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Chapter 20

I woke up the next morning very early and feeling awful. Luckily Josh is a deep sleeper so while I emptied my stomach in the bathroom for an hour he snored on. I didn’t think I was drunk enough to make myself sick but I guess I was wrong. Next time I will stand up to Camie if she tries to make me drink more than I want. Exhausted by the early hour and the fatigue from the nausea I managed to sneak back into bed unnoticed and fall back to sleep. When I woke up again I was completely confused about where I was. I was still in Josh’s arms but we appeared to be moving.

“Wha-?” I started and Josh giggled at me

“You’re adorable when you wake up and have no idea where you are” He nuzzled my cheek and I grinned up at him

“Well boyfriend of mine, enlighten me” I said looking around and trying to get my bearings

“We had to leave early to get to Milan today and after our…um…night” Josh paused with a smirk that I returned. It had been quite a night. I quickly recalled the shower, the desk chair, the floor, and finally the bed. It seemed that as long as I was acting like I was this bitch who didn’t care then the panic attacks stayed completely at bay. Somewhere deep down I had to admit that I wasn’t being fair to Josh by playing a role while we were being intimate but it allowed me to feel like a normal girl with a normal boyfriend who had normal sex and the new me couldn’t view that as a negative. “I thought you could use some rest so I brought you out when Mollee called and put you in your bunk. We’ve probably been driving for about three hours which means we have something like five to go”

“Thank you” I said snuggling into his strong arms “But I do kind of wish we were still in a hotel room”

“Oh yeah, why’s that?” He asked with a grin

“Oh you know, privacy” I said suggestively causing him to groan

“Girl you are crazy and I love it about you” He said kissing my nose as I giggled “By the way your phone has been going crazy since we left. It was driving me nuts and when I went to silence it I saw who all the calls were from. Sorry”

“It’s ok. I know you wouldn’t snoop on my phone on purpose. So who was it?” I asked already half knowing the answer

“Who do you think?” He asked and I sighed

“He’s just upset because I was a little tipsy last night for the beginning of the show and I messed up a few dance moves. He thinks that because he is an alcoholic everyone around him can’t handle their liquor” I said harshly partially to try to bury the guilt that had crept up at the suggestion of his concern

“You messed up? I couldn’t tell” Josh said

“I know! It wasn’t a big deal but he’s making it into one” I complained as Josh hugged me closer

“Hey no tormented looks allowed. Let him think what he wants. You know what you can handle and you had fun yesterday, both on stage and off. He’ll deal” Josh said causing me to smile a little. It was so much easier to do this when I had someone on my side

“Bitch you’re up! Are you naked?” I heard from outside my bunk and I suppressed a laugh

“Nope” I answered as Camie swung the curtain aside

“Damn. I was hoping to see that fine ass that keeps these boys so crazy for you” She joked smacking my thigh and then mussing Josh’s hair.

“You can’t afford me” I said through a yawn which caused Josh to laugh

“So if we stay on schedule for tonight then we will get to Italy with just enough time to do the show. But we’re in MILAN. Please say you’ll go out with me after? I can’t let the city of romance pass me by!” She said dramatically draping herself over my legs

“One, I think the city of romance is usually Paris. Two, you’re not looking for romance. And three, of course I will. I’ve never been to Italy before I’m not going to just drive through it” I said as she smiled

“That’s my girl! Hey Josh bring some hot friends” She said before sliding the curtain shut with a gleeful giggle and prancing up to the game room

“She is ridiculous” Josh said shaking his head

“She sure is. Sorry I didn’t ask you if it was ok… going out tonight and all” I said just realizing it

“Hey you don’t have to ask my permission to do anything. As long as it’s ok if I come along”

“Of course” I said hugging him tightly. The rest of the bus ride was long but I kept myself occupied by either making out with Josh or modeling outfits with Camie for the night. Both things made it really easy to pretend I wasn’t still feeling awful about how I had treated Aj but I couldn’t help it that my thoughts wondered to my phone and its vibrating every few seconds to alert me to another missed call or voicemail. It seemed that when I wanted Aj to talk to me he was nowhere to be found but when I was trying to ignore him he was suddenly everywhere. Luckily we were running late so by the time we got to the arena we had to rush into hair and makeup while the guys did a VIP sound check and I didn’t have to see Aj. I was warming up with the dancers on stage and felt arms around my shoulders and turned to see Brian’s smiling face.

“Hey stranger” He said as I giggled and hugged him awkwardly from his position behind me

“I’m a stranger?” I asked

“I miss seeing you around the lot. We’re only on stage together for a bit and you’re always so focused that it’s hard to really hang. What are you doing tonight?” He asked

“Camie, Josh and a bunch of the techies and I were going to go to a club. Want in?” I asked as Camie nodded enthusiastically

“Can Leigh come? I’ve been trying to take her out more since Bailey is older now so we don’t feel so lame” He explained with a laugh

“Of course you can both come!” I said happily “Meet us at our bus after the show and we’ll go”

“Awesome” He said kissing my cheek and giving a wave to Camie before running off

“That’s the most attention I’ve received from him since the tour started” She commented as I shrugged

“Maybe I’m a good influence on you”

“Yeah right” She scoffed as I giggled and went back to stretching. I could feel eyes on the back of my neck and knew who they belonged to but I did my best to keep that wall up and fortified so I wouldn’t feel bad about ignoring him. I knew he was just worried because he cared and I knew I was being mean to him for no real reason but I also knew that I felt happier than I had in weeks. So I stuck with my plan and stayed close to Camie which served as a pretty good buffer because he tended to try to avoid her and if he tried to approach me when she was there she was ready with a good insult or quip to make him back off before any real confrontation could happen. I was starting to dread the moment after the prayer because I knew that he would be waiting for me with nothing to stop him from giving me a piece of his mind. I dragged my feet but still got there with enough time for him to give me a thorough once over.

“Take a picture it’ll last longer” I snapped after he started a second round of hard stares

“You seem to be sober” he commented “Did you lose your phone at the bar you went to before the show?”

“No” I said pretending to be occupied with my dance shoe so I didn’t have to meet his eyes

“Then you’re clearly trying to ignore me. If nothing is wrong Kat then why are you avoiding me?”

“Maybe I just don’t want to talk to you. Maybe I’m over you and I’m sick of you mooning over me when you have a girlfriend that you are supposedly very happy with. Maybe my life is just simpler without you in it” I said as my anger rose up white hot before I had a chance to stem it

“Man you’ve got this thing down pat” He said as the lights went down and the video began to play

“What?” I asked before I could stop myself

“This whole ‘I don’t care about the world’ thing you’re doing now. Or maybe you’re just trying to be more like Camie although I would think you of all people would know the danger of playing that game” He said quickly fanning my already flaming temper

“You know I used to think that your cheating on me was the worst thing that could have happened to me. Now I see it was a blessing in disguise. No one will ever hurt me like that again because I won’t let them” I said strongly “I’ve found who I am and I am strong and capable and you are the only one who refuses to stop treating me like I’m a helpless child”

“How were you were a helpless child? What was wrong with who you were?” Aj asked

“I was weak. People like you could walk all over me. God I was so pathetic! Crying over you and hyperventilating every time someone touched me. I look back at that and I hate that girl. I haven’t cried since I stopped caring and now I can be touched in all sorts of ways” I let the look that came across his face at that comment egg on my smile “and I do nothing but enjoy it”

“You’ll never stop caring Kat. If you keep on pretending that you’re immune to emotions then you’ll destroy the best part of you. You’ll destroy your heart” Aj pleaded looking nervously around as his cue to jump on stage grew nearer with his words no closer to being heard

“My heart is already destroyed but now I have strength and that’s all I need” I said harshly

“I loved that girl Kat. I loved that girl who loved everyone and everything. Never forget that. You have a new group of people around you who like to have fun with all that strength you’ve found but just remember that you never had to change for me. I love you no matter what” He said passionately

“I can’t wait to tell your girlfriend you said that” I said with a laugh. Aj’s face contorted with the realization that what he just said could really be used against him. His music cue played and I had fun turning him around like a puppet and pushing him on stage. The rest of the night was a blur. Aj and I were the least connected in dance that we had ever been but I didn’t care. I was just trying to get through the night so I could go out and drink away my problems. Finally, after an eternity, we were bowing after the encore and I was dragging Brian and Camie out the door where Leigh, Josh and the techie crew were waiting

“Damn girl what are you excited or something?” Brian asked as I smirked

“I’m happy to spend time with you” I said simply giving him a short hug. We climbed into a few different cars and carpooled to a hot club Camie had found. On the way I stuck close to Brian and ended up sitting in a backseat with him and Leigh.

“You ok?” Brian asked as I grabbed his hand to help steady my bouncing knee

“I’m fine. Why?” I asked quickly checking that no one else in the car was listening

“Well number one you haven’t stopped moving since we sat down. And number two you’ve seemed a bit off these past two shows. I’m just checking on you because I like you” He said with a grin that I returned

“Thanks Bri. I appreciate it but I promise I’m fine. I’m just excited to get to the club and dance! You know me I’m all about the dancing” I said with a flourish which caused him to laugh and then give his attention back to Leigh. We got to the club and I raced in and immediately began tearing up the floor with Camie. We loved being huge flirts and the Italian men were all over us. After a few songs I found that one Italian guy in particular was giving me more attention than I wanted and I started to get a little angry especially with alcohol as my fuel. Josh was at the bar with Brian and they were both watching as I repeatedly side stepped advances from the ever persistent guy.

“Hey do you think we should step in there?” Brian asked Josh as they sipped beers at the bar

“You know I think she can handle herself” Josh said with a shrug. Then a familiar guitar lick started and a grin spread across his face “Just watch” He said as Brian looked in time to see a mirror grin on my lips. I faced the guy dead on and let the lyrics lead my actions.

Check it out, going out on the late night
I’m looking tight, feeling nice, it's a cock fight
I can tell, I just know that it's going down tonight

I started getting really close to the guy and letting him get as frisky as he wanted teasing and leading him on along with the lyrics

At the door we don't wait 'cause we know them
at the bar, six shots, just beginning
that's when dickhead put his hands on me, but you see

In the lick leading up to the chorus I started getting rough, pushing him around a bit and making a scene so everyone on the floor was looking by the time the poignant lyrics of the chorus blasted through the room

I'm not here for your entertainment
You don't really want to mess with me tonight
Just stop and take a second
I was fine before you walked into my life
'Cause you know it's over before it began
Keep your drink just give me the money
It's just you and your hand tonight

There were a lot of cat calls as I danced a clear rejection from this guy while the second verse revved up. By this time Camie had caught the show and she joined me to emphasize the point

Midnight, I'm drunk, I don't give a fuck
Want to dance by myself, guess you're out of luck
Don't touch, back up, I'm not the one, uh bye-bye!
Listen up it's just not happening
you can say what you want to your boyfriends
just let me have my fun tonight, alright?

Camie and I cleared the middle of the floor and showed off shaming the Italian guy at every corner. I could see the embarrassment flooding his cheeks and I had to laugh as we launched into the chorus.

I'm not here for your entertainment
you don't really want to mess with me tonight
just stop and take a second
I was fine before you walked into my life
'Cause you know it's over before it began
Keep your drink just give me the money
It's just you and your hand tonight

Josh turned to Brian who was laughing out loud by this point as Camie and I dragged the guy to the middle of the floor and circled him for the bridge

You're in the corner with your boys, you bet them five bucks
You'd get the girl that just walked in but she thinks you suck
We didn't get all dressed up just for you to see
So quit spilling your drinks on me
You know who you are, high-fiving, talking shit
But you're going home alone, aren't you?

The chorus blasted again as the guy all but fled from the room and Brian controlled his laughter long enough to shrug at Josh

“I guess you’re right. She’s very capable of taking care of herself. It’s hard because sometimes she seems so vulnerable and she just makes you want to protect her but maybe we should all back off a bit” He said as Josh gave him a funny look

“I’ve never really seen her as vulnerable and certainly not recently. She’s a strong girl” He commented as Brian nodded

“Hey I have to make a call. I’ll be back” He said as Josh raised his drink in answer and Brian made his way out onto a slightly less noisy street. He dialed the number that had been calling him incessantly all night and rolled his eyes when there was barely half a ring before an answer

“Is she ok?” Aj asked hurriedly

“She’s fine Bone, really. I’ve been here for about an hour and she’s completely in control. She even seems to be having fun. The way you were talking I was expecting a train wreck but dude she’s actually looking really good. I’ve never seen her so confident” Brian said while leaning against the wall of the club and feeling the bass pounding through the wall

“Bri I talked to her today and she was saying all this nonsense about how she hated herself or who she used to be. Does that sound like a happy girl to you?” Aj asked with annoyance. He didn’t send Brian over as a spy so he could switch sides

“I don’t know bro but I can only speak for what I’m seeing and what I’m seeing is a girl who is finally not defining herself by her nerves and her past. There was this guy who was all over her and I thought I was going to need to step in but Josh made me wait and she took care of it by herself. Maybe we all have been coddling her too much. Maybe she just needed to show that she was fine by herself but we weren’t giving her the chance” Brian explained carefully as Aj’s temper flared

“Brian something is wrong-” He started but Brian had had enough

“Did you ever think that maybe this has to do with you still being in love her and her moving on? Maybe you’re making a problem where there isn’t one. I’m on your side, really I am, but I don’t think Kat is in any immediate danger. Maybe you should take some time and focus on Missy. Maybe that would keep you from obsessing over the state Kat is in” Brian listened to the silence on the other line and sighed “I’m sorry bro. I did what you asked but I’m not going to lie. Kat is fine, maybe even better than fine”

“Whatever” Aj said shortly leaving Brian with the dial tone. Aj counted to ten to get his temper in check and then dialed Nick’s phone

“Hey man” Nick answered after a few rings

“Hey what are you doing?” Aj asked quickly

“Just hanging out with Mollee, we were about to go to sleep. Why? Are you ok?” Nick asked with a compassion that touched Aj’s heart

“I’m fine bro, thanks, and actually it’s good that Mollee is there. Put me on speaker phone” He said as Nick paused

“I don’t know dude she’s not really that excited to talk to you-” But Aj cut off his excuses

“Just tell her it’s about her sister and she doesn’t have to say a word just listen” Aj explained quickly. There was some muffled conversation while Nick reasoned with Mollee and she must have been in a good mood or really tired because it wasn’t long before Aj heard the slight echo that comes from a cell phone on speaker

“Go for it we’re listening” Nick said and Aj took a deep breath

“I’m worried about Kat. I’m really, really worried. I know that you’re thinking I’m just being obsessive but I promise I have real concern. I talked with her tonight and she said some things that…well… she reminded me of me. Back when I wasn’t so good” Aj said in one breath

“What did she say?” Mollee asked sounding like her attention had been grabbed

“A lot of nonsense about how she hated herself and how she was going to show the world that nothing could hurt her anymore because she was going to stop caring” Aj explained as a pain darted through his stomach when he recalled the words

“That doesn’t sound like her” Mollee said quietly

“And she’s been a mess on stage the past few nights. I’m pretty sure she was drunk last night and tonight she just wasn’t there like her heart wasn’t in it. Mollee you know her. She puts all she has into dancing so to have her so flat and void of feeling…”

“It’s a red flag” Mollee said quickly and Aj silently thanked whatever force it was that caused siblings to look out for one another

“And she’s been drinking a lot lately and partying hard with Camie”

“I hate that girl” Mollee said

“You’re not the only one” Aj agreed

“Ok guys hang on” Nick ventured cautiously “I care about Kat as much as the next person but you don’t think that you could be overreacting just a tiny bit? So she overdid it before a show. We’ve all made mistakes. And she seems happy when I talk to her”

“It’s an act bro. I’m telling you I know her and it’s an act. I think she’s really hurting and she’s playing with fire-”

“And you don’t think you’re extra sensitive because it is a fire that has recently…um… burned you?” Nick asked as Aj tried to stay calm

“Mollee” He said after a minute knowing where the weak link was “Please. Just try and get her to take you out with everyone tomorrow night. There’s no show the next day so you can stay with her as long as you want. Just take a look for yourself and make your own judgment”

“You mean you want me to spy on my sister?” Mollee asked with some anxiety

“No! I want you to hang out with her and just see what you think of the new attitude. Just make your own decision” Aj said desperately. He waited as he heard some more muffled conversation as Nick attempted to talk with Mollee with his hand over the phone

“Alright I supposed there is no harm in going out with her. It might be fun” Nick answered for them as Aj sighed in relief

“Thank you-” He started but was cut off by Mollee

“This isn’t for you. Don’t think I’m doing you some big favor and that it’s you and me on a team against Kat. I’m doing this because I miss my sister and I haven’t hung out with her in a while. If I think something is wrong then I’ll deal with it on my own, the way I think it should be dealt with. You’re done here Aj. Focus on your GIRLFRIEND and leave my sister alone” Mollee said harshly hanging up the phone before Aj could respond. He swore silently and then froze and listened. He could hear the shower still running but he knew he was running out of time. He dialed the last number he needed to call that night but was not surprised when it went straight to voicemail. He got out his iPod as the familiar voice message played and left his last message of the night.