Thursday, June 25, 2020

Chapter 6

He closed his eyes and gave in to the sleepiness that was calling to him. The head injury along with the excess alcohol in his blood stream had his mind floating back and forth between two realms. Eventually, the dizziness put him in a closed and dark space, of nothing but blurriness. Time stood still, the busy downtown noises muffled as if the people, cars, honking horns and odors all disappeared. Only a tunnel of blurriness called to him as his body started to float toward it. As Nick’s body moved toward the tunnel, it became apparent too him that this was some kind of tunnel of time. All along the walls, Nick saw what seemed like collages depicting his past two years as if it was a biography of his life played out in pictures.
A warm and inviting amber light at the end of the tunnel welcomed him and drew him in as to a more wonderful place in his past. He noted a peaceful and joyous feeling emanating from that amber light. He heard the elated giggling of his drunken Teach and the roar of his own laughter way down the end of the tunnel. 
An ominous dread made him aware of the fact that he could not get to the end where they happy amber light was, until he passed through the horror of his most recent memories of time. He was not only going to have to face the truth of what and who he became, but he would be required to watch it almost as a spectator, reliving the worst most painful and dreadful weeks and months of his life. The scenes of his life played out like a bad movie on the walls of this tunnel, with some of them as trailers of the events that he had little to no memory of, in particular his drunken blackouts. 
With a partial consciousness of knowing Katie Lynn as his Teach, the terrorizing act of watching his slanderous behavior toward his one true love, forced him out of the mouth of this torture chamber of memories. He had the choice as to which direction to take his body. If he went through the tunnel, the ugly truth was waiting for him to play out all along the sides. Although Nick’s body laid still on that cold sidewalk, held tenderly by his angry and hurt Teach, his mind floated back and forth between two realms, undecided as to which realm to fully join with his body. 
The voices calling to him were increasing in volume, intensity and seemed to be getting closer, as if there were hands touching him. He heard Matthew’s voice, again, then Becca’s. He looked back one more time at the tunnel off in the distance, part of him wanted to will himself to that tunnel, wishing he could be back with his happy Princess Cindy, but there was no guarantee if he did go through that tunnel, he would be able to find her.  
Then he heard it, right above his head, it was his Teach’s voice. It was close enough for him to open his eyes and see, with her face close enough for him to reach up and touch. It was not her happy giggling voice that he recalled that he had kept safe in his memory. It was different. It had a root of bitterness. There was a deepness to her voice, as well as a sense of panic in it. He wanted to comfort the panicked part, but was unsure about the bitterness that lay underneath it.
“No, don't let him sleep, Katie. Keep him awake,” Becca said in sort of a panic, which panicked Katie, all that much more. She could read Becca's face, having known her for eighteen years, and the trauma nurse in Becca rarely panicked. 
“Becca, what is it?” She asked.
“Just keep talking to him, keep him awake,” she said. She then started calling to him. “Mr. Thomas, you've been waiting two years to talk to your Teach, now wake up, and start talking. Remember what you told me, how badly you wanted to be with her? Well, here's your chance.” Katie looked at Becca with a curious expression. “At the State Fair, I told you how broken up he was when you didn't show. Now, you owe him this, Katie, talk to him.” Guilt began to permeate Katie's heart, because it was true. She did let him down first. She began to shake him and lean into his ear to wake him. 
“Oh no you don't, short-stuff, wake up right now and talk to me. If you open your eyes, maybe I'll give you a treat.” 
“What kind, the real thing, or just a tease, again,” he asked with his sleepy weakened voice. Katie looked up, while Becca chuckled. 
“I'm not a tease, you jerk. You're the one that laid it on so thick, Prince Charming, now open your eyes,” she whispered quietly into his ear. Nick kept his eyes closed from the pain and the dread of waking. 
“I have to go back in the tunnel, my Teach is there. I have to get to her.”  Katie raised her eyes and looked at Matthew and Becca who shrugged their shoulders. 
“It's probably the head injury and the booze, he's half dreaming. Wake him up all the way,” she said. 
“I’m right here, now wake up, right now and talk to me. C’mon, you want to be with me, I’m here. Wake up, PC.” 
Scotty watched from a distance as Katie worked furiously to wake up this man with whom moments ago, she proclaimed she hated. Now, he was dreading the actual truth, that love was still alive and well in her heart for him. 
The moment of decision approached, and Nick had to make a decision of which realm to fight to join. If he went towards the voices calling to him, in the cold street, there was a sense of anger, resentment, and shame that he dreaded along with severe physical pain. Moreover, the shame of what he would have to face going through the tunnel and reliving those fallen days, to Nick, seemed to be more dreadful, especially living those worst days, the ones of him with Brooke and Jenna. That memory made it a nobrainer for Nick, and he opted to face the music of the present day. 
The stark reality of his Teach’s voice clinched it for him, shaking him to his core. He wanted to talk to her, even if it meant facing her anger. He would rather have an angry Teach with him, than no Teach at all. He fought to open his eyes, but the pain of the street lights kept them closed, keeping the sleepiness in his body alive and active, drawing him toward the tunnel. Becca’s panic caused Katie to worry enough to let her love for him over-rule her anger, if that was going to be what woke him. 
“C’mon Nicolas Paul, open your eyes right now. Please, PC, open them for me.” He felt a sharp pain hit him in the forehead along with a dull ache in his throat. “Hey, PC, c’mon open your eyes, come back to me, right now.” 
Katie continued to call to him as if to will him awake. She took the ice pack that she was holding on his forehead and put it in Nick’s shirt onto his chest, pressing it down, and moving it around to disturb him. His body started to squirm. 
“Oh, that’s mean,” Matthew said. Nick squirmed at the frozen burn of the ice pack on his bare skin, which quickly brought a cold chill to the inside and the outside of his body. 
“Yeah, but it’s working. C’mon, wake up, you stupid star, c’mon you big oaf, open your eyes.” 
The tickle in his throat, along with the coughing, forced him to suck in freezing air, while the frigid aurora of Katie Lynn Moore surrounded him. 
“Quick roll him over to his side,” Becca said, skirting over to face the front of Nick, to check his mouth for signs of vomiting. He felt them turn and jerk his body quickly. A chill came over him and he sucked in a frosty bite of air in between the coughs. 
“What?” Katie said in a panic.
“Mr. Thomas, are you okay? Open your mouth. Are you nauseous?” He coughed the dryness out of the back of his throat, which woke him completely. Trying to catch his breath and clear his throat, Nick grunted. He swallowed furiously to coat his parched throat with saliva. 
“Oh, okay, good,” Becca said relieved. She picked up his wrist to take his pulse.
“What was that all about?” Katie asked, breathing normal, again. 
“Nothing, just checking,” she said. “Vomiting is a sign of a concussion, and I wanted to make sure he wasn’t choking. He’s fine,” she said relieved as she moved back behind him again to hold the ice pack on the back of his head. Katie continued to hold the bar towel on the front gash. She breathed out a sigh of relief. 
“Mr. Thomas, can you hear me?” Becca asked. He nodded slowly and timidly. 
“Yes,” he said as he began to squirm. He attempted to lift his head. “Let me up, please,” he asked, returning to the present reality. He turned his head to look up, realizing that his head was in Katie Lynn Moore’s lap.
“No, stay down,” Katie said. She looked at Becca. The pain of the streetlights forced Nick’s eyes shut. 
“No, please, let me sit, the lights,” he said as he put his hand up to block it. Katie turned and looked behind them at the streetlight, realizing it was shining right in his eyes. She turned to Becca to question her. 
“Help him up, but do it very slow, he’ll be dizzy,” Becca said. He started to sit up with Katie and Matthew assisting him. Matthew pulled on his left arm, and Katie pushed on his right. They took a firm grip of his arms and held him steady. 
“Mr. Thomas, can you stay sitting up?” Matthew asked. 
“Yeah, I think so.” 
“Are you dizzy?” Becca asked. Nick nodded. “Hold him tight, don’t let him fall.” 
Katie picked up Matthew’s jacket and threw it over Nick’s shoulders, holding it closed in the back with her other hand. He stretched his shoulder and his arms to push away the jacket that was holding him hostage. 
“Keep it on, it’s cold,” she said, again with angry authority. Her voice shook with the cold, as she commanded him to stay warm. He turned to the voice and it was his Teach’s voice, only not with love. He blinked furiously trying to focus, but when he opened his eyes, the light from the streetlights and police cruisers caused a searing pain behind his eyes that moved directly to the back of his head, making that area hurt even more.  He kept his head down with his eyes closed. He was confused with different memories mashed together in his mind. He was not sure which may have been dreams, and which were memories of actual events. The alcohol combined with the two knots on his head had him nearly completely disoriented.
“My head hurts. Why?” 
“Because it collided with a brick wall, and the wall is still standing, but you’re not. You know, you can’t go up against a brick wall and expect to win,” Katie said. A memory of him struggling to breathe and severe pain on his throat shot across Nick’s mind. He reached up to put his hand on his neck, feeling some residual pain. He slipped his right hand up through the collar and rubbed his neck. “Oh, and you almost got your throat crushed by my trooper. Does it hurt? Can you breathe all right?” She reached over to caress the redness on his neck. 
Nick turned again, as he reached for the gash on his head with that hand. Katie again, intercepted his hand, and he bore the pain and opened his eyes to see the face behind the voice. “No, you can’t touch that.” 
“Why did my head collide with a brick wall?” 
“Scotty thought you were hurting me. He pulled you off me, and the brick wall collided with your head, then you went after him and hit him three times. That’s not a good thing. Scotty doesn’t take to being hit very well, and that was when he threw the brick wall at the front of your head to match the gash in the back.”
“Who is Scotty?” 
“My Scotty, my state trooper, or rather you’d remember him as my deputy.”  
Hearing her say Scotty, sparked a memory of her firing at him with the weapon of her mouth, while leaning over him in the Cheapside Bar and Grille. He tilted his head and squinted his eyes, trying to focus. Those thin, concaved cheeks were not the rosy-red, healthy cheeks of his Teach, but those piercing eyes were. They were not twinkling, nor sparkling, nor were they drawing him in, rather they were dark, hollow and were casting judgment on him in anger. There were dark circles of fatigue and pressure from a life out of control under her eyes.  
“Who are you?” He said looking at her confused, between scattered foggy memories of the author he hated, and the woman he loved. 
“Who am I? Well, that’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question.” He remembered his Teach asking him that question two years prior, early in their date.
“My Teach?” He said with his eyebrows furrowed and a groan from the pain. 
“Bingo! You just won the money.” She raised her eyebrows and gave him a facetious and sarcastic smile. He lifted his palm to her even smaller face, the same face he held so often on their date. 
“You look different.” He said squinting, trying to filter out the light and the pain it was causing. She pulled his hand down off her face. The memory of his remarks degrading her looks at that booth stung her heart, and she was going to sting back. 
“That’s because I am an ugly mug whore, now. Remember, I’m Scotty’s ugly mug whore whom Scotty has to close his eyes to…,” Matthew interrupted her. 
“Kate, don’t you dare say it.” His memory of his vulgarity rushed to the forefront of his mind. 
“No, I wouldn’t say that about my Teach.”
“Oh, just about Katie Lynn Moore, I see. Big difference. Okay, you’re excused.” 
“Kate do not start with him, now is not the time,” Matthew said, causing Nick to turn toward the man holding him up on his other side. 
“You’re Matthew, my Teach’s brother-in-law.” 
“That’s right Mr. Thomas, I’m Matthew and behind you is my wife Becca. She popped out from behind him, to squat next to Katie. 
“Mr. Thomas, do you remember me? We met at the Kentucky State Fair?” Nick nodded. A vision came back to him of his Teach’s little nieces running to him with a woman behind them with whom he did not recognize.  
“Yeah, yeah, I remember. You came with the girls, because my Teach couldn’t come.” 
“Katie Lynn Moore, you’re my Teach?” Katie pulled in her lips and nodded. “Your last name is Moore now? So, you did marry the deputy, then. Shawn said you didn’t marry.” Katie shook her head no. “You didn’t marry your deputy?” 
“Nope, I haven’t, yet, but he’s looking better every moment I’m here with you.” 
“Knock it off, Kate,” Matthew said, not liking her hostility still with this injured man. 
“Petersen, you told me your name was Katherine Lynn Petersen,” Nick said. She looked up at Matthew with guilty eyes, then accusingly at Nick. 
“You know a funny thing happened to me on the way to authorship. My name changed, from Princess, and Teach, oh and Kat, to Katie Lynn Moore. It’s a nice pen name don’t you think?” She rolled her eyes back from the guilt of her part in his confusion.
“Kate, what’s he talking about?” Matthew asked, oblivious to Katie’s little secret to remain somewhat anonymous to Nick two years ago. 
“Katherine Lynn, Katie Lynn, who can’t put those two names together? Oh yes, tortoise-brained artists. I forgot.” She said, avoiding the real issue. 
“Kate, I said knock it off. Now, what is he talking about? You didn’t give him your right name?” Matthew asked. 
“She told me Katherine Lynn Petersen. I assumed yours and your brother’s name was Petersen. She never said Moore, nor Katie.” 
“Why did you give him that name?” Becca asked Katie. 
“Because it is my name, less the Moore. I didn’t want him to try to find me. I umm, kinda forgot that little detail,” she claimed, lying to Matthew and Becca, which she never did before that day. Her eyes traveled back to Matthew and then Becca with guilt pouring from them like her tears were earlier. 
“Kate, he did not recognize the name, nor the face, because you’ve changed so much. I told you that he did not know who you were. All that time, I told you that he did not recognize you.”
“That’s right, Katie, he wouldn’t have said all those things if he knew,” Becca said relieved and hopeful, again.
“Oh, because he didn’t know it was me, that’s okay. So, he gets to be a complete ass, hateful and vulgar. I see how this works. He’s a man, Matthew. Men are allowed to be jackasses, liars, cads, and playboys.” 
“Kate, you stop that right now. I’m surprised at you, using that kind of language, still. I didn’t like it before, but you are a Christian author, now. You need to be a good example, clean it up. The man is in pain; do not start a fight with him, right now.” 
“Oh, and I’m having a ball here.” 
“Really, Katie, because I don’t see any goose-eggs, or blood on your head,” Becca said with indignation.
“I was referring to my heart,” Katie said. Her eyes dropped, and she was angry with herself for admitting to her broken heart, caused by this man. She put on her protective force field and became defensive, again, trying to ward off her hurt with anger. Anger was an easier emotion to hold on to, there was no pain associated with it. “So, Matthew, are you going to reprimand him for all the vulgar things he said, like I was an ugly mug whore that Scotty had to close his eyes when he...,” Matthew interrupted her, again.
“Kate, stop it, he was drunk,” Matthew said in a reprimanding tone. 
“Oh so he can swear and drop the F bomb, but I can’t, nor can I use any other swear word. It’s that man thing, again, right?” Katie asked, picking a fight with Matthew to justify her anger. 
“No, he’s not part of my family. You are, and I demand better behavior from my family members, especially sober ones.” He lowered his head and raised his eyes in judgment of her attitude. Katie’s head dropped, submitting to Matthew as the patriarch of the Moore family, being the eldest male. 
Katie looked at Nick with her head tilted, one eyebrow raised and full of bitter memories. She then shuffled a way from Nick, standing and wrapping her arms around herself, shaking from both colds, the cold in her heart toward Nick and the frigid February air. 
A barrage of memories and flashbacks slammed into Nick’s mind, like a brick wall, in particular what he said at that table that Matthew would not let Katie repeat. Each brick seem to hold a memory of an insult he berated his Teach with, building a wall of malice. His conscience tormented him by playing the past year over again in his head like a horror movie. The dreadful reality of his support of Brooke’s smear campaign behind closed doors and the hatefulness he spewed, were in fact, aimed at the only woman he knew he would ever love. A wellspring of remorse sprang forth, flooding his heart with shame and regret. He started weeping deep rhythmic sobs incorporating his entire body in the act of wailing, while he berated himself. 
“I can’t believe all this time, it was you,” he said in his full crying voice. “All those things I said, I said to my Teach. What an ass I’ve been, such a bastard.” His body shook in rhythm with his sobs. Matthew put his arm around him to comfort him. 
“On that we agree, Mr. Thomas,”
“Katherine Lynn Petersen Moore, stop it, right now. He feels bad enough.” Katie looked at Matthew who had stood up and gotten in her face. She turned her back on both Matthew and Nick and shuffled a few feet away, while hugging her waist and shaking in the cold. He turned to look at her, oblivious to her chill for the shame that encompassed his whole mind and heart.
“I’m so sorry, Teach, I’m so sorry. I would never say that about my Princess…,” Katie stopped him and bent down, putting her hand over his mouth. 
“Shhh! For Pete’s sake, it’s bad enough they’re all out there taking pictures, I don’t need you blabbing and flapping your ever lovin’ gums. Like this ain’t gonna be enough of a media storm, geez. Shut up already.”  
Nick nodded his head in understanding. She stood back up and continued her pacing, trying to create some kind of warmth, having hardly any flesh for insulation. He noticed she was shivering from being in the chilly February air. 
“You’re cold.” Nick pushed the jacket off him. 
“Put this on her, Matthew, she’s cold.” Katie again bent over and wrapped the jacket back around Nick’s shoulders. 
“Put that jacket back on you, I’m fine. I don’t need it.” 
He pushed it off and turned to Matthew. “I’m fine, Matthew. Put it on her, please.” She shook her head. 
“No, Matthew, he needs it more,” Katie said as she picked it up and put it back on him, holding it around his body. 
Becca chuckled at Katie’s inconsistency. One minute she was scared half out of her mind, fearing he was dead, the next, she was berating him, and now, she would have rather freeze herself, because he needed the jacket more. She laughed while watching Katie battle it out in her mind. Katie turned to see Becca poking fun at her, not finding any of this amusing and getting crankier from the frigid air outside her body and inside her heart. 
“What are you laughing at?” Katie asked.
“You, Katie, you can’t make up your mind, if you love him, or hate him.” 
Nick turned to her and called to her. “Teach, c’mere, please.” She shuffled over to him and squatted. 
“What?” He whispered to her, to help keep her anonymity.  
“Please, put this coat on you.” She shook her head and refused to take it off him, while he held himself steady with his hands on the cold sidewalk. “Teach, listen to me, I’m so sorry, I haven’t stopped loving you. I think I love you more now, having missed you so much. I’ve longed for you all this time. I kept waiting for you to come back, but you never came back. Everyday hurt so much more than the previous.”  
She sat down, next to him, fatigued from her weakened state. She looked at him with a glimmer of guilt in her eyes that he could read. He was right about her not returning to him after she promised that she would. She turned, avoiding eye contact, because whenever their eyes met, he held her captive with his stare. She resolved never to let him back in her heart. 
She kept looking over at Scotty, near the police officers, while he kept an eye on her and her response to this man he hated and was now fearing all that much more. He noted her shaking from the cold and headed over toward her. Katie kept her head low, shaking it, fighting him off and the shiver of love that tried to warm her frozen heart. 
“Well, looks like the romance of the century is still on?” Becca said smiling. Katie whipped her head toward Becca and gave her an angry stare. 
“Over my dead body,” Scotty said as he approached. 
Scotty shot Becca an angry look. She was up to her old tricks, trying to put his Katie-bear in the arms of a playboy, who had already broken her heart once. The feud between Becca and Scotty was back on, again. This time Becca’s battle had reinforcements in the return of Nicolas Paul, with the obliteration of Nick Thomas, the super-star. The two of them rarely had a lasting moment of comradey. Most of the time, it was Becca holding on to her residue anger. Becca just could not get past the two times that Scotty lost it with Katie during the worst year of his life, nor did she want to. She was bound and determined to force Scotty out of Katie’s life, yet she was fighting a losing battle. No force on this planet could ever separate these two co-dependent former lovers. Their bond was for life, even without the ring and the marriage certificate. 
For Scotty, Katie was the love of his life. For Katie, once she bonded with someone, her loyalty factor took over. In particular, with Scotty, regardless of the bleakness of their chance of becoming husband and wife, he was sacred to her, and she would never let go of him, either. She needed him in her life as much as he needed her. She needed him even more now as protection from this man who again, could have that heart-crushing power over her. 
Previously, Katie had almost convinced herself that her love for Scotty was deep enough to marry him, and live a life with the shiver safely buried with her late-husband. That was until Nicolas Paul Thomas came along eight years after Michael’s death and resurrected the shiver factor in Katie’s life, causing her to swoon and fall crazy madly in love in one short night. Michael Jeffrey Moore was the only other man that could ever deliver a shiver to Katie. That one small sip of the love cocktail with Nicolas Paul, was just enough to keep Katie from sharing any beverage with Scotty, til death due them part. Nick’s beverage was intoxicating for her, while Scotty’s was addictive. 
Scotty crouched down in front of where Katie was sitting. He put his jacket on Katie. 
“Put your arms in the sleeves, my freezing bear cub,” he said looking at Nick with fury and hatred still. He buttoned it and then shot an angry stare at Matthew. “Honestly, Matthew, she’s freezing and you have your jacket laying on the jerk.” He shot a look of death at Nick, who squinted back up at him with hatred in his eyes. “Keep this on, Katie-bear. I’m going to finish getting the charges ready to file, then we’ll leave. This jackass is going to jail, tonight.” Scotty went back over to speak with the officers, but not without looking at Katie with disappointment for her being so caring toward the man who berated and abused her for over a year. 
“Jail?” Nick asked. She bent over and put Matthew’s jacket back around him. 
“Yes, you stupid-star, you hit a police officer, not just any, but a state trooper, an angry state trooper, my angry state trooper. That’s a felony, you idiot. Now, I’m going to have to bend over backwards to keep your sorry butt out of jail.” 
“Bend over backwards? What does that mean?” Nick asked. 
“Katie, he wants that ring back on your finger. You know that. He’ll use that to trap you.” Becca said. 
“Becca, this jerk is going to jail, unless I…,” Katie paused and looked over at Scotty. Becca interrupted her. 
“Unless you agree to marry him.” Becca raised her eyebrows with disapproval and turned toward Nick, looking for him to rescue Katie. “You see, Nick, Scotty keeps that ring in his pocket, the one you got off her finger, and he’s just waiting for the day to slip it back on her. He’ll use this, no doubt, Katie.” Nick looked up at Katie. 
She stood and put her hands in the jacket pocket; and started pacing. She looked over at Scotty who was fiddling with the ring in his right pocket in its normal place. She gave him a half-smile and a nod, giving him the idea that the ring was getting closer to her finger. She looked at Scotty with love and admiration, while she look down her nose at Nick, with nothing but vengeance in her eyes. The best revenge she could get on Nick was to marry Scotty, but that meant a marriage void of any shiver, at least for her. It was definitely a safer route and became more appealing to Katie with every passing moment she was with Nick. He shook his head no when she looked down on him. 
“Being a grade-A class-one jerk is not a crime, although it should be. I’ll be right back,” Katie said. She started toward Scotty when Nick called her back. 
“Don’t do it, Teach, you don’t love him. You told me that,” he said loud enough for Scotty to hear to stab at his heart. Katie shot Nick a furious stare for what he was trying to do. She darted back to him. She knelt down and got in his face to yell at him as inconspicuously as she could.
“What do you know about love, you selfish bastard? You know nothing about it. You’ve been handed everything you’ve ever wanted. You even admitted that to me. Am I supposed to believe you’ve become some kind of sacrificial saint here, sacrificing yourself for anybody else? Bull, not you, Mr. Spoiled Stupid-Star, the title of your album wasn’t even yours, now was it?” Katie shook her head, disgusted with herself for even bringing that petty little point up, when at first she was honored. She stood there, wanting to take back that last thing she said. It was childish, but what he just did to make Scotty feel bad by betraying a confidence was far more malicious, and Scotty did not deserve that, least of all from him.  She then turned to Scotty and shook her head. 
“Katie, that’s not fair,” Matthew said. 
“Yeah, you loved it when you saw it, Katie. Stop being so mean,” Becca said. 
The words of Shawn came back to Nick, and slammed his heart up against that brick wall. “Everything is always about you. You have no clue what’s going on in anyone else’s life but your own. You love only yourself.” Nick shook his head, then dropped it in defeat. She was right, Shawn was right. His Teach sacrificed their being together two years ago, to help her deputy, and he did steal her colloquialism for his title, along with many other things she taught him that night. She was the major reason why Love’s Muses was that successful. It was her inspiration, her magic, yet he took all the credit and the glory for it. ‘Nicolas Paul would love her,’ he remembered Shawn saying. 
“He tried to tell me, tonight, but I wouldn’t listen. I was too stupid and pig-headed to listen. All this time, he’s been right.” Katie spun her head around, curious. 
“Who tried to tell you, what?” Matthew asked, having missed the reference to Shawn. Katie had started to move over toward Scotty, then edged back when she saw Scotty signing some documents and talking with the officers. 
“Shawn, too many itching ears,” he said. She scrunched down and remained in a squatting position. 
“So, that was Shawn?” Katie asked. “I thought it was. He looks different.”  “Who is Shawn?” Matthew asked. 
The memory of seeing the back of Shawn walking out the door, and the feeling of dread taunted him as he had given him his walking papers, choosing to follow Brooke to start a fight with whom in fact, was his only jolt-giver. 
“He lost a lot of weight when he quit partying, which was after he read your book,” Nick replied. He then recalled how many times that Shawn gloated about how much Katie Lynn Moore’s book affected him and his relationship with his wife, improving their lives. He thought about how much he, as an angered belligerent superstar, saw it as betrayal. “How long did he know?” Nick asked. 
“Who is Shawn?” Matthew asked, again. 
“Shawn is his best friend,” Katie answered. “And a stand-up kind of a guy,” she added giving Nick a snarly look. “So he knew, then, huh?” Katie looked at Nick, thinking maybe Shawn was keeping her identity from Nick to protect her. That was just like Shawn. “Remind me to thank him,” she said with antagonism.
“He knew who you were. He tried to warn me and when I didn’t heed his advice, he quit.” 
 “Quit, quit what?” Katie asked. 
“He quit the band. Shit, he quit me. All three of them quit, because I was being an ass. They said that if I sided with Brooke, and picked a fight with you, they would quit. I told them all to go to hell. What the hell was I thinking? I lost my Teach; I’ve lost my friends. I told my best friend to go to hell, and that I could replace him tomorrow, and yet he knew. He told me that you’d lay me on my ass. He wanted to see you do it.” Nick began to cry again at his losses. 
Katie shook her head, not feeling any pity for him for blowing off his friends. 
“Stupid, that was stupid,” she said in judgment. 
“Kate, stop it,” Matthew said. 
A flashback of Nick holding Katie trapped between him and the brick wall and his squeezing her thin frail body close to him, continued to bring him back up to his present realm. “Oh my God, Teach, I remember now, I asked you if you were sick. Did you answer me?” Katie did not answer. Panic trumped remorse at this point in his heart. “Are you sick? Why are you so thin?” Katie refused to answer, but just looked at him, shaking her head. Nick turned to Matthew. “What is it? Matthew? Is she sick? What sickness has my Teach?” 
“Don’t either of you say a word. Matthew, keep your mouth shut.” 
“Katie that’s cruel,” Matthew said. 
“Nothing in my life is his business.” 
“Mr. Thomas, she’s not sick,” Matthew said. 
“Shut up, Matthew,” Katie said. Matthew turned to Becca, who began to speak.
“She has an eating…,” Katie interrupted her when she knocked her down from her squatting position. 
“Hey!” Becca said, while trying to catch herself. 
“That was uncalled for, Kate,” Matthew said.
“Yes, so isn’t her flapping her gums about something that is not true and none of her business. Now, shut your mouth. My life is my business, not yours, and certainly not his.” 
“What’s wrong with you, princess? Please tell me; please tell me that you are not dying. Oh God, I could not bear that. I just found you, again.” 
“She doesn’t’ have any terminal disease, but she will die if she doesn’t start eating, again,” Becca said in spite of Katie’s action and with determination. Becca shot a look of anger at Katie.
“Why isn’t she eating, Teach, why won’t you eat?”
“It’s the stress of all this notoriety and pressure,” Becca said, trying not to lay too much blame.
“Damn it, Becca. I said shut up, and Matthew don’t you say anything about my language. Instead, why don’t you keep a lid on your wife’s mouth?” Matthew looked over at Becca and shook his head. The more Becca pushed the worse her denial about her eating disorder was getting. 
Nick’s eyes became heavy, again. “I’m tired. I just need a little sleep.” He started to lean over as if to lay down on the sidewalk. Katie got back down on the ground to intercept the side of his face from hitting the frigid cement. 
“Try to stay awake, Mr. Thomas,” Becca said. Nick closed his eyes and his body became still. 
“Wake up, damn it, you stupid-star. I’m not nearly finished with you,” Katie said with her head lowered, speaking into his ear. 
“Kate I’m not going to tell you again, stop with the language and picking a fight.” Katie raised her eyes, and crooked her head toward Matthew. 
“Oh, and what are you going to do, Matthew, send me to my room and take away my Internet for a week?” She said with snide sarcasm, fed up with him acting like her father. Matthew and Katie rarely shared cross words, but when it came to Nick Thomas, as of late, they shared many more than the usual. 
“No, I’ll have the wireless disconnected out in the cottage,” he said returning the sarcasm, with his brows knitted in a frown. Katie raised her head and wondered if he was serious. 
“Oh, brother, Matthew, at a time like this you’re being ridiculous. Hey, why don’t you take my iPhone? That I wouldn’t mind.” 
“And you dear sister are being mean,” he said putting his hands on his hips. 
“My Teach doesn’t have a smart phone, she can’t figure them out,” Nick said in his slurring voice with a slight chuckle. Katie shook her head, with no clue what he was talking about. 
“What the hell are you talking about? I can use a smart phone, tortoise brain.” 
“You couldn’t that night, not with four Long Island Ice Tea’s on board,” he said with a smile and a happy memory. Katie raised her head at Matthew who gave her a disapproving shake of his head. “She was wasted and hilarious, Matthew.” 
“Shut up, you big stupid-star, we’re not going back there, ever. I’d rather forget the whole thing, what of it I can remember,” she said in resignation. 
“Looks like Nick Thomas isn’t the only one who can get a little plastered and act out of character,” Becca said in judgment. Katie shot an angry look at Becca with her eyes squinting.
“Well, at least I’m not a jerk,” she said looking down at Nick who was again still with his eyes closed. “Hey, stupid-star, are you awake? You enjoying this?” He was silent. “Wake up, you big oaf,” again, he was silent. “Becca?” Katie said with panic taking over, once more.
“Mr. Thomas, please wake up, you’re scaring your Teach here and the rest of us. Try to stay awake,” she said, shaking him. 
“Yeah, wake up, short stuff. I’m not finished with you, yet. C’mon, open your eyes,” she said with her voice softening. 
“I’m fine, princess, now, stop fighting with your brother-in-law.” Nick said in a whisper. Katie breathed out a sigh of relief. She bent over and spoke in his ear.
“Good, now keep your eyes open and keep talking, you big stupid-star.” Nick reached up and looked for her hand. Katie put her hand in his and locked their fingers. She spoke quietly in his ear. “Stay awake, damn you, and don’t you even think about dying on me,” she whispered. He looked in her eyes and saw her fear. All the love that she had locked away in her heart, surfaced those few seconds. 
“I won’t die on you,” he whispered. Nick reached up and touched her face. She looked up at Scotty and then pulled Nick’s hand off her face.  “You do care, Teach.” 
“Of course I do.” She beheld his eyes in hers, then Scotty’s. Nick watched her eyeing Scotty with that guilty look, hoping he could not read what was obviously all over her face. He returning love for Nicolas Paul came crashing back into her heart like high tide coming into sandy shore, soaking it. She gave it every effort to deny it and not let on to Nick the turmoil that was waging war in her chaotic heart.  “I don’t want him to go to jail for killing you,” she said bringing her eyes back to his, with lying tears forming in her eyes. Nick knew she was covering. He could read her eyes and what they were telling him. He knew of her fear of his dying, like her fear of Scotty dying, when he was so depressed. She was trying to hide her fear, which stemmed from the love that kept trying to burst through her anger.
“I’m fine, Teach, don’t worry. I’m not going to die on you, I promise.” She continued to switch her stare back and forth between the two men she loved equally, but diversely. 
Scotty shot her an angry stare, and Katie worried about both men. Fear, worry, anger, hurt, and her love for Nick encompassed her heart to the point that she did not know which feeling to follow. Each passing second her emotions changed. She worried about how it would affect Scotty, if her love for Nick returned full force. She knew it would break Scotty’s heart. Likewise, the fact that Nick admitted to her how lost he became from her absence in his life, wrought guilt for her not returning to him, as she promised two years ago. Like the grief of a lost child, and his misplaced guilt, pushed Michael into the drugs, the pain of her broken promises pushed Nicolas Paul into the bottom of a darkened beer bottle. Katie could not help but to carry the burdens of the world on her shoulders. It was leftover from her childhood when her brothers laid blame of her mother’s suicide on her. 
She looked at Matthew who saw the battle that waged war in her heart and mind. He understood Katie better than anyone. Her reputation was that as the woman with a heart for the underdog and the will of steel against the obnoxious. Here she was, battling both personalities. It was easy to be compassionate Kate with people’s hurts. This was entirely different. This time the injured was herself, and the perpetrator was this man that she let into her heart, after promising herself that she would never do it again. 
She continued to whisper to Nick to keep him engaged, while his eyes remained closed. She rubbed his hair, and he continued to squeeze her hand that was in his, letting her know that he was still conscious. At the same time, she kept watching Scotty as his anger and jealousy built as much as her burdens for both of these men she loved. 
“Becca, I have to go calm that man down. He’s flippin’ mad.” She bent over Nick, again and spoke in his ear. “If I go to bat for you, Nick Thomas, you damn well better be okay, do you hear me?” Nick nodded. “You see, if I can keep Scotty from putting you in jail, then I’m going to start a prison riot in your life and beat you with a Billy-stick until you are black and blue all over. You got that?” He nodded yes. “You’ll be wishing you had gone to jail.” She stood to walk toward Scotty. She straightened out her pant legs, rubbing the wrinkle flat, as if to rub off her feelings for Nick. 
“Don’t do anything for me, I’ll go to jail,” Nick said, calling out to her. She turned and spoke to him from a few feet away with her hands on her hips. 
“Felony charges, you know that? Scotty will go for felony charges. He hates you. If he can put you in prison, he will. You want to go to prison?”
“I’ll get a lawyer,” Nick said straining to look at Katie, squinting from the pain of the lights in his eyes. She shook her head and walked over to him, as he tried to rise. Matthew helped him sit up and Katie steadied him, squatting in front of him. 
“You’ll lose. You hit a state trooper. Besides, I can’t beat you silly, if you are in prison. I can’t make your life absolute misery if you are safe in the arms of some convict as his prison bitch.” Becca laughed. Matthew squawked. Nick tried to laugh, but it hurt his head too much. He reached up and held his head.
“Kate, that’s not funny,” Matthew said. 
“I thought it was, Nick said. “You still got it Teach,” he added. Katie chuckled while she shook her head and whimpered at the same time.  

“Nick Thomas, I wish I never got in that damn line.” Katie started to cry and motioned to Becca to come hold him steady. She rose, brushed down her pant legs, again and wiped the tears from her eyes. “Well, here goes nothing.” 

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