He glanced put the window, watching the scenery fly by. Florida had a habit of either being too wet or too dry. Now it seemed to be on the dry side as the grass along the highway was more brown than green and there were huge sprinklers going in the orange groves. There were no doubt water restrictions on at home and he'd have to ration the amount of washing and showering he'd be able to do. Not too much of a problem if he spent most of his time on the boat, though salt water hair just got stiff and yucky after a while. He just hoped that it wasn't so bad that there were forest fires in the area.
The tour was over.
The tour was over.
He didn't know whether to celebrate or commiserate. They had made it through an entire tour and no one had been the wiser about the fact that Jeanne was Kat. Unfortunately they had also made it through an entire tour with no one the wiser about the fact that Jeanne was Kat.
So not the way it was supposed to be.
Okay, so yes, and no. Howie wasn't supposed to clue into the fact that the woman in Nick's life was anything other than what she appeared to be, but he was also supposed to actually do a major 'pass' at her so that Nick could kick his ass and Kat could resume normal programming. So, really, no one was supposed to have clued into her secret identity. But she was also not supposed to need a secret identity any longer.
He glanced down the bus' hallway to where she lay cocooned in the bed sheets fast asleep. How the hell could he have fallen in love with her? How the hell could he not?
"You know, Carter," he whispered softly, "when you screw up, you screw up so big time it is amazing."
Howie had chatted to her a few days ago and she really thought it would have turned into something, but he and Brian had come bounding in, fresh from their basketball game, and interrupted. Sheesh! She hadn't needed to yell at him. If he'd known he would have challenged Brian to another game. How was he supposed to know? It's not like he was trying to keep them apart. At least not anymore.
The last few weeks had been hard on them. She'd made it clear to him that he had to stop crowding her and give her some space in order to get Howie to act the way they wanted him to. After Jay's report about Howie's apparent proclivity for violent sex the last thing he wanted was for her to be alone any where near the guy. So he'd been especially attentive to her, something that both delighted and annoyed her. She's read him the riot act and he'd backed off. Only to have Howie turn back into Mr. Sunshine and Daisies. A regular Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that one.
Kat had been upset by that too. Finally, she'd thought she was getting somewhere… and then Howie calms down again. It was like she'd missed her one chance to finally nail the sucker and end this game. And it hadn't happened.
No wonder she was pissed as all hell with him, Nick mused.
He understood. He did. It was hard to pretend to be someone you're not. He'd been doing it since he was 13 years old and it was still difficult. Hell, who was he kidding. He'd been doing it ever since his mother realized he could sing and she suddenly had dollar signs flashing in her eyes. "Why yes, mommy, all I ever want to do for the rest of my life is smile pretty, sing pretty and dance pretty. It would be the highlight of my life to be constantly on the road, never see my brother and sisters, have every one comment about my weight/hair/face/sexuality, always be concerned about how much money you are siphoning off my bank accounts, and spend way too much time with four other guys who, as much as I love them, also drive me completely and utterly nuts. Yes, yes, mommy! Sign me up for never being able to fully relax about anything in my life forever and ever! Can't wait…"
Sure he'd been raised to live this way, but she hadn't. And while she had some training in pretending all was okay when it wasn't - good thing her mom was dead 'cause otherwise he would have gone up there and kicked her ass - but not to the extent he had. She was getting antsy. Feeling the strain of being someone see wasn't. They had managed to 'adapt' Jeanne just enough to make Kat comfortable, but it wasn't enough and he knew it.
He just didn't know what to do about it.
And to make matters worse, Leighanne had moved the wedding date back again. They hadn't managed to take care of the Howie problem yet and now Brian was probably over in his tour bus sobbing his eyes out again.
It was a beautiful house. Well-kept. Lots of sunlight.
Slow, lilting music wafted through it. Nothing she could fully recognize, but something pleasant and sweet.
She moved forward, heading down the wide hallway towards the music. It was coming from the back yard and she wanted to see what was there.
Sure enough, a party was taking place.
It was a small one, more of a barbeque than a party. Some people were splashing in the pool, while others milled about the patio, chatting quietly, sipping drinks. The people nearest the doorway looked at her and smiled, nodding their heads in greeting. She smiled back and moved out onto the deck.
"There you are, Jeanne. Want a burger?"
She turned and smiled at Kevin. "Thanks, no. Maybe later."
"Okay. Don't wait forever though. May be no way to get them back once you change."
She frowned at that, not sure of his meaning, and was about to ask when Parker wandered by, resplendent in her black clothes. "Jeanne, nice to see you too," she sneered and continued walking.
That felt wrong. Parker shouldn't be there. It didn't make sense.
"Jeanne! There you are!" AJ came up, grabbing her around the waist and swinging her. She laughed, clinging to his thin shoulders. He put her back on the ground and kissed her cheek. "You are looking babelicious today. I should never have let Nick steal you away," he said with a twinkle in his eye.
"Oh stop, hunny. You're making Jeanne blush and me jealous," Miriam chuckled as she laid a proprietary hand on AJ's arm. "I am so glad you are here, Jeanne. You have got to see my ring." She stretched out her hand, waving the large diamond ring under Jeanne's nose. "Isn't it scrumptious? Alex and I are going to be so happy, aren't we, sweetums?"
Jeanne smiled and inched away, feeling uncomfortable, but not sure about what. Perhaps it was the bruises on AJ's arms, not quite hidden by his tattoos…
Leighanne walked by, wan and waxen. She gave her a tremulous smile and then drifted off, fading into the crowd. Jeanne looked across the pool to see Brian playing basketball with two small children. He was cheering them on, laughing as they tried to make a basket even though the net was too high. The two kids were yelling, "daddy, watch me!" "daddy throw the ball to me" and other such things. Her brow furrowed. She didn't think that Brian had children, and she sure didn't think that the short dark-haired woman who came over, kissed Brian on the lips, and carried the two youngsters away was the 'mommy' they claimed she was.
She walked back towards the doorway to the house, coming to a quick stop when Howie bounded in front of her. "Jeanne! Isn't it wonderful? So many women here and all for me." She glanced over his shoulder and sure enough there was a cadre of women watching him, giggling. Some of them looked like people she knew, or knew of. People she'd always considered as being part of other couples… "Guess you missed your chance to be with me." She turned back to Howie who was preening in a muscleman pose, his body darkly tanned and slick with oil. "Never could catch me properly could you? And now you are stuck forever." He laughed gaily and wandered back to his clique, where the women cooed over him, rubbing his strong arms and petting his hair.
"It's time for the guest of honour!" Kevin yelled. "Come on every one, let's bring him out."
She moved towards the front of the group, watching an electric wheelchair slowly move forward. On it, directing the chair as best he could with his twisted crippled hands, sat an old man. His greasy, gray hair swung forward, blocking his face. His body arched down in the chair, withered, wrinkled and liver-spotted.
"Oh, doesn't he look good?" David crowed in her ear.
No. No, actually he didn't. He looked small, decrepit and aged. Not the happy, smiling young man she remembered.
"Aren't you going to give him a kiss, Jeanne?" Howie pushed her forward. Nick raised his head wearily, his blue eyes watery and faded. His face lined and weighed down with disappointment. "Come on Nick, give your Jeanne a kiss."
"But I'm not Jeanne," she said.
"Sure you are. Come on, Jeanne," Brian said, gesturing her towards the man in the chair.
"But I'm not. My name is Kat."
"Don't be silly," AJ laughed. "You're Jeanne. You've always been Jeanne. You'll always be Jeanne."
She looked around at the crowd, seeing Jay's large frame in the back. "I'm Kat. I am. Aren't I?"
Jay shook his head. "Not yet."
She frowned, looking back at Nick's old face. "But, that's not right. I am. I am Kat."
"No, you're not," Howie taunted her. "You're Jeanne. See?" He grabbed her head and forced her to look into the small mirror that hung around Nick's head. Just like him, her face was old, wizened and sad. Her hair was white and unkempt and her eyes were sunken and surrounded by dark circles. "See? You're Jeanne. Ever Jeanne. Jeanne forever. Never to get free. Thought you could catch me, but I caught you! Jeanne, Jeanne, Jeanne, Jeanne…"
Kat woke up with a shriek. It brought Nick running and, after he'd gotten her the mirror she'd demanded, he held her as she sobbed quietly, mumbling about her need to be free.
Somehow he knew exactly what she was talking about.