“Is my Chey feeling better?” Austin inquired with amusement as she watched her friend’s finger inch toward the batter of chocolate chip cookie dough to steal just a taste of the dough before Austin could start laying it on the cookie sheets for baking. She had to laugh at the sheer look of innocence crossing Cheyanne’s glowing facial features when she was caught. It just seemed too priceless, accentuating Cheyanne’s loose pigtails, baggy t-shirt, and baggy jean overalls. She seemed to be so childlike and Austin loved that most about her. The laugh seemed infectious as Cheyanne giggled with delight. Austin just shook her head in amusement, reaching to tickle Cheyanne. Kevin and Howie had suggested taking a walk around the lake, but Austin had decided against it when Cheyanne complained of some belly pain. She decided it would be better for them to stay at the cabin and bake cookies. So, with Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy cackling in the background, the girls furiously cooked a large batch of cookies, hoping the boys would be pleased when they returned.
“I always feel better when I’m with you,” Cheyanne promised as Austin offered her the spoon with excess batter.
"Ditto," Austin said, bumping her hip against her friend's as she moved to put the cookies in the oven.
Cheyanne gingerly pulled herself up on the counter, letting her legs swing back and forth as she watched Austin. Licking the spoon, she giggled when Austin struck a dramatic pose in the middle of the kitchen.
"It was in the last place I looked," she quoted with perfection to the CD.
“Well, duh! I sure hope so!” Cheyanne giggled, immediately continuing with the CD where Austin stopped. Both girls had secret crushes on the Blue Collar Comedy Men. Bill Engvall, Ron White, Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy – they could quote them all. “…Terry did you find your wallet? Yeah, but I'm still looking for it! Just in case we're living in a parallel universe or something! ... Did Kevin find his boxers from last night's raid of nakedness down the hallway?”
Giggling, Austin lifted her shirt slightly so Cheyanne could see what was underneath. "I swear, I've stolen half his clothes," she mused with a shake of her head. Hugging the Kentucky t-shirt to her body, she breathed in his familiar scent before skipping to the refrigerator to get some juice. "And, it would appear, you've been raiding Howie's drawers as well," she said, tugging playfully on the sleeve of Cheyanne's t-shirt. "Wait… How do you like the Beauty and the Beast panties, there? Sharp, aren't they?"
“We got Snow White back at the house. Me, I'm wearing Lion King... ROAR!” Cheyanne finished yet again, pretending to show off her underwear. Usually, she would jump off the counter and pull her pants down to flash her underwear. Only, Cheyanne now feared stripping in front of Austin, worried she’d noticing the roundness starting to gather at her usually thin belly. “And Howie gave me this shirt… He gave me a lot of his clothes. I didn’t steal.”
"Aww," Austin cooed, handing Cheyanne a glass of juice. Leaning over, she scraped the bowl with her finger, sucking the dough off with a pleased look. "And just when did you plan on telling me the wonderful news?" she asked sternly, though her coffee brown eyes glowed with humor.
Cheyanne choked hard on the apple juice she had been attempting to swallow, immediately pulling the cup away from her lips. Cupping her hands over her mouth, she coughed violently, sending sharp spasms of pain to her belly. But, her mind was far more caught on what Austin had said. What wonderful news was she talking about? Had Howie actually betrayed her confidence? Terror coiled in the pit of Cheyanne’s gut as she paled. “What good news?”
"As if you didn't know, Chey. It's so obvious, the way you're glowing and so happy. Did you think you could keep it from me forever?" Austin asked, moving to check on the cookies. "Please. Despite the fact I've spent the last few days wrapped around Pretty Boy, I still notice things. So, come on, out with it!" she practically squealed, pulling herself up to sit on the opposite counter.
“Out with what?” Cheyanne whispered, holding the cold glass to her forehead as the blood started to drain, making her feel faint. “I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
"Cheyanne Grace Lorde! Stop acting the innocent!" Austin screeched, leaning back slightly. "It's so obvious. Howie's turned my sweet innocent little Chey into a… woman," she cooed, clasping her hands dramatically over her chest. "What did you think I was talking about?" she asked, seeing her friend's stricken expression.
“Oh!” Cheyanne released a long breath of relief as she cupped her hand on her abdomen. She furiously shook her head with disbelief, knowing this panic wasn’t healthy for her child. She couldn’t believe she was getting so paranoid. Rubbing her face as if to stimulate a response, she glanced meekly toward Austin. “I didn’t think you’d be happy knowing that Howie and me…”
Austin gave her a smile. "I'm just glad you've found somebody decent. Not to dredge up a bad mood, but Noah was the Ass of all Assholes. And Howie is a really sweet, decent guy. Even for a city boy," she added with a shudder. "Besides, can I be upset over the fact you're doing something I've been doing--"
"Since your second time meeting Kevin. I know, I know," Cheyanne said, rolling her eyes as her heartbeat slowly returned to normal. "I have ears, and you've always been a bit of a screamer…"
“Gotta shout it loud and proud!” Austin boasted with a proud smile, no where near embarrassed about the conversation as Cheyanne was. In fact, she relished finally being able to talk about sex with Cheyanne. It made her so curious, knowing Cheyanne had been a virgin. It was just amusing. “Makes the boys feel good.”
“I don’t scream,” Cheyanne warned. “And Howie seems happy enough…”
"Sweetie, our room is right across the hall," Austin said with a smirk, shoulders shaking with mirth when Cheyanne's cheeks started to flush. "Sound travels both ways, you know… And, while you may not scream, you do make quite a bit of noise. As does Howie," she added with a devious chuckle.
“I do not!” Cheyanne gasped, holding her cool hands to her flaming cheeks with shock and embarrassment. Austin’s laughter only seemed to fuel the fire as she shook her head in disbelief, throwing a towel at her friend with disgust. Austin could be so damn fresh at times. Though, after a few minutes of laughter, she became slightly curious. “…What do I sound like?”
Snorting with laughter, Austin threw the towel back. She had known Cheyanne would ask that. "Well, let's see. A few nights ago, as I lay snuggled up close to Kev and ready for sleep, this is what I heard…" Lips quivering as she attempted to stop laughing, she gazed at the ceiling. "Oooohhh," she moaned, dissolving into giggles. "Howie!" she cried softly a moment later, jumping off the counter as the buzzer sounded. "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
“Austin Leigh! You’re horrible!” Cheyanne scolded with a sharp whine, folding her arms across her chest as if she were truly offended.
"Alright. Payback's a bitch… tell me what I sound like," Austin taunted with an evil grin as she pulled out the cookies. "Hot! Hot!" she cried, dropping the pan on the stovetop. "Stupid fucking oven mitts," she grumbled.
“Depends on if you’re sober or not…” Cheyanne giggled with a coy smile, tapping her fingers on her bare knees as she watched Austin flip the cookies off the hot pan and onto the cooling rack. “Drunken sex sounds like… Kevin, that’s not the right hole! Hand, keep your Kevin there! … Sober sex is just a lot of screaming, pounding, and crashing. I swore to high Heaven if you weren’t careful, you were going to end up in bed next to me…”
"That would have been interesting," Austin mused, tossing a cookie from one hand to the other. "I mean, Hell, the man's already stolen your shirt. We both know he'd love to be in bed next to you," she teased, tossing the cookie over.
“I think he loves you a little more than me… But if you and I want to go at it while he watches, I think he’d be okay with it…” Cheyanne trailed, biting into the cookie, never noticing the sliding door open as Kevin and Howie slipped inside.
“Do I get to film it as well?” Kevin announced with a wicked grin.
"Kevin!" Austin shrieked with laughter, even as Cheyanne dropped her cookie and buried her face in her hands, mortified beyond belief. Pelting him with her cookie, Austin shook her head. "You couldn't afford the cover charge."
Grinning, Howie leaned against the counter. "I don't know… I have a little savings set aside. What's the price?"
“More than Paris Hilton’s cheap ass tape, that’s for sure,” Austin snorted, not realizing the connection Howie and Kevin had with the catty woman.
"Really, now. Look at us," Cheyanne said, finally pulling her hands down. "As sexy as we are, you know we'd rake in millions!"
Kevin burst into laughter, tugging one pigtail playfully on his way to hug Austin. "I'd have all the men in the world jealous of me," he murmured in her ear as he wrapped his arms around her from behind.
“You already do,” Austin promised with a sensual purr to her voice, turning around in his arms. Coyly, she draped hers around his shoulders, popping onto her tip toes to greet him with a kiss. Only, he didn’t seem appeased as he bent down for a longer, slower, more powerful kiss. Grinning, Austin scratched his back. “How was your boy time?”
"Oh, Lord, they're starting again," Cheyanne said mournfully as Howie sidled over to greet her. "Save me from their constant--" she cut off when he met her lips in a gentle kiss, one hand resting on her cheek as the other slid to rest on her stomach. Smiling against his lips, she wrapped her arms around him, intensifying the kiss. "Oh, bleah!" she cried, pulling away. "Have you been drinking beer?!"
“We had a couple?” Howie answered in confusion, furling his dark brows at her sudden distaste for him. He hadn’t realized that all the senses in a woman’s body rapidly changed during pregnancy, usually turning more potent. In fact, things that hadn’t made Cheyanne sick before probably would start to cause her great discomfort.
“Tea, you taste awful,” Cheyanne groaned, reaching for her apple juice to wash away the taste as she wrinkled her nose with obvious displeasure.
"Tea?" Austin repeated with a chuckle. "Kevin, baby, let go so I can get the next batch of cookies in the oven."
"I'm sorry, Honey," Howie said, tapping Cheyanne's knees. "I didn't know you didn't like the taste…"
"You're baking cookies? Holy Hell, Princess, I didn't know you knew how to cook…" Kevin trailed, scooping up a handful off the rack. "Be honest. Angel did it, didn't she? And you're just going to stand there and take all the credit, aren't you?"
“Don’t eat them all!” Austin scolded as she offered Howie some cookies in attempts to ward off the taste of beer that Cheyanne so suddenly detested. Though, she really didn’t see a problem with it, considering Cheyanne didn’t like alcohol to begin with. “…And, Chey mixed the batter, but the recipe is something we invented. So don’t even start busting my balls.”
Raising one eyebrow, Kevin shook his head. "Do I look stupid? I start busting your balls, and mine will be turning blue!"
“You’re such a fast learner,” Austin cooed as she wrapped her arms around his neck once the cookies had been switched around. Batter in the oven, baked cookies on the cooling rack.
“Only when it comes to keeping his sexual needs fulfilled,” Cheyanne murmured out of no where, sliding off the counter to get more juice. “Other than that he’s just an ape with a really good set of piano fingers.”
"Chey!" Austin screeched, her jaw dropping at the sound of something so coarse coming from such a sweet girl. "Howie! You've turned my sweet innocent Cheyanne into a mouthy little imp!"
“Me? You blame me? How do you know that your years of friendship finally didn’t rub off!” Howie defended, swallowing the bit of cookie in his mouth before moving to the fridge for a glass of milk. He made sure to shield Cheyanne as she handed him the apple juice to place back in the fridge, wanting to keep Kevin far away from the sweet girl.
Giggling, Austin shoved a cookie into Kevin's mouth when he opened it to speak. "Play nice," she warned, leaning up to kiss his cheek. "You have to be sweet to our Chey now. Howie's turning into quite the protective little lover."
“I could take him to get to her,” Kevin mumbled with a mouthful of cookie, oblivious to any manners he had acquired in the course of his lifespan. “Besides, I got her tank top one night, bet I can get something else, too… If she’s not careful…”
"Yeah? What do you want?" Cheyanne teased from the safety of Howie's arms.
“I think I have to be drunk to actually tell you… That way Princess doesn’t get wild…” Kevin chuckled, amused at how she egged him on. She attempted to puff her chest out like a mighty beast, though she looked too adorable for words. She thought she was some powerful little imp, yet she stood in Howie’s arms, sure to squeal if Kevin even took a mere step toward her.
“Howie…" Cheyanne trailed with a frown, not liking the implications. She immediately took a step from his arms as if to challenge Kevin, only, when Howie let her go, she wasn't pleased. Hurriedly, she tugged on the back straps of her overalls. "Hold me back!"
"I shot you for coming through the window like that. You know, you ought to get a job like the rest of us. I was up at five forty-five this morning, had to make lunch for the kids then had to take them to school and then I had to go to work myself. At my lunch hour I had to get my drivers license renewed then I had to stop by the grocery store on the way home… are you listening to me? Are you listening to me?" Austin blurted with perfection, glaring at Kevin.
"If you bleed on my rug, I'm gonna shoot you again!" Cheyanne finished, and both women instantly dissolved into laughter.
"What the Hell…" Kevin's voice faded as he watched the women laugh hysterically.
“It’s all this fresh air,” Howie decided with a shake of his head. “We need to get them into some smog or something.”
Leaning back in his chair, Howie propped his feet up on the railing of the porch, tipping back his beer for a sip. Cheyanne and Austin had dressed for bed already, coming out a few moments before to say goodnight. They were now snuggled in the bed, settling down for a marathon of Disney movies Austin had rented earlier in the afternoon. Disney movies, Howie mused, gazing out at the night sky. She was going to be such a great mother, he thought, a smile touching his lips as he imagined her with her baby in her arms. His thoughts drifted home, and he wondered suddenly what his mother would think of Cheyanne. He could just picture them together, whispering conspiringly as he walked into the room, their heads close, eyes dancing with humor… Grinning now, he took another sip of his beer. Life, he decided, wasn't so bad--
"Howie? Get your mind out of Angel's panties and talk to me," Kevin demanded with a chuckle.
“What automatically makes you think that I was there?” Howie scoffed with a heavy roll of his eyes. Leaning up slightly, he pushed on his friend’s cumbersome arm, causing him to jostle his beer just a touch. Kevin offered him a glare, but it faded into a bemused grin. They had never been so relaxed in all their time together. It was an amazing transformation. Just being able to sit out on the porch, watching the stars fade against the moon, completely serene. Howie smiled yet again, attempting to take another sip of his beer, remember to rinse his mouth quite well before returning inside to find Cheyanne later.
"That smirk? What else could it be?" Kevin returned, reaching out with his foot to nudge Howie's legs off the rail. Smirking when Howie muttered a curse, he laid his head back. "What did Brian have to say to you?" he asked after a moment's silence.
Howie grew quite somber in a matter of moments, immediately setting his beer down at the side of his chair. He hadn’t even thought about Brian’s phone call since it happened. That is, until Kevin brought it up. He hadn’t want to think about that part of his life back in Orlando, too concerned with Cheyanne to care. She was far more important than Brian, AJ, and Nick. That was for certain. “Nothing really… He put Baylee on the phone…”
"There's a real treat," Kevin muttered, setting his beer aside. Clasping his hands behind his head, he sighed deeply, closing his eyes. "God forbid he had to actually talk to someone he's been ignoring." So fucking typical, he thought, grinding his teeth in anger. "What was his excuse for putting Baylee on? Had to go kiss Leigh's ass?"
“His lips are permanently sewn there…” Howie sighed.
“He didn’t even give a damn when I mentioned I was afraid of finding you in a bathtub with your wrists slit,” Kevin muttered, instantly regretting his choice of words when Howie flinched openly. Sighing yet again, Kevin shook his head. “Sorry, D… I’m still worried about you. Y’know… They don’t give a shit, but I do… I want to know that you’re doing okay now…”
"Honest? This trip really helped. I think I've found new meaning," Howie said softly, remembering the soft fluttering of movement he'd felt earlier as he'd gently massaged Cheyanne's stomach. She'd assured him it was too soon to feel movement, had blushingly suggested it may have been gas, but he hadn't cared. There was a little life in there that needed him. "Life doesn't seem as bleak as it did a couple of weeks ago," he admitted, looking over at his friend. "And you?"
“I’m happy,” Kevin admitted with a proud smile, just thinking of Austin at that very moment. He guessed that she had Cheyanne curled in her embrace, lovingly playing with Cheyanne’s thick curls, because she loved to play with his hair while she was resting. There would be an adoring smile on her face, just enjoying the peacefulness. Nothing compared to the spitfire he had first encountered. “I’m actually in love…”
"Me too," Howie murmured with a smile. Unlike Kevin, however, he had two loves, not just one. "Wait," he said with a conspiring smile as he sat up to look at Kevin. "You mean Austin, right?" he teased.
Kevin narrowed his emerald eyes toward his younger counterpart. He thought about reaching to backhand Howie upside the head like he usually did with AJ and Nick, but hesitated. He knew that wouldn’t really serve a purpose. So, instead, he shrugged his shoulders. “Unless you want to trade me Angel. She really is a cute little thing… And, from the bits I remember, she was just as excited as I was to get that shirt off…”
Chuckling, Howie leaned back in his chair. "She just did it to appease your drunk ass." Returning his feet to the rail, he lost his smile suddenly as his thoughts turned to their band mates. "Do you think this album will do well?" he asked softly, reaching for his beer. "Or did we really wait too long? What if the fans have outgrown us? Or worse, forgotten us?" He knew damn well what he'd do if things went sour. There was a little ranch here in North Carolina where he was sure he'd be more than welcome to stay.
“The album?” Kevin murmured with honest bewilderment. Dropping the beer to his lap, he turned to gaze at Howie for a long passing moment. Howie’s mind seemed to jump everywhere at once, losing Kevin at some points. But, just the same, Kevin understood what he was feeling. Turning his gaze back to the night, he sighed yet again. “I don’t know what it will do… I think our fans are excited that we’re coming back… And they most certainly can’t forget about Nick, AJ, and Brian… But what do you want the album to do?”
"Honestly? I want it to do good, I really do, but…" Howie trailed off, glancing down at his hands.
"But part of you hopes it bombs," Kevin finished for him. At Howie's slight nod, he sighed. "Me too."
“I love singing and I love making music… But…”
“How the Hell are you going to tell Angel what you do for a living when it finally comes time? I mean, we’re going to have to tour…”
"I haven't thought that far ahead," Howie admitted with a sigh. "I have no idea what I'm going to tell her. What are you going to tell Austin?"
"The truth, maybe?"
“What about Kristin? You’re going to tell her that you’re married?”
“I want a divorce…”
"If you hadn't met Austin, would you?" Howie asked carefully. "I know you and Kris have had a lot of problems and all, and I still feel bad for not noticing it before, but…" Howie set his beer down once more, leaning his elbows on his knees. "Are you sure about this, Kevin? I don't want to sound cruel, because I know you love Austin, but you're not just using her as a means to get out of a loveless marriage, are you?"
“No… No…” Kevin trailed, folding his arms across his chest as he leaned back once again. “It’s a fair question… If I hadn’t met Austin, no, I don’t think I’d consider getting a divorce. But I’m not using her to get out of a loveless marriage. She’s giving me the strength to know that I deserve something better. That she deserves something better. That we deserve each other. Together…”
Nodding, Howie returned to his comfortable position. "If you're sure… Hand me another beer, would ya?"
“I’m more than sure,” Kevin promised confidently, reaching into the cooler to pull out another beverage for his friend. Smirking, he handed it over. “Cheyanne isn’t going to want to be anywhere near you after this. You’d think you were eating worms or something when you kissed her this afternoon.”
"Honey has a weak stomach," Howie murmured as he opened the beer.
"Is that why she's holding it all the time?" Kevin pressed, eyeing him carefully.
“Is something wrong with her?” Kevin queried immediately, arching his thick, dark brows with worry. “Because of the horse riding accident? Because, if there is, and you don’t tell Austin, I won’t hold her back. I’ll just have to buy bleach to get the blood out of the carpets.”
"No, nothing's wrong with her," Howie said quickly, shaking his head. "Everything is fine."
"And? I can tell something is up, D. You look like a deer caught in the headlights right about now. What's the big secret? She pregnant or something?" Kevin asked, chuckling slightly.
“I…” Howie paled, motioning toward the cooler. “I think I need another beer…”