The lights and camera flashes were blinding and the screams were deafening, but Kayla hardly even saw or heard them as her shaking hand gripped the microphone so tightly that her knuckles were white. Somehow she had managed to make it through her first three songs. Now all that she had left was her original ballad, the hardest number.
Forcing herself to ignore her racing heart just as she had before the last three songs, Kayla sat down on the stool at the very center of the stage and nodded towards the sound booth, cuing them to start playing her background track. She heard the introduction play over the speakers and, when the right time came, she took a deep breath and started to sing.
A wide-eyed Nick sat watching the backstage TV screen, riveted as he saw Kayla go to her stool and sit down slowly. He could see her hand shaking, and, although he smiled, he secretly felt just as nervous as she did. "Come on, Kayla!" he whispered under his breath, still smiling. As her introduction started to play, A.J. and Mindi, one of their band members, started to laugh loudly in another corner of the room. "Shhh!" Nick hissed at them. They looked at him strangely, and he pointed at the television screen. They saw what was going on and quickly went over next to him as Brian, Kevin, and Howie also came over to watch. Everyone crowded around Nick and stared at the screen as Kayla took a deep breath and started to sing. Nick shut his eyes briefly as he listened to her voice.
"Beautiful," Brian whispered as she neared the end of the first verse.
Hearing the thunderous applause after she finished that song was incomparable to anything Kayla had ever felt in her entire life. Fighting back tears, she smiled and waved to the crowd as the center platform she was sitting on started to lower. "Thank you, it's been great! My name is Kayla Prescott...look for my album out soon! You guys have been a great audience!" she yelled into the mic. "Coming up...it's the Backstreet Boys!" That comment made the screams come even louder.
Kayla laughed. "I love you! Goodnight!" she concluded as she disappeared below the stage.
Nick and everyone else in the room stood up and started cheering as they watched Kayla finish her song. Seeing her descend beneath the level of the main stage, Brian stood up from the couch and ran out the door, and everyone followed him down the hall and around a few corners towards the area where the platform was. When they reached it, they found Kayla still sitting on the stool, trying not to cry her eyes out. Nick watched from a short distance away as Brian went up and wrapped his arms around her.
"You did a great job, sweetie! That was so amazing," he told her, kissing the top of her head.
Kayla turned upwards and gave him a shaky smile before bursting into tears.
Everyone started to laugh, but not in a mean way. Kevin went up to her, too, followed by A.J., Howie, Mindi, and a few of the other band members and dancers who had drifted into the room in the middle of the performance. Nick watched her meet the congratulatory remarks with thankful smiles and happy tears, and he felt an idea forming in his head. Over the past month, he had been constantly trying to do things that might make Kayla start to fall for him like he was falling for her. Here was yet another opportunity. Maybe if he said something really meaningful to her, it would trigger some emotions.
Nick carefully made his way through the clump of people surrounding her. Just as he was about to reach her, he tripped on someone's foot and lost his balance, falling right against her.
Kayla jumped in surprise and quickly reached out to try and catch him, smiling when she saw who it was. "Hey there," she said, giggling, as she helped him back up to his feet.
Nick forced himself to smile back at her. Great, Carter, now she's laughing at you, he told himself wryly. "Hey," he said out loud. Pushing the embarrassment aside, he focused on his main goal. "Listen, Kayla...you were absolutely incredible out there," he told her, giving her his most sincere expression.
A sweet smile broke across her lips. "Aw...thank you so much, Nicky," she said, wrapping her arms around him and hugging him tightly.
Nick swallowed, ignoring his annoying nickname for once. She wasn't exactly understanding what he meant. "No, I mean..." He cleared his throat. "You were really awesome. I'm not just saying that. It was really...um, inspiring," he said. No, that didn't sound right either. Damn it!
"You're so sweet! Thank you," Kayla said again, giving him another friendly squeeze.
Nick cursed silently to himself as he hugged her back. After they released each other, he managed to quell his frustration and gave her another smile as he opened his mouth to speak again. He was going to ask her if she wanted to go get a congratulatory sundae with him after the rest of the show.
"Kayla!" someone yelled from the doorway before he could get even one word out.
Both Nick and Kayla looked up and saw her whole team of nine dancers hurrying towards her. Forgetting momentarily about Nick, Kayla let out a little shriek and ran up to them, immediately throwing her arms around one of the women. As Nick watched, she and the group started talking and laughing and hugging and high-fiving. Nick sighed sharply and turned to face the other direction in frustration. Nothing ever worked with her! It sucked. The first girl that he really felt something for was the only one he could never get through to. Nick shook his head and turned back around, glancing over at Kayla again.
His eyebrows shot up when he saw the man she had begun talking with. His name was Derek, and Nick had just caught Lisa, one of the Boys' dancers, drooling over him earlier that day. She had educated Nick about his sexy face, perfect hair, toned body, etc., and she had described him as "yummy." What if Kayla shared that opinion?
Nick focused his eyes on the object of his affection, and his heart sank. She had a hand to her mouth to try to contain her giggles as Derek talked to her, and from her posture, it looked like she felt a little shy around him. As Nick watched, she put a hand on Derek's shoulder and said something to him in return, making both of them double over laughing again. After a moment, they recovered, and their faces turned serious. Derek leaned closer and told Kayla something with a faint smirk on his face. Nick's jaw dropped open as he saw color start to creep into her cheeks. He was actually making her blush!
Nick cursed under his breath and turned away as Derek wrapped an arm around Kayla's waist and gave her a hug. He and Brian were going to have to have a serious discussion about this.