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Chapter 76 – Trusting Him

Sitting in the chair at Nick's bedside, Howie gazed down at Olivia, who slept peacefully despite the occasional grunts and painful moans from the younger man. Smoothing her soft curls with his fingers, he smiled slightly, moving to place her in the infant seat on the floor. With a heavy sigh, he leaned back in his chair, jumping slightly when Nick sat up suddenly.

"Chey?" Nick asked softly, looking around. Seeing Howie at his bedside, he sank back against the pillows, reaching with a shaky hand to grasp the bottle of water on the nightstand. Taking a hearty sip, he met Howie's dark chocolate eyes. "She… She saved me, man…"

“How are you feeling?” Howie murmured, shifting slightly in his seat so he could look to Nick directly. It had been hours since Cheyanne had left the hotel abruptly. Not to mention hours since Nick had been barely conscious and threatened to slip into the cold darkness of death. The sun was already starting to rise behind the large buildings of Los Angeles, their trip to the next destination postponed because of unplanned events. Yet, there Howie sat, composed, patiently waiting for Cheyanne to return as well as see an improvement in Nick’s condition. He felt horribly guilty for assuming the worst when he had stepped into the bedroom to find Cheyanne beneath the covers with Nick, but far more concerned about what occurred between him and his fiancée before she left. Something about her demeanor left him puzzled and he could only assume that the key to the mystery was the sick man laying before him.

"I've felt better… But, I've felt worse too," Nick admitted with a noncommittal shrug, running a hand through his hair. The way Howie stared at him, as though he contained all the vital keys to living forever, unnerved him. "…Is it alright if I take a shower?"

“Considering you almost died last night, I think you should rest a few more hours and keep drinking that water,” Howie suggested, gently rocking the infant seat with his foot when he heard Olivia release a weary sigh. Though she had slept through most of the night with only a few stirrings to suck listlessly at a plastic nipple, she was missing her mother.

"I guess you have a point… Where's Chey? Why are you here?"

“She left…” Howie murmured softly, moving his gaze away from Nick’s bed to glance about the room. Normally, Nick’s room was complete chaos, but Howie could see remnants of Cheyanne within the disaster. The frazzled attempts to find warm blankets. The emptied buckets. The bottles of water strewn about. She had done everything in her power to save Nick. To make sure he didn’t die. …Because she loved him…

Nodding, Nick toyed with the cap to his water bottle. "I guess I fucked up again, didn't I? What'd I say to make her leave this time?"

“You didn’t say anything… AJ called her a whore and then accused her of slipping you something so you would sleep with her…” Howie trailed, still wanting to throttle AJ for being so bluntly callous. “…But she was upset because she didn’t know if you were going to be okay or not…”

"I made her stay… I needed something alive… Something to keep me from…" Sighing, Nick closed his eyes, wearily shaking his head. "She hasn't come back?"

“Not yet… You shook her up, Nick… What you did was so damn stupid--”

"I know, okay? Don't you think I realize now I'm sober how fucking stupid I've been since Zombie was born?!"

“Then why keep doing it?”

"What are you, my damn shrink now?"

“No, I’m just trying to figure out why a piece of her still loves you after all this shit…” Howie confessed, rotating the platinum band on his left hand. He knew Cheyanne had been trying to save his heart from knowing, but seeing her tonight… He wasn’t a fool and he realized that it was his fault. He had let her go and allowed Nick to make that type of impression on her. And, when Howie had hurt her, she still let her love for him continue to linger. So, Howie knew it would be the same for Nick. Just a transformed love… A love he would never be able to compete with…

"She doesn't love me, D. The only reason she did what she did last night was that she's a nurse and she took the hypocritical oath about saving lives or whatever--"

“Last night had nothing to do with her being a nurse. That was because she loved you. Don’t play stupid with me, Nick. Not on this. She’s told you that before. Hasn’t she? That she loved you?”

"Yeah… She has. But not since…"

“You left North Carolina and told her that she was just another score?”

"I never told her that…"

“Yes, you did. You may not have been sober when you said it, but you said it. And you killed her…” Howie sighed heavily as he sunk further in his seat, hating Nick’s bewildered look. “How about putting those bruises on her arm? Do you remember that? Do you remember anything?”

"Oh, God…" Nick trailed with a groan, covering his face with his hands. "Howie, I never meant any of that… I--I love her," he whispered.

Howie nodded numbly at the confession, glancing down to his hands. “Yet you just gave her up… Nick, she would have stayed with you…”

"I had to give her up… She would never have been as happy with me as she was with you. Sure, we had a great time, and I don't think I'll ever meet anyone as wonderful as her, but… With you, she's… Complete," Nick murmured, chunking the empty water bottle into the trash.

“…She still needs you, Nick…”

"Well, unless you know of a place in the world where a woman can marry two men--"

“To be her friend,” Howie quickly finished.

"Oh…" Looking over at Howie, Nick cleared his throat, knowing there had to be a catch to Howie's proposal. "Now is when you tell me there's no chance in Hell you'll let me be her friend, right?"

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” Howie answered as he leaned down to cover Olivia with a blanket. “Honey loves you way too much and would resent me for the rest of our marriage if I told you to stay away. I want you to be her friend, Nick. Her best friend. But, I don’t want you hurting her anymore. I don’t want you drinking around her. I don’t want you smoking around her. I don’t want you physically assaulting her, ‘cause I’ll kill you if I find another bruise on her body.”

"O… Okay," Nick agreed softly.

“If you don’t think you can follow that, fine… You don’t have to be friends with her… But, if you want to, for God’s sakes, talk to her, okay?” Howie continued, finally rising from his seat and taking the infant carrier into his hands.

"Talk to her?" Nick repeated, staring at the older man as he moved towards the door. "What am I supposed to tell her?"

“That’s something you have to figure out on your own. I can’t do everything for you, Nick,” Howie answered, slipping into the hallway and shutting Nick’s door behind him. Kevin would be up in a few hours and he would check on the youngest man next. But, from the looks of it, Nick would be just fine with some rest. Sighing, Howie carried the infant carrier into the living room, setting it on the coffee table to see Olivia writhing slightly in her seat. Smiling softly, he scooped her into his arms, bringing her to rest comfortably on his shoulder as he hummed softly to soothe her slumber. Though, when he turned, he found Cheyanne slipping quietly in the door. “Honey…”

“Tea?” Cheyanne whispered in slight shock, glancing around the living room to find it unoccupied after checking the time on her watch. Austin and Vivian had both stumbled into the hallway doors of their rooms, deciding it was better than attempting to climb over furniture in the living room. Cheyanne had decided to go through the living room, not wanting to rouse Howie and Olivia. So, to find them awake was more than a surprise, especially as she hesitated at the door. “What are you doing up?”

"We were sitting with Nick… Are you okay?" he murmured, shifting Olivia into her arms when she reached. "Did you and the girls have fun?"

“I’m okay… And, I think Vivie and Austi had a lot more fun than I did,” Cheyanne confessed as she delivered a soft kiss to her daughter’s forehead before returning her back into Howie’s arms. “I smell like a bar… Smoke and booze… I don’t want her to get sick or smell like that… How’s Nick?”

"He was asking for you when he woke up… Did Vivian do body shots off you or something?" Howie teased, hoping to lighten the mood as he shifted Olivia to his shoulder, though her hand reached out and grasped Cheyanne's tank top.

“You would be surprised at what she and Austi didn’t do to me last night,” Cheyanne sighed as she gently untwined her daughter’s fingers from her shirt. Holding the small hand, she delivered several soft kisses before leaning toward Howie to kiss her daughter’s face. “…I really need to get a shower before I hold her… Do… Do you want to lay her down and then come in the bathroom and keep me company? I mean, you don’t have to shower with me, but I need to talk to you--”

"Can you go talk to Nick first?" Howie interrupted.

“I think it’s best if I just leave him alone…”

"But you can't, Honey… He… He needs you."

“He made it abundantly clear before that he doesn’t need me,” Cheyanne answered as she glanced up into Howie’s dark eyes. “…Why are you pushing me towards him? Don’t tell me you two had another discussion and I’ve been shuffled, because I swear--”

"As a friend, okay?" Howie told her quickly. "He needs you as a friend. Just like you need him."

“If he needs me, he knows where to find me,” Cheyanne told Howie softly, not having the strength to see Nick at that moment. Instead, she kicked off her flip flops and started toward their hotel room, peeling away the stale, smoky clothing as she went. She had already decided she wouldn’t interfere in Nick’s life anymore. If she hurt him so much that he had to put himself into an alcoholic coma to forget the pain, then she shouldn’t be around him. Ever.

*~*~*


“And the peacefulness of a mother-daughter lounging afternoon is cut dramatically short,” Cheyanne sighed softly to her infant as she glanced up from her book to see Austin tip-toeing across the pool area, looking as if she was being hunted by a murderer. Though, chalking it up to dramatics, Cheyanne shifted slightly as she pressed a kiss to the top of her daughter’s head. After sleeping for a few hours, Cheyanne had decided that she just wanted to spend some time with Olivia. So, dressing her daughter in her little bikini, she headed downstairs to the pool, snagging the large umbrella and lounge chairs from a few easily occupied men. They had been far too busy admiring her assets to refuse her request. So, snuggling Olivia on her chest underneath the shade, Cheyanne let the little girl drift into a peaceful slumber while she read.

"Let me know if you see Kevin heading this way," Austin whispered conspiratorially as she occupied the chair next to Cheyanne. Pulling on her sunglasses, she quickly hid behind her thick novel, glancing surreptitiously over the top towards the door. "…If he doesn't kill me, it'll be a freaking miracle…"

“What’d you do? Shave his eyebrows while he was sleeping?” Cheyanne mused as she tucked her bookmark back into the pages, setting her book on top of Olivia’s diaper bag. Shifting slightly, she rested both hands on her daughter’s back, patting softly.

"You remember all the crazy stuff me and Viv did last night?" Austin asked her, biting her bottom lip worriedly. "I mean, we did some freaky stuff when you slipped off to the bathroom, and… Skinny was there…"

“Yeah? Like the stuff you were doing wasn’t crazy when I was there. Throwing my ass down to do body shots off me… Do you realize Tea’s going to ask why I have imprints of a table and the floor on my back?”

"Do you realize what Pretty Boy's going to do to me when he finds out I was making out with his cousin's girlfriend?!"

“They’re from Kentucky… He might like it…”

"…With Skinny too…"

“You’re dead.”

"That's what I've been trying to explain to you… I mean, Viv did more making out with him than I did… From what I can remember… God… I need to join AA…"

“You were probably making out with him together,” Cheyanne suggested with a wry smirk. “But we’ll get you set up for those AA meetings after you get out of the hospital…”

"Thanks for your support, Chey," Austin muttered, rolling her eyes. "Remind me not to drink anymore Zombies… Oh yeah, Skinny showed me pictures of our naked table dance that he found online… Did you know that your breasts look bigger in pictures?"

“Excuse me?” Cheyanne choked, causing Olivia to grunt with displeasure as her fingers dug slightly into her mother’s breasts to keep her still.

Glancing over the top of her book, Austin scooted down in her chair when she saw her fiancé storming through the door. "Oh, shit," she breathed, seeing AJ right behind him. "Ask Skinny… Here he comes…"

“I’m telling Kevvy about where you took a body shot off AJ,” Cheyanne threatened with a hiss, cuddling Olivia as she moved into a sitting position, noticing AJ stop to wait for someone. Craning her neck slightly, she smiled when she saw Howie, relieved that he had agreed to join her. Standing, she offered Austin a glare. “’Cause you know the only reason I was naked is because you two goons stripped me like a Barbie.”

"You're our favorite doll… And please, for the sake of all things sacred, don't tell Pretty Boy that I took a body shot off AJ's--"

"Austin. Leigh. Harrell."

"I'm dead."

“I’d suggest jumping off the top of the hotel before Kevvy throws you off,” Cheyanne suggested sweetly, slipping on her flip flops so she could greet Howie.

"Gee, thanks for your ever-loving support," Austin grumbled, setting her book down to look at Kevin as he came to a stop directly in front of her. "Hi," she greeted him with a bright smile. "Have a good nap?"

“Oh, it was quite pleasant, Dear. That is, until I woke up to AJ jumping on my bed excitedly with some news. Seems every person with an internet connection now knows the specifics of my fiancée’s body. Like that little freckle right underneath your left ass cheek!” Kevin exploded.

"It was all Vivian's idea--"

“I do not care if God Himself came down here to slip a twenty between your breasts! Get upstairs, NOW!”

"Don't you think my breasts would garner more than twenty bucks?"

AUSTIN!”

"We were trying to cheer Chey up!"

“I’m sure she was delighted in knowing now half the population is masturbating to the site of her breasts!” Kevin growled, tossing Austin’s book off her lap. Before she had time to yell at him, he heaved her over his shoulder like a barbarian and delivered a sharp smack to her backside. Lumbering toward the doors, he muttered several short cusses underneath his breath, prepared to tie her down to the bed and just leave her there. Permanently. “I’ll talk to you later,” Kevin threatened Cheyanne as he walked past her before she could give Howie a hello, entering the hotel with heavy threats toward his fiancée.

"Uh oh," AJ breathed, flopping onto the nearest lounge chair. "She's dead!"

“Thank you for coming down to spend time with me,” Cheyanne told Howie softly, completing ignoring AJ’s assessment of the situation. She was still quite hurt by his reaction to yesterday’s turn of events. Not to mention her back still ached from his sharp throw. To even suggest she was a whore had tore a hole through her heart, especially since she still felt achingly guilty over Nick. Just looking at AJ repulsed her.

Sliding his hand to her waist, Howie drew her closer, kissing the top of her head. "Like I could have stayed away--" he cut off at an obnoxiously loud flatulent noise erupting from AJ. "Dear God--"

“C’mon, my stuff is over here,” Cheyanne interrupted, reaching for his hand as she easily held Olivia within the crook of her opposite arm.

"I--" Howie cut off at yet another flatulent noise from the younger man. Casting his friend a worried glance, he raised an eyebrow. "Do you think maybe you should go upstairs?"

AJ shrugged carelessly, glancing toward Cheyanne with a wry grin. “Just a few too many beans, I guess?”

“I’m getting Cinnamon out of the sun,” Cheyanne told Howie, completely ignoring AJ as she leaned up to kiss his cheek.

“What the fuck did I do to her?” AJ immediately growled.

"You mean besides throwing her on her ass? Calling her a whore? Completely degrading her in front of an entire club?" Howie returned, rolling his eyes. "Gee, let me think!"

“I thought she was fucking you over!”

"Well you thought wrong!" Howie spat in disgust. "And would you please quit passing gas so obnoxiously?!"

“You mean like--” AJ allowed another loud noise to rip from his bottom half. “That?”

"YES!"

“I’ll try,” AJ answered with a wicked grin, though several shorter noises of gas erupted. “Let’s go play with my Sugar-Baby.”

"Are you fucking stupid? Like I want her surrounded by your noxious gases?"

“I have to apologize to Baby Girl, don’t I?”

"Maybe you should wait 'till after you've had some Pepto Bismol?"

“Nah, now’s a good time,” AJ decided, hopping off his lounge chair. Howie reached to grab him, but AJ was too quick, easily slipping away as Howie almost toppled into the pool. Satisfied, he sauntered toward the large umbrella area that Cheyanne was occupying. In some part of his heart, he felt bad for reacting so hatefully toward her. She was a sweet girl and he really did enjoy her company. He was the first of the guys that she let touch her stomach when Olivia was ruminating inside. So, plopping down on the end of her lounge chair, he made sure to sit on her feet, releasing a loud bubble of flatulence.

“…Did you just shart on me?” Cheyanne immediately questioned with a slight disgust, frowning when her daughter actually smiled at the loud noise while leaning against her mother’s flexed thighs.

"Nope!" Reaching into his pocket, AJ withdrew the black plastic speaker, handing it over to her with a grin. Once it was in her hands, he pressed the remote in his other pocket, cackling hysterically when the speaker emitted a long series of flatulence. Olivia cooed, grinning widely at the sound.

Cheyanne finally laughed as she glanced toward AJ with surprise, suddenly ruing the day when Olivia found out she could produce the same sounds as the machine. “Where the Hell did you get this?”

"Spencer's at the mall the other day. Isn't it the most amazingly cool thing in the world?! I almost crapped myself following Kevin around yesterday doing it!" AJ grinned, leaning over to kiss Olivia's forehead. "I know! Let's you and me go have some fun!"

“What kind of fun?” Cheyanne immediately questioned as Howie flopped onto the lounge chair beside her, reaching for the book he always stored in the diaper bag. Though, she concentrated on AJ as Olivia continued to smile and coo, realizing this was his way of apologizing.

"You know… I know you've seen Blue Collar… We can walk around the hotel making obscene noises!"

“How much distance can you put between the remote and the machine?” Cheyanne inquired, her sapphire eyes glowing as she settled Olivia onto her father’s chest, reaching for her short jean shorts.

"About a hundred feet…" Hopping up, AJ grinned widely.

“How much you want to bet that I can get every single one of those guys’ numbers over there while you’re making me fart like crazy?” Cheyanne suddenly inquired, gesturing toward the group of men convening beside the deep end of the pool. Buttoning the fly of her shorts, she slipped the small machine into her back pocket, glancing up to AJ.

"Honey--"

"Like I'm going to take that bet?!" AJ scoffed, looking around the pool area. "I'll bet you fifty bucks you can't get that guy's number over there," he wagered, motioning to a bored looking man with his face buried in a thick novel. "Farting like crazy."

Cheyanne assessed the man for a moment before turning back to AJ. “You’re on--”

“You can’t shove your titties in his face.”

“He just has to take a quick look on the internet to find those,” Cheyanne sighed with a shrug of her shoulders, standing. “Do we have a bet?”

"Honey--"

"Deal," AJ agreed, shoving out his hand for a quick shake. "Go do your stuff, Baby Girl."

“I’m going to go play, okay?” Cheyanne told her fiancé as she bent down to kiss him softly, purring against his lips to elicit a tingly feeling. “And I’ll even spend AJ’s fifty bucks on you, okay?”

"Okay… Just--"

"No shoving titties in his face!" AJ reminded her as she sauntered away.

“AJ, what the Hell are you doing with my fiancée?” Howie cursed, immediately sitting up as he held Olivia to his chest, craning his neck so he could watch Cheyanne. Sure enough, she approached the man AJ had pointed out, gesturing toward the vacant lounge chair beside him. At first, the man shrugged her off, then she gestured toward his sun block and Howie’s eyes widened.

Grinning, AJ perched on the edge of Cheyanne's lounge chair, pressing the remote button like crazy as Cheyanne sprawled in the lounge chair next to the man. "Just having a little fun, D…" he explained softly.

“What is this sudden interest in Honey as a playmate?” Howie exclaimed, watching the man’s face contort into a look of disgust as Cheyanne turned away for a moment. Though, when she looked back to him, a wide grin formed on his face as he attempted to focus on the book. Cheyanne then made some sort of gesture toward his chair, perching herself on the edge as she gave him the lotion, gesturing toward her back as she swept her curls away.

"I'm apologizing for being a pissfuck in my own little way?"

“You’re pimping her out with a fart machine!” Howie groaned as AJ pressed the button to release the loudest of farts while Cheyanne was retrieving her cell phone. She blushed apologetically and whispered something in the man’s ear. He laughed nervously, almost like a hyena, his cheeks flushed bright red. But, sure enough, she acquired his numbers, smiling sweetly as she waved a goodbye.

"It's only pimping if I get anything out of it… And I just lost fifty bucks… Damn you, Howie! Why'd you have to get such a hot little fiancée?"

“Because all the trolls were taken,” Cheyanne answered as she approached with a squeal of excitement, sitting in AJ’s lap. Leaning behind him, she snatched his wallet from his back pocket, opening it to locate her fifty dollars. Grinning with triumph, she tucked his wallet back in its original location and offered the money to Howie. “Hold that for me, Tea?”

"He was obviously a horny bastard… And he didn't have morals either! How could he have missed that gargantuan diamond you have on your hand?!" AJ scowled, looking around the pool area again.

“Your point? I still got his numbers and got my fifty bucks,” Cheyanne cooed, affectionately kissing AJ’s cheek. “C’mon! I want you to go drop something and let a girl bend down to pick it up, then hit the button! …Then I can go running into the men’s bathroom farting like crazy and sobbing about how bad the hotel food is!”

"I'll bet you my fifty bucks back that I can get all those chicks' numbers while you make me fart like a pig," AJ decided, nodding across the pool.

“If you just want to go flirt and melt some hearts--”

"And you can't interfere. It's bad enough I'll be farting like I have a fucking spastic colon--"

“Yeah, yeah,” Cheyanne sighed, handing over the speaker as she realized her fifty dollars would be tucked back into AJ’s wallet.

"Cheer up, Honey," Howie soothed as AJ sauntered away. "He did say he wins if he gets all the numbers from the women… And the one in the middle is happily married… To the woman on the left…" he trailed with a smirk.

“They’re what?” Cheyanne exclaimed with wonder as she immediately popped up from the lounge chair. Craning her neck, she assessed the woman Howie identified, smirking with disbelief as she slid onto him. Straddling his hips, she took the novel from his hands, tucking the remote inside and closing it tightly. This pressed all the buttons together to release a sound of loud, repetitive bubbles of disgusting gas; seeming to give AJ no advantage. But, Cheyanne didn’t care as she leaned forward to find her fiancé’s lips, making sure not to squash her infant slumbering so peacefully on Howie’s chest. “How’d you figure that out?”

"I can't reveal my secrets," Howie murmured, kissing her softly before shifting Olivia gently to the crook of his arm. Pulling Cheyanne close, he smiled against her cheek, glancing over to see his friend flirting shamelessly with the women. "…They were at the club last night, I do know that…"

“And how do you know they were at the club last night?” Cheyanne questioned once more, nibbling affectionately on his chin.

"Well, despite what Kevin told Badonkadonk, he didn't hear about everything from AJ… When he went down for the morning paper this morning, he ran into those… Ladies… And they were more than happy to tell him what his fiancée was doing last night…"

Cheyanne grinned with amusement, but grew thoughtful. “I hope they didn’t tell him about her body shots…”

"I don't believe they did… But they did offer him a threesome he'd never forget… Just how many body shots did she do on you, anyway? Or were there body shots performed on other people?" Howie questioned softly, letting his teeth graze her earlobe.

“There were many body shots done on a variety of people by a variety of people… And God do they like flicking belly rings…” Cheyanne sighed, though she pulled away to look at her fiancé with the utmost innocence. “But I was held down to the table. I swear.”

"I still say you and Badonkadonk should just go on and make that sex tape…" Howie trailed with a grin, leaning close to kiss her gently as AJ stormed back to them, his face contorted with disbelief.

"They're fucking DYKES!"
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