Lulled by the gentle sway of the vehicle, Cheyanne felt herself relax as Austin maneuvered the car down the back road leading home. Staring down at the grainy black and white printout, she felt a happy tear roll down her cheek. Howie had been right. A baby girl. Running her finger along the spine, which looked like a small strand of pearls, she couldn't help but smile. A girl. "I want to name her Olivia Austin," she murmured.
“Olivia Austin?” Austin questioned, unable to hide the delighted smile accentuating her beautiful face, taking a quick peek at her best friend. To see the first ultrasound was amazing and Austin was so thankful that Cheyanne had demanded she be present. Holding her friend’s hand, she watched the transducer smoothly move over her friend’s bump of an abdomen, conjuring a picture of the little girl on a black and white screen. She had laughed as tears fell when the physician signaled to the grainy image, explaining the child was sucking her thumb. And hearing the sound of the little one’s heartbeats had given her hope for the future.
“Ollie for short… Do you like it?” Cheyanne asked worriedly, forcing to bring her eyes away from the baby’s first picture, biting down on her bottom lip. She knew she was taking great liberty in using Austin’s name as her child’s middle name, but she had longed to dedicate this child to Austin, because without her, all hope would have been lost long ago.
"Like it? Chey…" Austin felt tears brim in her eyes. That her friend would name her child after her… "Oh, Chey… God, don't name her after me. She'll grow up to be a spiteful little heifer," she teased.
“She’ll be strong and determined,” Cheyanne disagreed, her mind already settled on the name as well as the part Austin would play in Olivia’s life. “…Just like her Godmother.”
"God, Chey… You're going to make me cry, and you know my mascara runs when I cry."
“Well, if you’d actually spend a couple extra dollars for the water-proof version…” Cheyanne teased with a playful smile, leaning to dodge Austin’s soft swat as they parked in their driveway.
Climbing out, Austin moved to help Cheyanne, stopping when she saw a package resting by the front door. "Chey… did you order something?" she asked.
“No, with what money would I order something? Everything’s being saved, squeezed, and pinched for us,” Cheyanne teased, grasping onto her friend’s hands to easily slide off the seat of the truck. The obstetrician had been quite leery of the placental abruption when she examined Cheyanne’s abdomen. It seemed that the tearing was increasing in small increments, but Austin furiously promised to take care of Cheyanne to avoid complications. Neither wanted the baby harmed. So when she felt a sharp cramp against her side from the jostling, she refused to flinch. Though, she seemed to forget all about it when she gazed toward the front door, immediately noticing the monstrous box practically engulfing their small porch.
Ushering her friend up the steps, Austin leaned over. "It's for you," she said, gazing at the printed label. "The return address is New York City."
"I don't even know anyone in New York City," Cheyanne said slowly, reaching to unlock the door.
"Well move your pregnant butt so I can get it in," Austin replied.
"I should have mentioned to the obstetrician that you boss me around all the time," Cheyanne said, pouting as she pushed the door open.
“She’s the one that told me I should be bossing you around in the first place. As much as we both hate to admit it, you’re considered a high risk pregnancy,” Austin reminded Cheyanne, hunkering herself down beside the cumbersome box, attempting to wrap her arms around it. Holding her breath, she heaved it upward, fearing she might fall backward off the porch as she swayed underneath the girth and heavy weight. Muttering a string of curses, she hurriedly scampered into their living room, practically throwing down the box as she fell on top of it. “Holy mother of God!”
“See? If you wouldn’t have been bossing me around, I could have helped,” Cheyanne replied sweetly, sitting on the couch with a mountain of pillows just as Austin would have instructed her to do upon entering their house.
"Yeah, yeah. Like I would have let you even think about helping lift it," Austin said, sliding to the floor next to the box. "Good God, this bitch was heavy."
“What if it’s a bomb or something?” Cheyanne suddenly announced with a bewildered look, leaning back on the couch as if it would be safer. “…Did it tick?”
"I think it would have gone off when I dropped it on the floor… I hope it wasn't breakable. What are you waiting for?" Austin asked, looking up at her. "It's your package. I'm not opening it…"
“I don’t even know what it could possibly be… I don’t know anyone in New York…” Cheyanne restated the obvious, inching herself onto the edge of the couch. Glancing to Austin, she took the pocketknife the older woman always kept in her back pocket, easily opening it and pushing it into the heavy tape. Once the top was loosened, Cheyanne popped open the flaps, gasping softly in awe. The entire box was filled with beautifully expensive baby supplies with a somewhat large card sitting on top. Cheyanne was shocked into a silent submission, meekly handing the card to Austin as she peered inside. “Holy shit…”
Carefully pulling the card from the envelope, Austin eyed it critically, running her finger over the embossed lettering. Opening it, she gasped when she saw the names scrawled inside. "Chey… You won't believe this shit," she said, shoving the card into her friend's hand. Peering into the box, she bit down on her bottom lip when she saw the array of gifts inside.
Cheyanne took the card from Austin and quickly flipped it open while her friend started to pull out some things from the box quietly. Anything that had stunned Austin into silence was definitely worth appreciating. And, Cheyanne felt the tears immediately prickle against her dark sapphire eyes as she read the warm words. Some things to get our Cinnamon off to the right start… And a little gift to Angel's little angel... Love, Howie & Kevin. She felt her breath catch hard against her throat as she gingerly closed the card, staring at the beautiful cover. Howie had sent the things they selected for her child at the baby outlet along with several other items. It was amazing and beautiful, but Cheyanne found herself focusing on Howie’s words. Our Cinnamon…
"Aww, Chey, look," Austin cooed, holding up a stuffed purple teddy bear dressed in scrubs. "It looks like one from the Build A Bear place. It's so soft and cuddly." Handing it over, she smiled slightly before digging into the box again. "I swear, the man spent a mint on… Cinnamon?!" she asked incredulously, jerking her head up when she remembered the word in the card. "Where the Hell did that come from?"
“Us…” Cheyanne answered softly, gently rubbing her fingers against the bear’s soft ear. She could just imagine Howie walking through the Build-A-Bear Workshop with the purple teddy bear, dressing it meticulously. Though, Cheyanne didn’t know whether the bear was for her child or herself. “He called me ‘Honey’ all the time… So, I called him ‘Sweet Tea…’ Then we were teasing each other one night and decided she should be ‘Cinnamon…’ He put our Cinnamon, Austi…”
"He loves you, Chey," Austin said simply, pulling out a gift box. Lifting the lid, she nearly squealed at the frilly satin gown inside. "Oh my freaking Lord," she gasped softly, lifting the cream card off the top. "He got Ollie a christening gown, Chey…"
“Austi…” Cheyanne cupped a gentle hand to her mouth as she set the teddy bear aside, reaching to simply run her fingertips over the beautiful fabric. Her throat constricted dramatically at the beauty of the gown, knowing how expensive it must have been. Howie had thought to get all the necessities that Olivia would ever need, not to mention the sweet treats that Cheyanne would have longed to get her daughter. Only, it settled a sharp pain against her heart, knowing tears were already breaking down her rosy cheeks. “…This is way too much…”
"Do you want to send it back to him?" Austin asked softly, carefully laying the gown back in the box before pulling out a stuffed frog.
"No!" Cheyanne said quickly. "I mean… It would break his heart if I did that…"
“My Little Momma, still worrying about Howie’s heart,” Austin cooed with a bright laugh, knowing it would probably be near impossible to send the gifts back anyway. How could they possibly locate the men in New York with no permanent address to speak of? Besides, Austin would be damned if she let Cheyanne do such a foolish thing. They were so desperate for money to take care of Olivia and this was a Godsend. Without Howie’s contribution, they would have been floundering severely.
“That’s from Kevin,” Cheyanne suddenly announced knowingly, gesturing toward the light green frog dressed in a light purple gown, topped with an elegant tiara and wand.
“How do you know?” Austin answered in surprise.
“ ‘Cause the birth certificate is right here listing him as Daddy… Her name is Princess,” Cheyanne explained, pulling out a soft white teddy bear with wings and a silver halo, dressed in a t-shirt that read – I love my Mommy. “…And this would be Angel…”
"How… How dare he be such a lying pissfuck then turn around and do something so incredibly sweet that if he walked through the door right now I'd throw my arms around him?" Austin blurted, hugging the frog close.
“Because he’s a guy…” Cheyanne laughed, allowing Austin to take the Angel bear into her arms to hug along with the frog. She found it sweet that Austin adored the gesture that Kevin had made, wishing she could tell him that he still had her heart. “Besides… He didn’t exactly lie to you… You never asked if he was taken per say… But, I should be furious with him, calling me a whore… But… He wants you to take care of the bear and frog till Ollie is born.”
"Take care of them?" Austin repeated, getting to her feet. "I think I have room for them on the bedside table," she murmured. Burying her face against the frog's head, she rushed from the room before she broke down into tears in front of Cheyanne. Once in her room, she leaned against the door, telling herself repeatedly it was only her imagination that she could smell his cologne on the stuffed toys.
But, it wasn’t her imagination, knowing he lingered with her always as she sat on the edge of her bed. Besides, she wouldn’t put it past the man to actually dab the frog with a touch of his cologne. It made her fume slightly at the idea, but she maintained herself, easing both the bear and frog onto her bedside table. They were so beautiful and chosen with great care. She could only imagine the looks her strong man received walking through the store making a princess and an angel. But, he had done it and with great care. Burying her face in her hands, she shook away the thoughts with a bitter sigh. “Why couldn’t you have just told me the truth?”
A million reasons ran through her mind. He didn't want to hurt me. His marriage didn't matter to him. He loved me more than her. Sucking in a breath, she closed her eyes, shaking her head once again. "Pull yourself together," she whispered bitterly. It wouldn't do to go back out blubbering like an idiot. She had to be strong, for Cheyanne's sake. Her friend's hormones were so out of whack lately, she cried over the littlest things. The mail was late, her glass was out of ice, the sappy love songs she listened to on her MP3 player. Standing, she moved to her dresser, pulling out the gray t-shirt she'd worn home from the mountains. Peeling off her tank top, she eased into the comforting soft cotton, hugging herself lightly before going back to the living room.
“Do they look nice on your nightstand?” Cheyanne asked with a soft smile when her friend returned. She knew all too well what Austin had done in the bedroom. It was always her way, especially of late, moving to another room to collect her emotions before turning back to take care of Cheyanne. She respected that about Austin, acting as if she knew no better than what Austin told her. Gingerly, she patted the couch as an offer to Austin, having gone through only about a third of the box so far. It was filled with every single necessity Cheyanne could think of. Clothing, pacifiers, cloth diapers, rattles… And a somewhat small, wrapped gift box. Curiously, Cheyanne reached for the box to unwrap it, smiling when she found the fetal heart monitor within, though a few plastic cards were tucked underneath. “Austi…”
"Holy shit," Austin murmured, picking up the cards. Flipping through them, she shook her head. "Holy shit," she repeated, seeing they were all for various baby stores in the state. Reading the amounts on the back, her eyes grew wide. "Chey… Holy shit, woman. What'd you do to him?" she asked incredulously.
“What do you mean what’d I do to him?” Cheyanne questioned in confusion, feeling her heart flop as Austin offered her every single card after ogling the monetary amounts. She couldn’t even begin to add up the amounts on the back of the cards, knowing it would be a ridiculous sum. She actually felt queasy at the thought.
"I mean… I don't know what I mean," Austin admitted. Fiddling with the heart monitor, she sighed. "Too bad you don't have a way to contact him and thank him," she murmured.
Cheyanne pulled herself away from the box, eyeing Austin curiously. She instantly thought of the slip of paper tucked deep inside her wallet. Howie had scrawled his cell phone number, telling her to contact him if she ever needed anything. And, considering the overwhelming amount of royalties he had showered upon her and her daughter, she thought a large thank you was in order. “…If I could… You wouldn’t be mad at me?”
"What'd he do, slip you his number when we were hauling ass or something?" Austin teased, moving to gather up an armful of items to take to Cheyanne's room. "Or did he jot his number down somewhere on the card?"
“You know he wouldn’t be that brazen,” Cheyanne lied, leaning back on the couch as Austin disappeared. She carefully leaned to place the gift cards on the coffee table, then softly rubbed her aching stomach. She would have helped Austin carry back the items, but she wasn’t allowed. So, she couldn’t help but let her mind wander. She knew she had to call him, but would have to wait for a private moment. And, now didn’t seem like the time as Austin appeared. “Do you realize how much money is on those cards, Austi?”
"Um… Enough to furnish three nurseries?" Austin asked. "After I get these into your room, you think you can sit tight long enough for me to run to town and get a pizza? I've got a few bucks that don't have to go into the bank now, and… You up for some pizza?" she asked, dragging the box towards the hall. "If you don't want pizza, I can always make some--"
“Domino’s!” Cheyanne suddenly chirped excitedly, craving an extra cheesy mess of pizza. “With extra cheese, please?”
"You got it, Chey." Shaking her head at the younger woman's sudden change in demeanor. Almost like she couldn't wait to be rid of her. She supposed she was hovering, but she couldn't help but worry over her. "I think I have enough to go grab a couple movies too, if you like…"
Cheyanne hesitated, not wanting to splurge too much. “Are you sure?”
"It's rent one get one free night at Movie Gallery," Austin said with a shrug. "And I have a coupon for the pizza. And, considering your very recent windfall, I think we can afford a girls' night courtesy of your Sweet Tea."
“…We’re going to be able to get Ollie everything you talked about the other day… Not to mention all the stuff we would really love to have and spoil her with, but couldn’t think about getting her before…”
Smiling, Austin gathered the remaining items. "Maybe you should send him a fan letter?" she suggested with a giggle before going back down the hallway.
“Wouldn’t be as bad as that desktop you saved of Kevin on your laptop,” Cheyanne sang softly, shifting the pillows so she could sprawl on the couch for a quick nap. Though, she made sure that her purse was by her side and the phone within reach before drawing the blanket over her weary body.
Austin rumbled back to the living room, her mouth open in shock. "How in the Hell do you know what's on my desktop, Miss I Downloaded Twenty Backstreet Boys Songs?!"
“Ollie likes the sound of Howie’s voice and it calms her down at night when my stomach is cramping really bad, not that I have to defend that--”
"Aw. Well, seeing Kevin relieves my cramps," Austin said suggestively, grabbing her purse and keys. "Sit tight, Chey. I'll be back in a little bit."
“More like he’s the one that caused your cramps,” Cheyanne grumbled softly to herself as Austin locked the door behind her, hurrying out to the truck. And, Cheyanne waited until Austin revved the engine and pulled away from their driveway, leaning down to grasp her purse. Locating her wallet, she opened the compartment to draw out the small scrap of paper with Howie’s scribbles. She felt her stomach cramp terribly with nerves as she reached behind her for the phone. Wetting her lips, she dialed the specific number, hoping beyond all hope that Howie was the one that actually answered his phone.
She released a breath she hadn't realized she was holding when it began to ring. Nervously chewing her lip, she reached to rub her stomach, about to hang up when she heard an audible click, followed by a soft rustling sound.
Cheyanne’s entire body tensed at the soft sound of his sweet voice, feeling an overwhelming rush of her emotions sweeping back over her. Within just one word, she could still feel his body next to hers. The way his lips tenderly met every portion of her warm skin. The way he laughed when she said something obviously silly. The way he loved her unconditionally. But she had ruined that relationship quite quickly, allowing Austin to take her away from him without any words spoke that night at the cabin. She hadn’t even had the courage to look into his dark eyes, afraid that she’d die there. Unable to help it, she flushed with a dark heat at the mere thought, furiously rubbing her cramping stomach, Olivia obviously making it known that she wanted her mother to proceed forward. “…Howie?”
"Chey?" he asked softly, and never before had her name sounded so good.
“Are you busy…? Are you alone?” Cheyanne trailed, slightly uncomfortable at the thought of bothering him while he was doing something important. Not to mention she was utterly uncomfortable with the thought of speaking to him while his band mates hovered. She could still remember the way AJ and Nick watched her and Austin as if they were pieces of expensive steak, practically foaming at the mouth. Not to mention how horrible Brian had been. Of course, there also was the problem of them considering her the ultimate whore trying to bait Howie into trouble.
"I'm alone," he assured her gently. "And, Honey… I'm never too busy for you."
Cheyanne bit down hard on her bottom lip when he called her ‘Honey.’ The tears immediately began to fall from her burning eyes, evaporating on her burning cheeks. She had missed him so terribly despite the pain and the overwhelming gifts he had sent was just enough to cause her to weep. She attempted to hide the sniffles as best as she could, longing just to keep talking with him. And she couldn’t help herself. “What are you doing?”
"I was just laying here in the hotel room… I just got back from an interview… Honey? Are you crying?" he asked worriedly, and in her mind she could see his eyebrows furrow.
“No,” she hiccupped sweetly, unable to keep it from happening. Immediately, she blushed with embarrassment, though he couldn’t see it. She didn’t know what to really say, especially when he sounded so close to her. She honestly wanted to tell him just to come to North Carolina. Even if it was just for a day, but she kept that thought secret. Knowing better. “I… Austi and I opened up the package you sent…”
She heard his hesitation, heard his nervous swallow. "I… Did you like it all?" he questioned slowly.
“Howie…” Cheyanne sighed softly, not knowing if it was appropriate to use her nickname for him. Instead, she hoped to focus on what he did for her and her daughter. “It was all so beautiful. I mean, she has everything that she’s ever going to need because of you. Not to mention things that I wouldn’t have been able to get her… And the christening gown… It was so beautiful… Everything… And the gift cards…”
"The christening gown was Kevin's idea… He helped me pick out a lot of it, Honey." She heard a soft sigh, then, "He wanted to apologize."
“It’s okay,” Cheyanne promised as if nothing had really occurred between herself and Kevin. “The frog and teddy bear he made for her… They were so adorable… Just thinking about him walking around a kind of store like that, dressing the animals like he did… It was really sweet of him…”
"Yeah, that's Kevin, alright. Sweet," Howie said with a chuckle. "Did we miss anything? I mean… Do you need anything else for Cinnamon?"
“We won’t need anything else. Lord, no,” Cheyanne breathed with disbelief, unable to even think about a single thing she could have added to that box. “…The gift cards will take care of the bigger items… Austi’s so excited about going baby shopping. Can’t believe she’s going to let me out to even shop… Just, thank you so much, Howie. And thank Kevin for us, too.”
"Anything for you… And for her, as well. Anything, Honey. I… You remember the night you recorded my heartbeat?"
Cheyanne moistened her drying lips, feeling her entire body tense with the soft trail in his voice. “Yeah, I remember… Why?”
"I… I recorded a little message for her. I didn't have a chance to listen to it, but I hope it came out okay…"
“Do you want me to play it for her now?”
Howie was silent for a moment. "Actually, Honey… I'd rather you played it for her later. When you're alone, and can listen… Just call me and tell me you liked it? Please?" he murmured.
“Okay,” Cheyanne agreed, carefully turning onto her side so she could rest the phone on the pillow and against her ear. “…You were right, y’know?”
"Huh? What was I right about?" Howie murmured, the phone rustling as Cheyanne imagined him repeating her movements.
“The baby… I had my first ultrasound today and my physician told me I was having a little girl,” Cheyanne confessed, knowing there was a great amount of tension between them that was left unspoken. So much was hazy and undefined, but she hadn’t the heart to ruin what she had at that moment. If she could just sleep tonight remembering the softness of his voice instead of the pain…
"Honey… Told you," he teased lightly. "How are you feeling? Are you getting lots of rest? Austin doesn't have you doing all the work around the house, does she?"
“I’m okay…” Cheyanne trailed, biting down hard on her bottom lip, knowing she couldn’t lie. “Austi goes to all my appointments with me and has been reading up on placental abruption in my nursing books. She makes me rest all day when I’m not working… Strict bed rest… Because the placenta keeps tearing a little bit… No worries, though… Austi loves being bossy.”
"Whoa, hold up. It keeps tearing? Honey… That can't be good. Damn this stupid ass promotional tour. I wish I could be there with you, Chey. That is… If you'd want me."
"It's just little tears... If it was too bad, they'd admit me to the hospital until she was born..." Cheyanne answered, attempting to avoid the bigger issue. Or what she assumed was the bigger issue.
"Honey… I have a couple of days off next week. Would it be alright if I flew down? Just to see you? To make sure for myself that you're okay?" Howie questioned, worry evident in each word.
"Howie..." Cheyanne breathed in disbelief, unable to fathom what he had just suggested. It caused her stomach to knot heavily with worry, wanting so desperately just to tell him to come now. That minute. That second. That very moment. But, she didn't know how to approach it. "...You're so busy with that tour, aren't you? Not being around your band mates and... Are you sure it's a good idea?"
"I really want to see you, Chey. We have so much to talk over. You left in such a hurry, and I have so much I want to tell you. I know that finding out everything like that was a shock, but… I can only hope you still love me."
Cheyanne released a heavy breath, "Howie... Of course I still love you..."
"I love you too, Honey… So can I? If you like, I'll just come out for a day. Just long enough to hold you and explain everything… And to hear Cinnamon's heartbeat…"
Cheyanne’s lips curved into an excited smile. “How many days do you have off?”
"Um… I have a flight leaving LA at eleven Tuesday morning for Orlando, and I don't have to meet up with the guys until that Friday… So, two and a half days. I can probably find a flight to Raleigh, and get a little prop job to Asheville, and rent a car and drive out to your place…"
“I’d be really happy if you stayed at least two days…” Cheyanne answered, knowing she’d have to butter up Austin from then until Tuesday, perhaps even hire a hot male stripper to keep her attention elsewhere. But, that seemed trivial, considering she was going to be seeing Howie again.
"I don't suppose Austin will be welcoming me with open arms, will she?" Howie murmured with a sigh. In the background, Cheyanne heard water drumming into a sink, followed by a door closing loudly. "Damnit, AJ--"
“You don’t have a hotel room to yourself?” Cheyanne guessed when she heard the string of raspy curses erupting for no reason whatsoever. She really didn’t know what was happening, but was sure that Howie didn’t want anyone knowing whom he was talking to.
"I'll be ready in a minute," Howie said distractedly, which was followed by an exasperated sigh from his band mate. A door slammed and Howie released a painful sigh. "Honey… I'm sorry. I do have a room to myself, but, well, some people just barge in…"
“Then I better let you go,” Cheyanne suggested, not wanting to pry into his life.
"We're supposed to go out to eat… I'd much rather talk to you, though. Screw them, they can wait a few more minutes," Howie said decisively. "Is Austin sitting there listening to every word you say?"
“No, since we came into a vast amount of fortune today, she decided to splurge. She went to go get us pizza and a couple of movies. Of course, I’ve been commissioned to the couch and not allowed to move an inch. Or… Sudden death,” Cheyanne answered, feeling guilty for keeping him from his life.
"Pizza and movies… No moving on the couch… That all sounds like heaven to me, Honey…"
“True… But I’m all alone,” Cheyanne answered, puckering her bottom lip as if Howie could see.
"Well, Honey, I wish I could be there with you. But… If I was, there would be no lying still on the couch," he teased lightly, his grin evident in his voice.
“I figured as much,” Cheyanne laughed softly, feeling the cramps slowly start to subside in her aching abdomen. “…So, you’re really coming next week? Here?”
"You bet… And when I'm there… Well…"
“Well?” Cheyanne actually giggled. “Well what?”
Howie chuckled. "I can't tell you over the phone, Honey… I'd rather show you…"
“Then, if I don’t get a special peek with conversation, I better let you get to dinner, huh?”
"Alright… But, first… Can I talk to Cinnamon?" Howie asked hopefully.
“How could I resist that request?” Cheyanne laughed softly, shifting the phone to her abdomen so Howie could talk to Olivia.
She heard his soft murmur, and felt the light fluttering movements of Olivia's response. "I love you, baby. I'll see you next week, okay?" She had to giggle at the kissing sounds he made, and lifted the phone back to her ear.
“She moved,” Cheyanne explained, tenderly rubbing her rounded abdomen as Olivia settled peacefully from Howie’s voice. It was the first time she actually felt Olivia inside her. The light fluttering movements. It was amazing. “She moved for you.”
"Oh, Honey… I can't wait to feel her move, to see how much you've grown with her. But… I should get going before they all start bitching. I love you, Cheyanne," he murmured softly.
“I love you, too, Howie,” Cheyanne promised, offering her heart and soul with the single sentiment, knowing Howie deserved another chance.