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Chapter 25 – Her Protector

Kevin muffled a somewhat exhausted yawn as he pulled himself from the lonely covers of his hotel bed, reaching to pull on a pair of baggy lounge pants to save himself from the cool air conditioner. Only being able to occupy the middle made the edges of the bed quite cold when he rolled. Besides, he couldn’t get his mind off of Austin, no matter what he did. He thought of her, dreamed of her, and loved her from afar. So, seating himself at the desk, he hurriedly booted his expensive laptop, wanting to entertain other thoughts besides Austin. Only, when he connected to the internet, he couldn’t help himself by typing in ‘Howie Dorough pregnant’ into his favorite search engine. Sure enough, dozens of sites were listed with infamous photographs and the latest flings of gossip. Smirking, Kevin clicked into the first one, actually bringing up the photograph of Howie and himself walking through Build-A-Bear with animals they made for Austin, Cheyanne, and the baby. And, for once, Kevin wasn’t ashamed or annoyed with the public persona the media was displaying. It made him think of starting his own family. Of visiting Austin and Cheyanne when the baby was born.

Good Lord, people were going crazy over the pictures. Each site he clicked on had them, as well as the infamous picture of Howie and Cheyanne at the baby store in Asheville. Grainy, blown up, it showed Howie holding out a stuffed duck, Cheyanne leaning towards him for a quick kiss. Most of the remarks were rather rude towards Cheyanne, and he was tempted to leave a comment of his own when his door burst open to admit Howie.

"Morning," Howie greeted him with a grin.

"I guess," Kevin muttered, tapping his fingers against the keys for a moment. "You look like the cat who swallowed the canary," he commented as his friend helped himself to a bottle of juice from the mini refrigerator.

“If I was the cat who got the canary, I would have savored it instead of just swallowed it…” Howie warned with a thoughtful nature, falling back onto his friend’s bed. Sitting up halfway, he uncapped the juice, taking a long swallow, unable to stop himself from grinning. He had already booked his schedule of flights to visit Cheyanne as well as made a reservation for the car rental. Not to mention he already had the directions leading to the girls’ house from Asheville. He was all ready to leave, except for a few things that he wanted to pick up Cheyanne, the baby, and Austin before leaving. He just couldn’t wait.

“Howie… You’re just not that funny…” Kevin rued with a heavy sigh, turning the laptop slightly to block Howie from the ill words to Cheyanne as he furiously typed a nasty reply to their dastardly fans. “Especially since dinner last night…”

"Well, can you blame me for being happy?" Howie asked, glancing over at the computer. "Are you emailing your Mom or something? Send her my love…"

"Uh… Yeah," Kevin said, making a mental note to email his mother that day. "How can I blame you for being happy if I don't know why you're so happy?" he questioned.

"I'm going to see Cheyanne next week."

Upon hearing Howie’s blunt announcement, Kevin’s hands slipped hard on the keyboard, sending the viciously rude message to the group of fans who declared Cheyanne to be some loose whore who would demolish the entire Backstreet Boy kingdom. His voice was loud and abundantly clear with the post, curses rampant throughout. He had to speak his mind and feeling so lousy caused him to react far more violently than he intended. But, his thoughts were elsewhere as he stared at Howie with disbelief. “You’re what?”

"I'm flying to North Carolina to visit Cheyanne, the baby, and Austin," Howie replied slowly, as though Kevin had misheard him.

"But… Whoa. Does she know? Or have you started stalking her somehow, and you're just going to pop up on her front doorstep? 'Cause, if you do, I'd recommend wearing a bulletproof vest and one of those bomb squad helmets. Especially if Austin's the one answering the door…"

“She called me,” Howie defended with a firm shake of his head, leaning up fully as he finished the juice, tossing it into the nearby can. “She invited me to stay for our small break next week when I asked if I could just visit for a day. She said that her placenta is tearing more and I want to make sure she’s okay… Oh, she got the package, too. That’s why she called. She loved the christening gown. She loved the stuffed animals, too.”

“Yeah?” Kevin laughed in obvious surprise, shaking his head in disbelief. “She honestly called you?”

"As opposed to dishonestly calling me?" Howie quipped with a chuckle, lying back on the bed. He couldn't imagine life looking up any more than it had in the past day. His Honey was back in his life… At least, he dearly hoped they were back on track. There had been a soft murmur of a voice mail waiting for him when he'd gotten out of the shower. Howie… I had to thank you for the sweet message you did for Cinnamon… I love you…

“Well, what’d she say?” Kevin asked in astonishment, reaching to smack Howie’s leg to draw him away from his dreamlike trance. It just seemed so surreal, Cheyanne actually picking up the phone to purposely call Howie. In fact, when they left the cabin, it was almost as if both men had said goodbye to the women they loved. Almost as if they were leaving their headstones in a murky graveyard. The pain had been so sharp. So fresh. Yet, here Howie was, rejuvenated, claiming that he was going to North Carolina in a matter of days. Kevin was just surprised that his jaw hadn’t hit the carpet for rug burn yet.

"That she loved everything... And to thank us," Howie said softly, smiling to himself as he remembered the conversation. Of course I still love you… His heart had leaped at those words, filling him with a hope for their future.

“What’d she think of those gift cards?” Kevin chuckled, amused by the twinkling shimmer crossing his friend’s dark eyes. It was obvious that Cheyanne had said more than just simple thanks. Especially if Howie was dropping everything to go for just a simple two day visit after spending so much money to send her the things she needed for the unborn child.

"I think she was a bit flabbergasted about those. She said that Austin can't wait to go on a shopping spree to get the big things they need," Howie said softly. "Apparently, they've been pinching pennies to buy stuff."

Kevin sobered at the thought of Austin and Cheyanne struggling to maintain their household. They had worked so hard through college to launch themselves into a good life together. Only, with Cheyanne’s pregnancy being complicated, Kevin assumed it made it that much harder for them to manage. He wondered what Austin sacrificed to take such good care of Cheyanne. “Well, are they okay? Do the girls need help? I mean, if Angel can’t work, that’s not her fault… She needs to protect that baby and Princess can’t pick up extra jobs to take care of them both. She needs to worry about taking care of Angel instead of the money. Where’s my checkbook?”

"We didn't really get into that…" Howie trailed, instantly regretting not bringing up their financial means. He hadn't thought that Austin may be working two or more jobs. "The baby moved when Chey let me talk to her," he announced, unable to keep the ecstatic grin from creeping onto his face.

Kevin reached into his nearby jeans to collect his checkbook, sitting back down at the desk to draw out a check. He glanced up at Howie for a moment, unable to hide the grin forming on his face. Howie was so excited about the baby. Almost as if she were his own. And, as much as the guys would loathe him for being so sentimental, Kevin welcomed it. Howie had been so depressed since leaving the cabin. He feared that Howie may do something foolish in the upcoming weeks. But, talking to Cheyanne seemed to change everything. It gave Kevin great relief. “How far along is she?”

"A little over four months. She had the ultrasound yesterday, and the doctor told her it's a girl… A girl, Kevin. A little cutie with golden curls like her Mama's, and--"

"An attitude like her Aunt Austin's," Kevin interjected with a chuckle. "Do you think this will help them out?" he asked, handing Howie the check.

“…I think Austin will rip it up when she notices who’s name is scribbled on the bottom of the check,” Howie answered honestly, offering his friend a sad smile. He knew that Cheyanne was already working as hard as possible just to make sure that Austin was okay with Howie arriving. But if he came with “bribe money” from Kevin, Howie knew he would perish in a hot country second.

"Then you'll have to make sure she doesn't see it, won't you?" Kevin returned, getting to his feet. Digging around in his suitcase for a shirt, he muttered a curse. "Damnit. I think I left my favorite shirt back in Carolina… Did Angel mention how Austin is?"

“I think you gave your favorite shirt to Austin…” Howie trailed, immediately holding his hands up in defense when Kevin shot him a dark glare. “Hey! Take it easy… And, no, Honey didn’t mention much about Austin, except that she was really happy about the gifts we sent and she’s taking care of the Angel Bear and Princess Frog for Cinnamon until she’s born.”

"Just so she doesn't find the pictures online," Kevin muttered, yanking on a t-shirt. He still couldn't believe the things that some people had said. True, he'd thought the same when Howie had first told him of Cheyanne's pregnancy, but that was different. Lord, if Austin read some of that… There would be Hell to pay.

“What do you mean?” Howie asked in confusion, sitting up straight on the bed as he furrowed his dark brows at his best friend. The delivery of the sentence left an ominous note in Howie’s heart, curling his stomach into tight knots of worry. “What pictures?”

"It's nothing," Kevin assured him with a wave of his hand. "Just some stupid little bitches who have nothing better to do than rag on people who have lives. It's nothing to worry yourself into a snit over, believe me." Even as he said the words, Kevin knew it was useless. Howie would be searching for the pictures in minutes, he was sure. The worried expression on his face made his heart clench with emotion for him. "Howie… You remember how some fans were when me and Brian announced we were getting married?"

“Faintly…” Howie trailed, moving to seat himself at the desk to open up the laptop, bringing up a search engine as he waited for Kevin’s explanation. “What does that have to do with pictures? Pictures of who?”

"Somebody got pictures of us at the Build-A-Bear place… And I saw that picture of you and Angel getting ready to kiss back in Carolina," Kevin informed him. "D… I wish you wouldn't look… Have you eaten breakfast yet? I'm buying, whaddya say?"

“What’s so wrong with the pictures of us getting the stuffed animals or the pictures of me and Honey? Of course they’re going to be on the internet. We knew that with the stupid press conference…” Howie answered, ignoring Kevin’s suggestion as he keyed in the appropriate search.

“Howie, don’t--”

"Holy shit," Howie said, glaring at the screen. His dark brows furrowed in concentration as he scrolled through the comments on the blog. Whore. Slut. Each slur towards his beautiful Cheyanne was like a knife through his heart, and he slammed the laptop shut. "Who the fuck do they think they are?" he growled.

Kevin winced at the sharp temper exploding from the somewhat small man. He looked none too pleased with what he saw, causing Kevin to frown with regret. He felt so guilty calling Cheyanne those names in the beginning, thinking somehow his thoughts might have generated over to the public. Though that was impossible. “Howie, they’re nobodies. Just fans who are jealous like always. I mean, Leighanne had death threats hanging over her head when she married Brian and got pregnant. It’s just something that happens. You know that--”

"Leighanne is a bitch, okay?" Howie erupted, vaulting to his feet. "Cheyanne is all that is good and sweet and kind, not some money-grubbing whore. They called her a whore, Kevin. And they call themselves fans?! I have half a mind to…"

“To what?” Kevin stated nervously, reaching for his checkbook again to conjure up some bail money.

"I don't know," Howie said miserably, dropping into the chair again. "If I even left a comment, I'd be blasted out of the universe as a poser. If I left some anonymous comment, I'd be blasted for being gullible. Damnit. I have half a mind to drag Cheyanne to the courthouse and make her my wife. At least then, I could be assured she'd be safe. What if someone finds out who she is? God, some of the fans are so weird, they'd probably start stalking her…" His mind racing with all the horrible things that could happen, Howie hung his head.

“I left a comment for both of us,” Kevin assured, patting Howie’s shoulder as he tucked his checkbook away. “Besides, Angel lives in the middle of no where in the sticks of Carolina. There is no way on God’s green earth that any of those rabid fans are going to locate her. And, if they do, what makes you think they could get past her feisty little bodyguard? Not to mention, dragging her to a courthouse? What makes you think she wouldn’t go willingly?”

"Feisty little bodyguard…" Howie chuckled at Kevin's apt description of Austin. Looking up at him, he smiled slightly. "I'd have to conk Austin on the head, wouldn't I? Or have you there to divert her attention so Chey and I can slip away…" He wondered suddenly if Kevin would go with him. "Kevin…"

“Let her chase me around the chicken coop with a shotgun while you run away to romantic bliss? Sure, D, anything you say,” Kevin snorted sarcastically with a heavy roll of his eyes. Austin wanted nothing to do with him. She made that painfully clear awhile ago. And, to make the point stick, Kevin remembered how she hissed at him that he wasn’t the best lover she ever had. He seemed to think she enjoyed her mental blows more than physical.

"I was kidding," Howie assured him. Sighing, he rose to his feet. "Did you tell the bitches off?" he questioned, smirking slightly at the image of Austin chasing Kevin with a shotgun.
“See for yourself,” Kevin chuckled, leaning forward to key in the specific site he had visited. Clicking on the grainy photograph of Howie and Cheyanne, he quickly scrolled to the bottom of the comment section where his name was emblazoned – Kevin Richardson. So formal and matter of fact.

Reading the heated words, Howie covered his mouth in surprise. "Holy Hell," he muttered. "Wow. And I thought…"

"Thought what?" Kevin asked, scratching his chest absently.

"That you agreed with them," Howie murmured, overwhelmed that his friend had taken a stand for Cheyanne.

Kevin stopped in mid-scratch to stare down at Howie with an honest expression of hurt. What had Howie anticipated when he read Kevin’s reply? It was shocking to know that Howie assumed Kevin felt like the rest of the men when it came to Cheyanne. He felt so foolish to even let Howie begin to think that he hated Cheyanne. He furrowed his heavy brows with disappointment, shaking his head slightly. “Why would I agree with them?”

"You used to…" Howie trailed softly. "I'm sorry. Just, the things I overheard AJ and Nick saying last night made me think that maybe nobody likes Honey, and I was hoping with all my heart that I'd have at least your support in this. I love her, Kevin. More than anything in the world. I want to make things work with her. So much." Sighing, he closed the laptop gently. "Can you not tell the guys where I'm going?"

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re going to visit your mother for the break, nothing more or less,” Kevin stated with great ease, offering an encouraging smile to his friend. “And, the only reason I thought ill about her was because I didn’t know all the details. I thought she was searching for a meal ticket. If you would have told me her situation, I would have reacted a lot differently. I know you love her. And I also know that she’s the only thing in this world that actually makes you happy. So, I want you to go for it… But what did Nick and Aje say last night?”

Impulsively hugging his friend, Howie moved towards the door. "They were being their usual bastard selves," he said with a shrug. "You still buying breakfast?" he asked with a grin.

“If you get me all the dirt on Austin you can salvage,” Kevin persuaded with a matched smirk.

"All the dirt," Howie repeated, chuckling. "I suppose you'll want to know how many times she wears your shirt while I'm there?"

“A running tally may help my self esteem dramatically,” Kevin decided with a trail.

*~*~*


“So, let me get this straight… That jigger in your hand will let me listen to Ollie’s heartbeat? For free? Without a doctor present?” Austin demanded in question, motioning toward the fetal heart monitor Cheyanne had been fiddling with. The girls had spent a quiet Saturday at home, just lounging in Cheyanne’s large bed. She had been having terribly painful cramps all day, so Austin refused to let her move an inch, even while she was in bed. Taking all meals back to the bedroom, Austin kept her best friend entertained with old DVDs and enjoyable conversation. To make herself feel better, she kept a phone by their side in case an emergency phone call needed placed. But, for the most part, everything had been okay, especially as they snooped online for various items they wanted to buy Olivia. Austin was itching to get out shopping, waiting for a day when Cheyanne felt really well to try it out. Though, she knew she’d be pushing her out of the house next week. Having all this money for Olivia was exciting.

“Yes, this jigger will let us listen to Ollie’s heartbeat,” Cheyanne confirmed with a laugh as Austin yanked up her baggy t-shirt to expose her obtruding abdomen. She had gained the necessary five pounds during the first trimester. Now, every week afterwards, she would gain a pound. Her pregnancy was already noticeable considering her small stature, but Austin found it adorable. “…I just have to play her something real quick, okay?”

"Okay… What? Does she need to hear Howie's voice?" Austin teased, watching Cheyanne place the headphones over her stomach. Each time she looked at it she wanted to squeal with excitement. A baby. Her little Cheyanne was going to be a Mommy. Biting her lip, she blinked back the tears, not wanting her friend to see them. Lately, the slightest little things would set her off. She had practically sobbed throughout Little Mermaid. Austin thought it was cute, but knew the worst was yet to come. She kept poring over pregnancy websites, oohing and aahing over the slightest details that matched Cheyanne's progress. "Has our little Ollie moved any tonight?" she asked softly as Cheyanne adjusted the headphones.

“A little,” Cheyanne admitted as she made sure the headphones were settled slightly above where she was feeling the most movement that day, she then moved her hands back to the machine to prep the message. “I think she gave me a pretty swift kick to the bladder earlier…”

"So that's why you knocked my ass to the floor to get to the bathroom," Austin said with a giggle, lying on her stomach. Propping up on her elbows, she gazed at her friend's stomach.

“Ollie needed to use the facilities immediately. She’s been taking early lessons from Aunt Austi during those nighttime chat sessions,” Cheyanne explained with a wry grin, finally pressing play on the machine when she was certain Olivia would hear Howie’s voice.

Leaning close, Austin listened to Howie's sweet message. I may not be able to hold you, but you hold my heart. Always. I love you, my little Cinnamon. "Aw," she cooed, laying one hand over Cheyanne's stomach. "Chey… she's moving!" she gasped in excitement. "You like hearing your Daddy's voice?" she murmured softly.

“She loves his voice,” Cheyanne agreed softly, watching Austin scoot closer to fully press her hand over her warm abdomen, waiting for the next movement. Her friend’s dark coffee eyes glittered with excitement, because it was the first time she felt Olivia. But, Cheyanne was more fascinated with what Austin had said as she removed the headphones and moved the machine to switch it to listening for a heartbeat. “You called him her Daddy, Austi…”

"I know," Austin murmured, glancing up. "Should I have said 'You like your Momma's sex machine' instead?" she teased with a giggle.

“Austin Leigh,” Cheyanne immediately scorned, her cheeks lighting with a dark fire of embarrassment. “I was being serious... I mean, I didn’t think you’d think of him as her Daddy… Or… I don’t know…”

"Do you think of him as her Daddy?" Austin questioned seriously, sitting up to look at her friend. "I wouldn't blame you if you did. I mean… At least Howie loves you," she said softly.

“I…” Cheyanne released a soft sigh as she dropped her gaze to her bare abdomen, moving the machine around her abdomen to locate the child’s heartbeat instead of the variety of squelches and crackles. She felt so very guilty at that moment, knowing Howie would be arriving in a few days to visit while Kevin was somewhere else. She was so excited at the idea of being able to touch and hold Howie that she had momentarily slipped in thinking about Austin. Shifting uncomfortably, Cheyanne started to think she may have to call Howie and cancel. “…Kevin loves you, Austi…”

Austin bit her lip, pulling her knees to her chest, her gaze moving to the baby things arranged in the corner, where the crib would go once they bought it. "I don't think so, Chey…" If he loved her… Shaking her head of such foolish thoughts, she turned her attention to the machine on Cheyanne's stomach.

“Want to move it around to find her heartbeat?” Cheyanne suggested, knowing far too well that Austin wanted nothing to do with the previous discussion. In fact, Austin’s stubbornness caused a great divide in Cheyanne’s heart. She wanted to press the issue, but if Austin didn’t want to listen, then she simply wouldn’t listen. And, of course, Cheyanne felt guilty about even trying to talk about Howie. It wasn’t fair to Austin, having Howie visit.

Nodding, Austin reached for the machine. "Chey…" Moving the monitor carefully, she kept her eyes on her friend's stomach. "Do you… Do you think I should try to contact him?" she questioned softly.

“Do you want to contact him?” Cheyanne redirected in surprise, leaning back on the fluffy pillows to support her aching back while Austin took over the work. She tensed slightly at Austin’s suggestion, not knowing exactly what to say. Almost as if she were afraid it was a trap.

"I don't know… Part of me wants to be able to just cuss him up one side and down the other, you know? Tell him what I really think of all the lies. And part of me wants to just hear his voice, because I know that hearing him speak will make everything seem okay. I don't know… I can't make heads or tails of it," she admitted, smiling when she heard the gentle thump-thump-thump of Olivia's heartbeat. "I'm just crazy. Look at me, I wear his t-shirts all the time, and last night I had to hold that princess frog to be able to sleep, because the asshole had the nerve to put his cologne on it." With her free hand, she wiped her angry tears away from her eyes.

“You have the same relationship and feelings for him since the day you flipped him onto his back,” Cheyanne laughed softly, not wanting to disturb the sound of her child’s heartbeat. “You’ve always wanted to curse him and love him at the same time. And you miss him, so it’s not wrong for you to sleep with the frog or wear his t-shirts. You just want to be close to him, Austi. There’s nothing wrong with that. And, if you want his number, I’ll get it for you… Just to have for just in case…”

"Yeah… You're right. Me and Kevin have quite the love-hate relationship… Did you just say you'll get his number for me? How?" Austin jerked her head up to look at Cheyanne, eyeing the coy smile. "You little sneak. That Howie slipped you his number, didn't he?"

“Yes…” Cheyanne trailed with a soft blush, her southern accent dripping with the sweetest honey as she attempted to explain. “He gave me his number when we were leaving in case I needed him. And that gift he gave Ollie… There was no way that I couldn’t offer him a thank you. That’s not proper, nor nice for that matter. I had to call him. To thank him.”

"Oh, Chey… No wonder you were glowing when I got home yesterday. So, what'd City Boy say?" she asked eagerly. "Did he mention how Kevin's doing?" she grilled, wanting the slightest tidbit of information she could get on him.

“We didn’t talk much about Kevvy… I mean, I didn’t directly ask how he was doing. But Howie said that he helped pick out all the gifts for Ollie as an apology. He was the one that suggested getting her the christening gown, too,” Cheyanne explained, slightly relieved at the excitement in Austin’s tone. “…But you can ask him yourself in a few days… Get all the juicy details…”

Austin raised one eyebrow, staring at her friend. "Wait a minute. Is this your sly way of telling me that he's coming for a visit?"

“He asked how the doctor appointments were going and I couldn’t lie to him. So, I told him that the placenta keeps tearing and adding more blood into that little pocket it’s creating. I couldn’t help it… And he got really worried. He just wanted to come out to make sure I was okay. To listen to Ollie’s heartbeat again. He promised he’d only stay for a day, but he has two and a half days off from that promo jigger. So, I said he could stay if he wanted… But if you don’t want him here, I’ll call him and cancel. I don’t want you make you mad at me, Austi--”

Austin shook her head slightly. "Chey… You love him, right? In your heart of hearts, he's the one who makes you feel giddy and happy and complete? Like all those sappy romances we've read?" she asked softly, switching the machine off. Setting it aside, she lightly patted Cheyanne's stomach before pulling the t-shirt down. Hugging her knees to her chest, she looked at Cheyanne. "I know the answer to that already. I won't be mad if he comes for a couple days. Just… He's not bringing Pretty Boy with him, is he?"

“No… He muttered something about you chasing Kevvy around the chicken coop with a shotgun…” Cheyanne trailed, biting hard on her bottom lip as she carefully rolled onto her side to glance at her best friend. The guilt consuming her heart was unbelievable. She wanted so badly for Howie to visit, but she could see how it was hurting Austin already.

"It's okay, Chey. Ollie needs her Daddy, right?" Cheyanne needed Howie, she knew that. Despite the fact it would hurt her to see the Lovebirds together, she knew it would break her friend's heart if she told her to call Howie and cancel. Smiling, she lay next to Cheyanne, snuggling close. "Can we watch Beauty and the Beast now?" she asked softly.

“Yeah, that’s my favorite,” Cheyanne agreed as Austin drew the covers around them in a warm cocoon, holding both Cheyanne and Olivia in her arms. “But… You can decide against Howie at any time, Austi. I will cancel. Okay? You come first.”

"Not anymore," Austin informed her with a smile. "Ollie comes first. Remember that. What's best for her is more important than me."

“We can go shopping before he comes and make him lug all the stuff in to make the nursery?” Cheyanne suggested hopefully, just wanting Austin to laugh. To know that everything would be okay. That Austin was happy with the decision.

"He can be the mule," Austin assured her with a giggle.

“So, you’ll actually let me out of the house to walk around?” Cheyanne gasped with mock surprise, already knowing that Austin had placed a call into Cheyanne’s obstetrician to reduce her hours of work because of the seriousness of her condition.

"Walk? Who said you're going to walk? We'll use one of those motorized cart jiggers," Austin teased. "And I'll have all the hot guys carry you back and forth to the truck…" she trailed with a grin, slipping away to put the movie in.

“I don’t think I’ll mind that…” Cheyanne trailed playfully.

"Do you know what I miss most about Kevin?" Austin asked suddenly, waiting for the player to eject the last movie. Shifting her balance from one foot to the other, she tapped her fingers on her leg, instantly regretting bringing Kevin back into the conversation.

“Besides the sex?” Cheyanne attempted to be funny, but softened immediately when she noticed the forlorn look on her friend’s face. “What do you miss most, Austi?”

"I miss the quiet moments we had together. With Steven, there had to be constant conversation--or, in his case, arguing. But, with Kevin… We could just be together. Reading a book, or sitting out on the front porch looking at the view… I didn't need to hear his voice to know that he was with me. I miss that, Chey. I miss snuggling on the couch with his head in my lap and listening to his stories of growing up in Kentucky…" Austin trailed off, swallowing the hard lump in her throat.

“Austi…” Cheyanne sighed softly. “…I know I’m not Kevin, but… I can cuddle with you…”

Nodding, Austin pressed play before crawling back into bed. "Do you think you could talk in a slight southern accent with a deep voice? And call me Princess," she added with a slight smirk.

“Princess,” Cheyanne teased with a groan. “I’m full of a southern accent. Ain’t no way in Hell that I can slight it.”

"I love you, Chey. Now shush, the movie's starting," Austin said, snuggling close. Wrapping her arms around her friend, she reached to play with the soft golden curls. "Just… Please don't cry when Gaston gets whacked, okay?"
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