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The next morning, they left the lodge headed to Omaha.

Amanda felt like everything was unraveling before her eyes. Nick was sitting in the passenger seat of the bus while Brian was struggling with learning how to drive it. He wasn’t doing very good with it, and kept stripping the gears. Nick kept giving him pointers, and they were laughing and neither had really seemed to notice that she wasn't hanging out with them. She was sitting in the kitchen at the table, doodling on napkins and thinking about everything that had happened and the situation she'd found herself in.

How was I supposed to know that I would fall in love with him? Amanda wondered, watching Nick as he threw his head back in a boisterous laugh. It was supposed to be nothing more than a job, supposedly only a week or two of time invested; no harm, no foul. She was supposed to only get a story out of all this, and now so much was at stake - professionally and personally.

But Amanda knew the answer to her own question. It never should have mattered if she loved him or not. It always should've been wrong to have done what she'd done because, as Nick had said, he was a human being. Just that simple fact alone made what she'd done wrong. It didn't matter that she'd fallen in love. It would've been wrong even if she hadn't fallen in love with him. She saw that now. She regretted that it took falling in love for her to see it.

It doesn't matter what my father offers me, she decided resolutely. And it doesn't matter that I love Nick. I don't want to write and publish this story because it would be inhumane.

She just had to figure out how to tell Nick the truth about why they had met... and how to let him go when he wouldn't forgive her.

"If I'm going to be driving, we've got to downgrade," Brian said. They were standing at a car rental place somewhere between Boulder and Omaha. Amanda followed the two boys as they examined Mustangs and Corvettes with hungry looks in their eyes.

"You'll need a van if we're going to even attempt to bring any luggage with us," Amanda said, bursting their bubbles.

Nick pouted, "You're no fun," he said, taking his hands off the shiny exterior of a bright yellow Camaro that looked like Bumblebee.

"I'm no fun because I'm the one that's gonna be stuck in the backseat with all the luggage," she answered.

Eventually, they decided on a red Hummer.

"And what exactly are you planning on doing with the bus and the rig?" Amanda asked as she and Brian were presenting the lady in the office of the rental place with their licenses.

"We'll call Kevin and let him know he needs to send someone out to pick it up," Nick answered.

"Dot will be rescued," Brian assured her, smiling. "Don't forget, a lot of times on tour we'll drop the buses somewhere and fly for a few stops, and someone has to go pick'em up. It'll work similar to that."

The idea seemed crazy to Amanda, but she felt like she'd been enough of a negative Nancy and didn't need to add to the illusion that she was against continuing the road trip. She was just frustrated because it seemed like everything was hopeless. Brian was dying and he wasn't even trying to stop it, and no matter how great the next couple days or weeks were with Nick, she was ultimately going to lose him forever because he couldn't forgive her.

Oddly enough, once they were in the Hummer, Amanda had to admit that it was a bit more comfortable. It was harder to be excluded from the conversation, and as they started getting silly with the topics, it became easier to forget the depression that was slowly sinking into her.

At least it'd been easy to forget until, while playing This or That, Brian had asked, "Liar or a Thief?" and Nick had boldly announced, "A thief, any day. At least with a thief you can tell when they're hurting you. A liar you don't know until it's too late. Plus, you can replace anything a thief takes, but a liar takes your dignity."

The eight hour drive to Omaha had been broken up with several random stops at gas stations and once at a giant statue of a chicken Nick had spotted from the highway and made Brian pull off to take a picture of. (“That’s a huge cock, huh?” he’d giggled childishly the entire time, and quickly made plans for the way he’d present the picture to AJ later when they got back to Los Angeles.)

When they got to Omaha, they found a hotel and rented the last remaining room in the place. Apparently there was some kind of festival going on that had booked all the hotels up, and neither Brian nor Nick had thought to call ahead for the hotel rooms they’d need now that they didn’t have the bus with them.

The room had two beds, a TV, a small desk, a toilet and a mini-fridge, stocked to the brim with teeny-tiny bottles of alcohol for five dollars a piece. Nick stood in the center and let out a low whistle, “Shit it’s like the fuckin’ Bellagio, huh?” he said, laughing.

Brian threw himself onto the bed, “Oh, Nick please. This cannot even compare to the penthouse there,” he said, smirking, “Now we are living in luxury.”

Amanda laughed despite herself.

The luxury only continued as Nick walked them down to McDonalds for dinner. They were sitting at a booth next to a plastic Ronald McDonald and dipping their fries and chicken nuggets into a giant pool of sweet and sour sauce they’d made on the center of the tray the girl with the funky headset had given them. Nick had a stack of apple pies next to his elbow. “Can you believe they sell these puppies two for 99 cents now?” he asked. He’d bought four dollars worth. “It’s nuts, they’re like the best thing on the menu.”

“They always taste under cooked,” Brian complained, “Like the crusty stuff is always gooey inside.”

“Yeahhh,” Nick groaned appreciating the description.

“Don’t mind him,” Brian said, laughing and turning to Amanda with a gleam in his eyes. “He was practically raised on McDonalds.”

Nick smirked, “Thanks to AJ…”

“AJ and crack will do that to you,” Brian said, nodding, “It should be a PSA.” Nick laughed and chucked a fry at Brian.
Amanda laughed, “Maybe you guys can film it when we get back to LA, since you’re feeling better, Brian.” She smiled sweetly.

Brian smiled awkwardly, then grabbed a chicken nugget and threw it back at Nick in revenge for the fry. Why won’t she let this go, he wondered bitterly.

That night, Brian did something he’d once promised himself he would never do.

After Nick and Amanda were asleep, he dug through Nick’s duffle bag and found his computer, and carried it into the bathroom. He plugged it into the hair dryer outlet and threw a pile of towels down on the floor to sit on. Balancing Nick’s computer on his knees, he tapped in Nick’s password (which Nick didn’t know Brian knew but it wasn’t hard to guess that the answer to his security question “What’s my favorite band?” was “Journey”), and pulled up the Internet.

You shouldn’t do this Brian, he thought, glancing at the door nervously, as though he expected Nick or Amanda to walk in at any moment. What if you find out what you’re afraid to find out? But he couldn’t stop now.

He typed in the URL for Google.

For search terms, he tapped in “Amanda Golde”, and clicked the mouse on the button.

The first couple hits were innocent enough, neither pertained to their Amanda Golde – one was actually even for an Amanda Golden. But the third one…

Brian clicked the link, and a Twitter page for “MandaG” opened. The background was hot pink checkers, like the Vans sneakers. The profile photo was definitely their girl, and she had a following of almost 40,000 people. He only had to read a couple tweets to put the pieces together.

MandaG RT@PopStuffOL - Gearing up for another great story. Deets upon publication!
MandaG@Photoby3 - Getting some gr8 shots 2nite?? NC & me R @ IVY LUV the LEMON PIE.
MandaG - Backstreet Boys cancelled world tour! No word on Y yet. Check out PSOL for more: http://www.tinyurl.com/33532a.

Brian closed the website and spent the rest of the night throwing up.