Chapter 29 – The Guilty Concience

Brittany’s plane touched down in LA a day later, on Christmas Eve.

She stepped off of it and made her way through the airport quickly, eager to get home so she could pack up a few things and drive over to Nick’s house in Malibu.

As she waited at the baggage claim, she switched her phone off of Airplane Mode and looked down at it, writing for any message to come through.

Only one did.

Niall Horan: hope u have a safe flight back. glad we had a chance to catch up.

She winced as she looked down at the screen. Nothing had been worse than waking up the morning afterwards and finding herself alone in her hotel room. She’d expected to see him sleeping next to her, and when he wasn’t, it had all come rushing back.

She couldn’t believe that she’d kissed him and even gone so far as to invite him up to her room.
But even more than that, she couldn’t believe that he had turned her down. She frowned – that had probably been for the best, but she couldn’t help but feel a little slighted.

The scenario where he’d actually said yes? Well, that had all just been a dream. One that she’d felt more and more awkward about as the day had gone on. She’d tried not to think about it as she performed in her concert and rushed back to her hotel room, but it was constantly in the back of her mind.

Sighing, she tried once again to forget about it. She sent him a quick text message in response.

Brittany Cooper: Thanks… I’m back in LA now. I had fun too. Have a nice Christmas 🙂

She played around on her phone for a couple of minutes hoping for a response from him, but one never came. She put her phone back into her back and crossed her arms over her chest, watching for her luggage to drop down onto the belt.

She didn’t even know why she suddenly wanted to hear from him so bad – she’d hardly thought about him since the wedding. But she supposed seeing him in New York and actually spending some quality time with him had rekindled something in her.

She wasn’t sure what, and she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to figure it out. She kept drifting in between wanting to text him again, and just letting it go.

Besides, she had Christmas with Nick to focus on.

She grabbed her luggage and made her way through the airport, taking a taxi back to her condo. After half-heartedly unpacking her things from her New York trip, she placed a few items back into her suitcase for her trip to Malibu and in no time she was leaving her condo again.

As she drove down the highway, she turned the radio on, singing along to the Top 40 renditions of popular Christmas carols. She was nearly at Nick’s place when she passed by a CVS. She drove past it quickly, but then turned around as she got an idea.

Being around Niall at this time of year had also reminded her of what it was like to have a true, traditional Christmas. She loved her holidays with Nick, but when she went past the grocery store, she decided on something different for a change.

So she wheeled a cart through the aisles and picked up everything she thought she might need to make them an actual, real, Christmas dinner with a turkey and canned cranberry sauce. She smiled a little when she packed the bags into the backseat of her car, proud of herself for being so domesticated for a change.

She continued on the short drive over to Nick’s house and took a deep satisfied breath when she reached the gate. It had been a weird past couple of days, but all things considered, she was happy to be in Malibu and excited to see her friend.

She punched in the buzz code and parked her car once the gate opened. Grabbing the grocery bags out of the backseat as well as her small suitcase, she made her way to the front door.

“Happy Christmas Eve,” she said with a grin as she stepped inside.

No response.

She frowned, setting her things down in the front entrance as she walked around the house. “Nick?” she called.

She looked out on the porch and saw him sitting out there. She shook her head – so that was why he hadn’t answered – he hadn’t heard her. She quickly went to put the groceries away before going to greet him.

“Hey,” she said, sliding the glass doors open and stepping outside.

“Hey,” he replied, glancing back at her. “How was New York?”

She shrugged, choosing not to tell Nick that she’d had dinner with her ex-boyfriend. She didn’t exactly want a lecture from him and she knew Nick wasn’t his biggest fan. Though they’d never talked about it explicitly, Brittany was sure that Nick had had words with him at Danielle and Liam’s wedding.

No, nothing good would come from telling Nick.

“It was good,” she said, not quite lying but of course leaving out the obvious truth.

Nick raised his eyebrow. It was clear that Brittany wasn’t going to tell him that she’d had dinner with Niall. He knew she was intentionally leaving it out because she didn’t want to deal with his reaction. But what she failed to realize was that he already knew. Though he tried his best to stay away from gossip websites, some news was hard to avoid.

Like the fact that one of the biggest popstars in the country had an intimate dinner with her ex-boyfriend.

“Yeah?” Nick asked her again. “It was good? Usually you hate New York. Anything interesting happen?” he pressed.

Brittany eyed him. She wasn’t sure if he was digging for information because he suspected something or if it was just because she’d answered the question more positively that he’d expected. “Nope.”

“Really? Nothing at all?” he narrowed his eyes at her.

Brittany bit the inside of her lip, but didn’t say anything. She was 99% sure that Nick had actually figured out that she’d been to see Niall while she was in New York. But still, she didn’t tell him. “Nothing happened,” she said, both lying and assuring him that, if he did know something, it had just been dinner.

Nick eyed her.

“It was just dinner,” she sighed, knowing that Nick wasn’t going to let it go until she came out with it. He obviously knew what had gone on and was waiting for her to admit it so he could tell her she was stupid and get on with the rest of their holiday.

“Sure,” Nick said, shrugging his shoulders and standing up to walk back inside the house. “If dinner is code for kissing.”

Brittany’s eyes widened as she wondered how he could possibly have known about that. She quickly recovered when she realized that she and Niall had likely been photographed, just as they had been years ago in the very same restaurant.

Of course, when she’d been nineteen she’d had the good sense to not kiss him for the entire world to see.

“It didn’t mean anything,” she said automatically, even if she wasn’t so sure that was true.

Nick raised his eyebrow at her as they stepped into the kitchen. He didn’t believe that at all and he had no idea why Brittany had decided to go out to dinner with him in the first place. “How’d that even happen anyway?”

She rolled her eyes, not caring for Nick to grill her. “I don’t know. He was there and we ran into each other and decided to have dinner and catch up. Is that so wrong?”

“Yes,” he said sharply.

“Why?”

“Because!” Nick exclaimed with annoyance, frustrated beyond belief. He wasn’t even sure why he was so upset. He knew he was being selfish. Brittany obviously still had feelings towards Niall – he’d known that since they’d gone to London. Anything he said to her to try and help her out would only push her back towards him. And Nick didn’t want that. He didn’t want her as his girlfriend – but he didn’t want to risk losing her to this other boy he didn’t particularly like.

“How can you just go out with him like everything’s fine and have that look on your face when you think about him? Do you not remember everything he did to you?” he asked her, standing in the kitchen and crossing his arms over his chest.

Brittany gaped at him. “Everything he did to me?” she repeated incredulously. “Everything he did to me?! Nick, when I first told you about that your response was ‘Oh, he cheated on you? Well, that’s not such a big deal.’ So don’t pull the he was a terrible boyfriend card when all you’re doing is projecting your hatred for yourself onto him! People can change and grow up, Nick,” she said, rolling her eyes and glaring at him. “Not that you’d know what that’s like.”

“Oh fuck off,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Don’t you dare talk about growing up. I thought you moved on, but you’re still that same pathetic, crying girl I brought with me on the cruise.”

Nick’s words stung, but Brittany tried not to let it show. “Pathetic?!” she screeched. “I’m not the one who’s pathetic, if anyone is totally pathetic, it’s you. You’re the one who’s trying to fix all his past mistakes through me. You’re the one who’s almost forty and still sleeping around instead of trying to have a real relationship with anyone.”

Nick didn’t really have anything to counter that with, considering Brittany wasn’t wrong at all. “I have tried,” he said through gritted teeth. “It’s not for me. And you, as my friend, should understand that. I don’t need a girlfriend, I have enough friends to hang out with, thanks, and enough women begging for me to fuck them.”

“Gross, Nick,” Brittany said, rolling her eyes at how incredibly lewd he was being. “So fucking gross. You’re just jealous that because even though I’ve been hurt before, I have the ability to move on and grow up and let people in. You don’t.”

Nick was feeling too lightheaded to care about pointing out to Brittany that kissing her ex-boyfriend hardly counted as moving on at all. Instead, he leaned his elbows on the counter and pressed down, breathing hard. “Fine, whatever. Go off and marry him for all I care.”

“Oh my god, Nick,” Brittany said, shaking her head at his dramatics. “It was dinner. And I kissed him because he said something about one other time we were in New York together and it just made me miss him a little bit. God.”

But Nick wasn’t even listening to her ramble on anymore. “Brittany,” he breathed. “I need you to not freak out, okay?”

“Well too late, Nick! You started this, you’re the one who flipped out in the first place. It was you who-”

“Call 911,” he interrupted her, still looking at his hands and pressing his weight on the counter.

That shut her up quickly. “What? Why?”

“I think I’m having a heart attack.”

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