Chapter 34 – The Core Four

On Monday, Brittany received the phonecall from Danielle she’d been expecting ever since Nick had died.

On Tuesday, she spent the entirety of the day on YouTube watching old Backstreet Boys videos. She caught herself smiling and laughing at some silly things Nick had said (such as his mispronunciation of the word ‘documentaries’) and felt the urge to text and make fun of him. Then she would remember, and the smile would fade.

On Wednesday, Brittany lazed around, trying to distract herself with the TV and computer games. She began to feel anxious about the fact that people were going to be coming over.

On Thursday, she paced around the house looking for something to do. She cleaned up, but there wasn’t much to do as the house had been empty for a lot of the time.

And every night without fail, she was out on the beach, watching the water and missing him.

On Friday she woke up early, feeling antsy. She found herself glancing at the clock, and for the first time since she’d arrived in Malibu, time seemed to be going by quickly.

She tried to busy herself by watching TV, cleaning up, preparing guest rooms…

She wasn’t even sure why she’d agreed to let Niall join them in Malibu. She knew Danielle had set that up in an effort to try and comfort her. After all, seeing Niall in New York had helped to take her mind off of the fact that she hated being in that city. Still, the two of them hadn’t talked since then. He hadn’t made any effort to contact her and as far as she assumed he hadn’t actually seemed to want to pursue any sort of friendship with her.

Besides, he’d been the one to push her away and stop anything further from happening that night. It had bothered her, but she hadn’t thought about it much ever since it had happened. She’d had far bigger things to deal with since then.

But Danielle had suggested he come along, and Brittany hadn’t had much of a chance to mull it over before agreeing. She’d still been depressed and in shock over Nick’s death, and the thought of seeing a familiar face, any familiar face had been appealing.

At least, that was what she’d told herself when her heart had skipped a beat upon hearing that he apparently wanted to join them.

But she didn’t quite have time to dwell on it. The day went by quickly, and soon enough she was climbing into her car, ready to drive down the I-10 E to LA.

She sighed, plugging in her iPod as she hit the road. Music always helped to calm her down. She sped down the highway, singing loudly to herself along to whatever songs randomly played. It wasn’t until she was almost in LA that the tone shifted, and a much sadder song came on.

Brittany didn’t have the heart to change it as Falling Down came blaring through her car speakers.

So instead she listened quietly, not singing along. Nick’s voice rang throughout her car as she drove down the highway, nearly at her destination.

“And how do I let go? I know I should move on, but without you I don’t know where I belong. And everywhere I go, every happy face I see, it reminds me of the way it used to be…”

Brittany gripped the steering wheel tightly as she drove into the city limits. She felt sick to her stomach. She missed Nick terribly, she was excited to see Danielle, she was unsure about seeing Niall and wondered what Nick would think of her if he knew.

And of course, as though he did know, another song of his began to play.

It was a decidedly stupider one, and Brittany laughed out loud. Even in death, Nick managed to make her feel better.

“To all my girls in the USA, you’ve got a fine thing goin’ so I’ve gotta say, you’ve been good to me, so now I’m down. Gotta drop the line, gotta give you a shout.”

Sometimes she wondered what he’d been thinking with some of the awful music he’d recorded in his youth. Still, she turned the speakers up loud as she drove through LA, finally stopping in front of the Four Seasons.

She texted Danielle to let her know that she was waiting outside and took a deep breath. She supposed she couldn’t back out now. So, she picked up her iPod, took it off shuffle and just listened to the rest of Nick’s ridiculous song.

Brittany looked out at the front doors of the Four Seasons. She grinned and waved as she saw Danielle walk outside with Liam beside her, and Niall trailing awkwardly behind.

So, she paused her music and grinned. “Hey,” she said as Danielle got into the passenger seat.

“Hey,” Danielle replied, smiling at her. “Thanks for coming to pick us up.”

“It’s no problem.”

Danielle leaned over and the two girls hugged quickly as the boys got settled in the back. Brittany bit her lip, turning back to greet them. She felt somewhat uncomfortable, but she figured she was just going to have to deal with it. “Hey boys,” she said, forcing a smile on her face.

“Hi Brittany,” Liam said, giving her a soft smile. She’d always loved that about him – he was so easy to talk to.

And at one point, that was what she’d loved about Niall as well.

“Hi,” he said easily, looking at her.

“Hi…” she trailed off. She didn’t know why she felt so awkward, she just did. Perhaps it was because actually seeing him after having avoided thinking about him for the past few months reminded her of how she’d felt that evening in New York. It made her confused all over again. She turned around quickly, eager to get back on the road and back to Nick’s house.

“Let’s go,” she said, pulling away from the hotel and turning her iPod back on.

The soft pop melody of the next song chimed through the speakers.

“People tell me you stay where you belong, but all my life I’ve tried to prove them wrong…”

Danielle looked over at Brittany as she drove, and Brittany glanced at her. “Oh yeah, sorry,” she said sheepishly. “One of his songs came on as I was driving here and I just decided to listen to the whole album. I hope that’s okay… if it’s weird I can change it.”

Danielle shook her head, giving her friend a sympathetic look. “No, it’s fine,” she smiled.

Brittany nodded, looking back out onto the road.

“It’s funny how life can take new meaning. You came and changed what I believe in. The world on the outside tryin’ to pull me in. But they can’t touch me, cause I’ve got you.”

Brittany smiled softly to herself as she drove. There was probably an awkward silence in the car, but she tried not to take notice of it. Instead she just chose to focus on Nick’s voice and that shared bond they’d had over their music.

Even though it had grown into more than that, that’s what it had started out as. And Brittany felt that it was fitting to allow his songs to soothe her as she mourned him.

Until the next song started.

“I’m a product of the nation, my Nintendo’s on the floor. On a permanent vacation, Momma’s bangin’ at my door…”

Danielle raised her eyebrow and looked over at Brittany, who then burst out laughing.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know what he was thinking with some of these.”

She looked up in the rear-view mirror at Niall and Liam, who both had awkward looks on their faces.

“It’s okay guys,” she smiled. “It’s okay to laugh. The song is bad. Him being gone doesn’t change that.”

Niall and Liam exchanged a look, as though they didn’t believe Brittany that they could laugh at Nick so soon after his death. It didn’t seem right.

“I was raised by the television. Jerry Springer was my dad, and it wouldn’t matter if Martha Stewart was my mother and Aaron Carter was my brother cause I’d still be bad.”

Niall clasped his hand over his mouth in an effort to try and stop laughing, but it did nothing. “What is this?” he laughed. “Why did he ever think this was a good idea?”

Brittany shrugged. To be honest, she really didn’t know. This album had been recorded long before she’d known Nick or had any idea she was ever going to know him. “I don’t know,” she giggled. “I think he was really young when he recorded this.”

“Like, twelve?!” Niall asked incredulously.

“Uh,” Brittany said, trying to think back. She didn’t know the timeline very well. “Probably when he was like twenty-one,” she paused. “Which I guess was basically like twelve for him.”

Brittany shifted in her seat as the song ended, feeling slightly uncomfortable talking about Nick with all of her old friends. Again, she wondered what he might be thinking if he was watching her. Odds were that he’d be less than impressed with the fact that Niall was sitting directly behind her.

She’d still had her suspicions they’d had words at Danielle and Liam’s wedding, but she’d never asked him about it, and she certainly didn’t want to bring up that night now.

So, they continued on their somewhat awkward way.

It took about an hour of driving, but eventually they made it back to Malibu. The majority of the car ride was silent. Brittany and Danielle made a couple of comments here and there, but the four of them were mostly quiet as they listened to Nick’s music from Brittany’s iPod. No one dared to be the first to speak, and Brittany was content just listening to him.

Of course, once they pulled into the driveway the music had to be turned off and they actually had to interact with each other.

“So,” Brittany said as she unlocked the door to the house. “This is Nick’s casa.”

They nodded at her, looking around. It was a nice house – nicer than any of them had been expecting given Nick’s dislike for anything that was overly fancy. But again, Nick had wanted the beach front property, and with that came lavish homes.

“I guess I’ll show you guys to your rooms,” she said, leading them up the stairs and down the hall. She pointed at a guest room when they stopped in the hall. “This is for you guys,” she said, and Liam and Danielle went in and dropped their things off.

She led Niall a little further down the hallway, into the room that she’d claimed as her own so many years ago. “This is for you.”

He looked around the room that obviously had some of her things in it. “This is your room.”

She looked at him, half expecting him to make some remark about how she clearly wanted to share the room with him. Then she realized he wasn’t the one who would have made that sort of inappropriate joke.

“Yeah,” she said quickly. “But I’m not using it. I’m sleeping in the big room,” she gestured down the hall to the room with the double doors in it.

There was an awkward silence for a minute and Brittany mentally berated herself. She’d acted so stupid in New York – kissing him and whatnot. She sort of wanted to say something about it to him, but she wasn’t sure exactly what. That, and she didn’t want to make things more awkward than they already were.

“Well, I guess you guys are hungry…” she said instead, changing the subject and walking back out into the hall to meet Danielle and Liam. “We could order a pizza… I don’t really have a lot of food here. I haven’t been very hungry,” she shrugged.

“Pizza sounds good,” Danielle smiled, and looked at the others for confirmation.

“What kind do you guys want?” she asked as they made their way back downstairs and into the kitchen. She’d never ordered anything other than Nick’s standard cheese. In fact, he was usually the one who did the ordering.

“Doesn’t matter, get whatever you like.”

So Brittany proceeded to order the cheese pizza, and a pepperoni for good measure. They sat in the kitchen waiting and making small talk. The ambiance in the house was a little awkward, but at least it was helping to slightly distract Brittany from her grief.

Eventually the pizza came, and Brittany carried it outside to the deck. “I have a bottle of wine in the fridge,” she said, looking at the three of them as they sat down in the treated-wooden chairs. “We could drink that.”

They nodded eagerly and Brittany went to look for wine glasses in the cupboards. Eventually, she found them and set back out onto the porch. She poured the wine and sat down, looking at her friends.

Well, friends and ex-boyfriend.

“Cheers?” Danielle asked, holding up her glass.

“Cheers,” Brittany said, as they clinked their drinks together. “To Nick.”

“To Nick,” Danielle repeated with a smile, taking a sip of her wine. She wrinkled her nose a little. “What is this?”

Brittany shrugged, glancing at the bottle. “I don’t know, it was here when I got here. Peach Chardonnay.”

“Wouldn’t you have bought it?” Niall asked her, taking a sip of his wine, and looking down at it.

“Uh, no,” Brittany laughed. “It wouldn’t have been me who bought this.”

There was an uncomfortable silence again, as Brittany was beginning to notice tended to happen whenever Nick was mentioned. She got the feeling no one really knew what to say to her, and she knew it was probably because no one really understood what Nick was to her.

And really, there was no way for her to accurately explain it.

So they just sat there, drinking the sugary wine and eating the pizza. The waves could be heard crashing up on the shore, and Brittany looked out on them.

“Look at us,” Danielle laughed, taking a bite of her pizza. “Eating pizza and drinking cheap wine in Malibu.”

Liam smirked a little. “It’s not unlike that time we spent the night at our place drinking beer and eating Chinese takeaway.”

They all laughed. Brittany remembered that night well, and even though it had been years ago her stomach still churned slightly at the thought. Chinese food and heavy beer were not a good mix.

“I’d nearly forgotten about that,” Niall said, shooting Liam a look. “Thanks a lot.”

Danielle rolled her eyes. “Says you, the bottomless pit. Why don’t you save some pizza for the rest of us?” she joked, glancing at the four slices on his plate.

“I didn’t eat anything all day!”

Liam rolled his eyes. “Right, so when we went to In-N-Out Burger for lunch, that didn’t count?”

“I forgot about that.”

The four of them laughed and Brittany couldn’t help but feel a little better. In the midst of her grief, she was glad to know that some things would never change. They sat and ate dinner, reliving old memories that the four of them had shared when they used to be a unit so long ago.

Even though it was a bit awkward, she was glad that she wasn’t sitting on the deck alone.

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