Quit Playing Games

Chapter 9

Maybe it was just opening up to AJ and Howie, but the nightmares stopped.

Kat had talked to Howie a bit the next day, giving him a little more information about her parentsí death, but not the full story. Never the full story. He knew that sheíd been working at her hometown paper that day, and had been the one to get the call that there was a big fire. She was the only one around at the time so it was her story. Imagine her surprise to discover that it was her house that was burning. Imagine her shock to discover her parents had still been inside.

He was sympathetic and kind to her about it. Even AJ, who had guessed she was hiding something, was. And Kevin kept giving her supportive smiles. He didnít remember much about that night, just that sheíd been upset. He really is Sleeping Beauty, Kat thought ruefully. Once heís asleep, heís usually dead to the world and it would take something major to get him to wake up. And so damn beautifulÖ

Micheline joined them that weekend, and any thought that AJ had about getting Kat to talk left his head. Howie was right, AJ in LUV was a funny thing to see. He was soÖ soÖ almost puppy-dog-ish. The two of them were constantly together, cooing about everything, and always looking at each other with these big wide goofy eyes.

Leighanne and Lana thought it was hilarious, though they did get a little miffed when Kat pointed out that they did the same thing with their guys.

Micheline also seemed to fit into the group very well. She had an outgoing personality, much like AJís, but also needed quiet time. Much like AJ. She was also genuinely interested in the others, and didnít care about the fact that they were celebrities. In fact, she often seemed surprised when the fans got a little rowdy and she had to be reminded why.

She differed greatly from Miriam.

Howieís girlfriend also showed up that weekend and stayed for a few days. Kat couldnít put her finger on it, but she did know this. She didnít like Miriam.

Maybe it was because she had had Howie all to herself for a while and had been indulging her little fantasy that he would suddenly declare undying love for her, but she was sure that it was something more than that. There was something plastic about Miriam.

Still, she did seem to have a good effect on Howie. He wasnít drinking, and he was certainly smiling more. And they were constantly together. When he wasnít on stage, the two of them could almost always be found in the weight room. Miriam, it turned out, owned several fitness clubs, and was as big on bodybuilding as Howie was.

Kat could swear she saw his muscles develop more before her eyes.

 

The tour continued unabated, though it was starting to show on all of them. Leighanne had to return to Los Angeles for some auditions, which left Brian grumpy. Nickís game controller got schmoosed at some point and was only working sporadically. He was going stir-crazy. Even Kevin and Lana seemed to be having trouble. Kat tried really hard not to be happy about that, but when Kevin started talking to her more about the book, and about things in general, it was hard not to be thrilled.

Only AJ and Micheline seemed to continue to be in that sweet sugary-happy state that all new boyfriend/girlfriends seem to be in.

Kat had started to get some revisions and edits from The Firm and from Jive, and she was getting pissed off at the inane comments they were making. Inane in her opinion. Jay thought most of them made sense and they had had a heated discussion over one or two points that had left her shaking with anger for hours.

And Howie just kept working out.

 

Denise McLeanís arrival shook them all out of it. She swept in, took one look at all of them and decided that instead of spending the next couple of free days working on new dance routines that they needed time off. So instead of ending up in a dance studio, they were all somewhat surprised when the buses pulled up in front of a boardwalk.

"Umm, Mom? I think we took a wrong turn," AJ said as he climbed down from the bus to look at the beach.

"No we didnít. The hotelís right over there. And the practices have been postponed. You all need to get some fresh air between your ears. So go change into your bathing suits, and meet us at the hotel in a few hours."

"Really?" Nick said, looking wistfully at the water.

"Go on, water boy," Denise smiled. He flashed her his patented Carter smile, kissed her cheek and then moved back into the bus to get changed. The others dutifully followed him, then down to the beach. Kat had tried to go to the hotel with the crew, but Brian and Kevin had taken her arms and marched her down the beach with them. Leighanne had found her bathing suit in her suitcase and had thrown it at her before chasing Brian down into the surf.

They spend the next two days doing just that: swimming in the blue ocean, chasing each other around like children and generally just goofing off. They werenít disturbed by fans much. The town they were in was not on the main route and there were no concerts planned in the area. So the few people who thought they recognized them just shook their heads and said, "nah, couldnít be" and moved on. By the time they realized that "yeah, it was!" they had all ready left, refreshed and relaxed.

 

Howie was at it again.

Kat really liked the man, but he did have this caustic side, and he always seemed to use it around her. She was really glad now that she hadnít told him the full truth about her nightmares. He had an annoying habit of making fun of the things she had told him when he was in this mood. She almost wished heíd start drinking again just so heíd shut up and leave her alone.

And if he asked her if she was a lesbian because she wasnít dating anyone one more time she was going to deck him.

It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He was great. A good friend, supportive and helpful. A natural peacemaker. He had a smile for everyone and was genuinely happy to be around them. Then, every once in a while, heíd be caustic and snide.

It was probably just exhaustion. Lord knows, she was tired. He must be too. At least she had managed more escapes. Leighanne, Lana, Micheline and she had gone out a couple of times when the Boys were stuck in press conferences or practices. She and Howie had even snuck out together a few times, just to eat out or to see a movie. Anything, but sit in a sterile hotel room for another night.

They had been doing just when he started again. The meal had been okay. Sort of a Vietnamese-Chinese hybrid with lots of spices and bok choy. Theyíd missed the movie start times, and that seemed to irk him. Suddenly it was her fault for taking too long to eat at the restaurant. No mention of the fact that he had stopped to window shop.

By the time they got back to the hotel she was steamed, and had left him standing alone in the hallway rather than spend another minute with him.

About an hour later there was a timid knock on her door. She sighed and put the paperback she was reading aside.

"Howie."

"Umm. Hi."

"What now?" she asked with a sigh.

"Iím sorry," he mumbled.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Iím sorry," he said louder. "I was being a real jerk."

"You can say that again."

"I was being a real jerk."

"Ha ha."

"Seriously, Iím sorry. I donít know what got into me. I was so pissed off at the world and I took it out on you. I went down to the gym and sweated it out, and I just wanted to apologize to you."

"If you werenít feeling good why didnít you just say so?"

He shrugged. "It kind of snuck up on me. I donít know. I just felt like a grouch all of a sudden."

He looked so sincere. And he really didnít do it that often. And he really did work very, very hard. "Okay. Just, Howie? Donít do it again."

He nodded. "Just do what you did if I act like that again. Walk away. It let me know how out of hand I was getting. Sort of woke me up."

"I will."

"Want to join me downstairs for a drink? AJ and Micheline are down there."

"Thanks, but Iím just going to keep reading. Rain check?"

He smiled. "Anytime. But I owe you a drink for putting up with Un-Sweet D."

Chapter 10

(c) Kat Morgan