A few hours later, their flight had successfully landed in LAX despite another mini panic attack from Nick. Unlike Alyssa’s last flight into this airport with Izzy and Tristan earlier that year to surprise Nick in Irvine, this time they’d arrived at their destination on time and with their entire luggage. If this was any indicator of how the next few days were going to be, Alyssa was feeling pretty confident that she’d have nothing to worry about.
The two of them were exiting the baggage claim and heading into the main part of the airport, when it finally dawned on her that someone was probably waiting to pick them up, since she seriously doubted Nick would have left his car in the airport parking lot all weekend. “So, is someone picking us up or are we taking car service to your place?”
Nick had just opened his mouth to answer her question, when Alyssa heard the sound of a familiar rasp calling her name from across the room. Her eyes scanned the crowds and then lit up in recognition as she saw exactly who the voice belonged to. “AJ!” she squealed, as she rushed towards him to give him a hug.
A few seconds later, Nick appeared behind her pretending to look insulted. “I don’t know, J. You must be doing something right because she’s never that happy to see me.”
Alyssa rolled her eyes and playfully smacked him. “No need to get jealous. Just because I don’t jump into your arms the minute I first see you doesn’t mean that I don’t care.” For the first time she noticed that AJ wasn’t alone. Standing beside him was a petite redhead, maybe an inch or two taller than Alyssa, wearing a fitted black shirt and ripped jeans. Alyssa wasn’t entirely sure who she was, but still stuck her hand out politely and decided to introduce herself since no one else had. “Hi, I’m Alyssa. I’m an old friend of Nick and AJ’s.”
AJ finally seemed to remember his manners and put his arm around the redhead. “Oh yea. Before I forget this is my girlfriend Tricia. I’m sorry I didn’t introduce you right away. You didn’t give me the chance to.”
Tricia just shook her head and laughed a little. “Nice to meet you Alyssa. AJ has told me a lot about you.”
“Well, hopefully it was all nice things. You never can tell with this one over here. By the way…” She turned her attention back towards AJ with a hand on her hip. “How come you never mentioned the fact that you had a girlfriend when I saw you in New York, two weeks ago?”
“Uhh… Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I barely said hello to you when Carter over here pretty much kidnapped you and then I didn’t see you again at all?” he shot back.
“Touché. So, how long have you two been dating?”
“Since September when the US tour wrapped up,” Tricia explained. Her eyes darted back and forth between Alyssa and Nick. “What about you two?”
For a second or two, Alyssa was completely thrown by the question. “You mean me and him?” she stupidly asked, gesturing towards Nick.
“Yea… How long have you been dating?”
She froze for a moment, completely unsure of exactly how to go about in answering that question. Although the two of them had agreed on testing the waters so to speak, she was pretty sure that Nick would be pretty hesitant to use the “dating” term just yet. God, we’ve barely landed and already we’re being asked to define our relationship, she thought with a groan. But, she supposed that she couldn’t really blame Tricia. She really didn’t know any better. Alyssa figured that if she was in her shoes, she might have jumped to the very same conclusions. Judging from the stricken look on AJ’s face, she could tell that AJ had neglected to tell his girlfriend their whole sordid tale. Hell, she wasn’t even sure how much exactly AJ knew about her relationship with Nick. She hadn’t talked to him, so unless Nick had mentioned anything he might just as well be in the dark about things as Tricia.
“We’re uhh not dating,” Nick’s voice cut in after what seemed like an eternity of awkward silence. “We’re just friends… Good friends.”
Alyssa inwardly sighed in relief, glad that Nick had answered for her. “Yea, we’re just close friends,” she echoed. “Close friends just spending the New Year with each other.”
“Oh my God… I’m so sorry! I guess I just assumed that you two were going out. Man, do I feel like an ass, or what?” The poor girl’s face was now turning almost as red as her hair.
“It’s okay,” she assured her. “We get it a lot. We’re pretty much used to it by now.” She exchanged a secretive look with Nick and stifled a grin. Wasn’t that the question they’d had to deal with the entire Christmas, from Alyssa’s family?
“We should get going before we get mobbed,” AJ interrupted. “Besides I’m sure the two of you are pretty tired from your flight.”
“Good idea,” Alyssa agreed. Dragging her suitcase behind her, she followed AJ and Tricia towards the exit. “So, AJ? Is it true that Howie has to hold Nick’s hand during every take off?”
AJ smirked. “During every damn one.”
A little while later, the four of them were piled into AJ’s Range Rover on their way to Nick’s house. After leaving the airport, they’d stopped at a McDonald’s drive through because AJ had insisted that Alyssa and Nick had to be starving from their travels. Alyssa and Tricia had teased AJ that he just wanted an excuse to stop at his favorite fast food empire. Alyssa decided that she kind of liked Tricia, despite her mistake of thinking that she and Nick were a couple. She was always pretty critical of the girls that AJ had dated since Meg, but so far she found nothing unlikable about Tricia. She seemed very down to earth and sweet.
“I can’t wait to see your place,” Alyssa told Nick as she munched on a Chicken McNugget. She’d been wondering what his home in LA looked like since she had found out that he had moved out there.
As the words left her mouth, she noticed Tricia staring at her suspiciously from the front passenger seat. “You’ve known Nick a long time now, huh?”
“Yeah. I guess you can say that. A little more than five years now,” she answered.
The suspicion continued to grow on her brow. “And you’ve never been to his house? You’ve been living out here for a couple years now Nick, right?”
Again there was awkward silence. Alyssa supposed that it did seem a little strange that if they were such good friends as Nick claimed, wouldn’t she have visited him at least once before? Of course, the real explanation was that they’d broken up and hadn’t spoken for three years, and it was in that time period that Nick had moved out to LA. But, somehow she got the sense that this wasn’t the time nor place to fully explain the complexities of her and Nick.
Finally Nick spoke up, saving themselves once again. “Yeah, I’ve lived out here for almost three years now I guess. But Alyssa’s never been to my house out here. Long story, but we got to be close while I was living in Tampa and then we had a falling out and didn’t talk for a few years, and that’s when I moved out to LA. We’ve only recently started talking again.”
Tricia seemed thoughtful for a moment, but seemed to accept the answer. “I’m sorry to hear that you two lost touch there for a while, but its nice that you got to be friends again.”
“Yea, I’m glad too,” Alyssa cut in. “Thankfully all of that is in the past now.”
That was close, she told herself. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Tricia. Just that she hadn’t completely felt her out yet, and although she was positive that she was perfectly nice, she just didn’t feel comfortable telling Tricia that they used to date. If AJ chose to tell her, that was one thing, but Alyssa definitely didn’t want to get into it, especially when she’d only just arrived in LA.
The rest of the ride to Nick’s was pretty uneventful. Exhausted, from the traveling and the time difference, Alyssa curled her head up against Nick’s chest and closed her eyes. Next thing she knew, she was being lightly shaken and she heard Nick’s voice saying that they’d finally arrived home.
She hesitantly opened her eyes, not quite sure what exactly to expect. Her eyes immediately widened. Nick’s house in LA was a lot bigger than his place in Florida had been. She wondered how exactly he could live in such a big house by himself without feeling lost inside. A place like this surely must’ve cost him a pretty penny, and not that he couldn’t afford it, but the Nick Alyssa used to know usually tended to stray away from overly expensive things.
Speaking of overly expensive things, Alyssa’s eyes settled on the pearly white Escalade that they had pulled up behind. Was this seriously Nick’s car? This belongs to the same guy who when I first met him was still driving a Durango?
“Oh no… Don’t tell me you actually drive one of those things,” she dramatically groaned.
“What’s a matter? Are you jealous of my ride?” Nick teased as they climbed out of the car.
Alyssa snorted. “Hardly. I happen to hate those things. And let me tell you, Escalade drivers deserve to have their licenses cut up in little pieces because they are the worst drivers!”
“It’s true! They think that just because their car is worth more than what most Americans make in a year that they don’t have to obey any traffic laws,” she defended. “Plus, I cannot stand when I’m driving around looking for a parking space somewhere and I see a big ass Escalade parked diagonally, taking up three spaces, so that no one hits it. I bet you’re one of those people right?”
Nick’s face reddened as he muttered, “Well, I don’t want anyone to scratch up my baby.”
“Your baby?” Alyssa laughed. “I’m not even going to waste my time teasing you about that one.” With that she walked around to the back of AJ’s truck to pull out her suitcase. “Let’s just head inside. I’m dying to see what the rest of the house must look like.”
About an hour or two later after Alyssa had been given the basic tour of the house and the two couples had sat around and talked for a bit, AJ stood up from his place at the table. “I think Tricia and I are going to head out now. You two are probably tired from your flight and all and just want to get settled. Give me call tomorrow though. Maybe we can all go out tomorrow night and show Alyssa how we party here in LA. We can even see if Howie wants to come with us.”
“Yea, it sounds good to me,” Nick agreed. “I’ll definitely call you when we decide what we’re doing.”
“It was nice meeting you Alyssa,” Tricia said with a wave as she joined AJ. “Hopefully we’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Nice meeting you too,” Alyssa told her with a smile.
Nick got up and walked them to the door and after a few minutes of goodbyes Tricia and AJ were finally heading out the door and towards AJ’s car. The couple got in and was silent until AJ had backed out of the driveway. “So, what did you think of Alyssa?” AJ finally asked.
“She’s really nice,” Tricia replied. “I’m just not sure if I completely buy her and Nick’s friendship.”
AJ looked confused. “What do you mean by that? You think she’s just using Nick?”
“If it was anyone else maybe… but somehow I don’t think that Alyssa is that kind of a girl.”
“She’s not! I’ve known her for almost as long as Nick has and trust me she’s not the type,” AJ interrupted. “If anything she’s probably one of the better women in his life.”
Tricia looked thoughtful for a moment. “Then why are they just friends? I mean if they’ve known each other for so long and have been so close haven’t they at one point or another at least considered the idea of something more? I can’t see myself being such good friends with a guy for that length of time and not have the thought at least cross my mind.”
AJ sighed and focused his eyes straight ahead on the road. “They dated off and on for about two years. It was a pretty rough relationship. One that neither one of them were probably ready for. I won’t get into ever ounce of drama that went on between them, but pretty much anything that could happen did. Anyway, Nick made the mistake of thinking that if they got married things would be perfect between them. But, not long after he proposed, his parents wound up getting divorced and it really shattered his world. All of a sudden it hit him that even if he and Alyssa got married it was no guarantee that they’d make it. So, he broke off the engagement without really giving her a reason and moved out here to LA. She was devastated.”
Tricia listened intently. “Whoa… Yea I guess you can say they had a ‘falling out’ all right. That actually makes quite a bit of sense based on what I’ve picked up from them. So, how exactly is it that they’re friends again all of a sudden?”
“Long story, but Alyssa is close friends with Izzy, Kevin’s cousin. You’ve never met her, but she’s been best friends with Nick for probably as long as the groups been together. And by the way since you’re in such doubt over how a guy and a girl can be best friends, for the record they tried the dating thing when they were about 14 or 15 for maybe a week and it was just too weird.”
She rolled her eyes. “Thanks for sharing that piece of information because I was just sitting here wondering about who Nick’s first girlfriend was. Can we get to the point here?”
“Oh yea…” AJ scrambled to remember where he left off. “Anyway, so Izzy moved to New York with her boyfriend and got back in touch with Alyssa. Somehow she convinced her to come to one of our shows and afterwards we all went to see her apartment and Alyssa and Nick got to talking. Next thing I know it was like nothing had ever happened. They were like the best of friends again.”
“That quick huh?” Tricia replied with a smirk.
AJ wasn’t sure if he was quite catching on to his girlfriends thoughts. “Yea…I was surprised too. At first I thought it Nick was only interested in her again because it was like a free ticket to get laid. But then I thought about it some more and well… that theory didn’t really make a lot of sense. If Nick just wanted to get laid he could have his pick of girls and not have to even try to be charming. Besides, when Alyssa went to surprise him on tour he passed her over for some other girls. It was almost like he could care less. So, yea… I don’t think there’s anything going on between them besides a friendship. Nick is too much of a man whore anyway.”
“AJ, you’re a guy, so let me ask you this. When you’re attracted to someone that you really shouldn’t be and you’re trying to fight those feelings, what is the first thing that you, as a normal, but not necessarily intelligent, hormonal male do?”
He thought for a moment wondering if this was some kind of trick question. “Uhmm… well I guess I try to pretend those feelings don’t exist and I look for something to distract myself with.”
“Exactly!” Tricia triumphantly pointed out. “And in Nick’s case what does he usually use as a distraction?”
“Women.” AJ sighed. “So you think that Nick was hiding his true feelings about Alyssa by sleeping with other girls?”
Tricia nodded her head. “Makes a lot of sense to me actually. The question is what’s going on now?”
Again AJ looked confused. “What do you mean what’s going on now? They’re friends Tricia. Since when are you so interested in other people’s romances?”
“They’re so more than friends AJ. They’re fucking and you know it!”
“No way! Carter would never be able to keep that shit a secret. If they were, he would’ve told me right away. He’s not one to keep these kinds of things to himself,” he disagreed. “I think you’re wrong.”
She just looked over at him like he was an idiot. “AJ, have you taken a good look at them tonight? The way they’ve been teasing each other? Even just their body language. They were just a little too touchy feely for ‘friends’ that’s all I’m saying. Plus, I don’t know if you noticed, but for the last hour Nick kept shooting you death glares like he wanted us to just leave already. I’m willing to bet that the minute we walked out the door they were going at it.”
“Sorry, but I really don’t want to picture that going on right now.” His body almost convulsed at the thought. “I think you’re just reading too much into this. I know Alyssa and she wouldn’t put up with anything less than a relationship. Besides, no offense, but you barely know them.”
Tricia just tossed her head. “I’m a woman AJ. I have a sixth sense for these things. I say we make a little bet. We try to drag the real story out of them and see which one of us is on the right track.”
AJ appeared interested. “And what are the ‘terms’ of this bet?”
She smirked. “We can think those up at a later time. But I think I’m going to enjoy gloating over the fact that I’m completely right.”
“We’ll see about that one,” he grumbled, as he pulled onto the highway. He was pretty confident that there was absolutely nothing more going on between Alyssa and Nick than a platonic friendship.
At least he was pretty sure… Just to be on the safe side though maybe he’d better take a closer look at the pair the next time he saw them. Just to verify that there was indeed nothing going on. Because there wasn’t. Nick would’ve told him by now. So, he had nothing to worry about in accepting this silly bet.
“All right,” he agreed. “You’re on.”