A/N: Okay, here we go again...
RJ Stone cursed as he set the heavy box down and wiped at the perspiration on his brow. He was starting to wish he was touring or recording then he wouldn't have to deal with this mess. A heaping amount of guilt stabbed his gut with this thought as he sank on the sofa and accepted the beer his best friend, Jamie Wenslow handed him.
"Thanks for the help, guys," Jamie said as he sat on a box. "The movers just kinda dumped everything wherever they saw fit."
"No problem, bro," Cole Collins, RJ's other best friend muttered.
"You shouldn't have paid the idiots," RJ mused as he glanced around the room. "This is a great place, though. Hey, do you mind if I use it during the football season? You won't be around."
Jamie laughed. "Sure, man. You know I don't care."
Cole grinned slyly at RJ. "You know he has to check with his old lady first."
"What the hell are you talking about?" RJ smirked. "You have to ask Ally before you can wipe your nose."
Jamie choked on his beer and nodded at Cole. "He's just jealous, that's all."
Cole bumped fists with Jamie. "Hell yeah. He wishes he had it as good as we do."
RJ snorted. "I do have a girlfriend, you know."
Cole shrugged at Jamie. "His girlfriend is hot."
"Yeah, I'll give him that," Jamie concurred.
"Hey," RJ objected, eyes bouncing between his two friends. "You don't hear me calling your women hot." The other two laughed heartily as RJ merely shook his head. "So, James, when are you tying the knot?"
"Whenever she tells me," Jamie said simply.
RJ stood and grabbed three more beers from the cooler. "You see," he started as he passed out the beers. "That's why women shouldn't put the wedding ring on your finger. She should put it on your…"
"Don't even think of finishing that sentence if you don't want me to cut off what you think the ring should be on," Ally Collins, Cole's wife and RJ's other best friend, threatened as she walked through the door lugging a steaming pizza box. Sophie Flanagan entered behind her with another pizza, face turning beet red from holding in her giggles.
"Ally!" RJ smiled, holding his arms wide open. "I missed you!"
She rolled her eyes, set the pizza down and helped herself to a bottle of water. "You saw me an hour ago you idiot." She held up a bottle. "Do you want one, Sophie?" The other woman nodded and smiled her thanks as Ally tossed one to her. "What are you morons complaining about now?"
"Nothing," RJ smiled. "Just guy stuff."
Ally looked around and frowned. "Where's Kari?"
"I don't know," RJ said, sinking back down on the sofa. "We don't have rings on our…fingers."
Jamie held his hands up. "I have no rings on my fingers…or anywhere else."
"Yet," RJ agreed as he pointed at Sophie. "But she has one." He sat back and folded his hands behind his head. "I'll be the last free member of our little foursome." He yanked his right hand from behind his head and punctuated each of his next words. "I can see the headlines now: RJ Stone Dodges The Bullet As All His Friends Fall."
Ally rolled her eyes and sat on Cole's leg. "What a drama queen."
He gave her a roguish wink. "Whatever works, babe."
Cole nudged Ally gently off his lap. "Let's get this stuff cleared up so you guys can actually sleep here tonight," he said to Jamie.
"The bedroom's cleared out enough and the bed's put together. If we can just get the kitchen boxes to the kitchen…"
"We're throwing you two a smoking housewarming party," RJ informed Jamie. "You and Sophie won't know what hit."
"That's what scares me," Sophie grimaced.
RJ's lips formed a wolfish grin as he tossed an arm around her shoulders. "You're about to be initiated, officially, into this meager little group. It's harmless, really. Just ask Robby." He frowned as he turned around the room, dragging Sophie with him. "Where is Robby anyway? Receiving a medal of honor or something?"
Cole snorted as he lugged another box to the kitchen. "Poor guy, he's stuck at the studio." His muscles strained under the weight of the box. "What do you have in here, James?"
Sophie shrugged out of RJ's arms to go inspect the box Cole carefully dropped to the kitchen floor.
"Hope it wasn't glass," RJ mused. Jamie slapped him on the back and entered the kitchen to help.
Ally looped her arm through RJ's. "Where is Kari tonight?"
"Out with her friends," he said as he bent to kiss her temple. "I'm not on a leash."
She punched him playfully as she gasped. "You are terrible. You could be happy for James. The player finally settled down with a great girl. Quit teasing him because he's going to get married."
"I am happy he's settled down," he protested, hand over his heart. "And I adore Sophie. Besides," he grinned, "more women for me."
"You're a pig," she groaned. "You have a girlfriend remember?"
"How could I forget?" he asked as innocent as possible. "Now, let's discuss this party."
Ally stooped to lift a box but Cole swooped in and took it from her, glaring angrily. "You're not supposed to be lifting anything, remember?"
Ally's entire face reddened a deep, crimson color as she returned Cole's glare. "I know that," she bit out, enunciating each word carefully.
RJ eyed them suspiciously, carefully folding his arms as a tiny smile slipped across his lips. "Something you're not telling us, kids?"
Jamie and Sophie returned to the room and paused, curiously taking in the scene. "What's going on?" Jamie asked.
Cole nudged Ally gently with his shoulder. "Tell them, princess – you know you're dying to blurt it out."
The red cleared off her face only to be replaced with a grin. "Cole and I are going to have a baby."
"Coz," Jamie gasped as he swept her up in his arms.
RJ stood frozen, mouth wide open but only unintelligible words spewing forth. He took an awkward step toward Cole and yanked his arm. "No way."
"It's true, bro," Cole whispered as he embraced his friend. This fall."
RJ beamed as he stepped back. He kissed Ally and wrapped her in his arms. "Well, now we have two things to celebrate tonight."
RJ squeezed past what he was sure were a couple football players from Jamie's team as he attempted to make it back to the living room. He scanned the crowd and grinned when he spotted his target. She was talking animatedly to Sophie, gesturing wildly with her hands.
"Whatever she says about me is a lie," RJ winked at Sophie. "Unless she's extolling my machoness." He thrust a drink in the other girl's hand and kissed her quickly. "Rum and diet, just as you like."
"Thanks, honey," Kari Caulfield smiled. "And we weren't discussing how macho you are. I was telling her about the show you guys did a couple weeks ago when the lights came loose and hung right over your heads."
"Yeah, pretty scary," he agreed. He studied his girlfriend and couldn't keep the grin off his face. She was dressed in a short denim skirt that accented her shapely legs. Her long, straight blonde hair flowed like a sultry curtain down her back and her blue eyes hypnotized him each time he gazed into them. She had a sweet, good girl smile that hid a fiery temptress behind it. Yes, he thought, he was a lucky, lucky man. "So, umm, Sophie," he said as he tried to keep his mind off Kari. "When are you and James going to set a date?"
"I don't know," she admitted. "I think we'll get married after the season ends."
"But it hasn't even started yet," he whined. "And you can't elope. If you do, you have to take me, Cole and Ally with you. It's written in our contract."
She laughed and patted his arm. "I know, don't worry. If we decide to run off to Mexico or Vegas, we'll give you fair notice."
"Hey," he said, holding a hand up. "Just trying to save you from litigation."
"And I appreciate that," she said, eyes shining with overflowing laughter. She looked past him and sighed. "That's the boss now. I need to see what he wants."
Kari turned to face RJ. "I like her. I think she's a good match for Jamie even though I don't know him as well as I do Cole and Ally."
RJ took a large swallow of his drink. "Yeah, well, he's been in Wichita most of the fall and winter. Plus he's been spending a lot of his free time with Tyler. It sucks he can't play for Chicago."
"Why can't he?" she asked.
He chuckled and kissed her. "It's not that easy. You just can't pick what team you want to play for. Besides, Chicago sucks. If he played for any team nearby, I think he'd pick Indy." He sighed.
"Hi," Samantha Easton greeted later as she approached Jamie and RJ. Jamie had been reliving his first year as a pro football player and discussing the points of his contract. "Is Robby here yet?"
"Hey, Sammy. Haven't seen him yet," RJ frowned as he gazed around the room. "He didn't come with you?"
"I had to work," she explained. "He called me from the studio and said he'd meet me here."
RJ dropped an arm around her shoulders. "He's a work-aholic," he smirked. "You should know that by now."
Sam sighed and offered a weak smile. "I know."
"You can keep me company," he said. "Robby's probably rescuing another damsel in distress," he laughed, referring to the way she'd met Robby.
"I doubt it. He's cape is at the cleaners," she quipped. RJ laughed heartily and kissed her cheek.
"Hello, Sam," Kari said as she wormed her way under RJ's free arm. "How are you?"
"Fine, thanks," she muttered, nibbling on her lip.
"Where's Robby?" Kari asked.
Sam smiled and winked at RJ. "Oh, probably at the dry cleaner's." She slipped out from under RJ's arm and pointed at the kitchen door. "I'm going to go say hi to Ally."
Kari shook her head as she watched the other girl walk away. "She wants you."
RJ sighed and closed his eyes. "No, she doesn't, Kari. She's so in love with Robby Black that it makes me want to puke."
"She's always talking to you whenever she's around," Kari pouted.
"She's funny," RJ defended. "She cracks me up."
"Whatever you say," she muttered. She perked and squeezed his waist. "There's Robby now."
RJ waved at the newcomer and frowned at the dark look on Robby's face. He made his way through the crowd, greeted Kari and clenched RJ's arm. "Can I speak to you for a second?"
"Sure," RJ said slowly, disengaging Kari's grip. "Let's go outside."
They stepped out on the deck and RJ welcomed the cool, early spring air. Jamie's house, while a good size, was becoming stuffy with all the warm bodies. He leaned against the rail and focused his attention on Robby. "What's up?"
"A woman stopped by the studio today – that's why I'm late," Robby explained. "She was asking for you."
RJ's brows pulled together. "Me? Who was she?"
"Said her name was Cassidy Ford," Robby said as he extracted a folded envelope from his back pocket. "She wanted me to give you this." He handed the envelope to RJ cautiously. "I didn't read it and she didn't tell me what it was, but she did stress that she wasn't a groupie or anything and that it was very important that you get this letter."
"Cassidy Ford?" RJ said as his frown deepened. He glanced at the envelope in his hand. "I don't think I know her."
"She said you didn't know her but that you knew her cousin, Elise." Robby pinched the bridge of his nose. "I can't remember what Elise's last name is."
"Whitley," RJ supplied. "If it's the same Elise I'm thinking of. She went to school with me but I haven't seen her since then."
Robby shrugged. "This Cassidy seemed harmless enough – though sort of stressed out. She kept repeating how important it was for you to get this letter."
RJ ripped the envelope open and stepped closer to the doors to illuminate the words. The letter was handwritten in neat print.
Dear Mr. Stone,
I apologize for bothering you but I have something urgent I need to discuss with you. I don't know if you remember my cousin, Elise Whitley, but I know that you dated her briefly in high school. What I need to talk to you about has to do with her but I promise I'm not looking for money or anything like that.
Could you please call the number I've left on the bottom of this letter? I'm hoping we can meet and discuss this matter very soon.
Thank you very much,
RJ reread the letter then passed it to Robby to read. Robby's eyes scan the paper before handing it back. He shrugged.
"Like I said, she seemed harmless," Robby reiterated. "Are you going to call her?"
"I don't know," RJ mused. "Probably. Elise was a little wild in high school – that's why I broke it off with her. She wouldn't stop and I didn't want to get dragged into that sort of lifestyle." He took a deep breath and glanced at the letter again. "Maybe this Cassidy needs help getting her cousin into some kind of rehab center or something. Maybe she thinks I can get her in somehow."
"Maybe," Robby agreed. "She might have read about Jake and about your band's stand on drugs. Maybe she thinks you can help."
"Possibly," RJ said as he crammed the letter in the envelope and shoved it in his pocket. "I'll call her in the morning."
A/N: As I said before, this story will be different from the first two attempts. This chapter has the only remaining sections of the original and after that - it's all new. I really hope you like it because it's all I've been obsessing over lately.