Nick sank back into his chair, knowing that he was going to get
a monstrous lecture from the guys. Truth to tell, he felt worse than they could ever make him feel--not that he would admit
it, of course. He'd worked too hard to go soft on them now.
AJ was the first to speak up. "Look, Nick, that was stupid
of you. I do stupid things too, but you don't hit women, buddy. Especially not Alli."
Brian nodded in agreement and
echoed AJ's last words. "Especially not Alli."
Nick sighed heavily and looked around the table. "What?"
eyes bulged and he nearly choked on his coffee. "What? How can you even ask us that? You almost hit her,
for God's sake! Nick, that's not like you..."
Nick shot an intimidating glare in Kevin's direction. "You don't know
me, Kevin. Neither does Alli." He paused a moment before sucking in a deep breath. "And she seems to think she does."
arched an eyebrow and eyed Nick pointedly from his spot at the table. "That's because she does, asshole."
his eyes. "AJ, she does not know me. I've changed a lot since I last saw Alli. She has no idea who she's dealing with."
eyes widened and he chuckled bitterly. "Obviously," he retorted, and they all looked up in surprise. Howie was never one to
start an argument. If anything, he was always the one trying to end it. Nick's jaw clenched, and he turned to face Howie.
"I'm sorry, Howard, did you have something to say?"
Howie rolled his eyes. "Look, Nick, we're all sick of
your shit, okay? Go apologize to Alli, or we'll make sure you regret it. You almost hit her, buddy. No matter what thing you're
trying to pull, you didn't have to do that to Al."
Brian, being Nick's best friend, took the lead and grabbed at one
of Nick's insecurities. "No kidding, Frack. No real man would ever hit a woman."
Nick glowered at Brian heatedly before
realizing that the older man was right. He hated the thought of apologizing to Alli because it meant compromising his own
pride, but he couldn't deny feeling awful about it. Alli had been his best friend since childhood, and the knowledge that
he might've hurt her out of sheer, raw anger terrified him. And yet he couldn't admit to it because he was insistent upon
doing what he wanted to do. He had long since grown sick of the guys butting into his personal business.
talk to her. I won't apologize, but I will make sure everything's all right, okay?" he hissed at them. AJ rolled his eyes,
but the other three men nodded, knowing full well that they weren't going to get any further with Nick that morning. Kevin
"Deal. But I'd get to it, Nick, because we've got to leave for the venue soon," he warned the younger
man, the edge in his voice leaving no room for misinterpretation. Nick sighed heavily and rose from his chair. They all watched
his back as he headed towards the elevators.
"What is with him?" AJ asked in awe once the doors to the private
dining room had closed behind Nick. Howie shrugged.
"Who knows? He's being ridiculous. It's only the third day Alli's
been here, right?"
Brian nodded. "Something like that. It's a wonder that she's still here."
his agreement. "I almost wish that she'd leave. It might clue Nick in on how difficult he is to deal with these days."
shook his head. "No, Alli won't leave him. She's hell-bent on getting through to him and finding the kid that she once knew."
Brian sighed heavily and swirled his coffee around in the cup. "I hope for her sake and for ours that she's successful.
'Cause, you know, I don't know how much more of this I can take. Leigh and I were talking about it last night."
nodded. "Kristin's really concerned about him. I mean, I know where he's coming from because I had a streak like that, but
it definitely didn't last this long."
Howie frowned. "I just can't believe that he tried to hit Alli. What the hell
was he thinking?"
AJ rolled his eyes in disgust. "He wasn't thinking. He's never thinking. And he's going to pay dearly
for it sooner or later. I just hope it's sooner so that we can finally get him out of this funk he seems intent on staying
Brian groaned. "God, I hope Alli can get through to him..."
Kevin took a long, slow gulp of his coffee
and heaved another sigh, slowly thinking over the matter. "We all do, Brian. Trust me, we all do."
* * * * *
Nick ran a heavy hand through his long blonde locks and stepped
out of the elevator. He knew that it was Alli's floor--the entire Backstreet entourage had taken up the entire floor. He wasn't
at all anxious to see her for fear of what she might say or do to him, but he was intent on getting his point across. He was
sick of all of them treating him like a child. He was willing to do anything to prove that he was a man now, regardless of
the consequences. Having Alli there wasn't helping matters any. She had no problem with reminding him of the age difference
between them, and her sense of humor was a childish aspect that he would've rather forgotten. He didn't have time for her
games, and he intended to make that clear to her. He wasn't sorry for putting his foot down. The way he saw it, it should've
been done long ago.
He looked up and realized that he had finally arrived at her door. He was nervous beyond belief,
but he was also determined. He set his features into the stern glare that had become his trademark of late and knocked loudly.
Not a moment later, he heard Alli's voice.
"Who is it? AJ?"
He rolled his eyes. God, you'd think she came
only to see the others...
"Alli, it's Nick. Open the door."
Her soft tone hardened immediately, and he fought
to avoid flinching as the next words flew at him.
"Carter, get your ass away from my door before you find yourself
flattened by it."
"Alli, you don't scare me. Cut the crap and open the damn door."
"Not even a please?" she
sneered. "Where're your manners, Nickolas?"
He flinched at his real name. It was incredibly rare that Alli ever called
him anything but Carter. However, Nickolas had always been her secret weapon. When the name escaped her lips, he knew that
she was extremely angry. It wasn't wise for him to continue pressing her, but he wasn't concerned with consequences. All he
knew was that he had to make it clear to her that he was not the kid she thought him to be. He gritted his teeth together
and clenched his fists as he managed to repeat his request.
"Al, please open the door."
opened and she glared at his from the doorway. "You are in big trouble. Don't expect anything from me, Carter. I'm pissed
at you right now. Say what you have to say and leave."
Nick sighed. "Look, I...can I sit down?"
her eyes and walked over to the balcony. "Whatever."
"Al, don't be mad."
She turned around in anger, her gray
eyes bright with fury. "Carter, you almost hit me, okay? What the hell am I supposed to be? Happy? God, you're supposed to
be my best friend! What does that say for you?"
Nick's blue eyes narrowed as he looked at her. "Al, I'm not the same
kid you grew up with anymore, okay?"
He glared. "I'm not weak like I used to be. I'm sick of taking
crap from everyone."
Alli sighed. "Yeah, and they're sick of taking crap from you. Get a freaking life, Carter."
is my life now. This is who I am, Alli. If you can't accept that, then I suggest you leave."
bitterly. "Leave? That's funny, Carter. Hilarious, in fact. What kind of friend would that make me?"
For once, Nick
sighed and realized that he had no response. He knew that Alli wouldn't give up on him. Even when the guys were at their worst,
she had been ready and willing to talk. He owed her more than he cared to admit, but he forced himself to forget it all. He
had to be a man. Men were strong, without emotion. No more sentimental shit. It's time to get over it all, Nick. Quit
letting it all affect you.
"Carter, just leave. You don't have anything productive to say, and I'm too pissed
to tolerate you right now. I'll see you later."
Nick frowned at her. "Look, Al, one last thing. The kid you're looking
Alli rolled her eyes. "What about it?"
Nick shook his head. "He's not there, Al. This is me. Learn to
deal with it. People change."
"I'm serious, Al. Nicky Carter doesn't exist, okay? I'm not a little
She groaned. "Damn, you sure act like one sometimes. Carter, get out before I throw you out!"
down at her as he stood up. "Do you promise to leave me alone and let me live my life the way I see fit?"
at him seriously, aware of the fact that he wasn't going to let up until she answered him. "Look, Carter, I promise to be
your friend. That's all I'm going to promise. And, right now, I promise that if you don't hightail it into your room, I'm
going to dye all of your clothes purple and chop your hair off in your sleep. Understand?"
He growled something unintelligible
and stalked out angrily before she could say another word. It wasn't until the door had closed behind him that Alli fell back
against the bed and tried to fight the tears that were sure to come. She glanced to her bedside table, where she had placed
the one picture of herself, Nick, and her father. She chuckled quietly. They were, in a sense, her only family. She moved
closer to the picture and lifted it up, examining it closely. The little blonde-haired boy that grinned up at her was nothing
like the "man" that had just left. She sighed heavily and frowned at the picture, as though it held the answers to all of
her problems. With all her might, she directed the one question left to the framed likeness of her best friend.
are you, Carter?