Kevin stares up at the ceiling of Brian's guest room, listens to Kristin's even breathing beside him. There was wine earlier and Kris fell asleep seconds after her head hit the pillow. It is predictable and endearing and Kevin smiles remembering the way that she and Leighanne and Sarah spent the evening laughing with each other, poking fun at their husbands.
Kevin hadn’t really wanted to come. It was Brian's idea, the holiday gathering at his home in Atlanta. He called it a low-key ten year reunion. They've all been to this house a million times over the years, but Kevin can’t remember the last time it was all five of them together.
Honestly, he planned to skip it. After all, it isn’t even really a ten year reunion for him. Officially it’s probably more like a fifteen year reunion. He missed the last five years of the Backstreet Boys. He missed two entire albums. And while he didn’t regret his decision to leave when he did, it did make him feel a little disconnected.
Kevin can hear Mason and Baylee talking in Baylee's room next door. The television is on and just loud enough that Kevin can hear the tinny muffled voices. He can almost see the flicker of the screen if he shuts his eyes and tries to sleep. He tries it for a while. It doesn’t work.
He convinced Kristin that they'd see the fellas another time. He told Brian and AJ and Nick that they wouldn't make it. And then Howie called.
Kevin can’t remember the last time that they spoke. Several years, surely. He saw Howie only once since Howie moved to Germany four years ago, one year after the end of his marriage.
Howie was going to be at Brian's and that night Kevin let Kristin convince him to fly to Atlanta.
This was how it had always worked. At home, Kevin was a faithful, loving husband. Before that he was a faithful loving fiancé and before that a faithful loving boyfriend. Before that though was when things were rough. They'd had a hard time those first few years of the Backstreet Boys. The fame was gradual and new and Kristin was an ocean away and they'd both selfishly become wrapped up in their own lives. Kevin had never had a problem finding a date, but suddenly girls were throwing themselves all over him. He was the tallest and oldest, he was in great shape, the girls spoke very little English and his girlfriend was a million miles away. So he slept around. They both did and they didn't hide it. They'd always been honest even if it meant fights and breaks that never lasted more than a few months at a time.
And then he started messing around with Howie.
"I think I'm gay," Howie said in the early morning hours. They'd danced the night away at a techno club, laughed at the jealous look on AJ's face when he couldn't go with him. They'd danced and replenished themselves with beer that never tasted as good in the States and then shots and when the club started to empty out they stumbled back to their hotel. "I think – yeah. Or I don't know. I guess, maybe I like both, I guess. Can you – am I gay if I think I might still like women too?"
Howie was rambling, the way Kevin had discovered he did when he was afraid of how someone would react. The way that Howie did when he had too much alcohol in his system.
"You don't have to justify," Kevin said, once Howie finally calmed down. "If you're gay, you're gay. It doesn't matter to me."
"Oh," Howie said. "Okay. Thanks, I think."
They reached the hotel and it started to rain, just a little, a fine mist. Howie laughed and pushed his hair out of his face and Kevin kissed him. It all seemed so perfect, the rain and the alcohol and their bodies humming from the club. They didn't say anything about it, but a week later Howie kissed Kevin in their room at the hotel in Berlin. That was it. After that it was sex every night for a month in so many hotel rooms that Kevin lost track by the second week.
Kevin wasn't gay. At least he'd been pretty sure at the time. He liked having sex with Howie, sure, but he was in love with Kristin. He thought of it more as helping out a friend. He was helping Howie find himself, really. Howie needed him. And it stopped him from having sex with groupies. He thought that was probably worse than this.
They fought when he told her. They broke up for a month. In the end it was Howie who convinced Kevin to call her, Howie who booked Kristin's flight to Stockholm. Kevin serenaded her on stage and served her dinner in the hotel. Howie bunked with AJ to give them space and Kevin begged Kristin to come back to him.
"Do you love him?" she asked.
"I’m in love with you," Kevin said. He was sure it was the truth. Howie was his friend and his brother and he loved what they'd been doing, but it was Kristin that he was in love with.
Kristin sighed. They sat in silence as Kristin poked at her food. She didn't say anything until she'd finished her meal. She'd only taken maybe two bites, but she pushed the plate away, looked up and said, "Maybe we can work something out."
The next day Kristin and Howie were attached at the hip and Kevin wondered if Howie's body would go missing by lunch, but every time he saw them they were talking and giggling together and before Kristin flew back to the states she proposed her plan.
Kevin didn't think it would ever work in a million years. He thought he was purposely trying to sabotage the best relationship he'd ever had and he was using his bandmate, his friend, to do it. Kristin couldn't possibly be this understanding. She couldn't possibly think it could be a good idea to be together at home and a little more free when they were apart. He thought it was because they were young. He thought that maybe Kristin just didn't want to be single, that she wanted the security of a boyfriend even if he was overseas and she was seeing someone else for months at a time. This kind of thing didn't happen in Kentucky. His brother wouldn't even be able to fathom such a thing. Kevin thought it was only a matter of time before Kristin came to her sense and cut him out of her life.
Kristin hadn't come to her senses by the time the Backstreet Boys returned from their exile in Europe. There was jealousy, sure, but not as often as Kevin would expect. A lot of it came from Kevin himself. He was jealous when Howie started to see anyone else, territorial with anyone Kristin had any sort of connection with when he was gone. If there was a problem in either relationship, the problem was Kevin, but he worked it out. Somehow the three of them found the happy balance.
On his wedding day Kevin knew he was the luckiest man in the world.
"I don't know why I need you so much," Kevin said, often when he and Howie were alone. He'd lie in bed beside Howie, watching Howie sleep, listening to the soft snoring, and wondering how he'd gotten where he was.
It wasn't until sometime during the Black and Blue tour that he realized it was love. Not just fraternal love and not convenience, but actual romantic love.
"You're becoming a sap," Howie said. "You never used to be like this, you know."
"I was always a sap," Kevin protested. "I just hid it better."
Sometimes Howie and Kristin would have conversations that lasted for hours and Kevin told himself that it was good that they were close, that it wasn't weird at all that his wife and his lover chatted and gossiped about him at least once a week.
"I'm in love with you," Kevin said it for the first time when they were thousands of miles apart. The Black and Blue tour had been postponed, they'd hit pause, their brother needed time. Kevin was happy to be at home with Kristin. He loved her more every day, but he found himself missing Howie at the same time. He told Kristin before he said anything to anyone else.
"He should know," Kristin said. "He probably does know, but he should hear you say it. It's important to hear it."
She probably didn't mean over the phone, but that was the way it came out.
"Oh," Howie said, more a gasp than an actual word. Kevin listened to Howie breathing on the other end of the line.
When it became clear that Howie wasn't about to continue, Kevin stumbled, thought about hanging up in embarrassment but instead said, "I shouldn't have said anything."
"I've started seeing Leigh again," Howie said after another long pause. It wasn't the response Kevin expected.
"Okay," Kevin said. "Are you going to tell her?"
"Tell her what?" Howie asked. "About us?"
"Well, I mean, we're just dating, her and I. I don't want to scare her away just yet."
"That's probably a good idea," Kevin agreed. It felt more like a red flag.
"I love you too, you know," Howie said. His voice was soft then, intimate, and Kevin felt the words catch in his throat. He must have made a noise because Howie sighed, a sort of chuckle, and said, "You're a mess, dude. Look what AJ's done to you."
"It's not AJ," Kevin said. He was the luckiest guy alive.
They are the first to arrive on the Littrell's doorstep. Brian flings open the door, grins, and then points up.
"Strategically placed mistletoe," Brian announces. "My idea." He grabs at Kristin as she shrieks and tries to hold on to her bags, makes a big show of going in to plant one on her lips and then kisses her cheeks instead, hugging her tight.
Kevin is next and he takes it like a man, only rolling his eyes a little as Brian squeezes him tight and lifts him off the ground an inch or two.
"Sorry," Brian says. He pretends to smooth out the fabric of Kevin's coat. "You're an old man now. Fifty, wow. I hug you too tight I might break your hip."
"Funny," Kevin says, and hugs Leighanne.
"Hi, Uncle Brian. Please don't kiss me," Mason pleads, and Brian pretends to look disappointed and pulls him into a hug instead. He looks even more disappointed when Mason doesn’t raise any protest to Leighanne kissing his cheek and then his forehead. And then she tells him he’s too skinny and drags him off to the kitchen.
"Dina’s upstairs," Brian explains. "She'll be down in a second. And Baylee’s been sent to the store for some last minute egg nog. Someone accidentally left it off the grocery list. Don't listen to my wife when she tells you it was me."
Baylee arrives with the egg nog and Leighanne pours them glasses with more rum in them than actual nog. Brian fills them in on the new album he’s working on. It is his third Christian album and he's built a very loyal and surprising diverse fan base. He is planning a small tour next year and hopes to get up to New York City. He just starts filling them in on Baylee's accomplishments at the University of Kentucky when the doorbell rings.
"Ooh!" Brian says, stopping mid sentence. He jumps up from the couch and rushes to the door. Kevin waits, his knee jumping a little. He wonders what he'll say, what Howie will look like. Kristin puts a hand on his knee and he forces a smile.
He hears some yelling and AJ laughing and then Brian saying "Well, if you didn't want to be kissed you shouldn't have stood under the mistletoe!" And then Nick comes clomping into the living room as though he isn’t a day over twelve.
"Brian kissed me," he says, and wipes a hand across his mouth. "On the lips. You know?"
"There are worse things," AJ says from behind him, slaps him on the back. "Kev! All the way here from snowy New York?"
Kevin stands and hugs AJ and then Nick and then Sarah who would probably have had more to say if she'd managed to stop laughing. "You have no idea what traveling with these two is like," she groans. Then she looks around the room. "Actually, nevermind. I'm sure y’all can sympathize."
Kristin's mouth drops open and she jumps up from the couch, throws her arms around Sarah and then proceeds to touch her belly. It looks insane until Kevin notices that there is indeed a tiny bump there.
"You're pregnant?" Leighanne asks and moves in to hug her as well.
"Finally," Sarah sighs and rubs her stomach affectionately.
"Hey!" Brian says and grabs AJ. "Congratulations!"
And that is when Howie walks into the living room.
"I let myself in," he says and ducks his head. Nick and AJ cry out in unison, practically tackle Howie so that he drops both of his bags and nearly falls over.
"Nicky," Howie says and tries to push Nick away, tries to pry AJ off. As soon as he does he is wrapped by Brian who tries to push back toward the front door.
“It’s poor manners to just walk in,” Brian explains. “Go outside and ring the door bell.”
“I can’t – Can we do this after I’ve said hello?” Howie asks, always reasonable.
”Stop harassing your guests,” Leighanne instructs. She kisses Howie’s cheek and takes his coat.
He looks good. There is just a hint of gray in his hair, the slight hint of the beginnings of a beard.
“You just get more gorgeous with age, don’t you?” Sarah asks.
Howie turns to Kevin then and Kevin stands there, not entirely sure what to do. “Like wine,” he says.
Howie frowns. “What?”
“Better with age.” It is stupid. He shouldn’t have opened his mouth. He feels Kristin’s hand on his back pushing him forward just a little and Kevin does move. He steps forward, somewhat mechanically, until he’s closed the distance between them, until he can wrap Howie in a hug. Howie smells good, like cold air and some sort of spice or cologne.
“It’s so good to be back,” Howie says right before he releases Kevin and lets Leighanne lead him off toward the kitchen.
“You did well,” Kristin whispers when he’s disappeared from the room.
He’d been thinking it for months, the thoughts bubbling so close the surface every time they’d spoken for weeks. He’d kept it suppressed, hid his protests well, tried to bury himself in his new family, his gorgeous son. It worked to a point, but the thought was always there, just waiting to escape. The verbal eruption finally occurred halfway through Howie’s bachelor party in Las Vegas. Six years before he moved to Europe. Five years before his marriage would end. Five and a half before he met Paul.
"Don't get married," Kevin said shortly after AJ had decided to head back to the hotel. He flinched after he said it, wished he hadn’t lost the battle with himself, but it was out there now. There was no taking it back. He wasn’t sure he wanted to.
"What?" Howie asked. He was pretty drunk himself.
"Don't marry Leigh," Kevin said again against all good judgment.
"I thought you liked her."
"I do," Kevin agreed. "She's great, but –" He tried to think of a way to say it, a way that didn't sound harsh, that made sense. A strip club in Vegas was not the place for this hushed conversation and so in the end Kevin just settled for blurting out "I want you for myself."
Howie laughed. "You're an asshole," he said. There was a smile in his voice, like he thought Kevin was messing with him.
"I'm serious," Kevin said. "Does she understand us? Does she even know about me?"
"About what, Kevin?" Howie asked. "You left us, you know. Without the Backstreet Boys there isn't really an us anymore, is there?"
"There can be," Kevin insisted.
"How?" Howie asked point blank.
Kevin opened his mouth to speak but had no idea what to say.
"No. I’m getting married," Howie said. "This is it for me."
"We can work out times to be together," Kevin protested. "I'll join the tour for a while. We can –"
"It's not enough for me," Howie said. "None of it is enough for me. You're a father now, Kev. You're in love with your wife and your son and you should be. I love them too. But I need to do something that's just for me. I come first with Leigh. This is for me."
Back at the hotel, locked in away from any wandering paparazzi, Kevin thought about pleading again. He followed Howie to his hotel room and stood there, tried to think of something else to say.
"I'm going to bed," Howie said, but he didn't stop Kevin when Kevin walked into the room behind him.
Kevin sat on the edge of the bed and put his head in his hands. "I might not be singing with you anymore," he said after a long silence during which Howie mostly pretended that Kevin wasn't there. He brushed his teeth and washed his face and changed into a pair of soft cotton draw string pants. "I'm not singing with you," Kevin repeated. "But I'm still in love with you. That wasn't why I left."
Howie sighed. "I know that."
"Okay," Kevin said. He stood from the bed, too warm in his coat. "I'm happy that you're happy."
"Thank you," Howie smiled.
Kevin turned to leave and then thought better of it, closed the distance between then and kissed Howie's mouth. It had been much too long. He'd been thinking about it all night.
Howie pushed at his chest. "You're a selfish bastard," he said, but the words didn't have the intended bite, and when Kevin hissed him again, Howie kissed back and pulled at Kevin's coat, threw it to the floor.
Kevin drank too much weeks later at the wedding and everyone pretended not to notice. He hugged Howie too hard before the toast and promised everyone that he wouldn't get up and speak. He let Nick do it instead. He cried, but tears were expected from him, so anyone who didn't know better thought he was just a giant sap who was happy for his bandmate, his brother. And he was. He wanted Howie to be happy, even if it wasn't necessarily with him.
The marriage lasted six years and from what Kevin could tell Howie and Leigh parted amicably. Howie insisted that they still spoke for hours every other week, that there was nothing really wrong with the marriage apart from the fact that they were better friends than they were husband and wife. Kevin suspected that there was more to it, but if there was, Howie didn't say. He didn't say anything to Kevin or to Nick. Nothing different than what he said to anyone else. He didn't start dating for six months, and then it was mostly men, the occasional woman. Eventually Howie admitted to Nick that he wasn't as bisexual as he'd thought, that he thought he could make it work with Leigh, that there had always been something missing.
"I think he's still in love with you," Nick speculated.
"I doubt it," Kevin said. He was trying to move on from this. He was trying to be the perfect husband, the perfect father. He was trying to do all of the good honest things that he should have been doing all along. Howie wasn’t still in love with him. "It's been seven years."
"So what," Nick countered. "He was in love with you for eleven before that."
"I miss him," Kevin admitted.
"Yeah," Nick agreed. "Howie's an idiot."
Howie started dating Paul a month later.
AJ's wedding was the last time that Kevin saw Howie before Howie sped off to Germany. It was the only time he ever met Paul. Paul was from Florida, was into real estate and as far as Kevin could tell, was not at all German. No one quite understood why they were moving to Germany. There was a long explanation involving markets and great opportunities and connections abroad. It was dull. Kevin knew they others would agree.
In the end, AJ married Sarah after all. It was her dream wedding, a wedding she'd waiting a long time for. A wedding she'd almost had years earlier. Brian was the best man.
"She's the love of my life," AJ told Kevin the evening before the ceremony. "Always has been. Just took me a while to figure it out's all." They were both glowing as they left the church.
At the reception Howie announced his plans to move. Nick was the first to speak up.
"It's so far away," he said.
"It's just a plane flight," Howie reasoned. "It's not really that much farther than flying out to LA or something."
"Howie, it's twice as far," Nick pointed out. "You just don't realize it because you fall asleep as soon as you get on a plane." He turned to Paul. "He still does that right? Fall asleep as soon as he gets on a plane?"
Paul laughed. "Or gets in a car. Or sits on a sofa. Yes."
Nick nudged Howie. "See, I still know you."
"Well, I see you all the time," Howie pointed out.
"Which is exactly why you two should not move to Germany," Kristin concluded for them.
It was no use, as it turned out not even a pleading bride on her wedding day could convince the two to stay on this side of the Atlantic. At the end of the night, Howie kissed Kevin long and hard before returning to his boyfriend's side. It felt like a final goodbye.
"So we're on vacation in the Dominican Republic," AJ starts. "They have this rum that they call 'baby making rum. I think it's just rum rum, but there are people running all over the place trying to give couples this 'baby making rum' and we kept saying 'no, no, we don't drink, we don't want the rum.' But eventually Sarah was all –"
"We weren't getting pregnant!" Sarah cuts in. "Fertility drugs and sex at all the right times and trips to all these doctors and pfft! Nothing! Bring on the baby making rum!"
"So we wait for these dudes to come back," AJ continues. "And two minutes later, there's Sarah downing this baby making rum mixed with all these disgusting fruit juices. I tried to tell her it was bullshit, they just wanted the money, but by then she was hammered and really didn't give a shit. Some amazing sex and a hangover later and well – you can pretty much see the outcome of that right there."
Sarah laughs. "And to think, we wasted all that money on so many doctors. All I needed was a bahama mama!"
Howie's phone started to ring shortly after AJ started the story (which began with a long description of some shopping place where people kept trying to give them fertility charms as incentive to buy their jewelry). Kristin had disappeared upstairs with Dina, but returns now with two glasses of wine.
"The boys are playing computer games. He didn't bring in any of his things," Kristin says, and hands Kevin a glass. "I'm going to send him out to get them. He won't feel like it later when he gets tired." She starts to head back toward the stairs, but Kevin reaches for her arm.
"I'll grab his bag. Let him spend time with Baylee and Dina," Kevin offers. He sets his glass on a coaster and slips out the front door, nearly colliding with Howie, who is hunched over and talking into his phone.
Kevin apologizes and slides by, heading off the porch and toward their rental car where he finds Mason's bag still sitting on the back seat. By the time he makes it back to the porch Howie is off the phone and watching him.
"Paul," Howie explains, holding up the phone like an excuse. "There's a lot of stuff to divvy up."
"I'm sorry," Kevin says.
"You already said that," Howie smiles and ducks a little, shoves the phone in his back pocket. "It's good to see you. All of you. I think I needed this."
Kevin looks toward the window. He can see AJ gesturing wildly with his hands and Nick laughing. AJ has less hair and there are wrinkles at the corners of Nick's eyes, but it is all exactly the same as it always was.
"I'm glad I came," Kevin says. "We get older, but things don't really change, do they?"
"Some things change," Howie says. He reaches out and touches Kevin's hair. "The salt and pepper look is good on you."
Kevin laughs. "Hey, don't think I didn't notice that little bald spot on the top of your head."
"Damn," Howie sighs. "You're too tall. Can't hide anything from you."
"You look good," Kevin says and leans against the railing to the porch.
They hear a tapping then and turn to see Brian standing at the window. He makes a face and then points, mouthing something and grinning before disappearing back into the living room. Kevin and Howie look up.
"Strategically placed mistletoe," Kevin sighs.
"Of course," Howie smiles a little.
"Well," Kevin sighs again. He pushes himself away from the railing and straightens his shirt a little.
"What?" Howie asks. "You're not actually going to kiss me."
"I'm thinking about it," Kevin agrees.
"I just think – things are going well," Howie says. He takes a step back and shoves his hands into the pockets of his pants. "Maybe it'll just be better if we don't go there."
Kevin shrugs. "We probably should have thought of that before having this conversation under Brian's mistletoe."
"What if Mason sees you," Howie asks.
"Mason knows everything," Kevin says. "He won't be surprised."
"Kevin," Howie frowns.
"A small kiss," Kevin says. "I won't mess things up. I promise."
“Okay,” Howie concedes eventually. He leans in, closes his eyes and Kevin stands still and savors the moment. He loves it, the instant right before a kiss. The anticipation and the wanting. He wants it to last forever, but he loves the kiss just as much, and he’s glad when his lips finally meet Howie’s after so many years. It’s like they’ve been kissing every day for a decade. Their mouths know one another, know how they fit. It’s perfect and it’s home and Kevin pulls Howie closer and touches the short curls of Howie’s hair.
“Thank you,” Kevin says when they part, their mouths still close together that he can feel Howie’s exhale tickling his skin.
“That was –“ Howie starts. “We should go inside.”
The party has broken into a barrage of vacation stories. The bizarre and the embarrassing. Kristin is telling everyone about the time they brought Mason to Hawaii and Kevin ended up getting stung by a jellyfish. He winces when he recognizes the tail, and goes to sit beside her on the couch. Howie heads for the other end of the living room, leans on the chair that Nick is sprawled in. Kevin tries to concentrate on the stories, but his mind wanders back to the kiss, to the familiarity of the embrace.
"It's Howie," Kristin whispered, holding her hand over the receiver. They'd been chatting for a while now, Kristin's laughter reaching Kevin where he sat working in the study down the hall. When she came in holding the phone he expected her to say that it was his brother or Kris's mother or AJ.
"Howie?" Kevin asked.
Kristin shoved the phone into his hand and then ran her fingers through his graying hair.
"Kev?" Howie asked. He sounded far away. It made sense. Germany wasn't exactly close to New York City.
"Hi," Kevin said.
"How are things going?" Howie asked. He'd probably already heard everything from Kristin, but asked again anyway.
"Good," Kevin said. "I have a new play opening next week. I think it's – it's a really great piece of work. I'm excited that they let me be a part of it."
"That's great," Howie said. He sounded warm and genuine. "Kristin says Mason wants to pursue acting?"
"Yeah," Kevin laughed. "We're sticking with high school productions for now."
"That's good though," Howie said. "Following in his old man's footsteps and all that."
"Hey now. Who are you calling old?"
"Certainly not you," Howie laughed.
"How's Paul?" Kevin asked.
He's fine," Howie said and then became quiet for a moment before continuing. "Will you be at Brian's?”
"I don't think so," Kevin said. "It's two weeks before Christmas, you know? We're staying in the city this year, but we've got family coming and –"
"Paul and I are through," Howie cut in as though he couldn't hold onto the words for a second longer. It reminded Kevin of his own verbal eruption ten years earlier.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Kevin said, honestly.
"It's been three months," Howie explained. "I’m okay."
"Are you -?"
"I'm moving back to Florida. I'm flying out next week."
"Wow," Kevin said. "I had no idea."
"I didn't really tell anyone. I was – I was hoping to see you at Brian's."
"I'm sorry that we can't make it," Kevin said.
"Yeah," Howie agreed. "We should catch up sometime. When I'm back in Florida, I mean. Maybe I'll come see your play."
"Okay," Kevin agreed. "That sounds nice."
When he got off the phone, Kristin was already online, talking to people, getting them on a flight to Atlanta. It didn't take much convincing at all after that.
"You're still awake?" Kristin asks, rolling over to look down at Kevin, her head propped on his elbow.
"Can't sleep," Kevin grunts and then thinks about it and adds, "I don't know how you can with Mason and Baylee making all that racket."
"I can hardly hear them," Kristin says, frowns. Her hair is a mess. She’s still gorgeous.
"Really?" Kevin asks.
"Maybe you should go tell them to quiet down," Kristin suggests. She leans in and kisses Kevin's shoulder.
"Maybe," Kevin agrees.
"You know," Kristin continues. "I scoped out the room situation. Howie's sleeping at the end of the hall."
Kevin shrugs. "Yeah," he agrees, even though he hadn’t known that.
"Go talk to him," she says.
"It's late," Kevin sighs. "We already talked."
"I ran into him on the porch," Kevin nods. "When I went out to get Mason's bag."
"Under the mistletoe," Kristin smiles.
"He was on the phone."
"Some things never change."
“I guess,” Kevin agrees.
“So how was it?”
“Strange,” Kevin says. “It was, well, the same, I guess. In a good way.”
“Okay,” Kristin says and starts pushing him out of the bed. “Go. Go see him. Convince him to come stay with us in the apartment for a while. Get him to stay for Christmas. Tell him I want to catch up.”
“You could tell him these things,” Kevin suggests.
“They don’t mean anything coming from me,” Kristin points out.
Kevin sits on the edge of the bed, sets his head in his hands. There’s a part of him that misses the years that Howie was in Germany, happy with his boyfriend and out of touch. It was easy. This isn’t easy. He knows what he wants but has no idea what he needs.
“Go,” Kristin says again. Her knee comes up and nudges Kevin off the edge of the bed. He catches himself and stands, shuffles toward the hallway. He opens the bedroom door and steps out, quietly passes Baylee’s room, the light from the television illuminating the carpet beneath the door. He’s about ten steps from the guest room that Howie’s staying in when the door opens and Howie steps into the hallway.
Howie sees Kevin and starts, jumps and knocks into the wall a little and then tries to regain his composure.
“What are you doing out here?” Howie whispers.
“I was –“ Kevin starts and then pauses. “I’m not sure. You’re still up?”
“Yeah,” Howie shrugs. “I was actually just – I was going to see if you two were awake, see if your lights were on.”
“Oh,” Kevin says. “Why?”
"I think – I’m thinking about messing things up," Howie admits. "I think my life could use a little messing up."
“I thought about you,” Howie says. “In Germany. I thought about us a lot.”
“I did too,” Kevin says. “Think about you.” It’s like Howie’s reading his thoughts. It’s like Howie knows and is trying to make this easier for Kevin.
“We should probably get out of Brian’s hallway for this,” Howie suggests.
Kevin follows Howie into his room, shuts the door behind him.
“I’m not sure what we’re doing,” Howie admits. “I didn’t expect this.”
“Come to New York,” Kevin blurts. “Stay with us. Stay for the holidays”
Howie makes a face. "It's been so long. We don't even know if there's anything between us now."
There is," Kevin says. "I know – It's been so many years and I still love you."
"You're still a selfish bastard," Howie observed.
"Maybe," Kevin said, "but we should try. We owe ourselves that much."
“We don’t owe ourselves anything,” Howie disagrees.
“Please,” Kevin says. “Try this. This isn’t just me talking. I’m not trying to be an asshole. Kristin knows what’s happening, she always has, you know that. She wants you to be a part of our life, Howie. I want you. As much as I ever have. More.”
Howie smiles and squints at Kevin a little. He’s thinking that Kevin’s a sap, he can tell. Kevin doesn’t care. He is a sap. And to prove it he takes the two steps separating them. He cups Howie’s cheeks in his palms and kisses Howie’s mouth, slowly, savoring. It’s the kind of kiss that feels like a sigh of relief, of release, and Howie relaxes, almost collapses, against Kevin.
“Let me stay here tonight,” Kevin says. “Just let me sleep here.”
“Are you sure?” Howie asks. “This is okay?”
“Please,” Kevin says, and pulls Howie toward the bed. He waits for Howie to climb in, get comfortable and then Kevin crawls into the bed too, presses his lips to the silvery stubble beside Howie’s ear, feels it scratch his skin. He can’t believe it’s been so long since they did this last. It still feels so familiar. It feels right.
Howie falls asleep first, snorting softly. Kevin can still hear the television on in Baylee’s room. He thinks about Kristin. She was probably asleep again before he’d even stepped completely into the hallway. He thinks about Brian and Leighanne downstairs. Of Nick and AJ and Sarah. He’s glad that Kristin convinced him to come. He’s happy that Howie called. He might have missed out on five years of the Backstreet Boys, but this is his family, his life even now, and he wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Howie is looking down at him when Kevin finally wakes up. He squints and stretches a little. His hand brushes Howie’s thigh and he moves it quickly, blushes.
“It’s late,” Howie says. “I can hear everyone downstairs.”
“Thank you,” Kevin says. He rubs his eyes and reaches for the glasses he wears now. He slips them on and smiles up at Howie.
“They suit you,” Howie says.
They kiss, once, twice, and then the smell of pancakes and bacon pull them from the bed. Dina laughs somewhere in the house and it sounds like a shriek.
“I think we may be last,” Kevin says.
Kevin stays while Howie gets dressed. He memorizes the new marks on Howie’s body, the lines and shapes that weren’t there the last time they were together. Afterward he opens the door, slips into the hall to head back toward his own room. Mason is there and when he sees his father he can’t entirely hide the small smirk on his face.
“Morning Dad,” he says. It’s a full on grin now.
“Morning,” Kevin answers.
Howie’s behind him in the door. Mason looks Howie up and down, nods to him and says “Morning Howie. I hear you’re going to be celebrating Christmas with us.”
Howie looks surprised, blinks at Kevin. Kevin shrugs. “Must be Kris,” he says, tries to sound apologetic, though inside he’s thrilled.
“I’ve always loved New York at Christmas,” Howie admits, and Mason smiles before disappearing into the bathroom.