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Chapter Eleven

I felt... numb.

I dropped onto my sofa and lowered the cell phone from my ear. "Mr. Dorough?" I heard the guy asking, "Mr. Dorough?" I stared blankly at it.

I could hear baby James crying in the other room and Ro cooing quietly. I rubbed my palms against my knees. I glanced at the door. I know Howie knew who had called. The look he'd given me when I got up to go answer it... I swallowed and lifted the phone to my ear.

"Sorry," I murmured.
Howie was the responsible one, he was the one with the investments and the buildings and the real estate. I mean, Leigh was a broker for crying outloud. If any of us were gonna go having loan sharks calling our cellphones it should have been Nick or I, not Howie.

"There must be some mistake."

"There is no mistake, Mr. Dorough, and we've been trying to reach you for quite some time..."

I rubbed my knees, "Sorry, I - I haven't been myself lately," I said.

"We need the money, or we're going to take this to the next level," he said.

I glanced at the door. Howie was hovering in the jamb reluctantly. He came in and closed the door behind him. "Okay," I said, "I understand. Look, I promise I'll get it to you as soon as I can." I closed the phone and stared at D.

He swallowed.

"We need to talk," I said, my voice sounding serious and... well, Howie-ish.

He nodded.

"How?" I asked.

He looked at his feet and inched closer and sat in front of me, looking at the black polish on his nails - my nails. He picked at his fingers. A very me thing to do. It was something I developed when I was a child and first starting to feel the effects of depression. I guess it was a mild form of self-mutilation, at least that's what my psychiatrist at the rehab clinic said.

I reached over and stopped him from picking.

He looked up and our eyes met. He sighed. "I made some bad investments," he said, "With the jacked up economy..." he shook his head, "J, I made some huge mistakes."

"I see that."

"I don't know how to fix them," he added, "AJ, I always went to my dad for help for shit like this and he's..." his eyes flooded with tears.

I nodded.

"I don't want Leigh to know, but it's gettin' serious, man... and I've already asked Brian for money and I can't - I can't keep taking money from people, and I borrowed from these guys to pay off the bank - thinking I'd get a huge check for the tour, but they decided not to pay in advance this time and..."

"How much?" I asked. "Let's end this right now."

Howie stared at me. "No," he said, "I don't want you to." I opened my mouth to say that I'd do it whether he told me or not, but he said quickly, "Leigh knows."

"I thought you said you weren't telling her?" I asked, confused.

"No," he said, he touched his/my chest and reached out and touched my/his chest. "She knows."

My eyes widened, "You told the girls?"

"No," Howie said, "Leigh knew."

I blinked. "How?"

"She saw it. In my eyes. Well, your eyes. But the eyes that're in the head I'm occupying."


"The grape throw with James..." he said, shrugging, "I dunno, we've been together a long time, J, she knows me inside and out... Even if I'm in a different body."

I looked at my knees. Why hadn't Rochelle noticed I was in Howie's body?

Howie seemed to read my mind. He reached over and patted my knee. Well, his knee. Whatever. "J.." he said quietly, "Leigh has a keen sense."

"Yeah." I sighed.

Howie frowned, "Hey now," he said, "I'm the one battling depression," he teased, "No going double dutch on me." He paused, "One day you and Ro will have that, too," he said, "It takes investment."

I stared at him. "Speaking of investments... How much?"



He sighed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"It's bad."

"How bad? I couldn't look at J. I stared down at the floor.

"A half a million."


"No, pennies," I snapped. "What do you think I mean? Yes, dollars!"

My motto used to be 'Failure is not an option.' But I was failing. I was failing my family. I was the least popular member of the group and I didn't even having a fucking motto anymore.

I was failing at life.

'How much have you already paid?"

"Nothing. I'm trying to keep my good investments going," I said bitterly.

"Damn," J whispered.

"I'm going to have to come clean to Leigh soon. If I don't, she's going to come home some day to a foreclosure notice."

"Man, it's not going to come to that," J said. I snorted.

"How do you know?"

"Because...because I'm going to help you out."

"No you're not," I hissed. "I'm not going to end up owing every single one of you guys."

J smiled. "You won't. Nick never has any money to give. He spends it all on himself and Rebekah of Sunnybrook Farm. That just leaves me and Bri. And Kev. But I doubt movies pay as much as tours."

I shook my head and scowled. All I could think about was the giant goose egg sitting in James' college fund. I rubbed my forehead, still not used to feeling smooth skin instead of soft, perfectly cared-for hair.

"I'm serious J. This is my problem."

"So? My dependence on the anti-depressants is my problem, but you're obsessed with being the hero," J countered.

"That's different. That's--"

J held up my perfectly coiffed hand. "Tell you what. You take my happy pills again and I won't pay up. Then we'll be even. Okay?"

I shook my head. "I don't--"

"Take it or leave it. Otherwise I'm going to have to tap into my Swiss bank account."

"You have a Swiss bank account?" I asked increduously. J clicked my tongue.

"Fuck no. It just sounds good."

I laughed. Weakly. I didn't have a choice. I wasn't going to feel indebted to J. I sighed.


"Good. Now go take a pill. We start tour in two days and I don't need Bri and Nick seeing me like this." We stood up. J patted my back.

"On the bright side, at least now that Leigh knows, I won't have to keep trying so hard with James." He sounded slightly bitter, slightly sad. "That kid hates me."

"He doesn't hate you. He just doesn't like anyone," I explained. "He's very attached to his mommy and daddy.

"He likes Brian," AJ pointed out.

"Everyone loves Brian," I said. AJ sighed.

He couldn't argue with that.

Unknown McLean Fact #11: One time when Brian couldn't stop hiccuping, AJ dressed in his ex-girlfriend Sarah's corset and booty shorts, cranked Enya all through the dressing room, and jumped out of our wardrobe closet. I don't know if it scared Bri's hiccups out of him or if Brian can't laugh and hiccup at the same time, but it worked. Either way, to this day I still can't listen to Enya without an unwanted mental image.