"Jesus." Lexie sighed, throwing her purse on the bed.
"Are you all right?" Nick asked.
"I'm just tired, that's all." She sighed, climbing onto the huge bed and curling up in the middle of it.
"I'm sorry." He smiled softly.
"Oh no, it's not your fault. Okay, it is your fault." She teased. "It was just a long day, that's all."
"I know, but at least my family all know." He said.
"True. Now if mine will only listen."
"I was thinking about that." He said, climbing onto the bed with her. She snuggled up to him and laid her head on his shoulder. "Let's tell Brian and then maybe Kevin. Maybe we can get them to talk to Howie and AJ."
"You know what Brian said last time. AJ isn't returning anyone's calls. Not even Dad's." she sighed.
"I know, but we've got to tell them. You're already showing."
"I know. I know." She said. "I think I should just fly to Orlando and tell them."
"I won't let you go alone."
"Nick, Dad doesn't want to see you."
"He'll have to. This is my child and I'm going to be involved." He said.
"Please? Let me handle them."
"I don't like this."
"I know, I know. Think about it okay? We have to tell them soon."
"I know. Let's just call your folks and let them tell AJ."
"If AJ will listen."
"Do we agree we should tell Brian and Kevin?"
"Okay. We'll do that first thing in the morning?"
"Sure, that would be fine." She said, getting up.
"Nothing. I just wish. . ."
"What?" he asked, sitting up.
"I wish I could just talk to them."
"I know. I'm sorry things have gone so badly."
"Me too. When's Aaron bringing CJ back?"
"Sunday night. Are you staying tonight?"
"Yes." She yawned. She turned and headed for the bathroom.
"How about a hot bath?" he called after her.
"As long as you promise to rub my feet again." She laughed.
"I will, I promise!" he laughed back at her.
Nick helped Lexie with her bath and tucked her into bed with tea. He waited until she had fallen asleep before he got out of bed again and headed downstairs. He stopped in the hall and began looking at all the old BSB photos on the walls. The gold records and the awards. He began to marvel at where he had been; what he had done. Then he remembered the last two years and the hell they had been living under. It had begun to become routine. They had gotten used to seeing Lexie over the last four months and had actually begun to respect her. The threats had slowed down, too. Maybe because she was around, but then he remembered that having CJ around hadn't stopped them from coming.
He was worried. How was he ever going to protect all of them? He was beginning to wonder if his financial situation would withstand all of this. He only had four more cases left. It had to be over soon, but would that honestly be soon enough?
"Hey, Frick!" Nick laughed into the phone after Brian picked up.
"Good god, I haven't heard that in years!" Brian cracked up.
"I know. I was up last night looking at some old things and it came to me." Nick laughed.
"So, what's my 'little' brother calling about this fine spring morning!" Brian asked.
"B, dude, I'm in need of your help." Nick said.
"Really? What's wrong?"
"Well, I have some news we have to break to AJ and Howie, but they don't want to talk to me."
"AJ isn't talking to anyone, so don't feel too bad. I leave cheerful messages at least once a week just to piss him off!" Brian laughed. "So, what's the news?"
"Brian, Lexie is pregnant."
"Holy Frack! That's great, Nick! God, it couldn't happen to two better people. Nick, you deserve a little happiness these days. You are hoping for another girl! Man, I don't care what Kevin says, girls are the way to go!" Brian laughed.
"Brian, man, I am so glad to hear you say that" he said, overwhelmed by Brian's response.
"Why? Oh." Brian said. "What can I do to help?"
"Lexie wants to go to Orlando and see Howie and AJ, but I'm not really welcome there. I don't want her to go alone. . ."
"I was going to ask Kevin next. Hell, I just might go myself any way." Nick sighed.
"Kevin? Frack, don't send him. He's ready to pummel both AJ and Howie." Brian said.
"I talked to him, what? Two days ago? He's pissed."
"He really likes Lexie. He's okay with you two together; well, he had to adjust to the idea. I helped him." Brian said.
"He sounded like he was okay with it." Nick said.
"Oh, he is. He must talk to her once a week and he's always telling me how sad she sounds." Brian said, "He's also tired of AJ's temper tantrums that last for decades."
"Hell, we all are." Nick chuckled. "She is sad. She's upset about this situation with Howie. I think the baby is making her want to be close to AJ again."
"I can understand it. She doesn't really have anyone out there except you. Look, I've got to go to Orlando in two weeks anyway. Howie is barking about finishing this one song. . ."
"I don't think we can wait that long. Brian, she's almost four months."
"Is she showing?"
"Yeah. She didn't gain back all that weight she lost. She's into the baggy clothes now. I swear, two or three of my shirts disappear every weekend." He laughed.
"That'll tip them off."
"I know." Nick said.
"Nick, I just can't see how I could come out there any sooner. Leigh's got me totally booked up with the girls."
"Of course, I understand. What do you think I should do?"
"Just go, Nick. When they see her, they'll know why you're there."
"I do have this Friday off. It should only take a weekend."
"Look, go. Call me if there are any problems."
"Okay, I will. Thanks, Frick."
"Anything for you, Frack."
Lexie and Nick made plans to fly to Orlando on Friday. It had to be this way and Nick knew it. What else could they do? Someone was going to figure it out soon enough and he didn't want anymore setbacks with Howie and AJ. She looked worried when he told her what Brian said, but she remained supportive.
Nick and Lexie wore their best hats and sunglasses to get on the plane at LAX. They even sneaked out of the house to get there. The flight attendants and passengers recognized Nick, but kept their distance.
"Baby? What's wrong?" Nick asked Lexie as the plane lifted off.
"I'm going to be sick." She said, reaching for a bag. Lexie never minded flying before. She was usually the one soothing him. Nick helped her with the bag and an attendant was there immediately to assist them. She handed Nick a cool rag and took care of everything.
"Is there anything I can get you, dear?" she asked when she came back.
"Club soda, please?" she moaned. "I've never gotten sick before."
"I know, dear." She said. "It happened to me a lot when I was in your condition."
"Excuse me?" Nick snapped at her.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Carter." She stuttered.
"It's alright." Lexie said, patting Nick's arm.
"I'll go get that soda for you." She said as she was leaving.
"I hope we didn't wait too long, Nick." Lexie said, worried.
Lexie called the house from the cab and told them they were on their way. Howie tried to protest, but she just hung up on him. She asked Nick if she should try AJ, but he said to wait until they talked to Howie.
They arrived in the car Nick had ordered. Howie watched from the den's window. Nick went around the car and opened the door himself. His hand reached inside and she took it gracefully and gratefully. There was only a quick kiss on the lips before they both headed up the walk to the front door.
"How? They are here." Leah said from the doorway.
"I know. I saw them." He sighed.
The doorbell rang.
"I'll get it." Leah said, walking back into the foyer.
Howie's heart was racing. He and Leah had quickly discussed why they were both here. They were either getting married or having a baby. Or both. It would be like Lexie to come and talk to him. He doubted Nick gave a rat's ass.
He heard the door open and listened to them all exchange pleasantries. Leah came into the den first and came to be by his side where he stood by the fireplace.
"Dad." He heard her say. He turned to her and for the first time in a long time saw her dark hair. She looked just like she did before she left. It was all he could do to stop himself from racing over to her and taking her in his arms.
"Howie." Nick said.
"What is it you wanted to say?" he asked.
"Please, come sit down first." Leah said.
Lexie took a seat in the leather chair, but Nick remained standing at her side.
"Howie, Lexie and I wanted to come tell you that we're going to be having a baby." Nick said.
Howie barely heard Leah gasp. He turned away as the tears burned behind his eyes.
"Mom, don't be upset." Lexie said, getting up. "Dad, please hear Nick out."
"We didn't plan this, but it has happened. I have every intention of seeing Lexie through this. . ."
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Howie snapped at him. "Yours certainly is."
"Howie, Leah. We came here because we wanted to tell you the news ourselves." Nick said. "We're happy about this."
"How do you expect to raise this baby?!" Howie snapped, turning on them. "In that fortress you call a home? How are you going to support them? Nick, you haven't cut an album in years and your injunctions make it impossible for you to work! Can you honestly say you can protect them, Nick? Damn it! You haven't changed in twenty years, you know that? You're still this spoiled child who does whatever he wants regardless of anyone else!"
Nick had been stunned into silence by Howie's outburst. Leah was the first person to speak.
"Honey, your father is worried about you." She said. "I'm worried about you. He hears about Nick's situation daily. I think it's a lot more dangerous than you think."
"I wouldn't put Lexie or the baby, or CJ for that matter, in any danger." Nick said.
"You're blinded by this stupid crusade you're on to see what's right in front of your own nose, Nick." Howie said. "I can't listen to another word of this." Howie stormed out of the den and down the hall, away from them.
Lexie got to her feet and took Nick's hand. "We told him, let's go." She sighed. "I'm sorry, mom. Give the kids my love, okay?"
"Please, let me talk to him." Leah said.
"Mom, he's made up his mind. We can't change it for him. Do you know we had asked Brian to come down here with me, but he couldn't make it. Here's our hotel for the weekend. We have a flight out Sunday afternoon. Please don't let him call AJ. I'm going over there next."
"AJ isn't in Orlando. He flew to L.A. to close the sale of his house out there. He and Howie haven't spoken in months." She said, close to tears.
"How do you know where AJ is then?" Lexie asked.
"His mother called. She's worried about him."
"Is he sick again?"
"I don't know. She didn't say." Leah said, her voice breaking. "Lexie, please don't go yet."
"I don't want to, Mom." Lexie said, wrapping her arms around Leah. "He's not going to listen."
"He's really just upset with Nick. . ."
"No. He's never forgiven me for running when I did. He's using my relationship with Nick as an excuse not to." Lexie said. "I love you, Mom."
"I love you, too, honey. Please don't be too hard on him." Leah said about Howie.
"I can't. I miss him too much. I wish he'd listen, but he's not going to. I'm sorry, I know I just keep disappointing him."
"No, Lexie, that's not it. He loves you, he's not disappointed in you." Leah said.
"We've got to go." Lexie said, pulling herself away from her mother. "I'll keep you up to date."
"When are you due?"
"October 1st." Lexie said.
"Yes, please call." She said, looking up at Nick.
"I'll make sure she does." He said.
Lexie cried all the way to the hotel and decided she wanted to leave right away. Nick was able to get an earlier flight on Saturday morning, but Lexie spent the rest of the day in misery. She didn't sleep and was sick again on the plane for the flight home. He hired a car to drive them home where he tucked her into bed after a hot shower.
"How is she?" Cook asked quietly as he came into the kitchen.
"What are you doing here on a Saturday?" he asked suddenly. She shrugged innocently. "What are you up to?"
"I just wanted to get ahead on a few things, that's all. Don't fuss at me." She said, waving him off. "Tell me how she's doing."
"Well, we told her folks. Her Dad ripped me a new one; her Mom is really upset. AJ is actually here in L.A. this weekend, go figure. She's been miserable since we left the house. I got us on the first flight I could and she got sick on the plane and well, here we are." He sighed, sitting at the table. "How's CJ?"
"She's at my daughter's. She and my granddaughter Helena are going camping this weekend. They called this morning and CJ asked if I had heard anything about her 'uncles'."
"Poor thing. Howie's right, this is a shitty way to raise kids."
"Don't be so hard on yourself." She said.
"Why not? Everything Howie said was true. I don't have any means of support; I can't actually work as a performer anyway. I can't guarantee her or CJ's safety when they aren't in this house. She's going back to the campus Sunday night." Nick sighed heavily. "I should've been more careful."
"Probably, but it's not your forte." She smiled.
"My life is fucked up and I've just sucked her into this AND she's going to have a baby. When am I going to learn?" he asked her. "Damn it, Cook. You've been here almost 15 years. What am I doing wrong? Howie's right. I haven't changed. I've always had to do things how I want to do them and that's it. That's what got me into this mess in the first place. I told Aaron to fire those union crews. I can't blame anyone but myself."
"It's not my job to tell you what is right or what is wrong. You're a big boy now and that's your job." She said. "I will tell you this, Nickolas, and I know you've heard me say this before. You've got a baby up there that needs you. You're its father and you better start acting like one."
"Thanks." He smiled warmly.
Lexie returned to the campus Sunday afternoon to a swarm of press and protesters. As April faded into May, it was no longer possible for her to hide her pregnancy. It splashed across the news like a nasty stain that Nick couldn't remove. They hadn't been able to reach AJ, but Kevin told them that he had told Denise himself and she told him. He didn't comment on AJ's reaction. Howie hadn't called either, but Nick did find himself on the phone with Leah often. Brian would call either one of them everyday and sometimes would settle on just talking to CJ. She'd bend his ear for hours with tales of Nick and Lexie and the Baby. She wanted the baby to be a girl, so she was calling her 'Jennifer'. It made Nick and Lexie seriously consider 'Devon Jennifer' as a possible name.
Of all of the surprises that could happen to them, they never expected Lexie to be called as a witness in any of the trials. It finally did happen though on Friday, May 9th. She was to appear to testify on Nick's behalf in regards to the night of the riot. Nick fought it with his lawyers, but they insisted. When the prosecution got hold of the idea, they called her as a hostile witness. On Monday, she squeezed into the only suit she could and headed to court with Nick, hand in hand.
Lexie did what she could to not look uncomfortable. It was nearly impossible. Her clothes were too tight, her feet were swollen, the chairs were hard as rocks and she had been sitting in this one for four hours. When the judge called recess, she had to grab the chair in front of her to get up. Nick pushed his way two rows back to help her up. Her smile at his touch warmed his soul. Absently, she reached up and smoothed his cheek. He returned her smile.
"Come on." He whispered, ushering her out of the crowded courtroom and to the hall.
Lexie could tell he was using his body to shield her as she walked in front of him. She would feel him bump up against her as they pushed him from behind. The courthouse guards herded them out the farthest door to her left. There had been heavy construction going on at the front of the courthouse when they had come in that morning. Scaffoldings and equipment were taking up most of the center of the massive marble stairs out in front of the building. Two paths had been built. The right side was the entrance; the left side was the exit.
The guard opened the doors for them, but a swarm of protestors came up at them. Lexie recoiled back into Nick, suddenly reminded of the night in Detroit. The door closed on them as she turned to him.
"What are we going to do?" she asked.
"There is no other way out of the building." The guard insisted.
"Look, Nick. We'll handle this." One of his bodyguards said.
"I don't want anyone getting hurt." Nick said.
"We'll just clear the path." He said.
Two of the massive bodyguards posed themselves in front of Lexie and Nick slipped one arm around her waist.
"Just keep moving, okay? The guys here will take care of you." He whispered in her ear.
"What about you?" she asked, looking back at him.
"I'll be right behind you." He winked at her.
One of the bodyguards took her arm and she reached for Nick as the door opened behind her. He reached for her, too as the camera flashes went off. Her hand slipped into his as their arms outstretched.
Lexie and Nick were ushered to the very far left of the front courthouse stairs, away from the construction. The whole area was gray with concrete dust because they had removed a lot of the ornate railings up the sides to replace them. Nick had moved closer to Lexie, trying to keep the press behind them from pushing her down. He stumbled once over a garden hose and she heard the grunt behind her. She stopped as his hand slipped from hers.
"Keep going." He said, getting to his feet.
"Nick, come on!" she yelled, reaching for him. He got up and reached for her hand, but it slipped away as the protestors broke through the security line and headed right for him.
No one heard the sickening crack of the temporary wood railings as it gave under Lexie's weight. She had been pulled down and away from Nick by three steps. As people pushed their way past her to get to Nick, they threw her full weight into it. The only thing anyone heard was the collective gasp from the reporters on the steps above Nick. Everyone looked back at them, but realized where their gaze was taking them.
One by one, everyone began to look over the temporary rail and down at her. Nick found his way there, only to see her legs from under two massive steel wheelbarrows that had flipped on her as she fell on them. Their silence was broken only by Nick's cries for Lexie.
Nick turned down the stairs and began to shove his way past everyone. He would never remember half of what he saw on the videotape of that day. He only remembered the feel of the concrete dust under his dress shoes as he ran over the plywood to get to her. He and other construction workers lifted the wheelbarrows off her as medics from the courthouse were sent for.
He knelt at her head, not knowing what to do. He bent his head over hers and broke down into sobs.