She felt awful on every level imaginable. Her head hurt from the tequila, an so did her neck from having passed out on the sofa in an awkward position after getting Nick into his bunk. Seeing the paper the next morning when she'd gone into Wal-Mart to get coffee from the Dunkin' Donuts inside had made it even worse. Especially when the pimply-faced coffee guy had recognized her and asked, "Hey aren't you that chick that was making out with the Backstreet Boys?"
Amanda had run back to the bus, carrying a copy of the paper she'd inadvertently stolen, and found Brian on the phone, arguing with his wife who'd already seen the paper - of course she had, she was two hours ahead of them, and they'd slept in even on Mountain Time standards. Nick was the only one still blissfully unaware of what a crappy day it was already turning out to be - he was passed out in his bunk, and all they'd seen of him since the night before was the arm that had fallen out from underneath the curtain on his bunk.
Brian hung up the phone with Leighanne with a heavy sigh and sat down across from Amanda, burying his head on his arm.
"I'm sorry about all this," she mumbled sheepishly.
"It's not your fault," he said, his voice muffled by his arm.
Amanda pursed her lips. "If I hadn't have kissed you it wouldn't be a problem," she insisted.
"You didn't do it on purpose," Brian said, still not looking up.
Amanda rubbed her hands on her knee caps, wondering if that was true or not. Honestly, she was still unsure what had made her kiss Brian in the first place... if it had been just the tequila or if there was more to it. It didn't really matter, either way, though. Brian was married and she was with Nick, and didn't have any intentions of being with Brian. He was just a good friend, that's it.
Brian sighed, "I should get Nick up," he said, finally sitting up.
Amanda looked at the clock, it was after one in the afternoon. "Yeah, he should get up."
Brian got up and headed for the bunks. He yanked back Nick's curtain. "Rise and shine, Frackolas!" he called into Nick's ear.
Nick groaned loudly and rolled over, pulling the pillow over his head to block out the light Brian was letting in by having opened the curtain. Brian reached over his friend and pushed the shutter open. Sunlight spilled into the little bunk, turning it bright pearly white. "Sorry buddy, but it's gotta be done," Brian said, taking a firm grip on Nick's pillow and yanking it off his face.
"What the hellllllll," Nick groaned loudly, screwing his eyes up tight against the sunlight and rolling away from the wall. He covered his head with his arms, "Leave me aloooone," he whined.
"It's time to get up," Brian said firmly, poking Nick along his arm repeatedly. "Get up, get up, get up, get up..."
"Noooo," Nick's voice was low and drawn out. "C'moff it!" he cried, kicking his legs blindly at the air, feet to Brian's right.
"Get up, get up, get up," Brian continued poking Nick.
Nick blinked his eyes opened slowly and stared at Brian through blurry eyes. "I really despise you right now."
Brian smiled, "Good. Get up. We gotta talk."
Nick closed his eyes and groaned, "Right now? It's like the middle of the night or something, dude."
"In the land of the midnight sun?" Brian asked, gesturing toward the window. "Nick it's after one in the afternoon. Get. Up."
Nick sighed, "Fine."
Once he'd gotten up and brushed his teeth and sat down with a cup of coffee, which Amanda had quickly run inside to get him while he was in the bathroom, Brian threw the newspaper down in front of him.
It wasn’t the Pop Stuff article, but they had used the same photograph, taken by Tobias Winterson, and Nick choked on his coffee when he saw it. The photo was pretty bad, even Amanda had to admit that. They’d caught Brian and Amanda from just the right angle and it made it look like she’d been sucking on his lips or something. Plus, the back of the red sundress looked a lot more skimpy than the front did. She looked like a total slut hanging off him, and he’d been in the process of pulling back, his hands lifted to push her away, but it looked like he was touching her chest instead of pushing away.
Nick stared at it blankly. “What… the hell… happened?” he asked, dumbfounded. He felt like they’d just punched him in the lowest part of his gut. Or maybe even the balls. He wasn’t sure. Somewhere very sensitive.
“Well, not quite what it looks like,” Brian said. “You were both pretty gone last night. You were real bad, Nick,” he added. Nick couldn’t argue that, his head was still pounding. “But Amanda kind of … I dunno.” He looked at her.
“We were dancing and it just kind of happened,” she said quickly, “It means absolutely nothing, of course, but the press was just – there. I don’t know where, I didn’t see anyone taking out picture, but…” she frowned.
Nick frowned too. “I don’t like it that this Tobias Winterson dude is following us everywhere. It’s kinda creepy. Isn’t he the one that got the shots of the burro ride, too?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Brian said, “The name sounds familiar.”
“It’s like he’s following us around,” Nick said, his voice heating up, “Like he’s got some kind of inside connection to know where we’re headed next. It’s creepy. I’ve always hated that about freakin’ paparazzi and photogs.” He laid a hand on the paper and shoved it away, not wanting to look at the picture anymore. It hurt too much. He’d just told her he loved her, and then this? Sure it wasn’t like she’d cheated on him, but it made him burn inside with some kind of … feeling … that he couldn’t quite put his finger on to identify.
Amanda was staring at the Cheerios, feeling sick.
“Why can’t they just leave us the fuck alone?” Nick demanded, “I mean we canceled the tour, we won’t tell them why, we leave Los Angeles. Can’t they get the fucking hint that we wanna be left alone?” He stood up and grabbed the paper off the table and threw it. It hit the wall with a pathetic noise and flumped to the floor. He scowled.
Brian sighed, “I know, Nick, it’s frustrating, but –“
“But what? ‘That’s their job’?” Nick fumed, “It’s stupid. I’m a human fuckin’ being, and so are you guys, and all of us. Why the hell do they gotta go off on everything we do? Why can’t they let us live in peace for just this once?” With that, he stormed down the length of the bus and threw himself angrily onto the couch. A moment later the TV noise filtered through the bus.
Brian picked up the paper and folded it gently before dropping it into the recycling bin. “Well, that wasn’t what I thought he’d be mad over at least,” he said shakily to Amanda. He frowned.
“Yeah,” Amanda agreed. She was still staring at the Cheerios. It would’ve been easier if he had been mad about that, she thought. At least then, I could’ve apologized.