Everyone was at Lexie's birthday party this year, except Nick. He had allowed CJ to fly out with AJ and Alex, under the condition she stayed with AJ. AJ hired extra security for the house while they were there.
Jake, Rachel, Kim and Lexie took CJ, Alex and Jake's youngest brother, Dwaine, to Disney World for three days. They all had so much fun, that they instantly took up Brian's offer of the Littrell beach house for a week in August. They all arrived on Monday, with AJ or John dropping in every day. Nick called that Friday when CJ hadn't called him in a week.
"Hey, AJ." He said when AJ answered his phone at home.
"Hi, Nick. How you been?"
"Pretty good. How's CJ? I haven't heard from her in a while. Where you hiding her?"
"Nowhere. The kids are all out at Brian's beach house for the last week. Before that they were at Disney. . ."
"They are WHAT?!" Nick demanded.
"They are at Brian's beach house. . ."
"WHAT? What kids? Who is she with? Damn it AJ? I trusted you!"
"Wait a second, Nick. She's with Jake and Lexie and Brian's two girls, Rachel and Kim. Alex and Kevin's youngest, Dwaine, are there, too. John Dorough or I have been there every day. Howie's nieces Marta and Aria are leaving today to join them. . ."
"Goddamn it, AJ! Do you have security down there? Don't you remember the death threats toward us?"
"No. Nick, no one knows CJ is here in Florida. Lexie is still using her assumed name. . ."
"What about all the other Richardsons, Littrells and Doroughs you've got running around there? Don't think someone is going to figure out which one is Lexie? Someone is bound to recognize CJ!" Nick screamed at him.
"Nick, calm down."
"Goddamn it, AJ. I thought I could trust you! You put CJ on a plane right now and get her back here! God help you if anything happens to her. . ." Nick demanded.
"Nick, I wouldn't let anything happen to her. . ."
"Just do it, AJ!" Nick said, slamming down the phone.
Nick called Howie next, then Brian and he didn't know why, but he called and yelled at Kevin, too. Brian did a conference call with AJ, Howie and Kevin and they made arrangements to go down and bring CJ back to L.A. Brian called the beach house and broke the news to Kim, who had to tell everyone else. All the big kids could still stay, but someone had to drive CJ back to Orlando. Brian got the shock of his life when the next call he got was a very angry Lexie.
"Brian, I am not sending CJ back to L.A. This is the only fun this poor child has had in nearly a year."
"Lexie, he's her father. You can't keep her there if he says to bring her back."
"Oh yeah? You tell him if he wants to ruin her fun, he's going to have to get his ass down here and do it himself. I'm not going to tell her!"
"Look, I'm not in the mood to get caught up in some fight with you two. He's CJ's father and we have to do what he says."
"Screw the prick!" She snapped and slammed down the phone on him.
Nick called the beach house all day when Brian told him that Lexie refused to drive CJ to Orlando for a flight to L.A. Howie said he was trying to get hold of John or AJ to go down there and pick CJ up, but he couldn't get hold of either one of them. Howie wasn't willing to go and leave Leah alone yet. Nick found he couldn't reach them either.
Aaron hadn't seen this much life out of Nick in months! He secretly suspected that AJ was avoiding Nick and that the others were encouraging his delinquent behavior. As Nick rampaged through Aaron's house, packing and cursing, Aaron sat back and watched it all happen. Jillian took up a post next to him, both of them leaning on the breakfast bar with their arms crossed as Nick went back and forth between his room and the laundry.
Aaron already knew CJ as safe. AJ hadn't hired security to tail CJ, but he had. For some reason, he never told Nick that. Aaron had gotten numerous reports of their trips to Disney and the beach. One report was of Jake chasing CJ across the beach with a crab. Aaron had found that one especially amusing.
As Nick called for a driver to take him to the airport and ordered Aaron to book him a flight to Orlando, Aaron had Jillian poised to open the door for him. He gave her a look to tell her not to hit Nick in the butt with the door as he left. She smiled a sinister little smile just for him. Nick left in quite a whirlwind. All of the car doors were slamming behind him and the taillights disappearing into the sunset as he left. Aaron wrapped his arms around Jillian's waist as they watched him go.
"It seems my big brother has flown the coop." He smiled.
"Do you think we should warn them?"
"Yeah, I already called Howie. He confessed that he talked AJ into taking advantage of Lexie's tirade with Brian to force Nick to come visit."
"How did they know Nick wasn't needed in court next week?" she asked.
"I told them." Aaron nodded, kissing her ear.
"Did Lexie actually say those things?"
"That's the best part. She actually did. I tell you, that's one little girl who sure isn't intimidated by Nick." He laughed.
"Nick's going to be upset that entire flight." Jillian said.
"Yeah, well. He'll get over it. Big dope can't keep a good grudge to save his life." Aaron joked.
Lexie was reeling when she got off the phone with Brian. In all the years, she had known her father, he had never done anything like this! When Brian called Howie and told him what she had said, he had agreed with her. It was his plan to have AJ and John avoid Nick's phone calls and for them not to answer the phone at the beach house. After Howie spoke with Aaron and Howie knew Nick was booking a flight out, he knew he had clinched it. Howie called Brian and told him to tell everyone at the beach house that everything would be fine and that they should go forward with their plans to visit a bonfire that night.
The second twist to the plan was all Brian's. He told Lexie when Nick would be arriving in Orlando and when she could expect him at the beach house. He suggested that she let the others go ahead and that she wait for him alone. Brian told her that Aaron had told Howie that he had security on CJ all this time, but Nick and AJ hadn't known that. AJ was hiding out at John's house and neither one of them was answering the phones.
Lexie had her doubts instantly. It was one thing to trick Nick, it was a totally different thing to let him believe that CJ was unprotected. She called Brian and asked him to call Aaron and have him call Nick and tell him the truth about the security. She never heard back from Brian by the time Nick was pounding on the door that night. She opened the door and he just charged in past her, swinging his bags after him.
"Gee, hello, Nick." She said dryly.
"Don't screw with me, Lexie! Where's CJ?!"
"She out with the others at a neighborhood bonfire. She should been pretty wired on s'mores right about now."
"Goddamn you! How dare you defy me! CJ is my daughter and I decide what's best for her!" he said, angrily getting in her face.
"I know that Aaron has security on CJ. He has since she left L.A." She said calmly.
"I don't know what sick little games you people are playing. . ." He growled at her.
"Well, as far as Backstreet delinquency goes, this one is pretty good." She said. "When I called Brian and told him I wasn't going to bring CJ back to L.A., Dad sorta took the ball and ran with it."
"AJ, that son of a. . ."
"Howie did this?"
"Well, mostly Howie with a little Brian, AJ and Aaron thrown in. I think Kevin may be the only one without a clue." She explained.
"Just tell me where CJ is so I can. . ."
"Why do you want to still take her home? You know Aaron's got security on us, Brian had him call you on the plane." She said softly. "You should see her, Nick. She's really happy. For the first three days, all she did was cry about not being around to take care of you, but now she's six years old again. She has a beautiful tan from playing outside. She sleeps without bad dreams. Her and Alex couldn't be closer. . ."
Nick didn't say a word.
"They probably won't be back until after midnight. Brian told Kim that you changed your mind and that CJ could stay. I'm the only one who knew you were coming." She said. "Brian told me to wait for you."
He looked at her.
"I'm sorry we lied to you. That was wrong. I know how much you love CJ. That part was cruel, but once the ball got running and Dad figured you'd leave L.A. any way. . .Aaron told him you aren't needed in court all week."
He just shook his head.
"They wanted me to tell you they were sorry." She said.
"Prick, huh?" he said. "Did you really call me a 'prick'?"
"I was mad."
"I bet." He nodded.
"Come on. You can put your bags in Jake's room. He can sleep on the couch tonight." She said, hiding a smile.
Nick followed her up the stairs and down to the end of the hall. She opened the door and stepped out of his way and he walked in behind her. He dropped his bags by the bed. He looked around the dark room and then turned back to the door where he could see her silhouette. Without a moments' hesitation he walked over to her, took her in his arms and kissed her.
His kiss was not kind. It was not gentle. He could feel her fingernails dig into his shoulders as she fought to keep her bearings. He pulled her into the dark room and kicked the door shut. He heard her gasp as he pressed up against the closed door. Her breathing was rapid and broken when he pulled away.
"I love you, Lexie. I have never stopped loving you. I never will." He groaned.
"Nick? My god, Nick!" she said, throwing herself against him. "I wasn't sure. I thought your feelings had changed. I thought you believed we had made a mistake. I thought you just wanted to talk so you could end it."
"The only mistake I've made is not being with you sooner." He said. "Loving you that night was the only right thing I've done in years."
She broke away from him and leaned back against the door. She placed her hand on her chest, willing it to slow down. She closed her eyes as she reached for light switch. She saw him cover his eyes against the sudden light.
"All this time I thought you wanted to talk so you could end things. I have every argument I could think of to convince you we hadn't made a mistake that night. I wasn't expecting this. Not after all this time. . ." She gasped.
"Nothing is ever going to change how I feel. Not distance, not time. Nothing." He said, lowering his hand to look at her. "This isn't going to be easy, Lex. We have to face Howie, AJ and everyone else. I still have all these lawsuits going on. . ."
"I know. That's all right. I'm used to hard. I don't think I know how to do anything the easy way." She smiled.
"Don't ever call me a 'prick' again, okay? Not even to Brian."
"I was pissed." She said, defending herself.
Nick followed her back downstairs, holding her hand the entire time. She poured him some coffee and they sat down on the couch facing each other. He looked at his watch.
"We have a couple hours." She said.
"I know. Whew, I’m tired." He said, wiping a few loose hairs from his face.
"You expelled a lot of energy to get here."
"Oh yeah." He smiled, bringing his cup to his lips. "You should've seen me."
"Brian told me Aaron's version." She smiled.
"I'm sure it was attractive."
"You were upset about CJ. You didn't know. . ."
"No, I didn't. Lexie, about CJ. . ."
"I know. I had no right. . ."
"That's right, you don't. She's my daughter, Lexie. I don't expect you to understand this. Besides you, she's my whole world. I'm her father. . ."
"You have to trust my judgment sometime. Wait until you see her. You'll know I was right." Lexie insisted.
"And you have to trust mine." He said.
"I won't question what you say about CJ's care." She said.
"Well, gee, when you put it that way. . ." he joked.
"But, that's what you mean. You don't think I can care properly for her. Nick, I've got two younger brothers and now a younger sister. I've had Alex for almost two weeks. I've had CJ for the same two weeks. Kevin let Dwaine come done here with us and he's ten." Lexie said. "I love her, Nick. I'd die before I'd let anything happen to her. So would any of the others, she's one of us."
"One of you?"
"She's a Backstreet child." Lexie said with a rise of her eyebrow. "I'm the first, so far Caroline is the last. First the Backstreet Boys, now their children. We're family."
Nick hadn't realized what a sub-culture had been created with their children. With the exception of Howie's nieces, every one of these kids was a Backstreet child. He could only imagine what they talked about these last two weeks. He knew Kim and Rachel had plans to go into the business and so did Jake from the business end. Lexie had no plans, that he knew of. That left Alex, CJ and Kevin's youngest.
"I'm sorry. I guess I hadn't realized how much you all had in common."
"Yeah. We've all been through the same things. It's amazing. Even CJ knows what we're talking about sometimes." Lexie smiled, running her fingers through her hair. When that hand landed on the back of the couch, Nick took it in his own.
"What are we going to do next?" he asked softly.
"I don't know."
"Should we tell the others?"
"Jake already knows."
"I told him in Seattle. He kind of figured it out after I called that guy, Matt, Nick once."
"Don't sound so surprised." She said. "Both Dad and AJ have asked me if something happened between me and you in Detroit that made me run away."
"They think we had some kind of fight. Which we did." She said. "Nick? You know I was going to leave any way, don't you? I don't think you could've said anything to make me stay."
"I think I suspected. . ."
"When I heard AJ call me 'Amanda' and he started talking to her. . . it was like the final rejection. Like he couldn't see me for me, which is all I ever wanted. He was so in love with her, he couldn't even see me." She said. "When you said we had made a mistake, I knew you were looking at me and seeing AJ. Not me."
"I had just gotten done thinking about Howie and AJ and what their reactions might be."
"I don't know what they'll say. I don't know what they'll do." She sighed, pulling her hand away from his. "They may reject us both."
"I'll be there for you."
"I'll be there for you, too." She said.
"Is CJ that happy here?" he asked.
"Yes. She misses you, but she's playing with the other kids and running around. She falls asleep exhausted at night from all the exercise."
"She's been having bad dreams?"
"Yes, in the beginning. Not now."
"Maybe she is better off away from me." He sighed.
"God, Nick! Don't ever say that! AJ thought the same thing about me!" She snapped.
"No, I didn't mean it like that! I'm her father, she belongs with me... but I can't provide her with everything she needs right now." He said.
"What are the lawyers saying about your cases?"
"So much, I can't even follow it any more." He sighed. "I've lost about half of them, some have been minor wins. It doesn't look like it's going to be over before the end of the year."
"Have you ever thought of settling the rest and just getting on with your life?" she asked.
"Yes, but then I remember what happened in Detroit. The monster that fuels this almost killed all of us that night. I want to fight it. I don't want other artists held hostage by that kind of terrorism again. . .It's just wrong, Lex."
"Well, you're the only one. Aaron tells me all the time to settle these last 6 cases, but I just can't. I'm so freakin' broke it isn't even funny. . ." he said with a bitter chuckle.
"Broke? Nick, how can you be broke? You've had a 30-year career. . ."
"This shit is expensive. Oh, I'm not headed for the poorhouse or anything, but it's getting mighty thin. . ."
"Well, you can get back on with your career when this is all over."
"I hope so. I hope I still have a label when this is over, not to mention management."
"Well, you can come sign with SD Records. Dad would love to have you. You and Brian can be on the same label." She chuckled.
"Great. If we can get AJ and Kevin to come back we could make a comeback album." He joked.
"Did you just make a joke, Nick?" she smiled.
"Yeah. We can call it The Backstreet Geriatrics! We'll all be in wheelchairs on the album cover." He laughed.
"Hey, as long as the girls can still see Kevin's chest and AJ can still wear a hat, you know it'll be a hit." She laughed with him.
"Ew, do you really think anyone wants to still see Kevin's chest?" he said, squishing up his face.
"Well, I got a little peek at it one night. . .he's in good shape for an old guy!" she teased.
"Is that what you think of me?" he asked.
"No, you are timeless to me." She whispered.
The back of her knuckles reached up and stroked his stubbled cheek. He took her hand and pressed his lips against the palm of her hand. She shivered under the feel of his lips.
"I love you so much." He groaned, closing his eyes.
"I love you, Nick. I promise." She whispered.
"Would you be willing to make love with me again? Tonight before anyone gets back?" he asked suddenly. He felt her hands begin to tremble. "I can't think of anything else I want to say. Let me show you."
Her answer was getting herself off the couch and pulling him up to his feet. She took his hand and started to lead him upstairs, but the back door to the cabin opened and they froze in their tracks. She shook her head sadly at him and let go of his hand. It was Jake who saw them standing at the foot of the stairs, posed to go up. He had little Alex fast asleep in his arms.
"Daddy!" CJ screamed as she ran down the hall and launched herself into Nick's arms.
"What?" Rachel said, coming in behind Jake.
"Hi, baby." He smiled, picking her up and giving her a kiss.
"I didn't know you were coming!" she smiled.
"Neither did we." Rachel said to Lexie. Lexie just gave her a smile and a shrug.
"Hey, aren't you going to say 'hi' to your favorite Uncle Nick?" he said to Rachel and Kim. They came up and each gave him a hug.
"You must be Jake Richardson." Nick smiled, reaching out to shake his hand, but Jake's hands were full with Alex.
"Yeah, yeah." He chuckled. "This is my brother, Dwaine."
"Hey, D. What's up?" Nick smiled. Dwaine shuffled behind Jake some more.
"He's kind of shy." Jake smiled. "Come on, little man. Let's get this kid to bed before my arms fall off!"
Nick spied two darker teen girls hovering by the back door. He cocked his head at them and waved them in. "You're Marta and Aria? Howie's nieces?" he smiled. They only nodded at him. "I’m not as terrible as Lexie says I am." He received a smile from both of them with that.
Kim, Rachel, Lexie, Marta, Aria, CJ and Nick all went back into the living room and sat down around the room. CJ sat in Nick's lap and they all told him stories of their adventures. Jake joined them and sat down beside Lexie. Dwaine went to bed himself while he was upstairs.
"You guys sound like you've been having a great time." Nick smiled.
"It's been cool. Thanks for letting us have CJ. She's been a big help teaching Alex is ABC's." Jake said.
"He's almost four and he can count." CJ said. Lexie just gave Nick a little smile, knowing that Alex wasn't really counting yet.
"Well, he's not as smart as you are. You could count when you were two." Nick teased her.
"I could? Wow, I was just a baby then." She gasped. Everyone in the room burst out laughing. Nick wasn't sure if CJ realized he was joking with her. "Oh, Daddy!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck with a laugh. She got serious for a moment. "I missed you, Daddy."
"I've missed you too, sweetie." He said.
"Are you going to stay?"
"Well, my bags are upstairs. . ."
"I can sleep on the couch, that's no problem." Jake said.
"Can I sleep with you, tonight?" CJ asked.
"Of course!" Nick smiled.
"Good. Lexie snores." She said, squishing up her face.
"I DO NOT SNORE!" Lexie squealed.
"You sound just like Uncle Howie!" CJ teased her as she made these loud snorting noises.
"You stop that right now, you little booger!" Lexie demanded.
Everyone was laughing hard at CJ and Lexie's antics. CJ had told Lexie several times that she snored, but she refused to believe it. Jake tried to confirm it once, but got a swat on the back of his head for his efforts.
"Look at the time. I'm gonna go wash up and then hit the sack." Jake said. The girls agreed with him and they headed upstairs to use the bathrooms.
"I'm glad you're here, Daddy." CJ said, nestling herself into his lap.
"I think Lexie missed you." She said, looking over at Lexie. Lexie gave her a smile and rose her eyebrows at her. "She talks about you in her sleep too."
Lexie's eyes flashed at Nick, but he only returned a warm smile to her with sleepy eyes. He had dreamed of her so much this last year that it didn't surprise him that she shared those dreams with him. He had been right all along. He was a fool. A fool for not being with her sooner. A fool for denying them all the happiness they could have together forever. A fool for thinking a love like this could ever go unnoticed by either one of them. A fool for believing that he could fight the tides of fate.