Bed of Roses
Chapter Forty-Six
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'm going crazy
A little at a time
And everything I wanted
Is now driving me away
I woke up this morning
To the sound of beating hearts
Mine is full of questions
And it's tearing yours apart

"I have often thought of you," said Estella.

"Have you?"

"Of late, very often. There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth. But since my duty has not been incompatible with the admission of that remembrance, I have given it a place in my heart."

"You have always held your place in my heart," I answered.

And we were silent again until she spoke.

"I little thought," said Estella, "that I should take leave of you in taking leave of this spot. I am very glad to do so."

"Glad to part again, Estella? To me, parting is a painful thing. To me, the remembrance of our last parting has been ever mournful and painful."

"But you said to me," returned Estella very earnestly, " 'God bless you, God forgive you!' And if you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now--now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but--I hope--into a better shape. Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends."

"We are friends," said I, rising and bending over her, as she rose from the bench.

"And will continue friends apart," said Estella (489).

Alli closed the book with an odd sense of unease and frowned. She was more than happy that she'd finished the book, and also thrilled that Estella and Pip had finally met up again, but she had been expecting something...more. Somehow, the fact that they'd simply agreed to be friends didn't sit well with her. It seemed to be more of a negative ending than the positive ending Dickens had apparently intended. God, why can't they see that they're perfect for each other? How in the hell did something as obvious as that manage to escape these people? Is Dickens TRYING to torture his readers?

She was still deep in thought, silently ranting about the unsatisfactory ending of one of her favorite novels, when the tiny tinkle of The Simpsons theme filtered through the silence. With a groan of displeasure, she turned lazily toward the couchside table on the bus and clicked her phone on.



She frowned more deeply when she realized that she didn't recognize the caller. Moron. Why the hell do you think they invented caller ID for cell phones? "Yeah?"

"Okay, listen carefully and tell me if this sounds familiar..."

She waited for a moment before a broken falsetto began screeching in her ear. "Of COURSE I'll call you! I mean, hello? Who's going to keep me sane every day when Carter's driving me nuts?"

A delighted smirk crept across Alli's features as the voice finally registered. "Actually, that doesn't sound too familiar. Who said that?"

"You did."

Alli grinned, but kept up the facade just the same. "Really? Was I drunk?"

"Well, I didn't think so at the time, but, knowing you..."

Alli gasped in surprise. "Doc! That's horrible!"

He laughed in her ear, causing her to smile in return. "Nice of you to keep in touch, Al."

She sighed. "I seriously meant to, man. I've just been really busy, and things have been so crazy down here that..."

David frowned. "Wait, I'm starting to feel insulted here. Isn't that the guy's line?"

Alli shrugged. "Beats me. It would be fitting, though. I always did wear the pants in our relationship."

"Did you really? I thought the whole idea was for you not to be wearing anything."

"Nah, that was your job," Alli chuckled.

"I see..." David trailed off a moment, reveling in the conversation that he'd come to miss so much in the past few weeks. "So is that what those handcuffs were for?"

Alli shook her head. "Well, they could've worked that way, but I actually bought them to keep you in line."

David groaned. "Oh, God, you're one of those...jealous much, Al?"

Alli grinned. "Not really. Should I be?"

"Well, now that you mention it, there's this really hot brunette touring with you that I'd really rather be talking to, but..."

Alli's eyes widened, but she quickly composed herself so that she wouldn't miss her comeback cue. "Well, it's a good thing that you called me first, because she and her boyfriend are a little, um..." she coughed for emphasis, "busy at the moment, if you get my drift."

David winced at the visual that arrived courtesy of Alli's implications. "I could've done without knowing that, babe."

Alli smiled wryly. "Oh, but Doc...with Amanda, there's no such thing as 'too much information'."

He groaned. "She must've missed the memo then. I know Amanda and AJ, unfortunately, so I have absolutely no desire to hear about their sex life. I prefer to sleep nightmare-free, thank you very much."

Alli chuckled lightly. "Don't we all? I tried to tell them that, but they don't seem to have much consideration for their poor, tortured bus mates..."

David frowned in turn. "Whoa, hold up a sec...I thought you were sharing a bus with Carter and Brileigh?"

Alli bit her lip in anticipation of the conversation that she knew was ahead of her. Of course, maybe it wouldn't be so bad to spill all of this to Doc. He was the voice of reason last time, wasn't he? "Well, see, things changed a bit."

David's tone was deadpan. "I bet. Sounds like you have a story for me, Al."

"Does it really? I can't think of any stories..."

David rolled his eyes good-naturedly at Alli's uncanny ability to beat around the bush, knowing that her determination wouldn't last for long. "Not one? Not even one that has to do with Carter?"

Alli closed her eyes in aggravation. "Have you been talking to Amanda?"

David chuckled at her pathetic tone. "Not at all, babe. I just know you that well."

"Super." Alli didn't sound the least bit delighted.

"Isn't it, though?" David did.

Alli heaved a huge sigh of reluctance before opening a tentative eye. She knew he couldn't see her expression, but--oh, hell. Old faces die hard. "I'm not going to get out of this one, am I?"

He shook his head, smiling knowingly. "Not a chance. Spill, Al."

She groaned, but his smile only widened at the sound. "Oh, come on, girl. You know you want to..."

When it came to spilling, Alli was never a difficult one to convince, especially when the one convincing her to spill was a trusted friend from her past. "Doc, I really, really did some stupid stuff this time."

He frowned lightly. "Did you do the stupid stuff, or did Nick do the stupid stuff?"

Alli grimaced as memories of the past week filtered across her vision. "We both did stupid stuff."

David chuckled at her tone. "Now why does that not surprise me?"

Alli shrugged. "I don't know...because we're both stupid people? Dammit, Doc, I don't think I had any inkling as to just how jacked up our relationship really is until Carter decided to audition us for the cast of Dawson's Creek."

David hid his smile so as to feign confusion. "But I don't understand, Al. How is that a bad thing? Weren't you just recently whining about how much you needed a Pacey?"

Alli rolled her eyes. "Har dee har har. He picked the wrong prick to impersonate, man. Instead of channeling Joshua Jackson and making me swoon, he channeled James Van Der Beek and sent me running for Joey's script."

David sighed heavily. While he was fluent in Alli language as a result of years and years of being forced to decipher her analogies, he wasn't exactly knowledgeable in the Dawson's Creek area, and all of the last analogy had been lost in confusion as he tried to remember whether or not Joey was the hot brunette. "Hey, Al, I'm going to need that one without the TV Guide influence, okay?"

She made a face that expressed something between disgust and despair. "Just when he was getting back on my good side and we were starting to be good friends again, he went and told me he loved me and screwed everything the hell up. That make enough sense for you?"

David winced. "Yeah, that came in loud and clear. When exactly did he make this confession?"

She squinted at the wall while she tried to remember the actual date. Finally, she reluctantly forced herself to use the general term. "About a week and a half ago."

"And I take it you've been avoiding him since then?"

Alli frowned. "Well, not really. I danced with him last night."

It was David's turn to roll his eyes at Alli's seemingly ignorant state. "I'll bet he enjoyed that."

"Probably more than he should've," she agreed. When David responded, his tone was stern.

"You shouldn't have done that, Al. It's not nice to play with a guy when he feels that way about you."

Alli almost fell off of the couch in surprise as the meaning behind David's harsh words registered. "Whoa, back the hell up just a second actually think he's being sincere about all of this?"

David frowned again. "All of this meaning what, Al?"

"This 'I love you' shit that he's trying to pull! You think he's serious about that?"

As opposed to relaxing itself, the frown deepened. "Why on earth would he lie about that?"

Alli groaned in annoyance. "Well, forgive me, Doc, but his track record with women isn't exactly the greatest looking thing on earth, you know what I mean?"

"Yeah, but I thought he agreed to be done with that on New Year's?"

"Like he could actually give all of that up?" Alli scoffed in disbelief. "What-the-fuck-ever."

"He could if he realized that he loved someone enough that the meaningless sex with groupies didn't matter anymore," David pointed out, and Alli's eyes grew wide in amazement.

"I can't believe you, Doc! You're usually the fucking voice of reason, and you're backing him up on this? That makes no sense! All of the signs say that I should run in the other direction every time I see the blonde bastard coming up the walkway. Why the hell would you be telling me that he's serious about not jerking me around?"

David sighed and decided that he'd be well-obliged to mention the little discussion he'd had with the younger man over their last card game. "Because I asked him about it point-blank during that game of Egyptian Rat Screw."

Alli's face found her hands faster than Nicholas Cage dropped Lisa Marie Presley. "Oh my didn't."

It was David's turn to sound indignant. "Of course I did! Anyone with half a brain could see that the guy was pathetically infatuated with you, and I wanted to make sure he wasn't going to pull anything over on you. We may not be dating anymore, Al, but you're a good friend to me, and I wasn't about to let some guy string you along unless he was really serious about his feelings."

Alli arched an eyebrow skeptically from beneath her hands. "Dare I ask what convinced you that he was really serious about his feelings?"

"The fact that he honestly didn't think he was in love with you, and yet he could totally degrade himself when faced with what he'd put you through."

Alli's expression changed from one of skepticism to one of complete and total disbelief. "That's your proof?"


She arched an eyebrow doubtfully. "Seriously? That's it?"


"That SUCKS!"

David couldn't help laughing at Alli's juvenile expression. "Al, follow me for a second here, okay? Us guys aren't so intelligent when it comes to relationships."

Alli's tone was deadpan. "Not shit, Sherlock. Tell me something I don't know."

"I'm trying to, but you've got to give me a minute to explain this fully," he chuckled. "Can you do that?"

"If I can believe that Carter actually loves me like he says he does, then I can do anything," Alli muttered dryly. Either David hadn't heard her, or he had taken that as a concession, because he immediately launched into his explanation.

"We may be famous for being absolute dunces when it comes to women, Al, but us guys are also know for our penchant for denial. Whenever a guy vehemently denies being in love with a girl, chances are--well, he's lying. If he weren't in love, he wouldn't care enough about what everyone else thought to deny it, you know? However, the fact that he cares enough to deny it proves that he has feelings for her, and the other guys around said guy will play off that until somebody in the pending couple acknowledges the 'more than friendly' feelings." David paused to let his words sink in before the silence made him suspicious. "Does that make sense?"

Alli grimaced. "I'd like to say no."

"But you'd be lying," David finished knowingly. "And why would you like to lie, Al?"

Her grimace deepened, and she buried her head in her hands until reddish curls cascaded over her fingers. "Because what you said is making sense in relation to more than just Carter."

"Does it ring a bell or two with you as well, chica?" David asked slyly, and was promptly rewarded with a groan.

"A bell or two...or three...or four or know, whichever..."

He laughed at the absolute misery that echoed in her pained tone. "Beginning to feel stupid, Al?"

"Stupid SO does not cover it..." she whined. "Dammit, Doc, I was SO sure that I didn't feel anything for him!"

"No," he corrected with a laugh, "you were SO sure that you weren't going to let yourself feel anything for him because you kept telling yourself that you knew better."

"But I didn't," she moaned. "I'm just as dumb as every blonde groupie he's ever slept with."

"And why is that, Alli?"

She made a disgusted face. "Good God, Doc, you sound like you're enjoying this..."

He grinned knowingly. "Oh, believe me, I am. I can't wait to gloat to Amanda that I was the one who brought you to realization after an hour when she's been trying for weeks to get you to see what you feel."

Alli's jaw dropped in dismay. "You guys were in competition?!"

He chuckled. "Oh, hon, that's nothing, believe me. I think the other Boys actually have a bet going."

Alli rolled her eyes in annoyance. "You know, that wouldn't surprise me in the least."

"So, you didn't answer my question, Al. What's the verdict?"

She wrinkled her nose. Good God, I'm really going to say this out loud... "I think I might like him." However, the confession didn't come without the immediate stream-of-consciousness rambling that Alli was famous for among her small circle of friends. "Dammit, David, why do I like him?! I know what he's like! I know what a man-whore he can be when he's around a pretty girl, and I know how unfaithful he's been in the past. Shit, I even know how much he doesn't value fidelity in a relationship! I know how clumsy he is with a girl's heart, so why in the hell would I ever even think of getting involved with this guy? Am I stupid? Disillusioned? Freaking mentally retarded? That's it, isn't it? I'm insane. I should be locked up. Hell, they probably couldn't find an institution armed enough to deal with me. They'll just shoot me now and put me out of my misery if I actually go and seek help..." Her eyes brightened as another thought arrived. "I know! I can come back to Tampa and you can hide me in your basement and no one will ever have to know that I'm too crazy to live, right?"

He interrupted her at that, trying to stifle his laughter as he began his attempt at calming her down. "Al...shit, Alli, I don't even have a basement."

Her response was almost childlike in its defeat. "Oh."

He chuckled. "Besides, chica, everyone already knows that you're crazy. They aren't going to lock you up, okay? Nick loves you too much to let the men in the white coats get anywhere near you."

All of a sudden, her voice sounded small and empty. "Doc?"

He sighed heavily, aware that they had finally arrived at the serious part of the conversation in which Alli quit being Alli and began to be reasonable. "Yeah?"

"Do you really think he loves me?"

The smile that spread across David's face was both warm and genuine. "Al, hon, if I didn't think that he loved you beyond even his own comprehension, I would have kicked his ass a long time ago for messing with you at all."

Her brow furrowed in uncertainty. "Really?"

He nodded. "Hell, yes! Not only that, Al, but if I wasn't sure that he was being sincere, I wouldn't be trying to convince you to step out of your hesitancy and meet him halfway, now, would I?"

She reluctantly surrendered. "I guess not. I...I'm just cautious when it comes to Carter, you know? It's like there's too much at stake for me to want to move at all. I'm so scared of everything tumbling..."

David sighed heavily. "Al, it sounds to me like things have already tumbled."

Her heavy sigh echoed his. "Yeah, I guess they have. Dammit."

David laughed lightly. "That should tell you something, though."

Alli had long grown exasperated with his cryptic comments, and her tone said as much when she replied. "Oh, really? And what should it tell me, oh, wise one?"

"That sometimes you have to bet it all on one card and take the risk to rebuild everything again."

She was about to shoot off a sarcastic retort, but paused to consider his words and finally relented. "You know," she admitted quietly, "that makes a lot of sense."

"Of course it does!" David replied gleefully. "I said it."

Alli rolled her eyes good-naturedly as the humor returned to the conversation. "Oh, God...I've only been gone for a month, and your ego's already grown out of control."

He chuckled. "Maybe so, but you're destroying Carter's ego bit by bit, even as we speak."

Alli groaned. "Riiiiiiiiiiiight..."

"Seriously, girl. Every time you turn him away, it takes that much courage for him to come back and try again."

Alli sighed for the countless time. "What are you trying to tell me, Doc?"

"That maybe you shouldn't turn him away this time," David answered. "Or maybe, if the occasion allows, you should go to him."

She drew a breath tentatively. "We'll see."

David's eyebrows rose. "Really?"


It was finally David's turn to roll his eyes in annoyance. "Alli...look, he really does love you, okay? I know what he's done in the past, and I know how much his track record sucks, but I also know how honest his eyes were when he told me that he cared too much about you to ever hurt you again. I know how much he's always cared about you, how much your friendship means to him, and how that awesome connection you two have goes both ways. At least think about giving him a chance, okay? I wouldn't be pushing this hard if I didn't think he deserved it."

Alli's voice was barely above a whisper when she finally conceded. "Okay, I'll think about giving things a chance."

"Besides," David added slyly, "you know you care for him just as much as he cares for you, Al, and all you need is love."

Before she could retort, the dial tone was ringing in her ear and Amanda's footsteps were echoing along the walls of the tour bus. Of course, moments later, when AJ and Amanda entered the back room to chat, Alli was still wearing the same look of confusion.

"Well, chica, we're back from an afternoon of entertainment!"

Alli looked up with a wary smile. "And how many people did you manage to torture on your search for a cure for boredom?"

"None!" AJ hollered indignantly. "We went to see a movie, thank you very much. One Nick recommended to us, actually."

Amanda grinned widely. "It was a chick flick."

Alli's eyebrows rose in amazement. "Carter recommended a chick flick to the two of you?"

AJ nodded affirmatively. "Yup. Wasn't half bad, either. That Angelina Jolie chick is seriously hot."

Amanda rolled her eyes and smacked AJ. "Not to mention the fact that the movie actually had a good message, right?"

AJ looked up in mock confusion. "It had a message?"

Amanda's exasperation was palpable. "Oh, Good God..."

Alli had to bite back her smile so as not to aggravate Amanda, but she did manage a wink in AJ's direction. "So, Manda, what was the film's message?"

"Might want to start with asking what the film's called," AJ replied with a wink, and Alli rolled her eyes in annoyance.

"Okay, what's the film called?"

"Life or Something Like It," AJ answered with a chuckle. Alli's gray eyes immediately lit up in recognition.

"Oh, hey! That's that movie about the girl who gets a week left to live, right? Some psychic guy predicts her death and freaks her out and everything."

"Yeah, that's it," Amanda nodded. "So this street psychic tells her that she has a week left to live, and she breaks up with her jerk of a boyfriend because, well, he's a jerk. Then, she meets this really cool guy that she likes at her job, and they hook up for awhile. Anyway, she pulls this incredible stunt by showing up to do some news thing when she's drunk, and she gets the attention of these cool network people..."

"'Cause she's a news reporter," AJ interjected.

"Right. And then they offer her this great new job, but it's away from her new guy friend, so they break up and she moves all the way out to the new job."

"Hey, Manda?" AJ interrupted with a frown. Amanda immediately turned to face him, though the look on her face registered aggravation.

"What? I'm trying to tell a story here!"

AJ chuckled. "Baby, I know...but don't you have something to show Alli?"

Amanda's countenance immediately brightened. "Oh, yeah!" That said, she began digging through her purse and soon came up with a small package with "Kodak" inscribed on the front. After exchanging a knowing smile with AJ, she handed the package to Alli. "These are the pictures from the New Year's party."

"Cool." Alli took the package with a smile, opened it, and began happily flipping through the pictures. She'd been anxious to see them for quite some time, given the events attached to the evening, and holding the paper in her hands brought on a wave of incomparable satisfaction. Maybe, just maybe, I'll see enough to clear up all of this mess that landed in my lap with Carter's confession...

The first was a picture of all of the girls, happily reunited after the holiday break, and Alli's smile widened upon seeing the Backstreet ladies together. The second picture was one of AJ and Howie making their trademark funny faces at the camera, and Alli had to laugh at their goofiness. However, the next two were pictures of random guests that she didn't recognize, and she began flipping through the pictures more quickly as she looked back up at Amanda.

"So, this movie...she takes the job, and then what?"

There was a picture of the rather nutty DJ, a picture of Jen and Tony dancing, and a picture of Amy and Alisa sipping punch.

"She takes the job and interviews this really famous news lady, who essentially tells Angelina Jolie that she gave up a life of love for success in the news business. Naturally, this makes Angelina Jolie second-guess everything she's done, knowing that she thinks she's going to die this same day. Anyway, she decides that she'd rather be with her guy, and so she leaves the studio and gets shot by this guy who's trying to smuggle drugs."

Pictures of random dancing couples, the front door, and a group talking in the kitchen.

"She dies?"

"No, she just gets shot. She ends up in a semi-coma, and when she wakes up, the guy she's in love with is sitting by her side and he tells her that she made it through the day and she's still alive."

"So she doesn't die?"

The backyard, the punch bowl, and the screen playing the countdown to New Year's.

"No, SHE doesn't die, but a part of her does--the part of her that couldn't take a risk. In almost losing her life, she learns that love is more important than anything, because you don't get the chance to do life over again. In the end, she tells you to live every day like your last because one day, it will be. She had to make the conscious decision that falling in love was worth the risk of losing everything she'd worked so hard for because, if the love actually worked out, then nothing in the world would ever compare to what she and her loved one would have together."

Alli sighed nostalgically upon hearing Amanda's synopsis. Though she had more of a tough side than most women her age, there were few things that she enjoyed more than the happy ending of a chick flick. A soft smile graced her lips as she turned her attention back to the pictures in her hands, Amanda's words still echoing in the sudden silence. When she did look down, however, the image in front of her caught her by complete and total surprise.

Sitting in her hands, framed by her pale, freckled fingers was a picture of herself and Nick kissing by the window, blissfully unaware of the other couples in the room. Somehow, the shot had been taken so that everyone else was part of the background, and she and Nick appeared to be the only two people in the room. Within moments, Alli was just as captivated with the image as she had been with the blue in Nick's eyes that same evening, and she closed her own eyes as the memory played over in her head.

"Finally! Good Lord, girl, I've been looking for you all night. Where in the hell have you been all evening, anyway? I thought you were supposed to be my date..."

Alli turned at the sound of Nick's voice and laughed. "Carter, it's close to midnight. Are you seriously telling me that you've stayed sober and single just to have a dance or two with little old me?"

Alli's heart constricted as the implications behind their seemingly innocent flirting finally made themselves apparent to her. Oh, God...that night...he was in love with me then...

"Al, you really do look beautiful tonight. When I saw you standing with the I know we don't do the romance thing, and I know you don't usually spend much time on your appearance, but you honestly took my breath away."

Her smile widened, and she pulled away so that she could see the honesty in his bright blue eyes. When he flashed her the shy smile that she remembered so well from childhood, she smiled warmly at him in return. "Thanks, kiddo. Just so you know, you don't do too badly yourself."

Nick laughed lightly. "Really?"

Alli nodded solemnly. "Really. You look absolutely wonderful all dressed up like that." She winked at him. "I might just have to steal you away at midnight."

Nick chuckled. "I wouldn't be complaining. I like being the envy of the room."

Alli rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Always the flatterer, aren't you?"

Nick just smiled. "Always." His eyes grew serious, however. "But, know when I'm being sincere. I don't give the good compliments unless I mean them."

Alli shook her head slowly as pieces of their conversation that night came back to her one by one. I can't believe I didn't notice it then. But there was something magical about that night. The atmosphere, the surreal apparel, the music, the darkness was all too good to be true.

Of course, maybe it doesn't have to be. Maybe David's right. Maybe it was meant to be more than one night.

The events of the evening continued to play in her head as she leaned back into the sofa, completely enthralled with that which she had tried so hard to shove into the very corners of her subconscious. And, of course, as the cheers of the countdown echoed in her ears, she could suddenly very clearly see the outline of Nick's lips, full and soft and petal pink, right before they connected with hers.

She could remember every second of the kiss, every inch of the skin she had touched with her mouth and every jolt of warmth that his contact had incited in her. All of a sudden, she was lost in the kiss again, reaching for his lips with hers and pleased to find more than just a memory. Everything that had been between them that night had felt real, had felt more than meant-to-be, and looking back, Alli wasn't so sure exactly why she had been so willing to give that up. Now, lost in the memory of his lips on hers, she wanted nothing more to stay in his arms, in that kiss, for every New Year from then until eternity. Even reliving it, with a small bit of the excitement dimmed by time and an even smaller bit of the anxiety dimmed by doubt, she could remember the sparks that flew across her imagination when the kiss ensued, and she knew that she would never engage in a kiss so perfect again.

She wasn't even sure she'd known just how much she wanted that kiss until the moment their lips met, but now she wanted it again and again and again. Now that it was out of reach, now that she'd shoved it beyond retrieval, she wanted it more than she'd ever wanted anything. And, suddenly, Amanda's words were in her head.

"She had to make the conscious decision that falling in love was worth the risk of losing everything she'd worked so hard for because, if the love actually worked out, then nothing in the world would ever compare to what she and her loved one would have together."

She had them all spread out before her in her mind; every doubt, every fear, every cynicism, every tear, and every hope were all laid out side by side, daring her to defy them. She knew every reason that she should continue running, continue pushing him so far away that he wouldn't be able to find his way back to her. She knew all that and more, and she had every bit of the information at her fingertips.

However, despite everything that warned her against it, she wanted nothing more than to be caught in his kiss again.

And so the epiphany came.

Oh my God...I'm actually in love with him. Holy shit.

It didn't matter that meeting him halfway meant disregarding every ounce of romantic logic that had ever been presented to her, or that he had once been the epitome of every girl's nightmare. It only mattered that, when she was in his arms, swaying to the sound of his voice in her ear, the world slipped away and everything felt right. She never felt more right than she did when she was with Nick. And, thankfully, that was enough to make her discard everything that had ever kept her from responding to him.

Responding to him...oh, shit. He thinks I hate him. He thinks I think he's doing this just to fuck with me.


Before she knew what was happening, her feet were pounding against the aisle of the bus as she fought to escape the tangle of misunderstandings that she'd so wisely woven, and Amanda's voice was chasing her into the frigid January air.

"Alli? Hello? Where the hell are you going?"

She stopped only long enough to look over her shoulder and deliver a cryptic response. "There's someone I need to see."

As she ran off in the direction of the arena, Amanda glanced down at the pile of pictures that Alli had not-so-graciously dropped on her way out the door. Her eye caught sight of the picture on top immediately, and a smile spread across her face.

She knew exactly where Alli was headed. It's about damn time. And, with that thought, the smile widened and Amanda knew that she couldn't keep it to herself a moment longer.

"AJ! Come here! You're never going to guess where Alli just sped off to..."

lyrics and music by Sheryl Crow