"Sure you can. You have to. Now more than ever."
"But did you see him? He was serious. I've never seen him that serious before. He really meant it."
"Exactly. That's why you have to work fast…"
"I can't! It would hurt him too much."
"Moron! He told Tina he loved her and see how that turned out. Think how much worse it could have been if you hadn't made sure he was protected."
"That was different. That was so different. Tina was a bitch. You knew she was going to do that shit. Jeanne's not going to. I like Jeanne."
"You liked some of the others too, but that didn't stop you. You can't chicken out now."
"Look, who made sure Tina stayed away? Told her that she wasn't allowed to contact him or she'd pay for it?"
"Who made sure Marissa's book was all clean and goofy? Got rid of all the nastier pictures? Made sure she didn't really tell the truth about all that shit with AJ?"
"And Samantha… that one was brilliant. You got her to say nothing that would really hurt Bri… and you got to blame it all on Kevin. She made those nasty comments about him and made you come out smelling sweet - as always."
"That did turn out pretty good."
"Think of all the other times you saved the day and they had no clue. All the other stories, pictures and shit that you stopped even before it could have hurt. No one else could have done all that. No one else cared as much as you did. They all just thought they'd gotten lucky. Dodged the bullet. They didn't know you were there acting as a shield."
"But this time…"
"What's the matter? Scared? I thought you said you liked Jeanne."
"That's it. I do. And she's cool. I don't even think she really notices any of us. She's all about Nick. I think she's really for real."
A derisive snort. "No woman's for real. They are all after something."
"Okay, so the woman who come around us guys. We don't attract the real ones. It's part of being who we are."
"Kevin was sniffing around her and she didn't tell him to bug off."
"Did too. And she told Nick too. He almost decked Kev. Man, I would have liked to see that…."
"Me too." Chuckle. "Okay, so she dodged that one, but how soon do you think it'll be before she shows her true colours? Nick told her he loved her. She's in. She can really use him and then we're really screwed."
"Maybe she won't. I mean, not all women are like that…"
"Yeah. And Miriam is just clumsy. That's why she gets all those bruises."
"Shut up! This isn't about Miri!"
"Funny how some of those bruises look like handprints…"
"And you know she likes it rough…." "Shut up! Shut up!"
"Loser. Can't take it. All I asked of you was one simple thing and you can't even do that."
"It's not that simple…"
"Stupid little troll. They're right about you. You don't belong here. Just some little wannabe loser that the others are carrying along."
"I am not! This is my group! I made them!"
"Suuuurrrreee… And Brian gets all those leads because he just happened to be there when they were setting them."
"I'm not saying he's not a better singer than me. I'm saying he couldn't do it without me. He wouldn't have gotten in. He wouldn't have had anything to get in. It's all me!"
"Yeah. And all those fan sites on the web… They're all about you. How tall and blonde and beautiful you are… How… oh. Wait. That's not you. That's Nick."
"At least you get to do some modeling. Do that runway stuff. Why you were the toast of Milan… Oh wait. That wasn't you either."
"At least you have the bad boy quotient covered. Oh, that wasn't you either."
"Tell me again? What is your role here? Are you just here for comparison or something?"
"Shut up! I'm here because it was my idea. There wouldn't be a "Boys" if it weren't for me. I'm the one who hold it all together. That's what I do!' "Big whup."
"Stop it! I'm better than all of them. They need me. I got them together. I got them to the top. I keep them here. I protect them. They couldn't do anything if it wasn't for me."
"Riiight. Mr. Peacemaker. How silly of me."
"Don't mock me! You know what its like here. They are always fighting. If not themselves, each other. Or the bitches they get involved with. I have to keep things stable. I have to make it all okay. I work my ass off to do that."
"Well, it IS a big ass…"
"Someone should be working out more. Someone is putting on lots of weight. Someone looks more like a Latin Layabout than a Latin Lover…"
"I worked out for two hours this morning! I'm in peak physical condition!"
"If you are so hot, then why can't you lay that Jeanne chick? Thought you were all buff and irresistible. She's sure managing."
"She's in love with Nick!"
"Then you should have done it earlier."
Sigh. "I tried. I really did. I even hurt him. One of my best friends… and he could have died…"
"Oh, wah-wah. Here comes the sucky baby. It was a great idea. And he was okay. You should have followed through, but, oh no. Once again you fail."
"Oh get real! Like she was going to leave him alone after that."
"You could have at least laid the ground work. Told her that she couldn't stay with him for a few days. Something like that. Now they are all hearts and daisies and you are all wussy-scared."
"I'm not! I just don't think it'll work. Not this time."
"It always works. Always."
"I know but… is it fair?"
Snort. "Of course it's fair. They need to be looked after. You were the one who saw that. You are the only one who can do it. So do it!"
"It's just so…"
Sigh. "It's so hard when they think they are in love." Sigh again. "It just feels so wrong then."
"I guess. But it's also the time when it is most needed." "Yeah. Yeah, I will."
"I knew you'd understand."
"I wish I didn't have to. But I'll do it."
"It's always harder when you like the woman. I understand that. It's just that they need the protection…"
"And no one else can do it but you. You just know how to do it. To make it happen like it was natural. And to make sure that it all turns out okay."
Grudgingly. "I am good at that"
"You're my hero."
There was a knock at the door and he cast a quick glance across the room before getting up to answer it.
"Hi, Aje. Wassup?"
"We were gonna go work out, remember? Get the old six-pack in gear."
"Oh. Right. Sorry. Forgot. Come on in. Just give me a sec," he stepped back letting the other man in the room. "Good thing my gym shit is already ready, hunh?"
"Yeah. Umm... Are you alone?"
"Sure?" A quizzical look. "Why?"
"Dunno. I could have sworn I heard voices when I knocked."
A chuckle. "Nope. Just me. Talking to myself."
AJ laughed. "Do that sometimes. I tell you though, when you start to answer yourself… then you need help."
Howie looked up, his eyes locking with his reflection in the mirror. "Don't be silly, AJ."