When Leighanne had shown up at the hotel that morning she had thought it was just going to be the usual: Nick needing to talk to a friend about things that he couldn’t, well, tell a guy-friend. One of his “how come I can’t seem to find anyone” conversations. They’d had a couple of those recently, and she knew that her engagement to Brian was making it a little worse for Nick. Not that he resented their relationship; in fact he supported and celebrated it. But it did make him think about the things that were missing in his life.
His longest, and long-winded, relationship to date had been with a woman that Leigh really didn’t like that much. Tanya could be nice, really nice, to be with, but she was erratic, and more often than not she took it out on Nick. He was never there, and when he was other people, like his family or friends, wanted to see him too. And when they were on the road he was a mixture of a lot of energy and absolute exhaustion. So he was erratic too, but at least it was fairly predictable.
He needed someone who could understand all that and compliment his personality. Someone who was “good to go” but also needed downtime. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a lot of time to go out and search for that kind of person. And the occasional flings he had, well they were always satisfying in some ways, but they never seemed to form into a lasting relationship. Either they’d be scared off by his career or he’d be scared off by his insecurities.
So when he called and asked her if she was free to talk about Brian’s birthday party… well, she just knew that it would be more of a guy seeking advice from girl friend conversation than planning cakes, balloons or games.
She didn’t except this.
Seeing Kat there (damn, had she ever changed!) was the first surprise.
Kat and Nick would clearly never be comfortable around each other for very long; they were both pig-headed and stubborn in their own ways. Though they did seem to be able to laugh at themselves and each other without it being mean-spirited. This new, feistier Kat was surprising, and Nick obviously wasn’t sure he liked it. Leighanne thought about for a moment and decided that she did. She’d always suspected that Kat’s reticent behaviour before had been for personal reasons. She was finally coming out of her shell.
So maybe a good thing would come out of this horrible situation after all.
And to hear that it hadn’t just been her…
That had been a shock too. She’d been carrying around this private guilt for so long. It hurt so much. To find out that it had been, as Kat had said, part of a sick game. God, how could he do that? Did he have no clue as to what he was destroying?
Part of her managed to be calm and composed as she listened to the story, while inside she was screaming in pain. That was nothing new: that part of her had been screaming ever since it happened. Increasing in volume when Brian had proposed. Now it was deafening.
“I know its Howie because it happened with me, too,” she whispered in despair.
As she knew he would (hadn’t he all ready foreshadowed it?) Nick went ballistic. She sat there, sobbing quietly as he raged; screaming at her, throwing things and swearing up a storm. Kat finally gave her a tissue then got up, grabbed Nick’s arms, then slapped him across the face.
Nope, she wouldn’t have expected that from Kat.
And neither did Nick. He stood there, shocked as the handprint glowed rosily on his tanned cheek.
“You have two choices, Carter,” Kat said angrily. “Either sit the hell down and shut the fuck up, or go to your room like the baby you are!”
His mouth worked, but nothing came out.
“You knew when you asked Leighanne here that this might the answer you’d get. You told me that you needed to hear the truth. You were the one who forced this to go this far. I said that we could leave this alone, that we should forget about it, but you insisted. Well, you have your answer now, so you’re going to have to damn well live with it.”
“And as for screaming at Leighanne: take a look at her! Do you honestly think this is easy for her? And why are you putting all the blame on her and not on that frigging sonofabitch Howie? Calm down and let’s try and talk this out like rational people, not shriek at each other like children.”
She turned her back on him and sat back down on the sofa across from Leighanne. “Are you okay?”
“No,” Leighanne replied honestly. “No, I’m not. And I haven’t been for a while.”
“I’m willing to listen if you want to talk.”
Leigh cast an eye at Nick who still stood there, trying to figure out whether he wanted to run away or finish what he’d started, then turned back to Kat. “I think I’d like that.”
She wiped her eyes, blowing her nose delicately, and then picked up a few more tissues. She was going to need them before she was finished.
“I am actually kind of glad that it is out in the open now. I have been struggling with how to deal with it for a while now. I have to tell Brian the truth, but I just don’t know how to without losing him.” She gave a sob, “I can’t lose him. I love him so much.”
Nick made his decision. It hurt, but he was an adult, and he was going to act like one. He sat down next to Leighanne, giving her a quick hug. She looked up at his sympathetic azure eyes and burst into tears again. He held her close, rocking her gently, letting her cry. Kat had to admire him: he’d come through in the crunch.
It took a little while to regain her composure, but Leighanne finally blinked back her tears. “Sorry. I’ve just been holding this in for a while.”
“Its okay, Leigh. Sorry I blew like that,” Nick replied.
“You have every right to be angry, Nick. I’m angry. And guilty. God, I was so stupid. And now you tell me its happened with others… In a way it would be better if it had only happened to me. Now… I don’t know what to feel.”
“Why don’t you tell us what happened,” Kat suggested quietly.
The blonde woman nodded and took a deep breath. “Brian and I had only been going out together for a little while when he was told he had to have his heart surgery. It scared the heck out of me. I mean, it had been only a short while, but I was terrified even then of losing him. Only then the risk was a lot worse: he could die. And with TransCon screwing around with his surgery dates: God, didn’t they get it? It could have killed him and all they did was worry about how much money they could make off him before it happened,” she said bitterly.
Kat had only heard through other fans what life had been like back then, but the looks on both Leigh and Nick’s faces was enough to convince her that the gossip, while horrible, had been nothing compared to the truth.
“The only ones who understood were Brian’s family and the other Boys. They were feeling the same things. When they finally allowed some time for him to have the surgery, Brian was in there so long…” Tears started to trickle down her face. “I was so afraid he wasn’t going to make it and there was nothing I could do about it. And why would they tell me anyway? I was just “the girlfriend” not family. I was dying inside a little more every minute that passed.”
“And then there was Howie. He was supposed to be there, with the rest of us. But when word came about his sister falling ill, he just hopped the next plane he could get on…and got there just after she died. He was still in shock and grieving terribly when, once again, TransCon to the rescue, he was told to get back to work.”
“We were a mess: all of us. Kevin was terrified of losing someone else he loved, Nick was worried sick about his basketball partner…” She smiled at him and he grinned back.
“And video game partner. Rok plays almost as well as I do: he’s the only one who really gives me a challenge,” he added.
“Howie had just lost someone he loved and AJ was stuck in the middle. He was having flashbacks of his first girlfriend who died, and then with Howie in mourning and Brian touch and go…” She sighed heavily. “Once we got back on tour it was just as bad. Brian never knew whether the stage he got on would be his last, and we were all concerned about the same thing.”
“There was one night, when Brian was particularly exhausted after a concert. I put him straight to bed; made him rest. But he was so pale, so weak. I was afraid to leave him alone, but I couldn’t bear to see him like that either. Kevin stopped by and agreed to watch over him and I went down to the hotel restaurant.”
“Howie was there.”
Kat and Nick exchanged glances.
“He was in bad shape too. And we started talking. We were both getting really upset and we decided that sitting out in public was probably not a good idea so we went up to his room.” She saw Kat’s questioning look. “I mean, this was Howie: what did I have to worry about?”
Kat nodded. She’d felt the same way. Once.
“I guess you can figure out from there. One minute we were crying and consoling each other, the next we were in bed together. And it just seemed natural at the time. We were just trying to get past the pain, you know? It was just towards the end, when I thought about Brian again… God, I felt so horrible, so vile.” She choked off, starting to sob again.
Kat moved to her side and wrapped her arms around her. Nick did the same. The three of them sat there in silence as Leighanne wept and Nick and Kat tried to absorb what they had heard.
“Its okay, Leigh,” Nick said soothingly when she settled. “I understand how it could have happened.”
“Can you?” she said bitterly, her voice twisting with self-loathing. “The man I love was across the hallway fighting for his life and I was fooling around with one of his best friends! I…”
“Leighanne! It was an accident. No one blames you,” Kat replied.
“No? Nick sure did a few minutes ago!” Nick flushed. “And Brian? He’s going to blame me. How can I tell him? How can I tell him?” she wailed.
“He won’t blame you,” Nick insisted. “He’ll be upset, but he’ll understand. He loves you. He wants to spend the rest of his life with you.”
“But I can’t marry him. Don’t you see? This is why I keep postponing the wedding. I can’t marry him without telling him. If he was to ever find out… And I am so afraid of telling him myself.”
“I can’t marry Brian.”
(c) Kat Morgan