They celebrate Nick's birthday and then the couples grow closer on Valentine's Day.
Upon entering the bus, he realized why no one said anything earlier. The interior was completely covered with balloons, streamers, and all sorts of birthday decorations. The women were waiting inside. The guys, who’d followed him into the bus, joined the women in singing him ‘Happy Birthday’. He noticed a pile of presents on the table in the center of the sitting area. He sat down on a couch across from his gifts, and the others joined him.
“Thanks guys,” he said, finally finding his voice.
“I bet you thought we’d forgotten your birthday, didn’t you?” Brian asked teasingly.
“Yeah, especially when no one said anything this morning and there was only one bus outside. Why is there only one bus?” AJ answered the question.
“Well, for one reason, we wanted you to think one group had already left, adding to the surprise we had waiting. Second, we all wanted to ride with you while you opened presents and celebrated. Clearly we overestimated your brain capabilities though for figuring that out.” Nick punched AJ in the arm.
He opened each present, thanking the giver directly after. Michelle and Julie smiled at Brian and Kevin, silently thanking them for their advice on what to get Nick. A second later they watched in horror as Nick opened what appeared to be a box of condoms. He held them in front of him, unsure of what to do. AJ then reached over and opened the box, revealing a new video game inside. Everyone laughed, though Kevin gave AJ a stern look. Once Nick opened all the presents he invited everyone to play the video game with him. With only four controllers, Michelle, Julie, and Howie waited for the next round. Things heated up when it came down to Nick, Kevin, Brian, and Michelle, with their competitive natures emerging at full blast. Insults were hurled across the room, and everyone watched to see who would rise above the rest. In the end, Kevin came out as the winner. He gloated for a short time, but didn’t rub it in everyone’s faces as one of the others might have. After the tournament ended, they spent the rest of the day focusing on Nick. During the concert, the Boys sang him ‘Happy Birthday’ in front of the entire audience. Nick loved it.
After the concert, they got back into the bus and headed to their hotel. Knowing how long the ride back would be, they picked out a long movie to watch. Brian managed to convince everyone to watch his favorite movie It’s A Wonderful Life. Instead of watching the movie, though, Nick decided to play a game of poker with AJ and Howie. Everyone soon learned how bad Nick was, due to his frequent outbursts of “you can’t do that!” and “that’s not fair”.
“Are you good at poker?” Michelle asked Brian after Nick shouted again.
“I’m better than Nick, that’s for sure.” He laughed at the glare Nick gave him, overhearing the conversation. “How about you? Do you mop the floor with everyone you play?”
“I’ve been known to beat most of my opponents, although after teaching Julie to play she’s beaten me more often. Care to try your luck?” Brian smiled, and both joined the poker game, the movie forgotten.
By the end of the ride, Brian owed Michelle thirty dollars and Michelle owed AJ twenty. Michelle agreed to let Brian keep the money in exchange for one dare; AJ offered her the same, deal, but she refused, saying she had the money in her hotel room. For Brian’s dare, Michelle told him he had to wear a dress and strut up and down the hotel lobby for ten minutes, acting like a fashion model. Sure that he’d refuse and insist on paying the money, Michelle later watched and laughed as Brian did exactly as she’d ordered. He’d managed to find a dress he could fit into well enough, and even put on heels for effect. Then he played up his role as a fashion model, hands on hips, chin up, and one foot in front of the other. Julie brought a camera and took pictures the entire time. She was the only one not laughing hysterically and able to hold the camera with steady hands. Once Brian finished, everyone clapped enthusiastically, and Brian gave a bow. Then they all went upstairs to get some rest for the final few concerts before the next big break.
Three concerts later, the group returned to Florida for a month long break. The time was to be used to work on their upcoming CD before heading to Europe for the next stretch of the tour. Michelle and Julie spent hours pouring over pictures of clothes, picking out outfits and coming up with fashion schemes for the music videos and photo shoots. Thankfully, with being back in Florida, the women were able to spend the time in their apartment rather than a hotel for a change. While time flew past them, enveloping them in the crazy schedules and busy days, Valentine’s Day snuck up on them.
When February 14 dawned, Michelle was already up and looking at pictures for the video the group would be filming the next day. Her work was disrupted by a knock on the door.
“Happy Valentine’s Day!” Brian said the minute the door opened. He held out a bouquet of roses to Michelle.
“Thanks,” Michelle said. “I completely forgot it was Valentine’s Day.” Michelle was also surprised that Brian had taken the time to find out where she lived, but then she remembered mentioning the information to him a few nights before.
“I noticed,” Brian told her. “That’s why I wanted to surprise you. Kevin’s also planning something to surprise Julie, but he knew better than to wake her up.” He winked at Michelle. “If you’re ready, which it looks like you are, would you care to join me for breakfast?”
Michelle first put the roses in a vase, and then left with Brian. While they drove, Michelle asked Brian where he was taking her, but he refused to tell her anything. Some time later, he showed up at another apartment complex. He explained that he shared an apartment with Kevin and Howie when not on tour. He brought her up and led her into the kitchen.
“I was able to convince the other guys to leave early so I could bring you back here and cook you a special breakfast. I would’ve cooked it at your apartment, but then I would have had to bring all the food with me and with Julie there we wouldn’t be alone.”
“I must say, you certainly thought this through.”
“One of us had to,” he said with a wink. “Now, watch as I create a wonderful masterpiece I like to call, ‘Bull’s-eye Pancakes’.” Michelle laughed and watched him cook.
First he cracked an egg into the skillet, and then he poured pancake batter around the egg, forming the bull’s-eye. When it was finished, he slid it onto a plate and made another one for himself. Then he poured glasses of orange juice and sat down at the table with Michelle.
“This is really good!” she said, after taking a few bites.
“Thank you. I got the recipe when I went to church camp years ago.” They finished eating quickly, and Brian told her he still had more for them to do. He brought her to a boat dock at the ocean, and led her to a 15-foot long boat anchored there. On it she saw Kevin and Julie, who waved.
“Kevin came over, I guess shortly after you left with Brian, and brought me to this boat to have breakfast,” Julie told Michelle. “Then he told me that Brian was cooking you breakfast at their apartment, and once you were done you’d join us. What did Brian make?” Michelle explained the Bull’s-eye pancakes. When she finished, they joined the boys at the steering wheel.
“Ready to head out to sea?” Kevin asked the ladies.
“Just so long as it’s not a three hour tour,” Julie said with a laugh, singing the last three words. Kevin laughed with her.
“Gilligan’s Island,” he said, making sure he got the reference right. Julie nodded. “I haven’t watched that show in a long time, though I used to love it.”
Kevin guided the boat out of the harbor and away from the beach. After several minutes, when they were far enough away from the beach and any other boats, he killed the engine. Then he joined the rest of the group in the back, on the cushioned seats running around the edge of the boat.
“So I remember hearing that you’re a ballroom dance instructor?” Julie questioned, eyebrows raised. “Would you care to show your skills?”
“Only if a lovely lady will volunteer to be my partner,” he said. She laughed, joining him in the center.
He guided her hands to the correct positions, explaining where he was going to move so when she was supposed to follow him she didn’t get confused. Brian put on the CD Julie brought, and the couple started dancing. At first, Julie moved half a beat behind Kevin, still getting used to the formal steps and rigid body posture. Eventually, the two fell into a rhythm. They glided across the small space on the boat, forgetting where they were and who was watching. All they cared about was staying in that special world, where only the two of them mattered.
Michelle and Brian watched as the couple finished dancing. They didn’t separate, but stayed standing next to each other, looking into the other’s eyes, silently expressing all the emotions flying between them. Not wanting to disturb the moment, Michelle and Brian remained silent. Eventually Kevin and Julie came down from the clouds they were floating on. They sat down across from Brian and Michelle.
“You looked good,” Michelle said, complimenting Julie on her first attempt at ballroom dancing.
“Thanks. I think I still prefer the freedom of club dancing, but I could get used to ballroom dancing, especially with this man to guide me.” Julie glanced at Kevin, who smiled at her, pulled her close, and gave her a kiss.
The rest of the day was spent on the boat. The two men had packed lunch, anticipating the extended stay aboard. The couples talked about their relationships, separately, making sure each person was on the same page. Kevin and Julie stayed near the front of the boat, Brian and Michelle remained at the back, in order to have some privacy. While Kevin and Julie talked about dating and marriage, Brian and Michelle talked about faith and family. Both couples enjoyed the time spent getting to know each other better, talking about serious topics usually brushed aside by the desire to relax during free time on the tour.
“Have you ever dated anyone before?” Kevin asked, eager to know if there was anyone in her past he needed to know about, yet afraid of causing her pain by bringing up old memories, long since buried.
“No, not seriously anyway. I went on a couple of dates during college, but each time the first date was enough to let me know that it wouldn’t work. The guys were nice guys, but we usually ended up with very little in common. Once, I went out with a guy just because I couldn’t be rude and say no, and we had absolutely nothing in common. What about you? It must be hard, when you’re constantly moving through cities on tour, and when you aren’t on tour you’re busy working on a new CD or music video.”
“It is hard. I dated a few girls before joining the group, but they never got serious. They were all short lived. We went on a couple of dates, but then I would end the relationship because they just never felt right, you know? I figured I should end it sooner rather than later and hopefully avoid hurting her more.”
“So you haven’t dated while on tour?” Kevin shook his head.
“It’s too hard, trying to find time to go on a date. And for me, I never saw any point because, like you said, we’re always working, or on tour. Not until I met you, that is, since you came with us on the tour.” He smiled at her, something he did whenever he caught her eye.
“You said you never dated for long. So have you ever thought about marrying anyone before?”
“No. There was never anyone I cared about that deeply. Have you?” Julie smiled sheepishly.
“Actually, most of the time when I meet a new guy, I instantly fast-forward through the relationship, going through dating and engagement and up till marriage. Of course, it never got that far, but I think it’s a female thing to automatically think about how the relationship could work out.” Kevin laughed, a sound Julie rarely heard. She enjoyed the sound. It reminded her of thunder, a low, rumbling sound that started in his chest and worked its way out.
“I hope every female doesn’t fantasize about marriage with every guy they meet, or there are a lot more broken hearts out there than guys realize.”
“What kind of wedding do you picture when you think about marriage? I know I picture a small wedding, just family and close friends. Sometimes I imagine the ceremony on a beach, since that wouldn’t be hard to do here in Florida. Other times I think it’d be romantic to have it in the Bahamas or some other exotic location. And of course there’s always the traditional church setting to fall back on if all else fails.”
“I like the idea of a small wedding too; but I also have to think about privacy from the press, and a smaller wedding would be easier to manage. I usually pictured a church wedding; I’d never thought about one in the Bahamas.” They continued talking, immersed in their own conversation, much like Michelle and Brian at the other end of the boat.
“When did you become a Christian?” Michelle asked.
“I was pretty young. I grew up in a Christian family, and went to church every Sunday. I was probably around five or six when I gave my life to Christ. I immersed myself in the church, joining the choir and occasionally leading Bible studies during high school. I enjoyed learning all I could about my Savior. How about you?”
“I was older. My parents weren’t Christians. They hated going to church, felt like everyone there was just a bunch of hypocrites. I was invited to church by my friend in junior high, and it was fun. In high school my friend moved away, but by then I’d become a regular at the youth group, so I kept going. My junior year of high school I accepted Christ as my Savior. Ever since then I’ve made it a point to be involved in church. That’s been a little difficult while we’re on tour, especially since I don’t know where any churches are in the cities.”
“It is difficult during the tour. That’s why I make sure I have some kind of quiet time every day with God. I read my Bible regularly, though not every day since there are days I’m just too tired to do anything but fall into bed and sleep.” Michelle laughed, knowing from experience just how true that was.
“You mentioned you grew up in a Christian family. Is you whole family Christian?”
“My immediate family, yes. Not all of my extended family is Christian though. I know I’ll raise my kids the same way I was. I want them to go to church and love God as much as I do.”
“I don’t want my kids raised the way I was, but that’s because I want them to grow up the way you did, knowing and loving God. That’s one thing my childhood lacked.”
“What was your childhood like?”
“It was fine, don’t get me wrong.” Michelle worried she’d made Brian think she had a rough childhood, and hurried to correct him. “My parents loved me, and still do despite our religious views. I was just saying that I want my kids to grow up Christian like you did, rather than risk their never finding Christ, since it’s a miracle I did.” She watched as understanding dawned in Brian’s eyes.
“Do you have any siblings?”
“No, I was an only child. You have a brother though, right?” He nodded. “Do you want a large family or a small family?”
“Small. I think two kids is the right number, though God could have different plans.”
“I always wanted a sibling, so I want at least two kids. I think it’s easier, because then they have someone to play with, rather than being alone.”
When the sun began to set, Kevin steered the boat back into the dock. Back on solid land, the couples separated. Kevin took Julie to dinner and then to a club, to see the kind of dancing she preferred, while Brian and Michelle walked along the beach before even thinking about dinner.
“I made these reservations awhile ago,” Kevin told Julie when they walked into the fancy, five-star restaurant. “I wanted to take you someplace special.” Julie blushed.
“Being with you is always special,” she told him quietly.
The restaurant was fancy, but small. Their table was near the back, hidden to most by a fake brick wall, adding to the backyard, Italian feel. The seclusion enhanced the romantic atmosphere. Candles on the table provided the light, and violin music played softly through the speakers. Dinner went smoothly, with the waiter only coming around a few times to refill their glasses and disappearing quickly before he could interrupt the conversation. When they finished eating, Kevin drove her to her apartment so she could change before he took her to the club.
Inside the club, lights on the ceiling flashed brightly in different colors. People sat at tables around the dance floor, which was sectioned off by a short wall. The DJ was set up on the far end of the dance floor. Music pumped from the speakers, causing everyone to sway to the music both on and off the dance floor.
Julie led Kevin onto the dance floor and immediately let the music take over her body. Her hips swayed in time to the beat, her hands raised over her head. Kevin slowly let himself move to the music, closing the space between their bodies. They moved like one person, each playing off the other’s moves. When Julie began turning around and dipping down to the floor, Kevin grabbed her hand and pulled her back up, bringing her closer to him. An hour later, they took a break and exited the dance floor for some air.
“You dance exceptionally well,” he told her.
“You didn’t do so bad yourself.”
“Where did you learn to dance like that?”
“When Michelle and I first went to a club, we just watched what other people were doing and copied them. Once we were confident, we added our own moves and just enjoyed dancing to music. What about you?”
“The same, although I have the added bonus of having had choreography before due to my illustrious career,” he said sarcastically. They waited a few more minutes to grab a drink of water, and then headed back onto the dance floor.
After several songs played, Julie and Kevin got separated. A group of girls pushed between them in their attempt to exit the dance floor. While they were apart, another man stepped in front of Julie and started dancing with her. She tried to push him away gently, but he only took it as encouragement. He pulled her closer to him as he danced, trying to get her to dance with him. Julie only tried to push away from the man and looked through the crowd for a sign of Kevin. When the man brought his face close to hers and looked like he was about to kiss her, a hand shot out from behind him and pulled him away. A furious looking Kevin roughly shoved the man away from Julie, knocking him to the floor, and then led her off the dance floor.
“Are you okay?” he asked her. Both his hands rested on her shoulders, and he could feel her shaking. His own hands betrayed the anger barely restrained beneath the surface.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” she told him quietly.
“Do you want to go?” She nodded her head, so he pulled her out of the club and back to the car. “I’m so sorry for how long it took me to get to you,” he said as he started the car. “I should have held on to you tighter when those girls came through.”
“It’s not your fault, Kevin. You couldn’t have done anything different.” Kevin looked at her. She sat staring straight ahead, hugging herself.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Julie looked at him and nodded. “Do you want me to take you home?” Again, she nodded.
Kevin sighed. He knew he could have done more to stay close to Julie. He should never have allowed that man a chance to get so close to Julie. When he’d seen the man holding Julie next to him, despite her efforts to push him away, he grew angry. But then the man looked like he was going to try to kiss her, and that pushed Kevin over the edge. If he hadn’t felt compelled to get Julie as far away from that man as possible, as soon as possible, he probably would have started fighting the man right there on the dance floor. He wanted to protect his girlfriend, and felt the right to defend her honor when necessary. While he continued berating himself for his carelessness at the club, they arrived at Julie’s apartment.
“Thanks for today,” she told him with complete sincerity. “It was amazing, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
“Still, I’m really sorry about what happened at the club.” Julie held up her hand to stop him from apologizing further.
“Kevin, I know you feel bad, but there wasn’t anything you could have done. So besides that, I loved spending every minute of today with you.”
“Me too. I wanted today to be special, to show you just how much you mean to me. Even though I’ve only known you a few months, I can’t imagine life without you now.” He paused, summoning the courage for his next words. “I love you.”
Julie’s breath caught in her throat. She’d never had any boy tell her those words and mean them the way she knew Kevin meant them. His eyes shone with the love he had for her, telling her in ways indescribable with words how much he loved her, with every fiber of his being. And looking into his eyes, she knew without a doubt that she loved him just as much.
“I love you too,” she told him. Not waiting for anything else, Kevin closed the distance between them and kissed her. It was passionate, but not out of control. It was driven by love, not lust. It told her everything she needed to know, that he would protect her and take care of her, no matter what.
Julie entered her apartment too happy for words to describe. Michelle, sitting on the couch, noticed her friend’s look. Julie joined her on the couch and immediately began describing everything that happened to her. She left nothing out, except some of the more personal thoughts she’d had when kissing Kevin.
“And what about you? How did your date with Brian go?”
“After we got off the boat, he asked me to walk with him on the beach. So we took off our shoes and walked barefoot, right next to the water so that when the waves came our feet got wet; but just our feet. He told me that the very first time he saw me, it was love at first sight. I told him how at first I saw him as nothing more than another client, but then grew to appreciate him as a friend, both his kindness and his pranks. Then my emotions shifted and without my knowing I wanted to know him as more than a friend. We watched the sun set, and it was beautiful. He held my hand and we just sat there on the beach, enjoying each other’s company. We didn’t even speak for awhile. There was no one else around, which was really nice. Then, I think after an hour, we both realized how hungry we were and got dinner. It was this cute little restaurant, someplace you’d only know about if you’d been there before. The food was amazing; and throughout the entire meal, he never let go of my hand. He was holding my right hand with his left, so it’s a good thing I’m left-handed. It was so sweet. Then he drove me home. I got back probably a half hour before you. I wanted to wait up so I could hear all about your date with Kevin.”
Throughout Michelle’s story, Julie could hear the love in her voice. She knew, without Michelle saying anything, that she loved Brian more than she’d ever loved anyone before. He was everything she’d ever wanted in a man, and everything she deserved. Julie was happy that Michelle was happy, and appeared to finally be over Craig. Only she knew how long it had taken Michelle to get over that relationship, despite the fact that Michelle never cried.
Both women slept peacefully that night, dreaming about their perfect men and the wonderful relationships they now found themselves in. After such a great day for both, they felt they could tackle anything.