“Nice try, Fairy but I’m not letting you off that easy.” Nick said, using his ace, the term of endearment he always called her.
Closing her eyes, Carrie sighed, “Please. Nick.”
“Please, what Fairy?” Nick asked, not giving up.
“It’s so hard. I can’t do this--I just can’t,” Carrie replied exasperated.
Walking towards her, Nick stopped right behind her. As they both stared out the window into the sea of trees and the moon mocking them in its luminosity, he gently asked, “Can’t do what?”
“Live with this fear as a burden and relive it all again.” Carrie said emotionlessly.
Nick’s heart ached with a similar pain as he placed his hand on her shoulder and whispered, “You don’t have to do it alone. We both share the same burden. We can help each other.”
Squeezing her eyes shut, to stop the flood of tears, Carrie opened them allowing the tears to follow the well-known trails. She turned her head to the side, eyeing Nick, “I know. That’s what scares me.”
Nick chuckled and leaned in close to her ear to whisper, “Yeah, it scares me too but we do have Brian and Kevin carrying the load so it won’t be just the two of us.”
Not realizing how close he remained to her, Carrie turned around only to bump her cheek into Nick’s nose, putting their faces dangerously close.
Nick sucked in his breath as he found himself gazing into two dark chocolate kohl-rimmed eyes that held too much sorrow.
Carrie stepped away immediately, seeing that the two blue pools reflected her face too familiarly. Looking down at her hands she asked, “How are Kevin and Brian?”
Licking his lips, Nick nodded, “The fellas are doing good. You know, getting over it and stuff.” He paused for a second adding, “They’ve been wondering about you, though.” Not waiting for her to respond, he continued, “Look I know it’s been tough and I totally get that you needed some time and space. But it’s been six months and I --we hoped that you would be able to handle seeing us again. What we’ve been through, no one else can understand, you know? So we gotta stick together. It’s the only way we’re gonna survive. “
Running her fingers through her hair, Carrie risked a glance at Nick’s face, “I‘ve been busy with school--I”
“Don’t feed me that crap!” Nick interrupted, rolling his eyes. “We’ve all been busy with things but it only takes a second to pick up the damn phone and call. Lord knows we’ve been calling your house, cell phone, and anybody else who knows you hundreds of times only to get a dial tone. What the hell has been up with you? It’s like you dropped off the face of the earth. Why are you giving us the cold shoulder, huh? Why is--”
Not being able to take anymore, Carrie brought her hands to her face as tears ran rampantly down, “I know, okay? I know I should have picked up the phone and called. I know I should have contacted you guys and told you I was okay but I couldn’t. You don’t understand what I’ve been through--”
“I really doubt that,” Nick snorted.
“No you really don’t know what I’ve been through, Nick! You guys are used to the limelight. You’re used to paparazzi following you everywhere you go. You’re used to being wary about outsiders and friends alike. You’re used to receiving unwanted phone calls, house calls, and other contacts. You’re used to being stared. I’m not. You’re probably used to all of that but you have no idea what it’s like to have people wonder if you’ve been raped or sexually abused. You have no idea what it’s like to be called a slut and whore when walking down the streets. You don’t know what it’s like to have to look at your parents only to see disappointment in their eyes. It’s killing me, Nick. It’s probably already killed a part of me. And all I’m trying to do is live my life and I can’t do it when I have reminders of it everyday,” choking back her sobs, Carrie gasped for breath, hugging her arms around herself.
Not being able to stand still any longer, Nick took one quick step towards her and swept her into his arms. Nick felt her body stiffen and tried to ease her by rubbing small circles on her back. He felt her body slowly relax against his, setting her tears free. Her silent sobs shook her small body as Nick grasped onto her like an anchor. Nick held her silently, not knowing what to say. “God, I had no idea,” he thought.
His familiar touch returned all the memories she tried so hard to bury. She cried, for what happened, for what she lost, for what they lost, and for what they couldn’t have. After there were no more tears to shed, Carrie whispered hoarsely, “Why is it that I’ve lived twenty-one years of my life and only three weeks define the rest of it?”
Nick closed his eyes, knowing that he could not sugarcoat anything to protect her. No one had protected her--them from it. The four of them suffered and still bared the battle scars that would continually infect the rest of their lives. Finally he told her the truth, “It’s not fair. God, it’s never fair,” his voice cracked.
Carrie sucked in her breath, and raised her head trying to take a step back. Nick reluctantly loosened his arms and allowed her to step away from him.
Wiping her tears, Carrie looked at him, “Thank you, Nick,” giving him a wry smile she continued, “I guess I needed that,” pausing she looked directly into his eyes, “I’m sorry, Nick. I shouldn’t have--”
“No, don’t apologize. Jeez, I should be the one apologizing. I had no idea and I should have realized but I didn’t,” Nick interrupted sadly.
Carrie shook her head, “You couldn’t have known. We were all dealing with what happened and you couldn’t have possibly bore my burden as well. We all needed to sort everything out on our own.”
Nick mentally shook his head, knowing that he should have known better but he let the issue drop, the sky was dark and time was passing them by. He sighed, “Look, the last few months have been crazy for all of us but now that we’re on the same page we can finally help each other, you know? The fellas and I were talking the other day and we agreed that we didn’t want to lose contact with you. You’ve become too important to m--us,” Nick attempted to cover up the slip of tongue, hoping she wasn’t paying attention.
“Oh Nick,” Carrie sighed to herself mentally. She caught his slip but decided ignoring it would be the safer route, “I know. We’ve already lost six months and I don’t want to lose another six,” she smiled earnestly.
“Good,” Nick said as he inwardly cheered for the return of his Fairy. Nick grinned at her as her smile unfailingly set his heart on a race, “Damn,” he thought to himself. “L--look, it’s uh-- already dark,” Nick faltered, “and I still need to find a hotel so I should be going but we should probably meet up for some breakfast, maybe lunch, and you know, dinner,” Nick grinned.
Chuckling, Carrie nodded her head, “It’s just like you to forget to get hotel reservations ahead of time.” Shaking her head Carrie blurted out, “Hey, my roommate is gone for the weekend, you could stay here, you know.”
“Oh my god! What am I thinking? Please, please, say no Nick!” Carrie prayed.
Nick raised his eyebrow, “Really? That‘s awesome cause I didn’t know exactly where to find a decent hotel. Plus, I don‘t want to get lost in Hicksville, if you know what I mean. You don‘t mind do you?”
“Of course not. I offered,” Carrie gritted her teeth, cursing her manners and rambling mouth.
She minded. Nick knew that she did mind his presence but he knew he could always count on her considerate nature and amazing heart. He was banking on this and she came through like a pro. “So what bunk?” he grinned gazing at the beds.
“Well, my bed’s the bottom bunk, so--” Carrie started
“Perfect! Me and top bunks don‘t mix,” Nick smiled lying down on Carrie’s velvety green blankets. “Hey, this bed isn’t too bad, we’ve slept in worse, right?” Nick gauged the size of the bed realizing, “hey, isn’t this the same size of the bed we shared before? We can probably still fit in it together,” Nick raised his eyebrow grinning lazily up at her and patting the empty space next to him.
Carrie’s heart winced at the realization, smiling and rolling her eyes to cover up the intense flutter of the butterflies in her stomach, “You wish, Carter. I’ll be taking my roommates top bunk so you can keep the bottom.”
She was nervous and probably uncomfortable, Nick thought. Nick could always read her like a book after being secluded with her for three weeks. Inwardly, Nick chuckled reminiscing to the time when they were forced to share a single bed together. Initially, they each tried to move as far from each other as possible only to find themselves clinging desperately to each other in an attempt to stay warm by the end of the night. Soon that desperation for warmth turned into a desperation for something else, something more. He knew that this feeling was mutual. It had to be otherwise there was no explanation for the long-held gazes, extended conversations, and lingering touches that slowly progressed during those three weeks.
“What are you smiling at Nick?” Carrie questioned.
“Nothing,” Nick stated quickly, running a hand through his hair. Sitting up, Nick gazed at her petite frame, “So, I should go park my rent-a-car somewhere where it won’t get towed. I’ll be back in a few, okay?”
“Yeah, that’s fine. There should be a parking lot right next door, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one.” Carrie answered him feeling slightly self-conscious under his intense gaze.
“Alright, don’t lock me out,” Nick chuckled as he got up and walked to the door.
“I’ll try to restrain myself,” Carrie rolled her eyes, closing the door to his back.
As the door closed, Carrie shut her eyes and rested her head against the solid wood, sighing.
“What was I thinking?” She whispered to myself. “I couldn’t do this again. I couldn’t be suckered back into their lives. It isn’t fair to my family who I already put through so much. But, God, he was so sweet and what I wouldn’t give to feel his arms around me again.” Carrie shivered involuntarily, slowly opening her eyes, she backed away from the door.
“Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad being friends with Nick again,” she thought. "We’ve already been through so much,” she rationalized to herself. “I just won’t get too close to him. Relationships from traumatizing events never last and it would be tragic to lose his friendship over something so…trivial,” Carrie reasoned.
Rubbing her head, Carrie headed over to her desk where she attempted to organize the disarray of papers and books. Tensing up again, she recalled how just moments ago she broke down in Nick’s arms, “God, what an idiot. He must think I’m some kind of blubbering fool who can’t move on with her life.” Carrie scolded herself. Gathering her books, Carrie placed them in a neat pile. She eyed the bed seeing how it was a mess as well. Quickly, gathering the sheets in her hands Carrie lifted them over the pillow, catching the scent of Nick’s cologne. She straightened herself, thinking of how much of a flimsy girl she was becoming in Nick’s presence. “I can’t let him think that I’m dependent upon him. I‘ll just be friendly but keep my distance.” Carrie thought to herself.
Hearing a knock at the door, Carrie looked up from her silent reverie seeing Nick open the large wooden door. All thoughts of keeping her distance fled Carrie’s thoughts once she raised her eyes to meet his.
“I’m glad you decided not to lock me out,” Nick grinned as he brought in a black duffel bag.
“Me too, Nick. More than you know,” Carrie thought to herself. “Don’t feel so flattered, I was too preoccupied to lock the door,” Carrie replied with a smirk.
Nick chuckled, thinking to himself that there was still a resemblance to the person he met before their kidnapping. Dropping his duffel bag near the bottom bunk, Nick headed over to Carrie’s desk to see what she had been working on when he invaded her dorm. “So you’ve been studying up on religion, history, anatomy and chemistry, eh? I take it back, you probably didn’t have time to pick up the phone. Dang girl, how many classes have you been taking?”
Carrie shrugged, “Well, I ended up not receiving any credit for any of the classes I took last summer so I have to make up for it somehow.”
“Oh,” Nick answered, eyes widening at how much of an impact last summer made on her daily life. Clearing his throat and taking a seat on the desk, Nick tried to cover up the awkwardness of the situation, “So, do you have a lot more to study? I’m sorry I interrupted.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it. I was pretty much finished when you got here,” Carrie replied easily, sitting on the chair across from him. Changing the topic, Carrie asked, “So what have you been up to, Nick?”
“Eh, nothing really, just relaxing down in Florida--”
“I thought you lived in LA, now.” Carrie wondered aloud.
“I do. I just needed some time away--to just relax, you know?” Nick chuckled nervously. Fact was, his family was insufferable but he wouldn’t say it, he didn’t want Carrie to be dealing with his own problems.
“I see…and it doesn’t have anything to do with your family, right?” Carrie replied raising her eyebrow. Nick may be able to read Carrie like a book but since Nick possessed an amazing poker face, Carrie was able to read Nick’s true feelings from the inflections in his voice. Three weeks with nothing to do except talk made Carrie an expert on Nick’s mannerisms.
Shaking his head, Nick smiled wryly, “Yeah, maybe just a little. I did go to Norway for a bit to play some of that celebrity basketball with Aaron. I’ve also been doing some writing, you know for songs and stuff.”
Carrie noted the change in topics but decided to go along, “Solo stuff or BSB material?” she questioned.
“Don’t know really but Brian, AJ, Howie, and I are going back to the studio in a couple of weeks.” Nick answered.
“Really? That’s great! I had no--,” Carrie paused for a second, finally comprehending what Nick stated. She furrowed her eyebrows, “Wait. What about Kevin?”
Nick sighed, “You haven’t heard?” Nick paused as Carrie shook her head. “Well, you have been living under the college rock for the last few months.” Running a hand through his hair nervously, Nick got up from his seat at the desk and walked to the bed. Lying down and staring up to the top bunk, Nick said as emotionless as possible, “Kevin, well he--I guess he realized that life is pretty short after what happened. So he told us he wanted to focus on his family and in a sense start one, you know? He told us to continue recording by ourselves but he wanted to move in a different direction with his life.”
Carrie shifted her body to face Nick, “Oh wow. I--I didn’t know. I’m sorry. That must have been pretty hard on you guys. I’m really sorry.” Carrie stated meekly.
“S’alright. It’s not your fault. Yeah, it was tough but he had to do what he had to do. I guess all of our perspectives changed after what happened and we all understood and respected his decision.” Nick answered casting his gaze downward.
Carrie nodded understandingly, “So are you guys gonna tour after recording?”
Nick winced at the thought of touring without his older brother, “Depends, on our CD sales I guess. But knowing Jive, we probably will tour so we can generate a profit,” Nick sighed miserably.
“I imagine, it will be difficult--touring without him,” Carrie whispered sadly.
“You have no idea,” Nick answered his voice cracking.
Closing her eyes, Carrie did the only thing that was right in her mind. She took the two steps to the bed and sat down at the edge, quickly leaning over and wrapping her arms around Nick’s warm body.
“Oh Nick, it’ll be alright.” Carrie whispered consolingly.
As much as it pained him to tour without Kevin, it warmed his heart considerably to have a certain black-haired beauty hugging him trying to ease his anguish. Wrapping his arms around her, Nick touched her tenderly, basking in the warmth that her heart was exuding.
“I know it will be alright. I--I guess it takes some getting used to but it doesn‘t hurt any less.” Nick whispered hoarsely allowing his fingers to run through Carrie’s hair carelessly.
Carrie shivered involuntarily with his caresses. Lifting her head from his chest, she glanced at the clock above the bed and sighed, “It’s nearly midnight. We should probably hit the sack, so we don’t miss breakfast,” Carrie whispered gently. Carrie gingerly extracted her arms from Nick’s body and turned her body away from, as she was about to get up, she felt Nick’s hand lightly touch her shoulder.
“Carrie, wait. Don’t leave. I--I just--I mean-- this is gonna sound bad but do you think you could stay with me tonight? I mean--not like that--but you know, just holding each other. I swear I won’t do anything--it’s just that I always felt better with you beside me. I promise I won’t do anything,” Nick asked sincerely knowing he couldn‘t suppress his need to be close to her.
“It’s not you that I’m worried about, Nick,” Carrie thought to herself. “I don’t know Nick. I don’t know if that’s the right--”
“I mean we’re just friends, right? I swear I won’t try anything. I just thought, you know, we could comfort--“
“Okay. I--I mean if it’ll help, sure,” Carrie interrupted him. “Idiot, you are such an idiot,” she thought to herself.
“Are you sure? I-I mean we don’t have to if you really don’t want to. I’m not trying to pressure you or anything, I swear,” Nick told her.
“Yeah, I’m sure. It’s okay, seriously,” Carrie told him. “Umm, let me just go brush my teeth, okay?” Carrie finished lamely.
“Okay,” Nick whispered, his heart soaring with her acquiescence.
Carrie quickly grabbed her toothbrush and left the room to find solace in the bathroom and gather her thoughts. Nick sat up as Carrie closed the door behind her, his grin baring his emotions.
Nick didn’t know whether to be more surprised at his outburst request or the fact that Carrie agreed to it but either way he wasn’t complaining. Getting up from the bed, Nick began stripping down to his navy blue boxers and white wife-beater. After placing his folded pants on his bag, Nick had the afterthought of wondering if Carrie would feel uncomfortable with his attire, “She won‘t mind. Hell, she‘s seen me without the wife-beater,” he thought to himself. Nick flopped back down on the bed his face still bearing the grin that never left.
Once his head hit the pillow, the creaking of the hinges announced Carrie’s return. Looking up from his spot on the bed, Nick noticed she had changed into a white tank top and gray baggy PJ bottoms. As he studied her, Nick realized that she never did return to her original weight. Sighing inwardly, Nick thought to himself, “We’ll never return to how we were originally.”
Putting her toothbrush away without a glance towards Nick, Carrie tried to focus her mind on getting through the night without any reoccurrences of any previous emotions she might have held for the man laying on her bed. Finally, ready to face him, Carrie turned to Nick holding her breath when she saw him donning his boxers and wife-beater, “You ready for bed?” Carrie questioned the relaxed figure on her bed.
Nick placed his hands behind his head and sincerely smiled, “Yup. Just need you, that’s all.”
Shaking her head, Carrie switched off the lights and made her way to the bed. Closing her eyes she crawled into the small bunk, praying that morning would come soon. Trying not to touch Nick in any way, Carrie hugged the edge of the bed and pulled the velvet blanket over her. She was about to let out her breath when Carrie felt an arm sneak its way around her waist, making her hold it once again.
“You don’t mind, do you? I mean-- I figured we’d just go into our regular positions.” Nick hesitatingly asked.
“No, I don’t mind. It’s alright.” Carrie quietly replied, finally letting out her breath.
“Okay, good.” Nick said quickly pulling her body right up against his as they so frequently did before.
Feeling Nick’s warm body plush against hers, made the butterflies in Carrie’s stomach increase ten-fold. His hand covered her flat stomach and slightly brushed against her chest being as small as she was. The back of her head was pressed against his broad chest and moved slightly every time Nick exhaled.
“She smells like, vanilla,” Nick thought to himself. “What did I get myself into?” Nick shivered to himself.
Carrie was frozen. She couldn’t move nor breathe. “God this is too reminiscent of those three weeks in hell. But if it wasn‘t for the man lying next to me I would have been condemned to that hell for an eternity.”
“You alright, Fairy?” Nick whispered.
“Yeah, why do you ask?” Carrie asked letting out a breath trying to act nonchalant.
“Well, probably because that’s the first time you exhaled let alone inhaled.” Nick answered.
“Oh, I--I guess I’m just…” Carrie trailed.
“How about all the above.” Carrie replied wryly.
“Yeah, me too,” Nick chuckled. Pausing for a second to gather his thoughts Nick began to ask, “Hey, Carrie, I--I wanted to ask you about what happened between us right before you left--”
“Nick, forget it.” Carrie interrupted, knowing where he was headed. “It happened. It’s in the past and it probably won’t happen again. We‘re just friends, right?”
“It won’t?” Nick wondered, his heart sinking. “Right,” Nick answered stiffly.
“Let’s just catch some sleep, okay? Your probably tired from the drive and since I’ll have to wake you up tomorrow, you better get your seven hours of sleep,” Carrie said lightly to ease the tension.
“Yeah, your right,” Nick muttered trying to cover up his despair.
“Goodnight, Nick,” Carrie whispered.
“Goodnight, Fairy,” Nick whispered gently.
Trying to ignore the tingles coursing throughout her body due to the warm body next to hers, Carrie relaxed herself and steadied her breathing attempting to gain some semblance of control. “Why did he have to bring up that moment, that kiss?” Carrie mulled. “He probably wanted to apologize and I wouldn’t want him to because I wanted or needed it as much as he did.” Carrie thought to herself. “But I can’t let him think that otherwise I’ll be putting my entire life and family in jeopardy once again.”
Nick settled himself into the blankets not knowing whether or not being this close to her was a good idea since she didn’t see anything beyond a friendship. “But if it’s friendship she’s willing to offer than I’ll take it…and maybe convince her of anything further along the way,” Nick smirked to himself.
Both Carrie and Nick finally let go of their inhibitions and slept peacefully in each other’s arms as they had before.