Chapter 8- A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words
It was almost a week later when the shit hit the fan. A few days had passed by in which Nick hadn’t made any attempt to contact Alyssa and she hadn’t tried to call him either. He knew that she went back to work this week, so he figured that she was probably overwhelmed with that at the moment. He had to admit though that he’d had an awesome time hanging out with her that afternoon the week before. He found himself loving the fact that Alyssa appeared so much calmer and relaxed around him than when they’d been dating. It was almost as if she was finally not afraid to be herself around him for once. Too bad it took two break ups and for us to get involved with other people for her to reach this point, he’d thought to himself. But maybe this was how it was meant to be. Maybe Alyssa was right and they were just meant to be nothing more than good friends.
Still, sometimes it was hard to think of her as just a close friend when at one time they’d been so much more than that.
It was the day before Shayla’s birthday and Nick was struggling to come up with something special to do for his wife. He’d felt a little guilty recently because since her bringing up the whole baby thing, things definitely felt a little tense between the two of them, not that they really were around each other very much to notice it. Shayla had begun filming her television series and there were many nights where she’d go right from her job at E! to cover some Hollywood party for her show. Nick could see it in her eyes that the stress of pulling double duty was taking its toll on her. And she wanted to add a baby to the mix? It seemed like she could barely handle everything that she had on her plate as it was. Shayla had definitely been a lot more irritable and cranky these last few weeks which is why Nick was trying so hard to come up with something special for her birthday.
So far, besides the necklace Alyssa had helped him pick out, he’d ordered a bouquet of flowers to be delivered to the house that next morning. That was pretty much as far as he’d gotten. He was just debating on whether he should take her out for dinner or plan something low key and intimate at home when he heard the front door creak open from downstairs. He looked up at the clock that hung in his office. Hmm… It’s a little early for Shayla to be home already, he realized. He stood up from his chair and headed downstairs to make sure everything was okay. He hoped that nothing was wrong. The only reason that Shayla would be home so early was if she wasn’t feeling well and Nick hoped that wasn’t it. It would be a shame if she wound up sick on her birthday.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he spotted Shayla rifling through the pile of that day’s mail. Even though her back was too him he could tell that something wasn’t quite right just by the stiffness of her posture. “Hey baby,” he greeted her. “What are you doing home so early?”
“Don’t ask,” she muttered, not even bothering to glance up at him.
Well, that didn’t sound too good, Nick thought to himself as he came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. “Bad day?”
“You could say that,” she curtly replied.
Putting on his best grin he let his hands wander up to her neck and gently began to rub her tense muscles. “Anything I can do to make it better?”
Shayla wrenched herself out of his grasp and spun around to look at him. “Actually there is something that you can do.”
Nick was a little surprised by the coldness in her voice, but he had no choice but to play along with her. “Sure, anything.”
Shayla walked past him to where her oversized Fendi purse sat on the table. She was silent as she rifled through it for a moment until she retrieved what appeared to be a few pieces of paper. Upon closer inspection, Nick realized that they were some kind of pictures probably printed out from the internet. He just didn’t realize what the pictures were of until Shayla slammed them down in front of him. “You could start by explaining to me what the fuck these are.”
Nick looked at the pictures in shock. Spread out before him were pictures chronicling his whole afternoon that he’d spent with Alyssa last week. There were pictures of the two of them laughing together in the diner. Another one showed her climbing into his Escalade as they left lunch. More pictures showed the two of them walking down the street together. In one particular one it almost looked as if they were about to start holding hands. Fucking paparazzi, he silently cursed as he continued to look through the incriminating photos. I didn’t even notice any cameras or anything. He should’ve been more alert. He should know better than anyone that just because you didn’t see them didn’t necessarily mean that they weren’t there. Some bastard had to have been following him and Alyssa all afternoon and snapping pictures. They even had managed to snap a picture of him helping Alyssa onto his boat. But most damaging was the picture taken in Tiffany’s which of course had been perfectly snapped at the exact moment he had been helping Alyssa take off the necklace. On camera, the moment appeared much more intimate than it actually had been. Now he understood why Shayla was so cold to him.
“Where did you get these?” he calmly asked, not even bothering to try to defend himself at first.
“I’m a fucking entertainment news correspondent Nick! It’s my job to report on every scandalous photo of a celebrity that comes out, especially if it includes somebody else than their spouse! Luckily one of our producers found these photos on the internet and showed them to me before they really got out. By tomorrow they’ll be all over the papers and will probably be one of our top stories.”
“I can explain,” Nick tried to reason with her. “These pictures are not what they look like-“
“Not what they look like? You’re carousing around town with your ex girlfriend, holding hands, buying her expensive jewelry, taking her out on your boat… Which sources say you were on for quite some time. Did you not think that any one would notice you? You’re a married celebrity living in LA! It’s only inevitable that something like this would happen. How long have you been seeing her behind my back?” she asked her icy blue eyes flashing with anger.
“I haven’t been ‘seeing her,’” he insisted. “We’re just friends.”
“And since when do ‘friends’ buy each other diamond necklaces?” Her voice was full of accusation.
Nick sighed. “It wasn’t for her. It’s a long story, but she was just trying it on for me.”
Shayla placed her hands on her hips. “Funny because in some of these pictures you’re spotted with a bag from Tiffany’s, so obviously you bought something.”
“All I can say Shayla is it’s not what it looks like,” he pleaded. “I can’t say anymore than that outside of the fact that Alyssa was helping me out with something.”
“I’ll bet.” Shayla rolled her eyes. “I just want to know when the hell this whole little affair started. Did it start back in January when we bumped into her and her husband at Koi? Or was it going on before that and you’re just a good actor?”
It was at that moment that Nick began to lose his calmness. “Affair? Shayla, Alyssa and I are definitely not having an affair! Like I said before, we’re just friends. We grabbed some lunch together and did a little shopping-“
“But you hate to shop,” she pointed out. “And that doesn’t explain what she was doing in your car and on your boat.”
“If you’d just stop interrupting me, maybe I could explain! We took my car because it made better sense to just drive together instead of taking two separate cars if we’re going to the same damn place. LA has enough traffic as it is. And about the boat since I was out that way anyway I figured I’d stop by and pick up the blankets and stuff we left on there the last time we went out on it. I wasn’t about to make her sit in the car and wait for me.”
“Sources say you were on it for a while. Long enough to-“
Now it was Nick’s turn to interrupt. “We were talking and that’s the truth. It was completely innocent!”
Shayla rolled her eyes at him again. “Innocent? You don’t know the meaning of the word! I should’ve known better. You have a history of being unable to stay faithful. Is there even one relationship you’ve been in where you haven’t cheated?”
“That’s not fair Shayla…My last relationship was years ago,” he tried to defend himself. “I’m a completely different person now.”
“What’s the old saying? Once a cheater always a cheater?”
Nick looked at her desperately. “Since I’ve known you have I ever given you any inclination to doubt me? Have I ever even given you a reason to suspect that maybe I was cheating on you?”
Shayla glanced at him warily. “No, but that was all before your ex girlfriend popped back into your life.”
“So, what is it about Alyssa that makes you so convinced that I’m cheating on you with her?” he questioned.
“Hmm… Well, for starters there was that dress she was wearing that night at Koi. Not only was it distasteful, but you couldn’t keep your eyes off her boobs all throughout dinner.”
“What?” Nick looked perplexed. “That’s not true at all! I think you’re imagining things-“
“You were having conversations with her chest! Then there’s the fact that the two of you are supposedly such good friends, yet why is this only the first time I’m hearing about this friendship?” she continued. “How long have you two been hanging out behind my back? And if you’re just friends why couldn’t you just tell me the truth instead of sneaking around?”
Nick had to admit that she had him there. Why hadn’t he just been honest and up front with Shayla about Alyssa from the start? He should’ve mentioned that he’d talked to Alyssa at Grace’s birthday and they’d agreed to take a stab at being friends. Instead he’d kept it hidden from his wife and now it had came back to bite him in the ass. The ironic part (well besides the part that Alyssa had really been helping him pick out a present for Shayla) was that they really hadn’t even hung out together all that much to begin with. “You’re blowing this all out of proportion Shayla. Trust me… It’s not at all what you think. We’ve only recently began talking again like last month. I bumped into her at Grace’s birthday party. Last week was the first time we’ve hung out together and it was completely unplanned. I was over at Howie’s house and she was there visiting Teri and it just kind of happened. I had no idea that there were any paparazzi following us and that’s the honest truth.”
Shayla placed her hands on her hips still glowering at him. “That still doesn’t explain the necklace though.”
“Oh my God, would you just get off the damn necklace already!” Nick threw up his hands in frustration. “I already explained to you that it was no big deal, yet you keep trying to drag it up like there’s some mystery there.”
“Well, it does seem rather mysterious when pictures surface of you helping her take off a very expensive necklace, yet you refuse to give me any sort of explanation outside of it being some sort of secret or something between the two of you. Is that it? Did you buy her off with some expensive diamonds in order for her to keep quiet about the two of you?”
Nick sighed as he raised his hands to his temples, feeling a headache already begin to form across his forehead. “For the last fucking time… There is nothing going on between Alyssa and me outside of a platonic friendship. But why am I even arguing with you? You seem so convinced otherwise. You want to think I’m having an affair with Alyssa go right ahead! You’re just going to believe what you want anyway.” With that he spun on his heels and headed in the direction of the stairs, eager to distance himself from Shayla’s painful accusations.
How can she think I’m cheating on her? he wondered as he pounded up the steps and down the hall to the bedroom he shared with Shayla. He still couldn’t understand exactly why Shayla seemed so distrustful of him all of a sudden. All he knew was that the argument was heading into ugly territory and he could feel his blood beginning to boil under his skin. He knew that if he stayed there with her one more moment he was going to explode and say something that he would later regret. I got to get out of here, he told himself, grabbing an overnight bag from his closet. Almost blindly he began to throw in a change of clothes and a few essentials.
“Nickolas Gene! Get your ass back down here!” he could hear Shayla’s voice yelling from the bottom of the stairs. “This isn’t over yet!”
Ignoring her voice, he zipped up his bag and left the room, making a stop at his office on the way. He approached his desk and opened one of his drawers where he had been hiding Shayla’s carefully wrapped birthday present. After he retrieved it he continued back down the stairs to face one last encounter with her.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs Shayla seemed so upset that she was totally oblivious to his overnight bag. “Not only is this extremely upsetting and humiliating to have pictures of my husband and another woman plastered all over some tabloid, but because I work in entertainment news it’s ten times worse. Do you realize that the minute these pictures leaked I got called into the executive office at E! and was kindly encouraged to take a week off? Which is putting it mildly by the way. I didn’t exactly have a choice in the matter. And it’s all your fault!”
Nick just stared at her knowing that she was nowhere near done. He decided to let her vent a little more, finding it almost entertaining how with each word her voice seemed to rise higher in inflection and her face grew redder. “And of all places it had to be Tiffany’s, right Nick? Can’t spare any expense for your precious Alyssa! Meanwhile I have a birthday coming up tomorrow which I’m sure you’ve completely forgotten about-“
Finally Nick gave in to his rage and lost control of his emotions. “You know what? I’m fucking sick of your jealously and insecurity! These were the reasons I broke up with Alyssa originally, so what makes you think that I’m going to grovel at your feet when I did nothing wrong? But you refuse to hear that because you’re so insecure that you have yourself convinced that I did do something with Alyssa. Fuck this! You’re too busy whining about some stupid necklace and do you want to know what the most ironic part is? That damn necklace you’re so hung up about was for you the whole fucking time! I was trying to be a good husband and surprise my wife on his birthday, but apparently that’s wrong in your book!” He took a deep breath and threw the neatly packaged box in her direction, nearly hitting her in the face with it. “So yea… Happy fucking birthday! I’m out of here.”
After that announcement Nick pushed past her and headed out the front door ignoring her pleas from behind him. Her voice sounded desperate as if his angry tirade had finally made her realize just how much she had overreacted and just how wrong she really was. It was too late now though. He’d completely lost it and now he needed his space while he calmed himself down. He hopped into his BMW since it was the smallest and fastest of his cars. Right now he just wanted to take out all of his aggression on the road. He started up the engine and peeled out of the driveway like a maniac.
After driving aimlessly for a good ten minutes, it finally hit Nick that he had no clue where exactly he was headed. He knew that the door would always be open to him in AJ or Howie’s home, or he could always show up at his friend Chris’s house for the night. But Nick really didn’t feel like being around anyone just then. He realized that he’d rather have sometime to himself to unwind and cool off. He was just entertaining the idea of checking into a hotel for the night when suddenly he recognized the direction he was driving in and smiled to himself as the idea came to him.
About half an hour later, he found himself in another part of LA pulling into a large condominium complex. I haven’t been here in at least a year, he speculated to himself as he pulled into the narrow driveway of one particular building. After his most recent breakup with Alyssa he’d find himself seeking solace in the condo that he’d bought to rent out to her, spending hours within its walls just imagining how life could’ve been for them. After he met Shayla his visits began to grow less frequent until he only popped in every once in a while to check up on the place. Still he didn’t have the heart to sell the property and even though he knew that he could find people who would be interested in renting it from him in a heart beat, he couldn’t let go of it. To him it was comforting to know that he owned this condo and not even Shayla knew about it. It was a place he could go to when he truly wanted to be left alone. Like now.
He got out of his car with his duffel bag on his shoulder and bag from Subway where he’d stopped for dinner in one hand, a six pack of beer that he’d picked up from a convenience store on the way in the other. When he reached the front door he set the beer down on the porch and retrieved the extra key that he had hid in a flowerpot for instances just like this. Once he opened the door, he settled himself inside on the living room couch, spread out his sub, opened up a bottle of beer, and turned on the television.
He sat there most of the night on the couch, drinking beer and trying to erase the memory of his heated confrontation with Shayla earlier.
Nick groaned as he felt incoming sunlight begin to sting his eyelids, forcing them open. Already he could feel a dull headache brewing between his temples which he suspected was a result of not just the empty beer bottles sitting on the coffee table in front of him, but the stress of his fight with his wife the night before. He sat up and realized that he was still in the living room of Alyssa’s old condo, sprawled out on the couch. The television was still blaring leading him to believe that he’d probably passed out before he could will himself to move into the bedroom.
He sighed as he realized that it was a new day and as much of a relief it had been to get away from it all yesterday, he couldn’t hide in the condo he’d bought for his ex-girlfriend forever. As ugly as things had ended with him and Shayla, he knew that he’d have to eventually face her again.
His thoughts were interrupted by the chirping of his Sidekick from across the room indicating that he had received a text message. Dragging himself up from the couch, he made his way towards it and flipped it open. He was not at all surprised to see that the message was from Shayla. He was though a little thrown off guard by her message.
I’m so sorry about last night. I was a total bitch and just started to make assumptions that weren’t correct. I was way out of line and I apologize. Please come home. We need to talk.
He stared down at his phone for a moment, unsure of what to do. The tone of her message definitely sounded as if she was indeed sorry. His mind drifted back to the moment he had walked out their front door yesterday and the urgency in her voice as she called back to him, begging him to turn around. Maybe she really did regret accusing him of cheating. Either way he owed it to her to go back home and talk things out.
Letting out a deep breath, he stuffed the phone into his back pocket and started to clean up the mess he had made from the night before. After he was done he gathered up his things, locked up the condo, and hopped back into his car.
About twenty minutes later he found himself sitting in the driveway staring at their house aimlessly. He knew that he was just wasting time and he couldn’t put off the confrontation any longer. Finally mustering up the courage, he got out of the car and headed inside the front door.
At first everything was quiet and there was no sign whatsoever of Shayla although Nick knew that she was at home because her Mercedes had been parked in the driveway. He didn’t immediately seek her out though because he himself wasn’t sure if he was ready to forgive her yet. He certainly wasn’t going to go crawling after her. Instead he poked his head in the refrigerator, looking for something he could munch on for breakfast.
He froze for a moment after he finally heard footsteps coming down from the stairs. A few moments later Shayla stepped into the room. Just one look at her and Nick knew that she hadn’t had a good night. Her blonde hair seemed tangled and ratty as if she had been tossing and turning all night and her eyes looked puffy and bloodshot. She was uncharacteristically dressed in a pair of baggy sweats that looked as if they’d been hiding in the back corner of her closet and one of his t-shirts. The necklace that Nick had thrown at her the night before hung around her neck, standing out against her frumpy clothing.
“I’m glad you’re back,” she finally said after a moment or two of tense silence. “God Nick, I’m so sorry. I was completely out of line yesterday. I was wrong to attack you like that and jump to those kinds of conclusions about you and Alyssa. You were right. There was no reason for me to think that you could possibly be cheating on me.”
Nick closed the fridge and turned to look at her. “No there wasn’t,” he agreed. “It really hurt me that you don’t trust me enough to remain faithful to you. And quite frankly it kind of caught me a little off guard. You’ve never been the clingy, possessive type. I mean when I was on tour there was plenty of opportunities for me to cheat on you if I had wanted and you seemed like it didn’t bother you at all. Yet, pictures pop up of me legitimately hanging out with my ex-girlfriend innocently and you automatically think we’re having an affair? It’s just not like you.”
Shayla sighed. “I know… It’s definitely not me, but I don’t know. I’ve just been really stressed out lately with work and I feel like I’m barely sleeping… I know I’ve been a real bitch lately to pretty much everyone. I’m not thinking very clearly lately, so when those pictures surfaced and started to circulate throughout the studio, so many of my coworkers had their own interpretations and they kind of convinced me that there was more going on then met the eye. Normally I’d never doubt you, but under the circumstances I let myself believe otherwise and I’m sorry.”
Nick’s expression softened as he heard the tears in her voice. He could tell that she was being genuine with him. It was true. She had been working an insane amount of hours lately and he could tell that she definitely hadn’t been herself these past few weeks. He could sympathize firsthand how stress could blind you and make you believe things that weren’t true. Wasn’t it the stress of touring and being apart from Alyssa that made him believe that she had been cheating on him back at the end of the Never Gone tour? He’d been in Shayla’s shoes and had actually done worse, so he supposed he couldn’t exactly stay angry with her.
“It’s okay, babe,” he assured her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and pulling her towards him. “It happens. I’m sorry you had to find out that Alyssa and I were hanging out that way.”
Shayla looked up at him, her face tearstained. “I just don’t understand why you didn’t just tell me that the two of you were still friends in the first place? If you’d have just told me up front that the two of you had hung out I’d have been okay with it, but the fact that you chose not to tell me is what made me suspicious. Last I heard the two of you hadn’t talked in years. What changed?”
Nick turned his head away guiltily. She was right. He should have been up front with her about his friendship with Alyssa, but he was afraid that if he had been she would have gotten the wrong impression. Now she’d found out anyway and it made him look ten times more incriminating. “You’re right. I should’ve told you that Alyssa and I were hanging out again. I wouldn’t say we’re best friends, but I do enjoy her company. We weren’t out on some secret date. She was helping me find you a birthday gift. And the picture of her wearing the necklace? She didn’t even want to try it on, but I made her because I wanted to see what it would like on a real person. So, if you want to blame anyone for that, blame me.”
“God… I feel like the world’s biggest bitch right now! The way I carried on about that damn necklace and how it was really for me the whole time.” Her fingers traveled upwards, playing with the delicate gold chain with her fingers. “I guess I probably deserved to get it thrown in my face… Literally.”
“Nah….” Nick replied. “I shouldn’t have thrown it at you. I was just angry. So, now do you understand why I couldn’t tell you what the necklace was for? I wanted to surprise you so badly. I probably just should have been honest, huh?”
Shayla smiled. “I appreciate your effort. And it really is a beautiful necklace. I love it. I’m sorry that some asshole paparazzi had to ruin everything you worked so hard to plan. I think it’s cute how stubborn you were about not giving up the surprise.”
“I’m sorry for the way I acted last night. I probably ruined your birthday.”
“Maybe not. The day is only just begun. We have plenty of time to make up for it,” she said with a smirk. “And I did get the flowers. They were a nice touch.”
“Oh, yea… I almost forgot about them. I’m glad you liked them.” A thoughtful look came over Nick’s face as he grabbed his arms around her waist. “What was it that you said last night about being asked to take the week off?”
Shayla looked at him a little suspiciously, but explained anyway. “My bosses decided that it would be most beneficial for both myself and the network if I took an unexpected vacation until the pictures blow over. I can’t exactly report on my own husband being spotted with his ex-girlfriend walking around LA. And everyone’s attention would be shifted towards how well I’m taking the ‘news.’ So, yea… I’ll at least finally get some time to sleep.”
“Hmm… So it takes rumors of me having an extramarital affair to get you some time off work?” Nick smirked. “Good to know for future reference.”
She laughed and playfully slapped his arm. “I’m pretty sure this excuse will probably only work once. Next time they might decide I’m too much of a liability or something and give me the boot.”
“I have an idea. Since you have the week off and you’re really stressed and we need to do something extra special for your birthday since I fucked things up so badly, let’s spend the week at the house up in Tahoe,” he suggested. “You love it up there and it’ll guarantee us a lot more privacy than here once those pictures hit the tabloids. Besides, it’ll give us some time to spend with each other, since I know that’s been lacking lately. What do you say?”
He watched as Shayla’s face immediately lit up. It had been her idea to purchase the vacation home up in Tahoe after they first got married. Originally, Nick hadn’t been thrilled with the idea. Neither one of them was really home long enough to reap the benefits of a vacation home, but Shayla had insisted. She’d spent a lot of time in the area growing up and had actually learned to ski up there. It was much too late for ski season, but it still offered beautiful scenery and a tranquility that you just couldn’t find in LA. Nick supposed it would do them both good to get out of the city for a bit.
“I think that’s an amazing idea!” she enthusiastically replied. “A trip to Tahoe definitely is exactly what I need right now.”
Nick grinned, glad that he finally had done something right. “Then I suggest you go upstairs and start packing. I’d like to make it up there by dinnertime, so we can celebrate your birthday.”
“Sounds awesome to me. Thanks so much Nick!” She paused to give him a quick peck on the lips before giddily bouncing up the stairs to begin packing.
It made Nick feel good to see his wife this happy and he had to admit that deep down he was a little excited too. He’d been feeling like he was sort of neglecting her lately since they had been so wrapped up in their careers. A week alone up in the mountains, miles away from anyone else, sounded like pure bliss to him. It was the perfect way to hide out from the inevitable media backlash that was sure to follow.
Shit, I better call Alyssa and warn her about the pictures, he realized. He could only imagine Sean’s reaction when he saw the two of them on the cover of some supermarket tabloid. And would the pictures being released cause problems for Alyssa at work? He wouldn’t want her losing her job over something as blown out of proportion as this was. It definitely would be best to give her a heads up so she wasn’t completely caught off guard.
He grabbed his cell phone to dial her number, but then placed it back in his pocket. He still needed to pack and he knew that Shayla was probably impatient to hit the road. He’d give Alyssa a call on their way up to Tahoe at a rest stop.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Tabloid pictures surface of Nick and Alyssa's afternoon together sending rumors flying.
Chapter End Notes:
Thanks to Teri for looking over parts of the chapter for me.