Lexie stood staring out the window of her hospital room waiting for her Dad to pick her up after her release. It would be a little longer before they knew if the transplant took, so far, all of the signs had been positive. She heard a knock and turned to the door. It was Nick.
"Hi, can I come in?" he asked.
"Sure." She smiled.
He had been a semi-regular visitor since she had gotten out of surgery. He was the only Backstreet Boy to make the effort. She hadn't seen AJ since that night. He cut a fine figure in a suit, which is all she'd ever seen him in. Today's was a dark gray.
"I came to see you off." He smiled.
"I've still got probably two hours. Dad isn't even here yet."
"These your grandma's enchiladas?" He asked, seeing a plate on the bed tray.
"God, I haven't had these in years." He said, peering under the foil.
Probably 10 years, since she had become a Dorough.
"Try them, they're good." Lexie laughed, walking over to hand him a plastic fork. He took a mouthful and enjoyed them noisily. "Good, huh?"
"Fabulous." He laughed. "Oh, hey, I brought you these." He said, handing her a plastic bag.
"What's this?" she asked, taking the bag from him.
"I'm sorry I didn't have time to wrap them, I just got them FedEx last night." He said, putting down the fork. "They are some old BSB stuff, books and things. I thought you might like them. I don't know what Howie's shown you."
"Oh, he's shown me some stuff. The house isn't a totally BSB free zone." She smiled, pulling the yellowed programs out of the bag. Just me, I'm the only thing not allowed near the Backstreet Boys, she thought.
"This was nice of you, Nick. Thanks." She said, stuffing them back in the bag before her Dad got there. "Let's not tell my Dad, okay?"
"Sure, no problem."
"Stick them in my bag, okay?" she smiled, gesturing toward a duffel bag on the bed.
"I hear Alex is still showing progress." Nick began, opening her duffel bag and stuffing the items inside.
"Really? That's great, I'm glad."
"You know, you never answered my question." He said, zipping the bag shut.
"When this is over, now that it's almost over, are you still going to be around?" he asked.
"I've gotta go back to USC in the fall."
"I mean with us."
"I don't know, Nick." She shrugged. "Depends."
"On what? Your Dad? I think you're old enough. I think he'd let you come to things and. . ."
"No, Nick, not him."
"AJ?" he asked, but she couldn't answer. "I see."
Lexie wasn't sure if he did or not. Her involvement with AJ hinged on little Alex making it. If he died, she doubted he have much use for her. She couldn't tell Nick that.
"Here's my card." He said, handing her something. Lexie blindly took it and stared at it, unable to really see it. "I still live in L.A. most of the year, if you need anything while you're at school you can call me. That's my private number."
"I'm sure your Dad has everything covered."
"He usually does." She smiled.
"I know I'm not AJ, but. . ." He began.
"I don't need anymore 'dads', Nick." She sighed.
"I don't want to be your dad, I want to be your friend." He said. "You'll call, right?"
It's time some Backstreet Boy let you in. It's time someone began to make it up to you, Lexie Dorough. It's all of our faults you went through what you went through. I want to be the first. He thought.
"Yeah, you bet." She said, giving the card a little wave in the air.
"Good luck to you." He smiled.
"You too, Nick." She said, half heartedly.
You'll change your mind, little girl, he thought as he left her room.
Nick arrived home that night in L.A. to the cheers of his little girl screaming, "Daddy, Daddy!"
He scooped her in his arms and twirled her around. He squeezed her close; suddenly realizing that AJ has never heard those words from any child of his.
"How did it go?" his mother asked.
"I think I made some head way with her." He smiled, putting his daughter down.
"I don't know why you're doing this." She sighed.
"You should've heard her scream those words, Mom. I heard every syllable through that door. She hates him, Mom. She hates all of us and I can't blame her." He sighed. "God, I'll never forget them and I don't think AJ ever will either."
In the days that followed, Lexie returned home and her friends made the rounds; coming to visit and taking her out. Howie was happy to see her come, go, and be happy at home. She still tired easily, but the doctors were starting to wean her off her medications. He laughed when after he told her she should stay home and rest, instead of going out with her friends one day, her reply was that it didn't take much effort to lie out at the beach.
This morning she woke feeling pretty rested. She asked for some money to get a couple new dresses, one especially for clubbing tonight. He told her if she was feeling good enough to go out with her friends, she could run some errands for him downtown. She moaned and groaned a bit, but arrived at the main recording studio on time to run some master tapes to a sub recording studio downtown.
He was sitting in his office after lunch when the receptionist buzzed in.
"Howie?" she asked.
"AJ is here to see you."
"Send him in." Howie said, getting to his feet to open the door. AJ made it in before he could get to the door. More out of habit, they met half way in an embrace.
"Sit down, AJ. Your mom called the house last night, said you could take Alex home next week. That's great news." Howie said, sitting down with AJ on a couch.
"It is great news! We'll still be in Orlando for at least another six months, but things are really looking good."
"How's Suzanne taking it?"
"She's much better. Her mom and mine have been taking good care of her." AJ said about his young wife.
"Is she ready for him to come home?"
"More than ready!" AJ smiled, "We all are."
"That's just great!"
"I owe it all to you. You and Lexie." AJ said seriously.
"I know." AJ nodded. "But you raised her. You and Leah made her the person she is today."
"She's very much a young woman of her own mind," then the phone rang, interrupting Howie.
He walked across the room to his desk and picked it up. "Go ahead and put it through."
Howie put his fingers to his lips and hit the speakerphone button.
"Hi, honey." He smiled.
"Dad? Is that you? Thank god!"
"Lexie, what's up?"
"This stupid car, Dad! I'm broke down again."
"Where are you?"
"I'm still in downtown."
"You should've been home hours ago!"
"I know, I've been trying to get it fixed. Can I just get a rental?"
"Where's the car?"
"Right on the side of the road where I left it."
"I'll call a tow truck."
"I don't need a tow truck! Dad! I need a new car.something decent!" she exclaimed. "I can't believe you still won't get me a new car. I'm gonna get broke down somewhere dangerous."
"Lexie, calm down."
"I'd get my own car if you'd let me get a job."
"Lexie, school is. . ."
". . .more important than work right now! I know, I know! C'mon Dad, give me a break! You didn't even give me this car, Uncle John did."
"Honey, just tell me where you are and I'll send a tow truck and a driver," he said, trying not to laugh.
"You know, my birthday is in just three weeks. You could ship it back to school with me and I wouldn't have to take the bus everywhere."
"Where are you, Lexie?" he insisted firmly.
She told him exactly where she was, where the car was and what she thought of the whole thing. AJ marveled at how he handled her, doubting he could've ever done better.
"Can I have a new car?" she asked one last time.
"We'll talk about it when you get home."
"Really?!?" she asked surprised.
"Yes." He laughed.
"I promise to talk about it, but that's all."
"That'll get far." She said dryly.
"You better mind your manners young lady or you'll be walking home." He laughed at her.
"I just might anyway!" she declared, hanging up on him.
"What I tell ya'?" Howie laughed, hanging up the phone.
"She sounds like a handful."
"She can be, most of the time she's very pleasant and reasonable."
"Except when she opens her mouth." AJ joked.
"How did you know about that?" Howie asked, stunned that AJ had that revelation.
"When she came to visit Alex in the hospital, she said she almost passes as a Dorough until she opens her mouth." AJ said.
"She said that? To you?" Howie asked.
"Yeah." AJ shrugged.
Howie and Leah talked about getting a car for Lexie. Lexie offered her best arguments, but was told they would talk it out themselves. Lexie was upstairs in her room when her private line rang and she answered it.
"Lexie, it's me, Nick."
"Oh, hi." It had been weeks and she hadn't called him, but she was still at home.
"I haven't heard from you in a while, so I thought I'd call you."
"Oh, well, I'm not going back to school until after Labor Day."
"You could call from Orlando."
"So, how are you feeling? Better?"
"I hear you're having car problems."
"How'd you hear that?" she asked.
"AJ. He was there when you called your Dad." Nick said, almost saying 'Howie'.
"He was?! Dad didn't say anything about that." Lexie said.
"Oh, maybe I shouldn't have said anything."
"Naw, it's all right. I'm used to Backstreet Boys keeping secrets behind my back." She said sarcastically.
"That's not fair."
"It's not? How the hell would you know?" she challenged him.
Nick felt himself recoil from the phone. The venom in that was strong! He could easily see all of her anger toward AJ being transferred to him. He was determined to be there for her. To be a good friend and maybe help her see things differently.
"Lexie, your Dad just wanted to share the moment with AJ. AJ has never had those kind of moments." Nick said. "I'm sure they didn't mean anything by it."
"Well, good. Maybe AJ will buy me a car." She said with a heavy sigh.