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The next day, Nick was sitting on Aaron's veranda having lunch with Brian and AJ. Howie and Kevin had gone to the campus to have dinner with Lexie. Nick had simply told them he wasn't ready for visitors yet and they believed him. They all did, except Brian. Brian knew he was lying.


"How come you didn't go with Howie and Kevin?" Brian asked AJ as they ate.


"I'll see her later. She's only got a two hour break between work and her one evening class tonight."


"You two getting along great?" Brian asked.


"Yes. It's amazing. We talk about everything and every time I talk to her, I learn new things about why she left. Things about how she was feeling."


"Did she ever tell you what she did the three days between the time she left the hotel and went to find Nick?"


"No. I haven't asked. She just said she went there looking for a plane ticket home, Nick made her go to the show and about the riot." He shrugged.


"Hmm." Brian hummed.


"What?" Nick asked.


"I'm just curious, that's all." He said.


"Do you think she's lying to us?" AJ asked.


"Oh, no! I don't think she's lying about anything. It sounds like she had a really dark time." Brian said.


"That's how she describes it. Have you seen her recently? When she came back to L.A. in March, she must've gained 20 pounds. She looked much better. I was able to convince her to get her roots done if she was going to stay a blonde." AJ joked.


"March was the last time I did see her. She came to Lexington to get me when Nick collapsed the first time." Brian said. "Nick?"


Nick wasn't listening to their conversation. He had turned his face away and was staring out into Aaron's backyard.


"I wish I could go home." He said suddenly.


"Buddy? You okay?" AJ asked.


"Yeah, I'm sorry. I was just daydreaming, that's all." Nick said, turning back to them. "What's the date today?"


"Uh, May 23rd, why?" AJ asked.


"I just keep losing track of time." Nick sighed.


"It's a Thursday." Brian joked, but Nick didn't respond.


"Have the lawyers called?"


"I don't think so. Aaron's taking all of your calls." Brian said. Nick didn't want to ask when he was due back into court.


"When was the last time you saw Lexie, Nick?" AJ asked.


"I don't know. " Nick said absently, "I don't remember."


AJ exchanged a concerned look with Brian. "Do you remember when we brought all that fan mail to your house?"


"No, I don't remember. I'm sorry." He sighed, picking up his fork.


"It's okay, Nick." Brian said.


"AJ? It's your nanny on the phone." Jillian said, walking out on to the veranda with the cordless phone.


"Oh, thanks." He smiled, standing and taking it from her. He walked off to the edge of the deck.


"Do you boys need anything else?" she asked before she turned to go.


"No, thanks, Jill." Brian smiled toward her. Brian watched her go and kept an eye on AJ's back as he reached out and touched Nick's hand. Nick looked up at him.


"Nick? Do you want to talk to Lexie?" Brian asked quietly.


"No. I can't. . ." he mumbled. "My head hurts."


"I know. She wants me to tell you how much she loves you. . . Nick?!" Brian said with concern as Nick's head fell into his hand. Nick only raised his hand to keep Brian away.


"I. . .it'll never work, Brian." He sobbed quietly.


"It can if you try." Brian said. Nick looked up and over at AJ's back.


"What if he finds out that I've slept with her already?" Nick whispered to Brian. "She has her whole life ahead of her. She doesn't need to be burdened down by some guy twenty years too old for her. . ."


"Nick, she loves you. How many times have you told me that she's the only one for you?" Brian asked. "When you first told me about you and her, you told me you'd love her until the day you died."


"I never said I didn't love her. I just said she could do better. . ." Nick said, looking at Brian. "Look at me, Brian. I'm a mess!"


"Well, who the hell's fault is that?!" Brian snapped.



The first week of June found Lexie finishing up the last day at the museum internship for the summer. She said good-bye to her friends until the fall and returned to the campus to finish preparing for finals.


AJ had decided he needed to buy a house in L.A. by then. He had Alex and his nanny moved out there and he spent every day with Nick when he returned to court. Brian returned to Lexington. Howie went home to Orlando because Leah was due any day. Kevin went to Seattle to visit Jake, before returning to London to finish a film score. Brian was never able to convince Nick to call Lexie, but she took it all in stride.


After her last final on that Friday, Lexie packed her car and headed over to AJ's to have dinner with him and Alex. She was going to spend the night with them before flying out to Orlando for the baby's birth.


"So, are they sure it's a girl?" AJ asked as they ate.


"Yeah, her name is going to be Caroline Amanda." Lexie smiled.


"That's beautiful."


"I thought you'd like it." She said.


"Jeez, you'd think we'd be getting too old to keep having babies." AJ joked.


"I don't think so." She shrugged.


"What about you?" he asked.


"Me? Uh, don't you want me to get married first?" she joked.


"Of course!" he laughed, "But you haven't seen anyone since that Matt guy in Seattle. What about Jake?"


"Jake?" she laughed, almost choking on her food. "I could never date Jake! Hell, we're practically cousins."


"Well, not really. . ."


"Forget it." She said, cutting him off with a smile. "I am not dating Jake Scott Richardson and that's final! Hey! Did I tell you he got a jock job at a radio station in Orlando for the summer? It's going to be the midnight shift, but he is stoked!"


"What did Kevin say?"


"What do you think? He wants Jake to come to Kentucky and spend the summer with the family." Lexie said. "Will you quit staring at me like that?!"


"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Babygirl, you've just got to keep up on those roots, that's all." He declared.


"Fine, I will go see your stylist tomorrow, okay? Will you please quit nagging me about it all ready?!" she sighed dramatically.



"Daddy? Can I call Lexie?" CJ yelled from Aaron's den.


"Sure, honey, go right ahead. She's at Uncle AJ's new number, do you know that one yet?" he called back from the living room.


"Of course I do. I'm not dumb, Daddy!" she hollered back.


"My, my." Nick chuckled as he rolled his eyes at Aaron. "How much you want to bet she calls Orlando?"


"I'll bet you a 20, she calls the L.A. number." Aaron said as they both got up and snuck down the hall to listen in. They both hovered outside the den.


"Hi, this is CJ. Can I talk to Lexie?" she said, pretending to sound so grown up. "Hi, Lexie. It's me, CJ. . .I'm fine. . ."


Aaron slapped Nick on the back and almost busted out laughing as Nick began to pull out his wallet. Nick handed him the bill and Aaron snickered as he folded it and put it in his pocket as he walked away. Nick stayed by the door to listen to what CJ had to say to Lexie.


". . .I miss you, too. Is baby Caroline born yet?. . .Not yet?. . .Why are you going to Orlando?. . .oh. . .Are you going to see Uncle Howie and Aunt Leah? oh. . .Why are you staying at Uncle AJ's?. . . oh. . .No, I don't want to talk to him. I saw him yesterday. . .no, I don't want to talk to Alex either. Lexie? Can you come here?. . .how come?. . .I bet my Daddy misses you. . .no, I know he does. . .he talks about you when he's asleep. . ."


Nick felt his heart quicken and his mouth go dry.


". . .no, I get in his bed sometimes when he's not looking. . .Do you miss my Daddy?. . .then why won't you come over?. . .what about after you come back from Orlando. . .okay. . .can I see the baby when she's born?. . .I'll have to ask my Daddy. Maybe we can go in Uncle AJ's airplane again, I liked that. . .okay, bye-bye Lexie. I love you too."


Good Lord! Nick thought.


Nick had known that CJ and Lexie had been talking since Lexie moved back in March. He had no idea what they discussed. Nick had no fears of CJ's relationship with Lexie, trusting Lexie wouldn't say anything to hurt CJ or him.


Good Lord, they're close!


Closer than he imagined. It could only be expected. CJ didn't have a mother around. And Lexie was the only woman in Nick's life that wasn't some kind of an aunt, grandmother or cousin. CJ understood that Lexie was Howie's daughter, but they never told her about AJ. She was too young to understand that.


"Daddy? What are you doing out here?" CJ asked as she stood in the doorway.


"I was checking in on you. I wanted to make sure you had the right phone number." He said.


"I can read my numbers and Jane wrote it down for me." She said about her 8-year-old cousin.


"Okay, I was just making sure."


"I mean, I'm not a baby any more." She said dramatically as she marched off.


A soft smile played on Nick's lips. No, you aren't.



"You know, your life's not complete until you can have entire phone conversations with six year olds." Lexie laughed as she hung up the phone.


"She is a little powerhouse, isn't she?" AJ smiled from the couch. "Have you spoken to Nick at all since our trip to his house?"


"No."


"If I didn't know any better, I'd swear he was avoiding you." AJ said.


"I don't think so. We haven't been close since I left. . ."


"But you did go to him when you were in trouble. . ."


"I know." She sighed.


"You know, Howie thinks something happened between you two."


"What?!" she gasped.


"No, no, not that, girl!" he chuckled. "Like a fight or something in Detroit."


"Well, a little of that happened. I was pretty messed up then." She sighed. "I just think he has too much going on right now and he needs to take care of that first. CJ is always going to be his first priority."


"I know, but it's kind of a shame. I mean, when you donated to Alex, he was the only one who kept in touch with you. I wasn't planning on it. He's the reason we're here today, Lex. You two seemed so close. . ."


"Dad, things are bad for him. I'm sure he'll call when he gets the chance." She smiled, getting up and walking over to kiss his cheek. "I’m pooped. I'm gonna go to bed."


"Okay, babygirl." He smiled, realizing for the first time that she had called him 'dad'.



By the time Lexie landed in Orlando the following night, the entire Dorough Clan was in an uproar! Her house was packed with relatives as she walked in with her cousin, Marta. Leah had gone into labor early and they were all pacing and waiting. Pacing and cooking, too.


The house smelled so amazing as her grandmother cooked away. She hadn't been home like this in a long time. God, it felt so much like home! She and Marta took her bags upstairs and then joined the other cousins in the basement for some pool.


Caroline Amanda Dorough was born at 4 in the morning on June 9th, five days earlier than expected. She was perfectly healthy and had all of her fingers and toes. Lexie was glad she had made it home just in time.


John and Tyler were in bed by 4:30 a.m. and the house slowly emptied by 5:00 a.m. Lexie called Jake, who called his dad and Brian. Lexie called AJ and he told Nick and CJ. CJ called back some twenty minutes after Lexie got off the phone with AJ.


"Is the baby cute?" CJ asked.


"I don't know. Dad just called about an hour ago. I won't see her until this afternoon. I have to get some sleep first."


"How come?"


"Well, I've been up all night waiting." She laughed.


"Why did she wait so long?" CJ asked.


"Well, babies sometimes do that."


"Oh. Do you want to talk to Daddy? He's right here." CJ said suddenly. "Daddy, do you want to talk to Lexie? She's at Uncle Howie's in Orlando. The baby was born, it's a girl like me. I can't remember her name. Lexie? What's the baby's name?"


"Caroline Amanda."


"Is that like mine?"


"No, yours is Christine Jane."


"Oh." She said, bewildered. "Daddy? Do want to talk to Lexie? Here's Daddy."


Lexie waited as she heard the phone handed off.


"Lexie?" she heard him ask.


"Hi, Nick." She said gently.


"Uh, is Leah okay?"


"She's fine. Dad should be home in about an hour while she's resting." Lexie said. "How have you been, Nick?"


"You know. . ."


"I can only imagine." She said. "AJ keeps me pretty up to date. I haven't spoken to Brian in a while. How is he?"


"Fine. He called right before AJ did. He heard from Kevin's son, Jake."


"Yeah, I had him call Kevin and Brian. I told AJ myself. AJ said he was going to call."


"He did."


"I hope you don't mind CJ calling me."


"Oh, no. I'm not worried about it. She doesn't call too often, does she?"


"No." Lexie lied with a smile. CJ called either her or AJ twice a day. "I'd still like us to talk someday, Nick."


"I don't. . .know. Things are crazy now and I. . ."


"I know, I know. Just ask CJ when you're ready. She knows how to get hold of me. I'll wait." She said and then she just hung up on him.


She gripped the phone tightly before she let go of it. She couldn't hear another negative word from him.



Three thousand miles was not going to stop CJ from calling every day! She spoke to anyone, if Lexie wasn't there. She kept Lexie's cousin, Aria, on the phone for 20 minutes. Leah and Caroline came home two days later and family trailed in and out of the house for the next two weeks. It was the last week of June when they had John's birthday party and started planning for Lexie's at the end of July.


The summer rolled by in Orlando, just like Lexie remembered it used to. It was so different from last summer in Seattle. She was so happy, again. Yes, she wasn't with Nick, but she was all right with AJ now. She and Howie were as close as ever. She was seeing her family again and feeling more like her old self.


It was great having Jake in Orlando. Jake and Lexie got together during the evenings before he had to go to work. Sometimes she would spend all night with him at the station, talking to him about Nick. In mid July, Jake and Lexie took a four-day weekend and went to the Richardson's ranch in Kentucky. Lexie met two of Brian's daughters, Rachel and Kim, and Jake's three younger brothers; Brian, Madison and Dwaine.


The first night there, Lexie couldn't sleep. She wandered downstairs and found herself sitting at Kevin's work piano in the very downstairs family room.


"You play beautifully." Kevin said, surprising her.


"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't think any one would hear." She said, lifting her foot off the pedals.


"I had no idea you played."


"Well, I haven't in years." She sighed. "You'd think I'd be able to sing, considering who my parents are, but I can't sing a note. Dad had me try to learn something musical, so I chose piano."


"You do play well."


"I'm okay, I guess." She shrugged.


"Have you ever considered working in the business?"


"No. Dad kept me from just about everything public. I don't think I'd want all the hassles of being famous. I kind of liked growing up normal." She said. He came and sat next to her and hit a few chords.


"How come Art History?" he asked.


"You know, no one has ever asked me that."


"Not even Howie?"


"No." she chuckled. "I just told them what I wanted and they agreed to it."


"Well, how come?"


"I'm a real history buff. My mom, Amanda, used to take me to Europe all the time. I always loved all the old buildings and the stories. . .I guess I just got hooked." She shrugged. Kevin hit a few more chords.


"I always wished I had gone to college. Howie is the only one of us who did."


"Well, not going wasn't an option." She joked. "Being a Dorough is no free ride anywhere."


She heard him chuckle. "I'm glad you guys came for a visit. I'm glad all of you kids can get together. I hated the idea that you all didn't know one another."


"Really?"


"There wasn't anything I could do. Oh, the boys know Brian's girls, but you were out there and Howie wasn't letting anyone from the Backstreet Boys near you."


"He was afraid I was going to get hurt. I had a tough time when my mother died and AJ didn't want me." She said. "I did a lot of screaming and crying."


"That's an awful lot for a little girl." He said, a song lifting under his fingers. "I'm glad you and Jake are such good friends."


"Yeah." She nodded.


"Well, you can stay and play all you want. If you close this door, the room is sound proof. I work down here a lot at nights." Kevin said, getting up.


"Thanks, Kevin."


"Hey. That's 'Uncle Kevin' to you, little girl." He smiled.

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