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Lexie ended up talking to Nick on and off over the next three weeks. He called her mostly. He persisted with her and found that Lexie began to open up more to him as he offered past history to her. It seemed that as she began to trust him, the more questions she asked about the past. She didn't ask about her mother or her father as much as she asked him about certain circumstances. He was totally taken back when she invited him to her birthday party and he accepted. He told her he'd have to bring his daughter, 4 year old CJ. She said that would be fine and that there would be other children there.


Nick sat on the commercial flight to Orlando, contemplating what was about to happen. He's never been to Howie's house. Howie probably has only seen CJ once or twice since she was born. He wondered what happened that Howie would allow Lexie to let him in the house.


The sky burned a bright orange as the sun set behind him and CJ was asleep in his arms. Where had the time gone? He wondered. Four of them, AJ, Brian, Howie and himself had all been able to maintain solo careers. AJ's had taken off the most, with his running a close second. Brian's career successes weren't anything to shake a stick at, but like with Howie, he devoted more time to his family than his career. Howie recorded the least out of all of them, but then again he owned his own record company, SD Records. He signed Brian about 9 years ago and AJ had left Jive to be with RCA records. Nick stayed on with Jive and their old management.


Until Alex got sick, Nick hadn't seen Kevin in years, except for rare television appearances. After his modeling career ended, he settled his family on to a ranch in Kentucky and began to write film scores. Seven Oscars later, he had held his own in Hollywood. Nick and Brian spoke at least once or twice a week, if not more. Their friendship had endured, in spite of all of the craziness around them. He only spoke with Howie when their paths crossed because of Brian. AJ was often unreachable. He created a new circle of friends with his new career and left the boys behind. It was Brian, AJ called first, when Alex was diagnosed. Brian told him to call Howie. Eventually, AJ came back to where he knew his real friends were. No one else was around now, except for his family, his wife's family and his Backstreet family.


Nick sensed in his heart they were on the cusp of something. A something he couldn't quite put his finger on. He only knew that Lexie Dorough was a part of that something and he was going to see that she was there for it.



"Uh, mom, dad?" Lexie asked the late night before her party, coming into the kitchen. Howie and Leah were sitting at the kitchen table, working out details for her party.


"Yes, honey?" Leah asked.


"I, umm, I invited someone to the party tomorrow. I thought I should tell you." She said quietly.


AJ. Howie thought as he felt his heart drop into this stomach.


"That's fine." He swallowed. "Who is it?"


"Nick, Nick Carter."


"Nick?!" Leah asked.


"He's visited me a couple time in the hospital and, well, we've kinda kept in touch." She said, not looking at either one of them. Howie had kept her away from them for so long, she was so scared of how he would react. Lexie didn't see Leah grab Howie's hand across the table.


"I'm sure that'll be fine."


"He's bringing his daughter, CJ."


"That's fine." Howie nodded. She still couldn't look at them. She wanted to apologized, call Nick and tell him to cancel, but it was too late. He'd be here and she had invited him without her father's permission.


"I'm sorry." She said quietly.


"Don't be, honey. It's your party and if you and Nick are friends, I think it's great he'll be here." Leah said. She clamped down on Howie's hand.


"Are you sure?" she asked, finally looking up.


"Yes, of course." Leah reassured him. "You look exhausted, why don't you go back to bed?"


"Okay. Thanks." She whispered, turned, and headed upstairs.


Leah and Howie didn't move until they were sure she was upstairs. Howie jumped to his feet and in a loud stage whisper he said, "Nick! She's been keeping in touch with Nick? How the hell did that happen?"


"Howie, calm down."


"Jesus, for a second there I though she had invited AJ!"


"I know, me too. She didn't, it'll just be Nick. You've only seen him a dozen times in the last five years, this will be good for both of you." Leah said, watching him pace the kitchen. "Nick didn't have anything to do with Lexie back then, it was just between you and AJ."


"Oh, everyone had an opinion, including Nick's mother."


"That was 10 years ago."


"No, Leah, it was back in January when Alex first got sick. You know she was against me adopting her." Howie said, his voice rising and lowering.


"It's just the old mentality."


"What? And Nick is suddenly different?"


"You said it was his mother, not Nick that said those things." Leah said. "Don't hold it against Nick."


"What's with the sudden interest in Lexie now?" Howie asked her.


"I don't know." Leah shrugged. "But he's going to be here tomorrow and you can ask him."


"He's going to the first Backstreet Boy in this house." Howie said, sitting back down in his chair.


"Well, make that the second." Leah smiled, leaning across the table and pressing her lips against his. "And the first isn't being much fun." She teased.


He wasn't in the mood. Not to play and certainly not to deal with Nick Carter.

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