This story contains FICTION of a male-male nature.  Do not read this if you are:
   a) too young, or
    b) too narrow-minded, or
    c) living in a city/state/country where it is illegal.

    Again, this is FICTION.  While I have bumped into them here and there in Orlando, I do not, in fact, know any of the BackstreetBoys, nor do I make any claims about any of their sexualities.

NOTE:  If you have not read 'Forever', I suggest you do so before reading this story.

Equilibrium:  Beyond Forever

by:  DJ

Part I – Tipping the Scales

Chapter 1

The Past

   "Preston Scott Rutherford, will you PLEASE sit still?" I scolded my son for what seemed like the tenth time in as many minutes.

   "But, Papa," he whined back in that tone that all 4-year olds seemed to have, that tone that made fingernails on a chalkboard seem like relaxation therapy.  "I wanna see him!"

   "You WILL see him," I assured him, although I was secretly beginning to wonder if either of us would live that long.  "But, we have to wait here for Uncle Nick.  I told him we'd meet him here."

   "But, he's gonna be gone!"

   I finally snapped.

   "Preston, he is NOT going to be gone.  It's Disney World.  Mickey Mouse is ALWAYS here!"  I assured him in as easy a voice as my broken patience could manage.  "Now, if you don't sit down on this bench and behave, I am going to take you home.  And, not only will you NOT see Mickey, you will be grounded from your game systems for a month."

   "Alright," he said, using another trick that all 4-year olds knew: the guilty, put-upon, foot-scuffing-the-sidewalk look that instantly made any parent feel about an inch tall.  I once again found myself wondering what kind of books Kari had read to him in the womb.  He seemed to have been born with these gifts, at least where I was concerned.

   But, apparently my threat of no video games worked, as Preston finally took his seat on the bench to wait for Nick.  I found myself glancing at my watch, wondering again what it was that could be keeping my blonde friend.  Whatever it was, I was beginning to pray he'd show up soon.  It had been a long day at Disney World, and this particular `Papa' was ready to call it quits.

   We couldn't have asked for a better day, though.  May in Orlando was about the perfect time to go to Disney, if there was ever such a thing as a perfect time.  The tourist count was low because parents weren't as willing to pull kids from school so close to summer break.  As a bonus, the weather was warm without being stifling, since the summer humidity hadn't really kicked in, yet.

   "Unca DJ!"  A perky young voice warned me a split second before my 3-year old niece plowed into me from the side.  "I missed you!"

   "I missed you, too," I replied, giving her a little kiss on the nose.  "Did you have fun?"

   "Yeah!" she exclaimed.  "Unca Nick took me on the carousel and we got to meet Alice and..." she rattled off all the things that she'd done with Nick, talking so fast I could barely understand a thing she said.

   I looked up to see a smiling, if somewhat frazzled, "Uncle" Nick standing over us.  He was dressed in casual clothes, with a bandanna blocking the view of his dark blonde locks.  He was also wearing the requisite sunglasses.  As a famous singer these days, albeit a solo act, he was still easily recognized.  So, he always wore a bandanna or hat and a pair of sunglasses.

   "Sounds like you've had a busy day," I said, looking at him and talking to her. 

   He just smiled and nodded, his bright blue eyes looking slightly faded over the top edge of his sunglasses. I could tell from the look on his face that he'd been enjoying himself, though.  He didn't get to spend much time with our niece as he was on the road a lot and she lived with her folks in Georgia. 

   "We definitely did," he replied.  "But, we had fun, didn't we, Nicki?"  He grabbed her from my lap and spun her around in the air.  She giggled and screamed her agreement as I took a moment to stare at the two.

   Nicole Alexandra Littrell was a beautiful little girl, fulfilling the promise of her two equally beautiful parents.  All sunshine and smiles, she rarely had a pouty look on her face, although she, like my own little boy, already had substantial abilities in the `wrap my uncles around my finger' department.

   It was always amazing to me how much Nicole, or Nicki as the family sometimes called her, resembled the uncle from whom she got her name.  With her blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, she could easily have passed for Nick's daughter.  If I didn't already know her parents, it would certainly make me wonder.

   "NOW can we go see Mickey?" Preston interrupted my thoughts, although I noticed a lack of whining in his tone.  Apparently, he knew how far he could push my buttons.

   "Sure!" Nick spoke up, sliding Nicki around his back to carry her.  "Let's go!"  And he took off at a slow run, allowing Nicki to bounce on his back as Preston raced to catch up.  I let myself follow at a slower pace, letting Nick take some of the edge off the kids' energies.

   At 25, Nick had matured into the strong, handsome man that I'd always imagined he'd be.  The deeper, thoughtful side that I'd seen when I first met him over 5 years ago had grown, providing him with a stable foundation for his personality.  As I watched him with the niece and nephew that he adored, I again felt a little stab that he'd not been able to find someone special to fill the void in his life.  If any of us deserved it, it was Nick.  Unfortunately, his career forced him to keep most people at an emotional distance.

   I took a moment to slide my glance over to my son.  Or, rather, to the four-year-old boy that Kevin and I had adopted into our home along with his mother. 

   Kari, Preston's mother, was a very old friend of Kevin's who'd found herself pregnant shortly after Kevin and I'd met.  Because of the bizarre circumstances of Kevin's life at the time, the media and the fans of his group, the Backstreet Boys, had been told that Kari and Kevin were engaged.  However, when news of little Preston's impending arrival reached Kevin, he'd broken off the engagement.

   Actually, he hadn't broken the engagement so much as revealed the truth, both about the engagement and about himself.  About us.  He'd come out to the world, endangering his career, and his now-second love in life, music.  All for me.  I still got a little smile at the corner of my mouth when I thought of that.

   A year after we met, Kevin and I'd gotten married on a beach on the west coast of Florida.  Shortly after that, Kari had moved into our new home outside of Orlando with Preston.  We had a guesthouse that was hers, and it made sense to all of us to bring her into our lives more closely.  It allowed us to have Preston, and it allowed her to have extra helping hands when she needed a break.

   "Papa, come on!" Preston was currently grabbing one of those helping hands to pull me along faster. 

   Apparently, his patience, like mine, only went so far.  Video game or no video game, he was ready to see The Mouse.  I chuckled as I hurried to catch up with Nick, Preston, and Nicki.

Chapter 2

   "Out like a light," I said softly as I walked into the living room.

   "I'm not surprised," Kevin said, smiling and holding open his arms. 

   I gratefully dropped onto the sofa next to him, snuggling down across his lap.  As always, he felt wonderful.  Strong and solid and warm.  I leaned up to nuzzle his neck with my lips.

   "Yeah," I agreed, feeling the slight tremor in his limbs as my lips moved on his skin.  "One good thing about Disney World," I sighed against him, "is that it leeches all of the energy out of anyone, kid or adult, that walks through its gates."

   Kevin chuckled, his low, deep voice adding a rich, strong tone to his laughter.  I sighed again, trying to snuggle even closer.  Even after 5 years, I loved the feel of him, the smell of him, and the taste of him.  I let my tongue brush against his neck, just to verify he was as good as always.

   "Mmmmmm," his soft groan interrupted my musings.  "ALL the energy?  Kid AND adult?"

   I could hear the questions that he didn't ask.  Like how long I thought it would take to get upstairs.  Or how long I thought it might take to get the two of us naked.  Or could we be quiet enough not to wake up Preston.  I had to chuckle and settle further down on his lap.

   "Oh, baby," I said softly.  "I'm afraid I wouldn't be much good to you right now."

   "Hmmmm...I bet you could be," he whispered before lightly kissing my forehead.

   "Kev..." I whispered, turning my head slightly so his lips were no longer touching my forehead.  They were touching my own upturned lips.

   We kissed, softly, gently.  I reached up one hand to curl into his hair.  He'd started wearing it longer again a few years ago.  It had taken me a while, but I'd eventually decided that I liked it that way.  Of course, once in a while, he'd cut it back off again, just so I'd complain to him that I liked it longer.  He did love to prove a point.

   The kissing session stretched on for several minutes.  It was interrupted by a soft call from upstairs, followed by a series of thumps.  Preston was awake.  And Sierra was making sure we knew about it, as always.

   I broke the kiss, dropping back to Kevin's lap.  The smile on his face told me he'd heard it, as well.  And, sure enough, Sierra trotted through the door a few minutes later, her gold fur shining in the soft light of the living room lamps.  She gave us `the look', somehow telling us with those brown eyes and soft face that we shouldn't be fooling around because there were more important things going on.

   "Papa?" Preston's quiet voice drifted in behind her.

   "Yeah, kiddo, what's wrong?" I called back, keeping my voice quiet, also.

   "I don't feel so good," he replied.  The call-to-action for any parent.

   I sighed, shifting my weight off of Kevin so I could stand up.  His hand on my shoulder stopped me.  I looked over at him and saw a soft, loving smile on his face.

   "I'll take care of it," he said.  "You're beat."

   "Thanks, baby," I replied, grateful that he'd volunteered, but a little guilty for feeling that. 

   "No problem, sweetie," he whispered, giving me a little kiss.  "You've been playing `daddy' all day.  Time for the real thing to step in."

   He was joking with me, of course, although I did feel another little twinge of guilt.  The `daddy' reference came from the fact that Kevin was `Daddy' and I was `Papa'.  That was how Preston, and everyone else, differentiated between us as his fathers.  The `real thing' reference came from the fact that, of the two of us, Kevin spent the most time with Preston.

   I watched Kevin's butt as he walked to the living room door.  He knew me too well, as he stopped just inside the doorframe, then turned his head to catch me watching.  It was something of a running joke between us that my favorite pastime was watching his ass.  And, it had only gotten better over the years.  We both chuckled as he moved up the stairs to deal with our son.

   I lay back down on the sofa, closing my eyes and stretching out on the extra big cushions.  We'd had the sofa specially made since both Kevin and I were fairly tall.  Plus, we'd wanted it extra wide, for snuggling on those chill Florida winter's evenings.  Of course, we rarely limited our snuggle time to just the winter.  Or just the evenings for that matter.

   I had to admit, at least to myself, that I was surprised that Preston had called for me and not Kevin.  Kevin's schedule allowed him more time at home, which meant that he was the real father figure in Preston's life.  I often wondered, deep down inside, if I was really enough of a father to him.  I tried to keep that insecurity to myself, though.  While I might've been Kevin's sky, moon, and stars, Preston was definitely his sun, and I didn't want him to worry about my shortcomings, real or perceived.

   I had teamed up with my former boss from Tampa when she'd decided to open her own consulting business.  And, it was booming.  I managed the Orlando office of twelve consultants while Anna headed the Tampa main office.  We worked with a number of large companies, many of whom had offices in other cities.  This, of course, meant that I did a lot of travelling, although never more than a week at a time.  But, it meant that I wasn't around all the time for Preston.

   Kevin worked out of our house for the most part.  He did odds and ends, basically whatever suited his fancy.  He wrote a lot of music, some of which he'd given or sold to various artists.  Nick had even performed a few of Kevin's ballads.  I'd wondered more than once if the swooning girls out there realized that the song was not only written about a man, me, but was also being performed by a man, albeit a hot man, who'd once had a very serious crush on the man for whom the song was written.  Nick usually got a laugh out of that when I mentioned it to him.

   Kevin also did some producing out of a sound studio that he'd had built on to the house.  Howie was still a player in the Orlando club scene, and he often ran across talented hopefuls.  If they seemed like they had a shot, he and Kevin would bankroll them, providing them with a much-needed boost in their careers.  It was similar to how Lou Perlman had launched the Backstreet Boys and later `NSync, O-Town, and others, although without the same gouging contracts.  Kev and Howie were always cautious not to take more than what they'd earned.

   All of this home working left Kevin around a lot more than either Kari or I when it came to Preston.  Kevin even ran an informal daycare system with the neighborhood parents, allowing them to drop their kids off occasionally when an emergency arose.  I'd long ago lost track of the times I'd come home to a house full of everyone else's children.

   It was Kevin's way of having a big family.  We were trying to adopt more children, but it was a long and difficult process, especially considering that we were a gay couple.  Forget about the fact that we were fairly well-to-do financially, or about the fact that we had one child who was an excellent example of our abilities as fathers.  Somehow, it still mattered more to adoption agencies that we were two men.  But, we were still fighting for it.

   My mental meandering was interrupted by a warm, slightly wet nose being pressed against my cheek.  I opened my eyes and found myself nose-to-snout with our 3-year old Golden Retriever.  I'd picked up Sierra as a puppy, and she'd turned out to be a great choice.  She was fairly mellow for a Golden, only engaging in occasional fits of hyperactivity.  She even seemed to know to play gently with Preston, which was something I'd initially worried about as she grew larger.

   She chuffled at me softly, then shifted and walked out of the living room, nose pointed towards the kitchen.  She was back a few minutes later, staring at me with an expectant look.

   "Ok, fine," I said, dragging myself off of the couch.  "I'm up, I'm up."

   She appeared to accept that I was telling the truth as she turned and headed back for the kitchen.  When I walked through the door, she was standing across the room, hovering over her now-empty water dish.

   "Looks like Daddy forgot to refill your water, huh, girl?" I said as I reached down and retrieved her dish.

   She wagged her tail in response to my voice, obviously aware that I was talking to her.  She even gave me a soft `woof' to let me know she approved of what I was doing.

   I finished with her bowl and set it back on the floor.  I felt a hand caress my butt as I bent to set the dish down.  I stood and turned, a little surprised to find my husband there.

   "I forgot her water again, didn't I?" he asked, a slightly guilty expression on his face.

   "Yeah, superdad," I nudged him in the side as I leaned in for a teasing kiss.  "So much for your perfect reputation.  When it gets out that you don't give your children water, imagine how the neighbors'll react."

   He threw a shocked look on his face and brought his hand to his cheek, perfectly imitating one of our more annoying, and gossipy, `neighborhood watch' captains.

   "Oh mah Lord," he said, totally playing up the camp.  "Officer, I warned the people around here `bout that man.  But, would they listen to Lula?  No, they would not.  Now we find out he doesn't water that poor child.  I knew he was bad news.  I knew it the minute I found out," he leaned in, lowering his voice to an exaggerated whisper, "he's GAY!"

   He stood back up, somehow managing to come up with an even more shocked look on his face.  I lost it, leaning into him and breaking out in laughter.  He held the look for another few minutes before he, too, succumbed to a giggle fit over our neighbor, whose name really WAS Lula. 

   I'd always thought that name was just some Hollywood poke at hillbillies, like it was made up.  Until `Lula' herself had walked over and introduced herself in skintight pink stretch pants and a halter-top.  It had taken me two days to recover from the sight of her.  And another week to stop cringing anytime I saw the color pink.

   "You shouldn't do that," I said when I'd finally recovered my wits.

   "Why not?" he wondered, a slightly evil grin on his face.  "It's not like she's ever going to know I said it."

   "I KNOW, Kev," I replied, looking up at his face.  "But, I'M going to have to see her again, and every time I do, I'm going to have to struggle even harder than normal to hold back from laughing."

   He just chuckled sadistically and turned to saunter away.  Once again, I found my eyes on his very fine butt as he walked over to the counter.  He turned and hopped up, which prompted me to walk over and stand between his legs.

   We didn't speak for a while, just stood there.  He had his legs pressed up against my sides, gently holding me in place.  I just stared at him, losing myself in the green of his eyes.  I felt his hand lightly stroking mine where it rested on his thigh. 

   It always amazed me how we could still be like this.  Where a lot of my friends' relationships had evolved into more settled, casual affairs, mine with Kevin never seemed to lose any of the original intensity.

   We had learned how better to manage being apart, of course.  We were more comfortable with each other, enough that my travel never seemed to be an issue.  Of course, I preferred to stay home as often as possible.  I still had a hard time sleeping when Kevin wasn't wrapped around me, or me around him.

   But, whenever we were together, there was still this...tension between us, like we were linked through some strange wiring mechanism that only we could feel.  It definitely helped to keep our lives interesting.

   "Sorry `bout that," he said softly, breaking the spell his eyes had cast.

   "What?" I wondered, absolutely clueless as to what he was talking about.
   "Forgetting to water Sierra," he replied, a little laugh in his voice.  He always got a chuckle out of the way I reacted to him.

   "Don't worry about it," I replied, shifting my gaze to stare at his lips, then back up at his eyes.  "She seems to be over it."

   Actually, she was over it.  She was currently standing next to me, dripping water from her nose onto my foot.  Golden's were notoriously bad about remembering to STOP drinking before they left the bowl.  This basically meant that Sierra always left a trail across the kitchen floor until she eventually licked all the water from her snout.

   "Yeah, she sure does," he replied, his eyes never leaving mine.

   "Did you get your stuff done today?" I wondered, my voice quiet in the large, open kitchen.

   "Yep," he replied softly.  "Kismet's all signed, sealed, and ready." 

   I chuckled a bit at the slight frown he got on his face when he said the name `Kismet'.  It was a group of three girls that had somehow managed to corner him outside a grocery store of all places.  They'd begged him to listen to them sing, but when he'd finally agreed and asked for a tape, they hadn't had one.  So, they'd just decided to do an a capella version of several verses of `From This Moment'.  Obviously, they'd done their homework because they knew what a sucker Kevin was for that song.  Our song.

   Unfortunately, while the girls had beautiful voices and enough talent to take them places, Kevin and the three girls, Rachel, Lisa, and Maya, were unable to agree on a name.  The girls already had `Kismet', which they were pretty stubborn about changing.  Kevin and Howie had both thought it sounded a little too silly, but in the end, the girls won out.  I thought it probably stuck in his craw a little bit that he had lost that particular argument.

   Kevin had spent the day helping out with the last part of a deal for them with a local record label.  `Kismet' was going to get its first album distributed and sold nationwide, with hopes of expanding into Canada, Europe, and Asia eventually.  I had a lot of faith that the girls would do it.  They had talent, looks, and an infectious energy that crowds just loved.

   "Sad to have it over?" I wondered.

   "No," he replied.  "I like helping them get started, but that's enough for me.  Any more would mean that I'd have to be travelling, away from here, away from you and Preston.  That's not what I want in life anymore."

   I smiled at his reply, glad to know he didn't regret his choices.  I often worried that he'd some day decide that he missed his performing life, that he regretted the decisions that had brought him out of the spotlight.  But, as usual, he'd proven my fears groundless with just a few words.

   "You're such a homebody these days," I said, leaning close to graze his lips with mine.  "Who would've thought one of the famous Backstreet Boys would turn into such a cute housewife?" I teased.

   "Only for you, sweetie," was all he replied before again joining our lips in a deep kiss.

   These were the moments I lived for.  The quiet, peaceful part of the evening when Preston and Kari were either in bed or otherwise engaged.  When the world outside disappeared, and Kevin and I were all that remained.  When everything around us had been blocked out.

   Everything except the throat that cleared a moment later, breaking in on our too-brief interlude.  I eased back from Kevin and looked over his shoulder to see Kari standing in the doorway.

   "I'm sorry to interrupt," she said.

   "It's okay, Kari," I replied, smiling to let her know it really was okay.

   "Yeah," Kev joined in, easing me away just enough so he could jump down from the counter before sliding around behind me to face her.

   "It's not like I can't neck with D any old time," he continued, a smile on his face.

   I blushed.  Kari smiled along with Kevin, but it was obvious that she was still uncomfortable at having interrupted us.  I eased away from him, shifting over to the other counter to grab myself a mug.

   "Either of you want some tea?" I wondered.  "I'm feeling like something warm before I go to bed."

   I blushed the instant I said it.  Unfortunately, it was too late.  Kevin was already snickering, and Kari had a pretty big grin on her face.  At times, living with the two of them was like living with a couple of 12-year olds.

   I sighed, shaking my head as I searched the cabinets for some tea bags.  I heard chairs shuffling while I dug out some Earl Grey.  When I turned around, Kevin and Kari were seated around our dining room table.

   "How'd Preston like Disney World?" Kari wondered, the catch in her voice telling me she was upset she'd missed it.

   "He had a great time," I replied as I set the timer on the microwave to heat the water.  "Although, he about drove me nuts wanting to see Mickey Mouse." 

   "I don't know what it is with him," she said, a smile mixed with confusion on her face.  "He's obsessed with that character."

   "Ah, all kids are like that about Mickey," Kevin put in.  "They just think he's cool, and that it's neat that they can actually meet him."

   "Yeah, well, he was definitely borderline obsessed about it.  I thought a few times I was going to have to handcuff him to me," I joked, getting a laugh out of Kari.

   "I thought you left your handcuffs at home under the bed, D," Kevin said, a fairly dirty smirk crossing his face. 

   Kari laughed even harder.  I, of course, just blushed and sent up a little prayer of thanks to the universe that the microwave alarm suddenly went off.

   "Well, speaking of my wayward son," Kari masterfully changed the subject, "where is he?"

   "Sleeping upstairs," Kevin replied.  "He was pretty wiped out when he got home."

   "Did you find out what was wrong with him?" I wondered.  Kevin lifted a hand slightly to forestall Kari's questioning.

   "Just a little upset stomach.  He probably ate too much junk food today," was Kevin's reply.

   "Yeah," I agreed.  "We definitely weren't on the healthy side today.  Cotton candy, hot dogs, pop.  It was a regular junk food bonanza."

   "Is he okay now?" Kari wondered.  She worried about Preston whenever she wasn't around.  Protective Mother Syndrome, I suppose. 

   "He's fine.  I don't think he was all that sick, just wanted a little attention from Daddy," Kevin smiled as he said that last.  I smiled, too, although it was only a surface smile at best.

   "Where's Nicki at?" Kari suddenly remembered our other little charge.

   "She's staying with Nick tonight, actually," I volunteered.  "He cancelled a few things so he could spend time with her."

   "He's so sweet with her.  She's going to be terribly spoiled when she grows up," she replied.

   "Kari, she's already spoiled," I pointed out with a smile.  "Of course, we could probably say the same thing about a certain little boy sleeping upstairs, too."

   She only smiled back, unable to argue the point.  After all, Preston had two bedrooms, one in the guest house with Kari and one in the main house, both of which were packed with all the latest toys a little boy just had to have.  Kevin was forever stopping by Toys `R' Us to buy him things.  He had uncles who were superstars, which gave him access to meet people his other friends could only dream about. 

   On the other hand, we were fairly firm with him whenever possible.  He always had to do his chores before he could play, even though `chores' at his age was a fairly loose term.  We also limited his TV and game time, encouraging him to spend time outside or with us as family time.  Plus, we tried to read to him at least a little bit every day, hoping to breed a love of reading like we'd all enjoyed as kids.

   On the whole, Preston was a well-adjusted, well-behaved little boy, one who just happened to have an extra father, a famous father, and a family with a few extra dollars to their name.  Everyone loved him.

   Conversation had lapsed at the table while my mind wandered.  Kevin was staring at nothing in particular, idly stroking my hand with his.  Kari, too, appeared to be in something of a daze as she gazed out the floor-to-ceiling windows to the darkness of the back yard.

   "Well," she said, shaking her head a bit to bring herself back to the room.  "I'm going to head off to bed.  Today was a long day, and I'm beat."

   "Did you want me to carry Pres back to your place?" Kev offered.  Kari stopped to think a moment before shaking her head.

   "Would you mind him staying here tonight?" she wondered.  "I'm going to have to be back up at 6:00 in the morning to drive to Jacksonville.  I hate to wake him up that early.  You know how cranky he gets."

   "I wonder where he gets that from?" Kevin asked, looking pointedly at me.  Kari chuckled in agreement. 

   My total lack of enjoyment of seeing any daylight before noon was a well-known fact in our circles.  Actually, given the amount of media attention that I'd received after marrying Kevin, there were probably even people I'd never met who knew that about me.  I seemed to recall Kevin mentioning it in a Rolling Stone article after we returned from our honeymoon.

   "I wouldn't know," I said, lifting my nose in the air with a haughty sniff.

   "Well, either way," Kari spoke up as she stood, "I'd appreciate it if he could stay here tonight.  Tomorrow's my last travel day for a while, so he can come home then."

   "Not a problem, Kari," Kev said.

   "Thanks," she replied back, leaning down to give both of us a light kiss on the cheek.  "I'll see you tomorrow night."

   "'night, Kari," I said as she walked out.

   I watched Kari move across the patio, skirting the pool as she made her way to the back door of the guest cottage.  She had moved in around Preston's 6-month `birthday'.  She'd been having trouble finding reliable daycare, and her job was demanding more of her time after she received a promotion. 

   Kevin and I had bought this place barely a month before she moved in.  Since it had a guest house separate from the main residence, with it's own entrance and side driveway, it seemed an ideal solution.  Once Kevin had finished the BSB farewell tour, he'd needed the distraction that Preston provided. 

   "They've been working her too hard," Kevin said, noticing me watching her.

   "Yeah," I agreed.  "She spends too much time on the road.  But, she doesn't push back when they ask, so she's partly to blame."

   "I know," he sighed.  "I just feel bad is all.  She seems stretched pretty thin right now."

   "Well, hopefully, it won't be much longer.  Once they get that new branch up and running in Jacksonville, she should be able to cut back on the travel, maybe take a vacation."  I yawned, cutting off my thought.

   "She's not the only one working too much," Kevin said, drawing my eyes with his stare.

   "I know, Kev," I replied.  "But, we're trying to do our own expansion.  If we can get an office open in California, we'll be in a better position to attract some of the West Coast dollars."

   "Are they that important?" he wondered.

   "To me, personally?  No," I answered truthfully.  "Lord knows I don't need the money.  But, the fact is that California is on the rise for technology again.  And, if we want the business to succeed, we need to expand.  There's a LOT of opportunity out there."

   "I know," he said, a slightly pouty look on his face.  "But it doesn't mean I have to like it.  I thought we'd be together more once I quit touring.  Lately, it seems like I spend a big chunk of my time just waiting for you to get home."

   "Oh, Kev," I whispered, reaching over to take his hand in mine.  "I'm sorry, I really am."  I leaned up to stroke his cheek.

   "Tell you what," I proposed, "just bear with me a few more weeks, then I'll tell Anna that I want to look into becoming a silent partner.  We can both be `retired' together for a while."

   "Sounds like a great idea to me," he agreed, sliding closer to give me a light kiss.  "And, when I get sick of having you under foot, I can just send you back to work."

   "Oh, so it's like THAT, is it?" I said, laughing.  "Good to know where I stand with you, anyway." 

   We both chuckled a moment longer before sobering up.  Kevin again leaned in close, bringing his face close enough that I could feel his breath on my lips.

   "You know you're more important to me than anything, right?" he asked softly.

   "Of course, Kev.  Just like you know you mean the world to me," I whispered in reply.  "Say the word, and I'll quit tomorrow."

   He stared into my eyes a moment.  I could tell he was tempted to ask me to quit.  I was a little disturbed that I hadn't realized just how much my travel lately was bothering him.  He shook his head slightly, not breaking contact with my eyes.

   "No, don't quit.  Just," he paused, "just promise me that you'll try to be here more?  I miss you.  A lot."

   I didn't bother to answer with words.  I just leaned into him, closing the final gap between us as I joined my lips to his.  I made my promise with the kiss, hoping he would understand.

Author's Notes:

   Hey, all.  Just a quick note here to thank everyone that e-mailed me.  I'll TRY (let me re-stress TRY) to reply back, but, I'm not always successful. 

   The next posting probably won't be until Tuesday or Wednesday.  I'm going to be seeing a certain boy-band's opening night show in Ft. Lauderdale on Monday, and my time is pretty full between now and then. 

   See y'all in a week or so.