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Author's Chapter Notes:
An unfortunate event gives Nick the opportunity to play the hero.

Chapter 18

         The week leading up to Nick's arrival in New York was a busy one for Alyssa. She had so much planning to do. Nick had said that the weekend would be completely up to her, but narrowing down her favorite city activities was tough. It was impossible to do much of New York City in only one weekend. Besides Nick had been to the City before. Did he really want to do the normal tourist attractions? A weekend was not a very long time at all, and Alyssa kind of wanted to make the most of every minute she had with him.

         Friday, the day of Nick's arrival, came all too quickly for Alyssa. Nick had arranged to take a very early flight out of LA to arrive in New York at a decent time with the change in time zones. Unfortunately though, Alyssa got a call that morning asking her to substitute for a first grade teacher at the very same school in which she had came home in tears from the week prior. Even though she wanted to spend the extra time with Nick, he had urged her that if she did wind up getting a call into work to take it and they'd meet up later.  He would probably want some time to rest up in his hotel room anyway. Alyssa supposed he was right. Right now she couldn't afford to turn down work, especially at a school where she already suspected that the principal was wary about her teaching ability.

         Surprisingly, her experience at the school this time was much better. The first graders were actually pretty well behaved. During her lunch break the second grade teacher who she had covered for last week, pulled her aside to apologize for her students behavior and presented her with a handful of apology cards that the students had made her. Alyssa was actually quite touched as she flipped through the sad faced pictures crayoned on the fronts and the students attempts to write her an apology. Some of them were so adorable! One of her favorites read: Dear Ms. Martinelli, We are sorry we were bad. We are sorry we made you sad. We hope you come back to our class. We love you. She even got a few hugs from some of the students who recognized her from the week before.

         The best part of the day was as she was leaving for the afternoon, she bumped into the principal who after some tense small talk had told Alyssa that it had took a lot of guts for her to come back after a day like last week and that she hoped to see her again soon. The words left Alyssa  feeling elated. Maybe her future wasn't as doomed as she thought it was!

         As soon as she got out of work she dialed Nick's cell phone. He should've arrived in New York by now, she reasoned as she listened to the phone ring.

         "Hello," Nick's voice sleepily grumbled on the other end.

         "Hey its me. Did I wake you?" she asked.

         "Yea, I was taking a little nap while you finished up work, but its okay," he assured her.

         "How was your flight?"

         "It wasn't bad. The movie sucked," he joked. "How about you? How was your day?"

         "Actually pretty damn good. I can't wait to tell you about it later."

         Nick looked over at the clock by the hotel room nightstand. "Well, its like 4:30 now. Are you home yet?"

         "I'm on my way. I'm just trying to get a cab," Alyssa reported. "I'll be home by 5:00. I made us dinner reservations at Carmine's for 7:00. Is that all right with you? If its too early I can see if I can push them back?"

         "No, 7:00 is great. That gives me plenty of time to shower and stuff and I know you take forever to get ready. Where should I meet you?" he asked.

         Alyssa chewed slightly on her lip as she thought about it. She wanted Nick to see her apartment, but Carmine's actually was kind of in between his hotel and her apartment. It would probably be easier to just meet him there.  "Let's meet up at Carmine's like the at the bar. You remember where it is, right? We went to eat there once before and I know you loved the food."

         "Yea, I remember it," Nick told her. "So I'll see you then?"

         "Uh huh. Can't wait! If you get lost or anything give me a call."

         "Will do," he promised as he hung up the phone.

         As Alyssa put her phone away, she felt a strange fluttering feeling of excitement in her stomach. She had to admit that she was actually looking forward to seeing Nick. Why? she asked herself. He treated you like garbage remember?

         But Alyssa didn't seem to care. Agreeing to his visit had been pure impulse, just like it had been impulse to go see him at Jones Beach and to fly to California. She began to wonder, What is it about Nick that makes me act this way?

Two and a half hours later, Alyssa waltzed into Carmine's to meet Nick for their dinner date. Being one of the most popular and well known Italian restaurants in all of New York City, the place was packed as it typically was on a Friday night. I'm glad I called ahead for reservations, she thought to herself as she inched her way over to the bar. Otherwise we might have never gotten to eat!
While she was waiting on Nick, she ordered herself a cranberry vodka and started to nurse it, as her eyes remained peeled on the door, waiting to catch a glimpse of his familiar blonde head. Five minutes passed, and then ten, and Alyssa began to grow a little scared that he wouldn't show up after all. She just began to dig into her black and gray Coach handbag for her cell phone, when she looked up and finally spotted him searching the crowd for her. Eagerly, she stood up and waved  to get his attention until his eyes lit up in recognition of her.

         "Sorry I'm late," he apologized as he approached her. "I was on my way out of the hotel and some fans recognized me in the lobby, so I had to stop for pictures and autographs and all that stuff."

         "That's okay. I got scared for a minute that you might not come after all," she told him, drinking in his appearance. His hair was messily styled just the way she liked it and he was wearing a blue and white striped button down shirt that bought out his eyes, making them look even more striking than usual. A tie hung loosely around his neck, which seemed to Alyssa like the perfect touch. Wow, he looks absolutely gorgeous, she found herself thinking.

         "No way would I stand you up after flying all the way here," he assured as he reached forward to embrace her. "You look great."

         Dud he just tell me that I looked great? Of course he's probably just being polite, Alyssa decided. She had taken a lot of care to look good for him though. Going for the simple, yet elegant look, she had selected a clingy black cocktail dress with matching black Steve Madden  high heeled slides and a simple strand of pearls around her neck.  "Thanks. So do you," she admitted as she lingered in his arms for a moment or two. She almost felt a little disappointed as he pulled away.

        There was a slight awkward pause between the two before Nick broke it by asking, "Did you check us in already?"

         Alyssa nodded. "It'll probably be another five or ten minutes until they are ready for us, so why don't you order a drink?"

         "Sounds good to me," Nick replied as he ordered himself a beer.

         A few minutes later, their table was ready for them and they were seated. Alyssa was thankful that their table was over in the corner of the room making it semi- secluded. She hadn't requested a table in this area, but was thankful for the accommodation. She and Nick had a lot of catching up to do and she didn't want to be interrupted by people recognizing Nick all throughout their meal.

         Their waiter appeared at their table a few minutes later to take their order for dinner. Like most classy Italian restaurants the portions were served family style, so that they were meant to be shared. After much debate they finally decided to start with an order of mozzarella cheese and tomatoes as an appetizer and for a main course they ordered chicken parmesan, manicotti, and penne a la vodka, as well as a bottle of red wine to accompany their meal.

         "So, how was work? You were telling me you got called back to that school that you had a problem in the other day. What exactly happened to get you so upset anyway?" Nick asked.

         "Oh God. You don't want to know. It was a nightmare!"  Alyssa responded rolling her eyes.

         "A nightmare, huh?" he asked with a playful smirk. "Not exactly a word I'd use to describe elementary school kids. Now you got me interested, so you have to tell the story."

         Alyssa sighed. "Fine. I'll tell you, but you're going to laugh at me. I was subbing in a second grade classroom and the class was a little bit on the chatty side, a little disruptive, but nothing too bad. Typical behavior with a substitute. They were looking to push my buttons and see what they could get away with. Anyway the morning went by relatively painless, but the afternoon was where the trouble began."

         Nick leaned his head a little bit closer, indicating that he was in fact interested. "What did they do in the afternoon?"

         "Well, the teacher wanted me to read the next story with them in their reading textbooks which was actually a little play. So, what I did was I had some students come up to the front of the room and act it out for the rest of the class. At first they seemed really interested, but after a while, I noticed a few kids fooling around and not paying attention. Then all of a sudden this one boy in the front starts pointing and laughing and I yelled at him for being rude to his classmates and demanded to know what was going on. Well, I turned around and saw that another little boy who was doing the play had gotten so nervous that I guess he wet his pants right in front of the whole class!" she explained.

         "Oh wow!" Nick laughed. "That's certainly a distraction. So what did you do?"

         "By then all the kids started to notice and laugh, so I immediately pulled the child aside and calmed him down and then I had to call a janitor because it got all over the floor. Once the janitor got there I sent the kid down to the nurse to see if they could call his parents for a change of clothes. So, then I just get the class somewhat settled down from that disaster when another child raises her hand and tells me she doesn't feel so good."

         "Oh no.... I see where this is going," he remarked, trying not to laugh. It really must not have been very funny for Alyssa at the time.

         "Yep! She threw up all over her textbook. Now you know I get totally grossed out by vomit to begin with, so here I am trying to suck it up as the rest of the kids are going EWWW GROSS!!! So yea, I had to call the janitor again!" Alyssa paused for a moment and then actually started to laugh. hysterically as she looked back on the look of horror that must've been on her face. "All right, at the time I wanted to cry, but now that I look back at it I guess it was kind of funny."

         "Kind of funny? It's hilarious!" Nick told her as he joined in with her laughter. Her giggle had always made him smile. He loved to watch her laugh, the way her lips lifted up in a smile and the way her dimples showed through her cheeks. He wished she'd laugh more often.

         "Then I just send that kid to the nurse and I'm trying to calm down the class again, which is nearly impossible at this point," she continued, laughing so hard she was almost crying. "So, I get all mean and threaten to put names on the board to lose free time at the end of the day and this little second grader turns around and says, 'We don't have to listen to you! You're not our REAL teacher!'"

Whoa..." Nick whistled. "A second grader said this?"

         Alyssa nodded. "Yep. Sad isn't it? I was in so much shock that I think I just stood there gaping for a full minute. I'd expect that out of a fifth or sixth grader, but certainly not a second grader. When I finally composed myself I was just about to start my big speech on respecting guests in your classroom when who walks in, but the principal. She had heard the whole thing! I was mortified!"

         "Oh oh... Did she say anything to you?" he asked.

         "No, thank God! She chewed the kid out who gave me an attitude though and took him down to her office. Then she yelled at the class about how embarrassed she was to see them act this way to a substitute and that their teacher will be hearing all about this when she gets back."

         "Wow... That really does sound like a shitty day."  Nick could barely picture something like that actually happening. He never had to encounter anything like that in his life, but then again he and Alyssa lived in almost two completely different worlds. While she's dealing with difficult children I'm out living it up in the world of the rich and famous, he realized. Do we have anything left in common?

"Yea, but today was better. I got called back and the first graders were much better behaved. Then I got an apology from the second grade teacher and little cards from the students which were really cute. But the best part was the principal told me that she was impressed that I came back after last week, so I guess that's a good sign."

         "Yea..." he trailed off a little, only half listening now. We're like two different people,  he sadly thought. While I've been fucking up my life, she's been developing a career. She's been so successful without me. Does she even need me in her life? Did she only tell me I could come to New York because she felt bad for me? Nick wasn't used to strong independent women in his life. He had to admit it all of his other girlfriends had used him as a bit of a springboard to success. If anything Alyssa had done better without him. She's so passionate about what she does. I can tell just by the way her eyes have been lighting up when she talks about the students.

"Nick?" her voice interrupted his thoughts. "Earth to Nick?" She looked at him quizzically as if she expected some kind of response from him.

         "I'm sorry. Can you repeat what you just said?" he admitted, feeling his cheeks turn pink with embarrassment.

         Alyssa just shook her head. "I should've known I'd lose you. You have the attention span of a two year old," she teased. "You did look pretty deep in thought there though. Care to share?"

         Nick sighed. How could he try to put his thoughts into words? After pausing to think for a moment he finally decided to give it a try. "Well, I was just listening to you talk and I was thinking how much you've changed... in a good way," he quickly assured her as soon as he saw her giving him a confused glance.

         "How so?" Alyssa asked, sounding intrigued.

         "You're so much more independent now. You're trying to start a career. You have goals and ambitions. You've accomplished so much," he explained. "It's like you're a completely different person from who you were in Florida. You just seem so much more... experienced I guess is the word I'm looking for."

         Now it was Alyssa's turn to blush. "What are you talking about? So I finished up college. That's only half the battle. I still don't have a real job yet. I don't know how any of that makes me more independent exactly," she argued. She was thoroughly confused with his analysis of her. How could he possibly think of her as being strong, independent, and confident, when the last few years she had felt nothing even remotely close to those characteristics. Is that really the attitude I give off? she wondered. Am I really a lot better off than I seem to think I am?

"But you will find a job Alyssa," Nick insisted. "I have faith that you will. And graduating college is a huge accomplishment. Especially coming from a guy who barely graduated high school."

         She immediately felt horrible right after he said that. Nick was right. It had been pretty bitchy to downplay a college education in front of him when he'd pretty much graduated high school in a hotel room between tour dates. Of course that was the life Nick had chosen for himself, but Alyssa knew sometimes he could get sensitive about the issue. For Nick, college was like the highest point of a tall mountain, a height  that he would never reach.

         "That was different," she insisted. "Yea, maybe you just barely graduated high school, but you didn't need college. You had a career already laid out for you. You might not have a college education, but you're making more money now than I ever will."

      Nick sighed again. She wasn't getting it. How could he make her understand his point of view? "You're right. Maybe I am making more money than you ever will... now. But what happens down the road when I get older? What do I do if something happens to my voice? I have nothing to fall back on. I can't depend on having a career in show biz forever."

         Alyssa realized he was right.  But how could she respond to something like that? All of a sudden, she felt very grateful for her college diploma. Yes, she may not have a steady job just yet, but there were always other avenues for her to fall back on if it came down to that. What could Nick do if he was told that he couldn't sing anymore?

         And what had brought out this serious side of him? Nick was seldom serious, so is behavior was strange, especially under the circumstances. It made her wonder why exactly he had called to apologize in the first place. What had changed? She realized that she had to know.

         "Why did you call me and offer to cone here to visit me?" she asked.

         Nick looked thrown for a loop by her question. "Well, like I said over the phone. I felt bad for neglecting you when you paid all that money to come out and see me, so I decided it would only be fair for me to come and see you."

         "I know that, but I mean why did you even call up and apologize in the first place? What changed?"

         What changed? Good question... Nick thought. How exactly could he explain his epiphany on the bathroom floor to her? He was embarrassed to admit to her just  how destructive he had gotten and how worried the other guys had been about him. After thinking carefully, he finally spoke up.

"Well, I was doing thinking about what you said to me during our fight, about whether or not partying is actually worth it. It took a little time for me to realize the answer, but finally it hit me. You were right its not worth it. Yea, I was having fun, but after a while it dawned on me that its getting old. All my old true friends were losing respect for me and even the rest of the guys were getting tired of me. I could tell I was hurting the people I cared the most about and they were starting to give up on me. So, yea..." his voice trailed off a little bit as he anxiously licked his lips. "I just wanted to thank you for giving me that wake up call I needed. Even if it took almost two weeks to really sink in."

         Alyssa could hardly help, but to conceal the satisfied grin that tugged at the corners of her mouth. He'd straightened up his act! He was beginning to see that there was more in life besides alcohol and one night stands. And he could owe it all to her. She had been the one to make a difference. She couldn't help, but to be proud of herself. "Thank you," she told him. "That really means a lot to me to hear you say that. I'm glad that you're coming clean."

         Nick shifted in his seat uncomfortably. "Err.. I'm not exactly coming totally clean. I'm definitely not an angel, nor do I want to be. I just realize I need to do a lot less partying, but I never said I'd stop completely."

         She realized he was right. He hadn't said anything to the effect. Oh well... Rome wasn't built in a day. He'd have to take things one step at a time. "At least its a leap in the right direction. Besides a little partying every now and then isn't always bad."

         "Yea, it never hurts to just let loose every once in a while. You should try it sometime," he suggested.

         What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Is he saying that I'm too uptight? Alyssa wondered. She was about to question him on the comment, but was interrupted by their food arriving and the moment was gone. Yet the remark still lingered at the back of her head, gnawing at her.

         Dinner continued on without anything more unusual happening. After they had dessert and paid the bill (which Nick had insisted on taking care of) it was still relatively early so they decided to head over to small, nearby lounge for drinks and to talk some more.

         Alyssa momentarily forgot Nick's earlier comment and was completely engrossed with catching up with him. It really was beginning to feel just like old times again. An hour and a half slipped by before she even noticed, the time. At that point they decided that maybe they should get going. Nick said that he didn't want to make it too late of a night tonight because he wanted to make the most of the whole day tomorrow in the city.

         "Let me at least see you home," Nick offered.

         "But your hotel is in the other direction," she argued, feeling slightly inebriated from the combination of the cranberry and vodka, the wine with dinner, and the apple martini she had nursed at the lounge.

         "It's all right. It's late and I want to make sure you get home safe. Plus, I want to see your apartment."

         "Is that a proposition, Mr. Carter?" she asked raising an eyebrow.

         Nick shrugged as he gave her a playful smirk. "Take it however you want. Shall we?" he asked as he extended his arm to her.

         Alyssa took it and they began to walk down the street arm in arm. Her apartment was in walking distance from the restaurant which she was thankful for. It truly was the perfect night for walking around in the city. The temperature was warm and all the night lights lit up the streets, making the scene look like some sort of beautiful painting. At that moment, there was no place she'd rather be other than walking down the street hand in hand with Nick feeling perfectly contented.

         Unfortunately her exuberant feeling didn't last for very long. "This is my building right here," she explained as she pointed towards a modest looking apartment building ahead of them. "It's not as fancy as Izzy's, but it suits its purpose."

         "Nice," Nick remarked as he took in the sight. It seemed like a nice little place. He couldn't wait to see what the inside looked like.

         It was then he noticed that Alyssa had stopped short in the middle of the sidewalk, a look of shock and confusion masking her features. She appeared to be staring at an empty  spot by the curb nearby.

         "What's the matter?" he asked, placing a hand on his shoulder.

         "M-m-my car..." she stuttered out. "It's gone!"
         "What?!" Nick exclaimed. No wonder she looked so upset! "How can it be gone?"

         "It's not here, Nick! That's how! Oh my God, I can't fucking believe this!" she muttered as she pulled away and approached the area where her car had been before she left. Who the fuck would do this to me? Not like I drive a Cadillac or anything actually WORTH stealing.

         "Calm down," he begged as he followed her. "When was the last time you saw it?'

         "It was parked right here when I left to meet up with you earlier today."

         "Was it locked up?"

         "Of course it was fucking locked up! This is New York City," she replied, not bothering to hide her agitation.

         Nick gave her a strange look. "That's a good point. Why do you even have a car here? Do you drive it all?"

         "Not really," she admitted.

         "Then what's the point? You shouldn't have had it parked on the street in the middle of New York City in the first place." He wasn't aware of how unsympathetic the words sounded until they flew out of his mouth.

         Alyssa immediately burst into the tears that had been welling up in her eyes ever since she had noticed her car was missing. "Could you be just a little bit sensitive damn it?! You know not all of us can afford a new car practically every week. I know to you this doesn't sound like a huge deal, but to me its everything! What am I going to do? I've had that car ever since I got my license. What am I going to do if I want to visit Meg or my parents and don't want to take the train?"
         Nick instantly felt like an asshole. This was a huge deal to her. There it was, the whole two different worlds thing again. "That was shitty of me to say, Alyssa," he apologized as he wrapped his arms around to call her. "Maybe you just forgot where you parked it?"

         Alyssa rolled her eyes. "No, Nick I'm that dumb where I'd forget where I parked my car. Besides, look at all the glass on the ground over here! They probably smashed open my window." Her eyes met with a pair of fuzzy red dice, that lay abandoned on the ground, obviously discarded from her car. This only made Alyssa cry harder as she went to reach for them. "My dice!"

         Nick knelt down and grabbed her wrist before she could retrieve them. "Don't touch anything," he warned. "You might be disturbing evidence. Besides this glass could be sharp and its so dark it's hard to see. I'd hate to see you cut yourself."

         "Nick," she whimpered as she collapsed against his chest too upset to argue with him any more. "What am I going to do? Who would do something like this?"

         He rubbed her back consolingly as he held her. It was a good thing he decided to take her home. She was shaking like a leaf. What would she have done if I wasn't here? he thought. "It's going to be okay Alyssa," he promised. "I'm going to call the cops for you and we're going to try to find who did this, okay?"

         All Alyssa could do was nod her head. Just the familiar sensation of being in his arms made her feel safe and protected. She was thankful that he was there with her. Somehow she knew that he'd do whatever he could to fix the situation. What would I do without him?

Then it hit her like a ton of bricks. No way, she couldn't be right? Not again. Not after she promised herself.

         She was falling back in love with Nick Carter and there was no denying it, this time.