She stood in the hallway of Orlando's most exclusive hotel holding Howie Dorough's hand. He had been her world for the last 10 years. She knew this had to happen, but she was dreading it. The man on the other side of the door had called this meeting and Howie stood by her like he had all these years.
"Are you ready, honey?" he asked. "It's going to be all right. I'll be with you the entire time."
The door opened to four other people. A tall dark haired man opened the door. She knew instantly who he was.
"Hi, Kevin. Is he here?"
"Yeah, he is." Kevin nodded solemnly.
Howie walked in, with her following and clutching his hand. She knew the other men in the room, Brian Littrell and Nick Carter. She felt her knees starting to buckle. He wasn't in view, but when she finally saw him, he was sitting at the piano, plinking a few keys. His black suit looked slept in.
"AJ?" Howie asked.
He looked up, eyes hidden behind sunglasses.
"AJ? This is Lexie." Howie said. She could feel her senses starting to reel; her stomach began to churn. She was going to faint. She had prayed for this moment for so long, it was almost too real.
AJ removed his sunglasses and looked her up and down. She was taller than Howie, by just about two inches. Long legs, slim build with long dark hair that fell to the middle of her back and dark, dark brown eyes. Her complexion was light, much lighter than Howie's. Howie took a few steps closer, almost dragging Lexie with him.
"You aren't scared, are you?" AJ asked. She couldn't speak, she only nodded, 'no'.
"You look like your mother." AJ said. She still couldn't speak. "I can't tell you what it means to me that you're willing to do this." He said, his voice cracking. His face fell into his hand.
"Don't cry." She said. She began reaching for him, but withdrew her hand before he looked up.
"God, she even sounds like her." He said in the barest of whispers. "I still can't believe you agreed to come. The doctor is here to do the preliminary tests." AJ said.
"Of course." She nodded.
She looked up and found a man who seemed to acknowledge that comment about a doctor. She walked over to him and began to roll up her sleeves. AJ stood by Howie as they watched the blood being drawn.
"She's beautiful, Howie." AJ whispered.
"Yes, she is."
"You have every right to be proud of her. You did a great job."
"I did the best I could." Howie nodded.
"How old is she now?" Nick asked, coming up behind them.
"Nineteen. Just finished her first year of college. She's majoring in art history. She has plans to be a museum curator." Howie said. The others could hear the pride in his voice.
"I can't believe where the time has gone." Brian sighed heavily.
"I don't want to talk about it." AJ snapped, walking out to the deck overlooking the city. All four of the others followed him outside.
"You owe her." Howie demanded.
"I don't owe her anything. . ." he began.
"What? She's here being tested to donate bone marrow for your son, who you named Alexander after yourself, just like you did her. She hasn't heard from you in 14 years. . ."
"She had you, she didn't need me." AJ said.
"Let's not have this argument again." Howie sighed, knowing where this was going. "She's met you now, she may have questions later." Howie said.
Later? Howie thought to himself. She's had them all her life, why would today or tomorrow be any different? When Lexie was first born, it had been a PR nightmare for the Backstreet Boys.
AJ's child born out of wedlock.
AJ had tried to make it work with her mother, but left less than a year after she was born. He never tried to be close to her. She was 9 when her mother died; leaving her with no one who wanted her. Single, just turning 35, Howie took her in. He dedicated the last 10 years of his life to her. He couldn't resist her huge brown eyes; her tearful hello and little freckled nose. He remembered years of leaving her at home so he could go to BSB functions.
He hadn't wanted to put her through them. Everyone knew AJ was her father, she even knew it. How many times had she asked him to call her father, let her talk to him, but Howie couldn't. She finally quit asking. She got on with her life and they never discussed when Howie was with the group or when he was recording or when he went on tour. He adopted her a year later and she began to call him ‘dad'. None of the guys had ever tried to talk him out of adopting her, but there was a strain after Howie asked AJ to sign his parental rights away to him.
Alexandra Janelle McLean Dorough.
Lexie Dorough really seemed to fit her.
When the call came in about little Alex, that he had been diagnosed with leukemia, AJ told him they needed a donor who was preferably a sibling. Howie asked Lexie and she agreed without hesitation. So, ten years later and here they were. Standing out on a hotel deck, arguing about who should do what while an unknown doctor drew blood from her body to save the son of a man who refused to be her father.
"Dad?" Lexie asked, standing at the door to the deck. She was holding a cotton ball folded in her arm. "They're done with me."
Howie felt the feeling of the group change. Her voice, her presence made her suddenly more real and seem to snap them back to reality. He could feel the heat of anger rising to his cheeks, although he tempered his tone in front of her.
"I'll be right there, honey." Howie smiled.
"AJ?" she asked. He turned and looked at her.
"I'm sorry about your son." She said. "I hope I'm a good match."
"We all do, honey." Howie said.
"You did a great job, Howie." AJ said quietly, watching her turn away and walk back inside.
"I did my best." Howie said. "If she asks, will you spend time with her? Get to know her?"
"Maybe when all of this is over and Alex is better. . ."AJ began.
Howie had to ask, even if he already knew the answer. AJ had made his decision 10 years ago and now they were all going to live with it.