He'd been laying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, for over twelve hours now.
Brian and Leighanne had chosen to keep their distance, to let him cool down. Brian had hoped Nick might even take a nap and wake up relaxed. But finally, after twelve hours of not hearing a peep out of him, he agreed that they should go up and check on him. They waited until after Baylee had gone to his art class.
The door creaked opened, but Nick didn't move to see who it was. "Hey Brian," he said, his voice still raw from emotion and now from lack of use.
"It's not Brian," Leighanne said. "Can I come in anyway?"
"It's your house," Nick answered.
"It's your room," she replied.
Nick sat up and scooted over so she had room to sit with him. She took the invitation and sat down on the bed, both facing each other. She'd left the door open, Brian was sitting on the floor just outside, worried, but not wanting to overwhelm Nick with the presence of both of them.
"Brian told me about Amanda," she explained carefully. Nick diverted his eyes from Leighanne's and stared down at the bedspread. "I'm sorry, Nick."
"Yeah, me, too."
Leighanne waited, allowing a moment to pass, letting the words she was about to say play over in her mind, working out the bits she wanted to edit out and perfecting them so that they'd come out right. With Nick, you only got one shot to explain things right. "Do you remember when AJ was doing the drugs and alcohol really hardcore?" she asked.
Nick looked up at her, confused a moment. "Um, yeah, of course."
"He's changed since then, because he saw what he was doing was wrong and that he was hurting the people he loved, right?" Leighanne asked.
Nick caught the connection. "This is different," he said, shaking his head. "She purposely set out to get a story on us, that's all she was there for."
"Maybe at first," Leighanne answered slowly, "But I know Brian believes she changed, and from what he's told me, I do, too." She smiled tentatively. "And you know how picky I am about the women you date, huh?"
Leighanne had always run interference on Nick's girls. She'd always known when Nick was dating a loser, always called the girl on it. He hadn't always listened, but in retrospect, she'd always been right.
He sighed, "You didn't actually meet her."
"If she didn't love you, she would've published the story by now, wouldn't she?" Leighanne asked.
Nick frowned. "She could've, I haven't checked."
"Brian and I have," Leighanne answered.
Nick stared at the wall. "I wouldn't be able to trust her ever again," he said slowly, "She lied to me." He sighed. "I know lots of people lie, and that lies should be forgiven and all that, I get that. I don't have problems forgiving her, well maybe a little, but after it's been awhile I know I'll be cool to forgive her. But I dunno if I could ever forget what she did. I've been busted way too many times by girls..."
"You have," Leighanne agreed, "You've been put through the mill by women."
"What kills me is I really trusted her," he said, "Like I say that all the time with girls, but this one I actually did trust. I told her so much, confided in her. I really let her see me for who I am. And she knew it." He dug into his pocket and pulled out the crumpled up sheet of notebook paper with the poem on it. He dropped it onto the bedspread between them. "And then she did this."
Leighanne reached out and ran the backs of her finger tips across his cheek gently. "But Nicky, sweetie, she lied to you before she knew you."
"So?" he asked, "What difference does it make?"
"If AJ did some of the things he did and said when he was drunk now wouldn't it hurt worse than it did then?" she asked.
Nick hesitated, "Yeah."
Leighanne shrugged, "I'm just saying that maybe she changed because she fell in love with you."
"Then why didn't she tell me sooner?" Nick asked.
"Because she was terrified?" Leighanne guessed, "I know I would've been terrified of losing you if I were her. You're a great guy, Nick. How sweet and amazing you've been to my husband is proof of that. She doesn't deserve you for what she did, Nick, but you deserve love. Just think about it, okay?"
"Yeah," he nodded, "I'll think about it."
Leighanne got up, "Are you hungry?"
He thought about it. "Not really."
"Are you sure? We were thinking about ordering a pizza when Baylee got home," she explained, "And maybe a movie?"
"What movie?" he asked.
"Well, Baylee will probably pick, so there's a fifty-percent chance it'll be either Toy Story or Transformers."
Nick smiled. "Okay, I'm in."
Amanda found the yellow slip of paper taped to her door when she got home, reminding her that rent was overdue.
She let herself into the apartment. It smelled musty from being closed up for almost a month. She walked around opening the windows and letting the air in. She went to the fridge before she remembered that she hadn't been home to restock it with food. The only things in there that weren't expired was mustard, ketchup, some Twinkies and Kool-Aid. She had Twinkies and Kool-Aid for dinner.
Amanda sat on the window sill, staring up at the sky.
It wasn't until almost ten o'clock that night that she remembered she'd never called Brian to let him know she'd gotten home okay. She wasn't even certain he really cared. Probably not, she thought. She imagined them in the car, happy, talking and laughing together. They'd probably already forgotten she'd ever been there.
She texted Brian, rather than call, just two simple words: "home safe."
It was one in Marietta when the text came. Brian had been asleep, Leighanne hugging his arm and Baylee squished between their legs, hugging his knee... a Littrell family pig pile.
He groggily reached over to the night stand with his free hand for the cell phone when it vibed. He flipped it opened and saw Amanda's text. He smiled, saved the number to his contacts, and replied, "G2K, TY" and dropped the phone back onto the night stand, and fell back to sleep.
Amanda slept on the couch that night, staring at the colorful-flecked snow on her TV screen. Her cable had been shut off. Everything was breaking to pieces, and she felt like her life had become nothing more than the static hiss that came out of the TV.
Days passed. She'd gone out to get cigarettes, coffee, and some stuff to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She'd put in a couple job applications at local papers and magazines but nobody was hiring because of the economy. She'd gotten so desperate to ask for an application at the grocery store, but the manager there had taken one look at her resume and said she was over qualified.
Amanda spent the majority of her time smoking and writing. Poetry - dark, angry, disjointed words - flowed out of her onto the computer screen. On the Internet, she found herself opening and staring at the two boys' Twitter accounts. She refreshed them every thirty seconds, waiting for one of them to post something... anything.
A week went by before a change occurred on one of them. It was Nick's.
NickCarter@BLittrell back in la
Her heart pumped with hope. Would he visit her? Of course not, she reprimanded herself for even thinking it.
But she continued to check their Twitter accounts everyday, certain that if anything happened it would show up there. She found herself getting desperate and pathetic enough to try Googling them, finding fan websites, staring at pictures of them smiling and happy, and remembering them the way they'd been at their best during the trip.
She dreaded the day when she would log on and see something about Brian... but each morning when she woke up, she checked every entertainment news outlet she could possibly think of to make sure it wasn't out there. She knew that one day she'd turn on the Internet and she'd see Brian's smiling face on the main news screen. It was a day she was not looking forward to.