Jeanne frowned. "Yeah. A little. What's up? Nick's not here if you are looking for him."
"Nah, I wanted to talk to you actually. Got a few minutes?"
She shrugged. "I guess. Just doing laundry."
He glanced at the folded clothes on the bed then grinned at her mischievously. "No?! Really?!"
Jeanne groaned and rolled her eyes as Howie moved one of the piles aside and sat down. "Yeah, I'm a quick study. I see laundry basket, I smell fabric softener and I see you folding Nick's gootchies and I think 'aha! Jeanne is doing laundry.' If not: she is one kinky chick."
"Howie?" she grinned, "don't give up your day job."
He chuckled. "Why is that people always say that whenever I try to make a joke? It's not fair. I tell good jokes." She snickered and he protested. "I do! Did you know that a psychic once predicted that I would become a stand-up comic? Really."
"Is that psychic still in business?"
Howie sighed and lay back on the bed. "Who knows? Who really knows anything anymore?"
She folded another sweatshirt and put it down on the pile at the top of the bed. "So what's up?"
"I got in big trouble today."
"The guys… they found out… found out I'd been taking drugs."
She looked at him, shocked. "What?! What the hell, Howie? Why?"
He sat up, sighing heavily. "See? I thought you'd be able to understand."
"Yeah. I mean, you're a little older than the other girls. Have a bit more sense. I needed to talk to someone, and I couldn't talk to the guys. They'd get all up in my face." He snorted. "Like that are already. So, I thought I could talk to you, you know? Someone who would listen and not judge."
"Ah," Jeanne blushed. "Thank you. I guess. Why not talk to Miriam?"
He looked at her from under hooded eyes. "Who do you think gave them to me in the first place?"
She sat down heavily on the bed. "Whoa. Okay. Not expected."
"Why? I mean, why? Why take them? Why'd she give them… why?"
Howie sighed, then inched closer to her. "Look, when you see me you see calm, cool and collected Howie. Howie the Backstreet Boy. Howie the mega-star…"
"Howie the conceited dumbass?"
He flashed her a big grin. "Yeah. Him. Only that isn't who I always am, right? Sometimes I am just Howie. The guy who is too short and sings too high and dresses kind of girly. And that guy… that guy needed some self-confidence. And Miriam helped with that."
"Helped with drugs? Jeez, Howie. That's ridiculous! Drugs aren't going to help you with that. You don't like your height? Wear platforms. Don't like your clothes? Fire your stylist. Hate your voice? Dude, it is an amazing voice and you are just being stupid. Come on!"
He picked up a small pile of socks, matching them and folding them together, moving forward to reach the ones closer to where she sat. "I thought you'd be supportive," he pouted. "That you'd listen to me."
"I am listening, Howie. But I guess it just isn't making sense to me."
"It doesn't always make sense to me too. I think that is why I started. You know, to try something. Something that was all me. Not Backstreet. Not even Dorough. Just me. Howie."
"Dude, lots of people do drugs."
"I know that. I knew that. It just… I don't know. It made sense at the time. It made me feel more powerful. More in control."
"More like the you you thought you wanted to be?"
"Yeah. See? You understand."
"I do, in a way, Howie. But that is all fantasy. It's not real. The drugs are just getting in the way of you being you. With them, you get to the point where you don't think that you are yourself with out them. That you need them just to exist."
He shrugged. "I wasn't at that point. I don't think. But I was sure enjoying them. And the sex…"
She laughed, standing up. "I don't think I need to hear about that."
He smiled, grabbing her hand. "Maybe. But tell me, Jeanne. When we first met… would you have gone out with me?"
"You were seeing someone."
"Yeah, but would you have?"
"Howie, it is hardly relevant…"
"But what did you think of me? The first time we met? I bet you thought what everyone thought: 'nice guy, not for me.' See? That is what everyone sees? They want someone dangerous like AJ or dark and handsome like Kev or even hunky and goofy like Nick. They look right through me. Hardly ever notice. Like I am a footnote at the bottom of a page. 'Look, there is Brian, Kevin, Nick and AJ. Oh, and isn't there one more? What's his name? Oh yeah, Howie. That little one in the back.' That's what they think. What you all think." Tears started to sparkle in his eyes and part of him wanted to kick himself. Where the hell had that come from? He meant it, sure, but it wasn't part of the plan. Get back to the plan!
"Hey." She sat down next to him, continuing to hold his hand. "I didn't think that. I didn't. I thought…" She tried to figure out what to say. She obviously couldn't say what she thought the very first time they met. She had adored him then. Immediately. Now… she wasn't sure how she felt. She liked him; she was terrified of him. He was a good friend; he was her worst nightmare. He was fun and great to be around and sometimes she had to remind herself that he had an evil core. And then there were times when he walked in a room and she wanted to run screaming… Probably better to not bring up that part. Especially when he was coming to her for help. "I remember thinking 'wow, what beautiful eyes.' Don't laugh! I did. I thought that about Brian too the first time Leigh introduced us. Then I worried that he'd sneeze and blow us all away. Heck, the first time I met Nick I thought 'sweet kid; wonder when he'll hit puberty.'"
Howie laughed out loud at that one.
"Seriously! Everyone had been going on about what a hottie he was. So blonde and beautiful, and all I thought was 'I hope he grows into his brain.' Sad but true."
"You know I'm gonna tell him that," Howie smirked.
Kat started to smile at that, but tears started to prickle instead.
"Hey! No crying. What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she shrugged. "Don't worry about it. Tell me about you." She chuckled lightly, "or am I supposed to be telling you about you?"
"Ego could use a little stroking, yeah, but what are you..."
She held her hand up, indicating that the subject was closed. "Look, Howie, I can understand how you can get lost in what you are doing. How you can wonder if you have let go of who you are… if you ever knew who you were in the first place. But drugs… so not the answer."
He sighed and leaned back on his elbows. "I knew that. I knew that the whole time. But damn it felt good. Like I was discovering who I was, and I was a stronger person than I thought. Physically, mentally, everything. King of the World and all that. And I'm scared. Scared that if I totally stop the stuff that I'll lose that. That I'll go back to ordinary old Howie. And frankly, he bores the crap out of me."
"He never bored me."
"Yeah, but, Jeanne, I've been doing drugs since we met."
Which begged the question, had he been doing drugs when Kat had met him? Maybe that was why he… "How long? How long you been doing this?"
He shrugged. "About six, seven months. Slowly building up."
She closed her eyes, sighing inwardly. Even when she'd been Kat. Wait, she was Kat. Okay, getting confused here… but the fact remained he'd been boffing the Boys' girlfriends before he'd been experimenting with drugs. So not everything could be explained away…
"I don't know what to say, Howie. I mean, it sounds like you got lots of issues here. I mean, you say you don't like 'boring' Howie or the fact that you get overlooked with the Boys. Those problems are going to be there if you stop no matter what. I agree with the guys: you HAVE to stop the drugs. Now. Cold turkey if need be. Or rehab…" she glanced at his shaking head, "okay, so maybe not that. I'm sure there is some sort of outpatient thing. What's important is getting the drugs out of your system as quickly as possible. But you can't just do that. You gotta talk to someone. A psychiatrist or someone. Someone who can help you with the other stuff. The stuff that started all this."
"Can't I just talk to you?"
She shook her head. "I'm not qualified. Not be a long shot. Besides, I'm not going to be around much in the future."
He sat up. "So it's true. You and Nick are splitting."
"Is that what he says?" she asked as she got up and started folding laundry again.
"He isn't saying anything," Howie replied. "He just, he looks unhappy. So do you."
She smiled sadly. "Not all sunshine and roses in the life of hunky and goofy Nick Carter."
She thought for a moment, trying to figure out how to phrase it. "I think it's like you said. I got lost in there somewhere. Who I was, who I wanted to be. I think Nick may have gotten a little lost too. Our maybe the things we wanted got lost. It's not like we don't want the same things… its just we don't know how to get to them anymore."
"He's in love with you."
Kat wiped a tear away. "I know. I love him too. It just doesn't look like that is enough. Not for now."
He stood, pulling the shirt she was folding from her hands and hugging her tightly. "I'm sorry this is happening then."
She choked back a sob, as she clung to him. "Me too."
"If there is anything I can do to help…"
She shook her head, trying to step away from him but he held on tight. "Nothing you can do. It's okay. Maybe we just need some time apart. It's been a little nuts for a while. The tour and all…"
"I really wish I could help," Howie sighed, as he stroked his hand up and down her back. "Help you talk it out or something."
"It's okay," she repeated, trying to disengage herself from him. He just held on tighter. "Um, Howie? Could you let me go?"
"Why? Don't you think you deserve a little comforting? You've been through a lot. We both have."
"Yeah, but I'm really not feeling very comfortable right now," she replied as she finally twisted out of his arms.
"But I was," he replied, his hands coming up to grip her forearms. "I was very comfortable. And looking to become more." He leaned in and kissed her. Gently at first, but more insistent when she tried to draw back.
"Come on, Jeanne. We're both hurting. Let's make ourselves fell better." He gave her an oily grin before forcing another kiss on her.
Kat tried to twist away, but he held firm on her forearms. He backed her up, banging her head against the wall harshly, his mouth still determined on hers.
She was an idiot.
All that planning, all that conspiring, and now, when they had given up hope. When she had already packed her stuff, preparing to leave, finally it happened. Finally, Howie made his play.
Part of her was jumping up and down with excitement. He was here, it was happening. And then once he made his play, had been rebuffed and caught, she'd have no reason to leave. She could stay. It would be all over and she and Nick could stay together. She could stop playing this stupid game and be free to be herself again. And, more importantly, she could be with Nick openly, honestly, for as long as they wanted.
And then there was the other part of her. The part that was more than a little overwhelmed by his physical strength. The part that realized that Howie was making his move… and there was no one around to stop him, to catch him. No one around to save her. No one.