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Chapter 36 – Forlorn Goodbyes

Tucked away in the private lounge of the airport, Austin held onto Kevin as hard as she could. Knowing she would have to let go within the next hour only made her hold tighter. His arm wound around her waist, he held her close, his chin resting atop her head, and her heart grew heavier with each passing moment. She didn't want to say goodbye to him. The past few days had been the most spectacular she had ever spent, and knowing the bleakness of being alone in bed at night made her want to cry. She had grown accustomed to the feel of his body next to hers, the way he would murmur softly in his sleep when he stirred. The joy of waking up to see his face, the slow sleepy smile that would light up the room when their eyes met first thing. The peaceful happiness of just being with him throughout the day.

With a sad sigh she glanced across the lounge, a smile touching her lips when she saw Cheyanne seated on the floor, Baylee next to her, each working hard on their coloring at the small table before them. The light caught the diamonds on Cheyanne's left hand and they glinted, reminding Austin that, before long, Cheyanne would have a family of her own. And she would have… Closing her eyes briefly, she snuggled closer to Kevin, suddenly longing desperately to give him the children he wanted so badly.

“It’s going to be okay, Princess,” Kevin murmured softly, linking his arms around her waist to hold her closer. He could feel the desperation and sadness lingering in her posture, transferring into his lonely aura. He now knew how hard it had been for Howie to leave Cheyanne in North Carolina and why Cheyanne was probably so concentrated on Baylee as Howie lingered elsewhere. Why, perhaps, he had been so quick to make a formal engagement. Kevin would have followed on bended knee, but his divorce was a slow and agonizing process. He refused to put Austin through that. The wait of an engagement ring propped on her finger without a distant promise of the future. That much he would wait for. After their initial conversation of not having children, Kevin’s dreams had dashed just a bit. But there was no relief with her leaving. He wanted her to stay. Permanently. If Leighanne could go for the entire tour, why couldn’t Austin?

"I know," she whispered, burying her face against his chest as Nick and Brian began tossing a basketball back and forth. AJ was joining Baylee and Cheyanne on the floor, muttering something that made them both laugh in appreciation. Howie lingered nearby, his gaze on his new fiancée, and despite her own sadness at leaving she could feel his worry. "When is your next break?" she asked softly, nervously twisting the hem of his t-shirt in her fingers. Part of her longed to hear him request that she stay for the entire tour, but knew he wouldn't. He did, after all, have an image to uphold. And she knew she would turn him down were he to ask. She couldn't leave Cheyanne alone, nor could she expect her to tag along on tour. Hell, the excitement of the past days was starting to show, and she swore the moment they got home, her friend was going to bed to stay. Whether she liked it or not.

“We’re finishing our small promotion tour over the next couple of weeks before starting the official tour. So, our next break is around two weeks… Three days off after the next two weeks… Why, you got something planned?” Kevin answered, unlocking his hands, keeping one on her waist as the other went to rub her shoulder. He pressed another kiss to the top of her head, exhaling a soft breath. He wanted to warm her, though the air conditioning was pumping because of the feverish weather outside. But, Kevin was looking to warm her heart instead of her skin. It hurt so much to hear her so frail and weak, so fearful of the future. Usually she was so proud and regal, he didn’t want that to leave her. Not his spitfire. Not now when he needed it most.

"I think Howie's taking Chey to meet his family then, and I'll be all alone…" Austin trailed softly, lifting her head to look at him. "You think you can lose the Stooges for three days and come keep me company?" she asked with a smirk, wanting to shake off the feeling of dread that hung over her. "I can show you my bullet," she added, trailing her fingers down his chest as she leaned up to kiss him gently. When his hand slid to her neck, holding her lips to his, she felt the familiar shiver, wished suddenly that they had more than an hour left together.

“When I come for a visit, you’re not going to have any silly need for that bullet,” Kevin murmured, pulling her close for another kiss, exchanging a mixture of their hot breaths. He felt her eyelashes flutter gently against his skin, causing him to smile. “And, I’d love to play house with you for the weekend.”

"God, get a room," Nick groaned, wearily shaking his head.

"We had a room, Boobah. Leave us alone," Austin muttered, tugging Kevin towards the corner. "How come this big ass airport doesn't have--"

"Austin Leigh Harrell! No!" Cheyanne demanded suddenly. "There will be no loving in the airport lounge!"

“Why do they always gotta be ‘lone anyway? Not like it’s any fun without me!” Baylee scorned with a wrinkle of his nose, ripping several pages from his coloring book. Shielding them from Cheyanne’s view, he hurriedly scribbled on the tops, folding four. Then, scrambling to his feet, he hurried to catch Austin and Kevin before they could disappear. “Hey! You two! Freeze!”

"Freezing!" Austin assured him with a laugh, turning in Kevin's embrace to look at the boy. "What you got there?" she asked, smiling when Kevin's arms wrapped around her from behind, holding her close to him. They would be alright, she decided, leaning her head back to give him a loving look.

“I got pi’tures for you,” Baylee explained with a lopsided grin, giving Austin the unfolded coloring pictures he had worked so hard on. Then, glancing back to make sure Nick and AJ held Cheyanne’s attention, he offered her the slightly crumpled, folded coloring pictures. “C’you give those to My Angel on da plane? For ‘prise?”

"Aw, Bay," Austin cooed, pulling away from Kevin. Kneeling in front of Baylee, she accepted the pictures with a grateful smile. "Thank you so much. And I'll be sure and give her these on the plane," she said, taking the folded pages to tuck into her purse. "You're too sweet. Have you been taking lessons from Kevvy?"

“Please!” Baylee scoffed with a snort of giggles. “I bedder than Kevvy. Way bedder! Even bedder than Uncle Howie…”

"Oh, really? How are you better than them? Maybe I can train Kevvy a little." Austin gave him a wink, reaching to tousle his hair. Brian sure did make a beautiful child. She wondered if… Pushing the thought away before it could complete itself, she turned her full attention to Baylee.

“If you pay me… I train d’em!” Baylee offered with excitement, glancing toward AJ to see the slight bulge in his back pocket. Baylee’s sapphire eyes immediately shimmered with remembrance as he turned to Austin, squealing. “I got’s My Angel a ‘resent in Uncle J’s pants!”

Choking on laughter, Austin could only look at the boy, clapping one hand over her mouth as Kevin dropped into the nearby chair, his eyes wide open. "You have what?" she finally got out, biting back giggles.

"What kind of… present do you have for your Angel?" Kevin asked carefully.

“A special ‘resent!” Baylee exclaimed, looking at the two adults as if they were completely absurd for asking such a question. “Bedder than darn ring Uncle Howie gave her. She love me more.”

Clearing her throat, Austin sat back on her heels, glancing over at AJ, who labored over whatever he was coloring. "That's funny," she murmured to herself. "I thought he had the hots--"

"Austin," Kevin warned, shaking his head. Turning to look at Baylee, he gave the boy a smile. "Why don't you go give your Angel her present now? I'm just dying to see what it is…"

“Keep Uncle Howie away for me?” Baylee questioned hopefully.

"You bet. Go on, hurry," Austin encouraged him, getting to her feet as he scurried away. "Hey City Boy… C'mere," she called loudly.

“She looks pale…” Howie murmured softly to himself as he crossed the private room to seat himself by Kevin and Austin. Shaking his head softly, he focused his attention back to Austin, who had said little to him since finding out about the engagement. “What’d you need?”

Scrambling for a reason to have called the man over, Austin grabbed his hand between hers. Licking her lips, she took a deep breath, decided she couldn't lie to him. "Bay's making a move on your woman," she said softly, nodding towards Baylee, who was whispering in AJ's ear. Kevin was leaning forward to watch, apparently not wanting to miss a second of the show.

What? Making a move on--”

“Hey! Hush up over there!” Kevin commanded with a bit of a southern accent he always seemed to catch now and again when he was with his lover and her best friend. His emerald eyes tore from Baylee and AJ for just a moment to offer Austin a hard glare, then he quickly glanced back. He noticed AJ’s hand secretively reach into his back pocket, withdrawing the item that Baylee had purchased in the airport gift shop. Both made sure that Cheyanne was oblivious to the exchange, Baylee standing behind AJ for the pass, grinning madly at his choice of jewelry. A silver ring with an oversized, purple, squared gem that outshined Howie’s expensive engagement ring. Or at least that’s what Baylee thought.

"See how he treats me?" Austin asked Howie, brown eyes wide. "I love him till he screams, and he tells me to be quiet. Well, not when I'm loving him. That's when he--"

“Go away now, Uncle J!” Baylee hissed loudly as he pushed on AJ’s shoulder, bringing everyone’s attention to the small table that he, Cheyanne, and AJ were occupying. His sapphire eyes were wide with emphasis as he pushed his coloring book into AJ’s lap, along with several crayons. “Hurry!”

"I did all that grunt work for you and now you're telling me to go away?" AJ questioned with a pout. Scooping up the coloring book and crayons, he got to his feet, sticking his nose up. "Fine! See if I help you anymore," he said with a huff, dramatically stomping to a chair. Flopping down, he picked up a crayon, pretending to color as he watched Baylee roll his eyes before moving to stand next to Cheyanne.

“You just booted my coloring partner,” Cheyanne cooed with a soft laugh, offering the boy a pout as if she were defending AJ. “He was helping pick out my colors since you scurried away to play with Austi and Kevvy.”

"I gots a 'resent for you, My Angel!" Baylee said excitedly, clutching the box in his small hands. Remembering how Howie had acted, he lowered himself to one knee, gazing up at her, his eyes wide with adoration.

“I can’t even imagine what beautiful thing my Darlin’ got me,” Cheyanne cooed with a gush of emotions, falling head over heels in love with the little boy all over again. He looked so cherubic at that moment, holding the box to his heart for safe keeping. His long blonde curls wild and unruly as he grinned with true excitement. He squirmed in his position, but followed Howie par for course.

Howie was less than amused, however. “He’s stealing my--”

“Leigh, get me the camera,” Brian breathed excitedly, nudging his wife hurriedly in the abdomen.

"Get it yourself," Leighanne hissed, folding her arms over her chest as she glared at Cheyanne. "Did you take him shopping for her?" she asked, anger slicing through each word.

“He wanted to go into the gift shop to get something real quick, but wanted J to take him. So, I gave him some money. What’s the big deal?” Brian questioned, blatantly ignoring his wife’s attitude as he fished into his backpack for the video camera that never left his side.

Snorting, Leighanne shifted in her seat, not understand how her husband could be on that woman's side. "How can you encourage his--"

"My Angel?" Baylee asked seriously, his eyes never leaving Cheyanne's face despite the bickering between his parents. "I love you."

“I love you too, Darlin’,” Cheyanne promised sweetly, reaching to brush her fingertips lightly over his chubby cheek, forcing herself to concentrate on the child instead of the explosion of emotions rushing through the variety of the adults in the room. She could feel the anger pulsating from Austin as Kevin and Howie maintained a tight hold on her, but Baylee wanted her utmost attention.

"I pwomise never to leave your side, My Angel," Baylee continued, holding out the box. "Will you be mine?" he asked hopefully, biting his bottom lip.

“Baylee Thomas Wylee Littrell…” Cheyanne whispered with true adoration at his lovability and sweetness. She clasped her hands over her heart with awe, watching him fumble to open the box to reveal his silver and purple ring. Her lips pursed with surprise as she reached to kiss his forehead. “I was always yours, Baylee. You’re my Darlin’, remember?”

"You wear my ring?" Baylee asked, holding up the box for her to better see the ring. "I picked it out jus' for you, My Angel."

“I would love to wear your ring,” Cheyanne agreed, glancing up briefly toward Howie before offering her right hand. “Will you put it on for me?”

"But dat's not the right finger," Baylee said, poking out his bottom lip as he looked at the ring Howie had given her.

“Darlin’, this hand is more special for you,” Cheyanne murmured softly, watching Howie’s eyebrows furrow with fear that she might actually remove the engagement ring. But, she refused to part with the treasure. With that part of Howie’s heart. “You see, this one is closer to my heart and the one I always hold Ollie with. And, when I write or draw for you, I’ll always see your ring first. Please?”

"O'tay." Remembering exactly how Howie had done so, he took the ring from the box, easing the cool metal onto Cheyanne's finger. "Now you're mine forever, My Angel?"

"Brian, how can you just sit there filming this?" Leighanne hissed in her husband's ear. To think that her own son had… "If you don't put a stop to it, I will!"

Brian rolled his eyes as he attempted to slide an arm around her waist, keeping the camera poised on Cheyanne as Baylee embraced her excitedly. “Leighanne, calm down, he’s two years old and he loves his Angel. It’s adorable--”

"It is not! You know just as well as I do that she's just with Howie for his money," Leighanne said heatedly, wrenching from his grasp.

"Oh, the same reason you're with me, right?" Brian returned, anger creeping into his voice. "That's a little like the pot calling the kettle black, isn't it?"

"Good God," AJ breathed, unsure whether he wanted to watch Cheyanne and Baylee or Brian and Leighanne.

“You sonofa--”

“Austin and I should really get our bags and head down to get boarded,” Cheyanne suddenly announced as she stood from the small table. Her stomach cramped terribly with the disgusted looks Leighanne was offering her, deathly aware of how hard Baylee was clutching her hand. She hadn’t been feeling well to start off with, now this was making it harder. She couldn’t even lift Baylee without pain, so she shifted uncomfortably in order to reach for her pet carrier. She didn’t want to stir controversy, much less a fight between Brian and Leighanne. “We’re not fancy like y’all. We board with the rest of the passengers.”

"No," Baylee wailed, clinging to her. "You can't leave me."

“Darlin’, your Daddy and I already explained this to you…” Cheyanne winced as Austin pushed herself from Kevin and Howie’s hold, stumbling to grasp the pet carrier and Cheyanne’s duffle bag. Though, Baylee caught it first and yanked it down hard so Austin couldn’t take it. Her eyes widened in surprise as he held tightly to Cheyanne’s capris with one hand, opening the duffle bag to crawl inside with the other.

"Baylee," Leighanne warned, reaching to grasp his hand. "You are not going home with them!"

"Mommy, le'go!" Baylee screeched, wrenching from her grasp. "My Angel needs her Darlin'!"

Fixing her icy stare on her husband, Leighanne yanked the video camera from his hand. "This is all your fault. You fix it."

“You pompous bitch,” Austin growled sharply, yanking her small stature away from Howie and Kevin. And, stepping toward Leighanne, Austin shoved her hands hard against the older woman’s shoulders, causing her to fall back onto a hard plastic chair. “What would be so wrong with Baylee coming home with us? If anything, Chey would be a helluva lot better mother than you could ever be. Baylee fell in love with Chey the second he saw her. And I damn well bet he wouldn’t even take milk from your plastic tit without draping a black towel over your face!”

Taking a deep breath to calm his frazzled nerves, Brian stepped between them, his glare on his wife. "Maybe you should go outside and calm down for a moment," he suggested softly. "I'll take care of Bay."

Scrambling to her feet, Leighanne attempted to push Brian aside, only to be caught at the waist by him. "Let me at her!" she shrieked, clawing at his arms when he ushered her to the door. "Goddamn you, Brian! Whose side are you on?"

“Ours, apparently, you crazy bitch,” Austin returned gleefully, practically hopping onto her tiptoes in order to see over Kevin’s outstretched arm, though Cheyanne was wilted in a plastic chair, holding her now cramping abdomen as Baylee sobbed against her, pleading for her to stay.

Giving Drew a nod, Brian disentangled himself from Leighanne's arms as the bodyguard ushered her from the room. Once the door was closed behind them, he moved to sit next to Cheyanne. "Scooper…" God, how he hated this. If he thought for one second his wife wouldn't kill him, he would ask the girls if Baylee could go for a couple days. But it would do more harm than good, he figured. "Son, please don't do this. You'll see Chey again soon."

“She p’omised to stay for’eber!” Baylee sniffled hard as sobs racked his tiny chest. He crawled onto the chair beside Cheyanne, making her a barrier to his father’s grasp. He then wrapped his arms tightly around Cheyanne once more, burying his wet face into the crook of her neck. The sobs continued to break repeatedly into pathetic wails, unable to be soothed. Instead, he glared shortly from his stance against Cheyanne, practically daring anyone to try to take him.

Cheyanne winced at his declaration, attempting to meekly rub his back as her stomach cramped violently. She knew not resting the entire weekend would cause serious problems for her, but she hadn’t expected… “Darlin’, please--”

"She'll be with you forever," Brian said gently, leaning his elbows on his knees as he looked at his son. Reaching over, he smoothed Baylee's hair, his heart breaking when the boy shrank away from him. "She'll always be right in your heart, won't she? And I promise, we'll go visit her soon, okay?"

"No want Mommy go," Baylee mumbled, on the verge of hyperventilating as he continued to sob. "I hate her," he avowed, blinking rapidly. "Her almost 'urt My 'Rincess."

“I think his ‘Rincess could have wiped the floor with Leigh’s fake hairpieces…” AJ murmured, completely oblivious to the fact that his voice seemed to echo against the softness of the room and Baylee’s wheezing sniffles.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Austin muttered, squirming in Kevin's vise-like grip. "You can let go now, I'm not going out there to beat the shit out of her."

"Just you and me," Brian promised, crossing his heart. "We'll hop in the car and take a road trip, okay? And when we get to Chey's you can serenade her and color with her and give her tummy kisses till the cows come home."

"Oh, so now I'm a cow," Austin whispered to AJ.

“If the bell fits…” AJ trailed with a wicked grin.

"Why you little--" Austin cut off when Kevin tugged her back to him, sticking her tongue out at AJ. Turning her attention back to Cheyanne, she noticed the death grip Baylee had on her, as well as the way her friend rubbed her stomach. Howie, she noticed, could only stand and watch, as was Kevin. The other two, she realized, were useless as always. Turning to look up at Kevin, she whispered, "I think he's taking this the hardest."

"Pwomise, Daddy?" Baylee asked, hiccupping.

"Cross my heart. Besides, you don't want Chey to get upset do you?" Brian asked softly. When Baylee shook his head, easing his grip on Cheyanne's neck, Brian sighed. "Do y'think you can let her go this time? Just for a little while?"

“The only reason you think he’s taking it the hardest is because he’s just a baby boy and unable to hide his emotions…” Kevin murmured softly, knowing he felt on the inside what Baylee expressed on the outside.

"I, for one, will be sobbing into my pillow tonight," AJ informed whoever would listen.

“Don’t worry, Nick will sneak in to kiss away your tears,” Kevin sneered toward his friend, watching Cheyanne carefully ease Baylee into her arms. She sweetly kissed away his tears as she ran her fingers through his unruly curls. Promises of every day emails and phone calls could be heard. Something to make Baylee feel special.

"My Angel call me every night 'fore I go bed?" Baylee asked hopefully.

“If your Daddy doesn’t mind,” Cheyanne answered, glancing toward Brian in an air of question. She wasn’t about to stir anymore trouble, especially considering how close Austin had been to attacking Leighanne.

"She can call," Brian assured his son. "After all, she has to use those minutes on that fancy cell phone Uncle Howie got her, doesn't she?"

Cracking a smile, Baylee nodded. "You send emails to Daddy for me?" he asked, snuggling closer to Cheyanne. "Or to Uncle Howie?"

“How about your Daddy sets up a special email account just for you so I can send messages? How about… Darlinbay-at-yahoo-dot-com?” Cheyanne suggested with a soft tease, sneaking her hand under his t-shirt to tickle his bare stomach.

Giggling, Baylee pressed wet kisses on her cheeks. "Do it now, Daddy," he commanded, casting a soulful look at his father. Turning back to Cheyanne, he hugged her tightly. "You call me when you get home?"

“I will call you the second my toes touch the carpet,” Cheyanne emphasized with great promise, leaning to kiss the tip of the little boy’s nose. Shifting, she moved to place Baylee back on the floor, needing just an inch of room to breathe before her abdomen burst. “But, I’m going to be stuck in this crummy airport if Austi and I don’t get going… So, go give your ‘Rincess some hugs and kisses for me, okay? So she won’t get jealous and leave me here.”

"O'tay. I love you, My Angel," Baylee murmured, hugging her once more. Turning, he scurried to Austin, tugging impatiently on Kevin's pants leg. "Move, Kevvy! Me gots to love My 'Rincess bye!"

“I swear I’m stuffing him in that duffle bag for Angel,” Kevin scoffed as he reluctantly allowed Baylee to push him away. He furrowed his thick brows when Austin swooped to hug and kiss Baylee goodbye, glancing to his quiet best friend. “Is this how you feel every day when Baylee is with Angel or what?”

Howie nodded, a wistful smile on his face. "Sometimes," he admitted.

“And you just silently watch… So very passive aggressive, D,” Kevin teased lightly as Nick swooped between Brian and Cheyanne. He made a point not to roll his eyes, knowing Howie would find it in due time. “You alright?”

"I'd be better if she could stay," Howie said softly as AJ moved in to hug Cheyanne as well. His chest panged at the thought of her getting on the plane and leaving, and he knew nothing would feel right again until she was by his side forever. Glancing at Kevin, he saw his friend's gaze on Austin, who was whispering in Baylee's ear. "You?"

“Miserable, but she’d never agree to stay on tour with me. Never in a million years,” Kevin murmured. “Goodbyes are a part of life, I suppose. Two weeks till I see her again. Just have to count the days…”

"Did you even ask her?" Howie asked, shoving his hands into his pockets as Brian started snapping pictures of Nick, Cheyanne and AJ. "I would have asked Honey, but with all the stress of going from place to place, I knew it wouldn't be good for her. She needs to be at home where she can rest… Two weeks… God, I'll be counting the minutes."

“I didn’t have to ask, I knew it by the look in her eyes,” Kevin answered easily, watching Baylee tug Austin toward the group for photographs. “She wants to get her career started and she won’t leave Angel alone by herself. There was no point in asking, just to put her in a place to feel guilty. Just like you didn’t ask Angel, knowing what’d it’d do.”

"So here we stand, suffering in silence," Howie observed. "And the moments tick by until their boarding call, and yet neither of us has the nerve to start saying goodbye."

“I never said we were brave, D.”

“Funny, neither did I…”

*~*~*


“You honestly didn’t have to walk us to our terminal. We would have been just fine with the goodbyes in the private room. What happens if someone recognizes you?” Cheyanne anxiously asked of Howie and Kevin, knotting her hands tightly against her aching abdomen. Despite her protests, she still kept to the path the men were providing, leading the girls toward their terminal, baggage in hand. Actually, in Drew’s hands, who would board with the girls to make sure it was safely secured before leaving. Just the nicest of touches provided when one was famous, though Cheyanne would never be comfortable with it. Though, that was the least of her worries as she chewed on the inside of her cheek, not wanting to say goodbye. Not wanting to part with her fiancé by any means. At that thought, she lightly rubbed the gemstones on her engagement ring, wishing with all her might that Howie would have just let go at the waiting room. The painful cramps were becoming unbearable with the heartache.

"That's what Drew is for," Austin said softly, clinging to Kevin's arm as they rounded the corner. There she saw the line waiting to board, and her throat closed up. This was it. Two weeks… Blinking rapidly, she bit back the tears, willing herself to be strong. If for no other reason than Cheyanne. She had to be strong for Cheyanne. When Kevin stopped, winding his arms around her, she felt a tiny piece of her heart break away, only a precursor of the emptiness and loneliness she would feel until his arms were around her again.

Turning to Cheyanne, Howie noticed the way she rubbed her abdomen. "Honey," he whispered, covering her hands with his. "You look so pale…"

“I’m fine,” Cheyanne assured, jerking her hands away in surprise at the feeling of Howie’s soft warmth. She mustered some kind of apologetic smile when he looked at her with confusion, reaching to fold her hands into his again. There was no reason to worry him. Since the tears had been worsening in her uterus, the blood pooling behind the tears had began to make her anemic, which resulted in, not only her paleness, but her weariness as well. The pregnancy was getting the best of her. The pain making her so unsure of herself and her grounding to even deal with labor. Though, she kept those facts hidden, since Austin was somewhat baffled when it came to all the obstetric appointments Cheyanne was forced to keep. She wasn’t about to worry them, especially considering Howie would be thousands of miles away. He needed to concentrate on his career. Not her.

"Are you sure?" he murmured, sliding his hand up to cup her cheek. "Baylee didn't upset you too much, did he?" Stepping closer, he kissed her forehead, longing to just get on the plane with her. Two weeks… It felt like an eternity. He had become spoiled the last few days, waking up next to her, being able to hold her whenever he felt like it.

“I’m positive,” she promised as they stopped within the long line, her voice catching with just the warmth of Howie’s hand on her cheek. Allowing her eyes to flutter closed; she reached to hold his wrist, feeling the tenseness of his body with just the simple bounding sensation of his pulse. He looked miserable. Far more miserable than she felt. “Baylee didn’t upset me. I understand why he was sad and I don’t blame him. He’s just a baby. And, what we did last night has no effect, either… ‘Cause I know you’re thinking ‘bout that, Mr. Dorough…”

"Guilty," he murmured against her cheek. "You'll call me?" he asked hopefully, knowing he sounded like Baylee but not really caring. "The moment your toes touch the carpet? Better yet, the moment your toes touch the tarmac?"

“Of course I’ll call,” she drawled with promise, letting her gaze sweep behind Howie for a moment, watching the way Austin clung so tightly to Kevin. She was wrapped protectively in his embrace, him kneeling halfway just to nuzzle his face into her neck, singing softly against her skin. And Cheyanne had to smile sadly at the sight, knowing Austin would be a wreck on the plane, no matter how determined she was to stay strong. She wanted to say something to Kevin, but felt Howie’s hand moving against the ring Baylee had given her. She smiled ruefully. “And I’ll call you before Darlin’… Don’t know why you’re so jealous of the little squirt…”

"I'm not jealous," Howie said quickly, kissing her cheek. Closing his eyes, he breathed in her scent, drawing her closer to his body. "And call me the moment you leave the doctor's office tomorrow, okay?" he whispered, smoothing his hands over her back as her head rested against his chest. "And I'll try to call you before the show tomorrow night, but I don't know what we'll be doing…"

“I know you’re going to be busy, you don’t have to call twenty times a day,” Cheyanne assured, linking her arms around his waist as she listened to the rhythmic beats of his heart. She made no point to call out how quickly he answered to the jealousy question, finding it adorable that he reacted to Baylee in that way. It made her know that she was loved indefinitely. Though, she was more concentrated on the end portion of his requests. As much as she wanted him to call all the time so she wouldn’t miss his voice, she knew it wouldn’t be appropriate. His career came first and foremost. That was a part of his soul that Cheyanne refused to touch, knowing how important it was to him. How he thrived with his music and blossomed so beautifully. He was a wonderful entertainer, no matter how insecure he was. “…And how did you know about the appointment tomorrow?”

"A little birdie told me," Howie whispered in her hair, easing her forward in the line. Though he wanted her to stay forever, he knew she'd be upset if she missed the flight. "Did you take your vitamins today?" he asked worriedly.

"I love you," Austin whispered feebly against Kevin's neck. Biting back tears, she wrapped herself tighter around him, as though she could acquire his strength by doing so. Glancing over at Howie and Cheyanne, she drew in a deep breath. "We have to board," she murmured.

“I love you, too, Princess… You take care of Angel for me and you take care of yourself, too,” Kevin told her softly, ducking to kiss her once last time before letting her draw away from his arms. It felt as if she had pulled his heart from its bed when the coolness of the air conditioned airport caught against him. But, he’d rather her have his heart while she was away. So, maintaining his pride, he straightened and made sure to wipe away the tears that had accidentally slipped, watching Cheyanne promise Howie that she indeed took her medicine as indicated. “I better give her and the little Angel my goodbyes.”

Nodding, Austin reached up, her hand smoothing over his cheek, felt her heart shatter when she felt the wetness of his tears. "Call me," she whispered. Tearing her eyes from him, she turned to say goodbye to Howie, hanging back when she saw Cheyanne wrapped in his arms, sobbing.

“You call me when you’re home,” Kevin requested softly, following behind Austin so he could say his goodbyes to Cheyanne. Though, he felt his throat constrict when he noticed her trying so desperately to compose herself away from the soft, whimpering sobs. It was easy enough to see the physical pain she was inflicting on herself, so he couldn’t imagine her inner turmoil. And Howie looked just as distraught, so Kevin naturally wondered if the engagement had even been a good idea, thinking Howie’s bouts of depression might deepen with his fiancée being so far away instead of merely a girlfriend. “Angel, Sweetheart, c’mere… I need some love, too, before you leave.”

Nodding slightly, Howie let Kevin pull Cheyanne from his embrace, felt a coldness sweep over him at her tears. Turning to Austin, he was surprised to see that she, as well, was crying. When she wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly he was duly surprised. "Take care of her," he said softly. "And keep me updated, okay? 'Cause I know she won't tell me everything that's going on…"

“I already put all the dates that you need to know in your fancy PDA. Even set them with alarms so you won’t forget to call. I don’t know all the medical terms, but I can manage to keep you in the loop… Maybe talk to her obstetrician when she leaves for the monthly blood draw…” Austin sniffled with promise, kissing Howie’s cheek with a warmth that neither expected. Though, it seemed as the weeks passed, they were becoming close friends, no matter how much Austin tormented him. “And don’t you break her heart, City Boy. Otherwise we’re hawking the engagement ring for a horse…”

"Don't make me come to Carolina and chase you around the chicken coop with a shotgun," Howie teased lightly, kissing her cheek softly. "And don't you break Kevin's heart, or I'll be forced to… To…" Damn, he didn't have anything.

“Chase me around the chicken coop with another shotgun?” she teased.

"Sure, sure, just kick a man when he's down…"

“You know I love you, City Boy.”

"I know. I love you too, Badonkadonk." Hugging her again, he stepped back, his eyes moving to Cheyanne, who was listening to Kevin's whispers.

“No webcam for Nicky when he IM’s me, okay…” Cheyanne agreed quietly with a soft giggle, attempting to smother the hiccups that resulted from her previous tears. Her cheeks were flushed slightly as she wiggled in Kevin’s embrace, far too aware that her feet were dangling inches from the ground. Kevin loved treating her like a little sister of sorts. A kid sister.

"Oh, and if Princess gives you any trouble, give me a call, okay? And see if you can't sneak into her room and get rid of that little bullet she keeps bragging about…" Setting her gently on her feet, Kevin kissed the top of her head. "And take care of yourself, Angel." Leaning over, he pressed a kissed to her stomach, smirking when she giggled. "And don't you give your Momma too much trouble, Little Angel," he murmured.

“I’m sure she’ll listen quite well…” Cheyanne acknowledged, knowing Olivia already loved to waken her mother a little after midnight with a series of hard kicks. She swore to Heaven above that Austin had been playing her karate tapes at night for the unborn child. But, that was mute when the announcement of their flight’s boarding crackled over the speakers. Every fiber in Cheyanne’s body tightened as she felt Howie’s hand on her shoulder, realizing he wanted one final goodbye as Austin grasped her hand.

Austin immediately stepped back, her eyes moving to Kevin as Cheyanne turned to Howie. The man's words were drowned out by the announcement of the final boarding call, and she quickly looked away from Kevin's pained eyes.

"I love you," Howie murmured in Cheyanne's ears, hugging her as tightly as he dared. He never wanted to let go, wanting instead to hold her in his arms forever. "Have a safe flight."

“I love you, too,” she promised, stepping to her tip toes to kiss just underneath his chin. She wrinkled her nose slightly at the sensation of tickling facial hair, but it made Howie smile nonetheless. “It’s only two weeks, Tea…”

"I know. And then it's just you and me for a whole day before I let my family take over you, okay?" he asked, pressing his forehead against hers for a moment that passed in a second. "Go," he whispered, stepping back. Before his heart could break even more at the thought of her leaving.

Cheyanne nodded with understanding as she tucked a few stray curls behind her pierced ears, moving toward the line that was leaking into the loading station. She tugged haphazardly at Austin’s hand in order to motivate her friend into leaving, but Austin wrenched away, reaching to wrap her arms protectively around Kevin before he could leave. And he was surprised at the gesture, always thinking Austin to be the strong one. But he welcomed the embrace, leaning to kiss her once more. “You’re going to miss your flight, Princess.”

"Just once more," she murmured softly, pressing her lips to his. "I love you… Take care of yourself and Howie… Bye," she whispered between kisses before dragging herself from the comfort of his embrace. Willing herself not to cry, she ran her hand over his cheek, blinking rapidly to avoid tears as his hand caught hers. He released it immediately, meeting her eyes one final time before she turned away, rushing after Cheyanne.
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