Quit Playing Games

Chapter 72

"You are a fucking, stupid idiot!"

"Bite me, Carter."

"Jesus Christ!" he swore loudly, raising his arm as if to strike her. Then he realized what was doing and quickly turned his hand, pretending that he was just stretching to scratch his head.

Neither of them were fooled.

"That was the stupidest fucking thing you could have done! What if he'd done something? Are you out of your fucking mind?" He continued to rage, pacing up and down the room.

"You bet you. Out of my frigging gourd. That is the only way to explain how I got myself mixed up in this mess. Only way I could have ever been stupid enough to think you really did love me."

"I do love you!"

"You got a damn funny way of showing it." She stood quickly and mimicked his earlier arm gesture. Nick flushed; his face white, but with two very red, very angry spots vivid on his cheeks. "You know what. Screw this. Screw all of this. I am tired of this bullshit. I'm out of here." She turned and went to the closet, grabbing her suitcase out of it and throwing it on the bed.

He stood there, incredulous. Then he moved forward, pulling the suitcase shut before she could put the first armful of clothes into it. "No way. You're not leaving. Not going anyway."

"Get the fuck out of my way, Carter."

He shoved the suitcase across the bed and sat down in its place. "You are not leaving."

She glared at him. "I've had enough of this bullshit. I try to move shit along and all I get is you and your fucking temper. Well, welcome to MY temper. Get the fuck out of my way."


She snorted and walked around to the other side of the bed, one arm grabbing for the suitcase. Nick pulled it out off her reach. "No." She tried to pull it back, and ended up dropping all of her underwear all across the bed and the floor. "Give me the goddamned suitcase, Carter."

"No," he replied, pulling the suitcase out of her reach again.

"Yes, dammit," she screamed as she launched herself across the bed, clutching at the luggage. He shoved it out of reach, off the bed, and grabbed her instead. Kat was not interested in having him touch her and kicked and clawed at him, screeching angrily, but he held on. Slowly she stopped struggling and the wails of anger turned into sobs.

"Shh," he whispered, pulling her close to his chest. "Its okay. Its okay; I'm here." He kissed her forehead, brushing the hair back from her face. "I'm sorry, baby. I'm sorry I got so mad. I just… you scared me so much."

"I scared you?" She sniffled. "What about me? I was terrified in there. And all he did was talk to me like normal. I thought I was going in to get attacked and all he did was be nice to me." She let out a little sob. "Why was he so nice?" "I don't know, baby." He rocked the two of them slowly on the bed. "God, when you said… I thought he'd touched you. I was so…" He was now crying softly too.

"We can't do this, Nick," she whispered tremulously as she clung to him. "It's killing us. We can't… we're neither of us good at playing this way."

He sighed. "I know." He released her and fell back on the bed, an arm flopped over his eyes. "Fuck! Why can't he just do something stupid in front of the others and then I can call him on it. Poof! All over."

"That's what I was trying to…"

"But you did it alone!" He turned towards her. "You agreed to not do it alone. Jay or me has gotta be around. You can't go off on your own."

"It didn't work," she sighed.

He sighed too. After a moment he rolled back towards her, putting a hand under her chin and pulling her head up so that they were eye to eye. "I do love you."

She smiled sadly. "Love you too. But somehow I am not sure that is what is going to matter. This is tearing up apart, Nick. We both know it. Something's gotta give. It's either going to be Howie or its going to be us."

He pinched his eyes, and snuggled his body up to her as close as he could. "I know," he replied unhappily.


She finished her book as and put it aside with a smile. Not the author's finest work, but still a good read. And it had felt good to get lost in another world for a while.

She stood and stretched, listening to her body snap and crackle. She tucked the book into her bag and wandered over to the door. She pulled it open and cocked an ear to listen. Damn! They were still at it.

Sound checks had become the bane of her existence. They bored the crap out of her… how the Boys managed through then she didn't know. Every day… same old… walk the stage, test the toasters, singing the whole time, making sure the sound levels were right for the acoustics of each individual venue. A performing monkey could do it… though she supposed that performing monkeys were… five of them at least.

Sighing, she headed towards the central stage area, mentally berating herself for a) not going out exploring with Micheline and b) not putting a second book in her bag when they left the hotel. Maybe, if they were still far from finished, she could sneak out and find a bookstore nearby. One in a mall, where she could wander around and just window shop. She didn't need anything, really, but sitting around, doing nothing, watching the guys do-re-mi'ing for a couple hours would drive her nuts.

She'd walked past the door before it registered. Howie was in there. Alone.

She could have kept on walking, she thought. She should have kept on walking…

But things had been getting difficult between her and Nick recently and the reason was sitting in that room. Alone.

It was getting hard on both of them. She's accidentally let what Jay told her about Miriam's bruises slip and Nick had almost slipped a gasket. When he'd finally gotten the whole story out of her he'd pushed her aside quickly and gone into the bathroom to throw up. It had been all she could do to keep him from going and confronting Howie then and there.

Now, Nick was starting to get more and more distant. He'd ordered her to spend all her spare time with him, or Jay or one of the girls. To avoid Howie completely. The only problem was that if she did that, then they couldn't accomplish their goal of 'catching' Howie out and confronting him. She'd tried to point that out to Nick but he had gone all obstinate and adamant on her, refusing to listen.

It was clear that whatever was going on with Howie - not just the sleeping around with the Boys' girlfriends - had taken a turn that Nick wasn't prepared to deal with and he didn't know what to do about it. Neither did she, honestly.

What a couple of naïve fools they'd been! Just hang around acting all hoochy-coochy for a little while, get Howie to make a pass, confront him, and then all would be right with the world again.


Nick was taking it even worse than she was. Obviously. Howie had been one of his best friends since, well, since he'd hit puberty. He'd thought he'd known the man inside and out and now every time he turned around Howie seemed to have some new quirk - or kink - that made him wonder if he had ever really known the older man. And made him question the other Boys too. Made him question everyone and everything he'd ever known.

And, of course, it made him question her.

She sighed. It never failed… every time she fell in love it always turned bad. Why was she such a screw-up?

And how did she suddenly end up asking that question of Howie?

"I don't think you're a screw up," he replied with a slight smile. "I mean, I am not sure about all the background, but if you are talking about you and Nick, you have nothing to worry about, Jeanne."

"Sorry," she said. "He's just been asking weird recently and I… I don't know…"

"Honestly? Yeah, he's probably been acting distant. He does that. But it isn't you - it's him."

"That helps so absolutely not," she snorted.

He chuckled. "Come on. This is a surreal situation." She gave a shiver, thinking that he was referring to the how she and Nick had ended up getting close in the first place. Suddenly she realized where she was and what she was doing. Sitting in a semi-private place. With Howie. And no back up. Holy crap…

"I mean, a tour like this… its as far from reality as you can get," Howie continued not noticing her sudden tension. "Sure, he grew up in this environment, but that doesn't make it normal. We're all stuck together, practically on top of each other for so long… it's enough to drive anyone wacky."

She nodded slightly, trying to slowly inch away from him.

"And Nick is anything but not normally wacky." He chuckled at his own comment. "So, here it is; getting to the end of the road. You two have gotten way close, way fast. And I know, from back in the day, when he's gotten like this before. Admittedly, you are a LOT more mature than some of his past girlfriends. But, you know, it comes down to whether all this feelings and stuff like that is for real. Or if it is 'road love.' You know?"

"It's real. For me, anyway."

"And knowing him the way I do. Or did. I'd say for him too. But he still worries."


Howie shrugged. "We've been kind of distant recently. He's been acting that way towards me for a while. Not really sure what's up. Maybe it's just 'cause he's so into you that he's ignoring the rest of us. Or maybe it's 'cause he can't stand Miri. I don't know. We just haven't been close like we usually were."

Again she tensed at the sound of Miriam's name. Mentally she berated herself. One minute she was trying so hard to pull Howie out… to make him do something - anything - that she could use against him. The next she was forgetting all about that and losing herself in their conversation. He was being so normal… so sane… so like the Howie she had known at the beginning. The one you wanted to talk with for hours. Because he had interesting insights and opinions. Because he was relaxed and he listened to you. Because he was just a nice guy…

And here he was… being that way again… and then he'd say something that would remind you that there was someone else there too. Weird and Evil Howie. Hidden somewhere in there. And he could spring out anytime…

Only he didn't. Not this time. She was silent the entire drive back to the hotel, just smiling softly at Nick as he bounded over to give her a big hug when she'd finally headed down to the stage. She and Howie'd talked for almost forty-five minutes and at no time did he give any indication that there was a monster within. He was just himself. And frankly, she'd enjoyed their talk. She'd been scared to death, talking herself into walking into that room in the first place. And, admittedly, half in terror the entire time they'd chatted. But never once did he do anything or say anything untoward.

She sighed. Her big chance to finally fix it all and he hadn't played to the script.

Boy, was Nick going to be pissed when she told him.

Chapter 73