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Amanda fell asleep in the passenger seat, talking to Nick and listening to music. Nick had felt connected to her again during their time together, like he'd felt connected to her during the hot air balloon ride.

Once the awkward conversation of the press had worn off, they'd started talking about the past, their lives growing up, and everything. It was the first time she'd told Nick about her brother, Piper. She'd been telling Brian, of course, but not Nick. She didn't tell him about the stone eagle, either. That, she felt, was special between her and Brian and didn't need to go any further.

She'd been surprised to hear about his rough childhood, growing up in a negligent family, and how he'd struggled to make it in show business just to escape the pressure of it. "It's not that my parents were, like, abusive or anything," he said defensively, "It's just that they weren't always... the best parents. I mean, my mom... she uses me a lot, I guess. She had me too young, that's all. So I guess she needs to live vicariously through me. I don't know."

She'd told him about her father, too, and how he'd always been controlling over her. "He's gotta have a hand in on everything I do," she said, exasperated. "And nothing I do is ever good enough for him. I give him some of my best work, and he craps all over it..." she shuddered with frustration.

"You work for your dad?" Nick asked, picking up on the new information.

"Yeah," Amanda said, "Eric? That's my dad."

"Wow, so you call your dad by his first name?" he asked.

Amanda scoffed, "He wouldn't have it any other way."

And it had gone on like this, touching on almost every topic imaginable. The conversation had only waned once, when Amanda had mentioned their return to Los Angeles. "You're probably going to go off on tour and forget me within a year after this is all over," she'd said sadly.

"I won't," he said. "We're probably not going to tour again anyways."

Amanda had looked up, surprised. "Why not?" she'd asked.

Nick, realizing what he'd said, stammered, "Uh- just - just because. I - we - just -" he focused on the road, his mind racing for an answer.

"You don't have to tell me," she said. "I understand."

He sighed, "I'll tell you eventually, I promise."

Sort of like the I love you, she thought. You owe me an explanation, and I owe you an I love you.

But eventually she'd fallen asleep in the passenger seat and Nick had pulled over to the side of the road and carried her back to the bunks. Brian stuck his head out to watch as Nick gently, carefully tucked Amanda into her bunk, under the blankets, and quietly pulled the curtain shut.

"How goes it?" Brian whispered.

Nick looked at Brian and smiled, "It goes all right," he answered. He ducked back up to the driver's seat and shifted back into gear. It took a few minutes before Brian joined him, but he did finally and Nick smiled. "We had a good talk," he said.

Brian yawned, "Yeah?"

"Yeah, we were talking about when we were kids and stuff," he said. "She was telling me about her younger brother, Piper, and her dad and stuff. I told her about my mom and dad, too. We have a lot in common."

"I know you do," Brian said. "That's why I'm glad you're making an effort here, Nick. I'm telling you... this one's special."

Nick laughed. "You better be calling the judgement right," he said, wagging a finger at Brian. "I'm putting an awful lot of eggs in the basket just because you're swearing she's a good apple."

"Apples, eggs... this conversation's making me hungry," Brian joked, smirking.

"You know how hard it is for me to trust a girl," Nick said, ignoring the joke. "I'm going to put my trust in her, like you said."

Brian smiled, "Good. It makes me feel good to know you've got someone to talk to and take care of you."

Nick shook his head, "No one could take the place of you, Brian."



The sun was rising, shining on the face of the Rocky Mountains, which stretched along to their left as the bus drove along I-25. Nick had stopped to rest for maybe a couple hours during the night, but had, for the most part, driven straight through to morning. As Brian and Amanda stirred the next day, they found themselves in a Boulder, Colorado.

Nick pulled the bus up to an old-fashioned looking A-frame home on the side of a mountain, surrounded by aspen pine trees. Even without snow on the ground, the place had a feeling of being a ski lodge.

"What is this place?" Amanda asked, staring up at the Swiss detail on the house, painted bright red.

"It's the lodge I rented us," Nick said, "We're gonna be staying here instead of the bus, and we can use the bikes to get around." Nick was pleased with himself, "Isn't it beautiful?"

The keys had been mailed to him the month before, and he pulled them out of the manilla envelope he had in his bag and led the way up to the front door, Amanda and Brian following close behind. Amanda rubbed her arms. The elevation had cooled the air considerably from their time in the desert and she was glad she’d packed for every climate imaginable. After all, with the surprises Nick had already put them through, she wasn’t entirely confident that he wouldn’t have them sliding with polar bears on glaciers in Alaska before the trip was done.

The inside of the lodge was unbelievable. Brian tilted his head back and spun in a circle. The rafters were done cathedral style, and there were two lofts on either side of a long room that sat over two wood stoves that flanked the living area. There was a huge TV, a big overstuffed sofa, a pool table, and sliding glass doors that led onto a huge back deck with a view of the snow-capped mountains that was breath taking.

“Wow,” Amanda breathed, shocked by the beauty of the room. “This is incredible.”

“Right?” Nick said, grinning.

“Yeah it is,” Brian agreed. He looked around. “Um. Nick?”

“Yes?”

“Where’s the kitchen?” he asked, noticing there was no other rooms off the one they were standing in.

“Well it’s kind of old fashioned,” Nick explained. “You’re supposed to use pans on the woodstove, or the grill out back. I figured we could use the grill or the bus’ stove.”

Brian nodded, “Ah.”

Amanda, who hadn’t noticed the lack of kitchen, spun around also. “Speaking of other rooms – how about the bathroom?”

Brian looked wildly at Nick. “You didn’t seriously rent a lodge without a toilet, Frack.”

Nick bit his lips. “Well, when I rented it it was just… you and me, Bri… and um… Yanno. Dudes can.. um. Pee outside.”

“I can’t pee outside!” Amanda panicked.

“And neither can we with that Tobias Winterson guy on our tail!” Brian also paniced. “I’m already all over the magazines for making out with someone that’s not my wife, the last thing I need is indecent exposure being added to my list of felonies!”

“Well we’ve got the bus toilet, we can use that,” Nick said.

Amanda laughed, “We’re gonna be roughing it.”

“It is a beautiful lodge, though,” Brian said, looking up again at the vaulted ceilings. “Where’s the bedrooms?”

Nick pointed at the two lofts. “…boys and girls, I guess,” he said. Part of him had wanted to split it him with Amanda and Brian on his own, but he wasn’t sure Amanda would be cool with that.

Which she wouldn’t have been. Amanda was glad to hear the gender break and scurried to the ladder leading up to the loft Nick had pointed at when he said girls. Brian did the same, except in the opposite loft. Nick, who had already seen pictures and knew there wasn’t much to see up there, went over and started inspecting the pool table, running his hand over the felt and wondering if he could get Brian to let him actually play pool again. Last time he’d played pool with Brian in the room, it had resulted in a cue ball almost hitting him in the back of the head… from across the room.

“There’s skylights!” Amanda shrieked suddenly from up in her loft.

Nick laughed. He’d forgotten there’d been skylights when he looked at the pictures. They had been one of the many deciding factors of the lodge. He’d figured Brian could see the stars all night and it would be another thing to add to the quest for something beautiful.

He was setting up the balls in the rack when Brian came back down the ladder. “I hope you aren’t planning to play that, killer,” Brian said as he sat down on the sofa.

Nick pouted, “C’mon, I’m better at it now.”

“So you only maim instead of murder now?” Brian teased. Nick stuck out his tongue.

Amanda acme down the ladder of her own loft and danced across the room, “I love it in here, even If I have to go outside to pee!” she announced.

Nick and Brian both laughed. “Well that’s good, I’m glad you like it here. Cos we’ve got a week here,” Nick said.

“A week?” Brian asked, surprised. “What on earth are we doing with a week?”

“Well, a couple of days we’re going to be –“ Nick stopped, then smirked, catching himself before he revealed their next activity. “You’ll see.”

“You almost got it out of him, Brian,” Amanda said, giving Brian a high five.

Nick laughed, putting away the pool balls, “Glad to see ya’ll are ganging up on me.”
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