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Chapter Two

Nick found Amanda fascinating. There was something about her, the way she moved and talked, that had him hung up on her. And it turned out that they had a lot in common besides being relapsing smokers; important things, like music interests and aversion to small children. Amanda, too, lived in Los Angeles, which was something that had bothered Nick when he remembered that he met her at a hotel she was staying at. He didn’t live full time in LA, but he had a place there, too, and for Amanda, he might be willing to relocate for awhile, at least.

He didn’t introduce her to the other Backstreet Boys. “There’s too much crazy shit going on right now, it wouldn’t be right,” he said, avoiding her eye contact. When she’d asked what the crazy shit was he’d shaken his head, “I don’t really wanna talk about it.”

A month had gone by after the return to LA, with Nick seeing Amanda almost everyday, before he invited her to his apartment to watch a movie. Amanda had shown up wearing jeans and a Dr. Pepper t-shirt, carrying fluffy slippers, pajama pants, and a box of movie theater butter popcorn.

“Your place is nice,” she said, looking around the futuristic apartment. Nick had a large kitchen with sleek black appliances and granite counter tops with a large breakfast bar that split the kitchen from the dining area, which he evidently didn’t use as such, because it was void of a table, replaced by bean-bag chairs and a pinball machine.

“Thanks,” he said shrugging, “It’s just, yanno, a place.” He took the popcorn, “Sweet! Movie theater butter!” Bounding into the kitchen, he left her in the dining area to continue looking around. He ripped the box open and started poking around at the microwave. “Was it a long ride over?” he asked absently as he worked on getting the popcorn settings right.

“Traffic was kind of crap,” Amanda replied. She gasped. She’d just stepped into the living room, which was through a door flanked by two in-wall fish tanks that afforded a view of thousands of tiny goldfish from each side of the wall, and gave a aquamarine glow to the living room. The glow, she discovered, was echoed in the decorating style that he’d put into place. The couch stood in the center, full and soft and dark, midnight blue, with three over stuffed chairs, strategically placed around the room to afford every seat a view of an unassuming television that hung simply on the wall.
The walls were painted the same color blue as the sofa, and the carpet was a lighter, complimentary shade of teal. What trim there was had been painted black, giving the room a sharp, photo-like finish. Tall palm trees stood on either side of a sliding glass door that led out onto a balcony, which afforded a clear view of the city, its lights bright like stars in a sky that had fallen down.

The smell of popcorn permeated the air.

Amanda was analyzing a series of pictures that Nick had put on a shelf over his CD collection. Over the shelf hung all of the Boys’ multi-platinum plaques. The pictures were from tours – his favorite photos of himself with his brothers. She was stooped, looking at each one carefully.

The first picture was of the Boys standing in front of Universal Studios theme park, a large plastic dinosaur looking over the side of a high brick wall. They had hoisted Nick up on their shoulders and were pretending to feed him to the beast. They looked so young, and their clothes were so dated that Amanda chuckled just looking at it. Nick’s face in the picture was one of mock terror, and overwhelming joy.

Another picture had them all dressed up in business suits on a red carpet, but instead of the classic pose that usually would be taken at a red carpet event, the Boys were all pulling faces. Kevin had his eyelids inside out, Brian had flared his nose and crossed his eyes, Nick had pushed his ears forward and puckered his lips into a fish face, Howie was sticking out his tongue and peering down the end of his nose, and AJ’s lips were contorted in a way that seemed impossible – like a bleating cow.

She ran her finger tips across the edge of the shelf as she looked at them, clutching her pajama pants and slippers to her chest. She could hear Nick in the other room, opening cupboard doors and pouring the popcorn into bowls. The fridge door banged shut and she knew he must’ve been pouring sodas.

When she came to the last picture on the shelf, she bent down to get a closer look. It seemed the most recent, judging by Brian’s receding hairline and Nick’s weight. He had his arm thrown over Brian’s shoulder, grinning, and leaning over his friend, who sat in a chair in a room that looked both familiar and yet not at all anywhere that Amanda could place. The wall behind them was beige and dark teal, split by a pine accent about halfway up. The fluorescent lighting had done absolutely nothing for either of the two men, only made their skin seem nearly transparent and gave them each a somewhat unhealthy look. She noticed the bags under their eyes and wondered what on earth had made Nick keep this picture with the other ones that he had on the shelf. It didn’t seem special in anyway, and the smiles on their faces looked almost painfully forced.

Nick came into the room, carrying a TV tray laden with two yellow bowls filled to overflowing with popcorn, and two fizzing bottles of pop. “I wasn’t sure what you’d wanna watch,” he said, “But I’ve got a crapton of movies.” He motioned to some shelves she hadn’t seen that made up the bottom half of the wall beneath the fish tanks to the floor. The shelves, on either side of the door, were chockablock full of DVDs, the way a library would be full of books. “You can pick what you want… I’ll get the surround sound fixed up.”

Amanda looked surprised, “You have surround sound here?” she asked.

Nick nodded, “They’re mounted to the walls.” He pointed up to the corners of the room, and Amanda noticed four very tiny speakers that she’d somehow overlooked until he’d pointed them out. They blended perfectly with the black trim of the room, giving them a ghostly there-but-not quality.

Amanda looked through his movies, trying not to laugh at some of the typical guy titles he had. Die Hard, Alien, E.T., Fast & Furious, The Matrix, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. A slew of karate fight movies were all grouped together, along with titles like Godzilla and King Kong. A full collection of Disney cartoons surprised her, though, and she held up her favorite Disney movie, The Little Mermaid, and laughed. “I can’t believe you own this.”

He smiled, “Disney kicks ass. Plus Ariel’s hot.”

She put the DVD back on the shelf and kept looking through the titles to choose from. He had 24 on DVD, grouped with other movies Keifer Sutherland had starred in. It was from this grouping that she pulled Stand By Me and stood up. “Here, this one.” She handed the DVD to Nick.

He smiled, “This is one of my very favorites,” he admitted, moving toward the TV and hitting a button on the side of it. A DVD tray popped out.

“Where can I change?” she asked, holding up the pajama pants and slippers.

Nick pointed at the door to the living room. “If you go out there, and hang a left, the bathroom’s the first door in the hall on your right.”

Amanda left him setting up the sound and picture options on the TV remote and followed his directions. She found the bathroom okay, but, peeking back toward the living room to make sure he wasn’t following her, she couldn’t resist opening the door opposite the bathroom’s in the hallway. It was a closet, stocked with towels and soaps. A laundry basket was overflowing below with underwear and socks. She wondered where the actual clothes were, and remembered having read somewhere once that Nick wore dirty clothes all the time and laughed at the idea.

She chanced going a little further down the hall, and opened the next door on the left, and found a pristine guest bedroom, done in shades of pink and red, with a floral pattern wall paper and dark bedding. The room obviously hadn’t been used in awhile, and it smelled like cleaning products and poppuri. Nick definitely did not design that room, she decided, backing out and closing the door.

The next door opened into what had to be Nick’s bedroom. It looked like a tornado had touched down. Stuff was everywhere in there, clothes strewn over a desk chair and bookshelves, piled onto an overstuffed chair in the corner. Everything was green in there, dark and lush looking. His bedspread was messed up, down pillows crushed and contorted in various positions across the wide expanse of bed. A laptop glowed from the head of the bed, his email program pulled up. Drawers were pulled out in a chest that stood kitty-cornered, and on top of it sat a relatively small stereo, with an iPod docked in the front. This room, too, had a balcony, but it stared out toward the ocean instead of the city.

Amanda backed out of the room, wishing she’d had more time to continue exploring down the hall, but knowing she was already taking a little too long changing. She went back to the bathroom door and stepped inside to change. In comparison to the rest of Nick’s apartment, the bathroom was amazingly normal. He didn’t have a bath tub, though, only a shower with a frosted glass stall. She pulled on her pajama pants and slid her feet into the slippers as quickly as she could, folded her jeans, and left them sitting on the closed toilet seat. She wanted an excuse to return to the bathroom later.

Returning into the living room, she found Nick had pulled the TV tray over to the sofa and sat down at one end, his legs up on the long couch, the menu of the DVD up on the screen. Amanda joined him, sitting between his legs, her back to his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close, and she reached for the bowl of popcorn. “I haven’t seen this in forever,” she commented.

“Brian and I used to watch it almost everyday on the bus when we were younger,” Nick said, laughing. “We said I’d be Chris and he’d be Gordy. AJ would’ve been Teddy, and Howie, Vern.” He smirked.

“And Kevin?” she asked.

Nick laughed, “Ace, definitely. He was always such a dick on tours. He’s really anal and stuff, so he’d be all controlling and freaky about getting everything done immediately. Plus he’s like OCD and blah, blah, blah. He thought he was like our father more than our friend. Sometimes that was cool, other times it was annoying. I love Kevin, don’t get me wrong, but he can be an ass sometimes.”

He started the movie, and Amanda found herself paying special attention to the characters that she never had before, wondering what had made Nick and Brian choose who they had to play each of them. She found Chris and Gordy especially interesting, of course, and the dynamic between the two characters made her glance at the last picture on the shelf. The surround sound system had the room rocking during the scene with the train, and she felt Nick tense up behind her during it. He let out a sigh of relief when Gordy and Vern made it off the tracks okay, and he muttered, “I always want to beat the crap out of Chris for not going back to help them.” Amanda added the comment to her thoughts on the analogy Nick had drawn between the characters and his friends. She did not overlook, either, the heavy, sad sign that heaved Nick’s chest when Chris died in the end.

“I’m going to go get my jeans back on,” she’d said, pointing to the hallway after the movie was over.

Nick was picking up the stray popcorn from the carpet and sofa, about to bring the TV tray and dishes into the kitchen. He’d been hoping she’d stay longer, that maybe they’d get a little…frisky… before she left, but he didn’t convey this to her, and just smiled, “Sure. You know where the bathroom is,” he waved her off.

He put the DVD back into its plastic case before going to the kitchen, pausing to look at the cover as he put it away on the shelf. I would kill to have the chance to go on an adventure like that again, he thought. He stuck it into the empty space on the shelf and carried the tray to the kitchen to put the dishes in the washer and throw away the empty soda bottles.

In the bathroom, Amanda had opened up Nick’s medicine cabinet, and looked over its contents. Razors, shaving cream, toothbrush and Sensodyne tooth paste. Axe body wash, Old Spice deodorant, a bottle of Gravity cologne. So that’s how he creates that unique smell of his, she thought. The bottom shelf was a myriad of medicine bottles; vitamins, Tylenol, Advil, Pepto, Alker Seltzer, Maalox, Claritin, Vick’s, cough drops, and three orange prescription bottles. She picked up one of those and turned it over in her hand, but didn’t recognize the name of the medication on the label.

She felt a little guilty for poking through his stuff, but she was glad she hadn’t found a tampon or a tube of lipstick anywhere. She momentarily considered leaving one herself for the next girl to find, but all she had on her in the bathroom was her favorite lip gloss, and she didn’t want to abandon that.

She emerged from the bathroom and Nick came out of the kitchen to lay a kiss on her mouth that was gentle and she kissed him back. “Thanks for coming over,” he said, smiling down at her. She could tell he’d kind of been hoping he was going to get lucky, but she wasn’t ready for that.

“Thanks for having me,” she answered. She picked her purse up from where she’d left it on one of the bar stools by the breakfast bar.

“Coffee break tomorrow?” he asked, snuggling her close to him.

“Sure,” she nodded, “Same place as usual.”

He grinned wickedly, “I’ll be there.” Nick kissed her again, but after a moment, as it became too heated, Amanda pulled away, and smiled up at him. “Drive careful,” he urged as she stepped out the apartment door.

Nick leaned against the door after it had closed and smiled to himself, thinking about the great night they’d had.

Amanda lit a cigarette as she walked across the parking lot to her car, thinking about Nick’s best friends.