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Chapter 43 – Short of a Miracle

Wrinkling her nose in disgust, Austin held the bowl away from her nose as she continued stirring. "This stuff smells like Moth just ate a bag of flour and puked it up on a pile of his fresh shit," she declared loudly, glancing over at Cheyanne. Her friend was lying on the bed, peeling off her shirt to prepare for the stomach cast they were about to do. "Good God, the fumes'll probably kill me."

“You’re the one that found this at the baby store and wanted to do it,” Cheyanne objected, grasping the cream in the kit to rub over her breasts and pregnant belly in order to protect her skin from the products they were about to apply. The pregnancy belly cast would be just like a cast made to protect a broken limb mixed with that of a festive piñata. Though, the plaster of paris in the kit was designed specifically for this task, promised to catch every feature of Cheyanne’s pregnant form. Though, she didn’t know whether or not she liked that idea, watching Austin dip the strips of bandages into the mixed material, praying it wouldn’t be too cold or slimy. “God… Do you realize how much Nicky and AJ would pay to watch this?”

"We could always send them the video," Austin quipped with a giggle, pointing at the camera she had set up on the dresser to capture the moments.

"No!" Cheyanne immediately squealed, shifting slightly as Austin sat beside her.

"We can blur out your breasts," Austin suggested, lifting a strip. "This'll probably be cold… And slimy," she warned before placing it over Cheyanne's stomach. Jerking her hand back, her eyes widened with incredulity. "Holy shit!"

“What’s wrong?” Cheyanne gasped, immediately sitting up from the towels that were spread to protect her comforter. Peering over her round stomach, she searched for signs of a problem. She fully expected to see the towels tinged with blood, signaling preterm labor, though she felt nothing to remind her of painful contractions. “Austi? What’s the matter?”

"Look! Your stomach is bouncing around like there's a little alien about to pop out!" Austin exclaimed, pointing. "Holy shit… Doesn't that hurt?!"

“No…” Cheyanne trailed as she wrinkled her nose at Austin’s grotesque face of pain. She couldn’t help but smile as she watched her stomach writhe with life. Almost as if Olivia was excited about today’s events, wanting to make her debut outside the womb. “I like the feeling of her moving. It’s the most amazing feeling… Just a breath of life, Austi… Like how you felt when you felt her kick the first time?”

"Yeah… But it's just freaky… A couple months ago she was barely noticeable, now it's like she's just announcing to all the world that she's here." Reaching for another strip, Austin bent to kiss Cheyanne's squirming stomach. "Sit tight, Ollie. Can't have Mommy's tummy lopsided, can we?" Setting herself to the task at hand, she was silent for a moment. "Chey… Do you think I'd be a good mother?"

“What kind of question is that?” Cheyanne breathed as she settled back over the pillows covered with towels. She closed her eyes as she tried to ignore the slimy cold, now knowing what a balloon felt like underneath all its plaster before a pin was inserted to pop it. She even released a few giggles at the tickling sensation, trying to recover her composure when Austin just shook her head with hilarity. “Of course you’re going to be a good Momma. After all, you had one of the best to learn from… And you’ve taken such good care of me and Ollie. There’s no question… I mean, you’ll have to brush up on the basic tasks, but that’s what being a Godmother first is about. You’ll be a wonderful mother. Hands down. No buts.”

"But--"

“Didn’t I just say there’d be none of those?” Cheyanne interrupted softly, opening her eyes to catch Austin’s worried gaze. “You’re going to be a great Momma, Austi. I promise.”

"If you say so… God. What if, in my infinite stupidity, I go to the grocery store and leave my kid at home? Or what if I put it on the couch and run to get clothes out the dryer and it rolls off and breaks its neck?"

“That’s why Kevin’s going to be the father. He’ll counter all your Nicky-like moments,” Cheyanne sighed softly, holding her breath as the strips were being applied to her breasts. Austin had always had an overactive imagination, especially when it came to the most trivial conversations. It had been a stress relief during all their finals. But, now, Austin was setting Cheyanne on edge with worry. She was no better than her friend and the pregnant one no less. Not to mention Howie had barely spoken to her in the week that she returned from Florida compared to Kevin calling every day. Why was Austin worrying about nothing?

"Just call me Boobah Jr.," Austin muttered as she applied the last strips. "Looks like you're all covered. Why don't you sit still while I go wash the bowl and change clothes? I've got all this gloppy shit on me now… Moth! No! No boobie loving right now!" she cried, shooing away the puppy as he moved towards Cheyanne. She pushed aside the thoughts of being a mother, for she knew it wouldn't happen for a while.

“Why don’t I sit still? God, Austi, what have I been doing for the past few six months?” Cheyanne actually quipped somewhat sarcastically as Austin hurried out of the room to change. Exhaling a heavy breath, she glanced sideways to see Moth sitting on the glider, just staring at Cheyanne with a miserable expression. She couldn’t help but smirk slightly at Austin’s affectionate term for Moth’s favorite cuddle spot. “You are going to be one pissed puppy when Ollie is born.”

Moth seemed to agree with the sentiment, huffing a whine as he curled comfortably on the glider. He rested his chin on his extend paws, just watching his master intently. He still kept a dark gloomy expression in his large eyes, causing Cheyanne to pout at him. Even when Austin came back to rest while they waited the thirty minutes for the cast to set before it could be removed and Cheyanne could shower. “You two are the most pitiful pair…”

“You’re so sweet, Austi,” Cheyanne cooed with a sarcastic sweetness, feeling the mold starting to harden around her form. She even felt Olivia’s kicks strengthen as if she didn’t like the confinement either. “But I was thinking… What do you think about painting the cast light purple to match Ollie’s nursery set? Then, whoever comes to visit can put a message to Ollie on the cast? So, when she’s older, she has something to look back on?”

"I like that… Then when it's covered with messages we can get Jeffie to shellac it? And hang it in…" Austin trailed softly, not wanting to think about where Olivia's nursery would soon be. Referring to the directions, she tested the edge of the mold, wiping her finger on her jeans. "Howie knows that when he carries you over the threshold, little Pisser's going to be right behind you, right?"

“You’re going to miss him,” Cheyanne warned, glancing away from her bridal magazine to catch Austin’s gaze. The younger woman smiled sweetly, not realizing the depth of her friend’s sorrow over the situation. “But you can baby-sit him for the honeymoon, otherwise Howie will call for an annulment… If he ever calls…”

"He's busy," Austin said with a shrug. "It's not like I talk to Kevin all the time. He'll call when he can."

“I know he’s busy,” Cheyanne agreed, closing the bridal magazine as she set it on her bedside table. She wasn’t going to be a fussy fiancée, demanding every critical moment of her soon-to-be-husband’s life. She just wanted some kind of recognition. To know he still thought about her. Especially as she considered how often Austin spoke with Kevin. It may not have been much, but it was more than what Cheyanne was getting. Howie seemed distant. Farther away than she ever would have wanted. But, Cheyanne didn’t make waves. She didn’t want to cause turmoil. So, she acted as if she had perfection, though she was aching on the inside. “I knew he’d be busy when I agreed to marry him.”

"Don't worry about it, Chey-Chey. You've got me and Moth here to keep you company. Besides, City Boy'll be coming out on his next break, won't he? Kevin said they were talking about it when I was on the phone with him earlier…"

“I wouldn’t know…” Cheyanne answered softly, averted her gaze back to the plaster adorning her upper half.

"When was the last time you talked to him?"

“I don’t know… It’s been awhile… The last real conversation I’ve had with any of them was Baylee, asking if I could find him more ‘rubs… Then asking if I could just stay in his tour bus… But, like you said, Howie’s been busy…”

Austin was quiet for a moment, appearing to be closely reading the directions. "Why don't you call him?" she questioned softly.

“I did a couple times before, but he was so impatient… He just… He was busy and I knew I shouldn’t have bothered him. He’ll call when he has time to call… Right?”

"You know him better than I do," Austin murmured. Reaching over, she tested the mold once more. "Alright, little Momma. Ready to get this off?"

“It’d be nice,” Cheyanne agreed as Austin helped her off the bed. Both women moved into the bathroom, Austin helping Cheyanne step into the tub. Once the plaster was off, Cheyanne would need to bathe to remove the rest of the gritty substance. And, by the look on Cheyanne’s face, she was eager to do so. And, together, they helped each other to peel off the cast, admiring the intricate detailing that the plaster had made of Cheyanne’s body. “Wow… I can breathe…”

"Oh my god!" Austin shrieked, eyes wide. "Ollie's trying to kick her way out!"

“What are you…” Cheyanne’s sentence halted halfway when she watched Austin wildly gesture toward the plaster mold, which sure enough contained a faint imprint of Olivia’s foot. She then glanced down to her rounded belly, seeing the foot was still poking out of her flesh. She could trace her fingers over the five toes, the arch, and even the heel. Cheyanne gasped sharply in wonderment, pressing her fingers delicately over her daughter’s foot. Hot tears immediately began to fall. “God… Austi… She’s… Get the digital camera, please?”

"Should I call 911?" Austin asked worriedly, setting the mold aside before diving for the digital camera on the bedside table. She was grateful it was so close, as she had earlier been taking photos of Cheyanne to put in Olivia's baby book. "It's her little foot, Chey," she cooed, sitting back to take a picture. After taking several, she reviewed them, reaching for her cell phone in her back pocket. "Call Howie," she commanded, handing it over.

“Call Howie?” Cheyanne blanked in surprise as she took the phone, allowing Austin to feel the child’s foot. She had to laugh softly at Austin’s excited squeal, never expecting such a miracle to occur. But to call Howie? Cheyanne hesitated as she reached for a towel to cover her nude upper half. “What if he’s busy? I should just email him the pictures…”

"He'll want to know about this. Call him, Chey. Hell, Ollie's probably about to make her debut, don't you think you should let him know? I'll email him the pictures… Kevin, too," Austin added softly, already moving from the bed to go get her laptop.

“My water hasn’t broken and there’s no contractions. She’s not making her debut… She just wanted to say hello,” Cheyanne answered softly, though she was talking to herself because Austin was already grabbing her laptop. So, leaning back, Cheyanne just stared at the cell phone, flipping it open to find Howie’s number. She concentrated on it, wondering if this was even important. Lifting the towel, she sighed when she realized the foot was gone. He should have been there for this. For making the cast and seeing Olivia’s foot. So, she hit the button to dial.

Austin was grumbling as she logged into her email account. Hooking up the camera, she shot Cheyanne a quick glance, saw her friend staring down at her stomach in wonderment. Howie should have been there to witness it himself, she thought as she tapped out a quick message to Howie and Kevin. After attaching the pictures and sending it, she closed her laptop with a thump, leaning against the dresser.

Cheyanne was about to give up hope that Howie would ever answer, thinking perhaps he had forgotten to turn on his voice mail, when there was a click, followed by a light crackle of static. "What is it, Austin?" he asked, his voice laced with tension.

“…It’s not Austin…” Cheyanne hesitated at first before murmuring her reply meekly. She could already tell that now was probably not the time to bother him, though it hurt just the same. She wondered what he would have sounded like if she had really gone into preterm labor. Would have his voice still been angry and annoyed? The very thought caused her stomach to cramp as she held her breath, willing tears not to fall. “…You’re busy aren’t you? I shouldn’t have called…”

"Honey? Why are you using Austin's phone? I'm just about to go into a radio interview… What's wrong?"

“Nothing’s wrong, I just… Do you have your laptop near you?” Cheyanne questioned, feeling even more lousy for disturbing him just before a radio interview.

Austin glanced up from turning off the video camera, taking in Cheyanne's tense posture. Clearing her throat to hold in the biting remark about Howie's demeanor, she busied herself with putting the camera away.

"Drew's got it… Look, can I call you back after I get out of this?"

“If you have to, but… Howie, I’d really like for you to check your email. Please? Austi just sent you something you really need to see. Then I won’t bother you again. You won’t have to call afterwards, either… Please?”

"But… Okay. I'll check it in a minute after I sit down. Gotta go. Love you."

“I’d rather be on the phone with you when you--”

"Yeah, sounds good. Bye," Howie muttered just before ending the call.

Austin could tell by Cheyanne's expression that Howie hadn't been the sweet guy she loved. "What was his problem?" she grumbled as Cheyanne let the phone drop to the bed.

“I bothered him when he was busy. It’s my fault,” Cheyanne answered softly, sliding off the bed. She brushed the back of her hand across her face, refusing to glance toward her engagement ring. “…I’m going to go get a shower… Get this junk off me…”

"But, Chey--"

“Can you get into my email and send the pictures to Momma D and Dad? Please?” Cheyanne questioned instead, gathering one of her baggy t-shirts and boxers from her drawers, never bothering to touch those garments that had once been Howie’s.

"Okay…" Austin watched Cheyanne leave the room, wincing when the bathroom door slammed shut. She knew her friend was going to cry, and her heart hurt that she couldn't comfort her. Returning to her laptop, she sent the pictures to the Doroughs, adding a quick paragraph about the stomach mold. Going back to her email account, she angrily banged out a message to Kevin, telling him what an asshole Howie was being.

*~*~*


“Holy shit!” Kevin exclaimed in excitement, leaning forward on the couch as he concentrated on the image Austin had sent him a few hours earlier. They had just returned from the radio interview and Kevin knew something would be waiting for him. Austin always liked to leave little things in his email to brighten his day. And this certainly had. He clasped his hands against his face in disbelief, rubbing furiously with an amazed smile. Austin had named the picture E.T. and he could see why. It wasn’t hard to mistake, Olivia’s little foot pressed against her mother’s abdomen. It was barely the length of his index finger and he found himself cooing. It was so adorable. “Howie! Did you check your email?”

"No… Ah, shit! Honey told me to check it hours ago," Howie sighed, moving to get his laptop from his bag. "What'd you get?" he questioned. He'd honestly forgotten, having the intention of checking his email once he sat down at the radio station. But he'd gotten caught up in the chatter of the DJ, Cheyanne's urgent pleas leaving his mind.

“Something that’s going to absolutely blow your mind,” Kevin mused with amazement, hurriedly forwarding the pictures to his mother before typing out quick emails to both Cheyanne and Austin. Now he wanted a photograph of the finished belly cast.

"What, did Chey find a sex tape of you and Badonkadonk?" Howie asked with a chuckle, settling in an armchair as he turned on his laptop. "And you're trying to stop its circulation?"

“Don’t I wish,” Kevin sighed ruefully, returning back to his inbox, noticing another few emails from Austin. “But I wouldn’t stop it’s circulation, that’s for sure.”

"No, you'd be marketing it like Tommy Lee and Pamela, right?" Howie mused, logging into his email. Glancing up, expecting a grin on his friend's face, he raised his eyebrows when he saw Kevin's mask of horror. "What?"

“You…” Kevin couldn’t even form the appropriate words as he clutched his free hand into a fist, holding back the urge to throw it into Howie’s jaw. Austin had been quite blunt in her choice of words, describing Howie as a loathsome little cockroach who needed squished beneath the steel toe of a four-hundred pound workman’s boot. And, Kevin couldn’t figure out a better choice of words as he clicked to the next email, finding the anger brewing with each as Austin recalled how miserably depressed Cheyanne was at that point. She could hear her crying over the noise of the shower… “Open your email now, D.”

"Okay…" Face lined with worry, Howie opened the email from Austin, assuming that was what had Kevin so riled. Reading over the one line, his eyes widened. "Ollie's foot," he read aloud, scrolling down to view the pictures. "Oh my… Kevin! Did you see this?"

“Among other things,” Kevin dryly replied, gesturing toward his friend’s laptop. “Go ahead, take a good look at them.”

"It's Cinnamon's little foot," he breathed, smiling wistfully. "God… And I was a total jerk to her earlier…" He felt like a heel for his shortness with her, wishing he could take it all back and stay on the phone with her all day. The stress of the tour was getting to him, and suddenly he wished he was in North Carolina with her.

“A jerk? Oh, no, Howie, you were a complete asshole,” Kevin breathed, leaning back on the couch so he wouldn’t be tempted to beat the living daylights out of his best friend. “Princess kept me up to date. Seems you sent Cheyanne to the bathroom to cry, but she didn’t want to act like it bothered her. But Austin heard her over the water. Then she asked Austin to leave her alone so she could take a nap, but she ended up crying again. She even told Jeff to go to Hell before she broke into sobs… You made her feel like she was nothing, Howie. She didn’t even want to call you to bother you, because you’ve been so assholish. How many times have you talked to her in the past week? You don’t deserve her, y’know that?”

"I… I think I talked to her about a week ago--"

“What the Hell is wrong with you?!” Kevin exploded with disgust.

"I've been busy, damnit! The tour, interviews, photo shoots, not to mention the little thing called house hunting and planning a honeymoon! Don't act fucking holier-than-thou, Kev! When was the last time you talked to Austin?"

“I talked to her today,” Kevin answered with a smug smile, folding his arms across his chest. “Between the tour, interviews, and photo shoots, I make a point to talk to Austin every day. Every morning and every night. Just to let her know that I love her. Not to mention find out what the girls are doing, like how they were making a belly cast of Chey’s pregnancy today. But you wouldn’t give two shits about that, huh? Too busy for that…”

"Chey understands," Howie muttered meekly, his gaze moving to the pictures.

“Yeah, I’m sure she understands between all those sobs… And the pain of her uterus contracting. Bet you’ll feel really proud of yourself when she goes into preterm labor and is lying on the floor bleeding to death,” Kevin muttered with disgust, standing.

"God…" Jumping up, Howie rushed to get his phone, his only intent calling Cheyanne now. However, Kevin's next words stopped him immediately.

"You honestly think she wants to talk to you now?"

“Excuse me?” Howie deadpanned.

“She probably would have been better off dating Nick. He wouldn’t have thrown the phone call away for some stupid interview. You’re engaged for Christ’s Sakes…” Kevin’s voice trailed off as he leaned down to scoop up his laptop. “Save her the heartache and don’t call her. You fucked up and you can’t fix it with just a snap of your fingers and a few I love you’s. Austin won’t let you, no matter how passive Angel is.”

"What do you mean, Austin won't let me?"

“Did I stutter?” Kevin returned, moving toward his room to relax for the evening, far away from Howie. He would even make a point to call Cheyanne later, making sure she was okay. That she didn’t need anything.

"Are you saying that, because of this, Austin's going to try to keep me from calling Honey? Who the Hell does she think she is?" Howie demanded angrily, turning his phone on. Before Kevin could answer, Nick appeared from the kitchen.

"So," the younger man drawled, biting into an apple, "I can call Chey now?"

“You’re officially off the bottom of the shit list, Nick! Feel free! Angel would love to feel loved again!” Kevin declared loudly before slamming his door.

"So… He's serious, right?" Nick asked eagerly, a grin creeping onto his features.

"Go to Hell, Nick," Howie muttered before stomping to his room.

Glancing over his shoulder at AJ, who was coming from the kitchen with a sandwich in hand, Nick raised an eyebrow. "I think I'm going to Carolina," he announced.

“Over my dead fucking body,” Howie spat as he slammed his door, feeling it vibrate from the power. Though, Nick and AJ were unfazed, obviously looking over Howie’s laptop to exclaim that Olivia was some kind of alien. He felt his entire body tense with disgust as he flung himself over the width of his bed, hurriedly keying in the girls’ number. He squeezed his eyes shut to ward off the oncoming migraine, praying that Cheyanne was the first to get to the phone. But he wasn’t that lucky.

“…JEFFIE! The paint goes on the cast, not on Chey-Chey! And don’t you dare throw her down onto the grass and start tickling her! Ollie’s raring to come out and that’s bound to cause her to come shooting like a damn football! …JEFFIE! ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?!”

"Austin?"

“What the fuck do you want?” Austin instantly snapped, her voice icy cold with the disgust she felt toward him. He could even hear the slam of the glass doors leading to the porch, followed by a muffling of Cheyanne’s laughter. Austin was already severing his ties.

"I want to talk to Honey. Now, if you don't mind," Howie curtly replied, pacing his room.

“She’s busy, y’know, like you were a few hours ago… Not to mention the whole past fucking week since she came back from Florida,” Austin growled, her accent thickening with the anger elevating in her system. Howie was sure that if she were able, she’d reach her arms through the phone and strangle him. “…Is that what you think engagement and marriage is about? Sliding a ring on her finger so no one else can have her, then just run for the fucking hills? Because if so, let me tell you where you can stick that engagement ring--”

"In case you didn't realize, I've been working--"

“Yeah! Doing the same fucking job that Pretty Boy is doing, yet he still manages to call every-fucking-day. Unlike you, he actually gives a shit about our little family. And if I knew this was going to happen, I never would have let her go to Florida, much less date a sleaze like you. At least Noah fucking called.”

"How dare you bring that fucker into this?" Howie hissed, clenching his fist in anger. "And you wouldn't have let her go to Florida? Is she a fucking kid now?"

“Well, I hate to break it to you, Dorough, but he’s the reason that she’s in this predicament! He’s been in this from the damn beginning! And I blame myself every day for not protecting her like I should have. But, damnit, I’m not letting her get hurt again. Not by you. No fucking way. She’s my little Momma and I take care of her! You have no idea what today was like!”

"I'm sorry, okay? If I had known--"

“That’s the whole fucking problem! You should have known! You’re her fucking fiancé for Christ’s Sakes! You should be here helping to take care of her! Not halfway around the fucking world ignoring her! She’s not just some little party favor that can tuck so neatly into your life. The way you want her to fit. Damnit, she’s so fucking special and you are just so blind! Do you know she spent this whole day in pain, just hugging her heating pad? The pain killers weren’t even fucking working, but she wouldn’t admit to it! She blames herself for getting you upset! When, in reality, you got her so upset that I thought I’d be taking her to the Emergency Room for a premature birth! And she’s too good of a person to tell you that you’re an asshole!”

"Let me talk to her. Now." Howie had heard enough. If he could only talk to Cheyanne, everything would work out.

“No,” Austin stated quite crisply as Cheyanne’s soft laughter grew. “Why should I give you the fucking privilege--”

“Austi, come see how good it looks!” Cheyanne suddenly exclaimed. “I was thinking you could put your handprint somewhere and sign there when it dries. Cause you’re always holding her at night!”

"Goodbye," Austin brightly chimed, ending the call with Cheyanne's laughter still in the background.
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