, we started talking. She is still really bitter about him dumping her. Yes, I know it was two years ago, but she is still pissed. And she had been out drinking before I bumped into her…"

"And you asked her?"

"It took me a little while… I was trying to be nice. You know just being friendly. But she was going on and on about how AJ never knew how much she loved him and what she had to put up with for him. Then she said something about Howie… It was surreal, you know? It just twigged, so I asked her."

Kat let him sit for a while. Just letting him work up the courage.

"She said that they had… twice. The first time she started it and he got "all whiny about how he’d betrayed his best friend." The second time… he initiated it. As she put it, "he just fucked me, let me know he was there to get even with AJ for something, and left."

"Maybe that was all it was…"

He shook his head. "I thought so. And she really was a bitch. I could believe that she was fucking around on AJ, hell, we all really suspected it. It would have made sense for her to try and get it on with one of us. And even more for it to be Howie. She knew how much that would hurt AJ if he found out. No… If that were it, you wouldn’t be here."

"So why am I here?"

"Let me finish please," he said brusquely.

She nodded, and waited again for him to continue.

"What she said bugged me. About the second time. I don’t know; it just didn’t sound like the D I know. And then when I saw Helen…" he noted her quizzical look. "Ha! Some fan! You don’t know all the ex-girlfriends."

"Sue me," she snapped at him.

"I thought about it, but I figured I’d just sue David right now," he shot back.

Definitely time to change the subject back. "So tell me about Helen."

"Helen was Brian’s ex. They only went out for a little while: a few months here and then on one tour. She hated having to share him, and living out of a suitcase was not for her. I know, I know, it’s not for everyone. I don’t know why I put up with it some days, and I admit it is even worse for our girlfriends. Anyway, they were short-lived. She is really happy now. Married, one kid. A software engineer. The husband, not the kid."

Kat smirked. That was what she was about to ask.

"I stopped by one afternoon, and started asking her questions… It really upset her. I mean, her husband knew she went out with Brian for a little while, and apparently likes to joke about her "groupie" days, but she knows that he really is jealous. So having me show up… And then when I wanted to know…" He sighed again, one hand picking at a jagged fingernail on the other hand.

Kat moved over and sat beside him, taking his hand in hers, squeezing it. He smiled and squeezed back.

"Thanks." She nodded, and he continued. "Yes, Howie and she slept together. She and Brian had had a fight about something and Howie was there to console her. Before she realized it they were in bed together. The next day he promised he would never tell, and begged for her forgiveness."

"That could have just been a coincidence."

"What is it they say? ‘There are no coincidences’." He leaned forward and his head dropped into his hands.

Kat got up and wandered over to the window, looking out at the water. "You’re beginning to sound like me."

"What?" Nick said looking up.


He chuckled. "You aren’t paranoid if they are really out to get you."

She snorted. "You watch too much X-files."

He was startled; surprised that she had recognized the quote. "Look, you were the one who was so afraid it was true that you left the tour. You were the one who freaked out when I called you. It took over a week for me to convince you to come here. You tell me: is it a coincidence?"

She couldn’t answer that. "Why am I here, Nick? You didn’t need me to come down here just to tell me all this."

"I figure that three times is a pattern, right? So we need to ask another ex-girlfriend. The only one I know who is anywhere near by is," he grimaced, "Tanya."

Chapter 26

(c) Kat Morgan