A new day.
A fresh batch of bacon was sizzling in one pan,
and three eggs were scrambling in another. A bowl of fresh fruit was already cut, and it had been set on the counter only
moments earlier. Two tall glasses of orange juice sat paired with two empty mugs, and the coffee was dripping rhythmically
into the pot off to the left.
Alli stopped for only a moment to survey the scene, a small smile playing about her lips,
and then went back to working. She'd woken early that morning due to the fact that she wasn't in her own bed, and the urge
to repay her friend for his kindness the night before had met her on her way off the couch. While she wasn't thrilled with
herself for getting dramatic, she was grateful for David's understanding, and she wanted to thank him for being there. He'd
done more than enough for her since his return to the best friend role.
Yeah, definitely did more than enough.
She shook her head as the memories of last night washed over her. She could only remember bits and pieces of the conversation,
but she could only imagine how insane her ramblings had eventually become. She could also remember the patient expression
on his face and the feeling of his arms around her and the feeling of his lips on hers, so...
Oh, shit. The kiss.
shook her head quickly and attempted to shove the memory to the back of her mind. To her, it hadn't been anything but a culmination
of emotions in the aftermath of a breakdown, and she could only hope that he saw things the same way. She'd been romantically
linked to David before, but she had no intentions of doing it again. They hadn't been as compatible as either had hoped, and
Alli knew that she wasn't the right person for him.
She just hoped that he knew.
Of course, there was also that
nagging hope in the very back--or front--of her mind that he had forgotten about the kiss completely while snoring away in
Yeah, right. 'Cause we all know how easily guys forget about any kind of physical encounter...
(or fortunately, depending on the point of view), her thoughts were interrupted by her cell phone.
groaned immediately at the sight of the vibrating object, but answered anyway. After all, for all she knew, her father was
trying to reach her, and she'd given him enough of a scare the night before.
"Well, gee, someone's
awfully chipper this morning! Should I sing you a song? I mean, I can feel the happiness just radiating through the phone..."
was about to retort when he actually started singing.
"I can see clearly now, the rain is gone...I can see all obstacles
in my way..."
Alli rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Should I get used to this kind of a wake-up call?"
could almost see his cheeky grin. "Aw, come on, Al. Would it really be that bad? Do you have any idea how many girls would
kill to hear this voice every morning?"
She groaned. "No, but obviously you do..."
He chuckled. "Well, hell,
of course I do! They all tried to chase me through the lobby of the hotel this morning at four-fucking-o'clock!"
winced. "Good God, your fans are nuts."
Nick laughed. "Yeah, well, my friends are nuttier."
"Should I be insulted?
I feel like I should be insulted..."
His tone grew softer. "Well, it depends. Are you feeling better than you were
Alli's own voice grew softer as the memories of her conversation with Nick began to play in place of the
memories of her conversation with David. "Yeah, much. Thanks for being there."
He sighed. "You don't have anything
to thank me for. I wasn't there last night. I had to leave before you could get anything out."
She laughed lightly.
"Yeah, you and your damn obligations. Such an obedient little Backstreet Boy..." Her voice trailed off when she noted that
Nick wasn't laughing. "Seriously, Carter, don't worry about it. You were there, okay? Trust me. Had it not been for you, I
might have had a freak attack in the car and started ranting to your voice on the radio, and that definitely wouldn't have
made me look too good. Besides, you're here now, right? Why'd you call?"
He smiled gently. "Truth?"
"Yeah, Amanda, truth...good gosh, quit hanging out with my girlfriends..."
He chuckled softly. "No can do. They're
all the friends I've got."
Alli arched an eyebrow and slid the eggs onto a plate. "See, that's what you think. They're
really just being nice."
"Eh, that's probably true."
Alli's other eyebrow rose in surprise. "What? Probably
true? What the hell happened to the mile-long ego?"
Nick sighed. "It deflated with the knowledge that I couldn't crawl
through the phone last night."
Alli nodded knowingly. "I see. So the pride in the ghetto booty finally caught up with
Nick laughed. "You're not going to let me get sentimental at all, are you?"
Alli shrugged lightly
and removed the bacon from the other pan. "Nope. I'm not a sentimental person. Last night was a freak thing, and you should
know that better than anybody."
Nick nodded with a small smile. "Yeah, I do."
"So...back to my question, then.
Why are you calling?"
"I wanted to make sure you were okay after everything that happened last night."
chuckled lightly. "I have a dad, you know."
Nick rolled his eyes at her ever-present sarcasm. "Yeah, I know. Humor
me a little and pretend that you have a knight in shining armor too."
"I have a knight in shining armor?"
rolled his eyes again. "What, so you missed my gallant entrance? That sucks..."
"Yeah, might want to polish that armor
a bit. I thought you were the garbage guy."
"Feeling the love...most definitely..."
Alli finally laughed. "Okay,
Carter, so I shouldn't have to tell you that you rock my world. Don't you get enough letters that say that anyway?"
sighed in mock sadness. "My ego was deflated, remember? I need all the self-esteem I can get."
"The screaming girls
Nick laughed. "Well, that helps, but I need more."
"So I need to take back those earplugs I
bought you for Christmas, huh?"
His eyes widened. "No, you can give me those for when the inflamed eardrums surpass
the inflated ego."
Alli grinned. "Sounds like a plan, Carter. Now, anything else, or can I go back to serving breakfast
for my other night in shining armor?"
He hated the way his face twisted in a grimace when he realized that she was
referring to David. "Not yet. You have yet to give me play-by-play on what happened last night. I missed the instant replay,
and I really wanted to hear the Alli commentary..."
Alli cleared her throat authoritatively. "Uh, Carter?"
Alli made a face. "First off, no whining. If you're still working on that whole 'manly image'
thing that you guys go for, the high-pitched 'cry me a river' voice is totally not an option."
Nick groaned. "Why do
I have a mother at all?"
Alli politely ignored the comment and continued. "Secondly, all of that ESPN you and Brian
love to watch is really going to your head, okay? Do us all a favor a refrain for awhile."
Nick sighed. "Are you going
to tell me what happened, or should I just take that as my cue to hang up?"
Alli frowned. "Good God, you're impatient
today. What makes you think anything happened?"
Nick arched an eyebrow skeptically. "I can't believe you're asking
me that question. What, you want a list?"
"Yeah, that's what I thought."
"Well, I thought we were going to stop with the whole asshole attitude."
Nick frowned. "Al, you know I care. I want
to know what happened because I'm still pissed that I couldn't be there instead."
Alli sighed. "No, I know. Nothing
much happened, though. I drove for three hours, showed up on Doc's doorstep, talked, cried, whined, kissed, and went to sleep."
eyes widened immediately at the passive tone she was using. "Doc?"
"That's what I call David. You have a nickname,
he has a nickname...it works."
Nick's eyes narrowed toward the phone. "And what's this about a kiss?" You kissed
his dog, right? Or his pillow, or his couch, or his floor...or something. You did not kiss him. You can't kiss him...
sighed again, and Nick could feel his chest constricting. Why the hell does this bother me so much?
like one of those movie moments. I was upset and delirious and just generally mentally screwed for the night, and so I decided
to play confusing girl and kiss him for being nice to me. I don't know. I'm retarded and it seemed like a good idea at the
Nick swallowed forcefully, trying to keep himself from saying any of the thousand comments that were swirling
around in his head. "At the time?" What in the hell were you smoking that made that seem like a fucking good idea? And
why in the hell do I even care if you kissed him or not?
"Well, yeah...but now there's the possibility that I
was stupid and gave him the wrong idea."
"So you don't like him like that?" Oh, God, did that ever sound junior
Alli burst out laughing. "How old are you again?"
Nick rolled his eyes, feeling the weight of his
blush at her teasing. "Twenty-one...twelve...I don't give a shit."
"Ooh, now he's going to be all manly..."
groaned. "Alli, shut up and answer the question, okay?"
Alli grinned mischievously. "Where's that concern from earlier,
huh? I could totally go for some of that right now..."
She chuckled. "No, I don't like him like
He really hated the fact that he caught himself in the middle of a sigh of relief. "I doubt he got the
wrong idea. I mean, you two did that thing already."
Alli grinned. "You mean you don't think he'd want to revisit that?
I feel like I should be insulted..."
Nick laughed. "Yeah, it was definitely an insult, Al. Sealed with a kiss and everything."
thought I told you to quit the crack habit, Carter?"
Nick winked at the phone, then shook his head in disgust at his
own inability to get a grip on himself. What the hell is wrong with me? "Since when do I ever listen?"
frowned. "Whoa. I think the world is ending."
Nick's frown, though miles away, matched hers exactly. "Why?"
actually have a point."
He rolled his eyes. "Oh, ha fucking ha. See if you get any more concern from me."
smirked. "Oh, you love me, Carter. You know you do."
Nick's smirk matched Alli's exactly, much like the frown. "Do
I?" Why does that sound like a real question?
"Of course you do! In fact, you love me so much that you're
going to let me go."
His head hurt at the dual meaning in her words. "Why do I have to let you go?"
lightly. "'Cause my new roomie just walked in for breakfast, and I've got to feed him."
"And make sure you didn't confuse
the hell out of him," Nick added with a grin.
Alli's expression turned sheepish. "Yeah, that too."
imagining the expression on her face. Of course, I haven't even seen her in a month, so I don't know what she looks like
now... He discarded the thought quickly. "Hey, can I call you tonight?"
She grinned. "Someone sounds eager. I'm
feeling the love again, Carter!"
He rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Can't you ever just answer a question?"
nodded slowly and thoughtfully. "Yeah you can call me, but make it later."
She sighed heavily. "I was
planning to have that talk with Holly tonight. She's coming back to Dad's for dinner, and I feel really bad about the way
things have gone between us so far."
He nodded, knowing that she'd need a friend to talk to after her confrontation.
"I'll call, then. Have fun at breakfast with David." He winced when his old friend's name rolled off his tongue without a
hint of the bitterness that he didn't necessarily understand.
"Will do. See ya later, Carter."
He laughed. "Bye,
Alli set the phone down quietly and looked up to offer a smile at her other male best friend. "Hey, Doc, what's
David frowned at her and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "Isn't it too early for you to be chipper? Hell,
girl, you had a breakdown last night. Shouldn't I be preparing for the aftermath?"
Alli rolled her eyes impatiently.
"Yeah, well, keep that attitude up and you might finding yourself preparing to be hit over the head with that frying pan."
winced. "Ouch. That would leave a mark."
Alli arched an eyebrow skeptically. "A mark? That would leave a dent."
sighed. "But a dent wouldn't go with my hair..."
Alli gave him a humorously incredulous look. "Exactly what breed of
dork are you?"
He chuckled lightly. "At the moment? A really hungry one. Feed me."
Alli frowned. "Can't right
now. I don't serve Tarzan impersonators, Mr. 'You Jane', and I seem to have misplaced my extra set of manners."
groaned. "Why can't you ever misplace the wit?"
Alli grinned. "It's my trademark. Now, go do what you men do best,
David looked up uncertainly from his plate. "And what might that be?"
Alli's tone was gleeful. "Stuff
your face and quit asking questions, Doc. It's going to be a long day."
David sighed. "With you, Al, it always is."
chuckled lightly. "Oh, I feel the love. Remind me why we dated again?"
Because you kiss like fire. "I can't
She suddenly stopped piling her plate with eggs and turned to him with a frown. "Listen, Doc...about last
night. I'm really sorry about that kiss. I was just upset, and..."
He laughed. "Al, don't worry. It's totally cool."
frown deepened with a hint of insecurity. "Are you sure?"
She grinned, completely and totally
oblivious to the tiny feelings he found himself harboring. "Awesome. Thanks for being there."
He looked up at her with
a serious expression. "Always, Al. I mean that."
She smiled warmly, a rare expression to grace her usually sharp features.
"I know, and I appreciate it. Between you and Carter, I'm a really lucky girl." She grinned at him. "I mean, I get a Backstreet
Boy and a Dawson. Who would've thought?"
David frowned. "When did Nick enter the picture again?"
"Last night, actually. I called him before I knew what was going on, and he was the guy I remember all over again."
smiled uncertainly. "That's great, Al."
She grinned. "Isn't it?"
He sighed heavily when he back was turned and
stared down at his plate, suddenly not hungry. He knew the look in her eyes, and that was enough for him.
sigh, he walked to the table and prepared for another long round of small talk with his best friend, one thought echoing in
his head the entire time. It wasn't supposed to be like this.
* * *
That night, Alli pulled up in the driveway of her father's house
with a hint of anxiety. She had arrived early so that she'd be able to talk to Holly before dinner was served, but she was
beginning to have second thoughts about initiating a confrontation on an empty stomach. Feelings of nervousness had used the
empty space inside her to begin summersault rehearsals, and she wasn't exactly thrilled with the result. She was already uncomfortable
with the vulnerability of the situation, and the added nerves didn't help.
With a sigh, she climbed out of the car
and mounted the front steps until she could reach the doorbell. Within moments, the door opened to reveal Holly's cheerful
blue eyes and shining blonde hair.
Cool it with the cynicism, Al...we decided she's not the
Somehow, it wasn't quite as easy to let go of that suspicion as she'd hoped that it would be.
The fact that Holly was standing in front of her, of course, made it infinitely harder. She managed an uncertain smile and
stepped tentatively into the foyer.
Holly seemed to appreciate the attempt at civil conversation,
because her smile brightened. "Hey, Alli. Come on in. Your father should be done in about twenty minutes, and..."
took a deep breath and tried to formulate something decent to say. Every time she'd seen Holly before, she hadn't had any
problem with confidence. She had seen Holly as a temporary obstacle, her replacement while she toured with Nick. Now, however,
knowing what she did about the woman's past, she was extremely humbled.
Holly's brow furrowed
Alli heaved a huge sigh. "Holly, I actually came early so I could talk to you. I mean, I know we don't
know each other that well, and I know I haven't been the most friendly person in the world, but..."
The wrinkles smoothed
back into the bright smile that Alli was trying to get used to.
"What would you like to talk about, Alli?"
had to fight the urge to wince. Her name had never sounded quite so formal. "Well, see, I was talking to Dad the other night,
Holly chuckled lightly and led Alli into the living room, where they both took a seat on the leather couch.
"You wanted to talk about our similar history, right?"
Alli frowned. "Well, actually, I wanted to start out by apologizing."
expression immediately turned sympathetic. "Oh, Alli, you don't have to..."
Alli interrupted her father's girlfriend
with a dismissive wave and a nervous chuckle. "Actually, I do. I don't know what Dad's told you about his first wife, but..."
a moment, Alli thought she saw the sparkling blue eyes darken with anger. "He's said enough."
Alli nodded. "Yeah, well,
then you know she was quite a trip. Unfortunately, she kind of scarred the family, and I'm not very trusting of women that
enter Dad's life."
Holly sighed. "Alli, that's understandable. You never had a mother. You and your father are very
close, and you've always had each other. I know it may seem like I'm coming between that, but I don't want to change anything."
She cracked a small smile. "I'm just asking for a chance to be included in this little family you guys have going. I wouldn't
ever want to take your father away, though, and I wouldn't ever hurt him. I know you know this, but my position in my family
is a lot like yours is now. I understand where you're coming from."
Alli groaned. "Oh, God...you're understanding AND
reasonable...as though I didn't feel bad enough already...and now we're having a Full House moment. Oh, somebody
Holly chuckled. "What, would you rather I scold you? Truth to tell, I've really got no place to do that.
My dad dated while I was in high school, and I was an absolute bitch to the majority of his girlfriends."
lit up like those of a child at Christmas with the new information, and Holly had to laugh again at the younger girl's incredulous
Holly nodded. "Oh, yeah. I was absolutely horrible. I mean, I watched him get hurt when my mother
died, and I didn't want to see him walk into the same kind of situation with another woman."
Alli let loose with a
huge sigh of relief and leaned forward. "See, you understand. My mother--much as I hate to admit to being related to such
a woman--popped pills and did all sorts of horrible things. She didn't really care about having kids, and she and Dad were
always fighting. Then she left, and she died, and...well, for a long time, it was easy to forget that she was ever here."
smiled knowingly. "And it was easy to forget that your dad needed a mate at all, right?"
Alli made a face. "Yeah, that
too. I know it sounds silly, but..."
Holly shook her head before Alli could finish. "No, it doesn't sound silly at
all. When a person stays single for a number of years, it's very easy to get used to them staying that way."
"I get the feeling you're speaking from experience again..."
Holly frowned. "I'm sorry, is that annoying? I always
used to hate it when older people would preach to me about the way their lives went, and..."
Alli laughed. "Holly,
it's okay...I was kidding..."
The older woman blushed lightly. "I swear, you and your father...that wit is going to
be the death of me, you know that?"
Alli rolled her eyes. "Yeah, if it doesn't kill one of us first. Cynicism isn't
always a good thing."
Holly arched an eyebrow expectantly. "Neither is skepticism, right?"
Alli cringed. "Okay,
yeah, that would be the parental scolding I was waiting for..."
Holly chuckled. "I'm not about to scold you. It's like
I told John--I truly do understand the position you're in. It sucks to grow up without a mother, and it sucks to be a girl
that doesn't trust women as much as men. However, I think it's kinda cool that we were both in the same situation, because
that should make it easier for us to relate to each other, right?"
Alli groaned again. "You really are like Barbie,
you know that?"
Holly laughed. "Like Barbie? How so?"
Alli's eyes widened. "So damn cheerful...ALL the freaking
Holly cocked her head to one side so she could give Alli a pointed look. "It is better that we're more alike
than you thought, though, right?"
Alli sighed. "Yeah, I guess so. If anything, it means that you've got about as much
of an idea of what a mother's supposed to act like as I've got in regards to being a 'Mommy's girl'."
a bit more loudly at that. "Alli, I may not know you well, but I seriously doubt that you could ever be a 'Mommy's girl'."
winked mischievously. "That's a good thing. I like being rebellious every now and then."
Holly shook her head amusedly.
"Well, from what I hear, so does your Backstreet friend."
Alli frowned. "Who, Carter?"
Holly grinned. "Yeah,
that's the one. Something about how you two used to get into a lot of trouble together when you were younger."
made a face. "I'm sure we did, but I'm not half as bad as he is these days."
Holly shrugged. "That's okay, though.
He's in more of a rebel environment, I would guess."
Alli sighed heavily. "Yeah, but I wish he'd get out of the party
scene for awhile and mellow. He used to be more fun when he wasn't so addicted to sex and candy."
Holly gave her new
young friend a doubtful look. "Alli, dear, he's also a guy."
Alli groaned. "Okay, now you sound like Amanda. I don't
need another one, thanks..."
Holly laughed again. "Now I know where you missed out having a female mentor, Al. Whoever
taught you the fundamentals of men?"
Alli rolled her eyes. "Oh, God...wait, don't tell me...they're stupid, they're
slow, they don't understand girls, and they're addicted to sex."
Holly chuckled. "Well, that's not bad. Amanda must
have done a pretty good job."
Alli paused in her cynicism to give Holly a serious but uncertain look. "Hey, Holly?"
looked up with the same bright smile. "Yeah?"
"You know Dad's not like other guys, right?"
Holly smiled warmly
and wrapped an arm around Alli's shoulders in a firm embrace. "Yeah, I know. I've been taught to recognize the good ones."
smiled. "Good." She paused before adding, uncertainly, "And thanks for understanding."
Holly grinned. "Not a problem
at all. Anytime you want to talk, I'm here. Now, how about food? Apparently, your father says you eat like a guy."
winked. "Only when it's spaghetti. Anything else, and I'm..."
"Still wolfing it down like she's never seen food before,"
John Lacey cut in, wheeling into the room. "Dinner's ready, you two." He had a glint of contentment in his eye when he saw
the two women laughing together. "What have you two been doing in here? Sounded like mischief..."
Alli chuckled lightly.
"Well, I had to get my foot out of my mouth. Holly was helping."
John turned to his girlfriend in amusement. "Oh, was
Holly was already blushing, still unused to the wit that ran rampant in the Lacey household. "She's hungry.
Can we eat?"
John turned to Alli with a laugh as he watched the blonde woman scurry out of the living room. "What'd
you do to her, Al?"
Alli laughed. "I was just getting to know her."
John nodded knowingly. "Okay, that explains
Alli narrowed her eyes warningly. "Lucky for you, Dad, I'm way too hungry to acknowledge that comment."
chuckled. "Yeah, lucky for me." He paused a moment and pulled Alli towards him with his free hand, peering solemnly into her
eyes. "Hey, Al?"
Then he smiled. "I'm glad that you and Hol are finally starting to get along."
returned the smile with a small laugh. "Honestly, Dad? Me too."
With that, the two began the journey towards the kitchen
so the evening could begin.