Nick spent New Year's at home by himself. He took CJ over to his sister's early, then went home and went to bed. It's not like he slept. How could he? He watched the sun set and rise from his own bed. There was no point in getting up.
His lawyers began calling early on January 2nd and his heavy court schedule was set. Lexie made no attempts to contact him in the weeks that followed, but Howie had told Brian she had gone back to Seattle after the New Year. She would finish the semester out, before returning to USC to begin an internship she had been offered to start in March.
"So, did you and your dad talk again?" Lexie asked Jake as they climbed a public bus into downtown.
"Yeah. He's cool about stuff now. I guess he understands." Jake shrugged. "He's pretty impressed with you."
"Me? What the hell for?" she laughed as they planted themselves in seats.
"He just thought you were pretty amazing. How you gave marrow to AJ's son and then went through all that stuff with him."
"I know. I owe a lot of that to you." She said.
"No, you don't." Jake laughed. "You made your own choices to go home."
"Did I really? I felt more compelled." She sighed. "Like there was no other way to get on with my life, but to go back there and hash it out with AJ."
"How's your relationship with your parents?" Jake asked.
"Strained. Dad and Mom tiptoe around me. I'm sorry I left it the first place, I can see now it was a stupid mistake." She said.
"Well, maybe you just don't know the real reason why all of this happened yet." Jake said.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Dad always says that things happen for a reason. All things. I think you just have to wait and see what this all means in the bigger scope of things."
"Well, aren't you deep today." She teased.
"I kinda am, aren't I?" he joked. "Have you spoken to Nick yet?"
"No." she said. "I want to see him face to face."
"You had your chance in Orlando."
"That's what I thought, but he left the next day. I thought of flying to L.A., but I couldn't ask my Dad for the money for the ticket. I just stayed with my family. He was probably with his any way."
"How much longer are you going to wait?" Jake asked.
"I don't know. I. . .just don't know." She sighed.
All of the guys called Nick on a regular basis, offering moral support for his trials. The court battles dragged on and on for him and his lawyers had to tell him each day which one it was, they were starting to blur together. He was in court five out of seven days, sometime six if he counted the weekend meetings.
AJ called him at least three times a week to talk about himself and Lexie. They were still talking; trading emails and phone calls. He asked every time he called if Nick had spoken to Lexie. Nick had to keep answering, no. He didn't tell AJ he didn't have her number or email. It wouldn't make a difference. It would never work out. He had been stupid in Detroit.
That didn't stop her from coming to him in his dreams. Her warm skin, her soft hair and the sensation of her curves under his hands.
She's moved on. You're a fool, Nick. A stupid old fool.
Lexie thought of Nick constantly. She knew she'd be in L.A. by the end of March and she'd try to contact him then. AJ had given her his private number, saying he sounded sad and that she could probably cheer him up. Lexie desperately wished at times that she could tell AJ the truth. They had started to share so much. She wanted to share this with someone who knew them both, someone who might understand.
Lexie went into her dorm room and flicked on the light, tossing off her raincoat across a chair. She stopped for a moment and watched the rain pour down the glass in the window. It wasn't raining in L.A.
Nick? Are you thinking of me, too?
Her phone rang at that moment and her heart skipped a beat. It couldn't be, but she had to just smile. If it were, it would be remarkable timing.
"Hello?" she answered with a laugh.
"Lexie? Lexie Dorough?" a man's voice asked.
"Yes?" she answered hesitantly.
"Lexie? It's me, Brian. Brian Littrell."
"Brian? Oh, hi Brian. What can I do for you?"
"Lexie, its Nick."
"What? What happened?" she said.
"He lost his first case today. I'm in the courtroom now. He needs you Lexie. Let me give you the number. . ."
"I have it." She said.
"Why haven't you called sooner? It doesn't matter. Lexie, I've never seen him like this. I know it's been two months. . ."
"Of course I'll call. Thank you, Brian."
"Please call, now." Brian begged.
"Yes, right now." She said as Brian hung up on her.
Lexie dialed the number without any hesitation. It rang twice before he answered.
"Hello?" he asked wearily.
"Nick? It's me Lexie."
"Oh, god, it's so good to hear your voice." He groaned.
"I heard what happened. Brian just called."
"Where are you? Are you okay?"
"I'm still in the courtroom, the crowd is breaking up. Your dad is here, so are AJ and Brian."
"I'm sorry I'm not there." She noticed the immediate silence after her statement.
"You are?" he asked quietly.
"Of course. I'm sorry, I really am." Lexie said. "Nick, I so desperately need to talk to you. I'll be back in L.A. by the end of next month. . ."
Nick turned his back to the rest of the room as he settled into a chair at the defense table. He never saw Howie coming up behind him, over hearing him on the phone.
"I. . .I want to talk to you, too." He whispered.
"We need to." She whispered back.
"There is so much I want to say, so much I have to say." He whispered. Tears rose in her eyes upon hearing his pain. "Please, give me a chance to explain. I can't wait any longer." He gasped, his face falling into his hands.
"Nick, please. Please don't cry." She begged.
"I can't take this any more." He continued to whisper.
"You can be strong, please Nick. Please be strong."
"I can't, I just can't." he groaned quietly.
"I love you, Nick." She said and Lexie never heard another word, just the phone cutting off.
Nick couldn't say another word, hear another word. The pain of it all was becoming unbearable. He never saw Howie when he asked, "Someone special?" Howie noted that Nick nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard Howie's voice. He stumbled over words, but Howie just put his hand on Nick's shoulder. "It's all right, I understand. I hope she can help."
Nick barely remembered getting home that night. A limo dropped him off and he found that Cook was still there, with a warm supper. She forced him to change into some comfortable clothing after a hot shower and to sit down and eat. He only ate enough to make her happy and then sent her home to tend to her own family. CJ was at his mother's, where she spent most of her time these days. After an attempt to watch some TV, he finally decided it was late enough to go to bed. As tired as he was, he couldn't sleep.
She wanted to see him, wanted to talk to him. Why is it as soon as she called, all of his despair disappeared? All of his doubts about his feelings for her vanished.
I love you, Nick.
CJ came home for the weekend. Sunday was a beautiful day, and they spent it outside with extra security keeping the media away. It was right after lunch when a guard from the front gate called and told him that there was a Howie Dorough, AJ McLean and a Kate Martin at the front gate to see him. Nick furrowed his brow, then gave permission for them to be brought up to the main house.
He and CJ went out the front door as they came up in a rented pick up truck. Howie was driving, with Lexie in the middle and AJ waving out the passenger window as they drove up. CJ started jumping up and down and screaming Howie's name.
Howie scooped up CJ into his arms as he got out of the truck and she crawled down and ran squealing to Uncle AJ, too. Nick thought CJ would have a fit when she finally recognized Lexie. Meanwhile, Howie was yanking a tarp off the back of the truck.
"What's in these things?" Nick laughed as Lexie and AJ began lifting boxes out of the back and started carrying them inside.
"You'll see!" AJ laughed wickedly as he pushed Lexie jokingly through the front door and up into the living room. Nick had grabbed a box, too and got in the house soon enough to see AJ dump the contents of one of the boxes on the floor.
"Fan mail!" AJ laughed, throwing the pile around.
"All of this?" Nick asked.
"These and 15 other boxes still in the truck." Lexie smiled. She stood there after she dumped her box's contents onto AJ's.
"Who do you people think you are?" Nick laughed.
"The Cavalry." Lexie said smugly.
"Where did you get all off this?" Nick said.
"Your fan club. We gave them a call and they gladly handed it over." AJ smiled. "There is still tons of it at the office, we just couldn't get anymore in the truck."
"This is amazing." He said, just staring at it. CJ jumped up and threw herself into Howie's arms. He spun her around and she gave him a big kiss. She squealed to get down so she could run over to AJ! She sat on AJ's hip and asked, "Uncle AJ? What's all this?"
"It's all fan mail, from the people in the audiences." He smiled.
"Are those the good people?"
"Yes, they are." Howie said, tickling her belly. "They are the best people in the whole world."
"Come on, CJ, let's go get some more!" Lexie said.
"NO! She can't go out front, it's not safe. I'll get some of the staff to bring it in. We have to get to work reading some of this!" Nick said, regretting his sharp tongue.
"I hate this, Daddy, I wanna go help!" CJ said with a stomp of her foot as AJ put her down.
"Well, you can't." he said, making fun of her. They play pouted back and forth and she finally settled into Lexie's lap and started ripping open the letters and packages. Soon, Cook and two other of Nick's private staff were also sitting around reading the mail out loud. Cook got them all dinner and twilight was coming when they finally all started looking up.
"This is just great you guys, thanks." Nick smiled. CJ climbed from Howie to Nick and patted his face.
"You smile pretty, Daddy." She said softly.
"Thanks, honey." He said quietly, giving her a quick kiss. She nestled herself down into his arms and continued to help him out. AJ gave Howie and Lexie winks, Lexie had let AJ believe it had been his idea. AJ then poked Howie.
"Uh, Nick, how about you and CJ coming back to Orlando for a visit?" he asked. "Lexie is coming home next month for Spring Break and we can use AJ's plane so you guys won't have to fly commercial."
"No, I think we'd better just stay home." He smiled down at her.
"I wanna go, Daddy." CJ moaned.
"No, it's safer here." He sighed. "Besides, grandma is here."
"Can't we go to Uncle Howie's can't we?" she begged.
"You guys can stay with me, I should have enough security." AJ said.
"Come on, Nick." Lexie encouraged.
"I don't know." He said, shaking his head.
Cook came by and swatted him on the head, "Yes, you do, you big fool. Go be with your friends." Everyone laughed at her.
"Oh, all right." He sighed.
"Yeah!" CJ squealed. She jumped up and threw herself into Howie's arms, "I get to go to Uncle Howie's and Uncle AJ's." She squealed some more.
She settled down into Howie's lap and eventually fell asleep. She woke up when he got up to put her to bed and as she began to fuss, he and AJ sang to her on the way upstairs.
"I can't believe you guys did all this." He smiled from his place on the floor.
"It'll was the only way we could think to get in. It's like Fort Knox." She smiled.
"I know. I hate it, but it's necessary to keep CJ safe." He sighed, looking away from her at the letter in his hand.
"AJ put me and Dad up in a hotel for the weekend. I don't think I'll get another chance to get out here." She whispered harshly. She got up and went to him where he sat. She knelt down in front of him. "I still love you." She whispered, hearing AJ and Howie's foot falls coming closer.
He hesitated. He could hear them coming, too. "Will we be able to get away in Orlando? I need to talk to you." He whispered.
"Yes." She whispered back.
"Let me fix this, Lex." He whispered.
"There is nothing to fix."
"With all this craziness, there may be a long wait. Lexie, my life isn't my own." He said, but by then, they could hear Howie and AJ right around the corner laughing quietly about CJ. Lexie fell back on her haunches, looking like she had just moved a little closer to help Nick put some letter back in the boxes.
Lexie tried to call Nick several times during the month of March, but he had disconnected his cell phone. AJ told her that the press had gotten the number and was harassing him, so he decided to do without it. She couldn't ask AJ for Nick's house number, but she did get Jake to call his Mom and get Brian's number.
"Isn't there any way I can get hold of him?" Lexie asked, after Brian told him that the record company had completely secured him off after some death threats. "Can you have him call me?"
"I'm sorry, hon, but I just don't think there is a way. I talked to his Mom and his brother a couple of times, but they can only deliver messages."
"What about our trip? Isn't he coming to Orlando next week?"
"I'm sorry, I just don't know." Brian sighed.
"Thanks, Brian." She sighed.
"I wish I could be more help, but even I can't get near him. They won't even let me in the courtroom."
"Keep loving him, Lexie."
"How could I ever stop, Brian?" she said, her voice cracking.
Nick never made the scheduled visit to Orlando; he was committed to court dates all that week with no way to get out of them. Lexie did fly to L.A. and picked up CJ from Nick's younger brother, Aaron at LAX and took her to Orlando for the week. Nick called the plane to speak to CJ. They missed each other so much, it was painful to listen to CJ beg her Daddy to be brave.
CJ watched in horror four days later at AJ's house as Nick's collapse in the courtroom was broadcast repeatedly on every channel. Lexie took AJ's jet to Lexington to pick up Brian and they both took CJ back to L.A. to see him.
Brian was the only one able to get into his hospital room and left Lexie in the hall with CJ screaming at the top of her lungs to see Nick. Nick, unable to stand it another minute, pushed his way past Brian to stumble into the hall and reach for her. Lexie let her go to run into her father's arms. He went down on his knees in the hall, holding the important person in his life to his chest. Two orderlies came and helped Nick back into bed, as he called to CJ to be brave as Lexie was ordered by the doctor to take CJ out.
Brian stayed with him the rest of the night. Lexie took CJ back to Aaron's house where he graciously put them both up in his guestroom.
"How bad is it?" Howie asked her over the phone. Lexie stood on Aaron's veranda, watching CJ play with her cousins in the back yard the next morning.
"He's so upset, she's upset. This is just destroying him, Dad." She sighed.
"I know, honey." He agreed.
"Dad? What the hell is going on? How much longer can this go on?" she asked him in desperation.
"Lexie, this is how the business is some times. . ."
"I know, but it seems so cruel. The tour is over; it's been over for months. I was there that night they almost killed him and CJ. . .I just don't understand it." She said.
"Are you almost ready to head back to school?"
"Yes. AJ's plane is still here; I'll probably take it up on Sunday night. I've got to get CJ to Nick." She said.
"Have you heard anything this morning? Where's Brian?"
"Last I saw, Brian was staying at the hospital. Aaron and Leslie went this morning to see him, but this case being what it is, they didn't think it was safe for CJ to be there."
"Be careful, okay honey?"
"Of course, Dad." She smiled at his concern and love.
She went on to ask about the boys, her mother, and the baby. He told her the latest since yesterday and reminded her to call AJ right before he hung up. That made her laugh.
How things have changed!