"Mmmm," Kayla sighed as Nick rubbed her back two evenings later. "Now this is a massage," she remarked. She was lying on her stomach on her bed, and Nick was sitting beside her as he helped her release her tension and at the same time tried desperately to keep his hormones in check. Those sighs of hers were really getting to him.
"How is your song coming along?" he asked softly as he pressed his fingers against her upper back. Maybe some innocent conversation could help get his mind back out of the gutter.
"Fine," she breathed, closing her eyes. "I think it'll be done in time."
Nick smiled. "Good."
"Did you change the tickets?" she asked.
"Yeah, it's all taken care of. Don't worry."
"They didn't give you a hard time, did they?"
"Oh, I handled 'em," Nick said confidently.
She smiled. "Good." She sighed again. "I just want all of this to be over," she said softly.
"I know...but you have to remember that it's never completely over," Nick reminded her. "There's always something."
"But once I get this album out..."
"You go around and promote it to death, then you do a tour, and then when that's all over, you start on the next album. It's a cycle. It doesn't stop," Nick countered, trailing a finger up her spine.
There was silence for a moment. Then she groaned. "What the hell did I get myself into?"
Nick smiled. "I know. It's tough." He stopped rubbing her back and patted it gently, indicating that he was finished.
Kayla rolled over and sat up. "I'm just so worried that I'm not cut out for this." She patted the bedspread. "Your turn."
"A massage. Lie down," she instructed.
God help me, Nick thought as he did so. I'm going to disgrace myself.
Sure enough, when her hands came down on his back, he felt a flood of emotions pour through his body. Stay calm...just stay calm, he told himself. "Oh, I think you'll do fine," he assured her, going back to the conversation. He closed his eyes. "Oh, wow...keep doing that."
Kayla smiled and obeyed him. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. You're stronger than you think you are. I know you have it in you. You've got this great drive and sense of determination."
Kayla pursed her lips. "I don't know about that."
"Sure you do. It might not be obvious all the time, but it's there. And even more important, you're extremely talented. That ballad you wrote still gives me chills every time I hear it."
She smiled again. "Really?"
"Oh yeah. And plus you've got great friends to help you out. Sara and Linz...all of your dancers...Brian..."
"And you. I don't think I could be doing this without you," Kayla remarked.
Nick smiled, feeling an inward surge of satisfaction. "Well, I was saving the best for last."
"Oh, you mean my parents then?" she asked innocently, making him laugh. Then her smile faded. "I'm just...I act confident sometimes, but...I'm so scared of all this."
Her cell phone rang before Nick could say anything else. She sighed and pulled her hands away from his back, getting up from the bed to answer it.
"That damn phone," Nick mumbled. He had really been enjoying that.
She didn't hear him. "Hello?" she said.
"Oh, Rick, is the deadline—"
"Yes, it's the fourth now," Rick confirmed. "I'm sorry, I know that was a huge mix up..."
"It's okay," Kayla lied.
"Listen, how's the song coming along?" he asked.
"Really? Got a title yet?"
"Yes. It's called 'You'll Never Know.'"
"Yeah, I figured for now I'd stick to my element."
"That's fine," Rick said. "I actually didn't call about that."
"Oh?" she said, not really wanting to know what he did call about if it meant more stress.
"Yeah. Look, you told me from the beginning that you wanted to be as involved as you could be in the making of your album, and I think that's wonderful, I really do, but the people at Jive are really pushing it. They wanna get this thing done. And that means that we're probably not gonna have the time for you to do a lot of producing like you wanted to."
Kayla's heart sank. "Are you serious?"
"I know, it's a real disappointment, but it's only meant for your benefit. So you can get that album out faster and sell more," Rick said.
"What do you think matters more to me, Rick, the album itself or how many we sell?"
"Honey, I know. I fought for you, believe me. I know you wanted to, and it would get you more respect and credibility. But you know those execs...once their minds are made up, it's impossible to argue with them. I really am sorry. Next time will be better, I promise."
Kayla sighed. "Well, I still get to pick the songs, right?"
"To some degree, yes."
She shut her eyes. "What do you mean?"
"They'll have maybe ten songs and you pick three or four."
Kayla rolled her eyes. "Fantastic," she said dryly.
"I know. I'm sorry."
"Oh, well. That's life, I guess," she muttered. "But I guess it's kind of good. I wouldn't have really known what I was doing. Maybe the songs will come out better now."
"Exactly," Rick said. "I have to go now, honey. Keep up the good work. I've been getting compliments."
"Okay. Bye, Rick."
Kayla sighed deeply as she hung up the phone. It didn't even anger her anymore. It just depressed her.
"Do I need to confiscate that phone again?" Nick asked, propping himself up on his elbows.
"Please do. And make it permanent. I don't think I want it anymore," she mumbled.
"What happened now?" Nick asked. "Did they change the deadline?"
"No, it's not that," Kayla said. She was about to explain, but her phone rang again. "I'm going to murder that thing!" she said as she answered it. "Hello?"
"Hi, honey," Mrs. Prescott replied.
"Hi, Mom." Kayla tried to be cheerful. "How's life?"
"Oh...well, it's fine. The people from the airline called us today. About this change?"
Kayla smacked her forehead. "Oh, yeah! I was going to call you about that but I forgot."
"It's okay. But I have some bad news," her mother said.
Great, just what I need! Kayla thought. "What's that?"
"Well, sweetie, it's just that Seattle is a lot further from Boston than Baltimore—about three more hours...and we would have to fly back a day later than originally planned...and so I don't think we're going to be able to make it," her mother finished.
Kayla raised her eyebrows. "Are you kidding?"
"No. I'm really sorry. We all are. We really wanted to be there."
You could've fooled me, Kayla thought. "Mom, it's my eighteenth birthday. And it's not even that. I miss you and Dad and Emily."
"We miss you, too. And we're all really disappointed, but it's just not possible. Look, we'll make it up to you, all right?" her mother offered.
"Forget it. I'll just celebrate with the guys," Kayla muttered. "I have to go now." She had to get off the phone before she screamed at someone.
"Are you sure? Want to speak with your dad?"
"No. I have to go," Kayla repeated. "I'll talk to you later. Bye."
Kayla hung up the phone and immediately turned it off, not wanting to deal with any more calls that evening. She silently tried to calm herself down, taking deep breaths and trying to clear her head.
Still lying on the bed, Nick saw her shoulders hunched over and her hand running tensely through her hair, and he could tell she was genuinely upset. He slowly got up off of the bed and started to approach her.
"Kayla?" he asked cautiously, afraid that she would snap at him. "What happened?"
"My parents cancelled the trip," she said, her voice hollow. "Now I'm not gonna see them at all. And to top it all off, Rick called to tell me that I'm not gonna be able to do the producing I wanted to."
Nick sighed. "Sweetie, I'm sorry," he said. "Are you okay?"
There was a pause. "I don't know," she said softly. It sounded like she had a lump in her throat.
"Want to talk about it?" Nick asked. He put a hand on her shoulder, trying to get her to turn around. She did, and sure enough, her eyes were welling up with tears.
"No. I want it all to go away," she whispered. Losing control for a moment, she let out a little sob. Then, embarrassed, she covered her mouth with her hand.
"It's okay...just c'mere and let it all out," Nick said soothingly, holding his arms out to her. She gratefully stepped into them, her hands covering her eyes as she finally broke down.
"Shhh," Nick said as he wrapped his arms around her. "It's okay. I promise it's all okay."
"But it's...not," she protested through sobs. "It's all...going wrong."
"No, no, it's not going wrong," Nick replied. "It's just turning out a little differently than planned. That's okay. You can work around it." He shut his eyes as he held her. Despite the fact that she was crying, being there with her felt so right to him.
"Not if they won't let me," she returned bitterly. "I'm gonna be just like the others, Nick...who sing whatever's thrown at them and then sit back and let other people do the rest."
Nick pulled away from her slightly so that their eyes could meet. "Kayla, first of all, you will never be just like the others," he told her. "And second of all, it's totally fine. It's your first album, sweetie. You have to start somewhere. We didn't do anything but sing on our first album either. Look, just the fact that you're writing two of the songs completely on your own...that's pretty impressive. It already puts you way ahead of everyone else."
By this time, her crying had died down a little. "You think so?" she sniffled.
"Of course," Nick replied, smiling.
"I just wanted..." she began. She trailed off, and it looked like she was going to cry more.
Nick pulled her close again, and this time, she wrapped her arms around him too. "I know," he whispered, loving that feeling. He planted a kiss on the top of her head. "I'm sorry."
They stayed like that for a long time, standing close together with their arms tightly around each other. Nick rubbed her back and even gave into the temptation to pull his fingers through her hair once or twice. Finally she pulled away from him.
"Better?" Nick asked with a smile.
She smiled back weakly and nodded. "A little."
"No more crying spells?"
"No...I just needed to get that out," she said, yawning.
"Okay, good," Nick said. "Listen, you relax and get some sleep. You need to lose some of this stress. It's not good for you."
She smiled. "Okay."
"Okay. I'll get going then. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Okay. 'Night," Kayla said as he headed for the door.
"'Night," Nick replied. "Sweet dreams," he added.
He was halfway out the door when she stopped him.
He turned. "Hm?"
She smiled shyly. "Thank you. You...helped."
A radiant Nick returned the smile. "You're welcome," he replied before turning back around and leaving. It was a long time before he could wipe that smile off of his face.