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Chapter 64 – He Didn’t Have to Be

"Did you see the flowers that Momma Richardson sent you?" Austin questioned softly as she settled next to Cheyanne in the bed, careful not to touch her friend's stomach. Lightly kissing Cheyanne's cheek, she rested her head on her shoulder and gazed down at Olivia, who had fallen asleep while feeding and refused to let go of her mother's breast. Her tiny fingers clamped down possessively, her soft grunt of displeasure when Cheyanne tried to move her causing everyone to smile. Drawing the blanket over Cheyanne's chest to shield it from Kevin's view as he walked in, she traced Olivia's foot with her thumb. "My little Ollie," she cooed softly.

“Yeah, I saw the flowers,” Cheyanne approved, watching Olivia’s toes fan outward as Austin’s thumb moved down the center of her small foot. She knew it was just a primary reflex for infants to demonstrate, but seeing her daughter perform the task was far more heartfelt and prideful. Especially when she felt the small shiver race through Olivia’s petite body, snuggling closer to her mother’s warm skin. Smiling, Cheyanne fixed the blanket Austin had pulled to keep a dark nest for her daughter, tenderly patting her behind in a soothing manner. “I ‘specially like how she put Great-Grandma Ann on the card. I’ll have to send her a thank you when I’m discharged.”

"You'll be lucky if she's not waiting at home for you," Kevin murmured thoughtfully as he flipped through the folder of papers lying on the bedside table. "Want me to take care of some of this stuff?" he offered, already reaching for an ink pen.

"Why do you say that? Momma Richardson would just spoil Chey and Ollie to death… Is your Momma coming up soon?" Austin questioned, examining the ankle bracelet on Olivia. It was so tiny… She was certain it would fit on her finger.

“She mentioned wanting to come see La-La,” Kevin grunted, picking out a few forms from the folder that looked almost completed. He would have let Austin finish helping Cheyanne with the forms, but knew they’d never get done. At least not until Olivia’s eighteenth birthday.

"That last question was directed towards Chey… But I'd love for your Momma to come visit… As long as Chey's up to the company. Which reminds me, how long are Brian and Pooper Scooper staying? And when are you going to tell me who that chick with him yesterday is?" Stretching out next to Cheyanne, Austin shifted so she could see Kevin as he sat down.

“A few days and later,” Kevin answered easily, barely glancing up from the paperwork as he glanced over the previous questions and signatures.

"How long is later?" Austin murmured, glancing at Cheyanne and noticing her friend had dozed off. Making sure her grip on Olivia was secure, she returned her attention back to her fiancé. "Why can't you tell me now? Chey knows about her, why can't I?"

“Because I love hearing you bitch at me every five seconds,” Kevin sarcastically replied, rolling his eyes playfully.

"And you have a lifetime of my bitching to look forward to," she returned with a grin.

“Hallelujah,” Kevin praised.

"Damnit, Pretty Boy--"

“Don’t you curse around my daughter and granddaughter,” he warned, pointing the ink pen toward Austin in a threatening manner. “I don’t care if they’re sleeping or not. Don’t need that filth around them. And, for God’s sakes, see if La-La will let go of Angel’s breast so they can snuggle more comfortably. It just seems painful…”

"You have a fantastic way of dancing around the topic of conversation, y'know that?" Austin muttered, shifting to ease Olivia from Cheyanne's breast as requested. Cheyanne's eyelids fluttered open at the movement, and she quickly went back to sleep when Austin pulled her nursing gown back down and settled the baby over her chest. Pulling the blanket up over them, she reached to lay the head of the bed back, gazing at them for a long moment before turning back to Kevin. "Okay, I'll stop cussing. And Cheyanne's breasts are covered. Now. Tell me? Please?" She knew the man would get tired of her incessant questions soon enough, it was only a matter of time. Considering she had opened her home to the woman, she assumed she had every right in knowing who she was.

“Vivian is Brian’s mistress for lack of a better term,” Kevin started with a displeased grunt, though he softened slightly when he watched Austin fix the blanket over mother and daughter before curling closely next to them. A small smile played with his lips as she curled a protective arm around both, but still managed to watch him nonetheless. “And before you get crazy. Yes, Leighanne knows about Vivian. Yes, Brian was cheating on Leighanne with Vivian. Yes, Leighanne was cheating on Brian. Yes, they’re currently separated. Yes, they’re divorcing. But that’s all I know. So, please, butt out of his business.”

"Is she the one he was so 'cited to see in Atlanta?"

“The one he cursed at? Yes. He seems to really love her.”

"Did Bay sleep in our bed last night?"

“Do you honestly think I’d let him do that shit in our bed?! Are you nuts?!”

"Don't curse around our daughter and granddaughter," Austin chided softly, clicking her tongue. "And how could you have stopped him? You stayed with me here last night, remember?"

Kevin’s mental process seemed to move in overdrive as his emerald eyes glazed over. “…Damnit…”

"I take it I need to change our sheets when I get home?" Austin questioned with a smirk.

“I’m burning the whole mattress.”

"Oh for heaven's sake…"

“He still has post-Leighanne sex-shit, Austin.”

"From what I can remember in New York, they weren't anywhere near having sex…"

“She carries a two-year lingering scent?”

"Have you been sniffing your cousin after Leighanne sex, Kevin?"

“It’s hard not to?”

"God, I give… You can burn the mattress… And buy us a waterbed."

“I get sea-sick easily--”

“You two should just go back to the house, ‘cause I ain’t never gonna get any rest between you two and them damn nurses poking me like a pin cushion practically every hour,” Cheyanne whispered softly, somewhat upset to be yanked away from her slumber with the bickering. Though, upon inhaling the soft scent of her daughter, immediately relaxed. Sliding her arms around Olivia, she gently rubbed the infant’s back, feeling the soft rotation of the tiny foot against her slimming abdomen.

"I ain't going back home 'till that mattress is burned--"

"Not that it's any of y'alls business, but you don't need to burn the mattress," Brian said from the doorway. "For one, I wouldn't do that in the same bed my cousin sleeps in, and two, Scooper slept between us the whole night. Unlike some people, I can keep my hormones in check," he explained as he stepped into the room, carrying a large bouquet of light purple roses. "Also, if you don't mind, shut your traps about my love life…"

“They won’t listen about that last one,” Cheyanne reminded him softly, peeking her eyes open. “Did you bring my Darlin’?”

"He and Snook--Vivian are buying out the gift shop," Brian informed her with an easy grin, stepping over to peek at Olivia. "I left strict instructions not to buy anything pink…"

Austin slid off the bed, heading for the bathroom. Stopping in front of Kevin, she leaned close. "He calls her Snookums?!" she whispered.

Kevin glanced up at his fiancée with disbelief. “Where the Hell have you been, Princess?”

"Well, except for the past twenty-four hours, I've been on my knees or on my back with you--"

"Hey, hey, hey! There's a baby in the room!" Brian admonished softly, glaring at them. Pulling the blanket back slightly, he couldn't help but coo. "Can I hold her?"

“Sure…” Cheyanne agreed as Brian set the vase of light purple roses on the windowsill, grasping the purple blanket that Cheyanne had first seen Olivia with. Hurrying back to the bed, she watched Brian eagerly settled the blanket in his arms to accept Olivia. For a moment, she thought about declining as she eased the blankets down, softly shifting her daughter. She had already become fiercely protective of the newborn, not to mention extremely attached. Even having her leave for a few moments seemed like Hell.

"Awe, aren't you just the cutest thing?" Brian cooed softly as he adjusted Olivia in his arms. "You look just like your Ma, y'know that? And--"

"Shh! My Angel sleepin'!" Baylee's voice screeched from the hallway.

"Well, Bay, if she's still sleepin' after that, it'll be a miracle," Vivian's voice replied gently as Baylee burst through the door. Following him, she smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. He was a little excited to see his Angel…" Her eyes fell on Brian holding Olivia, and she grinned, shoving the armful of stuffed animals she held into Kevin's lap.

"My Angel! You're 'wake!" Baylee cried, rushing to the bed.

“Thanks, Vivian,” Kevin mumbled dryly, immediately jerking to catch any of the animals that might have toppled to the floor. “And somebody catch that kid before he pops Angel open like a piñata!”

Baylee shot the man an impatient glare. "I can't get into My Angel's lap! Her has a boo-boo. Daddy says if it's otay with My Angel I can give her hugs, but no tummy kisses."

“Apparently, he told you,” Cheyanne actually laughed, bracing a hand against her lower abdomen to protect the incision. Her sapphire eyes sparked with a playful impishness that showed a striking improvement from hours before. She may have still had severe pain, but that was controllable. What was more important was the color was returning back to her skin. The beautiful peaches and cream complexion that she shared with her daughter. And, softly motioning toward the empty side of her bed for Baylee, she smiled. “You can come up here if you want, Darlin’.”

Eagerly climbing onto the bed, Baylee leaned up to kiss Cheyanne's cheek, careful to avoid touching her stomach. "You feel better, My Angel?" he questioned worriedly, resting his head in the crook of her neck as he snuggled close to her.

Stepping over to Brian, Vivian smiled down at Olivia, glancing into her lover's eyes for a moment. "Don't even think about it," she warned softly before flopping into the empty rocking chair in the corner.

“I feel a lot better, Darlin’,” Cheyanne promised softly, leaning to kiss Baylee as she attempted to ignore Brian’s sputters with hopes to salvage himself. He seemed caught within his thoughts, resulting in Olivia being passed back into Cheyanne’s arms so he could speak with Vivian. Rolling her eyes playfully, Cheyanne fixed the blankets around her daughter, pleased that she was still slumbering. “You were very brave for me, Darlin’. It was scary what happened the other day. And, I want to thank you for helping me.”

"I was scared," Baylee admitted in a whisper, gazing at Olivia with deep interest. "I thought you was g'nna…" Shaking his head, he closed his eyes before leaning over to softly kiss Olivia's cheek. "My Angel's baby," he whispered with the hint of a smile before turning his head to grin at Cheyanne. "Her my Little Angel?"

“She can be your Little Angel if you want her to be,” Cheyanne approved with a small nod, pulling the corner of the baby blanket back so Baylee could get a better view of the newborn. He had never seen another baby before and the curiousness in his dark eyes intrigued Cheyanne. She couldn’t hide the smile on her face as Olivia began to rouse from her slumber, stretching her tiny arms upward as she yawned with a finishing squeak of a yip.

"Brian! Camera!" Vivian hissed.

"Her yawns jus' like My Angel!" Baylee cried with an ebullient grin, staring at Olivia. "Her eat?"

“She ate a little bit ago,” Cheyanne answered as she leaned back amongst the pillows with Baylee tucked neatly to her side. She watched as Olivia writhed within the blanket to rouse herself, stretching as much as she possibly could. Then, slowly, her beautiful sapphire eyes fluttered opened to greet her new visitors, finding her mother first with a soft coo. “But looks like she wanted to meet you, Darlin’.”

Grinning, Baylee sat up so he could better see Olivia. "Hi, my Little Angel!"

"Brian! Video camera!"

Coming from the bathroom, Austin glanced around with a smirk as Brian dove for his video camera to capture Baylee and Olivia staring at each other. The boy had taken her spot in the bed, so she padded over to Kevin, pouting slightly when she saw he was still bent over the paperwork. "I thought I said I could finish that?"

“We can’t wait for La-La to turn eighteen and finish it herself, Princess,” Kevin answered, glancing up wryly toward his fiancée.

"Are you insinuating that I won't finish them?"

"Please, My Angel? I hold her?"

“I’m not insinuating that you won’t finish them, I’m telling you that you won’t finish them,” Kevin emphasized with a chuckle, though he immediately glanced over to Cheyanne with quiet shock over Baylee’s request. He had prepared himself for Baylee’s whines of protest when Cheyanne turned him down, but found he was at a loss when Cheyanne nodded. “Angel, are you sure that’s wise? La-La is so small--”

“Darlin’ will be careful,” Cheyanne interrupted softly, reaching for the electric controller of the bed to raise her head. She bit the inside of her cheek at the shift of her body, not wanting to scare her daughter or Baylee. Waiting until they were sitting upright, she brought an arm around Baylee, showing him how to hold his arms like a basket. Then, gingerly, she lowered Olivia into Baylee’s arms, making sure her head was well supported, never letting her hands leave. “We’ll hold her together, okay, Darlin’?”

"Her's so little," Baylee whispered, staring down at Olivia. "Did her give you the boo-boo on your tummy?"

Grabbing the paperwork from Kevin's lap, Austin promptly sat down, reaching for the pen. "I can do it myself," she grumbled, though she was smiling at the interaction between Baylee and Olivia. "…Who should I put as father?" she whispered, staring at the form for the birth certificate.

“Father?” Kevin returned.

“The doctor gave me the boo-boo on my tummy,” Cheyanne answered softly as she clicked her tongue to gather Olivia’s attention. Her daughter’s sapphire eyes widened at the sound, immediately reaching for her mother. Cheyanne bent slightly to kiss the tiny fingers offered, knowing the pain was worth it. “She came out of the boo-boo on my tummy, though, and I don’t mind it one bit.”

"Daddy can kiss your boo-boo and make it better," Baylee proclaimed, causing Brian to nearly drop his camera.

"Yes, father… Maybe I should just leave it--"

"Put my name," Howie whispered from behind Kevin.

Austin tensed with surprise at the sound of Howie’s voice, immediately turning in her fiancé’s lap. She eyed the older man critically, though she couldn’t hold back the smile when she noticed his arms filled with packages and flowers. He had spent the entire night at the hospital with Kevin and Austin. Since Cheyanne had a private Critical Care Room, they all managed to find sleeping places until she was finally moved to the maternity ward. Considering everything that had happened, Howie seemed like a miracle child at this point. “What the Hell are you doing, Dorough?”

"Standing here holding some things I just went out and bought? Oh, and Honey wanted me to get her some pizza for lunch, so somebody has to meet the delivery guy in the lobby in about fifteen minutes," Howie murmured, setting his things down.

“We’ll make Snookums send Brian,” Kevin answered with a lazy grin, reaching for the pen Austin had poised over the ‘father’ box.

"She is damn good at ordering him around, isn't she? And he just obeys… Like some dumb old dog… Howie, are you serious? You want to be put down as father?" Austin questioned softly.

"I'm serious."

“Don’t you think you two need to invite someone else into this conversation?” Kevin murmured.

Austin stared at him. "What? You don't think Brian knows he's trained?"

Kevin snorted loudly. “My God, Austin, are you that--”

"Honey?" Howie questioned softly, moving to stand beside her. Leaning close, he kissed her cheek softly. "Would you mind having my name down as Cinnamon's father?"

“Your name down…” Cheyanne trailed softly in confusion as she glanced away from Olivia and Baylee, catching Howie’s dark eyes after the soft kiss. She felt her body warm with the simple gesture, though her light brows furrowed at his question. He wanted to be listed as Olivia’s father. He was requesting it as if it were some kind of pleasure, though the intensity between their gazes seemed to make Brian uncomfortable. He suddenly suggested they go get the pizza, making Baylee transfer Olivia back to Cheyanne so he could go downstairs as well. Though, Kevin and Austin stayed, interested in the outcome.

Taking Cheyanne's hand in his, Howie looked into her eyes, hoping she would see how heartfelt he was. "I promised I'd take care of you… And I still want to take care of both of you… Cinnamon deserves the name of someone who loves her. But if you don't want--"

“No, it’s not that I don’t want you to be named as her father… But I just figured with what happened… And you just wanting to be friends… I mean, Noah is her biological father… He should be called… Or maybe… I don’t know,” Cheyanne sighed, glancing down at the infant she cradled in the crook of her arm. Olivia watched her so lovingly, cooing occasionally in order to catch Cheyanne’s attention once more. She deserved the best.

"We should leave them alone," Austin whispered, climbing out of Kevin's lap. Grabbing his hand, she tugged impatiently. Howie and Cheyanne needed to work things out, and she knew they couldn't if people were constantly hovering. "Come on."

“Wait, this is better than those stupid soap operas you make me watch--”

"If you don't get off your ass now, I'll offer Brian and Vivian our bed for the rest of their stay and make sure Baylee sleeps with us," Austin threatened.

“You drive me--” Kevin yelped in shock as he was practically thrown into the hallway. “As I was saying, we should give them some privacy!”

"You are such a jackass…" Austin's voice faded as the door swung shut behind them.

Howie glanced at the door. Austin was giving him room… "Honey… Check my pulse… I think I've died."

“Why? ‘Cause Austi is being nice?” Cheyanne questioned, weaving her hand out of his in order to feel his wrist. The pulse was there, but bounding significantly. She nodded slightly to tell him he had a pulse, slipping her hand back around Olivia, holding her close.

"Well, it is a rare occurrence…" Perching on the edge of the bed, he watched Olivia's eyes flutter closed with a pleased sigh. "So what do you say?"

“About your name being on Olivia’s birth certificate? Listed as the father?” Cheyanne questioned, making sure she understood his request.

“Yes.”

“If you want your name listed as the father… I’d be okay with that,” Cheyanne answered softly, gently brushing her fingertips down the side of her daughter’s face. She couldn’t hide the smile on her face as one inched across the sleeping baby’s face. “Noah doesn’t want any contact. He won’t acknowledge her… And I couldn’t let her birth certificate blank… Does that mean she takes your last name?”

"Only if you want her to…" Howie desperately hoped she would.

“It’s your name… What do you want?”

"I'd like her to take my last name. But she's your daughter… What do you want?"

“I think she deserves to have a good Daddy… A Daddy like you,” Cheyanne whispered softly, offering the small bundle toward Howie.

Taking Olivia in his arms, Howie offered her a smile, feeling his heart swell with emotion when her head snuggled closer to his chest. "Hey baby girl," he murmured softly, reaching to smooth his hand over her head. Looking up at Cheyanne, he felt relief sweep over him at her sweet smile. "I'll be her Daddy," he promised softly.

“Thank you,” Cheyanne returned, folding her hands gingerly over her abdomen as she watched Howie hold Olivia. She responded to him like no other. As soon as she had transferred arms, it seemed like she knew Howie was holding her. Her little fingers reaching to catch his t-shirt, even as she continued to slumber. She loved him, probably almost as much as her mother loved him. Though, Cheyanne was too frightened to reveal those words, especially since Nick had yet to contact her.

"Honey…"

“I know it’s not saying much, considering what you’re doing for her… But I appreciate it… I appreciate everything you’re doing.”

"I know… I… I love you, Cheyanne," Howie whispered.

Cheyanne glanced up in surprise. “Howie…”

"I mean it. I know I've acted like nothing but the word's biggest fisspuck, but I do love you," Howie murmured.

“What am I going to do with you?” Cheyanne whispered, rubbing her face with her forearm at the feeling of tears starting to collect.

"Let me love you…"

“Sweet Tea…” Cheyanne breathed with soft disbelief, feeling the shift of soft blankets as Howie gingerly rested Olivia back in her arms. Pushing the blankets down, Cheyanne noticed that Olivia was awake once again. She reached toward Howie with a small hand, though she cooed and smiled toward her mother. “What do you think we should do with your Daddy, Ollie?”

Shifting closer, Howie let Olivia catch his finger with her hand, smiling when she pulled it close to her face. "I take it that means she wants to keep me?" he suggested with a chuckle.

“I think she’d be silly not to?” Cheyanne answered, watching Olivia affectionately nibble on Howie’s finger.

"My Angel! We gots pizzas!" Baylee announced loudly from the hallway.

“Damnit Darlin’,” Cheyanne breathed softly, instantly flushing with embarrassment as she caught Howie’s gaze. “I love him, don’t get me wrong--”

"Yeah, yeah, yeah…" Howie grinned, leaning over to brush his lips over her cheek again. "He's an annoying little rat sometimes, isn't he?"

"Couldn't I say the same for you?" Cheyanne questioned wryly, listening to Brian and Vivian chide Baylee away from the door for a moment.

“I’m a rat?”

“No, an annoying little rat--”

“Little?!”

“I should think you’d be more concerned about the word annoying!”

"But you--"

"My Angel!" Baylee cried, bursting into the room, followed quickly by Brian and Vivian. "Da pizzas get cold!"

“I like cold pizza, Darlin’,” Cheyanne laughed softly as the young boy glared sourly at Howie.

"Here, I'll take her so you can eat," Howie murmured, gently lifting Olivia into his arms again. Moving to the rocking chair, he settled in it, gazing down at his daughter's face.

"We tried to keep him away as long as possible… It's a wonder we could divert him long as we did," Vivian noted as Brian set the pizzas on the tray. "Do we have drinks? …Bear, run down to the vending machine and get some Pepsis…"

“If you attached a bell and collar to him, it might be more efficient?” Cheyanne murmured with a teasing grin toward Brian, helping Baylee climb back into the bed.

"Naw… I have him trained pretty good," Vivian replied with a smirk, leaning to kiss Brian's cheeks. "And it might be a good idea to sweet talk one of the nurses into getting some juice for Bay… Oh, and see if you can get some ice and cups? Bay informed me his Angel likes ice with her Pepsi…"

"Maybe a cattle prod would work better," Howie suggested with a chuckle.

Brian scowled toward Cheyanne and Howie while unwinding himself from Vivian’s arms. “You all can just kiss my--” Brian trailed off as Howie gestured toward the sleeping infant. “Well, you can fill in that three letter blank, you damn brats.”

*~*~*


Nick grimaced as he tenderly touched the left side of his jaw, eliciting a sharp sensation of pain ripping across his face. He hadn’t been prepared for Kevin’s fist flying into his face at the hospital. Nor did he expect that he’d be home alone with only his miserable thoughts of loneliness. Bowing down into the porcelain sink of his bathroom, he splashed several handfuls of cold water across his face, hoping to cool the pain. Though, he didn’t think he could cool the pain in his heart. Leaving Cheyanne was the worst choice he had ever made, but he knew better. He couldn’t give her what Howie could. And he didn’t want a child. Was he fucking nuts? Why would he take that ball and chain away from Howie? Fuck that. Howie could have them.

"Damnit all to Hell," he groaned, dragging a towel over his face before stumbling back into his bedroom. Glaring at the still-made bed, he headed from the room, nearly tripping over his discarded shoes. "Stupid fuck," he grumbled, kicking the offending shoes under his bed. His entire body ached from his drunken sleep on the floor. He'd awakened to the blaring ring of his cell phone, his face resting against the cold tile floor, his legs awkwardly hanging over the edge of the bathtub. He could barely remember making it home the night before. The last coherent thought had been stopping at the closest bar to the airport.

Snatching his cell phone off the top step, he scrolled through the list of missed calls, a pang of hurt hitting when he realized Cheyanne hadn't called him. The calls were all from his brother. Deciding Aaron could wait, he shuffled into the kitchen to begin his search for relief for his hangover.

Reaching over his fridge, he fumbled through a variety of bottles, most toppling and bouncing off the linoleum floor. Wincing at the sounds that sounded like firecrackers, he stooped to retrieve the bottles. Though they seemed to bounce anywhere but within his hands. Crawling hurriedly in order to catch them to stop the racket, he cursed loudly when his forehead bounced against the cabinet. Falling backward on his backside, he threw a heavy foot into the cabinet door, causing it to bounce open to reveal several bottles of hard liquor. “Fuck me sideways!”

Releasing a frustrated growl, he snatched up the offending bottles, shoving them into the fridge and slamming the door before they could get away again. Whirling around, he caught his head in his hands when it kept spinning. Blinking furiously, he glared at the liquor. "AJ always said the best way to handle a hangover was to start drinking when you get up," he told the empty kitchen, grabbing a bottle of Jack Daniels. Wrenching the cap off, he took a hearty gulp straight from the bottle, wincing as the whiskey burned his throat. "Holy fuck…"

Hacking wildly against the scorching fire of his throat, Nick clutched the bottle close and stumbled into his living room. When the coughs soothed, he chased them once more with another hard swallow of liquor. That shot seemed to fair better in his throat as he flopped onto his couch, wincing at the crinkle of papers beneath his backside. Shifting, he wrenched the papers from beneath him, finding dozens of printed photographs from his digital camera. “What the fuck did I do last night?”

Setting the bottle on the coffee table, he flipped through the photos, wrinkling his forehead at the images of a young woman wearing only a pair of panties sprawled in his backseat. "Who the fuck… Jesus Christ," he breathed, reaching to rub his aching knee. Tossing the pictures aside as he looked at them, he groaned in disbelief at each one, reaching for the bottle.

“Guess they do look prettier when you’re plastered…” Nick murmured, making a face at an up close picture of the woman. Not even the world’s leading officials in cosmetic surgery could plastic and suck this woman beautiful. Yet, there was the evidence of him engaging in several illicit acts with her, reminding him to take a good shower and to clean his penis with a bottle of burning alcohol. She was nothing compared to…

"Sweetheart," he whispered, turning to the last picture. He immediately dropped it to the coffee table, taking a hearty gulp from the bottle. Tears burned his eyes and he quickly decided they were due to the strength of the alcohol he was drinking. "Forget her, man," he told himself, lurching to his feet. His cell phone screamed from his pocket as he headed upstairs, and without thinking he yanked it out to answer. "What?" he barked.

“What the fuck did you get stuck up your ass now?” Aaron returned with half the spite Nick had given him.

"Jesus Christ, bro… Far as I know, I didn't get anything stuck up there," Nick grumbled as he stomped into his room. "What the fuck do you want?"

“For you to return a fucking phone call. God, how long as your dick been shoved into that pregnant chick? ‘Cause I think the blood drain is starting to get to you!”

"Goddamnit, Aaron… I ain't with the pregnant chick no more."

“Done fucking her already? …What’s her number again?”

"She had the baby, jackass. Can't go fucking her now, can you?"

“Why the Hell not?”

Nick shook his head with a sigh. "Well, for one, Howie's back."

“That didn’t even stop you before, you pussy--”

"Is there a fucking reason you called?"

“…Are you home?”

"…Yeah…"

“Good, let’s go out.”

"This fucking early?" Nick whined, glancing at the clock.

“You get the alcohol, I’ll get the chicks, we’ll spend the day out on your boat. C’mon, Fucker.”

"…Chicks?" Nick made a face at the thought. "Just fucking be sober when you get them…"

“Only the best for my big bro. Need some good hard fucks to put the smile back on your face.”

Nick groaned, stepping into the bathroom. "…Long as they ain't blonde," he muttered. "Meet you at the dock, Fucker."

“Yeah, fuck you,” Aaron called, disconnecting the phone call.

Tossing his phone to the floor, Nick stepped into the shower, shaking his head in hopes of clearing it. Standing under the cold water, he sucked in a breath, closing his eyes when he felt tears threaten to start again. "Forget her," he whispered as he stepped out a moment later.

On his way downstairs, he grabbed the bottle he'd started earlier, gulping down the contents until his stomach burned. Letting it drop into the potted plant by the front door, he scooped up his keys and weaved his way outside and to his car.
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