Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Wow, it's been so long since I had to admit it.
Author's note: Someone questioned my writing ability (what a freaking b) so I whipped this out. Honestly, I don't even think there's a storyline. Just stretching my ol' writing chops with moments I wish would happen though I know never will. Enjoy it.
Warning: Spoilers; I break shipper hearts.
Kaylie can't remember the last time she's felt so good.
These past months she's struggled to figure things out. It still scares her how far she strayed from herself, casting food from her life like it was merely an annoyance, a roadblock between her and her fairytale ending. She thought she was doing it to stay on the right path. Then everything fell apart before her very eyes and at first she was so wrapped up in her own bullshit she couldn't even see it.
Kaylie was lost. Every which way she turned there were people with their pity. All she wanted was out. Then she found music or maybe music found her. Either way, it felt so natural to take the imaginary words in her head and on her heart and put it on paper. It gave her something tangible to grasp and hold on to. All those thoughts, hopes and fears that chased her in circles, moved through her voice, for Damon to listen, to understand. Damon, her Godsend, an angel with a velvet voice, had such faith in her when she had none in herself.
Damon loosened the blindfold she willingly wore for so long and helped her see again. Kaylie saw Gene and how he listened, helping her talk through the turmoil. She saw her parents, sticking by her and each other without fail. She saw the reason Maeve was six feet under and most horrifying, how Kaylie herself was well on her way down that same path.
At Worlds, Kelly passed the torch to her, gave Kaylie the floor. Going out and executing that routine reminded Kaylie why she's even in this sport. Kaylie was lost and she found her way back. That routine solidified it. Receiving the team gold was a fairy tale in and of itself.
Now, it's early, the last morning in Rio, competition complete. On her way to breakfast, Kaylie decides to stop by Kelly's room. She texted once and called twice, but Kelly didn't answer any attempt to reach out. Since they're just down the hall from each other, Kaylie figures she might as well knock and see what the Denver gymnast is up to.
Kaylie doesn't really know what to think of this friendship with Kelly. It's unexpected, the way even after Kaylie made it clear they weren't going to be friends, Kelly put in the effort, with cheering and comforting pats on the shoulder in times of need. Then there was their reconciliation session with Payson and Lauren. Baggage checked in, hate dropped.
Partially lost in thought, Kaylie goes to knock when the door suddenly flies open. It seems Kaylie Cruz has horrendous luck when it comes to boys and hotel hallways.
If he didn't see her at the last second and backtrack, they surely would have collided. Kaylie's eyes widen, expecting a familiar face, but not his. Her first thought is how Kaylicky it would have been for them to literally bump into each other. The memories of their little collection of almost moments zaps Kaylie like an electricity, sharp, powerful and at the front of her mind.
Desperate to keep it together, Kaylie focuses on the Nicky Russo in front of her. It surprises her how much older he looks, a more defined jaw, more muscular arms and his hair, that hopeless mess, is cut shorter, but just as ruffled. Of all the details she notices, the one that hits hardest is how he's still in clothes from the dinner party last night, his now wrinkled shirt untucked, buttons undone and the tie loose around his neck.
Kaylie has a question nagging for her to ask even though she can already guess the answer. Asking would only make this conversation one of the most awkward of her life. She finds it a little funny that a lot of the most awkward conversations and situations in her life involve him.
"I, um," Kaylie says, so unsure and for some reason embarrassed. "Um, I came to…see if Kelly wanted to get breakfast. Is she…?"
"She's in the shower…" Nicky points over his shoulder, but when he hears his own voice, a mortified flush colors his cheeks. "Y—you should probably come back…later. Maybe an hour? She, uh, usually takes forever to get ready...um, yeah."
"Right." Kaylie bounces up on the front four tires of her feet. She stands a little taller as if trying to physically rise above the awkwardness they're both drowning in. "So I'll just…go."
Kaylie turns promptly, reminding herself to be cool. She hears a door click. Nicky disappeared back into Kelly's room. Kaylie slowly eases a breath into her lungs and lets it out just as slowly. She sees his retreat as a good thing. Her room is in the same direction as the elevator and if they had to walk down the hall together, awkward silence like quicksand, Kaylie swears she might have fainted from the chagrin.
Lost in her thoughts, Kaylie presses her tongue between her lips. Her mind is still trying to catch up with what's just happened and even more difficult, make sense of it.
So…Kelly + Nicky =?
Admittedly, Kaylie isn't a fan of math, but she isn't terrible at it either. Regardless, this simple equation eludes her completely.
As horrible as it might be, Kaylie considers the possibility of it being a one night stand. The high of Worlds, feeling invincible, Kaylie understands that. She felt exactly that as Austin kissed her in front of everyone. Coupled with the freedom from her mom, the feeling had to have been elevated in Kelly. Things happen, but with reserved Nicky Russo of all boys? How does that make any sense? Kaylie had no clue they even knew each other.
It brings her back to dinner last night, a post-Worlds reception, where Kaylie had been sitting with the Colorado kids. Austin's arm had been on the back of her chair as he took some lighthearted teasing from Payson and Lauren about the men's US team coming in third. Austin just shook his head and blamed it on Max's injury and absence.
Whatever it was they were talking about, it was lost on Kaylie who spotted Nicky across the room. Hair, short and styled, shirt neatly tucked in, every button in place, Nicky sat with the others on the men's team. She saw him sneaking glances in their direction. She felt it.
"Kaylie! Paging Kaylie Cruz!" came Kelly's voice. Kaylie blinked away her haze of thoughts and noticed Kelly's curiosity. "Hey. Where'd you go just then? Not trying to think too hard I hope. Wouldn't want you hurting yourself."
Kelly's tone held no malice, so different from the evil Kelly Parker caricature the girls always had in their heads. Kaylie's eyes strayed from Kelly's warm smile and found Nicky's eyes on her yet again. She held his gaze until Kelly gave into her need to know and glanced over, searching for what had Kaylie so distracted.
"Secret admirer?" Kelly asked.
Shaking it off, Kaylie leaned back in her chair until she could feel the sleeve of Austin's shirt against her back. "It's nothing."
"Doesn't seem like nothing," Kelly sang teasingly. Shifting her crossed knees to the side of her chair, Kelly turned around. Loftily waving at Nicky, Kelly fairly bellowed, "Hey Russo!"
Kelly's voice, calling out to Nicky, froze Kaylie in her seat. Her eyes went wide and she embarrassedly ducked her head. In a voice between a hiss and a whisper, Kaylie demanded, "Kelly, what are you doing?"
Blatantly ignoring Kaylie, Kelly smiled her most winning smile over at Nicky. It didn't even bother her that other people around the room started to watch with interest. "Yeah, you! The gym-hopper. FYI Kaylie's dating Mr. Cobalt over here so you can just put away your puppy dog eyes! It isn't happening!"
Austin, Max and Lauren all roared with laughter while Payson shook her head, but didn't say anything. Finally, Kaylie tugged on Kelly's wrist, as if to tell her enough and the Denver gymnast simply faced forward and took a dainty sip of her water like nothing happened.
"Kelly, I can't believe you just did that." Kaylie slowly raised her gaze just in time to see Nicky leave the room, understandably humiliated. At the core of it, that was just Kelly being Kelly, but Kaylie couldn't help feeling bad for the guy.
"What?" Kelly asked, feigning innocence. "I called him a gym-hopper instead of a gym-slut like I really wanted to. I thought that was pretty nice of me. Seriously. The Rock to Denver Elite and then Dallas in how many months? If you ask me, it's only a matter of time before he ends up at Pinewood or somewhere just as pathetic."
From across the table Lauren made a low, hissing sound at the back of her throat. "Okay, I'm cool with you hanging and all, Parker, but never mention Pinewood. Ever."
"I second that," Payson agreed.
Kelly gave them all a sweeping smile. "Deal."
Kaylie is pretty sure her memory is an accurate one. Now how it connects to Nicky Russo coming out of Kelly's room in clothes from last night is the real mystery.
"Kelly Parker, was that really necessary?"
At dinner, when the others start planning how to pull off a night swim, Kelly excuses herself. While waiting for the elevator, that low, familiar voice calls out to her and Kelly does her best to suppress that rising, giddy feeling. Putting on her cool, detached mask, Kelly turns to face him. Nicky has his chin tilted down toward his throat, making his eyes all big. She finds it disgusting that he looks even cuter when he's trying to be cute.
Kelly rolls her hazel eyes, eyes that are just as deceptive as she is. The flecks of gold and outer green edge stand out more than usual, color coordinated with the little dress she's wearing. Walking towards her, Nicky remembers reading somewhere that light eyes reflect colors around them like how water reflects the sky. Reflects, deflects. It's very Kelly Parker.
Hands tucked into the pockets of his slacks, Nicky is so bold as to move in even closer. Kelly's first instinct is to look around, expecting her crazy mom or Ellen Beals or—God forbid—Sasha to be seconds away from interrupting, but Kelly fights the urge and keeps her eyes locked on Nicky. Kelly Parker isn't ever known to turn first in a game of chicken.
"Having fun with your new friends, Parker?"
"Loads," Kelly says, obviously a deliberate exaggerations. "We're all planning on getting into our jimjams, meeting in Kaylie's room for some girl talk and, oh, if we're lucky maybe there'll even be a spontaneous pillow fight. So much more fun than my old friends, that's for sure."
The joke (if you can call it that) goes without saying. She didn't have any.
"Sounds super, super fun. Do you know what everyone else calls you girls?" Nicky asks. Another step. The space between them becomes less and less. "They call you the Plastics."
"Not surprising. It's expected for bronze medalists and non-medalists to be jealous of gold medalists and resort to talking crap," she snidely replies. He leans into her, his head lowering to accommodate the height difference. Kelly leans away.
"That's not nice," he whispers, placing his hand on his chest. "My heart."
"Shoot," Kelly drawls on. "I was aiming for your ego."
Nicky shakes his head, the corners of his lips tugging back in just a tinge of a smile. "Kelly Parker, you're so smug, you know?"
"Such a lie."
Not ashamed to smile, Kelly presses her tongue to the back of her top teeth. She looks him directly in the eyes for the first time in who knows how long. No, that isn't true. They both know how long it's been. They both remember the last time. The last time they were in such close quarters was days after Carter showed up in Denver and minutes before Nicky left.
Damn that way he looks at her. His dark eyes boring straight into hers, reaching into her and knowing just how to grab the soul she denies she has. It's so different from when they first met, when he could barely bring himself to look at her, so hesitant and awkward. The transformation just goes to show how comfortable they've become around each other.
Ding. Swoop. The elevator doors open, but it doesn't end their moment. It doesn't end till Kelly says it does. Without breaking their gaze, Kelly swings to the side, moving around Nicky and looking at him from over her bare shoulder. "Later, gym-slut."
Kelly struts into the elevator, chin held high, so self-assured. Nicky stares after her, eyes trailing down her dark locks pushed over one shoulder, the back of her dress dipping to show the wing-like arches of her shoulder blades and all that exposed bronze skin. Is there anything more dangerous than a girl who knows she's beautiful? Kelly Parker. Not only does she know she is (after all her mom tells her all the time) Kelly uses it to her advantage.
Say something, Russo. Curling and uncurling his fingers over and over, Nicky tries to think of something clever to make her stay or at least smile at him one last time. He jumps when the elevator doors start to close and reaches out to stop it. Kelly raises an eyebrow, a challenge.
"Wait! Um, so you know, I—I wasn't looking at Kaylie," Nicky says, his voice what he hopes is more sexy than nervous, the latter being exactly what he feels. "I was looking at you, Parks."
"I know," Kelly says cheekily. "I just like busting your ass in public."
Grinning, Nicky keeps his hand firm against the side of the elevator, holding the doors open. "Do you know why I put up with it?"
Running her fingertips across the length of his arm, Kelly responds, "Because I'm secretly sweet to you when we're alone."
Nicky laughs, his smile filling out. "Um…sure. If that is what you want to call it…"
"Just shut up and get in here, Nick." After pulling him closer by his skinny tie, Kelly slides her palms up his firm, familiar chest and around his strong shoulders. He touches her with confidence and precision, but it's different from when he's in his realm of gymnastics, executing a technically sophisticated routine. This particular brand of confidence is one they taught each other outside the gym.
"We can't get too carried away," Kelly whispers. His touch is disorienting, fingers that glide over her, making all her thoughts blur before they go spinning away. This overwhelming heat wraps around her body as does his arms. "Mmm. Bed checks…at ten."
"It cost me all my spending money, but I have my side covered," he breathes into the minute space between them, "and thanks to a certain Momager I've had quite a bit of practice, hiding under beds and in the cramped Kelly Parker Mobile bathroom."
"Oh, so this was pre-planned?" Kelly gives him a shove and reaches over to punch the elevator button. "You just assumed we'd end up in bed? After you left for freaking Texas and we haven't seen each other in months? You thought it'd be that easy?"
A dozen different answers run through his head, but instead of picking one and stumbling through it, Nicky presses his lips to hers. He kisses her lightly, testing the waters, a toe skimming the surface of an ice-cold pool. A shiver draws goosebumps over his arms, feeling the initial shiver. Like a pool on a hot day in a mad world, Nicky can't resist.
Instead of shoving him off and slapping him across the face like Nicky half expects, Kelly kisses him back, her fingers in his hair, gently tugging, trying to bring them closer than humanly possible. After breaking apart for long enough to breathe, Nicky cradles her in his arms, sucking hard at her lips as though to draw the poison from within and free her of it.
"I hate it when you do that." They're so close Kelly's lips brush his when she half-whispers half-breathes the words. "Not attractive."
"Such a lie," Nicky mimics her, panting. His heart beats hard. She feels it against her chest.
Kelly's lips part as if to say something else, but it seems she decides against it because everything around them is quiet and her lips are drawn back to his. She presses close to him and Nicky loses his balance, reaches his hand back to catch himself. His palm and splayed fingers press into the panel of buttons, lighting up a bunch of floors below their destination.
Nicky looks from Kelly to the buttons to the doors that slide open for no reason and back to Kelly. She just laughs into his chest, calls him a dork and kisses him again.
Kaylie knows she should be packing, but instead she's lying on the hotel bed, her dark hair spilling across the stark white sheets, holding her phone up in front of her face. The other day she sent Damon a picture text of her and her gold medal. No message needed. The picture said it all.
Damon had texted back a Congrats. I knew you'd make it. Attached with a smiley face.
If his short yet sweet (so Damon) reply didn't already have her smiling, the colon-close-parenthesis did. Using emoticons, especially a—gasp—smiley face is so un-Damon. Now that she has time to breathe, to not focusing on gymnastics 24/7 for the first time in the last few weeks, she realizes how much she misses him. Even more poignant, how much she wants to see him.
Before she can give this sudden longing any more thought, there's a knock at the door. With a groan, Kaylie swings her legs up to gain momentum and swings them back, popping up to her feet. With lazy movement, Kaylie drags her tired, beaten body to the door and swings it open.
"Hey teamie," Kelly greets her, walking right past Kaylie and into the room. "So I heard you stopped by this morning."
Still standing by the door, Kaylie says, "Why yes, Kelly, feel free to come right in and make yourself at home." Kaylie lets the door slam shut and makes her way to the couch. "And yes. I did. So I'm guessing Nicky told you…?"
"He did." Kelly grabs the TV guide off the table, leafing through it like she actually cares.
Pulling a pillow into her lap, Kaylie tries to figure out the best way to get this out. Taking a deep breath, Kaylie says, "…so you and Nicky…?"
"What's with the face?" Kelly carelessly tosses the TV Guide back down onto the table, giving Kaylie a purposefully dumb look. "Oh…I never mentioned the boy who re-lit your Carter-doused flame is my sex slave? Oops. Must've slipped my mind."
Kaylie's eyebrows practically shoot up to her hairline. "S—sex slave?"
Kelly rolls her eyes, bored. "No, Kaylie, because my life is a teen rom-com, Nick just came into my room to talk about feelings and we fell asleep, not even touching. At all. Even better, he took the floor because he's such a gentleman. Wow. I think it might be love."
By the look on Kaylie's face, the sarcasm translated loud and clear. It does nothing for Kaylie's confusion though. "But last night at dinner you…you called him a gym-slut."
"Yeah, because he is one and he knows it. He's even thinking about coming back to Denver. Ha, as if Marty would even consider letting him after what happened. So I give Nick a hard time and he likes to pout about it and we both get off on fighting it out later. So what?"
"So you guys are, like, I don't know," Kaylie pauses dramatically, then sings, "dating?"
Kelly narrows her eyes. "No. Elite gymnasts don't date, especially not each other. You know that…oh wait, Mr. Cobalt. Wow. I guess I'm just really forgetful today," Kelly says playfully. See, she can have her own fun with this too. "Come on, Kaylie. You know I'm just teasing."
When Kaylie gives her a look that indicates that she actually cares, Kelly withers down into the empty space on the couch. Rather than painting a romantic picture like most girls would, Kelly skims on the details and talks like being in a relationship, an intimate relationship, "isn't a big deal" and emphasizes that "it's just sex." Kelly's words exactly.
"So," Kaylie says once Kelly fills her in. "He told you…that we had a moment back in Boulder?"
"Aww, you're blushing," Kelly teasingly points out. "Nick and I…we tell each other a lot and I'm still trying to feel out if that does more harm than good. Honestly though when he first told me about your short-lived romance, it made me hate you even more than I already did, but that was then. I'm not dating Nick. Never was. We run into each other every few months and make the most of it. Not a crime, right?"
"I guess…" Kaylie's voice trails off.
Kelly frowns. "You're judging me."
"No!" Kaylie says quickly. The last thing she wants to do is offend Kelly after they had just a breakthrough. "I have no right to so I won't. You know, it's cool. I can't say I understand…"
"And I say quit while you're ahead," Kelly says. She's noticeably trying to keep from snapping too harshly. "If you ask me, the idea of you thinking about Nick and me and what we do? Especially with your history and our truce it's a little creepy. And Nick and I would both appreciate it if you kept it to yourself. We can trust you, right?"
Kaylie readily nods. "Of course."
Though she easily agrees, it doesn't seem to matter when at the post-Worlds party at the Cruz house back in Boulder, Nicky and Kelly get caught making out in the coat closet, the heavy breathing and sultry moans meant to be kept secret and confined, revealed to the gymnastics community, minus Marty who deliberately wasn't invited. In that respect, Nicky and Kelly caught at least a bit of a break there.
"Thank God we know how to control ourselves," Austin jokes, rounding an arm around Kaylie. She shifts uncomfortably, already knowing her father is less concerned about Nicky and Kelly trying to explain how she was helping him find his fallen contact lens in the closet, her lips swollen, hair a mess and his belt buckle undone.
Kaylie should be as amused as her boyfriend, but for reasons she can't explain, she isn't.
Late that night when Kaylie is over trying to keep up appearances and goes to change into a more comfortable pair of shoes, she pushes past her bedroom door to find Nicky in her room. He quickly faces her, tipped off by the long, drawn out cry of the door hinge. Their eyes meet, his mouth quickly opens, apology ready, but no words form.
Nearly screaming, Kaylie asks, "What do you think you're doing in my room?"
"I, um," Nicky shows her his phone, "I had to take a call and it was loud out there. I'm sorry. I didn't know it was yours. I'll just…get out of your way…" Nicky makes a beeline for the door, but once he walks out, his hand catches the wooden doorframe and he peeks back in. As an afterthought, Nicky murmurs, "By the way…nice butterflies."
Nicky juts his chin to the trail of butterflies decorating her wall.
Kaylie grinds her teeth, slightly embarrassed. "That was there before you and me…"
"Yeah, I didn't…" Nicky bows his head, aiming to walk out yet again.
"Nicky," Kaylie calls to him before he disappears. Nicky stops again, hand still on the doorframe as he swings back in. "I'm sorry I overreacted a second ago. It's cool that you're taking a call in here. Now if Kelly and you were about to do it in my bed…"
Nicky laughs though he doesn't look any more relaxed. He's never very relaxed around her.
"No. We wouldn't. That's why we chose the closet. Neutral space," Nicky explains. "Kelly…she really respects you. She cares what you think of her and she wouldn't do anything to ruin that so your bed is safe. I don't know how you did it, got her to trust you so fast. I'm a little jealous considering how long it took me to get her to come around…"
"Oh, you aren't alone there. It surprises me too," Kaylie says. Moving over to sit on the edge of her bed, Kaylie frees her feet from the gorgeous yet painful heels while Nicky remains in the doorway. "So how long are you going to be in town again?"
"That's actually why I was on the phone. Dallas was asking the same thing," Nicky explains. "I'm thinking a while. I want to see Kelly through the Sheila drama."
Kaylie's expression softens, picking up on how much he cares. When she notices Nicky shift uncomfortably beneath her gaze, Kaylie quickly thinks of something else to say. "So you're on a first name basis with her mom? I didn't know things were so serious."
"Oh, right. Kelly's mom is a big fan of mine as you can probably imagine," Nicky laughs. "I know it literally took you girls blood, sweat and tears, but I think everything played out how it should have. I don't think Kelly has ever been put in a situation like that before: doing what's right verses what her mom wanted and making the right choice on her own."
"Hmm. I never really thought of it that way," Kaylie mutters.
Smiling, Nicky taps his fingers against his temple. "I'm a thinker, remember?"
"Oh, I remember," she says. She always knew he was a smart one ever since he spat physics at her in a casual conversation, trying to help her with the Double Arabian.
When Kaylie sees the way his lips press into a thin line of a smile, eyes on her, she smiles back. It's silent for a moment, them simply watching each other and when Kaylie realizes how comfortable the silence is, she stumbles to find something else to say. "Um, so…you care a lot about Kelly. I can tell."
Quickly going back to bashful, unsure Nicky Russo, he shoves his hands into his pockets and shrugs his shoulders. "Yeah…I guess I do…"
Because she's Kaylie and she can't help, but pry just a little, she smiles even wider. "Sooo why haven't you made it official yet?" At her question, Nicky's face pales a smidge and his eyes drop from her. His discomfort is plain to see. Kaylie cringes. "And now I just overstepped…"
"Just a little," Nicky laughs, his voice wavering thanks to those nerves. "Well, at first there was the obvious: Sheila, Marty, Ellen Beals. Cockblock Trifecta as Kelly calls them. It was like…she always had them on her back, monitoring her every move and, well, as you've witnessed I'm sure, she can be a bitch, but when you get her away from all that, it's different…anyways, neither of us have done this before. We're still trying to figure it out, but thank you for your concern, Kaylie."
She plasters on a smile. "That's what friends are for."
Nicky nods. "And when I go back to Texas Kelly will still have you right?"
"Definitely," Kaylie answers without even having to think about the question. "I take my friend duties seriously if you haven't noticed."
He has noticed. She did give up her chance with him for Payson.
Nicky clears his throat and asks, "And are we…friends?"
Kaylie falters for a moment and it doesn't go by unnoticed. "Um, did we ever stop?"
"Yeah…I'm sorry I never returned any of your texts. I just got busy and…we lost touch."
I'm sorry I rejected you. Kaylie swallows the thought before she ever lets it leave her lips. At least she has that much control over her mouth. "It's cool. I think we all ended up where we were meant to be, right?"
"Right." The sheer certainty in the way he nods works as an emotional seesaw, bringing him up and her down. Kaylie holds her breath as if doing that would hide it. "Okay, Kaylie, I'll um…see you back out there."
"Yeah. I just need to change my shoes and I'll be right back."
After another tight smile, Nicky swings out of the door and brings all the tension with him. Kaylie nearly collapses, all what's left unsaid no longer pressing down on her. It's almost like the butterflies on her wall are mocking the ones fluttering against her ribcage.
Moving back to Denver is the furthest thing from what Nicky had intended.
With his wrists properly wrapped and ready, Nicky marches back into Denver Elite. The place feels like a time warp, the walls still as sterile and white as ever and the florescent lights strong, as if they're all just showpieces on display in a glass case. Heads turn, eyes colored with intrigue, and he tells himself they're all watching Kelly, not him.
The Worlds gold medalist is at his side, radiating pride. Home sweet home. It obviously crossed her mind to train at the Rock with her Worlds coach, teammates and friends, but ultimately turned it down. Sure, Superman and Batman occasionally save the world together, both vital parts of the Justice League, but at the end of the day, Superman goes back to Metropolis and Batman has Gotham. At least, that's how Nicky justified it. Kelly laughed and called him a nerd when he told her that.
Turning so she's in front of him, Kelly says, "Okay. We went over this last night. If you come off as a little bitch he's going to tell you to get out. If you come off as a condescending jerk he's going to kill you and then tell you to get out. Oh, and don't be too proud to kiss ass, but discretely."
Nicky groans, eyeing the ceiling. "I appreciate the tips, but not exactly my style, Parks."
"Fine." Bringing her hands up in air quotes, Kelly says, " 'Be real' then."
Nicky looks at her in a way that's going to have the entire gym talking about them. Kelly holds out a hand and Nicky slides the strap of her gym bag off his shoulder, handing it over to her. She doesn't return his smile, but her eyes tell him she wants to and that's reassuring enough for Nicky. When Kelly makes her way to the locker room, he heads for Marty's office.
On his way, Nicky doesn't see Carter, the guy Kelly bled dry for dirt on the Rock girls, the one Nicky wholeheartedly loathes. Since being reunited and virtually inseparable, Kelly doesn't mention Carter and Nicky doesn't ask. They both prefer things that way.
There, sitting on his swivel chair of a throne is the man with the keys to the kingdom, surrounded by piles of paperwork, his coffee, black, in hand. Mid-sip, Marty looks up and doesn't follow through. He doesn't say anything, just stares at Nicky.
Stepping into the room, Nicky mutters a, "Hey Marty…"
"Well, what do you know?" Marty says gruffly. He sits back in his chair, still gripping his coffee mug but forgetting all about it. "What are you doing here, Russo?"
"I, um, I want back."
Silence. Silence spent judging on Marty's part and freaking out on Nicky's.
Marty sits up in his chair and sets his mug down on the one corner of his desk not covered in paper. Every move is slow and deliberate as if to make sure Nicky suffers in the silence. "And you think you can just waltz back in here like nothing happened?"
"No sir," Nicky says politely. "I know I messed up. I got wrapped up in something I shouldn't have and when I realized how…involved I got, I only made things worse and left. It was cowardly and gutless and I'm sorry if I misrepresented DE. I take full responsibility for my actions and I don't deserve another chance, but I'm asking for one."
"Y'know, Kelly told me what happened."
Nicky tries to swallow the knot in his throat, but it just won't stay down. "Sh—she did?"
"Or at least her version anyways," Marty says. "So is she the reason you're back?"
"I'm back because facing what happened and owning up to it is the right thing to do. And maybe because with all my, um, gym-hopping, nothing came close to Denver Elite. Not Dallas, certainly not the Rock, but to be perfectly honest…yeah, I'm doing it mostly for her. With her home situation, she's going to need someone."
"And you think that someone's going to be?"
Finally forcing down that bundle of self-doubt, Nicky nods. "I am that person."
Again with the agonizingly slow movement and the unbearable silence, Marty studies Nicky like an equation on a chalkboard. For some reason, it feels like more factors into this decision than just his career and the broken trust. Obviously Kelly is a big part of this and how protective Marty is of his gymnast. In Nicky's opinion, it's always been on of Marty's few redeeming qualities.
Stands there, Nicky hopes he hasn't come off as either a little bitch or a condescending jerk. He might not necessarily take Kelly's methodology into consideration, but he did listen.
Reclaiming his coffee by the handle, Marty grunts. "Get changed. Warm up. I'll be down in a minute and I want to see you on rings. I want to see your control and your swinging skills. Hopefully you did more than rope cattle and take a speech class down in Texas."
Nicky feels triumph floor every one of his senses, but suppresses the automatic need to celebrate. "Yes, sir."
"Russo, you do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it and I don't want to hear a single complaint. Not to me, not to anyone," Marty warns. To which Nicky nods in agreement. "Today is going to be the training from hell. You don't stop till I tell you to stop. If you manage to make it through today and not die on me then we'll talk about long-term."
"Thank you. I promise things will be different this time."
"Yeah, we'll see. You stay clean and stay honest, keep your hands and fists to yourself this time and steer clear of Ellen Beals. I'll handle her and for God's sake, keep your shirt on this time. All the time."
Nodding vigorously, Nicky finally lets a smile shine through as he walks to the door.
"Absolutely not, Kaylie."
"And why not, Austin?"
Sprawled out across her bed, Austin stares up at the ceiling while Kaylie is at her desk, her laptop open in front of her. She's so focused on the screen that she's barely present in the conversation with her boyfriend. She misses the dread in his voice entirely.
Sitting up suddenly, Austin gazes over at her, having to make sure she isn't joking. He reiterates, "A double date? With Kelly Parker and Nicky Russo? You're joking, right?"
Stopping her typing, Kaylie sends him a quizzical look. "What's so wrong about that?"
"For one, they aren't dating," he points out. The conversation should be over with just that. "Two, I still don't trust her. Three, after all the times he's come in second to me, Nicky Russo wants me dead and he isn't shy about it."
Eyes big and bottom lip slightly protruding, Kaylie asks, "Will you do it for me?"
Grumbling, Austin flops back down against one of the fluffy pink pillows. That's a yes.
"Good." Clearly pleased, Kaylie sees how Austin gives her all the power here. She doesn't quite understand it, but she doesn't mind it either. "I'll talk to Kelly and set it up."
He gives her a pout of his own. "I'm only saying yes because I know she won't agree to it."
"And how do you know that?"
"Because they aren't dating."
"Yes they are even if they won't admit it," Kaylie says strongly. "Even if you don't call it what it is, exclusive is exclusive. If it looks like a duck—"
"But barks like a dog, then it's confused as hell and we aren't taking it home from the pet store," Austin cheekily finishes for her. Smiling only a little, Kaylie positions her fingers back over the keyboard and starts typing again. "What are you doing anyways? I want to go for a ride with my two favorite girls. You, me and Lolita."
"No way am I getting on that thing," Kaylie says. Her dad had a fit when he saw Austin speeding around on his death trap of a motorcycle. "We're already pushing it just by having you here in my house unsupervised."
"So we're just gong to sit here all day?"
"I'm sending an e-mail."
"Damon," Kaylie says without hesitation. She doesn't see what's wrong in telling him the truth, but the traces of tension that accompany the silence say otherwise. When investigating, Kaylie sees Austin and his gaze darkened with jealousy. She really doesn't understand how some girls like when boys get jealous. Watching Austin punch Damon wasn't the least bit impressive. "Austin, relax. He's my friend. Just a friend."
"Which I don't understand," he says. "Especially after what he did to Emily?"
"So he freaked out. I think we're all guilty of that sometimes," Kaylie's quick to Damon's defense. "Then he stepped up and did what was right. Doesn't that count for anything?"
"All I'm saying is I'm not a fan. There's no way you're getting me to go to one of his little concerts and cheer with his adoring fans," Austin scoffs. "I don't see why he's such a big deal."
"Funny. Emily told me you were like his number one fan boy when you first met."
"Yeah, but he sure as hell wasn't the reason I came here," Austin murmurs. Kaylie wants to ask what he means by that, but a voice nags at her, certain it has something to do with Emily and them getting caught by Ellen Beals in France so she really doesn't want to know. She just lets Austin go on, "Like I was saying I bet I could write music and sing too."
Kaylie laughs. "I'd like to see you try."
Austin clears his throat before dramatically throwing his arm up and clenching a fist. With eyes shut, he loudly sings, "Mary had a little…sexy timeeee—"
Kaylie giggles and interrupts, "Okay, good enough. You can stop right there."
"See. And that's just off the top of my head a cappella," Austin beams. "Imagine what I could do if I had all of Damon Young's fancy equipment—"
"And his talent. You really need some of that or, well, a lot of that."
"Funny." Austin gives her that suggestive smirk and pats the bed beside him. "Come here."
"No." Kaylie shakes her head and turns her attention back to her e-mail. "I need to get this e-mail out…"
Reluctantly getting to his feet, Austin moves towards her, resting his hands on the back of her chair. "Jeez, Kay. It looks like a novel."
Jolted by his presence, Kaylie turns around, one hand pushing down the screen of her laptop and the other pushing Austin away. "Um, can you not look over my shoulder like that?"
"Okay," Austin says slowly, hands up in defense. "So what do you write to him about?"
"I don't know."
"It sure doesn't look like you don't know."
"Austin, don't be jealous," Kaylie pleas.
"I'm not," he assures her. "Does Bright-Eyes-in-Training ever mention Emily?"
"Um, yeah, from time to time," she replies. Kaylie is still reluctant to pull the screen back up with Austin still standing so close. "He says she's good."
"That's good." Austin remains suspicious, but doesn't voice it.
When the words fade away, it becomes a stare down between the new couple. Honestly, it is too early in the relationship to be having such tense, silent moments that pop up whenever Kaylie's friendship with Damon is called into question. Kaylie hates it, but she feels it. She hates feeling it even more.
"Marty hates me."
"For obvious reasons," Kelly laughs. "I can't believe he actually let you back."
"Just to torture me," Nicky scowls. "By the way, your faith in me is astounding. Really."
After a grueling day in the gym, Nicky and Kelly are sitting out in the middle of a football field at a local high school. She's leaning back into him and Nicky has his arms around her, knees bent. Her fingers draw imaginary pictures across his smooth forearm and her hair tickles his nose though the sweet scent of her is intoxicating and has him unable to move away.
"It feels like it's been so long," Kelly whispers. "Since last time. When everything—"
"Shhh. I don't want to talk about it," Nicky whispers, burying his nose even deeper into her loose, dark hair, trying to get even closer to her. "Anyways, shouldn't you be home right now? I don't want your mom…"
"We aren't talking," Kelly reminds him. Nicky feels her tense in his arms. "She didn't think I'd call her dropping me from her clientele bluff. Hello. It's called frickin' Kelly Parker Enterprises. And now she's giving me her silent treatment since I told her I'm not taking any of her crap anymore? What-the-fuck-ever. I know I did the right thing…anyways, I don't want to talk about her."
Nicky groans and moves a little, but doesn't let her go for a second. "My wrists are killing me."
Since she isn't facing him, Kelly doesn't even try to stop herself from frowning as she slides her fingers down his arms and touches his wrists. "If it makes you feel any better, my ankle isn't a walk in the park either."
"I know how to fix this," Nicky tiredly says. "We should drive downtown, score some drugs."
"Mmm. Sounds like a plan. One problem though," Kelly murmurs back. "Too comfortable to move."
"Hmm. You have a point."
Kelly shifts ever so slightly, sinking deeper into him, her head resting against his shoulder, his cheek pressed to her temple. It's a nice night, calm and quiet. The time-to-time breeze is smooth against their hot, tangled bodies. The clear, dark blue sky is radiant with the abundance of stars, but they both have eyes closed, too wrapped up in each other to care about much else.
"So Kaylie wants us to go on a 'double date' with her and Austin…" Kelly slowly opens her eyes and tilts her head back until her eyes meet his. Her lips part in a smile and suddenly they're both shaking with laugher just at the very idea.
"No way in hell, Parks."
"Yeah, I figured you'd say that," Kelly says. "It's exactly what I told her, but she's nothing if not persistent. I think she wants to create some fab four double dating super team."
"Because that would work out so well," Nicky sarcastically agrees. "I hate Austin. Austin hates you. You used to hate Kaylie, but apparently you're best friends now and Kaylie and me used to have a thing. It's like a messed up game of musical chairs. No thanks."
Kelly's smile fades then and she hums softly. "You don't still have a thing for her right?"
Nicky opens his eyes and finds Kelly has closed hers again. He still has one arm around her, but moves the other up through his hair. The sudden movement has Kelly's attention, her eyes opening, body pulling away from him, her guard starting to rise back up.
"Hey," Nicky says gently, getting her to meet his eyes. "Kelly Parker, you read me better than anyone else. If I did you'd probably know it long before I even realize it."
Nicky unabashedly holds her gaze and Kelly stares back, long and hard. When satisfied, she lays her head back on his shoulder and Nicky brings both his arms back around her. "Hey Nick, did I tell you I'm glad you're back?"
"No. I don't think you did."
Kelly snorts. "And you probably won't ever hear me say it."
But she doesn't have to because she makes him feel it in the way she curls up into him, tucking her head beneath his chin and lacing their fingers. Nicky kisses the side of her head and breathes easy, never being so content before.
"So what do you and Nicky talk about?"
Spending an afternoon in Denver, Kaylie and Kelly have lunch. After driving in, parked on Denver Elite territory, Kaylie had extended the invitation to Nicky, but he declined, still trying his hardest to prove his devotion to Marty. Kelly chose the restaurant, being a Denver native and Kaylie just went along with it, happy to be out of Boulder at least for an hour.
At Kaylie's question, Kelly looks up from her specially prepared meal, a little caught off-guard. With that signature, devilishly playful smile, Kelly replies, "How good we are in bed. Duh."
Because she's Kelly, she says it at an embarrassingly elevated volume.
"Kelly," Kaylie hisses. "Seriously."
Kelly whirls her fork, moving along with the gears in her head. "I don't know. Nothing…everything. I don't really make a list of everything we talk about. Why do you ask?"
"Curious." Kaylie shrugs her shoulders, looking at her salad. "What do you guys do, you know, other than making out in closets and…sex?"
"Well, we usually go somewhere to get away from my mom and gym people and we see how many different ways we can piss each other off and then we end up making out. You can probably guess the rest," Kelly says. "Need I remind you that it creeps me out knowing you spend time thinking about Nick and me?"
"No creepiness intended. I promise," Kaylie says. "It's just…Austin and me…"
"Ah. Trouble in Couple-land?"
"Not trouble, really. I mean, we argue, but he's always sweet and it always blows over and we don't stay mad at each other." Kaylie recalls the tense moments, but then how they always manage to smooth over it and go back to being that sweet couple who embraced in front of the Cobalt sponsors. "And I'm starting to think that's the problem…"
Kelly rolls her eyes. "So your relationship is too perfect for you? Is that what you're trying to tell me?"
"I don't know what it is," Kaylie says. "Then there's how when we're at the Rock everything is normal and we talk about gymnastics mostly, but when we're alone…if we aren't talking about how I'm doing with my recovery or his sister or gymnastics or how glad we are that mostly everyone is okay with us being together then…what is there left to talk about?"
Kelly doesn't say anything for a long time and Kaylie doesn't know what she expected. It's just that post-Max Lauren is on an I-Don't-Need-a-Man-to-Be-Happy kick (there's already a betting pool on how long that lasts) and Payson is in her Gymnastics-Gymnastics-Gymnastics mindset and Emily and Maeve are gone. Kelly is the closest thing to qualified when it comes to boys.
"Forget it," Kaylie says quickly. "It's stupid…"
"Sometimes it isn't always about talking and having things to talk about. Sometimes it's nice not having to think about making small talk because small talk is all bullshit anyways. Being past that and just comfort, not saying anything but being together, sometimes that means just as much." Kelly looks down, suddenly so exposed. "But what do I know, right?"
"No. That makes a lot of sense," Kaylie says. Seeing how uncomfortable Kelly is and ready to move on, Kaylie puts on a teasing smile. "So have you reconsidered the double date idea?"
Kelly laughs. "Uh-huh. Yeah. I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you."
Though she beams in reply, even Kaylie knows it's sound advice. She'd surely suffocate waiting for that date.
When Kaylie sees Damon's number flash on her cell, her stomach does a flip.
Quickly answering, Kaylie grins. "Hey stranger. Why'd you stop returning my e-mails?"
"Why didn't you tell me you're dating the guy who goes around randomly punching other guys?"
Kaylie cringes. She wasn't expecting that at all. "Hi Damon," she says slowly. "I'm doing just fine. Thanks for asking."
He pauses. Kaylie can imagine the remorse on his handsome, broody face.
"Hi Kaylie," Damon says, noticeably more calm this time. The mere sound of his voice saying her name makes Kaylie wish they were in the same room and not states away. She tries not to think about him, tries to think of the guy she's dating now, but every time she looks at that journal, every time she picks up a pen, every time she catches herself singing, it's always Damon Young in her head.
"So how'd you find out?"
"Congratulations," Damon says. "You two made the Yahoo front news."
Kaylie inwardly cringes. It's Kaylicky all over again...except she's actually dating this one.
"Look," Kaylie says softly. "I know Austin didn't make the best first impression—"
"You mean when he came at me in the Rock parking lot, throwing punches?"
"He was just being protective."
"Still. That doesn't make it right, does it?"
Kaylie stays silent for a beat, wondering why it is he sounds so upset and what right he has to be upset. What is it about Kaylie Cruz that makes boys think she needs them to rush right to her side and defend her?
"Damon," Kaylie says tightly. "If you want to say something then just say it."
"Why him?" Damon asks. His voice sounds so conflicted like he really is trying to answer the question himself, but turns frustrated when he can't figure it out. "Especially after everything that's happened?"
"Hold on a second. Austin has never been anything less than supportive."
"Really? You told me that the guy was the first face you saw when you woke up in the hospital, which is sweet and all, but then when you're in rehab, arguably when you need him most, he tries to take back admitting he was falling for you? Now, I don't doubt he has feelings for you, but to me it sounds like he got scared when the going got touch and instead of sticking by you, helping you through it, he chickened out, let you be someone else's problem. Then when you're better, he just swoops back in. Yeah, some fairytale that is."
"You're one to talk," Kaylie says. "Didn't you do the same thing to Emily?"
"No," Damon growls. His voice shakes with angry. "I realized my mistake and I came here to make it right, to be here for Em. Your boyfriend just hung back in the wings and when you finally pulled together, that's when he decided you were worthy enough for his time again."
Kaylie shakes her head. "No. You don't know anything about Austin. Damon, why are you doing this right now?"
"Because I care about you, Kaylie." His voice is filled with such emotion that when she hears it her eyes start to water. "And I worry about you because sometimes it seems like you don't see what's really going on right in front of you."
"Maybe I'm just not a cynic," she fired back, feeling manic. "Maybe I like to believe in happy endings."
"You can be whatever you want and believe whatever you want, just remember that when you have your happily ever after moment, there's always a next day and a day after that and things can change just as easily."
Silence. Straight up, deafening silence.
When Kaylie sniffles, she hears movement on the other end of the line, signs he's still there.
"Believe it or not," Damon breathes, "fighting with you wasn't the reason I called."
"Then what was?"
"I just miss the sound of your voice," he whispers. Kaylie presses her lips tight together to keep from saying anything she might regret. Oh how she hates his ability to play her heartstrings like a harp. "Things out here…they're tough. Every day I feel like my dream is slipping farther and farther away. I called you…because you…you sound like hope."
"Don't give up, Damon," Kaylie says softly. "I haven't given up on you…"
"It's nice to know someone hasn't…"
"So, um…how's Em?"
"Getting by," Damon replies. "We aren't back together or anything, but I'm going to be here for her every step of the way."
"That's great," Kaylie says for a lack of better ideas.
"So you're happy with Austin Tucker…?"
"Don't get me wrong. Austin is incredible, but…right now I'm a lot of different things and I…I don't know anything anymore," Kaylie confesses. "As nice as it was to hear your voice, you yelling at me didn't help."
"I'm sorry. I just…care. A lot," Damon says. And through the static and the telephone wires, he still manages to touch her with his words. "Well, you know what I always say…when in doubt write a song about it."
And that's exactly what Kaylie does. After talking to Damon for a little while longer, she turns off her phone, locks herself away in her home studio and she writes. She writes as if Damon were sitting right next to her, tapping his pencil and nodding his head, trying to marry Kaylie's lyrics with his chords. She pours everything she has, everything she is into the song she's crafting and then she is so bold to sing it…to Austin.
Since she doesn't know much of anything about the music side of the business, Kaylie decides to sing the song a cappella. She's so nervous at first, but then she closes her eyes and just sings. She feels each and ever word deep in her soul and feels so satisfied, getting it all out.
Austin, on the other hand, doesn't look impressed. "So…you want to break up."
Kaylie blinks. "I…no, that's not…"
"You know, I'm not just a stupid jock like your dad might think," Austin says, straightening the collar of his leather jacket. "That song was about being in a relationship, but not feeling how you're supposed to feel. It was about us, wasn't it?"
"I was just thinking that maybe we rushed into this," Kaylie says, hoping if she talks slowly it will help to sooth away Austin's boiling anger.
"Rushed into this? How long have we known each other now? How long have I been trying to get you to trust me? I don't know what else to do, Kaylie."
"Then why did you just ditch me when I was in rehab?"
Austin pulls away and stares at the ground, obviously trying to keep his temper in check, not expecting this. "Believe me, I would have just made things worse. And look at you now. You made it through. You're stronger and you did it all on your own."
"No. I didn't," Kaylie points out. "Damon helped me. Damon was there for me."
Austin rolls his eyes. "Of course. Of course when we fight it's about that guy."
"We aren't fighting about Damon."
"No. We're fighting because you tried to break up with me through song!" he yells. Austin obviously doesn't understand what she was trying to do, how she was trying to communicate with him, and all it's doing is making her just as agitated.
"I was trying to tell you how I feel through song because I can't talk to you!" Kaylie shouts. She has no idea how this has escaladed, but she feels herself losing grips all together.
"I don't understand," Austin says. "Why can't you just tell me how you feel?"
"I just did through my song and then you got all pissed off."
Austin shakes his head and Kaylie crosses her arms. Frustration mounting.
"Are you in love with him? Need I remind you the guy knocked up Emily?" Austin asks. Kaylie can't respond. She can't even look at him. "Are you…are you in love with me?" Kaylie still doesn't say anything. Austin laces his fingers and brings them up to his lips as if trying to prevent himself from saying something he'll want to take back. "I'm trying to talk to you, Kaylie. This relationship is a two-way street. I can't do my part if you don't do yours."
"Isn't it funny?" Kaylie asks miserably. "Everyone assumed you would be the one who'd be bad at the relationship thing, that I'd try and fail to tame Mr. Cobalt, but as it turns out…I'm the one messing up."
"I don't know what that means…"
"It means I'm the problem," she says. "I don't know how to be in a healthy relationship. I mean, there was Carter, but all we ever did was pour all our time and energy into making sure Sasha never found out and he cheated on me. And I passed up Nicky and I passed up Damon and now I'm here, screwing things up with you…I just…I don't know what I'm doing…"
"And I'm okay with that," Austin tries, he really does. "We can figure it out together."
"No. I don't think we can," Kaylie says. "At least, not right now. I care about you, but I can't be in this relationship right now and I wish I could give you a better explanation, but I can't. And it isn't anything you did or didn't do. I just…can't."
She starts crying, streaks staining her cheeks and violent sobs shaking her entire body. Despite how frustrated and confused and heartbroken he is Austin still steps in to hold her. His lips move in whispers, trying to convince her to just forget this entire thing, but it doesn't do anything for her and Kaylie knows this is how things should be. Once the tears and words run out, Austin too gives up. He kisses the top of Kaylie's head one last time and he leaves.
"Nick, get your lips away from me! I'm seven minutes late for my appointment because we've been making out in this parking lot for the last fifteen."
Hearing her whine but feeling her press even closer, the heat of her through their thin layer of clothes, makes Nicky smile against the underside of her jaw where his lips have been busy, teasing her soft skin with slow, wet kisses. He pulls back just enough so he can see her face and how hard she's trying to appear annoyed.
"Only because I've missed you these last couple days," he says.
Kelly rolls her eyes. "Like we don't see each other every day in the gym."
"Yeah, but we can't do this in the gym…" Nicky leans in to kiss her again, light and lovingly, his mouth ghosting over her lips and then her cheek and then her neck. Kelly groans because, damn, if he keeps doing this she's never going to get out of the car. "I think Kaylie Cruz is stealing you away from me…"
Kelly laughs, a sound so unexpectedly soft and girly. "Apparently when a friend goes through a breakup it's friend ritual to be there for her and listen to her cry and in Kaylie's case, watch her scribble songs in her notebook and sit through Lauren's 80s movie marathons. They make me want to strangle myself sometimes, but, I don't know, they have their moments."
"Songs and movies as pick-me-ups?" Nicky's forehead creases. "So it seems you and me doing it every time one of us was upset was bad friend form. Huh. Who knew?"
Kelly shoots a fist at his shoulder. "Okay. We're done here. I'm getting my hair did. I'll text you in an hour or something to come pick me up. Then if you pay for dinner I might even let you hold my hand in public."
"Parks, you're such a control freak sometimes. I swear," Nicky teases. Kelly scrunches her nose up like a bunny. Finding it unfairly cute, Nicky tilts her chin and captures her lips. Sighing against him, Kelly says goodbye, slides away and gets out of the car. Nicky watches her walk into the salon before climbing back into the driver seat and taking off.
Nicky drives around aimlessly, finding the open road and the roar of the care engine soothing. It helps him think. His life is good, better than it has been in a long time. It's far from what he imagined for himself (Kelly Parker? Really?), but it makes him smile just thinking of the smile he knows she saves just for him. They aren't just randomly hooking up anymore, but being together and though the thought is frightening it's exciting too.
It surprises even Nicky when he ends up in Boulder, in his old neighborhood, parked out in front of the house he grew up in. Nicky looks at it, a little startled at how it's stood the test of time. All the nights he spent alone, wishing his dad worked less and that his mom were still alive. It almost feels like a different lifetime.
Yanked from his reminiscing, Nicky turns and finds Kaylie Cruz on the pavement, iPod, headphones and jogging clothes. Smiling gently, Nicky raises his hand. "Hey."
"Hey," Kaylie says, walking closer. "What are you doing in Boulder?"
"I, um, I was checking out my old house. Yeah, I grew up right in there," Nicky motions to the setup just across the street. "I don't know. I was feeling nostalgic I guess."
"Cool," Kaylie says. "So where's Kelly? I thought she spent all her non-girl time with you."
"Salon. I'm supposed to pick her up after. I was just driving around, trying to kill time and I ended up here," Nicky explains. He looks over at the house again. "It's a little weird knowing it used to be mine, but now it's someone else's."
"What's weird is that we both trained at the Rock for so long, only lived a couple blocks away and didn't even know," Kaylie says. "It's crazy how things change."
"Really," Nicky agrees. He raises his eyes to look her over. Her dark hair is pulled back in a high ponytail like it always is, no evidence of tears or bags beneath her eyes. She seems far better off than the train wreck Kelly describes. "So how've you been? Kelly told me…"
"About Austin." Kaylie nods. "Yeah, it's a little awkward around the Rock and he isn't planning on leaving any time soon so we're just going to have to handle it."
"Couldn't run this one to Denver?" Nicky asks, going for a light tone.
Kaylie freezes for a second and then dramatically winces. "Ouch."
Nicky's forehead wrinkles, looking horrified. "Shit. I didn't…I, um…too soon?"
"A little," Kaylie tells him, making a visual effort to stay strong, "and for your information, I didn't run Carter to Denver. It was Lauren that time."
"That makes sense, actually," Nicky says. "Lauren Tanner inadvertently ruining my life. I probably should have seen that one coming." Kaylie looks at him as if asking for him to explain, but Nicky shakes his head. "Trust me. You don't want to know."
"I probably don't," Kaylie laughs. Eyeing her pink and white sneakers, Kaylie crosses one arm over her chest, grabbing her other shoulder. Then out of the blue, she asks, "So you can say you don't miss the Rock at all?"
"It's not like I don't miss the Rock. I just think DE is a better fit for me."
"And you don't ever think of what could have happened if you…if you stayed?"
Nicky opens his mouth to try to explain, but coupled with the way Kaylie watches him through her long, dark lashes, he realizes the context of the question and how she doesn't mean it the way he originally assumed. Turning towards her, Nicky automatically squares his shoulders, knowing he's probably going to somehow mess this up. "No. I don't. Do you?"
Kaylie doesn't look at him, but answers, "Sometimes."
Nicky nods understandingly even though he doesn't really know what to do with this newfound information. "And…can you say you've thought about me since I left? Not just since I've been back, but while I was gone?"
She turns to him suddenly, searching his face. "Truthfully?"
"Not really," Kaylie confesses, chewing on her lip. "I mean…I was a little preoccupied…"
"It's okay, Princess," he says just for ol' times sake. Nicky laughs awkwardly and it only makes Kaylie look even more uncomfortable. "To be honest, I didn't think about you much either. I mean, at first, yeah, you turning me down stung, but I didn't dwell for too long. We could have tried to stay in contact but we didn't. I guess the silence really speaks the loudest, huh?"
Kaylie swallows hard. "Can I tell you something I haven't told anyone else? Not even my therapist…wow, and I just told you I have a therapist. Not that there's anything wrong with therapy…"
"There's nothing wrong with therapy," Nicky assures her.
"Anyways," Kaylie says nervously. "When I was with Austin, he was good to me and so sweet and other than an argument or two things were perfect, but…then there's Damon even though he doesn't even live here anymore and isn't in any place to date and I shouldn't even be thinking of trying to, but the way things played out reminded me way too much of what happened with you and…how much I regret not trying…"
"Whoa, wait," Nicky stops her. "Kaylie, there is no me. You said it yourself."
"Because you left," she says, "but you're back now and I—"
"No," Nicky says firmly. "Kaylie, I didn't come back for you."
Kaylie has this guilty I know, but I can't help but wonder glint in her pleading brown eyes, but Nicky shakes his head, taking a step back for emphasis. Sure, Nicky has wondered too and once upon a time he might have even wanted it, really wanted it, but he's shut the door on that possibility. He for the life of him can't understand why she'd want to reopen it.
"Kelly," Kaylie says knowingly.
Nicky nods. "Kelly."
"But she talks down your relationship and refuses to be your girlfriend and you—"
"Love her," Nicky says, voice hoarse and low like he's telling a secret. And it was up until five seconds ago. Kaylie's jaw drops in shock, but Nicky stands by what he said. "I really do. And, yeah, we have a lot to work out, including the whole denial thing, but we are…slowly."
"Oh, wow…the awkward moment when Kaylie thinks one thing and is stupid enough to say it out loud when she should know better," she miserably sings. "Moments like this and I know it isn't Austin swooping in or Damon leaving or you being back. It is me."
Tilting his head to one side, Nicky murmurs, "I, um, I'm not sure I know what you mean."
"I don't either." Kaylie kicks at the loose gravel beneath her sneakers, staring at the sky that's way too clear and way too blue, mockingly so. "Not really. I just…jumped into a relationship too soon after everything, but I don't know how to not be in one or not think about being in one. I don't know. Maybe I really do need to be on my own for a while…"
"You do what you think is best for you," Nicky advises her. "That's all any of us can do."
"Right. I'm sorry about all of this. I was just out for a run and I saw you, which I thought was weirdly coincidental and I figured the universe was trying to tell me something," Kaylie rambles. "And that sounded a lot better in my head and I can't believe I just told you that…"
Nicky chuckles good-naturedly. "No. It's, um…cool, but I, uh, I should probably get going."
"Yeah, me too. My mom will freak if she thinks I'm overdoing it," Kaylie says. "So…bye Nicky."
"See you around, Kaylie."
And so things come full circle. This time around it's Nicky who gets into the car and drives away.
The door opens just a crack, enough for light to spill out into the night, illuminating only a streak down Kaylie's face. She's standing with feet grinding into the welcome mat, nervously pulling at her fingers. She sat in the driveway for a good twenty minutes, trying to muster the courage to do this, watching the thick raindrops splash against her windshield. Kaylie finally made it to the door. It's now or never.
"Before you say anything," she starts, "I need to get this out…so lately I've been thinking I have actually feelings for the guy who got my friend pregnant, I sabotaged a perfectly good relationship with a guy who'd walk on fire for me and I…I said some stupid, insane things to your non-boyfriend when I've had a guy cheat on me with my best friend before and you and me are supposed to be actual friends now. You have every right to be pissed and if I were you I'd be pissed so I say if we're going to do this then we'll do it now instead of you jumping me in the Rock parking lot…"
Kaylie takes a deep breath, desperately trying to fill her lungs after that. The last time she did this, with Emily, it didn't go well so Kaylie's already anticipating the worst. Standing in front of her, Kelly just stares back like Kaylie has completely lost her mind.
"Um," Kaylie utters. "Aren't you going to say anything…?"
"Wow, you look like crap," Kelly remarks. A few seconds of silence filter in, Kelly staring, perplexed. When Kaylie is anticipating the slap across the face, Kelly pushes the door open even further, shedding more light on Kaylie. "Come in. Don't worry. My mom is out of town, business, she says. Nick just left like an hour ago."
"If you're going to kick my ass I'd rather do it right here and not behind closed doors…"
Kelly laughs. "I'm not going to kick your ass, Kaylie. As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't have to be this big dramatic thing. If anything, we can consider it a test. Apparently Nick is faithful or whatever and you, well, you failed, but…God, you're a mess so I'll give you a Get Out of Jail Free card. Now, I'm tired of frickin' standing here. Either come inside or leave."
Impatient as always, Kelly motions for her to speed up the mental processing. The only sound between them is that of raindrops pelting the pavement as Kaylie takes a deep breath and steps into the light.
Author's note: Knowing how ship-centered the fandom is, I already expect this won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it's wholly LCTD. The finale was so 'happily ever after' in its finality. I needed my angst. It was fun writing a manic Kaylie and her outsider's view of Nickelly. I think KP doesn't have to lose her defining HBIC edge to have friends and I'm not into KayAus (as most know) so it nearly killed me writing their scenes, but I tried to be as neutral as possible for the sake of storytelling.
So what did you think? Besides the obvious, 1) hell, it's long and 2) hell yeah, LCTD is back in the game! :] Review?