The bus door opened and closed and he heard Amanda climb on board. He was about to hop out of the bunk to go talk to her, when he realized she was on her cell phone. He froze.
"I didn't tell you about it because I didn't know until today," she said, her voice irritated. "Besides, I'm allowed some privacy, aren't I?" Amanda paused, listening to the other person. "Well of course I am. No, it's not like that. Look, you can think whatever you want."
Brian's eyebrows knit together. What was she talking about? He pulled the curtain back from his bunk, and Amanda's eyes flickered to him from where she was standing in the kitchenette.
"Look, I gotta go, okay?" she said hotly into the phone, "I'll call you tomorrow or something." Amanda hung up the phone.
"What's up?" Brian asked. His voice sounded funny, even to him.
Amanda held up her phone and sighed in exasperation. "Fathers," she said.
Brian blinked in surprise. He'd been thinking something completely different. "Fathers?"
"Yeah," Amanda put the phone down on the counter and sat down in the booth. "My dad's super controlling..."
"At least you know he loves you if he's worrying about you," he said.
"Yeah, I'm not sure that's what this is. Besides, if he does love me, it'll never be as much as he loved Piper. He just likes being able to have full control over me," she rolled her eyes. "Piper was always the favorite with my dad. My mom liked me more. Well, until Piper got sick, then I was kind of old hat. But that's typical in any family, right?"
Brian remembered what life had bee like in his family when he was little, after his heart problems had started. He remembered Harold complaining while they played with Legos and coloring books in the hospital room once, saying almost the exact same words to him. "Mom only worries about you now, you know. She packed me lunch yesterday for school and forgot to put the sandwich in. All I got was a bag of crackers and a juice box. Sometimes I think she forgets she has a second kid."
"Yeah," Brian answered.
Amanda smiled sadly. "So yeah, it's not so much that he's worried as much as it is that he's pissed I'm not telling him every move I make. Like he was mad I didn't tell him about the hot air balloon sooner."
"How could you have?" Brian asked.
"Exactly my point. He wanted me to have told him before I got on it, but I mean, what was I gonna do? Be like 'sorry, hold on, I gotta call my dad'?" she scoffed, shaking her head. "He expects too much of me."
Brian frowned and held out his arm to half-hug Amanda, who leaned into Brian softly. "It's hard," Brian said, "When people expect too much from you. But the important thing to remember is that you're exactly who you're meant to be, regardless of what anyone else says or thinks. God made you to be who you are, and you're perfect."
"Thanks Brian," Amanda said, smiling up at him.
"You're welcome," he answered, smiling back down at her.
"Nick's right, you know everything in the world," she giggled.
Brian's face crinkled with laughter, "He said that?" Amanda nodded. "Oh Nick is wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, and very, very mistaken."
Amanda pulled out of Brian's hug and opened the fridge, pulling out a can of soda from inside. She offered one to Brian, and he took it, and sat down at the table. Nick came onto the bus as Amanda reached for another soda, carrying an armload of bags. Amanda blinked in surprise, "Dude, did you buy the whole store?" she teased him.
Nick stuck out his tongue and dropped the bags on the floor. "No I just realized we're gonna need some stuff that I forgot to pack."
"There's stuff you forgot to pack?" Amanda asked, thinking of the rig, which was stuffed to the point of bursting in the back of the bus.
"Oh yeah." Nick opened up one of the bags and a little wiggly tackle things fell out onto the floor, as well as a bright orange life preserver.
Brian snorted. Amanda shook her head, "You think we're fishing?"
"You'll see," he sang.
Amanda looked at Brian, "You do realize by the time this road trip is over, there's going to be nothing in the world that we haven't done before?"
Brian laughed, "I think that's exactly his goal." Nick grinned and nodded as he started pulling more stuff out of the bags.
Nick had spent the afternoon googling clubs in New Mexico after unpacking his fishing gear and other stuff that he wouldn’t let Amanda or Brian look at, and had resurfaced from cyber space around 8:30 with the perfect place for them to go. Amanda changed into a nice-fitting red strappy sundress with a loose, floaty skirt, and some strappy black shoes. Brian and Nick had both been floored by this outfit, and Brian had bolted off the bus to leave Nick alone with her for a few minutes. Nick and Amanda had found that really funny, and laughed instead of kissing – or whatever it was Brian thought they were going to do when he ran.
Nick had pulled out the motorcycles and the three helmets from the back of the rig. They were going to bike to the club and leave the bus parked at the Wal-Mart. Amanda pulled the white helmet over her head and felt like she probably looked like a ping-pong ball. Nick and Brian both had dark blue helmets with shields and everything. Brian even had gloves.
They climbed onto the bikes, Amanda on the seat behind Nick, clinging to him, her arms around his neck and head leaned against the space between his shoulders as he revved the bike. The engines were loud and rumbled like they were in Hell’s Angels or something. They sounded way more bad ass than Amanda could really imagine either Nick or Brian being.
The bikes hummed along through Santa Fe’s streets, for the most part unnoticed by anyone around. Amanda watched everything going by, the lights and the smells and people. It was all a beautiful, colorful blur.
If Nick hadn’t known where he was going, they would’ve gone right by the club. It was just a rustic little hole in the wall place, but once the engines on the bikes had been cut, the unmistakable hum of Latin music could be both heard and felt – the bass line was deep and rumbling almost the same as the bikes had been. Nick pulled off his helmet before he helped Amanda climb down from the bike daintily. She held his hand and Brian followed them into the club.
Inside, the ceiling was lined with tiny twinkle lights, giving it an amber glow. The walls looked like they were hollowed out of stone, like a crazy indoor grotto. People were everywhere. Booths and tables lined the perimeter of the room, and in the center, the floor sank about ten feet for the dance floor. A small stage, occupied by a DJ’s turn table, faced the dancers, and Nick thought it would be a nice place to see a concert.
They found a table and a waitress in a too-short skirt and tube top, with piercings all over her face and wildly orange hair, came over to take their order. “I’ll have a Sprite,” Brian ordered.
“And a round of tequila shots,” Nick added as Amanda nodded.
“Don’t forget you’ve got to drive back to the bus,” Brian warned him and Nick waved him off with a nod.
When the drinks came, Nick quickly downed two shot glasses of tequila, and Amanda followed suit, while Brian sipped the Sprite, watching the people all around them. There was a lot of Spanish being spoken, and laughter. The music bomp-bomp-bomped loudly, the lyrics racy and even some of those were in Spanish.
Nick stood up after the third shots of tequila had been kicked back and offered his hand to Amanda, “C’mon, let’s go dance.”
Amanda glanced at Brian. “Go on,” Brian said, “Go dance.” She smiled and leaped up, her skirt flouncing around her knees, and Nick led her off to the dance floor.
Brian watched as they slid between the people and their hands raised over their heads and their bodies started moving. Nick wasn’t very good at freestyle dancing – hell he barely pulled off the choreography after they’d practiced for months before tours. He always looked like he was hula hooping without the hoop. Amanda didn’t seem much better, and Brian laughed to himself because they made the perfect pair of awkward dancers. He reached over and took one of the shots of tequila that they’d left behind on the table and knocked it back, feeling the rush to his head. He sighed deeply and looked around.
It’d been about an hour before Nick and Amanda came back, both laughing. Nick was walking behind her, his body pressed tightly against hers, sucking on the side of her neck. Amanda laughed and shrugged him off like a rich woman’s fur coat as they sat down across from Brian – who had downed two more of their tequila shots and polished off his Sprite.
“They’re wild down there dawg,” Nick laughed, his voice carefree.
Brian laughed back. “I saw you,” he said, “You guys are crazy.”
“It was so hot,” Amanda groaned. Indeed, she was covered with sweat from the dancing.
“You gotta try it, BRok,” Nick said, using the nickname that was more commonly used by AJ. Brian laughed at the sound of it, thinking of their tattooed friend and wondering what he was up to.
“I dunno,” Brian said, crinkling up his nose, “Dancing isn’t really my thing.”
Amanda pouted, “Oh c’mon, you’ll hurt my feelings if you don’t dance with me,” she said as she took yet another shot.
Brian laughed, “I think Nick can dance with you plenty to make up for me,” he answered.
“Bull shit,” Amanda grumbled. She climbed awkwardly over Nick’s lamp and stood up, a little wobbly from the tequila, and grabbed Brian’s hand. “Come!”
Nick cracked up, “That’s a command, bro!”
Brian laughed, too. He stood up and Amanda pulled him along through the crowd to the steps that led into the dance pit. Brian glanced back up at Nick, who was leaning over the rail, watching them as they melded into the crowd. Nick gave Brian the thumbs up as Amanda started dancing, her arms up over her head. Brian followed suit. The music thumped so hard, the floor vibrated. Brian felt like his head might explode.
The club mix continued for a couple of minutes, Brian and Amanda dancing as they had been, when the DJ cut the music and shouted, “Okay how about we slow things down a little bit. Couple’s only…” The dance floor weeded out as singles fled from the floor. Brian started to turn to the steps to the pit but Amanda grabbed his wrist, “Oh c’mon, stay.”
He looked up to see what Nick was doing, half expecting his friend to be on the way down to claim his spot as Amanda’s actual boyfriend, but Nick was eating some chili fries he’d ordered, oblivious to Brian and Amanda and all the other dancers altogether.
Brian felt like he was in high school. His palms were sweaty. Amanda stepped closer to him and entwined her fingers through his, pulling his other hand to the small of her back. “Oh please,” she mumbled, “You’re married. I know you’ve slow danced before.”
Exactly, thought Brian helplessly, yet a little foggy, I am married.
The song was slow and melodious. They rocked back and forth and Amanda leaned against Brian’s chest, her breath coming out in deep gasps. She’d been dancing hard before and it felt good to relax. She could hear Brian’s heart beat and somehow the sound of it was comforting.
“Tell me about your wife,” Amanda asked after a few moments.
“Leighanne’s so perfect,” Brian answered, his voice thick. “She’s a beautiful soul.”
“What does she do for a living? Or is she just Mrs. Brian Littrell?”
Brian laughed at the title. “She used to be an actress. She’s done some independent work. Now she’s into designing bags and jewelry and clothes. Her line’s starting to take off a little. Mostly it’s the fans that buy it, though, to be honest. She does a lot of hard work on it, though. I’m proud of her.”
“You’ll have to show me her stuff sometime,” Amanda said, “I love bags.”
“I’ll show you sometime,” he promised.
She hummed against his chest to the tune of the music, her eyes closed. “And your son?”
“Baylee’s a good kid,” Brian answered. “Everyone says he looks just like me.”
“He does,” Amanda mused.
“You’ve seen him?” Brian asked, surprised.
Amanda’s eyes opened. “Yeah,” she answered. “Who hasn’t?” she added. Brian didn’t respond, he just held her, slowly letting the tenseness in his arms wear away.
Amanda tilted her head to look up at him. He was handsome, there was no denying that, in the good ol’ American boy kind of way. His reddish blonde hair, even with its receding line, was nice, and the lines around his eyes revealed that he laughed and smiled a lot. His classic square-cut jaw was strong, and she could imagine him being a great protector, almost a warrior.
He looked down at her.
She didn’t know what made her do it. Maybe the tequila, maybe the atmosphere of being in the club. Whatever it was, she regretted it the moment it was too late to take it back. She pushed herself up with the balls of her feet and her mouth touched his softly. She dropped back down. His hands dropped from her back and he blinked in surprise.
“Sorry,” he said, his Kentucky accent suddenly thick. He turned and walked away, climbing out of the dance pit and disappeared.
Amanda touched her lips and felt like they were seared with a hot coal or something. She was confused. What the hell was I thinking? she wondered, her stomach turning. Oh God damn all tequila. Feeling sick, she trotted from the dance floor herself, her hand clutching the flowing skirt, and hurried back to the booth, where Nick was sitting, still chowing down on the chili fries.
“Hey,” he said, his voice a little slurred. Evidently the fries weren’t the only thing he’d had since they’d left him alone. Shot glasses littered the table. Amanda was suddenly sober, despite the shots she’d taken before. She was just dizzy. Nick pushed the plate of fries toward her as she sat down, her hands shaking. “Want some fries?”
“No,” she answered. She craned her neck, trying to see where Brian had gone off to, but he was no where to be seen.
Nick followed suit, “What’cha lookin’ for?”
“Brian,” she answered.
“Oh, he probably is peeing or something,” Nick said sluggishly.
Amanda looked at him, “Okay, no more drinks for you,” she said as she looked into his unfocused eyes.
“Aw man,” Nick murmured.
“C’mon, you need fresh air,” she stood up and hesitated, “Nick, I don’t have money for the bill.”
He pulled out his wallet and threw a $100 bill onto the table carelessly. “I wanna go outside now,” he said, leaning into her, suddenly turning a little green.
Amanda pulled him along to the doors and out into the parking lot. Brian was sitting on his motorcycle, staring at his hands. He looked up as they came around the corner and stood up quickly. Nick was hanging onto Amanda’s arm. “Hello Brian,” Nick sang out.
“Oh Lord,” Brian said, catching a whiff of Nick’s breath. He looked at Amanda, “Well, he isn’t driving, that’s for sure.”
Amanda looked at the bike.
“It’s fine,” Brian said, “We’ll leave it here and come back for it in the morning when he’s feeling better.”
“How are all three of us going to fit on one bike?” Amanda demanded. “You’ll have to show me how to do it. It can’t be that hard, right? You can get a license for one of these things in like 48-hours' time. Besides, we’re only going a little ways.”
Brian looked unsure.
“How else are we gonna get back to the bus, Brian?” she asked pointedly.