The officer beside them had obviously overheard what Jay said because he gave a little sympathetic clucking sound and relaxed his clasp on his automatic weapon. Kat glanced at him quickly and at his slight nod took the cellphone from Jay's hand.
"Hello?" she asked tremulously.
"Hey," Nick replied huskily. She could hear from his voice that he had been crying. "Are they going to arrest Jay or something? What happened?"
"I was already through the gate when he tried to call me back. Not a good thing with all the security people around. You'd think that security folk recognized their own, but I guess not. What happened there?"
Nick chuckled politely at her attempt to lighten things and then sighed heavily. "Howie's dead."
She closed her eyes, trying to stem the tears that suddenly filled her eyes. She hoped, perversely, that Jay had lied when he'd said it earlier. But the sorrow in Nick's voice and the muted sound of someone crying in the background dashed that hope.
"Something in his brain. An anny.. amur…, yeah, aneurysm. Thanks Kev. He had an aneurysm and it burst or something."
"Yeah," Nick sniffled. "Can you come back? Please?"
"What happened? I mean, he was fine…"
"He was having a big confab with all of 'em. Not me 'cause I can't move, you know? But he'd talked to the others. AJ said he was apologizing and stuff. Tell 'em all about how he was a real loser for doing what he did. And for getting stuck on the drugs. Miriam gave 'em to him, by the way. Seems she likes 'em built and hard and nasty. Sold him this whole crap about how he had to look good to the fans and if he wasn't a big tall blonde thing like me that he should at least corner the market on the buffness."
"Anyway, he told 'em that it was all his fault and that he'd made you get involved and then me, of course, and that they weren't to blame us, 'cause it was his problem and he'd caused it.
"He talked to Brian too, alone though. Said he was an idiot and he'd honestly forgot that he and Leigh had, well, you know. And that it wasn't her fault, neither. That they'd both been really upset and vulnerable and stuff. And that Brian knew he'd have forgiven the two of 'em if they'd told him what had happened back when it did and could he please understand now. He said he'd known Leigh was, like, "hands off' and that he never thought she was one of the type of woman that Brian needed protection from. So he'd just assumed that he - Howie that was - have given Leigh a clean slate, and he'd forgotten that he'd already, umm, like, done her."
He chuckled sadly. "See? He said all that to Brian privately and then Bri comes out and tells us all what Howie said."
She smiled thinly, "he probably knew Rok'd do that. And I doubt Brian told you all Howie said."
"Maybe. But a few minutes later, after he talked to Bri, there was, like, this siren or something from Howie's room and all the doctors went running. Kev tried to get in and find out what was going on, but they just shoved him away, you know? So they all came here to wait. And then the doctor came in and said he was gone."
"How is everyone taking it?"
"How you think?" he snorted angrily. "Sorry. Shouldn't have snapped. But, Christ! I've known him since I was, like, eight years old. I just can't believe…" Nick's voice broke off and she could hear him weeping again.
She'd had a chance to wipe most of the tears off her face by the time he composed himself.
"Things here… they're fucked up, Kat. They had to sedate Brian. See, Howie'd apparently said some shit about how he didn't deserve to live 'cause of all the stuff he'd done. And then a few minutes later the doc comes in and says Howie's dead, well Brian flipped out. They had to, like, wrestle him down and jab a needle in him. He's on the other bed and they got these restraints on him. Restraints!," he was sobbing.
"Leigh's all snuggled with him. And I bet you can hear AJ." His voice dropped to a whisper. "He's just sitting over there, crying and all, but rocking himself back and forth, like some little kid. I swear, he looks like he did when he was totally drinking. Kevin's all white and shit, but he's over there with AJ trying to get him calm. And, honestly, I am not sure its gonna work."
His voice rose again as his frustration built. "And I am fucking stuck in this fucking bed, unable to get up and do anything while one of my fucking best friends dies in the other room and the rest of my fucking friends are falling apart and I can't do a fucking thing! Back off, Kev! I have every reason to get upset. I can't do a fucking thing! I'm stuck here and I can't do a fucking thing!"
"Nick! Nick, come on. Calm down," Kat said, echoing what the words she could hear Kevin saying.
"Okay, okay. I'm calm. Now fuck off," Nick said angrily and she could hear him twist away from Kevin. "Look, Kat. Just come back, all right?"
"This is all my fault, you know. Me and my stupid "I can fix everything' shit. 'Cause you know, you told me. I mean, you said, way back , to just leave this alone. You said not to play this stupid game. Just either tell him to back off or not, but not to play this whole 'catch him in the act' stuff. You and Leighanne both, you told me. But no, I'm The Man. I'm so The Man, and I can do this whole charade thing and then make him stop. Fuck! I should have listened to you. I should have just not done this." He took a ragged breath. "Its my fault he's dead now, isn't it?
"No, Nick!" she exclaimed.
"It is. Because I made you tell me what happened. And then I had to go prove you wrong. And when I couldn't do that I had to come up with some way to fix it. And I made you pretend to be someone else and all that. And then the whole accident thing. And now you're leaving - don't leave - and I'm in this stupid cast thing and Howie's dead. All 'cause I thought I knew best."
"Nick…" Kat knew she had to phrase this well, but wasn't sure she could do it. Not in her current emotional state. "Nick, it was Howie. Howie did this." She ignored his sound of protest. "Maybe not the whole dying thing, that happened 'cause the accident really was just that. An accident. But what got us there… that was him. I mean, even if you'd done what we said and just told him off back at the beginning do you think he'd have listened? I mean, he said it: Miriam was drugging him up. And obviously preying on all his insecurities. So if you'd said something he could have just flipped out then. The whole game-thing you thought up… well, maybe it wasn't the best thing, but Leigh, and I, we could have said no too. We all could 'ave walked away at any time and we didn't. 'Cause we all thought it was the right way to do it. 'Cause Howie wouldn't have learnt anything unless he was really trapped. So it was his fault, see? Not you."
"It was MY game. MY test."
"Yeah, it was. But we agreed to it. And if it hadn't been you, someone else would have found out sooner or later, and that could have made it worse. I mean, you were really trying to help Brian and Leighanne. 'Cause you cared. You love 'em. And you loved Howie. And you knew him best and knew the best way to get to him. If it's anyone's fault - other than Howie's - its that bitch, Miriam. I mean, looking back, I think we can probably figure out exactly when she was pumping him full of stuff, just by the way he was acting. And that just made it all so much worse."
Nick sniffled. "Kev says the cops are out looking for her. And that he's gonna make sure she pays for this."
"Good. I mean, we fucked up too, with our plan, but she just totally…" Kat couldn't think of a way to describe it. "We were trying to help. Help Howie and help the Boys. She was just out to take all she could for herself."
"Yeah." He paused. "So, you're coming back, right?"
So much pain. Kat was convinced that Nick wasn't responsible for Howie's death, but she wasn't so sure about herself. All the anguish she'd endured with her parents and her fiancé… it was baggage she'd carried with her when she'd gotten involved with the Boys at the beginning. It probably made her react to all of this worse than she needed to. Made her make it all so damn complicated. Made her play along with Nick's hare-brained scheme. And made the whole thing come to such a horrible climax…
'Having the blood of a murderer.' That was how she'd described herself to Nick way back when she'd told him about her family. And despite how hard she'd tried to overcome that, to help him with this whole situation, it had held true. She had the 'blood' and Howie was dead.
She'd loved Howie. Been terrified of him too, but loved him nonetheless. Nick, she loved with every drop of her being. How soon before her 'blood' killed him too?
"No? Come on, Kat! You have to. You come here. Right now! Hey! Back off! Kevin, make him get that fucking needle away from me. I don't need it. OW! Oh shit. Fuck! Look, Kat, you gotta come back. They keep fucking drugging me. You have to."
She took a deep breath, determined to stand her ground despite his plea, despite the tears rolling down her face. "I can't, Nick. No matter what, what I said before is right. You all have to heal. Only now you got more to heal from. Way more. And you gotta do it. I'm sorry, Nick. No."
"We gotta heal?" His voice was starting to slur as the sedative took hold. "What 'bout you? You heal too. Heal here."
"I'll heal. I will," she tried to convince herself. "But I need to do it alone for a while. And so do you. We just need time. No, Nick I won't be coming now. Later maybe, but not now."
"Okay. Later," he said quietly and she knew he was struggling to stay alert. "You come later. When I wake up."
She smiled sadly. "Okay, Nick. When you wake up." She was going to tell him to go to sleep, but his light snores told her he was already well on his way.
She wiped her face again before turning off the phone. Jay stood and held his hand out to take her bag, but she shook her head and handed him the phone instead.
"Take care of them," she said, then turned and walked purposefully towards the monorail's doors.
For the second time in one day she let the doors close on the sound of a man yelling her name and telling her to come back. But there was no going back. Not then and not now. She leaned back against the train's wall, paying no heed to the curious stares of the other travellers or the tears that oozed from her eyes.
Instead, she focused on two children who were playing a game of tic tac toe on the fogged up window of the train. Her hands itched to wipe it away, despite the laughter of the children.
So many games.
And she never wanted to play them again.
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