“Y’know, you call me a sneaky devil, but it was pure evil to tell Baylee that Boohbah was taking Chey-Chey home on his bus. You knew that Baylee would insist on riding back with Nick, which kept--”
“Nick’s penis out of my Angel,” Kevin agreed with a firm nod, collapsing on the couch that Austin occupied, resting his head on her lap. He listened to the steady clicking of her knitting needles moving together over a light blue thread, creating tightly knit rows of beautiful stitches. She was starting one of their children’s first baby blankets, which he absolutely adored. He loved watching her create masterpieces as long as he was allowed to rest his head in her lap. Though, he was somewhat sad about this trip on his tour bus. He was taking Austin back to North Carolina and then traveling up to Cleveland Ohio for another show, when he really wanted to just take her with him. He considered just telling the driver to drive toward Ohio, but Austin wouldn’t allow it.
"She told me earlier that she and Nick were just going to talk," Austin informed him, adjusting the soft blue blanket she'd started earlier so she could look down at his face. "Besides, good God, they've got to be damn near worn out by now…" Reaching over, she flipped the TV on, grateful his bus had satellite. Flipping through the channels, she stopped on Lifetime when she saw her favorite show was coming on. "Is this okay?" she questioned, tossing the remote aside before going back to her knitting.
“This is just fine,” Kevin promised with a nod, closing his eyes as he relaxed against her, deciding that this moment was a slice of delicious heaven.
Austin was perfectly content with his head in her lap, being able to gaze down at him every few moments. She could easily picture herself spending similar moments with him for the rest of her life. "Y'know… When we get pregnant and my belly's bigger than a watermelon, you won't be able to rest your head there anymore," she mused with a soft laugh, reaching to rub his chest gently.
“I’ll just have to find another place to rest it,” Kevin decided with a light shrug of his shoulders and a handsome smile. “…Guess I can hope for you to be as tiny as Angel with her pregnancy, huh? You be pampered for nine months is sure going to make our baby happy.”
"I hate to break it to you, baby, but there ain't no way in Hell I'll be as tiny as Chey. And as for the being pampered… If I get weird ass cravings in the middle of the night, will you run out and get them for me?" she teased, setting her knitting aside.
“Can I bitch under my breath as I pull on my pants?”
"If it'll make you feel better?" Austin giggled, leaning down to kiss his cheek. "When we get married, where are we going to live?"
“Where do you want to live?”
"Near Momma Richardson…"
“Really?” Kevin questioned in surprise, allowing his eyes to open briefly to stare at her beautiful face. He lifted his arm to brush his fingers delicately down her cheek. “You want to live near Ma?”
"You should be near her, Kevin… As it is, you hardly see her, and, well… Besides, with her nearby I have a babysitter a phone call away." Covering his hand with hers, she turned her head slightly to kiss his palm. "…Can Chey-Chey live with us?"
“I thought kids we’re supposed to move out of the house when they hit their twenties. I don’t need my grandchild being raised up with my son,” Kevin teased lightly.
"Do you think I'd leave my Chey all alone with Ollie?"
“The way you’re figuring it, she ain’t going to be alone with my unwanted little brother on the prowl.”
"You know what I mean…"
“Do you think she’d want to live with us in Kentucky?”
Austin stared at him for a moment, taken aback at his words. "I… I'd like to think she'd want to be with me…"
“If she doesn’t mind me running around naked, though it’s not like she isn’t used to that…” Kevin furrowed his dark brows for a moment. “You hated the idea of her moving to live in Florida, huh?”
“Guess you don’t have to worry about that now…”
"No… I guess not… But that doesn't mean that I'm happy she and Howie have split up or whatever."
“I didn’t say you were, Princess...”
"It's… For so long, it's just been me and Chey. Even with Noah and Stephen, it was me and Chey, always. And then when Howie stepped into her life… Things changed," Austin murmured, tracing Kevin's jaw with her finger.
“She still put you first, Princess--”
"I know. And that's why I feel so bad for being jealous--"
"Of him, of Baylee… Of you," she admitted softly.
"You… Not really jealous of you, but… I used to feel bad, like you were keeping me from her. Not that you made me stay from her or anything, but… Fuck it, I can't explain it," she muttered with a sigh.
“Baby…” Kevin chided softly, bringing her face down so he could gently kiss her lips. “It’s okay.”
"And now I'm getting jealous of Boohbah… Why? Why can't I just let her be happy?"
“Now you’re jealous of Nick?”
"I'm jealous of anyone who gets close to her heart…"
“So… I’m close to her heart?”
"Of course… You're her Daddy, remember?"
“Guess everyone needs reassurance when it comes to Angel?” Kevin teased lightly, continuing to rub her cheek affectionately in attempts to soothe her. “But, maybe you’ve had her heart for so long, it’s hard for you to share? She’s depended on you as much as you’ve depended on her. To think that she can be happy on her own hurts you… But, I doubt she’d ever go far without you, Princess. You’re the first love of her life.”
Smiling, she leaned down to kiss him gently, warmed at his sweet words. "So… If she wants to, she can come live with us?"
“As long as I’m the one that gets to ask her.”
"You're not planning some candlelight dinner, down on one knee shit, are you?" she teased, sliding from under him. Hopping to her feet, she moved towards the kitchenette, ready for a snack.
“Not for her,” Kevin answered as he rolled off the couch, following his lover. Stuffing a hand into his pocket, he felt the familiar velvet of the ring box he had asked his mother to send to him. Leaning against the wall, he watched her bend over in the fridge, smiling coyly at the curve of her backside. “Y’know, I’m glad we talked about all this, Princess.”
"Me too," she replied softly, pulling out some leftover pizza. Setting it on the counter, she turned to reach past him for a plate. "You want some?" she questioned with a smile.
“In a minute… I have to tell you something first.”
"What?" she asked, letting her hand fall from the cabinet without getting a plate. "Did I do something wrong?"
“Hell no,” Kevin chuckled, reaching to lightly caress her sides. “I just wanted to tell you that my lawyer called today.”
Austin instinctively shivered at his light touch, smiling nervously. "…And?" Her mind raced with millions of things that could be going wrong in the divorce. Kristin wanted more money. Wanted the house. Wanted his car. Wanted his penis on a platter…
“I’m officially a free man?”
"A free… KEVIN!" Austin shrieked, flinging her arms around him. "That's wonderful!" Composing herself, she took a step back, smiling slightly.
“More than wonderful,” Kevin chuckled with a nod, leaning against the counter as he watched the way her coffee eyes lightened as if the sweetest, most purest milk had been added to her irises. And, he knew he couldn’t live without her. “But, I don’t like being a free man, Princess.”
"Oh?" Austin pondered his statement for a moment, chewing nervously on her bottom lip. "You're going to ask her to remarry you?" she teased with the hint of a wicked smile.
“Don’t ruin this,” Kevin chided as he pulled the box from his pocket. Flipping open the top, he smiled when he revealed a gold band with a simple solitaire diamond. There was nothing overly dramatic to the exquisite piece of jewelry. It was just simple and elegant, because Austin didn’t need a lot of frills to accent her beauty. “This was the ring that my grandfather proposed to my grandmother with… And, I want to propose to you with this ring, too.”
Austin drew in a sharp breath of surprise, her mouth dropping into an 'o' of surprise. "Kevin," she breathed, tears brimming. He had gotten his grandmother's ring… Just for her… And his hands were shaking, she noticed. "Oh, Kevin…"
“If you tell me no after everything we talked about… I’m going to have to leap off this bus, Princess…” Kevin murmured with a nervous chuckle. “…I love you so much. I can’t imagine my life without you in it. I’d give you everything in me to make you happy. I’d even give my last breath. My day starts with thinking of you and ends with thinking of you. I want you to have my last name. To have my children. To keep my heart forever. Please, Austin? Will you marry me?”
Austin stared up at him, her eyes wide with wonder. He had never poured his entire heart out to her in such a manner. "Yes," she whispered, her tears slipping onto her cheeks. "Yes…"
“You’ve got to call Ma,” Kevin breathed with a thankful smile, wasting no time in slipping the ring onto her fourth left digit before wrapping her in a tight embrace. He pressed several kisses to her cheeks, nose, and forehead before finally meeting her mouth. The excitement and exuberance escalating in his body slipped through his kiss and he felt Austin’s knees go weak. “I love you so much, Princess.”
"I love you too," she whispered shakily, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. "I can't begin to tell you how much I love you, Pretty Boy…" Tucking her head against his chest, she clung to him, not sure she could stand on her own two feet if he let her go.
“We have our whole lives together to try,” Kevin murmured softly, pressing sweet kisses to the top of her head, knowing he would never need to ask God for another thing in his entire life.
Curled against Nick on the bus, Cheyanne smiled winsomely as Nick patiently guided Baylee through the maze on the Spongebob video game. He'd had the driver stop so he could get the boy some video games that didn't involve killing zombies, coming back from the store with more games than Baylee would ever have time to play. She loved watching him with Baylee. Nick didn't get upset when he made a wrong turn or had to restart, instead would calmly encourage him that he could do it. The fact he had bought them each matching t-shirts at the aquarium the day before only endeared him to her more.
“Nicky, I lost!” Baylee growled with disgust as he got caught in the maze once more. Looking away from the large screen TV, he glanced up to the couch where Nick was holding Cheyanne. He furrowed his light blonde brows with a stir of jealousy, standing up from the floor which Nick told him to occupy. He thrust the controller into Nick’s hands. “You do maze, I ‘nuggle My Angel.”
"Actually… Isn't it about time you went and laid down for a little while?" Nick suggested. "I don't want you to run back to your Dad and tell him I let you stay up all day without a nap, because--"
“You’s a ‘fraidy cat!” Baylee interrupted with a bemused smile, turning away from Nick’s grasp in order to reach Cheyanne. “You come nap with me, My Angel! You and the baby need sleepies! T’mon, Ollie tell me she’s sleepy!”
"Well… Maybe I can rest while you fall asleep?" Cheyanne posed with a sweet smile, thinking she would slip away after Baylee was in dreamland.
“No, sleepies for both of us!” Baylee insisted as he tugged on Cheyanne’s hands, forcing her to pull away from Nick’s embrace. Once she was standing, Baylee clasped her hand tightly, pulling her to the bedroom in the back of the bus. Satisfied when she disappeared inside to crawl on the bed, Baylee poked out into the hallway, sticking his tongue out at Nick with triumph.
"Hey! Maybe I want sleepies too!" Nick called after him, shaking his head ruefully when the door thumped shut.
“NO NICKY’S ALLOWED!” Baylee bellowed.
"DON'T MAKE ME STOP THIS BUS, BOY!"
“MY ANGEL! MY! DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND, STUPID?!”
"THAT'S IT! I'M CALLING YOUR DADDY RIGHT NOW!"
“GOOD! ASK’IM IF YOU CAN GO ON HIS BUS!”
Cheyanne squeaked in surprise when Nick flung the door open, sitting up to offer him the most engaging smile. Not that he saw it, glaring as he was at Baylee. Immediately the boy scrambled to her, and she wrapped her arms around him protectively as he hurriedly pulled the covers over himself. "You scared him!" she chided Nick.
“He’ll be lucky if I don’t slather him in honey, tie him up by his ankles, and feed him to Moth!” Nick exclaimed, reaching to yank the covers down, though Cheyanne stopped him.
“Be nice,” she insisted as Baylee whimpered against her. Pulling the blankets from Nick’s grasp, she made sure to drape them over her body and Baylee. Laying back down, she pressed several kisses to his forehead, cradling him gingerly to her body. “It’s okay, Darlin’. Nicky was just teasing. Him’s grumpy and needs a nap.”
"I'm sorry, Bay. Want me to go get you a cup of juice?" Nick offered. "Then I can lay down with you and Chey and we can all take a nap?"
“Apple juice,” Baylee requested begrudgingly, burying his face against Cheyanne with a mournful sigh.
Heading back towards the front of the bus, Nick rummaged around in the small fridge for juice. He had longed to have just five minutes alone with Cheyanne, but since the aquarium all he'd gotten were two or three moments here and there. Baylee had insisted that, because he would be riding Nick's bus, he had to sleep over in Nick's room. Which had meant no snuggling for Nick. The child had made sure to stay between them, actually kicking Nick when he thought he'd gotten too close. But Nick couldn't begrudge Baylee's wanting to be with Cheyanne. Hell, he felt the same way.
"He's sleeping," Cheyanne whispered from behind him as he poured juice into a sippy cup. "Cancel the juice order."
Nick held his breath for the longest moment at her declaration, immediately recapping the apple juice. He inhaled the light scent of her perfume, turning slightly to catch a glimpse of her beauty. “Are you teasing?”
“Would I tease about something like that? When Darlin’ has been torturing you since last night? He was tired.”
"You slipped him something, didn't you? When it was time for his vitamins, you gave him something that'd knock him out, right?" Nick teased, returning the juice to the fridge. Clasping her hand with his, he led her back to the sofa, hoping they would resume their cuddling. Hopefully this time without interruption.
“Sure, Nicky, I did it just for you,” Cheyanne promised with a soft laugh, rolling her eyes playfully at his thought process. “I knocked his ass out just so I could get you all to myself.”
"See? Great minds think alike!" Flopping down onto the sofa, he pulled her with him, sighing happily when her arms curled around his neck. "What was it? Benadryl? Tylenol p.m.?"
Cheyanne wrinkled her nose at his suggestions, immediately frowning. “Remind me not to let you alone with Ollie, okay?”
"She won't be that bad," Nick assured her, jerking his head towards the back of the bus. "She's going to be just as sweet as her Momma…"
“I still don’t want to take the chance with you as a babysitter--”
"So that's all I'm going to be? A babysitter?"
Cheyanne leaned back slightly in Nick’s lap in order to study his dark ocean eyes, gingerly rubbing the back of his neck. They had confessed their love for one another, yet neither had the nerve to offer a serious conversation about what had happened. Between their love making, Howie’s emotional blows, and their confessions, nothing had been discussed. So, gingerly rubbing the back of his neck, Cheyanne moistened her bottom lip. “What do you want to be, Nicky?”
Sighing, Nick rested his head against the back of the couch, reaching up to pull out the clip keeping her hair up. Smiling slightly when it cascaded around her shoulders in a torrent of golden curls, he glanced down at her stomach, smoothing his hand over it tenderly until he felt the bump of an elbow or a knee. "I don't know," he whispered. He truly didn't. He knew he loved her, but he wasn't sure if she wanted him to just jump into her life as Howie had. "I want to be everything to you, you know that, don't you?" he murmured, reaching with his other hand to lightly touch her cheek. "But I'll only be what you want me to be…"
“I just want what you’re willing to give to me,” she answered softly, tilting her cheek into his hand as she allowed her eyes to flutter closed. She wanted to just lavish in the feel of his hands on her soft skin. So many things had been thrown upside down since she had graduated from college. First Noah, then the pregnancy, then Howie, and now Nick. She didn’t understand why God was causing these currents in her life, but she understood the feelings she had for Nick. He was special. A diamond in the rough. A diamond God seemed to want her to cherish.
"I love you, Sweetheart… And anything you want, I'll give you. No questions asked," he murmured, pulling her down for a soft kiss.
Cheyanne smiled at the vague sweetness of his words, accepting the kiss as a sign of a promise. She was awed at the fact that he was willing to give her anything. That he opened everything to her. For her to make the decisions in her life. She had never been given that opportunity before. Noah had taken and Howie had assumed. To be asked what she wanted and she just loved him. “I just want to be first in someone’s life. I want to know that I’m special… I want to be loved…”
"You'll always be first in my life, Sweetheart," he promised softly, wrapping his arms around her. She naturally shifted her body against him, her head moving to rest gently on his chest. "You have no idea how special you are to me… How much you've changed my life… How deep my love for you is…"
“You stopped smoking and that was a definite plus,” Cheyanne teased him lightly, closing her eyes so she could concentrate on the steady rhythm of his heart. It was something she loved to listen to. A natural soother when her world was turned upside down. “I hated kissing an ashtray. Not to mention I worried about what would happen to you…”
"I don't miss it at all," Nick admitted softly, his fingers trailing through her hair. "I'd rather kiss you than suck on some… What'd Austi call them? Cancer sticks?"
“She had to quit, too, ‘cause I wasn’t going to let her around Ollie with the smoke. Increases the risk of SIDS and I’d… I’d never forgive myself if I let something happen to Ollie.”
"Yeah… So my chances of getting some loving while Bay's taking a nap are zilch right now, huh?"
“So that’s the only reason you said you loved me, huh? To get some loving?”
"If that were true, I would have said it before you started giving me loving…"
“So what took you so long, Carter?” Cheyanne questioned openly, shifting from her comfortable position to catch his gaze.
"I didn't want to scare you off…"
“Scare me off? …So how long did you know before you told me?”
"Since the bed and breakfast…"
“You knew all that time…” Cheyanne released a soft sigh as she glanced downward to her hand, playing with the ring he had given her. “Howie asked if I loved you…”
"What did you tell him?" Nick murmured, smoothing her hair back.
“That I loved him…” Cheyanne trailed with a soft honesty, not wanting to meet his gaze. “Because I did love him… I do love him… But I was falling in love with you at the same time… It’s so hard to be in that position and I didn’t want to hurt him. But I couldn’t hurt you either. I just… I love you so much, Nicky… I do… But I was so scared to tell him… You have this piece of my heart…”
A piece… When he longed to have her entire heart. Though the rest of her heart probably belonged to Howie, he still wanted it. Sliding his arms around her, he pulled her closer until he could rest his head on her shoulder. "What if I want more than a piece, Sweetheart?" he murmured.
“I don’t want to give you something that’s broken, Nicky,” Cheyanne stated softly, running her fingers delicately through his blond locks.
"If I promise to be careful and help put it back together?" he whispered.
“Do you really want to go through the trouble?”
"You're worth it."
“What am I going to do with you, Nicky?”
"Just love me, Sweetheart… That's all I ask," he murmured, tilting her head for a kiss.