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Author's Chapter Notes:

Sean is deployed to Iraq. Nick has a meeting with his publicist.


Chapter 19 - The Power of Goodbye


            The guilt that Alyssa harbored over cheating on Sean with Nick did not fade away as easily as she'd hoped, and the next few days were harder on her than she'd ever imagined. Thankfully enough once Monday rolled around, Alyssa still had school to distract herself with. There was only about another week or two left before school let out for summer, and Alyssa was beginning to regret choosing not to volunteer to teach summer school. At least it would be something to get her mind off of the mess that was her personal life. Teaching became her escape from reality. Her classroom was the one place she could go and pretend that she was anyone else, but herself.


            She'd successfully managed to avoid Sean as much as she possibly could. So far, if he noticed her irregular behavior, he hadn't brought it up with her. She knew that it was only a matter of time though before he began to realize that something was up, and Alyssa wasn't sure how much longer she could keep the ugly truth inside. She could only pray that something would come up to make her inner struggle easier to fight.


            In some cruel, perverse way, God answered her prayers. It was only a few days before they were due back at the clinic for their follow up appointment to discuss their test results, when Sean arrived home from work one day looking pale and pensive. As soon as she saw the look in his eyes, she knew that the day that they had been fearing since mid- October had finally arrived. So, she wasn't at all surprised when he made the announcement that could potentially change their lives forever.


            "It's official. I'm going to Iraq. I ship out next weekend."


            Alyssa hadn't exactly known how to react. On one hand even though she'd known that him being deployed was inevitable, she couldn't help but to think that somehow this was all her fault, like her unfaithfulness had caused it to happen. Yes, she knew she should be grateful that he hadn't been taken from her sooner, but she couldn't deny the feeling of bad karma when it came to the timing of it all. Then there was actually the part of her that as cold as it sounded was actually relieved. Without him around for a while, it would certainly make it easier on her to put the past behind her. Of course if God forbid anything happened to him over in Iraq, she wouldn't be able to live with herself. The guilt that she'd been carrying would only grow to be ten times worse.


            They'd talked over what exactly they should do about their upcoming doctor's appointment. Sean didn't want anymore bad news before he left for Iraq and he'd pointed out that no matter what the results read, there wasn't much they could do at this point to change their fate. Besides, he didn't want to spend what little time they had left together in a doctor's office receiving potentially upsetting news. He urged Alyssa to reschedule the appointment until after he left, so that at least she'd be able to find out what the problem might be for future reference. She'd already called to cancel their appointment, but at the time chose not to reschedule, promising that she would be in touch. She doubted she ever would go back on her own.


            Their last few days together flew by all too quickly for Alyssa. It was strange, but knowing that he was going to be leaving made it easier for her to be around him. All she needed to do was pretend as if nothing had changed between them for a few days and then he'd be out of sight and hopefully at least a little out of mind. Then maybe she could begin to muddle through her confused emotions regarding her feelings for Nick. She hadn't spoken to Nick since sneaking out of the condo that morning, but he'd called her numerous times. There had even been a few calls on her cell that had been from a restricted number who she was more than positive was him trying to reach her. With Sean leaving, she could only deal with one hardship at a time.


            She and Sean's last night together was bittersweet. They'd tried to make it as romantic as possible, opting for a quiet, intimate dinner at home, versus going to a crowded restaurant and being surrounded by happy people. Then of course afterwards Alyssa knew that there was no way that she would be able to excuse herself from the farewell sex that was just expected. This time though, she was able to muster up at least a little bit of eagerness. As dead as their relationship had been as of lately, and as tainted as she felt after sleeping with Nick, she had still cared about Sean a great deal at one time. To think that he could possibly not make it back alive from Iraq was enough for her to be able to temporarily push her guilt aside and make love to him for what could very well be the very last time. She did it more to provide herself with a sense of closure than anything else.


            After it was all over, and the enormity of what was about to happen to him fully hit her, Alyssa couldn't help but to burst into tears. Always one to comfort her, Sean had held her close and stroked her back, trying to console her. But it was impossible. Alyssa was just simply inconsolable. He didn't understand that she wasn't just crying because he was leaving her to fight a dangerous war for their country. She was crying because she'd failed him as a wife. Not only did she disappoint him by not being able to bear any of his children before this point, but she'd gone off and found comfort in the arms of another man; a man that Sean despised. And through it all he didn't suspect for one moment that she'd been unfaithful to him at all. If anything, he thought she was just taking his leaving very roughly. If only he'd known the real reason for her tears.


Finally somewhere in the middle of the night she'd finally cried herself to sleep only to be awoken a few hours later to have to go with him to the airport to see him off. The entire morning passed her by as if she was in a fog, until finally she found herself standing with him at the air force base, realizing that they only had a few precious moments left together.


            "I promise that I'll try to keep on touch the best that I can," Sean began, breaking the awkward silence between them. "I'll call whenever I can get near a phone and I packed my laptop and my webcam, so we can talk through e-mail and instant messages and stuff."


            Alyssa just nodded. She should be used to tearful airport goodbyes by now. Lord knows she'd had more than her share of them from her experience dating Nick in the past. But then again this was a different situation entirely. On each of these occasions when she'd seen Nick off on his next tour or overseas recording session, she always knew that he'd definitely be back eventually. With Sean going over to Iraq, Alyssa didn't have that automatic guarantee. There was always that possibility that he'd return home in a body bag instead.


            Sean sighed at her silent reply. Obviously he seemed frustrated by her lack of words and was beginning to run out of things to say to keep the conversation going. "Lyss, please say something," he begged. "This could be our last five minutes together and I'm already running out of things to say to you. Please tell me what's going on in that head of yours."


            Alyssa sadly looked back up at the pleading expression in his eyes. His cleanly pressed uniform made the reality of the moment that much more severe. If only she could tell him what was really going on in her head at the moment. If only she could admit to him the guilt that she was feeling over his departure. How she felt that this was somehow her punishment for sleeping with Nick. Somehow though, she got the feeling that now was not the time or place to admit to her infidelity, so instead she did the best to push those feelings aside and focus in on the fears that she could admit to him. "I'm sorry I'm so quiet. I guess that it just hasn't really sunk in until just now that this is it. You're really leaving," she tearfully admitted. "It's not like I shouldn't have been prepared. We both knew that this day would come, but now that's it finally here it just feels really surreal."


            Sean looked at her sympathetically as he wrapped his arms protectively around her and pulled her body close to his. "I know. I can barely believe it either. It just feels like a scene out of some bad war movie or something. I don't think it's really going to hit me until I'm on the plane."


            Alyssa broke her gaze with him and focused down on the ground sniffling. "I'm sorry that I disappointed you. I feel like I failed as a wife because I wasn't able to give you the one thing you really wanted."


            He frowned appearing confused. "What do you mean? How did you disappoint me?"


            "I wasn't able to get pregnant. I know how badly you wanted to a child and now you might never get that chance," she explained. "I feel like it's my fault. That I shattered your dream."


            Sean looked startled by her confession and immediately reached down to cup her chin, so that he was sure that she was looking at him straight in the eyes. "Hey, I need you to know that I don't blame you, okay? I'll admit that I really did want a child before this point, but maybe it just wasn't meant to be. It's just not the right time for us and I'm sure that when I get back and things settle down it'll happen like it's supposed to. Besides..." He paused letting his hands drift down to her stomach. "Who knows? For all we know we could have a little son or daughter in there already and not even know it yet."


            Alyssa tightened her lips, but nodded in agreement as she reached up to brush away a few stray tears that had trickled down her cheeks. She would love to have shared Sean's optimism, but she found it impossible. After eight months of unsuccessfully trying to be become pregnant, she doubted that in the last few weeks it had just magically happened, but she didn't want to tell him this. She was just opening her mouth to say something in response when she heard the sound of Ian's voice a few feet away where he stood with Kim and their newborn son Gavin. "Sean, they're starting to get ready to board so you may want to wrap it up."


            "Thanks man," he shouted back, turning his attention back to Alyssa. Even he sounded a bit choked up. "Well, I guess this is it."


            The tears that Alyssa had fought on and off broke free as she tightened her grip around him. "Please try to stay safe," she begged. "I don't want to see you on the local news unless it's for doing something heroic."


            "I'll try," he promised. He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and bent down to kiss her softly and as slowly as he possibly could. Alyssa closed her eyes and felt a chill go through her as she realized that this really could be their last kiss. Reluctantly, he pulled away squeezing her hand in his. "God, I'm going to miss you."


            "I'll miss you too," she echoed, as their hands drifted apart.


            "I'll try to talk to you as soon as I can."


            Alyssa just nodded. "Good-"


            Sean held up his hand to stop her. "Don't say goodbye. It's too final. I'm coming back. I promise you that. I just don't want to end it like this."


            "Okay," she agreed, biting her lip. She looked up and saw that other soldiers were beginning to prepare for boarding. Sean just bent down and gave her another light kiss on her cheek before gathering his belongings and shooting her one last smile, turned around and started heading towards the gate.


            Alyssa watched him go through a film of tears. No matter what anyone said she was certain that this was God's way of punishing her for what had happened between her and Nick. All she knew that was of anything happened to him over in Iraq she really would not be able to live with herself. If he was killed, in her eyes it may just as well have been herself that pulled the trigger.

            Nick trudged through the lobby of the office building that housed his publicist Diane Hopkins. Diane, a sharp witted, no nonsense woman, had been managing his career since even before he'd released his solo album and had gotten him through some pretty messy media scandals in the past. He smirked, thinking about all the shit he'd gotten into that Diane had bailed him out of throughout the years. He definitely had made sure that her job was anything, but boring. Between arrests, his partying lifestyle, and of course the whole Paris situation, he'd had to withstand a lot of Diane's ranting lectures in his younger days, but in more recent years he'd definitely calmed down a lot, especially since marrying Shayla. So, when Diane had called him that morning, demanding that he meet with her immediately, he found himself a little confused as to what she wanted. As far as he knew he hadn't done anything that would require "immediate damage control" as she liked to call it, so he was at a loss. But he knew from experience that it was no use arguing with the woman. When she said she needed to speak with him she always meant business.


            Not much had changed for him in the past week or two since he'd discovered that Shayla had lied to him about the baby and he'd hooked up with Alyssa. He was still laying low at the condo although he heard from several of his friends that Shayla was frantic in trying to find out where he was. It might have seemed cowardly, but he still wasn't ready to face her just yet. He'd called his lawyer yesterday to inquire about starting the divorce proceedings between the two of them, but hadn't yet made any solid plans to meet with him about drawing up the papers yet. He wasn't looking forward to it. Somehow he had a feeling that Shayla would do everything in her power to make the process difficult for him. He didn't want a nasty divorce plastered over the tabloids, but he also knew that it would be unrealistic to expect their marriage to end amicably.


            He took the elevator straight up to the floor of Diane's office and the moment he walked in the door, her secretary motioned for him to head right in. When he finally entered her private office, he found her standing behind her desk, her arms firmly crossed in front of her. Feeling as if he was a kid being sent to the principal's office, Nick slunk down in the seat across from her desk. Somehow he got the distinct feeling that whatever this meeting was about it was going to result in him getting bitched out. Trying to break the ice he laughed nervously. "Whatever it is, I didn't do it."


            Diane did not appear amused by his sense of humor. "Yes Nick, I forgot. You never do anything. You just have a remarkable talent for getting yourself into the most compromising situations, while still remaining completely innocent."


            "Well, I try," he sheepishly replied, his eyes darting around the office nervously. "But seriously... What's this all about? I swear I've been good lately. Okay, maybe there were those tabloid pictures of Alyssa and I a few months ago, but that's blown over by now and it wasn't that big of a deal."


            His publicist seemed to ignore his question for the moment just narrowing her eyes at him before she began to explain herself. "I spoke with your lawyer today."


            "Oh?" Nick wasn't exactly sure what her having a conversation with his lawyer had to do with her demanding he come down and speak with her the first thing that morning, but he had a feeling that there had to be some unforeseen crisis he didn't know about.


            "When were you planning on informing me that you were thinking about divorcing your wife?"


            There it was. There was the reason she felt the need to leap into damage control mode. He really should've known better by now than to assume that his publicist wouldn't freak out about his plans to divorce Shayla. Obviously it would have some kind of impact on his public image. He sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Good news sure travels fast, huh?"


            "Cut the crap Nick and get to the point. What's the deal with you and Shayla?"


            Seeing that he was defeated, Nick took in a deep breath and began his explanation. "Well, without disclosing too many details, Shayla did something to ruin any ounce of trust I did have in her, and I've decided that I can't be married to somebody that I can't trust. I would've told you sooner, but this was only something I decided in the last week or two. Right now I'm staying at one of my other places and I only called my lawyer to inquire about divorce proceedings. Nothing is finalized just yet."


            Diane looked strangely relieved. "Great!" She clapped her hands together. "So, then it's still not too late to talk you out of making a very grave mistake."


            "Talk me out of what?" Nick looked shocked at her reaction. "You dragged my ass down here to try and convince me not to divorce my wife after she did the unthinkable to me all because you think I'm making a mistake?"


            "Oh, I don't think. I know," she confidently replied. "Nick do you realize what marrying Shayla has done for your career? Just a few years ago people saw you as a joke. Just another notorious pop star with a messed up family. Your antics were entertaining, yes, but they didn't exactly win you any brownie points with the media either. Then all of a sudden you meet Shayla and you turn yourself around. You lost weight... Projected a more positive image of yourself... People began to give you a second chance. You and Shayla make a gorgeous couple and people love that. Your approval rating is way up right now. If the two of you were to break it off now... Well, I'm afraid that it would just undo everything you've worked so hard to put behind you."


            Nick just rolled his eyes. "My approval rating? Who the fuck am I? The President?"


            Diane glared at him. "No, but like it or not Nick, you are in the public eye. You and Shayla are both celebrities and even if you don't realize it, people scrutinize every move you make. A divorce would be disastrous to both your careers. Do you really want your personal affairs to be dragged out into the middle of some supermarket tabloid for everyone to read?"


            "Well when you put it that way..."


            The older woman just sighed as she switched tactics, picking up a copy of US Weekly and flipping to a page that contained a picture of him and Shayla, happily smiling at a red carpet event only a few weeks prior. "Read the caption for me," she demanded.


            "Backstreet Boy Nick Carter and his entertainment reporter wife, Shayla showing their faces at the MTV Movie Awards last month in LA," he read in a dull voice. "The couple who just recently celebrated their second anniversary together says that the secret to keeping their relationship so strong is being supportive of one another's careers and keeping open communication with each other." He stopped and snorted. "Yeah, total bullshit."


            "And this one," she continued, opening up another magazine. This picture was a paparazzi photo of him and Shayla shopping in a children's clothing store in downtown LA. The picture was actually from a few months ago and they'd been shopping for Grace's birthday present back in March.


            Nick cleared his throat. "E! news correspondent Shayla Carter and her husband, Nick were recently spotted shopping at Kitson Baby. Sources say that they purchased clothing for a friend's toddler, but they did linger over the infant section. Could there possibly be a baby Carter on the way?"


            "See? America is already waiting for the two of you to start popping out some kids." Nick just bit his lip. The subject of the two of them having children was a very touchy one, especially in light of recent events. He wasn't about to tell Diane though that was the reason he was considering divorcing Shayla. He felt like it would do neither one of them any good to spill their personal matters out into the open like that. He'd prefer to keep the subject as private as possible.


            Diane reached over and opened up one last magazine. She flipped it open and rifled through the pages until she reached the article she was looking for and placed it underneath Nick's nose. The title read, "Ten Hollywood Couples Who Have Exceeded Our Expectations." In the first box on the page, he noticed his own name along with Shayla's in bold red print with a picture of the two of them besides it. Luckily, for this particular excerpt Diane took it upon herself to pick up the magazine and read the words to him. "We have to admit that when he heard that Backstreet Boy Nick Carter was getting married, our bets were that the marriage would last maybe six months tops. It's no secret that that Nick loves to party and let's face it; his past relationships haven't been all that successful. (Paris Hilton, anyone?) Surprisingly enough, married life seems to be suiting Nick well. He and his wife Shayla (who you probably recognize from E! News) just celebrated their second anniversary, shattering most of our expectations. Both Nick and Shayla have had successful years career wise with Nick wrapping up another world tour with the Backstreet Boys and starting his own record label, and Shayla beginning production on her own weekly entertainment show, slated to premiere on E! this fall. And wouldn't you know it? The two of them are actually beginning to grow on us! It should be exciting to see what's next around the corner for this couple.'


            Nick sighed. "Okay. I get it. For once the media actually approves of who I'm with and what I'm doing with my life. They like me with Shayla, but they're only seeing one side of things. They're seeing what they want to see. They don't know what goes on between us behind closed doors at home."


            "You do realize though that if you and Shayla get divorced at this point, you're going to be the one they are going to pin the blame on, right?" Diane pointed out. "Especially since there really haven't been any telltale signs of the two of you having problems. They're going to assume that you being your typical self ran out and cheated on her."


            "I didn't cheat on her!" Nick insisted. Well, at least not before she betrayed me, he silently added, although he didn't exactly consider sleeping with Alyssa ‘cheating' on his side since he'd already at that point told Shayla that he didn't want her in his life. "If anything she's the one to blame. She-"


            Diane held up a hand to cut him off. "I don't know what she did. All I'm trying to say is that I think you should give this whole divorce thing a second thought. I don't care if she cheated on you or whatnot, but there are less drastic measures. Like marriage counseling for instance."


            "And how exactly is the precious media going to react when they find out that Shayla and I are going for marriage counseling?" he challenged.


            The older woman just shrugged. "It could be a positive. It worked for Ryan and Reese. The media had a lot of respect for them when they announced they were seeing a therapist."


            Nick rolled his eyes. "In case you've forgotten counseling didn't work for Ryan and Reese. They're divorced now. So, obviously it couldn't have helped too much."


            "At least they tried, which is more than I can say for you. Nick, you do realize how much bad publicity a divorce is going to give you, right? And maybe it doesn't bother you, but bad publicity for you directly means bad publicity for your label as well. Think about how your artists are going to be affected being so closely tied with your name? It could destroy their careers before they've even started. Do you really think anyone is going to take them seriously?"


            He hadn't thought about that one. He froze for a moment realizing that for once she actually had a valid point there. His mind drifted back to Kina for the moment. They'd been hauling ass to get her album recorded and he was currently pushing for a late fall release, just in time for the holidays. After all the hard work she'd put in, Nick would feel horrible of her album bombed not because it sucked, but because her single didn't get radio play all because people thought he was a joke. He couldn't do that to Kina or to any of the other artists who were preparing to record their albums. Maybe he should hold off on the divorce until at least Kina released her first single?


            Seeing that she'd gotten to him Diane triumphantly grinned. "You see where I'm coming from now, huh? I'm not asking you to think about this to make your life miserable. I just think that you should think this over more carefully. My suggestion would be for you to informally separate for the time being if you need to. Maybe the time apart will be just what you need to fix whatever problems you're going through."


            Nick couldn't think of any more reason to argue with her. He sighed, knowing that he was defeated at least for the time being. In no way was he ready to forgive Shayla, but maybe he would give it a little more time before working on those divorce papers just yet. He wasn't sure if he was quite ready to deal with the media backlash and he sure as hell didn't want it interfering with the emergence of his label. He just needed a little more time to figure out a plan for dealing with the situation when it arose. "Fine you win," he grudgingly admitted. "I'll think it through a little more carefully and get back to you in a few weeks when I decide what I want to do."


            Diane looked smug as she triumphantly grinned. "I knew that you'd see it my way eventually."

            The rest of the month of June was difficult for Alyssa without Sean around. As much as she wished he'd just disappear before being deployed to Iraq, she soon realized the house was empty without him. She'd lived alone for a large chunk of her twenties, so she figured that this shouldn't be much different. Unfortunately, it was much harder than she had originally thought. With the school year now officially finished, Alyssa found that she had nothing but free time on her hands; free time that she spent a large part of playing the blame game with herself. As guilty as she felt, there was that tiny devilish voice in her head that reminded her with Sean gone it would make it so easy for her to explore the new territory that had been opened up to her by sleeping with Nick. It took a lot of willpower, but she managed to somehow ignore it. As tempting as the idea was, it wouldn't be solving anything, just opening up a new can of worms. She'd already caused enough problems in her marriage, so to turn it into a full blown affair would be just asking for trouble. So, she continued to ignore any attempt at contact from Nick and tried to get by day by day.


            Callie and Kim turned out to be a great source of comfort, since the two other women were going through exactly the same thing as her. Both of their husbands had been sent off to Iraq at the same time Sean was and in some ways their situation was even worse because both of them were forced to raise children on their own for the time being. Kim especially was finding it difficult to balance a newborn and a job all on her own. Now that school was out, Alyssa had offered to watch Gavin while Kim went to work during the week, which worked out well for the time being. Once September came though, Kim feared that she'd have to either look into daycare or quit her job.


As awkward as being around an infant was for Alyssa, she actually found her childcare gig comforting in a weird way. She felt good being able to do something to help out a friend, and taking care of Gavin did give her a little bit of something to get her mind off her situation with Sean and Nick. It may have sounded a little crazy, but sometimes Alyssa liked to pretend as if Gavin was really her son. She liked people mistaking her for a mother when she bought him along for her daily errands. It only made her more anxious for the day that she'd have a child of her own to care for.


Before she knew it July had already begun and it was 4th of July weekend. This year the holiday fell on a Saturday and instead of taking up Izzy on her offer of attending a party at her house, Alyssa opted to just invite Callie, Kim, and the kids over for a small barbeque. She was too scared of Nick showing up and she definitely did not want to face him. She figured that she probably couldn't hide from him forever, but it was tempting to try. Her impromptu party had went well and at the moment the three women were sitting on Alyssa's porch, Alyssa and Callie sipping beer as they watched Callie's two children, Richard and Carly, catch lightening bugs on the front lawn in paper cups. Gavin was inside sleeping although Kim had taken the baby monitor outside with her, expecting him to wake up any minute now from the loud noise of the fireworks already beginning to go off.


            A large burst of bright color exploded against the black sky and the women watched as both Carly and Richard gazed up at the sky in astonishment at the sight. Alyssa noticed a sad far away look on Callie's face as she watched the reaction of her children to the fireworks. Their eyes locked and Callie sighed as she took a sip of her beer. "Steve should be here to see this," she wistfully stated. "Yea, I could snap picture after picture to send him, but it still wouldn't be the same."


            Kim and Alyssa just nodded in agreement, both understanding exactly where she was coming from. "How are the kids reacting to Steve being gone?" Alyssa curiously asked. "How did you explain it to them?"


            "It's been a little rough," she explained, playing with her beer bottle. "They're still so young that they don't really fully understand what's going on. Rich is so little that it doesn't seem to affect him too much. He asks where Daddy is every few days and I've just been telling him that Daddy had to go on a trip for work and he won't be back for a long time. He seems to accept that, but Carly is more difficult. She's at that age where she's full of questions." Callie smirked. "Do you know she actually asked me if Steve was on vacation the other day? She got so upset because she thought that ‘Daddy had went off to Disney World' without us. Ironically, he's in the farthest place from Disney World. I tried to explain to her that he wasn't on vacation, but he was actually sent to another country for a few months to try and help the people there. She keeps coming up with new questions to ask and I'm always struggling to find ways to answer them. Now she's having trouble sleeping at night without Daddy to tuck her in... It's been a fun few weeks."


            "Eesh," Kim responded, shaking her head. "It's so sad to see the effect that this stuff has on kids. It's true though. How do you explain to a young child that their father is out fighting in a dangerous war and you may not ever see him again? You must feel bad for sugarcoating it like that, but there's no other way. You want to still protect their innocence."


            "Exactly. I feel guilty not being entirely truthful, but she's only five. I can't tell a five year old that." Callie stopped and sighed. "Sometimes I really hate this country for dragging on this damn war. I know it's fucked up to say, especially on today of all days, but this should've ended years ago. How many more families have to be torn apart before the government decides this is senseless and finally just gives up? I mean look at you for instance Kim. You and Ian just had Gavin barely even a month ago and already he's gone. Now you're struggling to raise an infant on your own and thankfully you have your family and Alyssa and I to help, but its still got to be stressful for you, right?"


            Kim nodded her head. "More than you imagine. I guess I should be thankful because Gavin really is a pretty easy baby. I mean I've heard some mothers having to wake up every hour on the hour, but of course he doesn't sleep through the night yet. At first, Ian was around to get up with me when it came down to feeding, but now that it's just me, it's definitely a lot harder. I'm exhausted almost all of the time. Don't get me wrong... I feel so blessed to have Gavin and I'm still in awe that he belongs to me, but I have to admit that being a mother is a lot harder of a job than I thought it would be. Especially without Ian around to help out. I mean I look at some of my other friends my age and it's like we're in two different worlds. They're finishing up college and starting out their careers, buying themselves nice things... Most of them are still single and kids are the furthest thing on their minds right now. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I was better off not getting married so young and going off to college. Does that make me a selfish person?"


            "Not at all," Alyssa assured her. "I give you credit. When I was twenty-three and twenty-four I couldn't handle everything that you're going through. When I was younger I thought I could. I was even engaged for a bit at twenty-one and twenty-two, but I realize now it was probably a good thing we broke it off. We definitely weren't ready at the time."


            "You were engaged to Sean at that young? What happened?" the younger woman asked curiously. Alyssa winced, almost forgetting that she had kept most of her personal past a secret from her two neighbors.


            She shook her head. "No, I didn't know Sean at the time. It was to someone else. Anyway the point is it's very tough to make a decision like that at such a young age and I think it takes a certain person to handle marriage and a child at your age," she quickly changed the subject. "You're doing a great job."


            Kim looked relieved by the compliment. "Thanks Alyssa. That means a lot to me. It's like the past two or three years of my life just flew by like crazy. One minute I was engaged, and then I got married, and then before I knew it I was already pregnant. I almost wish that things had just happened a little bit slower is all." She paused. "I'm just afraid now that Gavin might grow up never knowing his father."


            "You can't think that way Kim. You have to think positively. I know it's hard because I have the same fears with Rich and Carly, but you have to be strong," Callie urged her.


            Alyssa now felt guiltier than ever sitting in between the two of them. Here these girls are worrying that their children might never get a chance to know their fathers and I'm meanwhile almost glad that Sean is gone for now, she thought to herself, taking a large gulp of her beer. I'm so selfish. I could have it so much worse. "Wow... I don't think I've ever realized just how hard this is on you guys too," she finally spoke up. "I've been so wrapped up in being depressed about not getting pregnant; I guess this might just be a blessing in disguise."


            "Oh, we didn't mean to make it sound like your problems are insignificant compared to ours," Callie jumped to apologize.


            "Absolutely!" Kim agreed, nodding her head. "I mean your situation sucks too. At least we have our children to help us get by and you don't even have that. Plus Sean leaving now really is bad timing for you. You guys haven't even hit the one year mark, right?"


            Alyssa slowly nodded. "It'll be our one year anniversary next weekend. And my birthday is towards the end of the month."


            "Ouch," Callie sympathized. "Well, if you need anyone to distract you, you're welcome to give me a call and we can hang out."


            "Or me! Sometimes it does get a little lonely when Gavin actually is sleeping."


            "Thanks girls. I may just take you up on that offer." Raising her beer bottle she rolled her eyes as she proclaimed a toast. "I guess we can say Happy fucking Birthday America, right?"

            "I'll drink to that!" Callie enthusiastically agreed as she clinked her bottle against Alyssa's and Kim's water bottle.