Chapter 3- Underwhelming Expectations
Nick inwardly groaned as soon as he stood foot into the hotel lobby. It was already packed with fans eagerly awaiting autographs. He knew that this was part of the job and was thankful for his fans, but some nights after a particularly grueling performance, the last thing he wanted to do was stand around signing autographs. Even though he'd been touring since he was 15 he still sometimes had trouble interacting with fans. He'd heard a lot of them complain that he could run hot and cold with them depending on his mood and he supposed that that much was true. Maybe it was because he was clearly the most popular one of the group, but he always seemed to get the craziest fans to begin with. Of course Nick would never let any of his mixed emotions to show through so he'd put up a front with the fans, which was probably why his behavior with them was so inconsistent.
"Let's get this over with," he grumbled to himself under his breath. Pasting on his infamous Carter grin, he strode towards the crowd of girls and began signing autographs and posing for pictures. They were in New Orleans that night which had a reputation as being a pretty crazy city to begin with and the fans were no exception. Nick was easily able to separate the girls who were genuinely there for a picture and an autograph and the ones that were looking for a more personal memento. If he really wanted he could have his pick of girls for the evening.
As if to prove his point his eyes settled onto an attractive blonde in a pair of tight hip hugger jeans and a pink halter top. Their eyes locked for a moment and Nick immediately knew that she could probably care less about an autograph. He licked his lips as he moved on down the line of girls as he approached her. When he finally did reach her she smiled flirtatiously and handed him a copy of her tour program. "Can you sign this for me? Make it out to Kelly."
"Kelly. Got it." Nick scrawled out her name and his signature underneath. Normally, he didn't personalize autographs because it took too long, but on occasion he made a few exceptions.
When Nick went to hand her back her tour program, Kelly grabbed his forearm and pulled him closer to her so that her warm breath was tickling his ear."So, what are you doing later?"
"Probably just heading to bed. I'm pretty tired." After the words left his mouth he almost mentally kicked himself. What's wrong with you? You have an attractive girl throwing herself at you and you're too chickenshit to do anything about it?
"Aww... That's too bad," the blonde pouted. "I've got a room here tonight and I was thinking maybe we could you know, hang out." She gave him an inviting look and coyly bit her lip, waiting for his response.
Nick was torn. On one hand he knew that hooking up with this Kelly would probably only make him feel like crap the next morning, but he also didn't want to come across as a being unconfident or unsure of himself. He had a reputation to protect. It didn't seem like she was going to make this too difficult for him. "Well I need to head upstairs and shower, but maybe I could stop by later," he nonchalantly replied. It would be best to remain non-committal and keep the option open in case he changed his mind later.
Kelly grinned. "I'm in room 3442." Her hand drifted down his arm. "Hope to see you later."
Nick just nodded and continued on with the impromptu autograph session all the while still arguing with himself whether or not he should take Kelly up on her offer. After about another ten minutes of signing autographs the crowd seemed satisfied and he and the rest of the guys headed towards the elevators before separating in the directions of their respective rooms. Once inside his room, Nick kicked off his shoes and headed towards the bathroom. He really could use a shower after performing under the hot stage lights.
He undressed and stepped underneath the warm spray of the shower head. Now that he was finally up in his room he kind of just wanted to veg out and didn't really feel like getting all dressed up again to go out. By the time he was done showering he had pretty much decided that he'd just stay in his room with a movie or maybe he'd just hook up his Playstation and play some video games. With that in mind, once he stepped out of the shower he changed into a pair of loose fitting basketball shorts and a white wife beater. He was just about to turn on the TV when he heard a knock at his hotel room door.
Nick cautiously peered through the peep hole of his door making sure that it wasn't a group of fans outside his door, which had happened to him on occasion. Recognizing that it was only AJ on the other end he opened up the door. "What's going on J?" he greeted.
AJ appeared to be dressed up as if he was on his way out for the night including his trademark pair of dark sunglasses over his eyes even though the sun hadn't been out in hours. "Not much. Why aren't you dressed? You are coming out with me and Howie, aren't you?"
Nick hadn't planned on it. He loved AJ and all, but whenever he hung out with him, AJ usually found a way to persuade Nick into doing something that he would regret later on whether it be by drinking way too much, hooking up with random women, or both. When he was in the mood to party AJ was usually the first person he'd call, but in some instances like tonight he could kind of be a pain in the ass. "Nahh... I think I'm good right here," he insisted.
"Are you serious?" AJ's eyebrows rose over the top rim of his sunglasses. "Come on... We're in fucking New Orleans. They don't call this city 'The Big Easy' for nothing. Did you see those girls out there tonight at the concert? That's just a small taste of what this city has to offer. Don't be a pussy. Get dressed."
"Actually I already of plans. I kind of met this girl down in the lobby and she wants me to come by her room later..." It wasn't a complete lie. He really had met Kelly, he just hadn't planned on taking her up on her offer. He knew though that the only way to get AJ off his back was to make it seem like he had already found a prospect for that night.
"Damn, you move fast," AJ snickered. "Is she hot?"
"Oh yea," Nick assured him. "Anyway I already promised her I would so I'm going to pass on the invite."
AJ sighed. "All right. You're off the hook this time Carter, but I expect full details tomorrow morning."
"Absolutely," Nick agreed. He hated using Kelly as an excuse, but he had to do what he had to do. "Have fun tonight!"
After saying his good byes to AJ he closed the door and leaned his head back against it. The thing about lying was that once you told one lie you kind of had to continue to make up stories to back it up and before you knew it you've told so many lies that you'd confuse yourself and slip up. He hadn't counted on going to see Kelly, but maybe he should just to keep his story consistent. Otherwise, he'd have to come up with a very creative story to tell AJ that next morning. Besides, it wasn't like he had much else to do.
Nick picked up the first pair of jeans that he could find out of his suitcase. He sniffed them to make sure they didn't smell too bad since not having immediate access to laundry while on tour meant re-wearing things a few times before washing them. Deciding they were passable he changed into them and went to flatten down the pockets. As he was doing this he felt something in his right pocket. Score, he thought. Maybe I left some extra cash from the last time I wore these. What he found instead was at first disappointing. It was just a crumbled up piece of paper. He was about to just toss it in the garbage when he remembered his phone conversation that he had with Torie a little over a week ago. Sure enough the screen name was scrawled across the paper.
He paused for a moment glancing at the door, the piece of paper, and then his laptop that was sitting plugged into the wall on top of a table in the corner. Did he really want to go down to some random groupies room who he only had a mild interest in? He was looking for some kind of human contact other than just physically. It had been awhile since he genuinely had a conversation with a girl. Maybe I'll just see if she's online and if not I'll go see Kelly, he decided.
He sat down at the table and logged into his AIM account. He typed her screen name into his buddy list and was surprised to see that it popped up showing that she was online. Taking a deep breath he clicked on her name and began to type in the box that appeared.
Meanwhile back in Florida Alyssa had been trying to relax after a long and exhausting day of work by surfing the net and catching up with some friends from back home through her computer. This past week had been pretty packed at the park since many of the schools along the East Coast had their February breaks this week which meant a lot of vacationing families hoping to seek some relief from the much harsher winter up North. She much preferred to be kept busy, but she had to admit that days like today could be draining.
Torie was out for the night hanging out this new guy she'd just met from one of the other apartment complexes, Jacob. They'd met last week at a CP party and had really hit it off. Alyssa was happy for her friend and hoped that things worked out for her. She knew how badly Torie had wanted to meet somebody here, so she hoped that things went well tonight. She had to admit that she was a little glad for the alone time though. Living in an apartment with three other girls didn't leave her with a lot of time for herself, so Alyssa had quickly learned to enjoy it while she could.
She was in the middle of a conversation with her best friend from back home, Jennifer, when an IM from a screen name that she did not recognize flashed onto her screen. She clicked it anyway figuring that maybe it was someone she knew. Whoever it was seemed to know her name.
MissLyssa1980: Yes? Who is this?
Kaotic128: It's Nick. Carter... Torie's friend.
Alyssa almost choked on the bottle of water she was drinking. It took a few moments of sputtering and coughing for her to recover. Was this really happening? I bet it's Torie and Jacob just playing a joke on me, she decided. Since their conversation about Torie possibly hooking her up with Nick, he hadn't been mentioned and that had been almost two weeks ago. Alyssa had just assumed that Torie was just talking out of her ass or that maybe she had mentioned Alyssa to him and he just hadn't been interested so Torie hadn't said anything to protect her feelings. Still, it seemed rather strange to her that an attractive pop star just happened to be sitting on the internet after midnight IMing random girls. Didn't he have better things to do?
MissLyssa1980: Very funny Tor... You can stop the joke now. I'm not falling for this one.
Nick frowned once he received the message. She thought he was kidding with her? He supposed he could see how she may have interpreted it that way, but hadn't Torie told her that she'd given him her screen name?
Kaotic128: I'm not kidding. And this isn't Tor. She gave me your screen name. Told me that I should give you an IM some time because you're like a really cool girl or something.
Alyssa considered the validity of his statement for a moment. Torie was out on a date and on second thought it did sound a little unreasonable that she would spend it trying to prank Alyssa over IM. After how insistent she had been about trying to hook her and Nick up she wouldn't be surprised if Torie had done just what Nick claimed and given him her screen name. She was going to kill her later for this! Deciding to give him the benefit of the doubt she continued their conversation.
MissLyssa1980: Oh wow... I'm really sorry I didn't take you seriously. I'm so embarrassed! I didn't know that she gave you my screen name and well, I just didn't think that you actually did this sort of thing.
Kaotic128: What sort of thing? Chat online?
Kaotic128: Why not? I'm human. Just because I'm famous doesn't mean I don't do normal everyday things.
Alyssa blushed feeling kind of foolish. He did have a point there. It was just hard to picture someone like him doing the same sort of tasks as anyone else did. She was beginning to feel a little flustered.
MissLyssa1980: You're right... Can we just like rewind and start this conversation over lol? I feel like such an airhead.
Nick sat back a moment against his chair. Her last comment had come off as kind of cute and he tried to see things from her perspective. She was probably nervous and a bit caught off guard. At first, he hadn't been too sure of what exactly to make of her. Her very first comment had come across as disinterested, her next as kind of overbearing and too much in awe of him. Jeez Carter... he chastised himself. How can you try to judge her from like three IMs? He'd have to at least have a whole conversation with her in order to do that.
Kaotic128: It's cool. So what are you up to right now?
MissLyssa1980: Not much. Just got home from work a little while ago and now I'm trying to relax.
Kaotic128: Oh yea? How did that go?
MissLyssa1980: Pretty good... Just long hours. We were really busy today. I think I developed writer's cramp from signing so many autographs.
Kaotic128: Lol I can relate. Torie told me that you play Belle at the parks. That must be a pretty cool job.
MissLyssa1980: Yea, it's fun getting to dress up and I'm pretty lucky that I get to be a Princess every day, but it has it's downsides just like any other job I suppose. How about you? What are you up to?
Kaotic128: Nothing really. Just got done with a concert and I'm back in my hotel room just relaxing.
MissLyssa1980: Oh? How did that go? What city are you in?
Kaotic128: We're in New Orleans tonight. The show went pretty good.
MissLyssa1980: You mean well?
MissLyssa1980: Well. You said the show went "pretty good." It's supposed to be "pretty well." Sorry I can be a bit of a Grammar Nazi... So, if you're in New Orleans what are you doing holed up in your hotel room talking to me? Why aren't you out partying or exploring the French Quarter or something? Think of all the history there is around you right now.
Nick hesitated a bit. He felt a little intimidated by the fact she had corrected his grammar. He never claimed to be much of an intellectual in fact it was a wonder he had managed to receive his high school diploma at all. Still though, he did not like feeling stupid and although he was sure that she didn't mean anything by it he felt a little inferior. Just the way she talked about the French Quarter and history he kind of got the sense that this girl not only had a brain, but was actually pretty intelligent. Smart chicks definitely made him feel a little uncomfortable.
Kaotic128: I'm not much one for history... Or grammar for that matter.
MissLyssa1980: I think you're crazy. I'd LOVE to go to New Orleans some day. You must get to see so many interesting places. I'm so jealous!
Nick just shrugged his shoulders to himself. He knew that he was fortunate to have the experiences that he did, but he just didn't have much interest in exploring famous landmarks and trying to relive history. He barely understood History to begin with. Since the conversation was getting a little uncomfortable he decided to change the subject.
Kaotic128: So do you have any pics?
Now it was Alyssa's turn to be uncomfortable. She knew that it was a valid question, but she hated how guys always seemed to need some kind of reassurance that they weren't wasting their time talking to a girl that was less than gorgeous. Alyssa knew that she was far from ugly by any means, but it wasn't like there was a ton of guys beating down her door either. She'd always considered herself to be a bit on the plain side and she was afraid that Nick expected a lot more than plain.
MissLyssa1980: Why do want me to send you a pic?
Kaotic128: Well, you know what I look like, but I don't know what you look like. It's a bit unfair, don't you think? Plus, I like to get a visual in my head of the person I'm talking to.
MissLyssa1980: Well, I'm 5'2, long brown hair, brown eyes and petite. Does that help any?
Kaotic128: Sort of, but you have to admit that's still pretty vague.
MissLyssa1980: Sorry, but that's the best I can do. I don't have any pics of me on this computer. New laptop and all.
Nick kind of got the feeling that she perhaps wasn't exactly being truthful about not having any pictures. He was sure that she had some, but was not comfortable in sharing them. Her description of herself was pretty ambigious, but he somehow got the feeling that maybe she wasn't very attractive. Torie really seemed to be pushing this and he just figured if this Alyssa was more attractive Torie may have suggested a more direct way of them to meet. On the other hand Torie knew him long enough to know what he was attracted to. Still, he decided not to get his hopes up.
For a moment he considered being a prick and ending the conversation right there. There was still time for him to go down and see Kelly. I can't do that without coming off as a total douche though, he reasoned with himself. He should at least try to find out a little about her.
Kaotic128: So why don't you tell me a little bit more about yourself?
It seemed as if the change of subject helped Alyssa relax and Nick quickly found himself absorbed in learning more about her. Alyssa revealed a bit about her family and as it turned out was the middle of three girls. Nick told her a little bit about his family and siblings as well, censoring some of the more dysfunctional parts. He tried to keep most of the focus on getting to know Alyssa since he figured all Alyssa would have to do was look him up on the internet to find out all his basic information. They talked a little about Alyssa's experiences at school and here in Florida on her internship. Then the conversation shifted towards music, movies, and just general likes and dislikes. Nick was so involved in their conversation that he didn't even realize the time on the bottom corner of his computer screen.
MissLyssa1980: Wow! It's already after 2am here and I have to be up early tomorrow for work. I'm going to have to get going.:(
Kaotic128: Aww man... Well, I enjoyed talking to you.
MissLyssa1980: Me too... Maybe we can do it again sometime?
Nick paused for a moment. He had to admit that at first he'd had his doubts, but he did enjoy their conversation regardless of him not knowing who she really was on the other side of the computer screen. He had realized that they had quite a bit in common and even if she wasn't someone that he'd be attracted to physically, she definitely seemed like somebody that he could talk to quite a bit as a friend.
Kaotic 128: Yea... We definitely will. Good night!
He excited out of the AIM screen and shut down his laptop realizing that his eyes were getting pretty heavy themselves. He decided just to head to bed. He was still going to have to come up with some crazy tale to tell AJ tomorrow about his "hook up" with Kelly. Maybe something would come to him as he fell asleep.
Over the next week or so Alyssa continued to talk to Nick just about every night after work. She wasn't sure where exactly their online friendship was headed, but she was content not to push things for the moment. They had began to open up to each other a little more and Alyssa quickly realized that just as Torie had promised that there was a lot more to Nick than just a pretty face. She still wasn't sure if he'd ever be interested in her romantically though.
Torie of course was tickled pink that the two of them seemed to be hitting it off. Alyssa at first tried to be mad at her for giving Nick her screen name, but realized that it was almost impossible to do so. Truth was that she was really beginning to enjoy her conversations with Nick.
A few nights later Torie, Kerri, Darlene, and Alyssa found themselves in the rare instance that all of them were actually home at the same time. Darlene had suggested they rent a movie and watch it together. Alyssa hadn't really wanted to, but she'd given in, not wanting to isolate herself off from her roomies. As a compromise though she had her laptop on her lap and had been chatting with Nick throughout the whole movie.
"Who are you talking to on that thing Alyssa?" Kerri asked halfway through the movie. "All I hear is your fingertips clacking away over there."
Alyssa blushed. "Sorry... I'll try to be quieter," she apologized.
"For real. Everytime I look at you, you're glued to that laptop," Darlene commented. "Is there something you're not telling us."
Alyssa and Torie exchanged a glance and Torie let out a giggle. "Alyssa's in love," she announced.
"I am not!" Alyssa tried to argue, but the redness in her face told otherwise.
"Ooh! Do tell!" Darlene leaned forward with interest. "Who's the lucky guy?"
"My friend Nick," Torie explained. "I've known him forever and I thought that he and Alyssa would get along, so I gave him her screen name and they've been talking online ever since."
"Is he cute?" Kerri asked.
"Very," Alyssa admitted. "But I wouldn't exactly call it love yet. I don't even know if he feels the same about me. We've just been talking a lot."
"So, you guys haven't met in person yet?" Darlene clarified. "Where is he from?"
Alyssa glanced at Torie not sure how much was too much information to give. "He lives here in Florida. He's from Tampa. We haven't gotten a chance to meet yet. He's been... Away."
Luckily none of the girls stopped to question his current whereabouts. "Tampa isn't that far away at all! You should totally meet up in person and see if there's any chemistry," Kerri suggested.
Darlene nodded her head, agreeing with her roommate. "You seem like you talk to him enough. May as well take it to the next level."
"I sort of have something in the works for the two of them," Torie mysteriously replied. "I think they're going to love each other."
Alyssa looked up at Torie with a surprised look. Torie hadn't yet shared this plan with her. She'd have to get it out of her later when they were alone. "Well, thanks for the vote of confidence Tor. I'm just afraid that I'm going to be a disapointment to him."
"What?" Darlene cried. "You? A disapointment? Stop!"
"You're gorgeous," Kerri tried to assure her. "And smart and talented. If this Nick can't see that then he's not worth your time anyway."
"Thanks guys. You're going to give me a big ego here," she joked. "We'll see where it goes." She looked back down at her laptop giving the rest of the girls a sign that she was done talking about it for the moment.
After the movie ended, the two pairs of girls retreated to their separate bedrooms and Alyssa found the perfect opportunity to ask Torie about her "plan," as they both settled into their beds. She waited until Torie had turned out the light to question her. "So, what's this about you having something in store for me and Nick to meet?"
"Oh, yea..." It sounded as if Torie had just remembered. "So, I was talking to Kevin the other night and you know that the tour wraps up in like two weeks right?"
"Uh huh..." Nick had seemed excited about the tour finally ending and glad to be coming home for an indefinite amount of time while the guys got right back into the studio to start on their next album.
"Well, management is throwing them a little welcome back party and I was able to pull some strings and get you an invite."
"What?" Alyssa asked in disbelief. "I can't do that. I've never been to a party like that! I don't know how to act or what to wear..."
"Don't worry so much," Torie assured her. "I'll be there too. Don't worry about acting a certain way. Just be yourself. As far as an outfit goes you can just borrow something of mine. We're about the same size. Relax... I got this."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Alyssa muttered as she rolled over so that she was facing the wall and sighed. She couldn't believe that in two weeks she'd be meeting Nick for the first time. If she felt this nervous now, she couldn't even imagine how nervous she'd feel at the party. She really wanted to believe that Nick was a genuine guy, but a part of her still had her doubts. Maybe she should scale back on their IM conversations. That way she wouldn't get anymore attached than she already was.