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Brian and I had each gone home the next morning - Brian to Baylee and Leighanne in Georgia and me to... well, Jerome, I guess... in LA. The apartment sounded loud and empty after spending so much time with Brian, but I didn't dare to leave it much. What if I see someone with no time, I worried, What if the ministry comes to get me again? I didn't even know what they could do to punish me.

After beating my own high score like eight times on the PlayStation, I had settled for trying to read Jerome's mind. He was on the coffee table, his tongue waving, laying on a deck of cards. I was staring at him, trying to channel him.

The phone rang and sighed, "We'll continue this in a moment," I told him, "No cheating."

I crossed the room and picked up the phone, heading back to the couch. It was AJ. "Dude I think we should hit the recording studio," he said, before he'd even said hello.

"The recording studio?" I asked, surprised. "But we literally just got off tour," I said. Usually we procrastinated forever taping a new album.

"Yeah," AJ said. I could almost hear the shrug in his voice, "But this would be the last album with Jive Records, then our contract's up and we can get a new label and Kevin can come back and--"

"Look you don't gotta sell the idea to me," I said, glancing at Jerome as he slithered off the table and scuttled across the carpet toward his sunbathing lamp, which I'd never put back in the bedroom after moving it so Brian could interact with him. "I'm so bored I'm playing mind-reading games with the iguana." Besides that, I thought sadly, there's only a few short months left between now and January, and I'd like to spend it with you guys.

"Mind-games? With Jerome?" AJ asked, he snickered. "And who's winning those?"

"Duh," I said, "Jerome kicks ass at this game."

So that’s how it we all ended up in the studio the next Monday, listening to AJ lay his tracks. Brian, Howie and I were playing cards while AJ worked (and Howie, I’m sad to say, was cheating like a rug… er, something like that). “So, Nick,” Howie said, “You ever hear from that Amie chick?”

Brian looked up. “Why?”

Howie glanced at Brian, then back at me, then to Brian again. “I thought I said Nick?”

Brian flushed. “I’m just wondering why you brought it up.”

I raised my eyebrow. “Nah,” I answered, lying smoothly, “I didn’t hear from her.”

Brian gave me a funny look.

“Too bad, you liked her,” Howie said. He tossed a pair of Jacks down on the table and looked around at Brian and I, thinking. “Nick, do you got a seven?”

“Go fish,” I answered. I sipped the Pepsi I had sitting in front of me. “Yeah, she was all right. But hey, if she’s not gonna call me back… not much point in waitin’ around for her.” I scanned my cards. “Brian, a five?” Brian forked over the five of hearts and I dropped my pair of fives as Howie slipped another card down to the table, thinking no one saw. “Howie, a King?”

“Go fishy, fishy Nicky,” he said in a teasing voice. I knew he’d had one earlier, though. He must’ve dropped it at some point. Bastard. “AJ said she was hot, too,” he added.

“Who’d I say was hot?” AJ came out of the booth, panting and spraying a bottle of water at his face.

“That Amie chick Nick picked up in the sticks,” Howie said, looking over his shoulder at AJ.

“Oh yeah,” AJ nodded. He grabbed a handful of the popcorn that we had sitting in a bowl in the middle of us. “She was a fox.”

“I’m so glad AJ’s approval rating means I should’ve stayed with a woman or not,” I said, rolling my eyes.

AJ smirked, “Well at least your relationships would last longer than like a minute, right? Because … damn, do I approve of women.”

Brian looked up, “And you have such fine taste, too.”

Brian’s words had been sarcastic, but AJ beamed as though he’d meant them. “No shit, right?” He turned and galloped to the bathroom.

“He’s unbelievable,” Howie said.

I laughed, “Yeah, but … he’s AJ.”

“Nick, you’re up,” the production guy called me from the soundboard. “We’re gonna have you run through the vocals on Straight Through My Heart.”

“Shall we pause the game then?” Howie asked.

“Why?” I asked, “You’re cheating anyways.” I grabbed my Pepsi, downed what was left of it and headed into the booth as Howie sputtered to Brian about false accusations and Brian laughed hysterically.