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Chapter 86 – Wedded Bliss

Gripping the post of the antique four-poster bed in Ann's guest room, Austin held in her breath as between them, Austin's mother and Cheyanne fought to tighten the laces on the corset. "Trust me to gain fifteen pounds and need a girdle," she hissed through clenched teeth.

"Trust you to order a dress one size too small just to make your boobs look bigger," her mother returned with a knowing smirk, securing the laces. "Just try and make it through the ceremony without belching too loudly," she suggested, stepping aside to retrieve the gown lying across the bed.

"Momma," Austin groaned, attempting to shift her breasts in the tight corset. "It's all that pre-wedding stress, making me eat like a cow, honest. Chey was with me, she made sure I ordered the right size. And I swear, it fit two weeks ago at the final fitting." Austin's last words were muffled by the voluminous tulle skirt as Cheyanne helped Ellen pull it over her head.

“I think it’s a sign that she ain’t ready for this marriage deal,” Cheyanne teased good naturedly as she stooped to fix the skirting while Ellen took hold of the top. The wedding was in a short amount of time, the women domineering the upstairs while the men bustled around on the first floor. Though, by the thumps and hollers, Cheyanne assumed that not much arranging was being accomplished.

"Not ready for this marriage deal? Are you crazy?" Austin questioned, padding barefoot across the room to assess her appearance in the full length mirror. "Momma, take a look outside and tell me how everything looks…" Turning to one side, she made a face. "Maybe I shouldn't have eaten that big chocolate dick last night…"

“It’s your own fault for starting that contest with Vivie,” Cheyanne chided, cooing toward Olivia as she pulled herself up in the playpen, reaching out for her mother.

"Well, I won, didn't I?" Austin returned with a smirk as the bedroom door opened. Glancing up, she raised an eyebrow when AJ stepped in, carrying a large box.

"Momma R sent me up with the bouquets," he announced.

"And what, pray tell, did you win, Austin?" Ellen questioned, leaning out the window to survey the back yard. Guests were already arriving, admiring the abundance of flowers. The gazebo at the far end of the lawn would serve as the altar, and Ellen watched Kevin and his brothers commiserating beside it. Her soon-to-be son-in-law glanced up at the window, giving her a quick wave. Returning it, Ellen stepped back, turning to see Austin and Cheyanne oohing and ahhing over the bouquets AJ was handing them. Austin had flung most of her skirt over one arm, revealing her bare feet. Her dark locks were swept up into a loose twist, small tendrils framing her features. Ellen felt a lump of emotion form in her throat, quickly pushing it away. Her baby girl was getting married.

Grinning, Cheyanne glanced back in order to hand Ellen her small corsage, finding the mother quite teary-eyed. Her grin turning into a soft smile of admiration, Cheyanne reached to grasp a few tissues from the box and moved back to Ellen. Offering over the tissues, she balanced Olivia on her hip and helped Ellen with the corsage. “I made sure that Austin got you and Gramma R Day Lilies for your corsages. It’s the Chinese emblem for mother, so I thought it was appropriate?”

Ellen nodded, dabbing her eyes with the tissues. "Thank you, sweetie… Austin… Don't you think it's time to get your shoes on?" she questioned with a glance at the clock.

"I've got a few minutes, Momma." Austin glanced up from checking her bouquet. "Shoes? Um… Momma…" Pushing her bouquet into AJ's hand, she flounced over to the bed to retrieve her veil. "I'm not wearing shoes…"

"If my little girl's ready, it's show time in ten minutes," Austin's father called from the hallway.

"Woohoo!" AJ cried, handing Austin's bouquet to Cheyanne. Kissing Austin on the cheek, he gave her a grin. "Don't step on any bees, Baby Girl," he warned before leaving to find Kevin.

“God, I forgot about the bees…” Cheyanne trailed as Olivia giggled at her hip, clapping her hands at all the brilliant colors. Smiling, Cheyanne glanced down at her little girl, playing with one of the perfected ringlets Austin had made the beautician tend to. And, as much as Cheyanne had playfully fussed about dolling up her daughter, Olivia was adorable in her baby blue, sleeveless dress with a delicate embroidery around the midsection. There was a delicate ruffle to the dress, accentuating the ruffled bloomers Austin had insisted on. “You are beautiful, Cinnamon Sweetness.

"Not wearing shoes?" Ellen repeated, aghast. Stepping over to assist her daughter with the veil, she sighed. "I guess I should be happy you're even wearing a gown…" she trailed as the door opened to admit Josephine and Katie.

"You're wearin' white?!" Katie cried in disbelief, her jaw dropping. "Momma! You said Austi had to wear ivory!"

*~*~*


“So… Do you think maybe you should have put a broad between your marriages, Kev? Y’know, bitch, whore, Baby Girl? ‘Cause isn’t it third time’s a charm?” AJ good naturedly jibbed as he stood beside Howie at the threshold of the altar, playing briefly with the tie he continued to insist was choking him. For a March wedding, the temperature was warm, but not enough to make the men sweat in their black, two button tuxes with pastel green ties and waistcoats. Kevin had insisted on maintaining a certain degree of class. For what AJ figured was to upstage Austin’s redneck-bred ways. Not that it mattered much as he slouched, glancing over Howie to view Kevin and his best man, Brian. Nick had been asked not to attend. Or… At least, Austin had threatened his life if he dared to attend.

Howie rolled his eyes. "Y'know what, Aje? You can be such an—"

"I thought bitch and whore were all wrapped up into one with the first marriage," Brian stated seriously. "Besides, what's it matter to you? Hoping to get a few more make out sessions with Austin before she got hitched?" he teased.

"Would you two shut up?" Kevin requested with a groan, adjusting his tie nervously. "AJ, you're sure she was dressed when you went up there? She didn't have on her jeans, did she? She wasn't planning on hauling ass while I wait—"

“You’ve got big ass Drew posted at the front door, her Dad at the side door, and Chey pushing her from behind, I doubt she can haul out with him on the loose. Now, Chey, that’s the one I’d worry about bolting when it came time for a wedding,” AJ answered, offering Howie a wicked grin.

"Considering the fact that she so blatantly invited you to live with her till you get married, I doubt she'll be bolting anytime soon," Brian assured Howie, sending a glare at AJ. "God, if me and Snookie get married, I swear I'm just hauling her off to Mexico to do it. Screw having a wedding with you morons around."

Kevin glanced nervously at his watch, looking back to see his brothers ushering Ann and Ellen to their seats. Surely that meant things were about to start… With a sigh of relief he saw Baylee at the end of the aisle, making sure to keep a safe distance between himself and Katie. Never had Kevin thought he would be happy to see the little girl, but he nearly danced with joy when she threw a handful of rose petals at Baylee.

“I think Scooper might need therapy lessons if Katie keeps torturing him…” Brian trailed with a frown, watching Baylee attempt to balance the satin pillow with the delicate rings, looking shell shocked when his great aunt motioned for him to hold hands with Katie.

"Isn't childhood torture a sign of true love?" Howie questioned with a smirk as Katie grasped Baylee's hand. "You never know, Brian… You might be looking at your future daughter-in-law—"

"My little Katie-Did does not torture him," AJ interrupted with a scowl. "She's a sweetie-pie. You shitheads just don't know how to treat her…"

“Like you can talk, Asshole. Choosing Katie over Scooper when he was your favorite for the longest time… And, she better not be my daughter-in-law. We’re reserving that place for Olivia.”

"Excuse me? Bay ditched me the moment he met Cheyanne… I'm just mending the pieces of my broken heart… And how would that work? I mean… Bay's obviously going to have the hots for his mother-in-law—"

"Would you all shut up?" Kevin hissed under his breath, seeing his mother's censuring glare. "Y'all ain't exactly whispering, y'know…"

“You should be proud, considering one of them in your best man,” Howie teased good naturedly as he straightened his posture at the traditional theme of music playing from the string quartet, signaling Baylee and Katie to start walking. Though, Baylee looked less than enthused as he glared at Kevin. As if he were the source of the evil.

"Do you think Austin and I are good for each other?" Kevin questioned softly as the two children made their way down the aisle, averting his eyes from Baylee's glare so he could look at Brian. "Me and her are meant to be, right? And I'll be able to keep her happy?"

"He's asking all this now?!" AJ hissed in Howie's ear. "Like, shouldn't he have been asking that last night at the strip club?"

“Can you really imagine anyone else walking down the aisle to meet you at this altar, Kev?” Howie questioned openly as he elbowed AJ in the ribs to keep him quiet. AJ bent over him with a pained moan, but he merely shrugged his shoulders, smiling as the bridesmaids started down the white satin walkway next.

"I can't imagine anyone else walking anywhere to meet me, period," Kevin confessed, smiling with slight satisfaction as Josephine hissed at Katie to behave. "And I can't imagine me standing here in a monkey suit waiting for anyone else…"

“Then I think you two are going to be just fine…” Howie promised, smiling when Cheyanne appeared with Olivia.

AJ leaned over to tap Kevin on the shoulder. "But, hey, if you don't want to marry her, Kev, I'll be more than happy to—"

“Don’t even think about finishing that sentence or you won’t even be able to dance with her,” Kevin threatened, holding his breath as everyone rose with the festive theme of ‘Here Comes the Bride.’

*~*~*


Grasping Kevin's arm, Austin's attention began to drift as the preacher continued in his monotone of all the blessings that would be bestowed upon the couple for affirming their eternal love. Glancing sideways, she smiled at Kevin's serious expression, knowing he was listening to every word. Glancing down at the hand covering hers, she trembled slightly at the knowledge he would be hers forever. Exhaling slowly, she mentally kicked herself for gorging on every junk food known to mankind in the past two weeks. Her stomach was cinched in so tightly she swore she could feel her ribs poking into it, and silently cursed her mother for tightening the corset too hard. Letting her gaze slip to her left side, she met Cheyanne's eyes, giving her best friend a smile when she saw Olivia had fallen asleep. The garland of white camellias circling her head was still intact, despite the infant's many attempts to remove it. Glancing up at the preacher once more, she noted he had started in on the wedding vows, though her attention immediately sparked on a butterfly fluttering just above them, circling the spray of flowers decorating the gazebo. So beautiful… Everything was so beautiful, and she couldn't imagine her life being anymore perfect than it was just then.

“Princess,” Kevin questioned, clearing his throat when he noticed Austin refusing to respond to the pastor’s inquiries as to whether or not she was ready to speak her vows. Following her gaze, Kevin grimaced when he noticed the dancing butterfly. She was off in her own little world. Again. He should have expected as much. “Austin, do you mind listening to the preacher so this marriage can be legit?”

"What?" Austin looked up to the preacher again, biting down on her bottom lip when she saw his amused expression. "I'm sorry… What was the question?"

“I think it would be… Do you take this man…?” the pastor jibbed as chuckles chorused throughout the guests.

"Oh!" Austin breathed in surprise, looking up at Kevin. "Sorry, Pretty Boy… I do," she stated with a smirk. "Happy now?"

Kevin just rolled his eyes as he leaned to kiss her cheek, squeezing her hands as if gently reprimanding her. But it was hard to be upset at such a gorgeous creature. The strapless, shirred satin bodice accentuating her natural curves as the full tulle skirt fluttered gently with the breeze. Her gloved hands presenting a gentile appearance as the veil draped lovely over her dark locks. She was a vision. A vision that would soon be his… If she didn’t wander again… “I think it’s safe to continue with the ceremony.”

"Let's get this show on the road," Austin breathed, patting his arm gently as the preacher began speaking again. Breathing as deeply as possible, she watched Kevin's face as he listened to the words, falling in love with him all over again. Wriggling her toes against the white satin beneath her feet, she wondered if changing out of the gown before the reception would incur her mother's wrath. She was certain she wouldn't be able to dance, much less sit down to eat, while wearing the corset.

“…I do…”

“You do what?” Austin questioned as she glanced up at Kevin, offering him a short glare. “Y’know, you’re supposed to be paying attention to the preacher!”

Before Kevin could form a response to her outburst, the preacher interjected. "I now pronounce you man and wife, you may kiss the bride."

“You better hope I don’t kill you before our wedding night,” Kevin threatened with a growl, though he was smiling as he dipped her for a loving kiss, knowing he had to make it official before she trailed off again.

*~*~*


“Only you would gallop off in your own thoughts during your wedding ceremony,” Cheyanne teased with a soft laugh as she leaned close to kiss Austin’s cheek after offering her congratulations to Kevin. Olivia, still perched to her side, was very much refreshed from her nap, babbling happily at Kevin. The wedding had ended and everyone had filtered over to the empty pasture next to the land where the house was being built. Kevin had set up an elaborate tented festival complete with hardwood flooring, a larger band, and a large feast that would fill even the most ravenous of the guests. Though, Cheyanne’s attentions were elsewhere as she smoothed the pastel green chiffon of her strapless, tea length maid of honor gown, wondering when she’d allowed to be set free from the prison of feminism.

"Y'mean like you are now? Listen… Soon as the official pictures are done, I am so going to change into something comfortable…" Austin trailed, leaning up to kiss Howie's cheek as he offered his congratulations. "Holy shit, Chey… I'm married…"

“You just now realized? Oh… I forgot, you danced out on the official vows… Guess you didn’t realize… See that ring on your finger? That means you’re married. Oooh! Ahhh!” Cheyanne teased with a bemused smile, causing Olivia to giggle.

Austin scowled with annoyance as Howie began to chuckle. "Cheyanne Grace, you can kiss my big—"

"Princess? This is Mrs. Adams, my old Sunday School teacher," Kevin interrupted with a gentle nudge in Austin's side. "So watch your language," he whispered from the corner of his mouth.

“I’m trying to watch my language, but Chey-Chey is annoying me to Hell,” Austin breathed, immediately offering Mrs. Adams a grand smile. “Hell’s an appropriate word, correct?”

“Austin Leigh…” Cheyanne chided with disbelief, rolling her eyes.

"Don't let him fool you, Dear… I remember quite a few Sundays your man had his mouth washed out for blurting quite a few expletives in my class," Mrs. Adams informed her with a sweet smile, leaning to hug her gently. "And yes, Hell's an appropriate word… You there," she fairly barked, reaching for Howie's arm. "Escort an old woman to her table so the old biddies will think I'm still a catch!"

Austin watched Mrs. Adams lead Howie away, followed by a giggling Cheyanne. "…I love her," she announced with a pleased smile.

“You bring out the weirdest personality quirks in people, you know?” Kevin teased as he bent to kiss her softly. “I’m usually quite docile and even tempered.”

"Sure you are… And I wore white because I'm a virgin," Austin returned, sliding her arm around his waist to keep him near as the line of his friends and relatives continued to stream past, each offering congratulations and hugs. "Oh my God," she breathed in shock, seeing a familiar blonde figure lingering around the edge of the tent, conversing with AJ. "What the fuck is he doing here?!"

“Who?” Kevin questioned, glancing over the last of the heads to see who Austin was already boiling over. Vivian was already inside commanding attention from Brian, so he didn’t see the problem. Then, it made sense as Nick slipped into the tent with AJ, laughing over something. “Oh Holy Hell…”

"Hold this," Austin demanded, thrusting her bouquet into his hands. Gathering her skirt to her knees, she stormed across the tent, ignoring the well-wishers who tried to catch her attention. Sidestepping to avoid banging her bare toe on a chair, she leveled her gaze at Nick, whose laughter quickly died when he caught sight of her. "What the fuck are you doing here?!"

“He brought an expensive present, so calm the Hell down, Baby Girl!” AJ yelped in shock, making sure to duck behind the taller blonde for fear of being clobbered first. Though, he peeked over Nick’s shoulder with a scorning glance. “Besides, he has an invitation! Duh!”

"That invitation was revoked!" Austin growled, snatching the ivory envelope from Nick's hand. "If you value your life, you will leave. Now," she stated calmly.

“I came to congratulate my older brother… Though, now it seems like I should be telling him good luck,” Nick murmured as he folded his arms across his chest. He thought long and hard about this decision, finally deciding to sober up. Because it meant there would be a chance to find Cheyanne. Just thinking about her name caused him to crane his neck, hurriedly searching the crowds of people. He wanted to apologize for the last time he hurt her. For the only time he would ever hurt her again.

"All you're going to do is turn your fat ass around and get the Hell out of here," Austin insisted. She could only imagine what his appearance would do to Cheyanne. Though, she loathed to admit, for once he didn't seem as haggard as usual. His blonde locks tousled but clean, wearing a simple black suit with a tie that brought out his ocean blue eyes. Clean shaven, he had an almost healthy glow about him. He looked almost happy… "…Nick," she whined softly, looking up at him. "What am I gonna do with you?"

“You’re going to let me wish you congratulations and let me mill around the party…” Nick answered, though his gaze nowhere near met hers as he continued to glance through the crowds. “Maybe keep Howie occupied while I talk to my Sweet…er…Cheyanne…”

"Only if you look me in the eye and promise me you're going nowhere near the booze table…" Austin trailed softly, aware of AJ's startled expression. "What? I have a heart, y'know!"

“Barely,” AJ grumbled, still shaking his head in disbelief as he walked away, wanting no part of this when Howie found out.

"Nick… You better kiss my ass at least a dozen times while you're here… Now come on," she sighed, grabbing his arm to pull him into the tent. "I'm starving, and the least you can do I escort me back to my hubby."

“Is Cheyanne near him…” Nick questioned as Austin lead the way, seeming to lead him instead.

"Don't you think you need Kevin's permission to stay before you go searching for Cheyanne?"

“Don’t you wear the pants in the family anyway?” Nick rebutted.

"Not today…"

“Well ain’t that fucking-fantast—Hey Kev! Congrats!”

"…Thanks…" Kevin murmured, glancing to Austin for an explanation. "I thought you were going to kill him, Princess?"

Austin whined, “He looks too damn good to murder…”

"Don't I look fab?" Nick questioned, holding out his arms for inspection as he grinned. "Did it all for you, big bro—"

"Too damn good?" Kevin repeated, staring at his new wife. "I think you need to go get out of that corset, Princess… The lack of oxygen to your brain is starting to take effect."

“You’re giving me permission to get out of this?” Austin squealed.

“Cheyanne bought a simple white gown for you to wear for the reception… Somehow, she knew you’d die trying to get into that…” Kevin mused as he reached to kiss her lightly. “I love you, Princess. And hurry up, so I can eat.”

"I can't change yet… We're supposed to do the cake-feeding pictures," Austin whined with a pout. "Just… Come over behind the cake and loosen up my corset for me?"

"While you two are performing a strip show for each other, I'm going to go mingle, okay?" Nick suggested with a shake of his head. Hoping he would be able to see Cheyanne before everyone sat down to eat.

"Oh! I have to tell Momma R to find someplace for you to sit—"

“I’ll be fine,” Nick interrupted, waving them off as he snuck away. As much as he enjoyed their wedded bliss, he had to find Cheyanne. Straightening his posture, he immediately glanced over the variety of people as they started to move toward the wedding cake. It was like a rush of waves hitting his boat through a storm, but he persevered, breaking free to hear a small squeal of urgency. Glancing down, he was shocked to see Olivia motoring on all fours toward him, eagerly tugging on his pant leg. At first he hadn’t recognized the infant, but that was just a mere moment. Because he saw the beauty of Cheyanne in her dark sapphire eyes. “Zombie…”

“Mama!” Olivia insisted, grasping Nick’s pants to stand.

“Cinnamon Sweetness! Now you decide to start motoring around like a chicken getting chased by a fox?” Cheyanne laughed from some distance, obviously not eyeing Nick yet.

Stooping, Nick grasped Olivia under her arms, swinging her up into his embrace. "Good God, you've grown," he breathed, staring at her for one long moment. "Bet you don't even remember me…"

Olivia grinned happily as she reached to pluck the garland of white flowers from the crown of her head, reaching to plop them on Nick’s head. Satisfied, she giggled as she stuck her hands into her mouth. “Niii…” she announced with a mumble as if she were telling him he was utterly wrong.

"Ninny? Nincompoop? Nine?" Nick tried to guess, grinning as he nuzzled her neck. "Come on, let's go find your Momma," he murmured, weaving his way through the crowd towards the sounds of Cheyanne's infectious laughter.

“Olivia Austin, if you end up in another good looking man’s arms your father is going to think I’m baiting you…” Cheyanne warned as she heard Olivia call loudly for her. Politely excusing herself from Howie’s family, she moved with every intention of apologizing for her impish daughter. Though, that thought left as she stared into a pair of familiar dark ocean eyes. Eyes that Howie forbid her to ever stare into again. “…Figures that she’d be the one to find you… Huh?”

"Actually, Austin found me first…" Nick trailed, gazing at Cheyanne. The strapless dress clung to her body, reminding him of every curve he would no longer be able to touch. "You… You look wonderful, Sweet—Cheyanne…" he breathed as Olivia curled her arm around his neck. "…What'd Austin have to do to get you to wear a dress?"

“You mean short of putting a gun to my head?” Cheyanne questioned with seriousness, though there was an impish glimmer in her sapphire eyes. “…She just had to ask…”

"You're doing okay, then?" he asked softly as everyone around them began milling towards the other end of the tent to witness the cake cutting.

“How am I supposed to be doing?” Cheyanne returned, folding her arms against her chest as Hoke rubbed her bare shoulder, gesturing for her to join him. It was obvious that Howie had told the family all of Nick’s flaws, but Cheyanne returned the gesture that she’d be along in a moment. Glancing back to Nick, she offered some kind of apologetic smile.

"I… I'm sorry, Chey. So sorry, for everything I've—"

"Honey?" Howie called softly, nudging his way through the guests to be by her side. "What's going… What are you doing here?"

“Nick came to wish Austi and Kevvy congratulations. It was really nice of him to do so,” Cheyanne answered, glancing over Howie’s shoulder to find Hoke watching closely. Exhaling a soft breath, she turned her attention back to Howie and Nick, bracing a hand on Howie’s chest as if to hold him back as he pulled Olivia away from Nick.

"Niii," Olivia whined, though she curled into Howie's arms with a sigh.

"Well… I guess I better go watch Austin slam Kevin's face into the cake… I'll talk to you later," Nick decided, sidling away from Howie's deathly glare.

“Howie, isn’t it enough that he actually took a flight to Kentucky to participate in the reception?” Cheyanne sighed as she pulled her hand away from Howie as Nick started to leave. Kicking off her heeled sandals, she bent to scoop them up and hurry after Nick, but Howie caught her arm. “Tea, he’s sorry--”

"Just stay away from him, Honey. Okay? He's bad news."

“And it’s my fault he’s like that.”

"Honey—"

"Howie, Chey, we need y'all up there. Ann wants some pictures of the wedding party with the cake," AJ interjected suddenly, clapping one hand on Howie's shoulder as he made a funny face to Olivia.

“Gramma R is just going to have to wait a minute…” Cheyanne answered, shoving her shoes into AJ’s arms before hurrying toward the opening of the large tent. She had spent many nights before the wedding sitting on the front porch with Kevin’s mother. She had been the only person she really confided in about what was happening with Nick. She would understand. Holding her breath, Cheyanne whipped out the tent to see Nick hesitating with a pack of cigarettes, obviously in no mood to socialize. “I thought you quit.”

Shoving the pack into his pocket, Nick cleared his throat. "Uh… Yeah, I did. For a while… But I got stressed and picked 'em back up, Sweet… I mean Chey."

“They’re going to kill you eventually, if the liquor doesn’t get you first…” Cheyanne attempted to speak freely, playing with the engagement ring on her hand. Howie had long since stolen the ivy band Nick had given her, bound and determined to bury it deep in the pit of some kind of manure. Though, Cheyanne surmised it was hidden, because Howie would never have the gall to do such a thing. He might get dirty.

Nick's eyes were caught by the diamonds glinting on her left hand, and felt another pang hit his heart. Just one more reminder that he had completely given her up… "I know," he murmured with a quick nod, lifting his eyes to hers. "I'm… I'm sorry, Sweetheart. For everything that happened back in Sweden—"

“Do you even remember what happened? Or are you just sorry for getting the ever-loving-snot kicked out of you?” Cheyanne interrupted, searching his ocean eyes for some kind of recognition. For even a mere bead of hope glittering within the depths of his irises. Somehow, the love she felt for him had dissipated over the weary months of fret and heartache. Now she just waited for another blow to her heart, though she couldn’t seem to let go.

"I remember some things," Nick admitted softly. "Mainly throwing an empty bottle at you…" Wincing at the memory, Nick tore his eyes from her, unable to bear the pain he saw in the sapphire depths. "I'm sorry you had to see that… That side of me."

“I remember the throbbing headache that wouldn’t go away for a month,” Cheyanne breathed softly, biting back the tears so she couldn’t give Nick the satisfaction. She worried about him with every passing moment, knowing that maybe what she seemed to run into was his true personality. And the man that had loved her was merely a mask.

"Well… I got my retribution," Nick muttered with a painful sigh.

“I didn’t want them to hurt you…”

"I wasn't talking about the ass whipping… But it's okay, Cheyanne, honestly. I deserved everything Howie did to me. And more."

“Did you use the drugs?” Cheyanne questioned blatantly, almost as if she were assuming the impersonal role of a nurse, just needing to know the risk factors.

"…I think I may have…"

“Are you continuing to use?”

"No… You want me to pee in a cup for you?"

“Don’t tempt me.”

"I haven't been using any drugs, Sweetheart."

“Alcohol is a drug…” Cheyanne reminded him offhandedly, finally resorting to cross her arms underneath her breasts, feeling a chill despite the warm air. “…And why do you do that? Call me Sweetheart anymore? When whatever… When we… When you hurt me so much…”

"Old habits die hard, I suppose… What do you want me to call you?"

“…I don’t know anymore…”

Nick glanced out over the pasture, noticing the foundation of what would become Kevin and Austin's new place in the distance. Everyone was moving forward with their lives, yet he felt as though he were standing still. Left behind. "I shouldn't have come…"

“Why did you come, Nick?”

"To apologize to you."

“You flew all the way to Kentucky, sobered up, dressed nice, and bowed down to Austi just to apologize to me?”

"You're worth it…"

“Nick--”

"You are… Just one favor, though? Try to keep Morgan away from me…"

“I thought you two were so… Her favorite damn story is what you two did in the bathroom of the coffee place, y’know that, right?”

Nick blanked. "You're shitting me?"

“No, I’m not,” Cheyanne answered somewhat stiffly, keeping her gaze away from Nick’s beautiful ocean eyes. “Says you were quite adventurous, not that I stayed around to hear details. But if that’s what you want… Fine, Nick… I can live with that…”

"You didn't recant the passion you and I shared to shut her up?"

“No, like I said, I really didn’t want to hear the details… Or remember why I loved you so much in the beginning when I’m trying so hard to forget… To let you go so you stop hurting yourself…” Cheyanne confessed, refusing to admit how hard she had fought to keep their passionate secrets silent.

"Funny… You're trying to forget me, and yet I keep wondering why I let you go—"

“You weren’t the only one that thought about that… Though, mine mixed with how I became a Backstreet party favor… When someone got tired of me, I was passed through Good Will…”

"I did it for your own good, Chey. I was never good enough for someone like you."

“And when did you suddenly get so superior that you could make my decisions for me?”

"I—"

“Fighting about this doesn’t change much, does it?” Cheyanne suddenly inquired, reaching to rub her pulsating temples. “You’re always going to be reckless and I’m marrying Howie…”

"Yeah… He's a great man, Chey… He loves you like you deserve to be loved," Nick pointed out softly, though it felt as though the knife in his chest slid deeper with each word. Looking over at her, he sighed. "I guess it's too much to ask that we be friends?"

“Why is that too much to ask?”

"Because the only thing I'm good at is hurting you… Well, besides one other thing, but I know that's out of the question."

“No offense, but at this point, you’re probably a walking STD…”

"Ouch…"

“It’s the truth,” Cheyanne murmured softly, refusing to feel guilty for her statement. In fact, she held the slightest amount of satisfaction, knowing she had managed to hurt him. Though, that satisfaction immediately turned to guilt. “…What do you want me to say, Nick? Do you want me to fight for you again? Or do you want to drown? Or do you just want left alone? What? ‘Cause, I can’t keep hurting everyone else I love because I’m fighting for someone who doesn’t even want rescued…”

"I'm not worth fighting for, Cheyanne," Nick whispered, finally looking at her again. "I just don't want this big fucking wall between us anymore."

“You put the wall there, so you knock it down. And you are worth fighting for, whether you believe it or not,” Cheyanne answered, tucking a few stray curls behind her jeweled ears before attempting to step back inside.

Catching her arm gently, Nick held his breath as she hesitated before turning to look at him. Expelling a soft sigh, he released her arm, remembering all too well the bruises he had left there before. "At least let me walk you back in," he murmured after a moment.

“Thanks…” Cheyanne answered, glancing toward him before threading her hand into the crook of his arm.

Heading back into the tent, Nick let his gaze move to the newly married couple, another pain shooting through him when he realized that in a few short months, Cheyanne would forever be Howie's. Seeing the older man waiting none too patiently for his fiancée, he reluctantly let her go, holding out his hand to gently squeeze her fingers before she completely left him.

"Nick! Come on, get in line for some cake!" AJ's voice boomed across the tent, and Nick had to laugh when he saw his friend jumping up and down to be seen over the other guests.

“Hold on…” Nick sighed, glancing beside himself as if he expected Cheyanne to be waiting there. But, the spot was void of her presence. Glancing up, Nick watched Cheyanne whisper something in Howie’s ear to elicit a smile and return a well deserved kiss. Howie was the perfect man for Cheyanne, no matter how many times Nick tried to convince himself otherwise. He couldn’t even begin to recall the times he thought of picking up the phone and asking her to make the choice. But, somewhere, he knew it would only cause more pain. Feigning a smile, he joined AJ in line. “This is some party huh?”

“This mushy gushy shit is already old and we have another wedding coming up. My only hope is that Chey has enough since to make sure there’s good food on the tables instead of this fancy…fish testicles shit…” AJ announced.

"Fish don't have testicles…" Nick trailed with a snort, accepting a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. He would only sip it, he told himself. "I thought the menu said beef?"

“Does that shit they’re packing away look like beef?”

"Maybe it's bull testicles?" Nick suggested with a smirk. "What the Hell did you expect? We're in Bumfuck, Kentucky—"

“Niii!” a small squeal interrupted as a few people parted and Olivia came scurrying by on her hands and knees, seemingly bound and determined to get back to Nick.

“She’s slipperier than an eel, Daddy!” Baylee exclaimed.

“You just wanted to create a diversion to keep yourself from dancing with Katie!” Brian scolded.

"Awe, look," AJ cooed with a dramatic roll of his eyes. "Your newest girlfriend's come to fawn over you…" Glancing behind Nick in line, he couldn't help a devious grin. "And Morgan's coming from the other way. Dude, you're surrounded."

“You’re just jealous that Zombie loves me more,” Nick smugly replied as he hurriedly finished his champagne so he could stoop to scoop Olivia into his arms. Blowing a raspberry on her cheek to elicit a giggle, he prided himself on the fact that he could at least make the essence of Cheyanne happy. Though, turning, he noticed Morgan wildly waving and he grimaced. “You wouldn’t want to fake a heart attack or anything would you?”

"You shitting me? 'Bout time something interesting happened here…" AJ trailed as Morgan elbowed her way towards Nick. "If all else fails, shake Ollie-Oil like a can of soda and hold her out!"

“Remind me to pay you back at the next wedding,” Nick growled, scrambling to get away with his hostage as Morgan’s shrill voice echoed, giving way to a chase of a desperate woman and a far more desperate man.
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