Last Chance by Kyrie
Summary:

“Now look at me
Instead of moving on, I refuse to see
That I keep coming back
And I’m stuck in a moment
That wasn’t meant to last”**
**Backstreet Boys “I Still”

It’s been 3 years since Emma left Nick standing at the airport pleading with her to stay. They’ve both tried to make new lives for themselves but, when Addie and Howie ask them to come together for the birth of their baby girl, they’ll come face to face again. Can they move past their issues or was Emma right about moving on?
Categories: Fanfiction > Backstreet Boys Characters: Group, Nick
Genres: Angst, Drama, Humor, Romance
Warnings: None
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 61 Completed: No Word count: 67525 Read: 59758 Published: 02/12/17 Updated: 07/19/21
Story Notes:
This is the final story in the Emma and Nick trilogy, let me know what you think!!

1. Coming Together To Celebrate (Maybe) by Kyrie

2. How Are You? by Kyrie

3. Welcome Home by Kyrie

4. You're A Jerk by Kyrie

5. A Lie To Keep The Peace by Kyrie

6. Any Saving Grace? by Kyrie

7. I Need You Right Now!! by Kyrie

8. Sweetest Moment by Kyrie

9. Compromise by Kyrie

10. I'm Sorry by Kyrie

11. Emotions by Kyrie

12. Heart to Heart Chat by Kyrie

13. Painful Realizations by Kyrie

14. Not How This Was Planned by Kyrie

15. Last Stop by Kyrie

16. That's The Best We Could Do? by Kyrie

17. The Fire by Kyrie

18. Thank You by Kyrie

19. Leaving by Kyrie

20. A Favor by Kyrie

21. Her Response by Kyrie

22. The Set Up by Kyrie

23. True Emotion by Kyrie

24. Confusion by Kyrie

25. Truth by Kyrie

26. The Storm by Kyrie

27. What To Do Now by Kyrie

28. Feelings by Kyrie

29. Leaving by Kyrie

30. A Change In Plans by Kyrie

31. A New Seat by Kyrie

32. Opposite Ways by Kyrie

33. Yes or No by Kyrie

34. Surprise! by Kyrie

35. Same Old Emma by Kyrie

36. Put On The Brakes by Kyrie

37. Friendly Weekend by Kyrie

38. Terror by Kyrie

39. Thank You by Kyrie

40. New Attitude by Kyrie

41. What Are You Doing Here? by Kyrie

42. Thanks AJ by Kyrie

43. A Night Out by Kyrie

44. A Scare by Kyrie

45. Help Me by Kyrie

46. Appreciation by Kyrie

47. Pre Thanksgiving by Kyrie

48. Thanksgiving by Kyrie

49. Setback by Kyrie

50. Decisions by Kyrie

51. Aftermath by Kyrie

52. Coming Home for Christmas by Kyrie

53. Holiday Arrival by Kyrie

54. Christmas Eve by Kyrie

55. Christmas by Kyrie

56. Revelations by Kyrie

57. Double Standard by Kyrie

58. One Bad Decision by Kyrie

59. Dire Situation by Kyrie

60. The Aftermath by Kyrie

61. Silly Adults by Kyrie

Coming Together To Celebrate (Maybe) by Kyrie
“How’s Addie doing?” Nick asked his brother as he drove to the airport.

He was catching a flight to Boston because Howie and his wife were getting ready to have their baby and all the guys were converging to see the newest Backstreet baby.

“She’s pregnant.” Howie replied with a laugh. “We’re both excited about the baby but she really wants to be done with being pregnant.”

Nick smiled and took the exit for the highway. He had a flight that would get him there by dinner and he planned to check in to the hotel before going to the hospital. Normally, he would have stayed at the beach house whenever he came out but, since he sold it a year ago, he either stayed at a hotel or with Howie and Addie. With the baby coming, he wanted to be out of their hair so he decided on the former this time around.

Howie could tell what was going through his brother’s mind as if they were connected. He knew how much Nick hated selling the house but he needed a new start and that could only happen if he cut the cord to something that just brought back memories that weren’t helping. The last breakup with Emma really stung and its aftermath had lasted for quite a while. Nick had gotten back together with Lauren after she broke up with her fianc but, within the year, they knew that they were better friends than a couple and split again for the last time.

The one concern that Howie had when asking his brother to be there was that Emma, who was for all intents and purposes Addie’s sister, would be there too. He had seen Emma a few times since the breakup but he was upset with what happened and how she left his brother with a broken heart. Hoping that he could keep them as separate as he could, he had planned a different day for Nick to come in.

“Ok Dorough, get off the phone and let me catch my flight.”
-------------

“How can you manage to cram all that stuff into such a small bag?”

“Genius folding techniques.”

Emma smiled as she watched her roommate Michael pack his suitcase. She had just gotten hers closed and she was waiting for him to finish so they could go to dinner.

“How long are you going to be gone again?” Michael asked as he finally finished zipping up his bag.

“Addie wants me to stay for a couple of weeks and since school’s out for the summer, I think I can stay.”

“You’re definitely coming back after that?”

Emma nodded. “I don’t have enough money to stay in a hotel much longer than that. Plus…”

Michael sat down on the bed next to her and put his hand on hers. He knew this trip north was going to be difficult for her. She had told him everything that had happened with Nick and the whole fiasco at the end. Even though she tried hard to hide it, he knew that deep down, she still had feelings for him.

“I wish I could go with you.”

“I know.” Emma said and squeezed his hand. “But you have things to take care of. Besides, it’ll only be a couple of weeks.”

“Good.” he said and kissed her forehead. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with all my free time.”

She chuckled as she stood up. “I’m going to change and then we can head out to dinner.”

Michael sighed as he watched her head to the bathroom to change. He knew that she was thrilled to be with her friend during this important time but he was worried about how she would deal with all the rest. He’d met Howie twice and, as friendly as he seemed, the younger man could tell that he was still upset with Emma for all that happened. She had broken his friend’s heart not long after getting back together and she spent the last few years punishing herself for doing that. No matter how mad Howie or any of the other guys were with her, Michael knew that nothing could be worse than the guilt she felt.

Normally, a visit up to see them wouldn’t be so stressful on her but he knew that everyone would be in town to see the baby and that meant that she would have to face all of them all at once. He wished he could be there for her because he knew how much she would need someone that was totally on her side. Addie was always on her team but since her husband was like family to Emma’s ex, it made the whole situation pretty sticky. It almost seemed like everyone would be ganging up on the woman he really cared for.

“I can cancel my trip.” Michael said as Emma came back into the room. “It’s really not that important.”

“Yes it is.” Emma responded. “Thank you for worrying about me but I’m a big girl. I know I made a huge mess and I ran from it. I’m going to have to face the music at some point and I guess that’s now.”

She linked her arm around his and dragged him to the door. They had fun at dinner and she knew she’d miss the laughs they had together but this was something that needed to be done. Heading to bed early that night, she spent the whole time tossing and turning; she was up before her alarm clock ever went off.
How Are You? by Kyrie
Nick’s plane landed on time and he made his way to the hotel to check in before heading to the hospital to see his brother and his wife. He wanted to get rid of his things and take a few minutes to mentally prepare himself. Emma was coming in from North Carolina at some point and he didn’t know if she’d be at the hospital when he got there. Three years had passed since he’d pleaded with her to stay and the pain from getting his heart broken had left him a little cynical.

For the first six months after she’d left, he shut everyone out. He was so angry for allowing himself to love her and then have her turn on him; her absence dashed any hopes that he had of renewing what they had. Then Lauren showed up on his doorstep a year later and they managed to scrape some semblance of a relationship together; it didn’t last long and they decided to just go their separate ways and stay out of each other’s lives. Being together was only a band aid for both of them and Nick was tired of being in relationships just so that he could be with someone.

He had dated a few women for a couple of weeks but there wasn’t anyone who managed to catch and keep his attention. After being burned so many times, he kept his distance and never really allowed himself to open up. There was no chance in hell that he would set himself up to be hurt like that again and it made him jaded. When he broke up with the fourth woman, he wrote off romance all together and focused on rebooting his solo career.

After he checked in, dropped off his luggage and gave himself a pep talk, he headed over to the hospital and was surprised to see no Emma. He figured with Addie being so close to giving birth, Emma would be right by her side but he only found the other guys when he got there.

“Hey, there’s the late one!” AJ called out as his brother entered the waiting room. “You need to make a big entrance don’t you?”

He hugged the other guys and settled into one of the armchairs. “How are they?” he asked Brian.

“Ok. I guess the baby’s being stubborn and Addie will probably have to be induced in a couple of days.”

Nick nodded and sat back to wait with the others. Brian and Kevin left the room occasionally to check on things at home but AJ seemed pretty determined to keep an eye on his little brother. After about forty minutes of him doing his hovering thing, Nick called him out on it.

“What’s up with the looks?” Nick asked after Brian and Kevin left to get coffee.

“Nothing. Just happy you’re here.”

“Bullshit.” he responded. “You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Who said anything about worrying. I just…”

“You just think I’m going to fall apart the minute she walks in.” Nick paused to see if his brother would acknowledge the issue but continued when he didn’t say anything. “I knew this was going to be hard when Howie asked me to come but he and Addie deserve to have everyone in their corner for this. It’s a huge deal for both of them and Emma is as much Addie’s family as we are Howie’s.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s easy.” AJ remarked as he took a seat next to his younger brother. “I know how badly you were hurt when…”

Nick stood up. “I really don’t want to talk about this right now. I had to prepare myself to come here and face her. I just want to get it over with.”

“Rip the band aid off huh?”

“Yeah. I want to see her, deal with the uncomfortable stuff and then get back to our lives.”

Before AJ could say anything else, Howie came down to join the guys and give his wife a break to talk to the nurse.

“Hey man.” Howie said as he hugged Nick. “I’m glad you made it out here in time.”

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world.” Nick headed for the doorway. “I’m gonna get some coffee.”

Both men watched as their friend left the room before talking about the issue at hand.

“Where’s Emma?” AJ asked bluntly.

“Not coming till tomorrow, thank God. I needed to make sure Nick had some time to settle and deal with the fact that he was going to see her again.”

“Are you still mad at her?”

AJ asked his friend with the hopes that he would say no. He knew that Emma had broken Nick’s heart when she left but he seemed like the only one who remembered that Nick had broken hers in the first place. That wasn’t an excuse for how she behaved and what she did but it felt like she was going to be the brunt of everyone’s anxiety and he didn’t think it was healthy for anyone to make this into a bigger deal than necessary. He didn’t want to sit by and watch everyone wage a war on her.

“Kind of.” Howie answered honestly. “She really did a number on Nick when she left. Don’t you remember what he was like?”

“I do but I don’t think that everyone being pissed at her is going to help.”

“Are you forgiving her?” Howie asked surprised.

“I don’t think it’s our place to blame or forgive her. I think that’s up to Nick and I really think we should all keep out of it. It’s going to make matters worse for you and Addie if both of your families are on opposite sides. We, Emma included, all need to be here for you guys right now and everything else can wait for another time.”

“I appreciate the fact that you’re concerned for us J but we’ll manage. I’m not sure I can say the same for Nick.”
Welcome Home by Kyrie
Emma made sure she had everything she had tucked beneath her seat before disembarking the plane. She had promised Addie that she would go to the hotel to drop her stuff off and then make her way to the hospital to see how she was doing. Fighting her way through the throng of people to get her luggage, she grabbed her bag as it passed by on the carousel. Once she had it, she fought through the crowd again to find her way to the taxi stand. Addie had offered to have Howie come and get her but Emma knew, no matter how much he pretended not to, that Howie held a grudge against her for what happened with Nick. She couldn’t blame him for feeling that way and she wasn’t looking forward to seeing the other guys because she knew they would feel the same way. As she was checking her phone for any new messages, she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Hey Feisty.”

Emma dropped her bag and whipped around to find AJ standing behind her with a smile.

“What are you doing here?”

“What? No hug?” he asked with puppy dog eyes. “I haven’t seen you in three years and I don’t even get a hug?”

She blushed and wrapped her arms around him. “I wasn’t sure you’d want one.”

“I’ll always want one.” AJ responded with a tight embrace and picked up her bag. “Nothing’s changed between you and I, Feisty.”

Some measure of relief flooded over her as she took his hand and followed him down to the parking garage. She had been terrified that all of the guys would hate her for what happened so she was happy that at least one of them didn’t. And, to be honest, she wasn’t surprised that it would be AJ because he always seemed to go out of his way to support her.

He helped her with loading the bags and then started the Denali, heading it out onto the highway. They drove in silence for a while partly because Emma didn’t know what to say and partly because AJ didn’t want to overstep his bounds. Finally, he couldn’t take the silence and jumped right into it.

“You know Nick’s here right?”

“I figured.” Emma said and dropped her head down. “I assume the other guys are here too?”

“Yep.” he confirmed. “You know they’re mad right?”

Emma nodded. “They have every right to be.”

“No they don’t.” AJ stated with certainty and his response completely surprised her.

“How do you figure that?”

“It’s not our business.” AJ sighed. “You and Nick have both hurt each other at different times but absolutely none of that is our business.”

Emma just stared at him.

“I’m serious. We got aggravated with Nick when he hurt you and it wasn’t any easier when you hurt him. But the fact is that you’re both adults and you need to deal with your issues without any of us butting in. We tried that before and it didn’t work out well.”

“I wish the others felt the same as you.” she whispered.

“They will when I talk to them.”

AJ left it at that and pulled into the hotel. After checking in and bringing her bags upstairs, he informed her that he was going to bring her over to the hospital to see Addie. She hesitated and tried to persuade him to let her go on her own, but he wouldn’t hear it. There was no way he was going to let her walk into a situation where she felt ganged up on. He knew he was risking pissing off the other guys, especially Nick, but he truly cared about Emma and wasn’t going to let her feel as though she was completely alone.

He waited for her to change and then escorted her down to the SUV to begin the short ride to the hospital. On the ride up to the floor where Addie was located, he squeezed her hand and gave her a smile to reassure her that someone didn’t have a problem with her.

Trailing him off the elevator, they headed to Addie’s room but were stopped by a nurse. She explained that Addie had been brought down for an ultrasound and it would be a little bit before she would be back up. The woman explained that there was a waiting room around the corner and AJ warned Emma that it was where the guys had been hanging out.

“Are you ready for this?” he asked with sympathy. “We can see if she’ll let you wait in the room.”

“No.” Emma replied quietly. “I’m going to have to face them eventually so I might as well get it over with.”

She followed AJ down to the room that the nurse had pointed out; the moment she entered, she regretted telling AJ that she was ready. The first person she locked eyes with was Nick whose anger at her being here, as well as being behind AJ, came rushing to the surface.

“You brought her here?” Nick hissed as he stormed past them, almost knocking Emma out of the way.

Tears started to form in her eyes as she looked around and came face to face with Kevin, Brian and Howie. None of them had the same reaction as Nick but none of the three made any motion to welcome her there. She sat in a chair that AJ had steered her to and watched as he signaled for the other men to follow him. As soon as the last one was through the door, the tears started to fall and she grabbed a handful of tissues to put in front of her face so that people wouldn’t hear her cry.

-----------------------

“What were you thinking?” Howie demanded as the four of them made their way onto the balcony. “Not only is she here but YOU brought her here; she came with YOU.”

“Yes Howard, I know she came with me, I brought her here!” AJ answered amused.

Kevin started rubbing his temples which always meant that dad was going to say something. It surprised AJ though that Brian spoke first.

“Didn’t you think that would piss Nick off?”

“I did but she was going to come here anyway. I wanted her to feel…”

“You’re worried about her feelings?” Kevin finally asked his eyes getting darker. “What about how Nick feels?”

AJ was working really hard to keep his frustration in check but he was starting to lose patience.

“What about Nick’s feelings? Nick’s feelings? What about Emma’s feelings? Just in case you didn’t notice she has them too! And I’m pretty sure being ganged up on by all of you is killing her.”

“We’re not ganging…”

“Yes you are.” AJ shouted. “I know what Emma did sucked and I know how bad it hurt Nick. But in case you forgot, he did the same thing to her and we weren’t being jerks to him.”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Kevin reminded his younger brother. “Besides, that was different.”

“Really?” AJ asked. “How is hurting someone different from hurting someone else? I know two wrongs don’t make a right but to be perfectly honest, it’s not our business. This is something between Emma and Nick; it has nothing to do with us or Addie and as adults, we need to stay out of it.”

“I can’t go in there and hug her.” Howie stated. “Even for Addie…”

“I’m not saying you have to be bffs but we need to be civil to her. A hello from one of you isn’t going to kill anyone and Addie should be the reason we do it.” AJ turned to Howie. “Did Addie kick Nick out of your wedding because he hurt Emma?”

“No.” Howie admitted slowly.

“Right, so why are we basically doing that to her friend, her sister? Everyone needs to be here to appreciate and celebrate a terrific time in you and Addie’s lives and frankly, if everyone keeps acting like an asshole, the celebration’s gonna suck.”

None of the guys could disagree with that. Addie had held a grudge against Nick but she always made it clear that he was welcome at their house and that he was family even if she was pissed off. The three men stared at AJ as they came to their individual conclusions that it was going to be miserable for everyone if they couldn’t find some way of getting along. It took a little bit but they finally agreed that, although they weren’t going to be overly friendly, they would put aside the difficulty between Nick and Emma and leave it up to them to deal with.
You're A Jerk by Kyrie
Emma was still waiting for Addie to return when she heard someone enter the room. Nick didn’t see her at first which was probably a good thing. When he did spot her though, she could see the rage in his eyes and the anger was radiating off him like a heat wave. She knew she had hurt him but this went beyond hurt; this was pain that she had never seen in anyone.

Being uncomfortable enough, she got up and scooted by him as fast as she could.

“I’ll leave.” she said quietly.

“Good.” Nick spat. “Don’t bother coming back here either, you can find some other place to wait.”

The tears she had managed to stop flowed down her face again and she almost slammed into Brian on the way out of the room. AJ, Howie and Kevin watched as she flew down the corridor and into the nearest ladies room; they made their way back into the room after waiting a few minutes to see if she’d return. The minute they walked in, Nick jumped up and got in AJ’s face.

“You know you’re an asshole right?” Nick shouted. “I can’t believe you, bringing her here and acting like it’s no big deal. What the fuck is your problem?”

Kevin and Howie grabbed Nick and steered him out onto the balcony they’d just returned from. He was causing a huge scene and they didn’t want him to get them all kicked out.

“I’m an asshole? What the fuck is my problem?” AJ asked with anger. “What the fuck is your problem? Did you really just say that to her?”

“Yes I did.” Nick hollered. “I don’t want her in the same room as me!”

“You need to grow the fuck up Nick.” AJ demanded. “You sit here like you’re completely blameless in this whole mess and you’re not.”

“So now you’re taking her side?” Kevin and Brian had to step in between the two men as Howie was called back inside by the nurse.

“I’m not taking anyone’s damn side. You hurt her, she hurt you, now you’re fucking even.”

AJ turned on his heel and stomped back inside. Nick tried to go after him but Kevin grabbed him around the waist and pulled him further back onto the balcony. Brian didn’t know what to do so he crept back inside hoping that Kevin could talk some sense into their younger brother.

“Take a deep breath Nick.” Kevin directed but didn’t loosen his grip. “You need to calm down or you’re gonna get kicked out.”

“I don’t care!” Nick said as he struggled to get free.

“Are you serious?” Kevin asked, basically dropping Nick. “We’re here for Howie and you don’t care if you get kicked out?”

“No.” Nick said moodily.

“Well now you’re being selfish.”

“What?”

“You’re being selfish Nick; this whole thing isn’t about you.” Kevin said as he sighed. “I get that you’re pissed that Emma’s here but you knew she would be. You can’t go ordering her around and telling her where she can and can’t be. We’re supposed to be here for Addie and Howie, not for you. If you can’t handle that, then maybe you should be the one to leave.”

Kevin turned abruptly and headed back into the hospital leaving Nick by himself on the balcony. He was ready to go storming back in there but he managed to check himself and stay out a little longer. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and thought hard about what had just transpired. The anger he had just unleashed had surprised him and as he thought about what he said, he did start to feel somewhat sorry. Not so much for yelling at Emma, but for going after AJ. They were there for their brother and as much as he may hate having the woman who broke his heart in the same general vicinity, he was going to have to keep his anger in check until she left.

-------------------

AJ rapped his knuckle against the bathroom door and hoped that Emma was the only one in there. When no one answered, he opened the door to find a surprised Emma, wiping tears off her face. He immediately opened his arms and hugged her tightly when she wrapped her arms around his waist. Waiting till she was fully cried out, he handed her a tissue and ran some cold water.

“I wanted to let you know that they brought Addie back up.”

“Good.” Emma said as she wet her face several times. “Does my face look any better?”

AJ couldn’t help but chuckle and she turned to face the mirror. Her eyes were swollen and her face was completely red; she would have to find a way to explain it to Addie without upsetting her.

“Thank you for checking on me.” Emma said with a quick hug. “I appreciate you not hating me.”

“I’m never gonna hate you Feisty. No matter what happens, I love you.”

“Love you too J.”

He held the door open for her while getting a glare from some women walking by. After giving him another hug, she made her way down to Addie’s room while praying she could think of something to explain her face.

-----------

AJ returned to the waiting room and took a seat on the opposite side of the room from Nick. He picked up a magazine and flipped through not caring about what was in it but in the hopes of stamping down some of the anger he had. Emma had hurt Nick, that wasn’t in question, but she had the decency to be much less hateful to him when he messed up than he was being to her now.

“I’m sorry J.” Nick said as he approached his older brother. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Done what?” AJ demanded as he stared his brother in the eye. “Exactly what are you sorry for?”

“I didn’t mean to yell at you and start all this commotion.”

“Are you sorry about what you said to Emma?”

“No.”

“Then shove your apology.” AJ said and walked out of the room.

Nick was in shock; he had just apologized for being a jerk and AJ hadn’t even bothered to listen. The anger that he felt earlier started to boil up again and he stormed off in the opposite direction. He was not planning on staying there just to suck up to her.
A Lie To Keep The Peace by Kyrie
“Hey you!” Addie called out as her friend approached the door. “Come in here!”

Howie was seated by his wife’s bedside when Emma entered; only an idiot could miss the fact that she had been crying and he squirmed when he thought about how pissed Addie was going to be about the altercation.

“What’s wrong?” Addie demanded as soon as she got a good look at Emma’s face. “What happened?”

“Nothing.” Emma lied as she gave her a hug. “I guess being here was a little harder than I expected.”

“Did someone say something to upset you?”

Now Addie was looking back and forth between her friend and husband. Howie was trying to stay quiet but he was cringing inside waiting for Addie to learn about what happened. However, Emma surprised both of them when she spoke.

“No, everybody’s been fine. AJ almost knocked me over when I got here and I guess the emotions kind of took over.”

“What about Nick?”

“I didn’t know he was here.” Emma lied. “I haven’t seen him, maybe he went to get a drink or something.”

Howie let out a huge silent sigh of relief and tried to give Emma a sign of how much he appreciated her not telling Addie what had gone on earlier. He had been upset with her but now he felt bad for acting that way. Emma had just lied to her best friend to keep the peace and prevent anyone from catching the wrath of his pregnant wife. He made a point to mention it to her later.

“I’ll let you guys catch up.”

Howie stood up and leaned down to kiss his wife. On his way out the door, he gave Emma’s shoulder a little squeeze and was surprised when she gave him a small smile. He could see the pain behind it and it made him feel worse about the way he’d treated her.

“Now tell me the truth.” Addie said as soon as Howie was out of earshot. “What happened?”

“Honestly Addie, I’m telling you the truth. Nothing happened and I didn’t see Nick. I guess I just didn’t realize how hard it would be to see everyone after three years.”

“I’m sorry Em.” her friend said and reached out for her hand. “I know how much I’m asking for you to be here.”

“You’re not asking me for anything, there is no place that I would rather be right now.”

--------------

“Where are Nick and AJ?”

Howie had made his way back to the waiting room to give Addie and Emma a chance to catch up but when he noticed his friends were gone, he got worried.

“Nick tried to apologize, AJ told him to shove it and both of them stormed out.” Kevin replied giving him the short version of the story. “Aren’t you happy we’re all together?”

“This is so much harder than I thought.” Howie said, taking a seat next to Brian. “I know I should be mad at Emma and be on Nick’s side but this is impossible.”

“That’s basically what AJ said.” Brian said as he started the story about what happened after Howie left.

“This is a mess.”

“You can say that again. How’s Addie?”

“Surprisingly calm considering her friend just came in looking like someone hit her puppy.”

“Oh good.” Kevin said as he leaned his head back and pinched his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “I’m surprised she hasn’t gotten out of bed and stormed down here.”

“That’s because she doesn’t know.”

Kevin’s head snapped up as he opened his eyes. Brian did a double take and his jaw dropped.

“You heard me right. Emma came down to the room and lied for everyone. She said she only saw AJ and that made her emotions come out. Then, when Addie questioned her, she said she didn’t know Nick was here and she hadn’t seen any of you.” Howie explained. “She saved all our asses, especially mine, even after we were treating her like crap.”

“She didn’t have to do that.” Brian whispered. “We’re adults, we should own what we do.”

“We should but we didn’t.” Kevin replied.

AJ just happened to come into the room at that moment and noticed how quiet and stunned his brothers looked; he immediately rushed to Howie.

“What’s wrong? What’s going on?”

“We’re feeling like jerks.” Brian answered.

“Why?”

“Because Emma just spared all of us a verbal beating by Addie.”

“Huh?”

Howie sighed. “Addie just gave Emma the third degree about being upset and she lied to protect us.”

“Oh really?” AJ answered with a smirk. “Are we all prepared to be decent now?”

“Absolutely.” Kevin said, speaking for the group. “We don’t need to fall all over her for Nick’s sake but we are definitely going to change how we act towards her.”

“Good. That’s a step in the right direction.”
Any Saving Grace? by Kyrie
“Are you sure you’re ok?”

Addie was concerned because, even though a smile was plastered on her face, Emma was upset about something. They were so close that she could almost read Emma’s mind and she knew she wasn’t telling her the whole truth.

“I’m fine Ad, really. I just got kind of overwhelmed being back here and seeing AJ again.”

“So you didn’t see the other guys?”

“No.” Emma responded quickly. “I don’t know where they were.”

“Are you sure?”

“What’s with the third degree?” Emma asked, trying to get Addie off the topic. “I would tell you if something was wrong; I’m telling you I’m fine, just overwhelmed.”

Addie wanted to push it further but decided, after studying Emma’s face for a few moments, that she would drop it. She didn’t want to make it harder for her friend so she decided to change the subject to something they could both understand.

“How’s work?”

“It’s ok.”

Part of the reason for Emma moving to North Carolina was the fact that she had been offered a job at a prestigious private school. She was going to implement a new English program for them and help design the new curriculum.

“That doesn’t sound good.” Addie said. “I thought you liked it.”

“I use to love it.” Emma sighed and pulled her legs underneath her in the chair. “I just don’t like it much now.”

“How come?”

“The headmistress that hired me retired over the summer and we got a new one this fall. She doesn’t like me very much.”

“Who couldn’t like you?” Addie asked, incensed that someone wouldn’t completely love her friend. “Everyone likes you.”

“She doesn’t.” Emma said.

It was a good thing that thought bubbles didn’t appear above her head to show what she was thinking. Nick hates her with a passion, the guys don’t care for her and act like she’s a leper; it wasn’t too far of a stretch to find someone who didn’t like her.

“Why?”

“She’s not a fan of working with women in leadership roles.”

“Oh, she’s one of those.” Addie replied. “I can’t stand women that don’t want to help out other women, we’re supposed to stick together and help each other.”

“Well, she clearly does not share that sentiment.” Emma commented. “If it were up to her, I’d be out of a job. I’m lucky she hasn’t found a way to get rid of me before now.”

“What a bitch.”

“I have some other names for her.”

“I bet you do.” Addie said with a chuckle. “On to a different subject. How’s Michael?”

“He’s good.” Emma answered with a smile. “He’s away at a math conference.”

“Oh now that sounds like a fun time!” Addie teased. “I’m sure number sense and functions are all the rage now.”

Emma burst out laughing and it felt good to let go of all the tension for a little while. She hadn’t been able to laugh like this for a while because of work, this trip and dealing with her feelings towards Nick.

“It is and you’re stuck in here, missing out on all the fun.”

“I’ll pass.”

Addie stretched back in the bed and yawned. Emma knew how tiring this was for her and how she just wanted to have her baby and get back to her life.

“Get some rest. I’ll be back in a little while.”

“I’m fine.” Addie insisted and then yawned again. “You can stay.”

“You need your rest. Once this baby comes, you’re going to be up all night; sleep now while you can.”

Emma squeezed her friend’s hand and watched as she closed her eyes. Making her way out of the room, she realized that she had no place to go. There was no way she could be welcome in the waiting room and she had no way to get back and forth to the hotel quickly in case Addie needed her. She decided to head out on to the courtyard and wait there for a little while.

She had just gotten to the doorway when she bumped into the person coming out. Looking up, she came face to face with a startled Nick. The look on his face changed from surprise to hatred in a matter of moments and he shoved past her again to head to the elevators. She watched his retreating figure and then changed her mind and headed for the closest phone to call for a taxi; staying here was not going to be a good thing.

--------------

Nick stomped into the waiting room and flopped down on the nearest chair. The guys’ heads swiveled toward him and they could tell just by the look on his face that he had seen Emma again and it didn’t go any better than the first time had. They waited for a few minutes to see if he would say anything but he just continued to pout.

“What’d you do this time?” AJ finally asked.

“Shut the fuck up.” Nick said and stormed over to AJ, who stood up and held his ground. “You’re being a prick, sticking up for her and chewing me out for not being nice to the woman who broke my heart into five million pieces.”

“I know she did Nick, but you’re being a jerk right now. She wasn’t like this to one when you hurt her.”

“Oh, so now you’re taking her side?” Nick fumed.

“Did it ever occur to you how hard it would be on…”

“I don’t care about her feelings!” Nick shouted and slammed his hand against the wall.

“Shut up Nick.” Kevin finally echoed, standing up to face his younger brother. “AJ’s trying to ask you if you stopped to think for a minute how Howie’s going to feel when Emma tells Addie how everyone’s been treating her. Do you know what drama that’ll cause? Do you care about your brother or just yourself?”

Nick started to say something but stopped; he had been so consumed by his own feelings and anger towards Emma to stop and think about the consequences. None of the guys said anything and finally Nick sat down.

“Sorry Howie, I didn’t think of that. Addie’s probably going to kick me out huh?”

“No.” Howie said and moved over to his brother. “Emma already saw Addie and she lied; lied to protect us and to protect you.”

Nick’s mouth dropped; he had practically slammed Emma into the door downstairs and she had just tried to stop him and the guys from causing Howie any problems. He still couldn’t stand her and didn’t want to be anywhere in his vicinity, but he had to give a silent thank you for not allowing his bad behavior affect Howie’s relationship.

“Maybe you’ll think before you act now.” AJ told him and stormed out of the room to find Emma.
I Need You Right Now!! by Kyrie
Emma was sitting just inside the hospital lobby waiting for the taxi when AJ spotted her. He could tell that she’d been crying again and, for once, he didn’t know what to do. There was nothing he could say that would make up for Nick’s actions and there were only so many times he could tell her it would all be ok. The truth was that it might never been okay and there would come a time where the best they could do was an uneasy truce.

“Thought I’d find you down here.” he said quietly as he sat down next to her. “The dumbass came back and I figured from the look on his face that he bumped into you.”

“He did…literally.” Emma said and put her hand on AJ’s when she saw him starting to get upset. “I can’t expect any less.”

“Yes you can. You don’t deserve to be treated like that Em.”

“He’s angry and I can’t say that I blame him; I know I hurt him deeply and you can’t tell me I didn’t.”

AJ saw the taxi pulled up and Emma stood as the valet waved for her to come out.

“I’m gonna head back to the hotel.”

“Why?” AJ asked as he tugged on her hand. “Stay here; Addie might need you and I don’t want you by yourself.”

“I can’t go back up there and sit with him. It’s only going to make him angrier and I don’t want all of you to have to sit there uncomfortable.”

“Fine.” AJ said and waved the valet off. “We’ll go sit somewhere else and wait. Addie and Howie need all of us here and you shouldn’t have to leave in order to make peace.”

Emma just stood there not sure what to do. She wanted to be there for her friend but she couldn’t handle any more run ins for that day. It was draining her to have her heart being ripped open over and over again every time she saw Nick’s face. He had never been cruel to her before and she could see that she had truly scarred him when she left.

“I don’t know…”

“I do.” AJ said and dragged her to the courtyard entrance. “It’s nice out and we can sit here for a while. The guys have my number so if anything changes, they’ll call me.”

“Aren’t you going to be in hot water with them for spending so much time with me?”

AJ shrugged his shoulders as he took a seat.

“It’s not like I haven’t been there with them before. When I was drinking, I caught way more hell than I’m gonna catch for this. Plus, Howie told them what you said to Addie about not seeing anyone. I think their attitudes will change a little now that you’ve saved them from all getting chewed out by an angry, pregnant woman.”

Emma laughed as she sat down and pulled her legs up against her chest. She had always felt safe and relaxed with AJ and, even after all the issues with Nick, she still felt that way. He had always gone out of his way to make her feel included and respected; she valued his friendship, especially at the moment, more than she could tell him.

She sat there as she watched him grab them some coffee from the vendor that was set up in the yard. Eventually, she knew she would have to go upstairs and face Nick again but, for the moment, she was happy to just sit and talk with AJ.

“Thank you.” she said as she accepted the hot cup. “You know you really don’t have to stay here.”

“Yes I do.”

------------------

“Go get her.” Addie pleaded. “I need her.”

She had started having contractions and as much as Howie tried to soothe them, he knew that a woman’s help was needed. After assuring his wife he would be right back, he dashed out to the waiting room. Scanning the private room, he noticed AJ and Emma were missing.

“Where is she?” he asked, breathlessly.

“What’s wrong?” Kevin asked as the boys stood. “What’s the matter?”

“Addie’s having contractions and I need Emma in there to calm her down.” He turned towards Nick. “Where is she?”

“How the hell should I know?”

Howie could tell from the red shade creeping over Nick’s face that he knew exactly where she was and why she wasn’t up there.

“Tell me you didn’t make her leave.”

“I didn’t do shit.”

Before the two men could proceed with their soon-to-be blowout, Kevin suggested calling AJ’s cell; he knew that if one person would know where she was, it was him. To everyone’s relief, AJ assured them that they were heading back to the floor as they spoke. It took a couple of minutes but AJ appeared with a cautious Emma behind him.

“Addie needs you.” Howie said, grabbing her by the hand. “Like right now.”

The two of them raced off to see Addie while AJ took a seat with the guys. There wasn’t much to say as Nick already knew he was wrong for having run her off and the others didn’t have to reprimand him. He knew his brothers weren’t happy with him, AJ more than the others, but he didn’t know what to say. She had hurt him when she’d left him standing alone at the airport and he didn’t know how to get past it.
Sweetest Moment by Kyrie
Howie came out to see the guys about an hour later. He and Emma had helped Addie through what turned out to be a relatively easy delivery and he was thrilled by the birth of his baby girl. She was absolutely lovely and he had assured his wife, that behind her, this little angel was the most beautiful thing in the world. His beaming smile told all of his brothers exactly what was running through his mind.

“All good?” AJ asked as he stood. “Everyone’s fine?”

“She amazing!” Howie answered, “Caroline Alissa Dorough is a seven pound, nine ounce, twenty inch long miracle!”

The guys’ eyes teared up while listening to Howie describe his daughter; they knew how much this moment meant to him and what a thoughtful name they had picked to honor Howie’s sister. His family meant the world to him and it was bittersweet to not have his sister there to share it with. And, as if on cue, his brother answered the question he didn’t have to ask.

“They’ll be here tomorrow.” Kevin reminded him. “I checked in with them and Bri will come with me in the morning to pick them up.”

The Dorough clan was coming up to spend the next few days celebrating Caroline’s birth and to help the new parents settle in. Between his family, the guys and Emma, he knew that his house would be a busy place but would be filled with love.

“How did you guys choose the middle name? Alissa?” Brian asked.

Howie sat down on the chair, too tired to stand after all the excitement, before he answered.

“It’s Emma’s middle name. Addie knew how much naming the baby Caroline would mean to me and I wanted her to be able to choose the middle name. Emma and her are like sisters and have been together through a lot. She wanted her best friend to know how much she means to her and thought this would be a great way to show her.”

The mention of his ex-girlfriend caused Nick to stiffen but he had the good sense to not make a sound. AJ noticed the slight change in his brother and looked him straight in the eye as he gave him a “really?” look. It made Nick sit back and look over at the other guys as they were congratulating Howie. AJ always seemed to know exactly what to say, well think really, that could put Nick in his place.

------------------

“She’s absolutely beautiful Ad.”

Emma watched as her best friend snuggled her new daughter closer to her chest. Addie’s face had never looked this way before, the joy and gratitude over her new baby made her beam; she was the brightest thing in the room. Emma knew how badly Addie wanted to be a mom and how hard she and Howie had been trying to make that a reality. They had hit a few speed bumps along the way but they had the ultimate reward for all their efforts.

“Do you want to hold her?”

Emma smiled and nodded, reaching out her arms for her new niece; she couldn’t wait to spoil her rotten and tell her funny stories about all the good and crazy times she had with her mom. What she didn’t notice was the way Addie looked at her with a sad smile. Her friend waited for a few moments before she said what she was thinking, which was a record for Addie.

“You’d be a great mom Em.”

She looked up at her friend, just giving her a faint grin.

“I don’t think that’s in the cards for me.” Emma said, handing the baby back to Addie. “Besides, I have a hundred teenagers a day and an amazing little angel to spoil. I think that’s more than enough for me.”

“You don’t really mean that do you?”

“Please Ad, let’s not do this.” Emma sighed. “I came here to enjoy time with you and your new munchkin, not to get grilled on my nonexistent love life and lack of children. I get that enough from people at work, I don’t need it from my best friend too.”

“I’m sorry Em, you just know…”

“That it’s not in your nature to be silent and simply observant?”

“I hope she doesn’t inherit that trait.” Addie laughed and looked down at her daughter. “I don’t know if Howie can handle all of that.”

“He’s handled you for all this time, I think he can handle a baby. Hopefully, she doesn’t snore like you.”

Addie looked over at Emma and gave her the middle finger. Both women started cracking up and a few moments later, the guys made their way into the room to see the new mom and baby. Emma’s laugh died quickly and she stood up to give Addie a quick kiss on the cheek.

“You don’t have to leave.” Addie told her quietly. “I won’t let them kick you out.”

The look on Addie’s face told Emma that, even though she had thought her lie was convincing earlier, her friend had guessed the truth. Addie would not have anyone say anything negative to her best friend or even give her the cold shoulder. While Emma was appreciative of that fact, she knew it was best to make herself scarce and give the boys some time with the new baby.

“I’ll be back in the morning before they discharge you ok?”

Addie nodded and she watched her friend leave the room. There was a glance cast between Emma and Nick but it was so quick that she couldn’t tell what the message behind it was. AJ noticed the look as well and excused himself for a moment. He caught up with Emma at the elevators.

“Hey Feisty?”

“Yeah?” Emma asked as she turned around.

“Have any plans for dinner later?”

“Room service and a movie. Exciting plans huh?”

“Well, cancel them, we’re having dinner. I’ll pick you up in two hours, be prepared!”

AJ gave her a wave and a grin before jogging back to the new parents. Emma smiled as she watched him leave; she knew that no matter what, she could depend on his ability to forgive and his concern for her.
Compromise by Kyrie
The next week flew by quickly in a blur of family and friends. Howie’s family stayed with the couple while Emma and the guys held their rooms in the hotels. The friends wanted to be there but, out of respect for his family who was leaving by the end of the week, they kept their visits short; they all knew that they would have more opportunities to see them since they visited more than Howie’s family.

Emma passed the time seeing old friends and colleagues, going to visit the parks that she loved and spending time with AJ. He and the other guys were staying in town to visit and to work on the new album so Emma was conscious that she may run into Nick during their time there. Thankfully, other than at the house, she only saw him two times and she had been able to avoid him, even though it was difficult. Both times, she had been running on the trail that they had used when they were together; she was able to hide behind a tree one of the others times and the other time, she stopped and pretended to use one of the bubblers they had installed on the trail. He had almost stopped that time but, seeing someone else was drinking, he moved on to the next one. She had been lucky to avoid him and she thought that she had hidden herself well. What she didn’t know is that Nick knew she was the person drinking and had purposely run past her instead of waiting for her to finish.

--------------

“Why the fuck is she always around?”

Nick stormed into AJ’s room after his brother opened the door. He was meeting the guys there to grab a ride to another session at a local recording studio.

“I take it you’re not talking about the housekeeper.”

Nick glared at AJ standing there with a Cheshire cat grin on his face. He hated that AJ was always on her side and that he even bothered to give her the time of day. As Nick was preparing to lash out, Brian and Kevin entered the room, both men’s faces scanning their two brothers’ faces.

“Uh-oh.” Kevin said with his fatherly voice while taking a seat on the chair nearest the window. “What’s going on?”

“Nick was just about to tell me how he hated the new housekeeper.” AJ replied, unable to keep himself from smirking. “I think she’s really nice, always leaves chocolate on my pillow.”

Brian almost cracked a smile but the thought immediately went out the window when he saw how furious Nick was getting.

“You’re a fucking asshole! You know damn right well who I’m fucking talking about!”

Nick stomped out the door acting like a petulant child leaving Kevin rubbing his temples and Brian standing there with his jaw dropped. He slammed the door behind so hard that the it shook as it closed. After his outburst and exit, AJ simply turned around and kept packing the bag he took with him to the studio.

“Why do you have to goad him J? Is it really necessary?”

Kevin was getting tired of Nick behaving as though Emma had committed the worst sin of Earth and treating AJ like he was a traitor. But, to be fair, he was also losing his patience with AJ constantly needling Nick.

“Because he’s being a jackass.” AJ responded. “He’s doing his best to make everyone as miserable as he is. We’re supposed to be here for Howie and celebrating his new daughter. Instead of doing that, Nick wants all of us to focus on him and treat him with kid gloves. I’m tired of him treating Emma like she’s a piece of crap and purposely trying to make her uncomfortable enough to the point where she actually leaves the room.”

As much as Kevin was tired of how AJ was acting, he agreed that his brother had a point. Nick was so irritable, continuing to wage a war on Emma and everyone who treated her with an ounce of kindness or respect. It was making it difficult even for his brothers to be around him and it was starting to upset Howie; he thought of Nick as one of his best friends and, instead of being there for him, Nick was putting all of the attention on himself, ignoring everyone else’s feelings.

Kevin let the subject die as he and Brian followed AJ out to the elevators. Brian had sent Nick a text that they would be waiting in the car for him and for him to hurry up. They were already drained from all the fighting and just wanted to get some work done. Hopefully, that could happen with a limited amount of arguing between Nick and AJ.

-------------

“Are you sure this can’t wait?”

Howie’s family had just left that morning and he got a call from his management company. They wanted the boys to do a mini press tour to get some excitement going over the new album. As much as Howie complained, they weren’t concerned about the guys having families or the fact that one of them had a new baby; all they were concerned about was the money coming in.

“What’s the matter?” Addie asked when he husband came into the living room. “You look upset.”

Howie told her about the phone call and Addie was absolutely livid. She wanted to call the company back and read them the riot act about giving a damn when one of the guys had a major life change. Thankfully, Howie was able to talk her out of it and settle her down; he knew she was going to be upset but he also knew that the company had them over a barrel. The guys were contracted to do a certain number of events as a group including doing some press trips to get buzz going over the new songs.

“What am I supposed to do while you’re gone Howie? We just had a baby and now I have to do this by myself!”

Emma had just walked in the room having been called over by Addie to plan their Fourth of July barbecue.

“Oh no.” She looked at Addie’s face and then turned to Howie. “What’s wrong?”

“His company sucks!” Addie answered, her anger starting to bubble again. “They apparently don’t care about children and family!”

Howie dropped his head into his hands and explained the situation to Emma. She could see why her friend was so upset but she could also understand Howie’s problem. All the money he earned paid for the house they lived in and all the luxuries they had. Trying to think quickly, Emma came up with a possible solution.

“What if I stayed with you?” Emma questioned as she face Addie. “I can stay here and help you with the baby. We can plan the party and spend a few days having girl time.”

Emma was actually hoping her sister would agree to the arrangement. It would give her more time with Addie and her daughter as well as give her some space away from Nick for a few days. She was trying to be cordial and making sure she was careful to not do anything to upset him but all the looks and his actions were getting to her; she was exhausted after trying to avoid him.

After considering the plan for a minute, Addie agreed and told Emma that she wanted her to check out of her hotel and stay in their guest room for the remainder of her visit. They had let Emma stay in the hotel to keep Nick from being angry at what would look like them taking sides. However, after this new wrinkle and his current behavior, Addie didn’t give a damn about Nick’s feelings and, after seeing the look on his wife’s face, Howie agreed with her and told Emma she was more than welcome to stay with them.
I'm Sorry by Kyrie
The guys made it home the day before the party and Howie was impressed with how much his wife and her friend were able to accomplish while taking care of a baby. Everything was set up in the backyard already and the food was already prepared or marinating in the fridge. He thanked them again and Emma left to go to her room; she felt weird staying there when Howie was home.

Emma knew that she had created a mess for Howie when she broke up with Nick and she wasn’t sure if he had fully forgiven her. She knew he would never be able to forget it but she hoped that she could be around everybody without causing a world war. AJ, Kevin and Brian would all be at the party with their families and Nick, after much cajoling and threatening from Kevin, had agreed to be there as well. He was furious that Emma was staying with the couple and he wanted nothing to do with her but he knew that Kevin would never let him be if he skipped an annual tradition just because she was there.

The next day dawned and the weather was absolutely perfect, there was a beautiful breeze and a crystal clear sky. It wasn’t unbearably hot and Emma was glad that all the work she and Addie put in had paid off. The pool was clear and warm, the patio chairs and furniture shined and the mini canopies they had put up were all still standing. Emma had convinced Addie and Howie that it would be better if she handled all of the food and inside things; she told them it was because they had to entertain guests and take care of the baby. She said that it would be too much for them to do and it wouldn’t be enjoyable for the two and their friends. What she didn’t tell them was that if she was stuck in the kitchen, there would be very limited interaction between her and Nick.

It hadn’t been brought up outright but Emma knew all the friction and anger between her and Nick was taking its toll on everyone. There were pained expressions, mad dashes out of a room and plenty of tension any time that Nick and she crossed paths; she was as tired as everyone else and didn’t want the party to be ruined. AJ and Rochelle figured it out after about five minutes and, with Rochelle being pregnant and unable to stand too much heat, they decided to stay in and help Emma.

The party went off without a hitch and the sun had begun to set; Emma knew that everyone would be getting ready to see the fireworks in an hour or so. She helped Addie with some last minute things and made her way out to the patio. Nick had made an exit down to the beach about ten minutes before so she figured it was safe for her to go out and mingle for a bit. She had just sunk down into a lounger when AJ approached her; she smiled as he sat down and pretended to be faint from all the hard work he had put in.

“There was no way you and Ro would have ever been able to handle all of that by yourselves. You’re so lucky I had no other plans.”

“Don’t let your wife hear you say that,” Emma laughed, “because pregnant or not, she’ll kick your butt!”

“Don’t I know it!”

AJ chuckled and settled back in the chair; he had really come out to keep an eye on Emma and make sure there were no blow-ups from Nick. As he sat there, he noticed her gaze sweep across the horizon until it landed on Nick. As much as they had been through, she knew deep down that she still loved Nick; he may not feel the same way but there was no way for her to shut her feelings off. Like Kenny Rogers said, you can’t un-love someone no matter what happened between the two people.

“You should try to talk to him.” AJ said impulsively, ignoring the voice in his head telling him it was a bad idea. “Maybe you can get through to him.”

“Are you crazy?” Emma looked at him as though he had ten heads. “After all of the hostility over the last few days, you think it’s a good idea to actually try to say something?”

AJ had to admit that it was definitely not one of his better ideas and he had every feeling that it had the potential for complete disaster. Honestly though, he knew that Emma was just as tired of the unspoken fighting as everyone else was and she just wanted peace between everyone. He knew that there was no other way of smoothing things over, or at least diminishing the hostility if no one stepped up to the plate; someone had to take the first step and knowing Nick, AJ had to admit that there was no way he was going to do it.

“Can it really get any worse?”

“I don’t know,” Emma said after a pause, “is it possible?”

“I think you need to give it a try.”

Emma sat there for a few moments and thought about AJ’s suggestion; there was no way that Nick would be the bigger person and start any conversation with her. Knowing that this might not work but that it was the only option at the moment, she stood and made her way across the lawn towards the beach. AJ watched her walk down and follow the path Nick had taken; he was so focused on her that he didn’t see his wife coming until she pushed him over on the lounger.

“What’s she doing?” Rochelle asked as she lay down beside her husband. “Isn’t that the way Nick went?”

“Yeah.”

“Why on Earth would she follow him?”

“Because I told her too.” AJ answered her hesitantly.

“Why the hell would you do that?!?” Rochelle yelped, causing others to look in their direction. “Are you out of your mind?”

AJ truly hoped he wasn’t.

---------------

Emma had to walk a ways down the beach before she saw where Nick was sitting. Every bit of her body was telling her to turn around but she knew if she did, nothing would ever get resolved and their friends would spend the next twenty years keeping the peace. If it meant that she could put a damper on the anger and uncomfortableness, she had to at least try to get along.

She had just made it within two feet of him when he turned around; he obviously had been expecting someone else and when he saw her standing in front of him, the anger was palatable. He stood up and turned to walk further down the beach but, instead of just standing there, Emma fell in step next to him.

He managed to keep his anger in check when he initially saw her but now she was following him down the damn beach. They had only walked a few steps before he turned to face her.

“What the hell do you want? Can’t you tell I’m trying to get away from you?”

Emma shrank back a little when she saw how angry he was; his eyes flashed with a darkness she had never seen.

“I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

As much as he was pissed, Nick actually laughed out loud.

“You’re sorry? You’re sorry? You think you can actually get me to talk to you by saying you’re sorry?”

“I’m trying Nick, I know I can’t make up for…”

“You’re fucking right about that!” Nick yelled. “There is nothing you can say that will fix any of this. In fact, there is nothing you have to say that interests me in the least. Leave me the fuck alone.”

Emma watched as he turned back towards the house, his rage fueling his every step. She didn’t make a move to follow him this time because she knew that the only thing that would accomplish was a bigger explosion than the last one. Not knowing what else to do, she sank onto the sand and put her head in her lap; she was cried out and there was no point in crying any way, nothing was going to change. It took a while but AJ finally came looking for her; he had seen how livid Nick had been when he came back and he could only assume that his bright idea didn’t work. Emma turned to face him when he sat next to her.

“Nothing could be worse huh?”
Emotions by Kyrie
Nick spent the next few hours drinking everything he could get his hands on; he didn’t even care if he pissed everyone else off. If he had to stay at the damn party and put up with her, then he was going to do it with a serious buzz going. He chugged his latest drink in two gulps when he saw Emma coming back to the party followed by AJ.

His brother was such a traitor! Nick had stood by AJ through many of his issues but AJ didn’t give a damn about what Nick was going through. He would never have sided with a woman over his brother and he damn sure would never chat and hang out with a woman who broke AJ’s heart into a million pieces. His enraged gaze passed over Emma by accident and he gave her a look that could kill.

The guys noticed Nick’s behavior but they were just too tired to go over there and give him a pep talk or tell him that yes, the world was so hard on him. It was getting old to constantly deal with his mood swings and his selfishness. They wanted their brother to be happy but he was making that damn near impossible and they were just fed up.

Everybody but Nick gathered around to watch the fireworks and enjoy the final moments of the night. By that point, Emma had gone up to her room to watch the fireworks there and Addie had gone in to put the baby down. Addie wanted to check in on her friend but she also knew, from the look on her face earlier, that she needed some space. It was driving Addie batty to watch Nick treat her sister the way he was and she really wanted to throat punch him.

As everyone was getting ready to leave, the guys noticed that Nick was stalking off in the direction of the driveway. They all knew that there was no way Nick was sober enough to drive and that they would have to flip a coin to see who got stuck taking him back to the hotel. Howie called out to get his attention and waved Nick over to the pool. Nobody wanted to make a scene in front of the kids or the wives so they were going to try to get him to go quietly.

“What?” Nick said with droopy eyes. “I want to get going.”

“There is no way you can drive man.” Kevin told him. “It’s not safe for you or for anyone else out on the road. One of us will give you a ride home.”

“I’m not going with a traitor!” Nick hissed at AJ, who really didn’t want him to come home with him anyway, “and you all have full cars and cranky kids. I can go by myself.”

Brian stepped in front of him when he turned to leave and Nick got pissed. He tried to push past his brother but wasn’t strong enough after all the drinking. Instead, he started arguing with all of them, calling them all traitors and going on and on about how nobody cared about what he was going through. His voice kept rising and rising, causing Rochelle, Kristen and Leighanne to bring the kids inside.

What nobody noticed was Emma as she crept down the stairs and out the door. She knew that everyone was focused on Nick whom she knew was not going to back down. Everything that was building in her was coming out like a flood gate. Before anyone could stop her, she slipped through the circle of men, grabbed Nick’s keys from his hand and threw them as hard as she could into the deep end of the pool.

All of the women were rooting for her while all the men were silent as they watched the keys sink down to the bottom of the pool. All of a sudden, they all turned to face Emma as she stood there with her hands on her hips.

“There!” Emma sniped. “Problem solved.”

It was shocking to see Emma that irritated and nasty. Everything that had been happening over the course of the last week or so had just taken a toll on her. As pissed off as she was at this point with Nick, there was no way she was going to let him try to drive home knowing that he could kill himself or someone else.

Nick took a giant step towards Emma and got in her face. The guys knew where this was heading and they shot over to separate Nick from her. He would never have hit her but his ferociousness was scary for all of them.

“Why the hell did you do that?” Nick yelled. “You had no business doing that.”

Emma straightened her back and got right in front of him.

“I’m sorry that I care and don’t want anything to happen to you! I’m so sorry for that!”

“You don’t care about me and I don’t give a flying fuck about your feelings.”

Everyone watched as Emma turned on her heel and started walking back towards the house. There was nothing more she could do at this point and, before she lost it and started crying, she was going to remove herself from the situation.

Just as Emma was about to step through the door into the house, Nick screamed at the top of his lungs.

“I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU EMMA!”

At this point, they all watched as her shoulders dropped and her hand slipped up to her face to wipe away the tears that were now falling down her face. It was also the point where Howie lost it and got right in Nick’s face.

“If you say one more fucking word,” Howie threatened, “I will punch you in the mouth myself!”

Addie would have been proud of her husband if she had been close enough to hear him. He looked dead into Nick’s eyes waiting for him to do or say something but they were all surprised when Nick didn’t.

He simply stepped back and collapsed onto a chair. There was never a moment in all the scenarios that had played through his mind for the last three years where he imagined saying something like that to Emma; he knew that he had now crossed a line that there may be no chance of ever crossing back. Howie had never looked as infuriated as he did now and Brian, Kevin and AJ stared at him with equally fuming expressions. If Howie hadn’t intervened, Nick knew that AJ probably would have hit him or, at least, thrown him in the pool.

Knowing that Brian and Leighanne probably would lecture him the least, he asked them to take him back to the house. They agreed and gathered up all their belongings, saying goodbye to everyone as they made their way to the door. As Nick passed Addie, he knew that the look on Addie’s face was nothing compared to what she probably wanted to do to him. He, in truth, had done something unforgivable and he knew it; all the fight and anger that had been coursing through him earlier was replaced by a feeling of shame. It was going to be difficult to face his friends in the morning and he knew that he deserved all of the hell he was going to catch for what he had done that night.

As soon as Nick left, Addie started to make her way up the stairs. Rochelle knew she was headed to Emma’s room so she gently put her hand on her arm. The touch caused Addie to turn around and the pain she felt for her friend was clearly written all over her face.

“I know you think going up there is going to help,” Rochelle pleaded, “but it’s not going to. It’ll make everything worse if you go up there as upset as you are. Emma needs to work through this before she deals with anyone else’s feelings. Give her till tomorrow.”

“But she needs to know I care.”

AJ leaned in to hug Addie and pulled his wife into his side.

“She knows how much you care Addie, I don’t think there is any question about that. Just give her some time to come to you.”

Addie still wanted to go upstairs but when Howie came through the door, she could see how upset he was. She knew she needed to help him deal with everything that had happened and made peace with the fact that she would give Emma some space. She just hoped her friend wasn’t hurting as much as she felt she was.
Heart to Heart Chat by Kyrie
Howie woke up early the next morning after a fitful night’s sleep; he checked on his wife, who was snoring quietly, and his baby girl. She was gurgling with a smile on her face and Howie felt so much love in that moment. After changing her diaper and getting her back to sleep, he took the baby monitor down to the kitchen with him so he could make coffee. Turning the machine on, he gazed out to see how much he had to clean up in the yard. He had been expecting to see all the party banners and streamers as well as some glasses and plates that they missed the night before. What he saw however surprised him; Emma was cleaning the pool with the skimmer and all the trash had completely disappeared.

Howie sighed and shook his head, remembering all the details from the night before. He knew how angry and hurt Nick was but he had been completely out of line, treating Emma like he did. Part of him wanted to go out there and make excuses for his brother but he couldn’t think of anything he should be excused for. His behavior was absolutely horrendous and there was nothing that Howie could say that would make it right. Instead of trying to think of something, he simply poured another cup of coffee and joined Emma outside.

“Hey,” he called out to her quietly. “I made some coffee.”

Emma looked up from the skimmer as she was pulling something from it. She saw her friend’s husband striding towards her and, as much as she appreciated the thought, she hoped he would just leave it and go back inside. Unfortunately, he didn’t and waved her over to the chairs at the shallow end of the pool instead. Knowing he wasn’t planning on leaving, she put the skimmer back where she’d found it and, carrying what was in her hand, joined him by sitting down across from him.

“Here are Nick’s keys,” she said placing them on the table, “I don’t think the fob works any more though, it’s pretty water logged.”

“Good.”

Emma stared at him for a moment; she had expected some kind of response from him but this one surprised her.

“I should probably pay for a new one for him, it was my bright idea to throw them in the pool.”

“You do have pretty good aim.” he replied with a chuckle, fingering the keychain. “I think you shocked the hell out of all of us.”

“I apologize, my behavior wasn’t appropriate and I feel badly for making a scene.”

“Do not apologize.” Howie stated clearly. “His behavior and his words last night were completely unexcusable. He should never have said anything to you, especially not what he said.”

Tears sprang into the corner of Emma’s eyes. She knew how close Howie and Nick were and how much their break-up bothered him. Howie had always been cordial to her but she knew that he still held her responsible for what happened. This new tone surprised her and she wasn’t sure to make of it.

“I’m sorry,” Howie said, interrupting her thoughts and placing a hand over hers. “We all treated you pretty poorly. We wanted to support Nick but in doing that, we made you uncomfortable and allowed his behavior to increasingly get worse. We all should have made an effort to make peace instead of allowing him to continue to behave the way he has been.”

His words unleashed the tears that she was holding back and she just couldn’t stop them. Everything that she had expected was minimal compared to what she had been put through and, as much as she didn’t want to break down in front of Howie, all of the emotions just came pouring out. Instead of letting her cry by herself, Howie pulled her into a hug and let her have a shoulder to cry on. He stayed like that until he felt her stop shaking and then lowered her into a chair.

“Tell me what’s going on.” Howie said, after giving her a minute to compose herself. “I think I need a better idea of what happened when you left.”

“Nick must have told you everything.”

“He did but from his point of view. I want to know why you left and I want to hear it from you.”

Emma hesitated before she said anything; she hadn’t even told Addie or AJ the real reasons she’d left. The reasons were something that she didn’t think anyone else would understand. All she might do by telling Howie is cause more of a rift between her and her friend’s husband.

“No judgement,” Howie told her, as though he was reading her mind. “I just want to understand what’s going on.”

“It’s complicated.”

“I’m a smart guy.” Howie chuckled. “I’m pretty sure I can follow along.”

His laugh broke some of the ice and Emma took a deep breath before she started. Her demeanor started to change and, once the floodgate opened, the whole situation poured out of her. She explained that, when they had first met her, she had deserved the nickname AJ gave her; she was feisty and funny and trusting. After Jessie dumped her, she felt scared and her trust had taken a hit. She wasn’t sure where she was going to live or how she was going to make it through that tough time. That’s when Nick stepped in.

Her living arrangement with Nick had obviously turned into a romantic relationship and she was starting to learn how to trust someone again. When he had made the mistake and kissed Lauren, her trusting nature took a bigger hit. She had truly believed that she and Nick could move past the issue but then Nick wouldn’t step up to the plate and ask her not to leave.

After her break-up with Nick and Della’s passing, she had met Stephen. She knew almost from the moment that their relationship started that he would be no good for her. As bad as that sounded, at least she knew his motives and, since she didn’t love him, the verbal abuse and fighting didn’t hurt as much. She knew that the abuse was wrong and that she needed to leave but she just didn’t have the motivation.

Howie had to stop himself from interjecting; her reasoning had definitely changed and he noticed for the first time, that when she was with Stephen and then possibly getting back with Nick, she had lost some of the fight she had when they first met. He remembered meeting them at the concert and AJ immediately calling her Feisty. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, she was right about her changing.

“When Nick came back into my life, I was dead set about not opening up to anyone else. I couldn’t bear to go through another heartache again and it made me keep him at arm’s length for a while. When I finally agreed to move in with him, I had made a promise to myself that I would put the past behind me and start again. Then, when I saw him with Lauren that day, something snapped. I realized that I wasn’t able to do what I thought I could.”

“Why didn’t you tell him that?” Howie asked. “Why didn’t you talk to him instead of leaving?”

“In my mind, leaving was easier. I realized that I wasn’t really capable of opening up enough. I had become needy, I had to had constant assurances that he wasn’t going back to Lauren. I knew that my neediness was going to take a toll on us. I mean who wants to constantly tell someone that their relationship was good and that they could trust them? Eventually, whether anyone wants to admit it, Nick would have gotten tired of telling me and trying to make me believe it.”

“Honestly, I think you should have told him that.”

“I couldn’t. I needed space to be on my own and I needed time to grow up.”

“But you were…”

“No.” Emma said, interrupting him. “Age wise, I was grown up but I wasn’t emotionally. I went through relationship after relationship and never spent any time by myself, taking care of me and getting some help with coping. I’ve spent the better part of my time in North Carolina getting counseling.”

That fact shocked Howie; he never thought that Emma was someone who needed therapy.

“I’ve actually learned a lot and I’ve become more confidant. Well, at least until I ran into Nick again.”

Emma let out a soft chuckle but Howie can see how painful this ordeal had been for her.

“Can I ask you one question?

“Of course.” Emma answered. “Since I’m bearing my soul, I can’t of anything I’m hiding.”

“Do you still love Nick?”

“Yes.” Emma replied with absolutely no hesitation.

“Then why don’t you tell him?”

“Because sometimes love just isn’t enough.”
Painful Realizations by Kyrie
Nick lay in his bed, completely awake with a headache that would cripple most people. He hadn’t slept all night; all he did was replay the night before over and over in his head. There wasn’t a time he could remember that he was more ashamed of. His feelings were taking over his brain and he was lashing out at everyone, especially at Emma and AJ. What had happened the night before was inexcusable and he wasn’t sure how he was going to face the guys again.

As if on cue, Nick heard the door rattle and then open; somebody was not going to wait for him to open the door. Crawling out of bed and hanging his head, he made his way out to the suite expecting to find four angry men; to his surprise, he only found one.

“Have a seat,” Kevin told him sharply as he took a spot on the couch, “we need to have a talk.”

He knew that he could get away with a lot of excuses and promises with some of the other guys but his older brother was going to lay down the law with him and not listen to any of it.

“Are the other guys coming?” Nick asked after Kevin hadn’t spoken again for a few minutes.

“No,” he replied, “Brian is cleaning out all the vomit in his car…”

Nick groaned as he remembered throwing up all over Brian’s backseat and he was even more embarrassed than before.

“Howie is doing damage control with Addie,” Kevin continued, “and frankly, AJ wants nothing to do with you right now. He is absolutely furious and told me that he doesn’t even want to be in the same vicinity as you. I don’t think he can stop himself from doing something he’ll regret later. So for now, you lucked out and I’m the only coming.”

When he initially saw Kevin, lucky was not the work that sprang to mind. However, after being reminded of how much he screwed up, he was glad he only he had to face one brother. He hung his head and waited for Kevin to start the lecture he knew he deserved.

“Look at me.” Kevin demanded causing Nick’s head to snap up. “This fucking ends now. I’m done watching you throw tantrums, treat people like shit and act like you’re the only person with feelings and the one that everyone else has done wrong. You’re being a complete asshole and I’m not going to sit back and let this continue.”

Nick was shocked by the profanity coming from Kevin; the oldest member of the group rarely swore at anyone much less his brothers. He could feel the anger radiating off of his friend and he realized how far he had pushed everyone; they were at their limit and were not going to take anymore.

“I am only going to say this once so you had better listen carefully.” Kevin spat. “You are going to start being civil to everyone and I mean everyone! You are going to apologize to Howie, Brian and AJ, and then you are going to apologize to Addie. Finally, you are going to apologize to Emma…”

“But…”

Kevin stared him right in the eye and Nick immediately closed his mouth.

“You are going to apologize to Emma. I don’t care if you two talk at all afterwards but you are going to say you’re sorry. And frankly, you had better really be sorry. If you cannot do ALL of these things, I am going to book your ass on the next plane to anywhere and you are not going to be welcome back until you do. And if I have to have this talk with you again, I won’t be as nice. Do you understand me?”

All Nick could do was nod and tears started forming in his eyes. He knew how mad Kevin was and he also knew that his older brother was not playing around.

“I would start with Brian if I were you,” Kevin said as he made his way to the door, “he’s the least likely to punch you in the mouth.”

Nick sat like that for a few minutes after Kevin left and he realized that, if he didn’t do something, he would be persona non grata with everyone. He dragged himself into the shower, letting the steam work on his muscles and his head. After he dried himself off, he took two aspirin and drank a whole bottle of water. It didn’t do much to improve his migraine but at least it wasn’t getting worse.

Kevin had told him that Brian was at the car wash so Nick decided to wait a little bit before going to his room. Leighanne would be absolutely pissed about the car so he didn’t really want to be alone with her. After about an hour, he headed to Brian’s room to see if he was back.

Thank fully, Brian opened the door after a few moments and informed him that Leighanne had taken Baylee out for the afternoon. Nick was glad for that but he could tell by the look on Brian’s face that it was going to take a lot for Nick to dig himself out of the hole he was in. He asked his brother to sit with him and he started his round of apologies.

“I’m really sorry for everything Bri. I can’t tell you …”

“No,” Brian replied sharply, “you can’t tell me how much you regret it. All I’ve heard for months is excuses for your behavior. Last night was the last straw for me. I don’t want to hear your apologies, I want you to change.”

Nick sat there without saying anything.

“I have sat back and let you wallow in everything that’s happened and I actually stuck up for you several times. I’m done Nick, you need to figure out what is going on in your head and straighten it out with everyone. You’ve gotten out of control.”

“I know.” Nick admitted a minute later. “I know that I went overboard…”

“Overboard doesn’t even describe how you acted last night.”

Nick started to get irritated that Brian wasn’t letting him finish but he bit his attitude back. He knew that all the guys had the right to lay into him and that he deserved everything he was going to get. There were always excuses he used to justify his behavior but he knew that he had pushed everyone past their limit with his recent explosion.

“I can only tell you I’m sorry Bri and work to show you guys that I really am.”

“And how are you planning on doing that?”

Brian knew that Kevin had gone to see Nick earlier and that was the reason Nick was there. Kevin could be harsh with them when he saw them get out of control but Nick deserved everything that was said to him.

“I’m going to talk to AJ…”

“Good luck with that.” Brian chuckled easing the tension. “Don’t let him have any sharp objects near him.”

“I’ll try.” Nick replied. “I really am sorry, I know what I did last night was inexcusable and that I need to get a handle on my drinking.”

“You can say that again!”

The two men sat for a little longer and discussed what Nick needed to do and how he needed to apologize to a lot of people. As Nick was leaving, Brian pulled him into a hug and wished him luck with everyone else.

“We’ll be here for you but you need to let us and you need to start working on making things better.”

“I know and I’m starting today.”
Not How This Was Planned by Kyrie
Nick knew that he would have to face Howie and Addie at their house so he chose to head up to AJ’s room first. There was no guessing as to what the mood during that discussion would be; AJ was irate and, as irritated as Nick was that he seemed to be siding with Emma, he understood that last night drew the line in the sand for his brother.

He approached the door cautiously, knocked lightly and then immediately took a step back. It took a few moments for AJ to open the door and as soon as he saw Nick, he tried to shut it; Nick stuck his foot and arm in to prevent AJ from just walking away.

“We need to talk J.”

“I don’t really know what you have to say but I’m not in the mood to deal with you.”

Nick followed AJ into the living area of the suite he was in. His brother was furious and refused to turn around to face him; this was going to be close to impossible. He took a seat on the couch and waited until AJ was ready to talk.

It took a little bit for AJ to even face him as he took a seat on the chair farthest away from Nick.

“I’m sorry…”

AJ stuck his hand up as soon as the words started out of his younger brother’s mouth.

“If this is going to be an apology laced with accusations and crap from you then I don’t want to hear it. You can leave right now if that’s your plan.”

Nick took a few deep breaths; he had rarely seen AJ that angry at one of his brothers and he knew that his behavior had caused a major rift. He honestly felt bad about what had happened no matter what AJ believed and he needed to make him understand that.

“No excuses J, I was totally out of line last night. My behavior was inexcusable and I acted like a complete asshole. Frankly, I’ve been acting like an asshole since I got here.”

“Finally,” AJ exclaimed, “you’ve seen the light.”

AJ got up, walked over to Nick and pulled him into a tight hug. The gesture caught Nick completely off-guard and it took a little bit for him to hug his brother back. Once they finished having their moment, they both took a seat on the couch.

“What was that for?” Nick asked with an eyebrow raised. “I kind of thought you might try to kill me.”

“I considered it last night,” AJ replied with a chuckle, “but I didn’t want to be responsible for the removal of Nick Carter.”

Nick laughed and, for the first time in a while, he felt calmer and his mind was clearer. These feelings helped him to understand exactly how bad it had gotten and he regretted putting everyone through his massive, and unnecessary, pity party.

“I need to apologize to you too.” AJ said quietly. “I think my behavior and my constant needling of you didn’t help much to smooth anything over. I know how hurt you were by me constantly telling you to ease up on Emma and, after some serious thinking, I can see how you thought I was choosing her over you.”

Shock passed over Nick; he had planned to come here, apologize, get a serious tongue lashing from his brother and then, hopefully, they would fix their issues. The last thing he ever expected was an apology from AJ.

“You don’t need to apologize…”

“I do. Rochelle and I had a long talk last night and I’ve been making some dumb moves and saying inconsiderate things in hopes of ironing everything out. Obviously, my part in this only made things worse and I feel badly about it.” AJ paused. “I need for you to understand some things that maybe I haven’t addressed with you.”

“You really…”

AJ cut Nick off with a look and mentally prepared himself for what he was about to say. He knew that he needed to tell his brother some things about what had been transpiring.

“I want you to know that I am NOT taking Emma’s side over yours. I understand that it looks that way but you haven’t seen the behind the scenes stuff. When she told you she was leaving, I called Emma and completely chewed her out for what she was doing.”

Nick’s eyes widened; he had assumed that, since he arrived with her, that AJ had been in contact with Emma over the last few years. That misconception was one of the reasons Nick had gotten so mad at his brother in the first place.

“I also want you to know that I did not, at any point, speak to Emma over the last three years. The first time I spoke with her after she left was when I picked her up from the airport and brought her to the hospital.”

“Why did you do that?” Nick asked, glad he would finally get answer to that burning question.

“I did it because I knew what she was walking into. We had supported you for the last few years and we all had cut ties with Emma. Howie was the only one who had interactions with her and that was because of Addie, not because he was being a traitor. I remember way back, at the wedding, when you were chasing Emma around trying to get her to talk to you. None of us really put a stop to that and I knew it was going to be the same this time around and I didn’t want her feeling like she was getting ganged up on. I never did it to hurt you.”

Nick sat back and thought back to Addie and Howie’s wedding; the guys were trying to get him to stop chasing Emma all over the place and they really did try to avoid her a bit for Nick’s sake. He also remembered how Emma was with him, she was angry with him and did lash out, but at no point did she behave the way he had been over the last few days. He had gone overboard with the way he spoke to and acted towards her. His anger at what she did really hadn’t changed but he was starting to understand that he needed to keep it in check for everyone’s sake.

He finished his conversation with AJ and explained that he was heading to Howie’ house when he left. AJ reminded him that if he thought his brothers were mad, their feelings would be no match for Addie’s. Nick had been awful to her friend and it was going to take a lot more than an apology to get her to see his side.

“I would suggest some serious apologizing and some assurances that this behavior is going to end now.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Nick told his brother. “Thank you listening to me and for not punching me.”

“I’ll give you some fair warning, if you do this again,” AJ warned, “the next time I just might!”
Last Stop by Kyrie
Nick drove over to Howie and Addie’s, mentally psyching himself up for a battle. His behavior had affected all of his brothers but it was especially difficult for Howie. He had put his brother in the position of playing peacekeeper and it wasn’t fair to him. There was a new baby that everyone should be celebrating and Nick knew that his attitude and actions probably put a strain on Addie and Howie’s relationship. The last thing he wanted to do was mess things up for his friend, his baby or his marriage. Even if he never talked to Emma again after this, he needed to make things right for the time being.

He had to give himself a pep talk in the driveway before heading up to the house. It felt like he was marching toward an execution and he wanted to run seconds after ringing the doorbell. The door opened before he could and he came face to face with a very angry Howie who had seen him through the peephole.

“What do you want?”

“I wanted to apologize for last night.” Nick replied, steeling himself for his next question. “Is Addie around?”

“No, she and Emma went shopping, they’ll be gone for a little while.”

Nick felt himself exhale, at least he had time to talk to his brother before he had to deal with Addie. He was not looking forward to that conversation and knew she would be the most difficult to deal with; maybe even more so than Emma since she was pretty easy going. That last thought caught him by surprise, he was actually thinking something nice about his former girlfriend for a change. Maybe there was something cathartic in making peace.

Howie didn’t want to listen when Nick started talking but eventually he wore him down. The conversation went much the way as the one with AJ and by the end of it, Nick made Howie a guaranteed promise to make sure he was on his best behavior and he didn’t cause any more issues for any one. He was going to keep his feelings to himself for the time being and deal with them privately instead of in public.

The guys had been talking for a little while when they heard the front door open and the girls’ voices heading in their direction. Both Nick and Howie stood up and waited for them to make it down to the living room. When the girls came around the corner, they were shocked to see Nick and Howie together; Addie’s face instantly became hostile and Emma looked as though she was frightened and wanted to flee. She didn’t say a word but turned and grabbed their shopping bags; she rushed from the room before there could be any problems.

Addie crossed her arms and glared at Nick; if looks could kill, he would be dead in the spot where he was standing. He knew that this was probably going to hurt so he jumped in before letting Addie loose.

“I am so sorry, I know you don’t want to hear that, but I really am.” Nick said in a rush. “I came here to apologize, not start anything.”

“Sit.” Addie demanded as she pointed to the couch.

Nick immediately sat and she took a seat in the chair opposite of him. Addie turned to Howie and asked that he leave them alone. Her husband didn’t know what he should do until Nick motioned to the door his head; Howie escaped a moment later.

“I…”

“No.” Addie interrupted. “You’re not going to do any talking. I want you to sit there and listen to what I have to say. Got it?”

Nick cringed but nodded; he had to get this over with.

“I am beyond pissed at you. We wanted this time with everyone to be special and you and your goddamn attitude is ruining that. The way you have been treating Emma is uncalled for, no matter what happened between the two of you. And before you say something about me taking her side, there are a few things you should know.”

He waited for Addie to take a deep breath before she started again.

“I’m not going to have this discussion with you again so you need to listen. I know Emma hurt you when she left you and I know that you think you’re the only one who was angry but you weren’t. I screamed at my best friend when she left you and I was so angry with her that she and I didn’t speak for six months after she left.”

Nick’s jaw hit the floor in record time; there was no way he was hearing this conversation correctly.

“I know you assumed that I just took her side no matter what but I didn’t. You two were happy together and I could not wrap my mind around why she was doing what she was. Like I said, we didn’t speak for a long time because of her actions and my anger over what she did.”

“You didn’t…”

“Yes, I did.” Addie told him. “You weren’t the only one who wanted your relationship to work. I was so happy for you guys when you got back together again and pissed when she pulled that North Carolina stunt. I had to forgive her after a while and, while I’m not asking you to talk to her or be around her, you need to understand that nothing you do to retaliate will hurt her more than what she has put herself through over the last three years.” Addie paused. “I don’t expect you to be less angry or less hurt but, after this conversation, I do expect you to be less rude and hostile. You two don’t ever have to see each other again but I want peace in this house. If you can manage to keep it, then I don’t see why we all shouldn’t be together.”

Nick was absolutely stunned. On the drive over, he had pictured all the ways that Addie was going to skewer him and at no point, did he expect her to have this reaction. He had no idea was prompted Addie’s restraint but he was immensely grateful for it. After getting over the shock, Nick promised her that he would be civil and he would not cause any more drama. He had one last person to speak to and it took a lot of nerve for him to ask Addie if he could speak with Emma.

Addie told him that she would go get her and she reminded him that if he made her friend cry that she would be a lot less forgiving than she had just been. She left the room and in a few minutes, Emma made her way around the corner.

She stood by the doorway, unsure of what to expect. Nick could tell that she was nervous about being caught up in another fiasco like the night before. He was still angry with her but he felt bad that he had caused such an infamous soon. Not moving from the couch, Nick explained why he was there.

“I’m sorry for last night, it should never have happened. I should not have said…”

“You don’t have to say anything.” Emma interrupted. “You’re angry with me and I deserve it. You said how you were feeling and I understand that. I know why you came and I just wanted to let you know that I will stay out of your way as much as humanly possible and I promise to keep our interactions as peaceful as possible. I know how you feel now and I promise to respect that. I appreciate you coming by and I’ll tell Howie you are looking for him.”

With that, Emma turned, walked out of the room and left Nick sitting there trying to figure out what had just happened. He knew he apologized and he came to do what he had planned on. The problem was he didn’t understand why he felt worse than he had when he gotten there an hour ago. His conversation with his ex had gone smoother than he thought and happened much more quickly than he had planned. He couldn’t comprehend why he wasn’t happier about her apology and her assurance to stay away from him. Isn’t that what he wanted in the first place?
End Notes:
I hope you're enjoying the story and I would love some feedback!!
That's The Best We Could Do? by Kyrie
“How do you think it’s going over there?”

Brian, Kevin and AJ were playing a round of golf and the conversation had turned to Nick and his apology tour. They all knew that he had intended to go to Howie’s and have a sit down with Addie and possibly Emma.

“If Addie doesn’t kill him, I think it’ll be safe to be in the same room with everyone after this afternoon.” AJ mused. “I really hope it is because this shit has got to stop.”

Kevin and Brian both nodded their agreement and continued to talk about how this whole mess was affecting everyone; none of them were comfortable with arguing and disrespect towards anyone and it had started to creep over to the families. Rochelle was really upset that everyone couldn’t come together and make peace while Leighanne was still on Brian about making Nick paying for their car to be detailed. Kristen had stayed out of it but she knew her husband well and could tell the situation was taking its toll on him. She had wanted to call Nick herself to make him understand that he needed to cut the crap.

The guys were finishing their last round when Kevin’s phone rang. Recognizing Howie’s number, he immediately picked up and asked how it was going. AJ told him to put it on speaker phone so that they could all hear.

“It’s over.” Howie answered. “It’s done.”

Howie’s comments did not come out the way he had planned and the guys assumed that Addie had forbidden Nick to be part of the family and that he wasn’t welcome. They also thought that his interaction with Emma must have taken a turn for the worse.

“I guess we’re going to have one less at your house tonight.” AJ said. “It’s really sad that everyone couldn’t…”

“No, wait,” Howie said cutting him off, “I mean the apologies are done and things are settled.”

His last comment caught all three of them by surprise and there was dead silence for a few minutes.

“Hello?” Howie asked. “Are you guys still there?”

“You mean there were no explosions, no murders, no assaults and your house is still standing?”

“Yes AJ.” Howie replied with a laugh. “Everything is still where it’s supposed to be.”

“And Nick and Emma are good?”

“I don’t think I would use the word good.”

Howie explained the conversation between Nick and Emma; the guys knew that Addie must have been listening in and told her husband about it. He made a point to tell them that Emma was planning to avoid Nick and agreed to be more civil when they did cross each other’s paths. It was disappointing to the guys that they couldn’t come to a better agreement than that but at least no one would have to sit in silence any more.

Before Howie hung up, he asked to speak with AJ privately. Kevin handed his phone to his friend and then he and Brian headed back to the clubhouse.

“What’s up D?”

“Can you do me a favor J?”

“Anything.”

“Can you head over to the hotel and check on Nick? He left here a little bit ago and he didn’t look much better than he did when he got here. I’m not quite sure what’s going on.”

AJ agreed and as soon as they returned to the hotel, he made a beeline for Nick’s door. Gently tapping, he waited for a moment while Nick came to the door. His friend let him in and he knew instantly what Howie had been concerned about. Even though the conversations had been a lot less hostile and difficult than planned, Nick still looked like crap. This apology thing should have made things better but AJ could clearly see that wasn’t the case.

“What’s wrong Carter?”

“I don’t know.” Nick answered him quietly. “Things went better than I planned and now I feel crappier than I did when I got there. I just don’t get it.”

AJ knew immediately what the problem was but he considered that as a conversation for another time. Instead of leaving Nick on his own to analyze the problem, he suggested the guys have dinner that night at a popular restaurant around the corner. They hadn’t hung out, minus wives and kids, in a long time. It gave Howie an excuse to get out and Addie an excuse to sit down and really talk to her friend.

Everyone agreed and Howie left the house a short time later to meet up with his friends. Addie was grateful for the quiet time and, after she put the baby down for the night, she made her way down the hall. Knocking on the door, she pushed it open to find Emma curled up on the bed reading. She made her way over and plopped down on the bed like she had when they were younger. It caught Emma by surprise and her book when flying.

“Really Ad?” Emma asked with a laugh. “We’re not twelve anymore.”

“We can pretend for a night!”

Emma shook her head and smiled; she knew why her friend was really there and she appreciated it. Before Addie could start, Emma told her that she appreciated that Nick came by and apologized. It would make things much easier heading forward but she made a point to tell her friend that she still planned to keep her distance from Nick. She truly felt it was best and Addie could tell that there was no moving her on this point. Instead of forcing the issue, Addie asked her to help plan a cook out and bonfire for the following weekend. This would be a good time to test what would really happen when everyone came together.
The Fire by Kyrie
The week flew by as the guys worked on their upcoming album and Addie, Emma and Rochelle planned the next family get together. They invited all the guys, their families, the neighbors and a few people that were staying with the neighbors for the summer. Addie knew most of them from living in the neighborhood for a while but there were a few people that she didn’t. The neighbors had vouched for them so she felt that it was fine to invite them as well.

The day of the cook out rolled around and they got lucky with the weather. It had rained almost all week but Saturday came in bright and sunny. The breeze was warm and the conditions were perfect for a bonfire as it got later. Emma and Addie had worked on the food while Rochelle kept them company, AJ having restricted her from doing too much while she was pregnant. The guys came over to help Howie with the big stuff and setting up the fire wood; Kristen and Leighanne offered to help with the decorating.

“I’m glad that the girls have their designated areas to help with.” AJ remarked. “It’ll be good to avoid any uncomfortableness.”

“Huh?” Brian asked. “I don’t get it.”

“I think AJ means that the girls don’t necessarily count themselves as BFFs.”

Kevin chuckled as they all remembered the last time Emma and Leighanne had been stuck in a room together. It had been a studio party and Leighanne had all but said that Emma didn’t belong there while Emma let it be known that if Brian’s wife had an issue, they could take it outside.

Nick didn’t say much about the party because he was off in his own thoughts about what happened. He remembered how beautiful Emma looked in her gown that night and how close they had come to fixing their relationship. It wasn’t much longer after that than he had asked her to move back in with him. Old feelings were starting to resurface so Nick occupied himself even more to get rid of their hold on him.

AJ could tell by the look on his friend’s face that he was thinking about more than Emma and Leighanne’s heated discussion; no matter what Nick said, he knew that his friend was still in love with his ex. He recalled earlier in the day when Nick and Emma had crossed paths near the door; Nick held it open for her, she nodded a thank you and then they went their separate ways. It really bothered AJ that the two of them couldn’t figure out how to make something work even if it was only a casual friendship.

People started to arrive shortly after everything had been set up and Addie introduced the guys to her neighbors and their friends. Everyone had a few hours before the bonfire to mingle, get something to eat and talk to the new people. Addie had given her neighbors strict instructions that no one was to bother the guys or crowd their families too much. There were a couple of guys who were drinking a little more than Addie would have liked but she knew it was a party and that someone would intervene if it got out of hand.

Once the sun started to set, people made their way down to the beach and were thrilled with the masterpiece of a bonfire. The guys had built up a pit with some bricks around the wood to prevent people from getting too close. They had also dragged some large pieces of driftwood from the beach and chairs from Howie’s shed so that people could have choices as where to sit. Most people chose to stand for a while but Emma, Addie and Rochelle decided to shake out a blanket and sit off to the side some. AJ didn’t want his wife too close to the fire and was happy that the other women had joined her so she didn’t feel left out.

They managed to get a huge fire going and it amazed everyone. The flames leapt up and it warmed the entire area around it. Some people had to move away because it was a little too much and it actually left a safe distance to walk around by the fire without touching the flames.

AJ was talking on one side of the fire with the guys but he kept a watchful eye on his wife, Addie and Emma. He had noticed that one of the neighbor’s friends had taken an interest in Emma and had stopped to talk to her. Smiling, he turned back to his friends and hoped that Nick might take notice of someone else trying to talk to his ex. After a while, he looked back over and saw that Emma had moved away and the friend was following her. Every time she stopped, he stopped and tried to engage her in a conversation. AJ could tell that Emma was trying to politely excuse herself from him but he didn’t seem to be getting that message.

“Yo D!” AJ called over to his friend. “Who’s that guy?”

“What guy?”

“The one that’s all over Emma.”

That statement caused all four brothers to turn around and face the direction that AJ was pointing. It was clear who he was talking about and they all watched for a moment as he continued to follow her, trying to get her to talk to him. AJ didn’t say anything but he saw Nick’s eyes narrow and his face was contorted slightly; it didn’t take an idiot to see that he was upset about this development.

They continued to observe the interaction between the two and it got to the point where AJ felt that someone should step in and get him to back off. Before he could make his way over, another guy went up to them and starting yelling at the man bothering Emma. They seemed to be having a heated discussion and Howie went to split them up.

Before Howie could get there, he heard Addie shout for Emma to watch out. It was like watching a car crash; one man shoved the other while Emma was trying to get out of the way. The person being shoved slammed into Emma and caused her to lose her balance. She started to fall towards the border around the fire and it looked as though her head was going to hit the bricks. Rochelle cried out and it caused AJ to worry for her safety as well.

Nick’s mind went completely blank and all he could think of was getting to her in time. He used his long legs to jump over several people and he was able to catch Emma as she fell, avoiding her hitting the border or the fire. His heart was beating a mile a minute; he had never run so fast in his life and was truly scared he wouldn’t reach her in time. Realizing that he had managed to save her, he looked down and they locked eyes for a minute.

Emma was shaking uncontrollable out of fear from what had just happened. She knew that if Nick hadn’t caught her, something disastrous would have happened. When she looked into his eyes, she saw the serious concern he had for her mixed with some emotions she couldn’t describe. It felt like they spent eternity in that moment but it was just seconds before he handed her off to Addie and turned to face the men.
Thank You by Kyrie
The fury on Nick’s face was evident to everyone standing around the fire. He grabbed both men by their arms and dragged them in the opposite direction from where Addie had taken Emma. His brothers knew how angry he was and followed closely behind him. If either of the men had considered lashing out at Nick, they changed their mind the minute they saw four angry men walking behind him.

“Do you have any fucking idea what you just did?” Nick yelled as he pushed the two further up the beach. “You could have killed her with your fucking stupid stunt!”

“I was just trying to get her attention,” one of the guys protested, “then this idiot came up and butted in.”

The other one stuck an arm out to hit the one talking but Nick’s grip on both of them was super tight.

“Do you have a fucking clue?” AJ started in. “She was walking to get away from you two morons!”

“I’m not a …”

Kevin shot the shorter man a look that could have killed and Nick went off.

“You will get the fuck out of here and you had better not show your faces anywhere near this house again! God help you if I even think you’re looking over here!”

Both men realized that this was becoming a heated argument and one that they would not win. Nick released both with a shove and all five brothers stood there until they couldn’t see either one. They really didn’t give a damn if they continued their fight but it sure as hell wouldn’t be in the vicinity of their wives and families.

They headed back to the fire as a group; none of them saying a word because they didn’t want to make Nick any angrier than he was. The rage was radiating off of him and they were not surprised that he had intervened. He could protest all day that he hated being near Emma but they all knew, especially after what he had just done, that he truly was still in love with her.

Kristen, Rochelle and Leighanne made their way to their husbands’ sides when they saw them coming back. All of the men had expressions on that face that told everyone around them that the party was over. The neighbors, and their friends, cleared out pretty fast and, after dousing the fire, everyone else made their way back to the house.

-----------------

As the guys were dealing with the problem, Addie had taken Emma back to the house and up to her room. Her friend had been shaking like a leaf and looked as though she wanted to burst into tears. The expression on her face made Addie’s heart break and she pulled her into her arms.

“Ssh sweetie, you’re ok. You’re safe and sound now.”

“All I was trying to do is get by them.” Emma said as she cried. “I wasn’t trying to get involved.”

“No one thinks you did.” Addie replied forcefully. “Those two idiots were out of control and if it hadn’t been you, it would have been someone else.”

Addie sat there and let her friend relax to the point where she could sit up and feel like she was okay. She was furious that the neighbors had brought such irresponsible and disrespectful people to her house; they could have done some serious damage to Emma and that drove her batty. Knowing that it wasn’t the time, Addie had to talk herself out of going over there immediately and chewing someone out.

“You should go downstairs.” Emma quietly suggested. “People are probably going to be upset and it’ll be better if you go down there and take care of things.”

“I don’t want to leave you here by yourself. What if…”

“I’m ok Ad,” she interrupted, “I’ll be fine now. It just scared me and I think I overreacted.”

“You absolutely DID NOT! They had no business doing what they did!”

“I know, I just should’ve been more careful.”

Addie was incensed that her friend felt like this was somehow her fault. There was no responsibility on her part for the mess that played out. She was about to say that when Howie called up to her and told her that people were leaving. Emma told her to go downstairs and say goodnight; she was going to jump in the shower and lay down. She’d had enough excitement for one night.

--------------------

“How is she?” AJ asked as soon as Addie came into the kitchen. “Is she ok?”

Everyone was gathered in the kitchen waiting for her to come down and let them know how Emma was doing. Most of them were sitting around the island but she noticed that Nick was standing against the wall leading into the living room. He had his arms and legs crossed and Addie couldn’t get a feel on what was going on inside him. Instead of trying to figure it out, she turned to everyone else.

“Well, she’s calmed down but she still thinks it was her fault to get to close to them and she said she should have moved faster.”

Rochelle and Kristen jumped in to say that was ridiculous, nothing she did was an excuse for what happened. When Addie asked what happened to the men, Howie explained that they sent them on their way with a strict no return policy. She was satisfied with that and she swiveled towards Nick to say thank you but she noticed that he wasn’t there anymore.

------------------

Emma finished drying her hair and got dressed for bed; she just wanted to sink into her bed and pretend none of this had happened. When she finished up, she flipped the light switch and turned around.

“Ahh!’

Emma screamed as she noticed a person standing in the doorway. She hadn’t expected to find someone waiting for her when she came out and it caught her by surprise. Nick raised his hands and backed up slightly so as to not make it worse.

“I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Emma took a deep breath, crossed over to her bed and sat down.

“I’m fine.”

“Good.” Nick replied as he turned to leave. “That’s good.”

“Wait.” Emma called out to him causing him to stop. “Thank you for saving me.”

Nick didn’t turn to face her but he nodded his head to show that he heard her. He left and she heard him make his way down the stairs and rejoin the crowd that was gathered in the kitchen. She knew that it took a lot for him to help her after what she had done and she appreciated it more than he knew; she just couldn’t tell him that.
Leaving by Kyrie
The next week flew by; the guys were putting the finishing touches on their album while Addie and Emma helped Rochelle go shopping for the newest Backstreet baby. She and AJ knew they were having a girl so it made selecting things much easier.

“Thank you guys for going with me.” Rochelle told them as they took a seat in a caf. “I really appreciate it.”

“We know AJ’s busy and we also know you hate sitting around.” Emma teased. “It’s good for us girls to get a little retail therapy.”

Emma knew that after the weekend, everyone would be leaving and heading back to their homes. Brian, Leighanne and Baylee were heading back to Georgia, Kevin and crew were going to Kentucky and AJ was taking the girls back to California. It was his trip back to California that bothered Emma the most; she had bonded with his wife and she would miss her greatly. She would also miss his support and friendship for her.

“You know you can call and visit whenever you feel like it.” Rochelle smiled at Emma as if she could hear her thoughts. “California’s beautiful and we have extra room.”

Besides Addie, who would always be her best friend, Rochelle was the one wife that she truly connected with. As her husband had done, she supported Emma and gave her advice when she asked. Emma never forgot the first time she had met Rochelle; Nick had been planning a Thanksgiving gathering and Rochelle wanted to meet her first, to break the ice. After that, they became close and had always gotten along well; she would miss her and AJ a lot when they left.

“I appreciate the invitation.” Emma assured her. “Maybe I’ll take you up on it sometime.”

----------------------

“So you guys are heading back soon?”

Nick and AJ were hanging around by the hotel pool. After squashing their issues, they had been quick to get back to their normal ways with each other. Nick had missed his older brother and all the good times they shared; it was hard to shut out the guys when he first saw Emma at the hospital and he was relieved he didn’t have to do that anymore.

“Yeah,” AJ replied, “Rochelle has some doctor’s appointments coming up and my mom misses seeing Ava all the time.”

“You really lucked out with Ro, she’s an awesome girl. Not sure why she puts up with you though!” Nick threw a napkin in AJ’s direction. “She must be a masochist!”

“Funny Carter! Just wait till you get married and I get to make all the jokes at your expense!”

AJ regretted saying that the minute it came out of his mouth; his wife always said that there were some things he should just keep to himself. He watched as Nick’s eyes clouded over; seeing Emma again had stirred up all the emotions he had been shoving down.

“Sorry little brother. Sometimes I just need to keep my mouth shut.”

“It’s ok.” Nick told him. “You didn’t really say anything wrong.”

Nick’s feelings had been going up and down since the night at the bonfire. He had spent so much time angry at Emma and hating her for what she did to him. Even though he said that to convince himself as much as everyone else, he had to admit that if something had happened to her, he would have been devastated. He didn’t even remember how he got to her; he just knew he needed to stop her from being hurt.

“You did a really good thing the other night.” AJ said quietly as though he was reading Nick’s mind. “She was lucky that you got there in time.”

“I just couldn’t imagine something happening to her.”

AJ didn’t push Nick any further, he knew what his brother was feeling. No matter how much someone wants to move on, there are just some of those people that keep that someone from forgetting them. He knew that person was Emma for Nick and he was pretty sure Nick knew it himself. At some point, they would have to come to that realization on their own and he could only hope it was soon.

------------------

Howie and Addie had everyone over for one last meal before all the families left for their homes. They had all hoped that it would finally be a time where they could all sit down and not have anyone not talking to someone else. Had it been a few weeks before, Emma probably would have avoided the whole night while Nick made everyone miserable with his need for attention and sympathy. Something happened the night of the bonfire though and it finally brought them together for the first time in a while.

The women were in the kitchen talking about Rochelle’s upcoming delivery while the guys were watching some sports talk show in the living room. Everybody was relaxed and enjoying the last night that they would be sharing until they came out for the birth of AJ’s little girl.

When dinner was announced, the couples made their way to sit together leaving Emma and Nick two seats next to each other. No one had realized what had happened until they saw the two still standing, debating on what to do. After a moment, Emma pulled out her chair and took a seat; a few seconds later, Nick did the same thing. It seemed like they have finally reached a point where they could be in the same shared space without it becoming a major issue for everyone.

Dinner went by quickly and before they knew it, it was time to say goodbye. Kevin and his family were taking an early flight home and Brian was driving his family back to Georgia after breakfast. AJ and Rochelle were flying home the next evening. After all of the couples had left, it was just Addie, Howie, Nick and Emma. The remaining couple thought that they might get their friends to spend a little more time together but Emma begged off saying she had a headache and Nick told them he had to get up early for a morning meeting.

“Do you think they’ll ever talk again?’ Addie asked her husband after everyone left. “I was kind of hoping they would at least say goodbye.”

“Normally, I’d let you push,” Howie told her, “but this time it’s up to them. We’ve forced the issue twice now and it hasn’t worked out well. I think they need to take some time and figure out how they feel. Maybe we’ll all be surprised.”
A Favor by Kyrie
“Are you really okay with us going away?”

“I’ll be fine,” Emma assured her friend, “I have plenty of things I can do here.”

Addie knew her friend was lying through her teeth but she couldn’t postpone this trip. It was Howie’s friend’s birthday and they were traveling to Connecticut for the party. They had planned to stay for a few days but Addie was unsure about leaving Emma for that long. She knew that her friend didn’t have many friends up there and most of her old colleagues were away for the summer. Emma was literally going to be by herself for days.

“I know what you’re thinking Ad and I will be fine. Michael leaves constantly for vacations and conferences and I haven’t fallen apart yet.”

“Yeah but you have friends down there,” Addie reminded her, “and there are places you like to visit. Massachusetts doesn’t have that same hold for you anymore.”

Emma was touched by her friend’s concern for her but these few days were actually going to be good for her. As much as she pretended she wasn’t, Emma had always been a little introverted. She enjoyed quiet time by herself and, with everything that had happened lately, she could really use those moments alone. There had been enough excitement since she’d arrived and she was thrilled that she might be able to relax with no problems to worry about.

“Are you absolutely sure?”

“Yes Mom,” Emma replied with a chuckle, “you can leave the nest for a few days and I promise that I will still be standing when you return.”

At that point, Howie showed up in the living room and let his wife know that he had packed the car, they were ready to leave. Addie gave Emma once last look at she made her way to the door.

“Are you pos…”

“Howie!” Emma yelled causing her friend’s husband to come back. “Please make her leave or I’m gonna push her out the door!”

“Alright, alright.” Howie laughed. “Come on Mrs. Dorough.”

Howie dragged Addie to the car and left Emma waving at them from the porch. He knew, maybe more than his wife, that Emma needed a break from everyone. It would be good for her to have some time to think and process what had been happening. He and Addie sticking around would just have made it harder.

The couple left and Emma headed back into the house. She decided that she would lay out by the pool for a while and then think about dinner. All she wanted was a little rest and the day was beautiful; she was finally going to get some alone time.

-------------------

Nick was pissed. He had gone to the studio to do some work and the producer left, forgetting that he needed to give him a lift home. As he locked up the door and cursed the guy for taking off, he dialed Howie’s number; maybe he could give him a lift back to the hotel.

“Hey D.” Nick blurted out as soon as his friend answered. “I got stranded by this idiot and I was hoping you could give me a lift home.”

“I wish I could but I’m halfway to Connecticut right now.” Howie answered. “We have that party remember?”

Damn, Nick thought; of course he forgot that Howie was leaving and it left him thinking of ideas about how he could get back to the hotel. Worse thing that could happen is he could always call a cab. He reached into his pocket and couldn’t find his wallet.

“This is bullshit!” Nick yelled.

“Sorry man…”

“No, not you Howie. I just realized that my wallet is with that idiot that was supposed to give me a ride. I’ll just have to figure something else out.”

Howie paused for a minute, thinking about whether or not he wanted to actually suggest what he was contemplating. He knew his brother was stranded and didn’t have too many options. This was probably the best one but he hesitated for a moment.

“I have one suggestion.”

“I’m all ears.” Nick said. “I’m stuck and there really aren’t a whole lot of options left.”

“Emma’s at the house and maybe you could call her and ask for a ride.”

Howie spit his thoughts out and his wife stared at him. It made him question whether he should have said it at all.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Addie grabbed the phone from her husband and took over the conversation. Nick needed to be forced into it and she was just the person to do it. There was really no other option for him and he was just going to have to suck it up.

“He’s right Nick, you have to call her. If you need her number, I can give it to you.”

“I don’t think she’ll….”

“She’ll come.” Addie answered his concern. “She won’t leave you stranded. It might be a little while for her to get there but she’ll come, I know it.”

Nick was concerned that Emma would either refuse to come get him, make an excuse or feel too uncomfortable. The way he behaved towards her when she got there made him think that her coming for him was just not going to happen.

“Do you have a pen to write down the number?”

Nick didn’t say anything and Addie realized that she didn’t need to give it to him. His silence spoke volumes and she realized that he still had the number; he had never deleted it from his phone.

He knew that Addie had guessed that he had it and she was right. For some reason, no matter how angry or how hurt he was, he couldn’t bring himself to take her out of his contacts.

“Call her Nick; I promise she’ll come.”

Addie hung up leaving Nick at the end of the conversation. He couldn’t debate it anymore and he knew that he had no other options since he didn’t even have a wallet. Pressing the button for contacts, he scrolled through until he found Emma’s number. It took a few seconds for him to make the decision and he finally just hit dial; he could only hope that she didn’t hang up on him.
Her Response by Kyrie
Emma was jolted out of her thoughts by her phone ringing and was shocked to see Nick’s number pop up on the caller id. Like Nick, she had found it impossible to delete her ex’s number. The idea occurred to her frequently but she just couldn’t do it no matter how often she thought about it.

“Hello?”

There was silence on the other end and she wasn’t sure what to make of it. Why would he call me, how would he have even had her number? She waited a moment and was almost hanging up when she heard his voice.

“Hi Emma.”

“Hi Nick.”

There were another few seconds of dead air. Nick was trying to get the nerve to ask her to help him. He had a pretty good idea that he was going to get a no after everything that had happened.

“I was hoping I could ask you a favor.”

Emma was stunned that he was calling to ask her to help him; he really must need something in order for him to call her.

“What is it?”

“My idiot producer left me at the studio. He was supposed to give me a ride back to the hotel and he must not have remembered. I wouldn’t have called but he also left with my wallet so I have no money for a cab.”

When she didn’t say anything, he assumed that he had been correct about her not willing to help him.

“Never mind,” Nick told her, “I’ll figure something else out.”

“I’ll come get you.”

She had said it so quietly that he almost didn’t hear it. It took him a moment to realize that she was willing to help him out.

“You’re sure? I would understand if you didn’t want to.”

“It’s ok. Can you give me the address to the studio so I can plug it into my GPS?”

Nick told her the address and what the studio was near. She told him she would be leaving in a few minutes and that it might be a little bit till she got there. He questioned whether that meant she wasn’t coming but he surprised him by pulling into the lot behind the studio about an hour later.

“Sorry,” Emma said as he climbed in, “this stupid GPS got me lost and I had to use my phone.”

Once Nick was settled, she used her phone to set directions for his hotel and pulled out of the parking lot. It was an uncomfortable situation for both of them; there wasn’t a word spoken for the first twenty minutes of the drive. Neither of them knew what to say and they couldn’t figure out how to start a random conversation. After the twenty-five minute mark, Emma had gotten so uncomfortable that she blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

“So you were there to record a new album?”

She felt like a moron when she realized what she had asked. Of course he was at the studio to record, what else would he be doing?

“No,” Nick answered, “I was looking to make some pizzas.”

He had meant it as a joke but the way he said it came out as more as a statement than what he had planned.

“I’m sorry, that was rude. I came here to work on my solo stuff. I figured that since we were almost done with our album, I could focus more on my music. I worked with this guy the last time I was here and he’s pretty good.”

“How’s it going?”

“I don’t know, something’s not quite right and I can’t figure it out. This guy’s been giving me great suggestions but it still feels like something is off.”

Emma knew nothing about Nick’s latest music so she didn’t feel comfortable giving an opinion or making any suggestions. The conversation died for about ten minutes before Nick started asking her questions.

“How’s North Carolina?”

“It’s ok.”

“Doesn’t sound like it.”

Emma thought for a moment before responding. She didn’t know if he cared or he was just looking for something to say. It was better than no talking so she just decided to answer him honestly.

“My boss hates me.” Emma told him. “It makes life a little difficult.”

As mad as he had been at her, he couldn’t understand how someone could dislike her. Yes, she had broken his heart into a million pieces but she had never been outwardly cruel to anyone.

“Why does she hate you?”

“She’s sleeping with one of the other teachers and she thinks he’d be better for the position than me.”

Nick was surprised by her honesty and he really didn’t know what to say. He thought he’d try to make another joke.

“Too bad you aren’t a guy.”

Before she could stop it, Emma chuckled at his statement.

“I probably still wouldn’t be her type.”

This last part of the conversation made it a little easier to get through the rest of the ride. Neither one asked any difficult questions, but kept it light talking about music and travelling. Before long, Emma pulled up in front of Nick’s hotel and he got out.

“Thanks Emma, I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome.”

Emma smiled and Nick shut the door; he waved as she drove away and then made it up to his room. He was really grateful for his ex’s help and he hoped she had understood that. Maybe this was a step towards being able to be more friendly.
The Set Up by Kyrie
Addie and Howie returned after a few days and things got back into their regular routine. Emma helped Addie with the baby when Howie was working and, whenever he could, he took over so Addie could hang out with Emma before she left. School started earlier in the South so Emma would have to leave in a few more weeks and Addie wanted as much time with her as possible.

At that moment, they were sitting on the outside patio of one of their favorite restaurant. The women had been shopping, Addie for the baby and Emma for her upcoming school year. After ordering their sandwiches, Addie jumped right into it.

“How come you have you leave?” Addie asked with a pout. “I’m going to miss you.”

“Nice face.” Emma chuckled. “You can save that for Howie because it doesn’t get you anywhere with me.”

“Brat!”

“I know but you still love me.”

Their sandwiches arrived and, as Addie started eating her fries, she noticed that her friend was only picking at her food. She put down the fry she was holding and wiped her hands on her napkin.

“Ok, what’s with you sitting there? You love this food.”

“I’m just kind of bummed.” Emma answered. “I’ve had a really good time here with you, Howie and the baby. I’m going to have to leave soon and head back to North Carolina. You guys won’t be there and I’ll be stuck with that stupid woman.”

Addie knew how much Emma despised her new boss and she was still pissed off that someone could actually dislike her best friend.

“She sucks.” Addie agreed and then paused. “Have you ever thought about coming back up here?”

Emma shook her head; she knew she had made a commitment to one more year down south and there wasn’t a huge draw for her to come back.

“I miss you and the baby but my life is down there now. I can’t imagine coming back and starting all over again. I feel like that’s all I’ve been doing plus I don’t think I can handle all the memories that come with being here.”

“I thought you and Nick were getting along? I mean you went out of your way to help him last week, I was kind of hoping that was a good sign.”

Sighing, Emma just looked at her friend. She knew Addie was looking out for her best interests but she seemed to think that, since the two exes were speaking, that meant things might go back to the way it used to be.

“Ad, just because I helped him one time does not at all mean that we’re going to be friends again.”

“But you were at the beginning.”

“I know.” Emma replied. “But so many things have changed, some good, some bad. You can’t ignore everything that’s happened and there’s no going back in time. It just doesn’t work like that. Plus, Nick’s only being polite so he doesn’t make everyone mad again.”

Addie knew that her friend was lying to herself trying to make her interactions with Nick seem more like ones that were demanded. She was able to see things a little more clearly than her friend and she knew that both her and Nick meant more to each other than they wanted to admit. Yes, Nick being nicer was born out of necessity but it seems to have developed into more.

Thankfully, Addie’s phone rang before she could start lecturing her friend. Howie told her that he was going to head over to the studio to check out Nick’s new music. He wanted to know if she could swing by and pick up the baby. Just as she was going to say yes, a new plan started formulating in her plan. She told her husband that she would love to swing by and help him out.

“What was that about?” Emma asked, finally finishing her sandwich.

“Oh, um, Howie wanted to go meet with a producer and asked if I would swing by and pick up the baby. Do you mind coming there with me? I can drop you off at your car afterwards.”

“Sure, a drive would be nice.”

The women were quiet on their way to meet Howie; Emma was thinking of going back to her home and Addie was contemplating the best way to make sure her plan worked. Emma finally snapped into the present when she noticed that they were pulling into the same studio that she picked Nick up from.

“Howie records at the same place as Nick?”

“Oh yeah.” Addie told her as they got out of the car. “This guy is one of the best and sometimes the guys like to collaborate; it’s easier for them if they have the same people in common.”

“Oh ok.” Emma said. “I’ll wait for you out here.”

“No,” Addie said forcefully and then decreased her intensity, “I mean I need your help. You know how much crap Howie packs for the baby. I need your help getting it into the car.”

Emma raised her eyebrow at her friend but she climbed out of the car and followed her friend into the studio. It took them a couple of minutes to find the right room but Emma recognized the voices coming out of it before they walked in.

“Nick’s here too?” she asked with a stare. “This better not be some stunt you’re pulling Ad.”

“I’m not planning anything at all.” Addie said with an innocent face. “I didn’t know he would be here honest!”

“Yeah right. Let’s get your daughter and be on our way.”

Howie smiled when his wife walked into the room. Pulling her into a hug, he told her that he would help her transfer the stuff from his car to hers. He gave Emma’s shoulder a squeeze and walked out with his daughter and wife. While she was waiting for them to come back, she listened to the music coming out of the booth. From where she was sitting, she had a total view of Nick but the room was so dark, he couldn’t have seen her there, which was probably for the best.

She waited about five minutes and then headed out to the parking lot. There was no way that moving things from one car to another. Her jaw dropped when she looked around and realized that both Howie and Addie had left. She had no idea how she would get home and she wanted to kill her friend for the set up; she couldn’t wait to get back to their house!
True Emotion by Kyrie
Emma went back into the studio and asked the producer if she could use his phone; hers was in the car that Addie had conveniently left in. He pointed down the hall to his office which would be quieter for her. Fortunately for Addie, her phone didn’t pick up and all Emma could do was yell at her over voicemail. After she got done telling her what would happen when Emma got home, she hung up and headed back to the room.

“Do you happen to know whether a bus comes by here or if there is a taxi company I can use?”

It just so happened that, as the producer was answering her, Nick came out of the booth and almost ran smack into her.

“Emma?”

She was absolutely mortified; she didn’t want her ex to thinking she was there to see him or, worse yet, that she was following him around.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to be here. I was supposed to help Addie get the baby from Howie and then they took off on me and stranded me here.”

Emma took a deep breath; there was no way that Nick was going to buy that since he hadn’t even seen his friend and his wife. She was so embarrassed and asked the producer for the cab number again.

“If you just wanted to hear my music, you could have asked.”

“But….wait….no…that’s not what I’m here for…not that I don’t want too…I swear this is Addie’s fault.”

“Isn’t it always?” Nick said with a laugh. “She’s usually responsible for setting people up. It seems to be her specialty.”

“I know.” Emma admitted. “I’m just going to call for a cab and I will be out of your hair, I promise.”

He couldn’t explain why watching her head down to the office made him feel sad. There was work to be done and Emma seemed like she wanted to make a quick exit. She returned a moment later, thanked the producer for his help and turned to leave. However, before she was out of the door completely, Nick called her back.

“Since you have to wait for the cab and all, you think you could take a listen? Maybe you can figure out what’s wrong with the song.”

“I really don’t want to be in the way.” Emma told him. “I don’t want to be a distraction while you’re trying to work.”

The producer watched the interaction between the two and smiled. He knew who Emma was and he found it amusing that neither of them was admitting that Nick wanted her to stay and she didn’t want to leave. Nick had complained to him that, after running into Emma at the hospital, he wished his ex would just leave and let him be in peace. From the current look on his face, the producer knew he was full of shit.

“Why don’t you take a seat?” the producer said as he pointed to the chair next to him. “This one needs to get it together and finish this piece before I leave. Since he’s not getting anywhere with it, he probably could use all the help he could get!”

Nick flipped him off as Emma reluctantly took a seat. They waited for Nick to get back in the booth and put his headphones on. The song he was working on happened to be a cover of a song that Idina Menzel had done on the Beaches movie soundtrack. The music was haunting and Nick had been mesmerized the first time he heard it. He called her a few months ago and asked her for permission to do a cover of it on his album; she graciously told him he could.

The problem was, when Nick was singing it, he just wasn’t getting the same feel for the song. He knew it was beautiful and spoke from the heart but something wasn’t right. He had been hoping that this song would fit in the album perfectly but he was starting to think he made a mistake.

“You ready?”

The producer was waiting on him so he took a deep breath and waited for the music to start. Emma didn’t recognize the song but the instrumental part was stunning; her attention was grabbed as soon as Nick started singing. His eyes were closed and she could see that he was having trouble getting into the right head space. He sang the first verse but something just wasn’t clicking.

“Maybe you shouldn’t do this song,” the producer called into him, “you’re having a really tough time with it.”

“No,” Nick said adamantly, “I want this one. Start it up one more time.”

He was about to close his eyes but he saw movement in the booth. Emma had moved her chair closer to the board and was watching him intently. For some reason, that movement caused some kind of change in him and he started singing.

I’m sorry if I wasn’t there
Or acted like I didn’t care
You were always there for me
Seeing what I couldn’t see

I’m sorry if you felt alone
I should’ve call, I should’ve known
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To get just one more day with you

So don’t the last time I hurt you
Be the last time I heard you
Don’t be the last time I held you
Be the last time I felt you

Wouldn’t let you get away
If I had another day
Don’t let the last time I saw you
Be the last time
Be the last time

Emma listened as the music flowed from the speakers. She could see Nick watching her from inside the booth; she felt like he was looking for something from her. Listening to him sing such an amazing song brought her to tears. Between the lyrics and him pouring what seemed like his entire soul into it, the song seemed to take on a life of its own.

Nick could see his ex’s reaction to the music but couldn’t describe it. He watched as the tears slid down her face and continued to sing. Putting his all into it, he finished the song, staring into her eyes the whole time.


I'm sorry if I got too loud
Or if I didn't make you proud
You always gave me what you could
When I was wrong you understood

Sorry if I made you mad
If I could I'd take it back
You're not where I thought you'd be
But you'll always be a part of me

So don't let the last time I hurt you
Be the last time I heard you
Don't let the last time I held you
Be the last time I felt you

Wouldn't let you get away
If I had another day
So don't let the last time I saw you
Be the last time
Be the last time

So don't let the last time I hurt you
Be the last time I heard you
Don't let the last time I held you
Be the last time I felt you

Wouldn't let you get away
If I had another day
So don't let the last time I saw you
Be the last time
So don't let the last time I saw you
Be the last time
Be the last time
Be the last time*


There was complete silence as the music ended: Nick finished the last line and waited a moment to take a breath.

“That was amazing!”

Nick didn’t even hear his producer talking, all he could focus on were Emma’s eyes and the sadden look in them. He didn’t understand what was going on but he was going to figure it out. As the producer finished the last retouch of the song, Nick turned to hang up his headphones and push the microphone over by the wall. It completely caught him by surprise that, when he turned back around, Emma was gone.

He went flying through the recording booth door, totally ignoring his producer calling out to him. Nick took off down the corridor and up the stairs to the door leading to the parking lot. Bolting out, he scanned the parking lot looking for any signs of her; she had completely vanished and left Nick wondering if she had even been there at all.

**Last Time by Idina Menzel “ Beaches Soundtrack
Confusion by Kyrie
Nick had left the studio right after he found Emma missing; he didn’t know how far of a head start she had but he wasn’t willing to just walk away from this. There was a conversation they needed to have, whether she was willing or not, and he was determined to see it through. Assuming she had returned to Howie’s house, he sped there and was pounding at the door a few moments later.

“What are you…”

Howie was interrupting by Nick pushing past him into the house and stalking down to the living room. He followed his brother after guessing what this whole situation was about.

“Is she here?” Nick asked quickly. “Where is she?”

“You might want to have a seat and cool down for a minute there; I’m not letting you loose on anyone till you’ve settled down some.”

As Nick was about to insist on Howie telling him where his ex was, he heard a door slam from up above and Addie yelling and banging on it. They sat there for a moment until the heard the door open, slam again and then they heard both women start yelling.

“What the hell is going on D?”

Howie shook his head and explained that Emma had come home just about five minutes before he did. She and Addie had gotten into it the minute she found her friend is the living room with a smile on her face. Surprised by Emma’s furious look, Addie had questioned what happened at the studio and neither she nor Howie could get a straight answer from her. She had stalked upstairs and Addie had followed as soon as the shock wore off.

“They’ve been going at it since she came back?”

“Yup.” Howie said with a nod. “What the hell happened at the studio Nick? Emma’s fuming about something. Did you two get into an argument?”

“No!” Nick answered him defensively. “For the first time since we’ve been here, it’s not my freaking fault!”

“Well then, what did happen?”

As Nick relayed the story to his friend, Emma and Addie’s voices to continue to rise from the second floor.

------------------

“I can’t believe you did that to me Addie! What the hell is wrong with you?”

Emma yelled at the top of her voice, not caring who heard her. She probably should have been a little more restrained but she was at the end of her rope; things were just starting to feel as though she was drowning. Nick hated her and had made that clear; Addie, in all her infinite wisdom, was trying to force them back together and Emma didn’t seem to have a friend around her that she could go to. Addie was always going to be her best friend but she was just too close to the situation to understand how Emma felt.

“There is nothing wrong with me!” Addie yelled back. “What the hell is wrong with you? You’re the one who came storming in here like a lunatic!”

“I’m not a lunatic,” Emma hissed, “maybe I’m just tired of everyone trying to figure out everyone else’s lives. Why can’t you just stay out of this? You’re supposed to be my friend!”

“How dare you?” Addie screamed. “I am your fucking friend, what do you think I’ve been for the last fifteen years? I can’t believe you would say that to me!”

“Then start acting like a damn friend and stop assuming that you know better than everyone else about what is good for me!”

“Well forgive me for giving a shit! Maybe you should just call Michael and tell him how mean everyone is being to you! Maybe he’ll be the one who can get you to use some fucking common sense!”

Addie stalked to the door, flung it open and ran right into someone. To both of their surprises, Nick had been waiting outside and had just raised his hand to knock when Addie started storming out. As Addie shoved him out of the way, Emma looked over and saw the confusion on Nick’s face; the confusion gave way to something that looked like anger and sadness. Knowing that she couldn’t handle any other altercations, she ran into the bathroom and slammed the door; she could hear her bedroom door slam again and started to cry. Why did she always mess stuff up?

-----------------

Howie heard Emma’s door slam, then his bedroom door was shut with such force that it shook the living room. Starting to get up from his chair, he saw Nick come stalking down the stairs and watched as he whipped the slider door open. He sank back down when he realized there was probably nothing he could do to fix this mess.

“This is ridiculous,” Howie said as he put head in his hands, “We’re not going to have any doors left on this house.”

------------------

After a few moments of catching her breath, Emma made her way out of the bathroom and took a seat on the bed next to where she’d flung her phone after getting it back from Addie. She reached for it with a shaking hand, scrolled to the number she was looking for and hit call.

“Hey Feisty, how’s it going?”

Emma burst into tears at the sound of his voice and the story tumbled out of her. He listened as she told him about being stranded at the studio by Addie, Nick recording his song, her cab ride back and the fight she had just had with Addie. After some prodding, she told him about Nick being outside the door and the look on his face.

“So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I love Addie but she’s just too goddamned pushy, she always thinks she knows best and that her way is the right way.” Emma replied. “I’m not sure I should even stay up here for any longer; maybe I should just go home.”

“Hold up,” AJ barked, “remember the last time you ran away from problems? How’d that work out for you?”

Emma sighed at his honesty.

“Good thinking. Go call Michael and I’ll give you a call in a bit. DO NOT book any tickets until you hear from me!”

AJ hit the end button on his call and turned to Rochelle.

“What the hell is wrong with these people?”

“They love each other.” Rochelle answered with a laugh. “Whether or not they’d like to admit it.”

He just shook his head and kissed his wife on the cheek.

“I think I know who I need to call.”
Truth by Kyrie
Nick sat on the beach just throwing rocks down to the water and getting angrier by the second about all that Emma and Addie had just argued about. He was so busy going back and forth between earlier in the day and the recent fight, that he didn’t hear his phone ring. It was after the third call that he felt the vibrating; he pulled it out of his pants and saw AJ’s face flashing on the screen. After contemplating ignoring it, he picked up knowing that his brother would just continue to call until he answered.

“What?” Nick asked sharply.

“Well hello Miss Sunshine. It’s nice to talk to you too.”

“Look J, I’m not in the mood to talk right now. I have stuff on my mind.”

“That stuff wouldn’t be a weird recording session, a chaos of arguments and then some information that turned out to be upsetting?”

He had no idea how his brother did it but AJ seemed to always know what was going on. It was an aggravating trait most of the time but Nick was actually appreciating it at the moment; this way he wouldn’t have to tell AJ everything that was going on in his head.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” AJ spoke after a moment of silence. “Alright, which part is more upsetting than the others?”

In reality, AJ already knew the answer to the question. The remarks Nick had heard about someone named Michael would be driving him nuts and after waiting for his brother to answer, AJ just broke the silence.

“You know about ….”

“Her freaking boyfriend, yes, AJ, I know about her boyfriend!”

“I…”

“Why did you all fail to mention him?” Nick demanded. “Did you think that didn’t matter?”

AJ took a deep breath before responding and asked his brother the most important question.

“Why do you care Nick? What difference does it make to you?”

He already knew why the whole Michael thing bothered Nick; no matter how much his little brother protested that he didn’t care about Emma, AJ knew that learning about a new man in Emma’s life was killing him.

“I don’t care,” Nick shot back, “just a warning would have been nice!”

“I get it except that I know what you’re thinking isn’t what reality actually is. Michael is actually Emma’s roommate…”

“Yeah right,” Nick retorted with an angry laugh, “is that what they’re calling it?”

AJ pulled a Kevin as he put his thumb and index finger over the bridge of his nose and rubbed it. He was pretty sure that Nick was not going to listen to him explain who Michael was because he had already decided. Realizing it was the only way to make his little brother listen, he made a joke.

“He probably thinks you’re cuter than Emma.”

“What the fuck are you talking about? He thinks that I’m cuter? Why the fuck would he think that, he doesn’t even know me!”

AJ just shook his head; as smart as Nick could be he was also thickheaded about things.

“Listen clearly,” AJ said, “you’re more Michael’s type than she is.”

“That doesn’t make sense J…”

“Jesus Christ!” AJ yelled into the phone at his friend. “Are you really too fucking idiotic to understand this? Michael is gay you dumbass!”

“Gay?” Nick asked as the realization dawned on him. “He’s really gay?”

“Dude, he’s gay. As in really gay. Really gay and engaged to marry his fiancé in about eight months.”

“So that means…”

“Yes you idiot, Emma is not his girlfriend, she is simply his roommate. In case you’re too dumb to get it, I’ll spell it out; there is zero romantic interest from either side.”

Nick sat there dumbfounded; he had been expecting that AJ was going to try to deny it but he had no idea what was truly happening. There were so many emotions going through his head; he felt like an idiot for just assuming he knew what the truth was and he was embarrassed that AJ thought he was idiot for not getting it. More than those two emotions, he felt an unexpected one; he realized he was truly happy, almost thrilled, knowing that Michael was only a friend and a roommate to Emma. That revelation eased all the tension from his body and a smile crossed his face without him even realizing it.

AJ knew exactly was Nick looked like at the moment and laughed.

“Alright lover boy,” AJ teased, “are you ok now?”

“I think so.” Nick told him. “I really appreciate it J.”

“I know Nicky.” his older brother acknowledged. “Now get off the damn phone, I have other calls to make!”

AJ hung up and looked at his wife; she was laughing so hard there were tears streaming down her face. Watching her shake from laughter made him lose it and they both collapsed on the bed picturing Nick’s face from that conversation.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do that honey,” Rochelle assured him as she took a couple of breaths, “I give you tons of credit.”

“Thanks wifey,” AJ replied. “Now I just have to make sure little Miss Feisty doesn’t try to fly the coop!”
The Storm by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
I'm sorry for the long delay in updating, I promise to be quicker at it!!!
Emma patched up the disagreement with Addie later that day and she was grateful that she hadn’t run away. Dealing with things was the better option and Emma was bothered by the fact that she just wanted to escape instead of facing difficult situations; she had done the same thing with Nick and that had gotten her absolutely nowhere. Everyone was going to get a break from each other though with Howie accepting an invitation from his family for him, Addie and the baby to come visit for the week. Emma had decided to go to New York for part of the week to catch up with Michael and his fiancé, Arthur.

“Do you have everything packed?” Emma asked her friend. “Did you get everything?”

“We’re good.” Addie replied. “Are you going to be okay by yourself for a little while?”

“I’ll be fine; I’m leaving for New York in a few days and probably won’t be here until you guys get back.”

“Be careful.” Howie warned, coming in from packing the car. “There’s supposed to be a bad storm coming this way; they said it could turn into a hurricane.”

“I know. I’m pretty sure I’ll be in the air before it gets here.”

“Promise me you’ll be safe.” Addie told her friend.

“I will and I’ll call you to let you know that I made it to New York; I don’t want you worrying.”

Howie finished loading the car and came in to collect his wife and their daughter. The friends said goodbye and Addie promised to text her later on that day. Emma assured them again that she would be fine and that she would be long gone before the storm got bad.

“Have fun and be safe.” Emma called out to them as they left. “I’ll take care of stuff here before I leave.”

-----------------------

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come?”

Michael had called Emma that day before she was leaving to meet him; he didn’t want her flying to them because the storm was getting progressively worse. Her flight was probably going to be cancelled any way but he didn’t want her to risk it; it was far safer for her to stay where she was.

“I’m positive Emma; there is no way I want you travelling in this mess,” he assured her, “Are you going to be ok where you are?”

“Their house is pretty safe and the weather really isn’t that bad here yet. Maybe it’ll just blow over.”

They both knew that there was a slim chance of that actually happening. The force of the storm had been building quickly over the last two days and there were travel safety warnings all over the place.

“You call me if you need anything,” he told her, “I can call someone and have them check on you.”

Emma assured him again that she would be fine and went upstairs to unpack her overnight bag. She would be leaving not long after she got back from New York and had planned on only taking the small bag; dragging a bunch of luggage for a couple of days didn’t seem to make sense. Making her way back downstairs, she hunted around for some flashlights, candles and matches just in case she was wrong about the extent of the storm.

---------------------

“Hey Howie, how are you?”

Nick answered the phone when he saw his friend’s face pop up. He knew they were in Florida visiting Howie’s family and he was glad they got out before the storm; it was pounding the Cape pretty good with massive winds and flooding rain. Guessing that was the reason he was calling, Nick beat him to the punch.

“Want me to go check the house?”

“Please!” Howie replied with a laugh, “I can’t believe you read my mind.”

“I’m good like that. Is everything there okay?”

“I forgot to take down the umbrella on the table and I tried calling Emma to check but she’s not answering her phone.”

“Emma’s there?”

“No, she went to New York to visit Michael and his fiancé for a couple of days; that’s probably why I can’t get ahold of her.”

Nick was still unnerved by hearing Michael’s name but he understood that he was simply Emma’s roommate and nothing more.

“Okay, I’ll head out in a couple of minutes.”

Before Nick broke the connection, his brother offered for him to stay at the house; he already had a key and it was easier than traveling back and forth between the hotel and the house. Nick agreed and packed a small bag to bring with him. He doubted there was going to be an issue but he preferred to be on the safe side.

-------------------

Emma was racing around the house trying to make sure that everything was in a safe and secure place. She knew she had to try and take down the umbrella on the outside table but it was going to be a major problem to do by herself with the wind whipping around. Her plan to do it earlier was wrecked by the storm coming in a little earlier than expected. Now it was going to be a bitch to take care of.

She placed all of the flashlights and candles on the kitchen island so she would be able to reach them easily. After securing everything, she was going to head back to the living room to watch a movie while the storm calmed itself out. Just as she was opening the door to the patio, she turned to grab a coat and caught sight of someone coming into the kitchen. She grabbed a flashlight and was prepared to throw it at whoever was coming in.
What To Do Now by Kyrie
“What the hell?”

Nick yelped as the flashlight flew by him. He had assumed he was by himself but apparently someone or something had gotten into the house. When he turned to the direction the object had come from, he came face to face with Emma. She was on the other side of the island and was preparing to throw something else. Nick raised his hands to get her attention.

“Whoa there Tom Brady,” he teased, “you’re gonna take someone’s eye out.”

Emma realized that it was Nick and her body and mind relaxed; she hadn’t been expecting him but he was better than a burglar or a murderer.

“What are you doing here?”

Nick set his bag on the counter and picked up the flashlight. He gently set it back down on the counter and took inventory of the all the candles she had put there.

“Howie asked me to check on the house.” Nick answered. “Do you think you’re going to need all of these candles? You might burn the place down.”

“I wanted to be prepared.” Emma said as she looked down to see about twenty-five candles. “There were more but I left them in the closet.”

“Good thinking. Why are you here?”

Emma explained that she had been intending to go to New York but her travel plans fell through when the storm picked up its intensity. Nick understood why she had thought better of going but it was going to be an uncomfortable situation with both of them staying there. He was thinking about leaving but he noticed that Howie had left the umbrella up and he knew that Emma wouldn’t be able to take care of that herself.

The wind whipped around and shook the house causing Emma to snap to attention. She knew that Nick was taking inventory of what needed to be done and she was more than happy to let him help. There would be no way of getting the patio furniture down safely on her own.

She had just come around the corner of the island when Nick caught sight of something over her right shoulder. He surprised her by pulling her into him tightly, spinning around and wrapping his free arm around her head. Opening her mouth to speak, she shut it quickly as she heard a tremendous smash; without being able to see, she could tell that the umbrella had just crashed through the sliding door to the kitchen.

“Are you okay?” Nick asked as he released her. “Nothing hit you right?”

Emma could see glass all over the floor and she understood why Nick had moved her. The umbrella had landed within inches of where she had been standing. She simply nodded and began moving towards the closet to get a dust broom.

“No way.” Nick said, gently yanking her back. “I need to board up that door before we do any cleaning. There’s still a chance something else could come through.”

She watched as Nick cut through the kitchen and went into the garage. He came back a few minutes later with a drill and some large pieces of plywood. It took him about a half an hour to get everything in place before he would let her come into the room.

“How did you know how to do that?” Emma asked as they started picking up the big pieces of glass. “Do they get many hurricanes in California?”

“No,” Nick replied with a laugh, “I grew up in Florida and they were a common occurrence. My brother, sisters and I got used to this at an early age.”

“That must have been fun.”

“It wasn’t that bad, we got to learn all this handy stuff while we were young so we didn’t get into a bad spot when we got older.”

Emma nodded and turned back to the task at hand; it took about an hour but they managed to get everything cleaned up and taken care of. They had remained pretty silent while they were working but Emma had noticed that when Nick came in, he had a bag with him. She wasn’t sure what was going on but she asked as soon as they finished.

“Howie offered to let me stay here after I checked on the house so that I wouldn’t have to drive all the way back to the hotel.” Nick answered. “But I can always go back.”

“It’s not safe.” Emma told him. “I would feel awful if something happened.”

She blushed after admitting that and hoped it didn’t make an uncomfortable situation even worse. Thankfully, Nick let the comment slide and asked her if she was sure; it would be very awkward if they weren’t able to stay around each other.

“I’m sure. I can just grab my stuff and head upstairs that way you can have the living room and I won’t disturb you.”

“You can’t go upstairs.” Nick told her adamantly. “Don’t you know that, when there is a storm like this, the safest place is the lowest part of the house?”

“No, I knew that but I didn’t want things to be weird.”

“Well weird or not,” Nick told her, “there is absolutely no way you’re going to go past this floor.”
Emma was unsure about what to do; she didn’t want to make things uncomfortable but she also felt better that Nick was there with her. She tried to think of things they could do to keep themselves busy when Nick spoke up.

“Why don’t we invade Howie’s man cave and see what he’s hiding down there!”
Feelings by Kyrie
“You’re such a dork Carter!”

Emma laughed and threw a Skittle at Nick’s head; they had just finished the latest round of Uno and Nick was doing his touchdown dance to celebrate his third win. Emma had beaten him six other times but he was so proud of his accomplishment that she didn’t mention it. The sight of him being goofy made her smile and she was glad that they could be in each other’s company without constantly going at each other.

They raided more of Howie’s candy stash and managed to make it through five more rounds before Emma started to yawn. She had tried to stay awake for as long as she could because it had been fun to spend time with Nick again but she the struggle was too hard.

“I think I’m going to head up.” Emma stood and handed Nick the rest of the cards. “The other guest room is empty if you want it.”

“You can’t go up there.” Nick said adamantly. “The storm hasn’t ended yet and being on the second floor is too dangerous.”

Emma looked in his eyes and could see that he was genuinely concerned.

“Where are we sleeping then?”

Nick went over to the couch that Emma had just vacated and flipped a switch on the back. She watched, with a gaping mouth, as the sofa turned into a bed once it was done moving.

“Do you need me to pick up your jaw?” Nick asked with a laugh as he did the same to the one he was sitting on. “Bet you didn’t know they made these.”

“Uh no.” she answered after a minute. “I’m used to the ones that you have to take the cushions off and manually pull out the mattress.”

“Howie’s too lazy for that plus he likes all these new high-tech things.” Nick replied. “Why don’t I go grab some clothes for us and we can change in the bathroom here.”

Nick started up the basement stairs and, before Emma realized what he was offering to do, she called out to him.

“Mine are on the…”

“Edge of the left-hand side of the bed.” Nick called back without thinking. “That’s where they always are!”

Emma didn’t say anything in response because he had caught her so off-guard. She never realized she was so predictable nor did she think Nick would remember anything from living with her. It was so strange to be in this situation with him and, because of that, she didn’t have time to yell out that she could get her own things.

It took a few minutes for him to make his way back down to her. Apparently, one of the boards on the door had come loose because of the pounding winds and Nick needed to make sure it was secure before heading upstairs to get their clothes. The same weird feeling that had come over Emma had finally passed over him as he handed her the pajamas he’d found in the place he knew they’d be.

He let Emma change first and made sure she had shut the door before doing anything else. It had been surprising to him how much they had loved spending time with each other and he had forgotten how much he enjoyed her company. Being apart for as long as they had made these feelings come back stronger and it sadden him that tomorrow would probably come and go as if this night had never happened.

While Emma was changing, Nick pulled out the pillows and covers that he knew Howie stored in one of the basement closets. He managed to make two suitable looking beds by the time she made her way back into the room. Not saying much, he nodded at her and climbed into bed; his body might have been tired but his mind was running through a maze. He couldn’t decide whether being with her made him angry for all she’d put him through or glad that she was back in his life, at least for a fleeting time.

“Thank you,” Emma called out quietly, “I appreciate you staying over and setting up the beds.”

“No problem,” he responded, “get some sleep.”

Even though they were both exhausted, neither one could sleep knowing that they were in the same room together and not lying in the same bed. The two had been through so much and, although he had been furious with her for hurting him, having her there was comforting. That feeling unnerved him and, before he could think through the implication of his words, he called out to her.

“Hey Em?”

“Yeah?”

“I miss my friend.”

“Really?” Emma said with a giggle. “I’ll make sure to tell Howie when he gets back. I’m sure it will make him smile.”

Nick’s voice cut through the darkness a minute later.

“I don’t mean Howie.”

Emma didn’t know what to say; she had assumed he had meant Howie since she was sure he no longer considered her as anything to him, even a friend. She felt hot tears slide down her cheeks as she sat there and thought about everything they had been through. Their entire relationship had been built on the friendship they’d developed after meeting and she found herself missing that connection to him. Losing their romantic relationship was hard enough but losing him as a friend hurt even more. She’d come to rely on him for the longest time and not having him around for the last three years had been tough.

Nick wasn’t sure Emma had heard him since she hadn’t responded. In a way, he hoped she hadn’t heard him in the case that she didn’t feel the same way. He already felt foolish enough for saying it but it would be worse if she didn’t feel the same way.

Rolling over to face the other direction, he heard something that sounded like sniffling on the other side of the room. He knew it was Emma crying and he felt awful for being the reason she was doing it; it killed him that he couldn’t bring himself to open up enough to go over and hold her. Wiping his hand across his own eyes, he lay there for a few minutes before he heard anything again. Her voice was so faint that he wasn’t even sure he had heard anything.

“I miss my friend too.”
Leaving by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
I apologize for the months it took to update and I hope people are still reading. Any feedback helps!
Howie and Addie returned home a few days later than they thought due to the horrible storm and were surprised to find both of their friends at the house. Nick had greeted them at the door and Emma was waiting for them in the kitchen with food. Both were stunned to see Emma and Nick there together, speaking and getting along, but didn’t mention it right away. The couple got the baby settled in and all four adults sat down to a late lunch by the pool. There wasn’t any negative tension, but some type of change was radiating through the conversation. Addie, never one to hold back, waited until Nick took Howie off to show him the damage to the door before pouncing on her friend.

“What in the world is going on?”

Emma shrugged her shoulder and started clearing the dishes from the table. Before she could get far, Addie grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her back to the chair she was sitting in.

“I don’t believe that for one minute!” her friend scolded. “There is something going on here and I want to know exactly what it is.”

“It’s nothing.” Emma responded as she hid her eyes from her friend. “I don’t know why you always think there is something going on.”

This time, when Emma stood, Addie let her move around the table and take things into the kitchen. She watched as Howie and Nick passed her on the way back to the table and focused on observing Nick’s reaction to Emma as she walked by. Until recently, Nick would either avoid Emma’s eyes all together or give a brief nod; this time, he acknowledged her and even held the slider open for her.

“What the hell is happening here?”

Addie asked, staring Nick in the eyes as he sat down, and he gave her the same shoulder shrug that Emma had already given her. The body language and the refusal to acknowledge whatever was going on infuriated Addie and she could see from a mile away that something had changed. She wasn’t sure of what it was, but something was different between her friend and Howie’s brother.

“You’re both full of shit.” Addie hissed and stood up. “I don’t know what the hell is going on, but this is ridiculous.”

Addie stormed off and the guys watched her push past Emma on her way in the house. Emma gave Howie a look and turned around to follow Addie.

“What’s wrong with her?” Nick asked with concern. “She’s never like that, even when she’s really pissed off at me.”

“She’s just stressed,” Howie replied with a sigh, “she knows Emma is leaving in a couple of days and I think it’s hard for her to be without her friend. They’re like sisters and have always lived close to each other. Having Emma states away is difficult for her and having the baby makes it a little more difficult. Addie knows when we go back to work, she’ll be by herself with a newborn and I think it scares her.”

Nick was surprised and it showed; he knew how headstrong Addie was and it had never occurred to him that not having Emma around was so tough for her. He doubted that Emma realized it as well and was hoping that the two women could straighten things out before she left.

“When do you have to head back to Tennessee?” Howie asked, distracting Nick from thinking about the issues between Addie and Emma. “Don’t you have to leave soon too?”

“In two days.”

“That sucks, I was kind of hoping for more time with the new and improved Nick.”

Howie laughed as he watched Nick’s jaw drop. He loved his brother but, for the last year or so, he had become unbearable to live with or be around. However, since he and Emma had made some type of peace, it was like Howie had his old brother back.

“I was that bad huh?”

Nick was surprised that Howie would call him out, but he understood why he did it. He knew that all his issues with Emma had caused a lot of rifts and he wasn’t proud of the behavior he had exhibited. Now that there had been some type of truce, peace was easier to come by and things had gotten more enjoyable for everyone.

“Never mind,” Nick cut him off, “I don’t think I really want to know!”

----------------

“Addie?” Emma called as she knocked on her best friend’s bedroom door. “Can I come in for a minute?”

She waited patiently for her friend to answer but after a few moments of silence, she turned the knob and pushed the door open. Emma hated fighting with Addie and this time was no exception; in fact, it was worse because she was leaving in two days. It had been difficult to move to North Carolina but every time she came home for a visit and had to leave again made the pain worse. Michael was a terrific friend and roommate, but no one could replace her best friend.

“I’m sorry Ad, I really don’t want to fight on my last couple days here.” Emma said as she took a seat on the bed next to her friend’s form. She could tell that Addie had been crying and it made her feel worse than she had before. “I know you asked me a question and I wouldn’t answer. To be honest, I have no idea what’s going on.”


“How can you not know what’s going on?” Addie asked as she flipped over on the bed to stare at her friend. “I don’t know why you won’t tell me and it’s stupid to sit here and lie about what’s going on!”

Emma took a deep breath and waited for her friend to calm down. Once Addie was settled, Emma told her everything that had happened over the last few days. Most of it was so sudden that she truly didn’t know what was going on with her and Nick; they had finally moved past the anger and could be civil to each other, maybe even friendly. She left out the part where Nick had told her that he missed her because she didn’t know how she felt about that and whether it was even true.

After talking for a while, Addie finally understood why Emma was confused and couldn’t decide what was happening. She felt badly for yelling at her friend and apologized before they left the room to join the men.
A Change In Plans by Kyrie
Two days had passed and both Emma and Nick were getting ready to head to the airport. Nick was leaving earlier because he had to return his rental; he had offered to drive Emma, but Addie insisted that they would take her. He understood why and respected Addie’s wishes. At the moment, Addie was trying to get Caroline down for a nap but all he heard was the baby wailing.

“You heading out?” Howie said as he entered the guest room.

“Yeah, in a couple of minutes.” Nick replied. “I want to get everything settled and sneak my way up to the boarding gate without fifty people seeing me.”

It was tough on all the guys when they had to fly. Their fans were great but didn’t always understand that they had to be on the planes in time or, no matter how famous they were, the pilot would leave without them. Nick also preferred some quiet before he boarded the airplane to get himself mentally prepared for the trip. He wasn’t the biggest fan of flying but he didn’t want to put many more miles on the rental by driving it down to his home in Tennessee.

“It sounds like Caroline’s not going down for a nap anytime soon.”

Howie cringed as his daughter let out a howl; she had woken up with a low-grade fever and didn’t want anything to do with him. She wanted Addie only and her husband wasn’t sure that Addie would actually be able to leave to take Emma to the airport.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to take Emma?” Nick asked as if he had read his friend’s mind. “I know Addie was deadset on taking her but I’m not sure Caroline is going to agree with that plan.”

Howie thanked his friend for the offer and left to go talk to his wife. He knew she wanted to drive her friend in order to spend a little more time with her, but he agreed with Nick. Caroline was not going down for a nap any time soon and he knew she would only want her mother.

He came back a few minutes later and told Nick that Addie had agreed to let him take Emma to the airport. She wasn’t happy about it, but she knew she couldn’t leave her daughter when she wasn’t feeling well. She told her husband that she would let Emma know about the change if he could get Nick to wait a few minutes so her friend could finish packing.

“That’s fine,” Nick told him, “I am leaving in plenty of time, so we should be good.”

Howie and Nick met Emma, Addie and the baby in the living room ten minutes later and the friends said their goodbyes. Nick offered to load up the car and that gave Emma and Addie a couple more minutes.

“You set?” Nick asked as he came back in after getting the car settled.

Emma nodded and gave her friend a big hug. “Thank you both for letting me come visit and for letting me stay as long as you did.”

“You know you can stay as long as you want.” Addie answered and then looked at Nick. “Both of you are welcome whenever you want.”

Nick was shocked by the open invitation and Addie’s new attitude towards him. He didn’t know if Emma shared the conversation they had the night of the storm with her friend, but he thought that might have something to do with the new feelings. He thanked the couple for them opening their house to him and then turned to ask Emma if she was ready to leave.

Emma nodded and hugged her friend again. She reminded both Addie and her husband that they were welcome for the Labor Day weekend party that Michael threw every year. She was hoping her friends could enjoy a few days away and it would be nice to see them sooner rather than later.

Emma followed Nick out to the car and settled herself into the passenger seat. They didn’t talk much on the ride because neither was sure of exactly what to say. Things had changed between them and they couldn’t decide on how to deal with things. Were they going to be friends or just part as acquaintances? Emma had no idea when she would see Nick again and she didn’t want to put any pressure on either one of them to start talking when they were apart.

Nick was equally as quiet because of the same reasons. He was happy that the tension had disappeared and that his anger was finally in check. His behavior that summer had been unnecessary and in poor taste and he was glad that they worked their way through it. Pretty certain that they wouldn’t see each other until they were all together for Christmas at Addie’s, he didn’t know how to deal with the time in between. Should they bother to try and make conversation in the upcoming months or should they just be friendly when they saw each other a few times during the year? He couldn’t explain the feeling that told him he didn’t want the latter.

Nick stopped at Emma’s gate entrance to let her off; he had to return his rental and that was on the other side of the airport. Rather than make her walk that far, he unloaded her things and asked if she needed help carrying them in. She assured him that she was fine, gave him a quick smile and headed into the terminal. He sighed, got back in the rental and took care of what he needed to do.

-------------

Emma watched as Nick took off and sighed as she headed down to her gate. She appreciated him taking her to the airport and was glad that they could be in the same space and not have any of the animosity that had been there for the better part of the last few months. Knowing that she probably wouldn’t see him again until Christmas made her sad and she wasn’t sure why she would care; it wasn’t like they were going to be the best of friends and start hanging out again.

Ignoring how she was feeling, she checked in at her gate and took a seat to wait for the boarding call. She started one of the books she had brought with her and she got about a quarter of the way through before they called her row. The attendant scanned her ticket and wished her a good flight; unfortunately, before she got far down the plank, she was met by a stewardess from the flight.

“I’m sorry ma’am but there’s a problem with your seat and we’re going to have to move you.”
A New Seat by Kyrie
“What’s the problem with my seat?” Emma asked. “When I checked in, no one mentioned there being an issue.”

She was trying not to lose her patience with the attendant, but she wasn’t really in a good place. In a few hours, she would be far away from Addie, who truly was her best friend; Michael was terrific, but it wasn’t the same thing. Another part of her was struggling with how she felt about Nick, they had been through a lot and she felt like she left with no idea what her interactions with him were going to be.

“Unfortunately, the airline overbooked this flight and someone else had booked your seat before you.”

“Does this mean I can’t leave on this plane? I need to get home and I don’t have time to look for another flight.”

Emma was starting to get annoyed, but she didn’t want to lash out at the woman since she had nothing to do with the problem. The attendant asked her to wait a moment and disappeared to figure out exactly what was happening. When she returned, she directed Emma to follow her and proceeded to let her board the plane. Instead of heading to coach, the attendant turned left into the first-class section.

“Hold on,” Emma said as she stopped, “I don’t have enough money to pay for a first-class seat.”

“Don’t worry,” the attendant told her with a smile, “it’s all been taken care of.”

At this point, Emma just followed the woman as they entered first class. She was completely confused as to what had happened and how her ticket had already been paid for. There was no way she paid for it and the only one who would have would be Addie if she was on the flight; since that was not the case, she couldn’t figure out how she was getting that seat.

Emma wasn’t paying attention to anything around her until she got to the seat and was stunned to find someone she knew very well sitting there.

“Hi stranger.” Nick said with a laugh when he saw her face. “Welcome to first class.”

“What are you doing here?” Emma asked in surprise.

“Flying home.” Nick chuckled. “What are you doing here?”

Emma’s face turned red, it had been a stupid question to ask but when she saw his face, it was the only thing she could think of to say. She was caught off guard so much that all she could do was stand there in the aisle.

“Are you going to sit down?” Nick asked after a couple of minutes. “I think you need to be sitting for the plane to leave.”

“Sorry,” Emma said as she finally sat down and buckled her seatbelt. “I’m just a little surprised. How did you know I needed a seat?”

Nick explained that he had seen her in the waiting area when they were escorting him on privately and he arranged for her to have the seat next to him. When Emma asked how there was an extra seat, he blushed and admitted to her that he always purchased his seat as well as the one next to him; this way, he explained, he could have some peace and not have to deal with anyone beside him.

“Didn’t giving me the seat defeat the purpose?”

Nick smiled and assured her that he was fine with her sitting next to him. He explained that he usually fell asleep listening to music on the plane and promised her that he wouldn’t keep her distracted from the book she was reading. Although he wouldn’t have acknowledged it to her, he was actually happy that he had seen her, and he could get a little extra time being with her. He knew they were in an odd situation between being friends, being more than friends or just being acquaintances. Preferring one of the first two situations, he thought that maybe some extra time might help him figure out how he felt.

The pilot came on and quickly explained the direction they were taking, what the weather was in North Carolina and when their plane would arrive. The plane began backing out of the boarding area and the flight attendants were getting ready to start their drill of using safety equipment in case of a crash.

Nick looked over at Emma as they were talking and noticed that the color was draining from her face and she was gripping the arms of her seat as tightly as she could. Her eyes were closed, and she was whispering something to herself that he couldn’t hear. He was concerned about what was going on and lightly touched her arm to get her attention.

“Are you okay?” he asked when she looked over. “What’s wrong?”

“I absolutely hate flying,” she confessed, “I hate the thought of airplane crashes and just being off the ground scares the life out of me.”

Nick could feel the fear radiating off her and saw her experience something he had never seen. Normally, she was in control and easy going but this was a completely different side to her. In hopes of alleviating some of that panic, he took her hand, squeezed it and leaned in towards he ear. She started laughing when he began repeating what the attendance was saying in a Donald Duck accent. The woman gave her a dirty look, so Nick stopped; he could see that Emma was more relaxed and it made him feel better.

“Are you okay now?” he whispered.

“I am, thank you,” she replied with a smile. “I appreciate the humor.”

He smiled back and leaned back in his seat to get some sleep. Before nodding off, he told her to wake him if she got nervous or needed anything. She thanked him and settled in with her book as he fell asleep.
Opposite Ways by Kyrie
The flight landed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport with no incidents and Nick had held Emma’s hand as they landed to provide some kind of comfort for her. They gathered their things after the plane stopped and the airline allowed her to exit privately with Nick so as not to attract attention. He would have his bags picked up for him and delivered to his car.

“Do you want me to have your bags brought here too?”

Emma smiled and appreciated the gesture. Unfortunately, she had to head in the baggage claim area because that was where Michael had said he would be waiting for her. She was actually disappointed that she had been so prepared and would be leaving Nick as this point. There was no way to tell when they would see each other again and, to both of their surprises, they were sad about that fact.

“Okay.” Nick replied. “Make sure he takes care of you and gets you home with no problems.”

He looked genuinely concerned and her stomach did a small flip when she saw the emotion in his eyes. She had missed being cared about in that way and it made her sadder that she couldn’t go with him. Breaking herself out of those thoughts, she chastised herself for reading too much into it, he was just being nice, and she needed to remember that.

Not sure if he should hug her, he hung back a little bit and allowed some space in between them. She seemed to sense the same thing and just left it alone; she gave him a small wave and turned around. After taking a few steps, she suddenly turned and called out to him.

“Hey Nick?”

“Yeah?”

“We are having a small party for Labor Day in a couple of weeks. Addie and Howie are coming down with the baby and I thought, if you had no other plans, you could come by.”

“I’m not sure yet what my schedule is, but can I give you a call?”

“Sure,” she replied, disappointed that she didn’t get a yes, “just let me know whenever you figure it out.”

She waved again and turned to head to the baggage claim. Nick watched her leave and was regretting that he hadn’t said yes; he didn’t know why he wouldn’t be able to come and was confused by how he felt. He headed to the area where his bags and rental were, loaded the car and pulled out. Maybe he just needed some time to take a breath and figure out what he wanted to do.

---------------------

Emma grabbed her bags off the carousel and headed over to the area where Michael said he would be waiting. She saw him and Arthur standing there with a poster board sign welcoming her home; she forgot abut her disappointment about Nick dropping her off and gave her roommate a big hug.

“We missed you Em.” Arthur told her when she turned to hug him. “I think I actually saw this guy shed a few tears when you said you were extending your stay!”

“Whatever.” Michael replied with an eye roll. “There was something in my eye.”

Emma laughed as she watched their interactions and felt lucky to have found friends down here that had become family to her. Having Addie so far away was difficult but Michael, and now Arthur, always made sure they were there for her and included her in a lot of what they did.

There was a little pang of loneliness when she saw them tease each other and when they held hands in the car. Part of her was happy for them but part of her missed having those things herself. She missed being with someone in that way, having them there for the good and bad times and someone she felt butterflies in her stomach with. That was never a feeling she had experienced with Stephen and she only had it briefly with Jesse. The one person in her life who, as evidenced from her interaction with him, could still make her feel that way was Nick.

She had punished herself for hurting him from the moment she made her decision to leave. Unfortunately, she had already put things into motion and didn’t feel as though she had any other choice. Being around Nick for the past few weeks, and now leaving him again, brought those feelings back and they suddenly flooded over her like waves. She bit her lip to keep from crying, but Michael saw the tears well up in the rearview mirror.

They finally pulled into the driveway and Michael quietly pulled Arthur aside as Emma took her things into the house. He knew that they had plans that night, but it was clear that Emma needed someone to talk to.

“You don’t even need to say it.” Arthur told him. “You need to work on getting her smile back.”

“You’re the best.”

“That’s why you’re marrying me!”

Michael watched his fiancé leave and then headed into the house to deal with Emma. Seeing her this way was exactly what he had been afraid of; he didn’t care what anyone, including Emma, said, there was absolutely no way she was over Nick. He had a feeling that being near her ex was going to bring back all the old, painful memories for her and he knew that, if left alone, Emma would build a wall back up. It had taken him months to break down that wall and he was determined not to let that happen again.

Emma found her roommate sitting on her bed when she came out of the shower.

“I thought you had plans with Arthur tonight?”

“We changed our minds, he was feeling tired.”

“Bullshit.” Emma replied. “You don’t need to lie to me and you don’t need to baby sit me either.”

“Well,” Michael said, “the look on your face tells me something different. It’s the same look that I saw for months after you moved here. He got to you, again didn’t he?”

Emma opened her mouth and planned to lie to him but once she saw his face, she broke down in tears. He stood up and hugged her; she had become like a sister and it killed him to see her in so much pain. They took a seat on the bed and Michael held her as she cried; it was a good twenty minutes for her to calm down enough to talk.

“It was that bad huh?”

Emma told him about everything, all the good and the bad moments. She didn’t hold anything back and Michael could tell how much she had been through. Part of him wanted to strangle Nick for being cruel to her and the other half wanted to shake him, and her, and make them realize they still cared for each other. Unfortunately, it wasn’t his place to do that and he held her instead; hopefully, someone would be able to reach them before it was too late to do anything about it.
Yes or No by Kyrie
The next few weeks flew by as Emma started the new school year and the Labor Day party was coming up that weekend. She was excited to have Addie and her family coming down to celebrate but she hadn’t heard anything from Nick about whether he was coming or not. There were a thousand reasons she could think of that would explain why he wasn’t coming but she couldn’t think of one reason he would have to come.

She had thought about all the conversations they had had when she was staying at Addie’s and although there were some when they were getting along, she felt that maybe Nick was regretting talking to her. He had been so angry with her to begin with and, since they had all lectured him about his anger, he had just given in and was talking to her to be nice. His concern on the plane that she thought meant something, might just be because he felt sorry for her.

Michael knew it was killing her not to know whether he was coming and, if he had his number, he would have called and given him a piece of his mind. If Nick had just been nice to her to appease his friends, then he should have the decency to at least text her a no. It wasn’t fair to run her through the ringer just because he couldn’t say no.

Nick finally texted her two days before the party to let her know that he would not be coming. Using an excuse about preparing some music, he told her he was sorry and wished her a fun time. Emma was crying when Michael came home so he figured Nick had given her an answer and it was one that stung. After Emma went to bed, he texted Addie and told her what had happened.

-----------------------------

“What’s Nick’s problem?”

Howie has just come in and found his wife sitting at the kitchen table, cell phone in hand, wearing a very irritated expression.

“He has a bunch, you’ll have to be more specific.”

Howie was trying to break the tension, but his wife wasn’t having it. She explained that Emma had invited him to the Labor Day party and he had texted her an answer of no; this confused Howie.

“I just talked to him two days ago and he said he was coming.”

“Well, obviously something changed because he made it clear to her that he’s not coming.”

“Let me call him,” Howie said with a sigh, “and I will try to figure it out.”

Addie nodded, kissed her husband on the cheek and went upstairs to check on the baby. Howie could tell she was upset and that probably meant that Emma was upset. He couldn’t figure out why Nick would tell him yes and then suddenly text her no. They had been getting along before she left, and it wasn’t like she was asking him to be her date somewhere; it didn’t add up why he wouldn’t come to a party.

Howie put the groceries away and dialed Nick’s number. At first, he didn’t answer, and it went straight to voicemail. He could tell his younger brother was trying to ignore him, but he wasn’t about to let that happen. Continuing to dial and hang up when he got the voicemail prompt, it took Nick six more times to answer.

“What the hell Nick?” Howie asked when his friend picked up. “I know you’re avoiding my call but cut the shit.”

“I was in the shower and…..”

Howie cut Nick off before he could get any further; he knew whenever Nick was lying, and he just didn’t have the patience to deal with it at the moment.

“Save the story for someone who doesn’t know you.” Howie told him. “I don’t have time for games. How come you told me that you were going to Emma’s for Labor Day since you texted her no?”

“Something came up and I just can’t make it.”

Nick was lying through his teeth and he knew it; he was hoping that his friend would buy the story but there was no such luck.

“You guys were getting along just fine and now you’re avoiding her. You didn’t even have the decency to call and decline, you just sent a text message. Something is going on and I want to know what it is.”

Nick knew Howie wasn’t going to let it go and he needed to be honest with his friend.

“I just can’t face her right now, I need some time away from her.”

“You’ve had two weeks.”

“I know but you don’t understand.”

“What don’t I understand?” Howie asked. “It’s a pretty simple invite, she’s not asking you to marry her! Addie and I will be there, so you don’t have to worry about not knowing anyone.”

“It’s not that.”

“Then what the hell is it?”

“I don’t know how I feel about her.”

Nick had been playing situations over and over in his mind for the last two weeks trying to figure out what he should do. Part of him wanted to just keep things the way they were and only face Emma when he absolutely needed to. The part that he didn’t want to acknowledge was the piece that wanted to go there and just be near her. The feelings he had for her had never disappeared no matter what he said; he was struggling with that now and didn’t want to get hurt again.

He explained all of that to Howie and he could tell his brother had sympathy for him. However, Howie still felt as though he should go and just enjoy the time they all spend together. When Nick as dating Emma, they loved to hang out with Addie and Howie and it was fun to be as a group.

“Are you afraid of her feeling too much for you or not enough?”

Howie knew he struck a nerve with the question and he had the answer in Nick’s silence.

“I want you to really think about going and putting some of this stuff aside. I won’t say anything else about it and I’ll leave the decision to you. Just promise me you’ll think about changing your mind.”

They said goodbye and Nick went back to sitting on his back porch. He loved the view from his seat and he had been spending a lot of time out there thinking. This whole situation was driving him crazy and he had a lot of things to consider.
Surprise! by Kyrie
Addie and Howie arrived that Friday so they could attend the party and spend some time with Emma. The women were like sisters and appreciated any time that they had together. Nick, on the other hand, hadn’t talked to Howie since he lectured him nor had he texted Emma again. She was still upset that he wasn’t coming but she kept reminding herself that they weren’t dating and really weren’t friends; their association was just when they were in the same room.

Michael and Arthur got a chance to get to know Emma’s best friend and her husband. Emma rarely had them down to her house and spent most of her time in Boston when she visited. The men thought Howie was nice and they got a kick out of Addie; Arthur mentioned to Michael later that the two women seemed like polar opposites but they were the best of friends.

The day of the party dawned and it was a beautiful day; it was warm but dry and the breeze wasn’t overpowering. Most of the guests were there because of Michael and Arthur; Emma didn’t have many friends outside of the two men and she rarely associated with anyone she worked with. Her headmistress didn’t like her so most people avoided her like the plague in the hopes of scoring big with the boss. She was thrilled to have her best friend and her husband there and they made up for anyone else.

“So, how many of these people do you know?” Addie whispered. “No one seems to be talking to us.”

“Not many,” Emma replied with a chuckle, “they’re mostly Michael’s friends and co-workers. Everyone acknowledges me but no one is particularly interested in talking.”

“Well,” Howie interrupted, joining the women after taking a call, “there seems to be a gentleman over there that it quite interested in Emma.”

Emma followed Howie’s finger to see who he was talking about and groaned. There was a teacher that worked with Michael and he was kind of awkward. He tried to convince Emma to go on a date with him on several occasions but she made up an excuse for all of them. For most people, that would be a hint but not to him; he persisted and came to every party Emma’s roommate threw.

“That’s Daniel. He works with Michael and gives me the willies.”

“How come?” Howie asked. “He seems polite enough.”

“You should go on a date with him then!”

Howie’s wise ass comment was cut off by the doorbell ringing and Emma went to find Michael. She knew no one else was coming for her so she figured it was her roommate’s guest. Michael told her that everyone he invited was there and he couldn’t imagine who it was. Emma told him she would grab the door and bring whoever it was outside.

Emma made her way down the front hall to the door and really wasn’t paying attention to who it was. She opened the door, welcomed the person in and, when they didn’t come in, she looked up and her jaw dropped open. Nick was standing right in front of her, dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, holding some flowers and beer. She hadn’t been expecting him so it caught her off-guard and she couldn’t speak.

Nick was distracted too by seeing his ex standing at the door, looking at him with a confused expression. He thought about turning around to leave but Emma finally invited him inside; she blushed, thanked him for the flowers and lead him out to the backyard. Howie was the first to notice him and came over right away to give him a hug. It took Addie a few seconds to figure it out but she came over and greeted him the same way as her husband.

Howie offered to show Nick where the beer went and to get him a drink; he figured it would give Addie a chance to talk to her friend about Nick showing up unexpectedly. While the women chatted, Howie also took initiative and introduced Nick to Michael and Arthur who both gave him a stern look. Apparently, everyone knew what had happened that summer and Nick couldn’t be happier when Howie brought him back to the girls.

“I thought you couldn’t come.” Addie blurted out when they returned.

“I moved some stuff around.” he responded. “I was able to take the next few days off.”

Addie could tell that her friend didn’t care how Nick got there, she was thrilled to see him. No matter what they had been through, neither Nick or Emma couldn’t disguise how they felt for each other. Sometimes, Addie wanted to throttle them for how they acted and other times, she wanted to lock them in a room together till they figured it out for themselves.

Michael asked Emma to help him bring out food from the kitchen and, when they parted from the group, Howie noticed Daniel start to follow Emma; he knew he needed to do something because of the way Emma had spoken about him earlier.

“There he goes.” Howie said, turning towards his wife. “She’s right, he follows her everywhere.”

Nick’s head snapped up.

“Who’s following her?”

“This friend of Michael’s who gives her the creeps. Apparently, he….”

Nick was off to the house before Howie could finish what he was saying. Addie laughed as she watched knowing that Nick would be through that door and in front of Emma before Daniel even had the chance to say hello. Nick may have told everyone that they were just figuring out how to be friends again but, as evidenced from his behavior, he wasn’t going to let any other guy get close.

“Why are you laughing?”

“Just watch.”

As Howie turned around, he saw Emma and Michael come through the slider, carrying food; Daniel was starting towards Emma and he noticed Nick slide right up to Emma and say something that made her laugh. Daniel scowled but walked away knowing he wasn’t going to get what he wanted; all Howie could do was shake his head and chuckle.
Same Old Emma by Kyrie
Most of the guests started packing up around seven and Michael announced to the group that was left that they would be walking down the street to the beach because they had fireworks planned for tonight. Everyone grabbed towels or blankets, a couple of coolers and headed towards the water.

“So do you like the fireworks here?” Nick asked Emma as he caught up to her.

“I do but the ones in Boston are the best. It’s the rocks I like the least.”

“Rocks.”

Emma nodded.

“Yeah, there is a jetty on the beach that’s all rocks and it’s uneven walking. You can see the fireworks better from there but you know how I am with walking on flat ground.”

Nick chuckled and remembered all the times that he had to catch Emma to keep her from falling. She was a beautiful woman but her gracefulness wasn’t quite as lovely. Nick surprised himself with what came out of his mouth a moment later.

“I’ll be here to catch you.”

“Thanks.” Emma said with a blush. “I appreciate the support.”

The couple followed the rest of the pack and were getting settled down on the rocks to watch the fireworks. Emma hadn’t been kidding when she said the rocks were rough walking; Nick noticed many holes where a person’s foot could get caught and it would make for a painful fall.

Emma spread out a blanket for her friends but she saw Addie and Howie set up their own. Looking up, she smiled at Nick and offered the seat next to her. He accepted quickly but made sure to keep a little space in between them. She noticed his behavior and had to remind herself not to get disappointed as they were only talking to each other at this point.

Nick hadn’t wanted to put space in between them; in fact, he would have preferred wrapping his arms around her and snuggling into the blanket. He knew this wasn’t the right time or the right place and he didn’t want to make her uncomfortable in front of everyone. There was no way he could know that she was wishing for the same thing.

The fireworks lasted for about twenty minutes and then everyone packed up their stuff; most of them headed to the house to pick up their vehicles and say good-bye. Almost everyone was gone before the four friends could get up. As Emma as standing up to join them, her sandal got caught in one of the holes that had concerned Nick and slipped on the rocks. Nick’s arms shot out like they were in a cannon and prevented her from going down and getting cut; unfortunately, Emma had twisted her ankle and she could feel the pain radiating through her foot.

“Are you ok?” Nick asked he helped her dislodge her foot. “It looks pretty bad.”

Emma’s ankle had started to swell and she knew there was no hiding it.

“No, but I’ll be ok.”

She tried to put some weight on her ankle and winced; there was no way she could make it back to the house without some help.

“Want me to go get the car?” Howie offered.

“No but thank you.” Emma told him. “There’s really no good place to park down here. I can make it back to the house.”

Before she could say anything else, Nick swept her up in his arms and proceeded to walk towards the house. She tried to protest that she was too heavy to carry all that way but the look on his face told her that she wouldn’t win that argument. Nick made it all the way to the house and asked whether she wanted to be on the couch or in her room. She had a bathroom off her room and asked him to take her up there.

Michael and Arthur were concerned as soon as they saw her and offered to take her from Nick. He thanked them but didn’t hand her over; he followed her directions and set her down on the bed. Howie indicated to everyone with a nod that they should leave the two of them alone and the couples split off into their bedrooms.

“Are you sure you’re going to be alright?”

Emma nodded and dragged a pillow under her foot.

“Do you have any crutches?”

“Shoot!” Emma answered. “I’ll have to go to urgent care tomorrow and get some.”

“What are you going to do if you have to use the bathroom?”

“I can get Addie to help me.”

Nick just gave her a look and shook his head. She realized that there would be no way she could get Addie’s attention from her bed and sighed.

“Why don’t I stay?”

Nick’s question caught her off-guard and he realized how he sounded.

“I mean I can sleep on the floor or something. You can wake me up if you need anything.”

Emma thought about it for a little bit; it made sense to have someone around in case she needed them but it was weird that it would be Nick. Knowing she didn’t have any other choice, she told him where the air mattress, pillows and blankets were. He dug them out and set them up right next to her bed; this was, if she needed him, she could just reach out and shake him.

“Do you need anything before I turn out the light?” Nick asked as he got everything settled.

“No, I’m good.” she replied. “Thank you for doing this.”

“Anytime.” he responded with a smile. “Just whack me if you need me.”

Emma soon fell asleep and Nick just watched her as she snored slightly; he wanted to reach out and hold her but it would cross a line that didn’t need to be messed with. Sighing, he turned over and tried to get some sleep before she needed something.
Put On The Brakes by Kyrie
Emma slept fitfully that night and woke up feeling like she hadn’t slept at all. She wanted to blame it on her ankle, but she knew damn well that it the fact that her ex had been sleeping two feet from her. It wasn’t that she didn’t want him there, she just didn’t want any mixed signals passing between them. They had taken a long time to get back to the place where they could speak, be in the same room together and have it be peaceful for everyone. As much as she appreciated Nick looking out for her, she didn’t want to feel what she was feeling for him; nothing good could come from opening that wound again.

Nick offered to drive her to urgent care, but she insisted Addie could bring her; she used the ruse of the two girls needing some time to catch up before Addie left later that day. He looked a little hurt when she declined his offer, but she kept reminding herself that there needed to be some appropriate space between them. Addie was suspicious of her motives and her excuse of girl time, but she wouldn’t call her best friend out in front of other people; instead, she waited till the doors in the car were shut before she grilled her.

“Ok,” Addie said as she backed out of the driveway, “what kind of bullshit was that?”

“There was no bullshit Addie, I just wanted to spend some time with you.”

“Really? Some quality girl time while I am waiting for a doctor to examine you? How stupid do you think I am?”

Emma didn’t say anything and, when she couldn’t look her friend in the eye, Addie began to think that maybe something had happened the night before.

“Did he do something? Was he bothering you? I…”

“Absolutely not!” Emma said, putting the brakes on Addie’s comments. “He didn’t do anything except help me out.”

“Then what the hell?”

Emma didn’t know exactly how to explain it; she didn’t want to rehash all the reasons she couldn’t be close to Nick and why them being in close quarters together wasn’t a good idea. She knew Addie would jump all over her about her insecurities and she might even try to make a push for her spending more time with Nick. He was an amazing man and she missed him more than she ever thought she would, but she knew what had happened previously when they tried to be together; someone would end up getting hurt and they would be right back where they started.

“I’m only going to say this once Ad, I don’t want to talk about it. You need to respect me by not pushing and just let me do what I need to.”

Addie’s jaw dropped; Emma had never spoken to her that forcefully and she wondered what the hell had happened the night before. Emma had seemed so excited to see Nick and smiled every time he looked her way; why was she now giving Addie a strict order not to discuss it?

Emma was relieved that Addie didn’t mention Nick’s name again while they were waiting to be checked out. The doctor was quick to let her know that it was just a sprain, then gave her crutches and Advil to take when she got home. Emma thanked him, and she and Addie drove home in silence. Both Howie and Nick noticed the chilliness between the two girls and wondered what could have happened in the short time they had been gone.

Addie wanted to talk to her friend a little more but as soon as she and Emma came in, her friend declared that she was tired and wanted to go lay down. Howie was surprised by the fact that they were leaving that afternoon and it didn’t seem like Emma would be seeing them off; he waited till he was sure Emma was in her room before bringing it up.

“What the heck?” he asked. “You guys were fine when you left. Did she get bad news or something?”

“No,” Addie replied as she shook her head, “she said she didn’t sleep well last night and that she is in a lot of pain.”

“Was it something I did?”

Nick’s comment caught Addie by surprise; she knew for a fact that it had something to do with him, but she couldn’t tell him what it was since Emma refused to tell her. She didn’t want to mention it to Nick because he looked heart broken that it might have something to do with him.

“No, I know she appreciated you looking out for her and taking care of her.” Addie told him. “It was very sweet of you and I’m sure it’s just the pain and lack of sleep.”

The three friends spent most of the afternoon hanging out with Michael at the pool. He had noticed the strained conversation Emma was having with Addie and he meant a mental note to talk to her about it later. He didn’t think that Nick had done anything to upset her, but he was concerned about her interactions with him.

As Howie and Addie were heading out, they mentioned to Nick that he should come up and visit them the last weekend before Halloween. They were planning to take the baby to go apple picking and Howie’s family was coming up the next day so that they could spend the night in Salem. Nick had never been, and it sounded like fun; the problem was that Emma would be there to. He started to decline but Howie told him that they wanted him there and there would be no getting out of it. Finally accepting their invitation, Nick took one glance up to Emma’s window and noticed the curtain was floating back into place. He hoped that it wouldn’t be a problem for them both to be with their friends the next month.
Friendly Weekend by Kyrie
The rest of September and the beginning of October flew by and, before she knew it, Emma was flying up to Boston to see her friends. She was taking a flight Thursday night so that she would be able to have three days to spend with her friends. The way she had left things with Addie bothered her and she decided to apologize right away; she hated being cross with her friend and didn’t want any distance between them.

After landing and picking up her rental car, she began the drive to Addie’s; she knew the route by heart, so it didn’t take long but, when she pulled into the driveway, she found another car that she was not expecting to see. It wasn’t her friend’s or Howie’s and neither of them had mentioned that anyone would be visiting. She knew that Howie’s family was coming but they wouldn’t be there until the next evening. Parking her car next to the mystery vehicle, she grabbed her stuff and headed up the walkway; before she could ring the bell, someone came out and almost knocked her off the stairs.

“Oh my God,” Nick said startled, “I didn’t expect anyone to be here!”

“I can tell.” Emma replied with a laugh. “At least I only swayed and didn’t fall down the steps.”

“I’m so sorry Em, are you sure you’re okay?”

Nick caught her off-guard by using her nickname and she was so taken by the concern she saw in his eyes that he had to ask her several more times before she answered. She assured him that she was fine and then asked what he was doing there.

“Addie and Howie invited me to spend the weekend here.” Nick paused for a minute. “I take it they didn’t tell you that.”

“No, they didn’t mention it.”

“Is it going to be an issue? If it is, I can totally head back…”

“It’s fine Nick,” Emma said, cutting him off. “There’s no reason why you and I can’t both spend time with our friends.”

They stood there for a couple of minutes before Howie finally came to the door to see if Nick had returned with the pizza he left to get. He was surprised to find both of his friends standing on the porch, not speaking, but not looking like they were shocked to see each other.

“Dude,” Howie said with a chuckle, “let the poor girl in and go pick up the damn pizza!”

Nick blushed, stepped aside to let Emma in and then gave Howie an elbow to the stomach.

“Thanks a lot!”

Howie helped Emma with her bag and, once they were in, he brought her stuff up to her bedroom while she headed to the kitchen to see Addie. Her friend enveloped her into a bear hug and told her how happy she was to have her there. Addie wanted her to experience the baby’s firsts because she was the godmother and Addie missed her greatly when she was gone.

“So, I have a confession to make.” Addie told her. “I forgot to tell you…”

“Forgot my ass!” Emma said, giggling. “Let me guess, you invited Nick for the weekend too.”

“How did you…”

“He almost knocked me over on the steps. Good thing he didn’t rush out the door, I’d be lying in your driveway!”

Addie laughed at the mental picture her friend had just given her and was rewarded by a whack in her arm. She was glad that Emma wasn’t furious at her for inviting Nick and that it seemed that she was ok with it.

Nick finally came back with the pizza and the friends enjoyed an evening together. The baby had stayed with them, dozing off as they ate and talked. When everyone decided it was bed time, Emma asked if she could put her goddaughter down for the night since she missed her so much. Addie agreed happily and watched her friend carefully lift the baby and cradle her in her arms.

Addie wasn’t the only one who watched Emma with the baby; Nick noticed her eyes light up when the baby smiled and how gently she held her. He knew that Emma would make a great mother and it made him sad; eventually Emma would find someone to be with, possibly marry and then have children. It stung that it could have been him to have that life with her and he had to learn how to stop what he was feeling. It wouldn’t do anyone any good if they kept getting close and then pulling away. Emma had been worried about the same thing and Nick was starting to wonder if she was right.


The next morning, the friends woke early and prepared for a day of apple picking. They happened to be going to the same farm that Emma had taken Nick to when they first met. The plan was to go apple picking, enjoy some fall food and go on a scenic hayride; there was no way Emma would do the nighttime one after what had happened that night with Nick.

Nick saw how happy Emma was when they got to the farm; she had told him how much she loved the fall and all the things that came with it. Howie and Addie decided to take Caroline to pick out some pumpkins while their friends took on the job of apple picking. Addie wanted them to spend some alone time together and she hoped that they would eventually get closer.

Nick and Emma both had baskets to fill up and he noticed her struggling with hers as the afternoon wore on.

“Do you want me to carry that?”

“No, it’s ok, I can do it.”

Emma knew that was a lie because she had marks on her hand from the strap digging in. She kept up the tough girl routine for a little longer and finally stopped when it got a little fuller.

“Give me that.” Nick said with a chuckle. “You’re going to break your arm if you keep trying to carry it.”

Emma laughed and happily handed her basket off to Nick; she felt bad that he was carrying two baskets, but he assured her that it was ok and he could handle it.

They spent another half hour picking everything that looked good and then joined their friends at the car. The baby wasn’t having a good day and they all decided to forego the hayride. Howie’s family was coming up that evening and the friends would enjoy a couple of kid free days in Salem.

They made the short trip home and Emma decided to make some apple pies and breads for Howie’s family as a thank you for watching the baby and giving the adults a chance to spend time together. Everyone asked her if she needed help, but she declined each time; Addie, however, forced the issue by saying she and Howie were both going to pick up his family at the airport. Nick would be by himself, so Addie insisted that he help Emma. He agreed and did whatever he could to be useful during the quiet time they spend together.

Once the family arrived, everyone was so busy talking and laughing that Nick couldn’t get close to Emma for the rest of the evening. He was surprised how much he missed the time that they spent just the two of them; there was something going on in him that he wasn’t sure he could hold in for much longer.
Terror by Kyrie
The two couples left early the next morning for Salem; it was a couple of hours drive and then they had to check into the hotel before doing anything else. Addie wanted to book two rooms and force her friend and Nick into spending some time together. However, her husband disagreed with that plan and she finally relented, booking three rooms instead. Howie loved her, but he knew that she was really pushing the limit with that scheme.

After the friends checked in, dropped off their bags and found a shuttle ride to the center, they arrived at one of the museums Emma wanted to see. She knew nobody else was thrilled with the museum idea, so she was willing to make a concession if they would go with her. Addie and Nick loved haunted houses so she agreed to go to a couple of them if they would do this one thing for her. She regretted her decision when she saw the haunted house Addie wanted to do last.

Emma didn’t want to explain why she didn’t want to go to the last house; she didn’t want to seem like a baby so she just kept quiet. They made their way through the rest of the houses with Emma keeping her eyes shut as tightly as she could and hanging on to the back of Howie’s shirt. Nick had offered to stand behind her so nothing could jump out after she passed them. He could see how uncomfortable and nervous she became with the visit to each house and was seriously considering asking Addie to break the deal Emma had made to go in all of the other houses.

“Maybe Emma and I should sit out here and wait for you guys.” Nick suggested to the others at the last of the houses. “I think Emma’s had enough scares for one day.”

“Uh-huh,” Addie replied, “a deal’s a deal.”

Emma had agreed to do this for her friend and she felt like she couldn’t back out. The problem she was having with the last house is the fact that it was about clowns. She had a fear of clowns since she was a little kid and seeing the movie “It” when she was a teenager completely freaked her out, confirming that clowns were awful. After watching it, she became deathly afraid of clowns and wouldn’t even go to the circus because of them. However, she refused to tell Howie and Nick why she was afraid; she didn’t want to look like a baby in front of them.

“She’s right,” Emma said, “I did make the agreement.”

“I don’t care, you really look like you don’t want to do this,” Nick replied with a long stare at Addie, “even if you made a deal. Deals can be broken.”

Addie continued to insist, and Emma finally gave in; she hated what she was about to do but she didn’t want to tell either of the guys why she didn’t want to. Howie agreed to let her hang on to his shirt again and Nick assured her that he would be right behind her.

They made it about halfway through when they noticed a maze with mirrors right next to them. There was screaming come for the room and they noticed people going through; they assumed that they would eventually get around to it and Emma was dreading that. Making their way down another corridor, the spot where Emma was standing started to move and a door flew open. Because she was on the moving floor, she slid into the room so quickly that neither Nick or Howie could stop it. They heard her yelling for them and Nick tried to get through the passage; it was locked and wouldn’t budge.

Nick heard Emma crying out and desperately looked around for someone who could open the door. He eventually came to a person and physically dragged them back to the door.

“Get that thing open now!” Nick demanded.

“I can’t,” replied the gentleman, “only the manager has that key. Besides, she’ll be fine once she figures her way past the clowns and out the other side.”

Addie knew how frightened her friend must be and got right in the worker’s face. She squared him with her fiercest teacher face and hissed at him.

“I swear to God, if you don’t get that fucking door open, I will let these two guys tear it apart piece by piece.”

He turned to look at Howie and Nick and saw in their faces that the woman was right. Using his walkie talkie, he told the entrance to stop letting people in and called for his manager.

-------------------

Emma was in a panic; she had just been separated from her friends, she had no idea where she was or how to get out and she continued to hear people screaming. She didn’t know if her friends could get to her, so she started through the maze; she quickly realized that it was specifically designed to have a person get to a middle room and then they had to find a hallway that led out. The problem was that all the exits looked the same and they each had clown’s faces that would come through the glass.

Her fear increased as she spent more time in the room trying to get out; if she had been less scared, she might have been able to find her way out. The terror was making her forget which exits she tried and which one she didn’t. She felt like she had been in there for hours trying all the ways before she suddenly heard a voice she recognized.

“I’m coming Emma!” Nick yelled. “Stay where you are, and I’ll get to you.”

Her heart started beating faster and she tried running to the entrances to find him, but it was making it harder to figure out where she was. Nick called out to her and told her to stop moving.

“I’m trying to find you, but I can’t do that if you’re running down halls.” Nick called out to her. “Please sit down on the floor wherever you are and cover your head with your arms, so you can’t see anything.”

“I’m scared Nick!” she yelled back.

“I know.” Nick replied with concern. “I swear that I will get to you no matter what. Just sit where you are and cover your face.”

Emma was finally able to get her mind and body to work at the same time and she took a seat on the floor, rested her face on her knees and cover her head with her arms. Time moved so slow and she started to fear that he wouldn’t be able to find her, or he might have to stop looking. Her anxiety was at an all time high when she finally felt someone’s hand on her back.

Emma’s head popped up, hoping that it wasn’t a clown, and started to cry when she saw Nick squatting down next to her. She threw her arms around his neck and started to sob; there was no feeling she could describe that would explain how happy she was to see him.

“It’s ok,” Nick told her, “I won’t let anything else happen to you.”

She started to cry harder and his heart broke; he loved her more than anything and knew he had to get her out of there. He told her to hang onto his head, he scooped one arm under her knees while the other wrapped around her back. Lifting her up, he called out to Howie so that he would see where they were coming from and let them out.

Addie felt sick to her stomach when she saw how white and upset her friend was; she had just thought the houses would be fun with a couple of small scares. She knew at this point that there was no way Emma would ever go into a haunted house again.
Thank You by Kyrie
The friends had planned to go to dinner after the haunted houses, but Emma could hardly form a coherent sentence. Nick insisted that he bring her back to the hotel and told the couple to go eat without them. Howie finally convinced Addie to let Nick handle the situation and they parted ways after Howie made a call to get them an Uber close enough where his friend wouldn’t have to walk far. He knew that Emma wouldn’t be able to walk, and Nick would never have put her down anyway.

Nick found their ride quickly enough and placed Emma gently on the backseat and slid in next to her; he wrapped his arms around her and she buried her head in his chest, still crying softly. Having to deal with the traffic, the ride took longer than usual; they finally arrived, and Nick asked in a soft whisper if she wanted him to carry her. She shook her head no but allowed him to scoot her out carefully and then leaned into his side. He pulled her closer to him and took her directly to the elevators.

Emma had finally stopped crying by the time they reached their floor. Nick gently guided her down to her room and waited as she opened the door with shaking hands. He was deeply concerned, he had never seen her so scared and he hated that he couldn’t do more to help. She told him she would be fine when he asked her if she needed him to stay.

“Thank you for everything Nick,” she said quietly, “I can’t tell you how much what you did means to me. I’m sorry for crying all over you and acting like a baby.”

“There is absolutely no need for you to apologize! You’re were way too frightened and Addie should never have pushed you like that.”

“I did make the deal.”

“I don’t care if you promised her a million dollars. When she saw the fear in your eyes, she should have made you stay out.”

Emma didn’t want to argue with him; there was no way she could stick up for Addie and she could tell he was angry about it. She thanked him again and told him he should go back out with Howie and Addie and get something for dinner.

“I’m not hungry,” Nick lied, “I want to make sure you’re ok.”

She reassured him she was okay, and she was going to take a shower and head to bed. He made sure that the door was locked behind him and made the trip down to his room. Still pissed at Addie and wanting to yell at her, he decided to take a shower, order some takeout and watch TV. The anger he was feeling was eating at him and he was feeling hesitant about Emma being ok.

He was lying on his bed twenty minutes later when there was a knock at the door; he assumed it was his pizza but found someone else outside. Emma was standing there in sweatpants and a t-shirt, looking like someone had put her through the ringer. He opened his door wider and invited her in; she thanked him and took a seat on the chair near his bed.

“I’m really sorry about earlier Nick. I shouldn’t have lost my mind like that and I’m sorry that you had to miss dinner with Howie and Addie because of me.”

“I did not miss anything because of you and you did absolutely nothing wrong.” he assured her.

Nobody spoke for a couple of minutes and they soon heard a knock on the door. Nick assumed correctly that it was the pizza guy and, once he paid them, he carried the food to the working desk by the window.

“Are you hungry?”

Emma started to shake her head, but her stomach betrayed her by gurgling loudly. She blushed, and Nick chuckled; he insisted that she have something to eat and handed her a plate. They ate quietly and watched whatever station Nick had on when she got there. When the program ended, Nick turned to her and asked the question that had been bugging him for a little while.

“What’s with you and clowns anyway?”

Nick kind of blurted the question out and saw that Emma was a little nervous answering it. He felt bad for asking and told her to ignore the question; he didn’t want to put her in a bad position.

“No,” Emma said, “I want to answer it. I’ve hated clowns since I was a kid.”

“Did you watch “It” by any chance?”

“I did,” she replied, “but I hated them way before that. My parents hired a clown for my fifth birthday and, apparently on the way to the party, he got a phone call from his wife asking for a divorce. He was so mean when he came and yelled at everyone. My parents finally told him to leave but the damage had already been done.”

“That’s awful!”

“It was, especially me being five. I thought that all clowns were mean and nasty and then watching that movie, I thought they were evil too. To this day, I still hate them.”

“Does Addie know about that?”

Emma shook her head.

“No, she knows I don’t like them because of the movie but I never told her that story.” Emma paused. “I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone that story, except for you.”

“I appreciate you being so honest.”

They talked for a few minutes later and Nick started to notice Emma’s eyes were getting heavy; she was trying to stay awake because she was nervous about going back to an empty room alone. He noticed how she was acting and asked her if she wanted to stay with him.

“I don’t want to put you out.”

“You are not putting me out, I’m asking you to stay.”

Emma agreed, and Nick let her pick the side of bed she wanted. He noticed how cold she was and slipped one of his sweatshirts over her head; he pulled the covers over them and settled back to get some sleep. Not too soon after, however, Emma started to writhe in her sleep; Nick realized she was having a nightmare and gently slid closer to her. He pressed his chest against her back and wrapped his arm around her. She didn’t fight it and seemed to relax at his touch; he kissed her softly on the head and fell asleep not long after.
New Attitude by Kyrie
Emma woke up the next morning feeling like she was hit by a truck. Looking around, she realized that she wasn’t in her room; looking down at the weight on her side caught her off-guard. Her memories of last night started coming back and she was so embarrassed by her behavior; it had just been a stupid haunted house and she had turned it into some daytime drama. She didn’t know if she should try to slip out from under Nick’s arm or just wait till he turned over; the sound of his voice spooked her.

“Are you going to sneak out or are you at least going to buy me breakfast?”

Emma laughed in spite of herself; she had always loved Nick’s sense of humor and his way of sweeping away anything serious with a joke.

“I was going to leave a note,” she answered, “but you caught me.”

“I guess it’s a good thing I did.” he told her as he removed his arm and turned onto his back. “You would have left me here by myself, starving, wasting away.”

Emma gave him a playful elbow to the stomach and she climbed out of bed.

“Let me go shower, pack my stuff and I’ll come by to get you for breakfast.”

“I was just teasing about breakfast, you don’t have to take me out.”

“I wasn’t going to pay, just swing by so you could join me!”

Nick lightly tossed a pillow at her and stuck his tongue out; she had forgotten how much she cared about him and, being able to share this small amount of time with him, made her realize how deep her feelings ran. Nick had expressed his concern and care for her but that didn’t mean he loved her too and she wasn’t willing to walk out on a ledge only to find out that she was the only one feeling anything.

There was no way she could have realized that Nick was feeling the same thing. When he woke up that morning with Emma sleeping under his arm, he smiled to himself and pulled her a little closer. He knew it was going to be over once she was awake and he prayed that she would sleep a little longer just to give him more time with her.

Emma had just opened the door to leave when she saw a very surprised Howie standing at the door; she laughed and gave him a moment to pick his jaw up off the floor.

“Sorry to scare you Howie, I was just leaving.”

Howie watched as Emma slipped by him and headed down to her room; he booked it inside and stared at Nick in the bed.

“You guys didn’t…”

“No Howard, we were very well behaved and absolutely g rated.”

Nick explained what happened the night before and Howie couldn’t tell if he was happy or sad that nothing else had occurred; he knew his wife was upset about the whole situation and he had gone to Nick’s to smooth everything over between him and Addie. Seeing Emma happy and smiling made him feel better and it was a little easier to coax Nick from the edge of yelling at Addie and causing a scene.

“Is she really okay?”

“Yes,” Nick replied, “but there is not going to be any more pushing her into doing things. I don’t want to see her again like she was last night.”

Howie agreed with him and waited for his friend to change; Nick packed up his things and the two men headed down to Emma’s room. She had just opened the door and Nick took her luggage so she didn’t have to carry it; normally, she would have insisted she carry it herself but something had eased between them last night and she found herself okay with it.

Once they had Addie, and all the couple’s bags, in tow, they headed down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Emma had to catch a flight later that day and the foursome wanted to spend as much time together as they could. Nick wasn’t sure when he would see Emma again as they had made no plans. He knew she was spending Thanksgiving with Howie and Addie but he was heading to AJ’s for the week and planned to spend the holiday with him and his family. Addie had already told Emma about the holiday plans and, after this weekend, she was sad that she wouldn’t be seeing Nick again until at least Christmas and that was only if he was around.

The four friends finished their breakfast and drove the few hours to the airport to drop Emma off for her flight. Nick was driving back to Tennessee in his own vehicle and Howie and Addie were off to see the baby and spend some time with his family. Nick helped Emma with her bags and brought them as far as he could without any one seeing him. He wanted to walk further with her but he was afraid that he would get swamped by fans.

Without thinking, Nick leaned down and kissed Emma’s cheek when he sat her bags down. Emma blushed but she smiled and thanked him again for the night before; he reassured her that it was nothing and he had just wanted to make sure she was okay. They hugged and then parted ways; he went back to the car and she checked into her flight. Both were sad their time together was over and they hadn’t made any plans to see each other again. Maybe it was for the best that it ended that way and hadn’t gone any further.

-----------------------

Emma was working over time for the next few weeks, getting everything prepared for parent conferences and working on a new curriculum for the following year. She barely had time to eat or sleep and it wasn’t until the middle of November that she had a chance to sit and breathe. It was Monday night, the week before the holidays, and she knew it would be a long one; she had taken off the two days before Thanksgiving and was heading to Boston that weekend to spend the week with Addie and her family.

She had just sat down on the couch with takeout and a movie, when her phone started to vibrate; picking it up, she saw AJ and his grin flashing across her screen and she picked it up.

“Hey Feisty!”

“Hey AJ,” she relied with a laugh, “how are you? How’s Ro and Ava?”

“I’m good and Ava is amazing!” he paused for a moment. “Ro is actually the reason why I’m calling.”

“Is she ok?” Emma sat up quickly, starting to feel nervous. “What’s wrong?”

“Calm down sweetie, she’s fine, getting ready to be done being pregnant. I hate doing this but I need a favor kind of for both of us.”

“Anything, just tell me what you need.”

AJ had always been there for Emma, even when it caused problems between him and the guys. She could never pay him back for all his support but she would do whatever she could to help.

He explained that Rochelle was getting closer to giving birth and she was exhausted; the doctor had told her to take it easy and advised AJ to do whatever he could do to help. Unfortunately, he had agreed to take Nick for a simple day surgery to remove some arthritis from his rotator cuff. There was no way he could do both and the two of them knew that he wouldn’t put anyone in front of his wife.

AJ knew he was asking a huge favor from her but he couldn’t leave Rochelle or tell Nick that he would have to find another way to the hospital. Nick would be fine but he would need some small help at home for the next few days.

“I understand if you’re not comfortable and you have every right to tell me know. It’s just that you’re closer to him and …”

“I got it AJ, just tell me when you need me.”

“Wednesday?”

“What the heck AJ, nice notice buddy!”

“If you can’t…”

“I will,” she replied, “let me call my boss, take the days off and I will text you once everything is set.”

“You’re the best Feisty!”

“Don’t forget it!” Emma said with a laugh.

They talked for a few more minutes and finally said their goodbyes; she knew her boss wouldn’t be thrilled that she was taking off more time, and that it was little notice, but she would do what she could to help. She only hoped that Nick wouldn’t mind seeing her for a while.
What Are You Doing Here? by Kyrie
Nick was pacing the living room floor; he had to be at the hospital in less than an hour and AJ was nowhere to be found. He had called him numerous times and all he got was his voicemail. The anxiety he was feeling about not getting there on time was compounded by the fact that he wasn’t happy about the surgery. Unfortunately, the arthritis had been giving him problems and the doctor felt that cleaning it out might help him with the pain.

The doorbell rang just as he was about to call his brother again. Irritated and tense, he whipped the front door open and started cursing him before he could see him.

“You’re fucking late and I can’t deal with this shit right now…”

“I’m sorry, I ran into more traffic than I thought.”

Nick stopped as soon as he heard the voice; pushing the door all the way open, he found Emma standing on his front porch.

“What are you doing here?

“AJ didn’t call you?”

“No.” Nick replied. “Is he not coming?”

“Rochelle is having a tough time and the doctor wants her to stay as relaxed as possible.”

“I hope she feels better soon. You can come in, I have to find another ride.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

Nick gave her a quizzical look and she explained that AJ had asked her to come in his place to help Nick out. He wasn’t surprised that AJ would do it without telling him, but he was surprised that Emma had agreed to it. They had spent the weekend together at Addie’s but doing this meant more than a week together.

“Thank you for doing this but it’s kind of a long time to be here. I know you’re spending Thanksgiving with Addie and I’ll be with J.”

“I know, he invited me out there too and don’t worry about Addie, she just called me yesterday to tell me they were going to Florida to spend the holiday with his family. If I don’t come with you, I’ll be all by myself.”

Nick felt badly that she wasn’t going to be with her friends, but he was silently ecstatic that he would be spending a week and a half with her, mostly just the two of them. There would be a few days at AJ’s house but the rest of the time they would be alone at Nick’s place. He started to feel like this was a sign for him to do, or say, something to explain how he felt.

“Are you already to go?” Emma asked, snapping him out of his thoughts. “I don’t want you to be late.”

Nick nodded and followed Emma out to her rental; they spent most of the car ride in silence, speaking only about the directions to the hospital. Both were unsure of how to act because they really hadn’t spent much alone time together and the last time they did, they wound up sleeping in the same bed.

They made it just in time to check in for Nick’s surgery; the nurse told Emma that once he had changed into a gown and settled into the bed, she would be able to sit with him until the doctor was ready. She was unsure as to whether she should be in the room, but he looked so nervous that she assured him she would be in there.

It took a few minutes for him to change and for them to take vitals; a nurse came out to tell her that he was ready for her to wait with him. She felt awful for her when she saw his face; Nick was never nervous about anything, but she could see how much he was rattled by what was going to happen.

“What can I do to make this better for you?” Emma asked. “I’ll do whatever I can.”

“Just hold my hand.” he replied.

“I can do that.” Emma told him with a smile and gently took his hand in hers. “I promise you’ll be fine and it’ll go by super-fast. You’re going to be waking up to this face before you know it.”

Nick laughed as she crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out. She was happy that she could make this easier for him. The doctor came in a few minutes later and asked Emma to wait in the one-day surgery recovery waiting room. Nick started to tense up but when she leaned down and kissed him on the cheek, he settled back into the bed and smiled at her. She crossed her eyes one more time making him laugh and then headed to the waiting room. Nick took a deep breath, reminded himself that he would be awake soon and listened as the doctor explained the procedure. Emma’s face was really all he wanted to see at that moment and he hoped that it would go by as fast as she promised.


--------------

Emma was reading her book when the nurse came out an hour later; she assured her the surgery went well and explained that Nick was still waking up. She handed Emma a list of instructions and explained everything that Emma would have to help him to do including helping him shower. Emma almost dropped the papers when the nurse basically told her she would have to clean the upper part of his body because of the bandages. There was no way AJ wouldn’t have known that and she made a mental note to call him with some choice words.

She followed the nurse down to the room and saw that Nick was awake but a little groggy. The post-op aides had helped him get dressed and she could she that there was a dressing under his shirt. They helped slide Nick’s arm into a sling and told him to let Emma take care of him over the next few days. He was still half asleep, so he nodded at them like he understood; seeing Emma’s face was distracting him and she was all he could focus on.

It was a quiet ride home as Emma concentrated on the drive and Nick tried to wake up. He knew that anesthesia made him a little sleepy and the nurse told him it was okay to rest when he got home.

Emma helped him up the stairs when they got in and settled him in his bed. She told him she was going to let him sleep for a little bit and then make dinner. Just as she was about to leave, Nick gently tugged on her arm and it caused her to turn.

“I love you Emma.” Nick told her with a sleepy look on his face.

“Shh,” Emma told him, “you need some rest.”

Nick slipped into a deep sleep a few minutes and forgot all about his declaration of love for her.
Thanks AJ by Kyrie
Emma made her way to the living room, dug her phone out of her purse and dialed a familiar number.

“Hey Feisty,” AJ answered, “how did it go?”

“Just ducky.”

“That doesn’t sound very good.”

“Did you know I was going to have to help Nick shower?”

“Um, he may have mentioned that detail, I’m not really sure. Besides, it would be way weirder for me to help him bathe than you. Your touch is gentler than mine.”

“Not funny AJ; you should have told me everything.”

“I was afraid you might say no and I really needed your help. Forgive me?”

“That depends on what else I get stuck doing!”

They talked for a few minutes more, discussing the surgery and their travel arrangements for Thanksgiving. They would be flying out to LA the following Tuesday and were flying back to Tennessee that Saturday. AJ had already booked the tickets and set up the rental car; he was really looking forward to his friends coming out for the holidays.

Emma ordered a pizza and a salad for dinner that night and, once it was delivered, she headed up to wake up Nick. She was surprised to find him awake and coming out of his bathroom.

“Hey,” she called out, “how are you feeling?”

“Sore.”

Emma went into the bathroom and grabbed some Ibuprofen out of the linen closet. She filled a Dixie cup with water and handed both to Nick; he thanked her and downed them in one swallow.

“I’m starving,” he told her after swallowing the pills, “what would you like for dinner?”

“Already ordered your favorite.”

“You shouldn’t have done that, I would have taken care of it.”

“You needed to sleep.”

Nick followed Emma downstairs and into the kitchen; she prepared plates of food for both and then set it down in front of him. She realized after a few minutes that he was having trouble eating since his right arm was in a sling and he couldn’t raise it very high.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I thought pizza would be a good idea.”

She didn’t want to ask him if he wanted her to cut it up because she didn’t want to imply that he couldn’t do it. Thankfully, he sucked up his pride and asked her to do what he couldn’t do; she did it quickly and they settled back into dinner.

“This is gonna suck when I have to take a shower,” Nick said out loud, “I can’t even reach my elbow.”

Emma turned bright red and she knew she had to tell him how it was going to work.

“Um…about that.” she said slowly. “I think I need to help you with that.”

“What? Why?”

Emma explained what the nurse had told her, and he groaned as he realized the doctor told him the same thing a couple of weeks before the surgery. AJ had made a huge joke out of it and told his brother how he was going to regret making him do that. Nick had considered hiring a nurse to do it but decided that he could just do it himself. Unfortunately, seeing how little he could do with his arm, he concluded that he was going to have to let Emma helped.

“I know it’s wicked awkward,” she told him, “and I promise I will be fast with whatever part I need to do.”

“I’m sorry Em, I totally forgot about this. If it’s too uncomfortable, I can hire someone to do it.”

She seriously thought about that for a minute but decided that it was ridiculous. Nick would wind up paying a huge amount of money for someone to come and take care of five minutes of work.

“No, it’s ok. It’s only a couple of times, we can get through it.”

Emma gave him a smile and they made small talk through the rest of dinner. Nick was still a little sleepy and apologized for not having much to say.

“It’s ok,” Emma relied with a mischievous grin, “now I can finally talk.”

“Hey!”

Nick balled a napkin up and tossed it at her; she rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out at him.

“You’d better be careful doing that.” Nick warned her. “Your face might get stuck like that.”

Emma stuck her tongue out gain and blew a raspberry at him; without thinking, Nick pulled her out of her chair and towards his chest. They were instantly eye to eye and he had an overwhelming urge to kiss her; however, he realized what was going on and the confusion in her face and released her immediately.

“I’m so sorry Em, I didn’t mean to do that.”

“It’s fine.”

Emma pulled back and Nick wasn’t sure if he saw relief or regret in her eyes. He wanted to believe that she wanted him as much as he wanted her, but he couldn’t tell for certain. Not wanting to make everything more awkward, he grabbed his plate, threw it out and then came back for hers.

“I can do that Nick,” she told him, “you don’t have to wait on me.”

“You’re doing me a huge favor and I know you probably have other things you want to be doing right now.”

“I don’t.” Emma replied quickly. “I want to help you if I can.”

Nick saw the compassion in her face and pulled her into a tight hug.

“I appreciate that,” he told her, “I think I’m going to get some sleep. Are you settled in?”

Nick had shown her the guest room earlier and she had put all her things in there. She assured him she was fine and told him to get some rest. He took off upstairs and she cleaned up the rest of the dinner, packing food away in the fridge for the next day. When she finally headed up, she poked her head in his room and heard him snoring softly. Smiling, she made her way to her room, changed and was asleep a few moments later.
A Night Out by Kyrie
Emma awoke the next morning to the sound of banging coming from downstairs. She pulled a sweatshirt over her pajama top, tugged her hair into a ponytail and made her way down to where she thought the noise was coming from. Walking into the kitchen, she found Nick standing in front of the stove trying to break an egg into a frying pan. She waited for a few seconds and then called out.

“What are you doing?”

Nick jumped and whirled around to face her; in the process, he dropped the egg he was holding, causing it to crack open all over the floor. He wanted to explain what he was doing but all he could do was stare. Emma was never able to see it in herself, but Nick thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever met. Even dressed in sweats with her hair a mess, he wanted her more than anyone else he had ever been around.

It took a few moments for him to bring himself into the moment and, when he did, he tried to explain himself.

“I was trying to make breakfast,” he told her, “as a thank you for all you’re doing.”

Emma smiled, crossed the kitchen and took the pan out of his hand, leading him over to the breakfast nook.

“While I appreciate the offer,” she said, “I think you should let me handle the cooking for now; you can make me breakfast next week, after the doctor gives you the all clear.”

She cleaned up the mess he made, took more eggs out of the fridge and made an omelet and toast for both of them. They were quiet through breakfast, not used to spending so much time alone with each other.

“What do you want to do today?” Nick finally asked.

“Um… I don’t really know. What do you usually do when you’re here?”

“Write music, play video games and sleep.” he replied with a laugh. “But I’m guessing you’re probably not in the mood for any of those.”

“Definitely not.” She chuckled with a smile. “What is there to do around here?”

“There’s a lot of historic buildings, shops, restaurants and museums that aren’t too far from here. It kind of depends of what you’re in the mood for. If you like historic houses, we can tour the Carter house.”

“I think I got a tour of your house yesterday.”

“Very funny!” he said and tossed a napkin at her. “I meant the historic Carter house.”

“How about a walk?”

“How about some shopping, some dinner and a ghost vampire tour?”

Emma paled, and Nick chuckled.

“There are no clowns involved and I promise nothing will come to get you. I won’t let anything attack you.”

“Your arm is in a sling!”

“I don’t care if I am in a whole-body cast,” he replied, staring her in the eyes, “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Emma blushed at his stare and she knew he meant it; she remembered how terrified she was the night in Salem and how he stepped in to protect her and keep here safe. She also remembered how close they got that night and the fact that she woke up the next morning in his bed. The clown experience was something she never wanted to face again but, that night was something she wouldn’t mind doing again and again.

They finally agreed to visit a couple of museums, have dinner in Nashville and try out some of the bars with local entertainment. The afternoon passed quickly and before they knew it, they were heading to see some live music at a bar someone had recommended for them at dinner.

Nick and Emma could hear the music playing as soon as they stepped out of her vehicle and headed into the bar. It was beyond crowded and they had to walk single file in order to get to the patio where there was more room. Even that was crowded, and they had to find a place where Nick wouldn’t get his arm slammed into. They found a corner stool and Emma insisted that Nick take it; she didn’t want someone to hit his arm and cause him pain.

Nick felt guilty taking the seat even though he knew it was necessary; he watched Emma be bumped and jostled when people were walking by. He asked her if she wanted to leave but she assured him that she was fine. Someone bumped into her again and pushed her farther against Nick. He wrapped his good arm around her waist and pulled her to him. She didn’t resist and even smiled when she turned to face him.

Looking her in the eyes, he leaned down to kiss her; unfortunately, someone bumped her from behind and it pushed her further into his chest. He told her they needed to leave because he didn’t want her to be hurt if things got a little rowdier. They made their way out and found her car.

The drive home was quiet, and both were too tired to continue that night by the time they got home. Nick walked her up to her room, kissed her on the cheek and headed down to his bedroom. He really wanted to spend more time with her, but he knew that the moment had been interrupted; he was determined to find a time where it was just him and her, so he could tell her how he felt.
A Scare by Kyrie
Nick woke up early the next morning and instantly thought of the night before; he was thrilled to have this alone time with Emma and he was determined to find a way to tell her how he felt. There was a time limit on her visit and he didn’t want to waste that time beating around the bush. He wasn’t sure how he was going to do it but something needed to change.

After getting dressed, he headed down the hall to her room; the door was wide open and the bed was made. Figuring she was making breakfast, Nick made his way down to the kitchen; he was surprised when he found that empty as well. Looking around the other rooms was making him nervous as he couldn’t find her anywhere. He headed back to the kitchen again and finally noticed a note on the island.

Nick,
I hope you got some sleep last night. I wanted to take a walk but didn’t want to wake you. I won’t be gone long and we can make plans when you get up or I get back.
Em

Nick started to get anxious; he didn’t know how long she had been gone or which way she went. He ran back upstairs to get his phone, found her number and dialed; hearing ringing in the house, he ran back to the kitchen and saw her phone sitting on the table. Racing back upstairs again, he threw on sweats and booked it down the stairs again. As he was attempting to put on his shoes, he heard the slider in the kitchen close. He jumped up and tore around the corner; he ran right into Emma as she was coming into the living room.

“God damn it Emma! What the hell were you thinking?”

He grabbed her in a tight hug and she could feel his heart racing.

“Sorry,” she said softly, “I thought I would be back before you woke up.”

He pulled her back so he could make sure she was okay and he noticed one of her legs was covered in mud; she saw him staring at her leg and gave a chuckle.

“I went a little too far and kind of wound up in a mud puddle. You know how I am with…”

Emma stopped as she stared at Nick’s face; she couldn’t tell if he was angry or upset but she knew damn well that he wasn’t amused.

“You took a walk in a place you didn’t know and left your phone here on the counter!” Nick yelled, much louder than he was aiming for. “You could have been stuck out there for hours, I didn’t even know which way you went!”

Emma saw his eyes start to well up and she felt awful for putting him through that scare. He pulled her close and leaned his head on hers.

“Please don’t do that again.” he whispered. “Promise me you won’t.”

“I swear.” Emma assured him. “I won’t leave without letting you know and I will keep my phone on me.”

She wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him; she pulled back a moment later and told him she was going to take a shower and would be back down in a few minutes. He released her and watched as she made her way up the stairs; there was no way she could know or understand how scared he was that something would happen and he wouldn’t be there.

--------------

Emma came down to the living room about twenty minutes later with her hair wrapped in a turban and wearing a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt. She went into the kitchen and found Nick sitting at the kitchen table reading something in a magazine.

He put it down as soon as he saw her and proceeded to stare at her.

“I know, I know,” she said, breaking the tension, “you don’t have to tell me how wonderful my outfit is. I’m sure it’s going to wind up in Vogue some time soon.”

Nick laughed and watched as she twirled around a couple of times; he loved how he could have this with her. He had never felt at ease with very many people, besides the guys, and it reminded him how much he wanted her to be in his life.

Emma asked him what he wanted to do for the rest of the day and he had to hold himself back from asking her to spend the day in bed with him. He wasn’t considering sleeping together but he wouldn’t have minded a whole day curled up in bed with her.

“I don’t really know, I don’t have many people here so I’m not sure what you’d like to see.”

As soon as Nick said that, the sky opened up and there was a massive downpour. Emma checked the weather on her phone and it showed the potential for an all day storm.

“I guess I got back just in time.” she said as she glanced out the window. “This would have been pretty awful.”

They sat at the table for a few minutes watching the storm before Emma suggested that they simply stay in and make it a movie day. Nick was agreeable to anything that was just the two of them; he suggested that they use the living room TV as the one in his man cave wasn’t working. Emma made the popcorn and joined Nick as he was loading up the TV.

When he was done, he took a seat on the other sofa and asked Emma what she wanted to watch. When she didn’t answer, he looked over to find her sitting there with a quizzical look on her face. She wasn’t saying anything but Nick could tell that she wanted to; they sat like that for a bit before she broke the silence.

“Do I smell?”

“What?”

“Do I smell?” she repeated.

“No, of course not.”

“Then why are you sitting five miles away?”
Help Me by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
I'm sorry for the long delay in updating and I hope people are still reading! Feel free to email me through my author page with any reviews or suggestions.
Nick turned pink and shook his head. He knew that he couldn’t go any further without telling her the truth.

“I actually need a shower,” he said with a laugh, “I’m the one who stinks.”

Emma’s jaw dropped.

“I know I should have said something but I knew how awkward it was going to be having you help me. I…”

Emma was on her feet before he could finish his statement.

“Let’s get going then so we can watch the movie.”

They walked upstairs in silence and, when they got to his bathroom, they realized that neither one of them had thought this situation through; there was no way Nick was stripping down in front of her and she wasn’t going to be able to stand there and watch him take a bath.

“I’m not exactly sure what we should do here.”

Nick stood and watched as Emma’s expressions made rapid changes. He knew she was thinking and he wanted to laugh at her comical confusion looks.

“Go change into a bathing suit.” Emma told him as she pointed to his door. “I’ll get things ready in here.”

Nick did as she asked as quickly as possible in the fear that she would change his mind and be unable to help him. He knew that he wasn’t able to take care of this himself with one arm being in a sling; he would be so grateful if she was actually able and willing to help.

When he returned, he found Emma filling the tub with something that started bubbling.

“Are you seriously making a bubble bath for me?” Nick asked. “I do have some type of reputation to keep up you know.”

“Shut up.” Emma replied with a laugh. “It’s called a bath bomb.”

“Um, like there’s a difference?”

“Yes, there is a difference. This one softens the water and helps release stress and tension. I figured this might help you relax somewhat. Besides, you didn’t have any Calgon lying around.”

Nick was touched by her thoughtfulness and by the look of concern that showed in her eyes.

“Where do you want me?”

“Climb in.” Emma told him. “I’ll help you with your back and arms then I’ll leave and you can finish the rest.”

Both of them blushed at that point and Nick quickly took a seat in the tub. He was actually glad for all the bubbles as it hid some of how he was really feeling at the moment. Leaning backward, he waited for her to slide off his sling; when she finally got it off, she started shampooing his hair.

She was surprised that the situation wasn’t as uncomfortable as she thought it would be; she scrubbed his scalp with her nails and rinsed the shampoo off. Doing the same with the conditioner, she gave him a final rinse and grabbed one of the loofas on the side of the tub. Neither one talked as she soaped up the sponge and gently ran it over his back and shoulders, careful to avoid the bandage that was there.

It took her a few more minutes to complete her part and she wiped her hands with a towel while she talked.

“I’ll let you finish the rest and just call me when you’re done.”

“Where are you…”

“I’m going to flip on your TV, curl up with a blanket and wait till you’re done.” Emma said with a smile. “Just be careful, I don’t want any hospital trips.”

She left and gently closed the door; he waited a few moments till he heard the TV come on and he slipped out of his bathing suit. After he finished cleaning up, he stood up and grabbed one of the towels hanging on the wall. He had wanted to get dressed by himself but there weren’t any clean clothes in the bathroom and he couldn’t extend his arm yet.

“Hey Em? Can you bring me some clothes?”

It took a few seconds before he heard her knock on the door.

“It’s safe to come in,” he told her, “I have a towel on.”

She came in, helped him out of the bath, changed the bandage on his shoulder and helped him get a t-shirt on. He told her he could handle the pants so she offered to go down and start dinner. Appreciating the few minutes to collect himself, Nick finished dressing and went downstairs to find her heating up some soup and rolls.

They ate quietly and Nick suggested trying to watch another movie. Emma smiled and agreed and, instead of sitting apart from her, Nick took a seat next to her on the side of his good arm so he was able to wrap it around her. She pulled a blanket over them and both were asleep within ten minutes.

Appreciation by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
A huge thank you to everyone who has been reading and a BIG thank you to Lourdes, smh1105 and Dawn for reading and sending me great feedback. Sometimes it's hard as an author to keep up a story if you're not sure someone is reading and these ladies have been pushing me to keep going! I hope everyone is continuing to enjoy the story!
Nick and Emma went to the doctor’s the next day to get his arm looked at and the bandages removed. The doctor was satisfied with the progress and cleared Nick to use his arm. He told him it may be stiff for the next few days and to continue to take it easy, but he could shower by himself and take care of things around the house.

The two went to lunch to celebrate and, after eating, stopped by the small general store to pick up some things that they needed for dinner that night. They took a walk when they got home, and Nick showed her some of his favorite stops on the nearby trails. Making it back to the house before the sun set, Nick told her there were some things he needed to take care of upstairs and she assumed that he wanted to shower and remove all the bandage adhesive.

He had been gone about ten minutes when he called for Emma from upstairs. She raced up, hoping that he hadn’t hurt his arm or lost his balance and fell. It took her a few seconds to realize he was calling from the bathroom and she bolted into the room.

“Are you…”

Emma stopped quickly when she saw Nick standing there with a smile; she looked around and saw candles lit by the tub that was filled with bubbles. She didn’t know what was going on and she was caught off guard by the situation.

Nick noticed her expression and laughed.

“Don’t worry, this bath is just for you.”

“It smells like…”

“Calgon.” Nick answered. “I found some at the store and I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done. I figured this would be a good start.”

Emma was touched and smiled up at him.

“I really appreciate it, but you didn’t have to…”

“I know.” Nick said, cutting her off. “But you didn’t have to give up your time and your holiday plans to come and take care of me.”

Nick handed her a towel and walked around her. He told her he would take care of dinner and would give her some time to unwind.

About an hour and a half later, Nick knocked on the bathroom door to tell her that dinner was ready, and he started to leave. He got a few steps when he realized that she hadn’t responded. Not knowing what was happening in there, he opened the door and covered his eyes.

“Emma? Are you okay?”

“Oh shit.” he heard her reply groggily. “I think I fell asleep.”

Nick laughed and kept his eyes shielded; he told her again that dinner was ready and that he would wait downstairs for her.

He had just taken the roast out of the oven when he heard someone padding into the kitchen; he turned to see her in pajamas with a towel wrapped around her head. She smiled at him and he nodded to the table he had already set. Taking a seat, she waited for him to come over so she could talk to him.

“Thank you again for all of that,” Emma told him, “and I’m so sorry I feel asleep. I really did enjoy the bath.”

“I’m just glad I didn’t have to throw in the life preserver.” Nick answered with a chuckle. “I couldn’t have helped with my eyes closed.”

Emma laughed.

“Dinner smells delicious.”

“I hope it tastes as good as it smells, I haven’t really cooked in awhile since I am usually the only one here.”

They ate in silence for a bit before Nick asked her if she was prepared to go to AJ’s over the holiday. Since she was going to be with Nick, AJ offered for her to come along as well and had even paid for her ticket as a thank you for taking care of his brother.

“I think so.” Emma replied. “Are the holidays crazy out there?”

“You would be surprised by how low-key they are.” Nick answered her. “It’s really just him, Ro, Ava, his parents and the in-laws. It’s actually pretty cozy.”

Emma was glad that it wasn’t some over the top celebration with too many people; it would be nice just to spend some time with her friends and their families. She missed AJ and Ro; she had always only had one female friend in Addie but once she met AJ’s wife, she realized how much she was like her. It made it easier for her to talk to someone when Addie wasn’t around, and she appreciated the couple always making her feel welcome.

“When do we leave?” Emma asked as she ate.

“What?” Nick asked with feigned shock. “Are you saying you’re getting bored with me? Or is the tattooed one just more fun?”

Emma laughed and threw her napkin at Nick.

“No, being here with you is great, I was just wondering when I should pack.”

“Tonight,” he answered, “we’re actually leaving pretty early.”

Emma and Nick finished dinner and she helped him clean up after wards. They both went to their rooms to pack and met back downstairs twenty minutes later. Nick had suggested a movie and they both curled up on the couch, careful to not get too close but also not to have too much space in between. Neither one knew what to call what was happening but they both felt like it was the right thing; they both realized they needed to keep it at a slow pace and, as hard as it was for both, it needed to be this way.
Pre Thanksgiving by Kyrie
Nick and Emma awoke early the next morning, got ready quickly and made their way to the airport using the car service Nick had hired. They were both still tired and there wasn’t much conversation happening. The same happened on the plane when both fell asleep as soon as they took off.

They awoke about 4 hours later as the flight attendant was asking people to prepare for landing. There had been some turbulence during the flight so it took longer than expected to get there; both were just happy that they could finally step onto flat ground that wasn’t moving.

Just as he’d promised, AJ was waiting for them as they emerged from baggage claim. As soon as Emma saw him, she burst out laughing; he was standing behind a giant piece of poster board that was welcoming Mary-Ann and Gilligan to California. Other people began to point and chuckle, but Nick looked like he wanted to throttle his brother; they just wanted to get out quickly and AJ was attracting attention from everyone.

Nick caught him by the elbow and started dragging him out to pick up lane where he found Ro and Ava waiting in the car for them. When AJ’s wife saw the expression on Nick and Emma’s faces, she burst out laughing. Her husband had told her what he planned on doing to get their attention, but she had thought he was just kidding around. Seeing the actual poster, he’d made caused her to laugh even harder which sent Ava into a fit of giggles.

Emma caught sight of her friend’s wife and his daughter and started chuckling as well; the only one not laughing was Nick. He got poked in the side by Emma who was smiling up at him and he lost some of his annoyance and joined in with the rest of the group.

AJ loaded all their luggage into the car and asked if they would mind stopping at the grocery store on their way back to the house. He had forgotten some things for dinner the next day and he didn’t want to make another trip out if he didn’t have to. His friends said that it was no problem; Emma went in with AJ to help because they thought having Nick in there as well would have brought too much attention to the quick stop.

The five of them got back to the house and the brothers offered to bring in all the shopping bags and luggage while Emma took Ava and Ro inside so she could sit down and relax. As soon as Ro was sitting on the couch, Ava grabbed Emma’s hand and yanked her in the direction of her room. As they were leaving the room, AJ and Nick finally got a chance to sit.

“What’s with that?” Nick asked as he heard Ava and Emma laughing.

“Ava has been dying to show Emma her new Barbie head.”

“Barbie head?” he asked with a shocked look. “What happened to the rest of her?”

Ro cracked up laughing and AJ explained that they had gotten her a mannequin Barbie head so she could have someone to put make-up on; she had been using her dad but after the last time, he decided to give her someone else to practice on.

“She probably has her looking like a hooker,” AJ said as he stretched out on the couch, “here’s hoping she doesn’t try her new obsession out on Emma.”

The three friends spent a few moments chatting before Emma finally made her way back to them. AJ was thrilled that Ava hadn’t talked Emma into modeling for her and Nick was just happy to have her near him. He made room for her on the love seat next to him and she didn’t shy away from him.

The two couples caught up on the last few months over a dinner of pizza and salads and Ava entertained them all with her stories. They talked well into the night before they realized how late it was; AJ knew his mother would be over early tomorrow to help and he wanted to make sure everyone got some rest.

He took his friends down to the guest room and sheepishly told them they would have to share a room because the other guest bedroom had become the new nursery. He noticed that neither one of them rejected that idea and he smiled; he knew that they belonged together and it was nice to see that, maybe, they had realized the same thing. After wishing them a good night, he slipped out and closed the door behind him.

Nick and Emma stood there for a few moments before Emma excused herself to the bathroom so that she could change her clothes. Her heart was beating super fast and, as much as she wanted this, it made her so nervous to even think about sleeping in the same small bed as Nick. After she finally calmed herself down and made her heart beat slower, she made her way back into the room. She was touched that Nick still knew what side of the bed she slept on and he had turned the covers down for her.

“Are you sure you’re ok with this?” Nick asked quietly. “I can always go sleep out on the couch.”

“I’m fine, honest.” Emma replied. “We both need to sleep in a bed and it’s fine that we’re together.”

Both of them tried to make themselves comfortable without getting too close but it was hard in the full size bed that AJ used as a guest bed. There was no way they could both be in it without touching so they eventually gave up trying. Looking her in the face, Nick held the covers up so she could slide closer to him and, when she did just that, he wrapped his arm around her; she cuddled into his side and looked up to see what he was thinking.

Without a moment’s hesitation or a second thought, Nick leaned his head down and kissed her gently on the lips. When she didn’t flinch or pull back, he cautiously increased the intensity of his kiss; whatever had been building between them suddenly broke like a dam.
Emma threw her arms around Nick’s neck pulling him as close as she could.

Nick moaned softly and pulled her as tight as he could against him without ever breaking the kiss. Emma’s hands flew up into his head and she ran her fingers through his hair. This sent Nick into a fervor and he flipped her over on her back, hovered above her and the intensity of the kiss doubled. His hands slid down her side to the hem of her shirt and he started yanking it up.

Emma’s brain finally broke out of the trance and she pulled back. This motion caught Nick by surprise and he immediately stopped what he was doing.

“Are you okay?” he asked as he noticed several tears trickle down her face. “I’m sorry if I pushed you…”

“You didn’t.” Emma assured him. “It’s not that I don’t want this because I do, I just think maybe we should slow it down just a little.”

Inside his head, Nick agreed that it was going too fast and they might do something that they would regret the next day. Unfortunately, his heart and body didn’t feel the same way and were encouraging him to keep going. Out of respect for her, he finally backed off and lay back down in the bed.

“I’m sorry.” Emma told him quietly. “I really am.”

Nick knew she had been right and he felt awful that she felt like she’d upset him. He pulled her close to him again and kissed her head.

“We have plenty of time, there’s no need to rush.” he told her and himself. “Let’s get some sleep and we can figure it out tomorrow.”
Thanksgiving by Kyrie
Emma woke the next morning, wrapped in Nick’s arms, and let out a soft sigh. She had waited months to have this moment and it brought back memories of all the times they had shared a bed together. Every night was amazing with him and she had never felt that same feeling with anyone else. Not wanting to wake up, she snuggled a little closer to him and closed her eyes, his heartbeat relaxing her; soon she was asleep again.

It was about an hour later when Ava came bouncing down the stairs, took a running leap and landed right in the middle of their bed, causing both to wake up with a start.

“Wake up, wake up!” Ava insisted as she continued bouncing on the bed. “It’s turkey time!”

Emma laughed as the little girl finally bounced her way off the bed and bounded up the stairs yelling that she woke them up. It took a few moments to wake up completely and when she looked over at Nick, who was still trying to wake up, she chuckled; his hair was a mess, his eyes still drooping and he looked generally stunned to be woken up so quickly.

“What the hell was that?” he finally muttered.

“That was a very excited little girl.” Emma answered as she crawled out of bed and dug through her bag for the clothes she was wearing that day. “I think she’s happy to have us here.”

“Apparently.” Nick grumbled. “Can I go back to sleep?”

“No,” Emma replied, “get your butt out of bed and get dressed.”

“I will under one condition.”

Emma turned to face him and got pulled down on the bed by surprise. Nick gently tugged her towards him and gave her a long kiss. He finally let her up and smiled at her blushing face. Grabbing his outfit, he wandered out to use the guest bathroom so that Emma could use the one in their room. She could still feel the redness in her face and was surprised that she was welcoming that kiss instead of shying away from it. Thinking about it while she was dressing, she was determined to make sure that wasn’t the last one.

--------------------

The couple finished dressing and headed upstairs to help their friends prepare for the holiday dinner; Nick helped AJ take care of the cleaning while Emma was working with AJ’s wife in the kitchen. Since Rochelle was close to her due date, Emma wanted to be as helpful as possible; she knew Denise would be there soon, but she still wanted to do whatever she could.

The couples finally finished and took a few moments to sit down and relax. Nick conveniently took a seat next to Emma on the loveseat and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. She smiled up at him and he leaned down to kiss her just as the doorbell rang and interupted them.

AJ came back a moment later with his mom, stepdad and some of hie wife’s family. Denise was thrilled to see Nick and excited to meet Emma as her son had only good things to say about her. She noticed how comfortable they were sitting and smiled; she hoped Nick had finally found someone who could settle him down.

“You two make such a cute couple.” Denise said as Nick stood up to hug her.

“Thanks Denise,” Nick replied with a smile, “but we’re only friends.”

Nick looked back at Emma with a smile and saw something flash across her face; she smiled quickly back at him and stuck her hand out to shake Denise’s. As AJ’s mom made her way around the room to visit with Rochelle’s family, Emma stood up quickly and headed right to the kitchen without saying a word to Nick. He was about to follow her when AJ tugged him over to meet one of his brothers-in-law.

Nick didn’t get another chance to talk to Emma until they all came together to eat. Once they all sat down, he gently nudged her, but she didn’t respond; he waited a minute before nudging her again and this time, she acknowledged him with a look but didn’t say anything. He knew that he had done something earlier to upset her, but he couldn’t remember what it was.

The dinner went by quickly with everyone talking, catching up, telling stories and enjoying each other’s company. The last guest didn’t leave until late that night and when the boys came in from walking the last one out, they found Emma and Ro absorbed in some discussion. Nick was tired and wanted to go to bed but couldn’t seem to get Emma’s attention without interrupting their conversation.

Nick finally joined the two women while AJ was putting Ava to bed and gently put his hand on Emma’s shoulder. She turned to look at him but didn’t make any move to get up.

“Hey, I was thinking about turning in.” he told her. “Are you tired?”

“No,” Emma replied quickly, “I wanted to stay with Rochelle for a bit and have some girl time. I’ll be down in a little while.”

Nick got the message loud and clear and was disappointed because he really wanted to talk about what happened earlier. They needed time together so that the air could be cleared and whatever he said or did could be straightened out. However, her attitude and body language told him that he shouldn’t bother to ask again.

He made his way downstairs and stayed awake for as long as he possibly could so that they might get a chance to talk. Eventually, he fell asleep and was out cold by the time Emma made her way to their guest room. She grabbed her pajamas, changed in the attached bathroom and slipped out of the room again. Rochelle had pulled out pillows and a blanket for her and left them on the couch in the living room. Emma climbed in, snuggled down and, as much as she wanted to sleep, her mind replayed Nick’s response to them being a couple repeatedly until she finally drifted off to sleep.
Setback by Kyrie
Nick woke the next morning to a bed that was empty besides himself. He had never heard Emma come to bed and he wondered if she ever had. Once he was showered and dressed, he made his way up to the kitchen to find AJ feeding his daughter. There was no sign of the two women, and he made a point to mention it to his friend as soon as he poured himself a cup of coffee.

“Ro took her shopping to pick up some last-minute things for the baby.” AJ replied. “I think she wanted a woman’s opinion about some clothes since she’s exhausted all of mine.”

Nick just sat there and watched his friend and his daughter having fun eating breakfast. He was so lost in his thoughts that it took AJ a few moments to break his concentration.

“Does your lack of attention have to do with something yesterday?”

Nick nodded but didn’t say anything.

“I’m pretty sure you screwed up when you told my mom that you two were just friends.”

Nick’s mind snapped back to that comment and he realized that the two of them had never really talked about what their relationship was and how it should be described. He thought that calling them friends would be the best thing until it could be discussed but, apparently, that had been the wrong call.

“I didn’t want to scare her by saying we were a couple since we literally just kissed. I don’t know if that even means we’re together.” Nick told his friend. “I’m so confused and I didn’t want to make it worse by admitting something if it wasn’t true.”

“Did you talk to Emma about it last night?”

“No,” he replied, “I fell asleep before she ever came to bed.”

“I don’t think she ever did.” AJ told him with a nod towards the couch. “I found her sleeping on the couch when I woke up this morning, but I don’t think she saw me.”

Nick was hurt that Emma had never bothered to come to bed or at least woke him up to talk. He knew he’d probably made a mistake the day before with his comment, but he wasn’t sure how to describe them; he was torn between saying they were together or saying they were friends. The two never talked about how this new relationship, if it even was one, was going to work and how they would address it with their friends. In part, it seemed like old times and in another, it was as though they just noticed each other.

He didn’t have to wait much longer as the two women came through the door with their bags while AJ was cleaning up breakfast. Emma looked at him quickly but shifted her eyes away as soon as his connected with hers.

Before he got to ask her to talk to him, AJ suggested that the couples watch a movie while Ava went back to sleep for a while. Nick took the sofa that he had been sitting on the other night and, although she sat with him, Emma kept her distance. She was uncomfortable sitting together when she was so confused about what was going on.

The four adults spent a semi quiet day together as the day was gray outside and they were all tired from the day before. Emma made everyone dinner and they had settled down to watch another movie when Ro suddenly grasped her husband’s arm and cried out.

“What’s wrong?” AJ turned to her with concern. “What’s going on?”

Through gritted teeth, his wife told him that she thought the baby was coming and they needed to head to the hospital. If there was any question about it, Rochelle’s water broke as AJ and Nick tried to help her stand.

“Will you two watch Ava?” AJ asked as he was flying around collecting all the things they would need. “It will be too much to have her at the hospital.”

“Of course,” Emma replied, “we’d be happy to.”

Nick and AJ helped Rochelle down to the car and Nick came back up as soon as he saw the taillights disappear around the corner. Since it was so late, Emma was already putting Ava down when he came in and he decided to wait on the couch for her. They needed to clear this situation up before it created a divide between them that would be too hard to cross.

Emma noticed Nick waiting for her when she came out and she knew that they would have to address what happened; part of her wanted to talk and another part wanted to just run away. She knew that would just cause problems, so she took a deep breath and sat down on the other side of the couch from him.

“How come you didn’t come to bed last night?” Nick blurted out.

She considered lying to him, but he cut her off by saying that AJ had seen her sleeping on the couch when he got up. Thinking that she should just get things out on the table, she told him how she felt.

“I was confused, and I needed some time to myself.” she admitted. “I didn’t know how I felt or what to say so I figured it would be easier to stay up here.”

“I get it,” Nick replied to her honest comment, “I don’t really know what’s going on either, but don’t you think we should try to work it out?”

Emma took a deep breath and looked Nick square in the eye.

“What is there to work out?”
Decisions by Kyrie
“What’d you mean?” Nick asked. “We need to talk about what happened.”

Emma paused for a moment to try and figure out what she was going to say; finally, she just decided to be blunt.

“We aren’t in a relationship, Nick; we’re just exes, maybe even friends, but there is nothing that either one of us did wrong that we need to straighten out.”

“You know damn right well we’re not just exes, Emma,” he replied quickly, “exes don’t feel the way we do.”

They sat there for a moment, Nick staring at her while she picked at pieces of the pillow she was holding. They both knew he was right and that just being exes, at this point, was off the table.

“And how do you feel?” Emma asked. “Do you even know? Do you know where this is going and how it’s going to end?”

“No, I don’t but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and figure it out.”

Emma started to tear up; she felt torn between the way her heart felt and the way her head was telling her how to feel. She knew she still cared for him, that part was clear; what she didn’t know is how it could even work with them being anything but friends. They were only in each other’s lives occasionally and they never really knew when they would see each other again.

What Emma didn’t know was that Nick was thinking the same thing. The only difference was that he wanted to push the issue and truly figure out what was going on. He saw that this could be deeper, and he wanted to try his best to make her see that.

“Emma, look at me.” he requested, and she looked up. “Do you honestly think that we’re just exes? Or just friends? Or do you think there’s something else there?”

Emma started to tear up as she thought about his question. She wanted there to be more but there was no guarantee. Nick kept asking her the tough questions, but he never revealed where he thought they were going. After a few moments, she answered the best way she knew.

“I think we’re just friends. I don’t see how we can more when we hardly see each other. I don’t want to be friends with benefits, and I don’t want to be some woman you sleep with whenever we see each other. My heart can’t handle that and it’s safer if we just put a label on it that clears up all the confusion.”

Nick was stunned to hear her say that and it hurt him that she thought the best thing they could be was friends with benefits.

“I have never thought of us in that way, Emma. You would never be someone I just slept with when we had the time.” He paused for a moment. “Is us being friends how you really feel?”

“Maybe,” she replied, “maybe it’s better to be friends than to screw this up anymore. We’ve already messed things up twice and I don’t know if it would be any better the third time around. Maybe we’re just trying to live through old feelings instead of just dealing with what’s in front of us.”

Looking in his eyes only made Emma cry more, and he pulled her close; she tried to resist because being wrapped in his arms made it so much harder to insist that they were just friends. He gently rubbed her back and kissed the top of her head which only resulted in making her cry harder. The whole situation was so confusing, and she just wanted an end to it that would make it easier.

As Nick was comforting her, Ava had strolled into the room; seeing her aunt and uncle crying, she ran to them with tears in her eyes.

“What’s wrong with mommy?” Ava cried. “Is she and daddy okay?”

Emma wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve and picked up Ava.

“No, nothing is wrong with either of them, or the baby. Uncle Nick was telling me a sad story and it made me cry.”

Nick looked crestfallen and realized that this whole situation was coming to an end; the decision to be just friends had just been made. He watched as she slipped off the couch, picked the little girl up and, with one more look at him, she turned to bring Ava back to bed.

Nick tried to absorb what just happened and his heart was breaking; he loved her so much and to know that this was all they were going to be was like a punch to the gut. Their relationship had been going so well and just one statement had put a sudden halt to everything.

He waited a little while and then made his way to Ava’s room to make sure she was okay. Walking into the room, he found Emma sound asleep on the bed with Ava curled into her side. The tear tracks were still visible on his ex’s cheeks and it made him well up; he grabbed a blanket off the chair next to the bed and laid it across them both. He made his way back to the guest room, fell into bed and cried himself to sleep.

----------------------

The couple were still quiet the next morning when AJ returned to the house to check on his daughter. He asked Nick about it and just got the response that everything was fine. Looking at Nick’s face, however, was a different story; he could tell something happened the night before and it was not sitting well with his brother.

Looking at Emma’s face, AJ could see that it was not sitting well with her either. She looked like she had been crying for hours and he hated that she was hurting. He tried to get her to open up when Nick left the room to collect their luggage, but she refused to give him any response other than what Nick had said.

Knowing his friends were heading back to Tennessee in a couple of hours, he tried to break the tension by telling them that Ro wasn’t ready to deliver yet but it was going to be soon. He offered to bring them to the airport, but they declined, telling him to go back to his wife and thanking both for allowing their friends to come out and celebrate the holiday,

The taxi pulled up as AJ was helping Nick bring out the last piece of luggage. He asked his brother again what was going on, but Nick shrugged him off and let it be known that the conversation was over. Watching them pull away, he hoped that whatever happened could be straightened up so that it wasn’t hurting the two so badly.
Aftermath by Kyrie
The plane ride back to Tennessee was quiet and uneventful; Emma read the whole time and Nick fell into a fitful sleep. It made him sad to think about how happy and excited they had been flying out to see AJ; it was a completely different feeling this time and it was eating him up inside.

The flight finally landed and, after retrieving their luggage from the baggage claim, Nick offered to bring the car around while she waited near the exit. Once he was gone, Emma dabbed at the tears that were threatening to slip down her face. She had tried to keep it together during the flight but, with this break alone, it all came crashing in. This ride to his house would be the last time she would see him for a while, if at all. She was afraid that coming to the conclusion of just being friends would make him not want to see her unless absolutely necessary.

Nick was thinking about the same thing as he brought the car around. Emma was leaving as soon as they got back to his house and there was nothing he could do about it. He didn’t want her to leave the way things were and he was hoping to get her to spend one more night at his house. The thought of not seeing her for some time was killing him; he wanted to go back to before he made the ridiculous comment that caused all this pain and confusion.

When Nick got back to where she was, he saw her wipe a tear away from her face. He didn’t understand why they couldn’t take back everything they had said the last few days and start over again. It was obvious that this was hurting them both and that they felt like more than friends to each other.

The ride back to his house was made in absolute silence; their arms rested inches apart from each other on the center console but neither one made the move to grab the other’s hand. There was so much being kept in during that ride with the fear that it would open the floodgates to let it out. Each wanted to say something, but it seemed as the silence was just getting too easy.

They pulled into Nick’s driveway and he helped Emma out of the car; he saw her head into the house to grab her things and he took the remaining luggage out of the car. She was heading to her rental when Nick stopped her.

“Please stay one more night Em.” he said as he gently tugged her arm. “I just want one more night with you.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea Nick, we should just leave things here.”

“I can’t,” Nick replied, “I can’t just let you drive off the way things are. You and I both know that there’s more to say.”

Emma walked over to her car as Nick followed her with her things. She was about to get in when Nick pulled her into him and wrapped her in a tight hug.

“Please don’t leave like this. It’s killing me that we’re just going to let things go the way it is.”

“It’s not letting things go,” Emma said through tears, “it’s just making things simpler.”

Nick pulled back a little to see her face and his eyes started to water.

“This is simpler? You and I crying? This is breaking both our hearts and you can’t say it’s not.”

“Maybe we don’t love each other anymore, Nick; maybe it’s just being around each other is bringing up old feelings. Maybe we’re trying to go back to how it used to be and that’s not possible.”

“Are you kidding?” he responded. “We don’t love each other anymore? Are you not feeling what I am?”

Emma finally disentangled herself from him and stepped back.

“I don’t know what I feel right now. I think I need some time and space to figure this out.”

“So, you’re walking out again?” Nick asked. “Just going to take off when it gets hard?”

Emma was hurt and angered by his comment; she knew the pain it caused when she walked away last time and she swore she would never do that again.

“I’m not running away Nick. I’m asking that we take a break and figure out how we feel before we make any mistakes.” Emma paused. “I know this feels like I’m taking off but I’m not, I’m just asking for some time to think.”

Nick didn’t reply as he watched her open the car door and get it; he stood there while she pulled out and disappeared down his driveway. This felt just like it did when she flew to North Carolina years ago; the one difference is that he had no intention of sitting back and just letting it happen again.
Coming Home for Christmas by Kyrie
It had been a few weeks since Thanksgiving and Emma had been having a rough time; things were horrible at work, she’d been snapping at Michael and she cried herself to sleep most nights. Michael hadn’t taken offense even though he wasn’t sure what happened while she was away. He knew something changed between her and Nick, but he could tell, at least on her end, that whatever happened wasn’t working for her.

He mentioned as much to Addie when he called her for some advice. He didn’t know how to dig her out of this hole that she had made and there was no way she could keep living the way she was. Her life was spinning out of control and she needed to pull herself together before it got worse.

Addie waited a few days to call her friend because she knew what she was going to say would be tough but there was no way around it. She finally bit the bullet and dialed her number on a Friday night. It took a few times, but Emma finally answered; she sounded like crap and Addie was worried.

“Hey lady,” Addie said as she picked up, “how are you?”

“Just ducky.” Emma replied, not having enough energy to play along.

“Sounds like you feel like shit.”

Emma didn’t say anything because she knew her best friend was right and there was no way she was going to rehash everything again. Addie guessed that and tried to cut to the chase of why she was calling; the reasons would be good and bad.

“You know how you were going to visit us for Christmas?”

“Yeah,” Emma responded, “I haven’t bought my ticket yet though.”

“Well don’t.” Addie said bluntly. “We’re not going to have it here.”

“Why? Did something happen?”

“I’m pregnant.”

“That’s amazing Addie! I am so happy for you and Howie!”

Emma was really trying hard to be happy for her friend and Addie appreciated it; she knew, however, that the next part wouldn’t be so exciting.

“You know how we planned on moving down to Florida right? Well, the house we wanted will be available after New Year’s and we want to move down as soon as possible.”

“That’s great Addie, I get it. We can do Christmas after you move.”

“That’s actually the other reason I’m calling.” Addie said and paused. “We’re still doing Christmas this year, but it will be at Nick’s.”

She heard dead silence on Emma’s end and was wondering if her friend had hung up on her. This was a bomb that she had dropped, and she wasn’t sure what reaction her friend would have. It was a few moments before she responded.

“Have fun and tell everyone I said hi.” Emma said. “I’m sure you guys will enjoy seeing everyone.”

“Everyone’s not going to be there.” Addie replied. “It’ll just be us, AJ and his family and Nick. And you right?”

“No,” Emma spat out. “I’m not coming.”

“You can’t spend Christmas by yourself, Em. You really need to come and see everyone.”

There were some fleeting moments where she wanted to say yes but it was just too hard; she didn’t know how to face Nick and she didn’t want to have to do it with everyone around. The whole situation was difficult enough without an audience.

“No, I’m not going to make it this year.”

“You know I’m not giving in,” Addie said stubbornly, “I’m not letting this go.”

“Well, you’re going to have to.”

Emma hung up before her friend could add any more input; she knew she meant well but this was something she didn’t need. Unfortunately, she knew Addie wasn’t going to give up and not five minutes after she hung up, she got a phone call from AJ.

She spent twenty minutes going back and forth with him about what happened at Thanksgiving, attending Christmas at Nick’s and all the reasons everyone thought she should listen to. He got the response that Addie got and was equally as frustrated as she was with Emma’s insistence that she was not attending Christmas. Knowing he had to make this count, he called the one and only person who might be able to make her see reason and hoped it wouldn’t be a mistake.

Emma spent the rest of the evening in a sad mood, watching movies she knew would make her cry, until she was ready for bed. She had just washed her face, changed and returned to bed when her cell phone chirped signaling she had a text message. She couldn’t imagine who would be texting her and prayed it wasn’t Addie or AJ starting with her again.

When she flipped the phone over, she noticed who sent the message and just stared at the screen for a minute. Once the shock had worn off, she opened the text.

Please come for Christmas Em, everyone wants to see you and it wouldn’t be
the same if you weren’t there. I want you there. Please come. “ Nick

She broke down in tears and tossed the phone across her bed. Her heart wanted to soar and text him back right away that she was coming. Her head, on the other hand, was throwing up caution signs. She couldn’t decide which on she wanted to listen to so she threw caution to the wind and texted back that she would be there. All she could do at that point is hope she made the right decision.
Holiday Arrival by Kyrie
Emma flew to Tennessee the day before Christmas Eve and was planning to spend five days with everyone before heading back. AJ had agreed to pick her up from the airport even though Nick was chomping at the bit to see her. They thought that giving her a moment to settle down after the flight was a better idea, so Nick stayed home and paced the floor.

AJ found Emma waiting for him at the exit; he got out to give her a hug and load her bag into the car. Once he climbed in and they headed towards Nick’s, he decided to get right to the point.

“I’m glad you’re here.”

“I didn’t really have a choice did I?” Emma asked with a hesitant chuckle. “You weren’t going to leave me alone until I agreed.”

“No, we weren’t.” AJ answered honestly. “It wouldn’t be Christmas without everyone.”

They drove in silence for a few minutes before Emma asked what she was thinking.

“Is Nick really okay with me being here or did the rest of you wrangle him into asking?”

“He’s the one who brought it up first and asked that we nag you until you said yes. He’s thrilled that you’re coming, and I would guess that, even though you’re trying to hide it, you’re pretty happy to be here.”

Emma said nothing because she honestly didn’t know what to say; she was glad he was happy about her being there, but she wasn’t sure how it would be with him after everything that happened during Thanksgiving. The way they left things was hard for both of them and she wasn’t sure how it would be seeing him again; she also didn’t know how comfortable Nick would be around her.

“He’s not angry or upset, Em, he wants to see you and have you here.”, AJ replied to her silent question and then paused for a moment before he continued, “It’s important to him that you’re here.”

AJ spoke as though he could read everything that was going through her mind and he was right; she was afraid that Nick would hold her leaving against her and he was just doing what the others wanted.

The ride was shorter than she thought it would be and before long, they were pulling up in front of his house. AJ honked the horn, signaling their arrival, and everyone came out to welcome her. She hugged everyone as AJ brought her things in and she finally came face to face with Nick; everyone else had the common sense to leave them alone for a few minutes.

Emma started to say something when Nick pulled her into a tight hug and rested his head on hers. She wanted to cry because it felt so normal, so right and yet she was only here in a friend capacity. Even though she was trying to hold back, she finally wrapped her arms around him and rested her head against him. He held her for a few minutes before releasing her from the hug and grabbing her hand as they headed into the house.

Once inside, Emma made the rounds to tell everyone hello and see how they were all doing. It felt so good to see everyone again and slipping back into group mode was comforting; she could let go of the apprehension she felt coming there and spend time with the people she cared about. This was exactly what the holidays were for, and she was grateful that everyone had nagged her into coming even though she had concerns about the whole situation.

The afternoon sped by and, before she knew it, they were sitting down to eat dinner. All the couples took seats next to each other which meant the only seat for Emma was the one to the right of Nick. He smiled at her, pulled out her chair and waited till she was comfortable before taking his seat. Everyone started passing the food around and every time she handed something to him, she could feel his hand slip over hers as though he was giving it a light squeeze and it tugged at her heart.

Dinner went by quickly and, once the babies and Ava were put to bed for the night, the couples decided to watch a movie. Once again, the only place for Emma to sit, was right next to Nick on the love seat; he tried to make her comfortable by giving her some space on the sofa but there was only so much he could do. The only was for them to sit comfortably was for Nick to put his arm on the back of the couch and it stretched across her shoulders.

“Do you want me to move somewhere else?” Nick asked her quietly.

She could see the relief flash across his face when she assured him she was fine, and they were both able to relax. The only problem was that they could both feel the electrical spark that occurred between them every time they saw each other. It was obvious to everyone around them that they loved each other, and they all hoped that being together for the holidays would be the catalyst for them to get back together.

When everyone was heading to bed, he pulled her aside and explained a complication that had come up with everyone around.

“There aren’t enough rooms for everyone so you’re going to be sleeping in my room.”

Emma looked at him with a surprised expression.

“Don’t worry,” Nick said, “I’m sleeping on the couch.”

Part of her was saddened that he wasn’t going to be sleeping in the same bed as her; part of her was relieved. She would only be staying a few days and it wouldn’t be a good idea to open up any old wounds.

Nick walked her up to his room, made sure she was settled and pulled her in for a long hug. He wanted to kiss her and crawl into bed with her like they used to; he was longing to hold her, wrap her in his arms and fall asleep feeling like one. Knowing that he couldn’t push his luck, he decided to wait and talk to her the next day; maybe they would be able to talk about what happened before she left again.
Christmas Eve by Kyrie
Everyone woke up on Christmas Eve with a mission; the men still needed to finish their shopping and the women were going spend the day finishing decorating the tree and relaxing. The guys had figured between the babies and the decorations, they would take Ava with them and give the girls time to catch up. Emma appreciated the time with her girlfriends to talk without having the guys around and for the space between her and Nick; she was worried that things would get awkward if they had to sit around for too long.

After the men left with Ava, the girls got right into putting up the ornaments on the tree; since Addie was pregnant, it was more of her job to unpack everything, and the other two women placed them where they thought would be best. Since Emma didn’t want to discuss the situation between herself and Nick, she asked her friends everything she could think of to keep the topic at bay; they talked about pregnancies, raising babies, Addie’s move to Florida and how Ro was doing with two children at home.

Addie let her continue for a little while before she interrupted her and asked the question that was on everyone’s mind.

“How does it feel to be around Nick again?”

Emma inwardly groaned and now, she hated Addie’s ability to always ask the tough questions. She had assumed that Nick told both his brothers about the conversations he had with her before she headed back to North Carolina; she was also positive that, if the guys knew, then so did their wives.

“It’s fine.” Emma answered and went back to hanging ornaments. “It’s just fine.”

“Liar.” Addie responded with a chuckle. “You know I won’t let this go until we talk about it.”

“Come on Ad,” Emma begged, “I came just like everyone wanted and Nick and I can clearly handle being in the same space together with no problems so it’s all good.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it!”

Emma took a seat on the couch and Ro paused her hanging; both women knew that this would be tough on Emma and, even though it seemed like an interrogation, they just wanted to make sure she was okay with a situation she had been reluctantly tossed into.

“It’s weird.” Emma admitted honestly. “It’s tricky and confusing.”

Emma took the time to explain everything that had happened once they got to California and about the conversations they had had before she left. She knew they both had feelings for each other and that she had lied when she told him that they were just friends and that it was just past feelings making them think they felt any other way. It would be so much easier if they had just agreed to be friends and left the other side of their relationship untouched; it would make things less uncomfortable and less uncertain, and she told her friends that.

“Do you really think that it’s possible to just be friends?” Addie asked in a serious tone. “Can you honestly say that you both can put any other feelings aside and just be two people who have a totally platonic relationship?”

Emma was going to lie and say yes but she was saved by the men walking through the front door. Addie and Ro understood enough to drop the conversation and go back to what they were doing. They knew Emma was already uncomfortable with the situation and the conversation and they didn’t want to make it more embarrassing talking about it with the men within earshot.

The rest of the afternoon flew by and they sat down for dinner a few hours later. The grown ups were trying to talk in code and decide how long after the little ones went to sleep, they could start putting together Ava’s presents. They needed her to be fast asleep before they started so she wasn’t sneaking down to see what they were doing.

After dinner, they watched “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” with Ava and Nick read her The Night Before Christmas. AJ, Ro and Addie went to put all the children to bed while Howie, Nick and Emma crept down to the basement to start putting together all the things Ava would be opening at Nick’s.

“I’m going to kill AJ,” Nick grumbled after forty-five minutes, “he buys things with seven thousand pieces and we get stuck putting it together.”

Emma chuckled at the look on his face and he stuck his tongue out at her. She blew a raspberry back at him and he tossed one of the pillows within his grabbing reach at her. Tossing it back at him, he ducked and the pillow bounced off of Howie’s head.

“Hey!” he yelped. “You two are like little kids! Do we need to put you two to bed too?”

“Bite me.” Nick responded with a laugh. “It’s okay to act like kids every so often.”

They had just finished the first of the two projects when the rest of the group came down to help. Nick good naturedly complained to AJ that he wanted an elf’s salary for putting in all this work and the group laughed. They all got back to work and, by the time they looked up, everything was done and it was almost midnight.

The men carried all the toys upstairs and covered them with a blanket so that, if Ava did wake up, she wouldn’t be able to see anything from the stairs. As everyone headed off to bed, Emma asked Nick if it would be alright if she stayed up with him to watch the Christmas lights on the tree; she had loved to do it when she was a girl and he eagerly agreed as it would allow him to spend more time alone with her.

They talked about all the traditions they had growing up and all the Christmases that Nick had spent away from home; after a while, they both got drowsy and Emma was the first to fall asleep. Nick covered her with a quilt that was on the back of his couch and he settled back down on his sofa to attempt to sleep. As he watched her sleep, he hoped that he would get the gift he really wanted for this Christmas.
Christmas by Kyrie
“It’s time to get up! It’s time to get up!”

Emma woke with a start, and it took her a moment to realize she wasn’t in bed but lying on the couch where she had been sitting the night before. She must have fallen asleep watching the Christmas lights and when she pulled the quilt up, she realized Nick must have covered her before he fell asleep. Turning her head, she could see an overly excited Ava bouncing on the floor near her trying to wake her up; when she turned her head the other way, she had to laugh. Poor Nick was still trying to sit up after, she assumed, he got the same early morning greeting from one enthusiastic little girl.

At the sound of her laugh, Nick turned to look at her with a scowl on his face; it was clear that he didn’t appreciate the morning greeting he got.

“You think it’s funny?” Nick said to Ava and Emma as they laughed at his expense. “Is this funny?”

Nick suddenly jumped up and tackled the two of them onto the couch and proceeded to tickle them until they were both crying. The sound of the laughing made Nick glad that he was able to have this time, not only with his brother’s daughter but also with the woman he had loved for so long; it made him happy to see her smiling through the tears.

Ava was finally able to wiggle out of his grasp and raced up the stairs to wake her parents so they could open gifts. Nick continued to tickle Emma until she laughed so hard she couldn’t breathe; he released his grip on her but didn’t avert his gaze. She was so beautiful and he wanted so badly to kiss her but he knew that there was still much to be said between them; he didn’t want to jump in feet first without making sure she was okay with it.
AJ was the first one down the stairs and he smirked when he saw the two of them trying to readjust themselves on the couch.

“You too making out again?” he asked with a laugh. “You could at least try to be PG around my kids!”

They both turned beet red and Nick flipped his brother off, which just made AJ laugh harder. Standing up, Nick reached out his hand to help Emma up and they headed in the same direction as AJ so they could grab some coffee. They all needed to get caffeinated before Ava exploded into the presents they worked so hard to assemble the night before.

Once the other adults and the babies joined them, they had breakfast on the table and Ava had been told by her parents that she had to finish at least half of her food before she could open her gifts. Emma joked that it was cruel and unusual punishment to make a little kid wait on Christmas morning and Nick agreed; they were quickly shot down and everyone headed to the living room once they finished eating.

The adults had agreed that they would all buy for the kids and they would do a secret Santa to buy one gift for someone else. Emma was the last one to open her gift and she wasn’t surprised that it was from Nick; he had actually rigged it so he made sure he was buying for her. He handed her a large box and when she opened it, she found a beautiful school bag and a little plaque with her name on it for her desk.

Her eyes filled up with tears at the sweet gift but AJ was the only one who noticed the fleeting sad look that passed over her face; he didn’t say anything at the moment but he knew he would ask her at some point when it was just them.

The rest of the evening flew by and, before they knew it, everyone was yawning and heading off to their respective rooms. Emma was the last one to go and Nick gave her a hug as she passed him. When he let go, they both noticed that they were standing under a sprig of mistletoe that AJ had hung without telling anyone. Nick looked her in the eyes and, seeing no sign of her pulling away, he leaned in close and softly kissed her. She didn’t pull away so Nick drew her in closer, wrapped his arms around her tightly and increased the intensity of his kiss. They finally separated slightly and Nick smiled down at her; she gave him a small smile which he took as a good sign.

“I’m going to head to bed.” Emma said quietly as she pulled back gently.

“You know we need to talk right?” he responded without releasing her. “Are you going to be ready soon?”

Emma nodded and wished him a goodnight; he watched her climb the stairs and as badly as he wanted to race up behind her, he headed back to his couch and tried to fall asleep alone.
Revelations by Kyrie
Emma woke up early the next morning, confused by last night’s kiss, and tried to be quiet as she crept down the stairs; she could see Nick was still asleep on the couch and assumed everyone else was doing the same upstairs. She made her way to the kitchen and noticed that someone had already made a pot of coffee. Turning her gaze to the back door, she saw AJ smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee; he finally noticed her, nodded towards the pot and then waved her outside.

“Morning Feisty, how did you sleep?” he asked after she was seated across from him.

“Okay.” she replied. “I forgot how exhausting holidays were!”

“Just wait till you have kids, it’s going to wipe you out.”

Emma nodded even though she knew, at that point in her life, that would not be happening any time soon or at all. AJ felt bad that he had mentioned it like that and he attempted to change the subject by asking the question that was on his mind from the day before.

“What was with your face yesterday when you opened up Nick’s gift? Did you not like it?”

Emma didn’t realize that anyone had noticed it and she lied to avoid any further conversation.

“No, it was beautiful.”

“Yeah,” he said, not letting it go, “you said that to everyone yesterday but your face said something different. What gives?”

“Nothing.” Emma replied. “There was no …”

AJ held up a hand to stop her before she said anything else.

“You’re not getting out of this so just tell me what’s going on.”

Emma thought long and hard before she decided to tell AJ what had been going on.

“It’s a beautiful gift but I have no where to use it.”

“Huh?” AJ asked. “Are you having a senior moment? You use it at your job.”

“You mean the one I don’t have anymore?”

Emma paused for the shock of her statement to hit AJ before she began to explain what had happened over the last few weeks.

When she had returned to work after Thanksgiving, Emma’s boss had called her into her office to have, what she said, was a conversation about attendance; what it had really been was her boss’ way of firing her. When Emma had pressed her for a reason why she was being let go, her boss had pulled out an outdated copy of the teacher rules that no one had actually used in years. There was a passage in the fine print that said if a teacher took, what the headmaster or headmistress determined to be, too much time off without advance notice, they could be let go without any other reason.

“That’s bullshit!” AJ hissed. “Isn’t there anything that you can do? That’s just not fair!”

Emma explained that, since there are no unions in private schools, there was nothing she could do about it. Her boss had hated her from the moment she started because she had a good relationship with her co-workers and this woman did not. Even though no one had used the book before, her boss had dug it out to search for ways to get rid of Emma and, unfortunately, she had walked right into it without knowing.

“So because I couldn’t take care of Nick and I needed your help, I cost you your job.”

“No.” Emma replied adamantly. “I could have said no and not done it. She was just looking for a reason and I gave it to her without realizing it. She would have eventually found another way if this hadn’t happened. This isn’t anyone else’s fault, it’s all on her.”

AJ was pissed and wanted to call her boss up just to lay into her, but it wouldn’t help the situation.

“What are you going to do now?”

“I’m not sure.” Emma replied honestly. “Michael and Arthur are moving to New York at the end of January so I can stay in the house until then. After that, I haven’t decided yet.”

“What decision do you have to make?”

Emma explained that her parents, who had previously lived in Florida, moved to England a few years before after taking a month-long trip over there with friends and falling in love with Cornwall. They had opened a small bookstore and attached café not long after moving there and she hadn’t had the time to visit. Since she was now unemployed, they asked her to come over and stay with them for a while. She missed her parents and was seriously contemplating going over and getting some space for a bit.

“So, you’re going to pack up your whole life and move to a different country?”

They both jumped when they heard the sliding door slam and were surprised to find an angry looking Nick standing there.

“You’re moving to another country over my dead body!”
Double Standard by Kyrie
It was clear from the look on Nick’s face that he had only caught the tail end of the conversation and didn’t understand the whole situation. He had been staring at Emma with an angry look but she could see that he was also hurt; she felt badly that he had found out this way.

“You’re just going to leave again?” Nick demanded. “Were you ever really going to talk to me or were you just saying that so you could leave before it happened?”

“No,” Emma answered defensively, “I had every intention of talking to you about everything.”

“What excuse were you going to give me? You’re going to quit another job, pack up all your stuff and just take off.; you were probably gonna leave while I was sleeping so you wouldn’t have to tell me!”

Emma felt the heat of anger, embarrassment and hurt flooding her face and AJ realized that he needed to intervene before this could get out of hand. He grabbed Nick by the arm and started dragging him into the house; he was halfway to the basement when Ro, Addie and Howie rounded the corner with Ava right behind them.

“Hey everyone,” AJ said with a forced smiled, “we were just going down to the studio to listen to some music. Howie, why don’t you come with me and you ladies go enjoy some coffee with Emma?”

He then turned towards Nick and hissed in his ear that he was not to say one word until they were in private. The adults could all tell that something was wrong and they had just walked into a volatile situation. Howie shrugged at the women and headed in the direction of the basement while Ro and Addie headed towards the deck. When they saw Emma’s face, they knew there was a long story about what had just happened and they didn’t think Ava should be listening.

“Why don’t you go get some of your toys and play down in the backyard” her mother suggested, “we’re just going to sit with Auntie Emma for a little bit.”

“But I’m a lady so I should get to talk too!”

Her mother looked at her sternly so she headed to get what she asked; she purposely stomped her feet in anger so her mother would know she was unhappy. She finally came back out with a toy, Rochelle got her settled and then both women sat down to talk with Emma.

They listened as Emma retold the story she had just talked about with AJ and both ladies were stunned about the situation. They agreed with AJ that it was complete nonsense and that she should be able to do something about it; she explained that she couldn’t because there was no protection in private schools and she just had to deal with the consequences. She also told them about the invitation that she had received from her parents and that she was considering going to visit for a while.

“Are you moving there?” Ro asked quietly. “You have other options, you know; you could always come stay with AJ and I.”

“No,” Emma answered quickly, “I am just going to visit and spend some time with my parents. It’s been so long since I’ve seen them and I could use some time and space to figure out what my next move is.”

---------------------

At that moment, AJ was explaining what was going on to both Nick and Howie; he wanted Nick to understand that Emma wasn’t doing anything to spite or upset him. He knew she had intended to talk to Nick and was sure that she would have told him herself had he not overheard them.

“So it’s my fault!?” Nick exclaimed. “I didn’t ask her to come take care of me!”

AJ just shook his head; no matter how he tried to explain it, Nick just wasn’t getting the point.

“No, she got fired because her boss hates her and was just looking for ways to get rid of her. The Thanksgiving trip was just what she was looking for and she used it to her advantage; this is no one’s fault except hers.”

“And she’s just going to up and move again!?” Nick yelled. “She probably never intended on telling me. I opened myself up and I’m gonna get the door slammed in my face AGAIN!”

Both Howe and AJ wanted to throttle their brother; he wasn’t seeing the big picture and was just acting out of anger and hurt. They both assured him that this wasn’t like the time she moved to North Carolina, and she wasn’t going to stomp on his heart even though that’s how he was feeling.

“Do you get how hard this is for her?” AJ asked. “Her life just got blown up and you’re acting like this was all done to spite you. Maybe you two aren’t getting back together but did it occur to you that she needs a friend right now and not someone who’s going to accuse her of trying to hurt people?”

Before Nick could answer, Howie cut him off and reminded him of a double standard he was ignoring.

“Did you happen to tell Emma that we were leaving for a few months or are you the only one who can get hurt by someone walking away?”
One Bad Decision by Kyrie
The guys spent the next couple of hours getting Nick to cool down and discussing plans for the upcoming tour. They were leaving in the middle of January and would be gone for about three months; their families were staying behind because of all the babies, house moves and other issues that were happening so it would be hard on all of them.

When they finally made it back upstairs, they noticed Rochelle and Addie sitting with the babies and Ava in the living room but there was no sign of Emma. Nick thought she may have decided to leave after he blew up at her and he was scared that he wouldn’t get the chance to apologize.

“She just ran to the store a couple of minutes ago,” Addie mentioned as though she could read Nick’s mind, “she’s coming back.”

As quick as relief passed over him, panic crept up just as fast.

“Doesn’t she know there’s a storm coming?” Nick said with concern and a nervous look. “It’s going to get bad fast, and she shouldn’t have done that!”

“It’s fine,” Addie replied, “she said the store was only twenty minutes away and she said she would be quick; she’ll be back before you know it.”

As soon as Addie finished speaking, they noticed that snow was starting to come down and it was rapidly building up; they all began to worry and hoped Emma would be fast.

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“Dammit!”

Emma swore and slammed her hand against the steering wheel; she had offered to get more diapers for Addie and thought it would be a quick trip but all she had run into were problems. The local store was closed for the Christmas holiday, and she had to rely on the spotty GPS on her phone to find her way to a different store. On top of being lost, the snow that was only supposed to be light was swirling all around her making it difficult to see very far in front of her borrowed car.

Decreasing her speed again, she peered through the snow to see if there were any signs that told her where she was; she had relied on the damn phone and it seemed to have taken her as far away from civilization as it could. She wasn’t seeing any street signs or houses around her and she knew she should have turned back the minute the storm picked up. Taking the trip to the store was her way of getting some space from Nick and, although she thought she needed it, she should have been smarter about her choice of getting some distance.

She had started slowing down more when she noticed a truck coming from behind her; it seemed to be gaining on her and she didn’t understand what the person was thinking, driving at speeds that fast in this storm. There was no place for her to pull over as her side of the road ran a little ways above a stream and looked like it would be a steep slide.

When the truck sped up more, she tried to veer a little to give them some room to pass her; the truck couldn’t wait and sped up any way. The driver clipped Emma’s rear end trying to pass her and the strike caused Emma to lost control of the vehicle. The Jeep slid off the road above the stream and was heading for a tree. The owner of the truck never stopped and Emma could only do what she could with turning the wheel as far as she could. The Jeep slammed headfirst into a tree and Emma’s head slammed into the steering wheel; the airbag went off but by then, Emma had lost consciousness.

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“Whose car did she take?” Nick asked with growing concern.

Emma had been gone for much longer than she told Addie, and no one had heard from her since she left. The possibilities of what was actually going on was making everyone increasingly nervous and they could only hope she would be back in the immediate future.

“I think your old Jeep.” Addie answered. “Is it a problem?”

“Jesus!” Nick swore. “That thing sucks in the winter; it has no good traction control and the tires are old as hell.”

If they were worried before, the friends started to panic again, and Addie began dialing Emma’s phone furiously hoping she would pick up.
Dire Situation by Kyrie
When Emma came to, she was disoriented, had a pounding headache and blood was dripping down her forehead; it took her a few moments to realize where she was and remember how she got there. Raising her head gently, she could see that the Jeep had veered headfirst into a tree and was wedged in tight; there was no way she would be able to pull the car out.

Lowering her head carefully, she searched for her phone and found that it had gotten crushed in between the seats during the accident. Wrapping her fingers around it, she brought it up to see if there was any chance it was working; it wouldn’t turn on even after several tries. She dropped it back onto the floor and tears started to well up; she didn’t know where she was and neither did anyone else.

After a few minutes of letting her feelings flood down her face, she slowly raised herself up in a sitting position and got a better bearing for her surroundings. She knew deep down that there was little chance of someone coming along and seeing her, and there were no houses as far as she could see. It was an awful situation and she ran through all of the options in her mind, acknowledging that there weren’t many.

She finally decided that she could either sit, freeze in the Jeep and hope to God someone would come by and find her or she could get out and start walking. Neither option was good especially since she wasn’t dressed for that kind of weather. She had on somewhat sturdy boots but only a thin jacket and no gloves; after looking around the best she could, she found that there was nothing she could use it the car to better equip herself with either.

Gently testing her legs to make sure they weren’t pinned under the steering column, she said a silent thank you to whoever was listening, that she was able to move them. It took her a few times to get them pulled out of where they were and the door proved to be problem when trying to open it. She finally got it free and slid out of the Jeep right into a small mountain of snow piled up outside her door. The cold wet mess started to seep immediately into her boots and she decided she needed to get going quickly before it got too bad.

She couldn’t see three feet in front of her but she started trudging her way back up the embankment and onto the road and had to decide which way to go. Not knowing what was in the direction she had been heading, she turned and went the same way she had come from. At least one car had come from that direction so she hoped against hope that another one would come by; pushing herself forward, she slowly made her way along the road.

She walked for what seemed like forever and it was a struggle to keep going. The blood had stopped leaking out of whatever cut had been made and her hair was matted to her head with wet snow. Her hands were in the pockets but she was starting to lose feeling in them and her toes were the same; the wet snow just kept soaking through her boots. Her coat was stuck to her skin and she could feel the cold seeping through but she kept on moving.

After awhile, Emma started to struggle; her feet were barely moving and she was so tired and cold that she didn’t know how much longer she could keep this up. She slipped on some ice, went down hard on the ground and slid some way down an embankment; she started to cry with the realization that she couldn’t go any further. Realizing that there was a good chance that she was going to die out here in the cold weather, she pulled herself as close to road as she could get and, as she closed her eyes, she prayed to God that someone would see her before it got to that point.

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While Emma was struggling with finding her way through the snow storm, her friends were panicking and calling every police station and hospital in the area. She hadn’t returned, their calls went to straight to voicemail and when they had tried the store she was supposed to go to, there was an automatic message announcing its closing for the holidays.

It had been hours since she left and no one was able to take a deep breath. The two women were softly crying, Nick was pacing like a madman with tears threatening to come pouring out and AJ was still trying to find a way to get an answer. Howie had finally taken Ava upstairs to occupy her with some toys; he checked to make sure the babies were okay and went back to taking care of Ava.

Nick finally decided he couldn’t take it anymore and grabbed the keys to his truck.

“Where are you going?” AJ said as he blocked his brother’s way to the door.

“I need to start looking for her,” Nick said as he attempted to push by, “I can’t just sit here and do nothing.”

“You have to.” AJ replied. “You have no idea where she is and we can’t afford to have two of you out there.”

Nick stopped and started crying; AJ pulled him in for a hug and tears started sliding down his face as well. They stood this way for a bit as both men knew how much Emma meant to the group and to Nick; they couldn’t imagine anything happening to her. AJ finally pulled back, took Nick’s keys away from him and prodded him down the hall into the living room to rejoin the women who were equally upset.

AJ tried his best to keep everyone thinking positive thoughts and reminded them all how she got the nickname Feisty in the first place; he felt like Emma would keep pushing and he could only hope that he wasn’t wrong.
The Aftermath by Kyrie
It was close to midnight and the group still had not heard anything from Emma. No one could sleep so they just sat in Nick’s living room, quiet and scared; there was nothing to say that could make anyone feel better about the situation.

As it got closer to one, Addie’s cell phone started to buzz and she answered it immediately. The person on the other line must have started talking as Addie started crying with a smile on her face. The others knew that it must have been good news and they listened to the part of the conversation they could hear.

“Where is she?” Nick asked as Addie continued to talk. “Where’s Emma?”

Addie ignored him as he asked several more times and he finally lost it.

“Goddamit Addie, where the hell is she?” he roared.

Addie was taken aback and immediately gave Nick the name of a local hospital; he grabbed his keys and was out the door before anyone could stop him. He was not interested in anyone’s pleas to slow down or to stay until later in the morning; he had to see Emma and make sure that she was truly okay.

He drove as slowly as he could stand and all the emotions that had built up felt like a dam just on the verge of breaking. The thoughts that he may never see her again, or apologize for their argument, drove him crazy. He needed to see her and apologize for what he said and how he acted; he didn’t even care if she forgave him or if she never wanted to see him, he just needed her to know how sorry he was.

It felt like forever before he reached the hospital; whipping into a space and jerking his keys out of the ignition, he charged into the emergency room. The attendant stopped him to see who he was looking for and, when he gave them Emma’s name, he was directed to a room towards the back; he reached it quickly and was brought to tears by what he saw.

Emma was pale, unmoving and was covered with compresses; there was an IV in one of her hands and a bandage over part of her forehead. When Nick reached out for one of her hands, he almost recoiled from how cold it seemed. He was struggling with holding back his tears and he didn’t hear the nurse when she first called out to him.

“Hello?” the nurse called again. “Hello?”

Nick turned around and saw the woman standing there by her bed.

“I’m sorry,” he replied with wet eyes, “I didn’t hear anyone come in.”

“It’s okay, I know seeing your girlfriend like this must be hard.”

Nick didn’t bother correcting her and asked her immediately if she was going to be okay.

“There are no medical guarantees I can give you, but your girlfriend is one tough cookie.”

“Feisty.”

Nick whispered under his breath and when the nurse asked what he said, he explained that his brother had given her that nickname when they first met and it had stuck.

“She sure lived up to that today. From what the police and plow driver said, she pried open the jeep door, she climbed up an embankment, walked for a half mile, slipped down an embankment, climbed up again and made it up to the road before she passed out.”

Nick paled as he listened to the nurse explain what Emma had had to go through and the realization hit him hard that she could really have died out there.

“Who found her?” he asked when he was able to speak again. “How did they find her?”

“She got a lucky break; she couldn’t have seen it from her view because of the storm, but she collapsed right in front of the dirt driveway of one of our local plow drivers. The woman pulled her out of the snow and drove her straight here because she knew the ambulance would be no match for the snow but her truck would make it.” the nurse explained. “She’s a real nice lady and her name is Della.”

Nick choked back his tears and knew that someone had been looking down on her today and it would be no surprise that she was rescued from someone with the same name as the one she rescued.

“Is there anything I can get you?”

Nick shook his head and watched as the nurse checked Emma’s vitals. He asked about the compresses and the IV and the nurse explained that they were giving her warming injections and trying to raise her body temperature slowly so that she wouldn’t be traumatized any further. She told Nick that he could stay with her and let him know that if he needed anything, to just come find her.

He thanked her and pulled out his phone after she left; he quickly relayed everything to AJ and then hung up so he could focus all his attention on Emma. Pulling a chair up to her bedside, he sat down and started praying to whoever could hear him that she would be okay.
Silly Adults by Kyrie
It was about five in the morning when Emma started to stir; her eyes fluttered open and she had trouble focusing on anything at first. Once she got her full sight back, she tried to figure out where she was; she could fill pressure on her body and her hand had something in it. Not being able to sit up, she whipped her head side to side in a panic to try and figure out where she was.

She finally looked up and she saw Nick looking down at her with a smile; he took one of her hands in his own and put the other on the top of her head. The gentleness of his touch and his assurance that she was okay caused her to break down in sobs; she thought she was going to die out in the storm and, when see realized she was safe, the tears just wouldn’t stop.

Seeing Emma in the state she was in shattered Nick’s heart and the tears that he had been trying to hold in came rushing out. He knew he had to be strong for her because she had been through so much but seeing her awake and alive, he couldn’t control himself. He continued to whisper, through the tears, that she was okay and the hospital was taking good care of her.

As if on cue, the nurse he had spoken to earlier came in to take some vitals on her patient.

“Well, well,” she said with a smile, “the fighter has awoken.”

Emma gave her a small smile through the tears and the nurse proceeded to tell her what was going on so that she had a better understanding of what they were doing to help her. She explained that Emma would be able to go home in a few hours provided they were comfortable with her rising body temperature and that she would need to take it easy for awhile to let her body heal from the trauma it had been through.

“You just go home and let your boyfriend here take care of you.”

The nurse smiled, finished her tasks and left the room leaving the couple the way she had found them. Neither Emma nor Nick corrected her about their dating status and they left it unsaid between them; now was not the time nor the place to discuss their relationship.

“Are you okay? Do you need anything?” Nick asked quietly, still standing so that Emma could see him.

Emma just shook her head; she had no idea what to say at this point as she was still processing being alive and okay. Having Nick there with her was a relief and they spent the next few hours, basically in silence, awaiting the doctor’s order that she could go home.

It was noon before the doctor came in to see her and he was comfortable sending her home as long as she rested and there was someone with her at all times. Nick assured the doctor that she would be well taken care of and then left the hospital to go to the Target down the street; Emma would need clothes to be discharged in as they had to cut hers off to get her ready in the emergency room.

When Nick returned, the nurse helped Emma get dressed and they wheeled her down to Nick’s truck. He gently lifted her out of the wheelchair, placed her in the passenger seat and stretched the seatbelt over. Once he was totally comfortable that she was safe, he got in and started the drive home; during the ride, he grabbed her hand and held it tight because he could see she was nervous being out in the storm again even though it had eased up considerably.

After about an hour, they pulled into Nick’s driveway and he insisted that she remain in the truck till he got to her side. Just as he had at the hospital, he gently took her out of the truck and carried her to the door before setting her down, so that he could get the door open.

As soon as the front door swung open, Emma slowly walked down the hall and into Nick’s living room, right into the arms of everyone who had been worried about her. Both women were crying as they hugged her tightly and, when she finally got to him, AJ’s eyes were brimming with tears.

“How you feeling, Feisty?” AJ asked quietly. “I heard you finally lived up to your nickname.”

Emma chuckled and held onto him tightly. “I’m doing better than I expected to be doing.”

Nick helped her over towards the couch so she could sit but, before she could, she was hit in the legs by a mini hurricane.

“Auntie Emma!” Ava cried out. “You finally got back from your trip.”

Emma put her hand on the little’s girl’s head, stroked her hair and told her that she was happy to be home.

“I’m so glad you’re back, everyone was crying and saying how much they were missing you when you went on the trip.” Ava said. “I told them they were being silly, you were coming back.”

Although Emma’s eyes filled up, she smiled and she sat down after she was released by Ava.

“I’m glad you knew what was going to happen and that you looked out for all these silly adults crying over a trip to the store.”

“Seriously!” Ava shouted and then turned to her parents and shook her finger at them. “Even Auntie Emma thinks you were being silly.”
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