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Chapter 51 – You’re a Gift

"How's my Little Momma feeling today?" Austin cooed as she came into the bedroom, carrying Cheyanne's breakfast on a tray. Since Nick and Kevin's departure the day before, Cheyanne had stayed in bed, only getting up for bathroom breaks and a late night shower. Though she looked a little happier this morning, Austin decided as she set the tray on the bedside table. Wearing one of the shirts Nick had left her, her golden curls pulled into a messy ponytail, she offered a tentative smile as she reached for her juice. Moth, stretching languidly, leaped off the bed and padded towards the kitchen in search of his own breakfast.

“I’m okay,” Cheyanne promised as she closed her laptop and moved it to the bedside table for safe keeping. She had been writing a quick note to Baylee and Nick after hearing Austin’s noisy morning start to getting breakfast prepared. Usually, she slept right through the noise, but Austin had started Moth, who dove into Cheyanne’s shirt for protection, which had awakened Olivia. It seemed to be a cataclysm of events that kept her from sleeping, which she playfully complained to Baylee, knowing he probably would offer his bed as refuge. The little boy was so eager to see her again and she truly missed him, too. “Are you going to stay with me?”

"You bet. I'm taking off today, so I'm going to spend it all with you," Austin declared as she flopped down next to her. "Was that Nicky that called earlier while I was fixing your eggs?" she questioned, already picking up Cheyanne's cell phone to peruse the received calls list.

“Why don’t you tell me?” Cheyanne teased playfully, reaching for the toast covered in strawberry jelly, elated with the sweet taste of homemade jam.

"A-fucking-parently it was," Austin muttered with a laugh. "Holy Hell, woman, how many times did he call you last night?!" Looking up at Cheyanne, she smiled sweetly. "That's Momma Richardson's jam. Pretty Boy brought some with him last time, but I hadn't gotten around to trying it until today…" Looking back at the phone, she shook her head slightly. "Boobah's obsessed, isn't he?"

“The jam is really good,” Cheyanne mumbled as she swallowed the rest of the toast, reaching for her orange juice, trying to hide the dark flush of embarrassment on her cheeks. “And Nicky’s not obsessed.”

"Awe… He sent you pictures of Bay! How cute is that?!" Austin cooed, looking through the up close pictures of Baylee on the phone. "At least there aren't any pictures of Little Nicky… Are there?"

“Darlin’ was so excited about the scrubs that I bought him, he insisted on a fashion show. And, knowing Nicky had a camera phone… I thought it was adorable… And, yeah, Nicky has pictures of himself on there… When Darlin’ killed him and brought him back to life,” Cheyanne answered, not catching the subtleness of Austin’s joke.

"Not those pictures, Chey-Chey… Y'know… Little Nicky!"

Cheyanne wrinkled her nose. “Why would he send me pictures of that movie?”

"Good God… I'm not talking about that, Chey! I'm talking about his di--"

“Austin Leigh!” Cheyanne exploded in horror, choking on her juice. “Why would he send me pictures of that?!”

"For you to remember?" Austin suggested with a wicked grin.

“To remember what?” Cheyanne immediately returned with a full air of innocence, concentrating on poking her scrambled eggs. She knew full well that her cheeks were a fiery red with embarrassment. And, if Kevin knew about Nick’s escapades with Cheyanne, then Austin knew, too. It wasn’t as if she could hide herself away. Cheyanne was a terrible liar. But, like when she first found out she was pregnant, she feared Austin’s reaction. She knew what she did was wrong.

"You know, Chey… That innocent act doesn't work on me anymore." Closing the phone, Austin set it aside, sitting up when she heard Moth's insistent yip in the kitchen, signaling he was ready to mark his territory outside. "And when I get back, I expect details."

“No details for Austi,” Cheyanne drawled with a firm shake of her head, watching Austin disappear down the hallway. She heard her best friend cursing at Moth, like always, but there was a sharp tap at the front door, causing a louder curse. Exhaling, Cheyanne set her tray aside and crawled out of bed. “I got the front door, Austi!”

"If it's Jeffie, tell him we're having a girls' day and he has to come back later!" Austin called from the kitchen, followed closely by the sound of the back screen door slamming shut.

Cheyanne nodded at Austin’s declaration, excited that Austin was actually dedicating the entire day to Cheyanne. It had been so long since she had just curled against Austin, perfectly content watching Disney movies and snacking on various munchies. Though, those thoughts became sidetracked when Cheyanne opened the front door to find a delivery man with a somewhat large box covered in logos for 1-800-Flowers. She furrowed her blonde brows in surprise, leaning to open the screen door. “Can I help you, sir?”

"Morning, ma'am. I've got a delivery here for a Miss Cheyanne Lorde, and another in the van for a Miss Austin Harrell… Have I got the right house?" he questioned, looking down at the clipboard atop the box.

"Yes, sir, you do… For me?" Cheyanne questioned curiously, eyeing the box as though she would know from looking who had sent them. Her first thought was that the package was from Howie, apologizing for everything. But she immediately quelled that, knowing the man was too proud to step down that easily. Taking the clipboard and pen, she scrawled her name next to the printout, stepping aside when he offered to bring the box inside for her. She stood staring at the box as the delivery man went to retrieve Austin's package.

"Who is it, Chey-Chey?" Austin questioned as she came in from the living room, cradling Moth in her arms. Looking at the box, she grinned. "Who sent you flowers?!"

“I don’t know…” Cheyanne admitted honestly with a light shrug of her shoulders, watching Moth squirm to attack the delivery man as he brought in the second box. “But you’ve got flowers, too.”

"But… They must be from Kevin, then," Austin decided, reaching to sign the clipboard when Cheyanne held it out to her. "I mean, who else would be sending us flowers?" Smiling her thanks at the delivery man, she moved to examine the box with her name and address printed on the label, shushing Moth in a soothing tone.

“Kevvy is a world class man,” Cheyanne agreed as she shut the front door when the man was hurrying down the steps, Moth’s anxious yips making him nervous. Smiling, she reached to take Moth into her arms, allowing Austin freedom to open her flowers. “He seems like the roses kind of guy…”

Austin peeled back the tape on the box, lifting away the tissue paper covering the floral arrangement inside. "Awe, Chey! Look!" she practically squealed, lifting out a large mug containing an abundance of flowers. Sunflowers, tiger lilies and yellow daisies immediately filled the room with color and a soft fragrance. "My favorite flowers… How did he know? We never talked about flowers," she murmured to herself, inhaling the soft scent before placing the arrangement on the coffee table. Smiling, she reached into the box to pull out the printed out message, reading over it twice to make sure her eyes weren't deceiving her. "Nicky?!"

“Nicky?” Cheyanne cooed with honest surprise, leaning over to sniff the soft fragrance of beautiful flowers. She was amazed that Nick had actually listened to what Austin’s favorite flowers were too, even during idle conversation. It was the sweetest gesture. “Awe, Austi, what’d he write to you?”

"Happy Birthday to everyone's favorite Princess… Love, Nick and Baylee…" Blinking in surprise, Austin reread the note a dozen times over, giggling. "P.S. -- Thanks for saving my ass!" Handing the message to Cheyanne, Austin turned her attention back to the flowers. "Boobah is such a sweet goofball," she mused softly.

“And he even knew that you needed a new mug for your hangover coffee,” Cheyanne teased as she sat on the couch, allowing Moth to curl on her lap, her fingers delicately tracing over the lettering. “And he even included Darlin’…”

"I'll have to call him and thank him… Open yours!" Austin demanded, reaching to pull Moth into her own lap so Cheyanne could lean forward.

In the back of her mind, Cheyanne still somewhat hoped that Howie had been the one to send the flowers. Nick had simply suggested it to him, because he was sending flowers to Austin anyway. That Howie had come to his senses and knew that he was hurting her tremendously. Though, the thoughts slipped away for the briefest moment when she retrieved a beautiful glass vase filled with a variety of violet colored, Oriental lilies. She gasped softly at the beauty of the flowers, leaning to inhale just the briefest touch of floral aroma. “They’re so pretty…”

"Are they from Nicky?" Austin asked softly, smoothing Moth's fur as he snuggled close in her lap. She knew he was just waiting for the perfect opportunity to slip back into Cheyanne's lap, so she made sure to keep a good grip on him. "Wait, I know! They're from Bay! He stole his Daddy's credit card and made Skinny do it for him!"

Cheyanne gently plucked the card from its envelope, holding her breath as she glanced over the words. “It’s from Nicky… I know they’re not violets or balloon flowers, but they were the prettiest things that could almost barely hold a candle to your beauty. Love, Nicky.” Cheyanne lips curved into a soft smile as she read her own little message at the bottom. “These are really from me, but Baylee thinks I’m typing his name so it says he sent them.”

"He loves you," Austin whispered.

“Huh?” Cheyanne blanked in surprise, tucking the card underneath the vase as she let her fingertips brush over the lilies. “No… He doesn’t love me… We’re good friends, that’s all..”

"If you insist," Austin murmured, letting Moth wiggle from her lap and over to Cheyanne. "Ungrateful little Pisser," she muttered, tugging playfully on his tail. Standing, she picked up her flowers. "I think these will look good in my office… Then I'll call him and thank him while I'm in there…"

“Why don’t you get the door first, maybe Billy’s coming crawling back with huge benefits for Kevvy? Like a package of prime steaks?” Cheyanne suggested, motioning toward the front door as there was another heavy knock. She immediately curled her arms around Moth, holding him toward her face. “You stay with me, Moth. Please?”

"Billy can kiss my ass," Austin muttered under her breath, keeping hold of the flowers as she moved to answer the door. "Janie!" she cried in surprise, seeing their mail lady standing on the porch. "What have you got for us today?" Janie always stopped by when her route was slow, checking in on them.

“Lots of letters, a few bills, and a package for our Momma-Bear. How is she?” Janie questioned, offering to hold the vase of flowers, making sure to sniff them while Austin took the mail, ushering the older woman inside for a moment.

"Glowing," Austin informed her with a smile, taking the stack of mail. Cheyanne eagerly reached for her package as Moth scurried to greet Janie, sniffing eagerly at her feet, knowing she always had a treat for him. "Do I have to sign for this one?" Austin asked, holding up a plain brown envelope.

“No, m’am,” Janie promised, plucking a treat from her pocket to feed Moth his special treat. “I just seem to be getting a lot of packages and whatnot since you two started dating those lover-boys. But, let me feel the belly so I can get back to work. I can’t wait for this little one to be born!”

"That makes three of us," Austin murmured with a laugh as Cheyanne lifted her shirt to give Janie the best feel of her stomach. Flopping into her favorite recliner, she sifted through the mail. An early birthday letter from her parents, which she would read later, some bills and… The plain brown envelope. Opening it carefully, she pulled out the contents, murmuring her goodbye to Janie as the woman left. "Chey… You… And Nicky…" She couldn't coherently form the words as she read the letter.

“Me and Nicky what?” Cheyanne questioned in confusion as she shut the front door, walking back into the living room with her package. Moth was already waiting on the couch, whining for Cheyanne to sit down. Though, she kept her gaze on Austin, who looked a little peaked. “What’s wrong?”

"You and Nicky got me two tickets to their concert in Atlanta this weekend… He says they're not the greatest seats, but we should be able to see the stage pretty good. He's got our hotel reservations… Everything's been taken care of… Chey! This is the best early birthday present you could have gotten me!" Austin cried, biting back tears as she stared at the tickets in her lap.

“I didn’t…” Cheyanne didn’t even really know what to say as Austin burst from her recliner to envelope the younger girl in a tight squeeze. She squeaked in surprise, but wrapped her arms around Austin just the same, kissing her cheek lovingly. She had wanted to get the tickets by herself and arrange everything. But, he had done it first. As if he didn’t want her worrying about such things. “I can’t believe he… You’re welcome, Austi…”

"What's in the package?" Austin asked softly after a moment of squeezing Cheyanne. Letting the younger woman go, she moved to place everything back in the envelope as Cheyanne sank onto the sofa. "Did you order something for Ollie? I'm going to put this in my lockbox, I'll be back…"

“I didn’t order anything for Ollie,” Cheyanne answered as she grasped the army knife that the girls kept in the coffee table for whatever strange reason. Sliding it along the sticky tape adhering the top flaps together, she then pulled it open, immediately recognizing the light scent of Nick’s cologne. Smiling softly, she peered inside to find a few shirts. Pulling the first out, she was surprised to find a small t-shirt with the saying – I do all my own stunts. She stared at it for a moment before laughing. “That has to be from my Darlin’!”

"What has to be from Darlin'?" Austin's voice called from her office. She returned a moment later, furiously punching buttons on her cell phone.

“This little t-shirt?” Cheyanne explained, leaning back on the couch as she held it up for Austin to examine.

Austin cooed softly, wrinkling her nose as she pressed her phone to her ear. "Why does it smell like Boobah just walked in the front door?" she questioned softly as she heard the ring on the other end.

“Because where else would Darlin’ learn about giving his clothing to a girl?” Cheyanne answered with a soft sigh, reaching into the box to retrieve two more t-shirts, obviously from Nick’s collection. She unfolded the first to find the phrase – Trust me, I’m a Doctor. Rolling her eyes, she unfolded the second, but gasped in surprised horror when she read – With me… All Ladies Come First.

Austin burst into laughter just as the person she was calling picked up. "Is that true, Chey?" she snickered, squealing when Cheyanne threw the t-shirt at her. "Yikes! Boobah scent! Get it off, get it off!" Throwing it back at her, she skipped out of the line of fire, flopping into her recliner. "Nicky!" she yelped into the phone. "Chey's throwing your shirts at me!"

“I happen to like the smell of his cologne,” Cheyanne defended, her cheeks still a fiery red as she folded the shirts, preparing to tuck them back in the box till she saw the letter. Shifting, she removed the letter, tucked the shirts back into the box, and then sprawled herself out on the couch.

"Did you write my Chey-Chey a dirty letter?" Austin asked Nick, who was chuckling appreciatively. "She's blushing," she cooed.

“Stop talking about me!” Cheyanne growled, immediately shifting so her face was shielded from Austin. “Ain’t no dirty letter, Austin Leigh!”

"I was kidding!"

"I take it she got the package?" Nick asked.

“Just a few minutes ago,” Austin confirmed, leaning back in her recliner, watching the curve of a small smile teasing Cheyanne’s sweet lips. The blush still remained on her cheeks as her thumb and forefinger ran over the hem of the t-shirt belonging to Nick that she already wore. There was a dark glitter of appreciation in her sapphire eyes, causing Austin to even smile. Cheyanne was just so happy with Nick. It was almost like a golden miracle. “You must have really laid it on thick with that letter, Boohbah. She looks like the kitten that just swallowed a big, fat, yellow, canary…”

"I don't remember her doing any… She likes the shirts?" Nick asked quickly. "Bay had to send his along, too, he even went so far as to spray his with some of B's cologne…"

“Yeah, she really likes the shirts,” Austin promised. “Though, she turned beat red with the Ladies Come First shirt, so, I’m assuming that statement is truthful… And, what do you expect from Baylee? He thinks you’re taking over his spot…”
"I don't think Sweetheart loves anyone as much as she loves Bay," Nick murmured softly as, in the background, Brian scolded Baylee for doing something. "I don't think she'd love him too much right now… He's being a Holy terror…"

“Baylee? A holy terror?” Austin gasped loudly. “Hell must be frozen!”

"He just flushed Brian's wedding band down the toilet…"

“Well, I’d take that as a sign from God… Brian’s a holy man, he should know!”

"Yeah, yeah, yeah… Can I talk to Chey? Or did you just call to tell me that your house smells like me now?"

“Actually, I called to thank you for my flowers and the concert tickets, but I can end this conversation if you want--”

"You got them?! They weren't supposed to get there 'till this afternoon!"

“And what’s wrong with getting them now?”

"'Cause I had it planned out where I was going to call right when they were being delivered…"

“Never figured you’d be one to be anal retentive… Pretty Boy must be a helluva father figure for you!”

"I wasn't being anal retentive! I just thought it'd be nice… A surprise… You got the tickets, too, right?" he whispered, as though fearful of anyone else hearing about them.

“Yeah, I got the tickets, too,” Austin promised, unable to hide the squeal of excitement in her voice. “The way Pretty Boy talks about concerts… I just wanted to see him so badly! And I miss him so much and… No one knows that we’re coming, do they?”

"Just the three of us… Well, Brian, but only 'cause he beat it out of me. Do you want me to fly you down?"

“Could I get a first class ticket—Shit, no, Chey-Chey can’t fly…” Austin cursed loudly, causing Moth to growl with annoyance at her, perched on Cheyanne’s hip for a quick snooze. “…Jeffie just bought this fancy new car… We’ll make him be the driver and promise him a beer afterwards or something… Unless you want to fly me down and I’ll send Chey-Chey by car?”

"Hell no!" Cheyanne piped up.

Nick laughed. "If Sweetheart says no, Austi, do you think I'd say yes?"

“Don’t let her fool you. She loves being in a car with Jeffie--”

“Till he starts singing a hundred beers on the wall!” Cheyanne groaned.

"Sounds like a grand time," Nick mused. "Is my Sweetheart busy, or can I talk to her now?"

Your Sweetheart?” Austin instantly questioned, arching her dark brows toward Cheyanne, who was reaching for her stack of various parenting magazines. “Is this relationship getting serious, Boohbah?”

"You'll have to ask Sweetheart."

“Then I should talk to her instead of you because of that pussy answer? So I can get the details?”

"Don't you think I'd give you the details if I could? But you-know-who's listening," Nick whispered. "Sweetheart'll have to tell you everything. That is, if she even wants to."

“He’s been breathing down your neck, huh?” Austin guessed with a dark scowl of annoyance. “Can give you Hell but can’t even manage to pick up the phone and call Chey-Chey? Not that I’d give him the satisfaction of letting her answer…”

"Screening her calls?"

“Every single one of them.”

"You'll put my calls through, won't you? I don't think I could stand it, not being able to talk to her…"

“Awe, Boohbah,” Austin cooed, “Of course. You’ll be number one… After the OBGYN, who we have an appointment with this week Cheyanne Grace, so don’t you let me forget…”

"Is she doing okay? The little trip we took didn't wear her out, did it?"

“No, the trip didn’t wear her out,” Austin promised, musing that what the couple did during the trip had been the cause for Cheyanne’s fatigue. “She’s actually doing really well. She’s a lot happier… She has more color to her… She doesn’t have as many cramps as before… She’s just really tired, but that’s because of the anemia. You’re her official healer, Boohbah.”

"Is that why you're being so nice to me? 'Cause about a week ago, you were ready to chase me around the chicken coop…"

“Without sounding like a serious bitch? Yes. If my Chey-Chey’s happy, then I’m delighted. Boohbah, seriously, if you could see her now, you’d understand completely…”

"She seemed a lot happier when we were at the bed and breakfast, y'know? As though… You-know-who didn't even exist."

“Well, I think we should just keep that up.”

"So… When you two come to Atlanta this weekend, you'll let me lock me and her in her room all night?"

“You got us separate rooms? Because then I could just walk naked to Pretty Boy's room for my birthday surprise... ”

"Yes, to both questions… Your rooms should be on the floor below ours, so I don't think walking around naked would be a good idea…"

“Boohbah, I don’t expect you to think.”

"Well, that's--Hey!"

*~*~*


Nick yawned loudly as he sprawled out on the couch in the lounge area of Ford Amphitheater in Tampa, Florida, barely entertaining himself with the new Resident Evil game he had started since leaving North Carolina. Zombies didn’t seem nearly as entertaining as they had been with Cheyanne. Of course, watching her play and holding her was half the amusement. She got so excited, actually screaming at her character when she foolishly died. Just thinking about her put a pitiful knot into the pit of his stomach. Pausing the game, he dug into his cargo pants to locate his cell phone. He had yet to completely dress for the concert, still waiting on deciding what shirt he should wear before he dragged himself to get the necessary makeup and hair treatment. But, like always, he hit speed dial for Cheyanne’s number, deciding she was his good luck charm for every show.

AJ paused on his way through the lounge, shirtless and carrying three shirts over his arm. "Don't you think you should be getting ready?"

"I am getting ready…" Nick trailed as he heard someone pick up on the other end. His heart immediately lifted, though he knew it was Austin. He would only have to say one word, then he'd be talking to Cheyanne.

"Boohbah! I knew it was you! Chey-Chey's got to buy my lunch on the road tomorrow… Here she is, she just got out the shower."

“That’s a right smart idea to put in his head just before a show, Austin Leigh,” Cheyanne scorned with her sweet southern accent as the phone shuffled.

"The idea of my Sweetheart naked, coupled with food? Hell, that's just plain Heaven," Nick assured her after she said hello. "Are you two all packed and ready to go?" he murmured. He was nearly chomping at the bit to reach Atlanta. Just the thought of being able to see her again, so soon, filled him with excitement and joy. Glancing up as the door opened, he saw Brian ushering Baylee into the lounge, balancing a cup of juice and a plate piled high with food.

"Just sit in here and eat while Daddy goes and gets ready for the show, okay, Scooper?"

“O’tay, Daddy,” Baylee complied, motioning toward the TV for Nick to change it to a station he approved of, which Nick complied with, not wanting to fight for the phone again.

“Austi’s all packed with various sex toys and whatnot. I thought I was packed, but she came in and dumped all my stuff out. Apparently, I’m not allowed to wear shorts and a t-shirt to your concert… She’s repacking everything for me now, ‘cause I’m not allowed to do extra work…” Nick imagined Cheyanne playfully rolling her eyes, though she truly was upset.

"You could wear just a towel," Nick suggested with a teasing grin, knowing that if she were in the same room with him he'd receive a playful punch in the arm. "What's she making you wear?"

“Damn near close to a towel,” Cheyanne sighed, though it turned to a slight squeak as if Austin had reprimanded her. “Okay, okay, so it’s a light lilac baby-doll top. It has these thin spaghetti straps, then kind of hugs across my breasts and flares over my fat tummy. It goes a little past my thighs, so you can wear it as a dress, but my Austi loves me so much that she’s putting my light tan, cargo capris underneath.”

"Yeah, only 'cause you bitched about wearing a dress!"

"Sounds perfect, Sweetheart… Bay, don't move an inch, I've got to go get my shirt, okay?" Nick told Baylee, who simply nodded, already completely immersed in the episode of Spongebob Nick had put on for him. "You excited about coming to see me?" he asked Cheyanne.

“Yeah… Of course I’m excited about coming to see my Nicky. You’re so excited about the concerts… I know it’ll be fun…”

"Your Nicky?" he murmured, cradling the phone against his shoulder as he began digging through the rack of clothes to find a shirt. "What do you say to your Nicky taking his Sweetheart out for a limo ride after the show tomorrow?"

“Well… Aren’t you my Nicky?”

"Forever," he whispered.

“Good,” Cheyanne answered, seeming to smile with just the simple word. “…What shirt are you wearing tonight? Since you always tell me anyway? Or do I get to choose tonight?”

"You can choose, Sweetheart… I would just go out there topless, but I think I'll wait 'till tomorrow and do that," Nick informed her with a grin, turning to examine his hair in a mirror. It wasn't too bad… Maybe he could do without the loads of creams and gels tonight.

“I think you said it was AJ’s turn to go out topless… But what are my choices?”

"Um… Red with some gold eagle on it, plain blue… Green with a palm tree, or black with a skull on it?"

“…Plain blue…” Cheyanne decided after some period of silence. “Bet it matches your eyes perfectly…”

"Should I take a picture of it so you can see?" Nick suggested, already plucking the shirt off the rack. He loved sending her pictures throughout the day.

“You don’t have to--”

"Hold on," he muttered, setting the phone down so he could put on the shirt. Grabbing his phone, he rushed back to Baylee, who was stuffing a raw carrot in the pocket of his shorts. "Bay! Take a picture of me, please?"

“Why?” Baylee immediately questioned with instinctive curiosity, pushing his plate aside before squirming to hop off the couch.

"'Cause… I need to send it to somebody!"

“Who?” Baylee insisted, taking the phone as Nick took several quick steps back. Like many children in his day and age, extremely technologically advanced, Baylee pressed the appropriate button to take the picture, though Nick was somewhat lopsided in the picture.

"What is this, twenty questions?" Nick rolled his eyes, quickly grabbing his phone. "Take that carrot out of your shorts and eat it!" he chided as he sent the picture to Cheyanne. "Did you get it yet?"

“Hold on. Why are you so— Nicky, I love that shirt!”

"You want it?"

“I love that shirt on you,” she corrected.

"You want to take it off me?"

“Kind of a mute point to argue when I’m how many miles away?”

"Too many to count… You can take it off me in Atlanta?" he suggested, dropping back onto the couch for a few more moments of relaxation. It wasn't to be, however. The door flung open, Brian and Howie coming in. Brian looked tired and worried, as he had since the beginning of the tour. Howie, upon seeing Nick, as well as the phone to his ear, looked murderous as he strode over to get a drink from the ice bin. "And then maybe I can take your shirt off, too," he said in a stage whisper, smirking when Howie shot him a glare.

“You can probably take full advantage of that,” Cheyanne laughed ruefully. “’Cause I’m going to be so zonked I ain’t gonna know my head from my tail. Y’have any idea how early we have to leave tomorrow? It is just not humane for a person to be up…”

"I think it takes about six hours, Sweetheart… So you may want to leave around six," he whispered, not wanting Howie to overhear his conversation. "Give you plenty of time for bathroom stops, and I know you'll want to stretch your legs every couple of hours…"

“I think bathroom stops are more important than stretching legs. Ollie’s starting to lower in my abdomen again and she’s pressing right on my bladder. Then when she starts kicking… It’s cruel, Nicky… But… He’s in the lounge, isn’t he?”

"Yeah… When I get you alone I'll give Zombie plenty of tummy rubs, okay?"

“Okay,” Cheyanne agreed, though there was a hesitation to her voice. “He… He still doesn’t know, does he?”

"Doesn't know what?"

“That I’m coming? To see the show?”

"Oh! No… Just our little secret, Sweetheart," he promised, absently twisting the silver band on his finger. He wondered if she was still wearing the one he'd given her. Or had she taken it off and replaced it with Howie's by now? The thought sent a wave of fear and sadness through him, and he opened his mouth to ask her when Brian spoke.

"Scooper… Turn out your pockets! I know you're not that fast an eater…"

“I ATE, DADDY! PROMISE!” Baylee instantly whined with protest.

"So then you can show me what's in your pockets," Brian informed him, covering his mouth quickly to hide his smile.

"Oh Lord… Hold on, Sweetheart, I'll try and find someplace private to talk," Nick murmured, getting to his feet.

"Go sit in Amy's chair, she's already complaining that we're running late and you haven't gotten your face done," Brian called after him as he left the lounge.

“He still hasn’t called me…” Cheyanne informed Nick as though he had been listening to her soft words, but she shifted the conversation with horror. “You’re running late?”

"We're always running late, Sweetheart. Do you want him to call you?" Nick questioned, glancing over his shoulder to see Howie heading out of the lounge as well. "'Cause I can tell him--"

“No,” Cheyanne interrupted sadly. “If he hasn’t called, there’s a reason he hasn’t called… He’s probably still upset with me and that’s understandable…”

"You didn't do anything wrong," Nick reminded her gently as he stepped into the makeup room. "Amy! Make me beautiful," he crooned as he flopped into the waiting chair. "Sweetheart, listen… He's just being a stubborn asshole."

“I don’t think he loves me anymore,” Cheyanne stated seriously.

"I… I'm sorry, Sweetheart," Nick murmured as the older woman moved in on him, sponge applicator at the ready. He made a face as she started applying the makeup to his cheeks. "But, if it's any consolation--and I'm sure it's not right now--you've got me…"

“You’re not a consolation… You’re a gift, Nicky…”

Nick closed his eyes at her words, his heart making nervous flips inside his chest. If she only knew how much he cared for her… Sighing deeply, he wet his lips, wondering if he could bring himself to say the words. No, it was too soon. He couldn't say it over the phone, either. Tomorrow, he told himself. He would tell her face to face. "Sweetheart…"

“You’ve got to go melt the hearts of thousands of women?” Cheyanne guessed sweetly.

"If that's what you want to call it… Though I'd much rather melt one in--OW! Watch where you poke me with that!" he cried, shrinking away from Amy. "Sorry, Sweetheart…"

"Nick! Five minutes!" Kevin bellowed from the hallway.

"I'll call you after the show?" Nick suggested to Cheyanne, dreading the thought of hanging up with her. If he could, he would hold the phone to his ear during the entire show.

“It’ll be late, Nicky. You should get some rest.”

"But… I wanted to sing you to sleep?"

“If…If you’re honestly not tired after the show and want to call, I’ll make sure Austi wakes me up?”

"Wake you up so I can sing you to sleep? You'd go through all that just to talk to me?"

“Not just to talk to you… Just because it’s you.”

"I'll call you right after I get out the shower back at the hotel, okay? That'll be about… I'm guessing close to four hours?" Glancing at the clock on the wall, he counted slowly in his mind. "How about you have Austi wake you up around midnight? If you're sure you want me to call, that is."

“Nicky,” Cheyanne sighed softly. “Do you want to call?”

Hopping out of the chair, Nick raced down the hall to retrieve his white jacket and hat for the opening number. "Of course I want to call. Hell, Sweetheart, if I had my way, I'd talk to you through the whole damned show."

“Then call,” Cheyanne instructed. “And don’t take your shirt off, otherwise they’ll think some crazy chick is abusing you with that band of bruising on your chest.”

"That's my battle scar!"

“Nicky… You fell in the damn tub… Face first…”

Joining the others just behind the stage, Nick clapped one hand over his ear to drown out the noise of the chanting fans out front, his adrenaline already pumping. "But I did it so you'd clean my gun!" he laughed. "Look, Sweetheart, I've got to go. I'll call you at midnight, okay?"

“Have a good show, Nicky,” Cheyanne called as loudly as she possibly could, ending their connection.

Grinning from ear to ear, Nick turned off his phone and handed it to Drew. As they huddled together for last minute prayers and assurances that they would rock the house, Nick could only think of his late night call to Cheyanne. When they took their places and the lights went down, his heart pounding in his chest as the music began, he heard the fans screaming, and couldn't wait for Cheyanne to see the show in person. Then the lights came on, the roar of the crowd deafening as the song started.
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