"It's not that bad," Brian drawled.
Nick snickered, "It's worse, man. You get worse every time."
The old looking mailbox on the road said Littrell on it, Amanda was surprised. She'd thought they wouldn't have been able to put the name on the box. Brian pulled into the drive way and drove what felt like forever through thick bunches of trees that lined the driveway. Finally, the trees broke, and he pulled up to what looked like a giant farm. There was a huge white house and a red barn - so silo, though. There was a huge tree with a tire swing out front, and grass that sprawled off in all directions. In the far right of the yard, acres and acres away, Amanda could see a brown house that she assumed to be the Richardson's.
Brian's mom was on a swing on the wrap around porch, his dad sitting next to her. When she saw the Hummer break through the trees, Jackie lit off her seat like there was no tomorrow, running as fast as her little legs could carry her. Brian's shortness was rapidly explained looking at his parents.
Brian threw the car in park and ran around the front of the Hummer, arms outstretched the same as Jackie's were and they collided, Jackie wrapping her arms around his neck. "Oh my Baby Duck," she gushed, slathering his cheek with big kisses.
Nick was watching with jealousy from the back seat. "He's such a momma's boy," he laughed. He opened the back door of the Hummer and climbed out. Amanda followed him.
No sooner had Nick gotten out of the Hummer than a gaggle of ducks came running out from the barn, quacking as they scuttled. "Aww!" cried Amanda.
"That's Huey, Duey, Louie, and Sam," Brian said, pointing at each of the ducks in turn.
Nick ducked behind her. She turned and raised an eyebrow, "What? You're scared of ducks now, too?" she asked.
"Me and barnyard animals don't play well together," Nick replied, shying away as the ducks came over to inspect Amanda. The duck Brian had said was named Sam reached around her and snapped at Nick's thigh. "Hey!" he yelled. He pointed at the duck, "SEE? See? They bite!"
The duck drama brought the attention next to Nick and Amanda. When Jackie saw Nick, she lit on him, too. She only came up to the middle of his chest, but she wrapped her arms around him just the same. "You've lost weight!" she said.
Nick grinned, "I know."
Jackie poked his belly, "We'll fatten you up before you leave." Nick looked at Amanda and shrugged.
"And you," Jackie looked at Amanda, "You must be Nick's girlfriend." She held out her hands to Amanda, who took them, and Jackie studied her, "You could use some fattening up, too. Look at those ankles," she clucked her tongue. "I've got chicken in the oven, we'll have ya'll fed in no time."
"Bring'em up here, Jackie," called Brian's dad from the porch, "Let'em sit down, they're probably tired from drivin' all night."
Jackie waved her hand at him. "Come, come sit down," she grabbed Brian's arm and clung to him, guiding him toward the porch. The ducks followed behind Brian, quacking loudly. "They always did love to follow you around, Baby Duck," Jackie said.
As they walked, Nick leaned in closer to Amanda, "Brian hasn't told her yet. Just so you know."
Amanda looked at Nick, "Oh."
"Yeah," Nick nodded, "That's why we're here."
Amanda frowned, "She's going to be heart broken," she whispered.
Nick sighed, "Yeah."
Nick and Amanda hid out in the guest bedroom that afternoon when Brian had said he needed to talk to his parents alone. Jackie had stuck games and art supplies in Nick's bedroom ("she still thinks I'm twelve I think," he laughed), and Amanda and Nick had opted to start playing with them.
Nick was drawing an anime version of Amanda - the fire breathing princess he'd envisioned that day in the back of the hotel when they'd first met. It was a sexy fire breathing princess, with a top that left little to the imagination. Amanda pointed at it, "My boobs are not that big."
Nick laughed, "It's my drawing, your boobs will be as big as I want'em to be."
Amanda laughed, "Fine, then, when I draw you, your junk will be a lot bigger than reality."
A smirk traveled over Nick's face, "You'll need a bigger sheet of paper to make it any bigger, baby."
Amanda rolled her eyes, "You're so gross." But she was laughing.
The strokes of his colored pencils were so gentle and perfectly placed. Amanda couldn't help but peeking over at his drawing instead of watching her own. He was truly an artist in every sense of the word. She was amazed at the way his hands moved, wrapped around the pencil and across the paper, the big knuckles holding up his wrist in various positions as he changed the stroke he was using, adding texture. It was like watching magic happen on the page in front of her.
He looked up at one point and caught her grinning stupidly at him. "What?" he asked.
"You draw beautifully," she answered.
A smile crossed his face, "I'm drawing a beautiful thing."
Amanda laughed, "You could draw crap and you'd do well at it."
Nick ripped a sheet of paper out of the back of the doodle pad he was using, took out the brown pencil, and quickly drew a very detailed looking pile of dog crap. He shaded it with the black pencil, and then took out the yellow one.
Amanda scrunched up her nose, "What the hell are you doing?" she asked.
Nick laughed, holding up the yellow pencil, "I was gonna put some corn..."
"You're sick!" she cracked up.
Nick put back the yellow pencil without adding the corn and took out a red one and scrawled across the side of the page, "To my Doodie Princess, love your Doodie King, xoxo." He handed the page to her. "Keep that forever," he said.
Amanda couldn't stop laughing as she folded it and put it in her pocket, fully intending to obey his command.
Jackie, Nick had decided long ago, was one of his very favorite cooks (second only to Howie's mother - Momma D), but tonight she'd outdone herself. She'd roasted the most amazing chicken that was so moist it practically melted in the mouth. She'd made her own homemade stuffing with cranberries and apples tossed in, and baked soft white bread that Nick could've eaten until he exploded. He'd once read a website about guinea pigs that had read, "Do not leave you guinea pig left unattended in a grassy knoll as they will eat until they explode." He'd always though that was a weird thing that guinea pigs did, but... ya know? He kinda could understand when he was at the Littrell house.
"That was amazing, Mrs. Littrell," Amanda said enthusiastically when dinner had finished.
"Call me Mum," she commanded, waving a hand in a 'psshh' kind of way at Amanda. "Everyone else in the Backstreet family does." Amanda liked that; the best part was that it wasn't awkward at all calling her that. Jackie just had that sort of personality that was impossible to be put off by.
"She likes you," Nick whispered after a little bit into Amanda's ear.
Amanda looked at Nick, "How can you tell?"
"She said you were in the Backstreet family," he explained, "She just barely started saying that to AJ's woman, and he's been with her for over a year."
Amanda flushed happily.
After dinner, Jackie shooshed them all onto the porch while she made coffee. A few minutes later, steaming mugs in hand, they were all sitting around in various places around the porch, chatting. Anne Richardson came by, and Amanda could see that she was Kevin's mom by looking at her. It was peaceful, she thought, and amazing how good it felt being around a family. She'd never had a family night like this, and everyone was so casual about it, like it happened all the time.
When it was time to go to bed, Brian came up beside Amanda on the stairs, smiling, "Sorry if my mom's a little pushy," he apologized.
"I love her," Amanda confessed, "She's so sweet."
Brian's face blossomed with a prideful grin, "She's the best," he agreed. "Have a good night," he said, rushing into the room that Nick had said was Brian's when he was growing up.
Nick stood at Amanda's door and kissed her forehead, "I've been assigned a different room for sleeping," he laughed.
Amanda laughed, too.
Nick shrugged, "Christian home, you know." He slid away down the hall to the bedroom he'd been assigned, but paused out side the door. "I'll poke by later." He winked and disappeared into his room.