Really, really sucked.
She'd tried hard to be patient. She really had. First she'd cleared away the things that needed mailing. And mailed them. Then she'd figured out what needed to come with her. And packed them. Then she'd tried sitting calmly, watching television and waiting for him to come home so that they could have the conversation both of them knew was coming.
The first two tasks had kept her going for a couple hours. The last one for only a few minutes. It was just too hard to sit there, composed, waiting to rip out her own heart and then stomp on it.
Finally, she remembered one of her Father's aphorisms: "if you need to do something to keep your mind off something… then do it. Even if it means filing or cleaning out drains. It may not fix the problem but it'll take care of others." She'd hated that one - he'd said it just too damn often. And of course he'd always been right about it. Parents! Sheesh.
So she'd pulled the vacuum cleaner out and run it over the entire house. Twice. Then she'd tackled floors that couldn't be cleaned by Hoover; washing and polishing them till they gleamed - a hard thing to do with linoleum. Tubs were scoured and toilet bowls now glistened. She'd even tackled the kitchen: all the weird, nameless stuff congealing in the back of the fridge had been disposed of, the cupboards and counters cleaned and the dishes put away. She'd stop short of alphabetizing the cans and cartons in the pantry, but was probably going to put it back on the list if Nick didn't show up soon.
She walked by the phone with its flashing message light again, trying to ignore its siren call. It was a message form Nick. She knew it. Was sure of it. And the last thing she wanted to hear right now was his voice. It was hard enough psyching herself up for seeing him…
Of course, she thought, maybe it could act as a buffer. Sort of like the 'hair of the dog.' Just a little something to help her get through what was to come…
"Hello Mr. Carson. I am calling from Ace Pool Cleaning. We are working in your neighbourhood and…"
She skipped that one with a chuckle. All that angst and it wasn't even him… See? Shouldn't be so damn paranoid…
"Hey, it's me. Wondering where you are. So, ah… yeah. Well, I guess I'll try you on your cell."
Okay, so paranoia isn't all its cracked up to be, she thought as she choked back a sob at the sound of his voice. This was going to be harder than she thought. Maybe she should make a run for it now. Write a note and just take off. Yeah, that would be it. If hearing his voice was tough then seeing him would make it almost impossible. If she ducked out now she'd… "be a worthless, slimy piece of excrement." She jumped, startled by the sound of her own voice. Okay, hadn't intended to say that out loud. But it was still true.
That was one of the things that she was most grateful to the Boys for. She'd been running most of her life. First from a wacky home life. Then a crappy boyfriend. Then an explosively horrible home life, complete with murder and suicide… Then, frankly, from herself. That whole debacle with Howie the first time around made her finally start taking charge. Made her start standing up for herself. Find the footing she'd lost for so long.
And Nick had completed that process. He'd helped her face her fears about Howie, and then helped her face her own past. Sure they'd done the old 'hide and fake' stuff in front of the others, but in private they were totally open with each other. Totally honest. Totally being who they really were… even if they were still in the process of discovering that. Nick was always putting himself down - though not as much recently, thank god - but inside him was this backbone of steel. He may get depressed about who he was sometimes, but he was also full of determination. What was that line from Dirty Dancing? "No one puts Baby in the corner." Well, no one puts Nick in the corner. Not even himself.
You had to respect that about him.
And if she kept thinking like this she was never going to be able to say goodbye.
Maybe it was time to alphabetize those cans… but the laundry…
One last time to make sure everything was clean and April fresh. One last time to check through and make sure she hadn't left anything. One last time to make sure everything was in order. One last time to fondle Nick's undies.
Maybe she should pack a few away in her suitcase, just in case. Something to remember him by, and also sell on EBay if times got tough.
"Okay, I am officially nuts," she sighed to herself as she descended the stairs to the laundry room.
There was another message on the machine when she climbed the stairs. "Hey. Me again. Where are you? I tried your cell and you weren't there. I… I really hope you are still there. Please. Please be still there. I know things have been, like… I just… Okay, Brian I'll be right there! Damn! Look, please be there when I get home. We need to talk, okay? Okay. See you soon."
Does if the can of Beefaroni is larger than the can of beans should it go to the back of the shelf despite the alphabet?
"Nothing but net!" Nick crowed.
"Yeah, yeah. You are the king," Brian groaned as he bent over trying to catch his breath. "Can we stop now?"
"We're not at 21 yet."
"Dude, we passed 21 about five minutes ago. You just kept on playing."
"Yeah. Oh. So could you take pity on an old man and lay off now?" Brian wiped his face with his shirt.
"Maybe just one more…"
"Nick, no. You want my heart to explode?"
Nick blanched, a look of hurt crossing his face. "Dude, don't even joke about that."
"You're right. I'm sorry. Just, could we stop for a while? See what the others are up to? Maybe you can beat up on AJ for a while."
"Nah," Nick grinned. "He's all sedate and 'let's play pool' now. Boooring."
Brian chuckled as he wrapped an arm around Nick's neck, tousling the other man's hair. "Maybe Kev'll step up to the plate then."
Nick rolled his eyes. "Yeah, 'cos like I am so into pumping iron. Face it, Rok. You and I are the only active ones."
"I'm active," AJ protested as the two men walked into the room. "I like to get it on." He started to thrust his hips, mimicking the sex act.
"Gross, man," Nick laughed as he chucked his sweaty towel at him. "So, not the kind of activity I need from you."
"Bite me. You couldn't handle me. I'm too much man for you."
"You're too much something…" Nick looked around the room. "Hey, where'd D go?"
AJ shrugged. "Dunno. He was talking to Kev and then disappeared."
"Um, should he have done that? Should we have let him go anywhere alone?" Brian asked quietly.
AJ sighed. "I don't know, man. But we gotta trust him on this. Give him a day or two. See if he is really serious about getting help. Then, if he isn't we'll gang up on him again." He shrugged. "It worked for me."
"Yeah, I guess," Brian sighed. "Hey, Kev."
"Hello, sweaty cousin of mine. There is this remarkable new invention. It's called 'deodorant.' You should look into it."
"Hardy har har. Don't give up your day job."
"Kev? Where'd Howie go?"
Kevin glanced at Nick quickly. "Um, he had an errand to do."
"And you just let him go? After what happened?"
"Lighten up, Nick."
"Shut up, AJ." He turned back to Kevin. "Come on, man. Couldn't you keep him here? Make sure he was okay? I mean, letting him go off on his own like that…"
"He said he had an errand. And I let him go. He isn't a criminal, Nick. We gotta trust him a little." Kevin shrugged. "'Sides it your fault."
Nick blinked. "My fault?"
"Yeah, D said he had some thing he had to do for you. Why are you all riled up if you are the one sending him out to do stuff?"
"Me?" Nick frowned. "I didn't ask him to do anything. Why would I ask him to do something?"
Kevin shrugged. "I don't know. You two were all talking earlier. Heads pressed together and all. I figured you asked him to do something for you."
"Hell, no. We were just…" Nick went white. "Oh, fuck! Oh, no! He didn't! Not now. He couldn't be…" Nick dashed over to his bag, pulling it over his shoulder and pulling his cell phone out of the side pocket.
"What?" Brian asked worriedly, alarmed by Nick's sudden change in demeanour and by the look of fear that had crossed his friend's face.
"Nothing. I gotta go." Nick said as he ran from the room. "Jay? It's Nick. He's gone. Howie. He's gone. And I think he's going after her…"
Kat started to climb the stairs, stopping once when one of Nick's shirts fell from the basket. "I leave bite marks," it said, and she knew it was true. She shuddered, remembering, and then closed her eyes for a moment as she tried to regain her composure. "Right, having kinky sex thoughts about a guy is not the best way to go about preparing to leave him. Especially if it is a guy you don't want to leave anyway."
She dropped the basket on the bed, pulling the t-shirt out and giving it a long stare before folding it and putting it aside. "So," she continued, speaking aloud, hoping that the walls could actually talk and tell her what to do, "am I nuts to leave him when I don't want to?"
She folded the clothes steadily. "I mean, I love the guy so much it hurts. I never thought that would happen. I mean its Nick for crying out loud. Little Nicky Gene Carter. Okay, not so little, but you know what I mean." She flicked a bra down the bed where she'd remember to grab it. "If this other stuff had never happened I'd never leave his side. But then if the other stuff hadn't happened would we have ever gotten this far? I mean it's not like we are anyone's idea of a match made in Heaven. It's just…" She sighed heavily as she folded a pair of his large gym socks together. "It's just… so damn weird."
Tucking the jeans away in the bottom drawer, she turned to get the pile of t-shirts when she heard a creak on the stairs. Blinking back sudden tears, she called, "Nick? Is that you? I'm in the bedroom," then sat down, waiting for him to come in and for the boom to be lowered.
Only it wasn't him.
He had to jiggle the key a little to get it to work. Swearing under his breath, he was afraid for a moment that the door wouldn't open and then the key turned and he could hear the click as the deadbolt slipped back.
The lock hadn't been changed.
Just like the code for the gate hadn't been changed.
He slipped inside the door, taking his shoes off so that they wouldn't squeak or clomp or make any noise other than the ones he wanted to make. He couldn't remember having to do that for any of the others, but this one… this one seemed special. It had taken a lot of time to get to this point. Time he'd wasted. Now was the time to savour it…
He crept down the hallway slowly. She was here. Somewhere. He knew it. Of course, the car in the driveway had been a dead giveaway, but still… It was as though he could feel her nearby; just out of reach, but not for long.
He was just passing the door to the dining room when he heard her. Thumping along the hallway from the kitchen. He slipped back, peering around the doorway as she walked by, a large hamper of clothes in her arms, and then started to climb the stairs to the upper floor. She stopped halfway up, when a t-shirt fell from the basket and he ducked back into the room quickly. He backed into something hard, his hands clenching the doorframe so that he didn't fall.
Suitcases. Two of them. Large and fully packed.
He grinned sharply. He'd been right to come when he did.
She blinked, a frown on her face as she stood and looked at the man in the doorway. "Howie?"