It was good – just the two of them and the deep blue ocean. They set up the fishing rods, but didn’t really have the inclination to cast the hooks. It was more fun to just kick back and talk. Really let lose with someone you could trust implicitly. If Jane Carter had realized how much these times helped both of her sons to deal with her claims to know their ‘heart and soul’ she probably would have been less anxious about letting them go. They knew she loved them deeply, but her tendency to love their money too was something that grated on their nerves.
Aaron was feeling it worse now that his sixteenth birthday was rapidly approaching and he was still determined to quit show business and pursue marine biology. He had been saying it in interviews for years, but Jane had just started to realize that he was serious. And she wasn’t taking it well.
“So what do I do?” Aaron sighed. “I mean Jive is waving a very nice contract under my nose and she is pushing me to take it. She brings it up all the time. Heck, she thinks the reason I haven’t signed it yet is because I am listening to all her drivel about getting a better deal if I hold out. She just doesn’t get it.”
“Are you really sure you want to let it all go?” Nick asked seriously.
Aaron leaned back, a thoughtful expression on his face. “It’s hard. I mean, it’s pretty much all I’ve known. You grew up in this business; you know what I mean. I’ve been the ‘Crown Prince of Pop’ since I was eight years old. And I like it, but some days it just gets old.”
“Walking away just because you are bored may not be the best thing. I know I’ve felt it, but I’ve stuck it out.”
“Yeah, but you have four other dumbasses to cheer you up when it gets exhausting.” He groaned. “I got Mom.”
Nick laughed. “I know that. And having the guys around didn’t always protect me from her. It’s gotten a lot better since I put my foot down, though.”
Aaron snorted. “So that wasn’t you who was letting her push all your buttons yesterday? Must have been your evil twin.”
“Dork,” Nick replied as he hugged his brother. “Everyone knows I don’t have an evil twin. I do have a Mini-Me, and he lets his mom push his buttons too.”
“Can’t you take her for a while? You got a tour coming up. Take her with you,” Aaron pleaded.
“Sorry Air-boy, no can do. First off, the guys would kill me. Second, I’d kill her. And it is damn hard to hide a body on those tour buses. Especially if Dad is driving it.”
“I saw this movie once… someone shoved a body in the bottom of a box spring and covered it with the mattress. Think how many hotel rooms you stay in during a tour. That’d work,” Aaron suggested.
Nick looked at him. “I don’t know whether to laugh or be worried that you’ve given it so much thought.”
Aaron sighed. “Laugh. I’d never do it, though it does make for a nice fantasy some days. I just wish she’d clue in. I am not interested in signing another multi-year contract.”
“So sign one for just for a year or two.”
“I tried that. Jive won’t take it unless it is renewable, and they are the ones who get to renew it. They get protected in case I flop, but I get screwed over if things go well. Only way out of it is to bomb big time.”
“And you don’t want to do that?”
“Come on, Nick. Even on your worse days did you ever want to ‘throw’ a concert? I mean you may have wanted to be somewhere else, or messed up by accident, but have you ever deliberately screwed up?”
“Nah, wouldn’t do any good. I’d still have to keep going, and besides, I like it when it all sounds great. Those moments when we are all in perfect harmony… Pure magic,” he smiled blissfully, remembering, then shook his head. “You’re right. Besides, if school craps out it’d be harder for you to go back to singing. You’d have to fight the time away AND the bombed albums.”
“Exactly. I don’t want out forever. I just want out now so I can give myself a chance to get into university and to really try doing marine biology. I’d rather walk out when it is MY choice, and come back when I want to.”
Nick reached over and grabbed his bottle of water, taking a deep drink. “I’m so jealous of you.”
“Hunh?” Aaron looked at him blankly. That had not been the response he’d expected.
“You can do this. You can actually walk out and do your own thing. I can’t. Not strong enough, I guess. I’m too afraid that I can’t do anything else.”
Aaron turned around to look at his older brother. “Bro, come on. You are the strongest person I know. You amaze me. I am trying to get out because I don’t think I am strong enough to continue. You, you were made for this. I just fell into it by accident.”
“I think you got that the wrong way around. You hopped into it like a natural.”
“Only because you paved the road for me. Face it, I only want to sing because my cool big brother was doing it.”
Aaron had said it so matter of fact, but it still choked Nick up. How had he managed to be Aaron’s hero and still have him as a best friend? Pure blind luck, that was the only answer.
He swallowed the lump in his throat. “Aw,” he teased. “You just want to be like me? You have a shrine in your room for me that I don’t know about?”
“Oh, come on. Admit it, you really worship me.”
Aaron snorted. “I used to. But then I grew older and wiser and realized you’re just a dumbass.”
“A dumbass?” Nick’s eyes narrowed as a devilish grin came over his face. “That’s it, you’re shark bait.” He jumped out of his chair; a second after Aaron sprung away and chased his laughing younger brother. The Carter brothers wrestled for a while, then Nick got the upper hand and backed Aaron up against the railing. He leaned Aaron’s upper body over the side. “Here, sharkies! Got a tasty snack for you!” he called as Aaron continued to laugh and squirm.
A loud splash off the bow made them both jump and turn around. Aaron pulled himself up to stand next to his older brother as the two watched a pair of wild dolphins cavort a few feet from the boat.
Nick glanced at Aaron who was watching the mammals’ antics with a beatific look on his face. Nick knew that Aaron would take this as a sign that his decision to quit singing was the right one. He sighed and looked back at the dolphins. “I am so jealous of you.”
It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what was going on. Brian was trying to set him up. His cousin meant well, really he did, but Kevin wished he’d just butt out.
Not that he didn’t like Jeanne or anything; he just wasn’t ready for a relationship. When Lana walked out, leaving with little or no explanation, she’d taken his heart with her and he wasn’t going to get over that fast. Sure, he could have tried getting over it by throwing himself into lots of female flesh as he’d done in the past. But that had never been satisfying – well, ‘satisfying,’ just not satisfying. He needed time. He needed to think and to heal.
And he needed the guys to just butt out.
Oddly enough, Jeanne had understood that. Sure there’d been the usual jaw drop and eyes bug out when they’d met. Still, about halfway through their first conversation she’d told him that he was very handsome. “I know,” he’d responded.
She’d looked at him and then asked, “you get told that a lot, don’t you?”
“Yes,” he replied, then as an afterthought. “But its not who I am.”
She cocked her head to one side and looked him straight in the eye - her brown ones to his green. “I can see that about you. Anyway, I said it. It’s done. Let’s move on, shall we?”
He released a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. “I’d appreciate it.”
“No worries,” she’d grinned, her light Australian accent becoming more prominent, and that was that. It never came up again. She just treated him the way she did Brian; joking with him then talking about deep things. Never with anything more than interest in him as a person, not as something more.
He liked that about her.
Brian still tried to get them together, while Leighanne seemed oddly relieved that nothing was happening between the two of them. Jeanne just shrugged it all off and asked if he wanted to go to one of the theme parks with her. She had a love of roller coasters that she was going to indulge while in town. She told him that was how Leighanne had convinced her to come with her. She hadn’t wanted to come really – felt that she was intruding on Leighanne and Brian’s ‘together’ time. She didn’t know much about being in a group, but she had figured out that it was a lot of work and the two didn’t see each other much. She’d been as surprised as, well, as he was, that Leighanne had insisted she come with her for this visit.
He thought he knew why Leigh had invited her though. It does get really boring just sitting around waiting for them to finish rehearsals and it was good for Leigh to have a friend around for that. He hadn’t seen the blonde woman giggle so much ever. She and Jeanne just seemed to have this cool vibe together and it obviously carried over – Brian had even more of a goofy grin on his face than he usually did when Leighanne was around.
She was great around the others too. She’d actually stunned AJ speechless the first time they’d met. They’d bumped into him on the golf course where they were trying to teach her to play.
She wasn’t doing very well, and was obviously starting to get a little frustrated. AJ’d been tagging along for a couple of holes, when Jeanne winged a shot that went way into the rough. She’d thrown down her club, stomped her foot and loudly exclaimed, “fuck me dead!”
The rest of us were used her occasional descent into Aussie swear phrases, not so AJ. His jaw’d dropped and he’d just stared at her. She blushed and apologized, then disappeared to try and retrieve her ball, while he continued to stand there speechless.
Anyone who can shut up the Bonedaddy was fine in my books.
Kevin watched her and she continued to chat with AJ across the pool. She really was attractive; those deep brown eyes had struck him immediately. She was thin but not too thin - a bit of muscle there and he knew she kept that in strict control. Heck, she could benchpress more than he could! Of course she’d only tried it once and swore she’d keep to her usual level from now on because her shoulders had ached for days. Showing off at the gym was not a game he wanted to play again either (still he was at that level now and could do a good number of reps).
She had long legs, again not overly slender, but perfectly proportioned for her body shape. Her long auburn hair set off her slightly olive face perfectly. She had high cheekbones and a cute nose – narrow at the top and subtly rounded at the bottom. All in all, a good looking woman.
But she wasn’t Lana.
He sighed and took another sip of his drink, then ambled over to see how Brian was doing with the burgers.
“So what are you going to do once you get back to LA?”
Jeanne hesitated. Going back to LA wasn’t in the plans; however, it was hard to stick to the plan when the main participant was off somewhere doing whatever. Leigh had asked a few subtle questions to Brian about Nick, but he was so focussed on getting Kevin out of his shell he’d pretty much ignored them.
Not that getting Kevin out of his shell was a bad thing… Oh bite your tongue girl! This was not about him.
“Not sure really,” she replied, adding a touch more accent to her voice. “Just kick around, I guess. Depends on whether Leigh comes back with me or not.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “I kind of hope she doesn’t. I feel like I’m intruding and I want her and Brian to get some time alone.”
“Judging from the perpetual grin on his face, they are getting enough,” AJ smirked.
Jeanne laughed. “Get on with ya! When you’re in love there is never enough time.”
AJ glanced over at Micheline who was sitting on the edge of the pool, trailing her feet in the water. “I suppose.”
Jeanne chuckled and pushed him towards the other woman. “Go one now, you know you want to. And no pushing her in. This is a barbie not a bang-up.”
AJ grinned evilly at her, but just sat down quietly next to Micheline.
Jeanne moved towards Leighanne, but Howie intercepted her. “Enjoying yourself?” he asked with a grin.
She smiled back. “Yes, actually. I think this was a good idea. Just the little break y’all need before your rehearsals start.”
“’Y’all.” You are starting to speak like a Southerner.”
“Hard not to with one around all the time,” she replied. “I still wish Brian would let me go stay in a hotel.”
“Well, he does have plenty of room,” Howie replied. “Of course you could always go crash at Kevin’s.”
Jeanne groaned. “Not you too. Please, it’s not happening. I like the man, but not interested in anything more. Never is he, truth be told. What is it about fixing us up that is so important?”
Howie shrugged. “You too get along so well, and he’s been lonely. Leigh says you have been too, so it makes sense. We like to take care of our friends.”
“By setting them up together?” she scoffed. “Leave it be. He’ll go when he’d ready and I am in no rush. Just because they’re suffering from the lovebirds’ ‘matchmaker’ syndrome doesn’t mean it has to be spread around.”
He laughed. “Okay, I give up.”
“So tell me all about all these rehearsal things you have to do? More dancing and so on?”
“A little more. We did all the moves and stuff like that in a rehearsal hall, now they have the stage set up and its time to check them all on the stage. Make sure they work and we can remember them with all the other things going on.”
She shook her head. “And if you have to change things? That could really mess you up.”
“Oh you’ve seen Brian dance have you?” He replied with a cheeky grin and Jeanne chuckled. “No, actually it’s not to bad now. We rarely change steps at this point, just need to get used to a new stage and spacing things out. Shouldn’t be too bad. Most of it is tinkering with the stage, making sure it works and we know what to do with it. You should come to some of the rehearsals and see it all come together.”
Jeanne frowned, “I’m sure I’d be in the way…”
“I doubt it. Lots of people are there and you can always sit in one of the side seats if you want. I am sure Brian will bring Leighanne along so you’ll have someone to talk to. She’d been through so many of these she probably knows the system better than we do.”
“Maybe I will,” Jeanne mused. “But aren’t you missing one element?”
“Who? Nicky? He’ll be here. Brian said he’d called earlier and was on his way,” Howie took a sip of his drink, missing Jeanne’s flush. “Oh, Miriam is back from the washroom. I better go. Talk to you later.” He leapt up and moved over to his girlfriend’s side.
Jeanne leaned back in her chair and stretched, trying to stay calm. She rose slowly and headed inside to the kitchen, nodding as she passed Brian who was laboring over the grill.
Leighanne was just putting the finishing touches on a large salad and looked up at Jeanne’s approach. “Oh good, you’re here. Can you help with this?”
“Sure thing. Where do you want it?”
“I was thinking in the middle of the second table. At the end after the condiments.”
Jeanne moved over next to Leighanne to take the proffered bowl and hissed quietly, “why didn’t you warn me he was coming here?”
“Howie? You knew he’d be here…” Leighanne’s voice trailed off as she realized whom Jeanne was talking about. “Nick? He’s coming? Brian didn’t mention it. Honest. I would told you, Kat.” Then she winced loudly as she received a sharp kick to her ankle. “Jeanne. I meant Jeanne.”
“Damn, Leigh, you HAVE to remember. Now more than ever.” Jeanne’s hands started to shake. “Oh man, I am so nervous.”
“Hey, not to worry, girl,” Leighanne replied taking the bowl and placing it on the table, then gripping Jeanne’s hands in a reassuring squeeze. “You’ve got them all buying it. It’s been better that he hasn’t been here – they got to know you first and no one has suspected anything. It’ll be okay.”
“But what if he doesn’t like me?” Jeanne wailed.
Leigh laughed. “As if it matters. He’ll be all over you, just like we planned.”
Jeanne sighed. “You’re right. Just nervous. I mean it’s only Nick.”
“Yeah. Not like you are going to fall in love of anything,” Leighanne chuckled and Jeanne pulled a face.
“People can do that? I thought only the lobotomized fell for that moron.”
“Actually, they are called teenagers,” Leighanne replied primly and they both cracked up. She wiped a tear away from her blue eyes. “See? You’re fine. Just remember you are SUPPOSED to be in love with him.”
“Yuck.” Jeanne sighed. “Okay, I’m fine now. Thanks I needed that laugh. All right, prepare to see a lobotomized teeny performance…” Jeanne smirked and grabbed the salad, heading out to the back porch.
Kevin intercepted her as she left the house and grabbed the bowl from her. “I think the chef is ready. Want me to get the plates, too?”
“Sure. Just put that over there and I’ll help you.” The two headed back inside and joined Leighanne. The three started carting all the food outside.
Nick climbed out his Durango, glancing at all the cars along the street. Looked like all the guys were there already. That traffic jam before Kississimee had really slowed him down. He grabbed the cooler with the freshly filleted fish inside and trudged round the side of the house, following the sound of the music.
“Nicky!” Howie shouted in greeting, waving him over. Nick repressed a shudder, something that he seemed to be suffering from a lot recently. Every time he saw Howie after a while it was the same thing. He was going to have to get past that. The plan was to treat him as he normally had, before finding out.
“Hey D. How’s it going? Miriam,” he acknowledged Howie’s girlfriend with a nod. She smiled back, though it didn’t seem to reach her eyes. Trouble in paradise maybe? Nick would ask later.
“Kaos! So what you bring me?” AJ grinned as he grabbed the cooler from Nick’s hands. “Fish? Sheesh, kid, I would have thought you’d have caught me some lobster or something.”
Nick laughed. “Got three underneath the filets, Bone.”
“Hot damn. Better tell Leigh to get out the hot butter.”
Howie snorted. “I’m sure that she and Brian have used it all up by now.”
AJ tsk-ed evilly. “No Howie, that’s oil… You better learn to get them straight, right Miriam?”
Nick looked over at Brian, who waved at him before turning back to a sudden burst of flame.
“Oh Lord,” Howie said, following Nick’s gaze. “Somebody better remove the chef before he burns all our food.”
Nick was going to reply when something else caught his eye. Leighanne had come out of the house carrying several plates, followed by Kevin and another woman. Leighanne left to talk to Brian, while Kevin and the woman organized the table, chatting amiably.
“Oh oh. Nicky’s spotted the new chick,” AJ snickered.
“Who is that?” He asked curiously. “Kevin’s new girl?”
“Nah, she ain’t interested in him, much to Brian’s chagrin. That’s Jeanne. A friend of Leighanne’s from California. She’s a hoot, man. You have to meet her.”
Jeanne. Why did he know that name? Jeanne. Oh shit! That was her! Jeanne was the name that Kat said she was going to be using. Holy shit! She was here and he was supposed to…
“Put your eyes back in their sockets, horny boy,” AJ laughed. “Gimme those lobsters and I’ll introduce ya.”
Howie giggled. “Better do it quick, Bone. From the look on his face I’d say Nick’s smitten.”
(c) Kat Morgan