Bed of Roses
Chapter Forty-Seven
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 had no choice but to hear you
You stated your case time and again
I thought about it...
You are the bearer of unconditional things
You held your breath and the door for me
Thanks for your patience...
You're my best friend
Best friend with benefits
What took me so long?
I've never felt this healthy before
I've never wanted something rational
I am aware now, I am aware now
You're already won me over in spite of me
And don't be alarmed if I fall head over feet
And don't be surprised if I love you for all that you are
I couldn't help it
It's all your fault

Air. She needed air. Lots of air.

She heaved a deep breath and turned another corner. She honestly couldn't remember the last time she'd run so far so quickly. Come to think of it, she couldn't remember the last time she'd run at all.

Her eyes scanned the empty hallway as the soles of her shoes continued to slap against the black concrete floor of the arena. She didn't mind the breeze that was continually blowing through the halls and between the holes in her sweater. She didn't mind the echoes of the stagehands as they fought to fix the set for that night's concert. She didn't even mind the fact that her hair had flown loose almost fifteen minutes ago and her curls were beginning to attach themselves to her eyelashes. The only thing she minded at that moment was the fact that he wasn't in front of her, and she hadn't an inkling of an idea as to where he could be.

So, naturally, she kept running.

It wasn't so much that she wanted to run or that she needed to run, but more that she couldn't stop. Something inside her propelled her forward with a yearning so intense that her feet wouldn't still until she finally caught sight of him. Of course, from the looks of it, that could be quite some time in coming.

She shook her head in frustration and heaved another breath of determination. She knew they were having rehearsal soon, and Nick always hung out around the arena before rehearsal to get a feel for the place. He had always told her that he needed to make peace with the performance area beforehand in order to count on a good show. At the time, she had called him a dork, but now, she was rather grateful for the knowledge of the routine. It meant that he had to be somewhere in the arena.

Problem was, she still wasn't exactly sure where he was. Even if she had known where he was, though, she problem wouldn't have known how to get there.

So she kept running.

Maybe, if she ran fast enough, he'd end up finding her, and she could finally admit to everything that had been spinning recklessly in her head since she'd sprinted off the bus and into the frigid January air.

Dammit, Al, think. If I were a Carter, where would I be?

She rounded another corner for good measure and sped down the hallway that appeared to lead to the dressing rooms.

Dressing room? No, he hates make-up. He wouldn't get dressed until
he absolutely had to, and they don't add the catered food until a bit
before show time. He'd get bored too easily in a dressing room.

Nonetheless, she entered the carpeted area with all the grace of a stampede of elephants and glanced breathlessly around in hopes of spotting a mop of blonde hair or a ridiculous-looking tee-shirt. Unfortunately, the only occupant of the dressing room was the wardrobe trunk, which sat snugly in front of the corduroy couch that Alli had crashed on more than once over the course of the tour.
Dammit, he's not here...

And she was gone again in a flash, darting off in the opposite direction from whence she came, searching frantically for the man who had driven her mad over the past six months.

Okay, I'm Carter. I'm bored. Rehearsal's about to start. I'm hungry, but I don't want to get food because I'm about to dance in front of Fatima the slavedriver. I'm probably a little hyperactive, but bothering the Boys before rehearsal is never a good idea, and I don't want to play basketball because I need enough energy to dance. I need something to occupy my time, though, something I can totally get lost in, so I head to the...

Suddenly, like a sign sent straight from Cupid himself, the strains of a video game met her at the end of a long, narrow hall with a single corner.

Arcade. Shit. Alli, you are SUCH a moron.

The moron picked up speed with a bright smile, however, with the new knowledge that she was finally within reach of her destination. In seconds, she had arrived at the entrance to the makeshift arcade, and her breath came in spurts as she collapsed in exhaustion against the doorframe.

Sure enough, the object of her affection was standing in the middle of the room in deep concentration as the machine in front of him beeped, buzzed, and whirred. She held her breath for a moment, and she could hear the faint string of curse words he was fervently whispering as the game continued. The lamplights were shining dimly down on his messy blonde hair, and his tee-shirt didn't match his green sweatpants in the slightest. Two black and blue sneakers peaked out from the cuff of his pants, and she had to smile at the haphazard color combination because, despite all of the fashion faux-pas, he was still the most beautiful man she had ever laid eyes on.

Yeah, love really is blind.

At that thought, she laughed lightly, and the sound was just enough to catch his attention. Caught in mid-jump, he glanced over his shoulder to see what or whom had laughed.

Well, in all honesty, he hadn't really needed to see who had laughed. He had heard Alli laugh so many times over the years that he would've recognized the sound anywhere. He had only turned around because he needed the assurance that he wasn't dreaming and her presence was indeed a reality.

He got it.

He got it in the form of a panting figure clad in jeans and a University of Florida sweatshirt. He got it in the form of wild russet curls running rampant over her shoulder and down her back, frazzled by the wind, the cold, and the panic that dared to show itself through the crimson blush on her freckled cheeks. He got it in the form of two glittering gray eyes that he knew better than his own heart, smiling across at him despite the worry that he could see embedded there. She was untamed, unpolished, and definitely unpredictable, but she looked happier than he had ever seen her, and for that, he had to smile despite his confusion.

God, I wish I could make her smile like that.

There's times when I want something more
Someone more like me
There's times when this dress rehearsal seems
Incomplete, but

"Alli? Is that really you?"

She chuckled. "You know, it's funny. I was asking myself the same question until I took a look at your outfit, and then it came to me that it had to be you, because there's no way I could dream up a color combination that disastrous."

He rolled his eyes good-naturedly at the ever-present sarcasm. "Yeah, it's really you."

"Of course it's really me!" She sighed petulantly, and a coy pout crossed her features. "Do you have any idea just how hard you are to find?"

It was Nick's turn to chuckle. "Yeah, at some point the thousand angry calls from management finally tipped me off." However, the smile went as quickly as it had come, and a perplexed frown settled itself onto his boyish features. "Al, don't get me wrong, because you know I'm thrilled to see you, but...can I ask why you're here?"

You see the colors in me like
No one else
And behind your dark glasses you're...
You're something else

At his question, all of the reasons for her mad dash through the arena came rushing back, and she sucked in a deep breath in an attempt to keep her composure. Shit. It's the moment of truth...

Under any normal circumstance, Alli would have had a speech prepared for such a monumental occasion. However, her speeches were usually composed of whatever inane ramblings managed to register in her head at the time, making them a product of passion and spontaneity. She was completely prepared to let rip her stream of subconscious rambling, though, so she opened her mouth, prepared to explain in a burst of her own language exactly how much her best friend suddenly meant to her.

Unfortunately, she realized that she had nothing left to say. The entire time she had been dashing through the arena in search of her blonde-haired buddy, her subconscious rambling had been echoing through her head. With every corner she turned, her mind took another turn into the tumultuous land of her emotions, leaving her with enough analysis and explanation to make her head spin. However, upon the sight of her Carter, the stream of consciousness had completely ceased, and the only thing left to admit to herself and him was exactly what she felt.

On the screen of the video game, Nick's character died, but he was so concentrated on Alli and her pensive expression that he didn't even notice.

At that moment, Alli made a conscious decision. Usually, she peppered the major moments in her life with a waterfall of literary nonsense. This time, for whatever reason, she just wanted the moment, in all its glory. She locked gazes with him until she was completely lost in the confused blue of his eyes and bit her lip tentatively. She was going to skip the speech.

Fuck it all. None of it matters anymore. Just this. This moment, with him, right now. That's what matters.

One deep breath. A second deep breath. A third deep breath, and then...

"I love you."

You're really lovely
Underneath it all
You want to love me
Underneath it all
I'm really lucky
Underneath it all
You're really lovely

She didn't think Nick's eyes could've gotten any bigger had he made a conscious effort to replace them with a pair of blue basketballs.


As a result of habit and against her better judgment, she rolled her eyes. So much for not giving a freaking explanation...

"I love you."

Nick flinched visibly. "Yeah, I got that part and Al, let me tell you, there's nothing I would love more than to have you say those words, but...are you sure?"

She expected herself to be angry more than anything else. After all, she had taken the plunge, summoned her courage, and met him halfway, but, somehow, she could see where he was coming from, and the only thing she felt was a teeny, tiny hint of defeat. Her tone, of course, did enough to betray her detriment.

"Of course I'm sure," she said softly, pleadingly. "Why wouldn't I be sure?"

He sighed, and the release of air did much to compliment his deflated disposition. He couldn't believe he was about to list the reasons that she couldn't possibly be in love with him, especially after her confession. Are you stupid, man? She comes up to you, tells you the only thing you've wanted to hear from anyone since this year began, and you're about to erase everything you've been working for by listing your faults for her? What the hell?

Somehow, though, he needed the proof. Because he knew that, if she really loved him, none of what he was about to say would matter.

"I'm a moron."

He wanted to slap himself for the childish comment, but Alli simply raised an eyebrow in contradiction. "No, you're not a moron. That's just an image you hide behind so that people don't expect you to do everything that you're capable of."

"I'm a womanizer."

The eyebrow remained firmly in place. "You haven't been since New Year's finally hit."

"I get ridiculously drunk at clubs and parties."

Somehow, he was comforted by the hint of a smile that was beginning to peek through her stern countenance. "So does AJ, and Amanda is happier than Whitney Houston in a bathtub of cocaine. Besides, you haven't gotten ridiculously drunk in a long time."

It was Nick's turn to raise an eyebrow in contradiction. "Three weeks is a long time?"

Alli finally smiled. "I've got faith in you. After all, the fact that you're keeping track must stand for something."

He sighed heavily, searching for something else to throw at her in hopes that she could retaliate. Truth to tell, he understood all of her reasons for being cautious. He knew his own track record better than anyone, and he knew just how ugly it seemed to someone like his best friend. However, the fact that she was willing to overlook all of it made it difficult for him to continue to argue with her. He knew that if he wanted to truly test her loyalty, he'd have to dig deeper than his surface mishaps. He finally got his argument, though, and his features twisted imploringly as his tone softened.

"Last tour? Al, I was an asshole..."

For the first time since she'd walked through the door, Alli's trademark smirk appeared. "Carter, no offense, but that wasn't exactly the first time you've been an asshole."

He threw up his arms in frustration. "Exactly my point! How do you know you can handle being so emotionally attached to that?"

She shrugged. "You've been better, Carter, and, like I said, I've got faith in you."

You know some real bad tricks and
You need some discipline
But lately, you've been trying real hard
And giving me your best, and

He wanted to shake his head so that he could rid himself and his thoughts of the sincerity of her tone. He knew that if she kept talking like she was and saying the things she was saying, he wouldn't further examine her and then he's never know just how serious she was. He was determined to get more than a simple confession out of her, though, and so he pressed on.

"Al, I can't maintain a steady relationship with a girl. You've seen me try and try over and over again, and each time you've watched me fail."

Alli nodded her agreement, never breaking eye contact with him. "Yes, but you didn't love them, did you, Carter?"

He gave her a pointed look. "No, but when I told you that I love you, you didn't believe me."

Finally, she hung her head. "There was a part of me that wanted to," she finally conceded, her voice barely above a whisper.

He rolled his eyes, this time in annoyance. "Dammit, Al, a part of you isn't good enough, okay? If I'm going to get you, I'm going to get all of you, not just a part. All or nothing, okay?"

She couldn't suppress her smile. "Like the O-Town song?"

He grimaced. "Shit, Alli, only you could crack jokes at a time like this."

Her smile widened. "But that's the point isn't it? If I were just as serious as you are, you wouldn't love me nearly as much, right?"

He glanced up at her reproachfully. "That's just cruel, Al."

She shook her head fervently. "No, it's the truth! Think about it, Carter. I know, because if you weren't as serious as you are, I wouldn't love you as much either. That's just the point, Nick. You know me inside out, and if you really love me as much as you say you do, then you love me for me. It goes both ways, okay?"

He closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands, dying to reach out and hold her but so unsure of what he might find if he did. "But why, Al? Why do you suddenly agree? Why now?"

She chuckled. "Because, believe it or not, in some ways, I really am slower than you."

He didn't even have to look up to reprimand her. His deep, angry tone said enough. "I was serious, Al."

She sighed. "Honestly? Because you're right, Nick. I hadn't thought about it. I'd turned a lot of shit over in my mind trying to figure out if this was the right thing to do, but I wasn't turning the right things over. I wasn't thinking about the right things. I was thinking about your track record instead of our track record, of the last tour instead of that kiss on New Year's Eve. Finally, Amanda handed me a picture of that kiss, and it forced me back into that moment, and I realized how right it felt, you know? It wasn't about logic or timing. It was just about you, and about me, and about how well we connect. And, for some reason, that's enough for me."

Something in her voice made him peek out from between his fingers. She was twisting a curl around her finger, staring down at it with the most troubled expression he'd ever seen her wear, and a bit of his uncertainty dissipated with the wrinkles on his forehead.


She looked up and smiled softly. "Yeah, really. Because, when you think about it, when it's just you and me, Carter, it's imperfect enough to be perfect."

You give me the most gorgeous sleep
That I've ever had
And when it's really bad, I guess
It's not that bad

His hands fell to his sides as he arched a skeptical eyebrow in her direction.

"Al, I want to believe you. Really, I do. I just don't understand! I mean, how am I supposed to know that this is something you really want? How am I supposed to know that this isn't just something you're doing to make me happy?"

Alli's eyebrow arched until her expression was identical to his. "Carter, think about it. Have I ever done something just to make you happy?"

He sighed. "No, but..."

Alli didn't try to hide her impatience. "But what?"

"But I need some kind of proof that you're not bluffing the hell out of me! Call me crazy, Al, but you fought me tooth and nail on this for so long that this sudden concession is a bit suspicious. I may be the dumbest guy on the planet for doing this, but I need to know that you're serious about this. It just...none of it sounds like you. The shy smiles, the quiet tones, the loving words...they just aren't your style. And you're right, Al. I love you for you, and I guess there's just a bit of you that's missing in this little heart-to-heart of ours."

He didn't think her eyes could be any wider had she made a conscious effort to replace them with a pair of gray basketballs. And he knew as soon as her eyes flared angrily that he was about to see what he needed to see to finally let it all go.

"Shit, Nickolas, what more do you fucking need? I love you, okay? I'm finished running. I know how I like my stupid eggs. I don't want the freaking job at the network news station, I don't think that love and sex have to change everything, I finally found my fairy tale, and I don't want to give you my freaking two weeks notice, okay? I love you, Carter. You. Only you. And that's my final answer, dammit!"

When she looked up at him, chest heaving angrily, his smile was wider than that of any Backstreet poster that she had ever seen. Oh my God. He did that on purpose. Why, that little...

He nodded slowly. "Now, that's the piece of you that was missing. All of that scary chick flick jargon that gets muddled somewhere inside your head whenever you start thinking of love that lasts forever. All of that insane rambling that makes you who you are." And he laughed. "That's the girl I love."

You're really lovely
Underneath it all
You want to love me
Underneath it all
I'm really lucky
Underneath it all
You're really lovely

Alli flinched in embarrassment. "That's just scary..."

He shook his head. "Actually, it's not. What's scary is that I actually understood all of that."

Alli chuckled good-naturedly, but smacked at him anyway. "Hey, that's not scary! That's what makes you perfect."

Nick laughed and took a few steps toward her. "Perfect, huh?" A crimson blush began to creep up his cheeks. "That's one I haven't heard before."

Alli winked. "That's because you're only perfect for me."

He shoved his hands in his pockets, suddenly defeated, and looked hopefully down at her. "Are you sure?"

Alli sighed and pushed the stray lock of hair over her shoulder. "Carter, we just went over all of this..."

In classic Nick fashion, he ran a hand over his hair. "I know, but...Al...I just..."

She reached a small hand up and traced his hairline with her finger, tucking a stray piece behind his ear while she knitted her brow concernedly. "You just what?"

At her touch, he gulped and ducked out of her grasp. "I just don't know how good I can be. I want to be good, and I'd like to think that I could be good, but...I don't have the best of track records, Al, and the last thing I'd ever want to do is hurt you."

She nodded, pulling her hand back. "I know, Nick, and that's enough for me to believe that you won't. I mean, we're bound to cause each other pain eventually, because that's part of being in a relationship, but we've done it before. Somehow, we always end up together in the end, you know?"

He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to savor the nearness of her. "Yeah, but is that going to be enough?"

She lifted her chin until she was looking directly at him, and when he opened his eyes, her face was all he could see.

"We'll make it enough."

So many moons that we have seen
Stumbling back, next to me
I've seen right through and underneath
And you make me better
I've seen right through and underneath
And you make me better...better...better...

And, suddenly, he laughed.

His girlish giggle was enough to bring a smile to Alli's face, but she cocked her head to the side anyway in hopes of hearing his thoughts.

"Hey! What're you laughing at?"

He shook his head in amusement and tweaked her nose. "You, Alli. You and what a walking contradiction you are."

Her jaw dropped in incredulity. "I am not a walking contradiction..."

His smile was playful as he imitated her. "'If I were just as serious as you, you wouldn't love me nearly as much...'"

She gave him a pointed look. "You're not funny."

"Of course not! I'm the serious one!"

Alli glanced to the ceiling and shook her head unbelievably. "You are SUCH a dork..."

His eyes were twinkling. "No, I just love to tease you."

"Because I so rarely give you an opportunity to?" Alli guessed. Nick giggled again.

"You wish. You're such an easy target."

She clucked her tongue in disagreement. "No, Carter, see, you've got it all're the easy target. The other guys are proof enough of that."

Nick shook his head. "Nah, I'm just nice enough not to tease them back."

"Because you can't think of a comeback!" Alli retorted, and Nick burst into giggles again. She waited for a moment so that he could calm down, but when he continued to laugh, Alli's curiosity got the best of her. "Okay, what are you laughing at now?"

His giggles died to an occasional chuckle. "You and me."

Alli's smile faded to confusion. "Why?"

"Because we're so predictable! You only told me you loved me five minutes ago and we're already teasing each other! I mean, it's unbelievable what a routine we've fallen into and how comfortable we are around each other. You realize that, fifteen minutes ago, you weren't even speaking to me? We're just predictable, Al. The sad truth is that..."

Instead of listening to the rest of his rant, she stood on her toes and pressed her lips to his. Within seconds, his lips had responded.

Can you feel it, doll?
You are my real Prince Charming
Like the heat from the fire
You are always burning
Every time you're around
My body keeps yearning
For your touch, your kisses
And your sweet romancing

Ever since she'd seen that picture of herself and Nick on New Year's Eve, a very prominent part of Alli had wondered what it would be like to kiss him again.

She definitely wasn't dissatisfied with her answer.

His lips were soft and sweet against hers, and they molded together as he tugged gently on her bottom lip with his teeth. Her lips parted slightly when his fingers curled in her hair, and her tongue approached his lips like velvet on silk. In one gentle motion, her fingers traced circles on the back of his neck, and her tongue gained entrance. She probed his mouth gently, wrapped in darkness and softness and arms and hands and him. Beneath his rugged exterior and his relatively aloof persona, there was a boyish sincerity that tugged harder at her heartstrings than than the sexiest of men.

And, as his left hand found the curve of her waist and sparks showered her overactive imagination, she knew that she'd never kiss another man again.

There's an underside to you
That so many adore
Aside from your temper
Everything thing else is secure
You know you're good for me, baby
Of that I'm sure
And over and over again
I want more

Finally, the breathlessness of the kiss made them light-headed, and she pulled back with an expectant smirk.

"How's that for unpredictable?"

Nick's eyes were glazed with passion, and he reached for her again with a dazed expression. "I think I'd like a taste of unpredictable again, actually..."

She shook her head in teasing amusement. "You're such a guy. Always wanting some kind of sexual contact. Can't you just enjoy the moment?"

Nick gave her a pointed look, still trying to get his bearings. "I was enjoying the moment."

She laughed lightly. "From the looks of it, Carter, you're still enjoying the moment."

He grinned warmly, pulling her close to him for a hug. "As long as you're with me, Al, I'll always enjoy the moment."

And, at long last, it was Alli's turn to feel doubtful. Her brow creased in uncertainty as her troubled eyes found his.


He chuckled, and she could feel the vibrations of his laughter against her chest. "Yes, really. I'm happy when I'm with you, Al. No matter what happens, you can always make me smile."

You've used up all your coupons
And all you've got left is me
But somehow I'm full of forgiveness
I guess it's meant to be


He laughed. "Yeah, always."

She snuggled into his embrace, satisfied with the answer and the genuine smile on his face. "Good, because you can always make me smile too."

He frowned doubtfully at her, but his eyes were still glittering. "Really?"

She rolled her eyes and pulled away for a moment so that she could smack him. "Now you're just mocking me..."

He responded by pulling her close and pressing his forehead against hers. "You think so?"

Her reply was deadpan. "Yes."

He grinned. "Nah, I love you too much to do that."

She chuckled. "Good, because I love you too much to have to punish you for it."

He gasped in surprise. "You mean you'd still punish me?"

Alli smirked. "In a heartbeat, baby."

Nick's half smile was endearing as he traced the back of her waist. "Oh? What kind of punishment are we talking?"

"The kind that would land you the starring role of a Lifetime movie."

The half smile dissipated immediately. "Oh."

She chuckled, nudging him with her shoulder. "I'm kidding."

He arched an eyebrow skeptically at her. "No, you're not."

Her chuckle grew as she conceded. "Okay, I'm not. But I really do love you."

Finally, he grew serious and his eyes clouded with solemnity. "I know you love me, Al, but do you love me enough?"

Alli's frown was genuine and her eyes were equally as clouded when she looked up to meet his gaze. "What do you mean by 'enough'?"

He sighed. "Do you love me enough to deal with everything? I mean, shit, Al, I'd like to believe in a fairy tale ending as much as the next person, but I know that things are going to get tough every once in awhile. I know that I'm not the easiest person on the planet to deal with, and I know that you can be stubborn as all hell when you want to be. I need to know if you love me enough to work through everything instead of just running away like we're good at doing. Do you love me enough to try?"

She sighed heavily in return. "I could ask you the same thing, you know."

"And I'd give you an answer," he said quietly. "Because I do, Al. I may have fucked up the last half dozen relationships in my life, but I'm not going to do that with this one. I care enough about you to want to be better, okay?"

She smiled. "Yeah, I know."

He frowned. "Do you really?"

Her slow nod did enough to convey her feelings. "Yeah, I do. If I didn't, Nick, I wouldn't be here. I'd still be in the bus, deliberating whether or not love is enough to pull through the kind of things you're prone to do to a person's patience. And if I didn't want to try, I wouldn't be here either. That wouldn't be fair to either of us."

Instead of answering her, he just continued to stare at the flecks of green in her gray eyes and the strands of gold in her reddish curls. She reminded him of autumn in Tampa, when he and his brother and sisters would play in the falling leaves until nightfall while the sun turned everything to a beautiful gold. She reminded him of everything that he loved about his childhood and everything he loved about himself, and that alone was enough to make him want to kiss her until neither one of them could stand.

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear self-consciously. "What?"

He shook his head slowly as a soft smile began to bloom on his face. "Nothing. You're just really beautiful, you know that?"

For once in her life, Alli glanced shyly toward the carpet to hide the blush on her freckled cheeks. "You know, it's funny that you should say that."


She lifted her head until she was smiling up at him. "Because I was thinking the same thing about you earlier."

You're really lovely
Underneath it all
You want to love me
Underneath it all
I'm really lucky
Underneath it all
You're really lovely *

They stared happily at each other until they were both laughing, at which point Alli looked to Nick for the answer to her last serious question. "Carter?"

He chuckled at the familiar nickname and how much it had come to mean in the past few months. "Lacey?"

"Where do we go from here?"

He cast a sideways glance at his watch. "Right now? To rehearsal. I'm going to be late and Fatima's going to kick my butt."

She cocked her head pointedly to the side. "You know that's not what I meant."

He tossed an arm around her shoulder casually and led her out of the arcade. They had walked down an entire hallway in silence before he finally answered. "Yeah, I know."

As they continued to wind their way through the backstage area of the arena, Alli shook her head at her own stupidity. "Would you believe that I almost got lost back here trying to find you?"

"Would you smack me if I said yes?"

She bit back a smile, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of seeing it. "Maybe."

He didn't bother to bite back his smile. "Then there's your answer."

They walked in silence for only a moment more before Alli persisted. "What about the answer to my other question?"

Nick feigned innocence. "Which question was that?"

Alli rolled her eyes in classic "duh" fashion. "The one about where we go from here?"

Nick smiled. "Honestly? I don't know where we go from here, Al. Life gets so chaotic sometimes, especially in these parts, that it's kind of hard to tell. I guess I just figured that, as long as we're together, we'll get there all right."

Alli grinned into the darkness of the hallway. "Sounds good to me."

Nick frowned. "Really?"

"Yeah. Really."

"Head Over Feet"
lyrics and music by Alanis Morissette
* "Underneath It All"
lyrics and music by No Doubt
rap by Lady Saw