Chapter 15 – The Family Ties

Brittany woke up on Christmas morning to hear the waves crashing on the shore. She looked out the window and smiled a little. The sky was grey with the sun trying to peek through. It was a far cry from any of the Christmases she’d spent before this, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

She pulled her hair up into a messy ponytail and walked downstairs. The lights were all still off, and it appeared as though Nick hadn’t woken up yet. She sat down on the couch and turned the TV on. She smiled a little, seeing that the channel was still on the one they’d been watching the night before.

That had been quite a different experience for her as well. For the past two years, she’d spent Christmas Eve going to Midnight Mass and eating dinner afterwards with Niall and his family. The night before, she and Nick had ventured out to the 7-11 a few blocks away to buy hot chocolate, and stayed up late watching a marathon of Seth Rogan comedies.

She smiled as she watched the old Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and hugged her knees to her chest. It was the only thing that indicated it was December 25th in the house – there were no decorations of any kind to be seen.

And though she’d convinced herself she hated Christmas, she couldn’t help but feel warm as she watched the animated characters dance around the screen.

“I haven’t seen this since I was like, ten,” Nick muttered as he walked into the living room. He rubbed his eyes and sat down on the other couch, watching the screen.

“Me neither,” Brittany said, glancing over at him. “I used to watch it every year, though. It was my favourite.”

“Yeah,” Nick said quietly. “I always liked The Grinch too.”

“Of course you did,” Brittany said, giving him a look. “Because you’re bitter.”

“I’m not bitter,” Nick protested, raising his eyebrow. “Besides, if you’ll recall, the Grinch realized at the end what Christmas was really about. And his heart grew three sizes.”

“Okay,” Brittany scoffed, glancing back at the screen with a smirk on her face.

“Three sizes, Brittany,” he repeated, as if to prove his point.

She just laughed. “Whatever you say, Nick.”

“Hey, and I’ll have you know I was named after Christmas,” Nick said, giving her a slight nod.

She turned to look at him again, still wearing that same smirk on her face. “Really? I thought your birthday was in January.”

“It is,” Nick shrugged. “But I was still named after Christmas. You know, St. Nick.”

“Oh God,” Brittany giggled. “Was your family like really into Christmas or something?”

Nick just shrugged. “I don’t think my mom could come up with a better idea, and my dad probably didn’t give a shit,” he said, annoyance peeking through his voice. But, he quickly recovered, trying to recall some kind of fond Christmas memory he could tell her about. “But I guess my family was sort of into Christmas. We always watched the cartoons, anyway. And my mom would make a big breakfast while we opened our gifts.”

“Yeah,” Brittany said, turning her attention back to the TV. She mentally berated herself for bringing up the topic of family, unsure if she actually wanted to talk about it or not.

Nick sighed a little, thinking about Christmases past. “Too bad we don’t have any food here, we could have made like, some kind of nice breakfast. And orange juice with champagne.”

“There’s leftover pizza in the fridge,” Brittany reminded him. “And it’s like, ten in the morning.”

But Nick just shrugged, walking over to the kitchen. Brittany followed him, and watched as he rummaged through the cupboards. “There’s pancake mix,” he said, pulling out a box and looking at it. “All we need to do is add water.”

Brittany smiled softly as Nick studied the box. “My dad always used to make pancakes on Christmas morning,” she remembered fondly.

“Oh yeah?” Nick asked, glancing at her, and she smiled up at him. “Guess we’ll have to do it then.”

“Yeah,” she said quietly. “Guess so.”

Brittany didn’t say anything more after that as she sat on one of the stools and watched Nick try to mix up the pancake batter. It was difficult for her to not focus on her family as she did this. She hadn’t had a “normal” Christmas in years. In fact, the past two that she’d spent with Niall had been the most traditional holidays she’d had in a long time.

Now, sitting here in Nick’s house, just the two of them, she felt awkward.

“Here,” Nick said, pulling Brittany out of her thoughts. She looked up and noticed he was holding out his car keys to her.

“What’s this for?”

“Go run down to CVS and get some pancake stuff. Like, syrup and stuff.”

Brittany stared wide-eyed at the keys in her hands. “You’re going to let me take your car?!” she asked in disbelief.

“Yeah, sure,” Nick shrugged. “I trust you, baby.”

Brittany rolled her eyes as she hopped off the stool to go get changed. “Well…thanks!” she beamed, beginning to walk away. But before she left, she turned her head and gave him a cheeky grin. “Oh…and I’m not your baby.”

Nick just laughed and shook his head as she walked away. He heard Brittany dash up the stairs and smiled to himself. He hadn’t missed the sad look on her face when she’d mentioned her family. Though he didn’t know any details, he could definitely relate. After all, he was the one who had suggested ditching Christmas altogether.

But it appeared as though giving her the keys to his car had made her momentarily happy.

He glanced out the window at the beach. The water had always been calming for him, and it served to make him feel a little better about the situation at hand. Though this setting was all new for Brittany, it was definitely familiar to him. He’d spent many Christmases in this house with Lauren, and it was hard for him not to think about her, even though their break-up had been nearly a year ago.

He quickly pushed the thoughts out of his mind, not caring to think about Lauren or his family. He focused on making pancakes, which he was pretty sure he was doing an excellent job of. And as a further distraction, he switched on his CD player and sang along loudly to Journey as he waited for Brittany to return.

And eventually, she did, pressing the buzzer on the gate. Nick walked over to the intercom. “Hey,” he said, letting her in.

A couple minutes later, Brittany walked back into the house, grocery bags in tow.

“I sent you for syrup,” he said, eyeing her.

“Yeah,” she shrugged. “I know you did, and I got that. But I also got orange juice, and they had egg nog, so I thought we could have that later, and look at this,” she said, pulling out a cardboard box.

Nick watched as she opened it and set the contents of the box on the table. “Is that a snowglobe?” he asked her, giving her an odd look.

“Yeah!” she grinned, then noticed the look Nick was giving her. “I know, but watching those specials this morning sort of put me in the Christmas mood. And look,” she said, pressing a button on it. Mechanical music played through a small speaker on it as Styrofoam snow blew around inside the plastic ball.

Nick raised his eyebrow. “That is the tackiest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Brittany rolled her eyes, but still watched the snowglobe with a smile. “Says you, you’re in a boyband,” she laughed.

“Yeah,” Nick shrugged, carefully taking the pancakes off of the frying pan and placing them on to a plate. “But not for much longer.”

“Right,” Brittany nodded, looking over at him as he poured more batter into the frying pan. It was kind of an odd sight, to see him so domesticated like this. Normally he was just eating salad from the deli near the studio. “Are you looking forward to that? The farewell tour, I mean.”

Nick just shrugged, watching for the batter to bubble so he could flip the pancakes over. “Yeah, I guess. I mean, it’ll probably be the last time I play arenas, so that’ll be cool.”

“I’m sure it won’t be the last time you play arenas,” Brittany said, trying to give him a look of encouragement.

“No, I’m sure it will be,” he said, flipping the pancakes over. “But that’s cool, we’re all moving on and doing our own thing now. The other fellas have their families, and I’m doing my solo stuff and your stuff.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Brittany said, eyeing Nick. She often didn’t believe the words that came out of his mouth, and sometimes she wondered if he even believed them. As much as he said he was fine with this, he didn’t really look it. “You think you’ll keep in touch with the others?”

“Oh yeah,” Nick said, nodding at her. He transferred a few of the pancakes over to another plate and handed it to Brittany. He turned the frying pan off and took the remainder of the pancakes for himself, and sat down on the stood across the island from her. “I’ll probably keep in touch with them. Don’t see any reason not to, it’s not like we’re fighting or anything.”

Brittany wondered again how much of that was true, considering how he’d acted on the cruise. Particularly towards Brian. But she figured she wouldn’t push it. “How come you get the freshest ones?” she asked with a smirk, nodding her head towards his plate.

“Because I made them,” Nick replied, opening the tub of margarine, dipping his butter-knife in it and slathering a generous amount on to his food.

Brittany just grinned as she watched him. “I guess that’s fair,” she laughed, pouring syrup on to her own breakfast.

“No butter?” Nick asked.

Brittany shook her head and stuffed a forkful into her mouth.

“Ugh, I like butter way too much,” Nick said, cutting his pancakes with the side of his fork and starting to eat them. “It’s bad. That’s probably how I got fat.”

“You’re not fat.”

“I used to be fat,” he said seriously. “I fixed it though, started working out and stuff. But I still eat like crap sometimes,” he shrugged, devouring the food on his plate.

The two of them continued to eat silently, occasionally looking over at the snowglobe as it played different songs. Brittany glanced out the window again. It was a strange scene, to have this ornament playing Christmas music while looking out at the beach. Not that her Christmases spent in Texas had been overly snowy, but they’d at least had more decorations than this.

She wondered if Nick felt the same way. She figured he probably didn’t, as he owned this house, but it was worth a shot. “Tell me a weird Christmas story,” she said with a grin.

“What? You mean like Frosty the Snowman?”

“No!” she laughed. “I mean like… something weird that happened to you one Christmas.”

Nick thought about that for a moment. He was sure there were a lot of weird things that had happened in his lifetime around Christmas, but had trouble thinking of one in particular. “Well,” he said, remembering one from when he was nineteen. “We got snowed in on our way home after some concert on Christmas Eve once. We were stuck in the airport for hours.”

“That sucks,” Brittany said, not really knowing what else to say.

Nick shrugged. “Yeah, but it was kinda cool. We sang a couple of Christmas songs and it sorta cheered people up.”

“That was sweet of you guys,” she grinned.

“Man, that was like fifteen years ago,” Nick said, shaking his head. “I can’t believe it’s been that long,” he paused, looking at Brittany. “What were you doing when I was stuck in that airport?”

“Uhhh…” Brittany thought back. “I guess probably doing Christmas in New York with my mom and dad.”

“I thought you were from Texas?” Nick asked. He was sure he’d heard her mention that before, and he’d always heard her refer to Texas as her home. In fact, he’d never once heard her mention New York before.

“Yeah,” Brittany said, nodding at him. “Sorta. I was born in New York. I moved to Texas when I was nine, after my dad died.”

“Sorry,” Nick said quickly. “That sucks. Why’d you and your mom go to Texas?”

“Uh,” Brittany said, glancing out the window again. She was beginning to understand why Nick loved the beach and the water so much. It gave her something to focus on when she didn’t want to think about the drama in her life. It almost helped to clear her mind a little. “I didn’t move to Texas with my mom,” she confessed. “I moved there because after my dad died, my mom sort of went crazy.”

Nick just looked at her, not knowing how to respond to that. He’d sort of suspected she’d had family issues, and now that she was explaining them to him, he couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, and relate to her a little. So instead of saying anything, he just listened as she continued.

“Yeah,” she said. “My dad’s sister lived in Texas so I moved there, and my mom just kept drinking or whatever in New York,” she shrugged.

“And you don’t talk to her at all?” Nick asked, unable to stop himself.

Brittany shrugged. “Not really. I talked to her a little bit when I was in High School, but we never got along. At first she kept trying to get me to move back to New York, and she’d lose her mind when I said I couldn’t. Not that I wanted to anyway, but I actually couldn’t. She couldn’t take care of me, she couldn’t even take care of herself. Then eventually, she just stopped calling.”

“Yeah, I hear that,” Nick said knowingly. “My family was shit too. My parents were always fighting, and they used to pit us against them, saying they were getting divorced and asking us who we wanted to live with. Then they’d make up and act like it never happened. Like we were this perfect family. It was sort of bullshit.”

“Sounds like it,” Brittany muttered, looking down at her near empty plate. “That sucks.”

“Yup,” Nick nodded. “So you can sort of understand why I didn’t really want to go there.”

“Yeah,” Brittany said. “But your mom and dad are separated now, aren’t they?”

“Yeah, but my mom’s still a bitch who probably only wanted me there so I’d give her an expensive gift,” Nick said harshly. “I didn’t even buy any of them gifts. I hate Christmas shopping.”

Brittany just laughed slightly. “I dunno, I sort of like Christmas shopping.”

“You didn’t get me anything,” Nick said, cracking a smile to make it clear he was joking.

“You didn’t get me anything either,” Brittany pointed out.

“Hey,” Nick said, gesturing around the kitchen. “I brought you here, didn’t I?”

Brittany smiled a little, hopping off the stool and collecting their plates to put in the sink. “Yeah,” she said softly. “You did.” She leaned over and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Merry Christmas, Nicky.”

Nick’s cocky smile turned into a much softer one as he turned to look at Brittany. “Don’t call me Nicky.”

She glanced over at him and grinned. “I was just getting you back for calling me ‘baby’ before.”

Nick shook his head and glanced over at the ridiculous snowglobe. So far, this Christmas wasn’t shaping up to be so bad.

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