One Week, Day Six
The flashes begin to blind him within seconds.
Nicky knows the real reason for this press conference, even if Kaylie doesn't, but he won't care. He'll make it a date to be remembered. He adjusts his tie, breathes deeply and calmly.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the press," he recites with a perfectly charismatic smile, just as MJ taught him. "Thank you for attending this press conference. Before we get to the topics you are undoubtedly more interested in, I must announce that for those who haven't heard yet, I will be leaving the Rock gymnastics club in Boulder to become part of the Denver gymnastics club." Nicky shifts. The wording is odd. He must rewrite some parts later. "I believe Boulder has taught me much, but ultimately, my transfer has been brought upon by many reasons—and perhaps you've heard of this—mainly my personal life getting in the way of my professional career. I cannot divulge much. Suffice to say..." and Nicky imagines he should give Kaylie wink, since she's probably narrowing her eyes with suspicion if she hasn't caught on already, or will have widened them if she has understood where this is going, "suffice to say, Kaylie Cruz is a fraud."
How long should his pause be, for maximum dramatic effect?
"Kaylie Cruz, the National Champion by luck, not by skill. Kaylie Cruz, the National Champion by a fluke. Victor Hugo once said, 'it is better not to have honors and deserve them, than have them and not deserve them' and this I must say to Ms. Cruz." He'll turn to her, and he rehearses this now, too, looking out of his window. "You have already told me you don't quite meet the standard set by the real National Champion, Payson Keeler. It's a fascinating story. I think it deserves a re-tell."
All right--scenario over. Nicky turns to the mirror once again and stares at his reflection, suppressing the ache in his chest with the anticipation of triumph. He hasn't really thought about last night. He can't even remember what happened between the moment she said "he didn't mean anything" and the instant he opened his bedroom door, buried himself beneath heavy covers, and woke up this morning to pick up a pen and write his speech for tonight. It's his last press conference, because once he leaves the Rock and is no longer associated with Kaylie Cruz, everyone will forget the random guy who won the silver at nationals. The thought saddens him; that no one will ever think he was anything because he failed to win first-place.
The silver medal that wrecked his confidence and sanity is on display in his room, hung high on a wall already overwhelmed by trophies and awards. But it stands out to him, because it reminds him of how much he gave, and how little he got in return.
Honestly, until this Denver trip he had begun to accept his defeat—he really had. He was already planning his exercises for next year, excited because Kaylie told him he'd win. And at the thought of her, his shoulders sag and he lowers his head to look at the ground, and not the world.
Damn... she told him he'd win. And he had let that soothe his insecurities. Yesterday he watched the world Kaylie built for him in Denver collapse and now he gets to look at the ruins.
Why can't he just shut her out of his mind? He drags himself back onto his bed and is disgusted when he remembers that he skipped his morning jog, absorbed debating possible revenge strategies. She's destroyed his will to train today. He just can't do it. But, he comforts himself, at least he got his speech done. Now all he has to do is go to the gym and pick up the rest of his stuff so he can pack tomorrow morning.
Nicky is in his truck, his white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel so tight that anyone watching might have thought he had suspicions it would fly out of his hand if he loosened it. He gets to the gym and doesn't want to confess that he's almost paralyzed with fear that she'll be there, even though it's Sunday and the gym is closed to normal operations. Sasha allows him to retrieve his equipment, and to his surprise, Emily Kmetko is there, looking so intently at the vault that he's relieved she won't notice him there. But she does.
"Nicky!" When she calls out his name, Nicky wants to pretend he didn't hear her and just make his way to his truck as soon as he can, but his bags are heavy. And she was loud, so there was no way he could have not heard her. So he turns, stonily appraising her anxious look. "Hi."
"Hey." Is that it? Can he leave?
"Listen... about yesterday with Kaylie," she begins tersely, but he turns to leave. "Nicky, please. Hear me out. She really, really likes you." Nicky is nonplussed and starts to walk towards the exit, but his speech falls out of his pocket, and he curses under his breath when Emily picks it up and gasps, eyes scanning the page quickly and disappointedly. "Don't tell me this is your speech for the press conference tonight."
He meets her horrified gaze defiantly. "Yes, it is."
For a moment, it looks like Emily will either rip the paper (which won't do any good because he's already memorized it), or will slap him. But the heat dissipates from her expression as quickly as it invaded it, and she calmly stuffs it back into his pocket. "You told us you overheard her telling Carter that she didn't want to be vulnerable to people anymore. That it makes you weak." He nods, faking boredom. But of course he remembers it; he had eagerly approached Kaylie to confess to her that his feelings had surpassed friendly affection, but her earnest conversation with Carter had verbally crushed his hopes. "You wanted to prove her wrong. You wanted a chance. But now you're just going to prove that she was right all along, and she shouldn't let anyone in because they'll just expose her fears to the entire world. And break her heart." Emily is so serious he's almost intimidated, but when she looks away from him and into the pocket where his speech is, he notices that her tone is simultaneously solemn and pleading. "This entire time she thought you liked Payson and was settling for her. Don't you think that maybe that entire speech she made about nothing mattering was just a knee-jerk reaction?"
Nicky sets his jaw. "No. In fact, I think it was very well-thought out and eloquent."
"Fine. Do whatever you want," Emily says angrily. "You'll both be miserable. You're such an idiot."
Kaylie watched the sunrise. She savored the sight of orange and yellow slowly creep up on the dark night, and then tried to sleep again. A momentary reminder that of course she can't sleep—she humiliated herself and Nicky in front of her friends, and she also slept the entire afternoon yesterday—comes to mind but she brushes it off, and tries again.
"He never mattered."
She sits up. The room seems dark again.
"Nothing mattered. I'm so sorry."
Kaylie is conscious that there is a heavy, painful discomfort in her chest, but she purposely blocks every thought and empties her mind. For a long while, she stares out of her window and feels the minutes tick by, unaware of how much time is actually passing. Then her cell phone rings, and it's MJ, calling a meeting regarding the afternoon's press conference. Kaylie tunes her off, and her agent's voice is reduced to a faint buzz in her head. A few words and phrases stand out, however: car, pick-up at 4pm, Nicky.
She shuts her eyes and lowers the phone onto her lap. She's done her best to not think about the night before but she can't anymore. Every second is replayed before her closed eyes--hot, angry flashes of memories she'd rather forget. The low murmurs from below are a sign that MJ is still talking, oblivious to Kaylie's distant thoughts. Then the murmurs stop, and she looks down and realizes her agent hung up already.
Nicky's final press conference is this afternoon, and she's uneasy about allowing him to transfer out of Boulder with such hostility between them. Something in her desperately yearns to make things right with him, but she can't. She just can't… too much was said and he's leaving anyway.
She's begun to despise any and all interviews, press conferences, and magazine exclusives. Their questions are always very similar—so similar that MJ has given them a list of approved responses, and Kaylie's never had to come up with an entirely original answer once she memorized the list. Of course, the most persistent question is always concerning whether she and Nicky are dating. It's been consistent and consistently annoying, but they've been able to dodge it well. She's worried today, of course, because if she were asked the question right now she might break down crying.
Kaylie attempts to lift herself off her bed to head for the bathroom but is dazed by a strong pang of headache. Goddamn… she's still sick, and she hasn't taken her meds in a while. She unsuspectingly opens her drawer to grab a bottle of cough syrup, but the sight that first greets her is one that sucks all the air in the room away, and she snatches her hand from the handle, taking an urgent cue from the large knot in her throat.
The pictures are still there—the pictures MJ gave Kaylie, the "leftovers" from her photoshoots with Nicky. The one staring right at her is the one she remembers caught his attention the most, the one that made him remark, "you have a crush on me." It's just laying there, framed by darkness and memories, but she can see his smile when she closes her eyes and she leaps off her bed and takes off.
Kaylie runs like she's never run before. She usually paces herself, watches her breathing, notices the trees to distract herself and make five miles seem like two. But today she's desperate, urgent. Today she's not counting her heartbeats, because they're too hurried anyway. She arrives at her destination before her brain catches up and she realizes just on whose front door she's standing. Boldly, she presses the door bell and nervously fidgets, hands occasionally wiping off some sweat off her brow.
"Payson. I need to talk to you," Kaylie interrupts. Then, she remembers that she's not that sure why she's there. What is this going to fix? Payson stormed out of the room last night and today she just looks annoyed. "You're… my best friend."
Payson closes the door behind her uneasily and Kaylie feels her watching her intently, making the porch seem so much smaller. "I thought Lauren was."
"I don't trust her," Kaylie states, a little too quickly. "And before you ask, I don't know Emily."
Payson actually sighs; the annoyance is gone and now she's just weary and tired. "Why are you here?"
"Nicky told me I have an inferiority complex." Why is she saying this? She doesn't know—the words are just rushing out of her mind before she has a chance to consider them. "I pretended I had no idea what he was talking about, but I did. I knew about it. I tried facing it, once, and you turned me away because you were still angry about losing Nationals to me. So I decided never to tell you anything else. And never tell anything to anyone, because I could only trust you, and you were never there." Kaylie is breathless and Payson is visibly stunned. "I've been keeping this bottled up inside me, because I couldn't tell anyone. This thing with Nicky was happening, and it was just he and I, closed off, and it felt like the rest of the world wasn't going to catch up, but it did, and then you were in my room, and he was there too, and all I could think about was how I never, ever won when I was up against you."
When she's done, her heart is hammering away inside of her and she knows she's flushed and sweaty, and God knows she just woke up and her hair must be a mess, but none of that matters because Payson is just staring at her and isn't doing anything.
Payson frowns, just slightly, and breaks the silence. "You won Nationals." She takes a step closer to Kaylie, and now she's no longer in the shadows, but out in the daylight with Kaylie. "And Nicky is yours."
"Nicky isn't mine," Kaylie says, but she's afraid that because those words made her want to cry, that sentence might have come out sounding whiny.
"Kaylie, I don't understand you," Payson admits with frustration. "Why are you acting like this? Like you don't have anything, when you have everything?"
"I don't have anything, Payson," Kaylie argues, and now the tears seem to be inching closer to eruption but she swallows hard and plows on. "My parents aren't together. I don't have a boyfriend. I don't have a best friend. And Nationals was a fluke."
"I thought we talked about this already." Payson's impatience evaporates instantly, and now her entire countenance is filled with understanding and compassion. "You're not what you have, Kaylie. You are who you are. I couldn't stand you before, and how you thought you deserved everything, but I don't like you like this, either, thinking you don't deserve anything at all." The blond girl steps even closer to Kaylie's frozen body, and now their distance is friendly, not the two feet that would lead outsiders to deduce they were strangers. "You shouldn't be this insecure. And why do you think Nicky doesn't like you?"
"Because he likes you."
"He doesn't. He and I have talked about this already," Payson informs her reassuringly, but that piece of information still unsettles her. Nicky and Payson talked about it? Talked about her? "He likes you."
"No, he's settling for me."
"Because you turned him down."
"Kaylie… this isn't gymnastics. It's not a competition. If you're the girl he likes after he stopped liking me, you're not in second place. You're just the girl he ended up preferring, that's all."
"But if he compares me to you—"
"Kaylie! What's wrong with you? Are you listening to yourself?" Payson looks ready to slap her, so Kaylie immediately shuts up. "What if he compares us? He probably already has, and chose you. Stop whining and complaining. I think you got too beaten down by your parents, and Carter, and now you're just unused to good things happening to you. Just accept it. Don't turn Nicky away because you think I'm better than you. Your opinion of yourself is way too skewed right now. And Nicky sees someone he likes, so it doesn't matter that you don't like yourself."
"But Payson…" Kaylie doesn't know why she sounds like she's begging for pity. Maybe she is. Truth is, she just wants to disappear, or at least feel like after all this pain and anxiety and chaos, she's finally nearing the end of the nightmare that began when she found out everyone cheats on everyone and love is irrelevant. But the clock is ticking so many minutes by and soon she'll be in the press conference with Nicky, and everything will end. "He doesn't like me anymore." After the first tear falls, it becomes a lot easier to just let everything go so she does, and begins to cry. A second later, Payson has enveloped her in a warm embrace, and for the first time in her life, Kaylie isn't feeling like a loser next to Payson. She's not in second place, she's just hugging her friend and they're equals.
"Of course he does," Payson says gently. "He's just hurt, that's all. And frustrated because he told you he liked you and then you just kind of shrugged it off."
Kaylie distances herself from her friend's hug just a bit, frowning. "You two have been talking too much."
Payson laughs and wipes a tear away from Kaylie's cheek. "We've become friends, bonding over how to get you to admit you like him."
"I told him I liked him."
"Yeah, and then denied everything in front of your friends." Kaylie sighs, discouraged, and wipes another tear away. "Have you talked to him since yesterday?"
"No. I'm sure he won't want to talk to me."
"He's leaving tomorrow; I'm sure he'd appreciate it if you talked to him. Or you know, tried, at least."
Kaylie wipes the last of her tears away, still worried but relieved of much of the unbearable burden that had been weighing her down. "The conference is in two hours and I haven't even taken a bath yet."
"Wait a second…" Payson steps back to survey Kaylie, then shakes her head with disbelief. "You're still in your pajamas. You ran here. In your PJ's."
"Well, I put my running shoes on," Kaylie defended weakly, wanting more than anything to just stay there, with Payson on her porch, until the conference is over, Nicky's gone, and everything is back to how it was before. But she can't, so she takes a glance at the street and the path through which she so desperately sprinted. "If he hates me," she murmurs absently, "at least he's leaving…"
"You can fix this, Kay," Payson reassures her again. "And it's impossible to hate you. Everyone at the gym's tried, and no one can do it." The blond girl is smiling widely, her dimples carved so clearly in her rosy cheeks. Kaylie wants to believe her, but really, who is she kidding—it's not impossible to hate her; she hates herself.
Kaylie figures her heart should be racing. Her nerves are a mess and she's shaking. But her heart seems to have stopped, instead.
This is it. She's in a private room adjacent to the conference room where she can already hear journalists and photographers testing out their gear and equipment.
This is it. Her makeup is impeccable and MJ's staff has arranged the lighting, the seating arrangements, the timeline for everything that will take place that afternoon.
Mostly, however, this is it because Nicky is sitting right next to her. MJ is passive-aggressively barking last-minute instructions on her phone, and there are people running, jogging, dashing—well, in various phases and velocities of movement—and there's a distracting amount of noise all around them, but her mind is barely registering these things. Nicky is beside her and she can't think. She can't function.
"Come over here, you two," MJ calls them over to a large desk upon which Kaylie can see a stack of magazines. She numbly complies, and then immediately remembers that Nicky is beside her and her nerves are wrecked once again. "All right, a quick rundown of the overall theme for the press conference."
"I won't be here for much of it, so I'm just gonna go rehearse my speech." Nicky is excusing himself, but MJ shakes her head and calls him over before he can leave.
"Not so fast, Nicky. All the magazines present here want both of you present. And the private interviews post-conference are also for both of you." Their agent is texting and talking to them at the same time, which would be rude in normal circumstances but Kaylie figures it's acceptable now since the press conference is due to begin in only 15 minutes. "And we must be especially courteous because most of the magazines that sent correspondents here today aren't sports magazines. Weekly In Touch and People have been most pressing regarding their exclusive interviews with both, and their readership is much more expansive. Also, let us not forget that today you're being filmed live for ESPN."
Kaylie feels as though she's missed something. Gossip magazines want to interview them? ESPN is filming them live? Why?
Nicky is, as always, disgusted at the mere mention of his involvement with the press. "Why do they still want me for interviews? I mean, I won the silver. Why not have the National Champions do this? I have to pack for my move to Denver."
"Perhaps you two haven't been in on the rumors." MJ doesn't sound understanding that their schedules have been hectic and they haven't had time to listen to gossip. "The main reason there have been so many requests for interviews with you two is because the media thinks you're an item." Suddenly, Kaylie is so uncomfortable that she's overtaken by an enormous urge to look everywhere but at her agent and Nicky. MJ steps closer to them and both Kaylie and Nicky step back. "Are you?"
"An item? Us?" Kaylie scoffs with disbelief. "Why are you even asking us this?" She steals a glance at Nicky, who remains stone-faced and offers her no support. "Come on. They've been saying we're a couple for a while now. But they never have any evidence."
"Well," MJ begins seriously, and instinctively, Kaylie holds her breath. MJ's accent made everything sound ominous. "Now they do." Kaylie then watches as MJ lays an open magazine on top of the table before them. She can't contain a horrified gasp. There they are. Three photos of them. Kissing. Three photos horribly large and well-taken, spread in a page headlined by "Kalicky: Gymnastic's Golden Couple."
"Oh my God..." Kaylie breaths. "Denver…" Her heart must have stopped beating for several seconds, until she turns to Nicky, and for an instant she feels a trace of the rush she experienced when they kissed race its way down her body. She almost shivers. But something catches her attention in Nicky's expression, and realization makes her lean away from him, just slightly, as though he were a foreign object in her space. "You knew about the pictures."
"I saw them that same day, on some sort of website. Actually, Payson did and..." Kaylie winces when he says her name, and now the fact that Payson was cheerleading their relationship makes more sense. "She showed them to me."
Kaylie raises a hand to her temple; her headache is strong again and she forgot her medicines at home. She sees worry flash across Nicky's eyes, before he apparently remembers he's supposed to be mad at her, and looks away indifferently.
MJ nods, now efficiently texting in two phones at the same time. "Blogs broke the story the same day of the exposition, but magazines have taken longer due to their printing time in between issues."
"What do you want us to do?" she asks MJ tiredly, but still fighting back a mortified blush when she realizes their agent has seen pictures of them kissing. Never mind the entire nation seeing them--MJ has. "Deny everything? Use the old 'we're just friends' line?"
"Sasha insists you two make it clear you are not dating, for the sake of your professional image, as well as the gym's."
Oh crap. Sasha.
"Really? Even with the pictures?" Nicky asks, but MJ apparently doesn't hear it.
"I've spoken to your parents also," MJ states, and Kaylie expects some continuation to that sentence, but that's it. MJ says no more and Kaylie is resigned to her own horrified thoughts. Her parents have seen the pictures as well. She'll be grounded for 80 years.
"Will do," Nicky agrees curtly and with a distracted, impatient nod, he exits the room and heads to the makeshift dressing room across from Kaylie and MJ. Kaylie's body finally relaxes.
"Kaylie," MJ says, and Kaylie can sense that ominous accent prepare her for bad news once again. "Is everything all right with you and Nicky?" The agent is still there, hardened by the nature of her profession, but Kaylie sees sympathy in her eyes. Not enough to break down her walls, but enough to make her wish the walls had been broken after all.
"Yeah. Everything is fine."
Five minutes. That's it. Five minutes and he can get out of this hell hole and go home. After his speech, he'll slip away amidst the turmoil that will surely ensue, and escape the "exclusive interviews" MJ has set up. He has the entire path clearly plotted in his mind; which exit to use,which staffers to avoid...
Five minutes and Kaylie will be gone from his life.
They're standing behind curtains that overlook, to the side, the stage upon which their table has been set up in the middle of the Rock's central training area. He can see his designated seat, the thin microphone that isn't leaning towards his chair enough, and the small plastic plaque propped beside it with his name in emblazoned letters. It's a little fancier than he's gotten used to, and he ponders dryly that if it weren't for the fact that they're being filmed and broadcast nationwide, they'd still be using folded papers with their names written with sharpies.
He notices all of this to distract his mind from the fact that she's right there. She's two inches from him, and her smell is intoxicating. She's nervous and keeps fidgeting, probably even more unnerved by the fact that he isn't moving a single muscle.
His eyes dart to the large clock on the wall directly across from where they are—four minutes now. He can't wait; he hasn't been excited about anything since that minute in Kaylie's room when she had kissed him (and then told him she "missed" and had been "aiming for the cheek"). No, don't think about it, Nicky, he tells himself. Remembering how it was when it was good makes him forget the reason why he's about to do this—he has to remember instead the moments that made it awful. He never mattered. Payson doesn't want you and your silver medal.
He runs his speech through his head for the umpteenth time, because it's been branded in his mind and he's anticipating how effortless it will be to deliver it.
Thank you for attending this press conference. Before we get to the topics you are undoubtedly more interested in, I must announce that for those who haven't heard yet, I will be leaving the Rock gymnastics club in Boulder to become part of the Denver Elite gymnastics club. I believe Boulder has taught me much, but ultimately, my transfer has been brought upon by many reasons—and perhaps you've heard of this—
"I was afraid."
Nicky's vision blurs for an instant.
"I thought you were going to be like Carter and my dad, and choose someone else over me."
He can't look at her, but his pulse is exponentially raised, and his mouth is so, so dry.
"When we were in my room… there's so much that went through my mind, Nicky. I was afraid of so much."
Why is his stomach turning? He hasn't eaten anything all day, aside from a tasteless energy bar on his way here. He blinks two, three times. The noise from the press room that had been so intrusive is now mute. The world has gone silent and all he can hear are her soft, fearful, pleading words, crawling in the air and burning his body.
"I'm so sorry for what I said yesterday. I would take it all back; I'd announce it to the world that you did matter and I have feelings for you and I was so wrong. I saw Payson at the door and… I have my defense mechanisms. I lie about things, and try to convince people I am who I wish I was."
MJ abruptly pushes them both from behind the curtains and before Nicky can really register what is happening, he's already sat down and MJ is at a pulpit, thanking the press for the presence and instructing how the questions will be ordered. Nicky slowly lowers his eyes from the table to Kaylie's lap, upon which her hands are stiffly folded. A second later he's at the pulpit, unfolding his speech, even though he remembers everything and has been reciting it under his breath all day.
The flashes begin to blind him within seconds.
"Thank you for attending this press conference. Before we get to the topics you are undoubtedly more interested in, I must announce that for those who haven't heard yet, I will be leaving the Rock gymnastics club in Boulder to become part of the Denver Elite gymnastics club." His voice is devoid of emotion, even though he's trying so hard to be animated about this, and sound like he's smirking with each satisfied word. "I believe Boulder has taught me much, but ultimately, my transfer has been brought upon by many reasons—and perhaps you've heard of this—mainly my personal life getting in the way of my professional career. I cannot divulge much. Suffice to say..." Nicky pauses because his mouth is so dry now. He swallows hard; there's a high-pitched ring whining in his head and he can't think. He focuses his blurry eyes on the paper in front of him, and sees every word sufficiently clearly, and yet he has a mounting difficulty to read them. "Suffice to say," he repeats, and knows this is the part he's supposed to tell the world that she's a fraud—no need to look at the paper. Through the corner of his field of vision he sees Kaylie, downcast and distant, looking as though she is attending a funeral and not a press conference. He's going to make everything worse, isn't he? "Kaylie Cruz…" Say it, Nicky. She's a fraud.
"Don't you think that maybe that entire speech she made about nothing mattering was just a knee-jerk reaction?"
"I have my defense mechanisms. I lie about things, and try to convince people I am who I wish I was."
"Suffice to say, Kaylie Cruz…" Nicky continues, but the words get caught again before they leave his mouth, and he's embarrassed and angry. Everyone's noticing his little breakdown, eyes lowering to follow the path of the beads of sweat rolling down his temples.
"Love makes you weak."
"She sets standards I don't think I can meet. I wouldn't want to be the one after her in anything."
"There's so much that went through my mind, Nicky. I was afraid of so much."
"She thought you liked Payson and was settling for her."
"I try to convince people I am who I wish I was."
"I have my defense mechanisms."
"I was afraid of so much."
"Kaylie Cruz is…" Nicky looks at Kaylie. She's watching him with concern, not hungry, greedy curiosity like everyone else. He can see how heightened it is with her, like she cares.
I have feelings for you. She cares.
Nicky loses the battle. "Not the reason I'm leaving. In fact, she's the only reason I have to stay in Boulder." Great—even more flashes now. The whispering has erupted into loud murmurs and the noise from multiples cameras capturing the moment gives him time to think about what to say next, under the pretense that he's waiting for everything to die down. "Kaylie Cruz, the national champion, has been the most supportive person in my gymnastic career. Kaylie Cruz, the person," he amends, and smiles because he now has a clear sense of where he wants to go with this. He looks at Kaylie's discreetly shocked expression. "Is my girlfriend."
Something was flickering in his eyes when he smiled at her, but Kaylie is allowed only a split second to deduce the point he's arriving at before he says the words that cause an earthquake in her chest. "Kaylie Cruz, the person, is my girlfriend." He proceeds to take her hand and almost as though she's having a dream or an out of body experience, she sees herself standing beside him behind the small pulpit, photographic flashes making her vision swim in white. "We'd appreciate if you'd stop asking us about it in every interview. Thanks very much." He turns to her and she still can't really move. "Let's get out of here." MJ springs to her feet and just as they're leaving, she's taken hold of the pulpit and is attempting to control a wildly excited mass of reporters and cameras.
Kaylie is aware that he's gently pulled her to the back of the gym, and then through the exit doors that led them to their parked cars and all the vans and SUVs with which the press had colonized the Rock's back parking lot. She glances behind her and sees numerous men running towards them from the main entrance. Nicky hurriedly opens the passenger door of his truck and she climbs inside, and then they're driving in silence until he stops by a tree-lined road she doesn't recognize.
"All right, you have to say something now," Nicky blurts out after he's shut off the engine. "Please, say something."
She's on the verge of complying, when he steps out of his truck and leaps to open her door and stare at her nervously. They're positioned at eye level and she relishes being so close to him again after so long—well, it's been less than 24 hours but it felt like a year.
Kaylie smiles and sighs because all that miserable, depressed weight she was carrying around has been lifted. "How did you guess all I wanted was to be embarrassed by you on national television?"
He's grinning, and her stomach performs those somersaults that make the sun seem brighter. "I'm psychic, remember?" She leans in to kiss him, but he steps back and she frowns, almost afraid he's going to take it all back and destroy her world. But no… he's still smiling. "I realize I didn't really ask you to be my girlfriend. I just kind of announced it to millions of people."
"Yeah, a heads-up on that would have been nice," she teases with a laugh.
"So…" He's nervously opening and closing his hands at his sides. "Are we going to have to call another press conference to tell them that we were just kidding?"
Kaylie slides off her seat and leans on the side of the truck. Unconsciously, it seems, he mirrors her actions and moves so that he's standing in front of her once again. He's visibly anxious and she wants to laugh again because he's actually considering the possibility that she doesn't want him. "I'd hate to have another press conference; they really drag…" she says slyly. "So I guess I'm stuck with you after all." At this, she feels his arms slide around her sides and just as quickly, she embraces him as well. When she allows her forehead to rest on the crook between his shoulder and neck, she's momentarily distracted by his scent, taken aback by how much it affects her; how quickly it gets her light-headed. "It's good because Sasha can't get on our backs over this, but I still can't believe you're going to be in Denver," Kaylie mumbles. "How will the paparazzi get their daily fix of Kalicky?"
Nicky chuckles and separates himself from her just a bit, keeping his hands on her waist. "That's not really your question, is it? You're asking how you'll get your daily fix of me." She laughs freely, slapping his arm and keenly aware of how his eyes keep lingering on her mouth.
"You are psychic." She raises her hands to his chest. "What am I thinking now, then?"
He swallows hard, and lowers his head so his cheek is leaning on hers. It feels odd to be like this—following every impulse instead of suffocating them like before. "I don't know... tell me." He cocks his head to the side and closes the gap between their lips. Kaylie is lost in the daze of overjoyed emotions swirling in her and making her stomach flip-flop.
She breaks off the kiss to look at him. He's perfect, and now she can stare because he's hers. "That was it."
A/N: So I was out of the country for a month... hopefully I didn't get too rusty and you enjoyed the final chapter of this story. :) I had a lot of fun writing this and am so grateful for all the reviews and all the readers who followed me through this little literary time-travel experiment on romance... I was writing for my own enjoyment, but it's unimaginable how rewarding it is to know other people are enjoying it, too! If you'd like to read more from me, I'm writing another Kaylie/Nicky story; that one is more of a humorous piece and is called "One Month."
(Oh, and was the season finale of Make It or Break It a bummer or what? Was I the only one hoping Nicky would make an appearance? And then just as I was starting to get a little more involved in the whole Kaylie/Carter reunion, he goes for Lauren instead. Oh well, she's better off lol.)