Now was the time for regrets.
Nick woke hours later as the sun tried to peek out of the gray wet morning. He stood wearing a plush hotel robe, staring out the windows. Rain creased down the glass in front of him, but it didn't matter. His arms were folded across his chest and as he blinked back, he saw his own reflection.
He had promised Howie.
Howie and AJ.
What was he going to do? What were people going to say? He was 20 years older than she was; she herself was only 20. He should've known better! What a stupid fool he was for acting on his feelings! Even if they were ones he had denied until last night. What was he going to say to her this morning?
He was lost.
He was in love with her.
He realized that he had just taken AJ's daughter and whatever chance he had to bring them all closer, was gone now. He should've been stronger; he should've resisted her! Resisted himself. It had been heaven and never had he felt what he had felt last night. She had taken his very soul and held it in her hands.
"Nick?" she asked, standing behind him. She stood there, wrapped in his white dress shirt from the night before. The shirt did nothing to hide the curve of her body nor did his robe mask the reaction of his when he saw her. When he turned to face her, he saw that she was hesitating.
"I think we made a mistake last night, Lexie." He said. He started when he heard those words come from his own mouth. The look in her eyes said she expected him to say it.
He turned back to the window, unable to look at the pain he saw in her face. He barely heard her bare feet pad out of the room, away from him. When Nick turned back to her, she was gone. He went into the bedroom, but she had already pulled her dress back on and was twisting her feet into her shoes.
"Where are you going?" he asked, seeing her already dressed.
She reached for his slacks, where he had left them the night before, reached, and pulled out his wallet. She opened it up and pulled out the cash that was there and one credit card.
"I'll get my own plane ticket. I think I earned it." She said, tossing his wallet on the bed.
She pushed past him, went back into the bathroom, pulled his cell phone out of his jacket pocket, and dropped the coat on the floor.
"God, don't say that." He groaned.
"Nick, call your driver out front." She said, stuffing everything in her purse.
"Lexie, listen to me." he began.
"What Nick? What are you going to tell me?" she said as she snapped her purse shut. Her ebony hair swayed as an accent on her every word. "Call your driver."
"No, we need to talk. . ." he began, pleading with her.
"Don't make a scene, Nick." She said dryly.
"I wasn't expecting this." He said, dumbfounded by her reaction.
"I'm not going to cry any more, Nick. I'm tired of crying over you guys." She said, coldly.
"I did. . .I don't want to hurt you. . ." he said.
"Well, you did. Don't worry about it, I'm getting used to being fucked by Backstreet Boys."
She gave the doorknob an angry twist and was away from him before he even had a chance to catch up with her. She was gone before his driver had a chance to come up front. The hotel said she had gotten a cab.
Lexie ordered her ticket from the cab. She walked through the airport, looking very much like a spent party girl, she tossed his phone into the nearest garbage can and bent his credit card into little pieces. They were dropped into garbage cans as she went. She took her seat on the plane and turned her back to the aisle as she looked out the window.
She was gone. Had been for nearly four months. Howie knew in his heart nothing was going to stop her trying to escape whatever she had experienced at AJ's side that night. It didn't hurt any less or lessen the worry. These last four months had been agony for Howie and AJ. He and AJ both hired private detectives, but still had no luck finding her. She had left school in the middle of the night, took nothing but some clothes. She had sold AJ's car and left a note for her sorority housemother to call her parents and have them come get the rest of her things.
When the school called, he had cried, screamed, and yelled until he was afraid to make another sound. Her words haunted him, "What the hell were you all doing 20 years ago!?" All that time, Brian and Kevin had been there for him. Howie no longer blamed AJ for her leaving, even if AJ continued to blame himself. Today was her 21st birthday and he wondered where she was and if she was happy.
The boys were together, minus Nick, at AJ's suite. AJ looked remarkable these days, his fits stopping, his health returning. He was taking care of Alex full-time now. Howie stood on the deck holding little Alex in his arms. He could hear Kevin plinking out the melody of an old song. He began to hear the strains of an old familiar tune. He couldn't deny what he felt as he heard AJ sing.
"As long as you love me, baby. . ."AJ sang quietly.
Howie walked back inside as Kevin hit several chords and the song lifted under this skilled fingers. Brian piped in and sang all of Nick's parts and the other three sang out their hearts.
The song ended and AJ said, "We have to find her."
He looked up at Howie who still hadn't looked back at them.
"She doesn't want to be found." Howie sighed.
"Maybe we should just call her." Kevin said with a shrug.
Howie turned to face him. Kevin hit the chords again and sang "...doesn't matter if you're on the run, as long as you love me..." and a sly smile fell on his lips. "Let's remix it and send it out to the clubs. If she's still in school, she's bound to hear it."
"How do we let her know it's for her?" Brian asked.
"We'll subtitle it 'Lexie's Theme' and mix in spoken word." AJ said. "We've got enough connections to get this played all over the country. All over the world. The whole world knows she's missing."
"Let's re-record it, get Nick back here, too." Brian said.
"He's got two months left on this tour. . ." Howie said sadly.
"He'll come back for this. . ." Brian said.
Nick still called Brian everyday since Lexie had left him in Detroit. Howie and Leah had canceled their vacation plans and the plans for another baby. He had hoped she would've gotten pregnant anyway, but he couldn't get close to her. She hurt and she blamed him and AJ for driving away her daughter.
Brian and Howie had made the pact. It had to end, all the bitterness and all the pain. They needed to stand together, because apart they were too weak. He held on to Leah, in spite of all her screaming and fighting and he held on to AJ and his other boys. They would make this work. Lexie would come back.
"He would, you're right." Howie agreed, shifting Alex in his arms.
AJ got up and took Alex from him. "You need to go home, D. you've got to keep the peace." He said.
"I'm lacking in that department."
"Let her blame me, it is my fault."
"No, Nick was right. It's all of our faults." Brian said.
Kevin, Brian and AJ watched Howie leave and promise to meet them at his studio with the masters to remix and re-record, "As Long As You Love Me". Brian went into the kitchen and poured himself a cola over ice. He could hear AJ and Kevin working on riffs of the song. He had been elected to call Nick and tell him their plans. He knew what Nick would say.
"I don't know, B. I'm not so sure this is a good idea."
"Well, we can just re-mix it and send out the spoken text with it." Brian said. "Nick? Are you okay?"
"God, Brian, I’m never going to be okay." He sighed heavily. "I just got off the phone with CJ and I miss her so much. It just pisses me off I can't have her with me. I missed her 5th birthday, god I hate that!"
"I know buddy, I've missed plenty of birthdays. . ."
"I didn't want it like this. Brian, I lost so much money on this tour, I might as well just cancel the rest of it right now." He said, miserably. "These damn unions have made it impossible for me to get the damn show up and running in every town. It's just not worth it."
"Maybe you should just go union again. . ."
"NO!" Nick said angrily, "You weren't there that night! They would've killed all of us if they had the chance! I won't give in to that kind of terrorism!"
"I understand." Brian nodded. "Have you heard anything?"
"No, not from Lexie." He sighed.
The silence was deafening between them.
"Nick? Is there something you want to tell me? Something you haven't in the last four months? Something about Lexie?" Brian asked gently. He had been sensing it for weeks now; it seemed like the right time to ask.
"I miss her so much. Brian, I. . ." Nick began.
"Tell me, Nick." Brian said.
Nick leaned forward in his chair and put his elbows on his knees. His hair spilled over his shoulders caressing his hand as it held the phone. He had swore he would never tell them, they would hate him. . .they wouldn't understand how much he loved her.
It was sick and it was wrong. . .
"Nothing Brian." Nick sighed, leaning back.
"Are you sure?" Brian asked, "You can tell me anything. I won't tell the others. Nick, do you know why Lexie left? Did you have something to do with it?"
"Yes." He said in the barest of whispers, betraying himself.
"Nick? Were you and Lexie lovers?" Brian asked.
Nick paused a long while and then confessed. "Yes." He said quietly.
Nick heard Brian gasp. He cringed, humiliated.
"Did you love her?" Brian asked.
"I still do."
"What happened, Nick? You need to tell me." Brian said.
"It was only one night, the night of the riot. She had come to Detroit looking for airfare back to L.A. I made her stay and go to the show. I was hoping to talk some sense into her and get her to call home. We ended up in a different hotel for the night. . .she. . .god, Brian, don't hate me." He begged, his voice breaking into a sob.
"What else, Nick?"
"I. . .we. . .it was only the one night. I love her so much, Brian. Howie and AJ would never understand. . ."
"No, I don't think they will." Brian sighed.
"You think I'm sick or something, don't you! God, I was so wrong Brian, I should never have done it, but I couldn't stop." Nick sobbed.
"Did she want to be there?"
"Yes." He croaked. "She told me she loved me."
"Why did she leave?" Brian asked.
"The next morning I told her that I thought we had made a mistake. She just walked out, no tears, no screaming, nothing. She left as angry as she was when she first arrived. She took some money, a credit card and my phone and left." Nick groaned.
When Nick had first called to say that she left before he got up, Brian knew something was wrong. Brian realized that Nick had been suffering with this for the last four months. He wished he was there now with his best friend.
"If she was here now, would you still feel the same?" Brian asked.
"I'll love her until the day I die, Brian. I've learned that over these last four months. If I only had more guts to stand up to Howie and AJ. . ." Nick berated himself. "I'd give anything to have her back."
Something in the desperation in Nick's voice convinced Brian that Nick would give them all up to have her. He would risk them hating him to have her back.
"Leave the tour, Nick. Cancel the rest of it and come home. We need to be together."
"I can't, there are 15 more shows. . ."
"Come home, Nick. It's time." Brian said.