"You know what?"
His eyes were wide and glassy, and his
words were thick and slurred. His audience had completely lost count of the number of drinks he'd consumed since his arrival,
but the influence of the alcohol was plain to see. The bottle in his hand was nearly empty, but he continued to clutch it
with a fierce grip, clinging to it as though it had all the answers to the questions inside his head. He was at the point
where he would have the tip of the bottle in his mouth without drinking anything; it was as though the bottle itself was enough
to soothe his nerves. He had moved between the booth and the dance floor until he was too drunk to dance, at which point he
had taken up permanent residence at the booth. He was slumped partially against the booth and partially against AJ, who was
watching him with Amanda's aid. After one glance at Nick, the couple had decided that it would be in everyone's best interest--including
Nick's--if Nick wasn't left alone in his current condition. However, neither was thrilled to be baby-sitting the blonde, and
the humor in his drunkenness had long worn off. To make matters worse, both were still angry about the way Nick had reacted
to Alli's departure that afternoon. Amanda eyed her charge in annoyance as she sipped her strawberry daiquiri.
He blew a stream of air upward, sending his bangs askew. "Awwi left."
AJ sighed with Nick and reached
for his glass of Jack Daniels. "Yeah, that she did."
Nick nodded slowly, almost knocking himself over with the force
of the action. "She's noooooooot here," he continued, dragging the words out in attempt to form them correctly. Amanda muttered
an obscenity under her breath, which AJ agreed with but politely ignored.
"No, Nick, she's not."
blue eyes blazed angrily for a moment, and he turned to look pointedly at AJ. "You know whyyyyyyyy?"
to hold her tongue any longer, shot the younger man a glare. "Gee, I wonder," she returned sarcastically. "Maybe because you're
Nick glowered drunkenly at Amanda and lifted a shaky finger to point at her. "I's sooooooo sick of yur
shit, Mandas. Yoooooouuu're just like...juuuuuuuuust like Alli. Soooooooo damn crit...crit..."
AJ groaned inwardly.
God, Kev's going to be pissed... "Critical?" he offered, and Nick nodded again.
"Yeah, that." He sighed heavily.
"Awwi talked. Like, she talked ALL the fushing time. She said that she caaaaared. She said she looooooooved me. But you know
Amanda swore again, but AJ began playing with his glass and looked dully at his friend. "What, Nick?"
lied. She don't care. She don't care at ALL."
Amanda slammed her drink down on the table. "You are SUCH a hypocrite,
Nick slammed his own bottle down, and a bit of his drink sloshed onto the table. "Don call me Carter!" he
roared, and AJ flinched at the sound. Amanda, however, wasn't intimidated. She slid out of the booth and stood directly in
front of the blonde man, prepared to tell him exactly what she thought about the situation--whether he'd remember it or not.
"Look, Nick, you may be able to pull shit over on Alli, but I'm not half as patient as she is. You say she doesn't
care? You weren't there when she was upset because she'd walked in on your morning after with another slut. You say she doesn't
love you? You weren't there when she covered for you time and again because the rest of us were ready to lock you in the hotel
every night while we went out. You weren't there for her when she found out that the person she loves second-best in the world
was in a car accident, and the doctors weren't sure of his condition. You weren't there when she needed a friend to talk to.
Hell, Nick, you didn't even have enough common sense to take her home the other night after the concert! You're mad at her
for leaving without a promise to come back, but I'm shocked that she stayed as long as she did, and I'm not the only one!"
She took a deep breath and glared forcefully at him, narrowing her eyes to mere slits. "You know, Nick, you got upset every
time she'd criticize you, but at least she was honest. She's not the only one who doesn't approve of your behavior, and if
you keep pushing people away and trying to act like a hardass, she's not going to be the only one walking away either."
that, Amanda grabbed her purse and stormed out of the club, calling a good-bye to AJ over her shoulder. The two men at the
booth continued to watch her retreating back until she disappeared among the throngs of people. When she was finally gone,
AJ turned back to Nick, prepared to give the younger man a lecture of his own. The look on Nick's face, however, was one of
pure anguish as he turned his tear-filled blue eyes to AJ.
AJ sighed heavily and set his glass down
on the table. "Yeah, Nick?"
He sounded like a little boy when he answered. "I lied."
AJ bit his lip to refrain
from making any snide comments. "What'd you lie about, Nick?"
Nick sighed. "I miss her, AaaaaayJay. I miss her a lot."
AJ leaned forward and patted the younger man's hand awkwardly, hoping to comfort him somewhat. "I know you do, man."
Nick shook his head. "No, you don't. You think jus like Mandas does. You think that I...I..." He sniffled. "You think
that I don't care. But I do."
AJ groaned. "Nick, if you cared, then why'd you treat her like shit?"
however, wasn't listening anymore, it seemed. He was drawing circles on the table with his finger, following them slowly and
steadily. He looked like a child. "I don't blame her for going bye-bye. I wanna go bye-bye tooooooo..."
"Okay, kid, in English."
Nick looked up at him suddenly. "AJ, do you ever want to run?"
AJ arched an eyebrow
in confusion. "Like, go on a jog?"
Nick shook his head, sending himself sideways. AJ had to steady him before he could
answer. "No, like run awaaaay..."
AJ sighed again. "Oh, that. Yeah, I guess." He paused to study Nick more closely.
"Why, man? Do you want to run away?"
Nick nodded. "Yeah. But not from Awwi." A small smile crossed his face. "Awwi's
my frieeend." The smile vanished just as quickly, and his brow furrowed as he went back to drawing circles on the table. "I
wanna run away from me."
I want to run away from you, too. "Why?"
Nick sighed. "I made Awwi cry.
Only she wouldn't cry. She don't think I care."
AJ looked pointedly at his friend. "Can you blame her?"
shook his head again. "Nooooo, but I want to."
Nick sniffled again. "'Cause she hurt me."
patience was growing thinner. "Nick, man, how the hell do you think she feels?"
A lone tear slid down Nick's cheek
as his finger slid off the table. His voice was little more than a whisper when he answered. "Like I do."
"And how do you feel, kid?"
Nick looked up at AJ with what was quite possibly the saddest look AJ had ever seen. Another
tear fell as he delivered his answer.
* * * * *
Alli sighed heavily as she scanned the Tampa skyline, looking for
her exit. Truth to tell, her father lived in a smaller town outside of Tampa, and she had just moved to an apartment in the
city after college, so she hadn't been to his house in a long time. She felt bad for the minimal calls she had made during
her time on tour with the Boys, but she was determined to make it all up to him. For as long as she could remember, life had
been she and her father against the world, and she didn't want to lose the feeling of safety that she felt with him. She sighed
again. Lord knows Carter isn't a safe haven anymore...
She shook her head quickly to rid her head of thoughts
of Nick. She'd promised herself on the plane ride that she wouldn't let him get to her. She'd spent the past month trying
in vain to get through to him, and she was through trying. When he wanted to change, she was confident that he'd come find
her. Until then, however, she wasn't going to let her life revolve around missing him. Because--regardless of how long she
spent trying to convince herself that she didn't--she did miss him.
Before she could think too long on the matter,
however, she caught sight of Tampa General Hospital in the distance and quickly changed lanes. Soon, she was moving quickly
towards the hospital, trying to prepare herself for whatever scene would face her upon her arrival. She was worried about
her father being alone after his surgery, but she tried to distract herself by praying that he'd be okay. She couldn't stand
to lose the two people she loved most in the same week.
With a deep breath to renew her strength, Alli turned into
the nearest parking spot and crawled out of the car long enough to lock it. She walked hurriedly into the hospital and straight
to the front desk, where she offered a tired smile to the nurse on duty.
"Hi, I'm Alexandra Lacey...I'm here to see
John Lacey? He came in last night."
The nurse smiled in return. "Ah, I think I remember him. An older man, about fifty-five?"
Alli nodded eagerly. "Yeah, that sounds about right. Graying auburn hair?"
The nurse sighed. "Ah, yes. He
came in due to a car accident, right? He was in surgery all day today. They moved him to a private room earlier, though, by
request of his daughter."
Alli smiled slightly. "Yeah, that'd be me. Where is he now?"
The nurse typed a few
things into the computer before glancing back up at Alli. "He's in room B422. If you go down that hallway and take the stairs
to your left, the door will be on your right after the first flight of stairs." She smiled slightly at Alli's flustered expression.
"Did you get all that, dear?"
Alli nodded slowly, trying to process the information. "Yeah, thanks." Before the nurse
could reply, she turned quickly towards the indicated hallway and made her way to the stairwell. She took the stairs two at
a time and swung open the correct door with a flourish, prepared to announce her entrance in a way that was sure to make her
father smile. Her own smile, however, faded immediately as she caught sight of the scene before her. The words were out of
her mouth before she could stop them.
"Um, not to be rude or anything, but it's been a really long day so bear with
me. Who the hell are you?"
As opposed to answering her question, the petite blonde at her father's bedside stood up
and offered a broad smile. "Oh, you must be Alexandra! Your father's told me so much about you..."
Alli fought back
the urge to groan. "Yeah, I wish I could say the same. My name's actually Alli...what's yours?"
The woman smiled.
"I'm Holly. It's so good to finally meet you..."
Alli sighed. "Um, who are you?"
Holly's impeccable smile
wilted just a bit. "I'm your father's girlfriend. Surely he told you? We've been dating seriously for about a month, now,
but we've known each other much longer."
Alli mustered a small smile. "Really? Wow, he never mentioned anything...he's
kinda forgetful like that."
Holly winked at her, and the full wattage smile was back. "Oh, I know. He's such a sweetheart,
though." She shook her head sadly. "It's such a shame that something like this would happen to a man like your father."
bit back a snort and a snide comment. "Yeah, that I'll agree with." She took a deep breath and forced herself to be cordial
and offer the other woman her hand. "Well, it's nice to meet you."
To her surprise and dismay, the older woman pulled
her into a warm, friendly hug as though they'd been friends for years. "Oh, you too, dear! I feel like I already know you,
though. Your father's just so proud of you. He talks about you all the time."
Alli laughed nervously. "There's certainly
not much to talk about..."
Holly's saccharine smile beamed down at her. "Oh, how cute. You're modest."
drew a breath to calm herself down, but the effort wasn't extremely effective. Who the hell is this woman? Why is she
standing at Daddy's bedside? She can't honestly think that she belongs here. It's always been him and Ishe's got no place
here. He doesn't need some cheap companion anymore, because I'm here. She closed her eyes a moment to maintain her composure,
and her curiosity got the best of her. I mean, hell, if I haven't heard the story by now, I might as well let Barbie tell
"So, exactly how long have you known my father?"
Holly smiled warmly and sat back in the chair by
the bed, leaving the chair on the other side to Alli. "Well, we met at a New Year's party that a mutual friend threw. Actually,
she threw us together and we just got to talking..." She trailed off to wink at Alli. "Your father's a very interesting man,
you know. Quite the charmer."
Alli arched an eyebrow, unable to hide her sarcasm. "I'm sure."
If Holly had
noticed Alli's tone, she didn't mention it. "Anyway, we had just been meeting now and then for a good chat between friends
until a month ago." Her bright blue eyes met Alli's gray ones, sparkling with what Alli assumed to be a false kindness. "He
was lonely with you leaving to tour with your friend, and so we began getting together more often." Holly's gaze drifted to
the bed, and she took the hand of Alli's father in both of her own. Alli used every ounce of willpower to avoid separating
the two. That's supposed to be me!
"John's such a sweet man, and he's been through so much in life. I mean,
he raised you all by himself, and he hasn't had the pleasure of too much companionship. I'm so glad that I got to meet him."
Her perfect features creased in worry. "I just hope he comes out of this okay. He survived the surgery, and he's a strong
man." She looked up long enough to smile at Alli. "Besides, I'm sure your presence will help him recover more quickly. He
loves you a lot, you know."
Alli felt a slight tug of affection for the woman at the sincerity in her voice, but she
suppressed it quickly. Instead, she narrowed her eyes in the older woman's direction and sighed. Good God, not only is
she blonde, but she's got big boobs and long legs. Dad's definitely got good taste. He and Nick ought to hook up sometime
and see how many babes they could wind up with between them. As soon as the thought registered, however, she shook her
head. Come on, Al, try to be understanding. He's lying in a hospital bed, for crying out loud. Besides, you didn't exactly
make a huge effort to hear about the happenings in his life this past month. You were too caught up in chasing Carter around.
She felt a stab of pain in her chest at the thought of Nick, and she quickly pushed the thought away.
"Yeah, I know
he does," she admitted softly, smiling down at her father. In a ridiculous wave of possessiveness, she took her father's other
hand in her own and began stroking it softly. After a brief inner battle, she swallowed her pride and returned her gaze to
her new company.
"So, how long has he been out?"
Holly looked up in surprise at the sound of Alli's voice.
"Well, he's been out cold since the surgery. They had to repair both of his legs...the doctor went into the medical technicalities,
but I honestly don't remember much. I don't understand the medical jargon."
Alli nodded. I would've remembered
the medical technicalities. I mean, hell, if you love someone, every little bit matters.
"Do they know when he'll
Holly sighed. "The doctor said that the effects of the anesthesia should wear off sometime during the night,
but he should be able to sleep until morning."
Alli sighed in return. "That's good."
Holly nodded her agreement,
and for a long time neither said a word. The older woman's cheery demeanor had dampened somewhat, and both women were too
tired to attempt to make small talk in the face of the recent drama. Once the silence got to be too much, and the affection
in Holly's eyes became too threatening, Alli dropped her father's hand and cleared her throat.
"Well, I'd better go
make a few phone calls and let people know that everything's okay..."
Before she could stumble over the rest of her
excuse for leaving, Holly gave her an understanding smile and she bolted out the door.
The empty hallway of the hospital
corridor echoed with the clicking of her heels as she ran to the waiting room and collapsed on the sofa. She was alone save
for a sleeping man in a chair across the room, and she stared at the floor for a moment and tried to tune out his snores as
she began sorting herself out.
She knew that her place was in the room beside her father, but with the older blonde
woman in the room, she felt both unnecessary and inferior. In all the years she'd spent with her father, he'd never gone looking
for another woman, and the thought scared her. Of course, the fact that her father hadn't mentioned Holly's existence during
one of their brief phone calls bothered her even more. She felt unimportant and nonexistent, and the knowledge that she might
not have such an influential place in her father's life anymore brought tears to her eyes. The tiles of the floor began to
bleed together, and she dropped her head into her hands as her eyes began to burn. God, I hate crying...
of a sudden, she didn't want to be alone. The snores of the man across from her seemed to grow louder and louder until they
were deafening, and the walls were closing in. She was only a few yards from her father, but she felt farther from him than
she had ever felt. In a burst of raw need for friendship and familiarity, Alli pulled her cell phone from her purse and, with
shaky fingers, began to dial the familiar digits that made up Amanda's cell phone number.
gasped at the sound, and then sighed with relief. Even the ringing of the phone seemed deafening against the erratic beating
of her heart.
Alli's entire body tensed at the suddenly foreign sound. Oh God no. Nono.
No, be home. Please be home. Please answer the phone because I need you or rather I need someone and I can't stand this empty
feeling I hate it when I don't think I matter and could you help me feel like I do because I need a friend right now and I
don't have a friend to turn to I think I used to but he walked away because they all walk away and I need someone here with
me but when I walked away to find someone to stay close to he found someone else and now I don't belong anymore and...
this is Amanda. I'm off doing the nasty...or thinking about the nasty...or singing about the nasty...or...well, you get the
idea. Leave a message and, if you're interesting, I'll call you back." Beep!
She clicked the phone off before
she could leave a message, too afraid of what she might say if even her thoughts were no longer coherent. She reached out
a shaky finger to call Nick, but stopped herself before insanity took over. The phone slipped out of her hands and onto the
floor, separating into two pieces as it crashed against the linoleum. The hopelessness of the scene overwhelmed her, and she
began to shake. Suddenly, she realized that the old man wasn't snoring anymore, and all she could hear was the beating of
her heart as her pulse quickened to a panic.
The silence was deafening. Amanda wasn't supposed to have her phone off...her
father wasn't supposed to be asleep, in pain...Nick wasn't supposed to be so far away and so out of touch...
supposed to be out of place. But she was, and all she could hear was the silence as it closed in on her. She closed her eyes
tightly and hugged her knees to her chest, groping through the darkness for one word to describe the moment. She didn't want
to forget it, but she didn't want to ever feel this way again.
The word rang in her head,
shaking her to the very core. She was lonely. More importantly, she was alone and lonely.
She couldn't help but think,
as she slid off the couch and onto the cold, hard, and unforgiving truth of the linoleum, that she didn't ever want to be