In Pieces – Chapter 10

Ashleigh sat nervously at a high table in the restaurant. She glanced at the clock on the wall. 6:54. She’d arrived early in hopes of having a drink to calm her nerves. Now, she was on her second cosmopolitan. She still didn’t have any idea why she was here, or what she was planning on saying to Nick. Before Joey had dragged her to the concert, Ashleigh had thought she would never have to deal with seeing Nick again. That was what she had wanted.

Or was it? Joey had a point, Ashleigh still did buy their cds, still checked message boards occasionally, and sometimes read old fan fics that she’d saved off the internet such a long time ago. Ashleigh snickered to herself, feeling as though she was in some bizarre Backstreet Boys story, just like the ones she and Joey used to write to get closer to their fantasies.

She hadn’t ever really gotten over him, she’d just pushed him to the back of her mind. Those cds, they were just music, weren’t they? Whenever she drove to work, she usually listened to them, getting lost in another world. She’d bought every single one of their albums on the release date.

Except for Now or Never… Ashleigh hadn’t been able to bring herself to listen to that one. When she listened to the group, Nick’s voice never tugged at her heart for too long. One of the other members would take over singing eventually. But 45 minutes of just Nick, without an escape? She didn’t think she would have made it through the first song.

She sighed, finishing her drink. This was a very bad idea, and she knew it. Yet, she didn’t get up to leave. Matt had no idea who she was with, all she’d told him was that she was going out to dinner with an old friend who was in town for a couple of days.

It wasn’t exactly a lie, but she still felt horrible for not being completely honest. He had no idea about her history with Nick. As far as he knew, she was just an obsessive Backstreet Boys fan.

Yet here she was, waiting for Nick. Her heart pounding, her inhibitions lowering on account of having two drinks in ten minutes. She was terrified and yet, strangely excited.

At exactly seven, the bell atop the door chimed as Nick sauntered through. Ashleigh’s heart caught in her throat. He was more gorgeous that she’d remembered him. He wore a dark blue polo shirt paired with black denim pants. She tried to conceal her excitement; she’d always thought blue looked best on him. Instinctively starting to play with the ring on her finger, she scolded herself. Engaged, she reminded herself.

As Nick walked towards her, he couldn’t help but smile. Her short hair framed her face, accenting her features. She was wearing a short black dress which made her look quite adult. As he got closer, he noticed that she appeared to have showered herself in glitter, as her skin shimmered under the glow of the restaurant lights. He chuckled to himself, remembering how much of a pain it had been to wash all the glitter off himself after their first night together.

He sat down across from her, and she gulped. She had no idea what to say or do, so she simply stared at the menu. Another drink? That might help.

“You came early.” Nick observed, looking at the empty glass that sat before her.

“Yeah.” She said sheepishly. Internally, she scolded herself. She was acting like a star struck fan again. Hadn’t she hated him just hours before? Curse him for making her melt all over again.

Nick didn’t know where to begin or what to say to her. “So…what have you been up to?” He asked, not even bothering to look at the menu yet.

She scoffed. Something about that question irritated her. If he wanted to know about her life as of late, why hadn’t he bothered to keep in touch? Before she had a chance to answer, the waitress came by asking Nick if he’d like a drink.

Nick glanced down at the menu. He was nervous, she was nervous… perhaps Ashleigh had the right idea. “Sake?” He asked, directing his question more at Ashleigh then at the waitress.

She nodded quickly.

Nick took another quick glance at the drink menu. “We’ll have a bottle of Otokoyama.” He said, and the waitress nodded and walked off to fetch their drinks.

“That’s a bottle meant for six people, Nick!” Ashleigh whispered in shock. Was he trying to get her drunk? She was already well on her way.

“I figured we could use it.” He replied simply. That much was true. “So, you didn’t answer my question. What’s been going on?”

She sighed, glaring at him a little. What was she supposed to tell him? I pined for you for a year and never really got over you? That didn’t seem fitting. “I don’t know. A lot of stuff.” She replied flatly.

Nick looked at her, confused. Why was she so angry with him? “Well, what did you do after you got home from the tour?” He tried.

She took a deep breath. “You wanna know?” She said softly. “I cried for weeks. I hardly did anything for months. I was completely and utterly heartbroken.” She spat, Joey would have been proud, Ashleigh’s melodrama had always amused her.

Nick sat, stunned. He wasn’t sure what she was talking about. Luckily, he was saved by the waitress returning with their sake and two small glasses, which she promptly filled. Ashleigh took a large sip from hers as Nick tried to formulate an answer. She was quite pleased with herself, for once Nick Carter didn’t have some sort of witty comeback.

“…Why?” Was all he could come up with.

She rolled her eyes, it was becoming hard for her to keep up her angry act. She was upset with him, but here he was sitting right in front of her, his eyes penetrating her. It was almost too much. “You treated me like I was some sort of fuck and chuck fling!” She whispered harshly.

Nick took a deep breath. He still didn’t understand. “That’s what it was…” He replied.

Ashleigh glared at him. Was that not the right answer? Nick didn’t know what she was talking about. He’d had sex with lots of girls in his years of touring and as far as he knew, most of them didn’t hate him afterwards.

“To you.” She said, still irritated. How was it that someone so successful, and so gorgeous could be so clueless? She had no idea. “I was falling in love with you, and you were just concerned with sex.” She said, still whispering. Why had Nick insisted on dinner? If anyone had overheard them, she’d be mortified. “Do you get it? I loved you. And you didn’t care. You were bored, you wanted someone to keep you warm at night and I wanted to be with you.”

Before Nick could speak, the waitress was back again, ready to take their food order. Having not even looked at the menu, Nick picked a random platter. Ashleigh, suddenly starving, ordered herself a deluxe platter. She felt she deserved it, what with the emotionally draining last couple of days she’d been having.

Once the waitress was gone, Nick looked at Ashleigh. She was staring down at her feet, sadness on her face. Now he got it. “I’m sorry Ash, I didn’t know.” He replied sincerely. That much was true.

“Of course you didn’t.” Ashleigh said sadly. “How could you? I never said anything, I just went with it. I was stupid to think it meant anything to you.” She finished, looking up at him, tears glistening in her eyes. As much as she felt she despised him, she couldn’t forget how much she’d needed him back then. “You never called, you never wrote. All that stuff you promised never happened.” She sighed, taking another small sip of her drink.

He looked at her, instantly feeling guilty. He hadn’t meant to use her in that way, and now that she’d opened up to him he understood. He’s broken her heart. What’s worse, he hadn’t even given her a second thought at the time. She’d left, and that had been it.

He placed his hand on top of hers, rubbing her fingers slightly. To his surprise, she didn’t look away. She just smiled softly at him, trying to compose herself. They’d had fun together, hadn’t they? Why exactly hadn’t he given her a chance? He’d been so busy with the tour, and then the group took a break and he’d done his solo project that he hadn’t had time to have a thought to himself. Maybe now she’d give him a chance to make things right.

Or not. His thumb ran over the large ring on her finger. “You’re married?” He asked, stunned.

She shook her head, snapping back to reality. She’d forgotten about that again. Shaking her head, she quickly answered. “No. Engaged.”

Nick just stared at her, confused all over again. If she was engaged, then why was she here with him? That didn’t seem like something someone who had supposedly found the love of their life would do. “Wow, congratulations.” He said, moving his hand off of hers.

“Thanks.” She mumbled. Any excitement she’d had about her upcoming wedding had been shattered when Nick had showed up in her life.

Wanting to turn the conversation around in a more positive direction, Nick pressed a little more. “How’d he propose?” He asked, hoping that would cause her to smile.

She rolled her eyes and laughed a little. “It was kind of weird. We had a big argument about commitment and where our relationship was going. I left our house all angry, and went to Joey’s for the night.” She said, looking up at Nick. “When I got back, he had a ring and said he’d done a lot of thinking and that he was ready to get married.”

Nick squinted at her. He didn’t know if that was a sweet gesture, or if it was kind of a jerkish thing for the guy to do. Still, he wasn’t really in a position to be critiquing Ashleigh’s boyfriend’s faults. “It took an argument for him to decide he wanted to marry you?” He said, not able to stop himself.

Ashleigh raised an eyebrow, finishing her drink. “It took you eight years to want to talk to me again.” She shot back, cracking a smile to show Nick that she was joking.

Nick laughed. “I guess you’re right.”

After getting her feelings out on the table, Ashleigh felt quite a bit more comfortable. Nick really hadn’t realized what he’d done to her. Even though it hurt her that he didn’t feel the same way about her that she had, it still made her content to know that he understood now. Now she would be able to move on. “So, Paris Hilton, Nick?” She said with a mocking grin, attempting to change the subject. Besides, it was something she’d always wondered about. “What possessed you to do that?” She asked, wrinkling her nose.

Nick sighed, but he couldn’t help but laugh. “I have no idea.” He answered honestly. “Second biggest mistake I ever made.”

“Oh really?” She smirked. “What was the first?”

Nick poured more sake into both of their empty glasses. “Hurting you.” He replied, his eyes starting into hers.

Ashleigh blushed. She knew it was just a line, but still something inside her felt excited about Nick all over again. “Uh huh.” She said, shaking her head playfully.

“I mean it, Ash.” He said, finishing the sake in his glass, and quickly refilling it. “We had such a good time that summer. I never indented to upset you. I honestly didn’t know.”

“I know, Nick.” She replied, sipping from her cup lightly. She mentally told herself to slow down on the drinks. Dinner wasn’t even here yet. She looked him in the eyes, and her heart fluttered in her chest again. Alcohol, it was only the alcohol that was doing this to her. It couldn’t possibly be Nick, she was very much over him. Or so she liked to believe.

Moments later, their food was set in front of them. The waitress asked them if they needed anything else, and when Nick asked for a fork, Ashleigh laughed.

“You don’t know how to use chopsticks?!” She giggled, highly amused. He’d spent a lot of time in Japan, how had he managed there?

“Here.” She said, hopping off her chair and walking over to him. “Let me show you.”

Standing beside him, she placed her hand on top of Nick’s. She attempted to help him use the chopsticks correctly, and it didn’t exactly work. She looked at him, laughing a little.

Nick just stared at her. He’d couldn’t help but wonder how he had managed to dismiss her completely all those years ago. She was fun, cute and evidently knew how to eat properly in a Japanese restaurant. He’d enjoyed her company on the tour, for more than just sex, as he recalled. Sex was the reason they’d come together in the first place, but it wasn’t the only reason he’d kept her around.

So why had he let her go so easily? Nick couldn’t answer that. She’d been a fan, yes, but that hadn’t stopped him from sleeping with her and certainly didn’t stop him from being attracted to her. In his selfishness at that young age, he hadn’t realized what he’d had right in front of him. While Brian and Kevin had married their perfect matches, Nick had thrown his out the window.

So, acting on pure instinct, as he had done throughout their entire relationship (if you could call it that) he moved his lips towards hers and kissed her softly.

She pulled away from him after a moment, and he was unable to read the look on her face. She didn’t seem angry, she didn’t walk out of the restaurant and she didn’t smack him across the face. Instead, she gave him a warm smile and walked back to her seat. “You’re going to make yourself look like a fool if you eat with a fork.” She giggled, expertly using her chopsticks to dig into her food.

Nick laughed. “I think I’ll be okay.” He said, and commenced to eat using the fork.

As they ate, Nick and Ashleigh easily managed to talk to each other. Each one of them not really knowing what to say, and yet talking about anything and everything.

“So you finished University?” Nick asked, remembering that the reason for her leaving the tour was that school was starting.

Ashleigh nodded, finishing yet another glass of sake. “Yeah. I did marketing and business.” She replied.

Nick nodded. “What do you do now?” He asked.

“I own a coffee shop.” She grinned.

Nick raised his eyebrow. “Starbucks?” He questioned.

Ashleigh wrinkled her nose. “God, no!” She laughed. As she ranted about why she hated the popular coffee chain with a passion, Nick couldn’t help but smile. She was everything he could have asked for. Why he hadn’t realized this all those years ago, he didn’t know.

The two of them spent the next few hours in the restaurant, staying until they noticed that the place was closing. As they stood outside, both waiting for taxi’s to come pick them up. Ashleigh turned to Nick, not particularly wanting the evening to end, but knowing that she didn’t have a choice in the matter. She had to go back home, Matt would be wondering where she was if she wasn’t back soon. “Where are you staying?” She asked.

“The Crowne Plaza.” He said, as a taxi pulled up on front of him. “Room 1508.” He added.

Before stepping into the cab, Nick gave Ashleigh another soft kiss. Again, she momentarily forgot about her fiancée waiting at home for her, and responded to his lips on hers. “Goodnight Nick.” She said softly.

“Night, Ash.” He smiled, climbing into the taxi.

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