Kayla fought back the urge to pace back and forth as she stood in front of Nick's door. She had already knocked...it was too late to run now. Or was it? Maybe if she hightailed it right this second she could still make it? Couldn't she? Then she wouldn't have to deal with—
At the moment, she heard the locks on the other side of the door being undone. It's now or never, she told herself, glancing briefly down the hall where the door to the stairs was. Before she could come to a decision, though, the door opened.
Nick's jaw dropped open when he saw her, and he paused in the middle of eating a spoonful of ice cream, his wide eyes making him look like a deer trapped in headlights. Kayla had to stifle a smile when she saw how cute he looked with this expression in addition to his slightly tousled hair. Hoping that the surprised reaction was mostly positive, she took a deep breath and forced herself to speak.
"Hi, Nick," she said, fiddling a little with the rose she was holding.
Shutting his mouth, he placed the spoon back in the ice cream container and blinked a few times. "Hi, Kayla," he barely managed to get out. Clearing his throat, he forced himself to get it together. Calm down...just because the girl you're in love with is standing in front of your door wearing a really nice black dress and holding a rose doesn't mean anything. He took a deep breath. "Aren't you supposed to be at home?"
"Yeah," Kayla said, nodding.
He frowned. "So...why are you here?"
"I don't know...I guess I just realized that being there wasn't the right thing to do," she said carefully.
Nick nodded, not really understanding. Actually, he understood perfectly, but he wouldn't let himself believe it."I see," was all that he said.
Kayla nodded. "So...can I come in? I don't want to impose...I just...really need to talk to you."
Nick raised his eyebrows. "About what?" he asked, a slight smile crossing his lips.
Kayla glanced down at her rose, a little embarrassed. "Um...well, a lot of things."
Nick felt just a glimmer of satisfaction when he saw color creep into her cheeks. "Oh, okay. Well, come on in." As she walked by him, Nick couldn't help smiling to himself. So far things weren't looking too bad.
She went into the room a little bit and just stood there awkwardly, waiting for him to act. After shutting and locking the door, he went up to her and smiled like the good host.
"We can sit down if you want," he suggested.
Kayla shook her head, strands of hair falling into her face. "No, I'd rather stand," she said as she pushed them away and took a slightly shaky breath.
"Oh, okay...sure," Nick said. He hoped she didn't notice the fact that he kept glancing at the rose, which he couldn't get over. "So what is it you have to talk to me about?"
Kayla squeezed her eyes shut. "Oh, God, Nick, it's everything. I have to..." She opened her eyes and looked at him nervously. "I mean..." She trailed off and coughed. "I mean why I went home, why I've been avoiding you lately, why I..." Once again, she trailed off.
Nick didn't think he had ever been so riveted in his life. "Why you what?" he murmured, looking to her with rapt attention.
Kayla blushed again. "Um...well, mainly those two things."
A smile flickered across Nick's lips. "Since when is that 'everything'?" he asked playfully.
She blushed even more. "Well, I guess there's more. I'll get to it."
"Oh, okay," he said, nodding and making her smile. "Just asking."
Kayla nodded too. "Yeah. Well anyway...I don't know how to start this, um—"
"Kayla," Nick interrupted firmly.
"Yes?" she said, raising her eyebrows tensely.
"Relax," he replied.
She frowned. "Excuse me?"
"Relax," Nick repeated. He put a hand on her arm, hoping that she would react to his touch. "You look really nervous. Just calm down."
That actually made her smile and look at the ground. "Okay," she said, sounding almost guilty at being caught.
"You sure you don't want to sit down?"
She nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Okay," Nick agreed, not about to protest. The poor girl looked like she was going to have a nervous breakdown already; she didn't need an argument on top of that. "Now, go ahead, and don't worry...I think you already know how I'm going to react."
When she heard that, her eyebrows shot up and she practically started to gape at him because of his assumptions. Nick had to bite his lip so he wouldn't laugh, and he resisted the temptation to pull her into a huge hug. He really did love this girl.
Kayla recovered from that little surprise and didn't say anything about it. "Okay...I'm going to say this now, before I go completely crazy. Um...I guess I'll start with why I've been avoiding you," she decided. "First of all, it's not because I have anything against you or because I don't like you or because...well, it's not anything about you, it's all because of me. Everything that's happened lately has been because of me. I mean, you haven't done anything wrong. You've been perfect. You..." She trailed off and took another shaky breath.
Nick's heart softened, and suddenly he didn't feel tempted to laugh at all. He wanted to help her along, but he didn't interrupt.
Kayla stole a glance at him and saw his slight change in mood. She swallowed hard and seemed to take a little strength from it. A little, but not much.
"Look, Nick, mainly...even more than wanting to explain all of this, I want to apologize to you," she went on.
"Kayla, you don't—" he began, seeing how close she was to crying.
"Please just let me say this," she interrupted.
He nodded slowly, going along with her, but he resolved to stop her if she got too emotional about it. He had an idea of where she was going with this and he didn't want it to be too hard for her.
"I want to apologize for running away from you and for hurting you like I did. I mean...I know...how much you care about..." She took a breath. "...about stuff...and I didn't mean for..." She swallowed. "What I'm trying to say is I'm sorry, and I don't want it to happen again. And..." Her voice caught in her throat, and she bit her lip.
Nick shut his eyes, experiencing so much sympathy it felt painful. "Sweetie—"
"No, let me finish," she said. "And...well, that morning when you came to my room and talked to me, you asked me to be with you...to be your girl...and I told you no."
By now Nick's heart was beating as fast as hers must have been. He swallowed hard and forced himself to stay in control.
"And, well, I was wondering..." She breathed in sharply and held the rose out to his chest. "...I was wondering if I could still change my answer," she finished softly, her voice cracking again, as he took the rose and she let go of it. Putting a hand to her lips, she turned her head away and tried to hide her tears.
"Kayla," Nick said softly.
She stayed turned away from him.
"Sweetie, please look at me," he reiterated.
She forced herself to turn towards him, biting her lip and hoping that her teary eyes weren't too obvious. "What?" she said softly.
"Kayla..." he began. He swallowed, glancing down at the rose, and smiled. "C'mere, baby," he said. Stepping forward, he carefully wrapped his arms around her as she started to cry again. She gratefully hugged him back and allowed him to rub her back and whisper to her as she cried against his chest.
"It's okay, baby. It's okay. Please don't cry," he was saying. He pulled his head away and carefully touched her chin, making her lift her head and look at him.
"Nicky, I'm sorry, but—"
"Shhh," he soothed. "Yes, Kayla. The answer's yes. Of course it's yes."
A smile spread across her lips even though she kept crying. "Really?" she asked timidly.
"Yes really," he said, grinning. "God, why do you think I've been acting like this lately? Why do you think I was so upset out on the dock that night?"
"No...I knew that you wanted it then," she said. "I just thought that after the way I treated you and the things I said to you, you might have changed your mind."
"Maybe I would if I had control over it. Maybe I should say no. But unfortunately...we can't always control what we want," he replied. "I've more than learned that since I met you."
"Unfortunately?" Kayla echoed teasingly as she sniffled and her tears died away.
"Oops," Nick said, laughing.
Kayla also giggled and looked at the floor. Her smile faded, and she looked back up at him, frowning slightly. "I'm sorry," she said simply. Her blue eyes were filled with so much in that moment that even if he hadn't wanted to forgive her, he wouldn't have been able to help himself.
"I forgive you," Nick replied.
She smiled slowly. "That was all I needed to hear," she said.
"Good," Nick said with a nod.
Their eyes locked together in that way that they had so many times before. As the two of them leaned in closer, his hand moved from her back to her cheek and her arms slid around his neck...
"Wait a minute," Nick said, pulling away right before their lips touched.
"Oh, God, what?" Kayla, groaned.
He laughed and then turned serious again. "Every single time I've kissed you before, no matter how good things looked beforehand, something always goes wrong afterwards," he pointed out. "I don't want that to happen this time."
She smiled. "Nicky, it's not going to happen this time, okay? Trust me," she said, patting him on the shoulder.
"But that's what I thought out on the dock that night," Nick said.
"Are you suggesting that you never kiss me?" Kayla asked.
Nick sighed and let go of her. "I don't know..."
Kayla thought for a moment before she got an idea and smiled. "What if this time, I kiss you?" she suggested, raising an eyebrow.
Nick rolled his eyes and was going to protest again, but he stopped and smiled back. "All right," he relented. "But just this once," he said jokingly.
"You'd better be kidding, Carter."
"Trust me, I am," he said, putting his arms around her waist again.
"Okay. Close your eyes," Kayla instructed.
Nick dutifully closed his eyes as she touched his cheek as he had touched hers and then slid her arms around his neck again. For once, she knew exactly what she was doing and felt completely secure with it as she softly pressed her lips against his.
When she and Nick pulled away and opened their eyes a moment later, both of them were smiling widely. Nick reached up and played with some of her hair.
"I guess we broke the curse," he whispered.
"I guess so," Kayla agreed. She smiled as Nick leaned in to kiss her again...and again. This time he deepened the kiss, and for the first time, Kayla truly understood how perfect it felt to be with him.
Nick finally broke away for air and looked to her hesitantly, realizing that he had gotten a little carried away. "I'm sorry," he said quickly. "You might want to go slower than that."
Kayla smiled and shook her head. "No. It's okay."
"What exactly isn't okay?" Nick asked nervously. "Because when I'm around you, I get this urge to do everything...but I still want you to be ready for whatever we do."
Kayla looked down and thought for a moment. "I don't know," she admitted. "I guess...maybe we should just keep it at kissing for now. I mean, I really enjoyed that night we spent together, but I don't want to jump into things too fast," she said. "Is that okay?"
"Of course it's okay...and that's a smart idea. Now that I finally have this, I would never want to ruin it," Nick said, tightening his hold on her.
Kayla smiled. "Okay. I don't regret what happened, though."
"You mean when we slept together?" Nick asked.
"Neither do I," he agreed. "God, I'm nowhere near regretting it. I don't know if you have any idea how long I'd been wanting something from you...not just sex, anything at all. And then finally you opened up to me, and let me love you..." He smiled. "It was incredible."
Kayla smiled for a moment at his words but then her smile faded. "I'm so sorry for acting like that the next morning. When I said I didn't feel 'that way' about you...I was lying. To you and to myself."
"I understand," Nick said.
"You can say what you want, but I know it hurt you," she replied softly, looking away.
"You did, I won't lie and say you didn't, but now..." He smiled. "This makes up for it."
Kayla smiled back and broke her gaze with him to hug him tightly. When their eyes met again, hers were filled with tears. "Nick," she whispered, her heart beating madly, "I have to tell you, I..." She trailed off losing her nerve. "It's too soon. Never mind."
Nick slowly shook his head. "Say it...please."
A single tear slowly welled up and fell down her cheek. "I love you," she whispered.
Nick smiled bigger than he had in weeks and pulled her close to him again. "I love you too, Kayla," he whispered back, planting a soft kiss on the top of her head.
They stayed quiet for a minute. Then Nick realized something. "Kayla?" he said.
She looked up at him. "Hm?"
"Can I ask you something?"
"What made you get over your fears so suddenly?" he asked. "I mean, less than a week ago, you left when something like this happened. How did you get over it so fast?"
She coughed. "I, um, didn't," she admitted nervously.
"Yeah...I'm pretty much scared out of my wits right now," she said, smiling weakly.
Nick was immediately cautious. "Baby, if you want to move slower...take a step back..."
"No," she said. "I'm nervous...but on the other hand, I've never felt better," she said with a shy smile. "I'm not gonna leave this time."
Nick smiled back. "Well, if you're tense, I can help you relax." She raised her eyebrow curiously, and he placed his hand on the back of her neck and started to massage it. Smiling, Kayla sighed and laid her head down on his chest. It felt so good, just being with him like that.
"So tell me then," he said, "if you didn't get over it, what motivated you to come back?"
She smiled hesitantly. "It's kind of weird."
"Like you?" Nick asked.
"Pretty much," she said, laughing.
"Tell me about it," he said.
"Well, I was lying in my room back home. I was just so depressed because of you. I felt so torn. I didn't know whether I should go back to you, or if I had might the right choice or...anyway, I was listening to some music in an attempt to take my mind off of everything, and I was listening to this old mix CD, and I didn't really remember what songs I had on it, I just put it in," she said.
"Let me guess. One of our songs was on it," Nick said.
Kayla shook her head. "No. Actually, there was one—the very first song, actually—but I skipped over it. I was lying in bed when all of a sudden I heard..." She smiled and started to sing.
Oh, the way you do..."
Nick immediately smiled back, both at hearing the song and at hearing her voice. "Oh..." he said.
"Oh is right," Kayla agreed. "At first, my whole body went tense, and I couldn't breathe. But then I got to the part in the song where you pulled me close to you, and...it was such a vivid memory. I could still smell you and feel your arms around me. And I remembered how good it felt, just to dance with you, and then my mind started to wander...and I remembered when we almost kissed in the recording studio, when we actually did kiss in your hotel room, when...when we made love for the first time...and it suddenly hit me how much I missed that, and how much I missed you. And then it hit me how much I wanted to get it back. I hesitated, because I was still scared, but...eventually I realized that I do love with you...that I am in love with you, Nick...and I decided almost on a whim to just take the bull by the horns and risk it all and face my fears and come back to see you. And here I am," she explained breathlessly.
"That's not weird, that's...really nice," Nick said with a shy smile.
"Oh, actually, there was another part, too," Kayla said. "My mom helped convince me. She made me tell her the whole story."
Nick's eyes widened. "The whole story?"
"Well, certain parts of it," Kayla corrected herself hastily. "No, I didn't tell her the full extent of what we did together," she said, smiling wryly.
"Good. You scared me," Nick sighed, grinning. "I have enough enemies as it is. I don't need your mother."
"Honey, my dad's the one you should worry about," she said.
"Oh great," Nick groaned.
Kayla grinned. "Well, it scared me too. Out of the blue, she just says, 'So, tell me, is Nick a good kisser?' No warning or anything. I practically died."
Nick chuckled. "I would too."
"But I'm glad she did figure it out. Saves me a lot of explaining now. I think we're gonna have enough of that anyway."
"What do you mean?" Nick asked.
"Well, the media is going to be so happy that we finally got together. They've been wanting us to hook up ever since I got the job. So they're gonna ask us a million questions about our relationship."
Nick thought. "You know what?" he said.
"Let's not tell them."
Kayla raised her eyebrows. "What?"
Nick picked up her hand and squeezed it. "You heard me. Let's not tell them. I don't want to have to deal with that pressure from them. I just want to focus on what's important," he said.
"And what's that?" she asked coyly.
"You and me," Nick said, kissing her hand.
Kayla laughed and wrapped her arms around him. "That sounds great. I love you so much."
Nick shut his eyes and hugged her back, suddenly filled with emotion. "I love you too, Kayla," he said, squeezing her tightly.
There was a period of silence. Then Nick said, "So, are you still scared?"
She smiled. "A little. But it's fading."
Nick started rubbing her neck again. "I know how to relax you."
"Just the neck thing?"
"No." Smiling, he took a breath and started to sing.
"You've heard this a thousand times before,
I'm in love with you..."
Kayla blinked away tears as she rested her head against his chest, and indeed, she felt her fears slipping away as he sang softly to her.
"You'll hear it at least a million more,
Baby, that's the truth.
It's the small things that endear me,
Every time that you are near me..."
Kayla had heard the song so many times before, she knew all the words by heart, but she didn't sing along. She shut her eyes and listened to him sing to her.
"The way you laugh at what I say,
The way you look at each new day,
The way your tears fall right on cue..."
Nick paused and put his hand on her cheek, his thumb brushing away the tears that he knew would be there. It was so amazing to her that she began to laugh through her tears.
"That's what I love about you.
Nobody else knows me by heart,
Takes me where I can reach the stars,
Makes me believe in love,
The way you do."
Nick stopped singing, and for the longest time, Kayla just stood there with her arms around the man she loved. For once, she felt absolutely no desire to run away. It was the best feeling in the world.