Bed of Roses
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Twenty-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Chapter Thirty-Nine
Chapter Forty
Chapter Forty-One
Chapter Forty-Two
Chapter Forty-Three
Chapter Forty-Four
Chapter Forty-Five
Chapter Forty-Six
Chapter Forty-Seven

I look through the broken glass
I watch the storm go through my mind
And now I'm caught in a daydream
With nowhere to run and hide
The world rushes by me
It's leaving me here all alone
I would change everything
But I can't do anything

"It's not just that he's hot, you know? I mean...he's really hot, but we want to know what he's thinking. We always want to know what they're thinking, because they're, like, the coolest people in the world. The Backstreet Boys. Hello!! I mean, I could be his paradise." It wouldn't have been so bad if she hadn't chosen that moment to look into the screen and scream one of the nonsense lines that all of the fans loved. "Nick, I want to have your baby!"

Nick rolled his eyes and shut off the television. On most days, he really did love the fans. Most days, however, were not the days that began with a massive headache and ended in another sold-out show that his best friend wouldn't get to see. He glared at the television, unable to believe the audacity of most of the girls. He usually would've cracked a joke with AJ and shrugged it off, but AJ was still mad at him, and Amanda hadn't spoken to him since the night before, Not that he blamed her, of course...

They want to know what I'm thinking. Bullshit. I don't want to have kids right now, anyway. I can't even handle my own life, dammit...

He sighed heavily. Fine, you want to know the world according to Nick? Hangovers suck, best friends stab you in the back, and the world will eventually expect you to be someone you're not. Of course, when you can't be that person, they get pissed at you. Makes no damn sense.

He groaned aloud. He was still furious with her for leaving. His head still ached like nothing else. He was still expected to perform and act cordial at a radio spot they were set to do in thirty minutes. Of course, he was also pacing around his hotel room with his cell phone in his hand, repeatedly dialing Alli's number before ending the call.

I don't miss her, I don't need her, and she doesn't matter. I don't miss her, I don't need her, I'm still pissed at her, and she sure as hell doesn't matter. I don't fucking miss her...

He paused in his pacing long enough to stare at the phone in his hand and cringed when he saw that her number was first on his speed dial, and his thumb was frozen over the Talk button, ready to dial at will. His cringe deepened when he glanced at the digital clock on the bedside table and realized that he'd been pacing for the past hour.

Shit. I miss her.

He flopped onto the bed in a fit of aggravation and helplessness. He wasn't supposed to miss her. He was supposed to be strong and independent, stoic and passive. He was supposed to be able to move on with things as though she hadn't existed. He was supposed to wait for her to come to him and admit that she was wrong. He had already apologized, which was bending the rules. It was her turn to come to him.

But he knew that she wouldn't, and that was why it hurt.

With a huge sigh, he lifted himself off the bed and walked to the window, hoping to escape his reality for a moment. He wouldn't dare admit it, but ever since Alli had left, he felt as though he was trapped. His entire universe was suddenly too small, too confining, and he couldn't find a way to safely relieve himself of the feeling that the world was caving in on him.

He looked out the window with another sigh, this time one of slight satisfaction.

It was raining.

Even if he couldn't show emotion, even if he felt too restrained to breathe, the sky would cry for him. Not that he needed to cry, of course. She doesn't mean that much. She can't mean that much, because if she does, then my world falls apart. I'm too strong to fall apart.

He couldn't help but think that maybe he was just too weak to let go. He shook his head at the thought and continued to stare out at the rain. Eventually, his gaze moved back to the phone in his hand and he sighed a third time. He wanted to call, but he didn't want to surrender. He wasn't ready to lay down his fortress, but he wanted to make sure that she was all right. He was her friend, and he was supposed to be concerned, even if he wasn't supposed to care.

But he did care, and he had passed the politely concerned level the moment that the door slammed behind her. He almost groaned again. God, what is wrong with me? Why can't I just let her go? It's not like she was willing to hold onto me or anything. After all, I'm not the same person that I used to be. I'm not her Carter anymore, so I'm totally undeserving...

He stopped when he realized that his thoughts weren't sounding as bitter as they were supposed to. In fact, the burning at the back of his eyes warned him that tears were nearing, and he wasn't about to cry over anything or anyone. Especially not over Alli, dammit.

He looked once more out at the rain, feeling helplessly caught between his own walls and his good intentions. He hadn't meant to hurt her, and the guilt over that was enough to make him glance at the phone again. He wanted so desperately to let her know that, despite what she thought, he was still the same. He was still the friend she needed him to be. I just can't break down like she needs me too. I don't want to hurt her, but she was asking too much...

He glanced guiltily at the phone. He knew that common courtesy dictated that he should call to see if her father was all right. After all, the man was like his second family. And it would just be one phone call. That's not really a surrender. It's more like a little nod in her direction, just to let her know that I'm still here if she wants to come back.

He managed a bitter chuckle at his own thoughts. Despite that nagging hope, he knew that she wouldn't come back. Alli was just as--if not more--stubborn than he was. It was up to him to bridge the distance.

Just one phone call...

His thoughts were quickly interrupted by a knock on the door, and he tossed the phone against the bed as he went up to answer the door. Once across the room, he swung the door open and arched an eyebrow expectedly. He sighed again at the sight of the figure at the door. "What do you want, Kevin?"

Kevin offered an apologetic smile. "Actually, we've got to go to the station." He saw the phone on the bed and his brow furrowed. "Were you on the phone with someone?"

Nick looked alarmed for a moment, but recovered quickly. "Oh. Not, not really."

Kevin arched one of his own thick eyebrows. "Not really? You wanna clarify that?"

Nick sighed heavily. "Well, I was actually going to..." He trailed off and shook his head. "Nevermind. Let's just go."

Kevin continued to study the younger man as they stepped out of the hotel room and into the hallway. "You sure?"

Nick nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure. Let's just get going."

Kevin laughed. "Someone feeling a little hung over today?"

Nick glanced at the older man long enough to shoot him a glare. "How is this different from any other day?"

Kevin's amusement quickly faded to a look of concern, and Nick silently cursed himself for bringing it up. "Actually, Nick, that's what I'm worried about--this isn't different from any other day."

Nick waved him off and walked quickly to the elevator. "Kev, it's no big deal. I can still put on the happy face, okay? Just don't talk too loud."

Kevin sighed, knowing that it wouldn't benefit anyone to lecture Nick when he was in a mood. "Will do, buddy." He continued to study Nick for a moment longer before stepping out of the elevator and into the protection of the bodyguards and the other Boys. "But Nick?"

Nick sighed in exasperation. "Yes?"

"Just call Alli, man. You're going to be better off if you talk to her."

Nick was too tired to question how Kevin knew what he was doing with the phone. Instead, he took his place alongside Billy, took a deep breath, and walked out into the rain.

*      *      *      *      *

Alli sighed heavily, preparing herself to face the girlfriend again. Truth to tell, she had slept in the waiting room the night before, and she wasn't anxious for a second encounter with the cheerful blonde woman her father had suddenly taken a liking to. She had tried to call Amanda again that morning, but to no avail, and she was still aching at the thought of being cut off from the rest of her Backstreet friends because of her brash decision to make a quick exit. Or course, all of these thoughts vanished immediately when she gathered her courage and entered the room.

He was awake.

It wasn't so much that he was awake, really. After all, Alli had spent the majority of the night before on her knees, leaning against the plastic leather couch as she prayed that her father would be okay. She wanted to see him smile more than anything, and she needed his reassurance and his strength like she knew he needed hers. They were a team that way.

But he was awake, and Holly was there. She was leaning over him and holding his hand as they whispered to each other. And, suddenly, the situation was all too real.

Alli marveled at the thought that, just like that, they weren't a team anymore.


Alli turned towards the voice and managed to muster a small smile for the man before her. "Hey, Dad."

He smiled warmly and held out his arms for a hug. "Come here, girl! How've you been? Sweetie, I haven't seen you in forever..."

As he trailed off, Alli made her way around the furniture and hugged him back lightly, torn between her fear of hurting him and her triumph at the fact that he was no longer holding Holly's hand. She closed her eyes long enough to revel in the familiarity of her father's embrace. "I missed you, Daddy."

When she pulled away, she saw his bright smile. "I missed you, too, Al, but I know that you need to see your friends every now and again." He winked at her, and she laughed. "So, how's Nick doing these days?"

Her stomach and heart constricted at the mention of Nick, but she managed to keep the false smile in place. "He's doing...well, according to Nick, he's doing just fine."

Her father arched an eyebrow at her tone, but refrained from saying anything else on the matter. Instead, he turned his broad smile towards the blonde on the other side of the bed. "I take it you've met Holly, then?"

Alli refrained from asking what Nick had to do with Holly. Instead, she cast a small smile in the blonde's direction and nodded politely. "Yes, we've met."

The older woman--or was she older?--seemed to sense the tension in the room. Her smile was slightly strained as she patted Alli's father's hand and stood. "Well, I'm in desperate need of a good cup of coffee, so I'll leave you two alone for a moment." She glanced quickly at Alli on her way out the door. "I'm sure you have some catching up to do."

As soon as the door closed behind her, Alli's smile faltered and she turned to face her father with an uncertain expression. Before she could say anything to him, however, he looked up at her with a bright grin.

"So, what do you think of Holly, Al?"

Alli sighed. "You know, I don't really know Holly, Dad." She rolled her eyes and sat carefully on the edge of the bed as her sarcastic tone became a small whine. "Why didn't you tell me about her?"

Her father's smile dampened somewhat as he looked at her apologetically. "Well, Al, I knew you had a lot going on with Nick, and I wasn't sure how serious she was. I mean, at first she was just a friend, and then I wasn't sure when you'd be coming home. I guess there was never really a right time..." He trailed off when he saw the doubtful look that she was giving him. "Honest truth, Al. I was actually kind of scared that you'd bite her head off once you met her. I thought I'd give her a little time to get used to things before I brought you in to test her out." He winked at her then, and Alli groaned aloud.

"Okay, you know what? You're ridiculous. How old is she, anyway?"

Alli's father laughed. "She's not much younger than I am, hon."

Alli rolled her eyes. "Right. I mean, before you add ten years or so, how old is she?"

He laughed again and squeezed her hand. "I've missed you, Al. It's good to have you home." When Alli smiled tersely at him, he took the hint and offered a sheepish smile. "So, I could tell you about her right now?"

Alli nodded. "Yeah, that'd be good."

He stared at the opposite wall for a moment, and a nostalgic smile crossed his face. "Well, see, we met at a New Year's Party..."

Alli gave him a pointed look. "Okay, Dad, the girlfriend beat you to the Story of Us re-run. Why don't you try telling me about the girlfriend alone before I start calling her Barbie and threatening to drive the pink Corvette off a cliff?"

At that, her father let loose with a whole-hearted chuckle. "Oh, goodness, Al. The wit's still strong, I see."

A sour expression contorted Alli's features. "Yeah, well, some things never change." Some people, however...

"So you want to hear all about Holly, then?"

She nodded. "It'd probably be in your best interest to tell me something nice about her."

He nodded thoughtfully. "Well, let's see... She graduated from the University of North Texas, she volunteers at the local church on the weekends, she teaches kindergarten at the elementary school about a block from my house, and the first time I saw her, she was telling a drunk guy to stay the hell away from her before she doubled the hangover he was due for the next morning." He looked at Alli with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. "Truth to tell, Al, she reminds me a lot of you."

Oh my God, that has to be the worst thing he could've possibly just said... She sucked in a breath and tried to maintain a neutral look. "Really?"

He nodded and patted her knee. "Really. She's headstrong, but she cares a lot about those around her. Her tongue's not quite as sharp as yours, but I've never seen her take anybody's shit." He winked at her and offered another sheepish smile. "Mine included."

Alli swallowed the lump in her throat with obvious difficulty. "It sounds like she's been really good for you," she said carefully. To her distress, he nodded again.

"Yeah, I like to think that she has been." He cocked his head to one side and stared past Alli's shoulder and out the door. "I'm kind of hoping that she'll hang around for a little while longer."

Thunk. Alli groaned inwardly, wondering how she was going to stay for much longer. Hear that, Dad? That's my heart on the ground.

"Have you two had a nice, long chat?" came a cheery voice from the doorway. "I would've stayed away longer, but I thought I'd come and make sure that everything was all right."

Alli scooted her own chair away from the bed, allowing Holly a pathway to her father's arms. The two hugged warmly, and Alli watched with a sinking feeling in her stomach as they pulled away. So this is what happens when I leave.

"I missed you," her father said quietly, and she head Holly giggle distinctly.

"Aww, I missed you too. What were you two talking about so seriously in here?"

The smile on her father's face would've melted the heart of any sane woman. "You."

Alli rolled her eyes. Okay, gagging now...

She watched the two continue to cuddle and finally stood up, unable to torment herself any longer. "Listen, guys, I'm going to go check out the menu in the downstairs cafeteria, 'cause I haven't had breakfast. You want me to bring anything up?"

She waited rather impatiently for an answer, but none came. With a sigh of relent, she turned around and headed out the door, reaching for her cell phone at the same time. She went directly back to the waiting room of the night before and sat down on the floor near the couch. She glanced around reservedly and wondered how long she would call the place home. Something warned her that she wouldn't be welcome company in her father's hospital room as long as Holly was around.

Good God, I've been replaced by a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, plastic being that comes from the same genes as Britney Spears...

She shoved a hand down into her purse, trying to hold onto the angry feelings so that the feeling of abandon wouldn't overwhelm her. She knew the feeling well, after all. She could still remember the way she'd felt when she'd found out that her mother had left them. While she searched her purse in vain for something with which to entertain herself, she continued to think about her mother until she had the strange urge to call someone that would miss her. Amanda's name entered her head for a moment, but left just as quickly. If she knew Amanda, her friend would be spending quality time with AJ, and she definitely didn't want to intrude on any distinctly couple moments.

She felt her hand close around her cell phone and carefully dragged it out. When the small green screen came into vision, her heart sank to her feet and her stomach constricted once again.

Nick's number was displayed on the screen, waiting to be dialed with the push of a button. Immediately, Alli found herself debating whether or not she should call him. She'd known Nick for the majority of her life, and she knew that he would understand. Provided, of course, that he's not drunk, in the middle of sex, or hung over.

After fifteen minutes of staring at the screen, her pride won out and she shut the phone off, returning it instead to her purse in case Amanda decided to call her back. With a huge sigh, she heaved herself off the floor and walked towards the window in hopes of escaping her painful reality for a moment or two while she spied on downtown Tampa. Once she got to the window, though, the tears she had been fighting back welled up in her eyes.

It was raining.

She loved the rain. When she'd been little, she would drag Nick out into the rain with her and they'd dance around in the storm until one of their parents called for them to come in. Even in adulthood, she would have the same urge to go dancing in the rain. She felt cleaner and more carefree every time she came in. And now that she wanted to cry, there was a small comfort in the knowledge that the sky was
crying for her.

In mere minutes, she was tearing down the halls and down the steps. She ran through the lobby with the same intensity, not stopping to offer any explanations to the people that cast her odd looks as she passed them. She just wanted to feel the rain again, to know that there was something else besides the loneliness she couldn't help but feel. In one last burst of longing, she threw open the glass doors to the hospital entrance and stepped out onto the street and into the rain. She closed her eyes, tilted her head up, and stuck out her tongue. Suddenly, she didn't care how weird she looked to the people passing by. It didn't matter.

She just hoped that, somewhere, Nick was standing in the rain with her, thinking about her. She needed, more than anything, to know that she mattered to someone. She needed to know that she was missing him for a reason more worthwhile than the fact that she was lonely and feeling cast aside.

At that moment, she caught a raindrop on her tongue and smiled.

Maybe he was missing her too.

lyrics and music by Alanis Morissette