The Hardest Thing


Prologue

"Girl, I'm gonna miss you," AJ said, wrapping his arms around Kayla.

She hugged him back tightly. "I'll miss you too," she replied into his shoulder, smiling. "My life is gonna be so boring. No AJ to spice it up for me!"

AJ grinned at her. "Well, hey, there's always Derek, right?"

Kayla giggled while behind her back, Nick flipped AJ the bird. "Calm down, Nick," she said without even looking at him. He just grinned and mumbled something unintelligible under his breath.

AJ patted her back. "See you around."

She gave him a kiss. "Bye!"

Howie was next. He and Kayla hugged each other tightly. "Good luck, sweetie," he said.

She grinned. "Thanks, D. You too."

"I'm not going anywhere," he pointed out.

"But you'll probably have trouble living without me at first," Kayla predicted. "So good luck dealing with that."

He chuckled. "Oh yeah."

"See ya later, D." They kissed quickly. Then she moved on to Kevin.

He grinned at her. "So little Prescott's finally out on her own."

"Finally free from those four annoying older brothers," she agreed.

"Aw, that was sweet of you to leave me out, but isn't it kinda yucky to call Nick here your brother?" Kevin pointed out.

She rolled her eyes. "Very funny, Kev."

"Goodbye hug?" he asked with a little pout.

She laughed and gave him one, pecking him on the lips as they pulled away. "Later, Kev."

"Bye, sweetie."

Kayla stepped in front of Brian and took a deep breath. "Wow," she said softly.

Her best friend smiled weakly. "You know you're gonna be on the phone with me half the time, right?"

She returned the smile. "Only half?"

"Well, Nick's your boyfriend...I mean, he's gotta have something."

Kayla hugged him tightly. "Thank you so much for everything, Brian. I couldn't have asked for a better friend."

"Thanks for working with us," he replied. "You made the song what it is. You made the tour what it is."

Kayla blinked back tears. "Love you," she whispered, squeezing him tightly.

"Love you too." They kissed quickly and let go of each other. Unable to actually say goodbye to the friend who had been there through so much over the last year, she gave Brian a little wave and turned to face Nick, who had a rare expression of sadness on his face. Her eyes locked with his.

"Um...guys...do you think you could excuse us for just a minute?" Kayla asked, still staring at Nick.

They all grinned at each other. "Sure," AJ said with a smirk, making some inappropriate gestures at Nick. Seeing her boyfriend roll his eyes, Kayla turned around, caught AJ, and burst out laughing. She waved at the guys as they left the room.

Kayla turned back to Nick. The two of them just stared at each other again before he silently held out his arms to her, and she smiled and walked into them. They embraced silently for a long time—or at least, it felt that way. Then Kayla spoke up.

"You know, I've been thinking about this past year," she mused.

He smiled. "Me too."

"No, I mean...what if you guys had picked someone else for the duet? You and I never would have met," she pointed out.

"You know, we almost didn't pick you," Nick said. "AJ and Howie really liked this other girl, and Kevin and I really liked you, and Brian was undecided, but he was leaning towards the other girl."

"So what made him decide?"

"Besides the fact that I begged him?" Nick said.

She laughed. "Yeah, besides that."

"Well, we weren't getting anywhere on the decision, and Kevin got the idea of us singing along with both of you to see who sounded better with us. The other girl sounded great, but...with you, we got chills."

Kayla smiled shyly. "I got chills that first time we shook hands and said hello. Remember that?"

"Course I do." Nick chuckled. "I could barely talk around you at first. The other guys gave me so much shit."

She laughed. "I have no trouble believing that."

Both of them grinned. Then their eyes locked again, and their smiles faded.

"Can you believe it's been a year?" she asked softly.

"Yeah, because I feel like I've known you my whole life. What I can't believe is that we've been dating for five months. That night in my room when you said 'I love you'...it feels like it was just last week."

Kayla nodded. "I don't know. In a way, it feels like it passed by quickly, but...in a way, it feels like it's been forever."

"I know what you mean."

She frowned, and her voice softened. "It's never gonna be the same," she remarked.

"But change can be so good," Nick argued.

She smiled. "So...let's not forget why..."

He rolled his eyes but went along with her. "It's...understood!"

Kayla broke out into song, singing into an imaginary microphone.

"That, time, look where we are, and what we've been through..."

Nick grabbed her hand and twirled her around.

"Time, sharing our dreams coming true..."

He dipped her backwards as she continued.

"Time, it goes on and on, everyday..."

Nick pulled her back up.

"Time is what it is..."

They harmonized on the last line.

"Come what may."

Laughing, she slid her arms around his neck as he leaned forward and kissed her. "God I'm gonna miss you," she whispered when it was over, touching his face.

He turned his head and kissed her fingertip. "It's only three weeks."

"After being inseparable for five straight months?"

He grimaced. "Good point."

Rick, Kayla's manager, poked his head inside the door of the lounge. "Kayla, we have to go."

She nodded. "Be out in a minute."

Rick left them alone, and they focused on each other again.

"Guess this is it," Nick realized.

"Guess so," she agreed.

Nick pulled her close and kissed her again. Even after five months, she still felt like she would melt.

"I love you so much," Kayla whispered.

"I love you too," he replied, touching his forehead to hers. "I'll call you," he promised.

Kayla gave him one last hug before finally letting go of him. It was only then that the full realization of what was happening became clear to her, and she suddenly found herself choking back tears. Next thing she knew, she was in Nick's arms again, her face buried in his neck as she sobbed heavily.

"Shh, baby, it's okay," Nick soothed. But his voice sounded strained.

"Nicky, I'm gonna miss you so much," she gasped.

"I know, baby, but it's okay. It'll just make our time together even better," he replied to the top of her head.

Rick poked his head in the door again, ready to tell her to hurry up, but he stopped when he saw her crying. Nick caught his eye, nodded at him to indicate that he would wrap things up quickly, and gestured for him to leave. He did.

Nick touched her face to make her look up at him. "Listen, baby, you know that what Brian said is true. We'll be on the phone all the time. We can still be inseparable."

She smiled weakly, sniffling a little. "Okay," she sighed.

"I love you." His voice cracked slightly, and both of them laughed.

"Don't be a baby, Carter," Kayla instructed, brushing a tear from his eye. She smiled. "I love you too."

"I'll see you later?" Nick said with a hesitant smile as they let go of each other.

She nodded. "See you later," she agreed. She turned and walked to the door, but before opening it, she stopped and looked back at him again.

Nick made shooing motions with his hands. "Get out of here before I start crying too," he mumbled with that famous lopsided grin.

She laughed and waved. "Bye Nick."

He blew her a kiss. "Bye."


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Chapter One


Lyrics from "Time" by Backstreet Boys
From Black and Blue
Written by Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean, and Kevin Richardson