In Pieces – Chapter 18

It’s funny how life can take new meaning
You came and changed what I believed in
The world on the outside’s trying to pull me in
But they can’t touch me ‘cause I’ve got you…

Ashleigh sighed as she drove. A week later, and Joey was still upset with her. The two of them had hardly talked, other than a couple of quick phone calls. Ashleigh, getting fed up with the situation had finally phoned Joey and told her that they were going to meet for lunch that Saturday.

And it hits me when I reach for you
That I’m afraid you won’t be there

She still hadn’t told anyone about Nick’s constant phone calls. It wasn’t like she was the one that was pestering him either, he was usually the instigator. Ashleigh didn’t know what to make of that. Last time, he hadn’t wanted anything to do with her. Now, he couldn’t seem to get enough.

Maybe I am in too deep
But I don’t care…

She’d made it easy for him last time – followed him around the country without a second thought. Now, he knew she couldn’t be with him. Maybe that was it? Maybe it was simply that he wanted what he couldn’t have.

His solo album hadn’t left her car ever since she’d bought it. She found it relaxing to listen to, and found herself actually enjoying a fair bit of it. Of course, the fact that she was falling in love with him had nothing to do with that. Nope, nothing at all, she’d told herself.

The fact was, while she was stressed out by planning her wedding, or annoyed by her staff, whenever she was talking to Nick she felt at peace. While Matt had his own work problems and couldn’t be bothered to listen to Ashleigh, Nick was always on the phone listening to her and making her feel appreciated. Nick also didn’t constantly badger her to go over to his mother’s house to decide on the smallest detail about the wedding. Ashleigh almost regretted accepting Matt’s proposal. But that had everything to do with her planning her wedding, and nothing to do with Nick. Nothing at all, she’d told herself yet again.

All Nick was doing was being a friend to her. He felt guilty for not calling her before, and so he felt he should at least keep up a friendship with her. That’s another thing she kept telling herself, feeling it too dangerous to think anything else.

Still, she found herself making excuses to leave the house and sit in her car while talking to Nick on the phone. Or just to listen to his CD while driving around the city.

Pulling into the parking lot, Ashleigh reluctantly turned off her car, causing her music to stop. She hated it when Joey was angry with her, but this time she didn’t feel as though she was in the wrong. She knew the only reason that Joey wasn’t happy with her was because she was worried, but everything had turned out fine. She certainly wasn’t heartbroken. Far from it.

“Haven’t talked to you in a while.” Ashleigh said as she sat down across from Joey.

“Sorry.” Joey said, looking somewhat guilty. “I was just a little shocked. I thought maybe you and Matt would need some time to work things out.”

Ashleigh shrugged. “We’re fine.”

“He’s totally fine with the whole thing?” Joey asked in disbelief.

Ashleigh fidgeted. “He doesn’t…know.” She said slowly. “I mean, I didn’t think it was that important!” She exclaimed quickly, knowing Joey wouldn’t buy it,

She didn’t. “You had sex with another guy and didn’t think it was important to tell your fiancée? Nick Carter no less!”

Ashleigh rolled her eyes. Joey wasn’t making this easy. “Can we please cut the whole ‘Nick Carter’ thing? I think by now we know him well enough to just call him Nick.”

Joey raised an eyebrow. “Uh huh. It was you that was calling him ‘Nick Carter’ up until a couple of weeks ago. And it wasn’t exactly in the nicest of ways either.”

Ashleigh sighed. “Look, I shouldn’t have to apologize to you. Can we please just be friends again?”

Now it was Joey’s turn to sigh. Sometimes, she had a hard time with the moral dilemmas Ashleigh liked to throw at her. Still, they’d been best friends for the past thirteen years. “Okay, fine.” She said, admitting defeat. She shouldn’t have abandoned Ashleigh just because she disagreed with what she’d done. Friends were supposed to stick by each other, right? “I’m sorry I acted like such a bitch.”

Ashleigh grinned, and as soon as she peered down at her menu, her cell phone rang. She peeked at the screen before smiling a little. “Hey, can I call you back later? I’m just having lunch with Joey…yeah, okay…bye.” She said quickly and turned back to Joey.

“Who was on the phone?” She asked, attempting to make conversation.

Ashleigh blushed a little and grinned. “Nick.” She said, trying to play it off as if it were nothing. It didn’t exactly work.

“He actually called you back?” Joey said, surprised. She had figured Nick was going to use her for a night and never speak to her again, just as he had before. Which had been part of the reason she’d been so annoyed with Ashleigh for giving into him again. Why fall for a guy that’s only going to hurt you in the end?

“He’s been calling for the last two weeks. Unlike someone else I know.” Ashleigh said in a joking manner. Truthfully, she hadn’t minded not speaking to Joey, it had made trying to deny her feelings easier. If she had talked to Joey, everything would have spilled out.

Joy disregarded Ashleigh’s obvious stab at her. “Seriously? Wow. Guess he’s changed a little.”

Ashleigh shrugged. “He probably just feels bad about not calling last time.” She said.

Joey just raised an eyebrow. “Then he would have called you once…but if he keeps calling…”

“Don’t say it.” Asheligh snapped, as she had been trying to avoid the very thought from getting into her head. This was exactly the conversation she had been happy to avoid. “Do not say it. Besides, I thought you were against me talking to Nick.”

“That was when I thought he was going to break your heart again!” Joey defended herself. “I thought that you’d be hung up on him and that you and Matt would be fighting…but you aren’t.” She said thoughtfully.

“No, we’re not.” Ashleigh said stubbornly. “Nothing is changing.” She told Joey, and herself. She wasn’t stupid enough to get involved with Nick again, even if he was putting up the façade of being a nice guy.

“You should still tell Matt you cheated on him, Ash.” Joey advised, still not comfortable with Ashleigh having cheated. Even if Ashleigh had feelings for Nick that were unrequited from a long time ago, it still didn’t seem right to her. How could Ashleigh possibly be okay with what she’d done?

Ashleigh shook her head. “Why? The only reason I slept with Nick is so that I could finally get over him.”

“Are you over him?” Joey questioned, almost accusingly. The way that Ashleigh’s face had lit up when she’d answered her phone suggested otherwise.

Ashleigh looked down at the table, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to change or avoid the subject. Joey knew her better than anyone else, and possibly better than she knew herself. “No.” She admitted.

Joey sighed, no longer feeling angry with her friend, but now wanting to help her. “Have you told him?”

Ashleigh took a deep breath. She hadn’t wanted to talk about this. She’d wanted to forget that she was feeling this way. Everything in her life was coming together, only for it to be ripped apart. “No. And I’m not planning on it. He’s a friend, nothing more.” She said quietly.

“You should tell him, Ash.” Joey said, placing her hand on Ashleigh’s.

“Why?” Ashleigh asked sharply. “So he can tell me he was only being nice? So he can tell me he thinks I’m some crazy fan? So I can ruin everything I have with Matt on some whim?” This entire thing was stupid, she felt. It would blow over. All it was, was that she was getting nervous about her wedding. She’d needed a last fling beforehand. That was all this was.

“Everything you have with Matt?” Joey repeated, not really believing Ashleigh. “If everything was so great between you two, then you wouldn’t be having those feelings for someone else.” She said softly.

Ashleigh quickly rubbed her eyes, not wanting to cause a scene in the middle of the restaurant. “It’s just Nick Carter. Every girl has a crush on him. It’s just stupid.”

Joey sighed. “Yeah. Every girl has a crush on him, because he’s cute and he sings sappy boyband ballads. You’re falling in love with him because he phones you, he pays attention to you…when your own fiancée doesn’t.” She said.

“I thought you were pissed that I cheated on Matt.” Ashleigh said, trying to regain her composure.

“Well, just because he can act like kind of an ass sometimes doesn’t mean he deserves to be cheated on.” Joey said, waving to the waitress to give them five more minutes as Ashleigh put her head in her hands again. “Either way, I think you need to talk to Nick about this. And Matt, too.”

Ashleigh shook her head furiously. “Do you have any idea what would happen? Nick would laugh in my face. Matt would have a fit. It wouldn’t be good at all. It’s better this way.”

“You don’t know that. Maybe Nick feels the same way. Maybe he realized what he’d lost back then. Maybe he’s attracted to you now that you’re not giggling and blushing every time someone mentions his name.” Joey replied wisely.

“I did not giggle and blush.” Ashleigh retorted, embarrassed to think about how juvenile she must have acted, and how Nick must have remembered her. Come to think of it, knowing how she’d been back then, why had Nick even approached her in the first place?

Joey laughed. “Yeah, you did.” Quickly she turned serious again. “Yeah, Matt will have a fit. But you know what? Let him. He should know that you’re feeling this way.”

Ashleigh shrugged, really not feeling in the mood to go home and argue with Matt. “I guess.” She mumbled.

That evening, Ashleigh sat in her living room. She waited in silence for Matt to return home from work, dreading the talk she knew they had to have. Absentmindedly flipping through channels on the television, her mind started to wander.

Ashleigh waited impatiently in the terminal of the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, constantly checking the flight arrival times. This wasn’t an absurdity, the planes were usually late.

Finally, the flight she had been waiting for arrived. Her heart nearly leapt out of her chest as she watched the plane come in on the runway. She smiled happily.

It wasn’t long before she caught site of Nick walking through the gate. Dressed in shorts and a light sweater, she giggled to herself. He really didn’t know how to dress for Minneapolis in January. He was going to freeze while they walked to her car.

Walking over to him slowly, he kissed the top of her head quickly as they walked to pick up his bags. “I missed you.” He said softly.

She smiled up at him, he was hers and hers alone. “I missed you more.”

Her daydream was quickly interrupted with the sound of the front door opening. Matt was home. Sitting up straight on the couch, she looked at him as he walked quickly through the door and headed for the stairs. “Hey…” She said carefully, not entirely sure how to start. “Can we talk?”

Matt just shook his head as he continued on his way. “Not right now. I have another meeting to go to.” He called out from their bedroom, where Ashleigh assumed he was getting changed.

She just sighed, a little relieved. She hadn’t wanted to talk to Matt at all. He was just making things easier for her. Besides, it wasn’t like she didn’t have anyone else to talk to.

Nick couldn’t help but smile as he saw Ashleigh’s name on his call display. She had been calling him more frequently over the last couple of days. Nick took that as a good sign. He was starting to win her over. What had been a crush in the beginning had only been intensified by the fact that they talked on the phone nearly every day. “Hey you.” He answered. “What’s up?”

“Not much.” She replied truthfully. Matt had left the house as quickly as he had rushed in. So she was spending her Saturday evening alone. “Where are you?”

Nick flopped down on his hotel bed, peering through the room service menu. Nothing seemed all that appetizing. “Houston.” He said. It was late August now, and this was one of the last dates of the tour. Soon he would be heading home for a well needed vacation.

“You guys are almost done then.” Ashleigh commented. “I bet you’ll be bored once you have nothing to do all day.” She laughed.

“Nah, I’ll be at home. I’ll get to sleep in until noon, go out on my boat and hang out on the beach” Nick replied. He was a little sad that soon the tour would be over and he’d be returning to his normal life, but after having been booked solid for nearly a year he was looking forward to some time to himself.

Ashleigh sighed. “And while you’re out on the beach, I’ll be here waiting for it to snow.” She said.

Nick wrinkled his nose. He hated snow. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lived in a place with snow 5 months out of the year.”

Ashleigh giggled. “It’s not that bad. Besides, all of us can’t live in Florida.” Though she had to admit, she liked the thought. “I’ve still never been there, you know.”

“Really?” Nick asked in disbelief. That gave him an idea. “You should come down sometime.” He said nonchalantly.

Ashleigh’s breath caught in her throat. Had he just invited her to visit him? No, that wasn’t possible. She had to be reading too much into it. “Maybe…” Was all she said, not really knowing how to reply to him.

Nick smirked. She hadn’t completely rejected him. “I’m serious, Ash. You should come for the long weekend.”

He was serious. September long weekend was in a week. There was no way she could get down there. Plus there was still the matter of her fiancée. “Nick…I can’t do that.” But oh, how she wanted to. “I have my store, and Matt.”

“Your store’s not open on weekends.” Nick reminded her. The fact that she still was engaged to Matt was really starting to bother him. He didn’t sound like the nicest and most attentive guy. Especially since Ashleigh seemed to have a lot of free time to talk on the phone to another guy. “Just think about it, okay?” He said.

Ashleigh nodded, though Nick couldn’t see her. “Okay.” She said weakly. There was no way she would be able to manage a weekend in Florida with Nick. A thousand thoughts went through her mind. Matt would never let her go. Joey would tell her she was being ridiculous. She hadn’t yet told Nick how she felt about him. Him asking her to go visit him was a good sign, right? Did that mean he felt the same way? Ashleigh didn’t know. He was probably just being nice, since he felt bad for her on account of her never having been to Florida.

One thing was for sure, Ashleigh wanted nothing more than to drop everything and hop on a plane as soon as she could.

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