Chapter 9 – The Truth

After the beach party was over, the group went back onto the ship to enjoy an early dinner before the fans were let back on.

The boat was docked of course, and would be for the rest of the night. Brittany smiled a little as she and Nick ate (and sipped on more of those fin drinks Nick was fond of) and glanced over at him. He always seemed to have a look on his face that she couldn’t quite read. It was unlike how he’d been whenever they’d been in the studio. There, he was always serious and focused. Here on the ship, he looked distant and lost. Brittany wasn’t quite sure what the reason for it was, but she had her suspicions.

Kevin, Kristin, Howie and Leigh were sitting at a table together. Brian and Leighanne had opted to go back to their room, and AJ and Rochelle were sitting on their own a little further off. Nick had pulled Brittany to a table of their own, not bothered to sit with the others.

She rested her chin in her left hand as she sipped her drink once she was finished eating. The boat was nice, and she was somewhat disappointed she hadn’t yet got a chance to explore it. She supposed she could go off while Nick was doing his own thing, but she didn’t really want to risk having to interact with any crazy Backstreet Boys fans. She’d dealt with enough of that in her life already.

“What’s that?” Nick asked, pulling her out of her thoughts as he noticed the bracelet on her wrist. More accurately, the flat piece on that held some sort of inscription he couldn’t read from where he was sitting.

“What?” Brittany asked, looking at him.

“On your wrist, what does it say?”

“Oh.” Brittany looked down at the bracelet. She’d nearly forgotten about it – she’d been wearing it for the past year and a half. She supposed there was no point in that anymore. So, using her other hand, she unclasped it and handed it to Nick.

Nick looked down at it and read the engraved words. “Is there anybody going to listen to my story, all about the girl who came to stay,” he sang, smiling a little to himself. “She’s the kind of girl you want so much it makes you sorry, still you don’t regret a single day,” he finished the lyric, and handed Brittany’s bracelet back to her. “I like that song,” he said.

Brittany stuffed the bracelet in the pocket of her shorts instead of putting it back on. “I don’t,” she said, rolling her eyes a little and looking back out at the ocean.

“You must have liked it at one point,” he reasoned.

But Brittany didn’t even look at him. “Not anymore,” she muttered.

Nick sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He figured he was going to have to talk to her eventually about what exactly had happened in Europe. Now seemed as good a time as any, especially since he’d already brought it up without meaning to. “Why not? Your boyfriend give you that or something?” he asked, knowing full well what the answer was.

Brittany looked back at Nick. “Ex-boyfriend,” she corrected him.

“Right, sorry,” Nick said, giving her a cheeky grin. “So… what happened?”

Brittany looked down at the table. She wasn’t sure if Nick was asking her just to be nice or if he really wanted to know. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to tell him. “We were just growing apart, I guess. Our lives were going in two separate directions.”

Nick nearly choked on his drink as he started laughing. At first Brittany didn’t understand why, but then she rolled her eyes at his reaction to her unintentional pun. “You’re a moron,” she said.

“Sorry,” Nick said, wiping his mouth with his hand. “I couldn’t help it.” He looked at her again. She still looked sad and in thought. He really was going to have to talk with her about this. He mentally cursed himself for bringing it up – but he supposed there was no backing out now. “You know, you don’t have to tell me the story you’re going to tell the media. You can tell me the truth.”

“He slept with someone else,” she said bluntly, blurting it out because she knew if she didn’t, she wouldn’t. And she really did want to talk about it with someone. Someone who wasn’t a part of their group at all.

Nick raised his eyebrow. “That’s it?” he asked.

Brittany glared at him. “What do you mean, ‘That’s it?’ That’s a pretty big thing.”

“Sorry,” Nick said, still giving her a bit of a look. “It’s just that… I cheated on my girlfriends all the time.”

“Yeah?” Brittany asked, getting annoyed with his attitude. “And how’d that work out for you?”

Nick shrugged. “Hey, you can’t tie this guy down. They knew what they were getting into,” he laughed.

Brittany rolled her eyes. Evidently, all men were pigs. “Yeah, well, I didn’t,” she sighed. “He wasn’t like that. At least, I thought he wasn’t like that.”

Nick squinted his eyes a little. “What happened, then? How’d you find out?”

Brittany sighed and proceeded to tell Nick the whole story. How she’d flown to Europe, how they’d gotten into an argument, how he had left, stayed out the whole night and how he’d admitted what he’d done once he’d come back. When she was done, she shrugged her shoulders. “I guess I just wasn’t enough for him,” she concluded.

“No,” Nick said seriously. “He wasn’t enough for you.”

“What?” she asked, unsure what he was getting at. That didn’t make any sense to her.

“Think about it,” Nick said, sitting up in his chair and leaning towards her slightly. “He didn’t just randomly cheat on you, he cheated on you because you guys had a fight.”

“Yeah,” Brittany said, shaking her head. “I know.”

“Right,” Nick continued. “But what did you guys fight about? He wanted you to move with him to the other side of the world and you didn’t want to. Because you have a career and a life of your own. And that’s what you wanted. You wanted it more than you wanted him. You went to Europe wanting to break up with him, he just gave you an excuse to do it.”

Brittany gaped at Nick. Was he being serious? His analysis of her was almost baffling. “You’re crazy, I didn’t go there wanting to break up with him,” she said harshly. “I loved him, I still love him.”

Nick shrugged. “I didn’t say you didn’t love him. That’s probably what made it so hard. You loved him, but you wanted to do all this other stuff, and the two didn’t go together. You weren’t ready for all that stuff and that serious relationship. That’s why as soon as he told you he slept with that chick, you ended it. You didn’t even try to work on it, you just said it was over.”

“Because I have respect for myself,” Brittany said though gritted teeth.

“Maybe, or maybe it’s because you’ve always known in the back of your mind that he was holding you back.”

The more Brittany thought about it, the more she realized that Nick wasn’t wrong at all. Being with Niall had held her back in a lot of ways. It had been hard for her to establish her own career right from the beginning, because she’s always been attached to him. She was constantly flying to the other side of the world to see him, and spent more time talking on the phone to him than getting to know the people who lived around her in LA.

“I guess you’re sort of right,” she admitted finally.

“You’re better than him,” Nick said seriously.

Brittany smiled. For the first time in days, she was feeling a little better about everything that had happened. “Thanks, Nick.”

“Anytime, babe,” he winked at her, and then laughed. “You ready for a red carpet event?”

Brittany shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”

Nick stood up and took her hand. “I’m not. But we don’t really have a choice, so let’s go get ready before they let the fans back on the boat and they bombard us.”

The two of them walked back to their room and Brittany glanced down at their interlocked hands.

It didn’t mean anything, right? Nick was just leading her to the room, wasn’t he? She didn’t quite know what to think.

And yet, she didn’t pull away.

***

Brittany smoothed out her dress as she stood on the Lido Deck with the other girls. This time, the boys were on a stage in the centre of the deck rather than atop the overhang. It was easily more accessible for the fans, which wasn’t necessarily the best. Especially in the case of a group of overly loud (and probably drunk) girls sitting on a ledge than hung above the stage.

Still, she did her best to ignore them as she watched Nick and the others goof around. She hung back, unable to hear much of what they were saying, but she didn’t mind really. The sight of the boys, the fans, and the general atmosphere was enough to keep her mildly entertained.

Red Carpet night, indeed. They had a whole area blocked off where people could take pictures as though they were being photographed at the Oscar pre-show, and meanwhile the boys stood atop the stage, dancing around, and acting generally, well…

Drunk, to put it mildly.

“Beer pong,” Nick said, slinging his arm around Kevin’s shoulder. “Let’s play beer pong.”

“Nick, it’s a Red Carpet. There’s no beer pong on the Red Carpet,” Kevin said, rolling his eyes.

“Come on, dude,” Nick whined. “What is there on the Red Carpet, then?” he mused, putting his finger to his chin and appearing to think really hard.

“Why don’t you go take a picture with your girlfriend?” Brian laughed. “Because she looks bored.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Nick stated, glaring at Brian. He hadn’t brought her on the ship to try and sleep with her – he’d brought her so that he’d have someone to hang around with and not look so pathetic around all the other couples.

Of course, that plan was completely backfiring. As plans of his usually tended to.

“Then what’s she doing here?” Brian challenged. “Why even bring her?”

Nick shrugged. “She broke up with her boyfriend. I thought she could use some fun,” he laughed, pointing at himself and not quite realizing what he’d implied.

Brian lowered his eyes at Nick. “You’ll never change,” he muttered.

“Fuck off,” Nick said, rolling his eyes. “Not all of us can have a perfect life like you.” He pushed past Brian and walked straight over to Brittany. This was exactly why he’d brought her – so he could have someone to escape to when the other boys got to be too much for him.

“Hey,” he said putting his hands on Brittany’s shoulders and sliding them downwards. He was going over the line, and somewhere, he knew it. But in his drunken state, he didn’t really care. It hardly occurred to him that he was only proving Brian’s point. “What’re you doing?”

“Standing,” Brittany said awkwardly, looking at Nick’s hands and watching them cautiously. “What’re you doing?”

“Drinking,” Nick said mischievously.

“Yeah, I see that,” Brittany laughed, lightly pushing Nick’s hands off of her. She hadn’t slept with him the night before, but with the way he was acting she was starting to get nervous that he might try something if she got drunk too. His personality changed so much when he was drunk compared to when he was sober. She wasn’t sure she liked it.

“You want a drink too?” he asked, already taking her hand and leading her down to the mini-bar.

“No,” she shook her head, wiggling her hand away from his. “I’m okay.”

Nick pouted. “Come on, it’s no fun if I’m the only one who’s drunk.”

Brittany sighed. She’d already drank so much in the past day, and with the state Nick was in, she didn’t think getting herself intoxicated was the best idea.

“Ugh, look,” Nick rolling his eyes in disgust. “Brian and Leighanne are already leaving.”

“So?” Brittany asked, giving him a look. “Who cares? Let them leave.”

“He’s so lame. Must be nice to have a perfect relationship,” Nick muttered. “Come on, let’s do shots.”

“No,” she said firmly, but she didn’t forget the first part of Nick’s sentence, nor the disdain he seemed to have for Brian and Leighanne. Was it possible Nick was jealous of their relationships? Maybe he was more upset over his breakup with Lauren than he’d let on.

Nick pouted again. “Don’t you want to party with me?” he asked, giving her puppy-dog eyes.

Brittany looked at Nick sadly. Just as she had the night before, she figured he was probably going through something. Drinking himself into a stupor was his way of dealing with whatever it was. She wasn’t about to let him do that to himself – he’d been there for her earlier that day, and now it was her turn.

But first, she had to get him away from the party atmosphere.

“I do want to party with you,” she whispered into his ear. “But I think we should go back to the room.”

Nick’s eyes widened as he looked down at her. She gave him a smirk and bit her lip.

Of course, Nick fell for it right away. He gripped her hand and pulled her in close to him. “I knew you’d come on to me eventually, baby,” he winked, his hot breath on her neck. “No one can resist the Carter charm.”

It took everything Brittany had not to burst out laughing at his ridiculous comment. “Yeah, definitely,” she said, pulling him off the stage. “Let’s go.”

She led Nick all the way back to their room, his arm draped tightly around her. Her heart pounded in her chest as she fiddled with room key, knowing she was going to have to act quickly move to stop him from kissing her as soon as the door closed.

Nick stepped inside the room first, and Brittany followed right after him, shutting the door with her foot and leaning against it. Nick pressed himself against her, and just as he was about to kiss her, she reached up and covered his mouth with her hand.

“Come on Nick, really?” she asked, giving him a look.

“But you said,” Nick whined, but it was muffled, given that her palm was still over his face.

“I know what I said, I needed to get you back to the room,” she replied seriously, giving him a look. “Tell me what happened with you and Lauren. Why am I really here?”

Nick sighed, but he backed away from Brittany and sat down on his bed. It was like Lauren’s name deflated him, and he sobered up quickly. “I dunno,” he shrugged, looking at the ground.

Brittany sat down beside him on the bed. “I told you what happened to me,” she said softly.

Again, Nick sighed. He shifted his gaze from the floor of the room, to Brittany’s concerned face. “Promise you won’t think less of me?”

“I promise.”

“She just… hated the Backstreet thing.”

Brittany furrowed her eyebrows. “What, like she hated your music?”

Nick shook his head. “No, well, yeah,” he backtracked, still a little drunk and unable to be completely articulate. “She just hated all of it. She hated the girls that were always throwing themselves at me…” he trailed off, looking at the floor again.

Brittany raised her eyebrow, knowing that wasn’t the whole reason. Nick had even told her as such when they’d eaten together earlier. “And?” she pressed.

“She hated how I always gave into them and cheated on her all the time,” he muttered. “But you don’t understand,” he said suddenly, glancing back up at her, his eyes wide. “She knew what she was getting into. I can’t be tied down. That’s not how it works. And she said she was okay with it. She said she was okay…” he breathed, shaking his head and looking down.

Despite the fact that she didn’t agree with him or his relationship practices, she did feel sorry for him. He looked a wreck. “Sorry, Nick,” she said sincerely.

“There’s more,” Nick continued, still looking at the ground. “She left me because she was sure I had a thing for you.”

“Do you?” Brittany asked him directly, feeling somewhat nervous about the answer.

“No,” Nick said quickly. “I think she just thought that because of all the time I spent with you in the studio, and how I was so set on having you on my label. She was already mad about a lot of other stuff too. And she liked doing her fitness thing, she didn’t have time to follow me all over the world on tour,” he quoted Lauren, mimicking her voice bitterly as he did so.

The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on Brittany, but she decided not to comment on it. “Sorry,” she said again. “That sucks.”

Nick just nodded. “Yeah. Whatever. I guess I just get annoyed when I see the other guys with their stupid wives. I never wanted to be married or whatever… but it still sucks.”

Brittany gave him a small smile. “So is that the real reason you brought me here?”

Nick shrugged. “That was part of it, I guess. But you really did look sad in the studio.”

“I really was,” she nodded.

“Are you still?” he asked, his eyes hazy, but less drunk than before.

“Yeah,” she admitted. She felt a little better, but she wasn’t going to get over it right away.

“Even though you’re the one who left him?”

“It wasn’t completely about him,” Brittany sighed. “It was about me. We already talked about this. I couldn’t have it both ways.”

“Do you still love him?” he asked her softly.

It was then that Brittany realized perhaps Nick wasn’t asking questions about her failed relationship. “Of course I do,” she whispered. “You don’t just stop.”

Nick wrapped his arms around her so quickly that Brittany barely had a moment to register what was happening. He hugged her tightly. “Thank you,” he said.

“Anytime,” she replied, pulling away from him and smiling. “Now let’s get some sleep… in separate beds tonight,” she added with a laugh.

Nick grinned, and for the first time that weekend, it looked genuine. “Sounds good.”

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