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The drive to the dealership was incredibly quiet. Howie expected her to be more excited, but she didn't say a word the entire time. They got out and walked into the show room and a sales person came right up to them.


"May I help you?" he asked.


"Yes, AJ McLean sent my daughter this key for her birthday," Howie began, pulling the key from his own pocket.


"Oh Yes! Mr. Dorough, Lexie! Mr. McLean wasn't sure what you wanted so he said to just let you pick one out." He said eagerly.


Lexie seemed overwhelmed by the choices, but like any young person, she gravitated toward the sports cars. Howie was able to steer her toward a four seater, but she insisted on a two door. It was a Royal Blue, 2 door that seemed somewhat reasonable for her age. He insisted on a hardtop. Howie, himself, felt that a Ford or Chevy would have been more reasonable, but AJ had stopped at this dealership.


The salesperson hid all the prices from them and then asked, "When will you be returning to USC?"


"Why?" Howie asked.


"Mr. McLean mentioned the car would have to be shipped back there."


"Oh, uh, I'm leaving September 4th, right after Labor Day. I've got two weeks of pre-pledge work to do for the sorority." She said.


"Fine, whenever you're ready, you just contact me and I'll take care of all the arrangements. Will you need the car here for Christmas Break? Spring Break?"


"No, uh, I can leave it there."


"Fine, we can make storage arrangement, too."


"I think it'll be fine on campus." She said.


"Well, Mr. McLean said take care of all your needs. Ready to drive your new car home?" he smiled, handing her the car keys.


"I guess this is it." She sighed, looking over at Howie.


"C'mon, your mom is waiting with the camera." He said, hiding behind his best showbiz smile. He threw his arm around her shoulders and gave them a squeeze.



They took the usual pictures, everyone getting in on them. Some of her friends came over and she ended up going out on the town that evening.


"Long day?" Leah asked as Lexie drove off with her friends and Howie was downloading the pictures.


"Wasn't too bad. I just don't understand why she's not more excited."


"Maybe because it's from AJ and not you." She said, settling on the arm of his desk chair. She lazily draped an arm over his shoulders.


"You think?"


"Well, she probably knew you were going to make her take it back. I think she might be a little concerned about your feelings, too."


"Leah, I can afford to buy her a BMW. Hell, I could buy her a couple." Howie sighed, leaning back in his chair. "That older car was good when she was learning to drive. If she wrecked it, she wouldn't feel too bad about it. I want her to keep her feet grounded. I want all of our kids to stay grounded and normal. I don't want them to think that money is the answer to everything."


"I know, that's where you're the parent and she's the child." Leah said, "But, AJ made this grand gesture. The first one in fourteen years."


"I don't know. Bone marrow, BMW."


"Howie! Stop that! That's not fair to either one of them!" Leah admonished him.


"Well, it's over now. She'll have a fancy new car like all her other sorority sisters."


Leah just tsked, tsked him.


"Speaking of which, the sorority event schedule came up. Got some bad news." Leah said.


"What?"


"The Daddy-Daughter Dance is the same weekend "Felix's" next album is premiering. You're gonna be in New York with MTV."


"Oh, damn, really? I'm sure I can get Brian or someone to cover."


"You're booked sweetie, I don't think you're gonna get out of it."


"Damn, maybe John can go or Dad."


"Maybe we better ask her."


"Maybe she'll take AJ." He said, wincing because it sounded bitterer than he intended. Leah seemed to understand.


"I doubt it." Leah said, patting his shoulder.


"Or Nick." He sighed heavily.


"We'll just ask her."



Howie broke the news to Lexie the next day at breakfast. She fussed a bit and wanted to know why he wouldn't make it.


"Why can't you cancel? You cancel things all the time for us kids." She demanded.


"I signed a contract on this one, I have to go. I'm committed to it." He said, always hating to say 'no' to any of the children.


"Dad! I'm on the committee, what about Uncle John? Do you think he'd go? I'd better go call him." She said, her kitchen chair scraping across the tile floor as she got up. Howie was going to scold her, but she was out of the kitchen and in his den before he had a chance.


He followed her and leaned against the door jam as she curled up in his desk chair to talk to his older brother, John. Luckily for both of them, John could go. John laughed at her when she asked. Lexie waved him out impatiently as she settled into her conversation with John. Howie went back to his coffee, Leah, and the other children.


"What's so funny?" she laughed back.


"I'm surprised you didn't ask your new friend, Nick Carter."


"Nick? Why would I ask him? I already made him promise not to be a 'dad'. I have my quota filled of Backstreet Boy Dads." She sighed. "It was hard enough showing up with Howie Dorough, I'm sure in hell not showing up with some other Backstreet Boy."


John was laughing so hard by now, he had her laughing right along.


"So, AJ's not an option?"


"AJ? No! Why would you think that?"


"Well, he made that grand gesture."


"I spent time in the hospital and I'm still not recovered. I win." She said sarcastically.


"Ouch, you're hard on him."


"Well," she began one thought and then stopped, "John, do think Dad wants me to ask AJ?"


"I. . . I wouldn't know. Why do you ask?"


"Well, he's got a record premiere for some group and he won't cancel. He always cancels stuff all the time."


"I know he's contracted to do that. They may have done that so he wouldn't cancel. He does have a reputation for doing that."


"I guess."


"You don't want to ask AJ?"


"No, I mean, I don't even know him. I sent a thank you note and picture for the car. Do you think I should call? Hell, I don't even know if Dad will let me."


"Why not?"


"Where have you been the last 10 years, John? Dad never let me do anything remotely Backstreet."


"Maybe he's changing his mind. You're older now."


"I don't know that it's going to make it any easier." She said. "I swear Uncle John, this has been the longest two months of my life."

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