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Chapter 72 – Sweetest Gestures

"They're doing the cake right after 'Just Want You to Know'… Are you going out?" Vivian asked Austin as they sat side by side on the couch in the lounge, wriggling their toes in order to dry the crimson polish faster. Next to them, Josephine patiently painted Katie's toenails, despite the girl's wriggling.

"Hell yeah I'm going out… Pretty Boy said he wanted us all to come out and sing for Howie…" Austin trailed softly, glancing up as Cheyanne returned from the restroom. Reluctantly relinquishing her hold on Olivia, she settled back and ran her hands through her hair. "Are you going to come out with us and sing to your Tea?"

"Don't you dare say no," Vivian threatened before Cheyanne could open her mouth.

"But Cinnamon--"

"Can stay with Drew," Josephine supplied as Katie slipped off the couch to return to her coloring on the floor. In the corner, Baylee shot her a glare before turning back to his blocks. "He's going to stay back here with the kids so I can get a peek at what he has to wrangle every night," she explained as her boyfriend came into the room.

“Drew-Drop is going to have enough to handle with just Katie and Darlin’s wars…” Cheyanne trailed as she brought Olivia close, rubbing their noses together. The little girl elicited a pleased coo with her mother, reaching to touch her face before being curled close to her mother’s heart. Smiling softly, Cheyanne shifted slightly to see Baylee in the corner, gesturing for him to come cuddle with her on the free couch. She then glanced back to Vivian and Austin with the utmost seriousness. “Besides, Nick is going to be out there and… I think I’ve already invaded his space enough… Not to mention the fans are already anxious to beat me like some kind of festive piñata.”

"But it's your fiancé's birthday party, Sugar… And don't worry about Carter, if he so much as looks at you I'll kick his ass. And the fans are just jealous 'cause you got the sexiest Backstreet Boy," Vivian informed her, doing a tipsy walk across the room to get a drink from the ice-filled tub.

“I doubt Tea wants to be anywhere near me after the shenanigans I pulled before the concert? No matter how funny they were?” Cheyanne attempted to offer more excuses, quickly before Austin could offer a disgruntled disapproval as to who was the sexiest Backstreet Boy. Then, shifting Olivia slightly, Cheyanne peeked over the side of her couch to peer at the little boy speaking heatedly with Drew. “Are you mad at me, Darlin’?”

"No… I needs a guard," Baylee whispered fervently, casting a significant glance at Katie, who continued to color on the floor.

"If Howie didn't want to be anywhere near you after that hilarious escapade of yours, then why did he pull you into the bathroom for that heated make out session just before he went onstage?" Austin questioned.

"That wasn't a make out session. He wanted me to--"

"Give him a peek under them capris?" Vivian supplied, smirking as Cheyanne pulled Baylee into her lap, shifting Olivia so she could cuddle them both.

“Of course you would know, wouldn’t you?” Cheyanne mused as she leaned to kiss the side of Baylee’s face, sighing when she bumped into a slightly large goose-egg from Katie’s attacks that night. She cooed apologetically when Baylee winced, making sure to tilt his head for a non-hurtful kiss. “I’ll be your bodyguard, Darlin’, okay?”

"You take me onstage wiff you?" Baylee requested hopefully.

“That’s why your Daddy bought you all those special earplugs, right?” Cheyanne answered, rubbing her nose against Baylee’s nose as he snuggled closer to her and Olivia. She tried to ignore the pleased smirk on Vivian’s face, knowing she was probably a chief player in this act.

"I go too, Mommy?" Katie questioned.

"Sweetie, you're on restriction 'till we leave here," Josephine reminded her gently. "Besides, you need to rest up for your video game marathon with Allie…"

"HER CAN'T GO ON AJ'S BUS!"

“Why not?” Vivian questioned Baylee in confusion.

"'Cause I said so."

"Real effective argument there, Bay," Austin muttered, getting to her feet. "I'm going to go see where they are…"

“Oh! I was thinking,” Cheyanne announced suddenly as Austin made sure to double check the polish on her toes, not wanting it ruined. She made sure to rub Baylee’s back soothingly with Austin’s dismissal of him, knowing she’d have to give him extra attention now that Katie had made such a spectacular debut. “I want to get my belly button pierced.”

"You want to what?!"

"Really?! Awesome! When we hit LA next week, I'll take you out and we'll make a day of it!" Vivian cried enthusiastically, ignoring Austin's incredulous expression. "But… You're going to have to start wearing shorter shirts… And we'll have to get you some low riders, start showing off those abs of yours--"

“You’re right, Drew… She really is their Barbie Doll,” Josephine suddenly laughed.

“Mommy, can she be my Barbie Doll, too?” Katie suddenly questioned with excitement.

“NO!” Baylee exploded with disgust. “My Angel! Mine!”

"I'll be your Barbie Doll, Sweetums," Vivian cooed sweetly as Katie opened her mouth to retort.

"Time for the cake!" AJ's mother called from the corridor.

“Are you really sure you don’t mind watching Cinnamon?” Cheyanne asked Drew worriedly as Baylee climbed into Vivian’s arms momentarily so Cheyanne could hand Olivia over to Drew. Though, she looked far less enthused with the proposal, holding her slumbering daughter close as she lovingly kissed her face. “’Cause I can stay back here, honest…”

"I think I can handle it," Drew assured her as Austin and Josephine headed for the door. Reaching for the baby, he smiled when she was transferred into his arms. "I'm just going to snuggle with her on the couch until you get back," he promised, shooing her towards the door. "Now go. Sing loud. Slam his face into the cake, and get lots of pictures of it."

“If any red dots start showing in the middle of my chest, I’ll make sure to have someone scream for you,” Cheyanne sighed as Vivian yanked on her arm, transferring Baylee into her arms. Yelping, she was practically shoved into the hallway and toward the stage. Making sure that Baylee’s earplugs were correctly inserted, she glanced toward Vivian. “Will you really take me to get my belly button pierced?”

"Hell yeah! I've been meaning to get mine pierced too. We can leave Olivia with Brian and Howie and go have a girls' day, what do you say?" Vivian was grinning with enthusiasm as they neared the stage. "Maybe Austin and Jo can come with us?"

“That’d be fun,” Cheyanne nodded as they finally neared Josephine and Austin, who were admiring the cake. Curious, Cheyanne leaned over Austin’s shoulder to get a peek. Instantly, she groaned softly and rolled her eyes. Vivian had been responsible for seeing that the cake was made. So, taking one of the digital photographs of Cheyanne in her favorite bikini, blowing a kiss to the camera no less, Vivian had transformed the cake into a perfect piece of seduction. “You are absolutely horrible, Vivie.”

"Me?" Vivian feigned complete innocence as she snapped a photo of the cake. "I asked Brian to pick out the picture…"

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Austin laughed as she added the final touches to the candles.

"He wanted me to Photoshop it so that it showed you naked, but I figured that would be too much… Too bad I didn't have my camera that day we skinny dipped--"

“Do you have to announce all my business? Especially in front of AJ’s mother no less?” Cheyanne groaned with interruption as Brian and AJ hurried backstage, gesturing that it was time.

"Hey sexy!" Vivian squealed, embracing her boyfriend despite his sweatiness. As Austin stepped back from the cake, the lights onstage went down slightly, Kevin beginning to tell the audience what a special night it was.

“I really don’t want to go out there,” Cheyanne confessed to Austin softly when the older woman backed into her. Steadying Austin slightly, Cheyanne reached to hold Baylee tightly, affectionately rubbing his back as he rested his head against her shoulder. He was quiet for once, just patting his hand to the rhythm of her heart. It endeared her significantly, though her heart rate was accelerating at the simple aspect of even stepping foot onto the stage.

Stepping around Cheyanne, Austin placed her hands on her friend's back, pushing her behind Brian and AJ as they took the cake out. "Too late," she murmured in her ear as Howie turned amid the screams of the crowd. Glancing over her shoulder she saw Vivian slip out to stand next to Brian, Josephine staying in the shadows.

“I am so going to get you back for that,” Cheyanne yelped in shock as she held Baylee close to her hip, who had become as shy as she did with the deafening screams. Watching Austin move to stand beside Kevin, wasting no time in weaving her arms around his waist, Cheyanne decided just to stay behind AJ and Brian, especially when she noticed Nick on the far side, glaring at her. She wanted nothing to do with this fiasco, practically terrified of the brilliant flashes of light exploding from thousands of cameras. She would never understand how the boys became immune to the noise and blinding atmosphere, simply just singing ‘Happy birthday’ softly with the rest of the group.

Turning, Howie grinned when he saw his fiancée on the stage, trying to hide behind Brian. Stepping forward, he pulled her to him, pressing a soft kiss to her cheek as Baylee squirmed to get away. Leaning back, he chuckled as the boy practically leaped into his father's arms. Turning back to the cake, he sucked in a deep breath, fully prepared to blow out the candles as the song ended. Instead, he felt a hand on the back of the head, and before he could react, his face was landing in the bottom half of the cake.

Cheyanne’s sapphire eyes widened in sheer shock as she glanced behind her to see AJ grinning wickedly with triumph. The fans were screaming at the hilarity of the moment, especially as Howie removed his face from the cake, smothered with an array of colored frosting. A million more flashes exploded as Baylee shrieked with laughter, Austin and Kevin clapping triumphantly. And Cheyanne just shook her head with disbelief, realizing Howie’s face had landed in the bottom half of her picture when Vivian seemed to light as if she had been struck by electricity.

"J, you gigantic whore!" Howie sputtered, snatching a towel from his friend to wipe his face.

Meandering across the stage, Nick glanced over Vivian's shoulder to see the cake. Rolling his eyes, he stepped away, moving to commiserate with the band as the happy couples laughed and appeared to have a grand old time. Glancing around, he saw Drew's girlfriend standing in the shadows. Appraising her figure, he snorted derisively before lifting his microphone to his lips. "Alright, now the party's over, we've got a very special song to sing," he announced, deciding the fun had lasted long enough.

*~*~*


“I hope you like this…” Cheyanne told Howie softly as she linked their hands, escorting him upstairs of O’Douds Little Dublin restaurant in Kansas City. After the concert, Cheyanne had relinquished Olivia into Brian and Vivian’s care after Howie had showered and changed at the venue for their evening out. Coyly, she had requested the limo driver to take them to the undisclosed location, which turned out to be the famous Irish pub. It was an authentic pub of Ireland with handcrafted wood and gorgeous stained glass. Beautiful murals were panted across the ceilings and walls with mosaic tiled floors and a wood crafted bar. Upstairs, where Cheyanne had made reservations to keep their affairs private, was a balcony overlooking the plaza draped in the creamy glow of vanilla candles and silky cloth, a beautiful dinner, and a private rooftop bar accommodated for them. Cheyanne had been shy and quite charming when speaking to the manager of the establishment and he had even insisted on playing a light Celtic theme of music in the background to set the mood, assuring there was even a sitting room for them after they were done with the meal. She had thanked him profusely for the kindness, now just waited for Howie’s approval, hoping it was good enough.

"I love this…" Howie breathed, sliding his arm around her waist to draw her near as the manager spoke to the lingering waiter. He could not imagine a more perfect setting for a quiet romantic dinner, and felt his heart swell with love for the woman at his side. "You planned all this? Just for me?"

“Of course I planned all this, all by myself, all for you… Who else would I do this for?” Cheyanne questioned as she glanced to Howie with honest curiosity. She had to smile at the look of awe accentuating his handsome facial features. It gave her a tremendous amount of pleasure to know that she had gave him that. That she could spoil him as much as he tried to spoil her.

"It's so perfect… Are you planning on getting me drunk so you can seduce me?" Howie teased, lightly kissing her lips as they moved to sit at the table. "…I am allowed to drink, aren't I?"

“It’s your birthday and you’re legal… Of course you’re allowed to drink,” Cheyanne laughed. “…But does that mean you plan on getting drunk so you can get seduced?”

"…Would I have to get drunk?" Pulling out her chair, Howie leaned close as she sat down. "All it would take from you would be a word, Honey…"

“Well… Thank you for that,” Cheyanne answered, leaning to kiss his cheek before he moved to take his seat, the waiter approaching with menus. She smiled and thanked the man kindly as she accepted her menu, briefly glancing over the top to watch Howie.

"The Killkenny Chicken Tenders look good for an appetizer… And the Breaded Ravioli with Cheese Sticks…" Glancing up from the menu, Howie caught her sparkling sapphire eyes and had to grin. "…I'm hungry?"

“I know you are,” Cheyanne agreed with a soft nod, moistening her bottom lip. “You’re always running around crazy during the concerts… And under those hot lights? You need all the calories and liquids you can find… Whatever you want, Tea. Okay?”

"You sure?" Glancing down at the menu again, Howie weighed the choices. Looking up at the waiter, he smiled apologetically. "Could we get a platter with a sample of everything?" he requested.

When the waiter nodded with an amused smirk, obviously knowing that the manager had insisted they be accommodated by any means possible. Smiling at Howie’s adorable decision, Cheyanne closed her menu to offer it back. “Just make sure to bring me my own plate of Irish Whiskey Torte, please?”

"You planning on getting drunk, Honey?" Howie questioned with a grin, reaching for her hand as the waiter headed away.

“No… I plan on keeping the chocolate for myself,” Cheyanne corrected with a sly smile.

"So now Cinnamon's going to have chocolate milk?"

“Why must everything be referenced back to my breastfeeding?”

"What would you like to talk about, then?"

“Anything but my breasts?” Cheyanne suggested with a soft laugh, turning Howie’s palm up so she could trace shapes on his skin. “…Or I guess I could give you your present?”

"Whoa… I thought I already got your present?" Howie murmured, his palm tingling from her touch. "The shirts and dinner…"

“I have one more,” Cheyanne answered softly, her gaze concentrated on his hand as she started to outline intertwining hearts. “Well… I guess two more, considering… But the other one you can’t exactly unwrap here… Well, I guess that’d be if you even wanted to unwrap it to begin with--”

"Honey, you're rambling," Howie interjected gently, closing his hand over hers.

Cheyanne jumped slightly when his hand covered hers, stopping her movements. Glancing upward to catch his dark eyes, she blushed with an adorable embarrassment as the waiter returned with Howie’s lager and Cheyanne’s Pepsi. Waiting for the waiter to disappear once more, Cheyanne tilted her head downward slightly to shield her darkening blush. “Sorry… I still get nervous around you, I guess? ‘Cause I want everything to be perfect for you… ‘Cause I love you so much…”

"You get nervous around me?" Howie repeated softly, leaning closer so he could better look into her eyes. "Honey… I get nervous around you, too… For the same reasons… I just love you so much and I'm afraid that I'll screw things up if I say the wrong thing." Lowering his head, he gently kissed her hand, smiling softly.

“You ain’t gonna screw nothing up, ever,” Cheyanne confessed with her sweet southern drawl creeping into her shy tones. “You’re perfect for me...”

"You're perfect for me, too…"

“Then you’re going to accept your gift from me without fussing?” Cheyanne hoped as she broke their link, reaching down to get the small gift from her purse. Standing, she walked over to sit in Howie’s lap, offering him the wrapped box with an excited glimmer lighting her sapphire eyes. “Unless you don’t like it… Then I’ll exchange it…”

"Honey, if you got it for me, I know I'll love it…" Carefully peeling the paper off the box, Howie glanced up into her eyes when he saw the small velvet box. "…Did you get me earrings?"

“As feminine as you are in this relationship, I refuse to buy you earrings,” Cheyanne announced dryly, playfully rolling her eyes as she pressed her nose into the side of his face for a ticklish rub. “Just open it, okay?”

Looping one arm loosely around her waist, Howie held her close as he opened the box, a sharp gasp leaving him when he caught sight of the ring within. A thick platinum band, embedded with two square cut sapphires lying on either side of a flawless diamond. Each of the gems caught the soft light and shined brightly. "Honey…" he breathed.

“I called Mama to make sure I had the right ring size before I bought it,” Cheyanne started as she plucked from the soft bed of black velvet. Taking liberty, she slid it onto his forth, left digit. It slid easily along his finger, fitting perfectly. Smiling proudly, she held his hand with both of hers so they could admire the beauty of the ring. “And she reminded me to tell her when we’re coming home ‘cause she wants to meet us at the airport to see Cinnamon… But, anyway, the ring. It looked like my engagement ring and I couldn’t resist… Do you like it?”

"I love it… But, Honey, it's too much--"

“You loving it is all that matters. I worked hard to earn that money to buy it… Just for you… That’s why I earned the money and I ain’t taking it back. It’s not too much… Not after all you’ve done for me,” Cheyanne answered, pressing a soft kiss to the side of his face. “So, you’re welcome.”

"Thank you, Honey," Howie murmured. "Thank you so much… It's really gorgeous…"

“Yeah, so don’t let Moth go chewing on it or anything,” Cheyanne teased with a soft laugh, rubbing his back. “…You really like it?”

"Like Moth gets that close to my fingers without drawing blood," Howie murmured, turning his head to kiss her gently. "I love it. And I love you for picking it out for me. And I'm starving…"

“Is that your way of telling me to get off your lap so the waiter doesn’t veer with your food thinking we need a moment of privacy?” Cheyanne playfully responded against his lips before returning the soft kiss.

"Well obviously you thought of the privacy already… We've got that convenient loveseat over there…" Howie trailed suggestively, pulling her even closer to him. "And he hasn't veered, he's already come and gone and the food's waiting…"

Cheyanne glanced away from Howie to see a large side tray filled with their small appetizers of everything on the menu waiting beside their table. Blushing faintly, she glanced back to him and slipped off his lap. “I didn’t even notice… What do you want to eat first?”

"You mean besides you?" Howie questioned with a wicked grin, reaching for a plate of chicken tenders.

Cheyanne blanked for a moment as she sat in her seat, just staring at him with a concentrated gaze, then her sapphire eyes suddenly widened. “That was awful!”

"I was kidding!"

“Haven’t you learned that your kidding gets you into trouble?” Cheyanne questioned, eyeing the enormous amount of food to see what she wanted, though she settled on stealing a chicken tender from Howie instead.

"Apparently not?" Howie grinned, reaching for his lager. "Have I told you lately how beautiful you are?"

“Well at least you know how to fix them quite well,” Cheyanne murmured as she blushed furiously, cupping a hand over her mouth to hide her chewing.

"I'm learning?"

“No, you’re just really cute.”

"So all my trouble is forgiven?"

Cheyanne smiled as she reached for her melting Pepsi. “Always, Tea.”

Heedless of all manners his mother had engraved into his brain as a child, Howie propped one elbow on the table, leaning across to catch Cheyanne's lips in a gentle kiss before she could take a sip of her drink. "I love you, Honey. Always."

“Sweet Tea,” Cheyanne purred softly in surprise at the kiss, leaning forward to nibble affectionately on his bottom lip in hopes to shield him from the delighted tears collecting in her eyes. “I love you, too, and happy birthday.”
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