Nick walked over the sand dunes at the beach, hands in his pockets wishing he could be at work. A holiday like the Fourth of July was a big deal in Salem and, as usual, Bo and Hope were throwing their annual party for both sides of the family. As a Horton he was invited but was hesitant to attend for obvious reasons. Stephanie, Max and Hope had pushed him to promise, though begrudgingly, that he would come but now he wasn’t sure. He knew he was really becoming a drag when hanging out with his friends but the idea of making small talk with Jonas made him want to, as the surfer would say, hurl.
The beach was fairly empty today, which was unexpected but welcome; Nick didn’t want to run into anyone he knew. However, sometimes things didn’t always work out like he wanted. He heard a “Nick!” from a distance and he looked to his left and spotted Nicole and another woman. Relieved it was Nicole, he grinned and walked towards them. As he moved closer, his smile faded as he recognized the other woman with the blond. It was Ava, the infamous woman who kidnapped Steve, Kayla, Bo and Hope while hopped up on drugs her father gave her.
“Hi,” Nick said shyly, prompting Nicole to laugh. She introduced him to Ava, and while shaking her hand, Nick said, “I know who you are.”
Nicole’s eyebrows went up, “My, that’s the exact same thing he said to me when we met.”
“Really?” Ava asked shaking Nick’s hand. “You don’t say. Nice to meet you, Nick, or should I call you, Professor?”
Confusion marked his face as he answered, “Huh?”
Nicole grinned, on first appearances you wouldn’t think how he could sometimes register high on the cuteness scale. “She’s heard me mention you from time to time.”
“Oh?” Nick felt his face blush, which seemed to make the women share a smile that he didn’t get.
“You can relax, Nick,” Ava said. “It’s been really good things, though she neglected to say how young you are. I figured a guy being a professor and overseeing a grant would need to have years on him and all.”
Nick shrugged, “Well it’s associate professor and though my project is overseen by me, technically Dean Robbins is supervising.”
“What are you plans, Nick?”
His eyes locked with Nicole’s, and she immediately guessed where he was supposed to be. Nicole knew about the annual Horton-Brady picnic at Bo and Hope’s house and no doubt Nick was stalling to keep from going. Without a moment’s hesitation, she quickly asked, “Why don’t you hang with us?”
“Oh, I don’t want to intrude,” he said, shaking his head.
Nicole’s insides bubbled up now with the prospect of him spending the day with them, so she pushed, not willing to take no for an answer, “Oh, come on. We’ve got lots of food generously donated from the Vitali kitchen and plenty of wine! We don’t have an extra glass but you can drink from the bottle!”
“No, no, it’s okay. I really need to get going and I don’t think…” Nick trailed off but his eyes wandered to Ava who got the clue. “Oh, I think I know, look, Nick, what you always read about people isn’t always true. I’ve been so much better since going off the drugs that I’ve hardly broken the law at all.”
Nick’s eyes narrowed at her but he appreciated someone who could joke about her life. He knew she hadn’t been in her right mind at the time of the kidnapping and if he always believed what others said about a person, both Nicole and Chelsea would be the last people he would ever have spoken to. Agreeing, Nick sat down next to Nicole who smiled the biggest smile Ava had ever seen her friend give.
A couple of hours later, everyone finished off their plates. Conversation had been fairly light. Nick didn’t say too much at first but eventually became himself after Nicole purposely asked a science type question which she knew he couldn’t resist and had to answer. She was glad to see him enjoying himself and felt rather proud he was having a better time with her than at the party.
“I’m stuffed,” Nick said as Nicole opened another bottle of wine and passed him the bottle. Shaking his head, Nick passed, “Sorry, I’ve had enough. Did you bring any water?”
“Water? Why would you drink water! It’s the Fourth of July!” Ava teased.
Nicole snorted, “Nick is a bit of a boy scout. No doubt he has some kind of self control limit he sets for himself.”
“Well, the way you two are drinking, and when I say you two I’m really referring to Nicole, someone needs to have some self control.”
Nicole rolled her eyes and was about to make a crack at him when his cell phone rang. Glancing down, Nick saw the name and set the gadget to silent. Unable to contain her curiosity, she asked, “Who was that?”
“Stephanie, probably wondering where I am.”
“Where are you supposed to be?” Ava asked, unfamiliar with the Brady family traditions.
“At a party that is a huge family gathering of mine and another’s. It’s a tradition and I did say I was going,” Nick answered then added. “Probably seen as rather cowardly not going.”
Ava accepted his answer and watched Nicole rub Nick’s arm tenderly. Clearly she was missing something but before she could ask, she glanced down the beach and noticed a hot guy she made eyes with earlier before Nick’s arrival. Deciding it was time to go for a swim, she told her friends she was leaving and let them have their privacy.
As Ava walked away, Nicole looked at Nick, “You’re not a coward.”
“Why do I feel like one?”
“Because you’re probably thinking about last year and how happy you were with Chelsea and her breaking up with you is hurting your chance taking part in something you have every right to enjoy for yourself.”
Nick stared at Nicole for a second, contemplating what she said. It made sense if she was correct, but she didn’t know how wrong she was. Sighing, he admitted the truth, “Last year I wasn’t that happy.”
“Last year at this time, I wasn’t exactly happy. In fact I was miserable.” Nick filled Nicole in on everything, how he stole the brush for Chelsea, the mess with Willow and Kate finding out who blackmailed him. How Chelsea was all about Jett and didn’t want Nick to touch her. At that time of his life, he never felt lower in both his profession or social life.
“Wow,” Nicole said.
“I know, I’m pathetic.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s just…Kate gets around. Geez, how does that woman sleep at night blackmailing the people her kids love to serving her own interests?” From Nick’s confused look, Nicole decided to come clean herself on taking Kate’s $5 million to marry Lucas. She left out the part of being in love with someone else at the time; no sense laying all her dirty laundry for Nick to smell.
“You really… you married someone for money? Really?” Nick asked while looking down and her heart felt like it dropped into her stomach. Did she just disappoint him? She really figured he had heard that story before now, but in hindsight, chances that her past with Kate was probably not something Chelsea or the family would bring up at gatherings.
For what seemed like a long time, Nick didn’t say a word and Nicole felt very uncomfortable. Most people made judgments all the time about her past behavior so she shouldn’t be surprised that Nick, young as he is, would be taking the same attitude, but she hadn’t expected the hurt that went with Nick’s disapproval.
Nick’s own mind was going rather fast, mainly because he suddenly felt like he could relate to Lucas whom he presumed at the time was in love with her. How hard would it be to find out the only reason your wife married you was because your mother paid her off? Still, it wasn’t like he hadn’t made his own share of mistakes, he already just told her about stealing the hairbrush for Chelsea, getting blackmailed by Willow who died because of it, then getting blackmailed again by Kate. Who was he to judge?
Looking up, he leaned into Nicole, enjoying how he could draw into his seldom used playful side, “Well, what a pair we make huh? Kate pays you to marry her son while I pay Kate to take care of her granddaughter.”
Relieved at Nick’s expression, as well as a little excited at how close he was, she couldn’t hide she had no idea what he was talking about, “What? What money?”
Realizing he said too much, Nick shook his head and said, “Nothing, come on, let’s dive into this basket to see if there is any dessert!”
“You know, you could go a little faster, she isn’t the lightest person in the world,” Nick said while carrying a passed out Nicole.
“I’m trying, I had a bit to drink too.”
Sighing, Nick said, “I know. I just wish I had realized she had this much. I usually pay attention to things like that.”
The door opened and Ava let them into Nicole’s apartment. Earlier, while watching the fireworks, Nicole had gotten quiet, obviously now because of how much she had drank. Ava noticed her friend’s attentions had really focused a good deal on Nick who seemed more comfortable than he did before. As the fireworks went on, Nicole had laid her head on Nick’s shoulder but neither noticed she wound up passing out.
Nick placed Nicole on her bed while Pookie barked protectively. Ava calmed his viciousness down by throwing him a treat. Nick took Nicole’s shoes off and then stared at her. Ava, not sure what he was thinking, asked, “What?”
“Do we, should we, I mean, not me really but should you…”
“Should I what?”
“I don’t know, should she sleep in that? Should you undress her or something… I mean that blouse looks expensive and I don’t know…”
Ava shook her head, “No, I think she’ll be fine.” She then chuckled at Nick’s red face but relieved expression. “She wasn’t kidding, you really are a boy scout.”
“You both keep saying that like it’s a bad thing,” he whispered shutting the door.
“No, but it’s not the kind of guy we’re used to hanging out with,” Ava said smiling. Nicole hadn’t spoken too much about Nick but what she had said had given Ava a bit of a start when she saw him. She really thought he would be much older, he just seemed like a kid next to them but for some reason Nicole didn’t think so.
“I guess I’ll call a cab then,” Ava said, and Nick asked why.
“Well, Nicole came and picked me up and so I need to get home…”
“Oh, well I guess I can take you.”
Ava looked at him, and smiled realizing he was just being nice. “Thanks but I live far out of town.”
Nick shrugged, he didn’t have anything else better to do and he was too alert to go to bed anytime soon. He would just stay up thinking about Chelsea or how much Nicole had to drink. This would keep his mind occupied so he insisted.
Ava shrugged and together they left the apartment after Nick insisted on taking Pookie out.
Nicole woke up with a huge headache. Looking around the room she wondered how she got home. The last thing she remembered was watching the fireworks with Nick and Ava. Standing up, she made her way out of the bedroom, glaring at the offending sunlight daring to light up her apartment like a supernova. Taking a long time, she made some coffee. Pookie was jumping up and down wanting to go out and Nicole groaned. Sometimes having a dog wasn’t worth it. “You’ll just have to wait!”
She willed the coffee to hurry up and when it was ready she quickly poured herself a cup. Drinking about half a cup, her phone rang making Nicole wince more, “Dammit!”
She grabbed the phone and yelled into it, “What?”
“Morning, Nicole, I see we’re up and sharing our famous sunshine with the world!”
“Nick,” Nicole said, biting her lip. He sure sounded happy this morning, how did he do that? “What are you… did you take me home last night?”
“Yes, we did. And I was calling to check on you, make sure you are okay.”
“I’m.. I’m fine,” she said quietly.
“Good, I also wanted to let you know Pookie did get walked late last night so hopefully that helps.”
Nicole glanced at her dog and nodded, “It does. Thank you, you didn’t have to do that.”
“No problem…Nicole, take care of yourself okay? You did worry me a lot last night, I had no idea you passed out like that.”
Wrapping an arm around herself, Nicole felt a lump grow in her throat at Nick’s concern. “I…it was an accident, I didn’t mean, I was having a great time, so I didn’t want to pass out…”
“Well I like to think no one wants to pass out,” Nick said, paused and then followed up with. “Well, take care. I’ll see you around okay?”
“Oh and Nicole?”
“Thanks for inviting me. I had a lot of fun. I really enjoyed hanging with you and Ava.”
Nicole noticed it didn’t hurt to smile, “Sure, glad you came.”
Nicole smiled again as she set the phone down. Drinking another sip, when the phone rang again the pain didn’t seem quite so severe this time. Checking the calller ID, she answered the phone, “Hey!”
“Hey,” Ava responded, “how are you feeling?”
“I’m fine. I mean, my head hurts like hell but I can survive. How are you?”
“Good, just wanted to check on you.”
Nicole sat down in a chair while looking for some slippers so she could take Pookie out. “Thanks, Nick already called too.”
“Did he?” the tone in her voice was unmistakable.
“He did,” Nicole said, “as a friend!”
“Sure, sure, I wasn’t saying anything.”
Nicole rolled her eyes, “No but you implied it. Trust me, he’s not my type and he’s way too young.”
Ava laughed, “I don’t think age has stopped you before, Nicole. I must admit, upon meeting Nick I wasn’t expecting him to be so young but last night when we got back to my place I did see a certain something in him that certainly was quite attractive…”
“Yeah, he took me home last night.”
Nicole sat quietly for a second not saying a word. Ava wondered if she lost connection, “Hello? You still there?”
“Yeah, I’m still here,” Nicole said flatly, remembering the bounce in Nick’s voice when he called earlier. Had he just left Ava’s? Drumming her fingers on the armrest, Nicole said, “He took you home you say?”
“Well, yeah, someone had to! You picked me up remember?”
“Yeah, but… I mean, that’s a long way for him to go…”
“I think you should know more than me that Nick goes out of his way for women.”
Not knowing herself, Nicole gritted her teeth, “Just what is that supposed to mean?”
Ava got quiet, not sure how this friendly phone call had turned to something different. “Nicole, what’s wrong? Do you think something happened between us?”
“No, Nicole, I just…was…teasing. Nothing happened between us. I wouldn’t move in on him like that.”
She felt relief until the last sentence, forcing Nicole to realize who this must sound to Ava. “Oh, no. No, sorry. I’m not jealous!”
“You could have fooled me…”
“No, Ava, it’s just Nick has just been through a big breakup which broke his heart and the last thing he needs is a one night stand. He needs to take a break from dating and get some self confidence back.”
“Is that where you come in, Nicole?”
“No! We’re just friends,” Nicole said. Realizing she didn’t want to be on the telephone anymore she said, “Well, I have to go; Pookie really needs to go out, bye!”
As she hung up, she rubbed her face. Then she laughed off Ava’s comments, “Right, like I would be interested in Nick!”