Chapter 16 – The Spark

“Here’s the thing about Chinese food,” Nick said, twirling some noodles around in his fork and shoving them in his mouth. “It’s not actually from China.”

Brittany gave Nick a look as she sipped on her tea. As promised, the two of them were sitting in a relatively empty restaurant that evening. There were a few people scattered around, but for the most part they were alone with their kung pao chicken and light Christmas carols playing in the background.

“Uh huh,” Brittany said, rolling her eyes a little. “Really, so you’re telling me they don’t actually ship this food all the way from China so they can serve it to us? Wow, I never knew,” she said sarcastically, rolling her eyes as she grinned at him.

“No,” Nick said, continuing to stuff his face. “Fuck, this is really good. Anyway, no, I mean in China this isn’t what they eat.”

Brittany just shrugged. “I’ve never been to China.’

“Well they don’t eat like this. This is like, American Chinese Food. It’s pretty much American food. We just call it Chinese because there’s a lot of rice. I guess.”

Brittany glanced down at the half eaten entrees on their table, debating whether to put more food on her plate or not. Then she looked up at Nick, not really sure how to respond after his rice comment.

“It’s true,” Nick nodded seriously.

Brittany couldn’t help but bursting out laughing at the look on his face. It was evident that he was seriously talking about Chinese food and how it wasn’t authentic enough. “Oh my God,” she giggled. “I can’t believe you.”

“What?!” Nick asked, taking a sip from his water and leaning back in his chair. “I’m just telling you the truth.”

“Uh huh,” she said. “I’m sure the next thing you’ll tell me is that they don’t actually have sushi in Japan.”

“Nah,” Nick said, shaking his head slightly and smirking at her. “They have sushi in Japan. The rolls just aren’t as big. It’s good though.”

Brittany studied Nick as he talked, amused by his attempt at being worldly. Or maybe he was actually worldly – she couldn’t really tell. She’d never been to any of the places that Nick was talking about, and she wasn’t sure she ever would be.

She wondered what it must have been like for him, to literally have been world famous. He and the rest of the Backstreet Boys probably never had spent any time at home. Especially when they were popular.

“What was that like?” she asked him quickly.

“What was what like?” Nick raised his eyebrow and looked at her, unsure of what she was asking about. “Japan? It’s pretty cool there. Lots of stuff to do, lots of really good food. They don’t have ramen here like they do in Japan, that’s for sure. Man, you can get some of the best ramen in just a tiny little shop. Japan is fucking great.”

“No,” Brittany said with a slight grin on her face. “Not Japan. I meant, what was it like touring literally everywhere?”

“Oh,” Nick said, cocking his head to the side a little as though he was thinking about it. “It was good. I mean, we were busy all the time, and we never got to go home, but that was okay. I didn’t really like being at home anyway.”

“And now?”

“Now what?” Nick asked her, giving her a look. He had no idea what she was going on about or why she was asking him such questions. Sure, her level of fame was contained to the states, but it never seemed like that had bothered her much.

In fact, he wished he could attain the level of recognition in the states that she had. He was sure he never would again. Especially now that once this final Backstreet Boys tour was over, he would be on his own as a solo artist for good.

“Now, do you like being at home? Or would you rather be on tour?”

Nick wasn’t sure that there ever was a time in his life that he would have rather been at home than out on tour. Perhaps when he’d been dating Lauren and things had been good between them, but even then he’d still loved being out on the road. He’d just loved bringing her with him.

“Tour,” he said easily. “Always on tour.”

She just nodded, taking her napkin and wiping her hands with it before setting it down on her plate. “Yeah, I get that,” she said. “Ready to go? We can go back to your place and have eggnog and watch It’s a Wonderful Life,” she said with a grin.

“Wow,” Nick said, standing up from his chair. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’d already planned this.”

“I might’ve brought the DVD with me,” she shrugged with a sheepish grin.

Nick laughed as they walked over to the front to pay. He tapped his credit card lightly on the marble countertop and looked around. All things considered, it hadn’t been a bad Christmas. In fact, he could get used to eating Chinese food on December 25th.

“What?” Brittany asked, looking at Nick as he slipped his wallet back into his pants after paying for their food. “You’re not going to have a fortune cookie?” She nodded her head slightly towards the dish that was sitting near the exit.

Nick shook his head. “Nah, I never really did like them. They always tasted like cardboard to me. Plus, I don’t believe in that fortune bullshit.”

Brittany rolled her eyes.

“What?” Nick laughed. “I don’t see you taking one.”

“I’m full,” Brittany protested.

“You just said you wanted to have eggnog.”

“Well yeah,” she said with a shrug. “I always have extra room for eggnog.”

Nick gave her a look and she just stood there with a smirk on her face. Sometimes it truly amazed him how much of a brat she acted like – which in turn always reminded him of himself at a younger age. “Here,” he said, picking up a cookie and tossing it to her. “You don’t have to eat it, just see what it says.”

Brittany gave him a look, but still ripped open the plastic packaging. She broke the cookie in half and handed the pieces to Nick.

Without thinking, Nick put a piece of the cookie in his mouth and chewed on it thoughtfully. “So,” he said, taking a look at the other piece of the cookie and contemplated eating it as well. “What does it say?”

She shrugged. “Good things will come to you in due time.”

“Huh,” Nick said thoughtfully, pushing open the door to the restaurant and motioning for Brittany to go ahead of him. “That’s vague.”

“They’re all vague, Nick,” Brittany said, walking past him and turning her head back a little. “That’s kind of the point.”

He laughed. “I guess you’re right.”

***

Brittany rummaged through Nick’s cupboards in search of some sort of fancy glasses. She couldn’t find any, and gave up, pouring eggnog into novelty Batman cups.

“Sweet, Batman,” Nick said, walking into the kitchen and picking up one of the cups. He smelled his drink cautiously before taking a sip. “Did you put rum in this?”

“No,” Brittany said, shaking her head and putting the carton back into the fridge. “You didn’t have any.”

Nick frowned a little, but still continued drinking as he looked out the window. “Come on,” he said, opening the sliding door and motioning for her to join him.

“I thought we were going to watch It’s a Wonderful Life!” Brittany protested, but still followed him out past the deck and onto the beach.

“Yeah,” Nick said, sitting down in the sand and looking out onto the water. “I just wanted to sit out here for a bit. I don’t come out to this place that often anymore, and I want to just enjoy it for a minute.”

Brittany nodded, glancing at him and then looking out onto the ocean. She was silent for a couple minutes as she watched, but she wasn’t one to keep her mouth shut for very long. “What’s with you and the beach anyway?” she asked, stretching out her legs and leaning backwards on her palms.

Nick shrugged as the wind picked up a little. “I don’t know. I’ve just always loved the water. I loved surfing and scuba diving when I was younger and there was always something so peaceful about being out on the beach. Like no one was going to bug me there. No fans, no fucked up family members…. just no one,” he shrugged.

Brittany nodded, looking up at him. The whole time she’d known him, she’d always been aware of how enlightened and smart he was. Even if he didn’t seem to be quite aware of it. He always took such delight in simple things while still being able to look at the bigger picture and it was a quality she admired in him.

He was just sitting there, gazing out on the water. She wondered what he was thinking about, and if that was why he’d needed to come out here – to clear his mind. For once, she let him have his silence as she watched him. He looked so calm and focused. His eyes were squinted and even though his lips were pursed together, she could see a faint smile on them.

For a split second, she wondered what it would be like to kiss him.

She quickly pushed the thought out of her head, thinking it was weird to be imagining Nick in such a way. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder. He definitely did look kissable, and she was sure he’d probably be good at it.

“Well,” Nick said, standing up and leaving Brittany staring at him awkwardly. “I guess we’d better go back inside.” He outstretched his arm to her, as if to help her up from the sand.

She grasped his hand and stood up, giving him a look. “I thought you wanted to sit out here,” she said, brushing herself off with her other hand.

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “But now we can go inside and watch your movie. I know you’re bored.”

“I’m not bored,” she insisted.

He just laughed. “Come on, let’s go inside so you can show me what this movie’s all about. But first,” he said with a grin, leaning over and kissing her quickly on the cheek. “Merry Christmas, baby,” he winked at her, dropping his hand from hers and walking back up towards the house.

“Yeah,” she said quietly, touching her cheek before she ran up after him. It had just been a kiss on the cheek – it didn’t mean anything. After all, it was pretty obvious he was just making reference to what she’d done to him earlier that day.

Still, she couldn’t help but feel a little giddy. As they watched the movie, she would remember it, and then mentally berate herself. They were going back to LA in the morning, and in two weeks they were going their separate ways for nearly a year.

There was no point in thinking about anything more with him. Brittany wasn’t even sure she wanted to – she’d just been sort of curious. So she didn’t say or do anything and kept her eyes firmly planted on the TV screen.

Despite the fact that Nick fell asleep halfway through the movie, Brittany watched it the entire way through. She smiled to herself as she turned off the lights. Throwing a blanket over Nick, she walked up to her own room and looked out the window.

As she glanced out at the beach, a calm feeling washed over her and she began to understand why Nick liked it so much. She hadn’t thought that she’d be sad when Christmas was over, but she found herself not really looking forward to going back to LA the next day. Though different, Christmas in Malibu had been the perfect way for her and Nick to spend the holiday.

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