The covers moved ever so slightly as the
figure struggled to maintain its hold on a peaceful slumber. The previous night had dragged long into morning, leaving precious
little time for sleep and all too long for the massive headache that was quickly becoming apparent.
sheets rose and fell with a heavy, rhythmic sigh before the figure emerged, rolling its eyes in annoyance. Just shut the
damn thing off so you can sleep.
Alli opened one eye long enough to squint at the neon green digits
of the alarm clock that were glowing in the darkness. When the numbers registered, she fell back against the pillows with
a moan of agony. Six fifteen? Who in the hell is insane enough to even get up at this hour?
She propped herself up on her elbows and narrowed her
eyes in the phone's direction as the answering machine picked up. Okay, let's see who has a death wish...
I know you're up. You don't ever sleep through the phone. Please pick up? You know I'll just call back."
She took the
long pause as an opportunity to cover her face with her hands.
"Fine, suit yourself."
She sighed in relief when
the answering machine cut off and closed her eyes, eager to return to her dreams.
smile vanished and gave way to an angry frown. Dammit! You don't do anything else that you say you're going to do! Why
does this have to be any different?
She groaned aloud and covered her face with her hands again.
Back to sleep. Do NOT let him get to you.
Her head slid under the pillow in hopes of blocking
out the annoying noise.
Just as the answering machine clicked on again, she reached for another
pillow. She had no doubt that he'd leave another message. He had, after all, spent the past five days filling her answering
machine while she was out. She smiled smugly at the thought that she had yet to call him back.
"Baby...please try to
She emerged from her fortress of linen and stared incredulously at the machine. Is he singing?!
here...don't put out the glow..."
Her curious expression quickly became one of complete and total horror. Oh, God,
he IS singing...
"Hold me now; don't bother..."
Before he could continue, she snatched up the phone. "Either
make up your mind or quit singing the damn song. You're giving me a headache, and I can do that to myself."
his tongue in disapproval. "Aren't you supposed to be swooning by now?"
Her tone was dangerously low, but her response
was immediate. "I'm not twelve."
"I feel like I should be insulted. I mean, first you interrupt my song, then you insinuate
that all of my fans are pre-pubescent."
Her eyes widened in surprise. "When the hell did YOU find a dictionary?"
response was to clear his throat and begin singing again. "If every second makes me weaker...You can save me from the man
that I've become..."*
She groaned aloud. "I thought I told you to quit singing?"
"If I quit singing, will you
quit avoiding me?"
She knew he was smiling. That didn't bother her. It was the fact that she wanted to smile because
he was smiling that ticked her off.
"What do you want, Nick?"
"Isn't it obvious, Al? I want you to save me from
the man that I've become."
She made a noise that sounded painful. "What you're going to become is a mangled pile of
dismembered body parts if you keep calling me at this hour. The freaking sun isn't even up yet!"
His chuckle should've
infuriated her, but it only made her want to chuckle with him--which, of course, only infuriated her further. She'd spent
the majority of her time at home convincing herself that she didn't miss him. She did miss the Boys in general--they were
life family to her, after all--but she didn't miss Nick. I don't miss him. Not one little, teeny, tiny...dammit.
voice was soft when he spoke. He didn't want to say it, hadn't meant to say it, but couldn't seem to keep from saying it now
that he finally had her on the phone.
"God, I miss you, Al."
Her tone was deadpan and borderline sarcastic.
He sighed heavily. "Al, I'm being serious here."
"So am I."
"Can we just talk to each
Alli's gray eyes blazed steel. "It's kind of a bad time."
"I've been calling for the past five days."
shrugged. "There were a lot of bad times."
He slammed his fist on the bedspread, eliciting a soft thud. "Dammit, Al,
I'm trying, okay?"
She sucked in a steamy breath. "Am I supposed to be flattered?"
Something in her tone warned
him not to push her, and whatever cockiness he had harbored vanished immediately. "No. No, you're not."
at the clock again for good measure and rolled her eyes when she saw that only fifteen minutes had passed. With a huge sigh
and a heavy heart, she fell back against the pillows and tried to prepare herself for the long conversation she knew was coming.
"Okay, kid, let's try this again. Why are you calling me?"
He chuckled nervously on the other end. "Would you believe
that I actually miss you nagging me?"
His voice softened. "I do, Al."
Alli snorted. "Right, and
a lot of good it did. How are things now, Nickers? Are you actually fucking a woman ever night now?"
He rubbed a tired
hand over his eyes, knowing that he owed it to her to be honest. "One, sometimes two."
Alli arched an eyebrow. "That's
quite a record."
Nick ran a hand through his hair in despair. "I'm not proud of it, Al."
"Neither am I, but
I'm at the point where I really don't care anymore."
Nick frowned. "Al...you care. You know you care."
gave a bitter laugh. "I really don't care about the sex anymore, Nick. As far as I'm concerned, you can fuck your way across
the entire contiguous United States. Just don't send me a postcard, and don't expect me to come along for the ride."
groaned. "Al, I'm not talking about the sex. The sex isn't a problem. In fact, the sex isn't half as bad as the drinking."
rolled her eyes. "What do you want, Nickolas? A ticket to rehab? Trust me, if I thought it would help, you'd already be there."
sighed. "Al, please don't nag. I have enough people nagging me right now."
Alli's other eyebrow rose to meet the first.
"Oh? I thought you said that you missed my nagging."
Nick sighed again, running a hand through his hair as he did so.
"I don't need to be nagged, though."
"Forgive me, kid, but I'm running out of patience, because this is the third time
we've addressed this question. What the fuck do you want from me, Nick?"
"I..." He expelled a huge breath when he realized
that he didn't know what he wanted. He just wanted to hear her voice, to know that she didn't hate him. He just wanted to
talk to her like he had always been able to. He missed the friendship he had known in her. Throughout the most important parts
of his life, Alli had always been there, and Nick hated the emptiness that he felt in her absence. He just wanted something
to fill the space. He wanted to have his friend again, but he wasn't so sure he felt comfortable saying something like that.
He wasn't even sure he knew the words to say something like that. He cleared his throat nervously.
"Al, we were best
friends at one point."
She sighed. "Yeah, and I don't know whether to feel ashamed or nostalgic, hearing that."
was tired of getting the sarcastic end of the conversation. He knew Alli well enough to know that she wasn't comfortable acknowledging
anything concerning him, and her sarcasm was her defense. He knew that he could get through to her if he could finally break
down the barriers, but he wasn't even sure how to scale his own. "Maybe you don't have to feel either."
"So what should
I feel, oh great one?"
Nick stared thoughtfully at the carpet. "These past few weeks...I don't know. Haven't you missed
Her tone softened slightly, and he knew that he was finally getting through to her. "Missed what?"
Just...everything, I guess. I miss talking to you. I don't need to be nagged or judged, Al--I have the guys for that. I just
want someone to talk to at night or whenever I get lonely. I can always talk to you."
Alli's voice was finally soft.
"Nick, I don't really think I know you anymore."
Nick laughed lightly. "See, that's the thing. I think you do."
not my Carter."
He shook his head. "Maybe not, but there's a bit of your Carter in me. I changed, Al. I never left."
His voice was suddenly much softer than he cared for. He wasn't much thrilled with the shakiness either. "You left."
response was quick, as always. "You changed. Change is bad, Nick. I prefer old to change."
He was finally on turf that
he understood. "But maybe change could become old if you got to know change a little better."
"Not a little more
Finally, he cracked a smile. Her sarcasm was no longer laced with bitterness, but colored by amusement.
She was coming around, and he could feel his hole beginning to fill. "Are you ever going to let that go?"
shake the feeling that he was setting her up, but she delivered her retort anyway, smiling slightly against her will. "What's
the fun in letting go?"
Nick grinned, pleased with his own cunning. "That's the point, Al. There is no fun in letting
go. And that's why I want you to stick around. You said to call you when I found your Carter, and I think I've finally found
a few pieces of him lurking around."
She groaned inaudibly. So that was why she had the feeling that he was setting
"I suppose you're going to tell me that pieces are better than nonentities and broken friendships."
grinned. "Not quite. If that were the case, all of us singing heartbreak would be out of a job."
She rolled her eyes.
"God forbid. We'd lose half the female population on account of mental breakdowns from Backstreet deprivation."
rubbed another hand over his face, trying to wipe the seemingly permanent smile off. "Why am I smiling when I should be insulted?"
grinned. "'Cause you missed me."
He chuckled. "True enough." He paused. "So, are we okay now?"
Alli sighed heavily,
warning herself to avoid deep thought on the matter. She knew better than to psychoanalyze anything concerning Nick anymore.
Truth to tell, she wasn't entirely sure that he'd stick to his end of the friendship, but she didn't like the idea of losing
him either. She'd seen vulnerability in him during the conversation that she hadn't seen during the tour, and she was holding
onto the hope that his vulnerability might conquer the cocky pop star air.
"We were never okay, Nick. I think everyone
on your bus will agree with that."
His chuckle became a full-out laugh, something that he hadn't heard in himself since
Alli's sudden departure. "Yeah, you're probably right. We always were a little crazy."
Alli rolled her eyes again,
reminded suddenly of his recent antics. "Yeah, but you're too man to be crazy now, aren't you?"
Nick paused a moment
before shaking his head, unwilling to stop and ponder the sudden change of attitude in himself. He'd worry about the effects
to his fragile psyche later. "Not really."
Alli's eyebrows rose quickly before sinking into a small smile. "Congratulations,
Nick laughed. "What for?"
"You've succeeded in surprising me. I didn't think you could do that anymore."
grinned suggestively. "Oh, I'm an expert at surprises, baby..."
"I'll tell you what. When you get off the phone with
me and back to the slut you met downstairs last night, then you can put that expertise to use. Until then, I'd rather be left
in the dark, okay?"
Nick shook his head at the ever-apparent wit, but agreed nonetheless. "Deal...for now."
took the opportunity to yawn loudly as she stretched, moving sideways so she could glance at the clock again. She'd arranged
to meet David for breakfast at the coffee shop, and she didn't want to be late. When she saw that it was almost nine in the
morning, her jaw dropped.
"Hey, dude, don't you have somewhere to be this morning?"
Nick frowned and checked
the itinerary again, just to be sure. He'd set his alarm clock early in order to finally get Alli on the phone, and it was
only seven in the morning where he was. "Not yet. We're in Colorado today, so it's early up here."
shot up. "You got up at four in the morning to call me?!"
Nick grinned. "Aren't you impressed? I told you that I had
my ways, didn't I?"
Alli let out a low whistle as she stumbled out of bed. "Twice in one morning," she mumbled, shaking
her head as she padded into the bathroom.
Nick frowned on the other end. "What was that?"
"You've surprise me
twice in one morning. There's got to be some type of award for that somewhere..."
Nick laughed. "Hey, girl...when I
want something, I get it. It's just that simple."
"Could you manage to get an ego deflation?"
Nick shook his
head. "Nah, no need for that."
Alli sighed. "Are you still smiling?"
"Just checking to make
sure that ignorance is still bliss."
He groaned. "Ha. Aren't you funny?"
Alli grinned. "Always. Unfortunately,
though, I'm about to go be funny somewhere else...I've got a date for breakfast that I really can't be late to."
smiled. "I see...who's the victim this morning?"
"David...and he's not a victim of anything but insanity."
chuckled uncertainly. He wasn't sure why the idea of David suddenly stirred up that uncomfortable feeling in his stomach.
Of course, he hadn't eaten dinner, so...
"Just because I know him, I'm going to have to agree with you." He paused.
"Y'all aren't dating again, are you?"
Alli paused in decorating her toothbrush with toothpaste to frown at the phone.
"Why would you ask that?"
Nick shrugged. "You two just have history." He really didn't like that feeling in his stomach.
He began searching the room for the mini-bar. A snack was starting to sound really good.
"And he just happens to be
casually dating someone else at the moment," Alli laughed. "We're just friends. Kinda like you and I, only David has two heads
instead of one."
Nick grinned. "Can he think with both of them at the same time?"
Alli groaned immediately.
"Hey, listen closely, and you'll hear me hanging up now."
Nick sucked in a breath. "No, wait, before you go..."
blew out the stream of air as a sigh of relief. "I really did miss you, Al. I'm glad that you're talking to me again. I love
your answering machine and all, but..."
Alli smiled knowingly. "Not the same?"
Nick shook his head fervently.
"Not even close."
She chuckled lightly. "Well, Carter, for what it's worth, I missed you too. However, I really can't
miss this date."
Nick made a face. "Okay, I got the hint. I'm going now."
Alli laughed. "See ya."
hung up slowly and held the phone in his hand for a moment before setting it back on the dresser with a sigh of happiness.
The wide smile remained in place even as he showered, dressed, and jogged down to the lobby for breakfast with the guys and
a morning radio spot.
She had finally called him "Carter" again.
Kevin came up and clapped him on the back
as soon as the doors to the service elevator opened for himself and Billy. "So, Nick, you ready to head out and face the mess?"
laughed quietly. "Absolutely."
He'd spent the night alone for the first time in weeks. He'd gotten up on time. He'd
gotten Alli to answer the phone. He had his best friend back.
He was still smiling.
He shook his head and laughed
again. It was looking to be a really good day.