Sitting in the armchair in the corner, Nick tried his hardest not to look at Cheyanne. Upon entering the house, Brian had all but carried him to the chair and told him to sit and not cause trouble. If everyone was so worried he would cause trouble, why the Hell had they made him come? Letting his eyes drift over the group of people in the living room, he suppressed a sigh when he saw Howie sitting next to Cheyanne, holding Olivia. It sure hadn't taken him long to weasel his way back to her side, had it? He took a hasty sip of his soda in an effort to hold back the grumble of expletives that threatened to leave his mouth. Austin kept glaring at him at every possible moment, Kevin had barely greeted him, and even Brian's woman was giving him the cold shoulder. Only AJ remained reasonably congenial towards him, though it seemed strained.
Leaning over, Nick placed a hand on AJ's shoulder. "Come outside and share a smoke?" he offered, hoping he could get out of coming back in for the remainder of the shower.
AJ glanced toward the group conversing, then quickly back to Nick as though he didn’t want to leave. “Well--”
“I KNOW YOU DIDN’T START THE PARTY WITHOUT US!” a loud, southern thickened voice exploded from the front door.
“That’s my Jeffie,” Cheyanne explained to Vivian with a soft squeal of love and adoration that made Nick sick to his stomach. Especially as she reached to take Olivia from Howie’s arms, moving to greet Billy and Jeff at the front door. And Nick couldn’t help but watch her leave for that moment. She looked beautiful; the weight gracefully leaving her petite form faster than anyone probably expected. She wore a pair of baggy mesh shorts and a simple purple nursing tank top. Simple, but gorgeous. Like she always had been, which just seemed to make Nick burn with disgust.
"I go to Dallas for a week to set up some ranch business, and my little Chey goes off and has her baby! And do I get a phone call?" Jeff asked Vivian as she stepped away so they could enter. "Hell no! For all they care, I don't ever have to find out!" he complained, thrusting a large gaily wrapped box into Vivian's arms. Turning to Cheyanne, he grinned from ear to ear. "Now give me my baby!"
“You talking about me or Olivia?” Cheyanne teased with a giggle, reaching to hug Jeff close with a kiss to his cheek before settling her daughter into his arms.
“Forgive Jeff, he’s an ass and has no social skills whatsoever,” Billy announced from behind his larger friend, grinning as he ducked underneath Jeff in order to hug Cheyanne tight. “Doesn’t even know that other woman and he’s ranting like she cares!”
"For your information, I do know her! That's… Um… I can't rightly remember her name, but she's the one that called and invited me… And you…" Rolling his eyes, Jeff snuggled Olivia close. "And how is the world's cutest baby?" he cooed softly.
Rolling his eyes in disgust, Nick got to his feet. "Let's go have that smoke now," he muttered to AJ. He couldn't take this bullshit anymore.
“If you smoke, I swear to God I won’t let you back into this house, Skinny,” Austin suddenly announced as Billy slipped onto the couch beside her and Kevin, offering his hellos. Everything seemed even tempered between the trio, considering the horrendous night Billy had in Georgia. Now they just found their escapades amusing and something to supply them with endless jokes. Though, Austin had no jokes to spare as she watched AJ and Nick critically. “The second hand smoke on your clothes will be terrible for Ollie and she’s already premature. She doesn’t need that kind of risk taken because you two are mindless idiots that can’t control your cravings. Not to mention Chey-Chey gets throbbing headaches and sick with that mess.”
"Yes, ma'am," AJ mumbled, settling back in his seat as Nick scoffed. Watching his friend push his way past everyone and out the door, he winced when it shut a tad harder than it should have. Which only caused Olivia to start whimpering in Jeff's arms. Austin immediately vaulted off the couch, apparently ready to storm after him and give him a piece of her mind, but Kevin caught her. Feeling useless, AJ hopped to his feet. "Are we ready for cake?" he asked Vivian.
“I’LL TAKE NICKY’S PIECE!” Baylee squealed from no where, rushing down the hallway as he tugged on his shorts hurriedly, trying to keep them from falling as he demanded someone button his fly.
“I’ll take my daughter, Jeffie,” Cheyanne whispered softly as Olivia grew increasingly distressed in Jeff’s arms. Her soft whimpers turned to a peal of displeasure, which seemed to make Cheyanne’s heartache worse. As if it wasn’t bad enough to see Nick stomping into the room with Brian and AJ, quickly voicing his desire to leave. He wanted no part of her life anymore and that hurt terribly. She had did her best to ignore him, but it was hard. So very hard. Reaching, Cheyanne cuddled her daughter to her shoulder closely. Burying her face into the side of Olivia’s face, she hummed softly, instantly calming the harshness of Olivia’s cries. “Momma’s here, Cinnamon. He ain’t gonna hurt you.”
"What'd I say?" Jeff asked Vivian as she headed for the kitchen. Following her, he glanced over his shoulder as the front door opened, this time to let the little short guy out. Shrugging, he reached for the stack of small paper plates, ready to dole them out. "And who are you? One of Austi's cousins or something?"
Behind him, AJ snorted with laughter. "God forbid…"
“I HEARD THAT SKINNY!” Austin bellowed as the sound of AJ’s hurt whelp echoed, whatever item having found Austin’s hand making direct contact with AJ’s body.
“I’m Brian’s girlfriend,” Vivian explained with a soft laugh.
"Oh…" Nodding, Jeff watched her lift a large cake from a bakery box. "Who the Hell is Brian -- Holy Hell! Has that cake got pink icing?! Chey's goin' t'kill you!"
Vivian paled slightly, wanting to make the perfect impression upon Cheyanne and Austin. Brian seemed to talk about Cheyanne almost as much as Baylee did. She was an important key in Brian’s life and if Vivian wanted to be part of it, she feared she’d need Cheyanne’s consent first, who seemed to be governed by Austin. “What’s wrong with pink?”
"Chey hates pink…"
"She hates it?" Vivian repeated, nervously chewing on her bottom lip. "Maybe I can scrape it off… If they have some blue food coloring I can paint a little on and turn it purple… I just told the lady to put baby pastels, I didn't even think to ask--"
"It's cool," AJ assured her, glancing down at the cake. Each corner had clusters of roses, Welcome, Olivia written in the middle in a large script. "She won't even notice…"
"You sure? I don't want to upset her--"
"WHERE MY CAKE?!"
“You don’t have time to fret anyway,” Jeff whistled, knowing Baylee’s loud, shrieking demands would probably curdle the breast milk in Olivia’s stomach if they didn’t hurry. So, scooping up the cake and setting it into Vivian’s arms, he scooted her out to the living room where everyone was waiting patiently. Well, almost everyone…
"Daddy, I want a rose!" Baylee cried, scrambling onto the couch to sit between Howie and Cheyanne. "Howie, move your fat ass!"
Brian paled as Billy doubled over with laughter and Howie simply glared at the boy. "Scooper! Where did you learn that?!"
“Um is not the appropriate answer,” Brian scolded, reaching to grasp his son before he could fully settle himself between Howie and Cheyanne. Sitting him firmly on his lap, Brian grasped his son’s shoulders. “Where did you learn that?”
Taking a deep breath, Baylee looked down. "Kevvy," he mumbled. "But, Daddy! He din' know I was listenin'! Him and Austi were fixin' the baffroom sink and he said her has a fat ass!"
Kevin choked on his drink before sputtering, “You little tattle-tale! That’s it! You’re grounded from Angel--”
"What were y'all doing in the bathroom?" AJ interrupted, smirking. Grateful that, for once, he wasn't the one from whom Baylee had learned his expressions.
"That's none of your business--"
“I AM NOT GROUNDED FROM MY ANGEL, YOU GIANT DILDO!” Baylee interrupted.
The room fell silent. Olivia turned her head to find the source of all the commotion, only to be distracted by her mother's watch. Clapping a hand over her mouth, Austin jumped to her feet, rushing into the kitchen before bursting into laughter as Kevin's face turned crimson.
Looking around the room, Vivian waved the cake knife in Brian's general direction. "That he learned from you," she reminded him gently with a knowing smirk.
“Not to mention when he watches the Black and Blue World Tour DVD that B loves oh-so-much,” AJ quipped, holding his stomach to keep from splitting sharp bursts of laughter. “Kevin called me a dildo in that for some retarded South Africa shit…”
"Can we possibly change the conversation to something other than dildos?" Howie suggested, shaking his head. "There's an innocent baby in the room…"
Leaning her head out the kitchen door, Austin grinned wickedly. "Hey, Viv! Bri found your vibrator yet?"
"Oh, for crying out loud… I give up," Howie groaned, looking to Cheyanne for help. She was fighting back laughter, he could tell, and her sapphire eyes glittered with amusement.
Kevin suddenly scowled. “That damn bullet--”
“The cake is lovely, Vivian,” Cheyanne suddenly announced, attempting to swallow her laughter as Baylee inquired as to what a bullet was. Training her gaze on the older woman, she smiled sweetly as Olivia nibbled happily on her fingers, quite content in the crook of her mother’s arm. Cheyanne paid no attention to the colors of the cake, simply leaning to sneak a small swipe of butter cream icing. “I hope it’s chocolate.”
"Chocolate?" AJ instantly whined. "Didn't Rok tell you I'm allergic--"
"Relax, Aje… It's half and half," Vivian told Cheyanne. "Bear, come cut it for me? I have to run get my present for Olivia out of the car," she explained as he let Baylee slide to the floor.
"Daddy, while Snookums gone you tell me what a bullet is?"
“Something I’m going to shoot our older cousin with,” Brian growled with displeasure, forgetting about punishing his child as he completed the task assigned.
"Y'mean 'Rincess has that kind of bullet in her bedroom? I thought you said she didn't have no guns--"
“Scooper, I’ll let you sleep in Howie’s bus with Chey if you stop asking questions.”
"Don't I get a say in that?" Howie questioned with a worried expression as he took the sleeping Olivia from Cheyanne to place her in the bassinet.
“Why would you need a say in it?” Brian implored as Austin returned from the kitchen looking somewhat settled with Pepsi for Cheyanne and a drink for herself. “And why do you look like I just ran over your childhood teddy bear with a truck?”
"Are you saying that he'd be staying on our bus the entire time?"
"Is there a reason why that wouldn't be acceptable?" Austin questioned.
Howie blanked with embarrassment. “I… No… Er… Well…”
Cheyanne glanced up toward Howie with confusion as Vivian returned with her gift and Brian offered her the first slice of chocolate cake. She tentatively sipped on her Pepsi, curious as to Howie’s answer. It wasn’t as if they had rekindled their relationship. In fact, things had been acutely platonic between them. Howie had been a gentleman through everything, merely kissing her cheek affectionately and cuddling her during the night as any sign of brewing intimacy. And though Cheyanne was terrified of offering her heart to him again, she was afraid it was too late to take it back. She had already admitted that she loved him. That she still loved him. He may have considered it to be a sign of friendship, but Cheyanne meant it as more. She was just waiting for him, wanting to initiate something, though Nick had briefly deterred that when he arrived. But now, she watched him hopefully, just wanting some kind of sign that Nick hurting her hadn’t been in vain.
Clearing his throat, Howie looked at Cheyanne. Smiling slightly, he accepted his slice of cake from Vivian. "I guess I'm just saying that you never know what the future holds," he murmured.
“Well, y’know what your future holds, Baylee and Cheyanne occupying that big bed in the back with you sleeping on the couch,” Austin stated with a matter of fact tone, sliding into Kevin’s lap so she could feed him the cake.
"So, that means you two will be taking Moth, right?" Howie suggested with a smirk, settling next to Cheyanne.
“We’ve already been taking Moth for the night and I won’t even begin to describe what kind of prizes he’s leaving in my shoes because Princess is locking him in! Acts like we’re abusing him, laying at the end of the bed with the most pitiful look on his face. Damn, Pisser,” Kevin mumbled through a bite of delicious cake.
"Daddy? Moth c'sleep with us?" Baylee asked hopefully. "I snuggle wiff him while you and Snookums snuggle?"
"I got a question!" Billy suddenly exclaimed as he got to his feet. "Who the heck is Snookums?" he asked, heading into the kitchen for a drink.
“That’s Miss Vivian!” Cheyanne and Austin called together with mouthfuls of cake.
Cheeks flushed, Vivian settled on the floor in front of the TV, giving Brian a look. "I am so going to hurt you for spreading my nickname around," she murmured.
"Daddy! We get Moth tonight?"
“Shouldn’t we give Moth to Uncle Howie to cuddle on the couch?” Brian mused with a playful smirk, nudging his lover with the heel of his foot before sitting down to offer her the final piece of cake.
"No," Baylee sighed, dragging the word out into a groan as he knelt in front of the coffee table to eat his cake. "Uncle Howie snuggles with My Angel," he mumbled as he stuffed his face, his expression telling Brian that everyone knew Howie wasn't sleeping on the couch.
“He apparently gets quite the show when it comes time to breastfeed,” AJ announced with a wry cackle that turned Cheyanne’s cheeks red.
"Alex!" Vivian chided, aghast. "Breastfeeding is a natural and loving way for a new mother to care for her baby, and only you could turn it into something sexual! I'm surprised you haven't asked for a taste of her milk yet…"
"If he does, he's dead--"
“Why would I be dead, D? They ain’t your property,” AJ egged further, watching Cheyanne anxiously glance to the bassinet in hopes that Olivia would start wailing. “And it’s definitely a healthy source of nutrition--”
"For a baby," Vivian interrupted as Howie's face turned red with irritation. "Besides, what's your fascination with Cheyanne all of a sudden? I thought you said Aje had the hots for Austin," she murmured, turning to look at Brian.
"Holy Hell… Isn't it time for Chey to open presents?" Austin asked suddenly.
“Why am I talked about like I don’t even exist?” Cheyanne returned to Austin.
“Because you’re too sweet to tell them to shut the Hell up?”
“A-fucking-parently,” Cheyanne murmured softly as she leaned back into the soft couch, clasping her hands over her abdomen. The staples had been removed from the incision and it had healed quite nicely, though, touching it provided an odd tingling sensation. It didn’t seem to matter though as she watched AJ and Billy argue about who would hand out the presents, because she wasn’t fat anymore.
"Want me to tell everybody to shut the Hell up for you?" Howie murmured, taking her hand in his. Squeezing gently, he glanced out the front window to see Nick standing on the porch, his back to the house, talking animatedly into his cell phone. "Enjoying the shower?"
“It’s really nice,” Cheyanne approved softly, glancing down to their hands. She had already followed his gaze outside, trying not to act as if it hurt that Nick was so blatantly rude to her. Vivian had worked so hard to make the baby shower special and Cheyanne wouldn’t be the one to disappoint her. Though, what she truly desired to do was snuggle close to Howie as the first present was flopped onto her lap. “Vivian did a beautiful job with everything… I’m glad everyone’s here…”
"C'mon, babe! Open it!" AJ encouraged, stepping over to peek at Olivia in the bassinet. "I picked it out special!"
“This would be from AJ,” Cheyanne announced appropriately to Austin, who hurriedly jotted down the name onto a piece of paper to transfer into the baby book they would be buying Olivia. Carefully peeling the pretty paper from the box, she watched AJ begin to make faces at the child in the bassinet. And, Cheyanne had to laugh when she heard her daughter’s soft coo and AJ dipped a hand into the bassinet. Smiling, Cheyanne popped open the box to reveal dozens of long, beautiful necklaces. Cheyanne instantly smirked as she retrieved one that was decorated with red, white, and black beads specifically for a newborn’s stimulation with block beads that red – Best Fed. “They’re nursing necklaces…”
"Have you got a breast fetish you haven't told me about or something?" Brian asked AJ. His friend ignored him, continuing to goof off with the baby.
"Awe," Austin cooed. "Now maybe she'll stop yanking on your hair…" she trailed softly, scribbling the gift next to AJ's name.
"Mine next!" Baylee insisted, yanking a gift off the table and rushing over to place it in Cheyanne's lap. "I gots it myself!"
“With your own money?” Cheyanne teased, reaching to tickle Baylee’s tummy lightly to elicit a giggle. Though, she was disturbed momentarily with the clearing of AJ’s throat and a wide gesture toward the bassinet. “Do you want to hold her, AJ?”
"Well… Sure… She's over here flirting with me, after all… Why make her suffer?" AJ questioned with a smirk.
“Thank you for lessening her terrible heart pain,” Cheyanne sighed dramatically as Baylee crawled onto the couch beside her, gesturing wildly to the present. Resisting the urge to roll her eyes, Cheyanne opened the gift as directed, cooing instantly when she brought out several pairs of rattle booties. “Darlin’, these are so adorable. I love the dolphin rattles!”
"They for her feets!" Baylee squealed, grabbing a pair with monkeys. "I can put them on her now?"
“Sure, see if AJ will help you,” Cheyanne agreed, helping Baylee get off the couch so he could sprint over to the recliner where AJ was cuddling Olivia.
"I don't know who this one's from," Billy decided, handing Cheyanne a large envelope. "It may go with one of the bigger presents…"
"Easy, little man… We gotta take off her socks first," AJ informed Baylee, and a moment later two purple socks went flying across the room to land in Kevin's lap. "There we go…"
“I rue the day when you have children,” Kevin murmured with a shudder as Austin gathered the socks into a single unit and tossed them into the bassinet.
“Oh! That’s my gift!” Brian suddenly announced out of no where. “But open the present first. It’s the huge one!”
"What'd I do?" AJ insisted, cuddling Olivia close. "I know pink's more your color, but purple's not so bad…"
"What did you buy her?" Austin wanted to know as Billy and Jeff heaved the largest gift over to Cheyanne. "Her own Mini Cooper?"
“That’s next year,” Brian answered as he leaned back with a satisfied grin, obviously proud.
“Can we at least wait till she’s potty trained to buy her cars?” Cheyanne sighed with an impish smile, sitting up on the couch to reach the gift. Gesturing toward Howie, she had him help pull the paper from the box. Confusion spread over her face as she peeked over the side of the box. Brian had bought her a double stroller that would accommodate a toddler in the front seat and an infant carrier in the back, putting them at two different heights so it was easy to watch both children. “A double stroller?”
"Did you have twins and not tell us?!" Jeff cried incredulously. "What'd you do? Sell the other one for money?"
Austin rolled her eyes. "No, Jeff."
"I thought you'd like to be able to take Skipper for walks in the parks while we're on tour… And I knew that if you did, Scooper would want to go too. This way, he can go along without you having to have him on a leash," Brian explained, still grinning.
“You mean you’re hiring me as the free babysitter,” Cheyanne mused with a playful roll of her eyes, opening the blank envelope. Reaching inside, she had to laugh with amusement as she retrieved several brochures for dozens of parks and child entertainment capitals for every stop on the remaining length of the tour. Those farthest from the venue were highlighted and starred. “Thanks, Brian…”
"Bri-Bear, if she takes Baylee off your hands on the tour, you better pay her something," Vivian warned softly as she began gathering the dirty plates.
Brian looked flabbergasted. “She just said she didn’t want anything--”
"She was being nice, Bear. You know what nice is, don't you?" Vivian questioned with a sweet smile before disappearing into the kitchen.
"Nice is what you better be to her, or your snuggling privileges are going to be revoked," Kevin informed his cousin with a chuckle.
“Nice to Cheyanne or nice to Snookums?” Brian furrowed his brows with contemplation.
"Both would be good, actually--"
"Bri's been an angel to me the past few months," Cheyanne declared with a warm smile.
“Yeah, but he was a major dick to begin with,” Austin reminded.
"All the men in this house have been major dicks at some point," Cheyanne returned softly.
“Now wait a damn minute!” Jeff exclaimed as he grasped a gift from the table, lumbering toward Cheyanne to take the empty seat. Offering it toward her with a warm kiss, he wrapped a lazy arm around her. “I haven’t been a major dick at all. Unless you call the drunken proposal being a dick, though that was heartfelt and you crushed me when you said no--”
"And yet you still hang around," Austin sighed, shaking her head. "Most men would have turned tail and scurried away…"
“He seriously proposed to you?” Howie questioned in disbelief.
“No, he drunkingly proposed to me,” Cheyanne redefined, glancing toward the tag on the gift. “This is from Kevvy, Austi.”
Whirling to look at Kevin, Austin sighed. "I thought we agreed you'd bought enough?"
"Like you can talk!" Kevin exclaimed.
"What'd I buy, except for necessities?"
“Thank you, Kevvy,” Cheyanne immediately interrupted, not wanting a potential fight to flare between them. The tension of the house with Nick standing outside was already enough for Cheyanne’s healing body. Standing, she moved to kiss Kevin’s cheek affectionately, showing Austin the items Kevin had purchased. A portable changing station so Cheyanne wouldn’t be forced to use dingy resting stop bathrooms and risk infection and a colorful shopping cart cover with toys for Olivia to play with to keep her entertained. “Thank you, Daddy.”
Embracing her gently, Kevin placed a sloppy kiss on her cheek as Austin turned to write the gifts down, grumbling under her breath. "I just know how everything is covered in germs--"
"Yeah, yeah, you're a neat freak. We know, Kev," AJ muttered, glancing up from blowing raspberries on Olivia's stomach. Standing, he carried her over, placing her in the older man's arms after Cheyanne returned to her seat. "Here… She's a little biohazard right now."
“Princess, here’s your chance to learn how to change a dirty diaper. Angel has to stay and open gifts, so, no use wriggling out of it now,” Kevin announced, cooing softly at the alert infant before shifting her into her godmother’s arms and taking the pad of paper and pen. “Scoot! We don’t want rashes on her backside.”
"For your information, Pretty Boy, most rashes come from having a wet diaper remain in contact with the baby's backside for an extended period of time, or food sensitivities. This means Chey better watch how much of that spicy taco dip she eats, or Ollie will be ricocheting off the sides of her crib tonight. And, just so you know, I am very skilled at changing a dirty diaper… I'll be back in less than a minute."
Cheyanne covered her mouth to smother a giggle of sheer amusement at the astounded look on Kevin’s face. “She’s been reading, Kevvy.”
"Apparently," Kevin muttered, glancing at his watch as Austin disappeared down the hall. "I'm going to go make sure she doesn't cheat," he announced, shoving the pad and pen into AJ's hands before heading down the hall after her.
"He just wants to point out everything that she does wrong," Brian said with a chuckle, glancing up at Vivian, who lingered in the kitchen doorway.
"Oh, here's my present," Billy stated suddenly, handing Cheyanne an envelope. "It just came through this morning at three o'clock…"
“Nothing like waiting till the right moment, Billy,” Cheyanne jibbed toward her friend.
"Yeah, yeah… I know she can't use it just yet… And Dad gave me Hell for it, but oh well… I know you'll love it," Billy said with a grin.
“Well, thank you,” Cheyanne answered before opening the envelope, which proved useful because she was speechless as the contents spilled into her lap. Reaching for the photograph first, her sapphire eyes widened in disbelief at the sight of a beautiful white and orange splattered pinto foal trotting through the pasture to reach his mother. Then she caught sight of the birth certificate, explaining the parentage and other details of the newborn foal. “Billy…”
"Chey…" he mimicked with a grin. At the confused looks on everyone's faces, he chuckled. "Dad's prize mare foaled last night, and now the little man belongs to Olivia."
"Awe," Vivian cooed, having come over to look at the picture. Glancing over the certificate, she gave a small gasp of shock. "Cheyanne! That foal's half-brother won the Kentucky Derby last year!"
“Where the fuck did that come from?” AJ laughed in surprise at Vivian’s wealth of knowledge.
"Don't you know anything?! Honestly… My cousin breeds horses in Kentucky, and she got me hooked on horse racing. Normally I'd be against it, considering how some of those wonderful creatures are treated, but there's something so graceful about it… Anyway, I was there last year to see the Derby, and afterwards I did research, and I remembered it's mother's name… Wind Song." Sighing, Vivian looked towards Brian. "Why didn't you tell me that he was that William Maitland?!"
“Because apparently I didn’t get the memo either?” Brian murmured, holding his hands up in innocence.
"And all I got out of this trip is a calf," Vivian groaned playfully as Austin returned. Kevin was right behind her, carrying Olivia.
“Not-uh, Snookums, that’s my cow!” Baylee exclaimed.
“Austi!” Cheyanne immediately blurted when she saw her best friend, popping over the back of the couch to show her the foal. “I got the first horse for our barn in Kentucky! Well, it’s Cinnamon’s first horse, but ain’t he beautiful? I’ll have to sweet-talk Billy’s Daddy into training me up a mare that’ll be able to take that spitfire so Cinnamon won’t go galloping away on me. Good thing he loves me, huh?”
"…Kentucky?" Howie repeated softly, drowned out by Austin's excited squeals as she grabbed the photograph to look. His heart lurched painfully at the idea of Cheyanne and Olivia moving to Kentucky.
“Only she could con my father out of prized mare on top of the foal,” Billy laughed as Austin leapt into his arms, talking excitedly about the barn that Kevin was building for the girls to house their dream of horses.
Chuckling, Jeff lugged one of the larger boxes to Cheyanne. "Here you go… Oh, yeah, this goes with it, I guess," he shrugged, handing her a large envelope.
“That’s from Nick,” AJ announced, climbing off the recliner as a silence enveloped the group. Leaning outside, AJ yanked on Nick’s t-shirt. “C’mon, Cheyanne’s opening your gift.”
"Call you later, bro…" Flipping his phone shut, Nick stepped into the living room, stuffing his hands in his pockets as he watched Cheyanne carefully open the envelope. Leaning against the wall, he tried to feign indifference as she began reading the paperwork, wishing Austin and Howie weren't leaning over her shoulders to read it as well. "…I know it was stupid," he muttered.
“No, it’s not stupid,” Cheyanne promised softly as she glanced over the paperwork declaring that a star had been named after her daughter. More specifically, Olivia ‘Zombie’ Lorde had a beautiful star named after her. It was a bizarre gift to say the least, especially when she unwrapped the powerful telescope Nick had bought in order for her to find the star, but the meaning behind it was astronomical. She remembered them talking about taking a trip on his boat for several days, spending the nights on the deck just watching the beautiful stars. He had given her daughter a piece of Heaven… Right after he had ripped her heart from its home. “Thank you…Nick…”
"I…" Taking a deep breath, Nick glanced around, looking down at the floor uncomfortably when he noticed everyone's eyes on him. Shaking his head slightly, he turned on his heel, unable to take any of it anymore. Mumbling a quick goodbye, he hurried outside, pulling the door shut behind him before angrily marching for his rental.
“Asshole,” Austin spat with annoyance.
“Austin,” Cheyanne chided softly, hurriedly gathering the documents back into the blank envelope. Making sure it was sealed properly, she handed it over to Howie, crawling over Jeff in order to get off the couch. Tugging down her tank top, she glanced back toward the others and recognized their bewildered stares. “I’ll be right back. Excuse me.”
“Nick, wait!” Cheyanne hurried out the front door of her home, making sure to shut it to keep the nosiness of her friends at a minimum. Leaping off the porch steps, she landed with a gentle grace as she hurried to catch the stalking Nick. The frustration of the situation seemed to boil over the walls she had set around her heart, demanding that something be released before she crumbled entirely. It had taken all her strength not to cry out when she first returned home to find her room void of all his things, even the t-shirts he had wanted her to wear. The only piece of him left was the ring in her hospital bag, though she assured herself that he’d probably snatch that too. She needed an answer to the questions plaguing her mind. Why he decided to leave without telling her. Why he had given up what they started. Why he was so callous. Her heart ached as she reached out to grasp his arm, finally managing to turn him as several small bottles fell from his hand. Glancing down, Cheyanne recognized the bottles of alcohol given in first class flights and she was disgusted, choking slightly on the stale smoke lingering around the man she used to love. “Damnit, Nick, would you just talk to me?! Please?!”
"What do you want me to say?" Nick barked, jerking his arm free of her grasp, stooping to retrieve the bottles. Throwing them into his car, he fished out his keys, glancing down at Cheyanne. Shaking his head, he looked down, reaching into his pocket for a full bottle. "Olivia's adorable. You're a lucky woman. Howie's a lucky man. The party rocked. I'm outta here," he told her, unable to take the heartbroken expression on her face. As though he had dashed all her dreams.
“I want to know why you just left… At the hospital… Like you’re doing now,” Cheyanne requested softly, stumbling back slightly from the power behind his initial reaction to her hand on his arm. She tried to ignore the fact that he had uncapped the small bottle of hard liquor, downing all the contents in one large gulp. He was already inebriated that much was obvious, so she became wary of his actions.
"I almost fucking killed you, Cheyanne. Do you really think I wanted to stick around so Austin could kill me? Hell, I'm surprised she let me walk in the front door--"
“You didn’t almost kill me,” Cheyanne quickly interrupted, though she flinched nonetheless at his harshness. “The placenta had been tearing from the beginning. It was only a matter of time before I gave birth. What we did was irrelevant--”
"Yeah, right…" Nick rolled his eyes, peering into the bottle he held. Tossing it into the car with the others, he jangled his keys noisily, more than ready to leave. "What do you care, anyway? You've got your Tea now, isn't that what you wanted?" he questioned, his voice harder than he'd intended. Though he had told Howie that they belonged together, he had never imagined the man would weasel his way back into her life so quickly. "Didn't take you so long to get over me, did it?"
Cheyanne dropped her gaze to the brightly colored grass of her yard, trying to ward off the painful tears that threatened to flow. She suddenly felt horribly guilty about letting Howie curl close to her during the lonely nights, knowing that in some sense Nick was right. She had let Howie come back into her life quite quickly, but not in the way that Nick thought. They were platonic friends, nothing more or less. In fact, Howie seemed more interested in Olivia than her at times, making her wonder what she was doing in the first place. Though, Nick had left before she could sort her emotions properly. The conflict rising in her heart was indescribable, even as she held a hand over it to lessen the painful throbs. “You never asked me what I wanted nor did I have a choice on whether or not to get over you, Nick… You made all those decisions for me…”
"Well, if it makes it easier for you… If things had been reversed, and Howie had been the one with you and I was called… I wouldn't have come."
“Why?” Cheyanne asked, her voice barely above a whisper, significantly strained by the repeated verbal blows Nick provided to her already bleeding heart.
"Didn't you know, Sweetheart? I'm a fuck up." Nick tore his gaze from her, staring instead at the open door of his rental. He couldn't take any of it anymore. "So go on, back to your perfect life--"
“You’re the only person that calls yourself a fuck up, much less continues to follow that example you think you personify,” Cheyanne interrupted, stepping towards him once more, reaching to settle her small hand against his upper arm. “You loved me once, didn’t you? Gave me everything in your heart? What we had was real? Wasn’t it?”
Glancing at her hand, Nick shook his head again, longing to tell her it had been real. That he still loved her, she still had everything in his heart. Instead, due to the alcohol swimming in his system, he pulled her hand away from him and let it drop, as though her touch offended him. "I got what I wanted, didn't I?" he returned coolly.
Cheyanne stepped back from him as if his palm had swiped hard across her face with a lethal blow. She prepared for the sharp stinging sensation of chapped flesh, but only felt the gnawing of ache in her heart. Unable to stop the tears from flowing, Howie’s voice floated into her mind when Nick had given him back the engagement ring and necklace. Nick would only use her until he was satisfied, then cast her away like some piece of soggy trash. She felt like an idiot for even believing there was something between them. That he had been completely honest when they spent nights curled together. Everything they had shared instantly tarnished as her heart began to break once more. “Glad I was just a good fuck for you, Nick...”
Nick flinched at her soft words, quickly turning away from her as tears burned his eyes. Resting his head against the top of the car, he took a deep breath. "You were--"
“A game. It’s okay, Nick. I know I wasn’t the best sex you ever had. Nor your first. And definitely not your last. You can tell me. I’m just thankful that maybe you grew a conscience when Olivia was born and decided to leave, not wanting to hurt a little baby as well as her mother. Or… Maybe you figured the sex would be reduced with a baby wailing into the night? Whatever the reason, it was selfish. Leaving without giving me an explanation. Just thrusting me at Howie like some kind of leftover piece of meat. Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting,” Cheyanne breathed, furiously rubbing at her cheeks to get rid of the pitiful tears.
"Disgusting? …Well, that's me. Thanks for the good time, Sweetheart. Now if it's okay with you, I've got to get to Florida and hit the water with Aaron."
“Like you had ever asked what was okay with me before. Why should this be any different?”
"Apparently giving birth has affected your memory. 'Cause I remember asking you if things were okay before I did them."
“But not when it mattered most.”
"Are you done making me feel like a pig yet?"
“You can leave whenever you want… Just, be careful drinking and driving… You don’t need to get hurt…”
"Right…" Climbing into the car, Nick slammed the door shut behind him, not daring to look at her as he fumbled with the keys. Revving the engine, he glanced up to see her watching him. Biting back tears, he pulled out of the driveway, going so far as the push the rearview mirror down so he wouldn't see her standing there. She was better off without him. All he had done was cause her pain. Howie was better for her. He'd done the right thing, leaving her.
When Nick’s car disappeared within the mountainous hills of the beaten roads, ample tears fell freely down her face. The raw pain attacking her heart caused heavy sobs to stick within her throat. He had never needed her, nor wanted her. Another chapter of her life had been violently clapped shut by the hands of a deceiving man. Sometimes she wondered why she even tried. Cupping a hand over her mouth, she turned to head back to the house, stopping immediately when she noticed everyone peeking from behind the curtains. Rolling her eyes with disgust, Cheyanne turned to head down the familiar path of woodland area that would lead to her favorite lake. She had no desire to see them, nor hear the whispers about her. Knowing Olivia wouldn’t need her for a few hours, she wanted to be left alone.