“Enough,” Jeanne finally wheezed. “I now know far more about these men than I wanted to. I am so glad to know that you aren’t anything like them at all, being of the shy and retiring sort.” The other four jumped at that, shouting denials and promising to tell her more tales… until she held her hand up signaling them to stop. “Thank you gentlemen, I get the picture. You are all horrible people to know and I should run for my life now. Actually, with all this laughing, I am going to run for the washroom.” She turned back to Nick. “Well, despite all that, it is nice to meet you Nick.” She shook his hand and then turned and went into the house.
Nick was sure he had mumbled something appropriate, but he couldn’t imagine what it was. She had changed so much! And yet, not at all. It amazed him, even though he had known it was coming. He just hadn’t been prepared… He saw Leighanne looking at him and turned to her. She raised a single eyebrow, in a regal manner, and he nodded. Yes, Leigh, he had caught on. And yes, he approved. But dammit, a little warning next time!
Okay, there wasn’t going to be a next time. The game’s afoot, as Sherlock Holmes would say, and they had only one try to get it right.
He chatted amiably with Brian, handing over the fish and lobster he had brought along. They ended up in a long discussion on how to cook it – he wanted to just grill the suckers and be done, Brian wanted herbs and spices and all that nonsense. Sheesh! When had he turned into a gourmet chef? It was just a barbeque for God sake! Still, the discussion kept him busy when Jeanne returned. Not that he didn’t keep glancing at her, but at least Brian didn’t notice.
They sat down at the picnic table in the back, and Nick was not pleased to see Kevin pull up alongside Jeanne. That was NOT how it was supposed to work. He frowned, then Leighanne kicked him under the table. He blushed, realizing he’d been about to say something that could ruin everything. Way to go Nick. So he calmly struck up a conversation with Micheline about what she’d been up to recently.
“Not much. Mr. I-haven’t-bought-absolutely-everything-but-I-am-going-to-try has been remarkably calm recently. Mostly we’ve been just chillin’ and relaxing. You?”
“Out on my boat.”
“We figured that, Junior. I think all the fish gave it away,” AJ put in.
Jeanne grimaced at that and Nick couldn’t resist a chance to get her to talk to him. “You don’t like fish?”
“Not a big fan, no, but it’s actually the fishing part I don’t like. It’s so damn boring. Just sitting up there on a boat waiting for a poor little fish to bite.”
“It’s not boring! It’s great fun,” Nick replied, getting a little angry.
Jeanne shrugged. “Sorry, doesn’t nothing for me. Why sit on top of the water when you can be in it? Seems like such a waste.” She turned to Kevin. “By the way, are we still on for diving this weekend?”
“You dive?” Nick gaped.
“Of course. I did live in Australia for a while. It is sort of a prerequisite. You should try it some time; much more fun than just fishing,” she said then turned back to Kevin, whose face was suffused with laughter. “What?”
Kevin tried to stop from chuckling, then let it out a little. “Umm, Jeanne. Nick’s been diving since he was a child. He was the first of all of us to do it. He’s the one who got me to try.”
Jeanne looked back at Nick, an astounded look on her face. He was gaping back at her.
“Look! Fish! Both of them,” AJ laughed. He pulled his lips together and widened his eyes, trying to do a fish impression.
Nick finally snorted. “Do not look like that, you moron.” He turned back to Jeanne. “Yes, actually I do dive. If Kevin isn’t available perhaps I can show you some good places this weekend.”
Jeanne blushed. “I suppose I should go with you just so I can make up for being an idiot. I’m sorry Nick, I don’t know why I assumed that you didn’t dive. Foolish of me, I guess, but I just haven’t met many fishermen who also dived.”
He grinned. “Not even in Australia, where it’s a ‘prerequisite’?”
She laughed. “Okay, you win. Use my own words against me.”
He licked his finger and sketched a one sign in the air. “Guess that means you have to go diving with me this weekend. Sorry, Kev. You’ve been replaced.”
Kevin frowned for a second, then shrugged. “Makes sense. He’s a better diver than I am, Jeanne. And he knows these waters like the back of his hand.”
AJ leaned over to Nick. “Smooth move, man. Bump the old-timer out of the way to get to the pretty chick. You been taking lessons from me?” he whispered, then leaned back and cackled. When the others turned to look at him, he told Kevin that he could come golfing with Brian and he instead. It didn’t explain Nick’s suddenly reddened face, though.
Howie had been talking quietly with Miriam, but then leaned forward. “Hey, Nick. I was going to ask you: how’s AC?”
“He’s good. He came out with me on the boat. Got away from the folks, just us guys.”
“Who’s AC?” Jeanne asked.
He glanced at her, knowing she knew exactly whom he was but played along. “My little brother. Aaron. We call him AC for short.”
She nodded, then asked how old he was. “Turning 16 soon. And looking forward to going back to school.”
Jeanne frowned and AJ jumped in. “He sings too. I’m sure you’ve heard of him – Aaron Carter. Sometimes called the Prince of Pop?” Jeanne nodded. “I guess that makes you the Queen, hunh Nick?”
Nick laughed and threw part of his bun at AJ, beaning him in the head.
“Augh! I’m hit!” AJ started to perform a tragic death scene, while Micheline alternately laughed and played along. Their ‘final’ kiss gained them a shower of bread pieces.
“Is he always like this?” Jeanne asked Leighanne.
“Pretty much,” Kevin replied. “The jokes are usually better though.”
AJ gave Kevin the finger.
Jeanne turned back to Nick. “So if he is a singer, doesn’t he have special classes? Why is he excited about school?”
“Because he is giving it all up,” AJ jumped in.
“Alex, I love you, but you have to learn to shut up. Let Nick speak; I’m tired of your gabbling,” Jeanne replied sharply. AJ make another show of pouting then turned and winked at Nick before striking up a conversation with Howie.
“Ummm,” Nick stuttered. Nope, this was definitely not the Kat he had gotten to now before. She never told anyone off before. “Sorry. What was the question?”
“About Aaron,” Kevin replied gently.
“Oh yeah,” Nick smiled. “See, Aaron wants to quit and become a marine biologist. ‘Cept the fans and record company doesn’t want him to, so he’s fighting a bit of a battle. I mean, the fans understand, they just don’t want him to disappear totally, right? But the record company is being very pushy. He’s coming to the end of a contract now and so they are trying to rope him in for a while and he’s not interested.”
“How’s your mom taking it?” Kevin asked.
Nick scoffed. “How do you think, Train? She is pissed. Majorly pissed. And she’s putting lots of pressure on him.”
“Your mom? Why? I should think she’d been supportive of this. Marine biology is a tough subject. If he thinks he can do it…” Jeanne said.
“Yeah, well. Singing pays more,” Nick shrugged. “And as a singer she pretty much controls things, at least until he is 18. So she is not happy about him wanting to quit.”
“It is sad when your parents don’t support your decisions, isn’t it?” Jeanne mused and Nick looked up at her. For a moment the real Kat showed through, and there was some pain there. He wondered about that, then decided that it really wouldn’t matter in terms of what they were doing and let it go.
“Yeah,” he sighed.
Brian turned to Jeanne. “She was the same way about Nick. Wouldn’t let go until we had to practically force her out. Don’t have much good to say about our old management, but they sure helped with that one. Nick and Aaron are really close, so he’s seeing her do the same thing to him and it’s not good.”
“Yeah well, the big problem is that Mom can sign the contracts as his manager,” Nick replied.
“Can’t you take over managing him?” Jeanne suggested. “He is obviously still a minor and needs an adult around, but can’t you do that?”
“It’s a great idea, and I’ve toyed with it. But he’d need someone there all the time and I have commitments here,” Nick sighed.
“Your father, then?”
Kevin laughed. “Bob’s a good guy, but he doesn’t have the nature for the constant wrangling with record companies and so on.”
Nick nodded. “He has enough trouble keeping Mom in line.”
Jeanne thought for a moment. “I don’t know what else to suggest.”
“I’ve, we’ve, thought of it all,” Nick replied. “We can’t come up with anything, really. I mean we could get someone to manage him, like Mook does for Krystal, but what is incentive? I mean the kid wants out, so they wouldn’t be managing him for very long. And it is a hell of a lot of trouble to go to in order to get Mom out as his manager and some one else in just so he can turn around and quit. So it’s a fight that will continue.”
“Come on, Junior. It isn’t all bad. Aaron’s a tough kid. He’ll make her see reason,” AJ said, putting his arm around Nick’s shoulders.
“I hope so, Bone,” Nick replied morosely, picking at his food with his fork.
“You gonna eat that or just play with it? ’Cos I could sure go for some more lobster…” AJ asked as he licked his lips and stared longingly at the piece of grilled lobster tail on Nick’s plate.
Nick looked at him through narrowed eyes, then grinned evilly and stuffed the whole piece in his mouth. He chewed for a second, then opened his mouth and mumbled, “take some then.”
“You two are so gross,” Kevin snorted.
Leighanne sighed and leaned back into Brian’s arms. “My compliments to the chef.”
He kissed her lightly on the forehead. “You have to thank Nick too. That was great fish and lobster, man.”
“Bring more next time,” Howie said as he nodded.
“He means the lobster, not the fish,” AJ put in. “Howie likes his fish raw.” He made a horrible face.
Howie chuckled and slapped him companionably on the shoulder. “Some of us have taste, Bone. We like sushi.”
“Fish was made to be eaten cooked.” AJ stated definitively.
Leighanne laughed and turned to Jeanne. “They can go on like this for hours. Maybe we should clear things away.”
“I’ll help,” Nick said, jumping to his feet.
“Oh sit down, Frack,” Brian said as he loosened the belt on his pants a little. He had eaten quite a lot. “That there is women’s work.”
Jeanne put her plate back down on the table with a bang. “Please tell me he didn’t just say that.”
“Yo, Rok, that was not terribly smart. You know they aren’t gonna do it now,” Howie moaned, then grimaced as Miriam elbowed him in the ribs.
“And on that point, I think we better clear the table or we’re gonna our asses kicked,” Kevin laughed.
“But I cooked!” Brian wailed as Micheline shoved her plate into his hand.
“Oh shut up, Brian, or we’ll end up with more chores to do,” AJ growled.
Nick tried to corner Jeanne, but someone always seemed to be around. He finally gave up and went after Leighanne, pulling her into the gazebo at the bottom of the garden where they could talk, but also ensure that no one snuck up on them.
“So? Things to your approval?” she smiled.
“Hell, yeah! I almost didn’t recognize her at all,” he replied, shaking his head.
Leighanne laughed. “Judging from the way you keep staring at her, I’d say so.”
Nick blushed. “Sorry. It’s just…. the change is amazing. I mean it so much, and yet so little, you know?”
“I know, believe me, I know,” Leighanne nodded. “Most of it is just attitude. The weight loss is impressive, and the change in hair style and color… Her nose is straighter and thinner, of course, but only by a little. Its the way she carries herself that has made all the difference. Kat was always kind of, well, mousy. Jeanne isn’t.”
He nodded. “To be honest, I am a little intimidated by it. I’m supposed to be dating that?!”
She chuckled. “You’ve dated THAT before: Tina was intimidating in her own way.” Nick moaned, and Leighanne continued. “‘Cept she was out to control you. Jeanne isn’t, or won’t be. Remember, she’d in this to help. And there still is that Kat core in her. Heck, if anything you’ll be a good team.”
“I suppose,” he mused. “I just hope it all goes okay. And quickly.”
“We all hope that, Nick,” Leighanne replied, squeezing his hand supportively.
“Umm, Leigh? Not to sound all macho or anything… but, umm… What is she doesn’t want to leave when this is over?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if she, like, gets a crush on me?”
Leighanne laughed as Nick frowned. “It’s not that funny, Leigh.”
“Oh it is. Really it is. Jeanne’s been all ‘I want this over so Blondie doesn’t get any ideas’ and you are ‘she’ll fall for me ‘cos I am Nick Cater, after all.’ I think you’re both safe.”
Nick chuckled. “She’s been like that? Yeah, I guess it is pretty ridiculous.” He took a deep breath. “Well, we’ll figure it out. I guess we’ll talk more this weekend when we go diving.”
“That was a good trick, by the way. Nosing Kevin out like that. See? It was almost as if the two of you planned that,” she smiled as she got up.
“Yeah, well, she doesn’t seem to be all that eager to get rid of Kevin,” he thought as he gazed up at the patio where the two were chatting again, this time joined by Brian and Micheline. “Gonna have to remind her about that one.”
(c) Kat Morgan