In Pieces – Chapter 22

Ashleigh sat nervously as the plane started to descend, digging her nails into her knees. She had never been a fan of flying, and thankfully she didn’t need to do it much. The only time she had flown before this was when she’d gone on a family trip to New York in her teenage years. If she would have had her way, she’d have driven down to Florida. Of course, that wasn’t at all plausible.

Thankfully, the plane landed smoothly. Ashleigh breathed a sigh of relief after the passengers were told they could exit. Her fear was then overtaken by excitement. Excitement because she’d never been to Florida before, and of course because she was about to spend the entire weekend with Nick.

Unable to conceal her happiness, Ashleigh grinned as she exited the plane and headed to baggage check. It didn’t take long for her to spot her large bright pink suitcase amongst the other, more generic pieces of luggage.

While Ashleigh was picking up her luggage and making her way to the gate, Nick sat impatiently in the terminal. It was bad enough that he’d had to wait four days from when she’d told him she would be coming, now her flight was late.

So he sat quietly, and surprisingly wasn’t bothered by any fans. It was nice, since their popularity had subsided, he had been able to go out without getting mobbed.

Finally, she walked through the gate, and Nick nearly leapt out of his chair to go greet her. Grinning and brushing her hair out of her eyes, she smiled up at him.

“I’d offer to take your suitcase for you, but I really don’t want to wheel around a bright pink bag.” Nick laughed, eyeing her luggage.

Ashleigh giggled. “It’s okay.” She smiled. “How far do you live from here?” She asked, eager to relax. Airports were another thing she didn’t like, far too busy and rushed for her taste.

“It’s about a half hour drive.” Nick said as they walked out to the parking lot. “How was your flight?” He asked, once the two of them were seated in his car.

Ashleigh shrugged. She hardly wanted to think about the time she’d spent on the plane. “It was okay. I really hate flying though.” She replied sheepishly.

Nick nodded knowingly. “I don’t really like it either. I guess I just got used to it.”

The two of them continued to converse as they drove from the airport to Nick’s house. Ashleigh couldn’t help but marvel at the gorgeous sight that Florida was. Definitely more interesting than Minnesota. There were palm trees as they got closer to where Ashleigh assumed Nick’s beach front property was. She could definitely get used to Florida.

“Holy crap.” Ashleigh breathed as Nick pulled his car into the driveway. His house was about three times the size of hers, and that wasn’t counting the private beach he had for a backyard. “Nick, you have a huge house.”

Nick shrugged. All he’d wanted was something close to the water, and with beach side property came lavish houses. Not that he minded. “I guess so.” He said, turning off the ignition. Ashleigh got out of the car and was met with a nice breeze.

Nick watched her take in his home. She certainly had known how to dress for her trip, wearing a tank top, jean shorts and sandals. Seeing her dressed like that only solidified his belief that she was supposed to be here, with him and not living with some boring accountant in Minnesota…with snow.

As the two of them walked inside, Nick took Ashleigh’s pink suitcase upstairs. He had set up the guest room for her, though he had hoped she wouldn’t use it. “I made up a room for you.” He said, as she followed him up the stairs.

Ashleigh nodded, unsure of how she felt about that. On one hand, she was happy that she wouldn’t have to deal with the awkwardness that would come with sleeping beside Nick. On the other hand, she wasn’t sure how to take this. Maybe Nick really had invited her down here just to be nice, and to be a friend.

“Thanks.” She said, sitting down on the bed. She stretched out a little, and Nick stood in the doorway.

“I made dinner reservations for seven, but if you don’t want to go out I can always cancel them.” He said quickly, noticing that she looked a little tired. The last thing he wanted to do was overwhelm her, which would surely send her running back to her boring accountant fiancée.

“That’s great.” Ashleigh grinned, looking at the clock on the bedside table. She had about an hour before their reservation, leaving her about half an hour to get ready, she figured as Nick lived in somewhat of a secluded area. “I guess I’ll just take a shower or something and then we can go. Is it far?”

Nick shook his head. He hadn’t imagined that she would want to go out to a fancy dinner, so he’d just thought they could go out for pizza. “It’s about a fifteen minute drive. I thought we could go for pizza…is that okay?”

Ashleigh giggled, Nick really was trying his best to please her. “Of course that’s okay. God, I don’t know what I’d do if I had to get dressed up and act posh all night.” She laughed.

Nick grinned as Ashleigh made her way to the washroom. Making his way to his own bedroom, he quickly checked himself in the mirror. He couldn’t help but notice the awkwardness between them. Nick figured this was probably because the status of their relationship hadn’t really been established, and he wasn’t really ready to bring it up just yet. He didn’t know what was going through Ashleigh’s mind with regards to that. Though he did notice she was still wearing her engagement ring, which wasn’t a good sign.

He couldn’t but think that even though she was still technically engaged to Matt, her heart belonged to him. She spent countless hours on the phone with him, and had flown down to see him for the long weekend. That had to mean something, perhaps that she was willing to give him another chance? Nick didn’t know. He hoped so, but he didn’t know.

Soon enough, the two of them were seated at Papa John’s. Ashleigh was licking her lips as she gazed at the menu. The airplane food had been less than appetizing, and it was no longer free! That had irritated her, last time she’d been on a plane they had offered her free food.

Ashleigh had quickly ordered herself a chocolate milkshake when the waitress had come to take their orders. Other than that, she really didn’t know what she wanted to eat. “Do you want to just split a pizza or something?” She asked Nick, sipping at the ice cream concoction that had been placed in front of her.

Nick raised an eyebrow. “Sure…but I’m boring and only like cheese pizza.” He said.

Ashleigh shrugged. “That’s fine. I’m not picky.” She said with a smile. Really, she didn’t care what she had for dinner, all she cared about was the fact that she was actually sitting across from Nick.

Nick nodded in agreement, and soon the waitress was back to take their order.

“So, do you think they managed to close the store without you?” Nick asked, knowing Ashleigh had left her store in the hands of one of her staff.

Ashleigh bit her lip. That wasn’t something she wanted to think about. While she loved her staff, the only really reliable person was Caitlin and she already opened. Ashleigh couldn’t have asked her to stay for the entire eleven hour day. So, reluctantly, she’d asked Sheldon to close the store for her. She’d left him detailed instructions, but half expected to find an un-clean floor and an empty display case when she returned to work. “I really hope so. I have a feeling he forgot to do the food order. Or clean out the coffee pots. Or something that is going to make Caitlin flip out on Tuesday morning when she opens.”

Nick nodded. He always enjoyed listening to her talk about her store. She seemed to have a real love hate relationship with this Sheldon character. One day she was raving about how she was going to fire him, the next she was laughing about some story he’d told her. It amused Nick. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.” He tried to reassure her, and Ashleigh rolled her eyes.

“It had better. Or I’m going to put an ad in the paper.” She said, and Nick laughed.

They continued to laugh and talk, and soon enough they finished the pizza that had been brought to them. Nick hadn’t eaten all day on account of being excited about Ashleigh coming to visit, and Ashleigh hadn’t eaten anything since she’d been at work that morning. Either way, they had both been starving and the pizza definitely hit the spot.

When they got back to Nick’s place, he and Ashleigh lazily sat on his couch and Nick began flipping through channels. Stopping at some old re-runs Nick put down the remote and causally draped his arm around Ashleigh.

Ashleigh felt her heart nearly skip a beat as Nick drew her closer to him. Not that she minded at all, she was just surprised. This made her feel a little more as though he might have feelings for her as well. Smiling, she sat with him comfortably as they watched old episodes of The Fresh Prince.

“I love this show.” Nick said, though he figured Ashleigh already knew that as he’d been cracking up at every stupid joke Will Smith made.

“I like Saved By The Bell better.” Ashleigh said with a smirk, remembering her conversation with Matt earlier that week. How much he had annoyed her, telling her that she was too into nostalgia. Ashleigh adored the 90’s.

“Oh man, I loved that show!” Nick exclaimed. “AJ and I bought the boxsets of that and watched it on my bus during the Never Gone tour.”

It was things such as that that made Ashleigh feel as though she belonged with Nick and that she was engaged to the wrong person. She nuzzled closer to him and felt even more secure in her decision to go there.

After the episode was over, Nick gazed out the window. The sun was starting to set, ad he could tell Ashleigh was getting tired. He didn’t blame her, she’d gone into work that morning to open with Caitlin and make sure things were set for the rest of the day. That meant she’d been up since 5 a.m. “You want to go for a walk?” Nick asked her.

Ashleigh looked at Nick. As exhausted as she was, she didn’t want to waste any part of this weekend. “Okay.” She said.

Nick took her hand as the left through the back door. Stepping down from the patio onto the beach, Ashleigh sighed as she felt the warm sand beneath her feet. “This is much better than a coffee trade show.” She said to herself.

“What?” Nick asked, wondering what in the world she was talking about.

Ashleigh laughed, walking closer to the water. “I told Matt that I was going to a trade show for work this weekend.”

Nick shook his head. He supposed it seemed like a plausible enough lie. He didn’t understand why she was still engaged to him. She obviously didn’t want to be with him, if she was so quick to join Nick at his Florida home.

She hadn’t been quick though. She’d taken three days to decide. Had she really been thinking about staying with Matt over him? In the end, she’d chosen Nick…somewhat. She was still engaged. Still seemingly trying to work things out with him.

“He bought that, did he?” Nick commented, placing a hand on her shoulder and playing with her hair.

“Yeah. He was pissed off though. He had a bunch of plans for us, to go see reception halls and stuff. I’m getting really sick of fucking wedding planning.” She said irritably.

“Then why are you doing it?” Nick asked her, his voice barely above a whisper. Ashleigh turned to face him, and suddenly shivered. Though it had nothing to do with the warm Florida air that surrounded them.

“I don’t know.” She replied softly. Why was she still engaged to him? The only reason that Ashleigh could come up with was that she was afraid of not being with someone. However, standing with Nick she felt anything but alone. She stared up at him, he looked as though he was going to kiss her at any moment. Ashleigh didn’t know how she would respond to that. When they’d slept together in his hotel room back in Minneapolis, she’d been able to run away, and bury her emotions. Here in Florida, she wouldn’t be able to do that.

“I’m getting tired, Nick.” She said, moving back towards the house. “Do you mind if I turn in early? I promise we’ll have a longer day tomorrow.” She smiled through her worries.

“Sure.” Nick said, watching as she ran up the steps back to his house. He’d been so close. But there was still two and half days left, he still had time.

Surprisingly, Ashleigh had fallen asleep as soon as her head had hit the pillow. She awoke the next morning rather early, around 8 a.m. What surprised her even more was that Nick was already awake, and apparently attempting to cook.

“Good morning.” She said, walking into the kitchen. Her best solution in awkward situations had always been to ignore them. She figured it would be best if she didn’t mention anything about the night before. Maybe Nick had forgotten about it. “What’re you making?” She asked, peering over his shoulder.

“Pancakes…” Nick said, though he was having a bit of trouble. They were all running together to form one giant pancake.

Ashleigh giggled. “Mind if I try?” She asked, and Nick happily handed the task over to her. He hated cooking, and while he’d tried to do something nice for her, it wasn’t turning out exactly as he had planned.

Ashleigh wasn’t the greatest chef, but she could cook a little without burning the house down. She was able to fix Nick’s pancake issue with ease. Within fifteen minutes, the two of them were eating the more manageable sized pancakes.

“What do you want to do today?” Nick asked her.

“I don’t know.” Ashleigh replied. “Florida-y type things?” She suggested, though that was probably a given.

Nick smiled. “We could go out on my boat, if you want.” He shrugged as though it were nothing. Secretly, he’d been awake early preparing his boat for that evening, when he planned to take her out.

Ashleigh grinned. The elusive boat. Forever would Nick Carter be linked to his love for the ocean. Every single interview she’d seen had him talking about that boat. Did she want to go out on his boat? Hell yeah, she wanted to go out on his boat! The fourteen year old teenybopper came back to life for a moment. “Yes!” She squealed.

Nick laughed at her excitement. He adored her enthusiasm towards such things he found to be so normal and mundane. “Okay, we’ll do that this afternoon.”

Ashleigh and Nick had spent the better part of the morning lazily hanging around his house and taking a short walk around his neighborhood. When they’d gotten back, they’d got changed and ready to go out onto the water.

Ashleigh quickly leaned that Nick was a boating expert. She found it incredibly cute the way he was so obsessed with his boat and everything to do with the ocean. She leaned her back against the railing, looking up at the cloudless sky.

Nick glanced at her. Her hair was blowing in the wind, along with her cotton pink sundress. Again, all he could think about was how she looked as though she belonged there. He couldn’t imagine her wearing a winter coat trudging through the snow.

With a boring accountant.

Nick walked over to her, and she looked at him questioningly. He was a little closer then she would have liked, because if he made her uncomfortable, there was no way she would run…

Yet, she didn’t know why she would even be compelled to run, or why he should be making her uncomfortable. His hair fell softly over his forehead, as he hadn’t bothered to put any gel in it that day. Ashleigh couldn’t help but think he was gorgeous as he stood in front of her wearing nothing but a white t-shirt and a pair of swimming trunks.

Nick didn’t say anything as he stood in front of her. He just stared at her, and lightly touched her shoulder, playing with the strap of her dress. “Don’t marry him, Ash.” He said without thinking.

Ashleigh considered him for a moment. He looked so innocent and sweet, standing there with her in the middle of nowhere. “Why not?” She asked, turning her head to the side to gaze out at the water.

“Because you shouldn’t be with him…you should be with me…” He said quietly. This speech wasn’t exactly going the way he had planned it.

Ashleigh had half expected herself to say “Okay.” but she didn’t. Instead she stood silently, contemplating this. She and Nick had had an enjoyable last few weeks, laughing and talking on the phone with each other. What kind of a basis for a relationship was that? Especially one that was such a long distance.

Well, actually being able to talk on the phone would be a good thing, she reasoned with herself. Would she be able to handle that? Having Nick be several thousands of miles away from her most of the time?

It would be better than having Matt live in the same house as her…

“I’m not perfect, Nick.” She replied.

“I know.” He said. “Believe me, Ash, I know.”

She laughed. That was true. She was embarrassed to think about the person that she had been so many years ago when Nick had first met her. “You never called back last time.” She whispered. Part of her feared giving Nick what he wanted on the off chance that he was only interested in chasing her. Once he’d proved to himself that he could win her over would he become disinterested?

“I called you back this time.” He pointed out.

“I know.”

Nick kissed softly, and she didn’t push him away. “I won’t be a dick this time.” He said with a playful smile. “I promise.”

Ashleigh had fought as hard as she could have. Deep down, she’d known that she was going to end up giving into Nick again and hopefully this time he would stay true to his word. She wrapped her arms around and continued to kiss him. Why was it that he always managed to win her over with kisses?

Because he was damn good at them. The continued to kiss before Nick led her over to the pile of blankets that he had prepared earlier that day. It didn’t take long before the few articles of clothing they had been wearing were scattered around them. Every time they’d had sex before this had been different. Back on the tour, it had been about the two of them having fun and enjoying each other on a physical level. A couple of weeks ago it had been for closure, so that Ashleigh could move on with her life. Now it was more gentle, and it meant that the two of them were finally rebuilding their relationship, or lack thereof.

The first time Ashleigh had slept with Nick, she’d left the morning after without a word to him. It had almost been the same in his hotel room a few weeks ago, once it was over she left without staying to talk to him. Now she sat with her head against his chest, willing herself not to cry.

Nick felt her shake against him, and worried that he’d upset her, and come on to her too strong. “Ash?” He asked carefully. “What’s wrong?”

She looked up at him and wiped her eyes quickly. “Nothing, nothing.” She assured him. “They’re happy tears.”

Nick embraced her tightly, happy that she was finally his and that things were finally starting to work out. Inviting her to Florida had been one of the more ingenious ideas he’d ever had.

The rest of the weekend flew by quickly. Ashleigh and Nick slept next to each other for the remainder of the two nights. They both woke up smiling, happy to be with one another. They spent quite a bit of time out on the beach and on Nick’s boat, which Ashleigh couldn’t get enough of.

Monday afternoon came much too fast. Soon Ashleigh and Nick were back at the airport, only this time they were saying goodbye. She had been dreading this since she had woken up that morning.

“I wish you could stay longer.” Nick said as her kissed her softly while they waited for her boarding call.

“Me too.” Ashleigh said regretfully. “Unfortunately I have to go attend to my probably incinerated store.” She said with a small smile. Was it going to be this hard to leave him each time? Ashleigh didn’t know how she was going to manage in a long distance relationship.

Nick laughed. “I’ll come visit you soon.” He promised. “You can teach me how to snow shoe.”

Ashleigh rolled her eyes. “It’s only September, there’s no snow yet.” She said, and just as she did her boarding call was announced. “That’s me.” She said, standing up.

Nick stood up as well, pulling her into a tight hug. “Call me when you get home.”

Ashleigh nodded as she turned to walk towards the gate. “I will.” She gave him one final kiss before leaving.

Nick watched as she walked away from him. He’d never felt such a mix of feelings. He was happy that they’d finally managed to work things out, and crushed that she’d had to leave so soon. He was also worried, knowing that she had to go home and face her fiancée. Would she change her mind once she got home? Nick smiled a little, thinking of the cruel irony. If she didn’t end up calling him or wanting to be with him after all, he’d be heartbroken. Much like she had been so many years ago.

Ashleigh leaned back in her seat as the plane began to roll down the runway. She wasn’t at all looking forward to anything about going home. She dreaded having to face Matt, and having to tell her family that the wedding was no longer going to be happening. Still, with all the impeding trouble that was sure to come Ashleigh hadn’t felt this happy in a long time.

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