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 9

I don't really remember the funeral.

I know Nick was there, holding my left hand.

I know Kevin was there, sitting on my right, although not touching me. Brian was on his other side. The few images I recall from the ceremony were of Brian giving him some form of sympathetic gesture. I could only stand a short glance before the spear of guilt in my heart caused me to turn away.

I didn't cry. I couldn't, really. There were no more tears left in me. I'd cried for days. Or weeks. Or an eternity. Cried for my lost son. Cried for my lost love. Cried for my crumbled world.

"Dylan?" The voice reached me through a fog. I didn't bother to answer. At that point, I wasn't even sure that Dylan was my name anymore.

I could hear birds singing as I stared at my son's coffin. It seemed somehow out of place to hear the joy of life in a bird's song as I was mourning the end of this life so very dear to me.

"Dylan?" the voice again.

I turned to the source and bumped into a wall of blue. Brian's eyes reflected brightly in the summer sun. The sheen of tears in them added to the effect.

"Everyone's gone, Dylan," he said. "Are you ready?"

I looked around, registering for the first time that we were indeed alone at the graveside. In the distance, I could see Leighanne standing next to a limousine. No one else seemed to be around. I turned back to stare at the small silver box that now held Preston's remains.

"How can I ever be ready, Brian?" I asked softly, my voice crackling. I hadn't spoken to anyone since throwing him from my room days before. "How can I ever face the world again?"

He reached over and placed a hand on my shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. I didn't acknowledge the touch, although I also didn't cringe away. I wanted to do so, though. I felt like I dirtied him just by my presence, like I tarnished his light with the darkness and guilt lurking within me.

"I don't know, Dylan," was all he replied for several minutes. "I don't know how to help you with this."

We didn't speak for several more minutes. We just sat there, me staring at death, him touching me, trying to bring me back to life.

"What day is it today?" I broke the silence.

"Thursday," he replied. "Why?"

"I don't know," I said. I really didn't know why I'd asked the question.

"Let's get home, Dylan," he whispered. "Please?"

I turned to look at him, then. It struck me, as I stared at him, how beautiful he was. Not really in the physical sense, although he obviously was an attractive man. It was more in the light within him. As I looked into his eyes, I felt I could truly look into his soul. And it was nearly-blinding to behold that truest aspect of him. I wondered, in that instant, if Leighanne knew she was married to an angel.

I didn't bother to speak. I simply stood. My legs were a little wobbly. Between the absolute and total destruction of my mind and soul, and the fact that I hadn't eaten in more days than I could remember, the lack of strength in my body seemed normal. It was a way of beginning my own punishment. My life sentence for murder.

I reached out a hand to steady myself on Brian's shoulder. When he saw that I was stable, he stood next to me, moving in to wrap an arm around my waist. We slowly started to move to the car.

"Brian?" I broke the silence as I stumbled on a small rock.

"What is it?"

"How's...how's Kevin?" I wondered.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew how strange that question sounded. Kevin was my husband. We loved each other. We should've been going through this together.

But, we weren't. I'd pretty much locked myself away in a spare room in the house since the...since Preston died. Nick and Brian were the only two people that had been in the room. I hadn't seen Kevin. I couldn't face him. I was terrified that I would look into those beautiful green eyes...and see hatred...blame.

Brian didn't answer right away. Somehow, I knew he was trying to decide whether to lie to make me feel better or to tell me a truth that I wouldn't like. I stopped walking and turned to him, looking him straight in the eye.

"Tell me," I whispered. He sighed before dropping his gaze to the ground.

"He's a mess, Dylan," he finally answered. "Just like you."

"No," I whispered, barely loud enough to hear. "Not like me."

I slowly turned, again making my way to the car. Brian stayed with me, providing me some stability for walking.

"Does he...does he...I mean," I stuttered, trying to get the question out. I needed to know if Kevin talked about me, if he realized that it was my fault.

"He needs you, Dylan," was all he replied. "And you need him."

I didn't answer. I couldn't, for so many reasons. Deep in my heart, I knew Brian was only partially right. I did need Kevin. Desperately. But, I didn't believe Kevin needed me. How could he? I killed our son.

I looked up, staring at Leighanne. As I looked, it seemed like she drew further and further away. And yet, she didn't move. The distance between us became greater, until the planes of my vision had shifted and she appeared as though in a long tunnel.

From a distance, I heard someone yelling. It took me what seemed like several seconds to realize that it was Brian. It took me even longer to understand that it was my name he was yelling. And that was the last thing I remembered before the world just faded away.

Chapter 10

The Present

I pulled myself from sleep as I reached over to shut off my alarm. I could feel a mild throbbing in my head. My mouth felt like I'd slept with cotton in it. One would think that I'd eventually realize I needed to drink plenty of water and take some aspirin before bed after drinking a little too much medicine.

Unfortunately, I hadn't remembered last night. To top it all off, my medicinal whiskey had failed to ease my torment. I'd been plagued with dreams the entire night. Haunting memories of Preston...of Kevin.

My son. My husband.

Playing in the park with Sierra. Our trip to Disney. Running through the surf on the coast beaches. Joyriding in the convertible.

I pushed those thoughts from my head, although I knew it was only temporary. Sometimes, I could go for days without remembering more than a few fragments. Other times, the memories invaded and wouldn't leave. I knew that this was one of the latter times. No matter how hard I tried, my own mind would continue its betrayal and keep pushing the thoughts through my head.

It was going to be a long day.

"'Morning, boss," Stephanie spoke up cheerfully when I walked in.

"Good morning, Stephanie," I replied, my tone obviously indicating I would not be joining in the cheerful banter.

"Welcome back," she said. I nodded in acknowledgement as I stepped to the counter that enclosed her desk.

"Do I have anything today?" I inquired.

"Nothing as far as meetings, although there's a stack of mail on your desk that needs your attention. You also have two interviews on Friday to fill that last position for the QualSoft job," she filled me in, her tone taking on a quieter note.

"Okay," I said. I looked up and caught her eye. "I'll need you in my office in 5."

I didn't wait for her acknowledgement, instead turning to step through the door to my office. I set my briefcase aside, tossed my coat over a chair, and walked over to the window.

While I was rarely there to enjoy it, my office did have a nice view of the downtown area. It was pretty much lost on me today, as the residual headache from my hangover was still bothering me. I continued to stare outside until I heard a tentative knock on the door.

"Come in," I said, keeping my tone firm, professional.

I stepped over to my desk and sat down. While this was going to be a rather harsh meeting, I didn't intend to stand. My size tended to be intimidating to some, and I rarely resorted to physical means for that.

"You wanted to see me, Jacob?" Stephanie asked as she stepped into my office.

"Sit down, Stephanie," I replied, waving to one of the chairs in front of my desk.

"Now," I began when she'd been seated, "I understand that you received at least one phone call recently from someone claiming to've known me in the past." She seemed confused, but nodded anyway.

"Yes. Two, actually," she replied.

"Who were they from?"

"Well, one was from a detective agency. I don't recall it off hand, but I do have the name written down at my desk. The other was from someone claiming to be an old friend."

"Did he give his name?" I continued the interrogation.

"Yes, sir," she said. It was obvious she was beginning to understand this wasn't a pleasant, friendly meeting. "He said he was Nick Carter. I remember it because my granddaughter is crazy about a singer by the same name."

"What did he say?"

"Only that he'd known you for a number of years, but that you'd drifted apart in the last year. He said there was a family emergency and that he desperately needed to get in touch with you," she answered.

"So, based on this, you gave him my home telephone number?" I asked. She nodded. "I see. Did he say anything else?"

"No," she said, then paused. "One thing did seem odd, though."


"Just before he hung up, he called you Dylan," she replied. "I don't think he even realized it, but I remember him saying how grateful he was because he really needed to get in touch with `Dylan'. Before I could say anything else, he'd already hung up."

"I see," I said again, nodding as I sat back into my chair. I gathered my thoughts, shut down my feelings, and called up my cold, emotionless voice.

"If anyone else calls, asking for personal information either about me or for someone named `Dylan', you are to hang up. You will NOT give out my home address or telephone information again. To anyone. If you do, you will be terminated. No questions asked. No explanations accepted." I paused to emphasize my point. "Is that clear?"

The room was dead silent. I don't think she'd been expecting my words. We'd `bonded' in the time she'd come to work for me. I don't think that she'd ever realized how detached I was capable of being until that moment.

"Ye...yes, sir," she eventually replied.

"That'll be all, Stephanie," I spoke, still cold. I looked down at my desk, letting her know she was dismissed.

"Certainly, Ja...Mr. Phillips," she stuttered in a soft voice before standing and leaving the office.

I leaned back in my chair, staring at the door as it shut behind her. Somewhere, deep inside, I knew I should've felt bad. I had just threatened an employee, a good employee, with termination for something that was a relatively minor offense. I should feel guilty for treating her like a second class citizen, barely worthy of notice.

But, as with most things in my life these days, I didn't really feel anything. Dylan would have felt bad. Of course, Dylan probably would've never put himself in a position to feel bad. He'd never have treated her like that in the first place.

I chuckled then, the type of chuckle that would normally cause others to question my sanity. At that moment, questioning my sanity probably wasn't a bad idea. I was referring to myself, my past self at least, as another person, acting like I wasn't him.

My chuckle died as I recalled my conversation with Nick from the previous night. My own words echoed through my mind.

`Dylan is dead.'

I realized then that I truly DID see Dylan as someone else. He was a different person, one capable of feeling joy, of experiencing happiness. Somehow, his memories lived on in me, but his feelings, his emotions I'd managed to choke off. All but the strongest, that is. It was that one emotion that I never showed, but somehow always felt tearing away at my soul. That one feeling that could still cause me to break, still cause me to bleed.


Chapter 11

The Past

The days following the funeral passed with little to mark them. I slept. I woke up and was force-fed by either Brian or Nick. I slept some more. Occasionally, I cried. I never left my room.

It wasn't until about a week later that anything changed. I woke up in the middle of the night. I'm not sure why, really. The house was silent, still. There wasn't any noise that could've drug me from my sleep.

I sat up and moved to the edge of my bed. I realized that, for the first time in days, I didn't feel tired. I didn't really feel anything. It was strange and a little disconcerting.

I rose from the bed and moved over to the door. I needed some air, and the best place for that was outside. The spare room, which had been my sanctuary these last days, had suddenly turned into a tomb from which I needed escape.

I moved quietly through the house. I wasn't sure who was staying here since I hadn't been very social recently, and I didn't want to wake anyone. I wasn't really in a mood to deal with anyone at the moment. Well, there was one person I wanted to see, but I was too scared to face him.

The glass door slid silently open, allowing me access to the back patio. The pool was covered over. I wasn't sure who'd done that, but I was grateful for it. I didn't need to stare into the water just now. I knew what I'd see there, and I couldn't handle that. Not yet.

There were no lights turned on outside, nothing to dilute the darkness. It was strangely uplifting, being alone in the night. Nothing and no one around me to disturb my thoughts. I took a deep breath and moved further away from the house to the edge of the stone walkway.

Kari's house was dark across the yard. It suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea how she was doing. I tried to think back to the funeral, but I really couldn't remember very much. I know she had to've been there, but I had no memory of having seen her since before...before Preston died.

Thoughts of Preston brought the feelings rushing back. The blessed numbness that had seeped into me the last day or so was ripped away. The ache of his loss, the feeling that my heart had been torn from my chest, the agony of guilt that I'd been responsible for that little life ending.

No tears flowed. There weren't really any left, it seemed like. I'd cried so much since Preston's death, there just wasn't any more. But, that didn't mean the feelings were lessened. I wondered to myself if it would've been better if I could cry, to allow myself some outlet for the things I was feeling.

I sighed and turned my face to the night sky. The stars were fairly bright where we lived. Our house was in a subdivision that hadn't quite achieved the overgrown status of so many others. The lights of Orlando to the south blurred the stars in that part of the sky, but the rest burned brilliantly.

I hadn't done much looking at the sky, lately. Years ago, I'd spent a lot of time on my deck or apartment balcony, just staring up at space. Since I'd met and married Kevin, I guess I'd had more earthly concerns to deal with.

I knew it would seem strange to others, but I'd always admired the stars. In their own way, they were alive, and fostered other life in return. Yet, they were nearly eternal, untouched by the petty day-to-day incidents of the lives that they supported. No matter what happened in our lives from one day to the next, the same stars would still be there to mark the night sky, doing the same dance night after night.

They didn't care that my son had died.

They didn't care that I had been responsible.

They just were.

"Dylan?" a voice shattered the silence. I gasped and jerked around, my heart in my throat.

"AJ?" I breathed, trying to calm down. "Jesus, you scared the shit outta me!"

"Sorry, man," he said, sounding genuinely apologetic. "I didn't realize I'd caught you by surprise. I thought you would've heard the door."

"I didn't," I replied. "What're you doin' out here, anyway?"

"Checking on you," he said as he walked over next to me. "I was sleeping on a chair in your room." He paused to look at me. "Didn't you notice me there?"

"No," I shook my head as I spoke. "Sorry. I didn't realize you were there or I would've been quieter."

"Don't worry `bout it, DJ. I understand bein' wakeful." And, I supposed he would.

"What're you doin' up?" he continued after a moment.

"I'm not sure," I hesitantly answered. "I just woke up and needed to get out. So, I came out here."

"I'm glad to see you up and about." He reached out a hand and squeezed my shoulder. "We've been worried about you."

"Don't be, AJ," I said, shrugging off his hand and shifting away from him. "I'll be fine."

He didn't respond, which was fine with me. Because I knew I was lying to him. I wouldn't be fine, not anytime soon. But, there wasn't anything he could do about it, so I knew it would be better to pull back a bit, try to get him to believe I would be okay.

"How long are you staying?" I asked in a blatant attempt to switch subjects.

"As long as I need to stay," was all he said.

I turned to look at him. It was difficult to make out much in the dark of the night, but the moon and stars provided enough glow to make out some features. I lifted a hand to his cheek in shock.

"You shaved!" I exclaimed. My surprise drew a small smile from him.

"Dylan," he began, "I've been here over a week, and I haven't had so much as a whisker on my face that whole time. You're just noticin' this now?" He paused, shaking his head. "Damn, I'm losing my touch!"

He was joking, and I appreciated it for what it was. An attempt to take my mind off my life, off my problems, if only for an instant. I faked a smile, letting him believe he'd been successful. He hadn't, but, again, he didn't need to know that.

"I wouldn't worry too much, AJ," I reassured him. "I'm just gettin' old these days. My eyes aren't as good as they used to be."

"Yeah, that's gotta be it," he said, nodding in the dim light. "It can't be that I'm losin' my looks. I'm as hot as ever."

"And twice as modest, I see." We both laughed.

We settled into an easy silence, neither of us making a move to end the moment. I found myself glancing back at the house now and then. Eventually, my eyes found my room. Well, Kevin's room...our room.

"You should talk to him," AJ spoke up softly.

"I can't, AJ," I replied with a sigh, still staring up at the window.

"Why not, Dylan?"

"I just...I can't face him...I...I just can't," I whispered, turning away to hide the tears that finally started to gather in my eyes.

"Again, why not?" He wouldn't let up. "Why won't you talk to him? You should be together, helpin' each other out."

"I can't, AJ," I repeated my words.

"Dammit, would you stuff that `I can't' bullshit?!" His anger caught me by surprise. "You've been so busy wallowing these last few days you haven't even noticed how hard he's having it. He lost his son."

"So did I, you stupid shit!" I yelled back, not caring who I woke up.

"Yeah, Dylan, but Kevin lost a whole lot more than you did," he replied, his voice raising to match mine.

"How the fuck do you figure that, AJ?!"

"Because, you stubborn son-of-a-bitch, KEVIN LOST YOU, TOO!" he screamed in my face, grabbing my arms to shake me. "Ever since Preston died, you've just locked yourself away. Shut everyone out, including Kevin. Acting like you're the only one who lost someone here. Stop bein' so fuckin' selfish!"

I just stared at him, not really sure what to say, how to react. He was right that I'd shut everyone out, but he was way off on the reason why. I couldn't face them, any of them. Especially Kevin.

"Is that what you all think, AJ?" I wondered, my voice surprisingly devoid of emotion. "That I'm just laying up there, keeping you all out because I think you wouldn't have a clue what I'm going through?"

He didn't say anything, didn't make any kind of motion. But, somehow I knew I was right. That was exactly what he was thinking. And probably what everyone else thought, too. I pulled myself free from his grip.

"Did it ever occur to you that I might be scared, AJ?" I wondered, turning to stare back up at the house. "I as good as killed our son, AJ."

"Dylan, that's..." I cut him off.

"How am I supposed to face him, AJ? How am I supposed to look him in the eyes, knowing what I did to him? Or to Kari, for that matter? Or any of you?" He didn't try to respond.

"My son is dead, AJ. And, no matter what anyone says, I couldn't be more responsible if I'd held his little body under that water myself," I said, throwing a finger out in the direction of the pool.

The tears were finally flowing, now. My vision blurred, and I could feel the tracks down my cheeks in the cool evening breeze. AJ didn't say anything. There wasn't really anything for him to say. I turned and walked into the house, leaving him standing there, alone with the stars.

Chapter 12

I woke a few hours later as the sun came crawling up across the window ledge. It wasn't the light that woke me. I hadn't slept well anyway. I'd been sleeping too much lately, I guess.

Nick was sleeping in the chair across the room. AJ had apparently finished his duty shift after our fight last night. From the look and sound of things, Nick was in a pretty deep sleep, so I decided not to disturb him.

I slid quietly from the bed and padded over to the door. Fortunately, it didn't creak as I opened it. I quickly walked through before pulling it shut behind me. I figured Nick could probably use the rest.

I moved down the hall, passing the various spare bedrooms. We'd bought a fairly large house when we had moved out here. We could afford it, and we'd known that we'd have a fairly large amount of visitors from time to time. Our house had become a focal point for the large extended family that had spawned from the Backstreet Boys.

I paused when I reached the master bedroom. I put my hand on the door, somehow hoping to feel something from the contact. All I felt was the cool, smooth wood under my fingers. It was not a reassuring feeling.

I could hear voices from inside the room. I was surprised, as it was still very early. I found myself wondering who it was. Was it Kevin? Would he want to see me?

Suddenly, I had to know. I had to find out. I couldn't stand the isolation anymore. I loved him...I needed him. I had to know if he still felt the same way. I softly opened the door, trying not to disturb whoever was talking inside.

"I wish you'd get up, Kev," Brian's voice reached me through the opening in the door.

"Why, Bri?" Kevin responded. My heart lurched at hearing his voice again. It was filled with so much pain that I nearly cried out to him.

"Kevin, life has to go on. You can't just stay locked away up here forever," his cousin replied.

"Why?" Kevin asked again. "Why does my life have to go on? My son is dead. My husb," he stumbled over the word, causing another flutter in my stomach, "my husband won't speak to anyone but you or Nick. Kari's gone."

I nearly gasped at that. Kari was gone? Where? What had happened during my self-imposed isolation?

"Not forever, Kev, just for a few weeks," Brian answered. "She just needed to get away for a little while, sort things out with her family."

"We're her family, too, Brian," Kevin spoke up. "Or at least we were."

"I know, Kev, but this place...it's all a reminder of Preston. He's the reason that she moved in here, the reason that you and she were able to strengthen your ties. Everything about her life right now reminds her of him. She needed some space."

"I understand, Brian, it's just..." Kevin began, then sighed. "I just don't know what to do now. Preston was my life, he helped fill my days. What do I do now?"

"I don't have the answers, Kevin." I could hear the sympathy in Brian's voice, the sorrow that he couldn't help. "All I know is that you can't stay here forever. You have to get out of this room, start trying to live again. Preston wouldn't want you to give up on your life. Or on Dylan."

"Dylan," Kevin sighed. "How is he?" His voice sounded strange then, wooden, without feeling.

"About like you," Brian replied softly. "He cries, he sleeps. When Nick forces him, he eats. I heard him fighting outside with AJ last night, though. Maybe he's starting to come out of it."

Neither one of them said anything for a few moments. It occurred to me that I was eavesdropping, that I should reveal myself. Seeing Kevin was, after all, the reason that I'd come in here. Somehow, I couldn't move. I felt like I needed to hear this.

"You should go talk to him, Kev," Brian broke the silence. "It'd be good for both of you."

"I don't think that's a good idea right now, B," Kevin whispered. My heart froze, suddenly terrified of what I was about to hear.

"What?" Brian was obviously surprised, then a little angry. "Kev, don't be an idiot. You need each other. You can't go through this alone."

"Why not, Brian?" I could hear answering anger in Kevin's voice. "We've been going through it alone so far."

"And it hasn't helped you one damn bit, has it? Huh? How has it helped, Kevin? Explain to me how it's better for the two of you to be apart right now. Help me understand the brilliance there."

It'd been a long time since I'd heard Brian so angry. He was obviously losing patience with Kevin, and probably with me, as well. I could understand it, I suppose. He'd been dealing with us, with our grief, for several weeks now. It had to wear on him. Even angels could lose their tempers.

"How could he let it happen, Brian?" Kevin's voice suddenly dropped to a whisper.

"What?" Brian seemed confused at Kevin's shift. "What are you talking about?"

"He went to sleep, Brian," Kevin explained. "And now my son is dead. How could he let it happen?"

"Kevin, are you serious?" Brian seemed amazed. "It was an accident. He was exhausted. It's not like he set out to let Preston die."

"He could've called someone. Could've let one of the neighbors babysit. He didn't have to stay alone with Pres," Kevin replied.

Every word he said was a knife in my heart, cutting away a piece of the hope I'd found myself clinging to deep inside. The hope that he would forgive me, that we'd be able to get through this. The hope that was now dying a slow, agonizing death, shredded by Kevin's words.

"Kevin, come on, you're not thinking clearly. You're grieving," Brian said.

"No fuckin' shit, I'm grieving!" Kevin suddenly yelled. "Preston's dead! And, God help me, I can't help feeling like it's Dylan's fault."

Suddenly, I was angry. Furious. I pushed open the door, slamming it back against the wall. Kevin was laying on the bed, Brian sitting on the edge next to him. Both turned, obviously startled at the intrusion.

"Dylan," Brian started to speak. I didn't let him continue.

"My fault, huh?" I screamed at Kevin. "And where exactly were you? You knew I was flying the red-eye home that night. You knew I'd be fuckin' tired as hell. So, where the fuck were you?"

"In Jacksonville. With Kari, remember?" He was yelling back at me.

"Yeah, I remember. I remember getting home to an empty house. I remember aching inside because I wanted to see you so badly when I got back. I remember the fact that you barely touched me for a month before that. I remember that you'd gone to Jacksonville to get Kari the night before and still weren't home at noon when Howie dropped off Preston. I remember thinking that was pretty fuckin' strange!"

"You wanna know what I remember, Dylan?!" Kevin stood, stomping across the floor to face off with me. "I remember coming home to find you asleep on the couch. I remember walking upstairs to find Preston. I remember hearing Kari screaming. I remember seeing you on the couch when I ran by to get outside. And I remember...I remember seeing my son's body floating in the pool."

"And do you remember feeling guilty, Kevin?" I screamed back.

I was trying to hurt him. I was trying to make him feel like I'd been feeling. Somehow, I could feel our relationship crumbling around me, and I had to lash out. It was irrational. It was cruel. And, at the moment, it was all I had.

"Do you remember the crushing realization that, maybe, if you'd been there, things might've been different? Do you remember thinking that, if you hadn't spent so much time fucking around with Kari," he cut me off.

"I wasn't fucking Kari!" he yelled back.

"I didn't say you were! I said you were fucking...around...with...," the steam suddenly went out of me as what he'd said sank into my brain. I stared into his eyes, waiting for...something.

"Oh. Oh, my God," I whispered.

"Dylan," Brian's voice broke the thick silence. I could hear fear there.

"No, Brian," I quieted him with a glance before looking back at Kevin. "That's it, isn't it? That's why it took you so long to get home that day."

He didn't respond with words. He didn't have to. I knew him, better than I knew myself. Or so I'd thought, anyway. Apparently, there was something I'd missed along the way.

"How long?" I asked.


"HOW FUCKING LONG, KEVIN?!?" I screamed as loud as I could.

"That was the only time," he whispered, dropping his eyes to the ground. "I never intended...I never meant for anything to happen."

"Oh...," I started to speak, then faded. I had no idea what to say.

The silence in the room deepened. No one said anything. I stared at Kevin. He stared at the floor. Brian stared at the two of us. No one moved. No one spoke. I wasn't even sure anyone was breathing.

"Everything ok in here?" AJ's voice broke into the stillness of the room.

"AJ," I spoke softly, my voice calm. "You'll be happy to know I don't feel as much guilt about Preston's death as I did before." He didn't answer right away.

"Okay," he sounded confused, "should I ask why?"

"Because," I explained in a tone devoid of any emotion, "I think Kevin's going to shoulder some of the guilt now. See, he was fucking Kari in Jacksonville instead of waiting at home for me," I stated it like I was reading a weather report. I heard AJ gasp, but I continued. "So, while I was fairly directly responsible for Preston dying, Kevin, too, contributed by cheating on me. With Preston's mother, no less."

"Dylan," Kevin spoke, looking up at me. He stopped talking when he saw my face.

"Congratulations, Kevin," I whispered, staring into his green eyes. "Between the three of us, we all managed to help kill our son. And destroy our own lives in the process."

I left the room, then. Or I assume that I did. I don't really recall much about the rest, except that I ended up back in my room. Nick was still sleeping in the corner, although how he'd managed to sleep through that, I could never say. I made sure the door was locked behind me then collapsed on the bed, literally feeling my heart wither away and die as I lay there, more alone than ever before.

Author's Notes:

Well, that concludes Part I of 'Equilibrium'. Hope everyone (those who've managed to stick with me, anyway) is enjoying it thus far.

Part II will bring some significant changes to the life of Jacob/Dylan. Some familiar faces will be returning to the picture. And, he's in for some harsh realities which, hopefully, will awaken him to living once again. Will it work? Well, you'll just have to stick around and see.

BTW, Part II and III will take place entirely in 'The Present' in the Equilibrium timeframe. No more bouncing back and forth.

I would like to say 'Thanks' to my new editor-in-training, Deb. Some of you may recognize her name from the story as Howie's wife. They would be one and the same person. I seem to have lost Rachel to the trials of school, so I had to draft a new assistant. Thanks, Deb.

I was disappointed when only two of you responded to my little pop quiz at the end of the last posting. Guess I'm not all that good at coming up with exciting contests ;-)

For those who were curious, the Boy that I met was one Howie D. So, the two who wrote in where both wrong. BTW, when I hinted that I shared a sign, I purposefully left out what kind of sign. Howie and Dylan/me share the same Zodiac sign: Leo. Actually, I recently realized that Mr. D. is a mere eight days younger than me.

Anyway, for you detail hounds, I was hanging around in 'Tabu' which any good 'Howie-phile' will tell you is the club that he shares ownership of in downtown O-town. Now, I hang out there quite a bit because I have friends on the staff, but I've never actually been around when Howie was in. And, I didn't expect to see him that night as the guys had already started the Black & Blue tour. I figured he'd be on the road since they had their next show the next evening.

Well, long story short, Howie showed up after midnight, and my on-staff friend got me an introduction. We didn't chat for more than a few seconds, as I don't like to interrupt people doing their thing, even celebrities, or perhaps especially celebrities. But, I got a chance to say 'hello' and tell him that I enjoyed the show.

So, that was my brush with fame. Odds are good he wouldn't even remember me if we were introduced again, but it was still a little cool nonetheless.

Look for the next part in a few more days, provided I get time to do writing. I've suddenly become a social butterfly, so I can't seem to stay home long enough to get anything done!