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Author's Chapter Notes:

Alyssa attends the wedding of an old flame.

Prologue – Never Again

I hope the ring you gave to her turns her finger green
I hope when your in bed with her, you think of me

May 2007

It was the perfect day for a wedding. The California temperature was warm, but not too hot, and nice breeze blew off the ocean, letting the smell of salt permeate in the air. The scene looked like something out of a movie. The guests were seated on rows of white chairs at top of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. And there were many guests. This was big news, the wedding of a Backstreet Boy and a well known entertainment news correspondent. There were photographers everywhere snapping pictures of what was sure to be in every celebrity gossip magazine and shown all over television within the next couple of days.

And in the midst of it all with a sullen expression on her face sat Alyssa Martinelli, arms firmly crossed across her chest, staring straight ahead. Next to her sat her best friend Isabelle Richardson who had her one year old daughter, Grace propped onto her lap. I can’t believe I let Izzy talk me into coming to my ex boyfriend’s wedding, Alyssa thought to herself in disbelief. Furthermore I can’t believe that Nick is getting married period. Was this really the same man who she’d broken up with a little more than a year earlier because of his problems with commitment? She’d told him that he needed to make some major changes in his life, but Alyssa doubted that he’d turned himself around so much in a little more than a year that he was ready for marriage. She had a feeling that he was making a big mistake. Not that it was any business of hers anyway.

I would never wish bad things, but I don't wish you well
Could you tell, by the flames that burned your words

“I can’t believe that I let you convince me to come here,” Alyssa finally said out loud.

“You’re here to show him that you’ve moved on,” Izzy tried to assure her. “You’re over him, so why would you care if he marries someone else. Besides its very classy to show up here with your head held up high. It shows dignity and there must have been some reason why he invited you.”

“You’re right,” she agreed and sat up a little straighter in her seat. “So, have you ever met the lucky bride?”

Izzy nodded her head. “Only once or twice though, so I haven’t completely felt her out yet. She seems nice.”

“She’s in the entertainment business and she’s blonde. That’s enough for me,” Alyssa snottily stated.

“She’s a correspondent for E! News. I hardly consider that to be of celebrity status,” her friend pointed out. “It sounds to me like someone’s jealous…”

“I’m not jealous!” Alyssa insisted. “I’m just interested in Nick’s welfare and based upon his track record with blondes that happen to be in the entertainment business I see reason for concern.”

Izzy just shook her head. “Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I found no reason to really dislike Shayla when I met her. She seemed like a really nice woman. She started off behind the scenes at E! and she actually worked on Nick’s reality show. That’s where they met and it kind of just went from there. Then she got promoted to working in front of the camera and before I knew it they were engaged.”

“Don’t you think that’s a little funny though? How fast things seemed to progress between the two of them? I think it’s a little too soon to be thinking about marriage. I mean I’ve been seeing Sean and marriage is the farthest thing from our minds right now.”

“You’ve been seeing Sean for only a few months now. It’s hardly long enough to consider being serious yet,” Izzy pointed out and then shrugged. “Maybe they just genuinely fell in love. It happens like that sometimes.”

Alyssa just scowled and Izzy continued. “I know you don’t want to hear this Lyss, but maybe he and Shayla just have a deeper connection than he had with you. If you’re really all that concerned about his welfare you’d support him and handle yourself like a friend today.”

“Says the woman who stopped talking to Nick for a while when he was in his destructive phase,” she muttered under her breath.

“He’s changed so much, Alyssa,” Izzy tried to tell her. “You’d be so proud of him. He’s really become a better person. He’s dropped a good thirty or forty pounds and he’s all into living a healthy lifestyle now. He’s stopped smoking and dramatically cut down on the drinking. Wait until you see him again. He looks great.”

I never read your letter
'Cos I knew what you'd say
Give me that Sunday school answer
Try and make it all OK

Alyssa just ignored her friend’s description of the new and improved Nick and went back to her sulking. She could still distinctively remember the shock she had felt when she’d come home from work one day to find that fancy thick envelope with the carefully drawn calligraphy on the front. She’d just about died when she saw Nick’s name linked with that of another woman’s and she realized that it was a wedding invitation. Why would he be so cruel as to invite her to his wedding? Was this his way of throwing it into her face that he’d successfully moved on from her?

Underneath the invitation there was a separate letter addressed to her in Nick’s scrawled handwriting. Not having the courage to read it she’d held it up with the intent to rip it into pieces, but then stopped. She didn’t have the courage to read what Nick had to say on the inside, but something stopped her from completely destroying it. Instead she’d stuck it between some books on her bookcase where it haunted her for months leading up to the wedding.

She wasn’t even going to attend until Izzy had called her up wanting to know if she was going. She’d recently talked to Nick who had mentioned that he hadn’t yet gotten any response back from Alyssa. Izzy finally admitted that it was her who had given Nick her new address in North Carolina in the first place. At first Alyssa had been a little upset because the whole point of her moving away was to start over with him out of her life, but Izzy had been persistent and after much pleading had convinced her to suck it up and attend the wedding with her.

“It might be good for you to attend,” she’d pointed out. “I mean if you can sit there and watch him marry someone else then that just proves that you’re completely free of him. Even though it didn’t work out between the two of you, I think you can still be amicable to each other. You guys have shared a lot together even outside of being in a relationship at one time and he just really wants you there to support him. He’s changed so much and I think he really wants you to see that. You’re going to have face him again sooner or later Lyss. Especially since you share so many mutual friends. Besides, the last time I saw you was Grace’s birthday in March, so you’re definitely due out to LA for a visit.”

So Alyssa had finally caved in, but she still hadn’t bothered to read Nick’s sorry excuse for a letter trying to explain himself. As much as she tried to put on a brave front that she was completely over him, on the inside she still had her moments. She’d come to realize that perhaps things with Nick weren’t completely one sided and she to shared some fault in their demise. She knew that she had her own issues to work out and she had definitely been working on them. Moving down to North Carolina had turned out to be a very smart decision for her. With her first year of teaching just about under her belt, Alyssa had learned a lot about herself and was definitely more confident in her abilities career wise. She’d made a few acquaintances in her fellow teachers at school. She’d even started dating again, although not very seriously. After a few disastrous first dates she’d been on during an experiment with the wonderful world of online dating websites, she’d been ready to throw in the towel completely. When her mentor and fellow second grade teacher, Linda had suggested that Alyssa meet her nephew Sean she’d been skeptical at first, but not wanting to hurt Linda’s feelings she agreed to let her set it up. It turned out that Sean was definitely an improvement over all the internet guys she’d been dealing with. He was a marine currently stationed at a base not far from where she lived and they’d been casually dating for about 2 or 3 months now. Sean was definitely a nice guy and treated her like gold, but there was still something that held her back from getting too serious with him. She tried to tell herself it was the fact that he was two years younger than she, which although she knew was completely acceptable nowadays she still had her doubts. Deep down though, she suspected that the real reason she was afraid to give it her all was because with Sean she could see the possibility of a relationship really going somewhere and it scared her. The only other guy she’d ever considered getting that serious with before was Nick, and look how that had turned out.

Was she bitter? Definitely, but she’d never admit that to anyone else.

Does it hurt to know I'll never be there
Bet it sucks, to see my face everywhere
It was you, who chose to end it like you did
I was the last to know
You knew exactly what you would do
And don't say, you simply lost your way
She may believe you but I never will
Never again

Izzy’s voice interrupted her thoughts bring her crashing back into the present. “I think they’re going to be starting soon. Look, there’s Nick up there now. He looks nervous doesn’t he?”

As much as Alyssa didn’t want to look she couldn’t help but not to. Her eyes drifted up towards the end of the aisle until she found herself gazing at a very familiar blonde headed figure. As contradictory as it sounded, in some ways she almost didn’t recognize him. Izzy had been right. He’d lost a ton of weight and now she reckoned to say that he probably was at the thinnest he’d been since she met him. His new appearance took some getting used to, but Alyssa had to admit that he did look good. Even his whole face appeared brighter and happier. Maybe Izzy was right, she sighed in defeat. Maybe he is much happier right now with Shayla than he was with me.

“I told you he looks good now,” Izzy smirked, as she watched the stunned expression on Alyssa’s face.

“Maybe this was a bad idea,” Alyssa just muttered. “Maybe I’m not as ready to do this as I thought I was.”

“Nonsense! You can do this,” she insisted. “And you will. You’re going to sit through this ceremony and swallow your pride and be happy for him. And after the ceremony you’re going to go up and congratulate the both of them sincerely and civilly, because you are a mature adult.”

“I have to actually speak to him?” Her voice squeaked at the thought.

“Yes, you do. I’ll come with you if you want for support, but trust me Lyss. This is for your own good.”

Alyssa just sighed, but didn’t say anything more. In a way she knew that Izzy was right. She needed to face the fact that he was now completely unattainable to her, so that hopefully she could be completely free of him. Then maybe she could consider making a serious commitment to Sean or any other guy for that matter.

The two women were quiet for the next few minutes. Alyssa amused herself with scanning the rows of the other guests, trying to spot other people she knew. She and Izzy had already bumped into Kevin and Melanie earlier, but they weren’t able to find seats together. She spotted Nick’s sister’s sitting up near the front and she already knew that Aaron was in the bridal party. A huge grin came over her face as she spotted Teri and Tricia sitting a few rows away from her. She assumed that both Howie and AJ were also in the bridal party since there was no sign of them. Just then Tricia turned around and spotted her and nudged Teri who also spun around and gasped when she saw Alyssa. Teri quickly waved and mouthed the word “Hi” blowing her a little kiss. Alyssa giggled and was about to mouth something back, but was interrupted by the beginning chords of the wedding march. Sitting back against her seat, she sighed as her fingers nervously played with the hem of her dress. Let’s hope this isn’t too painful.

If she really knows the truth, she deserves you
A trophy wife, oh how cute
Ignorance is bliss

Alyssa sighed as the bridal party began their descent down the aisle. She had to admit that she was sort of curious to see what exactly this Shayla looked like, although she could pretty much imagine. She always used to tease Nick that all his ex girlfriends seemed to resemble each other and how the hell had he wound up with her when she was the exact physical opposite. It seemed stupid now, but Alyssa had really thought that since she was different than any other girl he’d dated, she would be the one he’d wind up with in the end. It hadn’t worked out with any of them, so surely it had to work out with her, right? Looking back, she couldn’t believe how wrong she had been.

As it turned out, the picture of Shayla that Alyssa had envisioned in her head wasn’t very far off track at all. Alyssa critically took in a good look at her as she walked past her row. It was hard to get a clear look at her face because of her veil, but Alyssa was just able to make out her sharp looking features and piercing blue eyes. Her blonde hair was coiled up tightly on top of her head. She was a little shorter than Alyssa had anticipated and surprisingly healthy looking. Even through her veil, Alyssa got the sense that she was beautiful. Her and Nick probably made the quite the couple.

When she finally reached the other end of the aisle and Alyssa saw the way that Nick’s eyes lit up when he saw her, a pang of jealously ran through her. She could remember a time when Nick had used to look at her that way. Now those days were long gone. Putting on a brave face though, she tried her best to concentrate on the start of the ceremony, but she found her mind wandering off. As she watched the two newlyweds she began to wonder how much of Nick’s past did Shayla really know? Did she know about Katie and Serena? Did she know the details surrounding Alyssa’s relationship with him? Did she know that one of the many reasons they’d broken up was because he’d fooled around with her younger sister? And if she did know all of these things, how could she be completely okay with them?

But when your day comes, and he's through with you
And he'll be through with you
You'll die together but alone

In a way she almost felt bad for Shayla. According to Izzy, Nick had turned his life completely around, but had he really? Alyssa found it very hard to imagine that he could possibly commit himself to a lifetime of being with only one person, so quickly and he’d only known her for slightly longer than a year. What was one year compared to the rest of their lives? She didn’t mean to be a pessimist, but she was already willing to take bets on how long the marriage would last. They were both in the public eye. How long it did the average Hollywood marriage last? Three to five years tops?

Izzy must’ve noticed her zoning out because she felt a sharp elbow in her side. “The least you can do is actually pretend to be paying attention,” she hissed. “You look like you really don’t want to be here. Even Grace is looking more interested than you are right now. Put a smile on and suck it up!”

Feeling reduced to the age of a five year old, Alyssa rolled her eyes in her friend’s direction, but sat up a little straighter in her seat and pasted a fake smile across her lips. To the average outsider she looked like she was just another wedding guest, genuinely happy for the new couple, but on the inside she was seething.

Nick Carter stared out at the sea of familiar faces in front of him and felt a film of sweat growing on his palms. Who knew that getting married could be so nerve wracking? And how could Shayla appear so calm and collected beside him? If someone had told him a year ago that in another twelve months he’d be getting married, he’d probably have laughed in their face. Marriage was the furthest thing from his mind after his breakup with Alyssa. He was unsure if he could ever have a comfortable relationship with another woman again. Then Shayla had come along.

When he’d first met Shayla he had no interest in another relationship. He’d just begun filming House of Carters and was finding that although reuniting with his siblings was the first positive thing he’d done in a long time, it was also emotionally taxing. Naturally, they had plenty of issues to work out between each other, and there were some days when Nick wondered if agreeing to do the show was the best decision he’d ever made. Although he was instructed to try and ignore the members of the behind the scenes crew, he started to develop a very close friendship with Shayla. Whenever the cameras were pointed away from him, he could usually be found alone in some nook of the large house talking with her. She was a very good listener and that’s what Nick needed at the moment. She listened to him when he needed to unload about his frustrations with his siblings. She also managed to pull out of him the whole story of his break up with Alyssa and how he regretted so many of the mistakes he’d made with her. She’d kept everything very confidential, and it wasn’t long before Nick began to suspect that he was developing some sort of feelings for her. Still he waited until after production on House of Carters ended to act upon those impulses. He didn’t want to drag her from behind the scenes to in front of the camera and he definitely didn’t want all of America watching as he attempted to start a new romance that he wasn’t even sure he was ready for. Once the shooting was over he took a chance and asked Shayla out on a formal date. Then it had just skyrocketed from there.

It was hard for him to compare his relationship with Shayla to his prior relationship with Alyssa because not only were they two very different women, but he was at very different parts of his life while he was dating each one of them. When he’d been dating Alyssa he’d been a mess. He hadn’t known what he really wanted in life and he had spent far too much time struggling with the recent events of his life. Their break up had been just the wake up call he needed. He supposed in a way he should actually thank Alyssa for it. She’d told him quite simply that he needed to get his act together or he’d wind up losing everything he had. Over time he had realized that to be true. He began to make changes in his life. Besides the reality show and developing a closer relationship with Aaron and his sisters, Nick had definitely decreased his partying and cut down big time on his drinking. Once in awhile he’d drink socially when appropriate, but he definitely learned to do a better job of keeping it all in check. With his new outlook on life, Nick also decided to tackle something that had bothered him almost all of his adult life, his weight. He began watching what he ate and working out more which had resulted in a dramatic weight loss. Alongside all of these positive changes in his life, Nick began working on a new album with the rest of the guys minus Kevin, and had even worked in time to film a movie. For the first time in a long time, Nick actually felt good about himself. Things with him and Shayla had been going amazingly well. She’d stood by him and been extremely supportive of all of his decisions. It seemed crazy to many people, but once things began to come together for him, Nick reached his decision to ask Shayla to marry him. He knew that they hadn’t even been together a year yet, but she’d been such a source of comfort for him the past few months of his transformation he felt positive that she was the right woman for him. The man who had shied away from anything that resembled commitment a year prior finally decided to take the big leap.

Now that he was standing in front of all of their family and friends and about to make her his wife, the enormity of what he was about to do hovered over him. Why are you so nervous? he asked himself. This isn’t even your first wedding. That realization sort of saddened him. He’d had a brief marriage over five years ago to Katie, a Swedish girl he had met while the Backstreet Boys were recording Black and Blue in Sweden. They’d sort of had a mini romance in the six weeks he had been there which at the time had almost destroyed the beginnings of his relationship with Alyssa. He’d chalked it all up to just being a fling and had no intentions of seeing her ever again, but that had all changed when she’d arrived in the US and tracked him down to announce that she was pregnant with their child. The news had devastated him and at the young age of 21 he had no idea how to handle that kind of responsibility. Alyssa had tried to convince him to petition for custody of the unborn child and he’d considered the idea. Then there had been their disastrous trip to the Bahamas which had resulted in Alyssa walking out of his life for the first of many times. Nick had handled the situation the only way his immature 21 year old mind knew how, with alcohol and a woman. He’d called Katie up and sort of proposed to her over the phone. Looking back he realized that Katie had to have known that he was obviously intoxicated, but she’d clearly taken full advantage of the situation. Her visa would only be good for so long and she had hopes of staying in the United States to raise the baby. By marrying him it would ensure that she’d be able to continue to live in the country. Next thing he knew she’d arrived in the Bahamas and Nick had no clue how to tell her that he hadn’t really meant to ask her to marry him. Finally he’d decided that it was his responsibility to own up his mistake and marry her for the sake of their child. It had been the right thing to do under the circumstances.

The marriage had only lasted about three months. Nick hoped for a better track record this time around although the circumstances were clearly different with Shayla. He certainly hoped that things with her wouldn’t wind up in the same way they’d had with Katie.

He hadn’t realized that he had been zoning until he felt Shayla nudge him in the ribs expectantly. He focused himself back into the present and realized that the priest was looking at him as if he expected some sort of response and he noticed that everyone else was silent. Oh shit… Nick felt his face flush like he was a student who had been caught not paying attention in class. Obviously he’s waiting for me to say something and I have no clue what. Figuring he’d go with the most obvious response he could think that would be expected of him he answered in a proud voice, “I do.”

As soon as the words left his mouth he knew he had the wrong answer by the horrified expression on Shayla’s face. He could hear a few snickers from behind him and he immediately felt like a complete ass. “Whoa there, I think you’re getting a little ahead of me,” the priest joked. “I know you just want to kiss the bride, but I just asked you for your vows.”

Nick turned bright red as he rustled through his pockets for the sheet of paper in which he had written his wedding vows on. “Oh yea, I knew that,” he tried to play off. “Sorry I guess I just zoned out for a second there. My constant ADHD strikes again.”

There were a few more chuckles from the guests which Nick took as a sign that he had handled the situation quite well with his touch of humor. He felt Shayla give his hand a reassuring squeeze letting him know that it was okay and finally he began to relax. After getting through a mistake as embarrassing as that and surviving, he had a feeling that everything was going to be okay.

The rest of the ceremony went off without a hitch and before Alyssa realized it was time to head over to the reception. The ceremony had been hard for her to witness, but she’d gotten through it. She’d been one of the first to crack a smile when Nick had wrongly responded “I do” when asked to recite his wedding vows. The moment had just been so classically Nick that she couldn’t help, but to bite her lip to keep from laughing. Although his physical appearance may have changed big time, some parts of him such as his short attention span had stayed exactly the same, which Alyssa actually found refreshing.

The hardest part of the ceremony for her of course had been the ending when she had to watch him kiss Shayla. It wasn’t so much the act itself that had hurt her. She’d seen with her own two eyes Nick kiss another woman in front of her in a much more aggressive manner. It was more of what the kiss represented that had gotten to her. It meant that the two of them were now officially married and that Nick had officially moved on, something that Alyssa was still fighting to do herself. Maybe Izzy had been right. Maybe coming to the wedding and seeing it happen before her eyes would be just the push she needed.

And to think that the most difficult part was still yet to come! She still had to face Nick and Shayla both and congratulate the both of them sincerely. Just the thought brought a sinking sensation to Alyssa’s stomach. Thankfully enough, right after the wedding ended the newly married couple had been whisked away for pictures. Maybe with a little luck they’ll have so many people surrounding them at the reception that it’ll make it impossible to talk to them, she silently hoped.

She’d spent so much of the cocktail hour worrying about talking to him again that she’d downed three glasses of champagne before Izzy had forbid her from taking another glass. “I know you think alcohol might make seeing Nick again a little easier on you, but you definitely don’t want to be tipsy when you do see him. Besides, you’ll be meeting Shayla for the first time and you don’t want to give her a bad impression, do you?”

Alyssa curled her lip in disgust, but had to admit that once again Izzy was correct. The last thing she needed was for Nick’s new wife to think that she was a lush. So, she steered clear from any alcohol and quickly switched over to soda.

The reception started without any excess excitement and Alyssa was delighted to find that her wish seemed to be coming true. From the moment Nick and Shayla arrived cameras were on them and they were swarmed with other well wishers. It wasn’t until after dinner that the two of them appeared to finally be alone.

Seeing their opening, Izzy nudged Alyssa under the table. “They’re alone now. It’s the perfect chance to go over and congratulate them.”

“I don’t want to,” Alyssa whined. “I’m having fun right here.” She’d been catching up on a years worth of gossip with Tricia and Teri which seemed a lot more productive than going up and having to act all happy for Nick and Shayla.

“Come on Alyssa,” Teri urged. “Just go over there and fucking do it and get it over with. Nick will appreciate it and I promise that Shayla really isn’t that bad. You’ll feel so much better once you get it out of the way.”

Alyssa grudgingly stood up from her seat. “Do you think we could make a stop at the bar first?” she asked Izzy. “I think I could use a shot of something before I go over there.”

Izzy shook her head. “Remember what I said. You don’t need alcohol to do this. I promise you that after you do this you can get as sloppy drunk as you want, but you need to at least be able to get through this sober.”

“When you get back we’ll all do a shot, okay?” Tricia suggested.

“Yea, to celebrate the fact that you actually had the balls to be the bigger person here,” Teri added.

“Fine,” Alyssa agreed as she let Izzy lead her over in the direction of Shayla and Nick. As they approached the couple Alyssa could feel her stomach begin to flip flop.

“Hey!” Izzy brightly greeted the two of them. “I’ve been meaning to come over and give the two of you congratulations, but every time I was about to somebody else grabbed your attention.”

“Thanks Iz,” Nick told her as he bent down to give her a friendly peck on her cheek. “You remember Shayla, right?”

“Oh, yes of course!” She turned her attention to Shayla. “By the way you look absolutely gorgeous.”

“Why thank you,” Shayla answered with a smile on her face. Her eyes looked down at the sleeping baby in Izzy’s arms. “And who is this precious angel?”

“That’s Grace, Izzy’s daughter,” Nick explained.

“Oh, isn’t she adorable!” Shayla squealed.

Alyssa hung back a little, watching the scene feeling pretty much invisible. She wanted to speak up and say something, but she wasn’t sure what she could say without sounding completely fake. She didn’t have much time to think any further because she was immediately pulled into the conversation as Nick finally realized she was standing there.

“And this is Alyssa,” he explained to his new wife as he locked eyes with Alyssa.

Shayla’s eyes lit up in recognition, so Alyssa assumed that Nick had told Shayla all about who she was and their past together. Shayla gave Alyssa a warm smile as she took her hand. “It’s great to finally meet you Alyssa. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Hopefully nothing too horrible,” she nervously joked. She critically examined their exchange of words in her head, trying to decide if she was being sincere or not. When it came to Nick she was so used to other women being overly sweet to the point where it felt like an act, but she had to admit that she didn’t feel that with Shayla. She just sounded like she genuinely was happy to meet her. Although she was searching for any small reason to dislike the woman in front of her, there was nothing she could find. “Congratulations,” she managed to stutter out. “It was a really nice ceremony and all.”

“Thanks I’m very happy that you came,” the other woman answered exchanging a glance with Nick. “We both are.”

All of a sudden a slow song began to start in the background. “Hey baby, do you mind if I dance with Alyssa for a moment?” Nick asked.

“No, not at all. Go right ahead.”

“What do you say?” Nick suggested, extending out his hand to Alyssa. “For old times sake.”

“Uhmm, sure…” Alyssa answered, awkwardly taking hold of it. Talk about bizarre… Dancing with her ex boyfriend at his wedding after just meeting his new wife who seemed completely okay with the idea? Not exactly what she’d expected at all.

You wrote me in a letter
You couldn't say it right to my face
Give me that Sunday school answer
Repent yourself away

When they reached the dance floor and Alyssa slid her hands around his neck, familiarity set in and she began to relax a little. “Since when do you ask for permission to dance with another woman?” she teased with a smirk.

Nick just grinned. “Well, I am married now. I have to be a gentleman.” He paused for a moment. “You look good.”

Alyssa bit her lip. “Yea, so do you. I almost didn’t recognize you. Izzy told me everything that you’ve been up to. I must say that I didn’t think I’d ever see the day that you’d be getting married.”

“You and me both,” he nervously laughed. “But really I have you to thank for that.”

“Me?” she squeaked. “Why me?”

“You gave me the wake up call I so desperately needed. You told me that I needed to either shape up or else I’d end up destroying my life,” he explained. “When you left, it put everything in perspective for me and it really hit me that I needed to make some major changes in my life. If you hadn’t done that, I’d have never decided to do the reality show with my siblings and I’d have never met Shayla, so I have to thank you.”

“Oh… Well uhmm you’re welcome I guess.” As if things couldn’t get any weirder now Nick was practically crediting her with leading him to Shayla in the first place? How ironic is life? Alyssa found herself wondering.

“So, how are you doing?” he asked. “I heard you moved down to North Carolina?”

Alyssa just nodded. “Yea… Back last April. I got a job down there teaching second grade and so far it’s been working out really good for me. I have a great group of kids and everyone has been so nice.”

“That’s good.” There was another awkward pause before Nick asked the inevitable question. “What about dating? Any special men in your life?”

Alyssa bit her lip unsure of how to answer that. Yea there was Sean, but she wasn’t sure how special she considered him just yet. She shrugged. “I’m kind of seeing someone right now, but it’s pretty early on in the relationship. We’re not even serious yet.”

“Do you think it could get serious?”

His question startled her. “I don’t know… Maybe someday, but right now I just don’t think I’m ready, plus he’s a Marine and I’m not sure if I want to get involved with somebody in the Armed Forces. I had a friend in college whose boyfriend was in the Air Force and he was over in Afghanistan for awhile. She was a wreck all the time and I’m not sure if I can handle all that worrying and stress.”

“A Marine huh?” he smirked. “I never knew you had a thing for men in uniform?”

Alyssa just rolled her eyes. “Oh yea… That’s why I fell for you. I used to find it so sexy when you and the rest of the guys dressed up in matching outfits.”

Nick just laughed, but then turned serious. “I’m glad that you came. I kind of was afraid that you weren’t going to.”

“I wasn’t,” she admitted. “You can thank Izzy for changing my mind. She insisted that it would be the polite thing to do and would show that I’m over you, but I still support you as a friend.”

“I take it you never read my letter then?”

She looked away. “No, I didn’t. You have to admit the invitation was a shocker enough. I didn’t want to subject myself to any kind of half assed explanation for wanting me here. At the time, I really thought that you sent me the invitation and the letter to ease your own conscious.”

Nick looked thoughtful. “Maybe a little bit, but it was mostly to thank you for helping me turn my life around and that’s the real reason I wanted you here tonight.”

Alyssa realized that was she was speechless. She had no idea how to respond to that. Before she could even open her mouth to say anything, the song ended and Nick’s hands dropped from her waist. “Thanks for the dance and thanks for being here for me.” He dropped a light kiss on her cheek. “Don’t be a stranger, okay?”

She just nodded knowing fully well that she wouldn’t make any attempts to keep in contact with him. She turned around to walk away, but she felt him grab her arm once more. Whipping her head around she turned to face him expectantly.

“One more thing,” he started. “Don’t let what happened with us prevent you from getting involved with someone else.” She opened her mouth to protest, but Nick cut her off. “I know you told me that you’re reluctant to get involved with this guy because he’s a Marine, but I know you better than that. You’re afraid of getting hurt. Don’t be. Go for it.” With that he dropped her hand and walked off the dance floor leaving Alyssa standing there stunned.

How does he know so much about the situation between Sean and I? she wondered. Had Izzy explained the situation to him? No, Izzy doesn’t even entirely know how I feel about Sean. Was Nick really that insightful? Then again he probably did know Alyssa better than almost anyone else. Perhaps he really could read her like a book.

Alyssa spent the rest of the evening getting trashed with Teri and Tricia. She knew the next morning she’d be stuck with one bitch of a hangover, but she needed to feel completely numb. She’d had enough emotion for one day.

Does it hurt to know I'll never be there
Bet it sucks, to see my face everywhere
It was you, who chose to end it like you did
I was the last to know
You knew exactly what you would do
And don't say, you simply lost your way
They may believe you but I never will
Never again

Never Again by Kelly Clarkson