“I am soooo glad that is over,” Howie sighed as he sat down beside her.
She didn’t blame him. The concert had gone badly. Sound problems plagued them and one of the dancers had taken a bad tumble during one of the opening numbers. Fortunately with all the flashing lights, dry ice and the slow song that was being performed at the time the audience didn’t really notice anything wrong. She’d managed to get over to one of the onstage elevators and disappear quickly but there was an empty spot on stage for the rest of the evening.
Add to that the fact that Nick was in a foul mood and snapping at everyone and you had an evening that just plain awful. The fans didn’t notice: the Boys were well-practiced at making sure all seemed golden when in fact it was shit. All they saw was that Nick wasn’t as “on” as he sometimes is. Of course, AJ was more than willing to pick up the slack: dancing his frustrations out was much better than putting a fist in Nick’s mouth for the snide comment the younger man had made about his alcoholism.
“It didn’t look too pleasant up there,” she agreed.
“So what’s up with Nick? You two have a fight?”
She shook her head. “Nope. He just woke up like that.” Jeanne shrugged. “He started grousing about the lack of hot water in the bathroom and it was all downhill from there. I just got out of there before I smacked him one.”
Howie chuckled. “Maybe if you had then AJ wouldn’t be so eager to.”
Jeanne smiled. “AJ has my full support if he decides to go for it.” She leaned back on the sofa and sighed. “I am really hoping he’s just going to be a 24 hour asshole. Or that the water is hotter tomorrow morning.”
“I’ll tell everyone not to take showers until after he does,” Howie replied. He reached over, putting his arm around her. “How are you doing? This must be a strange world for you to fit into.”
She tried hard not to flinch from his touch and smiled lightly. “Well, it is definitely not what I am used to. Still, no one has been really mean to me yet. I keep getting warned that the Nick fans are a rough bunch if they think their man is lost to them.”
“The “I love him so I am the best for him” crowd.” Howie sighed. “Yeah, they don’t like any woman who gets too close to him. Though they’d kill for a chance to be the one who the others would then want to kill. It’s a twisted world.”
“Still, he hasn’t come out and admitted that he is seeing anyone. It’s just us who know. About you, I mean.”
“That does make it all the harder for you. No one you can really talk to about it. Especially now that Leighanne is gone. When is she coming back, by the way?”
This whole conversation was really starting to creep her out. And the fact that he was rubbing her shoulder was not helping. “Soon, I hope. It’s just a small role so she said she should be able to cut it and be back quickly.”
“It will be good when she is back. It’s always more fun to be surrounded by more beautiful ladies.”
She flinched as his hand moved to her neck and he continued stroking. She plastered a smile on her face and asked when Miriam would be back.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. She has that business to run so I am never sure when she’ll be around.”
“That must be difficult for you,” Jeanne replied stiffly.
He shrugged again. “She is here when I really need her. That is what counts.” He glanced around the room, noticing that it had started to fill, but that Nick has still not present. “It’s a shame your boyfriend isn’t here for you when you need him.”
“In the mood he’s in, it’s probably better that he is not,” she laughed lightly as she finally saw her excuse to get away. “I should go find him though. I’ll talk to you later, Howie.”
She attempted to get up, but he grabbed her hand suddenly making her fall back into place. “Oops, sorry,” he smirked. “I don’t know my own strength. I just wanted to let you know that if he is being a jerk and you need someone to talk to you can come to me. Leighanne may not always be here, but I kind of have to be.” He smiled silkily. “If you need to talk, I’ll listen.”
Would you listen if I ran screaming from the room right now? she thought as she stuck a grin on her face and thanked him. This time he let her go. She managed to walk slowly and steadily to the washroom and locked herself into a cubicle. That was when the hyperventilating started and her hands began to quake.
Nick glanced around the room, scowling when he couldn’t see Kat. No, Jeanne. What the hell: he couldn’t see either of them. And Kevin wasn’t around too. Now, I wonder where those two are…
He grabbed a bottle of beer from the ice-filled bucket on the table. He jerked the cap off and swore as the beer fizzed up and slopped over his hand.
“Gee, looks like someone can’t handle his alcohol,” AJ said snidely as he reached for a can of Coke and then turned on his heel and stalked away. Nick was about to swear at him when he realized that AJ had every reason to be pissed at him. What the fuck had possessed him to make that stupid crack? What kind of asshole makes fun of a person’s alcoholism? Jamie Foxx and him, apparently. He sighed. Damn it, he had to shake this crappy mood before all of his friends wanted to kill him instead of just a few. He took a deep draught of the beer and sighed again.
“Are you okay?”
He turned to find Jeanne at his elbow looking at him worriedly. “I guess,” he mumbled.
“I’m worried about you, Nick. You’ve been in a bad mood all day and I wish I knew why.” She glanced around. “I mean if this is part of the plan to speed things up with Howie it’s working, but I would have liked to know about it.”
He turned away from her. “It isn’t about Howie. It’s about me, okay? Can we drop it?”
“If you want. It’s just that you were in a great mood last night and then crap this morning. Either you had the world’s worst nightmare or I did something. I just want to know what it was,” she continued quietly.
Nick groaned inwardly. The last thing he wanted to talk about was this. “Look, it’s nothing, okay? I really don’t want to do the “girl” thing and ‘explore my feelings’ about this shit. I’m feeling crappy. Leave it at that.”
“Okay,” she replied softly.
He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye as she picked up a bottle of water from the table. Her hand seemed to tremble a little. He was about to ask why when Howie bounded up.
“Hey Kaos. Feeling better or are you still going to be a dumbass?” The older man didn’t wait for an answer he just plucked a bottle of tequila from the table and took off whistling.
Two for two. Now all he needed was for Kevin and Brian to take some shots at him and he’d really feel like even more of a shit. He turned to Jeanne, who was still standing there. “Have I been that bad?”
She gave a nervous chuckle. “Kind of.”
He looked at her again, seeing the pinched look around her eyes and the paleness of her face. That trembling hand was still there too. “Are you… wait a minute, what did you mean ‘it’s working’? He tried something?” His voice rose an octave as what she had said finally sunk in.
“Shh, Nick. People are staring,” she murmured putting a calming hand on his arm.
He glanced around at the milling people then back to her. “What happened?”
“Nothing really. He just dropped the hint that he was there if I needed him. Weirded me out more than anything,” she took a drink from the water bottle and then grimaced. “You know, some nights being someone who doesn’t drink a lot can be a real pain.”
He laughed. “Yeah, that is why I do it. Not too big a drinker...” He sighed as he say her raised eyebrow. “Okay, so not always a big drinker. Just when I need to blow off steam. But that is mainly why, you know? There are some nights when that feeling of warmth running through you just makes you feel better. Besides, I’ve been good recently. Ever since AJ and the rehab bit I’ve been going out and partying, just not drinking as much as people think.” He leaned over conspiratorially. “I can nurse one beer all night and get away with it if I move around a lot. People seem to automatically assume that I keep getting refills.”
Jeanne chuckled. “Good trick. And I’ll cut you some slack. Even before I never saw you getting as drunk as, umm… some other people.”
Nick glanced over her shoulder to where Howie was pouring himself some tequila as he chatted with some industry type hangers-on. “Looks like he’s starting up again.”
Jeanne groaned. “Oh goodie. Just keep him away from me, okay? Him sober is creepy enough.”
Nick opened him mouth to reply but Brian bounded up, pushing between them and grabbing some food off the table before turning to Jeanne.
“Hey, Jeanne. Great show, hunh?” Brian rolled his eyes at her and she chuckled. “Look, if you see Nick around can you tell him that we’d all like him back. His evil twin is bugging the hell out of us.” He ambled off without once glancing at Nick.
Nick groaned. “Oh, yeah. I was a real asshole today. If the Sainted One is pissed at me…” He sighed.
Jeanne tried not to giggle at his description of Brian. The fans called him Brother Brian… they’d probably keel over if they knew that the Boys called him similar things. Heck, they’d keel over if they knew just how far from the truth the description of Brian as a saint was! The fans did it out of reverence: the Boys did it in jest.
“You gonna tell me what caused it?” she asked.
Nick mumbled something unintelligible as he tried to avoid her eyes.
“Hunh? A little louder Nick.”
He glanced around nervously then leaned forward and whispered in her ear. “You called out Kevin’s name in your sleep.”
She was momentarily stunned then tried, really tried, hard not to burst out laughing. She tried so hard her face turned red and little squeaking noises issued from her mouth. When it couldn’t be held in any longer she cracked up, laughing so hard she had to cling to Nick not to fall over. She started to calm down then looked up at his fuming face and the giggles began again.
“It’s not funny,” Nick bit out.
“It’s hilarious,” she replied, wiping tears of laughter from her cheeks.
“I don’t like it when you are in MY bed…” he glanced around nervously then leaned in, whispering angrily, “calling out his name. You have to stop it.”
She wiped another errant tear of her face and smiled. “Oh come on, Nick. It was a dream get over it. It’ll probably never happen again.”
“It’s been happening all week.”
“What?! And this is the first time you mentioned it?” She was about to say more but one of the Jive representatives, an oily man with a smarmy smile, came over to ask what the wonderful joke Nick had just told was. They came up with some inane explanation, which they managed to pass it off as an inside joke. It clearly sufficed as he sauntered off, clearly in search of better fodder.
“All week?” she sputtered.
“And you are just mentioning it now?”
“Yep,” he replied laconically as he took a sip of his beer.
“Geez. I knew I was over him but I didn’t think it was that bad.”
“Hunh?” Nick had a poleaxed look on his face.
Jeanne sighed. “Look, its obvious: my subconscious is pissed that I am getting over Kevin and it is trying to get me to keep being interested in him.”
“You’re getting over him?” The disbelief was thick in his voice.
“Well, not over over. Just, you know, not interested over.” She sighed. “It’s like I can look at him and say ‘wow, nice buns’ but I have no interest in touching them. I’m getting sort of dispassionate. Detached.” She sighed again. “I am not sure how to explain it. It just is.”
“So you’re having dreams about him because you are not dreaming about him?”
Jeanne grinned. “Pretty much.”
Nick laughed. “Okay, so could you either get interested in him again or get over him totally, ‘cos hearing you moan his name at night is making it difficult for me to sleep.”
“No more. I promise,” she grinned.
He raised his eyebrow, giving her a disbelieving look.
“I mean it. No more,” she insisted.
“How you gonna do that?”
“Umm. I’ll give myself a stern talking to before I go to bed. You can help,” she smirked mischievously.
“Yeah. Whatever.” He took another drink of his beer. “You know what I want to do?”
She poured herself a glass of white wine, grimacing at its bitter taste. Someone clearly had not gotten the good stuff for this party. “What’s that?”
“Get out of here. Go somewhere loud and wild and get totally shitfaced.”
“It’s one of those ‘blow off steam’ nights, is it?”
“Yep. Want to come?”
“Think it’s a good idea after what you said to AJ?”
Nick groaned. “Nope.” Then he perked up. “But think how much he’ll be able to pick on me tomorrow when I’m hung over. He’ll like that. It’d be better than an apology.”
Jeanne laughed. “I’ll never get men and their twisted ways of dealing with each other.”
“So you wanna come?”
“Just us. None of them,” she gestured to the other Boys with her chin. “And I can ‘let my hair down’?”
Nick knew what she meant. Well, if Kat wanted to come out for a while that was fine with him. She was a hoot to be around too. “You got it.”
She beamed at him, putting her glass of wine back down on the table. “Let’s go.”
They moved towards the door, trying hard not to attract attention. Nick nodded to his bodyguard who immediately got on the phone and ordered up a car for them. There wasn’t much they could do about that: Nick had to have a bodyguard with him. But at least they could manage some time without him breathing down their necks.
“Hmm?” “Was it an ‘oh Kevin’,” she infused it with disgust, ‘or an ‘oh Kevin”.” The latter was full of sultry longing.
He groaned. “Can we drop it please?”
“Was it ‘you are such as hardass, Kevin’ or a ‘oh Kevin, harder’.”
She exploded into giggles, and, after a minute, he joined in.
“Look it wasn’t very funny when it was happening,” he finally said.
“I know. And I really am sorry.”
He slung an arm over her shoulder, hugging her to him. “I’m sorry too. I should have said something earlier instead of acting like a shithead.”
“Just apologize to Alex and we’re even.”
“Okay.” He grinned mischievously. “And it was more of an ‘oh Kevin’,” he said with an exasperated tone.
(c) Kat Morgan