Chapter 32 – The Malibu House

Brittany looked at her reflection in the mirror as she stood in a change room in a boutique. She bit her lip as she studied the dress she was wearing, unsure if she wanted to buy it or not. Then she sighed to herself. She was really sick of shopping, but there wasn’t much else for her to do in LA.

Her phone rang inside of her purse and she pulled it out, frowning when she saw the call display. It was an unknown number with a California area code. Not interested in taking a call from a fan or from a management office, she ignored it and placed it on top of her purse. Instead, she focused on the dress again, smoothing it out and trying to decide if she wanted it or not.

Her phone rang again and she looked down at it. It was the same number. They hadn’t left a voicemail, which was alarming. If it had been someone from her management firm, they likely would have done so. This gave her event more of a reason to ignore it, so she rolled her eyes a little and did just that.

About a minute later, just as she was about to take off the dress and try on one of the many others she had sitting on the rack, her phone rang again. She looked down at it, this time seeing Nick’s face on the call display. She smiled a little to herself, picking it up.

“Hey!” she said brightly, happy for the welcome distraction from her dress predicament.

“Brittany,” came Kevin’s solemn voice from the other end of the line. Brittany raised her eyebrow a little. “It’s Kevin.”

“Uh, hi,” Brittany said awkwardly. “What’s up… Kevin? Why are you calling me from Nick’s phone?” she laughed a little, trying to shake off the worry that was beginning to settle in her chest. She couldn’t help but think back to a few months earlier, when she had been talking to Kevin from Nick’s phone after he’d had his heart attack.

“You didn’t answer when I called you from my own,” he said simply.

“Oh,” Brittany nodded, looking at herself again in the mirror. So that was who had been trying to reach her.

“Brittany,” Kevin said shakily, and this alarmed her further. “Where are you? Are you alone?”

“I’m in a change room,” she said quickly. “Why are you calling me? What’s going on?”

“Nick passed away last night,” Kevin said slowly. Brittany looked at herself in the mirror, and felt almost shocked as she watched her expression stay neutral. It didn’t change. It was almost as though she was beside herself, watching this happen.

“Oh,” she said dumbly, not quite comprehending what Kevin had said. “Well, thanks for letting me know.”

She hung up the phone and tossed it back into her bag, studying herself in the mirror again and going back to thinking about the dress. She glanced over at the others on the rack that she’d picked out and sighed a little. What a daunting task it was going to be, trying all of those on.

So, she quickly took the first dress off, carefully putting it back on the hanger before picking up the next in the line and slipping it over her head.

She silently made it through every dress she’d picked out, before putting her own clothes back on and taking all of the dresses to the register to pay for them. She couldn’t even remember what any of them had looked like on, she’d just bought them and walked out of the store carrying a large bag.

She tossed the bag into the backseat of her car and began to drive back to her condo, watching the road carefully, listening to the radio as she went along.

She pulled into the parking lot of her condo, retrieving her back from the back of her car and making her way up the glass elevator to her suite. She unlocked the door and tossed her bag onto her couch. When she looked over at the side table, her eyes fell on a framed photo of her and Nick.

“Oh God,” she choked out, putting her hand over her mouth. She frantically fished through her purse for her cell phone and called Nick’s phone, half expecting him to pick up and tell her that it was an elaborate prank, and half needing to talk to Kevin and have him tell her everything.

“Hi,” Kevin answered, and Brittany felt her heart sink.

“Nick’s dead?!” she shrieked, not caring that she was beginning to lose her mind. “What the hell?”

“I’m sorry,” Kevin said automatically, and Brittany rolled her eyes. He was obviously hurting too, but she didn’t really care. She didn’t understand what had happened or why Kevin was calling her and telling her, and she sat down on her couch before it all became too much.

“What happened?” she asked quietly, taking deep breaths and looking around her condo for some kind of comfort. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t find any, so she just listened to Kevin’s smooth voice.

“He died in his sleep,” Kevin sighed. “I dunno. I just found him this morning. They said it doesn’t look like he felt any pain.”

Brittany frowned. If she hadn’t cared how Kevin felt before, she certainly did now. She couldn’t imagine walking into Nick’s room and thinking he was asleep, only to find him dead. “I’m sorry,” she said softly.

“There’s not going to be a funeral,” Kevin said softly. “He’s never wanted one. We haven’t gone through his will yet, but, yeah, no funeral.”

Brittany just nodded. “Okay.”

“Are you okay?” Kevin asked quietly. “If there’s anything that I can do…”

“Yeah, no, I don’t know,” Brittany said awkwardly, because she truly didn’t know. She didn’t know what to do with this information she’d just heard and she certainly didn’t know what Kevin could do to help her, given that she hardly knew him. “Thanks for telling me. I’m sorry about Nick.”

“Me too,” Kevin said, and Brittany was sure she heard his voice crack. “Take care, kiddo.”

“Bye,” Brittany said to the dead line.

She looked around her condo, not knowing what to do with herself. She took a deep breath and stood up, thinking back to her last conversation with Nick. He’d told her to go to his house in Malibu and take some time off from LA.

Given that the was last conversation she was ever going to have with him, she decided to follow his words. She grabbed her suitcase out of her bedroom and dumped the contents out of it. She shoved her newly purchased dressed into it, along with some other necessities. She fastened it and carried it down to her car, tossing it in the backseat and driving off in a haste.

***

An hour later, Brittany opened the door to Nick’s Malibu home and sighed.

It was dark and somewhat ominous. Of course, the reason being that all of the blinds were closed on account of no one having been there for the past few months.

She walked around and opened the blinds, allowing light to stream into the house, but it did little to console her. Light or no light, the house still felt as dark and gloomy as it had looked when she’d first walked in.

Maybe it was the knowledge that even though Nick had promised, he wasn’t coming.

She sat down on the couch and looked up at the ceiling. It hadn’t quite sunk in for her yet. Still, she couldn’t get Kevin’s words out of her mind.

“Nick passed away last night.”

She felt sick to her stomach and didn’t know what to do. She found herself glancing at the front door, hoping for Nick to walk through it. Even though he’d told her he wasn’t going to come out to Malibu for another week or so, she still hoped and prayed. Maybe it was all just a cruel joke.

But that door never opened.

Sitting on the couch was doing her no good. With a sigh, she got up and walked around the house, dragging her suitcase of clothing with her. She glanced at the master bedroom. Even though she’d stayed at the house alone a few times before, she’d never dared to sleep in there. Now, she found herself dragging her suitcase into it, figuring morbidly that there was nothing Nick could do to stop her and needing to be closer to him in any way possible. The house was big, but it had never felt quite so empty.

All of Nick’s life force it seemed, was gone.

She just walked around, and every room held a different memory. She could almost hear Nick’s laughter reverberate off the walls as she remembered the times they’d spent there together. It was their getaway, their escape from the crazy celebrity world that they both had never quite fit into.

The last time she’d been there, it had been with Nick that past Christmas.

“I don’t understand why you don’t make this your permanent residence,” she laughed as they sat out on the back porch, eating her attempt at a traditional Christmas dinner.

Nick shrugged. “I like my house in Nashville. It’s more…homey.”

Brittany rolled her eyes and took a sip of her wine. “Right. Because you’re such a homebody.”

“I could be,” he protested with a laugh.

“No,” she giggled. “You’ll always be Nick Carter, the awesome pop-star. World tours and lots of women falling at your feet.”

He laughed. Even though Brittany was obviously exaggerating, she had something of a point. “Yeah, well, it’s a nice place to pretend I’ve settled down.”

“Yeah, pretend,” she scoffed sarcastically.

Nick raised his eyebrow. “And how about you? When are you going to settle down?”

She gave him a look, wondering what he was getting at. She didn’t quite want to argue with him again, given what had happened last time Nick had brought the subject of her love life up. “I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it.” That much was true, she’d always made her career the number one focus in her life. To a fault, almost, but at least she’d been successful.

She noticed Nick study her for a moment. “Are you sure?” he pressed.

“Uh, yeah.” She supposed she had thought about it a little, but no more than anyone her age did really. She knew Nick was digging for information on her feelings about what had gone on in New York, but she wasn’t going to give it to him. She wasn’t even sure of her own feelings on it. Far too much had happened in the last few days for her to even begin to try and figure it all out.

Nick looked contemplative, and stared out onto the ocean. She didn’t press the issue and let it drop, wanting to focus on their dinner and time together instead of her relationship problems – or lack thereof.

It was a weird memory to have creeped back into her mind, but she found herself once again wondering why Nick had been so insistent on talking about New York. Now she supposed she’d never find out.

She shook her head a little and walked into the kitchen. As expected, there wasn’t much food in the house. She picked up the Dominoes flyer off the table and proceeded to call in an order. If nothing else, she could still eat on the porch just as she and Nick had many times.

And even though now she could order whatever she wanted, she found herself still ordering that same large cheese pizza Nick had been so fond of. It would have felt wrong to order anything else.

After absentmindedly flipping through TV channels for forty five minutes, her pizza finally arrived. She grabbed the box and went to sit out on the deck, watching the waves crash onto the shore as she ate.

She’d never noticed how much noise they made before. Not until there was no one sitting there across from her.

She sat out there until it began to get dark. Unable to take the silence, she’d eventually gone to get her iPad, but even the silly games on there did little to distract her.

So, she put the leftover pizza in the fridge and went down to the beach. She walked out to the water and let it crash around her ankles as it crested on the shoreline. As it got darker, she looked up at the stars. All she could hear was the water, and all she could see was the night.

And for the first time since she’d found out, the tears started to well up in her eyes.

It hit her hard, and it hit her fast.

She put her head in her hands, clutching her face slightly as she cried. She water around her feet wasn’t bothering her, she hardly even noticed it anymore, but she needed to sit down, so she walked a few feet back onto the beach and curled her knees up to her chest.

All of a sudden she had a whole slew of regrets.

She wished she’d just gone out to Nashville, even though Nick had told her not to. She wished she’d stayed on the phone with him longer, and hadn’t let him go when he’d said he’d talk to her tomorrow. When they’d gotten off the phone earlier, she’d had a strange urge to tell him she loved him. Not in a romantic way – just to remind him that he was loved, because sometimes, she worried that he forgot.

She sort of hated herself for losing her nerve. Ever since their trip to London the word love had been touchy around them. Now, she wished she’d just swallowed her pride and said it. Because she did love him. She wasn’t in love with him, and she never had been, but she’d never felt so close to anyone else in her life.

And as she sat there and cried, the gravity of the situation began to sink in.

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