Secrets Kept, Lies Told

Secrets Kept, Lies Told
By Sarah
Chapter 26

    "How did I do, Brian?"  Alexa asked as she backed away from Nick.
    "Pretty good, Alexa, you can't see it at all," Brian said.
    "You can't?  Good, you know, I nearly got in trouble yesterday 'cause Denise almost saw it," Nick said, looking in the mirror in front of him.
    Alexa smiled and snapped close her compact.  They were all crowded into Nick and Brian's bathroom, about ten minutes before the appearance the guys were suppose to make.  She smiled at her handy work on Nick, then looked in the mirror.  "I know what you mean, she decided to wake me up this morning
and surprise me with breakfast out, just the two of us, and I had my hair up. Thank God I knew it was her before I opened the door, I had time to let down my hair, but now I don't have to worry about it," she said.
    "Whatever, just make sure you have that thing handy from now on," Brian said to her as he walked out of the bathroom.
    "Are you kidding?  I don't go anywhere without this thing.  Oh, and Nicky, don't rub your neck, in fact, don't touch it.  If you have an itch, try to ignore it, otherwise my handy work will go out the window," Alexa
said, gesturing for him to get up and out of the bathroom.
    "I'll try, but knowing my luck, I'll forget about it," Nick said, reaching for his coat and pulling it on.
    "Oh, that's another thing.  Mom wanted me to tell you guys that you have to act civilly to AJ, even though I wouldn't if my life depended on it.  You  just have to be nice and laugh with him every-once-in-a-while," Alexa said.
    "What made you think of that?"  Brian asked as he pulled on his coat.
    Alexa smiled as she walked to the door.  "When Nick said 'forget about it', it reminded me that I've been forgetting AJ even exists!"  She said as she opened the door.  She hurried to her hotel room and grabbed her coat. She checked herself over one more time in the mirror and hurried out of the  room.  She locked the door behind her, making sure she had her key, and walked to the elevator to wait in the limo downstairs.

    "Ma, are you sure they're gonna do this?"  AJ asked.
    His mother nodded as she handed him his coat.  "Positive, they won't be able to do anything for a while otherwise.  Don't worry about it AJ, really the only two people who are still holding it against you are Nick and Alexa, and to tell you the truth, I can't blame them."
    "I know, I was stupid and I've apologized many times to them, but they don't seem to want to listen."
    "Just give them a little more time, AJ, watch, I'm willing to bet that after today, you'll be talking to all of the guys like you all used to."
    "I hope so, Mom, I hope so," AJ said as he walked out of his room.  He saw Alexa disappear into the elevator and hurried down the hall to try to catch her.  The doors closed in his face, with Alexa leaving him a look that said 'no way'.  AJ couldn't help but feel his heart plummet to his feet.  He wanted Alexa to forgive him so much, but he knew she would after she found out his surprise.  'Only a few more days,' AJ thought.  'Then they'll both forgive me.'
    "Come on, AJ, we have to get downstairs," his mother said as she stepped into the now empty elevator.
    AJ nodded and walked in next to her.  He waited as the elevator went down, praying that everything would go ok at the appearance and no awkward questions would be asked.

    Kevin looked around the back of the music store that was blocked off for them.  "Ooh, new CDs," he heard AJ say as he attacked the display.
    Kevin had to laugh.  "AJ, you get any more CDs, you won't have any room left in your bag for anything else," he said.
    AJ looked up at him and smiled, as if he was glad he was talking to him.
    Kevin felt somewhat relieved, like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.  He felt comfortable around AJ now, he wasn't afraid that he was going to try to do anything.

    "Ok, guys, five minutes left, then you all take your seats at the table. Basically, to really summarize this, it's a press conference and signing rolled into one," AJ's mother explained, sitting in her chair.  "Answer any questions that come your way, you know how to answer them, and just keep signing.  Try to not ignore the press, they're the ones who organized this all, and they're bringing in about one to two hundred winners to get autographs.  You won't be here long, but it'll be long enough.  After you're done with the autographs, the winners will start asking you questions as well, be prepared for what they ask you, don't answer something you'll regret later.  Feel free to clear up rumors, but don't lie, and be careful of how
you phrase things.  Especially on the subject of Alexa, do not, I repeat, do not say her name.  And do not have her go out there, any pictures of her could totally ruin this and she doesn't want anything of the sort,
    AJ nodded and could see all the other guys nod.  Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Nick and Alexa, his arms around her waist.  They both looked a little tired, but happy to be together.
    'Now that I really look at them, they make a good couple,' AJ said to himself.  'I know Nick will treat her right, and I know she wouldn't do anything to hurt him, so why was I so protective of her?'  He asked himself, looking away as Nick caught his glance.
    "All right, its time guys, please, try to be nice to each other, you have to spend the next few hours elbow to elbow, let's try to have fun with it, ok?"  AJ's mother suggested.
    AJ nodded and walked towards the curtain, trying to paste a smile on his face.  It wasn't working, he was so upset that Alexa still wouldn't forgive him. "Hey, AJ."
    AJ turned around and saw Nick facing him, without Alexa.
    "Look, I know that you probably were just protecting Alexa and that I probably would've done the same thing for BJ, Leslie, or Angel, so, I forgive you," Nick said haltingly.  It must've been hard for him to say that, but AJ understood the significance.
    "Thanks bro," AJ said.
    "Friends?"  Nick asked, holding out his hand.
    "Friends," AJ said, shaking Nick's hand.  "And I'm sorry I mangled your face, I didn't realize I was hitting you that hard."
    Nick laughed and glanced back at Alexa, who was talking to her mother. "I guess its ok, I mean, I couldn't really feel anything after the first few punches," he said.
    AJ winced.  "Oops, I think you might want to remind me about that next time I want to beat someone up."
    Nick nodded and finally caught Alexa's eye.  "I will," he answered AJ as he waved to Alexa.  AJ watched as Alexa waved back and signed something to Nick.  Nick did the same gesture back and turned to follow the other guys to the front of the store.
    "What does that mean?"  AJ asked.
    "Alexa taught it to me.  It means 'I love you' in sign language," Nick replied as they walked out from behind the curtain.
    AJ was both surprised and happy.  His little sister wasn't as little as he'd hoped her to be, but she was more grown up than he'd anticipated. "That's great," he said to Nick as they sat down.  He picked up his pen and smiled goofily at Nick, who laughed.
    "Glad to see the old AJ back," Nick said, picking up his pen.  He signed  a poster by his picture and pushed it over to AJ, who signed by his name.
    "Ok, guys, now we'll start asking questions, if you don't mind," someone  said.  AJ looked up and recognized him as one of the editors of one of the local newspapers.
    "Ok, shoot," Kevin said from AJ's other side.
    AJ signed his name again, half listening to the questions, only listening  for ones directed at him.  One in particular, the question about Alexa.

    Nick signed his name for the final time and reached behind him for his bottle of water.  He opened it and took a sip, sitting back in his chair. They'd started the signing only an hour and a half before and they were
already finished with all one hundred and fifty people.  He listened and waited as the reporters who'd been asking questions talked to the winners around them.  They explained that some would go home, while others would stay and ask questions, if they had their sheet of questions they wanted to ask  and they weren't already asked.  About twenty people stayed behind, all girls, and they sat in chairs that were set up across from the table he and the guys were sitting behind.
    "Ok, now we have time for at least one question from each person, so start asking," the head editor, Darcy, said.  She was the one who'd organized the entire appearance and Nick thought she was really nice.  He liked her.
    "Ok, why don't you all say your names before you ask your questions," Brian suggested from Nick's right side.  At the table, it was Brian, Nick, AJ, Kevin, and then Howie.  The arrangement didn't bother Nick, he and AJ weren't fighting anymore so he didn't feel uncomfortable.
    "Umm, I guess I start," a small, pixie-like girl said.  "Hi, I'm Carly, and my question is, do any of you have girlfriends?"
    "I don't," Brian said instantly.
    "I don't," Kevin said.
    "I don't," AJ and Howie said at the same time.
    "Nick?"  Brian said, snapping his fingers in front of his face.
    Nick snapped out of his thoughts and smiled.  "Oh, what?"  He asked.
    Everyone laughed.  "Answer the question, spacey," Brian said.
    "Yeah, do you have a girlfriend?"  AJ asked.
    "Umm, no, I'm just seeing someone," Nick answered.  He felt bad about not admitting the truth, but Denise had warned him.
    "Hi, I'm Mary, and my question is, do any of you have bad habits that annoy anyone else?"  The girl next to Darcy asked, nervously twirling her hair around her finger.
    "Howie snores a lot," Kevin said quickly.
    "I do not!"  Howie said indignantly.
    "Brian bites his nails," Nick said.
    "And you hog the nintendo!"  Brian exclaimed.
    "Kevin likes to act like our father a lot," Howie said.
    "AJ just sits here and listens to them bicker!"  AJ exclaimed, making them all laugh.
    "No, actually, AJ just gets very defensive sometimes," Brian said.
    'That's the understatement of the year,' Nick thought, trying to hold back his expression.  He was quiet for the next few questions, as they were directed at the guys individually.  He listened, but his mind kept wandering to Alexa, wondering how she was doing behind them, knowing it must be killing her as much as it was him to not be able to see him.
    "Nick, what is on your mind right now?"  Someone asked, interrupting his thoughts.
    Nick snapped his head up and looked at the little girl who'd asked him the question.  She was so adorable, a little six or seven year old blonde pigtailed girl in a green T-shirt and a pair of shorts.
    "Right now?  I'm thinking about...."
    "He's thinking about what his next meal will be, he's hungry again," Brian said, interrupting him.
    "Hey, shut up, it's my question!"  Nick exclaimed, hitting Brian's arm lightly. "Truthfully?  I'm thinking about how strange it is to be doing this.  I mean, I, as well as the rest of the guys, still think of myself as a
regular everyday person, not someone that deserves all of this," he said, gesturing around him.  "I'm just doing what I love and I get treated like a king for it."
    "Hi, my name's Kelly, and I was wondering, if you could be stranded on an island with only three things, what would those three things be?"  The next girl, a short brunette with a black T-shirt, asked.
    "My CDs, a radio, and my family," Kevin answered after a few moments.
    "My family, my guitar, and my books," Howie said after a few moments.
    "My family, my CDs, and nintendo," Brian said, smiling.
    Nick laughed.  "My family, my CDs, and the nintendo," he said.
    "What about Butterfingers, Nick?"  AJ asked.
    "She said three things, I had to pick the three most important," Nick answered, smiling.
    "Such a battle between Butterfingers and the CDs, huh?"  Kevin asked.
    Nick just looked down and blushed, knowing what he'd really take. 'Actually, it was more like a battle to not say Alexa,' he thought.
    "I think I'd take my family, my CDs and my books," AJ said finally.
    "Hi, my name's Natalie, and I wanted to know, AJ, who is the girl that's in the picture with you?"  The girl asked, holding up the magazine that Alexa had told Nick about.
    "That is my sister," AJ answered.
    "But I thought you were an only child?"
    "Well, a lot of people did, but my sister has stayed out of the spot light for a long time for a reason.  She wants her privacy and asked that I not say anything to anyone about her," AJ answered calmly.
    "What's her name?"  Natalie challenged.
    "Natalie, only one question, dear," Darcy said, interrupting her.
    "No, its ok, Darcy, I'll answer her," AJ said.  "She said that she didn't want anyone to know her name, she wants to keep her privacy as long as possible," he said.
    "Is she here?"  Natalie asked.
    "Yes," AJ said truthfully.  Nick was stunned, but tried to not let it show.  He knew AJ wasn't suppose to let out any information about Alexa that could endanger her in any way.
    "Is she allowed out here?"  Natalie squeezed out as Darcy tried to shush her.
    "I don't think she is," AJ said slowly, looking at Nick and Kevin.
    "Oh, AJ, give it a rest," Alexa's voice came.
    "Is that her?"  Another girl asked, farther down the line.  Nick vaguely remembered her name as Terry.
    "Yes, and I'll come out only if you promise to not take any pictures," Alexa called.
    Darcy looked at everyone.  "Cameras away, now," she demanded in a no-nonsense tone.
    AJ stood up and walked to the divider curtain and walked behind it.  Nick waited and saw him and Alexa come out together, hand in hand.  He could tell the smile on her face was forced, probably like the way she was holding his hand.
    "Hi," Alexa said nervously to the people in the room.
    "And you are?"  Natalie asked rudely.
    "I'm AJ's sister," Alexa said, conveniently leaving out her name.
    "Do you have a name?"
    "Yes, I'm not going to tell you though, I want my privacy as much as the next person," Alexa answered, trying to keep her temper.  Nick knew that she was ready to strangle Natalie, but that she wasn't allowed to do anything about the questions.
    "Ok, next question, please," Darcy said, pulling Natalie out of her seat and to the other side of the room.
    AJ led Alexa to his seat, then sat in another chair at the end of the  table, next to Howie.  Alexa smiled at Nick as she sat down, a real smile. Nick smiled back and took her hand under the table.  He squeezed it lightly, letting her know that she didn't have to be nervous.  He ignored the next few questions, busy just holding Alexa's hand and thinking about her.
    "Final question," Darcy said.  "Make it good, Tina."
    The girl at the end, a small red head, smiled brightly and looked at the guys.  "If you could give all of this up for your old lives of peace and quiet and boredom, would you do it?"  She asked.
    Nick was blown away, what a great question.
    "Wow, umm, what a question," Brian said.
    "A very good question," Kevin said, looking down at the table and thinking.
    "I'm not sure, I mean, I really can't imagine my life without all of this," Howie said.
    "Yeah, neither can I," AJ said.
    "I think I wouldn't," Nick said.  "I love what I do, I can't think of anything I would do that wouldn't somehow involve music.  I love music, music is my life."
    "And I love my life," the guys all finished for him.
    "So, no, I wouldn't give it up.  I love what I do and I can't imagine my life without it," Nick said.
    "Same with me, my life would probably not exist if it weren't for music," Brian said.
    "I wouldn't give it up, this is what I was born to do, nothing can change that," Kevin said.
    "I wouldn't give it up, its too important to me," Howie said.
    "I couldn't give it up, no matter what other thing I tried to do, now or ever, has had to do with music and the stage.  Its my life, plain and simple," AJ said.
    "Well, thank you guys, for lending us your time," Darcy said as she walked back over.  "Let's all say thank you, everyone," she said, looking around at the other people in the small audience.
    "Thank you," came a chorus.
    "You're quite welcome, we were happy to do it," Brian said, smiling.
    "Guys, do you mind posing for a few group photos, for the papers?  We tried to get them in before, but we couldn't," Darcy said quietly as the contest winners were led out of the store.
    Kevin nodded as he looked at the other guys.  "Sure, we could do that." Darcy smiled and walked back to her camera crew, away from the guys.
    "I guess that means I have to go back there and sit with my mom for another hour, huh?"  Alexa asked Nick, standing up and stretching, letting go of his hand.
    "Yeah, we can't have you in any pictures, Denise was clear on that," Kevin said.
    Alexa nodded and turned to Nick.  "I'll see you in the limo, correct?" She asked.
    "I'll be anxiously looking forward to it," he answered quietly.  "I want so badly to kiss you, but I'm not allowed," he whispered.
    "Me too, I wish we could forget about this press shit, but we can't. I'll see you later," Alexa said, not touching him.  Nick was itching to reach out and hold her, but he couldn't.  He watched as she walked behind the curtain, then followed the rest of the guys to pose for some pictures.
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