“I was in university. I think it was my second year. I’d bumped into a friend from high school – that didn’t happen often. I went to a very small rural high school and only a few of us went to the city for university. I was really surprised to see Mickey. She’d gone to school elsewhere. But she was dating some guy who was related to someone else, who was friends with – I can’t remember what the connection was…”
Kat let the curtains fall back across the window. Then slowly turned back to the others. She didn’t look up at them. This still hurt. She’d been through a lot of pain in her life, but this one still hurt deeply. It had been her own fault. She should have known. She should have realized sooner.
“She invited me to a party at her friend’s place, and I went. I met Steve there.”
“He was, well he was a great guy. I’d been coming off a bad scene, and he was a very understanding. He made me laugh. He made me feel like I was worthwhile.” She got lost in her memories for a moment, and then shook her head. “Anyway, Steve and I started dating. We made a great couple. We had similar interests and had a lot of fun together. He met my friends and I met his. Including his roommates Mike and Chris. It would have been impossible not to meet them; the three were almost inseparable. The Three Musketeers.”
“I think I should tell you about the guys. I mean, it has relevance, you know? Steve was, well, short, dark and handsome would best describe him. He was about an inch shorter than me, and had short hair and these hazel eyes. He had this green sweater and when he wore it, his eyes turned…” She looked up and Leighanne grinned back at her. Yep, Leighanne knew exactly what colour his eyes turned. And who it reminded her of.
She sighed. “Steve wanted to be an actor; was always in school plays and stuff. And he had a wicked sense of humour. Never mean; but he could make you laugh so easily. He was, well, he was a really great guy.”
“Chris was sort of, umm, weasel-y looking. He had a pointy nose and chin. I think he was actually the tallest of them, but he was always hunched over. And he was a bitter kind of guy. Never a good word about anyone. I honestly have no idea how his girlfriend put up with him. Sorry; girlfriends. I found that out later though. Anyway, he was a bigwig on the Student Council so that must have explained it. I never liked him much, but I guess that is obvious, hunh?”
“Mike was… I would describe him as the beauty queen of the bunch. Tall, blond hair, blue eyes. The quintessential golden boy. Either he was born with perfect teeth or he had then capped: I don’t know. He was just beautiful in that blond demi-god sort of way.”
Nick shifted uncomfortably. Okay, so he was blond and blue-eyed. It’s not his fault. He was born that way. And he wasn’t a demi-god: if anyone knew that he did. He was the one who saw the acne first, the rolls of tummy fat, the…
Nick’s attention was called back as Kat continued. “Anyway, things with Steve were good. But we clued in pretty fast that we just weren’t mean to be, umm, more than friends.” She shook her head. “He was great to be with, but it just was off somehow. Even the sex was…”
Leighanne cleared her throat softly and Kat looked at her. “Yeah, you probably don’t want to hear that, hunh? Okay, long story short. I was with Steve and we broke up. It was amiable, nothing to worry about. We stayed friends, and then he went away for a few weeks. And Mike suddenly appeared.”
Kat shifted uncomfortably and looked down at her hands. She watched her fingers fidget for a moment, then consciously stilled then. But she didn’t look up as she continued.
“He declared his undying love.”
Leighanne gave a little gasp of surprise, even though she’d had a feeling that was coming. Nick just frowned, knowing instinctively that something was wrong with that.
Kat took a deep breath, and still didn’t raise her head. “He said he’d always wanted me. From the first time he’d seen me. From the first time Steve introduced us. He said… well, he said a lot of things and I admit it turned my head. So we started seeing each other. And almost immediately we were sleeping together. This went on for almost the whole time Steve was away.”
“I fell for Mike in a big way. It wasn’t just his looks. He really seemed to understand me. All the things that had been off with Steve worked with Mike. The only problem was that the things that DID work with Steve didn’t always work with Mike. His sense of humour was acerbic, and often harsh. And he was often depressed. Here was this big, beautiful guy, and he constantly needed you to tell him that.”
“What was worse were the questions about Steve.”
“He wanted to know everything: what Steve and I had talked about when we were alone, anything Steve had said about him, what Steve liked in bed. You name it, he wanted to know.”
“It weirded me out a little; but I was in love. He explained it as him being concerned about how Steve would take it when he came back and found out that we were together. It just… Well, I was willing to believe any relatively logical excuse: like I said, I was in love.”
“But I don’t see what this has to do with Howie?” Nick suddenly jumped in.
Leighanne slapped him lightly on the arm and smiled at Kat. “Excuse him: he’s not known for his patience. Go on, Kat.”
This time Leighanne kicked him and he subsided moodily.
“Well, Steve came back, and didn’t care much. I guess Mike had expected some great scene or something, but it didn’t happen. And that made him even more depressed. He threatened to commit suicide, but we talked him out of it.”
“By this time, even though I thought I was in love wasn’t helping me. Mike was beyond high maintenance. And for all his professing his love for me, his life pretty much revolved around Steve. We broke up – not too amiably, and it took me a long time to get over it. I pretty much hid away from guys for a long time. It wasn’t until… Well, that’s another story.”
Kat got up and paced back and forth. “I said this story would be short, and I am sorry, Nick, that I went on a bit more than I expected to. But my point is this: it took me a while to figure out, but it wasn’t me that Mike was interested in. It was Steve.”
“So you’re saying Howie’s gay?” Nick asked.
“No. Not really. Not anymore than Mike was.” She grimaced. “Sorry, I thought I was making it clear, but I probably just muddied things up.”
“I think I get it,” Leighanne said. “Its not about us girlfriends. Its about the Boys.”
Kat nodded. “Yeah. See, Mike was very heterosexual. I don’t think he even thought about having sex with Steve. But he needed to compete with him. He needed to be better than him. I found out later he’s done the same thing a few times with Chris’ girlfriends too.”
“It really isn’t about the girlfriends. It’s about proving to himself that he was better than the two guys he cared about most.”
It was clear that this time Nick got it. But the look of confusion on his face… “So you think Howie’s doing this because he needs to be better than the rest of us? That’s ridiculous. He IS better! Hell, he was the first Backstreet Boy. He’s the one who keeps us together and going strong. He’s the one who…”
“Does he know that?” Kat asked quietly.
“Of course…” Nick’s voice trailed off.
“Nick, come on. Kevin’s the tall, dark and brooding one that who is seen as the leader. AJ’s the poster child for bad boys. Brian’s just so damn cute and you’re the young blond babe. Howie’s handsome and great, but he doesn’t get the amount of notice you guys get.”
Nick shook his head trying to deny it.
“She’s right, you know,” Leighanne put in softly.
“Do you know how he introduced himself to me?” Kat asked. “He called himself the ‘least popular Backstreet Boy.’ That’s how he sees himself.”
“But he’s not!” Nick protested.
“He doesn’t see it that way.” Leighanne sighed. “He’s said similar things to me, you know. About being unpopular. Nick, you get all upset if you hear fans saying that you’ve put on weight. How do you think Howie feels when fans call him, to his face, a troll? How they ask him where you are?”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean…”
“You’re right. It doesn’t. But can you think of any reason why Howie would go around purposely sleeping with his best friend’s girlfriends?”
“Maybe…” Nick tried.
“And calling out the friend’s name when he cums?” Leighanne said harshly.
Nick shuddered. Then he was the one who paced back and forth across the room.
Kat sat back on the sofa and Leighanne came over and put her arms around her, giving her a hug. Kat smiled weakly. She had never had much luck with men. Ha! That was a laughable comment. She’d never had ANY luck with men. But that period of time with Mike had hurt her deeply. And it still hurt. To be used like that…
And now to me in the middle of that situation again. With people she’d idolized.
“So what do we do?” Nick finally asked. “I’m not saying I agree with you, but I just don’t see how that helps us.”
“Simple. If he is doing it to get back at you guys, to prove he’s better than you, then he isn’t going to tell Brian about sleeping with Leighanne. Hell, he’s probably even forgotten it happened. All he needed out of it was to know that, sorry Leighanne for the crudeness of this, is to know that he’d had something of Brian’s.”
Leighanne paled, but nodded.
“It’s a good theory, but we need to be sure,” Nick insisted. “How do we make certain he doesn’t say anything?”
“I could always ask him not to,” Leighanne said.
Kat shook her head. “You really want to do that? Remind him?”
“I could tell him that if he says anything I’ll beat the crap out of him,” Nick said with a determined look on his face.
This time it was Leighanne who shook her head. “You bring the subject up with him, you know you’re going to say more. You’ll end up fighting anyway.”
“And you may not come out of it best. Last time I saw him Howie’d been bulking up. He’s probably stronger than you, Nick.”
Nick wasn’t going to argue: the last time Howie’d given him a playful punch on the arm he’s left a bruise.
“So what do we do?” Leighanne asked, a note of hysteria returning to her voice.
Kat wished she could help. Wished she had an answer. But she just didn’t know. She shrugged sadly and spouted of the first thing that came to mind. “Catch him in the act. THEN threaten him.”
Nick snorted. “Oh yeah, that’s go over well. ‘Hey Micheline, do you mind if we just hang around until Howie hits on you so we can threaten his sorry ass?’ I don’t think it’d work.”
“What about Lana? That’s who he was after when…” Kat’s voice trailed off as Leighanne fixed her an incredulous gaze. Suddenly why Howie had mentioned this to Kat made sense. When he’d been trying to get her he’d probably told her she’d get Kevin. A hell of an offer to someone who was head over heels in infatuation with the man. And Kat had said no and walked away. Leighanne’s respect for Kat rose another notch.
“Lana’s gone,” Nick said distractedly. “She and Kev broke up just before the end of the tour.”
“Is he seeing anyone new?” Did that sound as desperate to their ears as it did to hers, Kat thought.
Nick shook his head. “Nope. Still pining.”
“I can’t see him seeing anyone for a while. He was really nuts about her,” Leighanne said, with a sympathetic smile at Kat.
“Then I don’t know what to do,” Kat said shortly and turned away. Just drop it, Kat, she told herself. So Kevin’s a god. Big deal. Let it go.
She excused herself and went to the bathroom. She needed a few minutes alone just to recover. She’d had to revisit a very difficult time in her life, then get current on the other man she’d lost her heart to. God, she needed to get out of there. What had possessed her to tell Nick in the first place? Why hadn’t she just walked away when he’d asked? Why hadn’t she refused to come here? And really kicked his butt for bringing her to Orlando? All she wanted to do was go home. Forget about it all. Slide under the covers of her safe little life and forget about everything else.
When she came back to the room Nick and Leighanne had their heads together, whispering furiously back and forth. They looked up guiltily when she sat down.
“Umm.” Leighanne looked nervously at Nick. “We thought of a way to catch Howie.”
“Well, if what he needs is a new girlfriend to hit on, then we give him one,” Leigh said simply.
Kat frowned. “But…”
“I start seeing someone,” Nick announced.
“You really want to let him try this with your girlfriend? Do you want another girlfriend who might sleep around on you? Come on Nick, that’s just plain mean. How could you get someone involved in this, especially when you know what could happen?” Kat’s bitterness about what had happened with Mike and Steve came back full force in her tone. She could never figure out if Steve had known what he was getting her into, but just the thought that he might have…
“No, I mean I start seeing someone who knows. I see someone who’ll help.”
Steve couldn’t have known could he? Would he have done that? She’d always believed that he was an innocent party in the whole thing too, but maybe he wasn’t…
“Who’s gonna go for that?” It had been years. Why did it hurt so much still? Get over it, already, Kat. Her friendship with Steve had waned soon after the whole episode, but that was natural. She’d avoided the gang of them. And they were always civil to each other. Surely he wasn’t the type to purposely set someone up like that…
(c) Kat Morgan