Alli groaned and rolled over, pulling her pillow over her head and
thrusting her face into the mattress. She was absolutely exhausted, and she wasn't about to go and answer the door, despite
the incessant knocking. Billy had taken her straight to the hotel the night before, and she had been too exhausted--both physically
and emotionally--to do anything but crawl in bed and fall asleep. Even the sleep had been fitful, and she had tossed and turned
before finally falling somewhat comatose at three in the morning. Now, at eight, someone insisted on pestering her. The knocking
continued, and Alli lifted her head from its position long enough to mutter a protest.
was a snort form the other side of the door. "Fat chance, Alli! Wake up, girl. We're taking you to breakfast in our room."
Alli rolled her eyes as the voice registered and sank further beneath the covers. "Leave me alone. I'll be up later."
To her distaste, the knocking persisted. She was content to pull the pillow back over her head and attempt to continue
sleeping, but a loud shout interrupted her half-slumber.
"ALEXANDRA LEIGH LACEY! OPEN THE DAMN DOOR!"
sound of her full name, Alli shot to a sitting position, blinking rapidly to adjust to the sunlight that was streaming through
her windows. The knocking at her door became a gradual pounding, and she groaned loudly as she pulled herself to a standing
position and began walking to the door. She shoved her curls out of her face and yanked the door open to stare at her tormentors
Amanda rolled her eyes, unable to keep a small smile at bay after seeing Alli's less-than-stellar
appearance. "Yeah, that we did. Babe, no offense, but you sleep like a rock."
Alli glared. "I can't sleep at all with
the two of you pounding on my door at eight in the freaking morning. Now, what the hell is your problem?"
lightly. "Uh, Al, you went to Linkin Park last night, remember? What on earth would make you think that we weren't going to
bug the shit out of you for details?"
Alli groaned more loudly as the memories from the night before came rushing
back. Within seconds, she was just as angry and upset as she had been before, and she shooed her friends into her room quickly
to avoid making a scene in the hallway. After all, for all she knew, Nick was still lurking around the floor with his latest
conquest, and she wasn't at all in a mood suitable for dealing with him.
"Trust me when I say that you don't want
the details to last night," she muttered, walking into the bathroom while AJ and Amanda took seats on her bed. Amanda gave
her a curious look, but AJ refused to take heed to the obvious warning.
"Come on, Al, there had to be something
interesting that happened last night. Nick was in a great mood, for once, and I can't remember the last time you slept this
late." He stood and walked to the bathroom, finally taking up post in the doorway. He smirked and folded his arms across his
chest. "Was there anything going on last night that we need to know about?"
Alli rinsed her toothbrush and spit into
the sink, fully agitated by AJ's insinuation. "Don't you have somewhere to be? I mean, you're a freaking Backstreet Boy. Don't
you have work to do?"
AJ laughed. "We did a radio spot this morning, so we're home free until lunchtime. Now, about
your night with Nick..."
Alli whirled around to face him. "Nick got laid last night, AJ. Nothing new."
eyebrows climbed considerably high on his forehead, too surprised by the implications of Alli's statement than by the fact
that she had called him "Nick". "Nick got laid? Seriously? But I thought that you didn't..."
Alli shrugged lightly.
"I didn't. However, Bailey the Concert Chica did."
Amanda's jaw dropped in shock. "He hit on another girl while he
was with you? Again?!" Alli nodded affirmatively, and Amanda's eyes blazed in anger. "That little shit..."
furrowed in a frown, however, and he held a hand out to calm his girlfriend. "Al, what exactly happened last night?"
sighed heavily and sat down on the couch across from the bed, tucking her legs under her. She ran a hand through her hair
and frowned when her fingers got caught. "Honestly? We went to the concert. I had a great time, because I love Linkin Park,
and I love rock music. The night totally sucked, because I do not love Nick's
behavior. Once again, he managed to find
some chick to talk to, and at the end of the night, he went with her to some coffee shop and left Billy there to take me back
to the hotel." She heaved a sigh. "You know what? I don't know where my Carter went, but I'm sick of looking. I'm sick of
pretending that he's going to come back just because I decided to play doormat for a while. I'm done playing doormat. Having
his muddy feet all over me is no longer appealing in any way, shape, or form, you know?"
Both AJ and Amanda looked
overwhelmed at having heard the events of the previous evening. They had spent the night before in the back row at the local
theater, watching both Amanda's choice chick flick and AJ's desired action flick. When they had arrived back at the hotel,
Alli had been fast asleep and Nick had been nowhere in sight. They had simply assumed that he'd gone down to the hotel bar
to check out the female selection as per usual. Neither of them had suspected that Alli had once again been forced to endure
the after-effects of Nick's recent hormone overdrive. AJ cleared his throat lightly, and Alli turned to face him with a tired
He shrugged. "I don't blame you. Hell, Al, I wouldn't blame you for walking right out
of the hotel, flying home to Tampa, and never looking back. Truth is, though, I really think you were helping Nick in a way
that the guys and I don't know how to."
Alli snorted in disbelief. "Yeah fucking right. He hasn't changed at all since
I got here, J. I'm not doing this anymore, okay? I know I said I wasn't going to let him keep this up, but I can't shoot myself
in the chest while I wait for him to snap out of it. I'll be here when he's my Carter again, but until then, I don't want
anything to do with him."
Amanda looked both angry and concerned all at once. Of course, how she managed to do so
was beyond anyone's comprehension, but they were able to mark it down to the fact that she was Amanda. "Girl, you've got to
do what's right for you. You've done everything for Nick, but you can't continue to do that if it hurts more than it helps,
Alli groaned, stretching out on the couch. "Hell yeah, I know."
AJ looked down at Alli expectantly
from his position over her. "So what're you going to do? I mean, Nick's your best friend, so you can't exactly avoid him.
On the other hand, Al, you can't leave us..."
Amanda nodded grudgingly, acknowledging AJ's argument before looking
matter-of-factly at her friend. "He does have a point, Al. What are you going to do?"
Alli let loose with a bitter
laugh. "Yeah, that is the million dollar question, isn't it?" She sucked in a breath. "Honestly, guys? I don't have a clue."
* * * * *
Fortunately for Alli, she didn't have to ponder the subject for
long. She was sitting in the dressing room, patiently waiting for the Boys to finish rehearsal while joking around with the
other girls, when her cell phone rang. She looked to the others sheepishly. "Should I answer it?"
lightly at Alli's frightened expression. "I don't know, Al. Should you?"
Jessi rolled her eyes at the teasing tone
in Leighanne's voice. "Leigh, be nice. Al's had a long few days."
Kristin chortled. "Jessi, dear, with the way Nick's
been acting lately, I wouldn't be surprised if every day is a long day for Alli."
Alli chuckled, still looking at
the ringing phone. She was torn between answering and not answering, because she didn't recognize the number on the caller
ID. Amanda, however, winked at her.
"Al, go on and answer it, girl. You don't have to hide from us anymore. We know
you're getting booty calls..."
"Amanda!" Leighanne cried, covering her mouth from surprise. Her cheeks were slightly
flushed due to the mention of something so sexual, and Amanda snickered at her expression.
"Leigh, sex is a part of
every day life. We all need to get laid, especially when our best friends act like jerks." She gave Alli a knowing wink before
turning her attention back to Leighanne. "Now, you ought to know the importance of sex. Don't think we don't hear you and
Brian going at it after a show." She shook her head and clucked her tongue in mock disapproval as Leighanne flushed a deeper
crimson. "And to think that the others have to wonder why he's always so exhausted the next morning..."
a pillow in Amanda's direction and groaned. "Okay, leave Leigh alone. You are SO AJ's girlfriend."
Alli chose the
opportunity to answer the phone, stuffing a finger in her other ear so that she could hear the caller. "Hello?"
Is this Alexandra Lacey?"
Alli shuddered at the mention of her full name. The caller sounded serious. "Yeah, why?"
She heard the person on the other line suffer a sharp intake of breath. "Well, Ms. Lacey, we regret to inform you
that there's been an accident."
Alli tensed immediately, and the color drained from her face. There were very few
people close enough to her to give anyone else reason to call in a serious situation, and the possibilities running through
her head were not doing anything to ease her nerves. "W-w-w..." She paused and took a deep breath in attempt to calm herself.
"What kind of accident?"
The other girls fell silent in their playful bickering and directed their attention to Alli,
who was visibly shaking as the caller spoke to her.
"Well, Ms. Lacey, your father was involved in a car accident."
Alli's eyes widened in shock, and the hand in her ear went straight to her heart. "Oh, God..."
Of all people
in the world with the exception of the person Nick had once been, Alli was closest to her father. They had braved everything
together, from fund shortages to the loss of a loved one, and Alli knew that she was a stronger person for the bond that she
held with her father. She was one of the few women who had more faith in men than she did in other women, and she owed her
twisted instincts to her father. He had raised her single-handedly, and she had never felt slighted in any way by the disadvantage
of having only one parent, especially since her parent was of the opposite sex.
However, because she was so close
to her father, she couldn't control the erratic beating of her heart as it hammered in her chest as a result of the news.
She swallowed forcefully and sighed. "Is he okay?"
She listened patiently as the lady on the other end recounted the
events of that morning. "Well, Ms. Lacey, he was driving on a local residential street, and apparently another car came racing
in his direction. He had to drive off the road to avoid hitting the other car, and he eventually flipped over in the soccer
field of the local elementary school. He broke both legs in the process, and has undergone surgery to heal his limbs. Fortunately,
his injuries didn't extend past that point, but he's still sleeping from the effects of the anesthesia. He should be prepared
to leave within the week, but he will be needing additional care in the home. We understand that he lives alone?"
nodded slowly, barely able to comprehend what she was being told. "Um, yeah, he lives alone."
"And you're his daughter,
She nodded again. "Yeah."
"You have the option, Ms. Lacey, of hiring an in-home nurse until your
father is able to care for himself, but..."
Finally Alli seemed to regain some sense of coherency. "No, that won't
be necessary. Thank you for calling."
The lady on the other end seemed to nod. "Yes ma'am. Have a good evening."
too," Alli returned lightly. She began moving mechanically, clicking her phone off and then staring past everything in sight,
willing herself not to cry. She knew that it was a ridiculous idea, but she hated crying. She was just so upset about her
father that she couldn't think of anything happy enough to keep the tears at bay. God, let him be okay. Please let him
Jessi's soft, understanding tone brought her back to reality, and the tears began stinging
the backs of her eyes. With a heavy sigh, she turned to face her friend.
Jessi frowned at the blank
expression on Alli's face. "Who was that?"
Alli shrugged. "Not sure..."
Kristin leaned over and placed a gentle
hand on her friend's shoulder, slightly unnerved by Alli's detached state. "Al, what did they say? You look a little freaked..."
And, suddenly, she didn't want comfort from her girlfriends, simply because they'd never really met her father and
didn't understand. She was tired of games, tired of lies, and tired of pretending that it was all okay, because it wasn't
anymore. She wanted her Carter, and she couldn't find him. Not only couldn't she find him, but she was sick of looking.
leaving the tour. Dad was in a car accident and needs to be taken care of. I'm going to find Carter."
She didn't stay
to see how they would react, because she already knew. Jessi would console her, Kristin would offer anything she could to
ease the suffering, Leighanne would try and convince her to stay, and Amanda would offer a thousand reasons that leaving Nick
was really a good thing in the end. She didn't need to hear it. She just wanted to find her best friend, because the tears
were blurring her vision and she wasn't sure exactly how much longer she could hold on without breaking. She shut the door
behind her and began running through the corridors in search of a way to the main stage. She didn't care about the other guys,
Fatima, or even the rehearsal that was already under way. She just needed to see her Carter before something inside of her
snapped and she couldn't stand tall anymore.
She burst into the arena from beneath the stage and rushed out into the
audience with a look of panic etched on her face. A single tear slid down her cheek when she heard Nick singing, and she closed
her eyes for a moment, listening to the words in hopes that they would bring her some sort of the solace that he couldn't
"I wanna lay you down on a bed of roses
For at night, I sleep on a bed of nails
I wanna be just as close as the
Holy Ghost is
And lay you down..." *
"Nick, dude, no offense, okay? But last time I checked, that wasn't
the song on the agenda..."
Nick rolled his eyes at AJ and was about to offer a sarcastic reply when he saw Alli standing
by the front row, holding her hands over her face and rocking slightly back and forth. Without a word to his brothers, he
cringed and began walking towards her.
"Shit." He jumped off of the stage and walked over to her, embracing her tightly
before he could think about his actions. He wasn't sure if he regretted hugging her or not, but her shoulders began shaking
immediately, so he tightened his hold. God, Alli never cries...
His voice was soft as he spoke to her. "Al?
Al, look at me, please? What's wrong?"
She pushed him away lightly, and he winced as though she had slapped him. "Al,
if this is about last night..."
She shook her head fervently, interrupting him as she wiped her eyes dry. "No, Carter,
this isn't about last night. Dad's in the hospital. He had a car wreck."
Suddenly, Nick's blue eyes widened in understanding.
He knew more than anyone how Alli had grown up in her father's house without any other family, and he knew how close the two
were. He'd lived next door to them throughout his childhood, and Alli's dad was like a second father to him. He was about
to take her in his arms again when he finally came to his senses and realized what kind of emotion he'd be displaying. He
folded his arms across his chest and sighed, peering at Alli with as much concern as he could afford to show.
he all right?"
Alli nodded meekly. "He's fine, but he broke both legs and he's going to need a bit of extra care for
Nick nodded in understanding. "Do you need help hiring a nurse?"
Alli's head shot up and her eyes
blazed as she looked at him incredulously. "Hire a nurse? Are you crazy? That's my dad, okay? The guy who raised me. I'm not
about to leave him with some stranger when he needs my help."
Nick frowned. "So what're you saying, Al? I mean, if
he needs care, then..."
She cut him off with a shake of her head and a wave of her hand. "I'm leaving."
eyes widened again, this time in protest. "No way. This is about last night, isn't it? Listen, Al, I'm a jerk for leaving
you to get a ride with Billy, and I let all of that testosterone take control of me, okay? It was a totally stupid thing to
do, and I'm an idiot. You can't leave, though. I'll be better. I'll actually pay attention when it's just you and me. I won't
have sex with other girls if I'm supposed to be spending time with you. Hell, I won't get drunk when you're with me again,
okay? Just don't leave. I mean, I can be a good guy..."
Alli stared at him in disbelief. "Oh, you have got to be kidding
me..." She trailed off, shaking her head before finally turning to face him again. "Look, Carter, not everything has to be
about you, okay? My dad needs me, and I'm not about to do some half-assed job of taking care of him when he devoted his entire
life to raising me. Even when Mom, the aunts and the uncles, YOU didn't give a shit about me, he did, and I'm not going to
ignore that. Unlike some people, I don't turn my back on those I love."
Nick flinched at the weight of her words,
but looked up hopefully at the end of her outburst. "But you'll come back when he's better, right? I mean, you won't leave
for good or anything."
Alli gave a bitter laugh. "You know what, Carter? A few days ago, I would've said yes without
a second thought to it. Of course, I was actually naive enough to believe that our friendship mattered to you. I was naive
enough to think that I could actually change you back into the best friend you used to be. I would've jumped at the chance
to spend time with you because, for some God-forsaken reason, I actually care. Now? I'm just sick and tired of caring."
eyes narrowed in Alli's direction. "So what're you saying?"
Alli shrugged. "You win. You changed, and I couldn't handle
it. You told me that you wouldn't change back and that I should learn to deal with it--I can't. You told me that a real friend
would learn to accept the other without nagging the first to be something that he isn't--I can't. I thought I knew you, but
you were right. You're not my Carter anymore. I don't know you at all, and I definitely wouldn't befriend you. I'm sick of
chasing you around. I'm throwing in the towel, and it's yours to catch." She shrugged again, giving him a matter-of-fact look.
"I'm done. I'll leave you to be whoever the hell you think you are." She let the words register before driving the final point
home. "You win."
Nick's own expression grew frantic as he realized how serious she was, and he reached out a hand
to hold her in place. "NO! Alli, you can't leave! I need you here!"
Alli shook her head, giving him a rueful half-smile.
"Nick, you've said countless times that you don't need me. You win."
She turned on her heel and began walking out
of the arena, but he was quick to follow her, sprinting to catch up. She had called him "Nick" for the first time since they'd
met, and he couldn't believe that it would hurt that much.
"Al, you can't leave! Seriously, just tell me what it is
you want me to do, okay? I'll do it. I'll be better, I swear! Alli!" He cried out in desperation when she refused to slow
down, let alone turn to look at him. His voice broke as he delivered the last line in an anguished cry. "Al, I'm sorry!"
shook her head sadly and turned to face him. Her voice was soft when she spoke. "Too little, too late, Nick." She sighed heavily
and offered an ironic smile. "You win."
Twice in less than a minute. He flinched and closed his eyes, listening
as the slamming of the door mocked him from a few feet ahead. One thought registered in his mind, and he was shocked to the
core at the sheer irony of it.
He'd never wanted to lose so much in his life.