Standing just inside the Gwinnett Arena, Austin looked around. Nearly everywhere she looked were women of all ages; from little girls barely walking to apparent grandmothers and every age in between. Next to her, Cheyanne grasped her arm nervously. Eyes scanning the area, she saw several tour memorabilia stands, faces of her lover plastered everywhere. Stepping aside as a group of giggling young women swept past, she bit down on her lip when she saw the short skirts and tight tops. Would Kevin even see her amongst this mass? Would he be so focused on the music that he barely noticed the crowd, or would his eyes be trained on the most scantily clad female? Suddenly all her nerve left her. She was half tempted to turn tail and leave, but knew she couldn't.
“Y’know, Jeffie and Billy couldn’t have gotten too far away from this mess,” Cheyanne murmured softly, tucking herself closer to Austin’s neatly dressed side as the women seemed to swarm around them like locusts. She suddenly felt cornered and claustrophobic in the crowded environment, assuming she was probably the only pregnant female that would be cramped into the stadium. She was much happier staying at the hotel, even when Nick had to slip from her bed to attend sound-check. She had been half asleep during that moment, wishing him good luck. He sounded so excited to have her attending the concert, but this was surreal. Everywhere she looked there were posters, t-shirts, signs, and banners for all the boys. Though, she seemed to focus on the women who held tokens of affection for Howie. And, she couldn’t help but wonder how many were invited backstage by him as she rotated the beautiful engagement ring on her finger, Baylee’s ring now having been coupled with Nick’s on her right digit.
"You want to leave?!"
“Yes?” Cheyanne confirmed with uncertainty at Austin’s outraged look. “This is not me… I’m not cut out for this, Austi…”
"This, from the woman who fought her way to the front at the Rascal Flatts concert last year?"
"Bullshit! The only thing that's different is one of the men onstage is head over heels in love with you. Besides, if we're not in the audience, he'll have a fit. Now come on, let's get to our seats."
“Howie doesn’t know I’m here,” Cheyanne answered weakly as Austin grasped tightly to her hand, pulling her through the throngs of women. Several conversations blasted from within her ears about how fantastic the Backstreet Boys were. How women would die to just have one night with whichever named man. About their personal lives. How happy they were that AJ was sober. How they were glad Paris and Nick were ended. How happy they were that Kevin was divorcing the evil Kristen. They seemed to know everything. “And I’m not even sure he’s head over heels in love with me anymore, Austi.”
"I'm not talking about Howie," Austin informed her as they sank into their seats. Nick had already shown her and Cheyanne a picture he'd taken from their seats, so she knew she would be able to see the stage rather well. A flutter of excitement raced through her, and she found herself straining to hear snippets of conversation relating to the Boys.
“Then who could you possibly…”
"Chey-Chey," Austin sighed, flipping through the tour book she'd bought. "Him," she said, pointing to the page with Nick.
Cheyanne was at a loss for words as she glanced down at the array of photographs representing Nick within the glossy pages. She immediately rubbed her thumb over the vine engraving of the ring he had given her, remembering his last words on the phone to her when they started the trip to Atlanta. She had assured herself repeatedly that it had been a mistake. A mere signal to their growing friendship. But for Austin to just blatantly lay out the facts was like a kick in the gut. “We’re just good friends, Austi… He loves me like a best friend…”
"Sure… Best friends always sleep together," Austin murmured as Cheyanne pulled the tour book from her hands. "I saw a sign out front about text messaging to the guys while they're onstage… Did you bring your phone?"
“You confiscated it, remember?” Cheyanne murmured absentmindedly, flipping the pages so she could find Howie’s dedicated page. She didn’t know what compelled her to do it. Perhaps it was just the way the cool platinum of the engagement ring felt against her finger again. Or, more so, that she missed him terribly and the women standing in front of them were excitedly chirping about him.
"I…" Austin trailed as she saw Cheyanne gazing at Howie's photos. "Give it here, let me see Pretty Boy."
“Here…” Cheyanne answered with an apologetic look to her face, feeling Austin wrench the book away. She immediately flicked her gaze upward to the women in front of them. They were about her age, maybe a bit older, and gorgeous. Each had a homemade t-shirt dedicated to Howie the ‘Latin Lover.’ Some joked about sneaking backstage and laying naked in the dressing room for him. Maybe even his tour bus. And, Cheyanne knew she was obsolete in his life.
Austin opened her mouth to speak, only to be cut off by the ringing of a cell phone. Recognizing the ring tone, she smiled, digging into her purse for Cheyanne's phone. "Boohbah's calling," she cooed, handing it over to her friend. Hopefully talking to him would wipe the dejected expression of the younger woman's face.
“He needs to be getting ready for the concert instead of--” Cheyanne’s chiding was cut short when Austin took the phone back to open it, thrusting it toward Cheyanne’s ear. Now she had no choice but to answer, which seemed ironic considering how many girls around them were pledging their undying love to the man she had on the phone. “Hello?”
"Hey, Sweetheart. Like your seat?"
“It’s closer to the stage than I had originally thought,” Cheyanne answered, affectionately rubbing her stomach to calm the tossing baby inside. Almost as if Olivia were becoming outraged at the shrieking girls all around her suggesting dirty things about her beloved Nick and Howie.
"Does your stomach hurt? …You're rubbing it, Sweetheart. You sure you don't want me to send Drew to bring you backstage?" Nick questioned.
“No, I don’t want to be…” Cheyanne glanced down in confusion as she slowed the circular motion of her fingertips against her swollen abdomen. Biting down on her bottom lip, she glanced upward, feeling a shiver race down her spine. “…How did you know that?”
"'Cause I'm watching you from the edge of the stage, behind where the keyboards are set up…"
“Why?” Cheyanne questioned as she reached to pat Austin’s bare arm. She was wearing her favorite pink and black laced corset with her snug black jeans, knowing Kevin would have a fit of ecstasy when he saw her. But, Cheyanne was more concerned with Nick as she gestured lightly toward the phone, then toward where he was supposedly hiding.
"To make sure you got to your seats okay… If only that bimbo wearing Brian's face on her titties would move, then I could see you better… Why is Austin staring at me like I'm a fucking idiot?"
“Why are you staring at Nicky like he’s a fucking idiot?” Cheyanne questioned Austin.
"Because he is… Tell him that's not a real good disguise…"
Nick's words were drowned out by a cacophony of screams erupting from everyone close to the stage. Cheyanne heard a muttered curse. "Ah, fuck… Can't watch you now, Sweetheart… I've got to go get dressed anyway. Can you see me waving?"
Cheyanne tilted slightly so she could see around the woman that Nick was describing earlier. Sure enough, he was fully out in the open now, toward the edge of the stage, waving happily toward her. She smiled at his sweetness, deciding she could be the cheeky one for the moment as she held up her hand to wave, but signaled her middle finger. “Can you see what I’m doing?”
"What're you flicking me off for?!"
“Just to make sure you were really watching me instead of the big breasted bimbos all around me?” Cheyanne cooed with a giggle.
"You're evil, Sweetheart… Uh oh… Security's glaring at me. I better get backstage now…" With a final wave, Nick blew a kiss at Cheyanne before rushing offstage. "And I didn't see any big breasted bimbos… I mean, Austi's got a nice rack, but she's just not my--"
“Then maybe you should just sleep with her instead?” Cheyanne interrupted with a dark scowl, watching Austin’s pleased smile as she gestured toward her full breasts which seemed quite perkier within the tight corset. “Besides, if we’re comparing breast size, Austi is way behind me… She’s the one with the ass of a Goddess…”
"I don't want to get anywhere near sleeping with her, Sweetheart… Your breasts are perfect for me… I love how they fit just perfectly in my palms, how whenever I see you naked your nipples get all har--"
“Would you stop calling those 900-Sex Numbers and just get dressed you fucking horny bastard?!” AJ erupted in the background with a grunt of annoyance.
"I didn't call a 900-Sex Number!" Nick cried in defiance. "For your information--"
“800-Talk Dirty numbers count, too! Let’s go before Kevin starts kicking ass! Howie’s already pissed enough! We don’t need two pissed poppas in this joint!”
"Jesus Christ," Nick muttered. "I'll see you after the show, right, Sweetheart?" he murmured.
Cheyanne mustered a smile though Nick wouldn’t be able to see it. “Have a good show, Nicky. No tripping, okay?”
"I'll try my best… Love you," he whispered before hanging up.
“Nicky…” Cheyanne trailed in wonderment as she pulled the phone from her ear, gingerly closing it. She shook her head in disbelief, not understanding why he kept saying that. Didn’t he understand that she was with Howie? It seemed illogical. He didn’t love her. He couldn’t.
"Feel better now you've talked to your Boohbah?" Austin murmured, casually flipping through the tour book.
“More like lost as Hell…”
“Nothing… He’s just… He’s being Nicky, I guess,” Cheyanne answered with a bewildered shrug of her shoulders, not knowing if she could really explain it to Austin. “…Nicky was talking about that text message thing… How does that work, Austi?”
"We just send a text to that number up on the screen, and they'll be posted during the show… Are you going to send one to Boohbah?"
“I think he’d appreciate it if he manages to see it along with the other thousands that are going to be popping up there?” Cheyanne answered with a shrug of her shoulders, keying in the number before quickly writing a message. Smiling softly, she handed the phone over to Austin for confirmation – Nicky, be my Zombie ~ Sweetheart. “That good? ‘Cause it’s not like Howie’s going to care what I do… He won’t even talk to me anymore…”
"What is y'alls morbid fascination with zombies?" Austin muttered, nodding. "I think that's sweet. And… Don't worry about Howie tonight, okay?"
“How can I not worry about Howie tonight, Austi? I’m engaged to him… Or I’m supposed to be…” Cheyanne fumbled, watching Austin send the message before doing one for herself.
"Chey…" Austin trailed softly as the lights went down. Leaning over so she could be heard above the multitude of screams, she embraced her friend, her words drowned out.
“So, I was thinking!” Brian called loudly over the deafening screams as he took his place beside Nick, smoothing the rim of his white hat over his head, waiting for the show to officially begin. He looked far more rejuvenated from the serious conversation he and Nick had earlier that day. Mostly, though, he just looked grateful. And, he could tell that Nick was far more spirited than before any of the other concerts. The others had been commenting on it all day, but only Brian knew the true reason behind Nick’s enthusiasm. And he welcomed it. For once. “Do you think you could spare your Sweetheart for a few hours? Just to let Scooper see her? Because she’s the only mother figure he has at this point and… I was thinking about it earlier, but you left so quick from the hotel, then disappeared before the beginning of this and… Would you mind?”
"I… Sure… I have plans with her right after the show, but how about maybe me and her getting him tomorrow morning for a while? They're staying in town a couple days," Nick called back.
"Who?!" AJ wanted to know on Nick's other side. "Who's staying in town a couple days?!"
"None of your business!"
“Well fuck me!” AJ whistled loudly. “Must be somebody important… Maybe like D’s fiancée?”
"Y'know what, J? You can kiss my--"
"SHUT UP!" Kevin bellowed from beside AJ.
“Jesus Christ, Kevin, what’s your problem?” Brian actually reprimanded with annoyance.
"I'm sick and tired of everyone bitching at each other! We have a show to do, for crying out loud!"
"Dude, Brian just used Jesus' name in vain," AJ said loudly in Nick's ear.
"Y'know what? I don't give a--"
Nick's words were drowned out by the eruption of screams from the audience. The lights went down, and each man adjusted their stance as the lasers started flashing. Nick felt a flutter of nervousness run through him, knowing Cheyanne was in the crowd. There to watch him.
“Don’t puke, Nicky,” Howie snarled as the fog began to accumulate around them, obviously noting the paleness to Nick’s skin tones. Though, he didn’t seem to care much as he followed the routine for their show, descending the stairs amongst the fog and lights.
Nick shot a glare at the older man, rushing to catch up with everyone else. His foot slipped on the stairs, and for one brief moment he was certain he would land face-first on the stage. Brian and AJ quickly caught him, each giving him looks that told him he was a bumbling idiot. Breathing a sigh of relief, he let his eyes look over the crowd once he was down the stairs.
“Would you calm down and put on a good show for Cheyanne? Don’t be nervous or you’ll kill yourself,” Brian mumbled toward his friend, making sure to keep the conversation away from the microphones so it stayed private. He offered an encouraging smile toward Nick, patting his back affectionately before moving to his assigned location on the main stage.
Drawing in a deep breath, Nick looked towards the row Cheyanne was sitting in. As the music for the first song began, he caught sight of her. Fourth row back, practically dead center to the stage. Grateful it wasn't his time to sing, he kept his eyes on her, wondering if she was watching him.
Even if she wasn’t watching him, Nick decided that she was still gorgeous. Her long honey curls were drawn into an elegant ponytail because she grew hot easily with the pregnancy, though she never could keep a few curls from falling out. Her lips were curved into a pleased smile as her sapphire eyes seemed to sparkle despite the flashing lights around him. She was wearing exactly what she had described earlier on the phone. The light lavender, baby-doll tank top flattered her gorgeous figure and he had to smile wickedly as he watched the spaghetti straps slipped from her creamy peach shoulders. He imagined holding her later that night as she tentatively tried to draw the spaghetti straps onto her shoulders again, only to tug them down with his teeth once more. Though, continuing to stare at her, he noticed from the corner of his eye that Austin was gesturing wildly behind him. He instantly turned, almost afraid that Howie was coming barreling at him with a machete. Only, his eyes moved upward to read the text message – Nicky, be my Zombie ~ Sweetheart.
Despite having performed the song in front of millions of people countless times, Nick completely forgot the words of the chorus. When Brian turned to him, giving him a worried look, Nick just grinned, nodding to the message on the screen behind them. Brian caught it and gave him a thumbs up before continuing with the song. Seeking out Cheyanne in the crowd once more, he saw her hands were covering her face, though she was peeking through her fingers with the hint of a smile touching her lips. ‘Yes’, he mouthed before launching himself into the song with renewed vigor.
Watching Nick finally throw himself into the lyrics with a romantic passion sent a shiver of cold warning through Howie’s body. Something had excited him like no other. And that familiar glitter whenever Cheyanne’s name was mentioned returned to the luster of Nick’s ocean eyes. Glancing behind him, he hurriedly read the message before it switched to something about AJ getting naked. Who the Hell was Sweetheart? Wasn’t that the name Nick was constantly murmuring when he was on the phone with Cheyanne? Frowning, he had to watch the youngest for several moments while he tried to process the information. Something was wrong. He could feel it.
The song finished, Howie moved to remove his white jacket, already sweating under the lights. Glancing up when Kevin clapped him--none too gently--on the back, he saw his friend motioning to the screen. Yeah, he'd already seen the message to Nicky. Rolling his eyes, he shook his head, wincing slightly when Kevin's hand gripped his shoulder tightly. Looking upwards again, he realized Kevin was pointing furiously at the screen. What the big deal was, Howie didn't know, but acquiesced and looked at the screen. The message there caused his heart to fall to his feet. Honey & Cinnamon love their Sweet Tea.
“She has to be here,” Kevin told Howie as the music for Beautiful Woman blared all around them, which seemed to make sense considering Nick’s bursts of excited energy. Which meant, Austin was here too… God, how he missed her!
"It could be a joke," Howie countered, though the man didn't hear him. Sighing, he turned and scanned the crowd in a fruitless attempt at finding her. After the way he had treated her… Why would she come to a concert? Why hadn't she told him she was coming? He caught sight of Nick practically leaping up and down with excitement, and his felt a chill. Had Nick sweet-talked her into coming to a show?
Unable to hide his frown, he watched Nick elaborately sing to his solo of Beautiful Woman. He was milking his talents more so than usual, grinning wickedly toward the crowd as he motioned toward someone while crooning, “And so we put the top down / To take you drivin’ downtown / I guess we’ll know just what to do / when you’re lookin’ to fool around--” Howie felt sick.
Across the stage, Brian followed Nick's waves, finally seeing Cheyanne and Austin in the fourth row. Sidling over, he clapped his arm around the younger man's neck, waving animatedly at the two women. They looked to be having loads of fun, though he noticed Cheyanne kept glancing at Howie, who looked pale and worried now. Had he seen the message that had caused Nick's renewed energy? Letting his eyes drift over the crowd, they landed on a familiar face, and he forgot all about the twisted love triangle.
Brian couldn’t help but blurt excitedly into his microphone as he pointed directly at Vivian. She was a gorgeous vixen. Her dark glossy locks messy and loose around her shoulders, her dark brown eyes glistening with desire, her lips curving into a wicked grin at his excitement. She seemed to recall their many nights together just as he did. “What the Hell are you doing here?!”
Next to him, Nick whipped his head around, following Brian's extended arm to the woman standing in the second row, directly in front of them. Continuing the song, he saw the girls next to her looking around to see the source of Brian's surprise. Vivian, he supposed, was simply grinning, offering a coy wave to his friend. Shaking his head slightly, he looked back at Cheyanne, saw her and Austin laughing hysterically. Holy Hell, he could only imagine the blog and journal posts the next day. Leaning over at a break during the song, he hollered, "I think you just started something!"
“Started what?” Brian questioned in bewilderment as he made a goofy ‘call me’ signal to Vivian before getting pulled back into the routine. He noticed the dark glares Kevin was sending him and just had to smile wider. God, he was in trouble. It felt good to finally be in trouble for something silly.
The moment the song ended, Kevin grabbed Brian and yanked him back on the stage, glaring at him. "What the Hell are you doing?!" he demanded. Of all the stupid things to say onstage… No wonder Baylee cursed like a sailor.
“I’m having fun!” Brian exclaimed with a silly laugh, throwing his arms around Kevin. “And you can’t murder me in front of your fans. Or your almost-fiancée.”
"Who are you so damn excited to see that you blurted during the middle of a song?!" Kevin asked, slinging one arm around his cousin. "Is Leigh here or something?"
“An old friend,” Brian answered easily, motioning toward the center of the crowd, hoping to get Kevin’s mind elsewhere as the music for More Than That rounded around them. “But there’s Austin.”
"I know, I saw her already…" Kevin trailed as Brian hurried away. Shifting his gaze over the crowd, his eyes landed on Austin again, and he had to smile.
She blew him a kiss and he fell in love all over again.