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Chapter 75 – Saving Grace

Anxiously, Howie drummed his fingers on his leg as he sat within the darkness of his hotel room, peering over into the collapsible crib to see Olivia slumbering quietly. She looked quite content, her thumb procured in her mouth as she released the softest sigh, curling closer to the softness of the blanket Austin had made her. Despite her peacefulness, Howie couldn’t feel more stressed as he reached to turn the baby monitor on attached to her crib, glancing futilely at the alarm clock once more. It was eleven in the evening, everyone had returned from their day’s outing, except Cheyanne, who was supposedly staying in the hotel. It had baffled Howie at first to come back to the suite to find her missing, but her phone and favorite flip flops still in the room. Naturally, he had just assumed she went to the pool for awhile. But as the hours passed and he made several trips down to the pool, he realized she wasn’t there. But where was she?

"…Howie?" Austin's voice called softly from the other side of the closed door. Pushing it open, she glanced at him in the dim light filtering from the hallway. "We've checked everywhere… Drew and Marcus are doing a floor by floor check now…"

“She wouldn’t leave without telling me… I mean, I know she teased me with the piercing, but when it’s important, she would never… God, where is she?” Howie whispered mournfully, pushing himself off the bed to walk towards Austin. He didn’t want to risk the chance of waking Olivia up. Although Cheyanne had stored a considerable amount of breast milk in the fridge, Olivia was still quite attached to her mother even without needing the source of nutrition. So if she awoke, Howie was certain she would feel the lingering absence.

"Everything's going to be okay," Austin murmured, letting him precede her into the living room. Baylee had been miserable, being unable to bid his Angel goodnight, but had finally gone to bed, with promises of totally Cheyanne time the next day. Vivian and Brian sat on the couch, the latter speaking into a cell phone and ticking off items on a clipboard. Austin knew he was on the phone with Drew, and was ticking off each room as it was checked. Across from them, AJ sat in an armchair, going down a list of every nearby bar and club, checking to see if Cheyanne had decided to go out for a little dancing. Though she knew that was a fruitless search, Austin appreciated that the man wanted to help at all. Glancing over at Kevin, who stood at the window, cell phone pressed to his ear as he spoke to hotel security, Austin reached to rub Howie's shoulders gently. "We'll find her," she promised softly.

“But is she going to be okay?” Howie whispered, covering his face with both hands in hopes to keep himself from imagining what possibly could have happened to Cheyanne. God, this was his worst nightmare. He had every inkling to call his father and ask him to come to Los Angeles immediately in order to commandeer the police station and create a massive search for Cheyanne.

AJ glanced up as he closed his phone. "Well, she's not at the--" he cut off, making a face as he craned to hear the murmured voices coming from Nick's bedroom. "Has anyone thought to check Carter's room?" he suggested, getting to his feet.

"Why would we do that?" Brian questioned, holding a hand over his phone. "He's just in there with some random one-night stand whore… No offense, Snookie… It's not like he grabbed Chey and pulled her in there for some threesome or anything…"

“Besides, she knows that we don’t want her around him,” Austin interjected as she felt Howie’s muscles tense beneath her hands. “I think she’s smart enough to realize he’s hurt her enough.”

"But shouldn't we at least check?" AJ returned, already moving down the hall. Pressing his ear to Nick's door, he heard the soft murmurs of a female voice, followed by a chuckle that sounded as though his younger friend was being choked. "Nick?" he called, tapping loudly on the door. "Open up, man…"

Suddenly, there was an exchange of harsh whispers followed by a deathly stilling of the room, almost as if Nick thought he could act like he wasn’t home. Impatiently, AJ tapped once more on the door as if to give him fair warning, though he reached for the doorknob as his knuckles left the door. Flinging it wide, AJ stepped inside, fully intent on bitching Nick out, but found himself speechless at the site. Nick and Cheyanne were curled beneath a mountain of blankets and the clothing Nick had been wearing before he left was piled on the floor. “…You little whore…”

Cheyanne furrowed her light brows in horror as she attempted to slip away from the covers once more, though Nick clamped tight to her to prevent her from doing anything again. She had wanted to answer the door immediately when AJ had called. She wanted someone to know how sick Nick was, just in case it got worse through the night. But he had prevented her from doing so, like he was keeping her. “AJ, wait--”

"After all the fucking heartache that you've caused my best friend, this is how you act? Jesus fucking Christ. What'd you do? Wait 'till Nick was plastered before crawling into bed with him?" AJ exploded. "Goddamnit--"

"What the fuck's going on?" Austin questioned from behind him, walking into his back when he didn't move. Glancing over his shoulder, she gasped audibly when she saw Cheyanne in Nick's arms. "Chey, what the fuck--"

Cheyanne paled as there was a loud commotion in the living room when AJ hollered he had located the supposedly missing person, followed by a heavy series of feet. Cheyanne felt torn as she glanced down to Nick, who was halfway asleep and the collecting group. He was still so cold… “Austi, wait, you don’t understand--”

"You motherfucking son-of-a-whore!" Howie exploded. "What the fuck is your problem--"

AJ caught Howie just as he moved to strangle Nick. "Wait… Nick? What's wrong, man?" Glaring at Cheyanne, he moved around the bed, snapping on a lamp to check his friend's face. "What'd you do to him?!"

“I didn’t do--” Cheyanne yelped painfully as AJ yanked her from the bed without warning, throwing her to the floor harder than she anticipated. A sharp pain raced up her spine as she stared at AJ shaking Nick vigorously to rouse him, ignoring the fact that she was completely clothed. Not one ounce of incriminating evidence beneath the covers, though hot tears were already streaking her pale face.

"Chey…" Nick whispered faintly, pushing AJ's hands away.

"Honey?" Howie questioned softly, reaching to help her to her feet. "What's going on?"

"I'm dying…" Nick croaked.

“He fucking did it!” Cheyanne choked painfully, resisting Howie’s help as she crawled onto her feet by herself. Straightening her petite form, she immediately winced at the raw ache that kindled beneath the sharp pains of her spine. She heaved a ragged breath against the sob building in her chest, avoiding everyone’s blistering glares of contempt. “I didn’t slip anything into his drink! I didn’t come in here to rape him once he was plastered! I saw him coming in with some disgusting redhead and he collapsed inside his door! He has alcohol poisoning, but there was no way that I could get him to the hospital! So instead of just letting him die in bed for you guys to find later, I helped him! I made sure he didn’t inhale his own vomit! I made sure he stayed warm so he didn’t go into cardiac arrest! And I made sure he didn’t stop breathing!”

"Uh-huh," Nick rasped, smiling slightly. "I'm so fucked up… I couldn't find my own cock--"

“Shut up, Nick,” Kevin and Brian immediately interrupted with growls.

“You guys can take care of him now,” Cheyanne breathed as she slipped on her flip-flops, uselessly rubbing the tears away from her face while more continued to rain. “I’m done.”

"Chey… Sweetheart--"

"Easy, man," AJ murmured, sitting on the edge of the bed as he dug into his pocket. "You'll be alright… At least you know you have a cock… When I had this shit, I was certain I was a woman…" With shaky hands, he dialed Marcus' cell number, praying that his friend was going to make it through.

"Where are you going?" Austin questioned as Cheyanne slipped out of the room. Pushing past Howie, she went after her. "Are you leaving?! This time of night?!"

Cheyanne refused to look back as she reached for her purse on the coffee table, yanking out some bills and stuffing them into the pocket with her MP3 player. “I don’t know--”

"You're just going to walk out and leave Ollie?" Austin questioned, snatching up her own purse. Turning, she stepped back when she realized Kevin was right behind her. "Stay with Ollie, okay? We're going out," she murmured, leaning up to kiss him gently.

"You're going out?!"

“I don’t want company,” Cheyanne emphasized as she stuffed her keycard into another pocket, not wanting to worry about hefting a purse around Los Angeles. Not that she knew where she was going or what she was doing. She just wanted to be left alone. To get the image of Nick almost dying in her arms out of her mind.

"You are not going out wandering the streets of LA by yourself," Vivian informed her. "Do you think we're stupid?"

“I honestly don’t give a fuck what you think at this point,” Cheyanne muttered, opening the door that lead to the main hallway and elevators.

"Damnit, Honey…" Grabbing her arm, Howie jerked her back into the suite, kicking the door shut. "Why do you always run away? Can't you sit down and tell us what happened without just storming off?"

“HE ALMOST DIED!” Cheyanne finally exploded, jerking her arm away from Howie’s grasp as if she had been scalded. She couldn’t understand why everyone was making this so hard for her. If Austin went storming off, they would leave her be until she cooled down. All Cheyanne wanted to do was forget at this point. Forget what Nick had been mumbling in her ear as he slipped in and out of consciousness. To forget how many times he had stopped breathing. To forget how icy he felt against her. “What part of that don’t you understand?!”

Howie sighed, running a hand down his face. "Do you know how damn worried I've been? For all I knew, you were the one dying! And Nick's not dying, he's going to be okay! Why are you--"

“I couldn’t leave him,” Cheyanne interrupted, her voice instantly dropped to barely above a whisper. “I just couldn’t leave him when he needed help like that…”

"Chey…" Austin trailed softly, dropping Kevin's arm off her shoulder as she moved to stand with the younger woman. "Come on, let's go out… There's got to be a honkytonk nearby. I won't talk to you or anything, I just don't want you to be alone, okay?"

“He stopped breathing on me… And he was so damn cold… If he got too cold, his heart would have just stopped… And it was already working so hard… I had to get in bed with him to keep him warm… I didn’t know what else to do… Then he kept saying he still loved me…” Cheyanne whispered miserably, dropping her gaze to the carpet.

"It's going to be okay," Austin promised her softly, wrapping a protective arm around her friend's shoulder. Aghast that Nick had told her such a thing, she glanced to Howie to see if he had heard, but could tell from his expression that all of the things Cheyanne had admitted had not been clear to him. "I promise, Chey-Chey," she whispered. "He'll be alright… You still want to go out? Me and Viv'll come out with you and keep you company…"

“…I have to stay with Cinnamon…”

"There's enough breast milk in the fridge to last two days… And if Cinnamon needs a woman to snuggle up to, I can always call Jo," Howie assured her. Still not understanding why she had been upset, he only wanted to make everything alright with her. "We'll take care of her…"

“Can I just have five minutes outside by myself to breathe? Then you can come downstairs and meet me? Please, Austi?” Cheyanne requested softly, finally pulling her gaze upward to look into her friend’s dark coffee eyes.

"Okay… That'll give me time to get that pissed off anal-retentive expression off Pretty Boy's face," Austin murmured, giving her friend a gentle squeeze. "Five minutes…"

“Thanks,” Cheyanne answered, moving toward the door.

*~*~*


On the terrace of a secluded club, Austin leaned against the railing, looking out at the lights of the city. Sipping her margarita, she nibbled the salt off the rim of the glass, glancing over at Vivian, who was doing the same. Shaking her head with a smirk, she looked towards Cheyanne, who was sitting in the corner of the terrace, staring off into space as though she didn't even realize where she was. Sighing, Austin looked back at Vivian. "We have to cheer her up…"

“I’d say go back downstairs and get some of the fellas that were ogling her, but I doubt she’d enjoy that. Hell, she wants to go to a bar, then immediately gets sick at the smell of smoke and can’t even stand to look at alcohol,” Vivian voiced as she tilted her head to look at Cheyanne also and sighed softly. “Poor Sugar…”

"We could do a table dance…" Austin trailed with a shrug.

“Don’t you actually have to get alcohol into her to get her to do that?”

"I was talking about us? Maybe it'd at least get her to smile…"

“Excuse me… Are you actually suggesting a collaboration? Where we have to be nice to each other?”

"A temporary truce? Once Chey's happy we can go back to being bitches?"

“I enjoy being a bitch to you… Get’s the blood flowin’…”

"Which I'm sure Brian appreciates… But Chey's a tad more important right now."

“What the Hell was she thinking tonight? Like Nick didn’t run her heart over with a truck more than necessary? …I would have let the fucker die,” Vivian decided as she finished off her margarita, setting the empty glass on the table behind her before starting to unbutton her top.

"You just wanted an excuse to strip, didn't you?" Austin mused, licking the remaining salt off her glass before draining the contents. Peeling off her camisole, she draped it over the railing before glancing over at Brian's girlfriend. "How many damn holes do you have in your body?"

“I love being naked. I’d join a nudist colony, but I think Bear would be uncomfortable,” Vivian answered with ease, pulling the band from her dark locks and running her hands along the locks to muss them. “…And I have enough holes in my body to keep myself entertained with jewelry.”

"Apparently Brian's entertained as well," Austin pointed out, noticing several passionate marks along Vivian's torso. "And as for being naked… There's one thing we agree on…"

“Among other things,” Vivian agreed, removing her jeans and flinging them onto the railing before fixing her black thong with a wicked grin. “Like Sugar is the best friend anyone could have.”

"STRIP SHOW ON THE TERRACE!" a male voice boomed from inside the club.

"Oh Lord…" Peeling her jeans off, Austin tossed them to join Vivian's on the railing. Adjusting her black thong, she cast Vivian a wicked smirk. "Let's do this… Snookie…"

“Alright, Princess,” Vivian cooed, sauntering over to the table that Cheyanne occupied with loneliness. She was sure that the youngest would notice them immediately, but Cheyanne didn’t seem to care. So, wanting to attract her attention, Vivian hopped onto the table, knocking the girl’s soda onto the ground. Without any cares for the men attempting to pile on the terrace, she jiggled her breasts in Cheyanne’s face, feeling Austin hop onto the table behind her. “We love you, Sugar!”

“Jesus Christ!” Cheyanne yelped uncharacteristically, jerking backward from the sudden brush of flesh on her face. Only, she leaned back a little too far, taking the chair with her as she fell hard on the ground. Groaning, Cheyanne covered her face with her hands. “…Jesus Christ…”

"C'mon, Chey-Chey!" Austin whooped, rocking her hips in rhythm to the music floating out from inside the club. Oblivious to the catcalls and flashes going off behind her, she smirked as a young man swooped forward to help Cheyanne back into the chair.

"Easy, sweet thing! Can't miss this show!" the man shouted.

“Oh yes I can!” Cheyanne blurted in shock, practically climbing over the man and throwing him into her chair so she could get away from her friends. “Like I don’t see their boobs and whoo-has on a regular basis!”

“YOU’RE NO FUN, SUGAR!” Vivian bellowed.

“Kevvy and Brian are going to fucking kill you two!” Cheyanne hollered back, folding her arms across her chest as she ducked away from the photographs, unable to hide the small smirk on her face.

"THEN MAKE OUR DEATHS MEANINGFUL AND ENJOY THIS!" Austin hollered, leaning against Vivian and doing a slow dip.

"…I'll bet Bear would enjoy this," Vivian mused with a wicked grin. "SUGAR! CALL BEAR!"

“Oh Lord,” Cheyanne sighed, shaking her head in disbelief. “I should have been drinking from the beginning…”

"You look like a Papa Smurf! Here!" A young woman shouted, shoving a drink into Cheyanne's hands.

"BOTTOMS UP, SUGAR!"

Cheyanne stumbled back slightly from the woman’s insistence of her taking the brightly colored drink. Glancing upward, she watched as Vivian turned to dance quite closely with Austin. “Unlike you two, I have a baby to feed at home. I can’t be drinking alcohol and flashing my goods all over town!”

"Then get up here and dance!" Austin called, waving at her as Vivian's arm slid around her waist.

Cheyanne stamped her foot. "Austi, I am not--"

"DANCE!" Several men around them began chanting.

“There is no way that I’m going to be a naked babe buffer to that mess--” Cheyanne yelped in shock as a pair of arms encircled her waist, tossing her up onto the table between Austin and Vivian as if she were nothing but a feather.

"Whooooo!" Austin shrieked, linking her arm around Cheyanne's waist as she began grinding against her. "Loosen up and dance, baby girl!"

“I’m going to kill both of you,” Cheyanne promised with a hard laugh as Vivian yanked off her racer-back tank, throwing it toward the crowd.

"But what a way to go!" Vivian whooped as Austin reached to peel away Cheyanne's shorts. "Shake it, Sugar!"

“God… Where’s the Papa Smurf shit?” Cheyanne groaned, unable to keep passive any longer as her friends grinded harder against her, never noticing the small commotion coming from the back of the terrace as someone tried to push through.

"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!" a voice boomed through the crowd, and an instant later AJ burst through the crowd.

"SKINNY!" Austin squealed, glancing down at him with a smirk.

“THESE DANCES ARE SUPPOSED TO BE FOR ME!” AJ exclaimed with horror, having half a mind to push everyone away from the terrace so he could get a private show. He had been taking care of Nick when his cell phone started to ring incessantly. His friends had insisted he join them for some kind of show at their favorite bar. He had thought twice about going, but now decided it had been for the best as he stared at the two naked brunettes and the blonde already hopping off the table to get her clothing that the other women had removed.

"Well, you're here now! Chey! Get back here!"

“I need another soda,” Cheyanne answered as she pulled on her shorts, glancing around for her tank top, forlorn to find it on some strange man’s head.

"Yo, Benny! Get my baby girl another soda!" AJ hollered towards his friends, catching Cheyanne when she made to slip away. Looking down at her as she angrily tugged her tank top down. "Howie's not going to know about this unless you tell him," he told her.

“Thanks, you’re such a savior, AJ,” Cheyanne answered sarcastically, pulling away from his grasp. Her back still smarted from when he yanked her out of the bed.

"Ain't I, though?" AJ grinned, handing over a soda. Glancing up at the dancing brunettes, his mouth dropped open in shock. "Oh, sweet fuck…"

“Yeah, you go enjoy that,” Cheyanne mumbled, holding her drink close as she braved the crowds.

"Chey!" Austin cried, leaping off the table. Pushing past AJ, she snatched her clothes off the railing, making her way to her friend. "Where are you going?"

“I’m going to take a piss?”

"Will you be coming back?"

Cheyanne glanced back to Austin once she was finally free of the crowd, immediately willing herself not to breathe the stale air caked with the odor of cigarettes. Her sapphire eyes were murky as she eased herself onto one of the many unoccupied barstools, glancing behind her to see AJ jumping onto the table to dance with Vivian. “I appreciate you coming out with me, Austi… Honestly… And.. Somehow I appreciate you stripping naked and throwing your body parts in my face… But I don’t… Forget it…”

"I'm not naked," Austin defended softly, pulling her camisole back on. Stepping into her jeans, she hurriedly fastened them before settling on the barstool next to Cheyanne. "You're worried about Nick…"

“…And I took it out on Tea…”

"Howie understands… It's not like you were riding Nick like there was no tomorrow--"

“Austin,” Cheyanne groaned as she fiddled with the straw in her soda, hating for being so gloomy when Austin was enjoying herself. But it was hard to be so happy when she was so utterly conflicted. “I love Tea so much… I can’t live without him… He completes me completely and he’s the best thing that ever happened in my life. Without him, I think I’d die… But I love Nick, too… And, no one is ever going to understand that and I can’t explain it… But he told me he still loved me, too… After everything that happened and… I just don’t feel good…”

"Chey…" Austin sighed, motioning for a bottle of water from the bartender. "Look… I know that what you and Boohbah had was special. Hell, I was floored when you just let Howie back in like you did… Wait, he still loves you?"

“…When I was making sure he stayed warm, he said that he wanted me to believe him… To believe him that he still loved me,” Cheyanne confessed softly, pushing the soda aside. “I mean, he had alcohol poisoning… He was plastered beyond all belief… He didn’t know what he was talking about… He told me that I was just a game… That he already got what he wanted…”

"But what if being plastered beyond relief and at death's door made him realize he had to tell you the truth?" Austin questioned gently, cringing when she heard whoops and loud catcalls from the terrace. Brian was definitely going to kill Vivian, she thought with a small smile.

“And what does that do for me, Austin? Honestly?”

"At least you know you meant something? That you weren't just some random girl?"

“Which means I was the bitch that broke his heart and drove him to killing himself with alcohol?” Cheyanne whispered, rubbing her throbbing temples.

"He gave you up, Chey… He told Howie that he didn't deserve you, that Howie was the one who held your heart… That he knew he couldn't give you what Howie could," Austin murmured, slowly peeling the paper wrapper off her bottle of water.

“He never asked me what I wanted…”

"Well… He's a guy?"

“…I’m glad I have Howie back…” Cheyanne decided after a period of excruciating silence. “I don’t know what I would do without him in my life. I love him so much… But, I can’t be around Nick anymore, can I? I mean… I hurt him… I can’t be friends with him like I want… I can’t do anything for him…”

"You saved his life, Chey… That's a big thing…"

“But what if he doesn’t think it’s worth saving?”
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