This story contains FICTION of a male-male nature. Do not read this if you are:

  1. too young, or
  2. too narrow-minded, or
  3. living in a city/state/country where it is illegal.

Again, this is FICTION. While I have bumped into the BSB here and there in Orlando, I do not 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

Chapter 28

"Dylan?" Someone was speaking, interrupting my sleep.

"Dylan?" The voice sounded again, this time accompanied by a light shake. I roused myself enough to realize that it was Nick.

"Yeah, Nick," I said, my voice cracking from sleep. I didn't bother to open my eyes just yet. "I'm awake. What's up?"

"Time to get ready to go," he prodded me.

"Go?" I wondered, still in a fog. The answer dawned on me just as he said it.

"The airport," he confirmed my thought. "My charter arrived. They're refueling and getting ready to go. We're taking off in about an hour."

"Guess I dozed off," I said, finally opening my eyes and sitting up on the couch.

"If you can call it `dozing'," he said, giving me a small smile. "I thought you were going to crack the windows a few times with that snore."

"I don't snore," I replied, more from habit than anything. Kevin had always complained about my snoring. Just like I did to him.

"Right," he agreed, although his tone belied his words.

"I'll get my stuff together," I ignored the jibe and stood. I made my way to the spare room to grab my suitcase.

The rest of my walk with Kevin had been silent. It hadn't exactly been tense, but it definitely hadn't been the comfortable, easy zone we'd been in this morning. After we got back, I'd crashed on the couch, suddenly very tired. I didn't know where Kevin had gone. I hadn't wanted to ask, figuring he needed his space.

My mind was in turmoil, upheaval. On one hand, I was thrilled at the fact that Kevin didn't hate me. On the other hand, and this one seemed to outweigh the thrill, I was pretty depressed at the turn our relationship had again taken. Somehow, the despair and emptiness in his eyes was worse than hate.

I had to be honest and admit that I desperately wanted to reconcile things with him. And, some small part of me had been hoping that this morning's walk would turn into the beginnings of that. Unfortunately, it hadn't turned out like that. I should've known that it wouldn't, should've known to leave well enough alone for a while. But, I didn't, and now I wasn't sure where I stood again.

I made my way out to the kitchen, remembering that I needed to make a phone call. I dug out my handheld and ticked my way through the menus until I came up with the contact information I was looking for. I picked up the phone and dialed the number.

"J & J Consulting. How can I help you?" Stephanie's voice answered at the other end.

"Stephanie?" I confirmed, although I knew it was her.

"Jacob?" she replied, obviously surprised to hear from me.

"What are you doing in the office?" I wondered. "It's Saturday. I was just going to leave a message for you."

"I know it's Saturday, boss," she said. "I was just trying to get caught up on some things. The end of the year is coming up fast, and I'd like to take a little extra time at Christmas." She sounded hesitant, obviously unsure if she should tell me.

I felt bad about her tenuous tone. I knew it was because of my anger with her the other day. It was totally undeserved on her part, and I hadn't taken the time to make it better.

"Okay," I agreed, knowing of no reason to deny her the time and thinking it would be a start to mending our relationship. "Take whatever time you need. Just make sure it's on my calendar so I know not to bother you."

"Thank you," she said, sounding pleasantly surprised. "How's your trip going?" she wondered. I hadn't given her any details of my trip or why I was going. I'd only informed her that I was leaving town for a few days.

"It's," I began, then hesitated, totally unsure of what to say.

As with everyone in my "new" life, I'd maintained my distance from Stephanie. I'd been polite, well behaved, for the most part, anyway. However, I'd never really let her in on anything in my personal life. Of course, it wasn't difficult, as I didn't have a personal life.

"It's a long story, actually," I finally said, opting not to go into details.

"Okay," she answered. Her voice was distant. Knowing her motherly attitude, I figured she was probably a little stung by my silence. I sighed, then decided to share some of the details.

"Look, um," I began. "I'm visiting my family."

"Oh!" she sounded surprised. "I didn't even realize you had family."

"Well, I do," I hesitated, not sure I was ready for the sympathy. "See, the thing is," I hesitated again. "My mother just passed away," I finally just blurted it out.

"Oh," her voice was immediately tinged with sympathy. "Jacob, I'm so sorry," she said.

"Thanks, Stephanie," I replied, keeping my voice calm. "I'm actually doing pretty well, under the circumstances."

"If there's anything I can do," she began, but I stopped her.

"It's alright, Stephanie," I said. "I appreciate it. Just hold down the fort there for me. I'll try to check in here and there, but I can't guarantee anything."

"I'll let John know," she told me.

"Thanks," I said. "Tell him everything was pretty much clear on my calendar anyway. He shouldn't personally have to cover anything for me. Just have him check with Bonnie about the Qualsoft job. That was the only thing I was involved in at the moment."

"Will do," she replied, her tone professional now. "Anything else?"

"Yeah," I said, making a decision. "Put yourself in for a bonus. 10%, after tax."

"Jake, I can't do that!" she exclaimed.

"Stephanie," I explained, "you've more than earned it. You've put up with a lot from me these last few months, and you're doing an outstanding job. Just put in the paperwork, and I'll back it up if anyone questions it."

"Jake, I," she paused, "I don't know what to say."

"Don't say anything, Stephanie," I replied. "It's the least I can do."

"Thank you, Jake," she spoke softly. "This means a lot to me."

"And," I matched her soft tone, "you mean a lot to me, Steph."

We said a quick goodbye, then hung up. I stood in the kitchen, staring down at the counter and not seeing it at all. My mind was elsewhere.

It felt good to be kind to Stephanie. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to do something good for someone for no other reason than to do it. I knew that she could use the money. I also knew that the money didn't matter to her so much as the deed. Cash was truly just a minor detail.

"Least I can make someone feel good," I whispered, not really realizing I'd said it out loud.

"You're too hard on yourself, dearest," Lindsay spoke up from behind me, startling me.

"No, my friend," I contradicted her with a shake of my head. "I don't think so."

"Of course you don't," she agreed, surprising me with the ease of her capitulation. "And that's your whole problem." With that cryptic remark, she turned and walked back out of the kitchen, leaving me to wonder why she'd come in the room in the first place and what she meant by the parting comment.

Forty-five minutes later and we were at the airport. I'd returned my rental car, and we were all trooping out to get on Nick's `small' charter. I nearly fell over when I saw the size of it.

"Good Lord, Nick," I exclaimed, stopping dead in my tracks. "Who were you expecting? The Mormon Tabernacle choir?" He just laughed at my reaction, although I noticed that Lindsay, Jeremy, and Kris all shared it.

The jet that had pulled up resembled a 737, although there was no logo on the side to indicate it was from a particular airline. Being vaguely interested in planes, I knew that one this size could normally carry over 100 people. I wondered again who Nick was planning to take on this trip.

"What's the point of having money if you don't spend it?" he answered my question with one of his own.

"Yeah, but," I began, then stopped.

Nick and I, Kevin and I, indeed all of the guys and I'd had similar arguments in the past. Having grown up with little money to my name, I was sometimes amazed what these guys would spend theirs on. They weren't often frivolous, exactly. They just didn't hold back when they felt like spending it. I guess it came from being well past the millionaire stage. I knew that they hadn't really grown up any richer than I had, so I figured it had to be that they just knew they now had enough to never have to worry.

The door on the side of the plane opened, and a familiar figure made his way down the stairs that had been wheeled up to the door. Private charter flights apparently didn't rate jetway access, which was limited at the small airport. I continued to study the man until he'd walked up to Nick.

"Hi, Tom," Nick greeted him. "Thanks for taking care of this for me."

"Not a problem, Nicky," he replied. He turned to me, next.

"Tom, you remember Dylan," Nick said, trying to be humorous. Tom smiled slightly and nodded.

"Good to see you, Mr. Richardson," he said, being slightly formal. I gave him a light punch on the shoulder.

"Don't be an ass, Tom," I chided with a smile before leaning in to give him a hug. "You never called me `Mr. Richardson' a day in your life. Hell, you never even called me `Mr. Weston' before I married Kevin." He chuckled slightly in response.

"It's good to see you again, Dylan," he said softly as we hugged. I pulled back from him.

"I understand I have you to thank for finding me," I replied, my voice equally quiet.

"You didn't really present much of a challenge, Dylan," he said, almost scolding me. "Besides, it was Nick's idea," he demurred, putting attention on Nick.

"Yeah, but you're the one who actually did it," I contradicted. "Thanks for that." I hugged him again, a little more tightly this time.

"Mr. Carter?" a voice interrupted the impromptu reunion. We all turned to look at the voice's owner.

"Call me Nick," my friend immediately replied. The man, who was dressed in a shirt and tie, nodded. "What's up?"

"We should probably get everyone on board," he said. "There's a potential for a storm, and the pilot would like to be off the ground within the next 20 minutes."

"No problem," Nick replied, then turned to face the rest of us. "You heard the man, folks. Load up."

Tom immediately stepped over to Kris and took her suitcase, leaving her holding my namesake. Little Dylan was asleep in his carrier, oblivious to the excitement of his first flight. I suddenly looked forward to the day when he'd be as excited to fly as I always was.

The attendant led the way, followed by Nick. Jeremy, holding Jana, and Kris, holding Dylan, were next, with Tom bringing up the rear with their luggage. I turned to see Kevin staring back at me. There was a strange look on his face.

"What?" I wondered softly, still cautious about saying anything to upset him.

"He called you Mr. Richardson," he replied, his voice giving away only vague hints of his emotions.

"Yeah?" I prompted.

"I thought you changed your name," he replied. "I thought Tom knew that."

"I did change my name, Kevin," I told him, glancing away. "Sort of, anyway." I hedged, unsure what to say. "Look, I never exactly legally changed it; I just told everyone that my name was Jacob Phillips, now." I paused. "You'd be surprised how easy it is to get away with that when you have the right connections."

"Oh," was all he said. Something in his voice made me look up at him. Our eyes met, and I tried to communicate some of what I was feeling with that look, that connection.

"I'm still Dylan Richardson." I hesitated once more, unsure if I should say what I was thinking. Finally, I decide to just spit it out and let the consequences be damned.

"Kev," I began, my voice still soft. "I don't know what's going to come out of the next days or weeks." I spoke slowly, gathering strength into my words. "But, I plan on keeping my name what it is. It's who I am, who I always wanted to be, even before we ever met, even when I wouldn't admit it to anyone, and even when I ran away from it…from you." He didn't say anything, and his eyes weren't giving any feelings away.

"I love you, Kevin," I stated the fact, firmly and with conviction. "I always have, and somehow, I know I always will. As much as I tried to run from it, it's there, and always has been. And, whether the two of us ever work out or not, I plan on holding on to at least that one small part of you, to always remind myself of how good I had it for a while, and to always remind myself that life can work out if you just let it."

I turned, then, leaving him standing on the tarmac. I didn't want him to respond, didn't wait for him to say anything. I just wanted him to know how I felt, what I was thinking. It was all laid out, now. And, for better or for worse, I knew that the ball was once again in his court.

Chapter 29

The clouds rolled by beneath the plane. Thus far, our flight had been smooth. We were still just over an hour out of Bismarck. I was taking the time to enjoy a last view before the sun finally sank too far into the western sky to see anymore.

In spite of my objections to the cost and extravagance, I was very thankful to Nick for his foresight in chartering the plane. It had three separate cabin areas, each blocked off by a thin bulkhead wall and an actual door rather than the curtains typically seen dividing sections on commercial flights.

Currently, I was stowed away in the last cabin in the back. The steward, who had introduced himself to us as Don, had checked in on me twice, but had otherwise left me to my own devices. I gathered from his polite demeanor and knowing look that he knew I needed time to myself.

The lights in this part of the plane were currently out, with only a small overhead light on in the corner opposite me. With the sun setting behind us, it was nearly dark in my little corner of the plane. It was nice, peaceful, relaxing.

Flying had always been one of my favorite things in the world. To be soaring so far above the earth, with no cares and no ties, was very liberating for me. As a child, my father had taken me flying in his private plane a lot. As I got older, it had been one of the few joys that the two of us could share in life. Our lives and personalities had drifted apart, until eventually we'd simply ended our relationship in a very vocal manner at my grandmother's funeral. His death less than a year later had prevented our ever reconciling.

I found myself staring at the edge of the sky. With the sun setting behind the plane, the view towards the front had the first vague glimmer of stars. They were floating suspended above an endless vista of soft, fluffy clouds, which were still lit with the faintest mix of pink and orange from the sunset. It was quite spectacular.

"Hey," Lindsay's voice interrupted me from the front of the cabin. I turned to her, smiling.

"Hey, you," I spoke softly, not wanting to disturb the peace of the moment. She walked over and sat down in the chair facing mine.

"How're you doing?" she wondered. In the vague light of the cabin, I could see concern on her face.

"Actually," I began, then paused to consider the question before continuing. "I'm doing very well. Surprisingly well."

"I'm glad to hear it," she said. I could tell she was glad; however, I could hear something else in her tone.

"What's wrong, Linds?" I asked, prompting her to open up.

"Are you sure you're okay?" she replied. I opened my mouth to speak, but she held up a hand to stop me. "I mean, have you really stopped to think about everything that's happened? Everything that the last few days will mean?"

"Honestly?" She nodded. "Not really."

"That's what I thought," she said, almost sounding relieved that I'd admitted it. I smiled a little at her concern.

"Lindsay, I'm okay," I reassured her. "Really, I am." I paused, gathering my thoughts. She waited, obviously not wanting to rush me.

"Look," I began, "what is today? Saturday?" I waited for her nod confirming the date before I continued. "You came into my office on Wednesday." Again, she nodded.

"So, in about four days time, I've gone from being Jacob Phillips, loner, to Dylan Richardson, rediscovering himself. I've rekindled ties with people, with friends, I haven't seen in nearly two years, or longer," I waved a hand at her, which she acknowledged with another nod and a smile. My voice grew softer.

p>"I've…what? Rediscovered? The husband that I abandoned. And," I stumbled a bit here, "I've watched the woman who gave birth to me die."

"It's a lot to absorb," Lindsay whispered.

"Yeah," I nodded, looking up to meet her gaze. "It is. But…I'm handling it."

"I'm just worried that you're not facing it, that you're just repressing things again," she said. I gave a small smile of understanding.

"I know, Lindsay," I told her. "And, I appreciate the fact that you're worried. Frankly, I would be, too." I paused, again trying to translate my thoughts into words that would make some sense.

"It's not that I'm repressing, Linds," I tried to be reassuring. "I think it's more that I'm just dealing with things as they come. Trying really hard not to focus on the past or on the future. Just living day to day." I paused here to again stare into her eyes in the darkened room. "You were the one who told me to do that, remember?"

"Yes," she acknowledged. "I remember. And, I'm glad to see you taking it to heart. As long as you actually ARE taking it to heart. You usually get yourself in trouble when you over-analyze things."

"Believe me, I know," I whispered the words. "And, I know there're going to be problems. When it truly sinks in that Mom's gone. When I try to make some kind of amends with my brother, with Kris. And, of course, with whatever happens with Kevin."

"What did you say to him, anyway?" she wondered, her not-so-subtle subject change causing me to smile. I glanced back out the window to stare at the stars now lighting the sky.

"It was actually more what Tom said," I told her.

"What did he say?"

"He called me `Mr. Richardson'," I said. I turned back to her. "Kevin didn't know that I was still legally `Dylan Richardson'."

"He thought you'd changed your name in the legal sense," she said it as a statement, not a question. I nodded confirmation.

"He was really surprised that I hadn't," I said. "Truth be told, I'm not sure why I didn't."

"Because, deep down inside, you knew that would've been too far, even for you to go," she pointed out. "If you'd done that, it would've been a total severing, every tie gone. Even as hard as you were running, I don't think you were ready to lose everything."

"Yeah, but," I stopped. "But, when I left, I thought I already HAD lost everything. Why hold on to Kevin's name when I thought I'd lost Kevin himself?" I wasn't really expecting an answer, but she provided one anyway.

"You were holding on to more than his name, Dylan," she spoke softly. "You were holding on to what it represented for you; it was that one small scrap of hope, that one tiny flicker of belief that maybe you hadn't lost him for good."

I didn't respond to her words. I didn't really have anything to say, and I think she understood that. We lapsed into silence, each occupied with our own thoughts. The only sound I could hear on the plane was the background hum of the jets. I wondered if the others were asleep up front.

"I told him I loved him," I suddenly said. I obviously startled Lindsay, as she shook herself and looked my way with a confused glance.

"What?" she asked.

"Outside. Kevin. I told him I loved him," I elaborated.

"What did he say?" she wondered.

"Nothing," I replied, then smiled a little. "I didn't exactly give him a chance to say anything. When I told him I was still `Dylan Richardson', I also said that I was going to keep his name, even if we didn't work out, as a reminder of how good I had it. And, that I loved him and always would. Then, I walked on the plane."

"No wonder he's up there looking so lost," she replied thoughtfully. "Must have been a lot to deal with."

"I don't know why," I said. "According to Nick, I'm not exactly subtle where he's concerned. I would've thought he'd know by now."

"Knowing is different than actually hearing you say it," she said. She paused, then looked in my eyes. "Does he love you?"

"Honestly?" She nodded. "I don't know. There've been so many times in the last day or two that I've felt…something from him. But, I'm so scared that it's wishful thinking on my part."

"You'll just have to wait and see, I guess," she said. She was studying my reaction to her words, obviously expecting me to react badly. I wasn't always known for patience.

"I know," I replied, calm and collected. "And, I'm willing to give him time if that's what he needs."

The opening door interrupted our conversation. Nick's blonde head peered around the edge, searching the dim cabin until his eyes fell on the two of us. Whatever he was looking for, he found, as he stepped the rest of the way in the door and shut it behind him.

"Hey," he greeted us. We both replied in kind. "What're you two up to back here?"

"Lindsay's playing nurse again," I said, nudging her leg with my foot.

"Can't help it," she replied, nudging me right back, harder. "It's in the blood."

"Mind if I talk to the patient alone for a few minutes?" Nick asked, obviously hesitant to interrupt the two of us.

"Sure," Lindsay replied. "I have other, more important patients waiting up front."

"Whatever," I joked. "You just want to play with Jana." She blushed, which was answer enough.

"So?" she asked, defensive suddenly.

"Nothing, dear," I placated with a smile. "Nothing at all." She somehow managed to give me a smile and an evil glare at exactly the same time. Then, she turned and left.

"Welcome to my parlor, Mr. Carter," I said, turning to Nick and indicating he should take Lindsay's chair. "What's on your mind?"

"I don't know, really," he replied, although I could tell he wasn't being entirely truthful.

I decided to simply wait him out. He turned to face the windows, staring out at the now darkened sky. The stars winked back, probably providing him with the same answer they always provided me, which was none. I eventually figured out that he wasn't going to speak unless I prodded him. Knowing our flight time was not infinite, I changed my mind about waiting him out.

"When are you back out on tour?" I asked, picking a safe topic. He seemed to shake himself before tuning back in to the room.

"Not until New Year's Eve," he replied. "We're doing the MTV New Year's special again. Then it's off again, although I don't have a clue where."

"How long's the tour this time?" I continued the questioning, figuring he'd eventually tire of the pointless discussion.

"Through the end of March. It's already about half over. We'll have to make up the shows we're missing, though. Don't wanna piss off the fans too much."

"How did you explain the cancellations?" I wondered

"My agent put out a release that a close friend of the family was ill. We told the truth, just not all of it." He gave me a sideways glance when he said that.

"Meaning you told them someone was ill but you didn't say it had anything to do with Kevin's husband." I paused. "Or is it ex-husband?"

"No," Nick countered. "It's still husband."

"He never broke it off?" I wondered.

"No, not that I know of or that he's mentioned." I stopped to ponder what Nick had told me.

While the country still hadn't loosened up enough to accept gay marriage in the full traditional sense, a number of the individual states had adopted laws allowing two partners of any sexual mix to register as such. These gave them the same benefits in health care, inheritance, and other areas where gays had previously had difficulty. Essentially, it was a legal marriage without using the word marriage, which somehow managed to fool the right-wing conservative factions in the country.

Kevin and I had signed all the necessary agreements almost three years ago. In order for him to get together legally, with either a man or a woman, he would've had to have `divorced' me by filing to have the agreements broken. He could easily have gotten that granted, even with me gone, mainly because I was gone. My leaving like I did would have provided him grounds that I'd abandoned our partnership.

I was a little surprised to hear that he hadn't filed for the `divorce', especially in light of the fact that he was now involved with someone else. I wondered if Maya realized that Kevin wasn't a free man in that sense. That thought led me to wonder if, perhaps, things between the two of them weren't what they seemed. I shook myself and returned to Nick.

"So," I began, "what's up, Nick?"

"Well," he began slowly, drawing out the l's. "I was wondering if you'd like to see me perform some time."

"What, are you crazy?" I exclaimed, tempted to reach over and slap him. "Of course I'd like to see that!"

"So," he turned to look me straight in the eye, "how about New Year's Eve, then?"

"What do you mean?" I was confused. "I thought you were on MTV that night."

"I am. We are. I'd like you to come with us."

"Man, Nick," I began, then paused. I almost stood and paced until I remembered that the cabin wasn't all that good for a tall man like me to be pacing in.

"I don't know, Nick," I continued. "Won't there be a lot of questions asked, a lot of things brought up?"

"Yeah, Dylan," he nodded, "there will. Which is why I want your first public appearance to be on MTV."

"Why MTV?"

"Because, no matter what, if you stay in our lives again," and here he stopped for emphasis, " and I really hope that's the case, you're going to eventually have to face reporters. Tabloids are only going to go for the sensationalism. MTV, while as sensational as everyone else, at least tries pretty hard to maintain a good rep with the artists that support it. So, the MTV News guys are a little better at giving an impartial view."

"Not much better," I muttered.

I was actually recalling the New Year's Eve party from 2001. I'd gone with Kevin and the guys and been ambushed by John Norris. It hadn't sat well with me at the time because I'd always respected him when watching the news on MTV. I'd grown up with John, and he'd sideswiped me with questions I wasn't expecting or wanting. And, he'd known it.

"Look," Nick's voice took on a more dominant tone, "are you planning on staying in our lives again?"

"Yes, of course," I replied with a wave of my hand for his obvious question.

"Well, if that's the case, then you and I both know that you're going to find yourself in the spotlight again. Plain and simple, you can't avoid it. Unless you avoid me…us."

"You know that's not what I want, Nick," I placated him, trying to reassure him that I would be sticking around.

"Then you need to do this, Dylan," he said, leaning forward to gently squeeze my arm, emphasizing his point. "It's going to be a relaxed, party atmosphere. I can arrange it with Kurt that we control who talks to you and what they talk about."

"Kurt?" I asked. He nodded. "As in Kurt Loder?" He nodded again. "God, I thought he'd be gone by now. He's still doing the news?"

"Not exactly," Nick replied with a shake of his head. "He's the head of the news operations for MTV. He rarely goes in front of the camera anymore, but he's the man in charge when it comes to MTV News." I nodded in understanding as Nick proceeded.

"He's the one we need to arrange things with, let him know you'll be there and what kinds of things to expect."

"I don't know, Nick," I shook my head slightly. "I don't know if I'm ready to deal with all of that."

"I know, Dylan," he replied, sympathetic. "But, it's a good opportunity to get you back into our circle. Once the initial furor dies down, it should make things a lot easier for you." I sighed, knowing he was right but hating the thought of exposing myself to the world again.

"Look, Dylan, think about it, okay?" His voice held a comforting note. "We've got time once things settle down this week."

"Honestly, Nick, I'm not sure things are going to slow down," I practically whispered. "One other thing…have you asked Kevin what he thinks about this?"

"No," was his succinct reply.

"Nick, I really think you should tell him," I warned.

"I will, Dylan," he agreed slowly, "but only after you tell me for sure that you're willing to come. And even then, it'll probably only be half an hour before so he can't try to get out of it."

"Are you sure he would?" I wondered.

"That's just it, Dylan," Nick replied. "Where the two of you are concerned, I'm not really sure what to think anymore."

I wanted to quiz him more on what he meant by that remark, but at that moment, someone chose to knock on the little divider door. I sighed, wondering why it was my private little niche had suddenly become Grand Central Station.

"Yeah," I invited whoever it was to come in with a yell.

The door opened, and Kevin's head popped around the edge. He did the same searching glance around the cabin that Nick had done before finally noticing us in the back corner, then stepped inside and walked over.

"Nick," he said, avoiding looking at me, "Lindsay wants to talk to you."

"Um, okay," Nick replied. He seemed confused. For that matter, so was I. Why send Kevin back to get Nick when she could just as easily have done it herself or sent the steward back? I smelled a little plotting on the part of my favorite nurse. I was just surprised that Kevin apparently hadn't.

Nick got up and brushed past Kevin, moving to the door. Kevin stood a brief moment longer, then turned to follow him. I sighed, then turned to watch the night again. I heard the door click shut, but I didn't bother to look over.

"Why?" Kevin's whispered voice in the dark startled me. I turned to the door to see him still standing there with his back to me.

"Why what?" I wondered, unsure what he was asking me.

"Why did you leave me?"

It was a question I'd been expecting, although one I hadn't totally prepared for. I thought for several minutes, unsure whether I should take the direct and honest approach or try to spare feelings. I finally decided that I needed to be open with him, completely, if things were ever to be mended.

"Because I lost you," I replied. He turned when I said that. I couldn't read his expression in the dim light of the room.

"What do you mean?" he asked, his voice still a whisper, lacking feeling.

"You slept with Kari, Kevin," I pointed out. "And," I hesitated here, the remembered pain coming back, "you blamed me for Preston's accident."

"I didn't blame you, Dylan."

"Of course you did, Kevin," I argued softly. "You told Brian that last morning that you thought it was my fault."

"I was just angry, Dylan," he paused, "and guilty. About what I'd done to you…what I'd done to Preston. I tried to put blame on you so I wouldn't feel so awful myself."

"Did it work?" I wondered, detached for a moment. It took a moment for him to respond.


The single word hung in the air between us. The silence grew thick, almost palpable. It even seemed to drown out the background drone of the engines. Neither of us moved, and neither of us said anything for what seemed an eternity.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Don's words through the loudspeaker seemed like the voice of God in the quiet between Kevin and I. Neither of us moved as he continued to speak. "We're beginning our descent into Bismarck at this time. If you would all please find a seat and fasten your seat belt, we'll have you on the ground in just a few minutes."

Kevin didn't move. Neither did I.

Finally, several long moments later, Kevin turned and reached for the door. He didn't say anything, just sighed as he moved. I decided we weren't quite finished. We couldn't be. I stood from my chair.

"Kev," I whispered his name, but it was enough to stop him.

He didn't turn to face me, so I walked over to him. I put a hand on his shoulder and turned him around. When he didn't look up at me, I placed my hand on his cheek, cupping his strong face and gently urging him to look up. When he finally did, I could see unshed tears reflected in his eyes.

"I tried to blame you, too, you know," I told him softly. "That morning when we fought, I tried to hate you for what had happened, tried to make everything your fault." I paused, staring into his eyes.

"But, it wasn't your fault, Kevin," I whispered as I stroked his cheekbone with my thumb. "Preston's accident was just that…an accident."

I'm not sure which one of us was more surprised at my words, him or me. I'd always carried a burden of guilt over my negligence with my son that day. And, yet, when I said those words to him, they were genuine. I truly believed what I was telling him; I knew I wasn't just saying it to make him feel better.

"None of us was responsible," I continued, then paused. "I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to figure that out.

"I tried to blame you and Kari, tried to use what you two had," I stumbled on the words, "had done together in Jacksonville to make Preston's dying your fault."

"Did it work?" his words mirrored mine.

"No," I shook my head. "That's why I left, because within a few hours I knew, or thought I knew, that it was my fault and no one else's. And that you'd been right to blame me for it." He interrupted me.

"Dylan, I had no right to do that," he whispered, his own hand coming up to my cheek. I found myself leaning into the touch.

"Maybe not, Kevin," I agreed. "But, at the time, it really didn't matter. Not in the state my mind was in. I blamed myself, for Preston's death, for your…time with Kari, for neglecting you."

"You never neglected me," he contradicted me.

"Really, Kev?" I wondered. "What about all the traveling? Leaving you home alone with Preston for all that time? You didn't resent me, even a little, for going back to work and leaving you behind?"

He couldn't answer me on that one. I didn't really expect him to, because I knew that he HAD resented me for working.

"See, Kev?" I stroked his cheek again, even bringing my other hand to his face to join the first. "You can't argue with that one."

"Dylan," he began, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. Don opened the door a second later, stepping through and leaving it open.

"I'm sorry, gentlemen," he said, obviously uncomfortable that he'd interrupted a moment between us. "But FAA rules and all that. I'm going to need you to sit down and fasten your seatbelts."

"Thanks, Don," I said. "We'll do that."

Neither Kevin nor I had broken the touches we were sharing. I had to admit that it felt wonderful to be feeling his skin again, to feel his hand against mine. It was a beautiful moment, one that I would always cherish.

"Dylan," Kevin began, obviously wanting to say more. I was thrilled to see his desire to talk to me again.

"It's okay, Kev," I interrupted him. "We'll talk more later. We'll have time."

I said the last with the slightest hint of question in my tone. I wanted to tell him that we had the time, but I also wanted him to tell me that he wanted to take the time. We stared at each other another few moments before he nodded. Don's clearing his throat, obviously embarrassed, broke our stares.

Kevin slipped from my touch, then turned and walked back to the front where he'd been sitting before. He didn't look back, but I knew that we'd somehow come to a milestone. And, that we'd managed to pass that milestone the better for having done it together.

Chapter 30

The plane touched down smoothly. The brakes grabbed hard, which was fairly usual with this airport. Only one runway was actually long enough to accommodate jets conveniently. When the winds were from the wrong directions, they were forced to land on the shorter runways, which meant that the deceleration was much more abrupt.

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Bismarck," Don's professional tones came over the loudspeaker. "Please keep your seatbelts fastened until we reach the terminal. The current weather here is cloudy skies, winds out of the south at 20 miles per hour, and the temperature is a brisk and cheerful 10 degrees with wind-chill." An involuntary shudder went down my spine.

The plane finally slowed, then stopped. A glance out the side window told me that we'd actually parked next to one of the jetways. I guessed that there wasn't enough traffic coming in tonight to prevent our using it.

I grabbed my things and walked through the plane. Not surprisingly, I was the first one ready to go. It was one of my pet peeves that I always had to wait for everyone else to get off the plane. As much as I loved to fly, I hated to stay on a plane when I knew that flying was no longer the purpose.

I moved by Kevin. He glanced up at me, a blank expression on his face. He didn't say anything, didn't make any gesture. He just met my eyes momentarily, then went back to gathering his bags.

I made it to the front of the plane, first. Don was there, chatting with the ground worker who'd maneuvered the jetway across. I decided to stop and wait for everyone else.

Kevin came up behind me a few moments later. He stopped just shy of bumping into me. He was so close that I could smell his unique fragrance. I found myself leaning back into him slightly, just enough to brush our coats together. I only stayed that way for a second before shifting up again.

"Dylan?" I heard Nick from behind me.

"Yeah?" I wondered, still lost in Kevin.

"Would you mind getting off the plane?" The sarcasm in his voice was obvious even in my sudden foggy state.

I shook myself and glanced around Kevin. Everyone was standing there, waiting for me. I quickly turned and started up the jetway. The rest of my family followed behind, led by Kevin, then Nick.

The noise from another jet on the tarmac seemed to echo in the jetway as we walked up towards the terminal. Perhaps that explains why I didn't hear the other disturbance. I strolled into the terminal, and into pure chaos.



Cries of "Nick!!"

"Oh shit," I whispered, turning to look at Kevin. When I stepped aside, one girl noticed him and started screaming his name, too.

"How did they find out?" he mumbled.

"Tom," Nick called behind him, "We need a hand up here!"

I stood there, not moving as Tom and Nick made their way past us to take the lead. Nick was immediately in `Nick Carter, superstar' mode, signing autographs and charming the young women. I was always amazed to see him do that. He'd been performing for so long that it was basically second nature to him. Even given his current mood and mindset, he was able to put on a show for them.

"Did you want to join him?" I asked Kevin quietly. When he didn't immediately respond, I turned to look at his face.

It had been a long time since I'd seen that particular expression. It was one of his `stage faces', those expressions he reserved for when he was in public. There was a slight smile on his face, nothing to betray what was really going on inside his mind. However, the storm I was seeing in the emerald pools of his eyes gave away how furious he was at the intrusion.

"What's wrong?" I wondered, surprised at the level of his anger.

"Can't they leave us alone, even for this?" He practically snarled the question at me, although he maintained the placid look on his face.

"I guess not," I replied stupidly.

"Oh my God, it's Dylan!"

I turned to the side and noticed one young blonde woman staring at me intently. I tried to plaster on a fake smile, but something in her demeanor told me that a smile wasn't what she was interested in. I turned back to see a concerned look on Kevin's face. We started moving past the crowd.

"Bastard! How could you do that to him?" The same voice yelled a moment later.

Suddenly, something bounced off of the side of my head. I wasn't sure what it was, but it hurt like hell. I stumbled, bumping into Tom where he stood next to Nick.

"Dylan!" Kevin called to me.

"I'm fine, Kev," I reassured him as I righted myself again.

"Tom, we need to leave," Kevin's voice was harsh, angry. "Now!"

"Right," Tom nodded. Suddenly, he was pushing his way through the crowd. Kevin was pulling me along, keeping himself between the crowd and me. Jeremy and Kris were struggling to get the kids and their bags along behind us. Lindsay was bringing up the rear. Nick, foolishly I thought, stayed where he was, signing autographs and distracting the crowd.

It seemed to take forever, but we finally managed to stumble through the main terminal exit. Security had managed to reach us and was now clearing a path to the cars through a handful of people that had waited outside.

I found myself shoved into the nearest open car door. Kevin slid in behind me and shut it. He immediately leaned over and started checking my head. I tried to pull away from him as his searching hands brushed over the tender spot.

"Ow!" I exclaimed. The sound made him release me. I leaned back, only to have him grab my hands and squeeze.

"Dylan, I'm so sorry," he said. I looked up and saw he was nearly in tears, which was yet another surprise for me since I also knew how furious he was.

"For what?" I wondered. "You didn't do anything."

"I," he began, but was interrupted by the car door opening.

Lindsay got in and scooted over next to me. I was once again the target of probing hands, although I had to admit that Lindsay's hands were much gentler on me that Kevin's had been.

"You're bleeding," she reported, pulling her hand away to show a spot of red fluid on her finger.

"There's a news flash," I snapped, voice laced heavily with sarcasm. I glanced up to meet her gaze, then sighed and mumbled an apology.

"Maybe we should take him to the hospital," Kevin suggested, looking at Lindsay.

"I'm alright," I said, only to be ignored by the others.

"It might not be a bad idea," Lindsay replied to Kevin, ignoring me.

"It's worse than it looks," I said, knowing it wouldn't matter.

"The driver should know how to get there," Kevin spoke again.

"NO!" I finally yelled, getting their attention.

"Dylan," Lindsay began, but I lifted a hand to stop her.

"Look, I'm fine. It's just a little bump on the head. I've had worse," I told her.

"Yeah, but you might have a concussion," she said.

"Linds, I don't have a concussion," I reassured her. "Believe me, she didn't hit me that hard with…whatever it was. It just must've had a sharp edge or something. You can clean it up when we get back to the house."

"Dylan," Kevin tried to throw in his two cents.

"No," I was adamant. "No hospitals. That's all I need right now."

Kevin and I stared at one another. I pleaded with him with that look not to make me go to the hospital. He knew the reasons. He was one of them. Finally, he gave in, obviously reluctantly, as he sighed and turned to look out the window. I mirrored his actions, sighing heavily and turning to stare out across the snow-covered airport.

Hospitals in principle didn't faze me. However, the last time I'd been in the hospital had been a stay of several months after Kevin had been stabbed in Los Angeles, the victim of a hate crime. Every time I even drove past one, I got a little squeamish, remembering those long days of waiting, not knowing if he would live or die.

Ever since then, I'd avoided hospitals at all costs. I hadn't set foot inside one in six years, and I didn't intend for today to be the day just because of some psychotic fan.

The car door opened and Nick and Tom slid inside, Nick next to Lindsay and Tom across from us, next to Kevin.

"Tom," Nick spoke, his tone giving away the extent of his anger. "I want to know how those people found out about us being here. And, I want whoever was responsible for it disciplined if it was an accident, terminated if it was on purpose."

"Right," Tom agreed, already reaching for a phone. I could tell that he, too, was furious. Knowing Tom, he blamed himself for the lack of security preparedness in the terminal. He always was a responsible guy.

"Dylan," Nick turned to me, his voice now laced with concern, "are you alright?"

"I'm fine, Nick," I replied, giving him a small smile. "Just a bit of a headache."

"Does he need to go to the hospital?" Nick asked the question of Lindsay, and even glanced at Kevin.

`What is it with people and not asking ME this question?' I thought to myself, exasperated at my friends' behavior.

"No," Lindsay shook her head, slowly I noted.

"I'm fine, Nick," I repeated, stressing that my condition was okay.

"Security arrested that girl, by the way," Nick turned to look at me, again.

"Nick, that isn't necessary." I turned to look out the window.

"Dylan," Nick's voice was firm, angry again. "She could've really hurt you."

"But, she didn't, Nick," I pointed out. "What's the point of arresting some 15 year old girl because she was angry at me for leaving Kevin? Christ, Nick, I'M angry with myself for leaving him. Should I arrest myself, too?"

"Dylan," Kevin spoke up, but Nick cut in.

"Don't be ridiculous, Dylan," he said. "You may've been angry with yourself, but you never did anything to hurt yourself."

"Are you sure of that, Nick?" My question brought him up short. We stared at one another for a moment before I turned to stare back out the window. "Don't make assumptions where you're missing some of the facts, Nicky," I whispered as the car finally got underway.

The drive to Mom's house was brief and blessedly silent. The house that she and my father had bought years before when they'd first moved here was only a few miles from the airport. In most cities, being this close to an airport would be a bad thing; in Bismarck, one barely noticed it.

An hour later found us all sitting around, relaxing in the living room. Jeremy was trying to start a fire. Kevin and Nick were talking shop on the sofa. I could hear Tom on the telephone in the other room. Kris and Lindsay were entertaining Jana and Dylan. And, I was just sitting on the floor, leaning against the sofa, nursing a mild headache and wondering how it was I'd managed to live without all of this.

It all seemed so idyllic. If not for the sense of loss resting on my heart, it would have been the perfect family scene. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine that the last two years hadn't happened. I sat there, absorbed in memories of happier times, memories that I'd thought long since gone.

A hand gently shook my shoulder. I opened my eyes and realized that I'd leaned over onto Kevin's leg, with my head resting on his knee. I sat up and gave him a small, apologetic smile. He returned the look, somehow telling me that it was okay before turning back to Nick.

"You should get some sleep, Dylan," Jeremy's voice came to me from behind. I shifted my seat on the floor, turning to look over at him.

"I will, Jer," I replied. "I just," I began, then hesitated, glancing away. "I've just missed so many moments like this, I hate to sleep if there's a chance I'll miss more."

"I understand," he said. "You just looked tired."

"Frankly, I am," I said, giving him a rueful smile. "It's been a…heavy few days."

"For all of us," he replied, almost whispering the words. I glanced back up at him, studying his face as he studied the carpeting.

There was pain reflected in the almost glazed look in his eyes. He was absently shredding a piece of paper that he'd been using to start the fire. On impulse, I reached a hand over and brushed it across his leg. I hadn't intended leaving it there, but he suddenly dropped his hand on top of mine, holding it in place.

He didn't say anything, didn't do anything to give away his thoughts or his feelings. I sat with him, staring at his face in the shadows now dancing out from the newly lit fire. No one seemed to notice the moment taking place between us. I could still hear Kris and Lindsay talking across the room as they played with the kids. I could still hear Nick and Kevin discussing some new song that they were apparently co-writing.

Suddenly, though, I felt a light touch on the back of my neck. It was a familiar touch, one I hadn't felt in a long time but one that I knew could never be forgotten. It was Kevin's touch, of course, and it was practically genetically imprinted in my DNA to recognize that touch. I found myself leaning back into it, although I didn't turn and acknowledge it. He was still talking with Nick as though nothing were happening. I didn't want to spoil any of the moments going on around me.

Time passed while we sat there. I couldn't say for sure how long, because I seemed to lose track shortly after Kevin began stroking the back of my neck. I was gently squeezing Jeremy's leg under my hand, providing the only type of support that he would accept at the moment. His private nature, and to some extent his pride, would not accept more.

"Well, that was fun," Tom muttered as he walked into the room.

Jeremy jumped at the sound of his voice and shifted away from my hand. I let it drop without protest or action, knowing that he had accepted what comfort he would accept from me for now. Kevin, however, didn't stop stroking my neck, for which I was very grateful. I let a hand drop to his leg and gently eased the lower part of my arm between his leg and the sofa. My hand lightly stroked his leg, matching the motion of his hand on my neck.

"Did you find out who leaked our location?" Nick wondered.

"No, dammit," he snapped, obviously frustrated. A moment later, he took a deep breath, then turned to look at Nick. "Sorry, Nick. I'm just angry with myself, is all."

"Don't be, Tom," Kevin spoke up. "There's nothing you could've done. We know how tenacious fan groups can be." He gave my neck an extra squeeze to emphasize his point.

"He's right, Tom," Nick agreed. "Don't beat yourself up about it." Tom nodded his head, but I could tell that he wasn't going to be as easy on himself as the guys were being.

"Well, no matter how it happened, news of your location is out there," Tom spoke a moment later. He sounded crisp, professional, so I knew he was giving Nick a briefing. "MTV had already spoken to your management group at Freelance, wanting confirmation. That was before our plane even landed, so I can guarantee they have confirmation by now, even if it's not from your agents." He paused, waiting for Nick to nod before continuing.

"It's only a matter of time before people trace you to this house, if they haven't already. And we can pretty much guess that they'll get a hold of the phone number here. I was thinking you might want to have someone sent up from Freelance to take care of calls and arrangements and such."

"No," I spoke up. Everyone looked over at me, as I'd spoken louder than intended. "Let me talk to my secretary in San Diego. If she can come up, I'd rather that she takes care of that. I know her, and it won't be so hard having her underfoot."

"Dylan," Nick began, then paused. "Are you ready for her to know about you…about everything?"

"Yeah," I replied, nodding my head slightly. I felt Kevin shift his hand away, leaving a cold spot on the back of my neck.

"That works, Dylan," Tom agreed, then moved on. "I've made arrangements with a local security company to get a few people out here to keep reporters and people off the property. They've also agreed to provide additional coverage for us at the funeral and services if necessary."

"God," Kris spoke up, "I'd forgotten what a hassle it is to be you guys."

"Look, guys," Nick began, "I know this isn't what you wanted, and if you want us to leave, to give you privacy, we can."

"Don't be an idiot, Nick," Jeremy scoffed. "You deserve to be here. Mom considered you a part of this family, just like Kevin, Kris, Dylan, and I." I had to wonder if his inclusion of Kevin as a spouse was intentional or habit.

"Besides, Nick, there's no guarantee that you leaving will get rid of all the press," I reminded him. "Those fans saw me at the airport today, too." I pointed to the small bandage Lindsay had placed on the side of my head. "If what you've told me is correct, there's bound to be at least a few people out there who want to know what's going on, where I've been, all that."

"He's right, Nick," Kevin agreed. His voice was strangely quiet behind me. I was tempted to turn and look at his face, but I waited, knowing that now wasn't the time. "We should stay."

"Alright," Nick relented, although I could still sense some hesitation on his part. "Is that everything, Tom?"

"Actually, there's one more thing," Tom spoke, then hesitated as he glanced at me.

"What's that?" Nick asked, seemingly oblivious to the look Tom had given me.

"We need to talk about who else needs to be called," he said.

"We've already called everyone," Jeremy spoke up.

"No," Kevin intervened, "we haven't. We haven't talked to…to our side of the family, yet."

"We need to call the rest of the guys before they hear about this on the news," Nick agreed.

"Mom would probably want to be here, as well," Kevin said. I finally turned when he mentioned Ann.

"Are you sure?" I asked softly, intending the question for him alone although we were in a crowded room. He nodded in reply.

"She and your mom have always gotten along well," he reminded me. "She would want to be here to say goodbye."

"Okay," I agreed, giving him a small smile of thanks. I turned back around, going back to business.

"Alright, Nick," I glanced at my friend, "would you handle the calls to Brian, Howie, and AJ?" He nodded. I turned further, looking back at Kevin again. "Would you like to call Ann? Or should I?" He stopped to think about it for a minute.

"I will, I think," he said. "Give her a little time to adjust to the fact that you're…that you're here." I heard the catch in his voice when he said that. I wondered to myself if I was the only one who'd noticed it, but I decided it was best not to draw attention to him. I nodded, then turned back to face the rest of the room.

"We'll probably need to arrange for hotel space," I said to no one in particular, then turned another look on Nick. "Unless you think the guys would want to bunk here? It would be kind of crowded, but it would probably be less hectic than trying to deal with reporters and stuff."

"I'll ask when I call them," he said, deferring the decision for now.

"Ann can stay here if you think she'd be comfortable, Kev," I offered. He acknowledged my words with a nod.

"What about the rest of the family?" Jeremy spoke up. I turned to meet his gaze.

"Do you really believe that any of them would want to stay here with me?" I asked pointedly.

"Dylan, you know that won't matter. Some of them are going to raise hell about staying somewhere else. It's just how they are," he told me. I had to agree, but there was more to consider.

"I don't want them here, Jeremy," I said. "It's bad enough to have to go through all of this with them watching my every move. To have to deal with them 24-7, day in, day out. That would be too much." We stared at each other for a while longer. "Please?"

"Okay," he relented. "We can let them know to make other plans when we finalize the funeral arrangements." There was a noticeable lull in conversation when Jeremy mentioned the funeral.

"Have you made any of the arrangements?" I finally asked.

"Actually, Mom had already made most of them. We just have to call and let them know to get the plot ready next to Dad," he said. "I was thinking of doing the wake on Tuesday, then the services on Wednesday."

"I wish we didn't have to do the wake," I said.

"I know, Dylan," he nodded. "But, you know the grandparents will want to do the Rosary, and the general `talk about what a great person Janie was' garbage." He couldn't disguise the bitterness in his voice. I didn't blame him.

When Mom had come around and become a part of my life again, her own family had begun to change how they treated her. While they'd always taken advantage of her generosity, it had begun to get out of hand. They became very petty, vindictive. There'd been a number of times when she'd visited Kevin and I, or Jeremy and Kris, just to get away from the rest of them. I couldn't imagine that her death would bring them around to realizing what a wonderful woman she'd been. If they couldn't recognize greatness when it was alive and standing in front of them, I doubted that seeing her laid out, prepared for burial, would make it any different.

But, I'd long since resigned myself to the foolishness of my family, on both Mom's and Dad's sides. Jeremy hadn't had to deal with it in quite the same way that I had until recently. I gathered from his bitter tone that he'd finally come to understand how things worked in the family.

"Is that everything?" Nick wondered, bringing me back from where my thoughts had roamed. I glanced at my brother, who simply nodded.

"For now," I agreed softly. A glance at Tom told me that he, too, had said what he'd needed to say at the moment.

"I think it's time for bed," Kris spoke up. When I looked over at her, I saw that both Jana and little Dylan had finally tuckered out and were asleep on Kris and Lindsay. It was another cute family moment, and it made me smile. I stroked Kevin's leg a little again.

"I'll help you with them," Jeremy said, standing and moving over to his wife. One last thing occurred to me as I looked at him.

"Oh, I almost forgot," I said, speaking softly. I shifted my position again so I could face Nick and Kevin.

"When we were talking the other night, Mom asked me if you guys would sing `Amazing Grace' at the funeral for her. She remembered it from Dad's funeral, and…" I stumbled, then continued. "She'd like for you to sing her on her way." I paused, looking from one to the other. "If that's okay with you, of course. And the other guys, too, if they're willing."

"You don't even have to ask," Nick said, wiping a tear from his blue eyes.

"Of course we'll do it, D," Kevin whispered, unshed tears glowing in his green eyes, as well.

"Thank you," I said, also whispering.

It was a strange sort of dual reality. I'd said the words to thank both of the guys, and I think Nick understood that it was for him as well as Kevin. But, as I stared up at Kev, watching the light reflecting in his gaze, it was as though the rest of the world, indeed, the rest of the universe, simply disappeared. And, in that moment, I said the words only to him. We stared at one another a few silent moments more before Nick's shifting and rising from the sofa broke the gaze.

"I think I'm going to head to bed, myself," he said.

"I'll join you," Lindsay spoke up from her spot on the floor. I immediately threw a raised eyebrow in her direction at her choice of words. "Oh, pull your mind out of the gutter," she scoffed at me, tossing a nearby pillow at my head.

"I can't help it, Linds," I replied with a smile. "You just totally left that wide open."

"I realize that, Dylan, but that doesn't mean you had to step inside." Nick reached out a hand to help her gain her feet.

"Of course it does, Lindsay," Nick joined in. "Dylan never could resist a chance to be a smartass. It's in his blood." I faked a put-upon sigh.

"I'm known far too well in these circles," I said, shaking my head and looking to the ceiling. I suddenly felt Kevin's hand on the back of my neck again.

"As it should be," he told us. I didn't need to look to see the smile on his face. I could hear it in his voice.

"Good night, guys," Lindsay said as she followed Nick from the room. We both replied quietly.

I stared in the direction that my two friends had just gone. Something was tickling at the back of my mind, something that I should've noticed. It took me a minute to realize what it was. When I did, I broke out in a bit of laughter, chuckling and leaning over into Kevin.

"What is it?" he wondered. I turned to see a small smile on his face along with a puzzled expression.

"Lindsay," was all I said. It obviously didn't help as he continued to stare at me like I'd lost my mind. "I just thought it was funny that she was giving me a hard time about my little innuendo."

"So?" he said, the tone in his voice making it obvious that I still hadn't helped him understand.

"So," I paused for a little dramatic effect, "She was still holding Nick's hand when they left the room." The confused look on his face changed slowly, his smile growing to match my own.