Bed of Roses
Chapter Four
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

Let's get on with the show
Let's get started
Turn the lights down low
Turn the lights down low
You were there from the start
You were there
We know who you are

Alli grinned widely as a slim figure with tanned skin, violet eyes, and brown hair pulled into a sleek bun walked up to them. She had decided to meet her friends at the venue so that she wouldn't have to deal with Nick, and she was thrilled to see her the older woman that Howie called his girlfriend. The two shared in a tight hug before turning back to the show.

"When are they going on?" Jessi yelled above the thumping bass and infectious pop of Mandy Moore, one of the opening acts. Alli shrugged.
"Not soon enough!" she yelled back. "I think my ears are going to bust!"

Jessi laughed at Alli's pained facial expression and leaned in closer so the younger woman could hear her above the music. "So how's life with Nicky?"

Alli rolled her eyes and glared at the stage before turning back to her friend. "Let's just say that if I weren't a damn good friend, I wouldn't be here right now," she returned hotly. Jessi raised her eyebrows to convey her surprise.

"That bad, huh? What'd I miss?"

Alli had to chuckle. Jessi was definitely Howie's girl. She was fun and funny, but she was first and foremost the peacemaker of the girlfriends, as their little group was called. Though Alli hadn't ever dated Nick, she had always been a vital part of their circle. She smiled at Jessi and shrugged.

"Oh, we went to the movies and he tried to use me to pick up chicks. I had to fend the poor girls off and warn them about Carter before they got themselves into anything that they wouldn't want to handle." She paused a moment, looking out over the massive crowd. "Jess, I know he loves to do this. I remember when he'd sing karaoke to me in the backyard. Nobody knows more than I do how much he's wanted to do this. But, now that his dreams have finally come true, it's changed him. He's not my Carter anymore."

Jessi shrugged. "Man, Al, I don't know what to tell you. I don't remember how Nick was before all of this. I mean, the closest you'd probably come is Kristin. The rest of us came after the boyish blonde became Nick the Player. I do trust you, though."

Alli rolled her eyes. "I never wanted that to happen to him."

Jessi gave her friend a pointed look before leaning a bit closer in. "Yeah, but that's not why you're so angry right now. He said something else to you, didn't he? Al, what happened with Nick to make him like this?"

Alli shrugged. "I don't know! I went off to college when things got really big, remember? I could only tour in the summer, darn it! Then he became somebody with absolutely no respect for women, and I was left trying to figure out where the hell I went wrong. I mean, I live in his city and I have absolutely no influence on what he thinks of girls in general. He knows he can get anyone he wants, and that's his problem. What Nick needs is a girl that he can't get."

Jessi laughed. "Yeah, that'll be the day. They're the Backstreet Boys, Al. That's not easy to come by, you know that?"

Leighanne squeezed in next to them. "Are we talking about Nick again?"

Alli sighed. "Yeah, but they're about to come on, so let's stop now. I actually do want to see this. AJ said that he'd wave to us."

Jessi shot a discreet look at Leighanne, who gave a small nod before intervening. "Al, I bet that Nick waves at you. He always does."

Alli turned to Leighanne with her patented smirk. "Leigh, babe, I got news for you. That isn't my Carter. That's some cheap replacement. And I'm not giving up until that is Carter up on that stage."

The girls watched in awe as a hush fell over the stadium and the theme to Star Wars boomed through the speakers. Alli couldn't deny the rising in her chest that she felt as she saw her five friends emerge from the smoke on their surfboards. They truly were her family, and there was no denying that, regardless of what conflict might ensue. Just as promised, AJ waved to her when he came around to her side of the stage, and the girls all waved back frantically. Howie blew a kiss to Jessi, whose smile immediately grew infinitely. As Kevin belted out his famous intro of "Are you ready to par-tay?", Kristin covered her face with her hands so that the girls couldn't see her blushing. To her dismay, they teased her anyway. Alli found it hilarious that the fans still thought of Kevin as "the serious one." When they reached "Don't Want You Back," she wouldn't deny that she watched Nick intensely. It seemed to hit Alli all of a sudden that he wasn't just a boy anymore. The way he moved, the way he teased the all shocked her at the very least. Nick had always been a rather shy child, and she wasn't prepared for anything that she saw, but it gave her a reality check. By the next song, she was so shaken that she watched AJ for nearly the entire rest of the show. However, when they all came back out and did "I Want It That Way," with Nick and Brian tossing the basketball back and forth and Howie dancing and Kevin being crazy, she couldn't help but watch them all. They looked like the five guys that she knew she'd find in the dressing room soon. They looked like the people they were, and the combination of their dreams and the reality she knew of them was striking. She couldn't hear the screams above her own pride at the sight of them. At that moment, despite everything that she and Nick had endured that day, she was proud to be their friend.

The show ended all too quickly though, and the four females rushed backstage to greet their guys. Well, with the exception of Alli, who hung behind because she didn't want to see Nick. She was positive that he'd still be mad at her, though Leighanne, Kristin, and Jessi finally managed to convince her otherwise. One by one, the guys ran down the steps and into the small room, wiping their faces with towels and hugging their women. AJ was down before Nick, so he scooped Alli into his arms and kissed her on the cheek. He pulled back, beaming.

"How'd you like the show, Al?"

She grinned. "Oh my gosh! J, you guys kicked some major ass out there. I am so proud of you..."

He laughed. "Man, you're almost as happy as Amanda usually is after a show." He winked at her and pulled away to take a sip of water from his bottle. "You ready to go to the club?"

She stared at him in surprise. "We're going to a club? But I thought that we agreed to meet back at the hotel..."

AJ laughed. "Oh, yeah, we'll change first, but then we're off. Duty has already called, and we answered. It's time for some fun now."

Alli shrugged and heaved a sigh. "Then I guess I'll come..."

AJ frowned at her as he removed his shirt. He knew that his actions couldn't faze Alli, so he wasn't particularly worried. "What do you mean? You're always up for a good time," he countered, and Alli shrugged again.

"I just really don't feel like watching anybody get plastered tonight," she said with a frown. "You won't drink too much, will you J?"

AJ laughed. "Well, I usually go light when Amanda's not here, but Nicky goes all out. Good luck getting him to do anything after we get back. He'll be out like a light."

Alli groaned. "Yeah, well, that's what I was afraid of."

The conversation between the two halted when Nick walked into the room, a towel slung around his shoulder, behind his neck. He glanced quickly at Alli before shaking his head and walking towards the showers. Alli sighed and looked back to AJ with an almost apologetic gaze. "He's still pissed at me, huh?"

AJ shrugged and watched Nick disappear behind another door. "Yeah, looks that way." He turned back to Alli quickly with a reassuring countenance. "But don't worry, Al. He'll be so drunk soon that he won't remember his own name."

Alli groaned and put a hand over her face in disgust. "Whatever happened to the Carter that didn't like the taste of alcohol?"

AJ blew out a stream of air and took another sip from his water bottle. "He found women, Al."

That statement in itself was enough to convince Alli to go to the club with them. She was determined to break Nick's facade. She knew that, somewhere, the Carter that she remembered was still tucked away. With another sigh, she turned to AJ and nodded.

"Fine, I'll go to the club. But I won't drink." She paused to wink at him. "Somebody's got to tell the limo driver what hotel we're staying in tonight."

AJ laughed and clapped her on the back. "Babe, you got yourself a deal."

performed by the Backstreet Boys
lyrics and music by Kristin Lundin