She gazed down at the crowd, absently reading the signs and thinking about how far she’d come. As little as a year ago she would have been one of the many down there, freezing in the chill wind, hoping for just a glimpse of the five men who had captured her heart. Now she was up here with the same five men, pretending to be sleeping with one and plotting against another.
Suddenly the wind outside didn’t look like it would be as cold.
Suddenly the need for just a glimpse seemed so much better than the knowledge she had.
She shivered and pulled the sweater tighter around her. A waft of Nick’s fragrance rose from it, and oddly, it reassured her. It also reminded her that she’d have to go out and buy some more clothes. The things she had brought with her had been fine for the Southern states, but with the tour swinging north, and the sudden cold snap, she couldn’t borrow Nick’s sweaters forever. Besides, it hung so loose on her newly svelte frame she was afraid that the way she looked would trigger a memory in one of the Boys. The outfit she was wearing now was so Kat… and she had to be Jeanne.
She tried to stifle her groan at the thought. It came out as a sigh instead.
“What’s the matter?” a deep voice asked.
She turned and smiled at Kevin as he entered the room, trying to ignore the butterflies dancing in her stomach. He offered her a cup of coffee and she repressed the urge to reject it: Jeanne drunk coffee, after all.
“Double milk, one sugar. That’s right, isn’t it?”
“Perfect,” she said taking a sip. She grimaced at the bitter taste and reminded herself that she was the one who had decided that this was Jeanne’s drink of choice. Kevin’s quick frown caught her eye and she mumbled, “hot” to reassure him.
He nodded and glanced out the window before perching on the sill. “So? What was the sigh for?”
She couldn’t tell him the truth so she thought quickly and then indicated the people outside with her chin. “Them. There is so many of them and it is cold outside. Is it always like this?”
“Usually. Sometimes more.” He turned and looked down. “Some of them would have been there all night.”
“Just for you? And you all just breezed right by them as quickly as you could.” She shook her head. “Doesn’t that make you feel, well, guilty?”
“Of course. I mean I do have an ego: I do like the adulation.” He gave her a quick grin, then sighed. “It gets to be a bit much though. And this morning I was tired. I hate sleeping on those buses and I just wanted to crawl into bed for a while. Now, I’d love to go down and sign autographs and say hello and all, but the thing you have to remember is that it’s like this at every stop on the tour. And if I did it here I’d have to do it at every stop. And the crowds would get bigger and bigger.”
“They must be freezing,” she said. “Hey look, there’s one who wants to marry you.”
“Cool,” he grinned. “What does she look like?”
Jeanne laughed. “Sure… all that crap about how you want a girl ‘who loves you for you and looks don’t matter’ really is bullshit then, hunh?”
He frowned. “We haven’t said that sort of stuff for years. How’d you know about that?”
Jeanne swallowed, realizing she’d goofed. She wasn’t supposed to know a lot about their past. “Nick made me read some book about your early days. Trying to educate me to Backstreet, he said.”
“Ah. Probably reminding himself what it was like too,” Kevin said snidely.
She decided to leave that alone. The tension between Nick and Kevin that had been present before was still as strong on this tour. Perhaps even stronger. Better not to mention it: she’d already goofed once in this conversation. “I still worry that they are all cold.”
“Maybe you can fit some of them into that sweater,” Kevin chuckled. “One of Nick’s?”
She looked down and smiled. “Yeah. It is pretty huge. It’s the arms that are the worst.” She held up on arm and let the sleeves fall to their usual length. It covered her hand and then some. “I’d need gorilla arms to fit this properly.”
“It’s almost a dress.”
She laughed. “It’s not that bad. And it’s warm. I think I’ll have to go out and get some sweaters while we’re here. There must be some stores around here somewhere.”
“Ask the concierge. I can come with you if you want,” he offered.
“If you want. I was going to see if Leigh was free.”
“Hey, there you are,” Nick said as he bounded into the room. “Kevin,” he acknowledged the other man politely before turning back to Jeanne. “The interview is over and I don’t have to do anything for a while. Want to do something?”
“Kevin and I were just talking about going shopping.”
“Oh you were, were you?” He looked at Kevin appraisingly. “How interesting.”
“I assumed that you were going to go play basketball. I thought Jeanne might want to do something more interesting.”
Okay, the testosterone in the room was definitely on the rise. “Actually Kevin I was the one talking about shopping,” she corrected him before turning to Nick. “I can’t keep borrowing your clothes after all, honey.” She put particular emphasis on the last word.
“Why not?” Nick asked. “I think you look good in them.”
“I think Jeanne has better taste in clothes than you do, Nick. Maybe you should let her chose for herself,” Kevin said with a steely glare.
Jeanne looked back and forth between the two of them. “Look, I don’t know that is going on here but I am not going to be stuck in the middle.” She turned to Kevin. “Thank you for offering Kevin, but I think shopping with Leighanne would be better. We need more ‘girl time’ before she leaves anyway.” She smiled at Nick. “You are welcome to come: I would love to get your opinion on things. I do want to spend some time alone with Leigh though.”
Nick shot Kevin a sneering smirk. “Actually that would be great. I wanted to go to that movie we were talking about last night,” he paused and then added deliberately, “in bed.” He glanced at Kevin then back to Jeanne. “I’ll go with you two then cut out. I could use some new stuff too.”
“Then it’s a plan. I’ll go tell Leigh,” Jeanne smiled. “I’ll see you later Kev. Don’t forget about the girl down there. She still wants to marry you.”
He laughed and nodded. As soon as she was out of the room he turned to Nick. “What the hell was that all about Carter? You made me look like an ass.”
Nick crossed his arms. “You seem to think it’s okay to spend a lot of time with my girlfriend. Well, it isn’t.”
“Your ‘girlfriend’? When did she become that? I thought you just brought her along so you could have some fun on the road. And that is selling her short: Jeanne is better than that.”
Nick agreed but not for whatever twisted “get back at Nick” reasons that Kevin had. He wasn’t sure who he was more impressed with: Kat, or her Jeanne creation. He liked them both, though they both infuriated him sometimes. He knew that Kat still had her crush on Kevin and he wished he could step aside and let them find out if something could grow between them, but they had a deal and they had to fix Howie first.
“Jeanne is my girlfriend,” he replied firmly. “And I’d never sell her short.”
“And I’d never assume something for her. She makes her own decisions. She is worth that,” he added.
Kat wasn’t sure what Nick and Kevin had talked about after she left, but it had clearly not sat well with either of them. Nick had stomped into their room announcing he was changing then closeted himself in the bathroom. And as for Kevin… he was silently fuming when she bumped into him again as he got off the elevator.
“So you are going shopping?” he asked bitingly.
She chose to ignore his tone. “Yep. Leigh is meeting us downstairs.”
“Changing. He’ll be along.”
He took a deep breath then slowly let it out. “He and I aren’t getting along right now.”
“It is rather obvious. I just wanted to stay out of it. Leave you two to figure it out. I’ll step in if you two start to draw blood, but otherwise you are big boys...”
“Yeah,” he said with another deep breath. “Look, Jeanne, can I ask… Why him? I mean…”
“I know what you mean.” She thought for a moment, wanting to tell the truth as much as possible not just something she thought Jeanne should say. “I like him,” she said simply. “He is full of life and fun. He’s also intelligent though he hides it a lot. And while he may fight with you all, he loves you dearly and would do anything to protect you. He can be an obnoxious twit, but he has a good heart.”
“Yeah, I know that. But why are you… I mean you seem so much more mature than him. Why…”
“Nick is very mature: you just don’t see it.” She ignored his derisive snort. “Maybe you are looking at different things than I am. Or maybe you’ve just been around him so much that you don’t see it.”
Kevin raised a dark eyebrow. “How is he mature?”
She felt a surge of annoyance at Kevin’s refusal to see Nick for the man he had become. “Well, for one thing he has never asked me to change who I am.” That was the truth. Any physical changes she’d made to become Jeanne had been ones she had decided on herself. Other than asking her to be pretend to be someone else all the decisions about who that person was were hers. “That is a pretty big thing. He sees me for who I am, accepts it and is happy with it.”
Nick came jogging down the hall and scowled when he saw her talking to Kevin. He ignored the older man. “Ready to go?”
“Yep, just waiting for you.” She grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze. The elevator chimed and the doors opened. She turned to Kevin as the doors started to close. “That is maturity. Maybe you should think about getting some yourself.”
“Now what were you two talking about?” Nick asked.
“He was acting like an ass so I told him so,” she shrugged.
“Really?” He perked up. “What about?”
“He doesn’t think we should be together.”
“I know. He thinks you should be going out with him.”
“What?!” Not the response she expected. How dare Nick keep something like that from her!
He sighed. “I know: I should have told you. But you gotta be Jeanne so I wasn’t sure how. And Brian says it’s not really about you, it’s about him being pissed at me and lonely for Lana so I didn’t want to get your hopes up.”
Kat stared at him open-mouthed. Then closed her mouth. Despite him not telling her everything she had said to Kevin about Nick WAS the truth, and she respected him more and more every day. And he was right: she was Jeanne. So any longings that Kat had needed to be put aside. And she could also see how Kevin would use someone else to hurt Nick if he had the mind to.
Nick was still looking at her worriedly. She chuckled. “Just my luck: he gets all stuck on me just when I can’t be stuck on him. Talk about bad timing. Oh well, his loss.”
“You’re not mad?” Nick asked anxiously.
“Nope. No sense in getting mad. You made the right decision, Nick. It was just a surprise.”
He smiled and it lit up the elevator. “What do you know: I did something right.”
She laughed. “You do lots of things right, Nick. You still steal all the covers though,” she replied as the elevator doors opened at the lobby.
“Hey, that wasn’t me!
“What was it? The hotel fairy?” she teased.
He grinned comically. “Aliens. That’s who. Not me. Besides you could have gotten extra blankets from the closet.”
She snorted. “I’m the guest… you should have gotten them.”
“My room,” he retorted.
She laughed. This was almost an exact repeat of their ‘argument’ this morning. Nick may steal all the blankets, but he was also a fairly good person to share a room with. It was always a mess, but at least it was orderly mess – if there was such a thing. Clothes all in one corner. Video games in a pile in front of the television. Toiletries all over the bathroom. Yes, things may be all over the place, but at least the places where they were made some sort of sense.
“Look, if you want me to step aside and let you and Kevin…” Nick started to offer but Kat cut him off.
“Forget it. I made a promise to you and Leighanne. You’re right: Kevin’s just all pissed at you and trying to use me. I won’t let him. Frankly, as I was saying to him before we got in the elevator, I am finding his behaviour pretty pathetic.” She squeezed Nick’s hand. “But thank you. Thank you very much for offering.”
He smiled back. “Alright. But I warn you: you’re stuck with me now. At least until this mess is over.”
“It’s a deal.”
(c) Kat Morgan