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Author's Chapter Notes:
Nick and Alyssa arrive home for the holidays. Alyssa plays "catch up" with her sisters.
Chapter 32
"Nick? Nick... You got to get up now. We're the next stop," Alyssa warned, lightly nudging his sleeping form. He'd slept most of the hour long train ride from the city to her parents house, leaving Alyssa to stay awake and watch for their stop. To Alyssa, the ride felt excruciatingly long, but maybe that had to do with the fact that Nick had been right beside her, fast asleep, preventing any kind of communication. Not like she probably would have tried to start a conversation about what to define their unique relationship, especially in front of her parents, but just sitting next to him silently like that had made her feel uncomfortable somehow. She was starting to suspect that the uncomfortable feeling that lingered in the back of her mind was not going to go away at all these next few days.

Nick groaned and slowly peeled his face away from the window of the train which he had been leaning against. Alyssa had to laugh when he turned his head towards her. A large red spot stood out on his cheek from where it had been pressed against the window. The image was so adorable that she couldn't resist a giggle.

"What's so funny?" he grumpily demanded, rubbing his eyes.

"Nothing," Alyssa assured him with a smile. She knew better than to tease Nick the minute he awoke especially when he seemed to be on the grumpy side. He had a tendency to be overly sensitive about people poking fun at him.

"You might want to start getting your stuff together, so we're not fumbling with it as soon as we pull into the station," she continued, as she stood and struggled to pull her suitcase off of the rack above her head.

"Here, let me help you," Nick offered as he stepped out into the aisle.

"No, its okay. I've got it," she insisted.

Nick snickered. "Yea. You've got it. Until the train comes to a short stop and that suitcase comes tumbling down on your head."

Alyssa stopped pulling and defensively looked over at him. "Thanks for the vote of confidence. I'll have you know that I can manage just fine. Not like this isn't the first time I've had to lug a suitcase down from the overhead rack."

"Just let me help you." Before Alyssa could further object he was reaching over her to retrieve both of their suitcases. Alyssa breathed in slowly as she realized how near their bodies were. Was she actually getting a tingly sensation from just being so close to him? This was beginning to get out of hand. There goes my damn emotional attachment again, she realized. Why couldn't she be like other girls and just not have a conscience?

"Thanks," she said in a soft voice when the suitcase was safely on the ground, slowly meeting his eyes.

"No problem," he replied as he reached back up for his suitcase. "Although I must say... For two nights that bag is awful heavy."

"Ha, ha," she responded, rolling her eyes at him. "If you must know its because I have my Christmas presents in there."

Nick looked as if he was going to say something else, but before he could open his mouth he was interrupted by the train coming to a stop and the conductor announcing their stop. "Come on. This is us," Alyssa told him, grabbing his hand as she approached the sliding doors. "I have no idea who is coming to pick us up, so we'll have to keep our eyes peeled."

Obediently following Alyssa, Nick stepped off the train and onto the platform, taking in his surroundings with interest. He wondered just how many times in her lifetime had Alyssa boarded the train to New York City from this very same spot? It had to have been at least dozens. He continued to follow Alyssa up the stairs of the over pass while she explained that while he had been sleeping she had called home and let them know that she and Nick were on their way and that someone from home would swing by the train station to pick them up.

Just as they reached the other side of the platform, Alyssa's eyes scanned the small crowd of people who were huddled near the waiting area, to greet their family members. Finally, they came to a halt on a young couple standing only a few feet away. Nick recognized the young woman instantly.

"Meg!!!!" Alyssa squealed, dropping her suitcase at her feet and rushing towards her older sister, seeming to forget all about Nick beside her.

Nick just grinned as he reached down to pick up Alyssa's abandoned suitcase and pulled it over to where Meg and who he assumed must be Meg's husband, Scott, stood. He knew that Alyssa hadn't seen much of her older sister since she had gotten married and he remembered how close they had always been. It'll be nice to see Meg again after nearly four years, he realized.

By the time he approached the three of them, Meg and Alyssa already appeared to be engrossed in an excited chatter, obviously trying to cram months worth of information into only a few short minutes. He stood there a moment unnoticed by the two sisters until he loudly cleared his throat to remind them of his presence.

"Oh my God! I was so excited to see you I almost forgot that I left Nick behind back there!"Alyssa exclaimed with a laugh as she grabbed Nick's arms. "Meg, you remember Nick right?"

Meg rolled her eyes at her younger sister. "Of course. How could I forget him?" She turned her head to greet Nick with a smile. " How's it going Carter? I didn't think I'd ever be seeing you again."

"Yea, same here," he admitted. "I've been pretty good. You know doing my thing with the guys and all. Congratulations on getting married by the way."

"Thanks," she told him as she laced her fingers with Scott's. "This is my husband, Scott by the way."

"Nice to meet you," Scott introduced himself with a handshake.

"Ditto," Nick replied.

"Okay, sorry to ruin the introductions and everything, but do you think that maybe we can continue this someplace else. Someplace warmer like the car or back at the house?" Alyssa interrupted as she shivered. "I'm freezing!"

"If you insist," Meg said in a over dramatic tone. "Babe, would you mind pulling the car up a little closer, so Alyssa and Nick don't have to lug their suitcases all the way to where we are parked?" she asked Scott, tossing him her car keys.

"No problem," Scott replied as he trotted off towards the parking lot.

Meg remained silent until Scott was out of ear shot. Once she was sure it was safe she impulsively grabbed Nick's arm and twisted it slightly behind his back.

"Oww! What the fuck are you doing?" Nick cried. Since when does Meg know all this tae kwon do shit, and why does she feel the need to practice it on me?

"You mention one word about my past relationship with AJ to Scott and you'll be very sorry. He doesn't know about him and I intend to keep it that way. Comprende?"

"Yes. Now can you please let me go?" he begged. He sighed in relief as Meg released his arm. Rubbing his arm he glanced quizzically at Alyssa as if to ask what the hell was that all about? Alyssa just shrugged in response.

"So we're all good now?" Meg asked. After receiving nods from both Alyssa and Nick she set off towards the curb to wait for Scott and the car with Alyssa and Nick right at her heels.

I haven't been here ten minutes and already things are getting interesting Nick noted to himself. That must be a sign that this going to be one hell of a Christmas!

After only about a ten minute car ride, Nick vaguely began to recognize the sights of Alyssa's neighborhood as they turned onto her block. He realized that in all the time that he had known her, this would only be his second visit to the home that she grew up in. His only other visit had been while they were in New York for the Black and Blue tour and Alyssa had convinced him to come with her to see his parents. It hadn't been the first time he'd met her parents. He'd been introduced to them in the waiting room of the hospital that Meg was being treated in after first being diagnosed with cancer. He could distinctively remember his last visit clearly. It had been during that particular visit where he had spoken to Alyssa's father about his intentions to propose to his daughter.

Normally Nick considered something as asking a girl's father for permission to marry her old fashioned and just plain stupid. In this day and age it wasn't like parents really had much of a say so in the matter really. But, he knew how much of a traditionalist Alyssa's father was and after the way he had fucked things up with Katie, he felt that he owed Alyssa that much. He knew it would mean a lot to her and at the time it definitely did. It had also won him some nice brownie points with her family.

Unfortunately, those points had since ran out somewhere in between him breaking off his engagement with Alyssa and running off to LA to enjoy the perks of being Mr. Popstar. Somehow he got the feeling that Alyssa's parents would be less than pleased with the fact that now three years later. he was spending Christmas with them. Although he was certain that they wouldn't be completely rude to him, he feared that they probably would be a little on the cold side. As the car pulled up in the driveway, Nick wiped his sweaty hands against his jeans, feeling not much less anxious than he had been the last time he had visited Alyssa's home.

"Here we are! Home sweet home!" Alyssa's voice interrupted his thoughts as they came to a stop in the driveway. After gathering up her belongings and leaping out of the car, she was ambling up the steps of the front porch.

Nick had no choice, but to follow uncertainly behind feeling strangely removed from the whole scene. Before he could reflect anymore on these feelings though, the front door opened up and he recognized the familiar face of Alyssa's younger sister, Stephanie on the other side.

"I thought you'd never get here," Stephanie greeted Alyssa with her a hug. "Watch out for Mom and Dad... They're in rare form."

"What is she saying about us now?" the voice of Alyssa's mother called from deeper inside the house. Before Nick had a chance to worry about Stephanie's warning, he found himself face to face with Patricia Martinelli.

"Alyssa, honey! How are you doing?" her mother greeted her with a hug and a kiss.

"I'm doing great, Mom. Merry Christmas! You remember Nick right?" she asked, as she gestured towards him at her side.

"Of course," the woman responded with a tight grin, her cold blue eyes sweeping over him. "Merry Christmas Nick."

It was hard for Nick to believe that this was the very same woman who only a few years prior had been overly friendly to him when he had first met her, insisting that he "call her Pat." Somehow he sensed that he should be more formal this time around, now that he and Alyssa were no longer together. "Thank you, Mrs. Martinelli," he responded feeling just a bit awkward at the way it sounded.. "Same to you."

"Well, come on inside! Your father's been waiting for you to arrive all morning."

Nick swallowed hard as he stepped inside of their house. He was pretty sure that Anthony Martinelli would not be at all pleased to see him and from what he remembered of Alyssa's father he was a pretty intimidating kind of man. Sort of like a taller and scarier version of Tony Soprano. Alyssa had joked with him plenty of times that she was really a Mafia princess and how her Dad would do anything to seek revenge against anyone that hurt one of his precious daughters, and sometimes Nick wondered if it was really true after all. All he knew was that after he broke up with Alyssa he had had quite a few nightmares about Mr. Martinelli chasing after him with a baseball bat. But then again he did have a pretty overactive imagination.

And I'm about to spend the next two days with this man? he asked himself. Maybe I was better off spending Christmas with AJ and his mother after all?

After more painfully awkward introductions and polite small talk, everyone seemed to settle down and head off on their own directions. Already Nick was annoyed to learn that Alyssa's parents had decided to place him on the pull out couch in the living room while Alyssa and her sisters were to stay in their old bedrooms. Scott was allowed to stay upstairs with Megan in her room and when Nick had grumbled to Alyssa about it she had just laughed.

"They're married Nick! That makes a huge difference, especially to my parents. Trust me, if they weren't he'd be joining you on one of the other couches," she tried to assure him.

"But, its not like we're even dating anyway," he argued. At that point he was just cranky from his flight and change in time zones and didn't even care that he was arguing a lost cause.

Alyssa rolled her eyes. "I think that's what scares them even more," she murmured under her breath.

"What was that?"

"Nothing," she quickly lied. "If you really don't want the sofa bed you can sleep in my room and I'll take the living room."

Nick immediately felt guilty as soon as he heard her offer. "It's okay. I'm sure it won't be all that bad. I'm the guest here and I'm just happy that I have someplace to celebrate Christmas. I'm just overtired I guess."

Alyssa's face softened. "I'll tell you what. Mom said that dinner should be ready in like another two or three hours and I kind of want to get caught up with my sisters a little bit, so why don't you go up to my room and take a little nap?" she suggested. "My bed is pretty comfy."

The offer did sound pretty tempting and Nick knew that his presence was awkward in the house. Alyssa, Meg, and Stephanie were the only ones who seemed willing to talk to him. Scott seemed as if he would willingly pal around with Nick as well, but the difference between them was that Alyssa's parents actually seemed to like him. He was pretty tired from his traveling and a nap would allow Alyssa sometime for the obligatory girl talk he knew she had planned with her sisters. Besides, he suspected that his name would probably be one of the topics of conversation between the girls.

So he had willingly headed up to Alyssa's room and passed out in exhaustion while meanwhile a few rooms away, Alyssa, Meg, and Stephanie were stretched out in Meg's room in a semicircle on Meg's bed, listening to what each of them had been up to since the last time they had seen each other.

Alyssa listened intently as Stephanie recounted her entire last semester to her sisters. Strangely enough, Stephanie seemed to be doing much better in college than anyone had expected. While Alyssa had assumed that she'd get too wrapped up in partying to complete her school work, Stephanie had been able to balance both good grades and an active social life.

"And the two of you haven't even heard the best part yet. I've been accepted into a study abroad program next semester in Australia! How unbelievable is that? Perfect weather... Beautiful beaches... Hot men with sexy accents... I can't wait!" her younger sister excitedly shared.

"You're studying in Australia for the semester? And Mom and Dad are okay with this idea?" Alyssa warily asked. "Man, they've really loosened up since I was your age."

"They think it's a great idea! You know how Dad's always been after us to travel and experience other countries. And I get college credit for this too. I couldn't think of a more ideal situation. Plus, it'll be summer over there, so I'll get to miss winter this year."

"Are you there to study or for vacation?" Meg asked with a laugh.

Stephanie rolled her eyes. "Of course to study, but who says I can't have a little bit of fun on the side? And of course you both can come down under and visit me. In fact, I expect it! Well, maybe not so much you Meg, since you have the hubby and all, but you..." she said, pointing a finger towards Alyssa. "You must come and see me and I don't want to hear no as an answer."

"I guess I'm going to Australia then," Alyssa responded with a laugh.

"Good. I'm glad it's settled then," Stephanie said with a satisfied grin. "So Meg, how's married life going for you?"

"Great," Meg replied sounding slightly overenthusiastic. "We're doing good. We're trying to fix up the house a little and really make it our own, so we spend like every weekend at Home Depot. Scott is being considered for a promotion as head of the health education department in the school district he works in. And I'm considering going back to school."

"Back to school? That's great Meg!" Alyssa grinned supportively at her older sister. Meg had only completed about a semester or two of community college before being uprooted to California by her abusive ex boyfriend, Josh. Josh had insisted that she didn't need college. That he could take care of her completely on her own and that her place was at home. After finally fleeing to Florida, it hadn't been long before she had been diagnosed with cancer. "What are you thinking of going for?"

"I'm not sure," Meg confessed. "I've always liked math and Scott could probably help me get a job as a high school math teacher, but honestly I don't know if I'm teacher material, no offense. Maybe I'll go for accounting. Or maybe I'll just take a few classes and decide what I'm interested in."

Alyssa gave her a reassuring glance "Sounds like a plan."

"So, the only person we haven't heard any updates from is Alyssa," Stephanie said with a sly grin, changed the subject. "What's going on with you?"

Just by the tone of Stephanie's voice, Alyssa could tell that what her sister really meant was, So, what's going on with you and Nick? but she artfully dodged the question. "I've been all right. Doing some substitute teaching here and there. Nothing too exciting." It was the truth. Outside of all the drama that was going on surrounding her and Nick, everything else in her life seemed relatively boring.

"Nothing too exciting?" Stephanie echoed. "I don't know if I buy that one Alyssa. Reuniting with your ex boyfriend isn't exciting?"

Alyssa sighed realizing she should've known better than to expect this topic to not surface among her sisters. "We haven't exactly 'reunited.' We're not back together, if that's what you are getting at. I told you this on the phone earlier."

Stephanie and Meg seemed to exchange knowing glances between them. For something that wasn't supposed to be that big of a deal, Alyssa had certainly seemed a little agitated. If nothing was going on, then why would she have been so quick to get defensive?

"Seriously though Alyssa... How did you and Nick wind up getting back in touch again after all this time?" Meg, who had remained pretty quiet while Stephanie had brought up the topic, piped up. "Last I heard things had ended up pretty badly between the two of you. I honestly didn't think that there was any hope of you ever speaking again."

Do I have to retell the entire story yet again? Alyssa asked herself with a sigh. She was getting tired of explaining the complicated situation to even more people, but she knew that she at least owed her sisters the truth... or at least part of the truth. Taking a deep breath she began to explain to them about Izzy moving to New York City and inviting her to the concert nearly six months ago. She went on to describe her and Nick's awkward first encounter and then their talk about the events surrounding their breakup on Izzy's apartment balcony. "Basically his parents divorce really screwed him up big time emotionally," she explained. "It really made him not only second guess his decision to get married, but to lose his faith in committed relationships period. He was confused and needed to work out his issues on his own, so he broke up with me to give himself some space I guess."

"And you're perfectly okay with that?" Meg uncertainly asked.

She just shrugged. "I'm never going to be happy about his decision, but I can't hold it against him. I think it was probably the best for both of us. We needed some time apart, to grow up a little more."

Stephanie leaned forward with her head in her hands. "So, what about now? You had your time apart... You've obviously both grown up... He's had his space... What's stopping the two of you this time?"

It was a good question. A question that Alyssa had asked herself several times as of lately. What was stopping them from picking things up where they had left off? Even though they both had needed some time to grow a little, they were also different people now with completely different agendas. There was her who would love to be in a steady relationship at this point, but had too much else going on in her life career wise to devote much time to one, and on the other hand Nick, who seemed as if he had the means for a relationship, but just didn't seem to want one. Yea, we make a great couple, she thought to herself, trying not to laugh at how wrong the situation was. Picking her words carefully, Alyssa tried to answer her younger sisters question. "Things are just different now. We can't go back to who we were. We have different priorities right now and neither one of us is really looking for a relationship right now. I'm busy with trying to find a job and Nick... well Nick hasn't had the greatest success rates with relationships, so I think he's pretty skeptical about them."

"I'd be skeptical too if my last relationship was with Paris Hilton," Meg muttered, under her breath.

Stephanie looked offended. "Hey! I happen to admire that woman! I'm sure the relationship wasn't as bad as it seemed in the tabloids. Has Nick told you anything about their breakup?"

Alyssa shot her younger sister a horrified look. "First, eww! You cannot be serious when you say you actually respect her?"

She shrugged. "I think she has excellent fashion sense."

"You would! Anyway though to answer your question, no Nick really hasn't opened up to me about him and Paris. I mean maybe really little things like how he thought it was for real, but everyone else acted like it was this big joke or something." Alyssa paused for a moment. "I do get the sense though that whatever happened between them was pretty bad and even though he won't admit it, she really screwed him up even more than he already was."

The three of them were silent for a moment, each of them feeling sorry for Nick. He'd been through a lot in the three and a half years since he and Alyssa had broken up and had a lot of unlucky hands dealt to him. Stephanie was the first one to break the silence.

"Wow... I guess I can see how the two of you can have a platonic friendship after everything you've been through together. I think he probably needs someone like you in his life right now. I'm sorry if I doubted you."

"It's okay," Alyssa told her, feeling the guilt creep up her face. Here her sister thought that she was being a reassuring friend to Nick during a difficult time. If anything, she was making his life even more complicated. Or maybe he didn't care. Maybe she was the one who needed him and she was trying to convince herself otherwise.

"Well, if that's all the gossip you have for me I'm going to go take a nice, long, hot shower before dinner," Stephanie announced as she stood up from the bed and stretched. "It's so great to have both of you home. Even if its only for a few days and you both brought good looking men with you." With that she disappeared out into the hallway.

Alyssa took a deep breath as she heard the door close behind Stephanie. She couldn't believe that she had gotten through the whole Nick discussion without telling her sisters the complete truth about what was going on with them.

But there was still Meg in the room with her, which she was harshly reminded by the sound of her voice softly saying, "And then there were two."

Alyssa's eyes connected with those of her older sisters and she gave her a forced grin. She'd learned long ago not to trust Stephanie with secrets, but she and Meg had seldom kept anything from each other. Maybe it was because they were much closer in age than she and Stephanie. Whatever the reason Alyssa knew that she needed top come clean to someone else besides Izzy, and Meg was the obvious choice.

Out of seemingly nowhere she took in another deep breath and impulsively blurted out, "I'm sleeping with Nick."

Evidently, Meg must've been thinking the same thing as Alyssa because at the exact time she made her own confession, their words overlapping each other. "Scott doesn't want me to go back to school."

The two stared at each other for a moment and then began to laugh. It was obvious that they had both been waiting for Stephanie to leave before they discussed what was really going on in their life's.

"What do you mean he doesn't want you going back to school?" Alyssa immediately asked, putting her own problems to the side.

"He wants kids."

Alyssa opened her mouth to object, but Meg continued. "Yes, I know I can't have children, at least not in the traditional, ordinary sense, and Scott knows this. He knows all about my ovaries being removed. He wants to explore other options though. Like receiving an egg donor and I'm not sure if I'm very comfortable with the idea. I always said that if I really wanted a child I'd adopt, but we just got married. There's so much I want to do first. Like finish up college and start a career. I can't do that right now with a child. So, yea... It's definitely put a strain on our marriage. Things aren't exactly as happy as they seem."

"Aww Meg..." Alyssa wrapped her arms around her sister in a sympathetic hug. "He'll get over it. I'm sure of it... I'm not sure if I'd be comfortable with a child that's half my husband's and half some strange woman's. That would definitely be extremely difficult." After the words left her mouth a realization hit her. You claim that it would be uncomfortable for you, yet that was the same situation you put yourself in when you tried to convince Nick to file for custody of Serena. The eerie thought sent a chill through her and she tried to push it out of her head. Bad enough, she was haunted by guilt over the whole situation.

"Are you okay Alyssa?" her sisters voice interrupted her thoughts. "You look kind of pale all of a sudden."

"I'm fine," she lied. Okay, so maybe there were some things she kept hidden from her older sister after all.

"Just do me a favor. Please don't tell anyone else about this. Especially Mom and Dad," Meg begged. "Scott and I are trying to act like everything is great and I don't want everyone to get involved. We're adults and we'll work it out on our own. We're just trying to keep peace for the holidays."

"No problem. I completely understand," Alyssa sympathized. "You and Scott aren't the only ones putting up a facade for the rest of the family."

"How long have you and Nick been... Well, what exactly are you?"

Alyssa shook her head and sighed. "I don't know what the fuck to call us. We're definitely more than friends, but we're not a couple, and I'd like to think we're more than just fuck buddies. You know I don't normally do things like this, but I don't know how to describe it. We've really only had sex twice, but I'm pretty sure its going to keep happening no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise. The worst part is that I guess I'm afraid to put an end to things because I don't want to be alone."

After the last sentence flew from her mouth, Alyssa froze with the realization of what she just said. I don't want to be alone. So, in her eyes it was better to let herself be used by an ex boyfriend whose emotions were completely screwed up? Maybe he's not the only one of us that's fucked up emotionally? she realized. We really are like two lost souls and that sounds like a complete recipe for disaster.

This time it was Meg's turn to comfort her sister. "That is an extremely difficult position to be in and I wish I knew what to tell you, but I don't. Usually sex based relationships never work once you're emotions get involved and I'd say its a little too late for that. But also I know that you feel that you owe it to Nick to in a sense help 'save' him. I think the best thing you could right now for him though is to just be his friend. His platonic friend. If you don't put a stop to things now, it's only going to get harder to break the cycle with every time."

She's right Alyssa sadly thought. But did she really have the strength to follow Meg's advice? Could she really seriously tell Nick up front that they couldn't sleep together anymore? Even if she did, the past had already happened and who was to say that it wouldn't put a strain on their friendship. Could she really stand to lose Nick again?

All these thoughts were beginning to make Alyssa's head spin and she knew that she needed to close the subject. "Thanks for listening and for the advice Meg. Just please don't let anyone else know. As it is this Christmas is awkward enough with just him being here. Could you imagine Mom and Dad if they really knew what was going on?"

"I don't want to," Meg groaned. "Of course I'm going to keep your secret Lyss. That's what sisters are for. Besides, I got a few secrets of mine I'd prefer remained hidden this holiday."

Alyssa sighed. "Who knew we were in for such a scandalous Christmas?"