“Go away, Jeanne. I’m kissing my woman.”
“Yeah, beat it,” Leighanne giggled before pulling Brian in for another kiss.
Jeanne let out a playful gasp. “I am SHOCKED! Shocked I tell you!”
“Why? Cos Brian has his tongue down Leigh’s throat? Happens all the time.”
“Gross. Thanks Alex that is way more info than I needed.” She gave the thin man a big hug. “How you doing, sweetie? You are looking good.”
“A couple days at home getting fussed over by my mom and my dogs,” he grinned. “Nothing like it.”
“How’s your grandfather?”
AJ’s face clouded over. “Okay, but not, you know? He seems to be getting older and more frail every day. I don’t want to lose him but it is pretty clear it’s going to happen soon.”
“You gonna be able to deal?”
He sighed. “I think so. Grandma…” he swallowed back a sudden lump in his throat. “That one was sudden and came at a bad time for me. I’ve been preparing for this for a while.”
Jeanne reached out and gave his hands a supportive squeeze. “There is never a good time to lose someone you love.”
“Yeah,” he mumbled. Then he took a deep breath and smiled. “Still it was good to be at home. Be with my family. Waking up to Vegas licking my face.”
Micheline came up behind him and wrapped her arms around him, resting her chin on his shoulder. “May have been nice for you, but I had doggie butt in my face.” She gave him a peck on the cheek as he chuckled. “So how was your little vacation, Jeanne?”
“Good. Quiet, but good.” She was anxious to change the subject. “Anyone seen Nick around.”
“His plane is late: he’s meeting us at the venue. Which reminds me we have to get going,” AJ replied. He gave Jeanne a quick hug and then Micheline a quick kiss. “Come on Rok. Stop giving Leighanne a tonsillectomy and get your stuff. We gotta sound check.”
A muffled “go away” sounded from the corner.
Alex laughed. “Oh I am so siccing Kevin on you.” He laughed again as Brian immediately disengaged the kiss, though he didn’t totally leave Leighanne’s embrace.
“Miss you already,” he whispered.
“Same here. You go, Bri-bear. I’ll be waiting for you,” she whispered back, brushing a lock of golden hair off his face.
AJ groaned as Brian’s head leaned forward for another kiss and he reached out and grabbed Brian’s arm. He pretended that he was trying to pull a huge weight, which had Brian chuckling even as he gave Leighanne another kiss. Finally he got up, smacking AJ lightly across the head and the two men left the room bickering amiably.
“Ooooo. I think somebody likes you,” Jeanne teased Leighanne who blushed prettily.
“They’ve been at it for ages. I think I know how they spent their break,” Micheline joined in.
“Guys…” Leigh complained.
“Guys? No guys in here that I can see.” A male voice interrupted them and they looked up to see Howie smiling standing in the doorway, his arms around Miriam.
Jeanne chuckled, “only because we kicked them out and told them to go do sound check.”
Howie’s face went blank. “Sound check? Already? It can’t be that late…” He glanced at his watch and swore. “I gotta go, babe. Will you be okay?” he asked Miriam.
She gave him a sunny smile. “I’ll be fine. You go work. I’ll just stay here and hang with the gang.”
“K,” was his preoccupied response. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and hurried out to get a ride to the arena.
Miriam strode over to a chair near the other three women. “So what were we all talking about?”
Jeanne bristled at her condescending tone and exchanged a glance with Leighanne and Micheline. “Just what we did over our brief break. What did you and Howie do?”
Micheline chuckled silkily. “Oh, so many things.” She held out her arm to show them a glittering diamond bracelet. “See what he got me? So sweet of him.”
“How lovely,” Micheline replied. “Must get in the way when you work out.”
“I wouldn’t wear it at the gym,” Miriam replied. “I only wear it when Howie is around. So he can see I appreciate it.”
“It is very nice,” Leighanne said politely. “Very becoming with your tan.”
“Is that a bruise?” Jeanne asked pointing to a dark spot high on Miriam’s arm that had been exposed when she’d swept her sleeve away to show off her bracelet.
Miriam glanced down and then ran her fingers over the edge of the bruise, careful not to reveal just how large it was. “Yes. Sometimes our beginners just aren’t as ready as they should be with some of the equipment. I got this when I rescued some poor fool who thought he could bench press his own body weight.” She giggled slightly, remembering just how far that was from the truth. The urge to press down on the spot, and send another delicious surge of pain through her body was excruciating but she managed to resist.
“Hmm. So sad when they aren’t properly prepared,” Jeanne mused softly. Funny how it looked more like part of a handprint, though. “Are you going to be here long? I think I am ready to move up to the next level in my weight training. It would be wonderful to have someone as skilled as you to direct me.”
Miriam smiled. “I am sure we can find some time. Perhaps when I am helping Howie with his training. I’ll let you know.” She rose from her seat. “All this talk has made me realize that I have to call in and check on things. I’ll see you all later.” She walked briskly to the door and headed down to the room she would be sharing with Howie.
“Is it just me or does anyone else feel like taking a shower after talking to that woman?” Micheline said cattily.
“Mich!” Leighanne protested and then laughed. “Well, maybe a bubble bath.”
“Either. As long as you use antibacterial soap,” Jeanne put in, shuddering dramatically.
The others chuckled and then Micheline sighed. “Good, I’m glad I am not the only one who thinks she’s creepy.”
Nick grinned. “Doing good. That kid is the brains of the family. You should see him, Rok: he’s almost finished his tutoring and he has great marks. College is gonna be a breeze.: Nick sighed. “Lucky kid.”
“Yeah well, that is due in large part to you, you know.” Brian replied as he retied his running shoes. “Don’t shake your head, Nick. You were the only one who wholeheartedly supported him all those times he said he was going to go to college. You were the one who quizzed him on his schoolwork, and pushed him to do more. You are the one who went with him to look at schools. AC knows that and loves you all the more for it.”
“I suppose,” Nick sighed. “Man, half the stuff I quizzed him on I didn’t know. What’s wrong with me, Brian? Why am I so stupid?”
“You are NOT stupid,” AJ said, swatting Nick on the arm. “We just had it tough when we were doing our tutoring. It was hard to concentrate with all the crap that was going on at the time.”
“You finished. You graduated.”
“Yeah, but I was ahead of you. It was easier for me. Less credits. And my marks sucked. You are not stupid. You just learnt other stuff than what was in those textbooks. I bet if you took your GED you’d pass no problem.”
“Pass what?” Howie asked as he adjusted his microphone headset.
“Nick. Pass his GED,” Brian replied, elbowing AJ to get his attention. It was his turn to go and check his mike.
Howie snorted. “Yeah right.”
“Yeah right, what Howie?” Nick replied belligerently. “Don’t think I can do it?”
“Honestly? No. Just leave well enough alone, Nicky. We love you for your voice, not your brains. Thinking just makes you cranky, so don’t bother.”
Nick blanched. All the self-confidence he’d managed to regain over their short break had disappeared. Suddenly he was stupid little Nicky again: the baby of the Backstreet Boys with air between his ears.
“That was harsh, Howie,” Brian frowned
“It’s the truth!”
“Is not. Nick’s a smart person, he just has trouble applying himself. He’s outgrown a lot of that. I think he’d do really well if he tried,” Kevin said as he rejoined the group after his personal sound check. “Nick if you want to go for it, I’ll help you with studying. I am sure that Jeanne and Rok will help too, won’t you, cuz?”
“Sure thing. Heck, my marks weren’t anything to write home about. Maybe it’ll resurrect some of my lazy brain cells too.” He gave Nick a wide grin.
Nick had to work to blink back sudden tears. They didn’t think he was dumb. Okay, so Howie did, but he knew a thing or two about Howie… And Kevin… Kevin rarely said nice things about him, and he thought he was smart. He couldn’t think of the words that could express his joy, so he just gave them a beatific smile.
Brian laughed and gave him a hug. He knew Nick well. Kevin also nodded with a small grin, acknowledging the thanks he knew Nick was giving him.
“Speaking of Jeanne, I saw her back at the hotel,” Howie said, eager to change the subject. “Looked good.”
“Yeah, I think she went to see Leighanne’s hair person when she was at home. Her hair’s a smidge shorter and she has these kind of strawberry blonde highlights. Looking snazzy,” Rok put in. “Oops. My turn. Gotta go.” He scurried off to do his sound check.
“’Going to a place nearby…’” Howie sang. “Speaking of which, Nick. You gonna tell her what you were getting up to while you were on break?”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Howie?” Kevin asked.
“Well, I guess whatever you were doing it wasn’t reading newspapers, hunh?” Howie replied with a little smirk. “You must have missed that bit about Nick and his tumble with that little stripper. And her friends. Naughty, naughty Nicky.”
Kevin turned to Nick and glared. “Oh really? Do tell me more.”
“It was nothing,” Nick replied faintly. “Nothing really happened. Honest!” He hoped that Kevin couldn’t see his crossed fingers. So many lies… so many games….
Howie shrugged, already tired of this game. “Well, I am sure that Jeanne may have an opinion on that. I am gonna call Miriam.”
“Better get ready for my sound check,” Nick said, not looking at Kevin. He took a step forward only to be blocked by the other man. “Kevin…”
“Nick…” Kevin replied, mimicking Nick’s tone. “I sure hope for your sake it was nothing.”
“Don’t you think that is between Jeanne and me?” Nick responded. He sighed heavily. “Look, anything that happened while we were apart is between us, okay? Jeanne knows what I was doing and is fine with it.” He squared his shoulders. “I’m not in the mood to fight with you, Kev, but I really wish you would butt out of my relationship with her. It’s not cool.”
“Maybe if you treated her better…”
“Kevin, the way Jeanne and I treat each other is OUR issue, not yours. I know you feel like you should have some input because you’re older than me, or because, I don’t know, Brian introduced her to you first, but she and I are the ones who are in this relationship. Let us figure it out for ourselves.”
Kevin gazed at Nick’s back as the younger man walked away and then sighed heavily. “I was right, Nick. You are smart. Maybe even smarter than me sometimes.”
(c) Kat Morgan