Slowly stepping into the kitchen, Cheyanne breathed a soft sigh, leaning against Howie as she took in the scene. "Oh, Howie," she murmured as he helped her to the table. She smiled sweetly as she eased into the chair he pulled out for her, looking at the small glass holding a cluster of daffodils, the two lit candles casting a soft, romantic glow on the table. "It's beautiful," she assured him as he moved to the stove.
“I had to do something special for your birthday, even if it is a day late,” Howie answered, glancing back at the perfection he had fallen in love with so many weeks ago. She was dressed simply in one of Howie’s comfy t-shirt and a pair of her knit maternity shorts. Her long honey curls were tossed into a low ponytail, the glow of pregnancy accentuating the charming candlelight. She was so perfect and he wanted this dinner to be the best for her. When Austin came home that morning, Howie had snuck out to town to gather a few things for the dinner as well as presents for her birthday, before Cheyanne had even began to stir that early afternoon. She hadn’t known his plans, that is, until Austin scooted out to enjoy another evening on the town and Howie promised to make her something special. In fact, he had heard that she was craving breakfast for dinner. So, he created a smorgasbord of scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausage, and fresh orange juice. Everything Cheyanne loved.
“You didn’t have to do anything for my birthday, honestly,” Cheyanne promised, easing back in the chair as she felt a soft tongue at her ankle. Bending slightly, she saw Moth eagerly waiting for attention and hopefully bits of supper to fall from her fork.
"Oh, really?" he asked, turning to look at her with a platter of eggs in his hand. "Then I suppose I can just give it to the dog…" Howie trailed with a grin.
“He wouldn’t be able to eat it all,” Cheyanne disagreed with a pout, folding her hands over her stomach as if it were a natural resting place, especially so she could hold Olivia. “Besides, he has a name, y’know.”
"Moth," Howie said, shaking his head as he brought the food to the table. "He responds better to Pisser…"
"If you call my widdle baby boy Pisser, you can take those eggs and shove them--sorry," she said abruptly, her cheeks flushing.
Howie arched his dark brows in natural surprise at the surge of annoyance that announced itself in Cheyanne’s usually sweet voice. He knew not to take it to heart though, Austin already reminding him earlier that the hormones were having a unique affected on their little spurt of sunshine. She had periods of sadness as well as anger. The littlest things would set them off like a match head and embarrassed Cheyanne greatly. She looked quite ashamed with herself as she leaned down to calm Moth’s nibbles at her ankle. “A little testy tonight, Honey?”
“More than that,” Cheyanne mumbled with a dejected sigh as Moth accepted the pats with a lick to her hand before scurrying off to his dish.
Setting the plate of eggs down, Howie backed towards the stove. "It's okay, Honey. I understand…" Lord have mercy, he thought, reaching for the sausage and pancakes. "I promise not to call him Pisser ever again," he assured her gently.
"Do you know how damn hard it is for me right now? Austin and the doctor would kill me, but I am so tempted to just knock everything to the floor so I can make love to you, right here and now," she blurted as he sat next to her.
“Excuse me?” Howie choked, practically knocking over his glass of juice at her streak of boldness. He hurriedly lurched forward to catch it, actually dunking his fingers into the coldness so it wouldn’t spill and ruin the pancakes. He shivered at the wet, coldness, listening to Moth yipping excitedly at his ankles. But, he couldn’t help just staring at Cheyanne. Stunned.
"God, Tea, I am so sorry," she said, burying her face in her hands. "Now that my morning sickness has passed, I have… That is, I… Oh, Lord. These hormones are going to be the death of me," she moaned.
“I’m sorry,” Cheyanne immediately interrupted again, pushing the chair back from the table. Her stomach cramped violently with the nervous flare of embarrassment. Olivia seemed to respond to her mother’s anxiety, making her own pains known. She felt tears prickle against the back of her burning eyes, knowing she was making a complete fool of herself. Howie had flown thousands of miles to spend a few days with her and she was making an absolute mess. She was nearly psychotic. Just so frustrated with her surroundings. Not to mention still nervous that Howie was even there to begin with. “Sorry, I’m not that hungry anymore… I think I’ll go lay down…”
"Do you want me to lay down with you?" Howie questioned softly, worry etching his brows as he watched her stand.
“Just enjoy the dinner,” Cheyanne breathed softly, hiccupping against her tears as she shielded her face from his gaze. She moved as quickly as she could, shutting her bedroom door before curling onto the right side of her bed. She pushed the pillow with Howie’s scent away, getting sick at the thought of him. She didn’t want him following her and didn’t want to think about him, especially considering how hormonal she was at that moment. She just wanted Austin to come home, so she could curl into her best friend’s embrace and be promised that everything would be okay. So she knew she wasn’t crazy.
Standing outside her bedroom door, Howie sighed miserably. He had tried so hard to make everything nice to her. Instead, he'd ruined the entire evening. One he had planned all day, hoping to end with snuggling together on the bed and falling asleep to the sound of the baby's heartbeat. Now it looked as though he would be sleeping alone on the pull out couch. Knocking softly, he pushed the door open slightly. "Honey?"
“I’m fine,” Cheyanne called with a sharp hiccup of tears, not aware of the fact that Howie was looking at her. She just buried her face into the pillow, holding her painfully aching abdomen. Shakily, she rubbed her abdomen in a slow, circular motion. “I’m sorry, Ollie. I’m sorry. I’m trying so hard…”
Crossing to the bed, Howie sat on the edge of the bed. "Honey… What can I do to help you try?" he whispered, covering the hand on her abdomen. "I'll do anything to keep you from crying, to keep you feeling good and happy."
“Tea…” Cheyanne whimpered in surprise, jerking slightly at the feeling of his hand against hers. She felt the tears break hard against her cheeks, causing her to sniffle as she sat up, just wanting to be held. She felt horrible when she caught his mournful chocolate eyes. He wanted so desperately to help her and she was blowing it. He would only be there for another day and a half. She had to make the most of it. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Tea. Don’t hate me.”
"Honey, I could never hate you… Can I bring you something to eat? You and Ollie need some food… Wait a second. Ollie?"
“Ollie…” Cheyanne trailed in a soft confirmation, sniffling as she buried her face in Howie’s shoulder. She felt her breath give slightly as he tenderly rubbed her back, trying to be understanding. So, she buried away the pain, trying to focus on what made her happy. “It’s her other nickname… Because I want to name her Olivia Austin…”
"I think that's beautiful," Howie murmured, turning his head to kiss her on her cheek. "Olivia Austin Dorough…" he whispered with a smile.
Cheyanne arched her light blonde brows as she pulled away slightly from Howie’s embrace. Her face was still wet with tears as she held onto him, studying his dark chocolate eyes in sheer disbelief. She couldn’t have possibly heard right. Not with what had just happened. “Olivia Austin Dorough? Is that what you said?”
"Would you prefer Olivia Austin Lorde-Dorough?" Howie asked, raising a hand to wipe her tears away.
“No… I like Olivia Austin Dorough… She doesn’t need to go crazy trying to write that whole Lorde-Dorough mess in kindergarten. I just… I didn’t know you wanted that…” Cheyanne sniffled honestly, reaching to intertwine his free hand into hers, so she could offer the most tender of kisses.
"Do you want that?" he murmured, moving closer to her. He had naturally assumed… But maybe he had been thinking wrong…
“I would love that,” Cheyanne confessed against the soft skin of his hand, making sure to keep her somewhat teary sapphire eyes at his gaze. Slowly, she lifted her lips from his hand, nervously wetting them. “She should have her Daddy’s last name. But, with everything that happened, I didn’t know if you still wanted to be her Daddy. Especially when I had that huge blow-up out there. You must think I’m crazy… But I’m just so nervous about you being here and wanting you to stay and… I missed you so much…”
"Chey, baby… It's normal. I have sisters, they've had babies… Believe me, what just happened in the kitchen is nothing compared to the blow-ups I've witnessed in the past." Smoothing her hair, he gently kissed her lips, sliding his arms around her. "I love you, Chey, and nothing you say or do is going to change that."
“I missed you so much,” Cheyanne declared again with a soft sigh, tilting her head slightly to catch him for another kiss. Unable to help her wave of emotions, she nibbled tenderly on his bottom lip, drawing him closer. Then, with the next kiss, she easily coaxed his tongue to hers. She had missed the taste of him so much. The warmness his kisses provided. Even if she wasn’t allowed to make love with him, she could still enjoy him. Even if it was only for a moment. “I love you, Howie. I’m always going to need you.”
"If you keep kissing me like that… I'm going to need to take a cold shower," Howie growled, pulling her closer to him so she could feel what she was doing to him. He had missed her kisses, her light, hesitant touches. The way his heart raced at each coy, smoldering look from her.
“We’ve got two showers in this house,” Cheyanne promised with a soft laugh as she settled onto his lap, feeling the hardness that she had caused. She heated at that sensation, tilting ever so slightly so she could kiss and nibble on his neck. Since Austin was gone, Cheyanne assumed she could play. Her sexual frenzy had been pent so tightly since she left Howie and having him with her… She just couldn’t resist.
"Whoa… Honey," Howie moaned, knowing he should stop her before they went too far. Austin would surely have his head for… Holy Hell, who cared about her at that moment? Sliding his hands beneath the t-shirt Cheyanne wore, he whimpered when he cupped a bare breast. "Chey…"
“Do you know how many nights I dreamed about you when you left?” Cheyanne whispered softly, her voice catching as Howie eased her onto the bed, his fingers tenderly stroking the already sensitive flesh of her full breasts. She closed her eyes as she savored the touch, reaching to gently ease her arms around his neck, pulling him down for a harder kiss, murmuring softly between each tease of her tongue. “I even downloaded your songs off the internet. Cinnamon and I listened every night… So you’d be here…”
"I'm always with you," he breathed against her lips, easing her t-shirt up. Dipping his head, he traced her collarbone with his lips, gasping when her nails raked against his neck. "Chey… Honey… We should stop," he murmured.
“I don’t want to stop,” Cheyanne whimpered, lifting her back slightly as Howie peeled her shirt completely away, tossing it next to where his t-shirt had already fallen. As much as she knew the reasons for why they shouldn’t, she couldn’t help but think of him leaving in a day. She didn’t know when he would be able to see her again. And, considering the Hell she had been through these past few weeks, she just wanted to feel loved again. The loneliness was so hard to deal with, knowing she was trapped within dangerous waters, capable of drowning at any moment. She just didn’t want to think about that anymore. Especially as she tenderly pulled Howie close, melting their skin together as she nibbled Howie’s shoulder.
“Honey…” Howie gasped sharply, trying to gather his bearings as Cheyanne overpowered his senses with her sweet seduction. He wanted her so badly. Not a moment passed during the day when he didn’t think about caressing her soft skin, savoring her flavor, holding her close, hearing the soft whimpers of delight erupting from her throat. But he couldn’t help but concentrate on Austin’s nagging voice in the back of his brain. If they did this, there was a good chance that Howie could hurt the baby. Not to mention he could cause the placenta to completely tear away from the womb, killing Cheyanne by causing her to bleed to death in a matter of minutes. He couldn’t risk it. No matter how much he wanted her physically. “Baby, we can’t… I could hurt Cinnamon… And I could really hurt you… I’m sorry--”
“It’s okay,” Cheyanne promised softly, feeling a large wave of cold water crash against her system, chilling her instantly. And, despite her disappointment, she wasn’t angry. Instead, she leaned up to kiss him once more, grasping her t-shirt from where Howie had tossed it. She understood the dangers better than he did. She just hadn’t wanted to worry him, even with the arousal already starting to painfully cramp her womb. She would probably need to excuse herself to make sure she indeed wasn’t bleeding. She gazed at him apologetically as she draped the shirt over her nude upper half. “…You probably need a cold shower, huh?”
"Several," Howie muttered, sliding away. "I'm so sorry, Honey… I shouldn't have--"
“It’s okay,” Cheyanne promised, feeling far sorrier for him than for herself. Easing herself into a sitting position, she tried to hide the hard grimace from the sharp cramps, pulling her t-shirt back on. “I shouldn’t have started it in the first place.”
"Do you want to take a warm shower with me? It'll ease those cramps you’re trying so hard to hide from me," he said as he stood. Looking at her intently, he held out a hand. "Come on, Honey."
“Are you sure it’s a good idea?” Cheyanne hesitated, though she grasped his hand nonetheless. Holding a deep breath, she allowed him help her off the bed. The sharp pain crashed hard against her lower half, causing her to wince as she pressed a hand against Olivia, like she was trying to tell the child to calm down. “I mean, I just did that to you and you still want to get into a shower with me? I don’t want you blue-balled--” Cheyanne blushed a moment when she realized what she said. “Austi’s words…”
"I can always take a cold shower after you get back in bed…" Howie eased her into his arms, walking towards the bathroom. "Besides, I need someone to scrub my back," he teased lightly.
Austin yawned loudly as she practically crashed in through the front door, stumbling slightly to catch herself before she ran into the end table with a bowl of keys. Fumbling quickly, she immediately darted her eyes around her surrounding, assuring herself that no one was up. She listened for several moments, assured that not even Moth was rousing to her sound. Satisfied, Austin peeled off Cheyanne’s jean jacket that she had borrowed tossing it onto the couch as she sauntered into the kitchen. The songs from the bar still carried in her brain as she moved toward the fridge, pulling out the almost empty container of apple juice. She was somewhat guilty that she had gone out two days in a row without Cheyanne, especially when Jeff (Billy’s best friend) constantly asked when the youngest would be popping her kid out. It had taken such a great amount of energy just to kick them toward the road that morning, fighting with them because they wanted to see Cheyanne. But, she had managed, despite their big brawny forms, to win. So, triumphed, she leaned against the fridge, glancing around her surroundings and noticing Howie’s little pile of personal items on the kitchen counter. Mostly, the expensive cell phone that was barely half the length of a pencil.
Picking up the cell phone, she gazed down at it for a long moment. It seemed wrong, snooping in Howie's phone. Keeping an ear out for sounds of the man coming down the hall, she flipped it open, searching for the stored numbers. Useless, she told herself. He probably kept numbers in his head, not in his phone where anyone could-
"Alex?" she muttered, scrolling through the names. "Brian--the asshole..." He had Brian's, surely he had Kevin's as well.
Her heart did a flip when she found his name. Grabbing the shopping list off the refrigerator door, she scrambled in a drawer for a pen, all the time knowing she would never be able to bring herself to call him.
Only, she was so enthralled on making sure that the digits were correct, that she never noticed Howie shuffling into the kitchen. Even he seemed slightly surprised to see her bent over his cell phone, furiously scrawling what he already knew was Kevin’s number. But, he couldn’t help himself, leaning on the doorframe. “You planning on selling those numbers so you don’t have to work all those jobs?”
"Holy shit!" Austin shrieked, staggering back from the counter, her hand knocking his cell phone to the floor as she clutched the paper in her fist. "Howie!"
“For bitching about Kevin not having any morals…” Howie trailed with a shake of his head, leaning down to snatch his now closed phone off the floor. He brushed it off to assess for damages, but nothing seemed hurt, so he pushed it into the pocket of his jeans, moving toward the coffee pot to start a fresh brew. Humming, he casually rattled off the numbers to Kevin’s cell phone. “Is that what you have written?”
"Yes," Austin muttered, shoving the paper into her pocket. "Ever heard of announcing your presence?"
"I did," Howie said with a smirk. "Did you just get in?" he asked incredulously. No way. He must have slept through her coming inside in the middle of the night… He had been sleeping so well, Cheyanne curled in his arms.
“Yes, Father, I just got in,” Austin answered sarcastically, folding her arms tightly across her chest. Obviously, she was brooding from being caught, which placed her in quite the foul mood. Not to mention she was fully embarrassed beyond all belief, but she’d never admit to that. “And you better thank your lucky stars that Billy and Jeff didn’t burst their way in here. Or you would have been in a mess of trouble.”
"Would they have yanked me out by the hair?" Howie questioned lightly, moving to get a glass for Cheyanne's juice. "Oh, by the way, you didn't need to snoop in my phone. Honey got his number last night," he said with a grin, biting back a snicker when Austin's jaw dropped. "Are you going to call him?"
“You’re an asshole,” Austin spoke freely, yanking the glass from his hand. She couldn’t believe that he had the gall to call her out like that, when just a day before he was having a heart attack over saying the wrong thing. She suddenly decided that she’d put him to hard labor in the nursery before leaving. Muttering a string of tired curses, she bent into the fridge, searching for what she knew Cheyanne would want to drink that morning. Not to mention cool her burning cheeks.
“Ooo wee, shut my mouth,” Cheyanne’s sweet voice quoted one of the girls’ favorite songs out of no where, shuffling into the kitchen to get a view of her friend’s luscious backside. She had woken up without Howie beside her and didn’t want to be alone. So, she decided to see if Austin returned from her night out. And her lips curved into an amused smile as she rubbed her rounded abdomen, whistling at Austin. “Billy was sure happy last night with some serious honky-tonk badonkadonk.”
"He wasn't so happy with it this morning, when I told him that his badonkadonk couldn't come inside," Austin said, ignoring Howie's earlier questions as she poured her friend a drink. "He and Jeffie said they'd be by this weekend with your favorite pizza and some non-alcoholic beer," she added, turning to give Cheyanne her glass. "And why are you out of bed?"
“I’m out of bed because it’s boring back there,” Cheyanne answered simply, seating herself at the table to sip on the orange juice she craved. “And, you can drink all the non-alcoholic beer, tell them I’ll take one nice, cold Pepsi with chipped ice and a good horror movie.”
"Even better," Austin said, helping herself to the cup of coffee Howie had poured.
"Excuse me," Howie countered, giving her a look. "You have to answer my question."
“She’s going to call him, don’t worry,” Cheyanne answered for Austin, who seemed too busy fixing the perfect cup of coffee to answer Howie’s question. She had heard the squawking of her friend from the bedroom, which might have been what drew her out firstly. “She’s just going to wait till she’s all alone, without you hovering and giving her such a hard time.”
"I sincerely doubt it," Austin muttered as she pressed her lips to the cup. "I wanted his number… Just in case," she said feebly, looking away from their knowing glances. When Howie crossed the room to greet Cheyanne with a kiss, Austin slipped out, clutching her mug as though it were her lifeline. Once in her bedroom, she dropped onto the bed, gazing at the frog and bear on her nightstand. Tears pricked her eyes, and when she heard a soft knock on her door she angrily brushed them away. "Yeah?"
“Hey, Austin, mind if I come in?” Howie called softly from behind the door, his voice sincere with apologies. “I have a white flag flying, I promise…”
"Sure, Howie," Austin said, setting her coffee down so she could remove her boots. Throwing them across the room and into the closet, she brought her knees to her chest as Howie pushed the door open. "What you need?" she asked softly.
“I’m sorry for giving you such a hard time this morning,” Howie instantly apologized as he stepped into the room, offering a warm cinnamon bun toward her as a peace offering. “I know what’s going on between you and Kev is really hard. If Honey hadn’t of called me… I just know it hurts… And I really do hope that you’ll call him, because he loves you a lot. And, I have something else for you…”
Taking the bun, Austin motioned to the bed, watched him sit down. "It's so hard, Howie. And it hurts a lot… And I really appreciate your friendship, and you have no idea how much this little trip of yours means to Chey… What do you have for me?" she asked softly, nibbling on the bun.
“I know you said earlier that Honey was trying to do some work in order to help pay for costs and with Cinnamon coming. But, since the tears are getting so bad, she has to be on full bed rest… Honey mentioned that you’ve been working yourself to the bone. How many jobs are you working right now, Austi?” Howie asked plainly, deciding just to throw all the cards onto the table.
"Three… I've got my fulltime job that I do here, and my part time job at the convenience store, and then the one I got last night in the new bar. Why?" she asked dubiously, reaching for her coffee. "If you're here to talk me into quitting the Slip In, forget it. We need the money--"
“I know you need the money,” Howie interrupted gently, reaching to pull the wallet from his back pocket. Opening the fresh leather, he plucked out the check that Kevin had written. Carefully, he handed it toward Austin. “Kevin and I really want you to just focus on that fulltime job of yours. I know you’re going to consider this a handout, but it’s not safe for Honey to be home alone so long. If something happened… I’d never forgive myself… Your health and hers have to come first. We’ll take care of making sure you guys are getting the money you need. For everything… Just, please don’t rip it up.”
Staring at the check, Austin shook her head. "Howie… We can't accept your money like this. All the shit you sent was more than enough… And I know that Chey shouldn't be here alone, but… But…" The imploring look on his face broke through her pride, and she snatched the check from his hand, letting it fall to the bed when she saw the signature scrawled at the bottom. "I guess this is his way of buying me off," she muttered bitterly.
“Austin, no,” Howie scolded firmly, reaching to pick the check back up. “I told him how hard you were working and how sick Honey is with the baby. The first thing he did was say that you shouldn’t be working that hard. He was scared that you were going to get hurt. Damnit, don’t do this to me when I’m leaving in a day. I cannot go back to Florida or start a tour knowing that Honey is here by herself. That you’re working yourself to death. Kevin and I won’t stand for it. If you tear that check up, I’m just going to sign another with my name at the bottom. Either way, you’re taking the money.”
"How can he afford this? With the divorce and all… What if the Bitch's lawyer finds out about this? He'll have Hell to pay, and I don't want to put him through that…"
“He doesn’t care about that and he has his own top lawyer to cope with her bitchiness. He just cares about you, Austin. I wish you’d believe that,” Howie sighed, offering her the check once more. “He told me before I got here that I can’t let you refuse this, no matter what.”
Taking the check, Austin nodded slightly. Suddenly overcome, she impulsively hugged him, felt her tears splash against her cheeks. "Thank you, Howie… For everything. It's been really great having you around." Squeezing him lightly, she pulled away, turning away from him. "Can you leave me alone for a few minutes? I need to make a phone call…"
“Sure, Sweetheart,” Howie promised, kissing her cheek affectionately, knowing exactly what she was going to attempt to do. “I’ll go get the brat in a shower… By herself… She has to get blood work today, right? So, we’ll take her and then I’ll take you girls out to eat and maybe some badonkadonk shopping, whatever the Hell that means…”
Snorting with laughter, Austin turned to face him again. "Howie… Listen to me…" Giggling, she fell onto the bed, unable to contain her mirth. "Badonkadonk shopping? You want to take us ass shopping?" The look on his face was priceless, and she began shrieking with laughter.
“I want to take your asses shopping,” Howie quickly covered, though it was useless. “Just make your stupid phone call so we can leave.”
"Get out and I'll be glad to make my highly important, necessary phone call," she teased, throwing her pillow at him. "Besides, Chey might get jealous if she finds you in here on my bed," she added, wagging her eyebrows suggestively. He was just too adorably sweet, she couldn't help but pick on him.
“Well Lord knows you won’t let me give it to her…” Howie trailed.
"Howie! Get out!" she shrieked, throwing another pillow at him.
“Going! Going!” Howie yelped, darting out the door and quickly shutting it before he could be attacked. She then heard his retreat of footsteps, followed by a holler. “HONEY! LET’S GET A SHOWER!”
Sitting up, Austin instinctively pulled the frog into her lap, digging into her pocket for the crumpled paper. Smoothing it over her knee, she gazed at the digits. She would be strong. Just a quick call. Hello, thanks for helping us out, goodbye. That was it. Nothing more. Reaching for the phone, she began dialing, knowing all her resolve would disappear once she heard his voice.
Each separate ring caused her heart to crack a little bit harder and a little bit deeper. She immediately wondered what he was doing at that exact moment. What could possibly be keeping him from his cell phone? Was it another woman? Had he found someone else—Hey, this is Kevin. Sorry I couldn’t get to your call. Funny, even the guy with the stick up his ass – sorry, Ma – forgets to grab his phone. But, leave me a message and I’ll be sure to get back to you… Oh… Austin, I still love you…
Surely she had heard wrong. There was no way in Hell that… Her heart lurched painfully at the words, and when she heard the tone signaling it was time to speak, she could think of nothing to say. "…Call me…" she murmured finally, hanging up quickly. I still love you… Hugging the frog tightly, she buried her face against the plush toy, breathing in Kevin's scent before the sobs wracked her body.