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Author's Chapter Notes:
Nick realizes exactly what's been right in front of him all along.
Chapter 48

She drives me crazy, drives me wild, But I'm helpless when she smiles... - Helpless When She Smiles, Backstreet Boys

New Years Eve morning when Nick opened up his eyes he found himself actually slightly disappointed that Alyssa wasn’t there lying next to him. He knew she probably couldn’t be very far since there wasn’t exactly a lot of space in the condo and as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes he could hear her voice from not very far off.

“Oh God… I can’t believe it… Especially getting the news so close to the New Year… You’re right. It is completely unfair… Haven’t we gone through enough with Meg?”

Nick’s ears perked up. He could hear the obvious concern in Alyssa’s voice and curiosity began to get the better of him. He wasn’t sure who she was speaking to, but it didn’t sound like good news at all. He noticed Meg’s name being mentioned and a knot in his stomach formed. He hoped that nothing was wrong with her health. Alyssa was sure to take the news really hard if that was the case.

Pulling his body up into a sitting position, he scanned the area of the condo until he spotted Alyssa in the kitchen area, leaning up against the counter with one foot bent, talking on her cell phone. He smirked as he realized that she was wearing his shirt from the night before. He always thought that she looked incredibly sexy when she wore his clothes, and nearly three years had done nothing to change his opinion. I wonder if she’s wearing anything underneath? he found himself wondering as his eyes traveled up her legs.

He quickly sobered up his thoughts though once he saw the expression on her face. Her brow was knitted in a look of obvious distress and her eyes looked like they were welling up with tears. Part of him wanted to go right over and comfort her, the way that she had comforted him after the fight he’d had with Kevin, but deep down he knew that it would be the best to let her come to him. So, while he waited for her to finish her conversation, he figured he might as well at least have a cigarette. He had just realized that he hadn’t had one since before dinner the night before. His hands fumbled around on the floor until he found his jeans and pulled out his lighter and a carton of cigarettes from his back pocket. He was just lighting up as he overheard Alyssa tying up her conversation from the other room.

“Ok… Well, thanks for telling me Steph… Have fun tonight, okay? I’ll talk to you when I get back to New York… Love you too… Bye.” She snapped her phone shut with a sigh and slowly headed back into the living room looking as if she had just found out that her cat had died or something.

“What was that all about?” he asked as he took a drag of his cigarette, all prepared to be supportive towards her.

The reaction that he got was something that he was completely unprepared for. Alyssa looked up, looked at him, looked at his cigarette, and just rolled her eyes in disgust. “Do youhave to light up already? You only just woke up and the first thing you do is grab a cigarette?”

“Well, after a night like last night I could use one,” he joked with a smirk to try to lighten up her mood. It didn’t help. If anything, she looked even more pissed.

“You and those damn cigarettes,” she grumbled. “Why do you have to do it right in front of me? Can’t you go outside and do it?”

Nick looked completely mystified as what exactly had set Alyssa off. “I didn’t know they bothered you so much.”

“Well, they do! It’s gross and disgusting and completely unhealthy! But if you want to develop lung cancer someday go right ahead and keep smoking, just don’t do it front of me!” With that she stormed away from into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her.

What the fuck was that all about? Nick wondered as he found himself scratching his head. She never seemed to mind his smoking before. In fact, she even told him straight out that although she wasn’t fond of his habit, she wouldn’t push him to quit. So, what brought about this new change in her? She’s probably just upset over that phone call and is taking it out on me. She’ll get over it in a few minutes. But just in case, he pulled on his boxers and stepped out on the deck just to humor her.

He sat there silently enjoying his cigarette for a few minutes until he heard the sliding glass doors open up behind him. Immediately he ground out his cigarette just in time before Alyssa stepped out onto the deck beside him and wrapped her arms around his waist. “I’m sorry I bitched at you a few minutes ago. I just got some upsetting news and I took it all out on you.”

“I kinda figured as much. Do you wanna talk about it?” he asked as he pulled her closer to him.

Alyssa just stared blankly for a moment before beginning. “That was just Steph on the phone. My family just found out some bad news that she called to inform me about. My Uncle Steve, who we’re all very close to, was just diagnosed with lung cancer. It’s not looking very promising. He has tumors on both lungs and they’re too big to operate on. They’re gong to start him on chemo, but really it’s just to buy him some time.” She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “He was a pretty heavy smoker. He started when he was a teenager and has been smoking ever since.”

Feeling sympathetic, he pulled her into a hug. “I’m really sorry to hear that Lyssa. And let me guess? Seeing me smoking right after you got the news kind of made you upset, so that’s why you got so angry?”

Alyssa nodded. “It was just way too soon, I guess. I mean you’re entitled to make your own choices and all, but it was just kind of painful under the circumstances.”

Nick pulled away from her and looked her straight in the eye. “Please be honest with me Alyssa. Does my smoking really bother you?”

For a moment or two she didn’t answer, but then she tentatively spoke up. “I never liked it, but it really wasn’t my place to tell you that. I used to be able to live with it, but now learning that my uncle is dying of a disease caused by smoking… it kind of changes my opinion a little. I just wouldn’t want someone else I care about to get sick. I can’t force you to stop; just I don’t want to be around it.”

“Well, that’s a little bit of a problem considering that we’re going to be spending a lot of time together in the near future. Looks like I’ll have to make a decision between my cigarettes or my girl…”

She rolled her eyes at him. “You don’t consider me your ‘girl.’ I thought you didn’t do labels.”

“And I thought that you didn’t hook up with ex boyfriends,” he shot back. “Point is that if it really means that much to you…” He paused and swallowed hard. “I’ll try to quit.”

The look on Alyssa’s face was enough to make the difficult decision worth it. “Really? You’d quit smoking for me?”

“Yea… I’ve been thinking of quitting for a while now. It’s getting harder for me to move around stage since I started anyway. I just didn’t have a good enough excuse to stop until now.”

A grin broke out on her face. “Thank you so much Nick. That means so much to me. I promise that I’ll help you out however I can. And it’s a great time to stop with the New Year approaching and everything. Steph just decided that she was going to quit too.”

“Well, consider it my New Years resolution.” After a moment or two it really hit him what he had agreed to do. He’d heard how hard it could be to quit smoking. AJ had tried a number of times to do so, but never could quite kick the habit. Meanwhile he’d agreed to it without really thinking much about it, like it would be as easy as turning a switch on and off. And all because of a girl too. Man Carter, the two of you are barely even official and you’re already whipped! It wasn’t a position that he was completely comfortable in. “Let’s go back inside,” he suggested, changing the subject. “It’s kind of chilly out here.”

“All right,” Alyssa agreed as she led him back inside and made herself comfortable again on the air mattress. She patted the spot next to her to motion to Nick to lay down with her. “Come here for a few minutes.”

Nick obliged and cuddled up next to her. They were silent for a few minutes, just enjoying the feeling of being close to one another when Alyssa finally randomly broke the silence. Reaching across his body, she grabbed his wrist and traced her fingertips over the skull and crossbones tattoo that now covered up the area that had once had Paris’s name over it. “Do you know that this is my favorite tattoo of yours?”

“Really? I thought you’re favorite were the ones on my chest?” he teased with a smirk.

Alyssa rolled her eyes. “You mean the ones that you’re getting removed? Well, those are fun too, but the reason why I love this one is because of what it represents. There’s a really meaningful story behind it, and I really think its amazing how you covered up a stupid mistake with something as wise as ‘Old habits die hard.’ It really shows that you learned a lesson from the whole Paris thing and you came out a better, more mature person because of it.”

It took a moment or two for her words to really sink in, but when they did, Nick glanced up at her, completely stunned by their deepness. For once, he was completely and utterly speechless. The intimacy of the moment and how randomly the subject was brought up nearly threw him for a loop and he found himself sputtering to think of some kind of response. He was actually quite surprised that she could talk about Paris so calmly. He knew Alyssa was a jealous person by nature, so the comment had shocked him even more so.

The look on his face must’ve been priceless because Alyssa just chuckled. “A simple thank you will be fine, Nick. Don’t you know how to take a compliment?”

“Thanks,” he managed to get out. “And I do know how to take compliments. Just not used to getting them very often.”

Alyssa gave him a sad look. “That’s too bad. You deserve to hear them more often.”

Nick was just about to ask her exactly what she meant by that when his thoughts were suddenly distracted by the sensation of her lips pressing against the pulse point of his wrist. Her mouth was slightly open and her tongue was swirling over his tattoo as she sucked on his tender skin gently. The simple movement was so unexpected yet so arousing that he could feel his heart rate accelerating and his breathing already becoming ragged as his body shifted uncomfortably beside hers. Seeing the effect of her actions on him, Alyssa smirked and continued to trail light kisses up the inside of his arm, letting her tongue ever so slightly glide along his skin. Not used to Alyssa being so aggressive, Nick found himself not being able to stand much more. Rolling onto his back, he pulled her on top of him, hungrily pressing his lips against hers.

As the kiss deepened and his hands traveled up her thighs, Nick soon discovered the answer to the question that he had been pondering earlier… She was indeed wearing nothing underneath his t-shirt after all.

“So, you still haven’t told me what our plans are for tonight,” Alyssa pointed out as they pulled back into his driveway later that afternoon. “Where are we going? What time are we leaving? And how dressed up am I going to have to get?”

Nick laughed at her barrage of questions. “I guess I probably should let you in on the game plan, huh? Well, the guys and I are supposed to make an appearance at this big New Years Eve bash that InStyle magazine is throwing at one of the hotels downtown. It’s supposed to be pretty high profile with lots of celebrities and stuff. I was hoping that you could go along with me as my date.”

Alyssa’s face broke out into a grin. “I’d love to! Not like I have anything better planned, but it sounds really exciting.”

“Good. The rest of the guys are supposed to be meeting over here at like six-thirty and the limo should be here at around seven.”

The excited expression on her face fell into a worried frown. “Six-thirty? That doesn’t give me a lot of time.”

“Time? You still have a few hours,” he tried to reassure her.

“Yea… And I have to shower, blow dry my hair, style it, find something to wear, do my makeup, and get dressed,” she rattled off.

Nick rolled his eyes even though he had to admit that he did find her panic to be slightly cute. “Okay Cinderella. Guess I better leave you to it. I’m sure I can find something to amuse myself with in the meantime.”

“Well, you do want me to look sexy right? And that takes time. You men have it easy. You just go into your closet and grab something and then run a little gel through your hair and then voila! You’re ready!”

“You make it sound so simple,” he grumbled as he opened up the car door. “How about you go inside and start doing what you need to do and I’ll see if there’s anything good on TV.”

Alyssa agreed and within a few minutes they were inside the house and Nick was making himself comfortable on his couch. As he turned on his television, he could already faintly hear the trickling sound of the shower from upstairs. He sort of wished that she’d extended an invitation for him to join her, but she seemed to be on a mission and he knew her well enough to know that she wasn’t about to let any distractions get in her way. With a defeated sigh, he began to flip through the channels, finally settling on a football game to amuse himself.

His mind was only half involved in the game. The other part was too busy keeping an ear out for Alyssa. About fifteen minutes into the game, he heard the shower being turned off and a few minutes later the loud whine of a blow dryer. For the next forty five minutes, he found himself losing more and more interest in the game as the minutes ticked by. Finally, he gave up and flipped off the television, boredom already beginning to get the best of him. In the silence, he realized that he could no longer hear the blow dryer anymore. I wonder what Alyssa is up to now? Without much more thought, he found himself rising from his position on the couch and towards the stairs to find out what she was doing.

When he reached the top of his stairs, he continued down the hall, stopping to poke his head into the open bathroom door. There was Alyssa with a fluffy, white, bath towel wrapped around her body. Most of her long, dark hair was pinned up in hot rollers making her look slightly ridiculous. She was just securing her last section of hair when she noticed Nick’s presence and nearly jumped out of her skin in surprise. “Nick! What are you doing sneaking up on me like that?” she cried. “Especially when I look like this?” gesturing towards her hair.

He couldn’t help, but smirk at how cute she looked when she was embarrassed. “I have to admit that is an interesting look for you. Not sure if the hairstyle is exactly what I had expected, but I can go with it.”

Alyssa just rolled her eyes. “Very funny Carter. Now if you don’t mind I probably should start working on my makeup now.”

“Do you mind if I stick around and keep you company?” he asked, taking a seat on the edge of the bathtub.

A surprised look flickered over Alyssa’s face, but she couldn’t think of any reason to tell him that he couldn’t. “You can watch if you want I guess, but trust me it’s not really all that interesting.”

“That’s all right.” He really didn’t mind all that much. Despite her awkward appearance at the moment, there was something strangely beautiful about her. Maybe it was the fact that she was allowing him to see her stripped down to her most natural state. Whenever Paris had gotten dressed up for any kind of event, he’d been completely shut out and not allowed within ten feet of the bathroom door, in fear that he’d actually see that underneath it all, she actually wasn’t perfect. Nick actually found it a relief to be allowed to watch Alyssa make herself up. There was something that he found extremely sexy about watching a woman prepare for a special evening.

He watched as Alyssa smoothed her hands over her roller filled hair to make sure each section was securely in place and then dug out a pot of concealer from her makeup bag, dabbing bits onto her face where it was needed. When she was finished blending that in, she picked up a tube of what seemed to Nick to be some sort of lip gloss or something and spread it out over her lips.

Nick frowned as he watched her do this. “Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I thought that the lip gloss was the last thing you put on?” he interrupted.

Alyssa laughed a little bit at his confused look. “I didn’t know that you knew so much about makeup Nick. Actually its not lip gloss. It’s lip plumper.”

“Oh, excuse me… What’s the difference?”

“You put lip plumper on underneath your lipstick or gloss to make your lips appear fuller,” she patiently explained. “There are these little vitamins in it that cause blood to circulate to your lips so that they start to tingle and swell up a little.”

“Ahh… So basically it’s like an erection?” Nick innocently asked.

Alyssa was so shocked by his comment that she practically snorted trying to hold back her laughter. “Like a…? Well, uhh sure… I guess sort of if it helps you think of it that way.”

“I’m serious! I mean the same thing happens, right? All the blood flows down to the-“

She held up a hand to cut him off until he could go any farther. “Thank you for the explanation, Nick, but it’s not necessary. I’ve taken college biology; I know how it works, so you don’t need to go into detail.”

“Well, I certainly didn’t need college to figure that one out,” he replied with a smirk. Reaching over her, he grabbed the tube that lay on the counter in front of him. “Lip Injection,” he read. “Funny, it should be called Lip Erection.”

The laughter that had earlier threatened to spew out of Alyssa’s mouth, finally escaped in a loud rush. She was laughing so hard that her face had quickly turned bright red and she had to lean against the sink to keep her balance. The comparison was just so absurd, and the more she thought about it the harder she began to laugh. Seeing how his comment had seemed to make her completely lose it, Nick joined in and soon the two of them were laughing so hard that their stomachs were beginning to hurt. Sucking in a deep breath to try and subdue his laughter, Nick snuck a sidewise glance at Alyssa who was still trying to calm down herself. Suddenly in that moment, curlers, flushed face, dimpled smile, and all, he found himself nearly blown away with how she still appeared just about as gorgeous as ever to him. The sudden realization immediately sobered him up and he got very quiet. Shit Carter… This doesn’t mean that… No, it doesn’t mean anything at all, he fought to convince himself.

He continued to watch as Alyssa finally managed to pull herself together with a few last shaky breaths, reaching up to wipe a few stray tears from the corners of her eyes. “Well, now that I’ll never be able to look at my lip plumper the same way ever again…”

Nick just gave her an innocent shrug as she got back to work on her makeup. He looked on in amazement as she brushed on foundation, blush, and some other type of powder all over her face, giving her a flawless look. “Wow… I never knew that you really wear that much makeup,” he commented. “It doesn’t look like you do.”

Again Alyssa laughed. “Am I ruining the illusion for you Nick?” she joked. “Seriously though I don’t usually wear all of this every day. Only on special occasions, like tonight. You’d be surprised just how much makeup it takes to look decent.”

The comment didn’t make much impact on Nick because his gaze was drawn to a strange looking object lying next to her makeup bag. It sort of resembled a pair of scissors, only it was shaped funny, and instead of blades there was some sort of clamp on the end. His curiosity instantly got the best of him. “What the fuck is that contraption for? It looks kind of kinky.”

Trying her best to hide the smirk that had already started to form on her face, Alyssa decided to play along. She casually picked up the eyelash curler. “Oh, this thing? It’s a nipple pincher. Every girl carries one in their makeup bag. Want to give it a try?” she asked, clamping it shut in his direction for emphasis.

The look on Nick’s face was priceless. His eyes grew wide and his jaw hung open in shock. “You mean you actually use that thing on your nipples?” His hands instinctively flew up to his chest to cover his own protectively.

Alyssa found herself trying her hardest to keep an entirely straight face. “Well, you know how much more attention a woman attracts when she’s sporting some nippleage. Are you sure you don’t want to try?”

Nick vigorously shook his head. “That’s all right. It looks kind of painful actually.”

“Says the man who had his nipples pierced. By the way, I’m still a little put out that I never got the chance to see them,” she pouted. Getting no reaction from Nick because he was still obviously stunned, she decided it was time to put an end the cruel joke. Her lips crinkled up into a mischievous grin and she began to laugh again.

“What? What’s so funny?” Nick asked, sounding confused.

“You!” she confessed. “I so got you! This is a fucking eyelash curler Nick. You use it on your eyelashes to make them curl upwards so your eyes look bigger. I can’t believe that you actually bought that nipple pinching bullshit!”

Nick looked indignant. “I did not buy it. I was only pretending to be funny that’s all.”

“Uh huh… That’s why your cheeks are all red. Face it, I had you going there. You honestly believed me. You’re too much Carter!”

This time Nick didn’t even try to defend himself. He gave in to the laughter at his own expense. Okay, so he was gullible… Big deal. “I always wondered what Paris used that thing for,” he joked.

“With her I wouldn’t be surprised if an eyelash curler did double for a nipple pincher.” Alyssa couldn’t resist the opportunity for the bitchy remark. In fact, it just made her laugh harder.

If Nick heard the comment he made no motion to acknowledge it. Instead, he found himself staring at her giggling figure, entranced by even the slightest of moves by her as if everything was moving in slow motion. For the second time in the past ten minutes he found himself marveling in her simplistic beauty. He could feel an oddly familiar feeling churning in the pit of his stomach and that’s when it hit him. This time he found that he could no longer deny it to himself anymore. It was like in one of those cheesy romance movies where the camera switched to slow motion and a sugary sweet love song echoed from somewhere in the distance. He was finally admitting to it. He wasn’t sure when exactly it had happened or how, but the surge of emotion that ran through him was a sensation that he hadn’t experienced in quite some time. An emotion that he thought had only been his imagination. Somewhere along the line, he’d fallen back in love with Alyssa.

The realization scared the shit out of him. Now that he’d finally admitted it to himself, the more frightening reality of what he should do about it hit him full force. For the first time in the last few days, the situation the two of them had placed themselves in suddenly felt all too real. Yes, they’d spoken a number of times about her moving out to LA after the tour and slowly resuming their relationship. Hadn’t he even bought the condo just for her? Yet, it still felt a little surreal to him, like it was nothing but a wild fantasy they had tossed around. But it was really happening. And a lot quicker than he had anticipated too.

He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he almost completely forgot his whereabouts until Alyssa’s voice pierced through his confusion. “Nick? Are you okay?” she asked, sounding concerned.

He did the best he could do shrug his muddled thoughts away and paste on a fake grin. “Yea, I’m fine… Just zoned out or something I guess. You know me and my attention span.”

Alyssa chuckled. “Boy, do I know… But seriously, you got kind of quiet there for a moment. Not quite the reaction I expected considering I just made a joke.”

“I’m sorry,” he apologized as he stood up. “I think I should probably start getting ready myself for tonight. I still need to shower and stuff.”

Alyssa seemed to pick up on the new awkward tension in the air. “Oh yea, right.” She scrambled to pick up her makeup that was scattered all over the bathroom counter. “I’ll just continue this in one of the bedrooms and the bathroom can be all yours. By the time you’re done showering and getting dressed I should be just about ready anyway.”

“Okay, sounds good to me,” Nick told her as he watched her finish gathering up her things. With one last half smile in his direction, Alyssa headed out into the hall, leaving him alone in the bathroom.

Sighing in relief, he shut the bathroom door behind him and pressed his back against it. Sliding down onto the floor he sat with his knees drawn into his chest for what seemed like hours, the only thought echoing over and over again through his head being, What am I going to do?

He didn’t know how much time had passed before he finally found the energy to peel himself off of the floor and to start the shower. All he knew that tonight was going to be very interesting. Should he play it off like nothing had changed? Or should he try to find a way to tell her?