Chapter Thirteen [PG13]
Don't Go Wasting Your Emotion
Never in the many years she's known Michael has he ever shouted at her, but that small piece of knowledge doesn't even come close to making up for the fact that the reason he had gotten mad at her was she was concerned about him. Stacey's shoulders heave as the tears run down her face, and she brings a hand up to wipe them away, but that doesn't stop them from forming again, or from free-falling to her hands the moment they've reached the edge of her chin. She shakes her head, because she doesn't understand it. To her, the very definition of a wife is someone who takes care of her husband, and unless Michael had a completely different definition of what a wife was supposed to be, Stacey feels like it gives her the right to, at the very least, be concerned for his well-being.
She doesn't see anything wrong in that, but apparently, to Michael, there is something wrong about it. She doesn't understand it, because she's always been like that, always been concerned for him, although she understands that she's never doted on him, either, but she's always taken good care of him when he couldn't take care of himself, and this seems like one of those situations to her.
She lifts her head up and takes one glance at the phone, before she stands up, shakes her head again, and then wipes away her tears. The first step she takes is wobbly, but she stabilizes herself by taking hold of the edge of the table. Taking a deep breath, she steadies herself and walks out of the office and up the stairs to their bedroom. Entering the room, she heads straight for their closet and picks out one of Michael's shirts and a pair of his sweats. Undressing herself and throwing her blouse and khakis into the hamper, she slips on Michael's shirt --she smiles sadly as she looks in the mirror and realizes that it's one of favorites, one of his older Beatles shirts-- and his sweats, and she doesn't know why, but there's a comforting sensation that wraps itself around her once she has Michael's clothes on. She wipes away stray tears, and then slips under their covers and hugs his pillow close to her.
His is the name that her mind whispers as she drifts into sleep.
There are various ways, David knows, that the silence between him and Michael can be broken, but there are no ingenious ideas that are striking him. He runs conversation starters through his head, but as he goes through their possible outcomes, he sees that they may possibly only heighten the awkwardness that has comfortably settled itself around them. He believes he's come upon the perfect one, before Michael cuts open the stillness with, "You know" --and then he shrugs-- "you could --if you want, you could just forget about what you heard."
David stares at Michael as though he's grown a second head. "What?"
Michael shrugs again, and then sits down on the sofa, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his thighs, clasping his hands together. "You know. You could look the other way if you want, while I fix things up with Stacey."
David looks at him, but Michael's head is down. "Look at me, Michael," he says, and slowly, the Australian does so. He shakes his head, and then exhales; he turns his left hand into a fist to stop it from shaking so much. "Are you kidding?" He doesn't even give his answer a second thought. "Of course not!"
The look in Michael's eyes is heartbreakingly confused, and he shakes his head. "I mean, you don't have to, you know, deal with this." His eyes fall away from David's face and settle on something else again. "It's nice you care, of course, but, you know --"
"--and what kind of person do you take me for, Mike?" He takes a seat next to the Australian and uses his hand to tilt Michael's face up to him. Michael forcibly keeps his gaze away from him, and as he lowers his hand, he growls, "Michael Johns, you look at me." He surprises himself with the tears in his voice, and he clears his throat and blinks rapidly, but nothing he does stops the tears. "What kind of person do you take me for? I'm not going to look the other way!" He can feel the wetness on his cheeks, and Michael finally looks at him as he takes a shaky breath.
"You don't have to deal with all of this, though," Michael insists, and David can see that his eyes are red, too. "We have more than enough to think about, and I don't want you to be burdened by my problems, and --"
"Who the hell are you, Michael, Superman?" David is this close to shaking Michael's shoulders to knock some sense into him. "You can't possibly handle all of this by yourself!"
"I don't want you getting hurt!" Michael raises his voice, and the tears are down his face, too. "The more you're involved in this argument, the more you get hurt!"
"And you think this isn't hurting me right now?" David shakes his head and scoffs. "You're a great judge of emotion, Michael." Michael opens his mouth to snap something in return, but David softens his expression, and says quietly, "Please, Mike. We're in this together, and you know that." A pained sound comes from Michael, but David refuses to let him speak. "I'm not going to let you solve this problem on your own, because you can't. There are some things I'll let you do by yourself, but not this. Not this, Michael."
"This is me asking too much from you, Dave." Michael shakes his head and looks at his hands.
"No, Michael," he says firmly. "This is you not asking for what you deserve." He sighs exasperatedly, running a hand through his hair before saying, "Look. If being a sacrificial lamb is your choice, then choose it your next life, but not now; I won't stand for it."
Michael lets out a dead laugh that hits David right through the heart. "I don't get it. All I'm doing is causing problems, for you, for Stacey, for everybody involved. Why do you --"
"--insist on staying by your side anyway?" David's voice rises slightly. "I don't know" --he makes a wild gesture with his hands-- "maybe it's because I'm an idiot who's in love with an even bigger idiot who thinks I'm going to let him face his problems on his own, maybe that's why!" The Australian is shocked into silence as David breathes heavily. "Have you ever thought about that?"
Michael looks at him, eyes wide and mouth slightly open. When he blinks, tears fall down his face; he blinks again, and he is out of his stupor, shaking his head and wiping his tears away with both of his hands. David takes a deep breath and looks around the room, closing his eyes and biting his lip, before he looks at Michael and takes a hold of his hands. "I thought we settled this over fettuccine Alfredo, Michael." Michael's mouth curls up slightly. "Whether you like it or not, I'm sticking by you. I'm part of the reason why you and Stacey are like this, and Michael Johns, don't you dare deny it" --Michael clamps his mouth shut immediately-- "and what kind of person would I be if I left you alone at a time like this?"
David watches the tears fall from his eyes as the Australian replies, the small smile widening, "The type of person smart enough not to have fallen for an idiot like me."
He reaches out and thumbs the tears away from Michael's eyes. "Heaven help us if I'm ever that smart, then."
Jason steps into the living room, prepared to use the telephone, but he doesn't make it to the door of the phone room without noticing the two figures seated on the sofa. From what he can see of their faces in this angle, Michael with his head turned further away and David providing a full profile, and from the way the sunlight hits and shadows their faces, he can tell that both of them had been crying. He raises an eyebrow, and then opens his mouth to call out to them, but the opening of the door catches his attention, and he turns to see Carly with a large smile on her face. It isn't one of her regular smiles; it's the kind of smile he sees only after she's talked to, or about, Todd, and it brings a smile to his face, too. He catches her attention with a wave of his hand, and she waves back, prepared to call out his name, but he puts a finger to his lips, and then points to Michael and David on the sofa.
She looks at him inquiringly before lifting her gaze over to the living room, and then she shrugs lightly; her eyes don't match up with her nonchalance. Jason shakes his head, and signals her to go back into the room. Carly does so, and the moment he has slipped into the room and closed the door quietly behind him, she asks, "You're not going to ask me how my phone call went, are you?"
"Uhm, no," he says with a faint shake of his head, "I wasn't going to, but I will now. How did your phone call go?"
Carly laughs at him. "It went fine, Castro, thanks for asking."
He grins widely, "That's good." Then he jerks a thumb in the general direction of the sofa Michael and David are sitting on. "What's wrong with them?"
The Irishwoman looks unsure about answering him for a moment, but she must have seen that he wants to know simply out of concern, so she nods and sighs. "Mike got into a fight with Stacey," she begins, and immediately, he frowns. "I came down to call Todd, and then I saw him come out of this room and start fidgeting with his wedding ring." Her eyes widen slightly. "You should've seen him, Jason. He was so distraught and confused; he was really worked up over it."
"And David plays into all of this how, exactly?" he asks her, and then she goes on.
"Michael told me the whole story. Stacey was only being concerned, and I guess it was up to the point where Michael felt he was being babied by her, or something, and I guess she struck a chord when she asked him if he was getting rest. It spiraled out of control from there."
He frowns at her. "You're telling me good ol' Mike Johns got mad because Stacey --was concerned?" He tilts his head inquisitively, and Carly raises her hands in frustration.
"Will you let me finish my story first, Castro?" she asks him, and he grins. Shaking her head, she says, "Michael ended up shouting at her, and that was when I found him looking confused and wrecked on the sofa. We started talking about it, and David overheard us, maybe somewhere around Michael being frantic about calling her back." Carly must have sensed the formation of the question in the back of his mind, because she tells him, "Mike was really vocal about it. 'She's my wife,' and all that, and --"
"--Dave took to it pretty bad," Jason concludes. In his mind, if it had been him in that situation, he wouldn't have been magic rainbows about it, either. He is silent for a moment, sweeping the whole room before coming back to Carly, who is standing with a slight slouch, arms crossed, and looking at the door behind Jason. "So what happens now?"
She shrugs, uncrossing her arms, and then looking up at him; there is nothing she can do to possibly shake the worry in her eyes. "That's up to them, Castro. Not us."
He steps aside and opens the door for Carly, his only response a light "Yeah," because he knows that, but at times like these, Jason wishes it really is.
Brooke thinks that, subconsciously, the Idols unanimously voted on having lunch at separate times. When she descends from the stairs with Kristy Lee, who she runs into as she walks out of the bathroom, she sees Michael and David, speaking in hushed tones with each other, Michael's hand poised to make some sort of explanatory gesture and David's head already shaking in amusement; and she sees Jason, sitting on the floor beside the younger David, sitting on the armchair, and there is a large, thick book of English literature open on the coffee table in front of them. When they walk into the dining room, they see Carly and Syesha in the kitchen, washing dishes, and Syesha sudenly bursts into laughter as Carly nods her head and insists, "It's true!"
Kristy Lee turns to her, "So I guess it's just us?"
Brooke smiles. "Yeah, I guess so."
She walks over to the refrigerator, waving at Syesha and Carly who turn to her and Kristy, and then pulls out a plate of fruits as Kristy reaches for the small bag of potato chips next to the refrigerator. Brooke raises an eyebrow, to which Kristy Lee simply shrugs. "What, I'm not allowed to indulge?"
The Arizonian shakes her head but grins as they seat themselves on the dining table. They take their first bites in silence, and the silence gives Brooke the opportunity to think of their rehearsals today. It makes her frown lightly and cringe somewhat, the very idea of having to do a larger choreographer piece --and with trained dancers, nonetheless! As if she didn't know how stiff and awkward her movements were on stage! Kristy seems to notice her internal dilemma as she swallows a potato chip, then asks, "Brooke? Are you okay?"
She nods. "Yeah, yeah, of course. Just --you know, thinking about how large a fool I'll turn myself into after Idol Gives Back."
Kristy scoffs. "Oh, come on, Brooke. It's not like your dancing is horrible, you know."
Brooke raises an eyebrow, Kristy stuffs more potato chips in her mouth. She swallows and insists, "It's true!" but the Arizonian shakes her head in disagreement.
"Name one person who looks more awkward --"
"David Cook." The answer is out of Kristy's mouth before Brooke has even finished her inquiry. "With no doubt, whatsoever." Her voice is low, but it is triumphant.
The response drives Brooke to giggles she politely hides behind a hand. Kristy nods her head, giving Brooke a victorious smile, and she doesn't have the heart to question the other woman's win in their little discussion. Brooke raises a finger and points it at Kristy, before she lowers her hand and uses it to pick up a grape. "If David finds out you said that," she says in a sing-song voice.
"If David finds out Kristy said what?"
Brooke and Kristy jump up at the sudden appearance of the suspicious face of one David Cook, eyebrow raised inquisitively, and then begin to laugh. Kristy tries and fails to form an answer, while Brooke tells him, still recovering from her laughter, "Don't --don't think about it, Dave. It's nothing."
David shakes his head, "Whatever," and then walks away, a glass of water in his hands.
Carly is disturbed by the eerie silence that has blanketed itself around the eight remaining Idols as she enters the van and closes the door. Even Michael and David, seated at the back, are unusually quiet, but for them, Carly knows it is more than just one problem troubling them. As the van begins to move, her eyes land first on Jason, who is idly gazing out the window, mouth set in a firm line; then to David and Syesha in the row in front of her, who have a space between them where Ramiele would have been seated; turning her head slightly to the left, she sees Kristy in the same position Jason is while Brooke is looking down at her hands neatly folded in her lap. She frowns because their van has never been in such an irreversible hush, and it frightens her slightly. She shakes her head, then shifts her body to be able to look back at David and Michael without having to crane her neck so much, and when she sees them, she bites her tongue to stop herself from cooing, "Aww."
"When did he fall asleep?" Carly whispers lightly, smiling quite widely at the image of the sleeping Australian on David's shoulder; she has to forcibly prevent herself from jumping over the seat and pinching Michael's cheeks.
The look on David's face is loving and serene. "Just a few minutes ago." Michael groans and shifts the position of his head on David's shoulder, and the other man rubs his shoulder affectionately. "Shh, Mike."
"Poor guy," she remarks, and now more so than ever, she is happy that they have each other to lean on, to get their support from. It hasn't been the easiest day for any of them --everyone else had been affected by Ramiele's departure earlier that day, and Michael and David must still be working out the former's situation with Stacey-- and it certainly helps to have somebody as a source of support.
David nods in agreement, the grip around Michael's shoulder tightening as he meets Carly's eyes with a firm gaze. "He's --well, you know. He's had a rough day."
"Don't worry," and she offers an encouraging smile to him here, "I'm sure the rehearsals will draw him away from it, even for just a little while."
The expression on David's face is grim. "Let's hope so, Carly."
When Michael wakes up next, the van is no longer moving and he is quick to realize that they've reached the Nokia Theater. He frowns, closes his eyes, and then opens them, forehead wrinkling as he shakes his head at the sunlight staring down directly at him. He can still feel David's clothing underneath his cheek, and with a slight groan, he sits up and turns his head in David's direction. He sees the Missourian smiling tenderly at him, and then he nods back. "I was asleep the whole time?"
"And then some," David says with a handsome chuckle. "The others are actually already inside."
Michael's eyes dart around the van, widening in horror as he realizes that there is really nobody else there but the driver, but even he is outside and smoking. The Australian scrambles to exit the van, pausing to throw David a dangerous glare as the Missourian laughs gently at him. "What?" he says as he opens the door and steps out immediately. "And why didn't you wake me up, Dave?"
David shakes his head in response and follows the Australian off of the vehicle. The smile refuses to leave his face as he closes the door behind him, and then he turns to face Michael. "It was Carly's idea to let you sleep a little longer," he explains as they both walk into the building, Michael at a slightly faster pace. "She thought you needed it --and, I did, too."
The taller man stops in mid-stride as he turns around to face David, and Michael can feel the expression on his face softening and the annoyance disappearing immediately. He smiles in thanks, before they enter the theater, and all eyes in the room turn to him. He can feel the blood rushing to his face, and he ducks his face sheepishly, bringing a hand up to the nape of his neck, then waving with the other and saying, "Uh, well, g'day."
There is laughter spread amongst the large number of people gathered, before two women come up to him and David, a blonde and the other brunette. The blonde, who is dressed casually in sweats and a sports bra, holds her hand out to him, and smiles, "Michael, hi! I'm Ashle, Ashle Dawson. It's nice to meet you."
Michael takes her hand with a nod of his head, "It's nice to meet you, too, Ashle." She nods at him.
"And I'm Lauren," the other girl says, and she, too, holds her hand out, but this time to David; David shakes her offered hand with a pleasant look in his eyes and a polite, "It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm David."
"Well," a third voice, also female, says to them, and Michael assumes immediately that she is their choreographer, "we actually just finished discussing how you were going to enter, so don't worry. You haven't missed much."
There is a sigh of relief that escapes Michael's mouth, before he turns his head to look at David, who grins widely at him. Michael smiles back, before allowing himself to be lead away by Ashle as Lauren takes a hold of David's hand; the brunette seemed much more enthusiastic than David did. Michael and Ashle walk and settle in between Kristy Lee and Brooke, and as they pass Carly, whom David has settled next to, she calls out encouragingly, "Show them what you got, Papa Johns!"
Chuckles are heard all around at his nickname, but he smiles. "Would you like pepperoni or Italian sausage?"
The chuckles turn into laughter, and Michael grins widely.
Carly finds this rehearsal so much more entertaining than their usual rehearsals for the Wednesday results shows. It is a different sort of energy they have now, something so much more than the energy Michael as one man could have possibly coaxed out of them with his sexy-dance. The dancers accompanying them on stage give them a larger burst of life, even though the Idols are not the ones doing the actual dancing, and are only choreographed for their entrance and finishing poses. As the instrumental version of Rihanna's "Don't Stop the Music" plays and the Idols are split into two groups, both Davids, Brooke, and her to the right and Michael, Kristy, Jason, and Syesha to the other side, the dancers take center stage. Somewhere in between the first performing trio and the Schwimmer siblings, she gives up thinking of possibly attempting those moves and turns her gaze to Brooke.
"Imagine we were able to do that?" she asks, and she knows her face is still in awe as she sees, out of the corner of her eye, Michael's partner Ashle and the other girl, Donyelle, dance.
Brooke laughs lightly, eyes sparkling and head shaking. "No way, Carly. I'd have already broken every bone in my body before we'd finished learning the choreography."
The final performers get on stage, a dance group named "Quest," and do their routine, and Carly thinks she is more in awe of this than any of the earlier routines. There they are, rolling on the floor, throwing each other over themselves, and oh, my God, is that even possible? Carly's eyes widen, before they are signaled to find their partners. It isn't hard to pick out Danny, and Carly goes to him immediately, and poses. What makes her giggle, though, is the sound that comes from Brooke as Dmitri lifts her unexpectedly. The taller dancer brings her down immediately and apologizes with a smile on his face, but Brooke waves it off immediately with a "Don't worry. At least now I know how Michael sees the world."
Michael, who is posing with Anya, looks over his shoulder to Brooke and Carly giggles at the fake intensity he attempts to produce by squinting his eyes. "'Scuse me?" he asks as he drops the hand around Anya's waist.
Carly laughs at him. "We were just going over how tall, dark, and handsome you were, kangaroo."
David snorts loudly as Michael bows grandly to Brooke, who laughs at him, too. "Now you've gone and fed his ego even more. I'll never be able to live it down."
Michael tosses back to him, pointing a finger with a knowing look, "Oh, don't go trying to hide it, Cook. You know you agree with them."
The Irishwoman looks around and sees most of the dancers, and all of the other Idols, with large grins on their faces; some of them, like two of the dancers from Quest --Dominic and Hok-- and Jason and Kristy, are even laughing, turning and holding on to each other for support. Nick, her partner, asks, "Are they always like this?"
She nods and opens her mouth to answer, but she is cut off as a response from Michael draws out a "Kiss my ass, Johns!" from David. Nick snorts next to her, and instead of following in suit, Carly lets out a whistle. This is going to be good.
She watches the Australian with a raised eyebrow, nearly choking on her own spit as Michael retorts, "Only when you beg for it, Cook!" and burying her face into Nick's shoulder, holding on to his arm to keep from collapsing due to laughter. The silence that blankets around them is only there for a second, even less; Michael and David quickly bridge the distance between them, laugh, and then high-five.
Oh, boys, Carly thinks as she claps Nick on the shoulder and then walks over to Brooke as soon as he's nodded at her. Brooke comments to her, "Those two," and the Irishwoman shakes her head.
"You can't blame them for being adorable like that," she says with a wave of her hand in the boys' direction and a nod of her head.
"Well," Brooke agrees with a wide smile, and is about to say something else before the choreographer claps and says loudly, "All right! Not bad for your first run, Idols! But before you all run away for break, David!" she then calls out and looks around, and both Davids turn to her, Cook with a raised eyebrow, Archuleta with a slightly frightened widening of his eyes. "Sorry," she grins sheepishly. "David Cook."
Archuleta looks relieved as Cook answers, "Yes, ma'am," and then walks over.
"This isn't the military, David," she tells him with a light clap on the shoulder, and Carly bursts out laughing; it is Michael who throws her a withering glare, and it is Brooke beside her who backs away somewhat wearily. "Try to be a little less stiff, all right?"
"Last time I checked," Michael's Australian drawl cuts in, and Carly can see the narrowing of his eyes, "we auditioned for a singing competition."
Carly is perhaps the only witness to David's glare that was surely meant to silence Michael --and either it is a glare that he did not notice or a glare that he pointedly chose to ignore-- because it is noticeable he had been prepared to say something else had David not butted in.
"Of course I auditioned for a singing competition, Michael," and Carly knows that everyone in the room had noticed the emphasis the Missourian placed on the other man's name. "My poor ego can't possibly take Nigel. Simon is enough for me."
The choreographer laughs, and Carly releases a breath she hadn't realized she'd held in at David's quick "word nerd" reflexes.
"You wait and see," Jason says as he pops in between Brooke and Carly and throws an arm around both of them. "Michael's sharp tongue is going to make her make us do one hundred push-ups and stretches." The goofy grin plastered on his face throws away the effect of the small growl he adds.
"For every word Michael says?" Carly remarks sarcastically.
"For every vowel in every word Michael says," Jason deadpans with a nod of his head.
"Oh, we'd be dead," Brooke nods, amusement tinting her voice.
"Especially since it's David Cook he's defending, you know?" Jason has taken Carly's words right out of her mouth. "He can go on and on about David."
"Well, if you put it that way, I guess we should be happy it isn't David doing the defending, you know, what with him and that big vocabulary of his."
All three of them turn around and, with surprise, watch Kristy Lee throw them a small smile as she walks away.
"I was awkward, you know," David remarks as he crosses his arms and watches Michael drink from the small paper cup in his hands. "You didn't have to go and chew her head off."
"Excuse me?" Michael draws himself to his full height, and then growls as he crushes the paper cup in his hands. "I hadn't even started. I'd just opened my mouth."
"Well, then keep it shut," David answers, taking the defenseless cup from Michael's hand and throwing it in the nearby wastebasket. "She's only trying to help, you know."
Michael stares and frowns at David, who sighs in exasperation. "Mike. I've faced Simon Cowell and his brutal criticisms for how many weeks now? I can take a little heat from her; I don't get burned easily."
The Australian looks as though he wants to make one last attempt at letting David see that the woman is, honestly, really, and truly worthy of his ungodly wrath, but decides against it and the Missourian forces a smug smile away and instead gives Michael a contented one. "Thank you," he says with a satisfied nod.
Michael scoffs and turns away, and David offers, "You know I'd take that pout away if I could," and Michael faces him with a raised eyebrow, a frustrated expression on his face.
"Do you know how unfair it is to me, how you know I can't stay mad at you?" he says, grabbing another paper cup off of the table and filling it with water he downs in a spn of seconds. "You have what we like to call an unfair advantage."
David looks at him haughtily, nose in the air, "Well, excuse me."
Michael reaches over and easily ruffles David's hair; he pulls away with a miffed expression on his face, and Michael laughs. He walks away in Ashle's direction, and then calls over his shoulders, "You're excused, Mr. Cook."
David smiles, and shakes his head.
In a way, Ashle reminds Michael of Stacey. It isn't the similarity in the hair color, no, and although Michael's grasp of different shades of blonde isn't necessarily as great as Stacey's, he can see that hers is somewhat lighter than Ashle's. No, Michael thinks it's more the way Ashle's eyes light up when she smiles, and the polite, ladylike way she puts her hand to her mouth when she laughs.
"And you call that what, Michael?" she asks in a teasing tone as he winks at her.
"That, my dear Ashle," as he repeats his dance in front of her, and she goes into another round of laughter, "is what we like to call a 'sexy-dance.'"
"Even if it's not sexy in any way!" The Irish accent is unmistakable, and Michael doesn't even turn around to say, "Don't lie, Carly!" He jerks a thumb in the general direction from which Carly's voice came, and shrugs. "I mean, I just don't get it how she can't see this!" he says, and then pretends to fan himself. He runs a hand through his hair and messes it up, and when she exclaims after calming down, "Oh! I didn't know you were married!"
Michael nods slowly. "Oh, yeah? I thought it would've been a dead giveaway. I think I've mentioned it once or twice on the show, too."
She smiles sheepishly at him. "I haven't really been watching."
He laughs. "That's all right." He raises his left hand and shows her his wedding band. "A little over a year now."
She crosses her arms, nodding, and then leans back a little. "Wow," she says, and she sways lightly. "How nice it must be."
"Oh, uh, yeah," he answers her quickly with a small smile. "Of course." Of course.
"It must be a different sense of love everyday then, huh," she continues with a wistful smile on her face, "to have her face as the first thing you see when you wake up every morning."
"Definitely," he tells her, and he thinks about what Ashle has just told him. He throws the phrase 'different sense of love' around in his head and he decides that there is truth to her words; he does feel different every day he wakes up and sees Stacey with her bright eyes gazing at him lovingly and her hair neatly pulled back, but then again, he feels different waking up and seeing David, eyes still sleepy and his hair adorably messy and up in every direction. "It's, you know." He shrugs. "I, uh, I guess you could say it's pretty fantastic."
The wistful smile on Ashle's face gets a little larger. "She must really trust you, letting you go for a long period of time like this."
And Michael knows, he knows by her tone and the brightness of her eyes and the smile playing on her lips, that it is meant nothing more as a joke, but the word trust, and used in the way it is, strikes a chord in him. He frowns lightly, and Ashle catches the look faster than he'd expected as he quickly tucks it behind a wide grin.
"I'm sorry," she tells him, perplexity in every form on her face. "Did --did I say something wrong?"
It is his fastest recovery time from a punch in the gut, he thinks, as he raises his hands in front of him and says, "No, no, of course not, Ashle."
Lines form on her forehead as she looks at him for a moment before asking, "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, yeah," he nods quickly, "don't --don't mind it."
"Because, you know, if I said something wrong, you could tell me." She looks at him apologetically. "I mean, I'd rather not repeat it and have it be, you know, awkward."
"No, it's nothing, trust me," and he puts a hand over his heart. "I just --uh, you know, something just came to my mind."
Ashle gives him another apologetic look; he walks over to her and hugs her. "Don't worry about it. Really. Don't." She gives him a smile that widens as the choreographer calls the whole group back together.
"Last few sentences aside," she tilts her head in his direction as she dances away from him and toward the rest of the dancers, "I think that was a nice little chat we had, don't you think?"
"Well," and he winks at her again, "I thought it was a nice idea to get to know the girl who's going to have her 'hands around my waist'" --and he places the lyrics in air quotation marks --"next Wednesday."
Ashle's giggle is tinkling and bell-like, and Michael turns and faces away from her, standing between Brooke and Kristy Lee, who continues to look at him concernedly, even after he has answered her "Mike, are you okay?" with a "Why wouldn't I be?"
Because she sounds exactly like Stacey.
They end today's rehearsal on a high note --everybody is smiling and laughing, Michael has gotten past throwing back biting remarks at the choreographer, and the Idols have all gotten their lines down for the song. Carly's glad they've got rehearsals, at least for today, over with --she doesn't think her feet can take any more skipping to the side of the stage to the center and back to the side again. She looks around at the dancers, who don't look the least bit tired, and Carly now knows why dancer isn't her chosen profession. Sure, she could hold high notes, sure she could belt songs out, but there was no possible way she was going to survive had dancing been her profession of choice.
She stops pitying her feet long enough to pay attention to the choreographer, who claps to get the attention of the Idols and the dancers, who have settled into light conversation before they are properly dismissed from rehearsals. She can see heads twisting back and bodies turning away from parters in conversation as she her voice echoes through the empty theater, "You guys did great today! And, David, we've still got a kinks to work out, all right?" She looks pointedly at the older David, who Carly sees out of the corner of her eye moving in front of Michael, the right side of his body angled to face the Australian in a way that he has to look over his shoulder to meet the choreographer's eyes.
"Yes, ma'am," he says, and she can see Michael's lip curling unpleasantly; David places a hand on Michael's stomach to stop him from attacking her as she tells him, "We'll get that stiffness out of you yet," to which he repeats, "Yes, ma'am."
"All right! That's all for today." She laughs at the sighs of relief all around, before she nods. "Get some rest, guys, you deserve it." The dancers call back to her in thanks as most of the Idols simply nod their head, the large group walking out of the theater and over to the back, where their white van, surrounded by several other cars, is parked.
"Finally!" one of the Quest dancers, Dominic, exclaims as he exaggerates wiping sweat off of his forehead. "I thought I was going to die in there."
"You!" another of the dancers, Hok, says incredulously, and the girl whose waist his hand is wrapped around, Lacey, giggles. "Have a little heart for the rest of us!"
She has gotten used to the boy-boy banter, and she simply smiles, because in this one moment, if never anywhere else, they remind her so much of the two boys she knows so well. Her gaze flutters over to Michael and David, who are surprisingly not already in the van; Michael, who is talking to Ashle, is a few dancers away from David, laughing at something Benji, Lacey's brother, says. Her bewilderment disappears as Michael hugs Ashle and tells her "See you tomorrow" while David gives Benji a nod and a "We'll see" in farewell, and as soon as Ashle and Benji have flocked over to Nick and Donyelle, they disappear into the white van, occupying the final row that has been wordlessly claimed as their territory.
"Gone so soon?" Jason remarks as he waves another goodbye to his partner, and walks over to the van with Carly.
"As if it still surprises you, Castro," she answers, and he laughs.