“Chey…Chey, Baby-Girl,” Austin called softly, reaching with one hand to gently rouse her slumbering friend while she furiously rubbed the back of her opposite hand over her wet cheeks. She had attempted to bottle all her emotions after Cheyanne had cleanly laid Kevin’s wife to the ground, but it was useless. Kevin’s wife. It just seemed to tear a knife through her already heavy heart. That’s why the girls had wasted no time in escaping the horrors of their usually favorite vacation destination, calling the cab and hurriedly cramming their things inside the trunk before anything. Neither had said much on the ride, both drinking in their own sorrows with quiet reflections. In fact, Cheyanne had been so consumed with fear, anger, and overwhelming loss that she had cried herself to sleep. It was only an hour drive to their new home, which contained all of their Earthly possessions, so Austin had let her doze. She hadn’t the strength to confront the revealing secret, yet. To think Cheyanne was pregnant… She just couldn’t fathom that on top of her fresh wounds. “We’re home.”
“Already?” Cheyanne whispered, gingerly clearing her aching throat as she sat up to witness the cabbie pulling into their new driveway. She easily slid her arms around her tightly cramped abdomen, anxiously avoiding her friend’s eyes as she admired their quaint little ranch house. It was beautiful. Though it was missing one vital detail. Howie. But he had made that mistake. Not her.
Once inside, Cheyanne went to wash her face, leaving Austin leaning in the doorway, watching the cloud of dust raised by the cab as it rolled down the driveway. Folding her arms across her chest, she pushed the door shut with her foot, turning to look around the cozy living room. Kicking her shoes off, she dropped onto the sofa, staring sightlessly at the opposite wall. Her fingers twisted in the hem of the t-shirt she wore, and she glanced down, tears brimming again when she realized it was one of Kevin's. Sitting up, she was about to yank it off when she caught a lingering hint of his cologne.
The spicy scent of his cologne caused the tears to break against her muddy coffee eyes, hitting her flaming cheeks with an icy coldness. She should have known better than to think a man like that wasn’t taken. He was too perfect not to be attached to someone. And, his wife had been a picture of perfection. Curtly dressed in a wool skirt and expensive silk shirt, not a hair out of place, her lipstick probably costing more than Austin’s entire collection of make up. She would never be able to compare to her, no matter how awful the wife’s personality was. The facts were simple. She had been so damn foolish to think she could have him.
“Austi…” Cheyanne whispered, breaking into Austin’s pitiful thoughts and soft sobs. Her sapphire eyes softened with pity as she climbed onto the couch, easing her arms around Austin’s trembling shoulders. Forgetting her own plights and fears, Cheyanne gingerly kissed Austin’s forehead. “I’m so, so, so sorry, Austi… So, sorry…”
"I love him, Chey," Austin whispered brokenly. "Despite the lies and everything… I love him." Princess, you don't have to worry about scumbags anymore. A solid promise. Damn him. He'd said all the right things, given all the right touches, enough to make her learn to trust again, but had known all along nothing could ever come of it. Regardless of that, she loved him. Jerking her head up, she stared at Cheyanne. "Why didn't you tell me you're pregnant?" she asked softly, wiping her face with the back of her hands.
Cheyanne winced at the immediate change of Austin’s thoughts, pulling her arms away from Austin’s body. Like always, when she felt vulnerable, her arms curled protectively around her growing womb. Gently holding her child to shield her from any hurt that would come their way, which seemed to be happening more often than not. Her sapphire eyes fell in obvious shame, gently shaking her head. She had been so fearful of Austin’s reaction, now she had no choice. “I didn’t want you to be mad at me…”
"Chey… Oh my God, Chey… That fucker raped you?" Austin asked, vaulting to her feet. Pushing Kevin from her mind, she looked at Cheyanne incredulously. "Why didn't you tell me this when it happened? God, Chey… I'm so sorry. So sorry that I didn't realize something was going on." Swallowing hard, she dropped down on her knees in front of her, wrapping her arms gently around the younger woman's waist. "We'll make it through this, Chey. Just… promise me, you won't leave me, too."
“I’m not going to leave…” Cheyanne whispered, running her fingers delicately through Austin’s dark locks. She kept her chin down as she felt salty tears slip from her murky eyes. She couldn’t leave Austin, she loved her too much. Not to mention she had no one else. Even Howie had abandoned her. “I have no where to go… No one to help me take care of the baby… When I fell from the horse, my placenta ripped from my uterus’ wall, collecting blood behind it. I have to be careful till I give birth… Otherwise I could hurt my baby or myself…”
"You have nothing to worry about there. God… A baby," Austin said softly. "I'll take care of you, Chey. You and the baby. I promise. You two are all I've got in the world now. The two most important things in my life," she whispered. Sniffling, she sat back, kissing her friend's cheeks. "Why don't you go get a shower, and I'll get started on some supper."
“You’re sure you’re not mad at me? For not telling you about how Noah hurt me? For not telling you I was pregnant? For not telling you I was hurt?” Cheyanne whispered worriedly, unable to stand if another person looked at her with such scorn. Kevin’s eyes had shattered her soul from the very beginning, not to mention the way Howie had been so quiet when everything happened. He knew what had happened, yet he told Kevin lies. He never once stood up for her. And the lies. All those hurtful lies…
"I could never be mad at my Chey-Chey," Austin assured her. "You're my bestest friend in the whole wide world, remember? Now, get up, Momma. You need a shower, and we both need food. You up for my world-famous chicken soup?" she asked, tugging lightly on Cheyanne's hands.
“Momma…” Cheyanne laughed softly with a rueful shake of her head. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that, but I know the baby will enjoy your chicken soup… Thanks, Austi… So much…”
"Anytime. Get used to it. You're my little Momma now. Would the baby like some grilled cheese too?" Austin asked, cracking a smile. They would be okay, they had each other, that was all that mattered.
“Kevin, stop by the office, I need to get something,” Howie finally muttered as they bumpily traveled down the dirt road leading them to the highway. His eyes had been transfixed out the window, glumly taking in the beauty of the mountains that had captivated him so sweetly. Of course, now all was lost and the mountains looked bleak and confining, but that was because he lost the one thing that had honestly mattered in his life. And, instead of being allowed to grieve properly, his band members had pushed him out the door to the latest flight possible. His heart ached at the thought of returning to a world that ignored him when someone who loved him without conviction was just mere hours away. He should have gone after her. Why had he been so stupid?
“Stop? Why? We already paid…” Kevin trailed, stopping the Escape nonetheless. Glancing upward, he noticed the expensive, black car still tumbling ahead toward the highway. AJ was driving again and Brian and Nick wanted nothing to do with the older band members. Not to mention Kristin hadn’t said one word to him since she attacked Austin. So, Kevin had been enveloped into a world of silence till Howie’s soft words. He was slightly relieved that the younger man had said anything to him. He had been ignoring him since the entire blow-up had occurred.
"I just need to get something," Howie said, climbing out. Hopefully, the Dorough charm Momma insisted he'd inherited would work. Pasting a smile on his face, he stepped into the office, crossing over to the counter behind which a small television flickered. Drumming his fingers lightly on the polished wood, he had to grin when the older woman rose from her chair, wiping her hands on her apron as she approached. She'd always been so nice… "How are you today, Ms. Harrison?" he asked.
“I’m just fine, Dear,” the little old woman cooed, leaning over to warmly pinching his cheeks. She had fallen in love with Howie the instant she had first met him, of course, that had probably been because he was with Cheyanne. The sweet, young woman had captured Ms. Harrison’s heart in a New York minute, several years ago, when the girls first started coming to the campsite. And, knowing Howie was Cheyanne’s love interest made him golden. “Where’s your Sweetheart at? I baked some cookies this morning and Cheyanne has already designated herself the chief tester…”
Howie kept his smile going, leaning casually against the counter. "Sorry to break your heart, ma'am, but she had to slip out about an hour ago. Unfortunately, this mountain air doesn't suit well with the baby…" He hated lying to the sweet woman, but he couldn't very well tell her the truth. If he did, he was certain the sweetness would turn to coldness, and he'd find his ass outside in the dirt for his deception. "Silly Chey, she forgot to give me her address, and I was planning on surprising her. Do you think you can help me out, Sweetie?" he asked hopefully, flashing his sweetest grin.
“A baby?” the old woman gushed with disbelief, clapping her hands over her mouth as her light blue eyes glittered with delight. She shook her head in belief as she hurriedly moved back to the ancient computer, keying in the necessary information as she continued to stare at Howie. She even giggled with delight. “That sweetheart is with child? … Your child! Dear-Heart, you’re going to be a Daddy?”
Howie sure as Hell hoped he was. "Yes ma'am," he said, still grinning as the printer began to churn. "I'm really excited," he added.
“You know you should do right by her,” Ms. Harrison teased, wagging a wrinkled and slightly disjointed finger toward Howie. “She needs a pretty ring on her finger if she’s going to be having your child and such. I better not see her back at these cabins alone next summer.”
"Oh, I intend to," Howie assured her. If Cheyanne would have him. He watched Ms. Harrison moved to her living quarters behind the office. "Ms. Harrison?" he questioned worriedly, seeing the paper still lying on the printer.
"I can't have you leaving without taking some cookies, can I?" Ms. Harrison informed him, bustling back a moment later, tin in hand. "I packed you some extra to give Cheyanne. Send her my love, will you?"
“I promise,” Howie answered with obvious relief, leaning over the counter to smack a friendly kiss to her cheek. He smiled again when Ms. Harrison actually blushed, giving him the tin as well as the girls’ address and phone number. Spinning with triumph, he laughed and immediately rushed back to the Escape.
“What’s that?” Kevin question in surprised, watching Howie settle comfortably into his seat before popping open the tin of warm cookies. He naturally narrowed his emerald eyes in confusion, baffled as he pulled away, stepping up the speed of the Escape so they could catch up to the others.
"A tin of the greatest cookies in North Carolina," Howie said with a grin, holding one out for his friend. When Kevin reached for it, he snatched it back, biting into it. "Never mind," he said after swallowing. "You don't deserve it." At Kevin's glare, he winked, holding out the tin. "I have to keep you on my side," he said with a sigh. "Otherwise, I'm really by myself."
“I really thought you were going to hate me for the rest of our existence together,” Kevin answered honestly, reaching once again to actually pick out a chocolate chip cookie from the tin. He carefully bit into it while easily driving the somewhat busy highways toward the airport. “…Do you forgive me for what I did?”
Sighing, Howie munched thoughtfully on his cookie. "I don't know," he admitted softly. "Do you still believe she's a money-hungry slut?" It pained him to even say the words, and he quickly looked out the window.
“…You should have told me she was raped in the beginning… That would have changed the entire situation, D,” Kevin answered honestly, shaking his head. “I just didn’t understand why she’d get pregnant by her boyfriend and still let Austin think she was a virgin. But… Knowing… God, D…”
Sighing, Howie closed the tin, smoothing the printout over the lid. "She made me promise. Damn, I wish I'd never told you to begin with. It probably wouldn't be this hard. No offense, Kev, but you acted like a complete asshole about the entire situation."
“You’re preaching to the choir,” Kevin sighed, pulling the car into the rental station of the small airport. His heart was still heavy from the pain that had reflected in Austin’s eyes. He felt no better than the louse that had beaten her with his fists. In fact, Kevin felt worse than that man, because he had wounded her heart. “…I can’t… I’m so sorry, Howie… I’m sorry about everything I did…”
Nodding, Howie closed his eyes briefly. Opening them, he looked out at the parking lot. "Do you think… I want to send her the things I bought the baby. Do you think she'll accept them?" he asked worriedly as the others climbed out of the Escalade. Despite the darkness, Kristin had slipped on a pair of sunglasses and held a cell phone to her ear.
“I would hope so… She’s going to need all the help she can get… Wait, how do you know the address?” Kevin reveled in surprise, climbing out of the car to retrieve their luggage.
"I have my ways," Howie said secretively, tucking the paper into his wallet before climbing out. "I can't reveal all my secrets, can I?" he asked with a chuckle, reaching for his suitcase.
“It must be illegal,” Kevin mused, listening to Brian actually start to bark orders, claiming they’d miss their flight if they didn’t hurry. The airport was barely the size of a small Walmart. What made him honestly think they’d get picked over? Kevin just rolled his eyes, glancing sideways to the man he considered his best friend. “D, will you forgive me for fucking up?”
"I forgive you," Howie said softly, clapping him lightly on the shoulder. "It's you and me against those jackasses," he said with a conspiring chuckle.
“Ain’t that the truth…” Kevin sighed, throwing his bag over his shoulder as they walked toward the airport, far behind Brian, Nick, AJ, and Kristin. Kevin narrowed his eyes at the sight of his wife, wondering why she had even bothered to come in the first place. It certainly wasn’t to salvage their marriage. She hadn’t said a word to him since yesterday. He knew better than to question it, though. Kristin had come to stage the act. To play the victim. Which infuriated him, so he turned toward his shorter friend. “You going to be okay, D?”
"I will be after I can talk to her," Howie said softly. "Are you?"
“I will be…” Kevin trailed, noticing Kristin veering in a different direction than the rest of his band-mates. His furry brows furled with disbelief, unable to consider what he thought she was doing. It was ridiculous to assume she would be so callous… He hesitated, shaking his head with disbelief. This ended today. Right now. “Howie, can you take my bag?”
"Sure… Kevin?" Howie asked softly, touching the older man's arm. "Don't get into it too badly with her. Not now…"
“I won’t,” Kevin promised idly, hurrying off without any consideration for the promise. He was too concentrated on his wife. The woman that had destroyed any single thread of happiness he had hoped to have in the future. Given time, Kevin assumed that Austin would come to accept his loveless marriage and the fact that he wanted a divorce. He had just wanted to wait for the perfect time. But, Kristin ruined that. So, he was going to ruin her day, too. Not only one of them was going to be miserable. No way in Hell. Reaching, he caught her arm and yanked her backward, trying not to laugh at the futile attempts she made to hide the busted lip from Austin and the heavy bruises from Cheyanne. “Kristin! Where the fuck do you think you’re going?”
"I'm going to LA to finish my shoot," Kristin replied haughtily, jerking her arm free of his grip. Peering at him over the sunglasses, she made a face. "I got rid of your little country whore for you. And believe me, I had to go through a lot of shit to get away from the set. The least you could do is thank me," she informed him, fluffing her platinum curls.
“Well, maybe I should tag along to get rid of your assistant asshole, producer pimp, juice gigolo, and who ever else you’ve fucked within a ten mile radius of our home in LA! How about that shit? Though, I think I’d need another vacation after all that running and a new car!” Kevin growled, wanting to just grasp her curls and yank them free from her scalp. After all, he had paid for them.
"Why the Hell would I want you to tag along?" Kristin asked spitefully. "Run along to New York with your dorky band, okay? Go earn some money."
“Don’t expect any of that money to be dropped into our joint bank account, that’s for fucking sure,” Kevin spat.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Kristin asked, eyes narrowing behind her sunglasses.
"Kevin! Our plane leaves in five minutes!" Brian shouted from across the terminal, his voice echoing.
“It means that you can expect a thick packet of divorce papers on our doorstep before you even manage to take a deep breath of smog,” Kevin snarled, turning to follow Brian’s annoyed voice. “Because, let’s face it, my country whore got me harder than you ever did even in the beginning of our relationship and she’s the only one I want. Oh, and don’t bother calling my mother to bitch. She never enjoyed your company anyway.”