Alli groaned beneath the golden sunlight and stretched tiredly before
finally pushing the covers back. Wearily, she opened one eye and stared at the alarm clock beside her bed until the
neon green letters came into focus, at which point she groaned.
Who the hell is calling me at six in the morning?
the phone persisted, she rolled her eyes and grabbed it from its cradle, dragging her sleepy form into the bathroom while
she pressed the phone to her ear.
With a sharp, deep breath, Alli rolled her eyes again
and looked at her watch. She knew the voice well, and she wasn't the least bit pleased to hear from the person so early,
but she did understand that her caller had a reason for calling.
"Hey, Holly. What can I do for you?"
despite the weeks spent in each other's company, neither woman was particularly fond of the other, and things were tense at
best. Alli had grown used to slipping out of the room when Holly entered because she felt intimidated by the older woman,
and Holly's bright smile became a permanent frown in Alli's presence because she was offended by the younger woman's incurable
sarcasm. David had been nice enough to accompany Alli to the hospital a few times merely because he knew that his presence
made things a bit more bearable for Alli, but she still was painfully unused to the idea that her father had another woman
in his life, and she wasn't keen on accepting it any time soon.
Holly cleared her throat. "Well, Alli, you know
that your father's being released today. I was, um, wondering..."
Alli sighed heavily at the tentative tone.
Holly's voice was still soft. "About noon. You're welcome to bring your car around.
It's bigger than mine, so your father would probably be more comfortable."
Alli nodded her agreement. "Any prescriptions?"
sighed. "Well, there's some pain medication that the doctor called in to Walgreen's, so if you wouldn't mind swinging
by there before you come..."
Alli waved a hand dismissively. "Not a problem. Is that it, or is there another
reason that you called?"
There was a long pause, and Alli narrowed her eyes towards the phone when Holly finally spoke
"Actually, Alli, your father's worried about you. He mentioned you staying for dinner tonight and hanging
around his house. Is there any way you could...?"
Alli grimaced at the thought of spending the entire evening
with Barbie and Ken, but she wasn't about to deny her father anything after the scare her small family had just endured.
"Sure. Do you need me to bring food, or do you cook too?"
Anyone who knew Alli would know enough to return the
slight with a facetious remark of their own, but the problem remained in the fact that Holly didn't know Alli. The older
woman sounded offended. "No, there's no need to bring food. I'll cook. Is there anything in particular that
Alli stared blankly at the wall for a moment. "No, just no hamburgers. Anything else is fine."
There was another long pause, and Alli rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Listen, Holly, if there isn't
anything else, I'm going to go. I'll see you at noon."
The woman on the other end didn't hesitate to end the
For what seemed like the infinite time that morning, Alli rolled her eyes and clicked the
phone off. She leaned her head out the bathroom doorway long enough to toss the portable phone onto the bed, then went
back into the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face. When she returned to her room, she glanced at the clock
again and groaned. Six forty-five. I am NEVER up this early. Of course, there's no way I'm going to
get to sleep now. Maybe I could call and pester Doc into getting breakfast with me...
She was reaching for
the phone to call David when the phone rang again, and she jumped back in surprise. When she had recovered, she grabbed
the receiver and groaned, praying that Holly hadn't forgotten anything. She had learned that Barbie was best dealt with
if taken in small doses, and she had no intention of dealing with the woman again so early in the morning.
heard the person on the other end take a deep breath and frowned at her own inability to check the caller ID. If Holly
was calling again and she had to listen to another ten-minute silence, she wasn't sure she could handle it. She was
about to begin her own annoyed monologue about being bothered so early in the morning for no reason when the caller finally
Her eyes widened at the voice, and she wondered if she wouldn't have preferred to talk to Holly.
There was no way that she was prepared to deal with her caller at all, and especially not at that hour. She closed her
eyes, and the annoyed edge in her voice faded to a weary tone. Suddenly, she was extremely tired.
um..." There was a cough on the other end. "It's Nick."
She hated the way her heart seemed to stop when
he said that. She hadn't expected him to call, and she was thoroughly surprised that he had, but she didn't want him
to know that he still meant so much to her. She swallowed forcefully and fought to keep her tone indifferent.
"Oh." He paused again before clearing his throat, and Alli frowned in confusion. Is the great
Nick Carter actually nervous? "Um, how are you?"
Alli rolled her eyes. "Nick, do you know what time
He flinched. She still wasn't calling him Carter, and that wasn't a good sign. He squinted at his
watch. "Not exactly. I just...I wanted to find out how things were."
"Look, I'll go slow, because I know
intelligence isn't your forte, but you're a few weeks late," Alli deadpanned sarcastically. She wasn't in the mood to
be kind and forgiving anymore. If there was anything she had learned from the tour, it was that she needed to stand
her ground with Nick. Did he just gulp?
"I know, Al, and I'm sorry..."
Alli cut him off.
"I'm not in the mood for small talk, Nick."
He sighed heavily, closing his eyes in disappointment. She wasn't
going to make it easy for him. He certainly hadn't expected her too, but he had a bad habit of hoping for the things
that he knew wouldn't come. "I wasn't trying to make small talk. I just want to apologize. I know you've
been going through a lot of shit these past few weeks, and..."
Alli bristled at his words, and her expression faded
to an icy glare. "You don't know what the hell I've been going through, Nickolas. Don't insinuate that you do."
flinched. "I didn't think you wanted to talk to me..."
"What makes you think that I want to talk to you now?"
groaned. "Let's say I was feeling particularly hopeful...I miss you, Al."
Alli laughed bitterly. "Newsflash,
Nick: I've been missing you for quite a while now."
He sighed. "It's a lot lonelier without you than I
realized it would be."
Alli fought the urge to scream at him with all her might. "Oh, cry me a river."
Nick was the one to roll his eyes. "Al, I'm being serious, okay? I miss having you around. I miss talking
to you. And I'm kinda going against my macho pride to admit all of this, so can you try to show some compassion?"
wasn't in any way affected by the pleading tone in his voice--or so she was trying to convince herself. "Where were
you for the two months I was on tour, Nick? Was that not compassionate enough for you?"
Nick bit the inside of
his cheek out of nervousness. He absolutely hated having to be vulnerable, but he knew that Alli valued honesty above
all else, and he was willing to go to extremes to talk to her again. He felt like he was destroying himself without
her. He needed her faith and friendship more than anything. "What would you say if I told you that I was too much
of an asshole to notice?"
Alli's reply was quick. "I'd agree with you."
Nick's eyebrows rose and fell. "Yeah, well, you'd have reason
to. I'm trying to be better, but I don't think it's..."
"Nick, why did you call?"
came as a huge surprise to him. Before, she had always been happy to let him talk to her, offering advice once all sarcasm
was put aside. He loved joking with Alli, but he also appreciated the fact that she could be serious when she needed
to be, and he missed the comfort that came with knowing her wisdom and caring was only a phone call away. Knowing that
he had damaged his own chances at reclaiming his sanity left him feeling extremely lonely all of a sudden. He needed
to repair things between them--if not for her benefit, for his own. He sighed heavily.
"I got sick of pretending
that I wasn't worried about you and your family."
He heard the sharp intake of breath on Alli's end and knew that he
had hit some sort of nerve. He was curious as to what the others hadn't told him, but he knew better than to press Alli.
He was lucky that she hadn't disconnected them yet. Her bitter laugh, though, came as another surprise.
Nick's frightened expression became a full-out frown. "Al, are you okay?"
She shook her head,
cursing herself for her inability to hold her tongue. "Yeah, Nick, I'm fine. Ignore me. Dad's great, comes
home this afternoon, and he should be out of his casts by New Year's."
Nick nodded, leaning against the headboard of
the bed in attempt to make himself more comfortable. The edge in Alli's voice wasn't so apparent, and he could tell
that she was slowly warming up to him again. Things were nowhere near where they used to be, though, and it scared him
that they could've lost it all so quickly.
"I take it he went through surgery okay and everything? No complications?"
shook her head before realizing that he couldn't see her. "Nope. He came out with flying colors. You know
Nick had to smile slightly at that. He could remember John Lacey well, and he'd always looked up to the
man. "Yeah, I do." He frowned when a small length of silence ensued. "Al, how are you?"
was all too quick and clipped. "Fine."
He knew the autopilot answer, but he wasn't about to press her.
"How was your Thanksgiving?" She had planned to spend the holiday with him and the other Boys, but her father's accident
had kept her from joining the party.
"Quiet. Dad was still in the hospital and sleeping off the pain
meds, so I had dinner with David."
Nick's eyebrows hiked considerably high on his forehead at the mention of her ex-boyfriend's
name. He remembered the other man well, though he hadn't heard the name in a good number of years. The three of
them had been good friends during Alli's high school years. "Like David, ex-boyfriend David? The guy we used to
hang out with before you graduated? What's his last name?"
Alli smiled slightly at the thought of David.
He hadn't seen her in years, but he'd been her best friend over the past week. "Rastrelli. David Rastrelli."
nodded. "Yeah, how is he? Wow, it's been forever since I last heard anything about him..."
slightly. "He's fine. He's up here on business, and he rang me a few weeks ago for the first time in years.
He's been really nice to talk to while Dad goes through all of this."
Nick felt a strange tightening in his chest at
the nostalgic tone in her voice when she mentioned David, but didn't think anything of it. "That's good."
nostalgic countenance contorted when she remembered to whom she was talking. "Yeah, it is. It's nice to know that,
even when your supposed best friend is a jerk, your ex-boyfriend can help ease you back into a comfortable mental state."
flinched again as he caught the meaning and the hurt in her words. "Al, I already apologized."
"And it really didn't mean anything." She figured that she could at least try to be cordial before she hung up on him.
"So, how was your Thanksgiving?"
Nick groaned. He obviously had more groveling to do before she was willing to
give him another chance at repairing their friendship. "It was nice. Everyone had a nice, big dinner and talked."
He wasn't about to tell her that he'd been too drunk to remember much of it, or that he'd slipped out early to bring a girl
up from the bar.
Alli groaned in return. "It was 'nice'? You're starting to make Backstreet sound like
the Brady Bunch...you mean nothing interesting happened?"
Her tone was bitter, but Nick had to fight back a smile at
the familiar sarcasm. She was still furious with him, but the wit was fully intact. They sat in silence for a
few more minutes before Alli broke the tranquility.
"Okay, so now you know how we are, and you can stop being curious.
Don't you have somewhere to be?"
Nick shook his head. "No, we're actually off until eight this
Alli arched an eyebrow skeptically. "So, um, if you can bum around until eight, why are you up so early?
Shouldn't you be nursing a hangover?"
Nick visibly grimaced at the hostility in her voice. Truth to tell, his
head was killing him and his stomach was churning, most likely due to the number of shots he'd had the night before.
"Actually, I am. I just had to see the chick from last night out before Kev came in the room and had a fit. Everyone's
been really testy since that hospital thing."
He knew once he said it that it would make her mad. However, he
couldn't help but think that, maybe, a tiny part of him wanted her to get angry because it would prove to him that she still
cared, and he needed someone to care. He didn't, however, expect the response that he got.
"Yeah, I mean, heaven
forbid that they actually care enough about you to try and help you. Heaven forbid they refuse to take your
shit and actually care enough to try and save you from yourself." The bitter chuckle returned. "Of course, some
of us have enough experience in that area to know better than to try again."
Her blood was boiling at his lack of consideration
for the people around him. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been so angry with him. When he'd first called,
she'd had the tiniest suspicion that he might have called because he'd finally decided to turn himself around. Of course,
she'd just come back to the conclusion that hope was a stupid, stupid thing. It wasn't supposed to hurt for him to be
so nonchalant, but she could clearly remember crying for him that night a week ago, and she could remember the worry in Kristin's
voice. She hated the thought that Nick would continue on the path of self-annihilation when people cared so much about
him and his well being. She shook her head and rolled her eyes at herself. This is Nick the Asshole, Alli,
not your Carter. He doesn't care about anyone but himself and his dick.
Nick, on the other hand, was painfully
trying to suppress the guilt he could feel mounting at her words. He hadn't ever meant to hurt Alli, and it killed him
to know that she had given up when he was trying to make her believe in him again. He wanted to yell at her for making
him feel guilty when he felt that he'd finally earned his right to explore the nightlife, but it was more of a habit than
it was fun anymore. He wanted to make it up to her, wanted to prove that he could be strong, mature, and the friend
that she needed so that he wouldn't make her cry anymore, but his head hurt too badly to get into the discussion that they
needed to have.
Alli rolled her eyes. "Yeah, you're sorry. You know what, Nick?
I am too. I'm sorry I picked up the phone this morning. I'm sorry that I was actually worried that night when
you collapsed, because you obviously weren't. I'm sorry you aren't taking care of yourself, and I'm sorry that you don't
appreciate any damn thing that your friends are trying to do for you, but I can't help you. I've got father to attend
to and people that care. When you find Carter, give me a call. Until then, don't bother me. If you want
to screw the rest of the world and drink yourself into oblivion, that's your prerogative. I don't want any part of it."
snorted angrily. "So you're just going to walk away again."
Alli's eyes blazed an ash gray. "Maybe if you
cared a little bit more, Nickolas, you wouldn't find yourself so alone all the time."
Nick groaned. "Come on,
Al, would it kill you to give me a second chance?"
Alli's tone softened ever so slightly. "No, Nick, but it would
kill me to watch you killing yourself. Good luck tonight."
Nick was pleading now, and he hated himself for being
weak enough to do so. "Alli...remember when you said we'd always be there for each other? What the fuck happened?"
reply was wary. "People change, Nick."
He was getting angry. "You didn't," he snapped.
Nick moaned at the impossibility of arguing with her. "Alli, don't do this. Don't hang up on
me and refuse to talk to me again. Don't end what we have."
Alli's tone was bitter. "Oh, but don't you
understand, Nick? You already did."
Nick opened his mouth to contradict her, but was all too quickly interrupted
by the dial tone.
Alli had hung up on him. He was lonely again.
God, I hate being lonely.
an angry sigh, he slipped his cell phone in his pocket and walked out of the room and down the hallway.