Running Up That Hill by Sakabelle

1. Day 0 by Sakabelle

2. Day 1 by Sakabelle

3. Day 2 by Sakabelle

4. Day 3 by Sakabelle

5. Day 4 by Sakabelle

6. Day 5 by Sakabelle

7. Day 6 by Sakabelle

8. Day 7 by Sakabelle

9. Day 8 by Sakabelle

10. Day 9 by Sakabelle

11. Day 10 by Sakabelle

12. Day 11 by Sakabelle

13. Day 12 by Sakabelle

14. Day 13 by Sakabelle

15. Day 14 by Sakabelle

16. Day 15 by Sakabelle

17. Day 16 by Sakabelle

18. Day 17 by Sakabelle

19. Day 18 by Sakabelle

20. Day 19 by Sakabelle

21. Day 20 by Sakabelle

22. Day 21 by Sakabelle

23. Day 22 by Sakabelle

24. Day 23 by Sakabelle

25. Day 24 by Sakabelle

26. Day 25 by Sakabelle

27. Day 26 by Sakabelle

28. Day 27 by Sakabelle

29. Day 28 by Sakabelle

30. Day 29 by Sakabelle

31. Day 30 by Sakabelle

32. Day 31 by Sakabelle

33. Day 32 by Sakabelle

34. Day 33 by Sakabelle

35. Day 34 by Sakabelle

36. Day 35 by Sakabelle

37. Day 36 by Sakabelle

38. Day 37 by Sakabelle

39. Day 38 by Sakabelle

40. Day 39 by Sakabelle

41. Day 40 by Sakabelle

42. Day 41 by Sakabelle

43. Day 42 by Sakabelle

44. Day 43 by Sakabelle

45. Day 44 by Sakabelle

46. Day 45 by Sakabelle

47. Day 46 by Sakabelle

48. Day 47 by Sakabelle

Day 0 by Sakabelle


“I knew a young man
He had it all going his way
But he carried with him
A deep seeded pain”

-Charlie Major 'Can't Happen To Me'


My hand hurt like hell. I mean, it was really painful. That was my first thought as I got up that morning. I had tried rolling over in bed to get some more sleep, since it was our day off and all I could do that. Somehow I managed to roll over my bandaged hand, screamed in pain and that was it, I was awake.

So much for sleeping in.

It was really stupid too. Howie and I were playing basketball like two nights before and I slipped because my runners didn't have any grip left. It all sort of happened in slow motion and the entire time I was picturing the lecture I was going to get. I slipped, nearly hit the wall and landed right on my hand. I'm pretty sure I screamed bloody murder and of course instead of immediately coming to my rescue what does Howie do?

Laugh. Of course. He's not as nice as everyone thinks he is. Sweet D, my ass!

Anyway it sucked because every interview since then I was asked about my hand. I had to tell them I broke it while playing basketball, which everyone just thought was so hilarious. I didn't think it was so funny. At least the fans were sympathetic. That was one thing I loved about my fans, no matter what dumb shit I did they were always on my side.

It didn't really matter that day, though. We had the day off. Free and clear. No concert, no interviews, just a great day to ourselves in Boston.

Did I mention how much I love days off? We hardly ever got them, and they were always well deserved. We worked our asses off and sometimes it felt like there was no end in sight. I'm not saying I wanted there to be an end, I just wanted a minute to breathe. That's all.

I thought about just spending the entire day in bed. Maybe ordering some room service and watching a bad movie. That would have been fun. I also could have gone shopping. I liked shopping a lot more than I let on. Usually I acted like Howie or AJ were dragging me out to the mall, but the truth was I enjoyed buying stupid things. Plus I could use some new shoes, ones that actually had grip.

I stretched as I got out of bed and headed towards the bathroom. A long hot shower was the perfect way to start my day. My day off!

~~~


“Brian, wake up.”

As I stirred in my sleep and half woke up, I thought I heard the voice of an angel. Opening my eyes I came face to face with my wife. Close enough.

“Morning.” I muttered, pulling the blanket over my head. I was not a morning person, and this was the one time I didn't need to be up early. Sure, management had mentioned something the day before about going to a little league game, but that didn't start until later. I mean, what kind of children's baseball team would start playing at nine in the morning on a Sunday? That meant I had time to catch up on all the sleep I'd been missing.

“Brian.” She said again, and I could feel her sitting up beside me. I was very quickly starting to change my opinion about the voice of an angel thing. Couldn't I sleep in for another hour, was that so much to ask?

“Sleeping in.” I mumbled, rolling over.

I could hear her sigh. “We said we were going to go out for breakfast. Just like old times, remember?”

Oh right, I did remember that. Back when we had just started dating, we used to go for breakfast to this little restaurant in LA. It was while Millennium was being recorded, and anytime we had a morning to ourselves we would go there. It was a nice place, and it definitely felt posh to have mimosas and cream puffs first thing in the morning.

Wouldn't you know it, Leigh had discovered the same type of place when we made it to Boston earlier that week. That was when we had the bright idea to wake up early and do the breakfast buffet thing. It had seemed like a much better plan when I wasn't in a comfy bed with all the time in the world.

I rolled back over and managed to open my eyes. She was so beautiful and catching up on sleep wasn't as important as spending quality time with her. Not by a long shot.

“I remember” I said with a smile.

She leaned over to kiss me on the forehead. “I'm glad.” She replied, tossing the covers aside and getting out of bed. “I'm going to have a shower and get ready.”

I took a deep breath and grinned as she walked away. The best of both worlds, while she did that I could get another half hour of shut eye. Yippie!

~~~


Shopping. That was how I planned to spend my day off. I also planned to drag Nick with me because no matter how much he complained, I knew he always enjoyed himself. He was also probably secretly hoping or even planning on the fact that I'd invite him out.

Nick liked to act as though he was mad at me for the hand incident, but I knew better. He could never stay mad at me for long. Kevin, yes. Myself, Brian and AJ? Never.

Well that last bit about AJ wasn't entirely true. To say he'd been trying all of our patience for a little while now would be putting it mildly. He'd been drinking more and more, and had recently started using drugs. He didn't like to make an effort to get along with us anymore and to be honest I was surprised he'd managed to not be late for a concert. All of us were worried about him but he was making it harder and harder by the day for us to be patient. Of course we understood that we was going through some hard times, but that wasn't an excuse for his behaviour. We even had a counsellor on the tour with us who he seemed to ignore and not talk to about his issues. All of us had gone through hardships, but we hadn't dealt with them nearly as poorly as AJ had been. It was hard for us to see him in the path he was going down, but there wasn't much any of us could do. He didn't want our help.

However, AJ was hardly my concern on my day off. Of course I was worried about him, but it wasn't something I wanted to stress myself over. He'd probably spend most of the day in his own room anyway. Well, except for when we had our little league thing. After that, Nick and I would go shopping and everything would be fine.

Looking at the clock I realized I wasn't sure what time we all had to be ready. Grabbing my cell phone, I dialled Kevin's number.

“Yeah?” He answered, still sounding professional. That guy never took a break.

“What time are we meeting?” I asked.

I heard him shuffle some papers around on the other end. “I'd say in about an hour. Brian and Leighanne are out for breakfast and Nick and AJ are probably still asleep.”

“Sounds good.”

“Speaking of Nick and AJ, I think it's time for a wake up call.” He laughed.

~~~


I knocked on Nick's hotel room door, wanting to remind him about the appearance we'd agreed to the day before. Knowing him and AJ, they'd probably forgotten about it and were still asleep.

To my surprise, Nick opened the door and poked his head out. “Good morning Kevin!”

“Did you just get out of the shower?” I asked, tipped off by the fact that his hair was dripping.

He grinned. Mornings were always hit or miss with Nick. He was either slow moving and as late as possible or chipper as a bird. “Yeah.”

“Good, we're meeting in an hour to go to the little league game.”

“What?” He asked, his head still poking out of the semi open door. He didn't bother to open it any further and I was thankful for that. “It's our day off!”

I'd like to say this was the strangest conversation I have ever had with Nick, but it was far from it. “We agreed to it yesterday, remember? It won't take long, I promise you can still go shopping with Howie.”

“Did you wake up AJ yet?” He changed the subject and his tone of voice to a much more somber one.

“He's next.” I said simply. That was going to be a treat, it was impossible to get AJ to do much of anything lately and I had a feeling reminding him we had work to do on our day off was not going to be fun.

“Good luck.” He replied, looking at the ground. Nick didn't like to stay serious for long, and I figure that was why he did what he did next. Opening the door he enveloped me in a hug. “I believe in you, Kevin.”

“Get the hell off me Nick!”

Grinning again, he stepped back into his room. “Hey, count yourself lucky I was wearing a towel.” He said before closing the door.

I shook my head and continued on my way down the hall to AJ's room. I silently prayed that he wasn't going to make this difficult, he'd been trying my patience enough already. I took a deep breath and knocked on his door.

No answer. Surprise, surprise.

I knocked again. “AJ?”

I couple seconds went by. I was about to knock again, but I heard his voice through the door. “What?”

“We're leaving in an hour to go to the little league game.”

“It's my day off.” He replied shortly, not opening the door.

I sighed. “I realize that, but we agreed to this yesterday.”

“It's my day off.” He repeated.

“It's everyone's day off, AJ.”

He was silent for a minute. Babysitting AJ had become my least favourite pastime, he definitely hadn't been making the tour easier on any of us. “I'm not going.”

“Yeah, baby, you will.” I said sharply. “Open the door.”

No response. I took a deep breath and tried to contain my anger. “AJ. Open the door.” I said again. Him shutting me out physically and figuratively were not helping the situation.

“I'm not fucking going, leave me the fuck alone Kevin.” He growled. “You're not my father, so stay the hell out of my business.”

I pounded my fist on the door. “AJ, you're going. It's for a bunch of children and it'll only take an hour.”

“You're not forcing me to do anything on my day off Kevin. Like I said you're not my God damn father and I'm getting sick of this God complex you have where you need to control the entire group. I do have a life outside of this group, you know. So get the hell away from my room and leave me alone.”

I was done trying to get through to him. Done dealing with his selfish bullshit altogether. I think I had what they call a rage blackout. I had never been so angry in my entire life up to that point. Those hotel room doors were thin, but they weren't weak, that's for sure. With every ounce of strength I had I raised my right leg and managed to kick the door open.

AJ must not have been expecting that, because instead of uttering some remark he just stared at me in shock. Without missing a beat I stormed over to him until my face was inches from his. “I'm done with you. I hate you. You're dead to me.” I said through gritted teeth. Without waiting for a response I left his room.

Staring at the ground as I walked down the hall, I nearly crashed into Nick. “What the hell was that?” He asked, a look of bewilderment washed over his face as he looked past me and saw AJ's broken down door.

Not wanting to stop and chat, I continued walking while responding bitterly.

“AJ's not coming.”
Day 1 by Sakabelle
Author's Notes:
Thank you all so much for all your feedback on this story so far! I really appriciate it :)

“I should have asked
I could have helped
At least a fuckin' thousand times before”

-Boxcar Racer 'Letters to God'


It all seemed like it happened so fast. Leigh and I had gone out for brunch and as far as we'd known, everything was normal and fine. As normal and fine as things had been since the beginning of the tour, anyway. AJ's attitude wasn't anything new, and him having an argument with Kevin wasn't out of the ordinary.

Coming back from brunch we found Nick looking confused, Kevin angry as hell and Howie trying to get our plans sorted out. We ended up going to the game – how could we not? It was what had started the drama of the day in the first place.

We had gotten back to the hotel to find that AJ had left and was checking himself into rehab. Counting our lucky stars that we didn't have a show that night we were left with a decision. It was either make up a reason why our tour was going to be put on hold or tell the truth. On the surface it seemed like it should have been easy, but we agonized over it and went over the pros and cons of both choices.

In the end it was decided that lying to the fans would do us no good. If the truth were to come out it would only make us look worse. So, with heavy hearts and the most nerve-wracking television appearance of our careers to date, we boarded a plane to New York to do TRL.

Our flight left at six a.m. on Monday morning. Normally the plane ride would be full of antics from Nick, lectures from Kevin and sleeping from Howie. That day everyone was eerily quiet. No one knew what to say or do and we all kept to ourselves as much as possible. Nick was the one who worried me the most. While he would always pull pranks, he also hated flying and made sure that everyone knew that he was terrified. Instead he sat silently staring out the plane window, and only managed to mumble a quick “Good Morning.” to Kevin.

“I'm going to go talk to Nick.” I said to Leigh once the plane was at cruising altitude.

She gave me a sympathetic look. “I think he wants to be left alone.”

Leigh didn't know Nick as well as I did. He may have acted distant, but Nick wasn't one to approach anyone when he needed to talk. “I don't think so.” I said, kissing her on the forehead as I got up. “I'll be back in a minute.”

She just shook her head and I made my way a few rows over to where Nick was sitting.

“Hey buddy.” I said, sitting down in the empty seat beside him.

“Hi.” He replied, continuing to look out the window.

“How are you doing?”

“Fine.” He lied.

“You sure? You seem pretty upset.”

“It's just really hard.” He said, looking down at his feet. “I can't talk about it yet Bri. I'm sorry.” He glanced at me with tear filled eyes and then quickly went back to staring out the window.

I stood up and gave him a quick pat on the back. “That's okay Nick. I'll be here when you can.”

Still focused on the clouds, he nodded silently.

~~~


Terrible as it sounds, AJ was the last thing on my mind once we stepped off that plane. As soon as we got to New York I couldn't stop imagining the fans reactions. Were they going to be angry with us? Would they be supportive? They'd all been supportive about Brian's heart surgery a few years before (which is sadly more than I can say for the rest of us) but we hadn't stopped a tour dead in it's tracks for that.

Of course the MTV people were more than happy about having us on TRL to make the announcement. Why wouldn't they be? Every Backstreet Boys fan in America would be tuning in to hear what we had to say. The whole thing was making me feel sick and all I wanted to do was rewind to the day before.

I knew AJ needed the help, but I couldn't help but think if I had been the one to go wake him up instead of Kevin that none of this would have happened. That we would still be in Boston and somehow I would have been able to get through to him. Kevin can be convincing, but he can also be very intimidating and he'd already had many arguments with AJ leading up to that point.

Deep down I knew that there was nothing I could have done to change the situation and that this was a good thing. Because of that argument with Kevin AJ was going to get the help he desperately needed to turn his life around. The timing was terrible, but I guess there was nothing that could be done about that. My only hope was that the fans would understand, be supportive, and be able to wait a few more weeks to go to their concerts.

“You ready for this?” Brian suddenly asked me as we walked through the airport terminal.

“No.” I answered honestly.

He shook his head. I could tell that Brian didn't know what to make of the situation. He usually just stayed close to his wife while we were travelling, but it seemed like all Brian wanted to do was chat with anyone else. Maybe it was because he felt we were the only ones who could truly understand what he was going through. I'd even seen him try to have a heart to heart with Nick on the plane – something that hadn't happened in years.

“Me neither.” He finally replied. “I hope the fans don't hate us.”

I sighed. “Me too.”

We were silent for a minute, much like the rest of the day had been. Leighanne caught up with us and took Brian's hand. Still, he continued to try and chat with me.

“How do you think AJ's doing?”

I hadn't even thought about that. For all we were going through, AJ was probably going through much worse. The fans were probably the last thing on his mind. “I don't know. It's probably rough.”

“Probably.”

All we knew was that AJ had gone to a rehab centre in Arizona. The program was going to last for thirty days and at the end the situation would be reassessed. Somehow, Kevin had managed to get through to him. It was unfortunate that it had to be through a fight, we'd all tried our best to talk to AJ and be there for him in his time of need. I kept going over everything I'd said to him in the last few months, trying to think of something I could have done differently. Every time I came up with nothing.

“I wish there was something we could have done.” Brian said, as if he was reading my mind.

“There wasn't.” I tried to reassure him, and myself.

~~~


We all waited impatiently at the MTV studios as they set us up for our appearance on TRL. It was the first segment of the show, and we weren't even going to stick around to announce the videos on the countdown or anything like that. It didn't seem right. This wasn't a fun visit.

I'd been appointed the speaker. Carson had asked us who was going to talk and all the other guys had nodded towards me, without question. I knew it was because I was the one who usually acted as the spokesperson for the group, but I couldn't help but feel as though they blamed me a little for having to do this.

The nice thing about that day was that they let us get set up and sit down before they allowed the studio audience to come in. Usually it was the other way around, but again it didn't feel right for us to walk out and have the fans scream. Maybe we were being overly dramatic about the situation, but it was serious to us and we could only hope that the fans would take it seriously as well.

Apart from the fans reactions and of course AJ, the only thing I was worried about was Nick. He'd been having a hard time keeping it together all day. His strategy seemed to be just ignoring what was going on around him and keeping quiet. I hoped that he would be okay when we were forced to talk about it.

Once they opened the doors to let the studio audience in, I had a very strange feeling of fear and excitement. I guess it was because I was always excited to see the fans, but I was terrified of what they would think. Some of them screamed a little when they saw us sitting there, waiting for them. Others just looked at us and whispered as they took their seats.

The cameras started rolling and that was it. There was no turning back.

“Good afternoon everyone, I'm Carson Daly and welcome to Total Request Live.” Carson started as the audience continued to watch and be confused about what we were doing there. About why AJ wasn't there with us. “Today we have with us the Backstreet Boys. Guys welcome, I'm sorry it has to be under these circumstances but tell me what's going on, Kev?”

He passed the attention over to me as we had previously discussed. I'd never heard the TRL studio be as quiet as it was in that moment. “Uh...” I started, not entirely sure what to say even though we had talked about it beforehand. My mind nearly went blank. “AJ and we have, uh, come to a decision that he's gonna receive treatment for depression, anxiety and his excessive consumption of alcohol.” I paused, nearly cracking. “Initially for 30 days.”

That was when the silence of the fans was broken. Some of them started to cry, others gasped, and lot of them just stood there with their hands over their mouths. They all looked so shocked. I felt terrible for putting them through this and I felt responsible for us having to even be at TRL in the first place. Over and over again I thought of all the times I'd yelled at AJ, and how I could have been more helpful. If I had been able to help him more before the tour had even started none of this would have been happening. We'd still be in Boston and we'd still be doing a show that night.

I just had to keep reminding myself that this was a good thing. He was finally getting help.

~~~


I barely heard Kevin as he explained everything to Carson. I hardly looked at anything except the microphone in my hand. I didn't know why they bothered to give me that – I wasn't planning on saying anything and I was really hoping they wouldn't ask me to.

It was times like this that I was thankful for Kevin being the guy who always took charge. Sometimes it annoyed me how he always answered questions or never let me get my word in, but that day he understood. I felt like he was the only one who did. If there was anyone I was going to talk about my feelings with, it would be Kevin. It definitely wouldn't be Brian.

I wasn't mad at Brian or anything, I just didn't feel comfortable talking to him about that stuff. He and I used to be so close, but everything had changed. He rarely wanted to hang out with me like old times, it was almost like he was too good for me. But as soon as he was all in distress about AJ he came running to me. It doesn't work like that. He didn't get it.

AJ. I still couldn't believe that he was gone. I couldn't believe that things had gotten so out of hand with him that he needed to go to rehab. He and I were always bros, the young ones who got into trouble all the time. I always knew what was going on with him. I knew he'd been having a hard time, all of us did, but this seemed to come out of nowhere. At least to me. Maybe I'm just not good at picking up on the signs for that sort of thing. I have no idea.

I missed AJ. I didn't really miss new AJ. New AJ who drank all the time and did fucking cocaine. It wasn't that I didn't drink, AJ and I would drink together all the time. He'd sneak beer into my hotel room when I was sixteen. It wasn't the same anymore, obviously. There were a couple of times he'd even offered me drugs in the last couple of months. I'd never accepted, and I never told Kevin either because I knew he'd lose his shit.

I wonder if I had told Kevin about that if he would have flipped out sooner, and if AJ would have gone to rehab sooner. I still didn't know if I was going to tell Kevin. There wasn't really a point anymore.

I wanted the old AJ back. I didn't know what he was going to be like when rehab was over. I didn't know if he'd be all changed and have some new respect for life or if he would go back to how he was before he started drinking too much. What if we had to walk on eggshells around him all the time and we weren't able to talk about anything related to anything bad? I didn't know how I would deal with that. I didn't need another person looking down on me for bad choices I might make.

There was nothing I could do but wait. We couldn't talk to AJ until the first or second week was over. I didn't even know if I wanted to. We'd just have to be in the dark until then, with nothing to do but sit around with a bunch of time off. A month off would have sounded like heaven under any other circumstance. All I wanted to do was go back on tour and have everything go back to the way it was.

We didn't stick around to do the top ten most requested videos thing. We just left after making our big announcement. At least, I thought we were going to leave. Turns out that after the TRL taping, they wanted us to do a couple more interviews with MTV. Hadn't we been through enough? I was having trouble talking to the others about this stuff, I really didn't think I'd do any better talking to John Norris.

“Kevin.” I whispered when we sat down in the interview room. “I didn't know we had to do another one.”

“Me neither.” He replied. “I guess they wanted to talk about it more.”

I didn't want to talk about it more, or at all really. I get that MTV needed to have more than just us at the beginning of TRL for five minutes, but it still really sucked.

“I don't know what to say if they ask me.” I said, looking down at my bandaged up hand. It seemed like such a long time ago that Howie and I played basketball like nothing was wrong.

“You'll do fine, Nick.” He reassured me. Sometimes Kevin would get annoyed with me feeling inadequate, but that day he was only supportive. “It's hard for us, they know that.”

It was hard, but I think Kevin was right, the MTV people seemed to understand. I did end up answering a couple of questions, mostly because they kept talking about the tour and it was pissing me off. It wasn't about the tour. I didn't give a shit about the stupid tour. I mean I did want to go back on tour but I mostly just wanted AJ to get better. I wanted my friend back to normal. I wanted him to be happy.
Day 2 by Sakabelle

“I'll find repose in new ways
Though I haven't slept in two days
'Cause cold nostalgia chills me to the bone”

- Owl City 'Vanilla Twilight'


New York was a bit of a blur. As soon as we got there we were whisked to MTV to do TRL and from there we did more interviews. By the time we were done with the press it was nearly 8pm. Brian and Leighanne were on a flight home to Atlanta that night but Nick, Kevin and I had opted to stay in New York for the night.

The next morning I woke up feeling rather odd. It wasn't the same feeling as a regular day off. A day off was seen as a blessing. This just felt empty. I didn't know what was coming and there was no work the next day to look forward to.

I looked out the window. We weren't in the classiest hotel, but it wasn't a dive either. I think it was a Holiday Inn. I debated ordering room service and just relaxing in my room until my flight home that afternoon. Instead I thought better of it. From what I'd seen, there was a pretty good buffet in the hotel and I intended to make the most of it.

After having a quick shower and getting dressed I headed down to the buffet. Much to my surprise, Kevin was already sitting at a table by himself.

“Morning.” I said, sitting down before going to get a plate.

“Morning.” Kevin replied. The waitress came by and filled the mug next to me with coffee. Oh coffee, how I adore thee. “Did you sleep well?”

I shrugged. Yesterday had been weird all around. “Yeah, well enough. You?”

Kevin shrugged too. “Yeah, decently. It'll be nice to go home and relax for a little bit.”

I couldn't agree more with that. At least if I was at home I could try to forget any of this was happening and attempt to stay out of the public eye. I didn't think it would work very well, but at least I could try. “No kidding.”

There was a bit of an awkward silence after that. Neither of us really knew what to say. Should we talk about regular everyday things, should we bring up the topic of AJ and how he might be doing? Should I suggest to Kevin that someone go check on Nick and make sure the poor kid didn't hang himself?

In the end none of those seemed like great ideas, and I'm sure Kevin was thinking the same thing. “The buffet looks pretty good.” I offered.

Kevin looked down at the empty plate in front of it. “Yeah, it is.” He said, and I could tell he was relieved. The buffet was a safe topic of conversation. “I'm going to go up for round two.”

“I'll join you.” Without missing a beat the two of us were walking over to the array of food. I was sure that was all I needed to clear my mind.

~~~


I woke up the next morning with my head pounding. Sitting up, I scaled the hotel room. I'd definitely managed to clean out my mini bar. Kevin would kick my ass if he knew I was drinking in my room alone.

In my defense, I hadn't really meant to. After all the drama of appearing on TRL, crying on national television, and Brian ditching us faster than we could say “bye”, I just wanted the day to be over. But of course there was no way I was going to be able to fall asleep. Not after tossing and turning for what seemed like hours. Finally I gave up feeling sorry for myself and decided to have a drink, you know, to calm my nerves.

Somehow one drink had turned into most of the mini bar. God dammit, that was going to be an expensive tab. But at least I'd been able to fall asleep.

And yeah, I get how ironic it is that I was drinking to forget about the fact that one of my best friends was just dragged off to rehab for being an alcoholic.

I glanced over at the clock. To my surprise, it was still pretty early. Only around ten. I guess the Captain Morgan didn't knock me out as well as I'd hoped. Damn you, Captain! Oh well, at least this way I could make it in time for the breakfast buffet. I love breakfast buffets. I also hadn't eaten anything the day before so I was starving.

After a quick shower I threw on some clothes along with a hat and sunglasses. The last thing I wanted were shrieking girls while I was trying to enjoy my eggs.

Of course not everyone thinks like I do. There were Kevin and Howie, sitting at a table looking the same as they always did. Though, no one screams for them anyway. I debated for a second going to sit at another table, but I knew that was a bad idea. Even if the fans couldn't recognize my clever disguise, the two of them really could.

“Morning fellas.” I said, sitting down at their table and interrupting the discussion they were having about the quality of the cheese used in the omelets. Really, guys?

“Morning, Nick.” Kevin replied, glancing at my head. “What's with the hat?”

“Fans.” I said, as if it were obvious. “Obviously you didn't take them into consideration.”

For once Kevin actually nodded in agreement. “You're right.”

“No one's bugged us yet.” Howie pointed out, and I raised my eyebrows. That's because the two of you were sitting here like old men chatting about eggs, Howie.

“Well whatever, I'm keeping my hat on.” I said as I got up to check out the buffet. Fresh cinnamon buns? Hell yes!

~~~


Howie and I exchanged a look as Nick took off to fill up a plate. He was definitely acting strange. A complete one-eighty from how he'd been the day before. It worried me a little, usually Nick would stay in a bad mood for a couple of days, especially over something that was deeply upsetting him.

The hat threw me off too. Usually Nick had to be forced into wearing some kind of disguise. As much as he didn't like to admit it, I knew he liked the attention from the fans. The fact that he was acting like he was in such a good mood and overly concerned about the fans suggested to me that he wasn't feeling as great as he was acting.

Either that, or he had something to hide.

As quick as he'd left, Nick was soon back with a plate full of food. “Did you guys even notice the desserts?” He asked, taking a bite of some sort of apple danish thing.

“I had one earlier.” I replied, taking a sip of my coffee. It was bitter, but it was better than nothing. “What time is your flight home?”

He paused, and thought for a moment. “Five, I think.” He mumbled and then quickly went back to devouring his food.

The rest of our breakfast was eaten in silence. Nick was no longer chatty, and was completely focused on his danishes.

After breakfast, we rode the elevator back up to our rooms and prepared to check out. I was excited to get back home to my wife, but the worry still lingered. I didn't think it was going to go away any time soon. I was still worried about AJ and hoped he was doing well in rehab. I was worried about Nick and how he was coping with everything. Hell, I was worried about myself for worrying so damn much!

“Hey Nick?” I piped up quickly. Howie's room was on a different floor so it was just Nick and I left in the hallway.

He pulled his room key out of his pocket, but didn't open the door. “Yeah?”

“Are you doing okay with everything?” Subtle wasn't something I did very well. I also didn't have a lot of time to beat around the bush.

He fiddled with the key in his hands. “Fine.”

“Are you sure?”

Sighing, he leaned his arm up against the door. “Yes Kevin. Everything is peachy.”

I didn't want to be intrusive, but I also didn't want him to hide away from everyone. Nick had a tendency to do that when he was upset. “You know that we're all here for each other. I'm only a phone call away.”

He just nodded and looked down at the ground. “I know.” Looking up at me, I could almost see tears in his eyes again. Poor guy. “I'm just looking forward to going home and forgetting about all of this for a while.”

I couldn't agree with that more.

~~~


Thank God for our fans. That was all I could think about as I scrolled through yet another message board thread about supporting AJ in rehab. None of them seemed to care about the fact that the tour was postponed, well, there was the odd one, but for the most part everyone was very supportive.

I looked at the clock in the corner of the screen. It was just after 10. Leigh was probably going to be up any minute. I, on the other hand had not been able to sleep. After tossing and turning for about an hour I'd given up and went to waste some time on the computer. Which is how I ended up on the message boards.

I tell you, you can waste a lot of time there if you let yourself.

I contemplated calling Kevin to see how things were going in New York. I felt guilty for leaving in such a hurry, but there wasn't really much else for me to do there. I also hadn't realized that Kevin, Howie and Nick were staying in the city for another night. It must have looked like I was blowing them off, which wasn't the case at all.

I decided against calling Kevin after all. He might have still been asleep and even if he wasn't I was sure he had things under control over there. He and Howie would probably have breakfast and Nick would probably sleep until noon and nearly miss his flight home.

I chuckled to myself at that thought. Nick weren't as close as we once were but I still thought his antics were funny. There were times I missed just being a goofball right along with him.

“Morning.” Leighanne cut into my thoughts as she entered the computer room. “How long have you been up?”

“Since one.” I said sheepishly.

She turned around to glance at the clock and then back to me. “Since one last night?” She asked in disbelief.

No, Leigh. Since one two nights ago. Actually nevermind the implied sarcasm there. That was probably close to the truth. “Yeah.” I replied, not wanting to get into the specifics with her.

She leaned down beside me and gave me a hug. “This is really hard on you, isn't it?” She asked with her arms still wrapped around me.

I just nodded. I don't know why I was so hesitant to talk with her about this. After all, she's my wife. Aren't I supposed to let her be there for me?

After a few seconds of silence I guess she noticed what was on the computer screen. I really should have closed the window. “LiveDaily? Brian, why are you reading that stuff?” She raised an eyebrow.

“I don't know. I just wanted to see what the fans thought.” I have a right to know!

“Is this what you were up all night doing?” She asked knowingly.

“Maybe.”

She just laughed. “Isn't the lurking Nick's thing?” She said as she walked out of the room.

Usually it was, but I could be just as computer savvy as Nick! Well...that's probably not true. But it's not that hard to read a message board! I would never go to the lengths that Nick did and make fake accounts or anything like that, but it was fun to read the posts. It was also reassuring and it did make me feel a little better about everything.
Day 3 by Sakabelle
“You'll have to excuse me, I'm not at my best
I've been gone for a month, I've been drunk since I left
These so-called vacations will soon be my death
I'm so sick from the drink I need home for a rest.”

-Spirit of the West 'Home for a Rest'


“What do you want to do today?” My wife pulled me out of my half conscious thoughts. After arriving home the night before the only thing I'd wanted to do was sleep. So that was exactly what I did – for twelve hours. I guess I was more tired than I thought. Or maybe I was finally letting myself relax.

What did I want to do today? Absolutely nothing. I wanted to stay at home and sleep for another twelve hours. I don't think I had spent a month at home... well, ever. Not since joining the group anyway. It was a weird feeling to know that I didn't have to go back to work any time soon. That I could just sit and home and relax.

I felt guilty for thinking that, but it was nice to have some time off. We'd been going nonstop for years and it was nice to just have this time to ourselves to breathe. Of course it's unfortunate that is needed to be under these circumstances, but I do think it was necessary. Not just for AJ, but for the rest of us as well. Call it the silver lining I guess.

Even if it was nice to have time off, I still wasn't sure how I was going to handle not working for a month. Downtime was what we called recording an album or doing a photoshoot. An entire month without doing any of that seemed so foreign to me. Actually getting to spend some quality time with Kristin? Forget it. That was unheard of.

“Nothing.” I finally replied to her after not saying anything for a couple seconds. Just laying around our house being together sounded like a good start to this much needed vacation.

~~~


My bed sheets are not as nice as the ones in hotels. That's saying a lot because normally hotel beds are not that comfortable either. The comforter is always really itchy and the soft blanket is always way too hot. I don't know what it is about my sheets at home, all I know is that I hate them. Maybe the thread count or whatever was too low. Or was it too high? Howie taught me about thread counts once, but I wasn't really paying attention. I just know that if the thread count was higher (I think it was higher) that meant your sheets were softer. Also more expensive. That makes sense. Higher thread count would make it more expensive which would make for nicer sheets. Why would you pay more for more uncomfortable sheets?

I looked around my bedroom and sighed. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to do with myself. I didn't have a lot of friends here, in fact most of my friends lived in LA. This house was big and empty, and I didn't know why I bought it in the first place.

Actually, that's not true. The only reason I bought it was because it was close to my family and because it was also close to Mandy's family. Too bad she moved out pretty much as soon as she moved in. Now I was stuck with this big house somewhere I really didn't want to live anymore.

I had thought about not even coming home and just going to LA and hanging out there for a while. The only reason I decided to come home was basically... well all the other guys were going home. I wanted to be able to go home too. The only difference was that they all had something to come home to. I just had an empty house.

I took my uncomfortable blanket, draped it around myself and walked down to the living room. I hated the depressed feeling the bedroom always gave me. Aren't bedrooms supposed to make you feel relaxed and sleepy? Mine always made me feel like shit.

Slumping down on my couch I eyed the TV remote, trying to will it into my hand. My mind control powers weren't as great as I had hoped because it didn't move and I ended up having to reach for it. There probably wasn't anything good on TV at ten in the morning on a Wednesday anyway.

I thought about giving Kevin a call, but I knew better. Whenever he was with Kristin he always wanted to be left alone and very clear about it. I couldn't really blame him, if I had a hot wife I'd want to be left alone with her too! He also lived far away so even if I did call him we'd just talk on the phone for a couple of minutes, have an awkward pause and make up excuses as to why we had to go. Actually, that's probably what would happen if I called Brian. Kevin would ask me about my feelings and I'd feel awkward telling him. I didn't know which was worse, so I called no one.

Staying silent is not easy for me. I really wanted to get out of my house and do something. I couldn't even call up my family to hang out since my mom and Aaron were out on tour.

Which is exactly where I should be.

~~~


Leighanne and I walked hand in hand down the street to a new deli she wanted to try. If you couldn't tell, one of our favourite things to do together was go out to eat. We were nowhere near as adventurous as Kevin or Howie when it came to the food we liked, but we did enjoy trying the occasional new place. It was probably because lunch breaks were one of the only times we could steal together while out on tour.

I had finally managed to get a decent amount of sleep the night before. That was only because I fell asleep on the couch halfway through watching a movie. My body finally gave in to the fact that it was time to rest, I suppose.

Normally I really loved being at home, but this time I was just aching to get back on the road and tour. It was very unlike me, and I was sure Leigh could sense that something was up. I had actually tried calling Nick a couple of times, but hung up before I finished dialing the number. I didn't know what I would say to him. “Hey Nick, how's it going? Why don't you come stay with me because I miss you and the guys and you're the only one who understands what I'm going through. Don't worry, Leighanne won't mind having you here for an entire month!”

Yeah, that would probably go over real well. My relationship with Nick was so strained that I didn't even know if he'd pick up the phone if I were to call him. I know I should probably be letting Leighanne support me through this, but she really didn't seem to understand. She just seemed to see this as a surprise vacation. She wasn't upset or anything, I guess she figured AJ was getting help and that everything was going to be fine.

I would have thought that's how I'd be feeling too, but it just wasn't the case. Instead I found myself feeling nostalgic for the old days when everything was innocent and guilty for not seeing this coming. I blamed myself a little for being somewhat estranged from the other guys once I got married. I probably could have tried harder to maintain my relationships with them.

I kicked a pebble with my foot and watched as it went rolling down the pavement.

“What's wrong?” Leighanne asked me. I must have looked like an angst-ridden teenager. What's wrong? That was kind of a stupid question, Leigh.

I shrugged. “Just thinking about stuff.”

“About AJ?” She guessed. It was an easy guess, but she wasn't entirely right.

“Yeah.” I didn't think I would be able to explain it to her if I tried, so I just let her think she was able to read my thoughts. I didn't know why I was feeling so bitter against her all of a sudden. I didn't like feeling that way.

She let go of my hand and placed it on my shoulder. “Hey, don't worry. He's getting the help he needs. You should be feeling relief.”

Don't tell me what I should be feeling! I held my tongue since I knew she was just trying to help. “You're right.”

~~~


My house was spotless. I have always found cleaning relaxing and today was no exception. Not that my house was a mess when I had arrived home the night before – far from it. I always tried to make sure the place was clean before leaving on tour. It was like my last little ritual with my home before being away from it for a long period of time.

I washed my hands and sat down on my living room couch. The TV was on, but I hadn't really been paying attention to it. I'd just turned it on so I'd have some background noise while cleaning up. I grabbed the remote and started flipping through channels. I have never really been one for watching a lot of TV. Not that there was really much on in the afternoon anyway.

Absentmindedly flipping through channels, I stopped when I saw Carson Daly. Was it really time for TRL already? I'd been cleaning longer than I thought.

“And it's time for what you've all been waiting for, that's right our number one video of the day.” TV Carson said and was met with a round of screaming. TRL was weird on TV, but I still felt compelled to watch. Also, I was now somewhat interested in what the number one video was.

“As voted by you, our number one video on the countdown today is...Pop by NSYNC!”

Well, that wasn't particularly surprising. I chuckled to myself as the video started, wondering if Justin and his backup band had heard about our postponed tour yet. I was sure they had and I sort of wondered what they thought about it.

Man, I hate this song. Okay that's not exactly true. I hate that this song is everywhere and I hate that we are constantly compared with them. The song is actually pretty catchy. I bopped my head along to the beat.

Oh, what the hell?

“Do you ever wonder why, this music gets you high, it takes you on a riiiide!” I sang at the top of my lungs as I danced around my living room. “Feel it when your body starts to rock, baby you can't stop, and the music's all you got, this must be POP!”

I nearly missed hearing the phone ring I was singing so loud.

I danced over to the side table and picked up the receiver. “Hello?”

“Hey.” It was Nick.

“What's up Nicky?”

“Nothing. I was just bored. There's nothing on TV.” He paused for a second. “Are you listening to NSYNC?”

Oh crap, I was caught. “They were on TRL.” I admitted. I wasn't sure if saying I caught them on TRL made it better.

“Why are you watching TRL?” He laughed.

“There was nothing else on TV!” It's true, there wasn't.

“You're telling me that out of all two hundred or however many channels you have, they only thing you were interested in watching was TRL? Dude..”

“Look, I flipped to it right when Carson was announcing the number one video and I was curious as to what it was!” I was just digging myself in a deeper hole. Nick never passed up an opportunity to make fun of me.

“You could have guessed it would be NSYNC.” He said bitterly. I smiled a little bit at that. Nick really hated them still and was always sure to make it known.

We were silent for a couple seconds after that. Neither of us really knew what to say. I didn't want to bring up AJ since it would probably make Nick upset. There wasn't really much else to say, I'd just seen him yesterday.

“Well Howie... I guess I should go.” He said quickly. “Don't spend too much time casting your votes to MTV.”

“Bye Nick.” I laughed, knowing better than to refute his insult.
Day 4 by Sakabelle
“I'm walkin' down the line
That divides me somewhere in my mind
On the border line
Of the edge and where I walk alone”

-Green Day 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams'


I checked my watch, it was just past midnight. Taking back the final swig of my Corona I swung around on my bar stool and surveyed the place. There wasn't much happening, I guess that's what I get for coming to the bar on a Wednesday night.

Sighing, I turned around an ordered another beer. I wasn't sure how many I'd had at that point, but the guy didn't seem to be worried about cutting me off. That was cool. Kevin would have cut me off by now. Fuck Kevin, when I'm at home and can do what I want!

I swung around again once I had the drink in my hands. I still didn't know if I wanted to try and pick up a girl or not. I figured if one came up to me I might take her home but I wasn't going to go out of my way to try. Someone always approached me anyway.

I started picking at the label on my bottle, until I noticed a guy walking towards me. I kind of raised my eyebrow a little, hoping he would start going in another direction. He didn't. I quickly looked back down at my hands and was suddenly very interested in taking off all traces of paper from the bottle.

“Hi Nick.”

Gah! That was creepy. I tried to be smooth. “Oh. Um. Hey.” I wasn't successful.

“What're you drinking?” He asked me. Corona, dumbass. Why ask a question you already know the answer to? Oh right, I picked the label off.

I looked up for the first time since he started talking to me. He was dressed nicely, well nicer than I was anyway. He also had better hair than I did. What the hell?

Oh... shit.

“I'll order you something better to drink,” he said, taking the now empty Corona out of my hands. I sat there stiff, not really knowing what to do. I mean, I was flattered and all, but I kind of only wanted chicks. Not that I have anything against guys... I'm just not into guys. Nothing against guys who are into guys I'm just not!

“Here,” he said after a couple of minutes, passing me a glass of some amber coloured liquid. I guess he saw me eyeing it weirdly, because he explained it to me. “It's Glenfiddich.”

Who orders something like that?! “Look, um, I'm not really into dudes.”

He just laughed. Man this guy was weird. Why was he talking to me? Did he want an autograph or something? He did know my name. Guys usually didn't. More often than not I got called Justin by guys.

Fuck Justin.

“No. Neither am I.”

“Then what are you doing talking to me?” Smooth.

“I'm glad you asked,” he grinned. “Name's Chris, and I want you to be my wingman.” He said, taking a sip of his drink.

“What?”

“I need you,” he paused, making eye contact with me. “To help me pick up chicks.”

If I wasn't so thrown off I probably would have laughed out loud at that. Of course that was what he needed me for! Too bad I didn't need anyone's help for that! Well, maybe Max Martin helped a little. Thank you Max Martin for allowing me to be noticed by girls everywhere!

“And what's in it for me?”

He finished his drink and put the glass down on the bar. “You've got some time off, right? You look like you could use a little fun, instead of sitting here drinking Corona,” he said Corona like it was a dirty word. I like Corona!

But he was right. I did have a lot of time off, and I was bored. Hell, that was the reason I was in the bar in the first place, wasn't it?

I took back all of the 'Glenfiddich' in one gulp. “Yeah, okay.”

~~~


Something I used to love doing when I was in high school was going for a jog first thing in the morning. Usually I was forced to because of basketball practice anyway, but that didn't mean I enjoyed it any less.

There was no denying that my sleeping habits were getting really out of whack. I hadn't been able to sleep the first few nights after everything happened, and now I was falling asleep early and waking up...well, I think it was just after five when I decided it was time for a run. I thought that might be a good way to release all of this pent up anxiety or energy or whatever it was.

It wasn't working very well. After ten minutes of trying to jog around the block I gave up and just walked at a steady pace. I also gave up on trying to get Leighanne's discman to work, so I walked in silence. Alone with my thoughts.

I really wanted to be enjoying my time off, but it just didn't seem to be happening. I felt guilty for enjoying myself or feeling happy. The time off was something we all needed, but at what cost? I didn't feel like it was right for all of us to be separated at a time like this. AJ had gone off to Arizona for rehab and of course he had to be separated, but there wasn't really any reason for the rest of us be away from one another.

Then again, there wasn't really any reason for us to be together either. There were no concerts to perform, no songs to record. There was just nothing.

I wondered if the others felt the same way. If they missed me or each other. It seemed like we should have been dealing with this together, instead of apart.

Maybe I just wasn't used to being away from them this long and it was starting to take it's toll on my brain. Unable to relax on my walk, I turned around and headed home.

I was greeted with a surprise when I walked in the door. I wasn't sure how long I'd been gone for, but judging from the breakfast Leighanne had prepared in the kitchen it had been a while.

“Welcome back,” she said with a smile on her face.

I looked around the kitchen. I think she'd made enough food to feed a small army. “I didn't mean to wake you up,” I said, taking a piece of toast off of the tower on the table. Where did we get all this food?

“You didn't,” she replied simply. “I mean, I guess you did, but I wanted to do something nice for you. Why did you decide to go out for a morning jog anyway?”

I sighed. I didn't know what to do with myself anymore, and I certainly didn't know how to tell Leighanne the reason why I needed to go out and clear my head when I wasn't even sure of that myself. Looking around the kitchen I instantly felt guilt washing over me. I'd been abandoning her and pining for my old friendships. Leighanne didn't know that, but it didn't matter because I still felt awful about it.

“I just needed some time to think,” I said, hoping she would understand and not press the issue any further.

She nodded, doing exactly what I had wanted. Sometimes it was like she could read my mind. I hadn't seen a lot of that from her lately, so it was nice.

~~~


I walked silently down the halls of the building our record company was located in. It was odd for me to be there alone, usually we did meetings like this as a group. That day I was there to strictly talk business, and though Kevin is usually pegged as the leader he couldn't be bothered with that stuff. Usually I ended up going to the meetings and translating the business jargon to the others.

I looked up at the walls that were lined with platinum albums and stopped when I got to Millennium. I studied it for a moment. It didn't feel like that had only been two years ago.

I remembered doing all the photoshoots for that album. We'd all been laughing and joking around. Everything had seemed perfect back then – we were on top of the world, or just about to be, anyway. If I had been told back then that we'd have to put a tour on hold because AJ needed to go to rehab, I probably wouldn't have believed it. I might have believed that AJ would have addiction problems, but never to the extent of shutting down a tour. That seemed a little extreme. To be honest, it still seemed a little extreme, and it didn't still feel like it was really happening.

I couldn't stop staring at the CD and particularly at AJ. I felt like I was having a moment of clarity. Everything had been a blur up to that point, and now it was starting to feel very real. I was overcome with a sudden need to call AJ and ask him how he was doing, how rehab was going and if he thought he was going to be able to come back at the end of the 30 days.

That was, of course, impossible. I couldn't call AJ, there was no way he would be able to answer any of those questions after being there for less than a week. I shifted my weight and tried to push those thoughts out of my mind.

“Hi Howie!”

I turned around and came face to fact with Leigh, the girl who worked on our website. “Hey,” I replied after a couple of seconds.

She laughed a little. “Did I startle you?”

“Yes,” I admitted.

“Sorry,” she grinned. “Are you ready for this meeting? I think it's going to be pretty long.”

I shrugged. Truthfully, I hadn't really taken much of a look at the agenda other than a quick glance. I knew it was about some promo and a possible site redesign, which made sense since Leigh was there. She didn't usually come to our meetings. “I hope it's not too long, I still haven't eaten anything yet today.”

“I'm hungry too,” she said as we began to walk down the hall towards the meeting room. “If you want, we could grab some lunch afterwards.”

Grateful for her offer, I nodded my head. It would be nice to have a lunch with someone and get my mind off all the drama that was plaguing it. “I'd like that.”

~~~


The ivory keys in front of my face taunted me, daring me to strike them once again. I was trying to get into my songwriting mode, and for whatever reason it just wasn't working.

I picked up the pencil that was sitting beside me on the piano bench and tried to come up with some lyrics, since the melody wasn't working out for me. Still nothing, my mind had gone completely blank. I was feeling pretty depressed about it. I couldn't go very long without working, and the one day I'd taken off seemed like enough. I wanted to have something to show for our time off.

The problem was that at the moment I just didn't have the heart for a sappy love song. I was just bored. I didn't care about the guy that needed his girlfriend back, or the guy that needed to show the girl he loved her more than her pathetic boyfriend. I only cared about going back on tour and performing again. The fans didn't want a song about that, and I didn't think I'd be able to write one that wasn't completely cheesy anyway.

I considered for a minute going to the record company meeting we had that afternoon. Howie was planning on going alone, but there was no reason that I couldn't as well. After all, we both lived fairly close. There was no reason for Brian or Nick to fly in and go to the meeting, but there was also no reason for me to not be there.

Unfortunately for me, the meeting was starting in about ten minutes and there was no way I'd get there in time.

I turned my attention back to song. I'm not sure if you could even call it that yet because I barely had anything finished yet. Usually I enjoyed just playing around on the piano and seeing what came out, but it just wasn't happening. Knowing that I couldn't force it, I decided to table the work for now.

Maybe a long walk and some fresh air would clear my mind.
Chapter End Notes:
Thanks all for reading this one :o) I really appriciate it!
Day 5 by Sakabelle
“Bad news comes
Don't you worry even when it lands
Good news is on the way
And we all float on OK.”

-Goldspot 'Float On'


“Did you sleep here all night?” I was nudged awake the next morning. What was going on? I opened my eyes and staring down at me was Leighanne, looking deeply concerned.

I didn't know what she had to be concerned over, I had just fallen asleep on the couch. It wasn't that big a deal, was it?

“Yeah,” I said, sitting up slightly. “I guess I did.”

She sat down next to me, and I tried to compose myself and wake up a little. The couch didn't make for a very restful sleep, that's for sure.

“Are you okay?”

I turned to look at her. No Leigh, I'm not okay. What was your first clue? “I guess,” I shrugged, not knowing what else to say to her.

“Are you sure? You seem really out of it lately, you're off in your own little world all the time and it's starting to scare me.”

I sighed. Truthfully, I didn't know what my problem really was. Under any normal circumstance, I would have been thrilled to have this time off. The fact that we had to stop the tour for AJ's problems was really taking it's toll on me. “I think it's just the AJ thing,” I said.

“That's all?” She questioned, like she didn't believe it. I couldn't really blame her, because I wasn't telling her the whole story.

“I kind of miss the other guys,” I admitted.

She raised an eyebrow. “You were on tour with them for an entire year, Brian.”

“I know that. I just feel like we need each other right now.”

She continued to look at me with concern. “Nothing's stopping you from calling one of them up,” she reminded me.

That wasn't what it was truly about, but what she said did have some truth in it. Even if Leighanne didn't really understand what was going on in my head, she was right about that part. If I did want to start connecting with Nick or any of the others again, I'd have to take that first step and give them a call.

“You're right,” I smiled.

~~~


Papers, papers, papers. All I'd come out of the meeting with the day before were more things to file. Well, that wasn't entirely true, but it sure felt like it.

I'd been offered a new tidbit of information that the record company hadn't bothered to share with us. The launch of a greatest hits compilation. Naturally I wasn't impressed with the idea. I didn't like the thought that the group might be ending or even slowing down. Releasing a compilation album was not going to help that notion go away.

However, it seemed like it was already in the works. If there was one thing about the record company that really irked me, it was that. The big decisions that we somehow always managed to get left out of. It was hard for us to come to every single meeting since we were on the road a lot, but it wasn't hard to get a hold of us to ask for our opinion. They just weren't interested in our opinion. It made me feel like it was sort of pointless for us to go to the meetings in the first place.

I'm sure that was a large part of why the others didn't bother to go, but I still enjoyed it. I hoped that eventually, by learning all this business stuff I'd be able to contribute and hopefully we'd be able to have our say in how the group was run. I just needed to keep learning about the business side of the entertainment industry before it could get to that point. I admit, it's a little frustrating that we don't have much say over our own group.

It was in major decisions like this, that we needed to be unified. I knew that the others were going to be on board that this was a bad idea as well. After sleeping on it, I decided that we just needed to get a plan together and present it to the executives.

I picked up my phone and dialed Kevin's number. It rang a couple of times before he picked up.

“Hey,” he answered. “How was the meeting?”

“It was... interesting. I think that the four of us should get together and discuss it sometime this weekend. Or early next week.” It was weird hearing myself say 'the four of us'.

“Okay... maybe Monday? Do we have to have Nick and Brian fly in? Maybe we can just do a conference call,” he suggested.

“Whatever you want,” I said. It'd be nice to have all of us get together, but a conference call would work just as well.

“Well we can talk it over with them and see. I'm sure Brian probably won't want to leave Atlanta.”

“You're probably right about that,” I laughed a little. Brian was turning into quite the family man. “I'll talk to them and let you know.”

“Sounds good,” he said.

Not bothering to make small talk, we ended the conversation quickly. I took another look at the papers on my desk. Sighing, I picked up the phone to call Nick, figuring he'd be easier to convince to get to LA. It would be nice to see each other in person instead of just doing a call. I figured if I was able to tell Brian that Nick was flying in, he'd be easier to convince.

Nick's phone rang and eventually went to the answering machine. Instead of leaving a message, I just hung up. I figured I'd just call him later, Nick was terrible at returning calls anyway.

~~~


“Who was on the phone?” Kris asked me before turning our attention back to the movie we had been watching.

“Howie,” I said. “He wants all of us to get together to discuss the meeting he went to yesterday.”

“The meeting you were supposed to go to?” She said with a grin.

I shook my head. “I wasn't really supposed to go to the meeting, I just had the option... and I chose not to.”

Not a minute after she had pressed play on the remote, the phone rung again. This time Kris answered it. It didn't really matter, because it turned out to be for me.

“I guess you're popular today,” she laughed as she handed me the receiver. “It's Brian.”

“I guess so,” I said, taking it from her. “Hello?”

“Hey, how's it going?”

“Not bad,” I paused, wondering what he was calling about. It had only been a couple of minutes since I'd talked to Howie. “Did Howie call you already?” I asked skeptically.

“What? No... why would he be calling me?”

So Brian was just phoning me up randomly That was kind of odd. “He went to a meeting with the record company yesterday and said that we should get together to discuss it. I thought that it might be better to just do a conference call.”

“I can come to LA if you want,” he said quickly.

“Uh okay, you don't have to. We can just do a call.”

“No, I'd like to come in and see you guys. Monday?”

He was acting really weird. Normally on our time off he couldn't distance himself further from us. Him being so gung-ho about getting together was a little out of character. Then again, all of us were acting a little weird given the current situation. “Yeah, that's fine. You should give Howie a call, he's the one organizing this whole thing.”

“Of course, entrepreneur Howie,” he laughed. I did too.

“It's a good thing one of us is taking on that role,” I said. It was fitting that Howie was getting interested in the business world. He always did enjoy talking about the industry and was very good at it.

“Well, I guess I'll give him a call then,” he paused. “See you soon, Kev.”

“Yup, bye,” I hung up the phone and hoped there would be no more interruptions.

~~~


Where was I? I sat up too quickly and nearly blacked out. Okay, mental note, do not ever sit up that fast ever again! Looking around, I realized I was in my basement. How the hell did I end up there? Why did I not go to sleep in my room.. or at least a bed?

Making my way over to the bathroom on the main floor, I looked at the clock on my VCR. 3:00 pm!? How did I manage to sleep for so long? I guess that's what happens when you party until the bar closes. Which is what I think I did.

Once I got to the bathroom, I looked at myself in the mirror. My face was all messed up from sleeping on the floor. Damn carpet! I rubbed it, trying to make some of the marks go away. It didn't really work. I sighed, the worst part about drinking was the hangover the next day. Turning on the tap, I splashed some water on my face. That made me feel only slightly better.

I debated having a shower, but instead I decided to go watch some TV. Dammit, it was my time off and I don't have to shower all the time if I don't want to!

As I walked down the hall to the living room, I could hear the sounds of the TV. That was weird, I could have sworn I turned it off before going out.

“Hey,” Chris said as I entered the living room. He was just sitting on my couch, watching my TV. Why was he here still, or at all?

“Morning,” I muttered as I sat down on the couch next to him.

He laughed. “It's hardly morning, I hope it's cool that I hung out here until you got up.”

I shrugged. What else could I do? We both watched the TV for a couple of minutes. For some reason Chris had the Sci-Fi Channel on and was watching a rerun of Star Trek. I could deal with that, Star Trek was cool.

I wasn't paying much attention to it, though. I was too busy trying to remember what had gone on the night before. I remembered meeting Chris, and I remembered drinking with him at the bar. What I didn't remember was how we got back to my place or anyone else who may have come with us.

“This is going to sound weird, but what did we do last night?” I asked once the show went to a commercial. “Did we, um.. bring anyone else back here with us?”

“No,” he replied. “No one came back here with us.”

I gave him a weird look. “Wasn't I supposed to be your wingman?”

“I didn't say we didn't sleep with any chicks. I just said we didn't bring anyone back here,” he said with a cocky grin on his face. I was supposed to be the one with the cocky grins!

I crossed my arms and continued giving him a weird look. At least, I tried my best to give him a weird look. “You didn't drug me, did you?” I blurted out. Smooth!

It was his turn to give me a weird look. “What? No, I'll leave that to your crazy fans. If you must know, you were too paranoid to bring anyone back here and convinced a girl that that bathroom stall was good enough.”

I thought about that for a second. It did sound like me... I didn't like bringing weird people back to my house, because then they'd know where I lived, and then they'd never leave me alone. “But I brought you back here?”

He shrugged and turned his attention back to Star Trek. “I guess you trust me.”

I wasn't so sure about that.
Day 6 by Sakabelle
“I need to be myself
I can't be no one else
I'm feeling supersonic
Give me gin and tonic
You can have it all but how much do you want it?”

-Oasis 'Supersonic'


“Hey Nick, it's Howie. I've been trying to get a hold of you for the last couple of days but I guess you haven't been around your phone. Give me a call back when you get this – the four of us are going to be meeting up in LA on Monday to discuss some record company stuff... uh, bye.”

I sighed to myself as I hung up the phone. After trying and failing to get a hold of Nick for the past day I finally gave in and decided to leave him a message on his cell. Even though he rarely returned them.. in fact, I'm not even sure he listens to the messages. For all I know they could be piled up from when he got the phone. It wouldn't surprise me.

I stared at the phone, trying to will it to ring. To my surprise, it actually worked.

“Hey Nick.”

The person on the other end laughed. It wasn't Nick. I should probably invest in caller ID. “No Howie, this is Leigh. Expecting another call, I take it?”

Oops. “Sorry about that. I've been trying to get in touch with him since yesterday.”

“That's okay. I was just wondering if you wanted to get together for lunch again sometime soon. I had a nice time on Thursday.”

So did I. I had a feeling I would need the distraction after the meeting with the others on the weekend. “I did too. I have kind of a busy next couple of days, but Tuesday works for me.”

“That works for me too,” she said.

“I'll give you a call closer to then and we can work out the details.”

“Sounds good... and again I'm sorry I wasn't Nick.” I could practically hear her grinning through the phone. Leigh had a very calming presence about her. She was really good to talk to.

I laughed. “Believe me, it's fine.”

~~~


“I hate band meetings like this,” I said. Meetings that were just the five of us (well, I guess four for now) usually meant that the record company was trying to screw us.

“It'll be fine, Kevin. I'm sure it's nothing that bad. It probably just has to do with what you guys will be doing while AJ is in rehab,” Kristin said, offering me a small smile.

“It hope that's all it is,” I paused, thinking back to the conversation I'd had with Howie the day before. He sounded too concerned on the phone for it to be something as trivial as that. Obviously I knew Howie pretty well, and he didn't get worried unless there was a legitimate reason to. He was usually the person to put things into perspective.

“I'm sure it is,” Kris was always good at reassuring me. “I mean, he'd need to talk to you guys about that, right? He can't just go accepting promo stuff without talking to you guys first.”

“We could have just done a conference call for that.”

Kristin rolled her eyes. I think she could tell I was just being difficult. “You could. Except Brian really wanted to come and do it in person.”

Yeah, that was still weird. Kris was right, it hadn't been Howie who said that we absolutely needed to get together. Brian was the one who had jumped at the idea.

“Speaking of which,” she continued, interrupting my thoughts. “Do you know what time they're getting in on Monday?”

“I don't even know if they've booked a flight yet... and do they really need to stay with us? I'm sure they can afford a hotel room.” That was also weird. Kristin had practically insisted that Brian and Leighanne stay at our place while they were in town for a night. Was that really necessary?

She gave me a weird look. “He's your cousin.”

“I'm aware.”

She shook her head. “It's fine that he stays here. And what about Nick? You're not just going to expect him to go to a hotel, are you?”

“No, I was actually hoping we'd have a slumber party,” I said coolly. Why couldn't we just have done a conference call? “Why not invite Howie too?”

Kristin wasn't accepting my attitude. That was probably a good thing, I wasn't in the greatest mood which was usual when I knew we had a problem with the record company hanging over our heads. Why did that happen so often? “You should invite Nick to stay with us. Better than him staying in a hotel alone, don't you think?”

Again, she was right. I was about to respond when my phone rang.

“Speak of the devil,” I muttered as I answered my phone. “Hi Howie.”

“Hey, we're all still on for Monday, right?”

“As far as I know.”

“Good... I'm still waiting on an answer from Nick though.”

That was a little strange, usually Nick was jumping at the chance to do group stuff. “He doesn't want to come to LA or what?”

“I have no idea, I haven't even managed to get a hold of him.”

That part wasn't as strange. You'd think Nick had never heard of voicemail. “I'm sure you will. Let me know when you do, Kris wants him to stay here.”

“Oh no, you guys don't have to do that. Nick can stay with me,” he said quickly. That worked for me!

“If he ever calls you back,” I laughed. Conversations with Howie always tended to cheer me up.

~~~


I put my hands in my pockets as Chris and I stood outside the bar. My hands didn't even quite fit inside them nicely. These jeans were really tight, I was wearing three shirts and my hair was freshly coloured. It's not like I'm not used to being pampered and dressed up, but I was definitely not used to my guy friends being the ones to force me into it. Chris was turning me into a metro-sexual. I still didn't think this was necessary for me to pick up girls.

It was the middle of the summer, but for some reason I felt like it should be colder outside. Hell, I sort of wished it was winter and that there was snow. Maybe that was because the cold air on my face would have felt nice after spending hours drinking inside of a crowded club... with uncomfortable clothes.

“You want a drag?” Chris interrupted my thoughts as he went to hand me his cigarette.

I shook my head. “No thanks. I don't.”

Chris rolled his eyes. “Whatever man. The smoke is a nice break after all the alcohol.”

I sighed. I wasn't feeling great that night. Maybe I just needed to drink more, or maybe I was still hungover from the night before. I didn't know what it was, but the only reason I was even there was because Chris insisted we couldn't skip out on a Saturday night.

“On second thought, give me one of those,” I said, changing my mind. Maybe that was what I needed to relax. Chris looked relaxed. Then again, that guy always looked relaxed.

He nodded and handed me a fresh cigarette from the pack. My mind was in another place as I lit up and I suddenly became very paranoid that I was being watched. Which I probably was. I looked around to see if anyone was paying attention to me.

“Lighten up, Nick,” he said, breathing out the smoke that filled his lungs. I pretended that it was cold outside and that I could see his breath. “No one cares that you're standing outside smoking. Everyone else out here is doing the same thing.”

He wasn't wrong about that. We both stood quietly for a minute, looking up at the sky and at the people around us. Chris finished his smoke and dropped it on the ground, stomping it out with his foot.

“Back inside?” He asked, turning around to go back up the steps that led into the club.

I pointed to my half finished cigarette. “In a minute. I'll meet you in there.”

“Cool,” he said, and disappeared.

Realizing I was left alone, I quickly pulled my cell phone out of my pocket. Hoping that would deter anyone from approaching me, I turned it on. I couldn't even remember the last time it had been.

Within moments a message appeared on the screen letting me know that I had five new voice messages. I was used to this, and I rarely ever checked them. But I was feeling bored, and needed to do something on my phone.

One message from a fan who somehow managed to get my number. Delete. Two messages from Aaron. He would call back. Another message from a fan. I actually listened to that one the entire way through, and it turned out she was asking me for relationship advice. Deleting that and changing my number!

The last message was from Howie, something about how we were all meeting up in LA on Monday. I almost put my phone back in my pocket, but thought better of it and dialed Howie's number.

“Hello?” He answered the phone quickly. I bet he'd been sitting next to it waiting for me to call.

“Hello Howard.”

“Nicky! It's about time. Do you ever check your messages?”

Not unless I'm bored, kinda drunk and having a smoke break. “Hey, I checked them. I'm calling you back, aren't I?”

“After I called you about ten times,” he pointed out.

“I'm still calling you back! You should be honoured. What's this about a meeting in LA?” I changed the subject before this turned into a debate about how often I called people. Howie and Kevin were so picky about that!

“Yeah, Brian is coming in on Monday and we're going to discuss the meeting I had the other day with the label.”

I thought about that for a second. “Is it really important?” I asked. I guess it must have been since Brian was flying into LA. Usually you had to pry that guy from Atlanta with the jaws of life.

“It'd be nice for you to be there, and yes it's somewhat important. You can even stay at my place if you want.”

A sleepover with Howie? I'm so there. I started thinking about all the stuff I could do to him in his own house. Shrink wrap on the toilet was always a classic. “Sure. Hotels suck.”

“Yeah they do. Just one condition,” he said sternly. Well, as sternly as Howie could sound, anyway.

“What's that?” I asked, letting my finished cigarette fall to the ground. I watched it die out for a couple of seconds before squishing it under my foot.

“No practical jokes.”

God dammit, he knew me too well.

~~~


I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep. After I had fallen asleep on the couch the night before Leighanne practically had to force me upstairs to go to bed. I couldn't really blame her, my sleeping habits were still weird, and I wasn't looking forward to another infomercial anyway.

“Hey Brian,” Leighanne said softly. Weren't we supposed to be here to sleep?

“Yeah?” I answered, not opening my eyes. She wanted to have a long conversation about our feelings, I could tell.

“Do you ever think about the future?”

What kind of question was that? Were were seventeen years old now? “No... I've been pretty focused on the present right now, Leigh.”

“You never think about it?” she pressed, and finally I rolled over to face her. “Not even a little?”

I sighed. Of course I had thought about the future. Excuse me for being focused on the fact that AJ was gone, we had to have a band meeting without him and our fans were left with tickets to concerts with uncertain dates. “I didn't mean it like that, Leigh. I've just had a lot of things going on in my head right now.”

“I know... but I was just thinking, with this time off and all...” she trailed off, and I think she expected me to read her mind.

“This time off is just temporary,” I reminded her, and myself. It had been nearly a week, and in three more everything was going to go back to normal.

“Right,” she said, looking worried. “I know that, but I was just thinking about how maybe now was as good a time as any to start maybe thinking about expanding our family...”

I didn't say anything for a couple of seconds. I'd be lying if I said the thought hadn't crossed my mind before, and even multiple times. Especially right before Leigh and I had gotten married, we'd had a long talk about kids and the future and all that stuff. But that seemed so far away, and it really didn't seem feasible with what our schedule was like.

“I don't know, Leigh,” I replied. “In a few weeks we are going to be back on the road, and then recording a new album, and then all of the promo and touring will start again.”

“I know, I just thought you guys might be slowing it down. I mean you stopped the tour for AJ's rehab.”

I wasn't sure what to make of that. Did she expect us to decide to have a child and then all of a sudden ask the group to take a year off? “That isn't the same. AJ really needs the help, and you know that this is the first time we've ever stopped in our tracks.”

“Believe me Brian, I know it is,” she snapped, and I knew that she was thinking about my heart surgery a few years back. “I just wanted you to think about it. We can't put our lives on hold forever.”

“I didn't say we had to, but there are some sacrifices we have to make. I don't know that now is the right time.”

“There's never going to be a right time,” she sighed. “Nevermind, forget I said anything.”

She rolled over and that was the end of the conversation. For now, at least. I know my wife pretty well, and I knew that wasn't the end of it.

In all honestly, I wasn't completely opposed to the idea and if I didn't have my career looming over my head I'd be all for it. The problem was that our group had been through a lot in the past year and I didn't want to be the one to throw yet another reason we should slow things down into the pot.

Of course Leighanne had to bring this us right before I was about to go to sleep. I stared up at the ceiling and tried to think of any way that would be possible to make her happy and continue going at the same pace with the group. I closed my eyes, but still came up with nothing. Eventually I did fall asleep, but it took quite a while.
Day 7 by Sakabelle
Author's Notes:
Finally I'm back with a new chapter! Sorry for the lack of updates lately, NaNoWriMo ate up all of my writing time (and a lot of my other time) so as much as I wanted to, I wasn't able to keep up on this one. But I'm back now, and the updates will be more regular again! Thanks for reading :o)
“That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you”

-R.E.M 'Losing My Religion'


Kris was sleeping silently beside me. I couldn't blame her, it was still pretty early. Even though it was a Sunday morning we weren't ones to go to church. It didn't always fit with my schedule and often got forgotten about.

I probably could have used it, I'm sure it would have helped me.

Either way, here I was, six in the morning and staring up at the ceiling. I couldn't drag myself out of bed, but I couldn't fall asleep either. I couldn't shake the thoughts out of my head.

I could still hear Denise's voice running through my mind. I was sure it was because it had now been a week since that day AJ had gone off to rehab. A week since the day I had given him his 'intervention' so to speak.

The other guys probably didn't even realize that fact, or if they did it didn't really impact them. But I am someone who pays a lot of attention to dates and timelines. Anniversaries of certain events mean a lot of me and I always take the time to reflect.

I really wanted to call AJ and see how he was doing. I didn't know if I was able to do that. I didn't think he was able to make phone calls and he probably wasn't able to accept them either.

There were probably some kind of visiting hours, but I didn't know what was overstepping my bounds. Denise had told me how grateful she was that AJ was getting the help and that I was the one to make that happen, but I wasn't so sure that was how AJ felt. After all, the last time I'd seen him, well... the last time I'd seen him was what caused this whole mess in the first place. Or at least caused it to come to a head.

Either way, one week had gone by. I thought of it like a painful breakup, the first week was always the hardest. Not that I minded breaking up with AJ. I'd gladly say 'good riddance' to the person he'd become. I just didn't know if he would want to see or speak to me once he was able to see clearly. If he would still want to be a part of the group of if he would decide that it was too much stress for him.

I didn't even know what would happen if he decided to leave; if any of us decided to leave, really. It wasn't really something I wanted to think about.

I took a deep breath and tried to push all those worries out of my head. I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. AJ was going to be fine, and we were going to go back on tour in a few weeks as planned.

~~~


I scrolled through the flights listed on my computer screen. For once, I was sitting in silence. It was kind of nice. Usually I would listen to music or something, but I guess what Kevin always says is kinda true. “Silence is golden.”

Chris was gone home or to work. I wasn't sure which. I didn't even know where he worked, I just knew that he showed up at my place wanting to party. I liked partying, don't get me wrong and Chris was a fun dude to hang around with, but I was starting to get sick of him.

Though, he was a pretty good wingman. He kept crazy fans in check somehow when they freaked out. He was smooth like that. I really wasn't smooth and I really don't think I ever will be. That's okay. I don't need to be. Chris could be Mr. Smooth and I could be Mr. Sexy who gets all the women. That sounds good to me!

Did I mention how much I don't like booking flights? I don't know how our managers do this stuff all the time. It really sucks, and it's really boring. I don't know what flight to buy or what class I should sit in. I don't even like sitting on an actual plane. I can't ever sleep because I'm so terrified that I'll wake up and we'll be crashing to our death. Or I'll wake up and we'll have already crashed to our death.

Well.. I guess I wouldn't wake up in that instance, but still.

The only time I ever felt really safe on a plane was when we were on that private one for our Black and Blue promo thingy. I mean, you'd think that would be less scary than a commercial passenger plane but really they probably took all precautions so that their money makers would stay safe.

Anyway, booking flights sucks. I kind of wanted to sleep in the next day. But I also had to make our meeting.. which was in the afternoon. If I arrived at four the afternoon Kevin would probably flip out. He always liked to get stuff done early.

Too bad leaving at six in the morning and waiting around in the Orlando airport for a transfer didn't seem like any fun! I scrolled around a little bit more, checked different websites but there was no way I was going to be able to sleep in and get to LA on time.

Unless I left for LA today! I looked at the clock in the bottom of the screen. It was only noon. If I threw some stuff into a bag and left right away I could get to LA... well, later today. That would be better than waking up really early to avoid a glare from Kevin!

~~~


Packing, to put it mildly, is not fun. I'm sure there are a lot of people who would agree with me on that. Still, it was a necessary evil that was unfortunately a big part of my life. It seemed like we were always on the go. Usually I hated that and wanted nothing more than to have some time off. However this time, packing felt comforting. I was heading off the next day to see the other three guys, and somehow that made things feel like they were a little bit back to normal.

I didn't think I'd ever get used to referring to them as 'the other three guys' but hopefully once AJ returned I wouldn't have to.

“Do you think I should bring something fancy?” Leighanne asked, cutting into my thoughts. She was good at that.

I turned my head to give her a questioning look, but she didn't notice. She was too preoccupied looking at the wide array of dresses in her closet. “Why would you need something fancy? It's just a meeting with Howie, Kevin and Nick.”

She shrugged, still flipping through her clothes. “I just thought we might go out or something. I think I will bring something nicer, just in case.”

Well then why even ask me? “Sure, sounds like a good idea.”

I didn't even know why Leighanne was coming with me, to be honest. I mean yeah, she's my wife and we do things together and all that, but it's not like this was a big deal. It was essentially just a business trip. Lots of men went on business trips without their wives. There was no reason for her to be there, she was just going to be bored the whole time. And when Leighanne was bored, it meant that I had to entertain her. Which meant that I wouldn't get to spend a whole lot of time with Kevin and the others.

Again, normally that wouldn't bother me, but I was kind of hoping for a guys night. Call me lame, but I thought it might have been fun.

“Are you sure you want to come with me?” I asked her lightly, hoping that she would think better of it and decide to stay home and babysit the dogs.

“What?” That got her attention away from the closet. “Of course I do!”

“I just thought you might be bored.”

“Why on earth would you think that?” she asked. She looked really shocked, and I thought that was weird. It wasn't like I'd asked her something insane, like if she wanted to replace AJ while he was gone.

“I don't know, it's just going to be meetings and stuff.”

“It's going to be meetings with you, Nick, Kevin and Howie. It's not like you're meeting with the label. I'll just hang out with Kristin while you guys are doing that. Maybe go shopping or something.”

I couldn't argue with that. There was no reason for her to not come with me. It wasn't like there wasn't anything for her to do in LA.

“Yeah, you're right,” I said, walking over to the closet and giving her a kiss on the cheek. “It'll be fun.”

I wasn't so sure about that, but I could be optimistic.

~~~


I was fiddling around on my computer, trying to prepare for our meeting the next day. I knew that the other guys didn't really care about the format of our meeting, but I tried to use these small band meetings as practice. I'd even made a Power Point presentation.

Not that they'd know what Power Point was, and they'd probably just laugh at me, but I'd had fun making it. Even if the meeting was just going to be us sitting around my dining room table bitching about the label.

Still, I continued preparing and making slides until I heard my intercom go off. That was weird, who would be here at eleven thirty at night?

“Hello?”

“Howwwward!”

“Nick?” What was he doing here? His flight wasn't supposed to get in until tomorrow morning. At least, that was what he'd told me.

“No dumbass, it's Justin Timberlake. Hey why do you have this intercom thing anyway? It's not like any fans come and steal your grass.”

Yeah, it was Nick alright. I sighed and buzzed him in. No use in pretending to be reluctant, that would just make my life harder. I knew that he was going to ignore my no practical joke request, so why give him more of a reason to annoy me?

I went down to the front hall to open the door for him. Sure enough, there he was, standing on my front step carrying only a backpack. He was definitely someone who travelled light. He'd probably only brought enough clothes for the next two days.

“No suitcase?” I asked him as he stepped inside.

“Nah,” he replied, kicking off his shoes and flopping down on my living room couch. “I didn't want to deal with baggage claim.”

I gave him a weird look, he still hadn't explained what he was doing here a day early. I hoped that he didn't want to go clubbing or something.

“You're probably wondering why I'm here early,” he said, grinning. Nick knew he could read my mind. Though, it wasn't like I had any secret thoughts that weren't easy to guess.

“Yeah, kinda. Not that I mind,” I added quickly, not wanting him to get the wrong impression.

Nick shrugged. “I didn't want to wake up early and I knew Kevin would kick my ass if I was late.”

I nodded. That answer made enough sense, but I could tell that wasn't all of it. Nick was pretty easy to read as well. Even though he probably thought he was excellent at hiding whatever he was feeling, I knew better.

“So how are things back in Florida?” I asked him, not really knowing what else to say. It was rare that Nick, or any of the guys, really, were at my place alone.

“Boring,” he said quickly, fumbling with one of the straps on his backpack. Sometimes Nick really reminded me of a lost little kid. I was glad he felt he could come here, it seemed like he needed a friend. “There's nothing to do there.”

I remembered feeling that way about Florida, but it was sort of weird to hear Nick say it. Usually he went on an on about how much he loved the ocean and whatever he'd been doing with his boat. “No boat maintenance?”

“Nope,” he said, getting up and looking at all the pictures that hung on my living room wall. Yeah, it was no secret that a Backstreet Boy lived in this house. “Hey, I forgot all about that,” he laughed, pointing to a picture of us at some big Nintendo store in Japan.

Yeah, Nick definitely was a big kid at heart. It made me happy to see him smiling like that, especially after how sad he'd been the last time I'd seen him. It made me feel a little bit like Kevin, to be so worried about Nick, but I couldn't exactly help it. That guy was cause for a lot of worry.

I could still see that he looked a little gloomy, even though he tried to hide it. I hoped that when we got together with Brian and Kevin the next day he would cheer up a little. Hopefully he would see that even though we were scattered around the country, we were all still a group and a unit.
Day 8 by Sakabelle
“Out of the blue and into the black
They give you this but you pay for that
And once you're gone you can never come back
When you're out of the blue
And into the black”

Neil Young 'My My, Hey Hey'


“Nick, wake up,” I said, trying to shake him awake. I swear, sometimes I felt like that kid's mother. I'm sure all of us did at one point or another. He was always getting into trouble, sleeping in or not dressing appropriately for the occasion. I'm sure it bothered Kevin more than it bothered the rest of us, but still.

He stirred for a couple seconds before opening his eyes and looking around. Finally, he made eye contact with me. “What?”

“The guys are coming over in an hour.”

“So?” he muttered, rolling over on to his side. “Gives me another 45 minutes to sleep.”

I sighed, walking out of the guest room. At least I knew Nick hadn't been up early pulling some elaborate prank on me. That was a nice comfort.

I went to the bathroom with the intention of taking a quick shower. When I pulled the shower curtain back I rolled my eyes at what I saw.

A bottle of Smirnoff Ice.

“Dude, you gotta drink it!” I heard Nick's voice from the other side of the bathroom door. He must have set this up last night. So much for not getting pranked.

“I'm not drinking this, Nick.” I replied, wrapping a towel around my waist. I opened the door and tried to hand the drink to him, but he held his hands up and backed away.

“Okay, it's clear you don't know the rules to the Smirnoff Ice game.” Nick nodded his head and grinned. “Anytime you find one, you gotta get down on one knee and drink the entire thing. The only way you can get out of it is reversing the ice on me.”

This was one of his lamest pranks ever. “How would I do that?”

“Do you have an ice of your own that you were planning to hide there?” That stupid grin was still on his face. Of course he knew that I didn't. If I had known the rules to his stupid Smirnoff Ice game I would have already reverse iced him.

“No, Nick!”

He nodded his head and looked down at me. Sometimes Nick had crazy eyes. This morning was no exception. “Then you gotta get down on one knee and chug, bro.”

“Nick, you do realize that AJ is in rehab for alcoholism, right?” Okay, that was a cheap shot, but it was true. It didn't really seem right to be playing drinking games.

Nick shrugged his shoulders. “And you're not. So chug the damn ice,” he laughed and I had no choice to down the sugary cooler all in one shot.

I hate Nickolas Gene Carter.

~~~


“How was your flight?” I asked Brian and Leighanne as they entered my house. I used to think that Leighanne being around all the time was sort of annoying, but since I'd gotten married I could understand their need to always be with one another. It was nice for Brian that he had someone who could accompany him on all of our trips.

“Pretty good, there was just a delay at the airport when we were leaving,” he shrugged. “That's why we were a bit late getting here.”

I pretended to glance over at the clock, but I was well aware that Brian was late. I wasn't about to give him hell for it, it wasn't his fault that the flight had been delayed. I did feel a little bad, he wouldn't even have time to take his shoes off before it was time to head over to Howie's place, but such is our lives.

“Well, I guess we should head over to Howie's place,” I said, slipping my shoes on and grabbing my keys. “You going to be okay here for a while, Leigh?”

“She'll be fine!” Kristin said, entering the hallway with a smile on her face. “We're going to have lunch and go shopping. Have fun at your meeting,” she winked. I love my wife.

Our drive over to Howie's place was a quiet one, we didn't really have much to say to each other besides some small talk. I didn't really want to get into what we thought this meeting was about, after all we'd be hearing about it soon enough. In any case, I knew it wasn't good news. Howie had made that much clear.

Howie lived in this really fancy house with a gate and an intercom. It was pretty posh, my house wasn't nearly as nice. I rolled down the window of my car to press the buzzer. It seemed like such a formality.

“Who goes there?”

Brian and I exchanged a glance. It wasn't surprising that Nick would use this opportunity to torment us. However, it was definitely surprising that he was there on time.

“Nick, it's us,” I said, not wanting to deal with his banter. “Kevin and Brian,” I added, knowing he would be asking for clarification on who “us” was.

“You may enter, but only if you answer me these questions three.”

Nick must have been really bored at home in Florida for the past week. That was the only reason I could think of as to why he felt the need to be so irritating. I felt sorry for Howie, who had probably been getting it all morning. Or at least since he had arrived, whenever that was.

Brian laughed and leaned over to the intercom. “Tampa Bay Bucs, Saturday Night Live and Super Mario Brothers Three.”

“God dammit, Brian!” Was all we heard Nick say before he buzzed us in. I parked the car in the huge driveway and Nick was standing at the door waiting for us.

“Those questions were supposed to be for Kevin, he never would have got them,” he whined as he let Brian and myself inside.

“You only know trivia on three things, Nick,” Brian laughed.

“Yeah, three things Kevin knows nothing about.” Nick shot me a look and I just rolled my eyes.

“Where's Howie?” I asked, wanting to get this meeting started. I was beyond curious about how the record company was planning to screw us over this time.

Nick smiled. “Follow me to the meeting room, gents!”

He was in a weird mood. It only furthered my suspicions that he was extremely lonely back in Florida. I often wondered why he still lived there, but never knew the right way to ask him. He didn't ever seem happy to go back there anymore, so what was the point? He didn't seem like there was anything there for him anymore, he'd got everything out of living in Florida that he could have.

That, and I was beginning to worry about him, being out there all alone. Nick didn't always make the best choices, and the last thing I wanted to hear about was that he'd brought some creepy fans back to his house and they'd ransacked the place and kidnapped him.

Okay, maybe I was going a little bit overboard, but Nick's behaviour was still scaring me. It probably shouldn't have been, seeing as he usually does like to annoy all of us with his jokes and pranks, but the more I silently watched him talking with Brian, the more it seemed like it was an act and not like his regular self.

“Kevin, what are you staring at?” he asked me suddenly, pulling me out of my thought process.

“Nothing,” I replied, stupidly. “How are things in Florida?”

He shuffled a little in his seat and shrugged. “Fine. It's kinda boring there.”

I couldn't resist the urge to prod as Howie was setting up his computer. “It's good to be a little bit bored though, right? I think we all need the break from the craziness.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Nick nodded, suddenly very interested in the pattern on the table we were all sitting at.

Sometimes, I wished I could read his mind.

~~~


Kevin, Nick and I were seated around the table in Howie's meeting room. Howie, on the other hand had his computer booted up and an entire presentation ready to go. I was pretty sure he just liked making charts and that they didn't serve much of a purpose. But what did I know? Out of all of us, Howie was definitely the business guy.

“Good afternoon, guys,” he smiled as he stood in front of us. I had to stifle a giggle and tried to steal a glance from Nick. Oddly enough, he didn't find Howie's demeanour as hilarious as I did.

“So,” Howie continued, ignoring the fact that I was grinning like a goofball. “The reason we're here today is because of something I heard at a meeting last week with Jive.”

The three of us exchanged a look. Howie was always so formal with these meetings. This meeting was particularly amusing for me, and I wasn't entirely sure why.

“As you can see,” he said, clicking to the next slide. It was just a chart with sales figures from all of our albums. I didn't know what relevance that had and I was fairly certain it was only there because Howie had wanted to fill up slides. “We've had very strong sales with all of our albums. When we go into the studio to record our next album after the tour, the record company has this in mind.”

And that was the part where I started to zone out. Those numbers weren't very interesting to me. The fabric of my shirt on the other hand... very interesting. I felt sort of like Nick as I began to play with the hem of it, which was strange because Nick had actually started paying attention to Howie.

Howie ignored the fact that I wasn't really watching his presentation and kept talking. At least I was still listening to him. Sort of. He said something about how since the tour was postponed, it meant going into the studio was also postponed, and that Jive wanted to release a greatest hits album to make up for that.

Wait, what?!

I looked over at Kevin. His eyebrows were all furrowed and he didn't look happy. Nick just had a confused look on his face, and Howie stood there for a minute, letting us all absorb that. I was pretty sure that this was the end of his control of the meeting, because pretty soon Kevin was going to start ranting.

“How can they do that?” he asked angrily, glaring at Howie, then at Nick and finally at me. “A greatest hits CD is going to make it look like we're over. That's the last thing we want after this whole....situation,” he said the last part slowly and carefully. I think that AJ had crept back into his mind.

But he wasn't wrong. Postponing the tour and being out of the media spotlight was causing our fans to wonder. I should know, I'd read all about it on LiveDaily. They thought this was our last ever tour, they thought we weren't coming back. They thought we were taking a break. What kind of message was a greatest hits compilation going to send?

“No,” Nick said firmly. That was a first for him in meetings like this. Usually he let Kevin take over and didn't offer much of an opinion. Other than nodding in agreement at the end. “There's no way in hell.”

They all looked at me. What did they want me to say? Of course I thought it was a bad idea. “I don't think we should do it either,” I finally said.

“We need to approach them about this,” Kevin said, taking charge as he always did. “We need to make them realize that we aren't going anywhere and that this is a terrible idea.”

“I know, that's why I brought you guys here. We need to figure out a plan of attack.” Howie looked at all of us and finally sat down in his chair.

I couldn't think of anything that we could do other than set up a meeting with Jive and try to plead our case. Of course, they usually ignored our wishes anyway. It was a negative way of thinking, but it was the truth. I didn't know how we could begin to talk Jive out of it because a greatest hits would be a quick way for them to make some money while they waited for us to get back to recording.

Or maybe they didn't think we were ever going to get back to recording. Maybe they thought we were done the same way the fans did.

“What?” Kevin asked, and the others were looking at me with wide eyes. Maybe I'd said all of that out loud instead of just thinking it. Oops.

“Yeah,” Nick said, nodding. “They think that we're not coming back after this tour. That it's the last one ever.”

“Why on earth would they think that?” You could tell Kevin was getting more and more frustrated by the minute. Not only was our record company turning their back on us, that was nothing new, but the fans as well? They were the ones who always stuck by us.

“Because of AJ being in rehab and they think we look tired and need a break,” Nick said quickly, looking timid. I hadn't seen that look on his face since he was sixteen years old.

“Oh, so now the fans know us better than we know ourselves,” Kevin shot back, raising his hands in the air out of exasperation.

“I tried to tell them otherwise,” Nick muttered.

Bad idea.

“You what?” Kevin's eyes were wide in disbelief.

“I mean, not as me,” Nick added, trying to calm Kevin down. “I have a fake name on there and stuff, but I just tried to be calm and say that they can't assume shit.”

I saw that post. I didn't know that was one of his dummy accounts. Tnthsndprmss28 was not liked on LD.

Kevin put his head in his hands. “Jesus Christ, Nick.”

Nick just shrugged and smirked a little. “Hey, if it makes you feel any better I got a two day ban for saying 'shit'.”

“No Nick, it doesn't make me feel better!” Kevin suddenly exploded. I felt bad for Nick. Kevin was obviously upset about the greatest hits situation, and he was just redirecting his anger at Nick since he was right there. This happened a lot with Kevin, and Nick or AJ were usually the ones who got the brunt of it.

“What do you want me to say?” Nick asked, raising his voice slightly. “You know that we can't do a greatest hits. Brian knows it. Howie knows it. The only people who don't know it are those assholes at Jive. Like they're going to listen to us anyway.”

Nick was moody today, more so than Kevin. Kevin was just angry.

“Whoa guys,” Howie cut in. “We need to stick together on this, arguing amongst ourselves is only going to make us weaker. We need a united front.”

“We're not arguing in front of the record company,” Nick mumbled, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back in his chair.

“No, Howie's right,” I said, giving Kevin a sympathetic look. We were all stressed out for a lot of different reasons. Fighting with each other wasn't going to help things. “We need to stick together.”

“Exactly,” Howie agreed with me. Nick and Kevin just nodded.

“I'm really hungry,” I said. Suddenly my long plane ride was catching up with me. “How about we continue this discussion somewhere that serves food?”

Everyone seemed to agree with that. Maybe getting something to eat and sitting in a public place would help calm our nerves down a little. We all needed that. It had been a stressful week.

~~~


We took two cars to the restaurant. I went with Howie, and Kevin and Brian went together. They said it was so that Brian and Kevin could just go straight back to his place after we had dinner, but I was sure it was to separate Kevin and me so we could stop being so pissed off.

Yeah, a great chance of that happening. First of all, the ride there wasn't very long. Second of all, Kevin was just pissed off at the record company; we all were. A fifteen minute car ride wasn't going to change that. He was just taking it out on me because I'd said something he didn't agree with. He always did that to me, or AJ. I guess 'cause we were the young ones and we bugged him the most. I still hated it though. AJ did too. He was always on our case about something. Recently AJ more than me, but I guess with AJ out of the picture for now he only had me left to get angry with.

Stupid Kevin. Now I was in a crap-ass mood.

When we got there we were seated in a semi-secluded area. Not that I thought it really mattered. There were tons of celebrities in LA, and I didn't think most people in that place were going to give a shit about us. It wasn't the type of place a bunch of teenage girls would normally hang out in.

We were all really quiet as we looked over the menus. I just wanted a burger and fries. I didn't see why we needed to come to some fancy steak house. I would have been just as happy with In N Out Burger. Actually I probably would have been happier. But the guys wanted to sit somewhere and talk about all this business stuff, and I guess we wouldn't have been able to do that there.

Also, I guess that's the kind of place where our fans would be.

Eventually, the waitress came by to take our drink orders. Kevin was always health conscious, so he ordered water. I've noticed that when we all go to a restaurant and someone orders water first, everyone else always orders water after. It's like they feel self conscious about ordering something else after the first person made the healthy and cheaper choice of water. I never do that though. I always order what I want 'cause dammit, you only live once and I'm going to drink whatever I want with my dinner!

Anyway, Brian and Howie also ordered water just like I knew they would. But I was adventurous and decided to order this vanilla mudslide thing they had in the fancy drink and dessert menu. Because it looked like a milkshake. And I love milkshakes.

Too bad Kevin gave me a disapproving look after the waitress walked away. “What?” I asked, even though I knew I'd regret it.

“Do you really think you should be drinking that?” he asked, raising one of his really thick eyebrows.

“Lighten up Kev, the extra calories aren't going to kill me,” I said, rolling me eyes as I put the menu back in its holder.

“I meant because of the alcohol, Nick.”

“I'm twenty one.” I said flatly. They didn't even check my ID!

“Yes Nick, I realize that,” he shook his head. He was about to try the sympathetic approach instead of the angry one. “However I think you need to be a little more respectful to the fact that AJ's in rehab.”

What was he talking about? Now that AJ was trying to get sober, did that mean that the rest of us couldn't drink anymore? Kevin was just being paranoid again. “Yeah, I know. He's not here. Once he gets out of rehab we can't drink around him, but we have to stop now? I think that's overdoing it, Kev.”

“I just think it's a good idea to cool it on the drinking for a while,” he said, and looked at Brian and Howie for support. Both of them were all of a sudden very interested in the light fixtures. Thanks for the support guys!

“Whatever,” I muttered, not wanting to argue with Kevin. If he didn't think I should be drinking, I didn't really care. That wasn't his call to make. I wondered if somehow Howie had told him about my Smirnoff Ice prank, but I didn't bring it up.

The waitress brought our drinks and I sipped on my straw, making wide eyes at Kevin. He wasn't amused, and changed the subject back to the record company business stuff.

“I think we should schedule a meeting with them,” Howie suggested. That guy was obsessed with meetings. I hate meetings, but I guess it was the best thing we could do.

Kevin and Brian nodded in agreement. I continued drinking my mudslide.

“And say what?” Brian asked, playing with the straw in his water and glancing over at me. I could tell he wanted a sip of my drink. I sort of wanted him to ask, that would stick it to Kevin. He'd never tell off Brian.

“Let's just tell them that we're going to go right back to the studio after the tour's over,” I shrugged. It seemed to make the most sense.

“Are we?” Kevin asked.

“We always do,” I replied. I didn't see any reason why we wouldn't.

“We need to prove it to them,” Howie said. “We need to get in touch with some songwriters or start writing some stuff ourselves. We can't just say that we're going to do it, because usually by this point in the tour we've already started working on the next album in that regard. You can see why they'd be sceptical.”

“Well, let's do that then,” I said quickly, and the rest of them agreed. I couldn't wait to get back into the studio. I loved recording. Not as much as I loved performing, but we couldn't really do one without the other. It would be nice to start creating a new record and then a new tour. Then we would finally be able to put Black and Blue behind us.
Day 9 by Sakabelle
“I’m having trouble sleeping
You’re jumping in my bed
Twisting in my head”

-The Perishers 'Trouble Sleeping'


I woke up early the next morning and didn't waste any time. I'd thought about pulling another prank on Howie, but after the scene with Kevin at the restaurant the night before, I figured it probably wasn't a good idea. I mean sure, I could have done something other than hiding a Smirnoff Ice, but where was the fun in that?

What was Kevin's problem anyway? It wasn't like I was drinking in my hotel room alone. Well, okay, I had done that, but he didn't know about it so there was no way he could be mad about it. I didn't know why he had to treat me like such a baby, and the more I thought about it, the more pissed off I got.

I hated how he acted like I needed to be taken care of and that I always needed a chaperone. I felt like my opinion in the group didn't matter to him as much as Howie's or Brian's. I mean I know that's not true, but sometimes it seemed like it. Like I was just the mess of the group he needed to clean up after.

He used to do it to AJ too. AJ was my partner in crime after Leighanne came and took Brian away from me. And then AJ started drinking a lot and well, we all know how that turned out.

So now I was just the kid of the group, and that sucked. I can't wait for AJ to come back.

It sucked too because I was really looking forward to hanging out with the guys on this trip but after being at the restaurant for a while they didn't really want to do anything fun. Howie and I just came back to his place and watched a movie. And Howie fell asleep halfway through it. It was freaking 8:30 in the evening! Who sleeps that much?

I had a hard time falling asleep. I couldn't stop thinking about AJ, and how weird our meeting had been without him, and how much Kevin was pissing me off. I shouldn't be alone with my thoughts. They just make me depressed.

Eventually I rolled out of bed and starting packing my very few things into my backpack. I thought about having a quick shower, but decided not to. I didn't care if I smelled like a grub, I just wanted to go home. Chris and I could go out to the club and I could forget about all the crap that came with being a Backstreet Boy.

At least I'm the most popular one!

I almost made it out of the house before Howie caught me.

“Where are you going?” I heard his voice behind me. God dammit, I wanted to slip out unnoticed!

“To the airport,” I replied, looking down at him. Howie is really short. He's like a mini Puerto Rican
guy that always knows what's best for everyone. But not in the same douchebag way that Kevin did.

He gave me a weird look. “Your flight's not for another few hours, Nick.”

I know that! “Yeah, I just wanted to take come of some stuff at home, so I thought I'd try and catch an earlier one...”

He was still giving me that weird look, like he didn't really believe me. I couldn't really blame him, I guess. I wasn't telling the whole truth, but I didn't even know what the whole truth was. I just wanted to get out of there. He and Kevin could deal with the greatest hits stuff just fine without me.

“Okay then... I can drive you there if you want.”

“Nah, you don't have to,” I shrugged. “I'll just take a cab.”

“No, I'll take you. Just give me a couple minutes to put on some nicer clothes.”

Ha, Howie take only a couple minutes to put on some nicer clothes? That guy takes longer to get ready that any girl I have ever met. But he did end up proving me wrong because he was back pretty quickly.

I looked out the window as Howie drove me to the airport. LA was pretty cool. Much better than Florida. Sometimes I wished I could just stay there forever. But stay there forever by myself. Without the other guys around all the time. I really liked having a whole state to myself sometimes. I mean, not to myself, I'm not the only person that lives in Florida. I just mean somewhere to go home to that's only mine.

“Take care, Nick.”

“Huh?”

I guess I'd started daydreaming again. Or maybe I'd started actually dreaming. I didn't get a lot of sleep the night before. Maybe for once I'd actually be able to sleep on the plane. “We're here.”

“Oh,” I said, looking around. I guess I might as well get out of the car, then.

“Hey Nicky, don't be a stranger, okay?” he said as I was closing the door. I wasn't quite sure what that meant. It wasn't like we could hang out all the time. And I never knew what to say on the phone with him. Or anyone really. That's why I don't call people.

“Yeah... I won't. Later, D.”

~~~


“Have you been up the whole night?” I heard Kristin say as she walked into the living room that morning. She was wearing this cute baby blue robe thing. I loved it. It was so unlike her usual style and made her look so sweet and innocent. Which she of course, is not.

“No, I just got up very early this morning,” I said quickly.

“How early?”

“Four...” I trailed off. At least, I think it had been four. It might have been a little later. But I hadn't been able to sleep. The record company was making me too angry. I wanted to do something about it, and the best plan of action was to show them we were serious about making the next record. Which I was, hence why I got up at four in the morning to start working on some new material.

That, and I was too pissed off to sleep. I needed to put some of that energy to good use.

“This thing with Jive is really upsetting you, huh?”

“Yes.”

She sighed and sat down next to me on the piano bench. “I don't think it means that your career is over.”

“Neither do I,” I assured her. “But apparently the fans already think it is. And the record company. And they always seem to know all of this stuff before we do.”

“Kevin,” she said sweetly, and I could tell she was going to lecture me. I know the other guys think that I lecture them a lot, but I learned from the master. “You have to show them that's not the case. And who cares what the fans think? You didn't care what the fans thought when we got married, neither did Brian.”

“That's just because it wasn't Nick who got married,” I joked.

She laughed. “Okay... fair enough. But if you guys do the work and put your next album out there, they'll buy it, they'll love it and the record company will be proven wrong once again. You guys are good at that.”

“I know.”

She leaned her head on my shoulder and poked around at the piano keys a little. It was a nice little moment we had and it helped to relieve some of the stress I'd built up over the last few hours.

“Are Brian and Leighanne still asleep?” I asked, though I already knew what the answer was. If Brian had been awake he'd probably already been in the living room with me trying to chit chat.

“Mmhmm.”

“Isn't their flight leaving soonish?”

“Oh, yeah, about that,” Kristin looked up at me sheepishly. “Leigh and I thought it might be nice to spend a little more time together, so I don't think they're going to leave for a couple of days.”

I raised an eyebrow. “How did I not know about that?”

“Because you and Brian were already asleep by the time the two of us got home,” she laughed.

She had me there. Those girls had stayed out late.

“Besides,” she continued. “It might be nice for you to spend some quality time with the other guys, instead of just being cooped up with your piano all the time.”

“We just got off of a world tour, Kris,” I reminded her. “It's nice to have some space.”

“I know, but this also isn't a normal break. You guys are all going through the same thing right now, whether you like to admit it or not,” she shrugged, and then got up to leave. “I think you guys could benefit from some fun and hanging out the way you used to.”

“I guess you're right,” I nodded. There was no harm in us just hanging out, and truth be told I couldn't remember the last time we'd done that. It might be fun to just go out as friends and forget about all the record company and tour drama that we'd been dealing with in the last little while.

~~~


There was something about Nick leaving like that which left me feeling very unsettled. He wasn't someone who was very good at hiding his emotions. He tried, but usually I could see right through him.

For the life of me I couldn't figure out what was so wrong, or what had changed between the night before and this morning. The only thing I could come up with was that he was angry about the greatest hits, but even that didn't make much sense because all of us were annoyed about that. And it didn't seem like the type of thing to upset Nick. At least not to the point of him wanting to rush home in a hurry.

I tried not to think about it as I drove home from the airport, but I couldn't exactly help it. I knew there were sometimes he'd felt like he didn't belong in the group or that we didn't want him, but I didn't know what would make him think that way this time. That distant look on his face had really freaked me out.

When I got home I tried to brush it off. He was a big boy, he would be okay. For all I knew he could have just been tired, or there was some girl back home he was waiting to see. Nick didn't like to tell us about his girlfriends, so that was probably it. I was probably just being overly paranoid.

Speaking of girls, I had my own date to get ready for! That was exciting, with all that had been going on in the last couple of days I'd nearly forgotten about it.

Well, not forgotten about it, but put it on the back-burner for a little while. That being said, as I was getting ready for my lunch date with Leigh, I was growing more and more excited about it. It's hard to meet people in this business, and Leigh was a lot of fun to hang around.

I was just about to head out the door when I heard my phone ring. I thought about just letting it go to the answering machine, but I decided to answer it. I figured it might have been something important. I was also slightly worried that Leigh would call and cancel.

But she didn't. It was Kevin on the other end.

“So it turns out Brian and Leighanne are staying for another couple of days,” he said through the phone, and I couldn't tell if he was happy about it or not. Kevin was someone who really enjoyed his alone time with his wife on the rare occasion he got it. Not that I could say I blamed him.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, well Kristin and Leigh were having a good time so I guess they figured there was no reason not to. Anyway, I was just calling to see if Nick had left yet, because I thought we could have a guys night out. No business talk or anything.”

Who was this guy I was talking to on the phone and what had he done with Kevin Richardson? He never wanted to have a guys night out. “That sounds fun, and I'd love to join you guys, but Nick left early this morning.”

“What? I figured he wouldn't have even rolled out of bed yet!”

Yeah, that's what I would have thought too. “I guess he had some business to attend to in Florida,” I said, not wanting to worry Kevin.

“Some girl probably,” he laughed.

Yeah, I was worrying for nothing. Kevin was right, that was probably all it was. “Yeah, probably. I'm actually just heading out the door, but I'll give you a call later. We'll meet up.”

“Sounds good, talk to you later.”

And with that, the conversation was over. I grinned to myself as I left the house and headed out for my date with Leigh.

~~~


Spending two evenings in a row without Leighanne was weird. I was starting to miss her. But as much as she loved Atlanta, I knew she also loved LA. There was no reason to deny her a little vacation. Especially when Kristin had invited us so graciously to stay for a couple days longer.

And it was nice for me too. Even though it had only been about a week, I forgot how much I'd missed the others. Sure we can get on each others nerves once in a while, but at the end of the day, like we say in every interview, we're just like brothers.

We were sitting in some Chinese food restaurant. It was later in the evening, since Kevin and I had a late lunch and Howie was out all afternoon. We weren't bothered by any fans while we were eating, which was nice.

There had been a minor hugging incident with Kevin outside the restaurant, but that was all. And we'd all had a good laugh. Well... maybe just Howie and I did.

I picked around at my food using my chopsticks. I'd never quite learned how to use them, despite spending a lot of time in Asia. Usually I just gave up and ordered food that didn't require me to use them. The nice thing was, in Chinese food restaurants at home, there's always the default fork option! I always took advantage of it.

“We should get dessert,” I suggested, half looking at the menu that was posted on the wall. They had a deep fried banana. That sounded fantastic!

“You didn't even finish your food,” Kevin pointed out.

I shook my head and gave him a cheesy grin. “Now now Kev, you don't need to start picking on me just because I'm the youngest here.”

We all had a good laugh at that, because it was true. AJ and Nick were the ones that Kevin picked on the most. He rarely lectured Howie and I. Then again, AJ and Nick were usually the ones doing something more worthy of a lecture.

“Doesn't it feel weird?” Howie asked. Kevin and I looked at him, waiting for him to continue. “I mean, it's kind of like being out without the children,” he laughed.

I thought about that for a minute, and I guess it was true. Like I said before, AJ and Nick were the ones who were always acting up and doing crazy things. I used to be like that too, especially with Nick. But I guess I just grew up a little.

I knew what Nick would say though, he'd blame it all on Leighanne.

“It's a little strange that Nick took off so early,” Kevin pondered. Now he was looking at the desserts too. I knew I'd reel him in! “And AJ...”

And there it was. The taboo subject that none of us had been willing to touch.

“How do you think he's doing?” Howie asked, pushing his food around his plate.

“Well, we haven't heard from him or his mom... so that's probably a good sign,” Kevin said, looking at us for confirmation. I knew he still felt guilty about how the whole thing had happened. It hadn't been an ideal situation, but it was for the best.

“I think so,” I said confidently. “I'm sure he's getting the help he needs. I think he'll come out of this stronger.”

“I hope so,” Howie said quickly, looking sympathetic.

We didn't talk about it for the rest of the evening. What more was there to say? Eventually AJ would get into contact with us again, and we'd be able to see for ourselves how he was doing. Hopefully this would be the first and only break we'd have to take for a reason like this.
Day 10 by Sakabelle
“When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody's help in any way
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors”

-The Beatles 'Help'


I woke up late the next morning. Kevin, Howie and I had stayed up late, just doing guy stuff. Watching movies, hanging out, you know, the usual.

It had been nice, but things still didn't feel the same. With AJ gone our whole group dynamic had changed. And I don't just mean because he wasn't there. It was because of what he was going through. I think it was making us all a little more aware of our actions.

I made it down to the kitchen to find that Kevin, Kristin and Leighanne were all already awake. Shocking, since it was only an hour until noon.

“Morning Brian,” Leighanne smiled as I sat down beside her. She gave me a light kiss on the cheek.

“Morning,” I replied, reaching for the coffee that Kristin had sat down in front of me. If I didn't know any better I would have thought we were a bunch of college kids sitting around after a long night of parties.

“Isn't this weird?” Kristin mused, looking around the table. “We never have quiet mornings like this. I can't think of even one.”

“There was that time in Germany,” I pointed out, remembering a morning from our concert tour a few years beforehand.

Kevin laughed. “Right, because that was quiet.”

“It was,” I insisted. “We were all sitting around, having a nice coffee like this.”

“And then the waitress from one of the other tables recognized you guys, she screamed and it was all downhill from there,” Leighanne finished the rest. Story of my life I guess. Leighanne always finishing my sentences, fans always finding us when we just wanted some peace and quiet.

We were all silent after that. I think we were all just enjoying the fact that no one was going to come bother us. What a weird life we all had.

“Well, I'm going to go upstairs and get ready for the day,” Leighanne said after we'd finished our coffee. She looked over at me.

“Oh yeah,” I replied, knowing she wanted me to go with her. “Me too.”

I watched as she started gathering things to take with her to the bathroom. I didn't even know what she needed me up there for. It wasn't like she was going to let me shower with her. Especially not in Kevin's house!

“Brian I've been thinking,” she started, looking at me from across the room. Oh, that was why I was here. She wanted to talk about something. “Remember that conversation we had a few days ago?”

How could I forget? “Yes.”

“Well, I was just thinking,” she said slowly, joining me on the bed. “That with you guys maybe putting out a greatest hits CD, if you took a little break it would be perfect timing.”

I raised an eyebrow. I didn't know if she'd missed the entire point of what I'd told her, but we were going to try our very best to make sure the greatest hits didn't happen! Everything was going to go back to how it was. Because that was what we all wanted. “We're not putting out a greatest hits, Leigh. Remember? We're going to tell Jive that we're not doing it.”

“I know,” Leighanne pouted. “But, I just thought it was something to think about. A little break would be good for all of you, I think.”

“This is our break, Leigh,” I reminded her.

She just rolled her eyes. It was clear she didn't like what I was saying. I didn't even know if I liked what I was saying. So far, this had been the weirdest two weeks of my life and I was in no position to make any major life decisions!

“I think you need a break that lasts longer than a month. Just think about it, okay?” She asked sweetly. And then she was off to take her shower.

It's not like I hadn't already done enough thinking in the last little while.

~~~


I didn't want to waste any time getting together with the record company. The longer we waited the harder it would be for us to talk them out of the greatest hits. And of course, none of us wanted that to happen. I was pretty certain we were all in agreement on that.

And AJ would be too, if he knew about it. But anyway.

I wanted to bring the other guys to the next meeting with the record company. It was fairly soon, in terms of them having to travel back to LA. Then again, it wasn't like we weren't used to the travelling.

I only hoped we'd be able to talk them out of it. They'd already seemed far into the planning stages, and of course with Jive we were always the last to know. In fact, they had probably been planning this since before Black and Blue came out. Or at least soon after. Once again they were milking us for all we were worth.

I tried my best not to think about it. It was better to put my mind to work at writing some new songs. So at least that way we would have something to show, proving we were serious about doing another album.

Which I was sure that we were.

I mean, I thought we were. I knew that AJ was of course feeling the pressure of our last six very stressful years. Brian was feeling overwhelmed and tired too. That much was evident by how much time he wanted to spend with Leighanne. Not that I blamed him for that at all, if I'd gotten married I'd want to spend lots of time with my wife too. Same goes for Kevin.

In fact it seemed like the only ones out of the five of us who were still ready to move forward to the next album, or at least still had that same drive were Nick and I.

~~~


“Duuuude,” I said, leaning over to Chris. I hadn't wasted any time. After getting home the day before and having a nap all afternoon, Chris and I had hit the club. And then we'd gone back to my place, slept and now here we were. Back out at the bar again. Wooohooo! “Do you know what the best thing about being on a break is? But also still being famous is? Because I still get to be famous but I don't have to be busy all day long!” I finished the rest of my beer in one gulp.

Chris rolled his eyes at me. He partied in a different way, and could definitely hold his liquor better than I could. I'm pretty sure I made myself look like an ass around him but I didn't care. I'm Nick Carter! He's the ass! That is, if he thinks I'm the ass, that makes him the ass.

God dammit, I don't know what I'm saying.

“Easy, Nick, it's not even ten yet. We just got here!” he laughed at me. Oh Chris. When will you ever understand my woes?

“Dude,” I said seriously, leaning over again. I tried to mesmerize him with my eyes. My eyes are good at the mesmerizing. “Seriously. It's the best being on a break. And a break away from Kevin.”

“Okay, Nick.” He wasn't really watching me. He was watching the girls in the bar. We had no girls at our table, it was just me and Chris. Hanging out like regular guys.

“But you know,” I put my finger on my chin, thinking. “The girls don't really like regular Nick. Like this Nick,” I motioned to myself and Chris looked back at me. “They only like Backstreet Boy Nick. Nick who is slick. Slick Nick who can sing!”

Chris just laughed again and rolled his eyes. That guy was weird. He liked to have fun and party but he was also weird and serious about it. “You can still sing when you're not on tour,” he pointed out.

“I can't,” I shook my head. “I mean, I can. But it's not the same when there's not a million girls out in the crowd screaming for you.”

“Sure you can,” Chris shrugged, finishing off whatever sophisticated drink he had. Why couldn't that guy just drink beer? “There's a microphone and karaoke stuff over there.”

I looked over to where he was pointing. He was right, there was a bunch of karaoke stuff and a microphone, but I couldn't do it! I couldn't just go up there and start singing. I wouldn't even know what to sing. It would be lame if I went up there and starting belting out More Than That!

I did consider it for a second before brushing it off. Everyone in the bar would probably think I was nuts! “Man, let's just go talk to some girls or something.”

“Oh come on,” Chris said. Now he was grinning. “It'll be funny. Girls aren't paying any attention to you because you're drunk off your ass and ten minutes ago your head was laying on the table.”

“I was just joking around!”

“Yeah but think how awesome it'll be to be up there on stage again,” Chris winked. He was right. Being on stage was the best! I missed it.

I didn't even have to say anything, because Chris knew he had won. He got up to go and try to talk the bartender into letting me use the equipment. I didn't even know why he wanted me to go up there so badly. Maybe he was a closet Nick Carter fan and this had been his plan all along, to get a private show from me!

Okay, that probably wasn't it. It was probably because girls would start paying more attention to us after I put on a little show.

“They're gonna set you up,” Chris said when he got back. “Go find something in their library to sing.”

Well, that was easy. Before I knew it I was back up on the stage in the half full pub. It was definitely not what I was used to. Time to bust out my favourite karaoke classic.

Just a small town girl..."

Chris raised his glass to me and I kept singing. Soon enough the girls who thought I was just a drunk idiot before were paying attention to me again. At least now I was a drunk idiot who could sing!

"Livin' in a lonely world..."

~~~


Brian and Leighanne were in their room packing their things, while I was curled up on the couch with Kristin watching some movie on cable. It wasn't a very good movie, it was more of a chick flick. I'm not into chick flicks so naturally my mind began to wander.

Howie had said that the next meeting he had with Jive was next Friday. That felt like a long time to me. I was worried that by then, their minds would already be made up. Hell, by then the CDs might already be printed!

Okay, that was going a little bit far, but sometimes that was what it felt like with them.

I didn't have much time to think about it, since my cell phone started to ring. I reached over to the coffee table where it was sitting and was met with the caller ID.

Denise McLean

Kris glanced over my shoulder and saw who was calling. “Take it,” she urged me. I answered quickly.

“Hi Denise,” I said, a little uncertainly. I had spoken with her briefly before she and AJ had left that day in Boston, but I'd hardly spoken to her since. Not that I could blame her, I'm sure that I was the least of her worries in the last little while.

“Hi Kevin,” she replied. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but she sounded normal. Not that I was thinking she'd be sobbing uncontrollably on the phone or anything. “I'm sorry that I haven't been in contact very much.”

“Don't worry about it,” I said. “I'm sure you've been busy.”

“I have,” she paused for a second. I don't think either of us knew what to say. “I know you must be thinking about Alex,” she started slowly.

“Yeah,” I replied dumbly. “We all are. Is he doing all right?”

“He is,” Denise said, and I felt a small sense of relief wash over me. Like this whole mess hadn't been for nothing, and like I hadn't forced him into something that wasn't helping him. “This was the best thing for him,” she continued, almost reading my thoughts. “I've visited him a few times, and you can really see the beginnings of a difference in his attitude.”

“That's good to hear, I'll be sure to tell Brian, Howie and Nick.”

“He's been asking about you guys. He feels awful about the tour having to be postponed.”

I shook my head, even though it was pointless. Denise couldn't see me through the phone. “It's fine,” I said, trying not to get choked up. There had been enough of that when we'd done all of our press about this. “Like I said before, his health is our main concern.”

“That's good to know,” she said. “I'm sure he'd love a visit from you guys. Next weekend they are doing a family thing and I think he'd really like it if you and the others would come down on the Sunday.”

Sunday would work out perfectly. We'd all already be together after the record company meeting. I envisioned us flying down to Arizona all together and having a tearful reunion, just like something out of the movies. To me, it seemed perfect. I couldn't wait. Finally we'd be able to see for ourselves that this decision had been the right one.

“Of course we'll be there, Denise.”
Day 11 by Sakabelle
“Looking back at sunsets on the Eastside
We lost track of the time
Dreams aren't what they used to be
Some things sat by so carelessly”

-The Killers 'Smile Like You Mean It'


Kevin had called me the night before to let me know that Denise wanted us all to go visit AJ.

I was overjoyed. Kevin, however, had seemed nervous. I couldn't entirely blame him for that, the last time he'd seen AJ they hadn't exactly parted on the happiest terms. But things were different now. I was sure that AJ had realized that Kevin had done the right thing by breaking the door down.

The problem was, I wasn't sure Kevin himself was totally convinced about that just yet. Hopefully this visit would relieve some of his stress about the situation. And hopefully we would see that AJ going to rehab was the best thing for him. Of course we all thought that, but it would be quite another thing to actually see the impact it was making on him.

Brian had also readily agreed to go visit AJ. It would be nice to have the whole group there to see him. If we could get the whole group together, that is.

Not surprisingly, Kevin hadn't been able to get ahold of Nick. I wasn't overly worried. Nick had ended up returning my call and had come to LA for our meeting. I was sure that a week was enough time to get the information to him.

That did make me kind of nervous, since I rely heavily on making plans and keeping a schedule. This usually wasn't a problem when we were out on tour, our schedule was always pre-made and had to be followed no matter what. I knew that Nick would come through, it just made me uneasy. But I guess he couldn't always be sitting and waiting for the phone to ring.

I tried to forget about it for the time being. Worrying was going to do me no good at all. Everything was going to work itself out, I was sure of it.

~~~


“So you guys are headed back this evening?” I asked Brian as the two of us sat outside my house. The girls were still asleep, but sometimes I liked to get up early. I guess Brian did too, since he had joined me.

“Yup,” Brian said, taking a sip of his coffee. “I guess I can't say 'back to reality', can I?” he chuckled.

“No, I don't think so,” I laughed.

After that there was silence. Not an awkward silence but not a comfortable one either. Just silence. I was okay with that. I didn't have much to say, and I didn't really want to talk about going to visit AJ. I would cross that bridge when I came to it. The more I thought about it, the more it worried me. I didn't want to worry, so I tried to think about it as little as possible.

“Hey Kevin, can I ask you something?” Brian interrupted the silence after a few minutes. That was probably why he hadn't been chatty, he'd been thinking about something.

“Sure.”

He sighed, and I raised my eyebrow. It wasn't a rare thing for Brian to come to me for advice, but his body language was certainly different than usual. He looked unsure of himself.

“Leighanne keeps asking me about starting a family.”

That surprised me a little. I always thought Brian would be the one to bring that up, out of the two of them. “And you don't want to?”

“No, of course I want to,” he assured me. “I just don't know if this is the best time. Things are so busy right now, I mean, not right now, but they will be back to normal in a few weeks.”

“Back to reality?” I joked.

“Yeah, exactly,” he smiled. “I just don't know if it's the right time. But I don't know when there will be a better time. I don't know what to do or tell her.”

I thought about that for a little bit. I had always thought Brian would be ready to start a family whenever Leighanne wanted. “There's never going to be a perfect time, you know.”

“I know, but especially right now, when we're just about to start recording again.”

I shrugged. “Better that than when we're out on the road. I'm sure this album's going to take a little bit longer anyway, since we've barely even started with it.”

He nodded. “Yeah, you're right.”

~~~


I was really starting to mess up my sleeping schedule by waking up at three in the afternoon. I didn't even know what to do with myself sometimes, being back home and all.

I knew better than to get out of bed quickly. No, it was best to lay there and sit up slowly. Otherwise I'd just end up with more of a killer headache than I already had. That, and I really didn't want to spend most of the afternoon puking my guts out as a result of the night before.

After I finally made it out of my room and into the bathroom for a Tylenol, I headed down to the kitchen. Eggs were good for a hangover, right? I doubted that I had any in my kitchen. I was more of an ordering pizza kinda guy instead of a keeping groceries in the house kinda guy. That was Brian's department. The department of married and lame. Mine was more like the department of single and awesome!

Wait, I was single, and I was awesome... so what the hell was some blonde chick doing in my kitchen? Making eggs that I was pretty sure I didn't have!?

“Morning, Nick,” she said sweetly as she stood over the stove.

What the fuck? I don't bring girls back to my house! I didn't say anything, and I'm pretty sure I had a strange look on my face, because she stared at me and then pouted.

“You do remember me, don't you?” she asked, still wearing the pout.

“Uh, yeah, of course.” Nope, not at all! “Where did you get the eggs from?” I changed the subject quickly, but I was still trying to think of ways to get rid of her. This was not shit I needed to deal with first thing in the...afternoon.

“I bought them at the store down the street.”

“Oh,” I replied dumbly, but then I got an evil idea. “Yeah...cause usually my girlfriend buys all the food...”

“Girlfriend?” she raised her eyebrow.

“Yup, girlfriend,” I said lightly. Was she going to get the hint? Beat it! Don't you make me repeat it!

“I'm sure your girlfriend would love to hear about this,” she stressed the word 'girlfriend'. Yeah, I was pretty sure she could see right through my lie. I mean, if I had a girlfriend why would I be sleeping with strange women? I mean... okay, let's not go there. Back to the crazy chick in my kitchen!

I sighed. “Okay, look, I'm not really looking for any kind of commitment right now...so....”

And there it was. She glared at me, and I continued to concentrate on the ceiling. In my defense, I did have a pretty nice ceiling. She was pretty pissed off though. “So what was I to you, Nick? Just some one night fling?”

Bingo! But does it count if I can't remember it? “Yeah, I mean, let's not make this more than it is.”

And this is why I don't ever bring girls to my house. Besides the fact that they'll know where I live, it's also really hard to get rid of them. It's easier to go to a hotel. Because then I can just leave! Yeah, I know that sounds like a dick move, but what do they expect? That I'm going to fall in love with them at first glance?

Okay, don't answer that.

“Ugh!” She shouted, and walked past me in a huff to grab her purse, I guess. “You know,” she said angrily, as she put on her shoes. “I really thought you were the nicest one.”

I don't know where she got that idea. Everyone always thinks Brian's the nicest one.

“I guess I was wrong,” she was still angry. “Doesn't matter though. You're still not the hottest one. Kevin is twice the man you'll ever be!”

And then she stormed out. Yippie! Now, where was Chris?

After turning the stove off and throwing away the burnt eggs, I began to search my house. It didn't take me long to find him. He was in the basement on my futon with some other girl. Why all the girls in my house? God dammit.

“Morning,” I said sharply, flicking the lights on. I had way too much of a hangover to be dealing with this crap. “You,” I pointed to the girl after she and Chris opened their eyes. “Out.”

“But,” she protested. “He said that after I went with him I'd get to be with you.”

“Well, he's a douchebag who lied. Don't know what else to tell ya,” I shrugged. I felt kinda bad for the girl, but not bad enough that I was going to let her stay. And definitely not bad enough that I was going to take Chris's sloppy seconds.

She glared at Chris, pretty much the same way the other chick had glared at me, and after grabbing her things, she also left.

“What the fuck, dude?” I asked angrily once I was sure she was gone.

“Nick relax. We had a few drinks, had a good night with some girls, and everything is fine.”

“No, everything is not fine!” Who the hell did this guy think he was, bringing girls back to my place? Why couldn't he go to his own place? “I don't bring chicks back here, you know that's the rule!”

“Will you calm down? It was your idea. You didn't want to go to a dirty hotel. You told the girl you were lonely and wanted to have company in your own bed.”

“That doesn't sound like something I'd say,” I said through gritted teeth, even though it sounded almost exactly like something I'd say.

“Well, you said it.”

“Chris, just go home.” I was through with his bar hopping shit. I didn't need his help to get girls, and I didn't need him agreeing in bringing them to my house.

“Dude, come on,” Chris protested, but I didn't give a shit. I was mad at him, I was mad at myself, and I just wanted to order a damn pizza and stay in! Fuck the stupid bar.

“Just go,” I pointed to the door.

He shook his head at me, probably thinking I was acting over dramatic. I knew I was... but still, he was annoying me. And I just wanted to be left alone.

~~~


I looked out the window as the place taxied down the runway. Over the years I had come to find flying relaxing. Not the airport parts of it, but the just sitting down and waiting until we reached our destination. It was nice, we never got time to ourselves like we did when we were on an airplane.

Leighanne didn't like flying by herself very much, but I think she was okay with it when I was there. She didn't seem to complain about it unless she had to go on a plane by herself. Maybe she just didn't like to leave me. Actually, that was probably it.

“Do you want to get some wine?” Leighanne asked, looking through the buy on board menu.

I shrugged, thinking back to the conversation we'd had with Nick a few nights prior. I knew deep down that was because Kevin was worried Nick was going to end up in the same situation as AJ. Not because he actually thought it was disrespectful for us to drink, or whatever he'd said.

Because it wasn't disrespectful to drink, was it? Maybe if AJ was with us, but not now.

“Sure,” I smiled at her. I wanted to be able to connect with Leigh again. I hated that I'd been so wrapped up in my career that I'd forgotten how important my marriage was to me as well. It was funny, I usually felt like I was so wrapped up in my marriage that I'd forgotten about my career.

Either way, my family was what was important right now. And she was my family.

The plane took off and I looked out the window again. LA was fading away and we were going back to our life in Atlanta. It was the first time in the past two weeks that I didn't feel sad about leaving the other guys. I liked that feeling. That I didn't have to be so dependant on the group anymore.

I glanced over at Leigh as she was ordering the wine. She really was great to put up with all my emotional turmoil in the last little while. I hadn't been myself, but I think she understood on some level what was going on. Of course she couldn't quite understand it fully, but she knew I needed time to process what had happened.

I thought about my conversation with Kevin earlier. I still didn't want to bring up the subject with Leighanne just yet, but he had given me a lot to think about. There wasn't ever going to be a perfect time, he was right about that one. That, and we still had a lot of time before the next tour. Seeing as we hadn't even started the next album yet.

The more and more I thought about it, the more I thought this was actually a better time than I'd originally thought. Maybe Leighanne had been right before when she'd said that.

I still needed to sit on it for another couple of days before I told any of that to her. I didn't like to make rash decisions and though I knew this was something we should have been deciding as a couple, I also knew my wife and that she liked to have things her way.

The flight attendant came back and handed us two plastic cups with white wine in them. It felt cheesy to be drinking wine out of plastic cups, but hey, cheesy was basically my middle name.

“To us,” I said, holding up my cup.

Leighanne giggled and tapped her cup against mine. “To us,” she repeated.
Day 12 by Sakabelle
“The world was wide, too late to try
The tour was over we'd survived
I couldn't wait till I got home
To pass the time in my room alone”

-Blink 182 'Adam's Song'


In order to not have to do a greatest hits less than ten years into our career, we were going to have to work our collective asses off to get the next album ready. Or at least have something done so we could prove to the record company we were serious about it.

The problem was, I didn't think anyone was actually serious about it. It wasn't like we didn't have the time. In fact, for once we actually had all the time in the world. But Nick had taken off to go back home without so much as a 'goodbye' and Brian had spent his time here just goofing off with Howie and I.

Simply put we were acting like friends, not co-workers. And although that usually worked in our favour, right now it just wasn't helping to move things along.

I'd tried my best to whip something together on my own, but my heart wasn't in it. I didn't know what was missing. Often when I was lacking inspiration I'd go back and play some of the old songs we'd written, to try and recapture the feelings I had when I was working on those.

But still nothing.

In the end I'd succumbed to sitting in the basement and watching old tour videos while Kris was out at an audition. How was it that I was already re-living my glory days and I was only twenty-nine? It didn't make sense.

“Heeeey Kevin!” Nick said through the TV. I laughed, looking at the goofy look on his face.

“Hi Nick,” I heard my own voice come from behind the camera. “When are you going to cut your hair?”

He pouted, and pretended to look at the watch on his wrist. “In four days,” he promised, and I laughed along with myself on the tape. During the Millennium tour, AJ and Nick had made some bet, and the loser wasn't allowed to cut their hair for four months.

Nick lost, and when it was all over, his 'best hairstyle of 1997' was gone. We'd made fun of him for that for years.

I didn't want it to be over, but I didn't feel like I had the drive to do another album and another tour. Who knows if AJ would either, once he got out of rehab. Everything was so up in the air, and it was difficult for me to adjust to. For once, every second of our lives wasn't carefully planned out.

I didn't know what to do with myself. I'd never really thought about the group ending before, or even taking an extended break, and I didn't know why I was thinking about it now. Maybe just because I couldn't get any new material written. I'd always been a worrywart, I'm sure the others could tell you that, but I'd never been this paranoid before.

Part of me just wanted things to go back to normal, out of fear, and part of me wanted to try something new.

The problem was, I didn't know what that new something was, just yet. A new direction for the group, or a new direction for myself?

I suppose I still had some time to figure it out.

~~~


After our few days spent in LA, it had been nice for Leighanne and I to finally be home. She spent the majority of the day planting flowers and doing work in the garden and I spent the majority of the day...well, either asking her if she needed help or doing nothing.

I had grown so used to a tight schedule, that without it life was starting to become very boring.

I couldn't stop thinking about what Kevin had said, how there would never be a perfect time to start a family. Especially with the lives that we had.

There wasn't a doubt in my mind that it was something I'd always wanted. In fact, if I'm being honest, being a husband and having a family was always a bigger dream of mine than being famous. But life doesn't always go the way we plan it to, and I'm blessed to have the opportunity to travel the world.

But still, it didn't mean I couldn't have both, right?

So, for the third time that afternoon, I went outside to see if I could help my wife at all. Even though I didn't know the first thing about gardening.

“Hey,” I said, putting my hands in my pockets.

She smiled up at me. “Are you really that bored?”

“Yes.”

She laughed a little and wiped her forehead. “Well, there's not much left to do. But if you want to plant those potted geraniums I have over there, you can do that.”

Sounded like fun to me! I knelt down and started digging through the dirt, but after a couple seconds Leighanne handed me a shovel.

“Here,” she said. “It'll be easier with this.”

It was. Like I said, I didn't know anything about gardening. But at least I knew how to dig a hole and put a plant in it. That was easy enough, right? And it was sort of fun, being outside in the garden and acting like a normal married couple. Instead of one who was constantly on the go and never spent more than a week at home. In fact, I think this was the longest we'd spent at home since we'd gotten married.

“Well, what do you think?” Leighanne asked, stepping back from the garden to admire her day's work. I followed her and looked for a couple of seconds.

“I want to have a baby,” I blurted out.

“What?” she asked, quickly turning her head away from the flower arrangement in front of us. “I meant about the garden,” she laughed. “But really? Are you serious?”

“I wouldn't have said it if I wasn't sure,” I said, and as soon as I did Leighanne threw her arms around me. It was oddly reminiscent of when I'd proposed to her. Except that had been in a hotel room, not out in the open on our front lawn. But I didn't care. Much like that day, I was one hundred percent sure I was making the right decision for myself and for our relationship.

I would just deal with the ramifications of that later.

~~~


Cheese pizza, cheese pizza, cheese pizza! My most favourite food ever. Judging by the two empty pizza boxes in my living room. I should really throw those out. You know it's funny, 'cause I'm a pretty messy guy, but my house is usually pretty clean. I guess it's because I'm never here long enough to mess it up.

I ordered from Pizza Hut the night before. It wasn't that good, I always thought their crust was too soft. Tonight I had ordered from Domino's, which was better. Plus I'd got a free order of chicken wings with my pizza! Who can say no to chicken wings?

That was pretty much all I did the entire day. Sit on my ass and eat pizza. I had a good life. Except for when there was nothing on TV. Which was pretty much most of the day until the evening hit. I even tried to watch a soap opera. The key word there is tried. I fell asleep half way through it.

I looked at the stairs and contemplated if I should go to sleep in my bedroom or not. I hadn't the night before. I'd just fallen asleep on the couch. In my defense, I have a very comfortable couch. It's really big and soft and has a lot of pillows. Mandy picked it out, because I can't say couch shopping is one of my hobbies.

I hadn't really left the couch since I kicked Chris out the day before. He'd left and I'd just sat on the couch, watched TV, ordered pizza, fell asleep and did it all over again. That was the sweet life! I think. It was actually kind of boring because like I said before, there's not a lot on TV during the day.

I looked around my living room for something else to do. I was getting sick of watching sitcom reruns... there's only so much Seinfeld a person can watch at once!

And that was when I saw it. The blue duffel bag sitting next to my TV which contained my N64 and all the games that I brought with me on the tour bus. How did I miss it before? I dragged myself off the couch and unzipped the bag. There it was in all it's glory. I rummaged around until I found what I was looking for. I knew it had it be in there somewhere.

Aha! Success! My brand new copy of Majora's Mask. It even was still in it's shrink wrap. I was never able to play it when I first bought it because I had no time, and when I did have a (very short) break between Millennium and Black and Blue, I was spending it with Mandy. That's what happens with girlfriends, you never get to play video games anymore, and it's just not worth it!

I never had a chance to play it on the bus, either. I mean, I guess I did but Zelda games were the kind of games that needed concentration and no interruptions. I never got that on the tour bus. So I always settled for Mario Kart and stuff like that, with short levels.

But now, I had all the time in the world! It didn't take me long to set up the console – I'd done it enough times. In fact, if setting up Nintendo systems was an Olympic sport, I'd probably have the gold!

I sat back down on the couch, controller in hand. It was going to be a long night, just me and Link. And it was going to be awesome.

~~~


I walked hand in hand with Leigh down some pier in LA. It was nice to be able to walk around without a bodyguard, for once. Of course I knew it wasn't something I could get used to. Our month of 'vacation' was nearly half over.

It felt weird not having anything scheduled, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. We'd done a few TV appearances talking about AJ going into rehab, because of course that was a big story. But after that, it had been nothing. There was nothing more for us to say about that, and it wasn't like we could do group appearances without AJ there. So we just faded into obscurity for a little while. And I won't lie, it was kind of nice.

“Hey Howie?” Leigh said, and I turned to look at her.

“Yeah?”

“This might be coming way out of left field, and forgive me if I'm being too forward, but is something wrong?” she asked, and we stopped walking for a second.

“Why do you ask?”

She shrugged. “I don't know. You're usually really chatty, but today you just seem to be somewhere else.”

I laughed a little. 'Chatty' was not something I was usually described as. Especially since I spent most of my time around Nick, Brian and AJ. In comparison, Kevin and I were the quiet ones. “Yeah, sorry about that. I guess I have a lot on my mind.”

“If you want to talk about it, I'll listen.”

I didn't know if I could talk about it with her. “I don't know, it might be a conflict of interest...”

She raised an eyebrow. “Because I make the website. Jive just tells me what to put up there and I do as they say. And make it look pretty.”

“You do make it look pretty.”

She smiled at the compliment, but it quickly went away. “Are you worried about the greatest hits stuff?”

I leaned my elbows on to the wooden railing of the pier. As someone who'd grown up in Florida, I'd always been fond of the water. It had such a calming quality to it. “We all are,” I admitted.

“Are you going to do it?”

“I don't know,” I said, and saying that out loud scared me a little. We'd all had the mentality that there was no way we were going to do this, but the truth was sometimes Jive left us with little to no choice in matters such as these. It was a real possibility that we would end up doing it. “None of us want to, it doesn't feel like a smart career decision.”

Leigh nodded. “It would look like the end.”

“Exactly.”

She looked away for a second, I guess thinking about what she was going to say next. Maybe she thought she was overstepping her bounds, but I didn't think so. It was nice to have someone to talk to who knew the situation, but was far enough removed to be able to offer their own opinion. “Are you guys planning to do another album?”

I sighed. That was the big question, wasn't it? We'd all talked about it optimistically, but still no solid plans had been made, and no one was pushing us this time. As it is I felt like Black and Blue had only happened because Jive had pressed so hard for us to finish it quickly. I never said that to the other guys, so I didn't know if they felt that way too, but that's how it seemed to me. “Yes,” I finally said. “But we haven't even started it.”

“Do you guys want to do another album?”

I shook my head, because I couldn't answer that, and that was the scary part.

“I don't know.”
Day 13 by Sakabelle
“Am I the star beneath the stairs?
Am I the ghost upon the stage?
Am I your anything?”

-AFI 'Morningstar'


I woke up the next morning to the sound of rain outside. It wasn't a big storm or anything like that, just enough to make some noise and get me to crawl out of bed.

The bed that Leigh was still sleeping in, mind you.

I'd finally brought her home after our date the night before. They don't call me the 'Latin Lover' for nothing! But all in all I thought our relationship was progressing nicely. It was actually shaping up to be a pretty good weekend so far.

I looked around my kitchen for something to make for breakfast. I wanted to impress Leigh when she woke up, and though I'm not the world's greatest breakfast chef, I know my way around a waffle iron.

While I mixed the batter, I thought about how nice it was that I finally had the time to do this kind of thing for a girl I liked. On tour we were always on the move and there was barely any time to breathe, let alone try and form any sort of relationship. I'm still not quite sure how Brian managed to do it.

I was starting to get used to the time off. I didn't feel weird not having anywhere to be, or any reason to get up and get moving at the crack of dawn. I was finally able to relax, and I'm sure a large part of that was due to the fact that I had Leigh to distract me. Not that I just saw her as a distraction, quite the opposite.

But it was nice not to have to think about our next industry meeting all the time. And not to worry about how AJ was doing, or why Nick wasn't getting back to me on going to visit him.

Okay, I still had all of those thoughts in the back of my mind. But they weren't the only thing I worried about anymore. And it felt nice to have my own life back instead of worrying about the lives of the others all the time.

“Morning,” I heard Leigh say as she entered the kitchen. She had perfect timing, I was just setting the food down on the table. “What do we have here?”

I shrugged and motioned for her to sit down. “Just a little something I whipped up.”

She smiled at me and eyed the stack of waffles before putting one on her plate. “Trying to make the morning after a little less awkward?”

Okay, she had me there. “Yeah?”

Leigh only giggled. Why had I not noticed how adorable she was before? “Well, I guess it worked.”

“I do make a good waffle.”

“You do.”

~~~


I didn't have anything better to do that Saturday, so I went with Kristin to her audition that afternoon.

Looking around, I saw a bunch of hopefuls sitting around with scripts in hand. Most of them were quiet, they didn't chat with each other much. It reminded me of my days of going to auditions and trying to make it big.

Of course, that was before I met Lou Pearlman and my entire life changed. I hoped that the same thing would happen to all of the people in that room as well. Besides the part where they had to meet Lou Pearlman. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

I looked over at Kris, she was also sitting with the script in her hand, reading it silently to herself. She was so talented, and yet she was still stuck going to auditions and hadn't had a big break yet. Show business was weird like that. You never knew quite what the recipe for success was. I'd worked hard to get where I was, but I was sure a little bit of it had been luck as well.

“Are you nervous?” I asked her, and she shrugged a little.

“A little,” she admitted.

“You'll do great,” I assured her.

“Thanks,” she said, and then she gave me a questioning look. “Have you ever thought about getting back into the acting stuff again?”

“Not really,” I said. “I have way too much going on with the group.”

“I know,” she said quickly. “But maybe if you had some more time off, it would be something to think about. I mean, before Backstreet you were going down the acting route.”

I nodded. She was right about that, I'd always pictured myself as doing more acting than singing. I didn't find myself missing it, but maybe that was just because I didn't have time to.

“I don't know,” Kris continued. “It's just something to think about.”

“Yeah,” I replied, looking around the room again. “It would be something different. Not the same old thing all the time.”

“The same old thing being pyrotechnics and screaming girls?” Kris raised an eyebrow.

“Don't forget about TRL,” I reminded her.

She laughed. “Oh right, how could I forget about that?”

It was a nice idea that Kristin had, but I wasn't too sure that it would ever come to fruition. After all, it wasn't like we had a lot of time off. After AJ was out of rehab we were going to be back on the road and then back into the studio to start on the next album and do it all over again.

I was about eighty percent sure of that.

~~~


I stayed up the entire night playing (and beating, thank you very much) Zelda. And then I slept the entire day. If I was ever given the choice I would be one of those people who stayed up all night and slept the day away. For sure.

Saturday nights were boring on my own, though. I had nothing to do and I felt really lame sitting around with my pizza and Nintendo again. Don't get me wrong, I love pizza and Nintendo, but it just felt like such a let down of a Saturday night. Especially when I could be out partying and living it up.

Of course I wasn't the only one who thought that way. It didn't take long for Chris to show up at my door. I should have predicted that would happen. I guess he figured I couldn't stay pissed off for long. I'd had my couple of days to cool down. And I was bored.

I guess that was why I eventually went out with him. I don't fucking know. I would just have to make sure to not let him take advantage of me again.

That didn't come out right.

Anyway, we were out at some nightclub drinking vodka and Red Bull. I wasn't normally an energy drink guy, if you can believe that, but it was pretty good with the vodka. It was a nice buzz without having to get sloppy drunk.

And we all know what happens when I get sloppy drunk! Not good things!

“Dude, I have a new theory,” Chris said, leaning over the table.

I raised my eyebrow. Chris and his theories led nowhere good. I also was less interested in talking to Chris than I was checking out the girls in the bar. I bet if I tried I could get two of them to come back with me at once. What an accomplishment that would be!

“Dude!” Chris shouted again, and this time I turned to listen to him.

“What?”

“Okay, here's the plan. Instead of chatting up a girl and getting her to have a one night stand, you chat her up and get her number. You can talk to her and be nice to her and whatever, and then instead of working to sleep with her one time, you can have a lot of sex with very little work in between!”

I raised my eyebrow. Was he completely out of his mind? “That's called a relationship, Chris.”

“Nah, it's just like calling her up for sex whenever you want it.”

“No girl would ever go for that!” I said, well, actually shouted, because it was so loud in there. “That's why we have one night stands. Sex, and then they leave. Plus, I'm a fuckin' Backstreet Boy. I don't need to work to sleep with girls, they just come to me.”

What? I never said I didn't have an ego! And it's not like it wasn't true.

Chris just shrugged me off. What the hell? For a guy who dressed all nice and acted like he had it all together, he didn't know a thing when it came to girls.

I was going to have to teach him how to live.

~~~


“You know what I realized?” I asked as Leighanne cuddled up to me that night.

“Hmm?”

“Baby-making sex is really awkward,” I said, trying to give her a serious look. I couldn't do it and cracked a smile.

“Brian!” she exclaimed, smacking my shoulder. “Way to ruin the moment.”

“Sorry,” I grinned.

“It's exciting though,” she said, changing the subject. “Like we're starting the next chapter of our lives.”

I didn't have anything to add to that. She was right, it was exciting. “Yeah, you're right.”

“I love you,” she said, before yawning.

“I love you too,” I replied.

Soon enough, she'd drifted off to sleep. I continued to lay awake, thinking about what she'd said. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed a little off. Was it really the next chapter of our lives? It didn't feel like much was changing. Sure, everything felt different right now, but would it in a few months time? When we were back out on the road and then back in the studio?

Would we have time to do all the baby preparations that normal couples got to do? Or would it be something rushed when we had a few days off to ourselves?

I didn't want it to be like that, but I wasn't sure I had much of a choice. We were always so busy, and it didn't seem fair to want to take a break just so I could all of those 'normal couple' things.

I knew I would eventually have to talk to the other guys about it, but I didn't know how they would take it. Nick probably wouldn't be impressed. I'm sure if he had it his way, we'd be doing the Backstreet Boys thing forever. I had no idea how AJ would feel about it, I was sure he was dealing with other things at the moment anyway. Slowing down our careers probably wasn't something he'd been concerning himself with. Kevin would probably be understanding, and Howie? I had no idea.

I did want to slow down, at least a little though. We could take our time with the next album and everything wouldn't have to be such a rush. We would actually be able to breathe a little.

At least, I thought it would be nice. I felt I would much rather spend the next year focusing on my family instead of recording and touring.

But maybe that was just the initial excitement of Leighanne and I deciding to start our family. Maybe once we got back on the road and started performing again I would feel differently.

I guess I would just have to wait and see.
Day 14 by Sakabelle
"Just because I'm hurting
Doesn't mean I'm hurt
Doesn't mean I didn't get what I deserved
No better and no worse"

-Coldplay 'Lost'


"Do you think there's any specific way we should say this to Jive?" I asked and we looked at a few papers that were spread out on the table in front of us. Howie had invited me to go to brunch that morning to discuss the plans for our upcoming meeting. Though we had the general idea of what we were going to say, we still had some details that needed to be ironed out.

Howie sighed and looked down at one of his documents. "I don't know," he finally said.

"We could just bring it up when they start talking about it. Say that we don't want to do it and go from there," I suggested.

Howie nodded a little, but it didn't seem too much like he agreed. "Yeah, we could go that way," he said, but still looked like he was in thought.

"Or we could bring it up before they even mention it," I said, because I knew that Howie wasn't going to argue with me even if he wanted to.

"Yeah, I think that we should say it right from the start," he said, taking a sip of his coffee. "Hit them before they get the ball rolling, that way the meeting is in our control right from the start."

"As much control as they'll let us have, anyway," I said, raising my eyebrows. The record company executives never let us have full control of the meetings.

Howie just laughed. "Yeah, exactly."

"But you're right," I continued. "We should hit them hard, show them that we're serious about this and that we're not going to stop putting out albums anytime soon just because we've been moving a bit slower this time around."

He sighed. "Do we have anything to prove that to them? I know that I haven't really come up with much."

He had me there. As hard as I'd tried, I hadn't been able to write anything the resembled even the beginnings of a song. "Me neither."

"Do you know if anyone else does?" He asked me, sounding sort of uncertain. I think we both knew what the answer was there. Of course AJ probably hadn't worked on anything. I was willing to bet Nick hadn't either, I didn't even know what he was doing with all his time. Brian... well, Brian was probably too busy thinking about baby stuff to be worrying about the group.

“I don't know, I haven't really talked to any of them,” I finally answered, and Howie nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, me neither. I've talked to Brian a little bit, and he's coming down for the meeting, but I haven't had a chance to talk to Nick yet.”

I didn't say anything, but I knew what that meant. No one had anything prepared, and unless we started working our asses off in the next week, we were screwed.

~~~


I had just been staring off into space that morning as I enjoyed my coffee. I didn't really think about anything in particular, until my eyes fell on the wall calendar.

Our meeting with Jive was on Friday, that was only five days away. Leighanne and I would be leaving Atlanta on the Thursday afternoon... and I still had nothing ready to show the other guys. I hadn't been working on any new music. In fact, I hadn't been working on much of anything that didn't have to do with my marriage and starting a family.

I feel bad for saying this, but it wasn't because I had forgotten about it or because I was too wrapped up in my own life to care. It was because every time I thought about recording a new album, I felt a little sick to my stomach.

I didn't want to go through the endless promotion, TRL appearances, video and photo shoots and everything else that came with it. I just wanted to stay at home.

I didn't know if that was a legitimate feeling I had, or just what I was thinking since I was at home at the moment and not out on the road. It was even more strange because I'm usually able to look at the positive side to most things, but all I could remember were the bad parts about being a Backstreet Boy.

Still, I knew the other guys were probably counting on me, and I didn't want to show up on Thursday and tell them that I had nothing done. So I got out my lyric book and tried to get to work.

I read over some of the random musings that were in there. Usually I keep that book with me at all times in case something comes to my mind and I need to write it down right away. There's not a lot to work with in there, just a few random phrases. I didn't know how I'd turn them into a whole song.

Usually this wasn't something I did on my own. There are a few songs that I've written, but never when I've felt like I had to write them. I just wrote them because I wanted to and I guess they were good enough that they made a couple albums.

I thought back to the trip to the Bahamas the five of us took to write songs for Black and Blue. That had been an adventure. We'd spent two weeks there, just us five, no girlfriends or anyone else with us. It had been a great bonding experience, and we'd created some great material.

It was strange to think that it had only been about a year and a half since that had happened. Everything was so different now. Maybe that was what we needed, another trip to get to know each other again and just do work while having fun with it.

The problem was, while I knew that was what we needed, I really didn't want to do it. I didn't want to leave Leighanne for two weeks, and who knows if AJ would want to do something like that once he got out of rehab.

I just felt like I had lost all the passion and drive associated with my career, and I had no idea how to get it back.

Closing my lyric book, I made my way upstairs to wake up my wife. I would deal with trying to get some work done tomorrow.

~~~


Kevin was right about one thing, we had nothing to show the record company. There was no reason for them to believe us that we wanted to go into the studio and record another album instead of doing a greatest hits. And they were already pretty set on the greatest hits, so unless we had a good case for them, it was happening. There was no way around it.

Problem was, I didn't write music well on my own. I knew that Brian and Kevin did all right with it, but we did our best work as a group. We always have. It's hard to do that when we're scatted around the country.

I had a sinking feeling we were going to end up doing the greatest hits album and not recording another album of new material. As much as we all said we were in it, none of us were putting forth the effort to actually get it done.

As far as I knew, anyway.

I already knew that Brian was coming in on the Thursday before the meeting, but I hadn't gotten a hold of Nick yet. Once again, he was being a complete phone flake. He didn't return any of my calls, and he never picked up his home or cell phone. I didn't even know if we was still at home in Florida, to be honest. He could have been anywhere. Knowing Nick he may have flown to Japan for some video game release.

I knew that probably wasn't the case. Nick just sucked at returning calls. So I sighed, dialed his number and tried again.

Instead of ringing six times and then going to voicemail, it only rang twice, cut off and then went to voicemail. So at least I knew he was still alive, he just didn't want to be bothered.

I rolled my eyes. He was probably with a girl.

“Hey Nicky,” I said lightly. “I know that you're probably busy, but I've been trying to get in contact with you. We have our record company meeting this Friday and Brian is coming in on Thursday. We're also all going to visit AJ in rehab on the following Sunday. I hope we'll see you then.”

I hung up my phone and looked at it for a second, trying to will it to ring. I always did that when I left a message I knew was unlikely to be returned. I was worried about Nick. I didn't know if we'd done something to upset him when he was here because he was acting really distant and weird. At least, I thought he was. It's hard to know when you can't get ahold of the guy!

I just hoped if he wasn't going to call me back, that he'd at least show up on Friday.

~~~


“Hey baby,” I said coyly as I leaned against the railing dividing the dance floor and the seating area. I was hitting on some blonde chick who was there with her friend. I'd let Chris go after her friend, since it had been the blonde one who was eyeing me all night. I could tell she knew who I was and was too shy to come over and say anything. Plus, she had a nicer rack.

“Hey,” she replied, blushing. At least, I think she was blushing. It was sort of too dark in there to tell.

I had told Chris that I was sick of his lame hipster pubs. Okay, okay, I'll admit, I do like singing karaoke and yeah I'd gone there on my own in the first place. That was how I'd found him, after all. But after a while those places just get to be dull, and those chicks are never hot and never know who I am. Or if they do, they don't care. And that doesn't work out so well for me.

So I decided I wanted to go to a cool dance club and get my groove on! That'd be slick. I knew the chicks there would dig me.

And guess what? I was right.

“What's your name, beautiful?” I asked, looking down into her eyes.

She giggled and looked down at her feet. “Tina.”

“That's a pretty name.” It's not that pretty of a name.

She giggled again, obviously nervous. “Thanks Nick.”

Aha, bingo! I knew she knew who I was! I mean, okay, most girls do, but still. “You're welcome,” I said sweetly, giving her that smirk that all the girls love for some reason. “Do you come here a lot?”

“No, I just came here with my friend and my b... just with my friend.”

I chose to ignore the fact that she was obviously covering up that her boyfriend was there too. If she didn't want me to know about him, that meant only good things for me! “I don't come here a lot either. But it kinda sucks... the music is lame.”

The music was actually really lame. They played that stupid Nsync song that Howie likes.

“Yeah, it's really lame,” she quickly agreed.

“Do you wanna get out of here?”

She didn't say anything, she just nodded. Good enough for me! I draped my arm around her and we left the club, Chris and her friend (and boyfriend, apparently) behind.

I'm awesome.
Day 15 by Sakabelle
“I won't be here when you call me
You might go crazy thinking I have gone”

-Nathan 'Sunset Chaser'


I know that the rest of the guys always make fun of me for constantly being on the phone, but what can I say? I like to keep in contact with people.

I guess that was why it had bothered me so much that Nick still hadn't got back to me. He had to be at least aware that someone had called him, and I'd tried phoning him again in the morning, but he hadn't picked up. He was probably still sleeping, but it still bugged me.

I was worried about him, and if I'm being completely honest I'd been worried about him since the second he'd left LA. It wasn't unlike Nick to have that spaced out look on his face, and it wasn't even unlike him to act somewhat distant, especially on our time off. But for some reason this felt different.

Usually I didn't worry to much about Nick, I just let him do his own thing. I understand that we all need time to ourselves. But like I said, this time felt different. Plus there was the matter of our record company meeting and our visit with AJ. I like to have my plans in order way in advance, it's sort of a neurotic tick of mine. I just like to know my schedule ahead of time.

It was driving me nuts.

If there was one person who would know what to do in this situation, it would be Kevin. He was the king of worrying about Nick.

“Hey Kevin,” I said once he answered. “I still haven't been able to get ahold of Nick yet...”

“How is that any different than usual?” he asked, sounding annoyed. “He never picks up his phone. What's the point in him even having one?”

“Yeah I know. Remember that time he got lost in New York and it took us three hours to find him?” I laughed. I'm pretty sure Nick cut five years off Kevin's life that day. He said he was going across the street to Burger King and instead decided to go to McDonald's which was a few blocks away. No bodyguard, and of course he ended up getting lost on his way back to the hotel.

“I forgot I had a cell phone,” Kevin imitated Nick's sheepish voice from when we finally found him. “Did you leave him a message telling him the details? He'll show up.”

“Yeah I did,” I sighed. “But you know, I'd like to know for sure.”

“Well what else does he have to do?”

Okay, Kevin had me there. It's not like Nick was swamped with work back in Florida. “Yeah, you're right.”

“Trust me, D. If I'm not worried, there's no reason for you to be worried.” he paused. “Unless you know something that I don't.”

I thought back to the lost look in Nick's eyes when I dropped him off at the airport. “No. I don't know anything.”

~~~


“Why don't you take a break?” Leighanne asked me. I guess she could tell I was stressed out. It was probably obvious, I was sitting at the table hunched over a notebook. Head in my hands instead of the pen.

“No time for a break,” I muttered, without looking up.

Before I knew it she'd pulled a chair up beside me and joined me in my misery. Or at least pretended to. I don't think she was as miserable as I was. There was no reason for her to be. She didn't have a huge meeting to get prepared for at the end of the week. Her entire career didn't rest on actually doing some work to show she was serious about the career she wasn't entirely sure she was serious about.

I'm aware that last part didn't make sense. Remember how I said I was stressed out?

“Well, let me see what you have there,” she offered. Before I could protest she picked up the notebook and started reading, and then singing the lyrics to herself.

I just sat and listened. They didn't actually sound half bad when they weren't just words on paper taunting me to finish writing the rest of them.

She looked up at me when she was done. “It's not bad.”

I shrugged.

“What?”

“Nothing, I just didn't enjoy writing at all. It wasn't fun, it wasn't therapeutic the way it used to be, and I just don't think I can sing another song about lost love and heartbreak.” I looked at Leighanne and tried to read her expression. She didn't look angry or upset, she just listened to what I had to say. “I used to love writing songs, but I don't want to write something that's going to end up a track on the album that no one's going to listen to.”

She smiled. “Your fans listen to all your songs, Brian.”

I knew that they did. I was just being bitter and over-dramatic at the prospect of having to do more of them same all over again. “Yeah, I know. I just don't want to write one. I'm so uninspired when it comes to music lately.”

“Have you talked to any of the other guys about this?” she asked, after thinking for a moment.

“No,” I admitted.

“Maybe you should,” she said. “It's been a tough year for all of you. Maybe they're feeling the same way. Or maybe they've been there before and can help you.”

She was probably right about that, but I didn't know if me admitting that I had nothing ready for our meeting would go over so well.

“You could call Nick,” she grinned.

I shook my head. Nick wouldn't be of any help, and Leighanne knew that. “No,” I said, getting up and walking towards the phone. “I'll call Kevin. He always knows what to do.”

~~~


I swear, the second I hung up the phone from my conversation with Howie, the phone was ringing again. This time it was Brian. If Nick called me right after I'd be three for three. And our MIA Nick issue would be solved in the process.

“Hey,” I answered. “I just got off the phone with Howie.”

“Oh yeah?” he said lightly. “What's he up to?”

“Nothing,” I replied, not really wanting to get into the fact that he was panicking about Nick. Which was causing me to panic about Nick. Isn't Howie supposed to be the one who keeps us all calm? “We were just talking about the meeting.”

“Yeah, about that...” Brian started, and there were a couple seconds of silence before he continued. “I have nothing ready. And I'll probably have nothing by Friday at the rate I'm going.” His voice sounded small. It reminded me of when we were younger and he was admitting something bad he'd done to his mom. Brian was always like that, he always told his mom everything. He was incapable of keeping secrets, even if he knew they were going to get him into trouble.

He's a good guy like that.

“Yeah, honestly, neither do I,” I admitted. “And I probably won't by Friday either. Howie told me he doesn't have anything either.”

Again we shared silence. At this rate, our next album was going to be the greatest hits. We couldn't exactly complain about that, after all it wasn't like we'd done much to stop it.

“So,” Brian finally said. “You're telling me that convincing the record company that we're dedicated to doing another record instead of a compilation rests on if Nick has anything written?”

“I guess so.”

Not that I didn't have faith in Nick's songwriting abilities, he's actually pretty good at it when he sits down and tries. The thing is that he has to actually sit down and try. Not play Nintendo, hit on girls, or hang out on his boat.

“Well, I hope he's had more luck than the rest of us,” Brian laughed, but I could tell it was forced. We both knew that Nick probably hadn't done much of anything productive while he was at home. Especially if Howie wasn't even able to get ahold of him.

Friday's meeting wasn't going to go well at all.

~~~


I exhaled slowly and watched the smoke disappear into the air. There's something much better about smoking weed than a regular cigarette. You know, because cigarettes de-stress you, but weed de-stresses you and makes you feel like everything is awesome.

Or at least really, really chilled out. Plus, unlike alcohol, you aren't hungover afterwards! Even better, it doesn't make you all full and gross feeling the next day.

Okay, I guess that's basically the same as hungover, but you get my point. It's just relaxing.

Usually I was pretty good about not smoking in my house. Because I didn't like to make my whole house smell like pot. You know, in case my parents or someone decided to show up. Not like my parents didn't smoke a lot of weed or anything, who do you think gave me my first joint? I'll give you a hint, it starts with D and rhymes with 'bad'. Get it? 'Cause that's a bad thing to give your kid!

Okay, so it probably wouldn't be so bad if my parents showed up. Not like they ever would anyway. It would be bad if Kevin randomly showed up. He'd probably flip out, give me his speech about how drugs are bad, AJ is in rehab, it's going to lead to cocaine and heroin and I'll end up dead blah blah blah...

Kevin is such a buzzkill sometimes! I've never done cocaine or any of that shit. Kevin would beat the living shit out of me. Also, I don't like sticking shit in my nose. I don't even use that decongestant nasal spray stuff. I just live with being sick. I'm hardcore like that!

I put my smoke out and looked around the room. Chris said he was going to be there around nine, but it was nine-fifteen and he hadn't shown up yet. I was bored, and I wanted to go clubbing. Where the hell was he?

I looked at my cell phone on the table. There was a voicemail on it... maybe Chris had called and I was too high to notice. Or maybe my phone was on silent. Sometimes I left my phone on silent and forgot about it. Anyway, time to listen to the voicemail.

After a couple seconds I realized it wasn't Chris, but Howie. Well, that was less fun. I didn't want to deal with work stuff, and Howie was all about work stuff. You know, I think that some people don't realize it but being a Backstreet Boy is basically a job, and this was my time off. No one likes being called in to work on their time off!

So I deleted the message. I'd call Howie back another time. A time when it wasn't Nick and Chris clubbing and hitting on girls time.

Speaking of Chris, that was when he walked in the door. Perfect timing, except for the being late part.

“Ready to go?” I asked, getting up from my couch.

“Yeah,” he said, and then raised his eyebrow. “Dude, you stink. At least put on some cologne.”

Dammit. Okay, there is one downside to smoking. You smell like shit afterwards. “Shit, okay, one sec.” I ran upstairs to the bathroom and looked for something to mask the smell. Opening the cabinet, I didn't find much, except for a bunch of girly body sprays Mandy left here when she moved out.

Fucking Mandy leaving shit in my house! What am I going to do with that stuff?

I guess I could have used it to cover up the pot smell... but it was way too girly. Why can't girls ever have regular scented stuff? Why does it always have to be lavender or vanilla? Why can't it just be like...plain?

Eventually I did find something that wasn't a girl spray and I was ready to go. Not dealing with Backstreet, not dealing with having a girlfriend, just dealing with going out and not worrying about any of that shit. It's my life, and no one's going to tell me what to do but me!
Day 16 by Sakabelle
“The strangers whose faces I know.
We meet here for our dress-rehearsal to say 'I wanted it this way'
Wait for the year to drown.
Spring forward, fall back down.
I'm trying not to wonder where you are.”

-The Weakerthans 'Left and Leaving'


I woke up early the next morning. I thought I would be less worried after my conversation with Kevin, after all, I wasn't the only one who was going to let the group down. Instead I felt more worried. But not about our meeting. What was going to become of our careers after the meeting.

It didn't help that while changing channels I'd come across the fact that MTV was replaying our diary episode that showed off our 100 hour tour. I couldn't believe that had been less than a year ago.

I found myself actually watching it instead of flipping to another station. In the early days, whenever I happened to catch us on TV (which wasn't often, since we were always on the go) I'd sit down and watch. It felt surreal. Now, I would always change the channel, because if I actually had the time to be at home and relax I didn't want to spend that time thinking about work.

“I don't know why they put beer in here, we don't drink beer.”

“I drink beer.”

“AJ drinks beer, but he's not supposed to be drinking beer.”

As I watched the exchange between TV AJ and TV Howie, a chill ran down my spine. It was like I was watching all the events of the past year that lead up to this point unfolding in front of me. I know that's a little bit of an odd thing to say about an episode of MTV Diary, but it's the truth. That 100 hour tour, though the experience of a lifetime, was the beginning of the end.

Maybe it was just because it was the launch of the album that had been nothing but trouble for us. Maybe it was because around that time was when we'd begun to realize AJ truly had a problem. He'd been late to meet us the day the 100 hour tour was supposed to kick off. Then, we hadn't been able to get in touch with him days before the tour was supposed to start.

But he was in rehab now, I had to remind myself. Everything with AJ was going to be okay. It was just difficult to sit here and be reminded of it all.

Still, I continued to watch.

I watched us doing our huddle at at EMAs, and I smiled to myself. No matter how rough things got, we always found time to do that huddle. It help us grounded, and it was a good way for us to get our heads in the right place. Just like I'd explained on the show.

Watching that special was making me feel very awkward. On one hand, I felt nostalgic about everything we'd done and everything we'd accomplished. I'd always felt very blessed about how successful we'd been in our career.

On the other hand, it made me feel tired. I remembered how I felt about our busy schedule, and how I wasn't able to spend as much time with my wife and family (outside of the other guys) as I'd liked.

I just didn't know if I wanted to do it anymore.

~~~


“So, none of you have anything ready to show the record company?” Leigh asked, looking at me with sympathy. We'd gotten together for lunch and I ended up telling her the whole story.

“Right,” I paused. “Well, except for Nick. We don't know what he's got, if anything.”

“Because he isn't answering is phone or calling you back,” she said, repeating what I'd told her only minutes before.

“Exactly.”

She thought about what I said for a couple of minutes. Taking a sip of her lemonade, she raised her eyebrows. “So, do you think you'll end up doing the greatest hits CD?”

“I don't think we'll have much of a choice,” I replied, shaking my head. It was true, we had no way to convince the record company not to release it. Other than us telling them that we didn't want to do it. Which probably wouldn't matter, anyway.

“Would it really be so bad?”

Of course it would be bad! Wouldn't it? “I don't think it's the smartest move. It'll make the public think that we're finished. That we're moving on.”

“Yeah, but if you put out another CD afterwards, people aren't going to not buy it just because you put out a greatest hits a couple of years beforehand,” she reasoned.

I guess she was right about that. Still, the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. “Yeah, I know. It's just getting around to recording that next CD. I think that's going to be a problem. All of us are really worn out.”

She reached over the table and put her hand on top of mine. “It's okay if you guys don't want to jump back into the studio right away.”

I laughed a little. “You're probably the only person who thinks that,” I said.

“Well, it's true. You guys work really hard, you're always on the go. If you want to take a little time for yourselves before going back into the studio, it might even help. You don't want to just churn something out because you feel like you have to. You should do it because you want to.”

I couldn't really argue with her. She wasn't wrong. The problem is, I didn't know if the record company would see it that way.

~~~


The next morning (well actually, I think it was closer to the afternoon...) when I woke up I had no clue where I was. All I knew what that I was in some bedroom and when I stared at the walls I was face to face with...myself. Over and over and over again. I was all over the place.

It was really creepy.

I sat up and looked around. Yeah, I was in some fan's bedroom. The thing about me not taking girls back to my place usually works, because I don't have to kick them out the next morning. But I usually just end up in some hotel room. The girls don't usually bring me back to their place.

Thank God for that, because the room was creepy as hell. I didn't need Brian, AJ, Kevin and Howie's eyes watching me in the middle of the act, thank you very much! Even though they could probably learn a few things from me. Well, maybe not AJ.

Before I could think any more about the other fella's sex lives (that's probably a good thing) the girl who I seduced the night before came back into the room.

“Morning, Nick,” she smiled as she sat down on the bed beside me. She handed me a plate with a sandwich on it. The whole situation was really odd and I just wanted to get out it as soon as possible.

“Morning,” I muttered. I didn't know what else to say. I couldn't tell her I wanted to get out of there and just ditch her. I mean, I could do that, but Kevin had already given me enough lectures about being a dick to fans I'd slept with.

Actually, he'd already given me enough lectures about sleeping with fans in general, but that wasn't the point!

“I brought you something to eat,” she said sweetly, looking down at the plate I held in my hands.

“Uh, yeah, thanks,” I said stupidly. I continued to sort of look around. What kind of fan her age has posters all over the wall anyway? I thought that was reserved for the ten year olds! Our fans terrified me sometimes. Why did I get myself into this mess?

Her room did have a pretty big window... I didn't know if I would be able to fit out of it. But after a quick glance I saw that she was on the main floor of the house. At least it wouldn't be a big fall!

“Do you need something?” she asked quickly, running her hand through my hair.

“Um,” I started, thinking of how I could get her out of there so I would be able to make a run for it. “Do you have any coffee or something?”

“I could make some!” she exclaimed, jumping off the bed. “I'll be back in a few minutes.”

I had no time to waste. I gathered up my clothes and got dressed faster than I ever had in my entire life. I made sure to check if I had my wallet, because the last thing I wanted to do was leave my credit cards with some psycho fan.

I slid open the window and looked at the screen. I had no idea how I was going to take that off so I could climb out. Unfortunately for me, I was too slow trying to figure that out.

“What are you doing?” I heard the girl's voice from behind me.

“Just needed some fresh air,” I said, and flashed her a grin.

It must have worked because she looked giddy and handed me the coffee. I took a sip of it and I have to say it was actually pretty good. If I was going to be trapped here for the rest of my life at least I had good coffee to look forward to.

“What are you doing today?” she asked, looking at me intently.

Suddenly an idea popped into my head. It wasn't as good as climbing out the window, but it would get me out of her place fast! “I was supposed to meet some of the guys for lunch... oh shit, what time is it?”

“It's just after one,” she replied, looking concerned.

I tried my best to act shocked. “Fuck! Are you serious? I'm over an hour late, oh man, they're always ragging on me for never being on time. Look baby, I gotta go before they kick my ass.”

I think I'm a pretty good actor, if I do say so myself!

She pouted, but she seemed to believe me. “I made food for you...”

“Yeah, I know, and I really appreciate it. But the other guys are gonna kill me. They've probably already sent out the search party.”

“Well.. okay... I don't want them to be mad at you,” she said, and grabbed a pen and paper off her desk. “Here.” She handed it to me. It was her phone number.

“Thanks baby,” I grinned, shoving it in my pocket. “I'll call you later.” Ha!

After giving her a quick kiss on the cheek I was out of there so fast I hardly even took a breath. In fact, I didn't even stop running until I was about three block away from her house.

I wanted more than anything to forget that ever happened. I really just wanted to go home and get high and not deal with how much of a dick I felt like. I wondered where Chris went after we left the bar. I reached into my pocket to give him a call -

Oh shit.

~~~


“I'm calling him again,” I said out loud.

“Kevin, he's fine.” Kris tried to tell me, but I wouldn't hear of it.

“He's not answering his phone.”

“He's probably still asleep.”

I chose to ignore her completely rational thought and dialed his cell phone number anyway. I was pretty sure that between Howie and myself, his voicemail was full, but I didn't care. I was done playing games, and if making his phone ring off the hook was going to get him to pick up, then so be it.

“Hello?” Success! Oh wait, it was some girl picking up the phone. Not Nick. God dammit!

“Hello, who's this?” I asked, even thought it probably didn't matter. Nick himself probably didn't even know her name.

“Amy,” she replied.

“Hi Amy,” I said quickly. I was happy that someone had actually answered the phone. However, I was annoyed that even Nick's groupies were better at picking it up than him! “I was actually looking for Nick, could you put him on please?”

“I wish I could, but he's not here.”

“What?”

“He left his phone here,” she said. “But don't worry, he's coming back. I'll tell him that you called, Kevin!”

I chose to ignore the possibility that Nick had slept with a crazy fan who would recognize my voice, and instead figured she'd seen my name come up on the caller ID. “Do you know when he'll be coming back?”

“He said he would call me,” she replied.

I knew what that meant. “Well, when you see him could you please let him know that I'm looking for him?”

“I will! Bye Kevin!”

“Bye,” I said, hanging up the phone. I sighed and looked over at Kris. She just shrugged sympathetically.

The next time I saw Nick, I was going to kill him.
Chapter End Notes:
I don't usually link up the songs I use at the beginning of the chapter, but this one has always reminded me of BSB and of their hiatus after Black and Blue/coming back for Never Gone. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgJ6soX18R8
Day 17 by Sakabelle
“Everybody's got their problems
Everybody says the same things to you
It's just a matter how you solve them
And knowing how to change the things you've been through”

-Sum 41 'The Hell Song'


“Dude, I can't believe you left your phone at her place,” Chris laughed. It was like two in the morning and we were completely drunk and stoned off our asses. Instead of picking up chicks we'd just decided to go back to my place and chill.

“Shut the fuck up!” I shouted, for no reason at all other than we were sitting on my back porch and I could be as loud as I wanted.

Chris took a drag from his cigarette and looked up at the sky. “So what are you gonna do? Are you gonna go back and get it?”

“Fuck no! I'll just buy another one.” Go back and get it? Was he insane? What would a new phone cost me, a couple hundred bucks? So worth it to not have to see the crazy poster fan again. “It's not like she can call me with it... cause you know, she's the one who's got it!”

“It's got all your numbers in it though. She could call your friends with it.”

I laughed. “Like she gives a shit about calling any of my friends. None of the numbers on there would interest her.”

Chris leaned over and looked at me with the most serious face I'd ever seen on him. “I can think of four numbers on there that probably would. Maybe even five if you have your brother on there, since he's all famous now too. Come to think of it, Aaron's Party is a really fucking dope CD. I've never told anyone that before, but I rock out to it a lot.”

I stopped listening to Chris as he rambled on about my brother and felt my face turn white. It was true, Kevin's and the other guys numbers were in my phone. Would she call them? I wanted to say she didn't seem like that much of a psycho, but I never like to give my fans that much credit. They can do some crazy shit.

I had to get my phone back.

“We have to get it,” I said sharply, cutting Chris off in the middle of his rendition of That's How I Beat Shaq.

“Get what?”

“My phone! We have to go back there and get it!” I stood up and stomped out the cigarette I'd been smoking. “We can't just let her keep it and have access to all Backstreet Boys all the time! Do you know how fucking dangerous that is?” I continued ranting and talking to myself as I walked inside and started looking for my car keys. Chris wasn't even listening, he just stayed on the deck. “I mean, okay, no one really goes as crazy over the rest of them as they do with me but still, if she calls Kevin, he will flip out! You do not want Kevin to flip out! Aha!” I pumped my fists in the air when I found my keys sitting on the table by the front door.

I ran back to the porch to get Chris. “Let's go!”

Chris rolled his eyes, but he got up and followed me to the driveway where my car was parked anyway. “Do you even remember where she lives?”

“She lives near a 7-11.”

“Well, that really narrows it down.”

I thought really hard as we got into the car and I pulled out of the driveway. “It's the one with the really good cherry slushies!” I remembered. “I know because I had one after I left her place and it was awesome.”

“Yeah but Nick that house could be any house! Was it a big house? Was it a small house? What colour was it?” Chris stared out the window of the passenger's side. He didn't really seem all that interested in the quest to find my cell phone. Well, it wasn't him who was going to get in shit!

“It was a small house,” I said, and tried to concentrate on my driving. I was pretty sure I'd already run two red lights. Not that it really mattered because it was two in the morning and there was no one else around. Still, I didn't think it would be so good to get caught driving drunk. The press would have a field day with that one!

“There are a lot of small houses around here.”

“Yeah Chris, I realize that okay! Will you just shut up and try to be on the lookout for a 7-11 that sells cherry slushies!”

“You're the one driving the car, Nick.”

Oh yeah. I guess I would have to be the one to find the 7-11. Which eventually I did, thank you very much! I pulled into the parking lot and stopped the car. Glancing around, I tried to figure out what direction I'd come from earlier that day.

“Well?” Chris asked, looking bored.

“I think it's down that street,” I said, pointing past the 7-11 to a bunch of houses.

Chris didn't say anything, and I started the car up again. I drove slowly down the street, trying to find anything that looked familiar. After a while, all the houses started to look the same, but eventually I ended up in front of the one I thought I'd left earlier.

I mean, I sort of remembered it having a really long sidewalk, but that could have just been my imagination. Either way I stopped the car and urged Chris to get out.

“No way, man,” he said, shaking his head. “I'm not going in there with you.”

What a douche. I left him in the car and walked up to the house. I didn't think it would be such a good idea to ring the doorbell at, what, almost four in the morning? Holy shit it was getting late! Anyway, I remembered that she had a big window in her bedroom so I walked around the back until I found it.

I tried to peer in through the window, but I couldn't get a very good view. I couldn't see my phone anywhere, hell I could hardly see anything!

“Damn it,” I cursed to myself, pressing my hands up against the window. I froze as it made a really loud sound. I could just knock on the window, she'd wake up, and give me my phone back! It was the perfect plan.

Except that it wasn't.

I knocked on the window until she woke up. Anyone walking by probably would have thought I was a crazy person. Who goes around knocking on girl's windows? Creepy guys, that's who!

“Nick?” she asked through the screen when she finally got up, holding her hand on her chest. “You terrified me! What are you doing?”

“I missed you,” I said, flashing her the stupidest grin I could come up with. “And I uh, lost your phone number...” I said sheepishly, for added effect.

It worked, 'cause I'm fucking awesome like that. “Oh,” she said quickly. “Well, do you want to come in? I'll go around and let you in through the front.”

I thought about how I was going to have to leave Chris in the car. I also thought about how, for the sake of my phone, I was going to have to spend another night in creepy Backstreet Boys picture room.

“Yeah...okay...” I said slowly, and she ran out of the room. I sighed, hanging my head as I walked around the house.

That was when I noticed my car was gone. God fucking dammit! Chris better have taken it back to my house!

~~~


“Brian and Leighanne are flying in tomorrow, are they going to stay with you again?” I asked Kevin. The two of us were going over our meeting plans at my house that afternoon.

“I don't know, I guess so,” he said, looking deep in thought. “You really want Nick to stay with you again?”

“I don't mind,” I really didn't. It was better he actually be here and stay with me that out in Florida doing God knows what. This upcoming weekend was going to be hard for all of us. The meeting wasn't even going to be the worst part. Seeing AJ was, of course, going to be the most tough.

Kevin shrugged. “Okay.”

“So what are we going to do about the meeting?” I asked cautiously. “Our plan sort of failed.”

“Yeah.”

I sighed. “The bottom line is, we can't really stop them from putting out a greatest hits album. If they want to, they'll do it. We don't have to really do any promotion for it, but if we don't it'll probably cause some bad blood with Jive, which is the last thing we want.” I looked down at the papers in my hand. “I mean, maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.”

“I guess not.”

I frowned, looking at Kevin. He was being unusually passive, and it was worrying me. I was sure he had a lot on his mind. That's the thing about Kevin, he's always so busy being the big brother of the group that he rarely lets on when he's upset about something.

“Something, wrong, Kev?” I asked lightly.

“Just thinking about the meetings,” he responded.

I dropped it. I knew by 'meetings' he was talking more about visiting with AJ than visiting with Jive. I was about to speak up again when my cell phone rang. I peered down at it and looked at the name on the caller ID.

Well, it was about time! I was so happy to finally hear from him I didn't even crack a joke when I answered. “Hello?”

“Hey, D,” Nick's voice came through the other line. “Um, what's up?”

“Just planning our meetings for this weekend. Did you get my messages? Are you going to be joining us? We're also going to visit AJ on Sunday,” I spoke really fast, trying to get everything I had to say him to out before he hung up. Not that I thought he'd hang up on me or anything, but I guess I was just anxious.

“Oh...” he said. I didn't know what he was doing, but it sounded like there was a lot of background noise. “Yeah, um, I guess. I didn't know you were going to see AJ. Is he doing okay?”

Before I had a chance to respond, Kevin glanced at me. “Is that Nick?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Can I talk to him?”

“Howie?” I heard Nick say over the phone. “Is Kevin with you?”

“Yeah he's here.”

“He wants to talk to me, doesn't he?” Nick's voice on the phone sounded small. I wondered what he'd done and how Kevin knew about it.

I glanced at Kevin oddly when Nick said that. Nick and Kevin had a weird relationship. A lot of times Kevin acted like an older and wiser brother to Nick, which is basically what he was. But sometimes, they became like a parent and a child. Usually that was when Nick screwed up.

I hated being in the middle of it, and usually tried to avoid that situation at all costs. But it couldn't really be helped this time, since I was quite literally in between the two of them.

“Yeah, he does,” I said, and Nick didn't respond. “I'll put him on.”

~~~


Howie handed the phone to me and I don't think I could have felt any more confused or worried than I already did if I'd tried. In between pretty much admitting defeat against the label, thinking about our meeting with AJ and Nick finally contacting us, it was shaping up to be a very tiring and stressful afternoon.

“So you got your phone back, I see.”

“Uh, yeah, I left it at that girl's house. I checked the call logs, she didn't call any of you guys though. So that's good, right? Hopefully she won't give your numbers to all of her friends,” he laughed.

Leave it to Nick to forget his phone in the worst place possible. “Why would she want to give out our numbers to her friends?”

Nick didn't say anything for a second, and I could hear some rustling in the background. “What are you doing?” I asked, knowing he wasn't going to give me an answer to my first question.

“Walking home. I don't have my car...”

“Don't tell me this girl has your car too,” I said, only half jokingly.

“No. Chris has it, and I think he took it back to my place but I was trying to get my phone back last night and I was kinda drunk and I didn't remember where this girl lived and look Kev, it's all good, okay? No need to worry!”

I could practically hear him grin stupidly through the phone. I sighed. Nick acting like a drunken brat was not what I needed to deal with right now. We had too many other important things coming up that didn't even compare to his bullshit. “So you drove drunk to retrieve your lost phone at some fan's place. Left your car, some random guy now has your car, and I'm assuming also the keys to your house?”

“...yes.”

“Nick!”

“What?”

I sighed and tried to keep myself from going off on him, especially since I'd been so worried about him for the past few days. That was usually how it happened with Nick though, he'd do something stupid to cause me worry and then I'd flip out at him because he just couldn't see how what he'd done affected others around him. It took everything I had to not ask him if he a complete idiot. The only reason I didn't was because I already knew the answer. “Do you really think any of that was a good idea?”

“No, but I couldn't exactly help it! It all just sort of happened. You know, shit happens. Some of it was a mistake and I'm sorry, jeez.”

The fact that he'd obviously been out in Florida not giving a shit about anything to do with the group or his responsibilities was driving me insane. I know that I'd been trying my best, as had Howie and Brian, to come up with something to present to the record company. We'd all been unable to write much of anything, but at least we'd been putting forth the effort. Nick didn't seem like he could care less.

“Have you written anything to present to Jive on Friday?” I asked, ignoring his excuses.

He hesitated. “Um, well I've been really busy out here.”

I scoffed. “Yeah, it sounds like you've been really busy.”

“I have been!” he defended himself. “Look Kevin, I've been really stressed out and I don't need you going all parental on me and shit. Just because you guys have nothing better to do than sit around and write songs all day long doesn't mean I need to do the same thing. And I get that we don't want to do a greatest hits album, and I'm sorry but you know what? It probably doesn't even matter what we do because you know that Jive will just get their way anyway. So why should I waste time busting my ass when I could be having fun on my vacation?”

“It's not supposed to be a vacation, Nick. If AJ hadn't gone to rehab we'd still be on tour right now.” I glanced over at Howie, who just shrugged. I knew he didn't like getting in the middle of my arguments with Nick, and I felt bad about doing this in front of him, on his phone no less, but I couldn't help it. Sometimes that kid filled me with rage.

“Yeah, and if we'd been on tour we wouldn't be doing any writing anyway, so...yeah,” he said, not really finishing his point.

I put my head in my hands. “Look, Nick. All of us were really worried about you. We called and called, and you never called any of us back. We didn't know what to think or if you were even going to show up to the meeting on Friday.”

I could hear him getting frustrated through the phone. These sorts of talks were a lot easier in person. Probably because I'd see the look on his face and feel sorry for him. Then I'd go easier on him. This time, since I couldn't hear any sort of remorse I didn't really care that I was being overly harsh on him.

“I don't even get why I need to come to this stupid meeting on Friday,” he grumbled.

“Because we were going to present a unified front to Jive.”

“I'm sure it won't make a difference,” he said. I didn't understand where his attitude was coming from. Last time we'd talked about this, he'd been more than happy about our plan with the record company. Now, it seemed like he wanted to do anything but.

“It doesn't matter,” I said. “We all agreed to go and we're all going. End of story.”

“Oh, sorry Kevin. I didn't realize that you were my boss. I thought we were all having a unified front and that we were all on equal ground, but I guess it's really what you say goes, isn't it? Because we're all just so worried about poor Nick down in Florida, fucking everything up as usual. Because I guess with AJ out of the picture there's no one else to blame all the group problems on.”

“Don't go blaming AJ for any of this,” I nearly yelled, and Howie jumped. “He's not the one who's down in Florida acting like a complete drunken mess.”

“No, he did it when we were out on tour,” he said lowly. “And you never gave him half the shit you're giving me right now.”

I didn't even know how this became about AJ. “Of course I did. Just because you weren't around to see it doesn't mean it didn't happen. We're not even talking about AJ right now, we're talking about you and how you better get your blonde ass to LA by Friday.”

“You know what Kevin? No. I don't have to take this bullshit from you. Isn't that what you always say to me? That I need an attitude adjustment? Well, maybe, just maybe it's not me. Maybe you need to respect me more as an equal member of the group. I'll show up if I damn well please, and I was gonna, but what's the point if you're just going to be watching me like a hawk the whole time making sure I don't fuck up? Forget it.”

And the he hung up.

I looked down at the phone in shock for a second before passing it back to Howie. Nick and I had argued before, but never quite like that. Usually he would own up to the fact that he'd been acting bratty. But that was different, and it sort of terrified me. That wasn't the kind of path I wanted him to go down, especially after we'd all just experienced the same downward spiral with AJ.

“Is he okay?” Howie asked cautiously.

“He's fine,” I replied, looking back down at the papers on the table. “He's not coming with us to the meeting.”

“I'll call him back later,” Howie said, looking sympathetic.

I sighed heavily. “Hopefully he'll pick up the phone this time.”

~~~


“Ready for a big day of travelling tomorrow?” Leighanne asked as we got ready for bed that night.

I laughed. “I wouldn't exactly call it a big day of travelling. More like a plane ride and then sitting down with the rest of the guys figuring out exactly what we're going to say to Jive.”

She nodded as she turned down the covers and climbed into our bed. “What are you going to say to Jive?”

“I don't know,” I replied, laying down next to her. “Probably not much. I only talked to Kevin for a couple of minutes, he didn't seem to want to stay on the phone for very long. He just made sure we were still staying with him and Kris and that was it.”

“It's going to be an interesting weekend,” she mused. “Are you nervous?”

About the record company meeting? Not at all. I already knew how that was going to go down. We were going to tell them we didn't want to do the greatest hits, and they were basically going to throw a ton of business jargon at us until we agreed to it.

Going to see AJ? Yeah, I was nervous. I had no idea what to expect or even what I would say to him. It was weird, but I almost felt awkward about it. I'd known him for nearly ten years, and I'd definitely seen him at his worst, but what would I say to him now that he was on the path to recovery. Of course I'd tell him that I loved him and that I was glad he was doing better, but would that really be enough?

I guess I'd just have to cross that bridge when I came to it.

“Yes,” I answered her question. “Mostly about seeing AJ, though.”

“I know, that's going to be so tough for you guys. You all left that tour on such a bad note, and you probably don't know what to expect from your visit with him. Hopefully once you see that he's doing much better you won't feel so nervous about it. It'll be fine once you guys are in the same room together.”

“I hope so,” I said. That was why I loved Leighanne. She was always able to put things into perspective for me.

“Trust me,” she smiled. “The five of you in the same room will be fine. Everything will go back to the way it was.” She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before closing her eyes.

I knew she'd meant well by telling me everything would go back to the same, but I couldn't stop hearing those words in my head over and over again. More albums, more promo, more touring and more record company headaches. The very thought of it all just made me tired.

I just had to trust that once we saw AJ and the five of us were together again, that our group dynamic would be fixed and that I wouldn't feel so drained anymore. That was a lot riding on one visit, and I knew that it was sort of unrealistic, but maybe seeing AJ with a new attitude would give all of us a new one as well.

I could only hope.
Day 18 by Sakabelle
“Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky are like shooting stars?
I could really use a wish right now.”

-B.o.B/Hayley Williams 'Airplanes'


Leighanne and I left for LA the next morning. There was no reason to delay our flight, we didn't have much to do at home anyway. Besides, I was anxious to get to California and get the meeting over with.

Not that us getting there any earlier made it so that the meeting would come and go any faster, but it made me feel a little less nervous. It's funny how the mind works sometimes.

I leaned my head up against the window of the plane and peered outside. It had been raining when we'd left, but now all I could see was a blue sky and the clouds underneath us. It was kind of nice, but at the same time the way I was feeling was just the opposite. There would be nothing to do with blue skies once we landed in LA.

I looked over at Leighanne as she slept beside me. She'd always been such an effortless flyer. Me? Not so much. I'd gotten used to it over the years but it still wasn't my favourite way to travel, that's for sure.

After one layover and another short flight, we finally made it to LA. Leighanne was all smiles as we walked through the airport.

I wished I could have slept on the flight too.

“Come on, love, cheer up,” she said brightly. “I know you're nervous, but once you see the other guys you'll see that there's really nothing to worry about.”

I nodded and tried to be appreciative of her advice. The truth was, as much as I wanted her to be right, I didn't think she was going to be.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I dreaded the record company meeting. Every time I pictured it I just felt angry and trapped. It always ended the same way, with me getting angry, Kevin trying to calm me down, and me eventually telling him that I didn't think I wanted to be in the group anymore.

I didn't dare say that out loud to anyone. Leighanne would probably cry and tell me that I was just feeling frustrated. Maybe that's all it was, I didn't know. Maybe I'd just created all these problems in my head when there really were none, but I didn't think that was the case. It wasn't like me to do something like that. I was usually able to think through situations like these pretty clearly.

That was mostly why I kept it to myself. I didn't know what I was thinking or even if it was how I truly felt. I'd just have to wait until I saw the others to know that.

The cab ride to Kevin's place was mostly silent. Well, on my end anyway. Leighanne kept babbling on about all the shops she wanted to visit while we were in LA. I was only half listening as I stared out the window. I couldn't care less about the designer clothes she wanted to buy or the shoes that went with them.

Eventually we made it to our destination. Of course as soon as we got there Kristin and Leighanne ran off to do their own thing, whatever that was. Like I said, I wasn't too concerned about her upcoming shopping spree.

“Hey,” Kevin said as we sat down in the living room. “Did you have a good flight?”

I shrugged. “The usual. It actually took off on time,” I joked.

Kevin laughed a little. “Shocking.”

I nodded. “So... are we going to be meeting up with Howie and Nick this evening to get everything sorted out for the meeting tomorrow?”

I noticed Kevin shift uncomfortably in his seat. I didn't blame him – I didn't want to talk about the meeting either. “I don't know when Nick's getting here,” he said.

I nodded again. “Well, I hope it's before tomorrow,” I laughed. “You know how that kid likes to sleep in and miss flights.”

Kevin just shook his head. “Yeah,” he said quickly. “Let's go to Howie's place. He's waiting for us.”

I shrugged and followed Kevin out the door. He was acting weird, and it wasn't making me feel any more secure about our future as a group. If anything, it was making me feel worse.

~~~


“I've really gotta go,” Leigh said as she was halfway out my front door. “Brian and Kevin are going to be here any second.”

“So?” I asked, pulling her in for another kiss. “It's not like you haven't met them before.”

She laughed and shook her head. “You guys have work stuff to do. I don't want to be in your way.”

“You wouldn't be in the way, we're probably not even going to do work.” It was true, we'd probably talk about the meeting for a bit and then sit around doing nothing.

She pouted a little bit, and I took that opportunity to kiss her again. Unfortunately that nice romantic moment was cut short by the blaring car horn outside my gate. Leave it to Kevin and Brian to act like complete asses. I thought they were supposed to be the mature ones!

I rolled my eyes and let them in the gate. “Hey guys,” I said once they got out of the car. “You know there is an intercom.”

“We know,” Kevin grinned a little. “But we didn't think you'd hear it.”

He was right, I probably wouldn't have.

“Hey Leigh,” Brian said lightly, and then looked over at me. He was wearing a goofy smile on his face.

“Hey guys,” Leigh said, blushing a little. “I was just leaving actually. Have fun,” she winked as she walked off towards her car.

“Bye,” I said quickly as I watched her go. After she drove off I turned to Kevin and Brian. “I hate you guys.”

They ignored what I said. “I didn't know you were dating Leigh,” Brian said instead.

“Yeah,” I shrugged. “Ever since we've been on the break, pretty much.”

It actually felt a lot longer than that. It was weird to think about the fact that we'd only been home for about two weeks.

“So, any word from Nick?” Kevin asked once we were back inside.

Oops, I had kind of forgotten about that. I mean, not completely. I'd just been so preoccupied with Leigh that I hadn't even thought about giving Nick a call. It was probably a good thing anyway, I was sure he needed some time to cool down.

“I haven't called him yet,” I said.

“What's going on with Nick?” Brian asked, looking and Kevin and I with a confused expression. I figured Kevin would have filled him in by now, but I guess he hadn't really wanted to talk about it.

“Nick's been busy,” I said quickly.

Kevin sighed. “Nick's acting like an entitled rock star who's going to get himself killed if he's not careful.”

Well, I guess Kevin's explanation worked too.

“What?” Brian asked, looking even more confused than he had before. “Are you sure? I mean, I haven't heard from him at all.”

“Exactly,” Kevin said. “It's been impossible to get ahold of him, and the only reason we did is because he left his phone with some girl he'd slept with. He called Howie to let him know that he got it back and the girl wouldn't call us.”

Brian didn't say anything, he just looked at Kevin, waiting for him to continue. I was hoping to avoid this whole conversation, but I guess that was just a pipe dream. Part of me had really thought that Nick was going to show up at my place that morning and everything would be fine.

He didn't. But there was still time. The meeting wasn't until tomorrow. For all we knew he could have been on a plane at that very moment.

~~~


I glared at Chris as he slept on my couch. I couldn't be that angry with him. After all he had brought my car back to my place. And he didn't even trash my place that much. He also didn't bring anyone there with him, so at least he was respecting the no uninvited guests rule now.

He still needed to learn the don't steal Nick's car rule, but not knowing that one was better than crazy chicks knowing where I lived!

I looked at the clock in the kitchen. It was still early in the afternoon. If I really wanted to I could probably catch a flight and make it to LA at a reasonable time.

Too bad I didn't really want to. Fucking Kevin. I was still fuming from everything he'd said to me the day before. I get that Kevin was old and married and that fun in his life had ended. He was probably jealous that I could still go out and hit on chicks and he had to be at home with his wife forever.

I mean, his wife was hot and all, but still.

I hated Kevin's judgemental attitude towards me. He always had to act like he was my great protector. It was like every time I screwed up he felt like he screwed up in making me not be a screw up.

Well, every time I thought about the meeting I just wanted to kick his ass.

I knew that me trying to kick his ass would result in nothing good, like me getting my ass kicked instead. So I just stayed home. The meeting was going to be boring anyway. All Jive was going to say was that the greatest hits album was happening and that was that.

Of course the other fellas would have none of that. My cell phone rang shortly after I'd turned on my Nintendo. It was Howie.

I had no problem with Howie, other than the fact that he'd let Kevin use his phone to bitch me out. “Hey,” I said, balancing the phone on my shoulder while I stomped on koopas. I pretended they were Kevin.

“Hey,” he said. “Are you going to be coming out to LA.”

“I already told Kevin, no.”

He sighed. I wondered if Kevin was with him. Brian was probably there too. Knowing them they'd probably had some long ass discussion and Brian was all disappointed in me. I didn't give a shit, though. Brian was always disappointed in somebody.

Howie didn't even pry about the meeting. “Okay then. What about when we go visit AJ on Sunday? Are you coming to that? I'm sure he'd really like to see you.”

I didn't want to see AJ at all. I mean, not that I wasn't thinking about him, I was. I swear I was. But seeing him in that rehab place didn't sit well with me. It made me feel kinda sick just thinking about it. I didn't want to go there. I'd much rather just see him when we were out on tour again and doing our regular Backstreet stuff.

“I don't think so, D.”

He didn't say anything back.

“I just would rather see him after it's all over,” I continued, so I didn't look like such an ass.

“Are you sure you don't want to come out to LA?” Howie asked. See, this is why talking to Howie is way better than talking to Kevin. He doesn't give lectures and shit. He just listens and acts nice.

“Is Kevin there?”

“Yes, Nick.” I could almost hear him roll his eyes over the phone. It was kind of a stupid question, I guess. Obviously Kevin was there.

“Then forget it. I'd rather stay here and do my own thing than be judged by him all weekend. You can tell him I said that too.” I didn't care how immature I sounded, I was still annoyed with Kevin.

He just sighed. “Okay, Nick. If you change your mind we'll be here.”

Not fucking likely.

~~~


“He's not coming,” Howie said as he re-entered his living room after talking on the phone with Nick. “He's still mad at you.”

I sighed heavily. Nick was trying every last bit of my patience. “Was I really that hard on him?”

Howie shook his head. “No, but he really thinks you were. I also think that he knows he's being a brat and doesn't want to admit it to anyone.”

He was probably right about that, Nick didn't even like to admit when he was wrong. Even more than that, he didn't like to admit that I was right. “Yeah, I guess so.”

I looked over at Brian. He looked like he was deep in thought. I felt kind of sorry for him. I remembered when we we first starting out and how close he and Nick used to be. Now they were so different it was getting harder and harder to remember why they had ever been best friends.

I know that's a really horrible thing to say, but it's true. They just grew apart and neither one of them wanted to admit it to the other. Their lives were so opposite from each others.

“What do you think, Bri?” I asked him.

“I don't even know what to think,” he said, rubbing his eyes out of frustration. “He's never acted like this before. I mean, not this bad. And it's not like he's never been home from being on tour before.”

I shook my head. I knew that Nick was upset about AJ, and I knew that he didn't even like being at home. Having to suddenly cut the tour short couldn't have been easy for him. “I just don't know what to do anymore, I tried my best.”

“Guys,” Howie interrupted us. “I think we should focus on talking about the meeting and not worry about Nick for now. Let him go through whatever he needs to go through, we'll deal with the record company. Our whole united front plan isn't really going to work out anyway.”

Brian and I exchanged a look. Howie was right about that, we couldn't blame Nick for the whole plan falling apart.

“So are we going to agree to it when they bring up the greatest hits thing?” Brian asked.

I shook my head. “I guess we don't really have a choice.”

“It still seems like kind of a career limiting move,” Howie said. “But I do think that we can come back from it. Our fans have stuck with us through a lot.”

The three of us sat there in the most thick silence I'd felt in a while. It felt like we were admitting defeat and waving goodbye to the last of our career. We were tired and we were burnt out, but I still wasn't sure we were ready to let go.
Day 19 by Sakabelle
Author's Notes:
Sorry this took so long! I got stuck on what was going to come after these next few chapters and didn't have much drive to work on this until I figured that out lol. I hope you guys like this update and I'll try to be quicker with the next one :)
“I don't know why I held it all inside
You must've thought I never even tried”

-Colin Raye 'Little Rock'


I shifted uncomfortably in my seat while we waited for the meeting to begin. The chairs in the big boardroom at Jive weren't as nice as you'd think they'd be. I mean sure, they looked nice, but the cushions were hard, and I always ended up with a sore ass by the time the meeting was over.

I must have been nervous, because my mind didn't usually drift off like that.

Glancing over at Howie and Brian, I could tell they were nervous too. Howie was writing something down in the notebook he'd brought, and Brian was absentmindedly tapping a pen on the table. It probably would have annoyed me if today wasn't the day we were going to decide the fate of our careers.

Some of our managers from The Firm were there as well, but they didn't look half as nervous as the three of us did. To them, it was just a job. It wasn't their entire life's work at stake.

Did I mention I didn't get much sleep the night before? That could be another reason for my grim outlook. That, and we were sitting in the Jive boardroom! Nothing good ever came out of a meeting in the Jive boardroom.

Eventually the suits started to file in. They were happy, chatting with each other, looking important. I had always sort of wondered what it would be like to have a job like that. To go all day from meeting to meeting, drinking lattes and wearing a suit and tie to work every day. Being able to leave the office at 5 and forget about my troubles until the next morning at 9.

The meetings and suits didn't entirely sound appealing, but the evenings and weekends sure did. That would be nice.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” said Bob Powell, one of the marketing directors at Jive. It wasn't unusual for him to head the meetings; he usually did as he was one of the people in charge of our account specifically. “And welcome to Kevin, Howie and Brian,” he continued, gesturing in our direction.

I nodded a little, but didn't smile. I also took notice of the seat next to Brian. It remained empty – all the business people were a little further down the big table from us. It probably wasn't intentional, but it still bothered me. The seat shouldn't have been empty. it should have been taken by that blonde kid who lived in Tampa.

I still felt angry with him, but it was quickly being replaced with worry, and a little envy. Nick had always been a 'do what I want' kind of guy, especially when it came to authority. I'm not saying I have any sort of authority over him, but I did see myself as a big brother and even a father figure at times. I only wanted what was best for him, and though I wasn't sure sitting in a stuffy boardroom was what he needed to help him go through whatever crisis he was having, I did think it would help the morale of the group. Even if our unified front plan hadn't worked out, it would have been nice to have all of us there.

But Nick was never one for meetings. Sometimes, he was the very definition of a spoiled rock star. It was strange, because in the past couple of years he'd actually become more professional. He was never late to rehearsals, meetings or anything like that. He took performances seriously, even quick a capella ones for our fans.

The sudden regression in his behaviour was disconcerting for me. It was worse now than when he was a teenager. Back then he would just stay up late playing video games and sleep in the next morning. Occasionally he and AJ would sneak beer into the hotel room, thinking that the rest of us had no clue.

Of course, we did know about it. Howie and I just figured it wasn't that big of a deal. Harmless teenage fun. After all, we'd both done the same type of thing when we were their age. What bad could come of it?

Yeah, still kicking myself for that one.

Bob started talking again, and I was brought back from my thoughts. I wished I'd been able to focus on what was being said. In my mind I had already clocked out of this meeting and was on to worrying about the more important one on Sunday.

~~~


“So, since we have Kevin, Brian and Howie with us today, let's start with what they're here to discuss.”

I listened intently as Bob started to talk. This was it, he was going to tell us about the plan for the greatest hits. It wasn't as dramatic as I thought it was going to be. Probably because I'd been in the first meeting they'd mentioned it in.

“As I'm sure you all are aware of, we've decided to distribute a greatest hits compilation, probably sometime this fall. We've looked over the numbers and what we're going to do is have a different track list for each country based on what were hits there. We're also going to include a new song to promote the album, and there will be a video to go along with that. Further to this, we've decided to release a DVD containing all your music videos.”

It was nice to know just how much say we had in our careers. It probably wouldn't have even mattered at this point even if we'd all written songs for the next album. It sounded like they had the entire thing planned out already.

“We haven't entirely ironed out all the details on the single to release, but you probably won't need to record anything new,” he continued. “There are still quite a few songs that were recorded for the last album that we can choose from.”

Again, nice to know how much say we had. “What about when we put an album out of new material?” I asked, and Brian and Kevin turned to look at me. “I mean, won't it be a little strange to put out a greatest hits album and then put out another new CD afterwards?”

“A lot of artists have put out greatest hits compilations and continued to make new music afterwards. We see this as something to tide your fans over while they wait for something new.”

Translation, they were missing the money we'd brought in with releasing Millennium and Black and Blue so close together.

“It could be the first of a few greatest hits records,” Bob said looking at the three of us. “You never know what the future holds in this business, and the fact is you do have quite a few hit singles under your belt. This will be something that even a casual fan can pick up, even if they don't own all of the other records.”

The business talk was usually interesting to me, but during that meeting I was just getting annoyed. I didn't even see the point to this meeting other than Jive informing us of something they'd already decided. Which, in all honesty was usually how our meetings with them went. I probably should have been more prepared for this.

“Why don't we name the album to reflect that?” I asked.

“Well, we were just going to go with 'Backstreet Boys: Greatest Hits' as an album name,” Bob said looking down at his notes. “We didn't really see the need for anything more.”

I nodded. “Sure, but it's just the greatest hits up to this point, right?”

“Yes,” Bob said stiffly, probably not liking the fact that I was trying to change their plans. If I didn't know any better, I'd think they probably had the album printed already!

“So why don't we name it like, collection one, or something?”

“How about 'Chapter One'?” Kevin suggested.

Chapter One, I liked that. It had a nice ring to it. Brian nodded. We all turned to look at Bob.

“I'm not sure, I mean, it does leave things open. But it also wouldn't look great if there wasn't a Chapter Two to follow it.”

“Why wouldn't there be a Chapter Two?” I asked.

“You can't guarantee you'll have hits in the future, you all know how quickly this industry changes. I'm not saying I don't want you to have success, but you can't expect it.”

Kevin sighed, and I could tell he was also getting annoyed. I couldn't blame him. “It's chapter one of our careers. Of course we can't know what's going to happen in the future. But this isn't going to be our last album, and we are still going to make new music. If we are going to agree to this, we don't want our fans to have any indication that this is it for us. We want them to know that this is just the beginning of many albums from us.”

Kevin was right, and I don't think I could have said it better myself. Our fans were constantly worried we were going to break up, there were always rumours circulation about that. Especially since the tour had been put on hold. The last thing they needed was another reason to think we might be finished.

Bob was quiet for a few minutes while he thought about what Kevin said. “All right,” he said finally. “We'll name the album Chapter One.”

I couldn't help but grin, even if it was a small victory.

~~~


I felt sick to my stomach.

I was pretty sure that I'd spent most of the night in my bathroom. In fact, I knew I did because that's where I woke up that morning. I didn't remember much of what I'd done the night before. All I knew was that I was pissed off at Kevin, and I'd gone out with Chris.

I looked at the clock on the wall. Fuck, I sucked.

I knew I was supposed to be at the Jive meeting. I'd been so angry at Kevin that I thought I'd really stick it to him and not show up. Instead of sticking it to him, I just felt like shit. What kind of a bandmate does that? Leaving everyone else to deal with the evil record company.

I'm not even exaggerating, Jive really is evil.

But anyway, I knew that Kevin was probably even more pissed off at me. Brian probably didn't give a shit either way, and Howie probably thought I was going to show up until the last second.

But I didn't, and I probably let all of them down. Even if there was nothing we could do to change Jive's minds, I probably should have been there. At least then we could all go out after and complain about how stupid Jive was, and how they didn't care about our opinions, and how it didn't matter to them whether it was us or another group who sold millions of records.

I pretended not to care, but I did. I'd given up my entire childhood for the damn group and what was happening? A fucking greatest hits album that was going to be the end of my career. At twenty-one years old, my career was fucking over.

I wasn't about to let it happen. Even if our group died out, there was no way I'd leave the business. I'd put out my own CD's, I'd tour the world alone if I had to. Then I wouldn't have to deal with Kevin and his parental bullshit. I'd be the one in charge of my own meetings, and my own greatest hits albums. I'd be my own manager and have my own record company!

Yeah, that'd be sweet.

It would also probably never happen. We were stuck with Jive for another four albums. I'd never get to go out and do my own thing because I was stuck as a Backstreet Boy forever. I wanted touring and being out on the road to be fun again. Lately it just sucked. I didn't even know what it was going to be like when we finally picked up and went on the road again. Everything was probably going to be different. AJ was going to be back from rehab, and I probably wouldn't even know who he was anymore. All I could picture when I thought of AJ was him sitting in a white room, looking scared and different.

I didn't think I could face going to visit him in Arizona. I knew that made me a shitty friend. A shitty brother, even. I just couldn't do it. I wanted things with AJ to just go back to normal. Normal even before he became an alcoholic. Before he did fucking cocaine. I knew it wasn't going to go back to that, though. I wasn't stupid.

My mind went weird places while I was laying on my bathroom floor, trying not to throw up.

~~~


Just like we always did after those types of meetings, we went out as a group for dinner to complain about the record company.

And just like we always did, we had no problem drinking a few beers while we did it. I figured that was going to change once AJ was back with us, but for now it didn't matter.

“Our plan wouldn't have even mattered,” Howie said as he looked down into his half empty bottle of beer. He was drinking some imported brand, as usual. Kevin and I just stuck with Coors Light. “They already had the whole thing planned out.”

“You're surprised by this?” Kevin raised his eyebrow.

“Not really.”

The three of us just sat there in defeat. Jive was always screwing us over, but somehow this felt worse than usual. Maybe it was because they did it while we were only four fifths of a whole.

Well actually, three fifths of a whole apparently. I wish I could say I couldn't believe that Nick hadn't shown up, but I could. From what Kevin had told me, he was acting more and more like a brat every day. I didn't even feel like I wanted to help him anymore. What could I do? If Kevin couldn't help him, there was no way I could.

It was too bad, really. I used to call him my best friend. Now I hardly knew who he was.

“Maybe it's a good thing,” I said, trying to lighten the mood. “I mean, maybe we can take a little break after this instead of jumping right back into the studio.”

“I thought the idea was that we'd put out another album soon after the greatest hits so our fans don't think we disappeared.” Howie didn't look overly amused by my idea, but Kevin didn't say anything.

I figured it was because Kevin sort of understood. We'd both got married nearly a year before, and hadn't had very much time to spend with our wives. The time off would be good. We'd been going and going since we'd started out as a group. Maybe if we just took a couple months off after the tour, it would help to recharge our batteries.

“Not a long break, just a few months after the tour, after the greatest hits promo so we can rest and have some time to ourselves.”

“Do you really think Jive would go for that?” Howie asked, still looking unconvinced.

I shook my head. “I think they've already planned for that.”
Day 20 by Sakabelle
Author's Notes:
Hey look an update! Sorry for the lack of them... especially since in the last chapter I said I hoped to not take so long... and then I took almost a year. Whoooops. But either way... yay!

I don't mind
As long as there's a bed beneath the stars that shine
I'll be fine, give me a minute, a man's got a limit,
I can't get a life if my heart's not in it

-Oasis 'The Importance of Being Idle'


I looked at my half packed duffel bag that was sitting on my bed. I didn't need very much, after all we were only going to Arizona for a couple of days. For whatever reason, it was just hard to bring myself to actually finish packing.

I wasn't nervous about visiting AJ. In fact, I was almost excited. I knew that Kevin and Brian were nervous, Kevin especially, but they didn't really have anything to worry about. AJ had been at his worst when we were out on tour, and that intervention (or whatever you want to call it) had been exactly what he'd needed. He could only get better. If he'd made no progress at all, we'd probably know about it. Denise wouldn't have wanted us to come visit him if things were going badly. The fact that we'd been invited was a good sign.

I'd tried to tell Kevin that, and although he'd seemed to agree, I knew he was still worried. I couldn't blame him, Kevin always worried about the rest of us, AJ and Nick especially. Of course he was going to be stressed out about this.

If I was worried about anything, it was how AJ would react when he saw the three of us without Nick. I'd given up on the fact that he was going to show up. Since he hadn't made it to the Jive meeting, there was no reason for me to think that he'd come with us to visit AJ. I know, I know, that sounds a little backwards. Wouldn't Nick be more willing to visit with AJ than to visit with Jive?

You would think, but I knew that Nick was scared of talking to AJ. He wasn't comfortable in those situations, and tried to avoid them as often as he could. The only reason he'd go visit AJ at all was if he was already with us and we put him on the plane ourselves. Since he'd conveniently decided not to come with us to the meeting, I knew it just wasn't going to happen.

As much as Nick was acting like he didn't have a care in the world, I knew otherwise. I didn't know exactly what he was doing down in Florida. I had yet to see any headlines about him, but I was still worried. Nick had a tendency to get a little out of hand (maybe more than just a little) when we were on tour. Though he didn't need to be watched nearly as much as AJ had, it worried me to think about what he'd be up to without the rest of us around. It was already clear he'd managed to get himself into trouble, as evidenced by his argument with Kevin a few days ago.

Truthfully, I felt like Nick could have benefited from a visit with the rest of us a little more than AJ. That's not to say that AJ didn't need or want to see the rest of us – I was sure that he did. However, he was also getting treatment for his condition and had the support of his family.

Nick was just lost and alone down in Florida. He had no family around him and I didn't really want to know about the types of people he was probably hanging around. I couldn't shake the worried feeling I'd had about him since he'd left here. He had been so distant and sad. If we wanted to be able to go back on tour in a few weeks, not only did AJ have to be doing better, all of us did. That included Nick and whatever he was going through.

Out of the four of us the break was affecting him the most, and the hardest. Even if he would never admit it to the rest of us, it was easy to tell that was the case. I got the feeling he missed us – even though he'd never admit to that either.

I missed him too – and not just because of what was going on with the group. We've said many times in interviews that the five of us were like brothers and it's true. Things felt incomplete without AJ around, and they felt even weirder without Nick. It just would have been nice to have all five of us together again.

~~~


Leighanne, Kevin, Kristin and myself were impatiently standing near one of the many check-in areas at LAX. I checked my watch and looked up at the flight board. Where the heck was Howie? He was never late. It's not like we were in danger of missing our flight or anything, we had made sure to get to the airport an hour earlier than necessary, but still, it was weird.

I looked up at Kevin, and he shrugged. “No idea,” he said, knowing exactly what I was thinking. He pulled out his cell phone, presumably to call him. As if on cue, Howie strolled up to us with his luggage in tow. He was wearing a grin on his face and didn't look at all like he was aware he was over fifteen minutes late.

“What's up guys?” he asked cheerfully.

Kevin put his phone back in his pocket. “Traffic?” he asked lightly, ignoring Howie's question.

Howie looked at him oddly for a second. “What? Oh, because you said we were meeting here at two. Yeah, sorry about that, I had some last minute packing to do.” He motioned towards his suitcases, which were twice the size of either of ours.

“It's only a two night trip,” I laughed a little. I know Howie likes to overpack, but it wasn't like we were going to be spending much time outside of our hotel rooms and the airport.

“Oh, right,” he replied, avoiding eye contact for a second. “About that-”

“Guys,” Kevin cut him off. “We should really start heading towards security, our flight leaves in two hours and there's always a line. Plus we're already fifteen minutes behind schedule,” he shot a glare in Howie's direction.

Good old Kevin, trying to take control of a situation any way he can. At least I knew now that in hierarchy of people he liked to pick on when Nick and AJ were gone, I came after poor Howie.

We started walking towards the security line (which was pretty long, as it always is at LAX) and Howie cleared his throat. “Yeah, as I was trying to say earlier, my flight's not leaving for another three hours, I just wanted to come see you guys off...”

Kevin and I exchanged a glance before he spoke up. “What? There are no other flights to Arizona today. That's why we're leaving so early.”

Apparently I caught on before Kevin did. Sometimes he got so stuck in his schedules and planning that he wasn't able to see past them. “You're not coming with us, are you?”

Howie shook his head. “No, I'm not.”

He was so easy to read. “You're going to Tampa, aren't you?”

“Yeah.”

Kevin raised his eyebrows, but didn't say anything. I couldn't tell if he was shocked, or angry, or okay with it. I couldn't say I was surprised. Even if I thought Nick was being childish, I couldn't deny the fact that he probably needed someone with him. And really, there was no one more suited to the Nick watching job than Howie. Even if Kevin liked to think otherwise.

“Are you serious?” Kevin asked him sharply. Guess he was angry.

Howie stayed calm. He'd probably been anticipating our reactions. “Yeah, I know AJ needs us, but he'll have you guys. I just think that Nick might need us too... and he probably does feel bad about the fact that he's not here or coming with us, you know?”

I was pretty sure he'd rehearsed that little speech. I didn't think we needed to baby Nick, but Howie's intentions weren't bad.

“Does he know you're coming?” I asked, though I was sure I already knew the answer.

Howie shrugged. “I thought I'd surprise him.”

“And you think that's a good idea?” Kevin asked, still looking like he wasn't okay with all of this.

“I'm sure it'll be fine,” Howie said dismissively. If any one of us could show up on Nick's doorstep without getting the door slammed in our face, he was probably our best bet. “Besides Kevin, I know you're worried about Nick. At the very least, I'll be able to see what's actually going on with him instead of the show he puts on for us.”

“It's not a very good show,” Kevin muttered.

Howie nodded. “Which is exactly why one of us needs to go visit him, don't you think?”

Kevin shrugged. “Yeah, I guess you're right,” he finally admitted with a sigh.

Howie probably should have been a lawyer. No wonder he's our Switzerland.

~~~


I took a sip of my coffee as Kristin flipped though the in flight magazine. Despite the price you pay for a first class seat, I'm certain that they give you the same coffee as they serve to the people in coach. Not that I think I'm above the people who buy coach or anything, I'm just a coffee snob. They should probably just serve better coffee to everyone.

I started picking at the cup as my mind drifted yet again to Howie, Nick and what was going to happen in Tampa. I was sure Nick wouldn't be as annoyed with Howie showing up as he would had it been Brian or myself who had decided to go down there.

Of course, Howie was the only one of us who would actually decide to go down there instead of complain about how much of a brat he was being. I couldn't decide if that made him noble or stupid.

Kristin put her hand on top of mine and offered me a small smile when I turned towards her. “What's wrong?” she asked knowingly.

I sighed. She knew me too well, although I guess I wasn't doing the best job of hiding the fact that I was stressed. It was enough that we were going to see AJ – now I had Howie and Nick to deal with too? “You know what's wrong, I'm worried about Nick.”

“I know you are. But you don't have to be, do you? Howie's going to go visit him and everything's going to be fine. That should make you feel better, not make you worry more.”

“I worry about everything, Kris.”

“Yeah, I know,” she replied quickly. “But you really don't have to. Everything's going to be fine. Howie might even be able to talk some sense into Nick, and hopefully everything between you guys can get patched up before you go back on the road.”

“Maybe,” I shrugged. “I guess I'm mostly worried about the fact that only two of us are going to see AJ. How are we going to explain this to him? I just wish that Howie could have picked a better time to go see Nick, you know?”

Kristin shook her head. “You'll just have to tell AJ what's been going on, I guess. It's not like you wouldn't have had to anyway, Nick wasn't going to come with you guys regardless.”

She had a point.

“Plus, you know that Nick probably feels bad about not coming with us. I think that Howie going to visit him will make him feel a little better about that. This was probably the best time he could have picked to go visit Nick.”

Again, she had a point. Plus, that was exactly what Howie had said before, and he wasn't wrong. I guess I was over thinking things just a little. I wished all four of us could have gone to visit AJ together, but I supposed it wasn't the end of the world that it was just Brian and I. At least someone was going to visit him.

Besides, Nick probably did need a visit just as much as AJ did. Maybe even more.

~~~


“Dude, this sucks. Let's go to the bar. It's Saturday night and all you want to do is hang out on your back porch smoking up?”

I leaned back in my chair and ignored Chris as I finished off the last of my joint. I didn't want to deal with going to the bar and hitting on chicks. For once, I just wanted to sit back, relax and not be Nick Carter for an evening. Instead, I could just be a guy with weed, pizza and an awesome backyard.

“Seriously? You're just going to sit there? Man!” He kept on complaining, but he didn't leave. Maybe if he smoked some of that weed I mentioned before he wouldn't be such a prick!

“You can go jump in the pool if you want. That might be fun.” I said finally, not really giving a shit. It would probably be better if he left anyway. Sometimes Chris was the ruiner of fun. Especially when I just wanted to sit there.

“You know what's more fun than jumping in the pool? Girls. Lots of girls. Like the girls who are currently at the bar getting drunker and drunker, waiting for someone like us to save them from the embarrassment of having to go home alone.”

He was still complaining, but he was also still not leaving. I knew why. Because without me, he was just a dude in a bar trying to pick up chicks like everyone else. With me, obviously, he was Nick Carter's cool friend. And Nick Carter got all the chicks, they all felt sorry for him because he was home from tour, and they wanted to know how he felt about how AJ was doing in rehab. Well, maybe some days, Nick Carter doesn't want to talk with any chicks or anyone about how AJ's doing in rehab and just wants to hang out by his awesome pool.

“Dude, you can go to the bar without me. No one's stopping you.”

“We're bros. You're supposed to be my wingman!”

See? I told you. Everyone's looking for a slice of Nicky C. Well, they're not going to get one! Not today anyway. Not while I was sitting in my comfortable as fuck lawn chair.

“Come on man...” and just like that Chris started complaining all over again. He really was a buzz kill! Or a relax kill.

He talked so much I almost couldn't hear the sound of my front gate buzzer going off. “Shut up, Chris,” I muttered, and listened intently. I even put my hand up to my ear, 'cause I'm cool like that.

“What are you doing?”

“I think someone's here. But who?” I wondered out loud.

Chris rolled his eyes. “The pizza guy?”

“No... he was already here...”

Again with the eye rolling. What was he, my girlfriend or something? “You said you were going to order a second one. I think your exact words were 'Dude, this pizza was so amazing, we should order another one so it's amazing all over again.' This is the worst Saturday ever. I'm so out of here!”

He was right, I did say that! “Awesome!” I said, going back into the house. I didn't really care that Chris was leaving. Then I could enjoy my pizza in peace, plus I wouldn't have to share any!

“What's up, pizza guy? Welcome back to my casa!” I laughed as I pressed the intercom.

“Nick? No... it's not the pizza guy. It's Howie.”

Howie? Howie! He's chill and mellow and likes pizza. But what was he doing here? Wasn't he supposed to be with Kevin and Brian talking about how much of an ass I was? “Howie... if you're really Howie, what kind of conditioner do you use?”

“Redken Cool Finish Invigorating,” he replied easily. I didn't know if that was true or not, but only Howie could come up with that answer that fast. I buzzed him in and waited by my front door.

“What's up, Howie?” I grinned. I couldn't hide it. I was actually happy to see him. “Why aren't you in LA?”

He wheeled his suitcases into the doorway. “I thought I'd come visit you instead,” he said.

I could have hugged him. But instead, I just put my arm around him as we walked through my house to the backyard. “Howie, Howie, Howie,” I said. “You're in luck. It's Saturday at Casa de Carter, and weed and pizza is on the menu.”

“Yeah, I can tell,” he said, sitting down in one of my comfy lawn chairs. I lit up a second joint and went to hand it to him. “No thanks Nicky, I'll just stick with the pizza.”

“Come on dude, it makes the pizza taste way better.”

“I know.”

“I know you know,” I said, wiggling it in front of him again. This time, he took it from me. I knew I was being kind of a dick pressuring him like that, but I didn't really care. It wasn't the first time Howie and I had sat around getting stoned together, and it probably wouldn't be the last. We always had fun.

He'd come to visit me even though he was supposed to be visiting AJ. Howie was the best. He got me. He was way awesomer than Kevin, who was mad at me all the time. Or Brian, who wanted to hang out with his wife who thought she was better than me. Or Chris who just used me to pick up chicks.

I grinned. If I hadn't been so high I probably wouldn't have shown it as much, but I was really happy to have him there.
Day 21 by Sakabelle

Don't cry for the past now, brother mine
Neither you nor I are free from blame
Nothing can erase the things we did,
For the path we took was the same

-Vic Mignogna 'Brothers'


I watched Kevin as he halfheartedly flipped through one of the magazines in the waiting room. He looked uninterested and I couldn't blame him. I didn't think it would be possible to take his mind off of what we were about to do.

It was just the two of us there. Leighanne and Kristin had opted to go out for lunch and do their own thing. It was probably for the best that they weren't with us, after all this didn't really concern them. Still, I found myself wishing my wife was with me.

“Hey Kev?” I spoke up suddenly, in a voice that was reminiscent of one I had used when we were kids.

“Yeah?” He didn't look up.

“Are you nervous?”

I knew it was a loaded question. And probably a stupid, redundant one. Of course he was nervous. He'd been nervous ever since AJ had gone to rehab. Probably before.

“Yeah,” he answered, giving me a slight nod and putting the magazine back down on the table. “Are you?”

“Yes.”

There wasn't really much more to say after that. I looked up at the clock on the wall waiting for two o'clock to roll around. Denise had already come out to greet us, and she had gone back in to talk to AJ before bringing us in.

I didn't really know what to expect. I mean, I knew what to expect on the surface. Denise told us that one of the doctors would come out when AJ was ready to see us, and that we would be put into a private family room so the three of us could talk. She had said there would be a doctor in the room with us, but that she wouldn't converse with us unless we wanted her to.

I knew all of that, but what I didn't know was what AJ's reaction to us was going to be. Part of me was terrified he was going to get into it with Kevin, and that the two of us would end up leaving quickly on a bad note.

Before AJ had left, he had told us he was quitting the group. I hadn't even thought about that as a serious threat – at the time, it had just been another stupid thing he'd said while he was angry with us. I'd never considered the possibility that he could have actually been serious about it. Maybe he did really want out. Maybe through rehab he had realized that being in that sort of lifestyle just wasn't good for him. Maybe all of our issues with the record company and what to do about the greatest hits album were moot at this point.

What were we going to say when he asked where Nick and Howie were? Sorry AJ, Nick didn't care enough to show up and Howie had to go down to Florida to make sure he was still alive. He's been dealing with all of this by drinking and doing God knows what else.

I suddenly felt very sick to my stomach thinking about the very real possibility that we would be back here in a few years visiting Nick.

Or worse.

“I'm going to go get a cup of coffee,” I announced before hurriedly walking out of the room. I needed a minute to breathe and collect my thoughts before we went in there.

Kevin didn't call after me or anything, which was surprising considering we only had five minutes until the doctor was supposed to come get us. I think he understood because I think he was feeling the same way. I wasn't trying to run away. I wanted to see AJ, really, I did. The thought of it just terrified me. The last time I'd seen AJ, he was screaming at me, at all of us, telling us how he hated us. I'd known this entire time that he'd been in rehab, but it wasn't until I was sitting in that waiting room that it really hit me.

We were all good people. Sure, we'd done bad things, but everyone does. We didn't deserve this. AJ didn't deserve this... everything we'd been put through. I walked past the cafeteria and headed straight for the door.

I just needed some air. I wasn't trying to run away. I wasn't that person. I'm not that person.

I closed my eyes for a second and leaned back against the stone wall of the building. It was going to be okay. AJ didn't hate us, Denise had already told us that. I was completely overreacting. Consciously I knew that but I still felt overwhelmed. A month ago at this time we had still been out on the road. If I had been told that in three weeks I'd be visiting AJ in rehab I'd have said...

Well, I probably would have said it wasn't that far-fetched of an idea.

I took a deep breath and walked back inside.

I could do this.

~~~


I rummaged through my cupboards looking for some coffee to make. I don't know how it was possible that I was awake before Howie, but I guess I'm more used to staying up late than he is lately. That, and I didn't have a five hour flight the day before.

Success! I found a package of ground coffee behind my waffle maker. It was kinda old, but it was good enough. I didn't usually make coffee at home. I'm more of a Starbucks kind of guy. What can I say? I'm a coffee snob, it comes from being woken up early by Kevin.

But I thought since Howie did something nice by coming all this way to visit me, the least I could do was have some coffee ready for when he woke up. Not that I didn't already do something awesome for him like give him an awesome weed and pizza evening, but you know... he'd probably appreciate this a little more. I guess.

I kinda wondered why he was actually here. Did Kevin send him to watch over me? I couldn't picture Howie actually going through with it if Kevin told him to come here. But if Kevin didn't send him, then he was probably livid that Howie wasn't going to visit AJ. He was already really pissed that I wasn't there.

Then again, Kevin wasn't already pissed at Howie for driving drunk and other stupid things. Well maybe he was. I didn't actually know. Maybe Howie had come to visit me because Kevin was equally mad at him and he wanted to form some sort of alliance against Kevin.

It could happen!

I knew that probably wasn't the reason. Still, now that I had sobered up I realized that I had a million things to talk with Howie about. How had their meeting with those asshats at Jive gone? I was sure there was still going to be a greatest hits album, but how much had they put up a fight? Had they even put up a fight at all? They probably hadn't, because they hadn't written any songs.

Not like I had either... but whatever.

I wanted to know if the Jive guys had said anything about our tour. What if AJ wasn't ready at the end of rehab to go back on the road? We kept saying in interviews that we were going to give him as much time as he needed, but how much time was that? Would our tour be on hiatus forever if AJ needed it? What if he was never allowed to go back on the road? What if I was going to be stuck in Tampa drinking and being awesome for the rest of my life?

“Morning, Nicky,” Howie said from behind me, interrupting my thoughts and scaring the hell of out of me. I jumped and almost spilled the coffee grounds I was putting away.

“Don't do that! Don't all Stealth D me!” I exclaimed, shoving the package back into the cabinet. “I made coffee.” I motioned towards the coffee maker (which was now making those weird gurgling noises) and sat down at my kitchen table.

“Thanks,” he said, grabbing the mug I had set out for him. “You didn't make any food?”

I rolled my eyes. “Hey, I made coffee, that's more than I usually do. Besides, you're the one who showed up here unannounced. You can make food!”

He just laughed. Stupid Howie. “Relax Nicky, I was just joking,” he said as he opened the fridge. “Well, I can see why you didn't make anything.”

What can I say? I live like a bachelor. “Yeah... I haven't really been to the store in a while. Good thing you like your coffee black because I don't really know how long that milk's been in there either.”

He didn't say anything, which was really unlike him. Usually I'd get a lecture on making my own food and not eating pizza all the time and how bad that was for me. Instead, he just poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down. “So who was that guy that left here yesterday?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Chris. Just this guy I know. We go out drinking together.”

“You guys weren't out drinking last night,” he commented. Great observation skills, Howie!

“Yeah, I know. I didn't feel like it. He wanted to go out so he left. Then you showed up.” What more was there to tell? Chris was always pissed when I didn't want to go out drinking. He always got over it quickly. “Why did you show up, by the way?” I asked him before I had a chance to stop myself. It was too early in the morning to go down this road.

“I just thought I'd come see how you were doing. You didn't show up to the meeting with Jive, I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

That was such bullshit. Howie was a bad liar. “I told you I wasn't coming to the Jive meeting.”

He sighed. “Yeah, I know you did. But we were all going to go visit AJ, and I thought you could use a visit as well,” he paused, and then I guess he just decided to keep going. We were already talking about it, why stop now? “Why weren't you going to come with us to visit him, anyway?”

Oh, here we go.

~~~


“Kevin?” A woman in a white coat stepped out of the hall and into the waiting room. She was your stereotypical rehabilitation clinic doctor. I looked up and she smiled at me. “I'm Dr. Ross. I'll be sitting in on your visit with Alex today.”

“Hi,” I said quickly, getting up from my seat. Where in the hell was Brian? “I'm just waiting for - ”

“Sorry Kev,” Brian said quickly, rushing back into the room. I looked at him and nodded my head towards Dr. Ross. “Oh, sorry,” he said again.

She still wore the same soft smile. It put me at ease, but only a little bit. “It's alright, we were just about to go in. It's just down the hall, this way.”

Brian and I exchanged a glance as she led us to the room where AJ was. I could almost hear my heart pounding in my chest. I couldn't really form any cohesive thoughts. I just felt nervous. I took a deep breath as she opened the door. I sort of wanted to reach out and take Brian's hand, but I didn't. I just kept them placed firmly in my pockets.

That is, until the door was open and I saw AJ sitting there.

“Hey guys,” he said, standing up as we entered the room.

In that moment, I didn't even have to think, I just pulled him in for a hug. I felt tears well up in my eyes as I held him, and I was pretty sure I felt him choke back a sob. Brian followed and quickly joined in on our little group hug.

“It's good to see you again,” I said, wiping my eyes as I pulled away.

“You too,” he replied, doing the same. “Both of you,” he continued, looking at Brian. “Thanks for coming.”

We sat down, and there was a bit of an awkward silence after that. I don't think any one of us knew where to begin. I guess that's what Dr. Ross was there for. “Alex, why don't you tell Kevin and Brian what you've been doing here,” she suggested.

“Uh okay,” he said, making eye contact with both of us before he started. I could hardly remember the last time he'd done that. His eyes actually looked like they had life in them again. He had more colour in his face too. He just looked better. A million times better than he had at the beginning of the month.

“When I first got here I went through a detox period where I couldn't talk to anyone outside the clinic for a few days. I've had a lot of meetings with doctors, both one on one and in group therapy. My mom's been here a few times, she brought me some fan mail... and yeah. It's not too exciting in here. It's kinda nice.”

For once in my life, I didn't know what to say. I don't think Brian did either.

Luckily, AJ still had plenty to say. He exchanged a glance with Dr. Ross and she gave him an encouraging nod. “I just wanted to tell you guys that I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for everything that happened on tour, and how I kept bailing on you guys.”

He looked like he was going to start crying again at any moment and took a moment to compose himself. Neither Brian or I said anything – we knew to wait until he said what he had to.

“I know that it's going to take a lot of work, but I really want to beat this thing. I want to be back out on the road like the old days. I want everything to go back to how it was,” he took a deep breath, “I don't want to quit the group like I said I did... I really don't.”

And that was when none of us could hold it together any longer. We'd barely been hanging on as it was.

“None of us actually wanted you to leave,” Brian said, wiping his eyes. “We just wanted you to get better and stop hurting yourself. We shouldn't have even gone out on tour. We should have cancelled or postponed before it got to that point.”

“I'm so proud of you for taking this step. We all are,” I said, and Brian nodded in agreement.

“Thanks guys,” AJ said after letting everything sink in for a minute. “It really means a lot to me that you came. I was worried you'd want nothing to do with me.”

He looked right at me when he said that and it made me feel sick. Ever since it had happened, I'd known I'd never forget breaking down his door and telling him he was dead to me. I'd always sort of wished I could take it back, but at the same time we needed that breaking point. “I didn't want anything to do with the person that you were becoming,” I finally said, choosing my words very carefully.

“I know, neither did I,” he admitted.

But I wasn't done. I had to tell him everything that I'd pent up in the last few weeks. “We always said we wouldn't let ourselves get to that point. We always tried to keep ourselves grounded as a group and not become – or even act like entitled rock stars. But when you started acting that way, it scared me. You started to shut us out, it stopped being the five of us united as a group, and it became the four of us against you.”

“It wasn't just me that had an attitude problem,” AJ said, almost defensively. I had to remind myself that change wasn't going to happen overnight. “We all had our moments.”

“I know we did.” Boy did we ever.

“But AJ,” Brian cut in, “the rest of us were able to recognize when things were getting out of hand and stop it. We were able to lean on each other when things got stressful. You were too... it's just that it started to change, and you started to act like the world owed you everything you had, and that you didn't need to give anything back... that's not the person you are.”

He sighed. “I know. I acted like an ass. I'm sorry.”

I felt kind of shitty for even bringing it up, especially after all the progress he'd clearly made. “No, I'm sorry...”

But AJ shook his head. “It's okay. I need to hear those things. It's hard, but it's part of the process.”

“It seems like it's working,” Brian said, half smiling. “I'm sure Kevin agrees with me...” he trailed off, looking at me for confirmation.

I just nodded. I didn't know what else to say. I didn't think I had anything left.

“See? We know that you can get through this. We're proud of you. And I know that Howie is too.”

“Nick too,” I added quickly, annoyed with Brian for even slightly implying something might be going on.

AJ nodded and looked as though he was in thought for a moment. “Speaking of...”

“You know Nick, he deals with things in his own way. Howie's with him.” I tried to give the most diplomatic answer possible. Now was not the time to go into any of that. “But you know, they are proud of you. I know they are.”

“Thanks,” AJ said, regaining his composure. “Tell the other guys I said thanks too.”

“We will.”

There was silence in the room after that, but it wasn't bad or anything like that. It was almost as though some of the air had been cleared and we could all breathe a little easier.

“I think we need another group hug,” Brian suggested after a couple minutes had gone by.

He was right, it was exactly what we needed. Even though it was just three out of the five of us, things felt more complete than they had in a long time.

~~~


As soon as I asked, I regretted it.

“You know I just don't deal with that stuff well, D,” Nick said, trying to play it off lightly.

I wasn't about to let him get off so easy. Not after I'd already brought it up. I knew all too well that the way Nick dealt with heavy problems was to ignore them completely.

When Brian had gone in for his surgery, Nick had pulled the same kind of thing he was doing right now, on a much smaller scale. He'd broken up with Mandy for the thousandth time, gone out for a night of binge drinking and ended up missing his flight out to an awards show we were all supposed to go to.

I'm not going to lie, one of the biggest reasons I'd decided to visit Nick in Florida was that I was terrified of him going out and doing something like that again. I never would have been able to forgive myself if I'd just left him there to deal with things on his own and something had happened. I knew I was probably being a little paranoid, but better safe than sorry.

“I know Nicky, but...”

“But what?” he snapped. “But AJ needed me there? That he needed all of us there, because if all five of us were there all of our problems would be solved? I hate to break it to you Howie, but the group's fucked up. Going to visit AJ in fucking rehab isn't going to fix all the shit that's been going on for years.”

I sighed and tried to keep my cool. “I wasn't going to say any of that. Just that maybe AJ would have appreciated your support.”

“I didn't want to go there,” he muttered.

“Well I know that Nick, that's why we're here and not there.”

“You know what I meant. I didn't want to see AJ like that. I'll see him we we go back on tour. When everything's back to normal and not fucked up. Or at least less fucked up.”

I was really curious as to why he thought the group was that 'fucked up' as he so eloquently put it, but I didn't press it. “I just think having us all there might have helped him. And you know, he probably would have liked to see you.”

Nick shook his head and looked at his feet. “I probably just would have been awkward, and I wouldn't have had anything to say. It wouldn't have helped anything. It probably would have just made him feel worse.”

“I don't think it would have,” I tried to assure him. I wasn't sure why, it wasn't like we could fly out there for the meeting. It was too late now. So convincing Nick that he should have gone to visit AJ was probably only going to make him feel guilty for not going.

Nick just shrugged. “I guess.”

“Look, I know this break's been hard on you. It's been hard on all of us,” I tried a different approach. I didn't think I was going to fix all of his issues, but if I could at least get him to not be a little less destructive and down on himself, I'd consider it a success. “I don't know if it's because you miss us, or you miss being out on the road, but you know, moping around in Florida isn't going to help.”

“I haven't been moping,” he said defensively. “I've been hanging out with my friends and being awesome. What else do you expect me to do? I can't exactly go out there and be a Backstreet Boy by myself.”

I really didn't think I was going to get through to him. Instead of pushing him further, I decided to just drop it. This wasn't something that was going to be solved through just one conversation. “I know, I'm just saying this hasn't just been hard on you. But it's going to get better.”

Again, he just shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”

We finished off the rest of our coffee in silence. I felt a little bad for starting off the day on such a downer, but I needed to at least try.

“How long are were you planning to stay anyway?” he asked as he rinsed out his mug, and put it back in the cupboard. Gross, Nick.

“I dunno, probably just for a couple of days. Why, do you want me out of here already?” I joked, trying to lighten the mood a little. I hoped he wasn't so annoyed with me that he was already planning to kick me out.

“No,” he replied quietly, his back still turned to me. “Stay as long as you'd like.”
Day 22 by Sakabelle

So now it's one more night
Of feeling like a real curmudgeon
I'm bludgeoning six seven years in a row
I haven't a clue where my life is now going

-Novillero 'Morally Deficient Business'


I woke up early the next morning. Kris was still asleep, and I was sort of thankful for that. I think I just needed some time alone to go over what had happened in my head and collect my thoughts.

Brian and I hadn't said much on our way back to the hotel. We'd uttered a few comments about how different AJ was, and how rehab definitely seemed to be working out for him. After a quick dinner with Kris and Leighanne, we'd retreated to our own hotel rooms and hadn't said anything since.

A quiet evening with my wife was exactly what I had needed after the stress of the last two days. I'd slept easier that night than I had in quite some time.

After a quick shower, I let Kris sleep in a little longer and ventured out of the hotel room. There was a nice little restaurant in the hotel we were staying at, so I went to sit and have a quiet cup of coffee before getting ready to make the trip back to LA.

I sipped on my cappuccino and read the paper for a few minutes before I was interrupted. It figured that something like this would happen now.

“Um... Kevin?” I looked up from my newspaper and saw a short girl standing in front of me. She looked to be about fifteen or sixteen and was exactly the type of person that usually approached us. At least she wasn't screaming or with a group of friends. She looked really shy.

“Hello,” I smiled, not really feeling it but turning on my 'fan-face' anyway.

Her eyes widened and she gasped a little. “I just wanted to come over and see if it was really you...” she fidgeted with her bag a little. “What are you doing in Arizona?”

There was no way I was going to tell her what I was actually doing here. We'd done a good job of keeping the location of AJ's rehab facility a secret. “I'm just here visiting some family,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, looking slightly disappointed. I was sure she was hoping that all of us were here in the hotel somewhere. At least my lie about visiting family would still hold up if ended up running into Brian. “I'm visiting family here too, we're from Chicago. Um... I was supposed to go see your show last week...” she trailed off.

I felt bad for her. Lately I hadn't really cared what the fans thought, but during all of this I forgot that they were being affected and inconvenienced by it too. We had known AJ had been having problems for a long time before it all came to a head, but for our fans it probably just came right out of left field. There was no way any of them could have known anything was wrong.

“Don't worry,” I said, trying to reassure her. “We've postponed the dates. You'll still get to see the show.”

“Oh, I know,” she said quickly, shaking her head. “I didn't mean it like that. I just didn't know that AJ was going through so much. I hope he gets better.”

I smiled a little bit. We really did have the best fans in the world. Sometimes it was easy to forget that amidst all the screaming. “He's getting help, he'll be okay,” I said, choosing my words carefully so I didn't reveal too much.

She looked relieved. “That's good... uh, if you talk to him, can you just tell him that his fans are really worried about him and support him?”

I was sure AJ already knew that, judging by the amount of fan mail he'd received, but it was still nice to hear it. “I will.”

“Thanks,” she said, looking back towards where I figured her family was standing. “It was really nice to meet you, I'll see you when you come to Chicago.”

I nodded. “Nice to meet you too, thanks for all of your support.”

~~~


I woke up the next morning before Nick did. So far, my trip down to Florida had been uneventful. Nick's friend hadn't come back yet, and Nick just spent all of his time hanging around his house getting stoned.

Not that I didn't see this as an issue, but it was far less of a problem than I had envisioned. I could tell Nick was upset about not having gone to visit AJ, and that was probably why he'd been moping around. It could have been worse.

Speaking of AJ, it occurred to me that I hadn't heard from either Kevin or Brian on how that visit had went. I assumed it hadn't gone badly – if it had you can bet I would have known about it right away.

As I made my way down to Nick's kitchen in search of something to eat, I dialed Kevin's number on my phone. He answered it almost immediately.

“Hello?”

“Hey Kev, how's Arizona?” I asked, cradling the phone between my shoulder and ear as I dug through Nick's cupboards for that coffee he'd made the day before.

“It's fine, I'm just sitting in the hotel restaurant having some coffee before we get ready to leave.” He paused for a minute before continuing, knowing that I hadn't called to hear about his early morning routine. “AJ seems like he's doing a lot better.”

“That's great,” I said, feeling somewhat relieved. “How long did you guys visit with him for?”

“Just an hour or so. He looked a lot healthier and it seems like he's beginning to understand that he has an addiction. He apologized to us for a lot of stuff and we were able to get a lot of things off our chests. It was really nice to see.”

“I wish I could have been there,” I said sincerely. Of course I'd made the decision to not go visit AJ in favour of visiting Nick, but it would have been nice to see AJ in person again. I'd have liked to see for myself the progress he'd made.

“You could have been,” Kevin said.

“We went over this.”

He sighed. “I know. How is the kid doing anyway?”

I looked behind me to make sure Nick wasn't around. I was pretty sure he was still sleeping. “He's fine. I mean, I guess he's not really fine. He's going through a lot. I think he feels pretty guilty about not going to visit AJ, he's just been hanging around his house, and he's been high more often than not. One of his drinking buddies was here when I got here, but he hasn't been back since.”

“Did you give it to him for not going to visit AJ?”

“I talked to him, he didn't really want to talk about it.”

“I'm sure he didn't,” Kevin scoffed. “Let me guess, he acted like it was no big deal, like he was completely fine and didn't want to hear a word you were saying.”

Kevin wasn't completely right, but he wasn't completely off the mark either. “Sort of. I could tell he felt bad. I think he's really been toning it down since I've been here.”

“You can't watch over him all the time, Howie.” Kevin cautioned. “What do you think he's going to do once you leave him to his own devices again? How long are you planning to stay in Florida anyway?”

I didn't really know the answers to either of those questions. I certainly didn't want to stay with Nick until the break was over, I missed Leigh and wanted to spend some time with her before the day we went back out on the road. That was creeping up pretty fast now that I thought about it.

“I don't know, I'm going to try to get him to come back to LA with me before we have to go to Vancouver in,” I thought for a moment, “eight days? Wow.”

“Yeah... I think that's a good plan. Just look out for him, okay? The last thing we need right now is a repeat.”

I sighed. “Kevin, you know he'll be fine once we get back on the road. I'm sure he will be.”

“I hope so,” Kevin replied. “I've got to get going so we can get back to LA. Talk to you soon.”

“Bye Kev, have a safe flight.”

~~~


Whenever Howie's on the phone he becomes pretty unaware of what's going on around him. Like how I had woken up, and how I was now sitting on my stairs listening to him to talk about me! I'm not a quiet guy – especially when I first get up in the morning. Howie was just too busy to pay attention I guess.

“Sort of, I could tell he felt bad. I think he's really been toning it down since I've been here.”

Toning it down? Howie, how would you know if I've been toning anything down since you've been here? You weren't here before you got here!

He must have been talking to Kevin. Kevin always liked to talk about how much of a screw-up I was.

“I don't know, I'm going to try and get him to come back to LA with me before we have to go to Vancouver in... eight days? Wow.”

I knew it had all been a big scheme to get me to come back to LA so they could babysit me! Howie probably was in on it with Kevin from the start. Oh Howie, I never would have expected this from you.

He was kinda right though. I couldn't believe we were going back on tour in eight days. Was our break almost over already? AJ was finally going to be out of rehab? It seemed like forever ago that he went there. Was he going to come back and be all different?

I could already hear Kevin's voice in my head saying I would have known that if I went to visit him. Shut up, Kevin!

“Kevin, you know he'll be fine once we get back on the road. I'm sure he will be.”

See? I knew he was talking to Kevin. Sometimes, you can just tell when someone's talking to Kevin. They become more of a douchebag. And yeah, I will be fine once we get back out on the road! I'm fine now!

“Bye Kev, have a safe flight.”

Good riddance, Kevin! I waited a couple minutes before going to greet Howie in my kitchen. I could hear him rustling around. Sure Howie, make yourself at home after you totally dissed me on the phone with my arch nemesis!

“Morning, Howie,” I said, trying not to sound pissed off as I sat down at my table.

If I did sound pissed off, he didn't notice. I'm a pretty good actor, I guess! “Morning, Nick. I made coffee.”

Okay, that was pretty nice of him. I do like coffee, I guess. “Thanks,” I said, pouring myself some.

“So, what are you up to today?”

What was I up to any day, Howie? What kind of a question was that? “I dunno, probably I'll go out to the bar with Chris or something... since we're going back on tour soon.” See I can be stealth too, dropping a little hint that I'd heard him on the phone!

He ignored my hint. It was too stealth I guess, even for him. “On a Monday night?”

“Yeah, there's always somewhere that's open, and there's always girls. It's the summer, isn't it? People partying it up every night.” See Howie, I wasn't acting crazy. I was just acting like a drunk college kid. Which is what most twenty one year olds do so...yeah!

He shrugged. “I guess you're right.”

Hell yeah I was right! I would show him that Chris and I could have a good time and that he didn't have to worry about me. And then he would tell Kevin not to worry about me, and by the time we were back on tour, no one would be worrying about Nick anymore! “You could come with us, if you want.”

He nodded. “Sure, I'll come with you guys.”

Kick ass. Howie was always fun to party with.

~~~


I tilted my seat back once we were in flight and looked forward to a few hours of rest on our long plane ride back to LA. Leighanne and I were going to be spending the night in the city with Kevin and Kristin, and then we'd be heading back to Atlanta to enjoy the rest of the break at home before we resumed our tour.

“Hey, Leigh, do you mind if I sit with Brian for a few minutes?”

So much for that nap.

“Hey Kev,” I said, sitting up and turning to face him. You could always tell when Kevin had something he needed to get off his chest.

“You shouldn't have implied anything was going on with Nick when we were visiting AJ,” he said seriously. Kevin always been good at being blunt, but I was a little taken aback. He wasn't usually this blunt with me.

“Sorry,” I said quickly, not wanting to upset him any more than he obviously already was. “I hadn't meant it like that.”

He sighed, and I could tell he was probably still stressed out about the visit with AJ. Even though it was over, Kevin was like that. He would worry about things over and over even once they were, well... over.

“You still shouldn't have said it. It wasn't going to help anything, and the last thing AJ needs is to worry that we're falling apart because of this break.”

I narrowed my eyes. If we were falling apart, it wasn't because of this break. And if Nick was having problems... well, Nick had always been like this. If Nick couldn't handle the break, that certainly wasn't any fault of ours of AJ's. It was because he was always too stubborn and stuck in his own little world where he always got his way. He'd always been like that, and while it was endearing when he was a child, now that he was growing up it was just childish.

“Okay, it was probably wrong of me to be so passive-aggressive about it, but Kevin, I wasn't exactly wrong. We don't know if Nick's proud of AJ or what. We don't know anything about what's going on with him. So how could we have told AJ that we were all proud of him when we don't for sure know that Nick is?”

Kevin sighed again and he didn't look impressed. I really didn't think my comments had annoyed him that much, but like I said, Kevin goes over things again and again in his mind until they drive him insane for no reason. It usually doesn't affect me that much because I'm usually not the person he's over analyzing.

“You really think that Nick might not be proud of AJ? Or that he doesn't care?”

“I told you, I don't know what to think,” I shrugged. Kevin getting unnecessarily upset wasn't helping the situation. “He certainly didn't care enough to come out here with us.”

Kevin considered what I said for a couple seconds. He looked really pensive. “You honestly think so little of him? That he wouldn't care at all?”

I rolled my eyes. He was starting to annoy me now. “Weren't you the one fighting with Nick on the phone a few days ago?” I reminded him carefully. “You're the one who keeps lecturing him because he's acting like an entitled brat.”

“That's because I know he can do better. I know this is his way of dealing with things and I know that he will eventually grow up and that sometimes he needs a little tough love.”

“You're not his parent Kevin. He's not a little kid any more, he's an adult who has to be held responsible for his actions. Stop making excuses for him. Why don't you save your judgement of him until we actually see him again?”

Kevin shook his head sadly. “Why don't you save yours?” he said before he got up and went back to his own seat.

I leaned back in my seat again. I couldn't wait to get home to Atlanta and have a break from all of this.
Day 23 by Sakabelle

These days
Things are just okay

-Xu Xu Fang 'These Days'


I can handle my liquor better than Nick can. Well... most people can handle their liquor better than Nick can, but you know what I mean.

It was late. We'd already been at the bar for a few hours already and Nick was completely trashed. He and Chris were dicking around, dancing (or trying to, at least) and hitting on girls. I think Nicky thought he was being a lot smoother than he actually was.

Meanwhile I was sitting at the bar. I felt sort of like a parent, sitting there and watching over him like that, but can you blame me? I wasn't really interested in acting like the frat boy Nick had transformed into as soon as we'd stepped inside the club. I'd tried hanging out with them at first, but this version of Nick was so different and I had no clue how to relate to him. Plus this young adult club atmosphere wasn't something I was used to.

It probably wasn't something Nick was used to either, but he was fitting in just fine. Plus it helped that he was Nick Carter. God's gift to women... or so he thought anyway. He certainly wasn't acting like it.

It wasn't that he was an overly sloppy drunk or anything, Nick just gets more... Nickish whenever he drinks. That's the only way to really describe it. He just gets louder, thinks he's a lot funnier than he actually is and gets a lot more touchy.

Like, with anyone. That's why it's better to stay away from him when he's drunk!

“Howie, Howie, Howie,” Nick said as he raced over to me. He was practically in my face. I wasn't kidding when I told you he liked to get close! “Dude, I got girls for us man. And they're hot,” he said excitedly, cupping his hands in front of his chest.

“I'm not going to go home with one of your groupies tonight, Nicky,” I told him with a laugh.

Nick shook his head dramatically. “No Howie man, you don't get it! She wanted you. I went over to her and she was all like, 'Oh, is that Howie over there? I'd really rather be with him!' Seriously!”

He must have been wasted, because there's no way he would have made a comment like that sober without some kind of stupid joke.

“Think about it, you've got a fan! You owe it to her, man.” He started laughing so hard he had to put his hands on my knees to stabilize himself.

I still maintain that he was totally drunk. I half pushed him away. “I'm sure she'll survive.” I looked past Nick to see if there were actually any girls looking eagerly at us. Chris was talking to a couple of them, and they seemed normal enough, but there was no way I was going to go home with some college aged girl from a club!

Speaking of Chris, he really bothered me. He seemed to be doing just fine and keeping his head, while Nick continued to make a fool out of himself. If Nick wasn't well... Nick, I could see Chris being the smooth one and Nick being the drunk idiot who got his leftovers. I know that's a terrible thing to say, but it was sort of true.

I mean, I was well aware that Chris had been Nick's enabler from the start, but to actually see it in action was quite another story. This guy wasn't doing him any good.

“Nick, come on, let's go home,” I tried to persuade him, knowing he had a rule about not taking girls back to his house. It didn't overly bother me that he was sleeping with tons of different girls, he'd always done that (okay, all of us had, but I'm just talking about Nick right now!) but I didn't want to let him out of my sight in this state.

Yeah, yeah, I know I was being overly parental. Can you really blame me?

Nick looked at me in surprise. “Home? Howie, we just got here! And what about the girls?!”

I looked down at my watch. It was nearly one in the morning. We definitely had not “just got here.” The way Nick was going, I was sort of surprised he wasn't on the ground.

“There will be girls wherever you go, Nick,” I said with a laugh. “I think we're done for the night.”

He eyed me suspiciously. “Are you trying to get me to go home with you Howie?”

Yes Nick, that's exactly what I'm trying to do! “That's the idea.”

He rolled his eyes. “Come on Howie! This is the first time we've been out in... forever! We haven't gone out in so long! Let's do a shot? I'll buy you a shot! Remember when we used to do shots, and when we did the centurion?”

I was certain I would never forget the night that Nick and I did the centurion. “Fine... let's do shots. But after that we'll go home.”

He put his arm around me. “Deal!”

And it was at that point Nick ordered six shots of tequila. “I said one!” God dammit.

Nick just grinned. That stupid goofy sheepish grin he always had when he knew he was being a little shit. “Come on Howie, I've seen you do worse.”

I knew I could handle three shots of tequila in succession, but I was pretty sure in Nick's state he couldn't. At least I'd be able to get him home... because I'd be dragging his ass off the floor of the club!

Sure enough I was right. At least about the part where Nick couldn't handle the shots. He was all giggles for a minute afterwards, and then very quickly sat down beside me, folded his arms on top of the bar and put his head down.

“Nicky, you okay?”

He didn't look up. “Mmmhmm.”

I was suddenly envisioning Nick throwing up in the club and our faces plastered all over the paper the next morning. At least it would probably be easier for me to get Nick out of there now, which I had to do before that vision of mine became a reality.

Too bad that's when Chris decided to finally make his way over to us. “What's he doing? Those chicks are waiting for us and they're going to leave!”

I really didn't like this guy. “I think we're heading out,” I told him.

He raised his eyebrows, clearly unamused. “Heading out? We just got here!”

I nodded my head towards Nick. “Look at him. I'd say he's ready to call it a night.”

Chris rolled his eyes. “He's fine,” he said, then turned towards Nick. “You're good, aren't you? Those girls are waiting for you, and they won't leave without you.”

Again, Nick didn't look up. “Dude, I want to go home,” he muttered.

“Typical. This is so typical of him,” Chris mumbled, looking down angrily at Nick. “Call me when you get your act together and can actually hold your alcohol so we can score some chicks.” Then he marched out of the club in a huff.

I couldn't care less about Chris and was pretty glad to see him gone. “Come on Nicky,” I said. “Let's go home.”

~~~


Breakfast was awkward. Kevin was still in a mood and I didn't really have it in me to try and sort things out with him. We made small talk, but it was hard to act like nothing was wrong.

“Isn't it weird?” Kristin remarked as we sat around the table. “The next time we all see each other you'll be back on tour again. This break went by so quickly.”

It was a little bit weird, I had to admit, but it wasn’t like we'd never been on a break before. Sure this one was unexpected, and it had been hard at first to deal with what had happened, but we'd all made our peace with it. I know I had at least, the visit with AJ had really helped. As far as I was concerned, the break had served its purpose. AJ had gotten the help he'd needed and he seemed to be a lot better for it.

“It seems like just yesterday you guys were announcing on TRL that AJ was going into rehab,” Leighanne mused as she sipped her coffee.

That seemed like an eternity ago. It had only been earlier in the month, but I remembered feeling like I wanted nothing more than to be close with the other guys in the group while all that was happening. Now, all I wanted was to get away from them for a little while. I was almost dreading going back on the road.

“It seemed like you all needed this though, not just AJ. I know I liked having the time off and I'm not even in the group.”

I did find it a little funny that our wives were sitting there having a discussion about our break and our group without any input from Kevin or myself.

I cleared my throat, not wanting to go into how I was actually feeling about the break and the group. As far as the break was concerned, I just wanted to enjoy what was left of it. Now that I knew AJ was going to be okay, I felt I could.

Not that there weren't other members of the group who were cause for concern, but I didn't have the energy to worry about them for the time being.

“We've really got to get moving if we want to make our flight,” I said to Leighanne and stood up from the table. “Thanks for letting us stay with you guys.”

“Anytime,” Kristin smiled and then nudged Kevin.

Kevin looked at me. I could tell he was still annoyed, I was too, but I knew it would pass. At least we still had a few days before the craziness started up again.

“Don't be a stranger, cuz,” he said as we got up to leave.

“I won't,” I replied, even though it was a lie. I intended to be until it was time to go back on tour.

~~~


“Good morning, sunshine,” I heard Howie say the next morning. Or afternoon. Whenever it was. I looked around and sure enough I had spent the night in my bathroom again. I should probably just move my bed in here.

“Morning,” I muttered, sitting up. Howie handed me a giant coffee – an iced americano from Dunkin' Donuts. Howie is the king of fixing hangovers. I love him.

He eyed me as I sipped my coffee. I could tell he kind of wanted to grill me, but he also had sympathy. Because he was a nice person like that. I was so glad he was the person who had come to visit me instead of Kevin.

“So, do you recall what happened last night?”

Nevermind what I said.

“Yeah... we went to the bar and drank a lot.” Duh, Howie.

“You almost passed out,” he reminded me. “Thank God you were able to walk from the cab the house... I don't think I would have been able to carry you,” he laughed.

“Tequila will do that,” I said. Just thinking about it made me want to throw up again, even though I didn't think it was possible that any of it was left in my system.

“It was your idea,” he said.

“Yeah I know. I always get stupid ideas when I'm drunk. It's your fault for listening to me.”

He shook his head. “Chris left the club before we did. He was pretty pissed off.”

Chris was such a tool sometimes. “Yeah, he always does that when I get too drunk to go home with any girls and ruin his chances.”

“Does that happen a lot?”

Crap, I said too much. “I dunno,” I shrugged. “I'm just out there having fun, sometimes it gets out of hand. It happens.”

Howie sighed. I knew he was just concerned, but he was starting to piss me off. I didn't need him to be so concerned about me, especially when I was feeling like shit.

“I'm not saying you can't go out and have fun, Nicky, but maybe those clubs aren't the best place to do it, you know? And that Chris guy's bad news... if I wasn’t there he probably would have just left you there.”

Yeah, he probably would have. Howie was right, Chris was kind of a tool. “I know,” I mumbled, finishing my drink. I let my straw make that slurping noise for longer than I should have just because I knew it would annoy Howie.

“It's not doing you any good to stay out here by yourself hanging out with that guy.”

I raised my eyebrow. I knew he was going to try and get me to go back to LA with him. “You're here now,” I pointed out.

“I can't stay here with you forever, Nicky.”

“It's not forever, we're going back in tour in a week.”

Just come right out and say it, Howie!

“I know, but I've got stuff I need to do in LA before we do,” he said. He probably wasn't lying either. Howie was always busy with something.

“I've got stuff I need to do here,” I said and he gave me a look because he knew I was full of shit. I had nothing better to do. I was bored as fuck. “So what... you want me to come back with you to LA?”

“Only if you want to,” he replied as if it was no big deal.

I rolled my eyes. “Cut the crap, Howie. I heard you talking on the phone with Kevin, I know you guys are trying to get me to come back to LA with you so you can watch over me because you think I'm being a big fuck up down here.”

He stayed calm. That's kind of what I loved about Howie. Even when I got pissed off he was able to keep his cool. “No, I came to visit you because I was worried about you down here all by yourself, getting into trouble with Chris. I don't want to watch over you, I just don't want you to be alone because it doesn't seem like you're handling it very well.”

I couldn't really argue with him, I guess. I also didn't have the energy to. If I went to LA I probably wouldn't be so bored... I'd have to deal with Kevin, but if I stayed with Howie, he'd keep him off my back. “Fine,” I sighed. “I'll come with you to LA.”

~~~


“What's going on?” Kris asked me point blank once Brian and Leighanne left.

I shrugged. “Nothing. Things are just weird I guess, since we saw that AJ's doing fine it's just a regular break now. We all need some time away from each other, I think.”

She gave me a look. Kris could always tell when I wasn't telling her the whole truth. Usually, it was one of the things I loved about her. Today it was annoying me. I really didn't want to talk about it. What I had said was true, we really did need some time off from the group and that included all the drama that had been going on lately.

“Really? Because he couldn't get out of here fast enough, and you two hardly said anything to each other last night.”

“It'll be fine. We just had a small disagreement over some group stuff.” Over Nick, really. That kid was causing problems even when he wasn't around! I had to admit, I was sort of glad I wouldn't be seeing him until we went back on tour. I'd probably just take out all my frustrations with Brian out on him... which I suppose made sense, since he caused them in the first place!

Kristin sighed. “Just don't forget, the two of you are family, you were before you were in this business together, and you will be if one day you're not part of it anymore. Don't let something silly come between you guys. It's not worth it.”

I pondered that for a moment. She was right, as usual. Not just about Brian, but about all of us. We always said we were brothers. Though we needed some time apart, I still needed to act like they were important to me regardless of the status of the group.

“Thanks baby,” I said, kissing her on the cheek. “You're right.”
Day 24 by Sakabelle
I miss you
I'm going back home to the west coast
I wish you would've put yourself in my suitcase

-Coconut Records 'West Coast'


I stared at the empty suitcase on my bed. Howie and I were going to be heading out to LA the next day, which meant I really had to get a move on my packing. Especially since I wasn't going to just be packing for my stay in LA... but for the rest of the tour. That one week in LA wouldn't really make much of a difference, it just meant I had to start packing again that much sooner.

I couldn't say I was really looking forward to spending a week in LA, but it wasn't like I just wanted to hang around Florida anymore. Howie was right, there was nothing for me to do here. It's not like there was anything for me to do in LA either, but I guess there would at least be more of nothing to do while we were waiting around to go back on tour.

LA's got a lot more ways to waste time, you know?

I threw some clothes into the suitcase, not really caring if they were clean or not. If I needed to, I could wash them at Howie's place. Hell, he'd probably even do it for me if he found out I hadn't done any laundry since we'd been on the break. It wasn't like I didn't bathe! I just didn't like washing my clothes. It's pretty boring, and it takes a long time.

It doesn't even really matter what I bring with me on tour anyway. The only thing people care about seeing me in is what I'm wearing on stage, and there's no way they put me in control of that!

I guess I had to pack other stuff too. Once, I forgot to pack a toothbrush and Kevin flipped out. He literally flipped out, gave me a huge lecture on hygiene and ended up buying me a toothbrush at the next convenience store we passed by. Then he watched – he actually watched as I brushed my teeth in the bus bathroom.

I thought for a minute about not packing my toothbrush just to spite Kevin, but I didn't want to have to go through that again. He was already cranky enough.

I threw a bunch of other things into my suitcase and I looked around my room. It was so empty. You would think being a celebrity would mean I'd own a lot of stuff, but I really didn't. I got gifts from fans all the time, but to be honest I never really kept them. I didn't like shopping much, so I never went out and bought stuff. Instead of emptying out my suitcases, I should probably just keep everything in there all the time.

Life's better out on the road anyway. I didn't need a nicely decorated room!

~~~


It was rare that I ever slept in, but that morning I found myself being shaken awake by Kristin. I groggily opened my eyes as I looked at her. She wasn't smiling, and she was holding the cordless phone receiver.

Of course my initial thought was somewhere along the lines of “oh brother, what's gone wrong now?”

“Sorry to wake you up,” she said with an apologetic look on her face. “I was going to let you sleep as long as you needed, but Denise is on the phone,” she whispered, handing the receiver to me.

I sat up and tried to wrap my head around what Kris has just said. I took the phone from her and nodded to her with a slight smile as she walked out of our bedroom. “Hello?” I said, hoping my voice didn't sound too hoarse.

“Hi Kevin,” Denise said, sounding more serious than I would have liked. I had a feeling that she wasn't calling me to deliver any good news. “Thanks again for coming to visit Alex on the weekend. He really appreciated it.”

“It was no problem,” I replied. Was that the only reason she was calling me? It couldn't have been.

“I'm sure you saw that he's made some progress, and that he's doing a lot better.”

I shook my head. What was she getting at? “Yeah,” I said quickly, wanting for her to get on with it. “He was a lot better than the last time I saw him.”

“His time here has really helped, and he's on the road to recovery, but it's a long process. I know you're supposed to go back on tour in a week, but putting Alex back in that situation so soon could be damaging to all the hard work he's done to get to this point,” she said, and then paused.

I'm sure I had the most confused look on my face. What was she trying to tell me? That AJ wouldn't be coming back on the road with us? That he had decided to leave the group? Maybe that he just needed to stay in rehab longer? “Okay,” I said dumbly, not really knowing where to go from there.

“We've had a discussion with the doctors about it, and we think that him going back on the road so soon won't be beneficial to his recovery.”

Yeah, you already said that. I just waited for her to continue. Sometimes that woman really got on my nerves with her dramatics.

“We've made the decision for Alex to move to a transitional care facility for an additional two weeks.”

I let out a sigh of relief. That wasn't so bad. Sure, it would mean postponing the tour even further, and the record label would probably have problems with us, but they always did. We could handle an extra two weeks.

“I know that this is probably going to mean problems for the tour-”

“No, it's fine,” I cut her off. “It's fine, don't worry about it. We'll handle all that stuff. The most important thing is that AJ gets the help he needs. If he doesn't feel ready to go back on the road yet, we're not going to go.”

“Thanks for understanding, Kevin,” she said, her voice a little lighter than it had been before. “I'll let him know that you guys are fine with it. I'll call you with some more details when we have them ironed out.”

“Thanks,” I said quickly. “Talk to you soon.”

“Talk soon,” she said before hanging up.

I tossed the phone onto the bed and rubbed my eyes with the thumb and forefinger. It was way too early in the morning, or at least too early in the day for me to have to deal with all of this. Just as we had been gearing up to go back out on tour, yet another wrench had been thrown into our plans.

Of course, it wasn't AJ's fault. If he needed more time, he needed more time and there was nothing the rest of us could do about that. It was us denying the seriousness of his addictions that had got us into this mess in the first place. But it would be silly to deny the fact that postponing the tour again would have ramifications.

I sighed to myself and tried not to worry about all of that. We were going to have to deal with it no matter what, but step one would be letting the rest of the guys know what was going on.

~~~


Mornings spent in bed with my wife were one of my favourite things. I'd almost forgotten what it was like, having been on tour for so long. Now that we had this extended break, I'd really begun to appreciate what it was like to be a real, married couple.

Leighanne sighed happily as she cuddled up to me. “I wish we had more time,” she murmured as I put my arm around her.

“We have all the time in the world,” I said softly.

She just shook her head slightly. “No we don't. You're going back on tour in a week, and everything's going to go back to normal. I know you guys are eager to get back on the road, but I just wish you and I could have more time here together, like a regular couple.”

I wouldn't exactly say she was right about us being eager to get back on the road. I know that I certainly wasn't. Once we started touring again, I was sure I'd feel differently. But at that moment, I really just wanted to stay in Atlanta forever.

Before I could say anything else, the phone rang. I glanced over at the bedside table at the caller display. It was Kevin. I rolled my eyes a little. I still didn't want to talk to him much, but I knew he wouldn't stop calling unless I picked up the phone.

So I did. “Hi Kev.”

“Hi,” he said stiffly. He probably didn't want to talk to me either, so I had no idea why he'd be calling. He also didn't sound like he was in a great mood. “I just got off the phone with Denise.”

I sat up a little, and Leighanne moved over to my side. “Oh?”

“AJ's not ready to go back on the road yet and he's moving to a transitional care facility for another two weeks. We're not going back on tour next week.”

Even though I was still a little annoyed with Kevin, I had to admit I was grateful for his bluntness right then. He didn't mess around when it came to things like this. “Oh... how'd the others take it?” I asked, not really knowing what else to say. I had to admit, I wasn't exactly upset to hear this news.

“You're the first one I've told. Howie's phone's been busy.”

It struck me as interesting that since Howie's phone was busy, I was the next person he decided to call, considering Howie and Nick were together. I figured Kevin was going to give Howie the responsibility of letting Nick know. That sounded like the type of thing he would do.

“Alright,” I said quickly. “Well, thanks for letting me know.”

“Bye,” he said quickly, before hanging up.

“What was that about?” Leighanne as quickly, looking up at me.

I shrugged, wearing a slight smile on my face. “Looks like your wish has been granted. AJ's not ready to go back on tour yet. We're postponing an extra two weeks.”

“Oh,” Leighanne replied. She wore a slight pout, but I could tell she wasn't that heartbroken over the news. “That's too bad,” she said, leaning up to kiss me.

“Mmmhmmm...”

~~~


I was sitting in Nick's living room waiting for him to finish packing. He sure did take a long time. Not that I blamed him – we'd be away from home for quite a while so it made sense that stuffing everything he owned into a few suitcases would be a big task.

That, and this was Nick, so he probably kept getting distracted.

I kept myself amused by watching TV, talking on the phone with Leigh and washing dishes. At least when Nick came back, he'd have clean plates in his house. Not that he ever used them as I was fairly certain he ate pizza every single day.

Just as I was about to go check on him, my cell phone rang. It was Kevin.

“Hey Kev,” I said brightly. “What's going on?”

He sighed. That was when I knew it wasn't good news. “AJ's going to a transitional care facility for two weeks when he's out of rehab.”

No wonder he sounded stressed out. “So we're postponing again?”

“Yeah. I already talked to Brian.”

I nodded. We'd also have to tell management and the fans. Both of them would probably be upset – one more than the other though. “I guess I'll let Nick know.”

Kevin was quiet for a minute. “What if we don't?”

That didn't make any sense. “We have to tell him, Kev. Besides, I'm sure he'll notice when we don't go back on tour in a week. He's not stupid.”

He sighed again. Kevin was always such a ball of stress. He liked to be in control, and I was sure it was driving him insane that he had no say in this situation and just had to deal with everything that was happening around him. “I didn't mean we wouldn't ever tell him, maybe we should just wait until you guys get to LA.”

Oh, that was what he meant. Now it made sense. He was worried that if we told Nick the tour was postponed, he wouldn't come back to LA and we'd be in the same predicament we'd been in with him before. “I don't know, Kev. It doesn't seem fair to lie to him.”

“We're not going to be lying to him,” Kevin said quickly. “We're just going to wait to tell him. Do you want him to stay in Florida being self destructive?”

I wanted to say I was sure we could let Nick make his own decisions, but to be honest I didn't really know if that was true. The last thing I wanted was for Nick to stay in Florida drunk off his ass. If that continued on for another two weeks, it was likely that he'd spiral even further out of control. Getting him to LA was for the best, we both knew that. “Okay,” I said finally. “But once we get to LA, I'm telling him.”

“That's fine,” he replied. “Just as long as you get him to LA.”

“I will. Bye Kev.”

“See you later.”

I snapped my phone shut and looked up the stairs. I was a horrible liar, but I was going to have to put my game face on. Nick would probably be upset we he found out we'd kept this information from him. He'd probably also be upset about the fact that we weren't going to be touring again as soon as he'd hoped.

I only hoped that once he got to LA and away from his toxic life in Florida, he'd be understanding of the situation.
Day 25 by Sakabelle
I'm feeling rough, I'm feeling raw, I'm in the prime of my life
Let's make some music, make some money, find some models for wives

-MGMT ‘Time to Pretend’


As soon as we had set foot in my house, I’d felt awkward. I’d been strangely quiet around Nick, which he didn't notice because as soon as we got to LA his mood changed significantly. It was clear he was excited about going back on tour, which made things all the more worse for me because, obviously, we weren't. At least, not as soon as he thought.

We’d spent the entire evening just chilling around my place. It was nice, I'll admit. We’d ordered a pizza and drank a couple beers. Nick didn't make any mention of going out to enjoy the LA nightlife, as he normally would have. I had to admit I was sort of disappointed by that. I know, I know, the whole reasoning behind getting him out to LA was to stop the partying. But I was feeling so guilty about lying to him about the tour that I just wanted him out of the house. Out of sight, out of mind I guess. I knew it was selfish, but this whole business of keeping the fact our tour had been postponed again was selfish anyway. No matter how much we said it was for his own good, and it was... but he also had a right to know. He was just as much a part of the group as the rest of us.

I’d woken up early, made myself a nice cup of coffee and sat in my kitchen trying to psyche myself up for when I was going to tell him that we weren’t going back on tour for another three weeks.

“Nick,” I’d say to him. “I’m really sorry we didn’t tell you before, but AJ’s not ready yet, and we’re not going back on tour until closer to the end of the month.”

No, that was no good. Opening with an apology was never a good idea.

“Denise called Kevin yesterday, AJ’s not ready... we’re not going back on tour, but you’re welcome to stay with me until we do.”

That would probably just piss him off.

I put my head in my hands. We really should have just told him right away, because now I was in this mess where I knew he was going to be mad, he was probably going to be so mad that he’d so straight back to Florida. We’d be right back in the position we were in before. Probably worse, actually, because he’d try to cure his anger by drinking, and by the time we were supposed to back on the road, we might not have a Nick to take with us.

“Morning, D,” Nick said brightly, bounding into my kitchen and interrupting my thought process.

“Morning,” I replied, not really knowing what to say to him. Once again I tried to psyche myself up to tell him that the tour had been postponed. I watched him as he rummaged through my fridge. Normally I would have made some kind of wise-ass comment about it, but I let it go. You know, since he was about to be angry anyway. “Hey Nick,” I started.

“Well, see ya later,” he said, opening a can of coke and walking out of the kitchen.

What?! “Where are you going?” I asked, following him out into the hall.

“Out,” he said simply, stepping into his shoes without bothering to untie the laces (that had always bothered me about him) and putting his sunglasses on. “Gotta enjoy LA while I’m here,” he said with a grin. “Later, D.”

“Bye,” I replied, just letting him leave. I knew it was a bad idea, but I really didn’t want to have that conversation with him. It could wait, couldn’t it? Just until he got home. There was no sense in ruining his day.

Sometimes, I liked to keep the peace a little too much. And it always came back to bite me in the ass.

~~~


Fuck yeah, I love LA. It’s way better than Tampa, there’s so much stuff to do. You can just walk around in LA at any time of the day or night and there’s always something interesting happening. I could walk down the street and no one would bother me, because I was just another celebrity, doing his thing.

I mean, I was an awesome celebrity, but you know.

I wasn’t about to admit it to Howie or anything, but I was really happy to get away from Florida and get back to the lifestyle that I loved. I loved the ocean and the beach, and that was what always kept me coming back to Tampa, but California had that too. One day, I’d probably just sell my house in Tampa and stay in California.

Maybe not for a while though, because sometimes I still needed my cave of solitude.

But a month was way too long to be there. We never had time off that long and even though I could tell the other guys were grateful for it, I hated it. Hated every minute of it and couldn’t wait to get back out on the road where I belonged. I’d never been someone who loved staying at home, and that was probably because of my fucked up family. Even when I was a kid, I was always looking for ways to get out of the house.

So, LA was perfect for me. I still had the beach pretty close by and more stuff to do. In Florida, I was no one special. In LA, I was someone important. I was a part of the club that was supposed to be there and it felt awesome.

Fuck, I forgot how much I loved LA until I was actually here.

~~~


Carson Daly was not my favourite person. Typically, I hated TRL. Don’t get me wrong, I loved our fans and I loved that there was an outlet for us to connect with them, but Carson’s attitude always left me wanting to punch him in the throat.

Probably because he always acted like he was above us, when we were the reason he had a job in the first place. But of course, you’ll never hear him admitting that.

Either way, I got stuck with the duty of calling in to TRL and letting them know that our tour had been postponed again. Management had pushed back a little on that, wanting us to actually go there, but I really didn’t want to. I knew they just wanted us to do promo, but it didn’t feel right. I didn’t want to make a promotion out of the fact that AJ needed more help. That wouldn’t make us look good.

And surprisingly, they actually agreed. So, I sat in my living room, phone to my ear, as I waited to be told I was on the air.

“We’ve got Kevin Richardon on the line, hey Kev, how’s it going?” Carson said, once we were ready to go.

“Hey Carson,” I said smoothly, wanting to get this over as soon as possible. “It’s going.”

“I know you called in to let us know some important news about your tour, you want to let us know what’s been going on?”

I took a deep breath. “Yeah, sure. Basically, AJ’s going to be coming out of rehab in a week, but he’s going to be transferred to a transitional care facility. Unfortunately, that means we’ll be pushing back some of our tour dates again, so now, we’ll be starting up on August 24th in Milwaukee.”

“Right,” Carson replied. “So in about three weeks from now.”

“That’s correct.” I just wanted this phone call to be over.

“Any update on AJ at all and how he’s doing?”

“Uh, yeah,” I responded slowly, carefully planning what I was going to say. “We went to visit him a little while ago, he’s doing really well. We’re really looking forward to getting back out on the road.”

“That’s all that matters,” Carson said, though I’m not honestly sure he actually meant it. I really hated that guy. “Thanks for calling in and letting us know. Take care, Kev.”

“Thanks Carson, you too.”

I hung up the phone and breathed a sigh of relief. At least the hard part was over.

~~~


I rarely, if ever, watched TRL. We’d been on it enough times for me to know what it was about, and besides, I couldn’t care less who the top ten videos of the day were. Even if we were number one, did that mean anything? Not really.

But I had to admit, when Kevin told me he was going to be calling in, I was curious to see what he would say. I was still annoyed with him, and maybe that was why I felt compelled to watch. I wanted to see how well he was going to be able to hide his attitude that he’d had as of late.

Not well, I was guessing.

“I don’t know why we’re watching this,” Leighanne said. She was sitting beside me on the couch, her legs draped over my knees.

I shrugged. “I just want to see what Kevin says.”

“We’re on vacation,” she reminded me. “Why do you want to think about work?” she asked, leaning upwards and brushing her lips against my neck.

It wasn’t a vacation, but I didn’t bother correcting her. I suppose, for her, it sort of seemed like one. Though I didn’t really want to, I ignored her passes at me as the show began. She sighed, but she got the hint and pulled away slightly.

I studied the screen as Kevin talked to Carson. I wasn’t sure if he actually sounded like he didn’t want to be having this conversation, or if I was just noticing it more because I knew the truth. Either way, Kevin sounded tired, bored and was giving really politically correct answers.

Which, I had to hand it to him, he did a good job of. Sometimes he has a habit of saying too much and getting us in trouble. He’s usually good at saying the “media-safe” answers, but once in a while, when he’s in a mood, he’ll let something slip out that he shouldn’t have.

Then management loses it. But it never actually causes us any damage. Maybe we should try being honest with our fans more often.

“That wasn’t so bad,” Leighanne said to me when it was over. It wasn’t very long - he was only on the phone for about two minutes. Which I guess is all they really needed. TRL never cared about hearing just our voices, which is incredibly sad when you stop and think about it.

“No, it wasn’t.”

“So do you think you’ll actually be back on tour on the 24th?” she asked me, and I couldn’t tell if she looked hopeful for the fact that we would be, or the possibility that it might get pushed back again.

But I really couldn’t see that happening. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was happy or sad about it. I definitely wanted AJ to get better, but I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to go back out on the road. “Yeah,” I said. “I do.”
Day 26 by Sakabelle
Do you worry that you're not liked
How long till you break
You're happy 'cause you smile
But how much can you fake

-Our Lady Peace 'Superman’s Dead'


If there’s one thing I hate in life, it’s being woken up by my God damn phone ringing.

I mean, I hate it any time, but I especially hate it after a long night of drinking and clubbing. I made it back to Howie’s place at some crazy hour, and he was already asleep, which was probably good because I didn’t need a lecture from him. Not that Howie gave as bad of lectures as Kevin did, but still. I just didn’t want to deal with him.

Where was I? Oh right, my phone was ringing.

I reached over to the little table where I’d dumped my phone, wallet and keys before falling into bed. "Mmrph?" I didn’t even look at the caller ID.

"Dude!" It was my brother, and he was way too happy for this early in the morning. At least, it felt early. I had no idea what time it actually was. "You don’t have an excuse now, you have to come do the Teen Choice Awards with me!"

What was he talking about? "Huh?"

"The Teen Choice Awards. Remember, I asked you if you could perform with me? You said no because you’d be on tour, but now you won’t be, so you can’t get out of it! I won’t have to use a backing track anymore!"

What the hell? He had asked me about that months ago, and I remembered telling him I couldn’t because I was on tour. "When is it again?"

"August 12th," he said, and his voice was way too excited. I loved my brother, but I was tired and I just wanted to go back to sleep and not deal with him.

"Uh..." I thought for a minute. What day was it? August 3rd. And we were going back out on the road on a few days. "Sorry, our break is going to be over by then." I wasn’t that sorry, though.

But Aaron still sounded really determined. It was weird. "No it isn’t. Mom said that she saw on TRL yesterday that the dates got pushed back again. You’re not going back out until the 24th. So you can come!"

I’m not even going to get into the fact that my mother watched TRL religiously. "Carson’s wrong," I said. Why did Carson always make up shit? He was the biggest rumour spreader of them all! That was a weird one though. Why would he say that?

"But it was Kevin who said it..."

What? That made even less sense. "Huh?"

"Yeah," Aaron said, and he sounded really confused. "Kevin called yesterday and said AJ wasn’t ready yet so you guys were pushing back a couple weeks." He paused for a second. "How did you not know?"

Yeah, how did I not know? "Uh okay... I gotta go."

"So you’ll perform with me at the awards right?" I swear to God that kid only thinks about himself.

"Yeah whatever," I said, and then hung up on him. I couldn’t care less about the fucking Teen Choice Awards. Kevin called into TRL and let them know the tour had been postponed? AJ wasn’t ready? What the fuck was going on, and how the hell did TRL and Carson Fucking Daly find out before I did?

I grabbed my stuff off the nightstand and shoved it in my pockets. Luckily, I was still wearing my clothes from the night before, so I didn’t need to waste any time getting dressed before I went downstairs to find Howie.

~~~


"You got something you wanna tell me?"

Nick nearly gave me a heart attack as he came thundering onto my back porch. I’d been sitting there, enjoying the morning, once again going over how I was going to let him know what was going on.

I guess I didn’t really have to worry about it anymore.

"Um," I said dumbly. He looked livid. For someone who had come back probably around four in the morning, he sure seemed to be awake and alert.

"I knew it, you knew about this!" he shouted.

"Calm down, Nicky," I said, taking a deep breath. You could tell he was really angry, because he didn’t say anything about the fact that I’d called him "Nicky."

"No!" he exclaimed. "Fuck no. I can't believe you guys did this. Did all of you know? Of course you did. Hey what’s the point in telling Nick anything? He’s so fucking stupid that he won’t notice when we don’t go back on tour in five days! There’s no point in telling him. Why’s he even in the group again?!" he ranted, flailing his arms everywhere, as if to prove his point. Nick got really animated when he was angry. He also started talking about himself in the third person, apparently.

"I was going to tell you," I said, trying to keep my cool as Nick flipped out. "I just couldn’t find the right time."

"That’s bullshit Howie," he spat. "That’s fucking bullshit and you know it."

He was right, it was bullshit. I’d had plenty of opportunities to tell him, and hadn’t. I doubted he was going to listen to reason, though. "Nick, look-"

"Fuck off," he cut me off, storming back into the house.

I sighed and followed him. "Where are you going?" I asked, shaking my head.

"To pay Kevin a little visit," he said, putting his shoes on.

"Wait," I said quickly. "I’ll go with you."

"No you fucking won’t," he replied through gritted teeth. "I don’t want to see any of you right now."

I thought about pointing out to him that he clearly wanted to see Kevin, since he was going over there, but I decided against it. Nick left in a huff, slamming the door behind him.

I sighed and went to call Kevin. Of course, the one time he didn’t pick up his phone would be the one time it was completely urgent. "Hey Kev," I said, leaving a message on his answering machine. "Nick found out about the tour...he heard you were on TRL. He’s on his way to your place right now, and he’s pissed."

~~~


As soon as I heard Howie’s message, I planted myself in my living room and waited for Nick’s arrival. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with him, and if Howie wasn’t able to talk him down, I knew he was probably livid.

I could handle angry Nick, I just didn’t want to.

I was sort of annoyed with Howie for not telling Nick as soon as they got to his place that the tour was postponed and letting him find out from the TRL call. He probably could have managed that better. I did feel sort of bad for lying to him, but it was completely necessary. Nick had just been making a mess of himself down in Florida. And if it came down to it, I intended to tell him that in no uncertain terms.

My intercom went off and I sighed, getting up from the couch. "Hello?"

"Let me in. I know Howie probably called to warn you. Let me tell you Kevin-"

I took my hand off the listen button and buzzed him in. There was no point in hearing him rant over the intercom, it wouldn’t accomplish anything.

Moments later, he appeared at my door, and I let him in. "What the fuck, dude?" he asked angrily when he set foot inside.

"How’d you find out?" I asked him.

"My fucking brother!" he shouted. "Do you know how embarrassing that is? That my brother knew before I did, and he assumed that I knew, and I looked totally stupid by not knowing what he was talking about when he talked about our own tour?!"

"Sorry, Nick," I said sincerely, hoping that would calm him down.

"Like hell you’re fucking sorry," he spat, glaring at me. He didn’t even bother taking his shoes off, and we were just standing in my front hall. I guess he wasn’t planning on staying long.

I sighed. "Howie was supposed to tell you." I would have felt bad for blaming Howie, but in this case it was the truth.

"When?" Nick asked. "When was he planning on telling me? You had to have known yesterday so you could schedule that call." He paused for a minute and I waited for him to continue. "Oh, right, sorry, you all think I’m stupid and that I can’t figure shit like that out."

"We don’t think you’re stupid, Nick."

"Then why did no one think it was important to tell me that we weren’t going back on tour?!"

I rubbed my eyes with my thumb and forefinger. I wondered if Nick was more upset about the fact that we’d postponed the tour again, or that we hadn’t told him. I had a feeling it was actually the former, and he was just re-directing his anger at us. "We are going back on tour. Just a couple weeks later than we planned."

"Why?" Nick asked, calming down a little, but still looking pissed as hell. "And don’t give me the same bullshit answer you gave Carson Daly. Tell me the truth... for once." He added a dramatic glare at the end.

If I hadn’t been so frustrated with him and the entire situation, I probably would have laughed. "AJ’s going to a transitional care facility after he’s out of rehab."

"But I thought he was doing better..." Nick mumbled, looking down at the ground. That guy has more mood swings than anyone I’ve ever known.

"He is," I said, resisting the urge to add that he would have known that had he come with us to visit him. "He just needs more time to make sure he doesn’t slip back into the same old bad habits."

Nick sighed and put his hands in his pockets.

"You okay, buddy?"

He shrugged. "Whatever. Guess I’ll see you in a couple weeks."

He turned around and walked out the door, and honestly, I didn’t stop him. I just let him go off and figure out what he needed to figure out. He was here, he was staying with Howie, and hopefully, he was going to be fine.

Because I didn’t need to deal with anymore drama.

~~~


Howie's really predictable. He and Nick had gotten into an argument, Nick had stormed off to Kevin (which was also really predictable), and what did Howie do?

Call me, of course. Under normal circumstances, he’d probably call AJ, but since he couldn’t do that, I was all he had. He hated it when any of us fought and always tried to make up for it by hanging out or calling one of the other members of the group. Whoever wasn’t involved in the fight.

"You probably should have told him," I said, shaking my head a little as I stood in my kitchen talking on the phone. "I understand why you didn’t, he was acting childish at home and needed to be brought to LA, and I’m sure he didn’t give you the opportunity, because I bet he was partying it up in LA as soon as he got there."

"I had opportunities. I just knew he’d be upset."

"He’ll get over it, he always gets over it. He doesn’t stay mad for very long, especially at you." For some reason, Nick usually forgave Howie the easiest. Whenever he decided he was mad at me, it seemed like he’d be mad for weeks. He also always seemed to be sort of mad at Kevin, no matter what. And either he or AJ were best buds, or mortal enemies.

So yeah, if anyone was in a good position to piss Nick off and actually get forgiven, it was Howie.

"Yeah, I don’t know why that is."

"I don’t know why either," I laughed. I really didn’t. Why was I so different in Nick’s eyes than Howie? I understood it with Kevin, because Kevin was always acting like a father figure to him and Nick needed to rebel. And with AJ, they were so close in age that they fought like brothers. But Nick and I used to be best friends. Since we’d grown apart a little, he’d acted distant and hostile towards me.

"I guess you’re right, thanks Brian."

It was weird for me to be having this conversation with Howie, because I used to be the one who Nick forgave really easily. Actually, I used to be the person that Nick never got mad at. I didn’t know entirely what had changed between the two of us. I guess we’d just grown up, gone our separate ways, grown apart, as some friends do.

Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t just drift apart and nod awkwardly if we ran into each other on the street. We were stuck with each other because of the group. I didn’t know how long we’d be stuck together, but it was probably going to be for a while yet. I was sure Jive wouldn’t be letting us go anytime soon.

I shook my head a little. Five years ago, I never would have thought it would have been possible I’d have drifted apart from Nick. Now, I didn’t feel like I knew him at all. Or the person that I did know, I didn’t like at all.
Day 27 by Sakabelle
Don't pretend you're sorry
I know you're not

-Backstreet Boys 'Drowning'


I woke up early the next morning intending to cook breakfast for myself and my wife. I'd never been an expert chef or anything, but I could cook a mean omlette.

I walked around the kitchen, and our dogs followed at my feet, just as they always did first thing in the morning. I didn't think they were so used to having me around for this long. They probably had no idea what was going on. I felt guilty for leaving them alone all the time, but it wasn't like I really had a choice.

As I stood over the frying pan mixing the eggs, my mind began to wander. I hadn't heard back from Howie at all, so I could only assume that he and Nick had made up. Either that or Howie hadn't liked my passive attitude when it came to Nick, so he hadn't bothered to call me again.

Either situation was possible.

I took some lunch meat out of the fridge to add to my eggs and ripped off a couple pieces to give to the dogs. It stopped them from hovering around me for about five seconds, but I just laughed. It would have been nice to be a dog. The only things they really seemed to ever worry about when they were going to get fed and when the vacuum cleaner was going to come out.

I supposed I personally didn't have much to worry about. All that was going on in my life was going back on tour, and the possibility of starting a family. At one point, I had been worried about AJ, but I'd seen for myself that he was doing better and getting help.

I felt guilty for not being worried about Nick. It wasn't that I wasn't completely worried about him, I just didn't devote the time and energy to thinking about it or trying to help him.

Then I felt guilty for not really feeling that guilty. So I pulled my phone out of my pocket, scrolled to his name on my contacts list and hovered over it for a minute.

I didn't even know what I would say if I talked to him. It felt like ages since I'd spoken to him, and all I'd heard in the last few weeks was that he was going downhill, acting even more like a brat than he usually did, and generally being an entitled popstar.

Sometimes, I think that Nick thinks that the Backstreet Boys would be nothing without him. I feel bad for saying that, but I honestly really do think that's how he feels. There was one time he came out and said that too, and I'd never seen Kevin get so angry with him as he had after that comment. It had been when Nick was younger, and a lot stupider, but it still pissed him off. And rightfully so, all of us worked hard, Nick wasn't any better than we were just because he was blonde and young and had the most fans.

Before I had the chance to decide if I was actually going to call Nick or not, my wife appeared in the kitchen and wrapped her arms around my waist.

“You're up early,” she commented.

“I thought I'd make us something nice to eat.”

“How sweet of you,” she purred, kissing my neck.

I turned around and leaned against the counter as she moved in closer to me. God, I was the luckiest man in the world to have such a hot wife. She giggled and just as she was about to start kissing my lips, the sound of our smoke alarm went off.

We both looked over at the stove. The frying pan was now filled with burnt eggs.

“Oops,” I laughed, picking up the frying pan and moving to scrape the remains of my attempted breakfast into the garbage can.

“That's okay,” Leighanne grinned, taking the pan from me and placing it in the sink. “We can go out for breakfast. But first...”

And just like that, she was kissing me again. Not that I was complaining.

~~~


“Good morning,” Kris said, putting her hands on my shoulders as she came up from behind where I was sitting on the couch.

“Morning.” I put down the book I was reading and faced her. “Did you have a good sleep?”

“I did,” she smiled. “Except for the guy beside me who was tossing and turning the whole night.”

I rolled my eyes. “And who was that?”

“Kevin,” she said seriously, putting her hand on my thigh. “Are you okay?”

“I'm fine.” I was perfectly fine. What I do during my sleep isn't exactly my fault.

She gave me a look. “And you're sure this has nothing to do with Nick coming over here yesterday?”

I shrugged. Nick's unplanned visit had gone better than I'd expected it to, actually. He'd been upset, but he'd cooled off quickly. I hardly even had to raise my voice... which was weird, considering how mad he had been when he'd arrived.

“Not really,” I said honestly. For the first time in the last few weeks, I actually wasn't overly worried about Nick.

“Is it possible that maybe you were looking forward to going back on tour?”

I thought about that for a second. Through everything that had happened and everything I'd had to deal with regarding the group, I'd never really stopped to think about if I personally wanted to go back on tour or not.

I actually didn't know the answer to her question. I really was enjoying my time off, but I also was sort of itching to get back out on the road and perform again. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed it until I'd actually thought about it.

“I guess I was,” I admitted.

She nodded sympathetically. “Yeah, I know. This has been such a strange month.”

“Yeah, sorry that we've had to live like a normal married couple,” I said sarcastically. I knew she hadn't meant it like that, but I wasn't able to resist joking around a little.

“It still hasn't been that normal. What kind of normal couple in their late twenties has a twenty-one year old son to deal with?” she laughed.

She wasn't wrong. There would never be anything normal about us, no matter how hard we tried. I'd always be a part of that group, even during down time. I laughed a little and leaned my head on her shoulder. “I guess you're right.”

~~~


Sometimes, I got myself into really stupid situations, I'll admit it.

I sat up and looked around, rubbing my head. I wasn't in Howie's house... I was in some hotel room. It wasn't even a cheap hotel room! Even when I was drunk, I had good taste. Thank God, because I've woken up in some shitholes before, and bedbugs are the worst fucking things.

I looked around. It didn't seem like there was anyone else in the room. There probably had been at some point during the night, but whoever she was, she was gone.

Worked for me, then I wouldn't have to go through the hassle of kicking her ass out!

I got out of bed and went into the bathroom. I wondered if I should take a shower while I was here. I sort of hated hotel showers... and I hardly ever used them. Everyone thought that was gross but I didn't really buy into the myth that you needed to shower every day. Either way, it would just be better to shower at Howie's house anyway.

Oh right, Howie.

I wasn't sure if I was actually still mad at him. I felt a bit better after talking to Kevin (which I would never, ever admit to him!) but I was still pissed at Howie for lying to me and making me look stupid. I didn't understand why he couldn't have just told me about the tour being postponed.

I knew I was probably going to have to talk to him again, and I felt better than I had the day before (going out had probably helped with that too) but I was still mad. I hated how they all treated me like I was this little fucked up kid. I was twenty-one, I had my own house, my own money, my own life. What more did they want? I swear sometimes they still saw me as that awkward fourteen year old who didn't have a clue about anything.

I grabbed my stuff and went down to the front desk to check out of the room and pay for it. Not that I had a lot of stuff with me, but still.

I supposed I'd have to go back to Howie's place eventually and make up with him, since he did have a lot of my stuff. The more I thought about it, the more I was sure that he had lied to get me to LA, because he thought I was a giant fuck-up at home.

Actually, the more I thought about it, the more I was sure that Kevin put him up to lying to me. I thought a little bit about going back to Kevin's place and asking him that, but I decided not to. There was no point, he'd probably just give me a huge lecture.

So instead, I started on my way back to Howie's place. At least I knew that when he told me the truth he'd be nicer about it.

~~~


So much for lying to Nick to keep him out of trouble in Florida. Instead, he just managed to get himself into trouble in LA. I had no idea where he'd gone, he hadn't come back the night before, and he hadn't answered his phone.

I probably wouldn't have been so worried, but he was so angry when he'd left that I had no idea what he was going to go out and do.

Well, okay, I had some idea, but still.

It was just after lunch time when I heard Nick walk into my house. I breathed a small sigh of relief that he was still alive and went to go greet him.

“Hey Nicky,” I said, sort of giving him a guilty smile as he took his shoes of and sat down on my couch.

“I'm still mad at you,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. He was such a child sometimes.

“I know, I'm sorry.” I really was sorry.

“Why didn't you just tell me?” he asked, running a hand through his hair. It was sticking up all over the place and he really looked like a bum off the street. I felt bad for him... but he also sort of smelled.

I sighed, and decided to just be honest with him. “Look, Kevin and I decided not to tell you right away because we were afraid you wouldn't come back to LA.”

He gave me a look. “What's that supposed to mean?”

Uh, it meant what you think it meant, Nick. “We didn't want you to stay in Florida all by yourself. We thought that if we told you before, you wouldn't see any reason to come back to LA and you'd just stay at home until we went back on the road.”

He looked down at the ground and thought about that for a minute. I couldn't tell if he was angry, or sad, or grateful or what.

“So you guys wanted to babysit me here in LA?” he asked. Guess he was mad.

He wasn't exactly wrong, either. “It just didn't seem like you were doing so well at home, Nick,” I said honestly. Because he really wasn't, and he had to know that.

“I guess,” he muttered. “I probably would have still come with you. You should have still told me.”

“I know Nicky,” I nodded, sitting down beside him. “I'm really sorry.”

“It's fine,” he sighed, getting up and walking out of the room. “I'm going back to sleep.”

I watched him go and leaned back on the couch. I was thankful that he wasn't fuming with anger anymore, but I still felt guilty. Though he was with me in LA, he still looked just as lost and alone as he had in Florida.
Day 28 by Sakabelle
A long time ago we used to be friends
But I haven't thought of you lately at all

-The Dandy Warhols 'We Used to Be Friends'


One of the best things about Atlanta, and one of the biggest reasons that we'd chosen to live there, was because Leighanne's parents lived there. Though I missed my own family, having hers around was almost as good.

We were sitting out on their back porch that afternoon drinking lemonade and eating lunch. It was the perfect southern afternoon. Laid back and relaxed.

To be honest, it was exactly how I had always pictured married life. Before I was a part of the group, I mean. This was what it was all about - spending time with family and loved ones. Not fighting for time because we were on a tight touring schedule.

Not that I didn't love my job, but lately, through this time off, I'd begun to realize how much I wanted that normalcy.

"So what's been going on with you kids?" Jack asked, glancing over the table at Leighanne and I.

I looked at my wife and shrugged. Not much had been going on with us, and truth be told, I liked it that way.

"We've had a lot of time together since Brian's been on the break," Leighanne said, taking her hand in mine. "It's been really nice."

Jack nodded. "I bet it has."

"And there's one other thing," she beamed, looking over at me for confirmation.

I guess she wanted to tell them we were trying for a family. I wasn't totally opposed to her saying anything. I didn't really want to jinx it, either, but if she wanted to tell them, I figured there wouldn't really be any harm in it. So I gave her a slight nod.

"We're trying for a baby," she beamed, looking at her parents.

The two of them grinned, and her mom even got up to hug her, and then me. "That's so exciting for you two," she said with a smile, sitting back down in her chair. "I guess this is as good a time as any for that," she laughed a little.

I didn't think there would ever be a good time for us to start a family. But then again, no one goes into this in the perfect moment, right? It's always a little scary, for any couple. Not just couples who happened to be part of the pop music industry where there was no time for sleep, let alone time for babies.

"I think it is," I said, looking over at Leigh with a smile.

Regardless of what was happening in my career, at least my personal life was headed down that path I wanted.

And really, that's what was most important.

~~~


Nick was still asleep when I woke up that morning, but that was fine. I wasn't about to wake him. Things were still a little awkward between us, and it wasn't like we had anything to do that day.

I hadn't had a chance to see Leigh yet since we'd gotten back to LA, but she was on her way over to my place, and we'd planned to spend the day together. We weren't quite sure what we were going to do yet, but that didn't really matter. I was just looking forward to seeing her. At least that was nice about us still being on the break - more time to spend with those we didn't really get to see as often.

My phone rang and I furrowed my eyebrows as I looked at the caller ID.

"Hi Kevin."

"Hi," he said with a sigh. What else could have gone wrong that he was calling me? Was it bad that I always assumed something had gone wrong when Kevin called me? I guess it was because lately, that was the reason.

"What's up?"

"Nothing," he said, then paused. "Hey, what are you guys up to tonight?"

That was weird.

"Um, I don't know. Leigh's coming over, and I have no clue what Nicky's doing, but I'm willing to bet she'll be blonde." I laughed at my own dumb joke.

Kevin ignored it. "Do you guys want to do something later? Maybe go out for a beer?"

Still weird. Since when did Kevin want to hang out and just have a beer? Especially when it was supposed to be our time off. He must have been feeling strange about the fact that we weren't going back on tour. That made sense, because even though I was happy we had some more time to ourselves, I was feeling very much the same way.

"Well..." I said, glancing around my house. "Leigh's coming over, but why don't you and Kristin swing by later, and the four of us can have dinner or something? I'll cook."

"Yeah, sure," he said happily. "That sounds good."

"Come over around 7," I said to him. That would give me plenty of alone time with Leigh before he showed up. Although, there was the fact that Nick was here. But that kid slept like a rock. Besides, I've heard his rendezvous though the thin hotel walls dozens of times. It was time for some payback!

"All right," he said. "See you then."

I hung up the phone and shook my head. I felt sort of bad for Kevin. He always tried to keep it together for all of us, but he was probably hurting just as much. Maybe more, since he always tended to put so much of everyone else's stress on his own shoulders.

I sighed and began to prepare for the evening.

~~~


I was sure Howie thought it was out of the blue that I'd called him asking to hang out, and honestly, it was.

What Kris had said the day before had got me thinking. Through all the drama, I really did miss hanging out with those guys. Through all of the drama, it was hard to remember that at one point, we were inseparable. We used to do everything together, especially when we were first starting out.

I remembered thinking that it was annoying at the time, and that I'd wanted to go off and do my own thing. Now, I found, I was missing it. We'd all begun to grow apart, and our seemingly never ending break from the tour was only making it worse.

Which was why Kris and I were standing in Howie's main entrance, holding a bowl of potato salad.

Okay, so maybe we weren't cool anymore, but at least we were going to be hanging out!

"Thanks guys," Howie said with a smile, taking the bowl from me.

We walked into his house and he led us into the dining room, which he had set up all nicely. Of course he did - this was Howie we're talking about. Always the host. Leigh was sitting at the table and smiled at us.

I quickly introduced her to Kristin and glanced around. "Is Nick joining us?"

"Uhh..." Howie said, coming back in from the kitchen. "I don't think so. I haven't seen him much today. I mean he's here, but he's just been in his room."

Kristin raised her eyebrow at me. I could tell what she was thinking - Nick really was like having a kid.

An overgrown, spoiled, rich, teenage kid.

Still, it would have been nice to have him at dinner.

"Oh well," I said, sitting down. "I'm sure that when he smells food he'll come downstairs."

~~~


I couldn't believe they were having a dinner party.

How old were we? Forty? Weren't we international pop-stars?

Fuck, Howie and Kevin were getting old. No wonder they didn't care the tour was postponed. They didn't give a shit about going out and doing shows and having girls throw themselves at them. Instead they had lame dinner parties.

I bet they were going to play board games afterwards. Fuck, they were so lame!

But... I was hungry. And Howie's a pretty good cook, I'll admit it. Once, he made these little crab cake appetizer things. I mean, they were tiny, but they were good.

Stupid Howie.

I walked downstairs and looked at the four of them. They looked like they were about to start discussing world issues or some shit like that.

"Hey Nicky," Howie said as he dished some food out onto his plate. Was that salmon? Come on, Howie.

Okay, I actually like salmon, but that's not the point!

"Hey," I said, eyeing them.

"You want to join us for dinner? There's lots of food."

Ugh, I really was hungry, but I was just going to grab a burger and then go hit up the LA scene. But that salmon really did smell good... "Fine." I went to get a plate and cutlery from the kitchen and sat down at the head of the table.

It was kind of awkward sitting there with two couples, but at least one of them wasn't Brian and Leighanne. The most annoying fucking couple in the world.

Oops, did I say that out loud?

"Is it some kind of special occasion or something?" I asked, piling potato salad onto my plate. Kristin must've made this. I knew because she'd made it for us before, and it's fucking amazing. You haven't lived until you've had Kevin's wife's potato salad.

I was kind of jealous of Kevin for that. Not because I wanted to have a wife, but mostly because he had an awesome wife. How'd he ever score a chick like that anyway?

"No," Kevin shrugged. "Does it need to be?"

It seemed kind of weird that they were over at Howie's place when it wasn't a special occasion, but maybe they just wanted to act like grown-ups and have a lame dinner party.

"I'm out," I said after quickly shoveling the food into my face. Which was pretty much potato salad. There better be some of that in the fridge tomorrow!

They all looked at me, and I sort of waited for Kevin to grill me on where I was going, but he didn't.

That was also weird. It was a weird Kevin day.

"Bye Nicky," Howie said, giving me a wave.

"Later," I said, walking out of the dining room. "Don't stay up too late playing Monopoly!" I laughed on my way out.

They probably were going to play Monopoly, too. I hoped by the time we were back out on tour that they went back to be awesome.

Well, Howie anyway. Kevin's not usually awesome. But at least he seemed like he was in a good mood! I grinned. Maybe Kevin could stay the same and Howie could go back to being cool.
Day 29 by Sakabelle
Well I'm just a simple man
There's a lot that I don't know
But as long as you're here with me
I'd just as soon stay home

-Alabama 'On This Side of the Moon'


Our evening with Howie and Leigh the day before had been nice, and I was glad we'd gone over there. It was nice to spend time with him on our own terms, just being friendly. Sometimes I forgot how important that really was.

We were a group, yes, and co-workers if you wanted to get technical about it, but under that we still had a brotherly bond. Even though lately we fought like brothers.

I sighed as Kristin laid her head on my chest. Early mornings with my wife were something I didn't get often, and were something I'd learned to treasure. We just lazed around in our bedroom, not doing much of anything but being with each other and watching the sunrise.

“This is nice,” she commented.

It really was.

I had been a little down about the fact that we weren't going back on tour. For so long the group had been my life, and even though I'd joined it when I was twenty-one, it was hard to remember what things had been life before then. We'd spent so much time with each other, touring and on the road that I had begun to crave it.

Sometimes I felt like I was split in two. The southern guy who was all about his wife and family and just wanted to be at home all the time, and the performer who lived to be on stage.

Not saying that the performer guy in me didn't love his wife and family, but you know what I mean. Sometimes it was hard to separate the two, and often I found myself clinging to one part of my life more than the other. I was always someone who'd had a hard time finding that balance, and it hadn't changed when I'd gotten married.

Luckily, Kris was understanding of that. She always gave me space when I needed it, and was always there for me when I didn't.

God, I was so lucky to have such an amazing wife.

“We could go back to Kentucky,” she said suddenly.

“What?”

She snuggled up a little closer to me. “You know, since you've got some extra time off. We could go visit your family for a little bit. I'm sure they'd appreciate that.”

See what I mean? Not only did I have an amazing wife who could read my thoughts, she also always knew exactly what I needed. What I needed was to perform and be on stage, but obviously I couldn't have that right now, so going to visit my family at home would be the next best thing. I could focus on the other part of my life I tended to neglect.

And it hadn't even crossed my mind that was what I'd need until she'd said it.

“Yes,” I said quickly. “I think that sounds like a great idea.”

She leaned upwards and kissed me slowly. “When should we go?” she asked softly when she pulled away.

I thought about that for a minute. Ideally we could have gone as soon as possible, but of course there was still something keeping me in LA for the time being.

And what was that? The fact that AJ would be back tomorrow and transferred to his transitional facility, where we'd be allowed to go visit him.

And though he didn't quite know it yet, and I still had to clear it with Denise, I really wanted to visit him as soon as I could.

“On Wednesday,” I said quickly. “We'll go on Wednesday.”

~~~


“You're a pig!”

I ran a hand through my hair. I'd heard those words so many times in my life that they didn't even faze me anymore. Was that bad? Oh well. I guess I was sort of a pig. But at least I was a hot pig.

Plus it wasn't like I never slept with anyone who didn't want it! What did these chicks think? That I was going to meet them in a bar, we were going to have one amazing night together, I'd never be able to stop thinking about her and we'd run off and get married?

Uh... don't answer that. I swear to fuck some of our fans are batshit crazy.

“Are you even listening to me?”

Not really.

She paced around the hotel room yelling, and I wasn't really sure why. I'd already told her to leave. Why was she still here?

Oh right, because she was mad that I'd fucked her and now I was telling her to get lost.

But we already covered why she shouldn't be mad about that!

“Look, baby,” I said smoothly, but I guess it wasn't that smoothly, because she glared at me. “You knew what this was.”

“Really?!” She shouted. “Because you actually told me – you actually said these words 'I don't sleep with just anyone.'”

Yeah, that did sound like something I would say. “Yeah, I don't,” I shrugged. “I mean, she has to be hot.”

That comment earned me a hard slap across my face. “Ouch, fuck!” I rubbed my palm against my cheek. What the hell?!

At least then she stormed out of the room. Good! She didn't have to slap me though. Man, I didn't deserve that. Not after I gave her a good time the night before. I laid back down on the bed. I probably would have gone back to sleep too, but I needed to check out of the fucking room or they were going to charge me for it.

Ugh, what a pain in my ass. But I wasn't about to start bringing chicks back to Howie's place. I didn't want a fucking dirty look from him.

Not like Howie wasn't always sleeping with random girls, but somehow he was better at keeping it hidden than I was. And people always gave me shit for it! Man, if the girl is ready and willing, what's the problem?

I just do not fucking understand chicks.

~~~


“I really have to go,” Leigh said quietly, but didn't make any motion to move.

“Just stay a little longer.”

“I have to go to work.”

“You work for us,” I reminded her.

She laughed a little, and this time she really did get out of the bed. God dammit! “I have other clients, you know.”

That sucked. I guess just because I was on a break and could spend my time doing whatever I wanted, didn't mean everyone else could. “Yeah, okay,” I said, getting out of bed as well and watching her as she got dressed.

Man, she was hot. I was a lucky guy. “Do you want me to make you breakfast before you leave?”

She looked over at the clock. “I don't really have a lot of time. I still need to go home and have a shower. I'll probably just grab something on the way.”

“We could shower together,” I wiggled my eyebrows suggestively.

Again she just laughed. Easygoing, hot... yup. Lucky. “I don't think I've got enough time for that,” she said, leaning over and kissing me on the nose. “But I'll see you tonight, okay?”

I smiled at her. “Okay.”

She walked out of the bedroom and I followed her. As we walked down the hall I glanced into Nicky's room... of course he'd left the door wide open and his stuff was everywhere. When he got back from wherever he was I made a point to remember to tell him to clean it up. He could leave his own house as a pigsty – but not mine!

“Bye, Howie,” Leigh said once we got down to the front hall. She kissed me on the cheek and slipped her shoes on.

“Bye,” I gave her a wave as she left.

I leaned up against the wall. I was already looking forward to when she would be finished work and could come back.

~~~


“Let's go out and do something fun.”

That's what had started this whole mess.

Leighanne had decided that since we home, and were going to be home for a long period of time, that we should really start doing more couple things and getting more involved in our community. Or least try to get to know the people who lived in our area.

I had tried to explain to her that we weren't going to be home for that long. I mean, I was going to go back on tour eventually. No matter how much I wasn't looking forward to it, with each day that passed it got closer and closer to that time where my real life would begin again.

I supposed it wouldn't be that bad to go out and try to meet some people. Even though we were going out on the road and likely wouldn't see anyone again for a long time.

And that was how we ended up at Swing Night.

I'm not a good dancer, I've never been a good dancer, I'll probably never be a good dancer. Sure, we dance in music videos and in concert, but it's never been something I've found particularly easy or fun. Plus when it's choreographed, we just have to learn it. We don't really have to try to feel out the music and really...dance.

That, and big band music wasn't really my thing.

So you can sort of see why I hadn't been on board with Swing Night.

“Come on Brian,” Leighanne laughed as she clung to me, putting her hand lightly on my shoulder. “It's really easy, just go with the beat of the music.”

I tried my best, but I still don't think I did very well.

“I wish you could lead,” I muttered under my breath. Ah, the joys of being a man. We always get to be the lead. I've never quite understood that – usually girls are way better dancers. Let them lead!

I mean, Leighanne was the one who had led me here, so...

“You can do it,” she nodded with encouragement. “Just go like the instructor showed us,” she said, pulling away from me slightly and doing the motions with her feet.

She should have been a dancer. She was way better at this than I was.

“Okay,” I said, pulling her in close to me and trying again. I probably wouldn't have even bothered, but it was obvious that it was making her happy. So I had to try. I wanted to try. There was no harm in trying something new, right?

I tried to feel out the beat of the music, but the only thing I could really focus on was her. The way that her lips moved up into a curvy smile, and the way her hair fell over her shoulders, the way her chest looked in that dress.

“You doing better,” she commented.

Huh? Was I? I wasn't even paying attention!

“Yeah?” I asked, grinning at her.

She smiled and we continued to dance to the music. It was simple, and the steps we were doing weren't overly complicated. But I was there with her, and for that, I was glad.
Day 30 by Sakabelle
Light a candle's end
You are a light turned low
And like the rest of us
You got those old eternity blues

-The New Pornographers 'The Crash Years'


The drive to the transitional care facility was quiet. I'd put the radio on, but quickly turned it off. Even though music was usually helpful for me and definitely soothing, it wasn't what I'd needed.

So I drove the LA streets, alone with my thoughts.

Was I nervous about seeing AJ? No, actually I wasn't. I was feeling pretty good about it, because the change in him we'd seen when we'd visited him in rehab was a good one. Back then, I'd been worried about the fact that he'd hate us, or that he'd want to leave the group but now?

Now I knew things were only going to get better from here on out.

I wasn't nervous, but I wasn't really excited. I just... drove. I felt a sense of clarity, which was nice and was probably the reason I didn't want any music. The streets of LA are maddening, that's no word of a lie, but inside my car, the mood was calm.

Except for that four second window when some fucker cut me off.

But I calmed down quickly after that.

It was early in the afternoon, and I knew that AJ had left Arizona that morning and would probably already be settled in. I'd told Denise I was coming to visit him, and I wasn't sure she'd passed along the message to AJ, but I was sure it'd be fine. She hadn't told me not to come.

I parked my car and walked up the stone steps. I had to sign in as a visitor, and it wasn't unlike when I'd gone to visit AJ in rehab. Sure the ambiance was a little different, but the procedure was still the same. It was still a calm place filled with solitude.

I wasn't sure if I liked it or not.

I was led down to the visiting area and that part was a little different than the rehab facility. We weren't in a white room with a doctor, it looked more like a lounge or a den. There were couches, TV and even a pool table. It was pretty nice.

"Kev," I heard AJ say, and I turned around.

I smiled. He had his hands in his pockets and his hair was still that caramel yellow colour it had been when I'd last seen him. Simply put, he was still the same, but now he had a smile on his face.

And it was so nice to see.

"Hey man," I said, walking over to him and giving him a hug. "Nice new digs," I laughed.

"Thanks," he replied, then looked a little sheepish. "Sorry... I know today was when we were supposed to go back on the road."

"Don't even worry about it," I said quickly. "We said from day one that we were going to give you all the time you needed."

He eyed me. "And how are the others handling it?"

Well, Brian's off in Atlanta pretending he's not a Backstreet Boy, Howie's spending his time banging our webmaster and Nick's falling further and further down the path of destruction. "They're fine."

He nodded and then whistled a bit. "I'm looking forward to getting back out on the road and doing shows," he admitted.

Yeah, I bet he was. If I was feeling antsy to get back to normalcy, I could only imagine how he was feeling. I was sure he wanted to get back to it and actually be able to enjoy it again. Enjoying our fame and success was probably something he hadn't even considered was a possibility in a very long time.

Now, thanks to this break, it was. Through all the drama, I think we sometimes forgot we were doing this for AJ. And in that regard, the break had served its purpose.

~~~


"He was really, really in a good place," Kevin said through the phone. I was standing in my kitchen, looking out the window and... actually, that was pretty much it.

"Yeah?" I asked. "You mean-"

"I mean physically and emotionally," he clarified. "He just seemed really happy, and it was nice to see."

I smiled to myself. At least it meant that all of this was worth it. I really wished I'd been able to go down to Arizona. Of course I was glad I'd gone to visit Nick, and at the time I thought he'd needed the visit more (well, I still think that) but it would have been nice to see AJ myself instead of just get the second-hand information, you know?

"That's good to hear," I finally said. "I'll have to go down and see him as well."

"I'm sure we could all go visit him there at one point or another," Kevin said. His words had a calm tone to them, but as soon as they were spoken, there was an awkward silence.

I knew what we were both thinking. Would Nick actually go visit AJ? It would have been sort of rude for him to not, given that they were now both in the same city. I wanted to bring the subject up with him, but I had no clue how to do so without starting another catastrophe. Lately, being around Nick was like walking on eggshells.

Which, no so ironically, was the same situation we'd been in with AJ before he'd gone to rehab.

"Do you think Brian'll come here to visit him?"

Oh, so maybe we weren't thinking the same thing. Or maybe the question regarding Nick was so painfully obvious that Kevin didn't even bother asking it.

"I don't know," I answered honestly. Brian seemed to be pretty wrapped up with his life in Atlanta at the moment. Not that I could say I blamed him - we rarely got any time to just be at home. Brian was such a homebody that he was probably milking this time with his wife for all it was worth.

Kevin sighed. "I hope he does. I know he's at home doing his thing, but I think AJ would really appreciate it."

"Maybe he'll come up to LA a few days early," I suggested. Somehow, I doubted that was what was going to happen, but you never know. We'd probably all have to reconvene at some point to get our tour moving again and make sure we were all on the same page.

Or close enough to the same page. A part of the same book, at least.

"I'll call him," I said quickly, not bothering to bring up the Nick subject.

"Okay, let me know how it goes," he said. He took a breath and started to say something else but then stopped. "Oh and Howie?" he asked me instead.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

Huh? "For what?"

"For being there for all of us."

Oh. I couldn't really take credit for anything, I hadn't done much. But Kevin tended to get reflective like this after a heart-to-heart. It didn't matter who that heart-to-heart was with - he always tended to re-evaluate everything in his life afterwards.

"You're welcome," I said finally. Because really, what else could I say to that?

~~~


I dashed inside the house when I heard the phone ringing. I personally didn't really care to know who was on the other end, but I knew it would have bugged Leighanne to have a missed call.

And that missed call would have just been Howie. Darn it!

"Hi," I said, figuring since I had gone through the trouble of going back into the house I might as well pick up the phone.

"Hey," he said quickly. He actually sounded like he was in a pretty good mood. I mean, he usually sounded like he was in a good mood, but today he was especially chipper.

He must've had a good night with Leigh.

"So... AJ's at the facility here in LA now." Oh, was that today? I hadn't given it much thought. The days at home were all starting to blur together, and I had to admit it was a nice kind of blur. Not that draining tour exhausted blur, but a nice one. One with my wife outside in the garden wearing a really small tank top.

Why was I talking on the phone with Howie again?

"How's he doing?" I asked. I really did care, it's just that I knew he was doing well. I'd seen him for myself in Arizona.

"I haven't gone to see him yet, but Kevin has and he said he's doing really good. You should come out to LA and pay him a visit."

I knew Howie was probably right, but LA was honestly the last place I wanted to be. "Maybe."

"I'm sure Nick would like to see you too."

Where did that comment come from? Was Howie Nick's keeper now? It seemed like it, actually. Since Nick was living in his house probably acting like an entitled brat. I was pretty sure Nick didn't want to see me, and frankly I didn't want to see him. "Yeah, maybe."

"I think we're all going to try and be in LA for a few days before the tour starts up again," Howie said quickly. I wasn't sure if that was actually a plan, or something he was making up as he went along to try and make peace. Howie tended to do things like that.

"Yeah?" I asked. I really didn't want to go to LA any earlier than I had to. In fact, bypassing LA altogether and going straight to our first tour date would have been ideal.

"It'd be nice for all five of us to be together again," he said when he didn't get the answer he wanted out of me.

"I'll have to think about it." It wasn't a lie.

"Okay, well keep in touch," he said before hanging up.

I stared at the receiver in my hands before placing it back on the cradle. Going to LA might not be the worst thing in the world.

Of course, then it would mean less time at home with Leighanne.

~~~


I needed to buy some new curtains for Howie's guest room. Black ones. So the sun could never, ever get in. Fuck. I rubbed my eyes and glanced around.

How early was it? I looked at the alarm clock on the bedside table. Which matched the bed. And the desk. What did I need a desk for? Jesus Howie, your house isn't a Bed and Breakfast.

Anyway, the time. It was nearly four in the afternoon.

Dammit.

Oh well. It wasn't like I had anything to do that day. I could sleep in as late as I wanted! Ah, the beauty of being on vacation! Or break. Break. Right.

I pulled a t-shirt over my head and walked downstairs. It would have been nice if Howie had some kind of meal prepared to go along with the creepy Bed and Breakfast vibe he had going on, but he didn't. Instead he was sitting in the living room, watching TV.

"Well, good morning," he laughed brightly.

"Morning," I muttered, sitting down next to him. I was hungry, but I was sure he'd eventually make food for me. I wouldn't have to do anything if I just sat there long enough.

"AJ's back," he said shortly.

Huh?

Oh, right. It was supposed-to-be-tour-day-but-not. Fuck. That was kind of a downer. I really wanted to be back out on stage. Not hanging out in Howie's perfect looking house for the rest of my life.

Okay, I know, it was only for a few weeks, but it was beginning to feel like the rest of my life.

"Oh," I said dumbly. I rubbed my eyes and tried to play it off like I was still tired.

"You should go visit him," he said, giving me a look. A judging Howie look. Which isn't very judging, cause Howie's a nice guy like that. But still, it was like he was implying I should go visit AJ because I hadn't gone down to Arizona.

Okay, I guess he was sort of right. "Are we even allowed to?"

"Yeah, Kevin's already gone to see him."

Of course.

I shrugged. Maybe this place would be better than the rehab clinic... but still. I didn't know how to react to enlightened post rehab AJ. I pictured him wearing a white suit and a cross and looking all holy and shit.

He and Brian were probably going to become best friends. Or not, because Brian wasn't friends with anyone who wasn't named Leighanne anymore.

"Maybe," I said, giving him a bit of a smile.

Howie smiled back. "You hungry?" he asked, getting up from the couch. "I'll make you something to eat."

Ha! I told you I had him all figured out.
Day 31 by Sakabelle
Folks know
If you're falling on hard times
You can fall back home

-Alabama 'Down Home'


The plane began its slow decent into Louisville as I peered out the window. The flight wasn't an overly long one from LA, but it always felt like it. As soon as the plane was in the air, I was always anxious for it to land so I could get home and see my family.

“Are you excited?” Kristin asked, looking over at me with a warm smile.

You know, I really was. Once the plane had taken off, it was like I'd left all of my worries behind in LA. I'd seen AJ, and affirmed my faith that he was doing just fine since being in rehab.

Nick, obviously, was still a complete mess for lack of a better term, but me being in LA wouldn't change that. Besides, he'd be with Howie. And as my wife had so eloquently put it, I really needed to get away and take some time for myself. This break had given all of us a chance to get back in touch with ourselves and our families, and so far I was the only one who hadn't really done that.

Well, Brian hadn't gone home to Kentucky either, but every day I got the feeling that he felt more and more like Atlanta was his true home. Which was fine, everyone grows up differently.

“Kevin?”

“Oh,” I had zoned out a little bit there. We weren't even on the ground in Kentucky yet and already I was beginning to regress into my younger brother role. But that was alright. It would be nice to be the Kevin who everyone looked out for once in a while instead of the Kevin who looked out for everyone.

“Yeah, I'm really excited,” I smiled, putting my hand on her knee and squeezing it affectionately. “It'll be nice to see everyone.”

“I was on the phone with your mom last night,” Kris said, leaning over to peer out the window. She'd always loved being in-flight. Guess it was a good thing she'd married me then – she gets to do a lot of it. “She's a little bit worried about you, and she's glad you're coming home for a bit.”

I chuckled to myself slightly. My mother hadn't allowed us to get our own hotel and had insisted that we stay with her. She was always babying me, and after the month I'd had, I couldn't say I minded too much. “Oh yeah?” I asked Kris.

“Yeah, she thinks you're taking the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

My mother knows me so well.

“Good thing I'm taking some time to relax then, huh?” I winked at Kris.

She only laughed. “Yeah, it is.”

She leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes as the plane rolled onto the runway.

Even though it was a bit of a bumpy landing, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm.

~~~


“You are too sweet for your own good,” Leigh smiled at me as the two of us sat over a picnic lunch I'd packed for her. I'd come to visit her at work, and we'd gone to sit out on the courtyard near her office.

It was a nice sunny day, and I was determined to enjoy as many of them as I could while I still had some time left in LA and before I had to leave to go back on tour again. I was looking forward to that part, but leaving Leigh? Definitely not. Our relationship was still far too new for me to even consider asking her to come with me.

Having a relationship with a profession like ours was tough. I felt like I was forgetting that tiny little aspect while I'd been courting Leigh over this unexpected break.

“Thanks,” I said with a smile, and popped a grape into my mouth. I just watched her as she sat there in the sunlight, radiant as ever.

“So...” she said, trailing off. “When are you guys going back out on the road?”

I paused. It wasn't like I had to think about it – I already had the date ingrained in my head. I just didn't quite want to say it out loud to her. It would make the fact that I was eventually leaving again seem all too real. “August 24th,” I said, “in Milwaukee.”

She just nodded. “So a couple weeks away still.”

“We've still got time,” I assured her. “Plus once I go I can still call you. I do have the technology for that,” I grinned.

She just laughed. “You're a dork.”

But I was a cute dork. She didn't have to say it, I knew. If there's one thing I'm good at, it's charming the ladies! They don't call me Sweet D for nothing!

Actually no one really calls me that anymore, but still.

“Are you guys all ready to go back on tour?” she asked, not really changing the topic like I wanted her to.

No, we weren't nearly ready to go back on tour. Not as a unit, anyway. As the days went by, it seemed like we were all growing further and further apart as we got closer and closer to being back on the road. It wasn't exactly a great situation for a vocal group who prides themselves on being brotherly.

But I suppose brothers don't always get along.

I shrugged a little. “Not really.”

“Are you going to do some rehearsals beforehand, or just jump right back into it?”

I figured we probably should do a couple of rehearsals, but to be honest I didn't know if we actually would. “It'd be nice if we could at least run through the show once, but who knows if we'll have the time.”

She smiled at me sympathetically. I think she knew what I was getting at even if I wasn't outright saying it.

“I think you guys'll be fine,” she smiled at me, taking a sip of her bottle of coke.

I wished I could have had that much confidence in us.

~~~


I held the phone away from my ear and put my head in my hand.

“You guys are going to have to do a rehearsal.”

Yes, I'm aware of that.

“The entire country will be watching you.”

I know. Well actually, not really. Maybe all the kids in the country. And let's be honest, they didn't really give a shit how well we sang. It's not like they would notice.

“Are you even listening to me, Nickloas?”

Not really. “Huh?”

I knew that was going to piss her off. And I was right. I heard her sigh over the phone. She'd already called twice, and I'd been asleep. I had only picked up the third time because I'd figured listening to her would be better than listening to my fucking phone ring all day.

Turns out, I was wrong. Talking to my mother on the phone was my version of hell. Well, anyone's version of hell, really. How Aaron puts up with her as his manager, I'll never know. No wonder he smokes a shit ton of weed.

“Nick,” she said sweetly. Oh here we go. Turning on the charm after she got pissed off. That's how I knew she wanted something from me. And that thing she wanted from me was for Aaron's performance to go perfectly. Because if he fucked it up I guess she'd lose her cash cow. And no one wanted that.

Thank fucking God I was twenty-one years old and could make my own financial decisions. I was sick of her bullshit.

“Yes, mom?” I asked, plastering that fake grin on my face I was so good at. She couldn't see it, but it helped me keep my my charade. We were both faking it over the phone, and we both knew it. God, my family is fucked up.

“I just want you guys to be successful,” she pleaded, with that fake mom-tone of hers. Yeah, successful for her sake, not ours. Mom needed another new Ferrari.

I just needed a mom, but I guess we can't all have what we want.

“Yeah, I know.”

“So, will you do a rehearsal with Aaron the day before? To make sure everything goes smoothly?”

I sighed. Yeah, I was going to do it. Not for her, but for my brother so he wouldn't have to deal with her bitching about me, or being stressed that it was going to be a shitty performance. I guess the last thing I wanted was for the world to watch it and laugh.

“Yeah, I will.”

I could almost hear her beaming over the phone. Once again, she'd gotten her fucking way. “Good, we'll be in the city on the tenth.”

Great, I won't see you until the rehearsal though! I wasn't about to keep up any sort of facade about the fact that we're this great family that visits and is happy to see each other just for the sake of it. I knew what this was.

“Okay, sounds good.”

And then she hung up without saying goodbye. Whatever, I was happy just to be off the phone with her.

~~~


“How're you doing, baby duck?”

I smiled into the phone receiver. I hadn't talked to my mom in a little while, but I was always happy to hear from her. “Good,” I said positively. “Really good.”

“I know this was an unexpected break, but are you two enjoying your time off?”

“Yeah, we really are.” It wasn't a lie, and I didn't feel bad about it either. We had this time off for AJ to better himself, I might as well use it for the same reason. There was no use in moping around and being depressed about the fact that we weren't on tour.

“That's good,” she paused. “So, why don't you come home for a little bit before you've got to go back onto the road?”

Ah, the catch. I knew there was a reason that she'd called! Not that she needed a reason to call, but, well, you know how moms are.

“I don't know,” I said honestly. I sort of wanted to stay in Atlanta.

“You know, Kevin and Kristin are going to be here for a few days.”

What? Kevin hadn't told me that. Although I guess that made sense, he and I hadn't spoken very much as of late. I wasn't sure if she was trying to use that as incentive for me to come down, but it wasn't exactly going to work. I was on break and needed time away from the group... and that included Kevin.

“Oh, really? He didn't tell me that.”

“I think it was just a spur of the moment type of thing,” she said warmly. “But it was so nice to see him. We had a big family dinner. You two should come down. You hardly ever get this type of opportunity, and we'd all love to see you.”

I guess I couldn't say no to that, but I'd still have to talk it over with Leighanne and see what she thought.

“We'll see, ma,” I smiled. The more I thought about it, the more I sort of did want to go visit my family. At least for a couple of days.

“Well, talk it over with Leighanne and let me know.”

“I will,” I said honestly.

“I'll talk to you later, baby duck,” she said. “Oh and Brian?”

“Yeah?”

“I love you.”

I grinned. Amidst all the chaos that was happening in my life, I could always count on my family. “I love you too, ma.”
Day 32 by Sakabelle
Let us die young or let us live forever
We don't have the power, but we never say never
Sitting in a sand-pit, life is a short trip
The music's for the sad men.

-Alphaville 'Forever Young'


“Well good morning, sunshine,” I smiled as Nick walked into the kitchen.

He sort of gave me a look and headed straight to the coffee pot. It was a little weird to see him up at a regular time, but who I was I to complain? Still, I assumed he'd been out late the night before. As usual, he was still gone when I'd headed to bed.

He sat down at the table and stared into his coffee. Nick Carter is the only person I know who puts extra icing on his cinnamon bun, but takes his coffee black.

“What time were you out until last night?” I asked. It was an innocent enough question, but I felt sort of like his parent when I was asking it. I hadn't really meant it in a lecturing way, I was just curious.

He shrugged and ran a hand through his hair. It was sticking up in every direction and his hand did little to help that. He was also wearing one of my plush robes that I didn't recall letting him borrow.

“I dunno,” he said, finally taking a sip from his mug. “Maybe like one?”

“Strike out with the ladies?” I laughed.

He just glared at me. I guess that meant he did. Poor Nick. While he might have been the lone celebrity down in Florida, here in LA he was nothing special. It was always a little blow to his ego.

“What're you up to today?”

“God Howie,” he said with a sigh and put his hands over his face for a moment. “What's with all the fucking questions?”

I rolled my eyes. I should have known better than to speak before he'd had his caffeine fix. “Just making conversation,” I said lightly, not wanting to get into an argument with him.

“Okay,” he shrugged, looking away from me again. “I dunno,” he said after a few minutes.

“What?”

He sighed and gave me that irritated look again. Man, was he ever in a bad mood. Something must have happened to him while he was out that he wasn't telling me about.

“You asked me what I was doing today. I said I didn't know.”

Oh right. Well Nick, maybe if you had answered the question when I asked it, I wouldn't have time to forget about it. But if I pointed that out to him he'd just laugh and call me old, so...

“Oh,” I said dumbly. “Well, I'm probably going to head over to visit AJ today, so if you want to come along...”

He raised his eyebrow at me. Yeah, I played that card a little too early. I didn't really understand what he had against going to visit AJ, to be honest. It was probably something to do with the fact that he knew he was acting ridiculous, and that he was afraid he'd end up in one of those facilities one day.

But there was no way I, or any of us, for that matter, were about to say that to him. Not if we didn't want to deal with Cartergate 2001. So I kept my mouth shut.

“Come on,” I prodded. “We didn't get to see him when he was in Arizona....”

“Yeah, I know,” he snapped at me.

“Okay,” I tried again. “So we should go see him now. Either way, I'm going, so if you want to come along, you're more than welcome.”

He shrugged his shoulders again. “I'll think about it.”

~~~


I leaned back in my lawn chair and peered out onto the backyard. My mom's house was small, but it was homey and I liked it. When I'd started making money I'd offered to buy her a bigger house, but she'd refused, saying she wanted to stay in this one.

I was secretly glad. Not because I hadn't wanted to spend the money, but I wanted her to stay in the house I'd grown up in.

Call me sappy, but it's true. I love the nostalgia of coming home, and I often forget about it until I'm back. When you're in this business it can be difficult to let yourself slow down and enjoy life.

I watched as my brother threw the football around with his son. That was another thing I often forgot about – starting a family. Though Kris and I had gotten married about a year before, it was something we'd hardly talked about. We simply didn't have the time to even consider it since we were both always on the go.

I smiled to myself as I watched them. I hoped I would be able to have a little boy of my own one day.

“Do you want something to eat?” my mother asked, walking up behind me and putting her hand on my shoulder.

“I'm good, mom,” I smiled, glancing up at her and then looking back to my brother. My mom was babying me and I was enjoying some quality time with my family. Really, it was easy to forget about all the trials and tribulations of being a popstar in this environment.

“Are you sure?” she asked with a smile. “There's plenty in the kitchen. I can make you something really quick.”

“It's fine, really,” I said. “I'm still full from lunch, and Jerald said we're having a big supper, so...”

“Oh,” she nodded, waving her hand a little. “That all got changed. We were going to have a big meal tonight, but we're going to do it tomorrow instead since Brian and Leighanne are going to be here.”

What? Who had pulled out the jaws of life to get my cousin to leave Atlanta?

“Oh?”

She frowned a little. “You didn't know?”

“No,” I said plainly. How would I have known? It's not like Brian tells me anything. “Does he know I'm here?”

“Yeah,” my mom said, still giving me that mom-look. You know the look, when they know that something's amiss but they won't say what or ask for details. “He knows. Jackie told him yesterday and that's why he's coming down, so we can have the whole family here together.”

“Ah.”

“Is everything alright?” she asked.

“It's fine.”

She nodded and went back into the kitchen. “Are you sure you don't want something to eat?” she called back to me.

“I'm sure.”

So much for forgetting about my troubles. With Brian here it'd be hard to forget about my Backstreet life. That, and I was still sort of annoyed with him from before.

I sighed to myself. Hopefully once he got here I'd feel differently. Still, I couldn't help but worry. As usual.

~~~


“We can stay longer, if you want,” Leighanne said as the two of us stood in our bedroom. Well, I was standing. She was packing our suitcase in preparation for our flight the next day.

“No, no,” I said. “The weekend is long enough. I want to have some time here with you before we have to go back to LA and things get all crazy again.”

“Brian,” she said, giving me a look. “They're your family, you should spend time with them.”

“I am spending time with them,” I stated. “We're going there for the weekend. That's plenty of time.”

She shrugged and continued folding clothes and placing them in the suitcase. I didn't know why she was all of a sudden so eager to see my family, but I didn't really mind. At least one of us was.

Okay, that was a lie. I wasn't sure why I was being so negative about the whole thing, but I was pretty sure it had something to do with the fact that Kevin was there and I wasn't really interested in hanging out with him. That's the problem when your co-workers are also your family. You can never really get away from work.

But I supposed I had Kevin to thank that I had this job in the first place. So I couldn't be too annoyed with him.

“Are you going to tell them?” she asked, glancing over her shoulder at me.

“Tell them what?”

She gave me a look. “Brian,” she said with a slight nod. Like that would help.

I shook my head at her.

“You know,” she said, “that we're trying.”

Oh right! That. It hadn't even crossed my mind. I mean, I knew that she'd told her parents, but I hadn't even thought to tell mine. Is that the kind of thing you even tell your parents? I felt awkward just thinking about it. It was basically like admitting to my mother that my wife and I were having a lot of sex, which I'm sure she already knew, but she doesn't need it spelled out for her over supper, you know?

“I don't know,” I shrugged.

“You should tell them,” she said with a grin. “I bet it'd make your mom really happy.”

It probably would, but I still felt weird about it. “Maybe.”

She just shrugged and went back to packing, but she seemed a lot less enthusiastic than she had before.

~~~


I rolled down the window while Howie and I drove down the LA highway. The wind was in my hair and I sort of felt like a dog. You know? Like how when dogs have their head stuck out the window of a car and they look like they're in heaven. That's what I felt like.

Except for the heaven part. Howie and I were on our way to visit AJ, and for some reason I'd decided to go with him. I guess I felt pretty guilty about not going to Arizona, and Howie was making me feel pretty guilty by saying he was going to visit him and then offering for me to come along.

What kind of an ass would I be if I didn't go? Especially if we were in the same city.

Not that I really wanted to. I didn't need to see this clinic with all these doctors and white walls and AJ sitting there in a white outfit looking all zen and peaceful and shit. I didn't know what to expect from him. The more I thought about it, the more it fucking freaked me out and I began to wonder why I'd even agreed to this in the first place.

“Nicky?” Howie said, stopping the car. “We're here.”

Fuck.

I nodded as I stepped out of the car. My hands were in my pockets as we walked up to the facility. What was it called again? Transitional care? I guess it looked like a nice way to transition back to society. There were palm trees all around (though to be fair, it's LA, there are palm trees everywhere) and everything looked all calm.

We stepped inside and there was a little pool with a fountain near the front desk. I watched it as Howie talked to the receptionist. Once we got signed in we were taken to this little room to wait for AJ.

It wasn't even white! It was just a nice relaxing area. I could live in a place like this! Then I frowned. I never wanted to have to be in a place like this.

The thought was quickly pushed out of my mind as I looked up and saw AJ walking towards us. “Hey guys,” he smiled.

It was weird. He looked the same. His hair was still that stupid colour (let's be real, I'm the only one who can pull off yellow-blonde in the group) and he still had all his tattoos. I don't know what I'd been thinking because it wasn't like all that stuff was going to go away, but it was nice to see. It was like he hadn't changed.

Except that he had changed. He looked happier. Not like that bleak shell of a person who'd been on tour with us. I couldn't even remember the last time AJ had been happy to see us. Usually he was avoiding all of us.

I shifted uncomfortably at that thought.

“Hey AJ,” Howie said, pulling him in for a hug. “It's good to finally see you.”

“You too,” AJ said, pulling away and smiling back at him. “And Nicky,” he grinned, and before I knew it he was hugging me tightly. “It's good to see you.”

“Good to see you too,” I said sincerely. I didn't know what else to say. I felt weird just being there. What was I supposed to talk with him about?

“So,” he said, shrugging a little. “How's the break been treating you guys?”

I shrugged. What had I done? A whole lot of nothing! I couldn't exactly tell him I'd been hitting up the clubs and shit, could I? Was I ever going to be allowed to mention that stuff around him again, or would it always have to be a secret?

Luckily Howie had been doing stuff on the break that he could talk about. “I started seeing Leigh,” he said with a smile.

AJ raised his eyebrow. “Like, Brian's wife?”

I burst out laughing at that. I couldn't help it! The visual of Howie stealing Leighanne away from Brian and then being completely normal about it when he told AJ was too much for me to handle. That, and if that ever actually did happen, that would be exactly Howie's attitude. He'd be all “Yeah? I'm banging your wife. So?”

That little Latin lover. What an ass. At least I had my blonde hair going for me. No matter how smooth he was, I was still the cute one!

“No,” Howie said, rolling his eyes. “You know, the girl who does our site.”

“Oh...” AJ said, furrowing his eyebrows. “Oh!” Ha, he totally didn't know who Howie was talking about at first. “Wow. Good work.”

Yeah Howie, good work. I slept with three of our opening acts though, and almost slept with Britney, so I'm still winning.

“And what about you?” he asked, turning to me. “Got a new girlfriend yet?”

Ha! Post-rehab AJ was a comedian, it seemed. “No,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I don't need a girlfriend.”

He and Howie both gave each other this look. It was the same shared look that I often got from Kevin and Brian when I started talking about how I never wanted to be married. What the hell? Since when were these two all gung-ho about girlfriends and settling down?

Whatever. No more groupies for them meant all the more for me! Less competition. You know, because there was so much competition in the first place.

“So,” AJ said, looking at the two of us. “Are you guys gonna stick around for a while? Wanna play some pool?”

I looked over at Howie, and Howie just nodded. Yeah, sure, whatever, I could stick around and play some pool with the guys. We weren't back on tour, but I felt a little bit better. Like things were slowly beginning to go back to normal.
Day 33 by Sakabelle
You're stuck in a riddle
You're wrapped in a mystery
You're caught in the middle
Between your dreams and reality

-Morgan Cameron Ross 'Johnny'


Howie had a pretty nice setup in his house. He didn't have a Playstation or anything like that, but his TV was nice and he had about a million channels.

I sort of wondered what he needed them for, because I didn't think I'd ever seen him watch TV. Except for that one time I'd caught him watching TRL. Fuck, I needed to remind myself to make fun of him for that. Maybe that's what he was always doing on his phone; calling in votes to MTV. Ha!

He still didn't have anything interesting to watch though, even with all those channels he had. But that was okay, channel surfing gave me something to think about while I tried to ignore the fact that my mother was going to be in LA that afternoon and probably trying to get ahold of me.

Speak of the fucking devil. My cell phone started ringing and the call display lit up with the word, 'Mom.'

I rolled my eyes, but if I didn't answer it I knew she'd just keep calling. What the hell did she want? I'd already told her that I was going to perform with Aaron at whatever Nickelodeon thing he was doing. Kid's Choice? Teen Choice? Can't they all choose together? It'd make my life a hell of a lot easier.

“Hi,” I said shortly, suddenly very interested in the rerun of Seinfeld that was playing on the TV.

“Hi Nick, Aaron and I just got to our hotel in LA.”

And you think I care why? “How was your trip?” I asked, because I knew she didn't care about talking to me, she only wanted to talk about herself.

“It was nice, the flight was a little bit bumpy but it wasn't too bad.”

“That's good.”

There was a weird silence but it didn't really bother me. It's not like my mom and I had a lot to talk about despite the two of us being in the same industry. How the hell were we in the same industry anyway? She can't carry a note.

But she can carry a kid, and I guess that's the same thing.

“Aaron and I were wondering if you wanted to go out to lunch with us.”

Oh, so that's what she wanted. To get papped. No fucking way I was going to go sit through lunch with her while my brother sat there with that dazed on his face. “I'm busy,” I said shortly.

“Doing what?” she asked with annoyance. Oh come on, Mom. I normally wouldn't have been so concerned with making up a story, but since I was going to have to deal with her for the rest of the weekend, I really didn't need to get any more bullshit.

“Uh,” I said dumbly, looking around. Howie was walking down the stairs and glancing at his phone. “Howie,” I said, and he looked at me. I shook my head because I hadn't been trying to get his attention, but trying to get my mother off my back. “Yeah, Howie,” I said again, realizing how perfect that was. My mom didn't get along with Howie and Kevin, so she wouldn't argue with me. “We're going out to lunch. Sorry. Got band stuff to do.”

My mom sighed loudly but like I said, she didn't argue. I should have name-dropped Kevin instead! Then she'd probably be off the phone already. “Fine,” she said. “See you tomorrow. And don't be late!”

Then she hung up. I rolled my eyes and put my phone in my pocket. Stupid mom. Maybe I'd be late on purpose tomorrow just to piss her off.

“What's this about lunch with Howie?” Howie asked, grinning at me like he knew he'd caught me in a lie.

“Nothing,” I said, going back to flipping the channels because I was sick of that bubble boy episode of Seinfeld. I've probably seen it about a million times. Every time I turn on Seinfeld it's that episode. Sometimes I wonder if they ever produced other episodes of that show.

“Nick!”

“Huh?”

Howie rolled his eyes. Oops, I must have spaced out. “I said, do you actually want to come to lunch with me? Because I'm going with Leigh for sushi.”

I could deal with Sushi. Not that I wanted to be the third wheel on Howie's date, but it was better than sitting around the house watching boring shit on TV.

~~~


I hadn't actually expected Nick to agree to come to lunch with Leigh and I. I had just offered to be polite, not that I didn't want him to come, but I didn't have a lot of time left with Leigh before we went on tour. I don't even know why I'd offered, but I figured he would have just brushed me off!

But of course the one time I do that is the one time that he decides to be sociable.

“So,” Nick said, stuffing a roll into his mouth. He doesn't even bother with chopsticks, by the way. He just picks up the pieces, dips them in this sludgy wasabi and soy sauce concoction that he perfects the whole time you're waiting for you food and drops them into his mouth. It's really disgusting to watch.

Why did I invite him again?

“Is he really a Latin lover?” Nick asked, raising his eyebrows and looking at Leigh.

Ugh.

Leigh just burst out laughing, because Nick looked completely ridiculous with his quizzical expression and rice hanging out of his mouth.

“What?! I'm just trying to make conversation,” he protested.

“He's very sweet,” Leigh said, sort of answering his question. I just stayed quiet because what the hell was I going to say?

“Yeah, Howie's a ladies man,” Nick laughed, winking at me. “He obviously learned from the master,” he said, pointing to himself.

It was my turn to burst out laughing. “What?”

Nick shrugged. “You know. Chicks, and how I'm awesome with them.”

“Nick, I don't think I've ever seen you legitimately court a girl.”

“I have!” he protested “I dated Mandy.”

“Okay,” I laughed. “Dated.”

He just smirked and went back to eating his food with a smug look on his face that told me he was obviously proud of his relationship with Mandy that could hardly have been classified as a relationship at all.

But that was fine. Nick could do what he wanted, I didn't really care. After all, he was only twenty-one and it was better that he was out to lunch with me than moping around the house feeling sorry for himself and then going out and being self destructive in a club somewhere.

If he wanted to go out and be a complete womanizer I couldn't really care less, just as long as he was smart about it. Which he usually wasn't, but it wasn't like he was going to listen to me. And discussing it with him over sushi with my girlfriend sitting right there probably wasn't the best idea.

“Yeah anyway,” I said, changing the subject a little. “What're you doing this weekend?”

Nick rolled his eyes. “Performing in some lame awards show with my brother.”

Oh, that was why he was here having sushi with me. Because his brother and likely his mother were in town and he was avoiding them. That was also probably the reason he wasn't out being a manwhore, because whether he liked to admit it or not, he was craving some family time.

And apparently family time meant having sushi with Leigh and I. But suddenly I wasn't so annoyed by his presence any longer.

“Sounds like fun,” I smiled.

Nick just shrugged. “Yeah, whatever. At least I'll be performing something.”

I sighed and looked down at my food. So much for thinking he was doing a little better.

~~~


Kentucky always had a different smell. I can't explain it, but as soon as I set foot outside of the airport and take that first breath of air, I know I'm home. It's not the feeling of coming home and feeling like you never want to leave, like I feel when I'm in Atlanta, but the feeling of childhood and nostalgia.

Which is just as good, but it's a fleeting feeling that's wonderful for a week. After that you're ready to go back to reality. That's why I was glad we were only staying for the weekend. It was long enough to get a good visit in, but short enough to still feel good about the place when I left.

I parked the rental car in front of my parents driveway and gave Leighanne a small smile. I knew she liked visiting my family, and it definitely showed because she was in a good mood the entire day. Usually she hates early flights, but that morning she'd been all smiles.

I took her hand as we walked up the sidewalk and opened the door to their house without bothering to ring the bell. My parents had a habit of never locking their door, and it had always made me unsettled. Even when I was a child, I'd hated that and had always locked the door on my own. Now it was even worse, because who knows what sort of crazy person would just decide to walk into their house.

“Hello!” I said to the seemingly empty house. No one was in the living room, but the TV was on so someone had to have been home.

“Brian!” my mother shrieked, walking in briskly from the kitchen. “You're here!”

“Yeah,” I smiled as she pulled me in for a hug. “Good to see you.”

“It's good to see you too,” she said, pulling away from me and hugging Leighanne. “Did you have a nice flight?”

I shrugged. Is any flight ever nice? “Yeah.”

“Good, good,” she said, looking back over her shoulder into the kitchen. “Have a seat, make yourselves at home. Do you want a drink? There's coke in the fridge I think, I'll get you some.”

I nearly laughed at how hospitable she was trying to be. “Sure, thanks,” I said.

“What do you have going on in the kitchen?” Leighanne asked her, because it was clear she was a little bit bustled.

“Oh,” she said, “I'm just making some food to take over to Ann's tonight.”

Wait, what? Since when were we going Ann's house for dinner? Although I guess I should have expected that, since Kevin was in town and all. “What?”

“Yeah,” she said as she walked back into the kitchen with Leighanne and I following her. “We thought it'd be nice since we rarely get to see everyone at the same time.”

I wondered what Kevin thought about all of this. Probably close to what I did.

“That'll be fun,” Leighanne said, walking over to the stove and helping my mom out with whatever she was cooking.

“I think so,” she said, looking up and smiling at me. I forced a smile on my face and nodded.

I hoped so.

~~~


I always got roped into setting the table whenever we had big family dinners. Not that I minded, but it just seemed funny to me that it remained my chore through all the years that had gone by.

I heard the front door open, and right away there was a rush of greetings and laughter. Which could only mean one thing. Brian and Leighanne, along with the rest of the Littrells, had arrived.

Hopefully it wouldn't be so bad. But naturally I always needed to worry about something, and this was the problem of the day.

“Relax, Kevin,” Kristin said to me, giving me a warm smile as she walked in front the kitchen, holding a dish of some kind of food and setting it down on the table. “It's not a big deal.”

I was well aware of that, but it didn't mean it wasn't a small deal either. “Yeah, I know.”

She kept walking back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, setting food down as she went. It didn't take long before everyone was piling in, taking their usual seats at the table. Brian, Leighanne, Kris and I were all on one end, of course, being the youngest of both our families.

“So,” I said to Brian, raising my eyebrow a little once we were done praying and the food started getting passed around. “How was your flight?” I knew it was a stupid question, because how is any flight? They're usually boring, and we'd been on enough of them to know that.

“It was nice,” he said, and the two of us smirked a little at our obvious attempt to make small talk.

“How long are you staying for?” I asked him, even though I was sure my mom had already told me.

“We're leaving on Monday,” he said, scooping some mashed potatoes onto his plate. He passed the bowl over to me and I grabbed it, happy to have something to do with my hands. Where was the rest of the food? Oh, over at the other end of the table. Being on the tail end meant we were usually forgotten about.

But that was fine with me. Sometimes it was nice not to be the centre of attention. Even though the whole purpose of this dinner was to get everyone together. But that was what was great about coming home – it wasn't just about us. We were a part of the family like everyone else.

Sometimes I forgot how much I missed that.

“Yeah, we're leaving on Monday too,” I said, looking at him. “You gonna stay in LA for a bit?”

Brian shook his head. “No, we need to be getting back to Atlanta.”

I wasn't sure what he needed to be getting back to Atlanta for exactly, but I let it slide. We didn't have a lot of time left on our break, so he probably wanted to make the most of his time at home.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding. “But maybe it'd be nice for you to go visit AJ in the transitional care centre before going back to Atlanta.”

So much for letting it slide.

He gave me a bit of a look, but I didn't care. Hell, even Nick had apparently gone to visit AJ, as Howie had told me so excitedly over the phone. Even though Brian had gone to visit him in Arizona, AJ would probably appreciate seeing him again.

“Maybe,” Brian shrugged, suddenly very interested in his food.

I sighed, turning to talk to my brother. It was obvious that Brian and I weren't going to be going back to normal any time soon.
Day 34 by Sakabelle
I don't feel as if I know you
You take up all my time
The days are long and the nights will throw you away
'cause the sun don't shine

-Oasis 'Hello'


I forget who came up with the idea, someone had mentioned an omlette bar while we were eating dinner the night before and that was how this had all began. All of a sudden everyone was talking about brunch, and somehow that ended up with the whole family sitting in a breakfast buffet the next day.

I didn't mind so much, I liked brunch. In fact, brunch was one of my favourite things to do with Leighanne.

Plus it was sort of fun to be drinking orange juice and champagne an hour before noon. Not that I'd never done that before, but I'd never really done it with my family, so it was different.

This time Kevin and Kristin weren't sitting anywhere near us. I mean, they were sitting at our table, but they weren't really sitting beside us. They were sitting on the other end, talking with one of Kevin's brothers about something. That was perfectly fine with me, because I had to see Kevin all the time. I wasn't overly interested in talking to him during what was supposed to be family time.

I realize that he counts as family, but to me he'll always be more a part of the Backstreet family. That's fine, it's not that I don't love the Backstreet family, and of course I love him for bringing me into it. It's just that we weren't overly close when we were kids, and we grew close as a part of the group. So doesn't it make sense that I would associate him in that way?

I looked down into my food, biting into my omlette. I didn't pay a lot of attention to what was going on around me, because really it was just breakfast chatter. Nothing interesting was going on.

Leighanne was wrapped up in some conversation with my mother, my father was seated on the other side of me and he was talking to my brother about work stuff. I didn't have anything to say to either of them and didn't know how to force myself into their conversations, so I just sat there.

“Oh that's fantastic!” I heard my mom say excitedly, clapping her hands together. She leaned over the table, past Leighanne and looked at me with a big grin on her face.

Uh, what?

“Huh?” I asked, my mouth full of eggs.

“Leighanne told me that you two are trying to have a baby!” she said excitedly, still grinning at me.

I almost choked on the food that was in my mouth, but managed to swallow it and took a big drink of the glass of water that was sitting in front of me. I hoped that I didn't come off as too shocked, but that was probably difficult, given that my mother knew me better than anyone in the world.

Or maybe not, since she was still grinning at me. Probably blinded by the idea of having more grandchildren.

I glanced over at Leighanne, and she just smiled. Had I not told her that I wasn't sure if I was going to tell my family about that? It wasn't like there was anything I could do about it now, but still. I wasn't about to let it annoy me, because I really was excited to start trying for a family, but I still felt a little weird about my mom knowing about it.

Though I guess it would be any different from calling her and telling her that Leighanne was pregnant, when the time came.

But it was still awkward.

“Yeah,” I said, smiling a little bit. “We are.”

~~~


“You're what?” Kristin said, turning her attention away from me and glancing at Leighanne and Brian, who seemed to be having a really loud conversation with his mom. Jackie looked really excited, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out why.

It wasn't like they could have told her they were getting married, because they were obviously already married. Although Jackie had pretty much the same look on her face now as she had when she'd found that out.

“We're starting a family!” Leighanne said excitedly.

I looked over at Brian and made eye contact with him. He just shrugged and smiled a little bit. This was probably awkward for him, because admitting anything about having sex around his parents... well it was just something that he didn't do.

Which I always found to be funny, because it wasn't like he was some good clean Christian boy like he liked to have his parents think.

“Yeah, we're trying to start a family,” Brian clarified before anyone assumed Leighanne was already pregnant. That was the sort of thing that would happen in our family – things always got blown our of proportion. But I guess it's probably like that with any family.

Plus the way Leighanne had said it was weird, but I guess she was probably just excited.

“That's really exciting, guys,” I said, taking a sip of my coffee. Brian nodded a quick thank you to me, but now of course everyone was focused on them and asking them about when they'd decided this and how they knew it was the right time. Leighanne was quick to gush about all of those things, and I once again went back to eating my food.

It was a little weird to me, because Kris and I hadn't even really discussed starting a family. It wasn't like we had any time for that, especially with everything that was going on with the group and with our careers.

Not that I thought Brian had to come to us and discuss those sorts of things, but I had to wonder what was going through his head picking a time like this. We were going to be going back out on the road in a couple of weeks, then we were headed over to Europe. We'd probably be doing a ton of promotion for that stupid greatest hits album, and somewhere in there we wanted to start recording another new one.

In the midst of all that when was he going to have time to make a baby, let alone take care of one?

But I supposed it wasn't really my problem, and even though I worry way too much, that really wasn't something that should have concerned me at all.

Still, I wasn't sure if he was moving too fast, or maybe if I was moving too slow.

~~~


Sometimes it's nice to just spend the entire day laying in bed.

It's even nicer when you have a hot lady in bed with you!

Leigh snuggled up to my chest and I was just content to lay there and hold her. We stayed like that for a little while and my eyes closed, nearly drifting off to sleep.

“Howie?” Leigh asked me, pulling me out of my relaxed near-sleep state.

“Hm?”

“We should get something to eat.”

I didn't really want to get up, but I had to admit I was sort of hungry. That was the good thing about Leigh though, I loved to cook, and she loved food. We made a good pair in that regard.

“Yeah,” I said, closing my eyes and wrapping my arm around her. “But I don't really want to get up.”

“Hmmm...” she said, not moving either.

See? She just wanted me to get up. “Maybe Nick'll get food for us if we ask him nicely,” I joked.

Leigh gave me a look. It was a little sad that we'd hardly been dating for a month and yet she already knew that the probability of Nick doing that was slim to none. But I supposed he hadn't exactly been the most hospitable house guest. “Maybe,” she said, almost as though it was a challenge.

“Hey Nick!” I called out, even though he probably wasn't even awake yet.

We both waited silently for a couple seconds, but there was no response. See, what did I tell you? I thought about it for a moment before I realized that Nick probably wasn't even here – he was likely at his rehearsal with his brother for the Teen Choice Awards.

“So much for that,” Leigh laughed, sighing and getting out of the bed.

I followed her and just shook my head a bit. “Here's not even here,” I said.

Leigh smirked at me. “I guess that means we don't have to be too careful about getting dressed to go down to the kitchen.”

I guess not!

~~~


“Are you fucking kidding me?” I asked, giving my brother a look as we stood in the performance hall dressing room. He was all ready to go – his stage outfit on and everything. Him and his team had already plotted out the entire performance, I just had to go with it. It wasn't like it was hard – I didn't have a very big part in the song.

“It's not that bad,” he said, reaching his arm over and awkwardly scratching the back of his neck. I sort of wondered how much he actually wanted to be there, and how much it was just our mom forcing him into it.

But then again, I felt that way about everything he did and his entire career, so this was nothing new.

Still, the outfit he'd handed me was whack! I was going to look like a fucking pirate. A gay one. A really gay pirate dancing around on stage at the fucking Teen Choice Awards wasn't going to help my image at all.

If I gave a shit at all what Kevin thought, I'd probably be worried he was going to piss his pants at me for ruining our image. Not like we really had much of an image to uphold right now anyway, but still.

Fuck!

“Just put the outfit on, Nick,” my mom said, giving me her best mom look.

Oh fuck off, Mom. It was times like this I really hated the fact that she was Aaron's manager, because then when I was around she acted like she could manage me too, and believe me, that wasn't going to happen ever. She walked this weird line between mom and manager where she used her power as manager to act all mom-ish.

It was fucked up. Our whole family is really fucked up, but that was especially fucked up.

I rolled my eyes, taking another look at the outfit in my hands. It probably didn't matter much – chicks were still going to dig the performance anyway. Plus I'd get to be back out on stage, which was awesome because I hadn't gotten to do that in a while. Ever since our tour was put on hold.

Not that I blamed AJ or anything. Well, maybe I blamed AJ a little. I could do that now, since it seemed like he was getting better when I'd seen him.

“Fine,” I said, walking off to get changed. I didn't even have a clue how to put all the different pieces on, but man, it was a really lame outfit.

I get it, I get that it's a show for kids and shit but man, do they have to make it look so stupid? Even Aaron's outfit wasn't as bad as mine – his at least sort of made sense. Well, not really. But it made more sense than this god damn pirate outfit. What did a pirate have to do with this song anyway?

It probably took me twenty minutes to put it on, but when I was done, I looked at myself in the mirror.

Yup, gay pirate.

I stepped out of the changing area and eyed my mom and brother. My mom was grinning with delight... my brother was holding back a laugh.

I knew the outfit was dumb! And I've worn some dumb shit on stage in my life.

“Don't say a word,” I said, looking at Aaron with gritted teeth. Because he's worn some dumb shit on stage in his life too. Probably dumber than I have.

Well, okay, that's not true. We had these NASCAR looking outfits for one tour, they were hot as hell under those stage lights and I don't think they looked good. But what do I know? I'm not a stylist.

“I didn't say anything,” he said, his voice getting all high-pitched like it usually did when he was telling a lie.

I rolled my eyes and went back to change into my regular clothes. Even if I had to dress like a gay pirate, at least I'd be back on stage tomorrow. That was more than I could say for the other fellas.
Chapter End Notes:
Thanks as always for reading! Running Up That Hill got a nomination at Felix in the Comedy/Dramedy category - YAY! So if you haven't yet, go vote for that, and all the other fantastic nominees :) http://tinyurl.com/felixvote2012
Day 35 by Sakabelle
I'm not too young
And I'm not too old

-Aaron Carter 'Not Too Young'


For whatever reason, Brian's declaration that he and Leighanne were about to start a family really pissed me the hell off.

I stewed about it all day, all night and into the next day when our family was sitting around the dinner table at his mom's house.

I cut into my chicken and glared at it. Brian was sitting across from me, laughing and talking and looking generally happy. I don't even know what I was so angry about. I felt sort of like Nick, like I was just pissed off at the world for no other reason than to be pissed off and in a shit mood.

I'd never admit that out loud though, and I'd certainly never admit that to him.

Kristin reached over and touched my arm lightly. I looked at her and she just smiled. Instantly I felt a little better. Not a lot, but a little. Like it wasn't so bad and that my cousin acting like he didn't have any responsibilities outside of his fucking marriage wasn't my problem.

Even though it was my problem, because any shit going on with the group was instantly my problem. I don't know how I became the leader of the group, probably because I'm the oldest.

Or probably because I always need to have control over every situation. Again, never going to admit that out loud.

I shoved a piece of chicken into my mouth and chewed on it, staring at Brian. Did he even realise we were on a break? Did he know that we were planning to go back on tour and this perfect southern family ideal that he held wasn't real? He wasn't just a guy living in Atlanta with his wife. He had responsibilities that went far beyond the stage or the recording studio.

“Hey Brian,” I said after I swallowed my chicken.

He turned to look at me, his eyebrow was raised but he still had that goofy look on his face. What an act – and a shitty one.

“Can I talk you to in the kitchen for a second?” Everyone was still eating, but I didn't care. Most of the people at the table stopped talking and looked at the two of us.

“Uh,” Brian laughed a little bit, wiping his mouth with his cloth napkin. “We're in the middle of dinner, Kev...”

I glanced around at everyone. Right, I knew that. And getting up in the middle of dinner wasn't exactly the most polite thing to do. I just didn't care.

And obviously Jackie could sense that something was wrong. She'd probably been able to tell that something was wrong between the two of us the whole time that we were there. “Oh, don't worry about it,” she laughed, waving her hand. “It's not like it's a formal supper or anything,” she smiled, looking at me and then over at her son.

Brian sighed, but he stood up. He was probably hoping that his mom was going to bail him out of having to talk to me.

Leighanne reached up and touched his arm, giving him a sympathetic look. Oh come on, Leighanne. It's just a talk, I wasn't planning to kill him. She really got on my nerves sometimes.

I followed Brian out of the dining room and into the kitchen.

~~~


Why Kevin felt the need to interrupt our dinner to have a little chat, I'll never understand. But that guy can never just wait. Everything has to be solved right at the moment he decides it has to be solved and not a moment later.

“Well?” I asked, once we were in the kitchen and out of earshot. I placed my hands in the pockets of my jeans.

He gave me a look. One of his signature unimpressed Kevin looks. I didn't know why I was getting one – I hadn't done anything! It wasn't like I was doing cocaine or sleeping with every girl under the sun. If Kevin was pissed off because of the group, I wasn't the person he needed to be directing his lecture at.

“You should go visit AJ in transitional care,” he said, still giving me a look.

I rolled my eyes. I probably shouldn't have and I know that wasn't a great reaction. It probably just pissed him off more, and maybe that was what I wanted to do. “You interrupted dinner for that?” I asked him with a bit of an annoyed laugh.

“Yeah,” he said, nodding his head like it actually was that important. I guess it was, but it could have waited an hour. Really, Kevin.

I shuffled a bit. “I visited him in rehab,” I said bluntly. It wasn't an excuse, and I really did want to see AJ. But him being in transitional care meant that we were going to be back on tour soon and I wasn't ready for that. I was never going to admit that, but Kevin probably knew it. That was probably part of the reason he was so pissed off.

I was sort of just ready to move on from all of it, which was a scary thought to have.

“I know,” Kevin nodded. Of course he knew, he was there. Unlike someone else. Someone else who probably should have visited AJ to scare him straight. Someone else who probably should have gone to visit him in transitional care to see the change in AJ that I'd already seen when I went to Arizona. “Everyone else has already been to see him.”

Oh. Way to make me feel guilty, Kevin. Even though I really didn't need to because like I already said, I went to visit him in rehab. I nodded my head to show Kevin that I was listening to him, because otherwise he was just going to repeat himself in a more pissed off way.

“Come back to LA with me tomorrow,” he said quietly.

I shrugged. Leighanne and I already had our plane tickets home, not that that mattered.

“Leighanne can come too,” he continued.

I gave him a look. Well thanks Kevin. How gracious of you to say that my wife could go with me somewhere. But we did have a place in LA, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and decided that was what he meant.

“Yeah,” I sighed. I knew I had to go visit AJ. Couldn't I just go to LA early instead of going back now? It wasn't like we had a lot of time left on the break. “Okay,” I agreed, because I knew it'd get Kevin off my back. And I really did want to go see AJ. To see how much progress he'd made since I'd seen him in Arizona.

Kevin nodded at me, placing a firm hand on my shoulder before walking out of the kitchen.

I sighed and stood there for a second before following him. I guess it was time to face the fact that it was time to return to real life soon.

~~~


Fucking Teen Choice awards. This was such bullshit. I know, I know. It's the opportunity of a lifetime and there are so many people who would kill to be able to perform an an awards show with such high ratings.

That doesn't make it not bullshit, though. Those people don't know what the fuck they're talking about. A lot of people who wish they were famous don't know what the fuck they're talking about.

But that doesn't have anything to do with the Teen Choice Awards. Actually, it had everything to do with the Teen Choice Awards, and the Kid's Choice Awards and the fucking American Music Awards and the MTV Video Awards and basically everything except for the fucking Grammys.

Anyway.

My brother ate it all up. He played up the crowd like he always did, bouncing around the stage with the same energy that I used to have. Sometimes I thought he was more of a ham than I was. His little stage routine was lame, though. And he really should have used the backing track because I cringed when his voice cracked all over the place.

I didn't lean on the backing track at all and unlike him I didn't need to, because I'm fucking awesome like that. Awesome enough to sing live at the god damn Teen Choice Awards. Because let's be honest, no one who's watching that gives two shits about the quality of the music. If they did, they wouldn't be watching the fucking Teen Choice Awards.

My mom was sitting in the front row, sunglasses on and everything as she watched us. Anyone watching at home probably thought that she was proud. She wasn't fucking proud, she was counting her fucking cash in her head.

Not my cash, I was taking my cut of this performance home and she wouldn't see a god damn dime.

Throw your hands up now, let the music take control,” I sang, throwing my arm around my brother as we strutted down the stage. This song was shit, but I was cool.

The crowd was flipping their shit, they always did. Aaron and I ran through it, singing and playing it up for the cameras. Go big or go home, and I was going to be going home after this.

Or at least back to Howie's house. Close enough, I guess.

When our performance was over, I was out of there. I pulled that gay scarf off of my head and threw it on the ground as I walked.

“Nick!” Aaron chased after me. Get lost, Aaron. I unbuttoned my shirt as I kept walking towards our dressing room. I don't even know what I was so pissed off about, I just wanted to get out of there. It was so kiddish and lame and yeah I know Backstreet Boys concerts aren't the most musically mature place to be, but it was a hell of a lot better than this shit.

“Nick!” Aaron called again. I looked back and he was waving his hand. “Where're you going, bro?”

“Home,” I said shortly, stepping into our shared dressing room.

“Out?” he asked hopefully, his eyes wide. Yeah Aaron, like I'm going to take you clubbing with me. Go make out with Hilary and get off my back. Come on!

“Home,” I repeated, not able to take that stupid outfit off fast enough. I tossed it into the corner – the stylists or whoever could deal with the mess.

“Take me with you,” he pleaded.

I sighed. For a second I really did want to take him back to Howie's place with me. Because he was probably going to have to go with mom after, and I really didn't want him to have to. Lord knows half the reason I wanted to get out of there so quick was so I wouldn't have to deal with her.

“Can't, going back to Howie's.”

Aaron pouted as I pulled my t-shirt on over my head. “Sorry, bro,” I said, shaking my head and hightailing it out of there.

~~~


The front door slammed and I looked up from my book. Sometimes it was nice to just have a quiet evening inside with a good book.

Nick stomped into the house and ruined all of that, though.

“Hey,” I said, smiling at him. He just glared at me. Great, thanks Nick. But I tried not to act too annoyed. He was probably in a mood because he had to spend the evening dealing with his mother and brother. I'd probably be cranky too if I had to spend more than ten minutes with Jane Carter.

He just grunted and kicked his shoes off.

“Rough night?” I asked.

He gave me a look. His mouth was turned down and his eyebrows were arched in annoyance. Yet another sign that he'd probably had some kind of encounter with his mother. Or that he'd merely looked at her.

But he actually sat down on the couch instead of going to up to his room to sulk. And I figured it was another bonus that he was actually here instead of out at some bar drinking his sorrows away.

But I knew Nick. Even if he wouldn't admit it, he probably just wanted to sit with someone who he knew cared about him.

“What're you reading?” he asked instead of answering my question. Though I supposed that said it all.

I looked at the cover of the book. “American Gods,” I said, showing it to him. “You should read it, it's really good.”

He shrugged.

“It's not about God,” I laughed, because I knew that was what he was probably thinking.

He ignored me. “I'm going back home tomorrow,” he said, going off onto yet another subject.

I sighed. Maybe he was looking to just sulk after all. “You don't have to do that,” I told him. I didn't want him to do that – and we were so close to going back on tour. There was no reason for him to spend a week in Florida by himself.

He shrugged again. “Night, Howie,” he said, getting up and walking up to his room.

I just watched him go and didn't try to stop him. What could I do? If he wanted to sulk, he'd sulk. I'd already tried my best to be there for him and whatever he was going through. There was only a week left. If he wanted to spend it holed up in Florida drowning in his sorrows, that was fine. We'd be back out on the road soon enough.
Chapter End Notes:
Sorry for taking so long to update. But that won't happen anymore! The story is finished now, and will continue to update on Saturdays and Wednesdays :)

Thanks for reading!
Day 36 by Sakabelle
Today was a pretty day
No disappointments
No expectations on your whereabouts

-The Radio Dept 'Strange Things Will Happen'



I hung up the phone, yawning as I looked out the window. Kevin was in the airport and for whatever reason he decided that it was necessary to call me and let me know he was on his way back to LA. And that he was bringing Brian and Leighanne with him.

Not that it mattered, it wasn't like I was going to see them. I was sure Brian was just going to go visit AJ and then go back to Atlanta to make the most of his break. I couldn't blame him, I knew he hated LA.

I sat there sipping my coffee and reading my book for a little while longer. Eventually I heard Nick coming down the stairs, his suitcase in tow.

He walked into the room and looked at me. “My taxi's going to be here soon,” he said, licking his lips and looking out the window.

I debated telling him that he didn't have to leave, but I figured there was no point. He'd obviously already made up his mind. “You don't have to-” I started, because the words left my mouth without thinking. I didn't want to play his little game, but I couldn't help it. I just felt so bad for him.

“I know I don't, Howie,” he said sharply, giving me another look before staring out the window. “But I want to, okay?”

“Okay,” I said, shaking my head and holding up my hand. I didn't need his attitude, especially when I was just trying to help.

But Nick was never one to appreciate help.

He just stood there looking out the window until his taxi came. And I just went back to my book because it was obvious that he didn't want to have any sort of conversation.

“There's the cab,” he said, pulling his suitcase over to the front door. “Bye, Howie. See ya whenever we go back on tour.”

He was so dramatic. We were going back on tour in a week. Maybe a couple days more. “Bye,” I said, giving him a slight wave of my hand.

He nodded, raising his eyebrows a bit before we walked out the door. I just shook my head and went back to my book. There wasn't much else I could do, and I tried not to dwell on him too much.

Easier said than done.

~~~


I leaned my head against the airplane window and stared outside. The sky was blue and bright and that made it hard for me to sleep.

Not that I was tired. I slept pretty good at Howie's house. But I was pretty bored because airplanes are pretty fucking boring.

“Something to drink, sir?” I looked up at the flight attendant as she stood there with the drink cart. Oh, I also booked by fucking flight late and so I was sitting in coach. Who the fuck sits in coach? Not me, that's who.

Well, except for the day.

I looked at her. My hood was up and I hoped to god no one recognized me. The last thing I needed was some screaming thirteen year old. I just wanted to be left the hell alone. The fans could scream when we went back on tour. Which was going to be like... years away.

Okay, fine, like a week away. But that felt like years away. I was just ready for this break to be over already. Because then I wouldn't have to think about what the fuck I was doing with my life, I'd already be doing what I was doing with my life.

“Coke,” I said, trying to lower my voice so that she didn't recognize it and then ask me to sing I Want It That Way for the whole plane.

She nodded, pouring it into a clear plastic cup. “Got any rum for that coke?” I asked her, my voice still low.

She looked at me kind of oddly but then went back to her happy flight attendant self. “We do,” she said, bending down and digging through the bottom half of the cart. I leaned in a bit and checked out her ass – those flight attendants had cute little outfits. Maybe if I pulled my hood down and talked normally she'd realise who I was and then I could fuck her in one of those little bathrooms.

I didn't do that though. Kinda lazy. “It's five dollars,” she said, holding up one of those little travel size bottles of white rum.

I gave her an unimpressed look, but I really wanted the rum so I dug into my back pocket for my wallet. Fucking small airplane seats in coach. I pulled out a five dollar bill and held it out to her. Who the fuck pays extra for rum? I got it for free on every other flight. No wonder people who fly coach are always so annoyed.

“I'm sorry, we only accept credit cards,” she said, not even taking the money from my hand.

I sighed and stuffed it back into my wallet. I handed her my credit card instead.

She did whatever she did, taking the card and swiping it on some old looking machine. She handed a piece of paper for me to sign, which I did with just a scribble. My actual fucking signature instead of the one I used on CDs and shit.

“Thank you Mr. Carter,” she said with a smug look on her face as she took the piece of paper and handed me the bottle of rum. Then she pushed the drink cart away.

What a bitch. I should've fucked her.

~~~


I took a sip of my coffee and stared out the airplane window. We'd be landing in LA shortly, and I was eager to be home.

It had been nice to see my family, but after a weekend of endless dinners, brunches and small talk I'd had enough. I was ready to be back in LA and back to my real life.

Whatever that was now, since we were on a break. But It'd be over soon, and things would be better. No more arguments with AJ about his drinking and all the drugs. And that was definitely something to look forward to.

“More coffee sir?” the flight attendant asked me, walking by with a stainless steel pot. I shook my head. That was one thing I didn't like about first class, the flight attendants were always pestering you, asking if you needed anything. Not that I didn't appreciate the service, of course I did. But sometimes I just wanted to be left alone.

I'd probably just sit in coach if it wasn't for the possibility of being recognized and bothered in an entirely different way. Not that it couldn't happen in first class, but the possibility was much less.

I looked out the window again. We were obviously starting to descend, because everything was just white. Must have been going through a cloud.

I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes. It'd be good to get home.

~~~


I tossed my things onto the bed of Kevin's guest room. I'd contemplated just getting a hotel, but I figured that'd piss him off. I didn't need that – he was already annoyed enough and we did have to go back to work fairly soon. Better to not start any drama right before we jumped back on tour.

“Are you going to go see AJ now?” Leighanne asked, sitting down on the bed and looking up at me.

She didn't outright say it, but I knew she wasn't going to come with me to visit AJ. Why would she? It wasn't like she cared how he was doing. She'd never really liked him.

And that was fine. My wife didn't have to be friends with my co-workers, she just had to accept that they were there and be civil. Which was sometimes hard for her, but nobody's perfect.

“Yeah,” I said, leaning over and kissing her. Our flight had landed in the early afternoon, and we had to get moving if we wanted to make the visiting hours.

She nodded. “See you soon.”

“Love you,” I said, checking my pockets to make sure I had everything I needed before going downstairs to meet Kevin.

“Ready?” he asked as we walked out of his house and over to his car.

I shrugged. I was a lot more ready than I had been when we'd gone to see him in rehab, that was for sure.

We drove down the highway. Kevin usually put the top down, but he didn't that day. Probably because it looked like it was going to rain and he didn't want to risk even a drop of water getting inside his car. Kevin's a stereotypical car guy who won't let you so much as chew gum inside it.

I knew that because I remembered him having a pretty heated discussion with Nick about it. And of course Nick had just smacked on his gum, pulled it out of his mouth and started playing with it with his fingers.

“Is Nick still staying at Howie's?” I asked. Not that I was going to go visit him or anything, he wasn't the one in transitional care. Even though he probably would be soon enough.

“Nah,” Kevin shook his head, keeping his eyes out on the road. “Went home this morning.”

I nodded, looking out the passenger's side window and watching LA go by. There wasn't much else to say until we got there.

“Nice place,” I said once we parked.

Kevin nodded, looking up at it. It just looked like a really nice house – brick and brown and nothing overly fancy. There was a fountain outside and a cobblestone walkway.

We stepped inside, signing in as visitors. Then we were led into this lounge area when someone went to go find AJ.

I glanced around. It was a lot different than the rehab facility, but it was good. Transitional care was definitely the right idea, and I hadn't even seen AJ yet. I just knew it. If time was what he needed, we'd give him as much of it as we could.

“B-rok!” came AJ's unmistakable voice as he walked towards us. I smiled at the use of my old nickname.

“Hey,” I said, pulling him in for a hug. “How's it going, man? Got a really nice place here.”

He nodded and smiled. It made me feel so much better. Not that I expected him to be right back to his old self – that test would come when we were soon back out on the road. But just seeing that all his progress was still there, and that it had stuck with him after rehab and into the next phase of his recovery was just great.

“Thanks,” he said, glancing around. “How're things going with you? Are you here to stay now?”

I shook my head. “No, just for the day. We're going back to Atlanta tomorrow. I'll come back when it's time to start getting ready to tour again.”

AJ nodded his head. “That's coming up soon, isn't it?”

“Yeah,” I sighed. “Pretty soon.”

He whistled a bit, but he smiled. “Can't wait,” he said finally. “It'll be so good to be back out on stage and perform with a more clear head.”

I smiled when he said that and couldn't help but pull him in for another hug. I wished all of us thought the same way AJ did, which was something I never thought I'd say.
Day 37 by Sakabelle
People talking but I can't hear them, no
I just sit there and watch them come and go
There might be something underneath it all
But at least I'll find what I'll find out in the end

-Avicii 'Liar Liar'


I don't know why I showed up at Kevin's house at 9:00 in the morning, I just did.

I didn't even think I wanted to see Brian while he was there, but I guess I did. I didn't even know when his flight was, so this was kind of a gamble.

Anyways, Kristin buzzed me into their gate and then opened the door after I parked my car. “What a nice surprise,” she smiled, letting me inside. Kristin has the brightest smile of anyone I know. Wide and sweet and always genuine. Seeing her always puts me in a good mood – she's a good match for Kevin who's stressed out a lot of the time.

“Hey,” I said, stepping inside and slipping my shoes off. “Just figured I'd pop in for breakfast.”

She laughed, leading me over to the kitchen. Looks like I'd arrived at just the right time – Brian and Leighanne were sitting at the table with mugs of coffee and cereal.

“We don't have a lot, but can I entice you with a bowl of cheerios?” she asked.

I smiled walked over to their cupboard, pulling out a mug and filling it with coffee. “I'd never say no to cheerios,” I grinned, sitting down as she placed the box, along with a bowl on the table. “Where's Kevin?” I asked, filling the bowl with the crunchy cereal.

“Oh you know him,” she laughed, sitting down. “Still sleeping.”

I'd never actually known Kevin to sleep in, but I guess his life at home was a lot different than his life on tour was. Kristin's perception of Kevin must have been so different than mine was. Mostly because I couldn't picture him lecturing her – if anything it was the other way around.

“Morning,” I said, leaning over to Brian and grinned.

“Hey,” he smiled, licking his lips and taking a sip of coffee. “Did you just come over here to see me?”

I shrugged. “Yeah,” I admitted, and he just laughed again, shaking his head and going back to his cheerios. So sue me, I missed my friends when we were on a break. “When do you guys go back?”

“Soon,” Leighanne cut in, looking at me. “We're pretty much leaving right away.”

“Mmhmm,” I nodded, taking a sip of my coffee. I didn't mind Leighanne as much as the others did, but I could see where she could get on your nerves.

Kristin just smiled and raised her eyebrows at me. I smiled back, and Brian and Leighanne didn't notice. They never noticed anything anyone else did. Either that or they didn't care.

But it was still nice to be in the same room with them, for however brief a period.

~~~


I couldn't wait to get back to Atlanta. The plane ride wasn't that long, but it was long enough. I tapped my feet on the floor and looked out the window. I didn't know what I expected to see since we'd literally just taken off.

I just wasn't ready to be back in LA and I didn't need the reminder of how I was going to be back there soon. The perfect picture that I wanted my life to be was coming to an end.

Leighanne leaned her head on my shoulder and looked up at me with a cute smile. Well, just a smile. All of them were cute. I leaned down and kissed her on the tip of her nose. She giggled.

“It'll be nice to be home, won't it?”

I widened my eyes and nodded my head. She had no idea how nice it would be to be home. Well, she probably did. After all she hated me being away from home as much as I hated me being away from home. Probably more.

“Nice to be back to trying to start our family,” she giggled again, moving upwards and kissing my lips.

I kissed her back. Lord, she was so hot. I opened my eyes and looking out in front of me. There was a little bathroom area at the front of the plane, and the sign didn't say occupied. I pulled away from her sightly. “Or you know, right now?” I whispered into her ear.

She crinkled her eyebrows, giving me a confused look.

“I'm going to the bathroom,” I continued to whisper, unbuckling my seatbelt. “Maybe you'll join me in there in a couple of minutes?”

“Brian!” she whispered harshly, swatting my arm.

But I just wiggled my eyebrows and stepped out of my seat, crawling over her and glancing back as I walked away.

She sort of smirked at me, so I knew she was going to follow.

~~~


The music in the club thumped hard. I downed another shot and went back to grinding with this girl who I'd found and decided she was the hottest out of her friends.

I didn't need a wingman! I didn't need no one, just my own awesome hot self. I had no problem pulling that girl out of her booth and onto the dancefloor. They were always willing.

I didn't even know how many shots I had, they just kept bringing them over. Probably because I kept paying for them, but whatever. The music was booming into my ears and I couldn't hear anything over the ringing. The lights in the club were a mess too, blinking and fuzzy in front of my eyes.

Fucking shots. I could usually hold my liquor but whatever the fuck I was drinking was fucked up. I leaned over and kissed that girl on the cheek. We had to get out of there if I had any hope of getting laid that night. Because I wasn't about to get all whiskey dick on her. That's happened to me before and believe me, it fucking sucks. The girl gets all pissed off, I don't get laid and then they probably go tell their friends and laugh about it.

“Baby,” I slurred. “Let's go back to my place.”

That's all it took. That's all it ever takes because that's what they're waiting for as soon as I decide that that they're the one I want for the night, or for an hour or whatever.

We walked outside with my arm around her waist. I pulled my keys out of my pocket and hit the unlock button on the automatic starter.

“Uh,” she said, looking at me. “Are you sure you're okay to drive?”

“Yeah,” I said confidently, slapping my chest. Then I dropped my keys on the ground. “Oops,” I laughed, bending over to pick them up.

She shrugged and got into the car and we were off.

I wasn't really paying attention to where we were going, and I wasn't the best driver as it was. The road was moving all over the fucking place... and I think someone was honking at me. “Shit,” I cussed, looking behind me as I sped up. What the fuck was there problem.

“NICK!” the girl shrieked and I looked in front of me again. Oops, we almost swerved into another car. More honking. They could fuck off.

“It's okay baby,” I said, leaning over and trying to kiss her. But she didn't seem to want to kiss me, which was fucked up because she was the one who got into the car with me and-

The car veered off and there was the sound of screeching metal as we were hurled forward. Because I was leaning over into her seat, my side was pushed into the dash and I was pretty sure I screamed. I think she screamed too.

“Ugh,” I muttered, looking up. We weren't moving anymore.

“Oh my god,” the girl spit out, looking at me and unbuckling her seatbelt. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god...” she just kept repeating it, but do you think she stayed? No she fucking didn't, opening her door and running as fast as she could away from the car. At least I thought so, it was dark and everything was spinning and I couldn't see.

“Fuck,” I muttered, the pain in my side causing tears to sting in my eyes. I tried to sit up but it hurt way too much. “Fuck,” I cried again to no one, because there was no one there with me. Except for the three that crunched up the front of my car.

I was so fucking stupid. So fucking stupid. Not okay to drive. Not okay to do anything right. I reached down and pulled my cellphone out of my pocket. I was still leaned over, half in the passenger seat, but I couldn't fucking move. I scrolled through the blurry contacts to the only person who might be able to help me.

~~~


“Mmph,” Kristin mumbled, rolling over in her sleep. “You get it,” she said sleepily.

What?

I swallowed a bit, trying to wake up. It took me a minute to realise it, but the phone was ringing.

Who the hell was calling me at – I looked over at the clock – 1:30 in the morning?

I reached over to the phone on the nightstand, not even bothering to look at the caller ID. “Hello?” I muttered, still half asleep with my head on the pillow.

“Kevin,” came Nick's crying voice over the line. I instantly sat up in bed, my heart pounding with worry. “I'm scared.”
Day 38 by Sakabelle
Half my life's in books' written pages
Live and learn from fools and from sages
You know it's true
All the things you do, come back to you

-Aerosmith 'Dream On'


My head was in my hands as I listened to Kevin on the phone. Apparently Nick had called him in the middle of the night after drunkenly crashing his car into a tree. Now he was sitting in the airport waiting for a flight out to Tampa to presumably go and kick Nick's ass.

Why, why had I let him go back to Florida?

“I told him to call 911,” Kevin said, his voice tired. “To make sure he wasn't hurt too badly. He's damn lucky he wasn't killed or that he didn't kill someone else.”

“Do you know what happened after that?” I asked, still sitting with my hand on my forehead. I kept picturing Nick's car slamming into a tree over and over and over again. With him drunk and stupid and apparently completely okay to drive right behind the wheel.

“As far as I know he's gone into the hospital. I don't know anything else. I won't know until I get there. I'm going straight to his house.”

I nodded my head, but of course Kevin couldn't see. I could just picture him sitting in LAX, holding onto a full cup of coffee and just watching people go by as he waited for his flight. It would be just like him to sit in the airport all day instead of going home first, but as long as he was there he probably felt like he was accomplishing something.

“This isn't going to help us,” I mumbled into the phone. It was a horrible thing to think considering what could have happened to Nick. But with our tour being postponed and all the media attention surrounding AJ's rehab, Nick stepping out with a DUI wasn't exactly the press we needed.

“I know,” Kevin sighed through the phone. “I haven't even talked to management about this. Fuck,” he mumbled. “I didn't even think about that part.”

I instantly felt guilty, because here was Kevin worried about Nick and Nick only and here I was worrying about the group as a whole. But someone had to. No one else was.

And no one else ever would be if we didn't get our collective shit together. Things were starting to fall apart and it was clearer now more than ever. If Nick didn't turn it around I didn't even know if there would be a Backstreet Boys for him to fuck up in a year's time.

I hated thinking like that, but I wasn't exactly thinking clearly or positively given the situation at hand.

“I'll call them,” I offered. Kevin was already going to deal with enough when he got to Florida. He didn't need to worry about the PR aspect as well.

Really, it should have been Nick handling that. But he was in no shape to do so. He'd always been sort of a PR nightmare. But I couldn't imagine it getting any worse than this. I'd never even imagined it getting to this point, but here we were.

“Thanks,” Kevin said gratefully.

“It's fine,” I waved it off. “Good luck with Nicky, Kevin.”

“Thanks,” he sighed, still sounding tired. I couldn't blame him. It wasn't like he was about to get any time to relax either.

He hung up the phone and I stared at it. Yeah, I had to call management like I told Kevin I would. But first there was someone else I had to call.

~~~


“Hello,” I laughed into the phone as Leighanne and I stood in the middle of our kitchen, cooking breakfast. She wrapped her arms around my waist and kissed my neck.

“Hey,” it was Howie, sounding more serious than I would have liked. He didn't usually sound like that.

“Hey Howard,” I laughed as Leighanne continued to kiss me. “What's up?”

He paused for a moment and then sighed. Not a great sign, but I didn't really catch it since I was too focused on my wife and her kisses. “There's been an accident.”

I crinkled my eyebrows. What did that mean? I stopped giggling and frowned a little bit, causing Leighanne to look up at me. “What?” I asked.

Howie sighed again. Now I was beginning to get scared. What in the heck could have happened for Howie to be calling me like this?

“Nick wrapped his car around a tree.”

“Was he drunk?” were the first words out of my mouth after Howie told me that. Can you blame me?

Another sigh from Howie. Clearly disappointed in Nick, clearly not his usual forgiving self. “Yes,” he replied finally.

Now it was my turn to sigh. Leighanne had pulled away from me completely at this point and was staring at me. Probably wondering when I was going to get back to our breakfast kissfest. I was sort of wondering that too. It wasn't like there was anything I could do to help all the way in Atlanta. Hell, there wasn't anything Howie could all the way in LA.

“He's an idiot,” I said point blank. “I don't know what you expect me to do about it.” Leighanne looked at me with her eyebrows knitted. “Howie,” I mouthed, pointing to the phone. She shrugged. I'd tell her afterwards. Or maybe I wouldn't.

“I just thought you'd like to know,” Howie said softly.

He was right, it was nice to know. I just didn't care to do anything. Nick was lucky he hadn't been killed or that he hadn't killed someone else. But as far as his stupid antics (which included drinking far too much, among many other things) went, he could let someone else deal with them. I'd dealt with them one too many times already.

“Thanks,” I said, getting ready to hang up.

“Brian, wait,” Howie said. “Do you think we should tell AJ?”

I bit my lip. That probably wasn't the sort of news that he needed to assist in his recovery. He'd already taken steps to better himself – steps that Nick was far from taking himself. Hearing about Nick would only upset him and probably make him feel guilty. Plus it wasn't like he'd be able to help him at all. He had to help himself before he could even think about helping anyone else.

“No,” I said finally. “At least not yet. Not until he's out.”

“Yeah,” Howie agreed. “I'll tell Kevin. He's gone to see Nick, by the way.”

Not much good that would do. But I didn't say that, because Howie probably thought that Kevin would have some kind of heart-to-heart with Nick and that everything would be okay. I knew Howie wasn't actually that naive, but I also knew that he saw the best in everyone and often hoped things would just work out. I didn't know when he was going to learn that that wasn't the case. Especially not with the five of us.

“Well maybe that'll help,” I said with a little bit of hope in my voice. Because I knew that's what Howie needed to hear.

“Yeah,” I sighed. “Maybe.”

“Tell me if anything else happens,” I said, glancing over at Leighanne again.

“I will. Later, Brian.”

“Bye,” I said, hanging up and walking over to my wife.

“What was that?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said, leaning over and kissing her on the cheek. It wasn't like she would care anyway.

~~~


My entire life I'd been scared of Kevin.

Okay fine, that wasn't true. Because I only met Kevin when I was like, twelve. But that felt like my entire life. My entire Backstreet life anyway, which was when my life actually started. Not when I was living in a dirty trailer with those idiots who called themselves my parents.

But I don't think I'd ever been as scared of Kevin as I was when I walked back to my house that afternoon. Because I knew he was there and he was probably mad and he was probably going to kill me.

I really thought I'd been okay to drive. I mean yeah I was drunk but I'd driven drunk before and nothing bad had happened. I just figured I was still a good driver when I was drunk.

Anyway, Kevin. He was going to kill me. I felt like I was fifteen again and had told off Lou. Which was the other last time I was scared of Kevin. Because he flipped his fucking shit. Probably because he wanted to tell Lou off too, but he didn't have the balls to do it.

I walked up the front steps to my house and stopped for a second. Then I swallowed and braced myself for a lot of fucking yelling as I unlocked the door.

There was Kevin, sitting in the living room on the couch with his arms crossed over his chest. He couldn't have looked more like a scary-ass pissed off dad if he tried.

“You're lucky you're still alive,” he said, glaring at me. Great, Kevin. Let's just start with the lecture. Don't even ask me if I'm okay.

I shrugged, looking at the ground. Definitely felt like I was fifteen again. Fifteen wasn't even that long ago, when I thought about it. Only like, six years.

Felt like a lifetime ago, now. And I didn't know that it was so lucky.

“I know,” I said instead, because if I launched into some kind of self-deprecating rant Kevin would ignore and just yell at me more. Why the fuck had I even called him?

“What the fuck were you thinking?” he asked. He was still sitting on the couch.

I shrugged again. I guess I hadn't been thinking. Then I sat down on the couch. Not beside him though. On the other side and as far away as possible.

“Do you not see what happened to AJ?” he asked, leaning into me. His face was red and he was really fucking pissed off. I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head. I would have laughed if I wasn't so terrified.

I nodded.

“Do you not understand why we're on a break right now, Nick?” he shouted.

“I know!” I yelled back. Fuck off Kevin, obviously I know why we're on a a break. “You don't think I don't fucking know why we're all at home? Why you guys are enjoying your fucking time off? You guys don't even give a shit about being on stage, you'd rather just be off on your own. This break is the end of the group, Kevin. And if you don't-”

“Stop it,” he cut me off. I didn't even know what I was ranting about, just that I was. Because the whole reason for the break was AJ's drinking and cocaine. I didn't care about the reason for the break, I just cared that we were on it.

I huffed and crossed my arms over my chest.

“The point is that AJ had so many problems that we literally had to stop our tour right in the middle.”

Yeah, I know that Kevin. Thank you so much.

“The point,” he said, pretty much spitting out every word. “is that he had a problem and it became the whole group's problem,” he continued, still glaring at me. “I don't...”

And then he did something that terrified me more than I ever thought possible.

~~~


I started to cry. Where there on Nick's god damn couch I couldn't take it any more and cried into my fucking hands.

He just sat there, of course. He just sat there staring at me in shock. He probably thought it was more likely that I was going to beat him senseless rather than actually cry because I cared about him so much. Because it was so unfathomable to him that someone would actually be glad that he wasn't a dead mess underneath a tree.

I knew that. I knew all of that. It didn't excuse what he did, because Nick had to grow up at some point and deal with the cards he'd been dealt. But even if I didn't understand, I knew.

“I can't,” I shook my head, still set in my hands. “I can't do this anymore.” Once the floodgate was open it wouldn't stop. I just sobbed right there on Nick's couch. “I can't keep worrying about you or about AJ. I can't keep worrying about the future of the group, I can't keep worrying about management. It's too many things to deal with, Nick. I can't keep doing this with you when I have too many other things to worry about.”

I looked up at him and he nodded. His eyes were still wide. They sort of looked like they were going to pop out of his skull.

He slid over a bit closer to me. “I'm sorry,” he muttered, which was probably the best I was going to get out of him.

I nodded, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand. So much for giving him a piece of my mind and scaring him straight. Although I supposed I'd accomplished that in a different kind of way.

“Can you just cut back on the drinking?” I sighed, looking at him sadly. “Because I don't want to be worrying every night that I'm going to get another phonecall like that.”

He nodded, although I wondered how real that was. I knew that this probably wasn't going to fix his issues. It'd probably scare him for a few days and then he'd be right back to his usual lifestyle. But at the very least maybe he'd be a little more responsible about it.

“Can I...” he muttered, looking down at the ground. “Can I come back to LA with you?”

I breathed a sigh of relief. At least now I wouldn't have to drag him back there kicking and screaming. “Of course you can,” I sighed, leaning in to hug him.

And he actually hugged me back.
Day 39 by Sakabelle
I'm the hero of this story
Don't need to be saved

-Regina Spektor 'Hero'


Nick put his headphones on and leaned against the plane window. He closed his eyes and I wondered if he was going to sleep.

I sighed to myself, leaning back in my seat. At least for the moment I could relax, because Nick was safe and he was right beside me and he wasn't wrapped around a tree.

I was probably worrying too much, but I couldn't help it. It was like he was a little kid again who needed to be watched to ensure he didn't do something stupid.

What I'd said (or, cried) to him the night before was true. The stress of the group was beginning to be too much for me to handle. Between worrying about AJ, worrying about Nick and worrying about everything else in between I was starting to get burnt out. It was ironic, because you'd think the break would have helped with that but it was almost making everything worse.

Except for the AJ part. But even that was stressful because even though he was doing well in rehab and transitional care, we didn't know what was going to happen once we went back on tour. Which was actually alarmingly soon.

I glanced over at Nick again. He was out like a light, snoring against the window. I could slightly hear the music from his headphones over the noise of the plane. He was usually better once we were on tour – it was when we were at home that he acted like an entitled douchebag.

I sighed, trying to lean back and relax as well. Easier said than done, but at least nothing was going to happen for the next four hours.

~~~


“Howie, sit down,” Leigh said, looking up at me.

I stood still for a moment and then I sighed and sat down. I'd been pacing around my living room mulling over if I should go over to Kevin's house or not. On one hand, I didn't want to start an inadvertent intervention for Nick. On the other hand, I really wanted to see for myself that he was okay and possibly talk a little sense into him.

Even though I was well aware Kevin already did that. He had to have done something since Nick was on his way back to LA – to stay with Kevin of all people.

“Don't go over to Kevin's house,” she soothed, touching my arm.

“I just,” I started to protest, but then I gave up and listened as she talked. She probably knew better than I did. It was weird to think we'd only just started dating a month ago. This who break was beginning to feel like another lifetime. If I was Nick, I'd probably say something about it being a parallel universe.

Unfortunately, it seemed like a lot of the things in this universe were the same.

“You can't do anything to help him,” she said wisely. “He's back here and he's staying with Kevin. He'll be okay. He's already okay.”

“He drove his car into a tree, Leigh.”

She nodded her head seriously. “I know. Maybe it'll be the scare he needs.”

I shrugged. I wished I could believe that, I really did. But the sad reality was that it probably wouldn't. Not enough to scare him for anything more than a couple of days.

~~~


“I think we should go to a fertility clinic,” Leighanne said to me, sighing as she held a negative pregnancy test in her hands. We were sitting on the edge of our bed.

I gave her a bit of a look. Even I thought that was sort of ridiculous. I didn't know why she was so insistent on taking a pregnancy test anyway. We'd only just started trying. Wasn't it too early for that kind of thing?

“It's only been a few weeks,” I said to her instead, because telling her how silly I really thought it was wasn't a good idea.

“I know,” she sighed, looking much more upset than I felt. Because truly, it wasn't that upsetting. “I just think that we should go see. Before you go back to work,” she added, giving me a look.

I couldn't help but narrow my eyes at her. She didn't seriously think that we were going to be able to conceive before I went back on tour, did she? I mean, I hadn't done great in biology but I was pretty sure the odds of that were slim. And even if it happened it would be too early for us to know.

“What?” she asked, pressing her lips together in a thin line.

“It's sort of early, isn't it?” I asked her gently, placing my hand on her thigh.

Evidently she didn't think so, because she glared at me and shoved my hand off of her. “No, I don't think it is. I think we need to figure this out before you go back on tour.”

I just gave her a look.

“Before you guys record another album and then go on another tour and then there's not another opportunity for us.”

I bit my lip because I knew what I said next was going to piss her off. “You do realise that even if you got pregnant right this second I'd still go back on tour and all of those things would still happen, right? Because I hear that takes nine months.”

She glared at me. Sometimes my wife didn't respond well to logic. Especially when that logic interfered with whatever ideas she had in her head.

“I know that, Brian,” she said through gritted teeth.

I shrugged.

“I just didn't want our plan to be forgotten about in favour of... everything else,” she finished with a sigh.

“In favour of the group?” I asked, starting to get annoyed. Because she was acting really ridiculous. Because she was acting like the group and my job wasn't even important. And of course my family was important to me, but the group was too.

She shrugged, but didn't say anything. Which usually meant she knew that she'd gone over the line.

But I wasn't ready to let it go. “In favour of the group which I have worked my ass off to be a part of?” I asked her. “In favour of the group that is the entire reason we met?”

“Brian-” she started, but I just shook my head.

“I'm still going on tour, Leighanne. Did you think that you were just going to announce that you were pregnant and then I'd suddenly decide to stay here in Atlanta and extend the break forever?”

“I never said that,” she said almost pleadingly. Now I was the one who was being ridiculous, but I didn't really care. I knew part of the reason she felt that way was because I hadn't exactly shown a lot of love towards the group lately. It was probably reasonable for her to think that all I wanted to do was stay in Atlanta.

Of course now that I was faced with the prospect of that, I really didn't want to. Not quite yet, anyway. Not when we were in the middle of a tour and we were going back on the road the next week.

“There is never going to be a right time for this,” I told her. “And you have to understand that us trying doesn't mean that I automatically stop caring about the group or the rest of those guys.”

“Well you could have fooled me,” she huffed, putting her hands on her hips.

She was right. “I'm going to LA this weekend,” I said before I had a chance to think about it.

She widened her eyes like I'd told her I was leaving her in favour of running off with Nick. Which to be fair, is probably what this felt like to her.

“I need to spend some time with the fellas before we go back on tour. We're going to be in rehearsals starting mid-next week anyway.”

Her arms were crossed over her chest and she still looked pissed off.

“We can still go to a fertility clinic if you want,” I said, standing up and kissing her on the cheek.

She shrugged but seemed to accept that as a compromise. “Fine,” she said. Then she gave me a bit of an annoyed look and left the room.

I didn't follow her. She always needed some time to cool down after an argument. Besides, it wasn't going to solve anything. Going to LA early and spending a bit of downtime with the boys before it was back to work was probably a good choice. And I didn't want to go back on that.

~~~


The perk to staying at Kevin's house was that he's got a really hot wife. She also made really fucking amazing food. I didn't ever see myself getting married, but I understood why Kevin did. If I found a chick like that I'd want to hang onto her too!

Man, she was even better at grilling than he was. When we got back to LA she already had this spread of food on the table. There were burgers and salad (which I didn't eat, but it was there) and potato salad that she probably made herself and fucking iced tea sitting in this fancy-ass pitcher.

Also, the burgers had grated cheese right in them. Not melted on top.

I'm not stupid. I knew that the reason for that was because they wanted to make me feel at home and so that I wouldn't take off again. But whatever, I'd take it. Good food is good food.

“How is it?” she asked me from across the table, taking a sip of her iced tea.

“'S good,” I nodded, my mouth full of burger.

She laughed. Kevin rolled his eyes. Good to see he was back to normal. Like I said, Kristin was the perk to staying with him.

I finished my burger and grabbed another one off of the plate in the centre of the table, piling toppings onto my bun. At least the more we sat here and ate like everything was normal, the less awkward it'd be. Because I'd never let Kevin know it, but it was awkward. The whole reason I was there was so that he could watch me. And maybe the day before I'd wanted to come back to LA, but I hadn't thought about how much of a pain it was going to be to stay in his house. I should have stayed with Howie instead.

Howie might have actually been worse though. Because he worried in a guilty kind of way that made me feel sorry for him. It was more effective than Kevin's dickbag angry kind of way.

I looked over at him as I chewed on my burger and instantly felt bad. Even if he pissed me off, I knew Kevin meant well. Sort of. I guess. He probably just didn't want me to do something stupid and kill myself.

I understood. I mean, I really didn't want that either. Because if nothing else, we were going back on tour in a week. Then we'd make another album and everything would go back to normal. I only had to deal with another week of this break bullshit, and then everything would be fixed.
Day 40 by Sakabelle
Not trying to climb your steps
Not trying to chase you down
Not trying to see how low I can get down to the ground
-Lifehouse 'Sick Cycle Carousel'


I stared down at the ground as we waited for our results.

Everything about this was embarrassing, as far as I was concerned. Yeah, it was all confidential and no one could say that we were here even if they wanted to. Well, I guess the other people in the clinic could. But they didn't seem to be paying attention to us.

If I was Nick they probably would be. That made me laugh a bit – the thought of Nick with his wife in a fertility clinic. I didn't that was something that would ever happen. The idea of Nick getting married was already crazy, and the idea of him trying to have a child and thus be responsible for another human life was unfathomable.

“What's funny?” Leighanne asked me. Oops.

“Nothing,” I shrugged, because she probably didn't want to hear about Nick right now. Not that she ever did. But I'd been thinking about him a lot ever since I'd gotten that call from Howie. I hadn't wanted to care about his stupidity, but I couldn't help it. Because underneath the horrible person he was becoming was still that kid I used to play basketball with after rehearsals.

I sighed to myself. I'd see him in a couple of days. I couldn't believe I was actually looking forward to that.

“Brian and Leighanne Littrell?”

The nurse called us up which ended my thought process about Nick. In wife took my hand and looked at me with a bit of a smile and a brave face. I tried to return it but inside I was rolling my eyes. I had no idea why we were here after trying to conceive for only three weeks.

The whole thing seemed ridiculous. Not that I'd ever say that.

And apparently the nurse thought so too. Because not that she'd ever say it, but when she found out it had only been a couple of weeks her eyes got a little bit wider and her mouth got a little bit thinner.

The details of it were fairly standard. There were only a few tests they could run that day, other things had to be waited on. But from their preliminary results, everything looked fine.

I would have been relieved if I'd been worried in the first place.

Leighanne threw her arms around me like this was the best news she'd ever heard. I wondered if she was actually worried and not just being paranoid because things weren't moving at the pace she'd like them to.

“See?” I said to her as we left. “Everything's fine.”

She nodded her head and smiled. Though I was happy she was happy, I still couldn't wait to get to LA.

~~~


I showed up at Kevin's house as early as I could without it seeming like I'd been up the whole night waiting to go over there.

Because I hadn't. It was only half the night.

Anyway, I got there around lunch time. I don't know what I'd been expecting, but Nick was sitting in the living room playing PlayStation and looking totally normal. His face was zoned out, staring at the screen. He looked completely fine, like he hadn't just smashed his car into a tree.

“Hey Nicky,” I said as I sat down beside him.

He just nodded his head, not taking his eyes off whatever game he was playing.

“Glad to have you back,” I said gently, because I was sure Kevin had already given him the lecture. Plus there was no point now – he was back with us and we'd go back on tour shortly and everything would be back to normal.

I couldn't believe how much I was looking forward to that. Now more than ever.

He nodded again. “Fuck,” he muttered as something happened on screen. He knitted his eyebrows and leaned in a little bit, as if that was going to help him as he pressed buttons with his thumbs.

I sighed. He clearly wasn't interested in talking. But that was okay – I wasn't even sure what I was going to talk with him about. So I just sat there and watched him play his game.

~~~


Thank god Kevin had a playstation because the last thing I wanted to do was have a big discussion about my feelings with Howie. What was he even doing at Kevin's house anyway? If he'd come to check up on me, he wasn't exactly doing a great job at being subtle about it.

Not that Howie ever did a great job about being subtle about anything. And I didn't do a great job of not being a fuck up. So it worked out.

But still, I didn't want to talk about it. So I just kept playing the game like he wasn't even there.

Which was difficult.

“Aren't you supposed to go back through that door?” Howie asked me, cutting into my thoughts and breaking my concentration. God dammit, Howie!

“No,” I sighed, not looking back at him. “Need to chain wolves.”

“But they told you to move on through the door.”

I breathed really heavily though my nose, hoping he'd get the god damn hint. I may not be able to figure out how to handle my own life, but I sure as hell can figure out what I need to do to get through a video game.

And then I continued to chain wolves. And Howie continued to watch and he didn't say anything else. He was good at taking a hint, even if he liked to pretend that he wasn't most of the time.

~~~


“Is this what having a teenage son is like?” I sighed, looking over at Kristin.

We were standing in the kitchen like an old married couple would be, discussing their children. I'd been out in the living room for about six seconds before I'd had enough.

She smirked and brought her mug of coffee to his lips, taking a sip before she answered me. “God, I hope not.”

I didn't think it was that funny. Dealing with Nick was often like having a kid of my own. A very stupid kid who never listened to his parents and frequently got himself into trouble.

“He's in the living room playing video games,” Kristin tried again, her tone more serious this time as she looked at me.

I shrugged.

“He's fine, Kevin.”

“He drunkenly crashed his car into a tree,” I replied quietly, because I didn't want to hear myself say the words.

“But he's fine now.”

I shook my head and poured myself another cup of coffee. I really didn't think that he was, but what could I do? I'd already tried my best and he was still on a downward spiral.

One week. One more week and we'd be back on tour and this hellish break would be behind us. And everything would go back to normal. That thought didn't really do much to console me. After all, our normal was also pretty shitty lately. Being on tour wasn't going to fix everything like I knew Nick thought it would. The whole reason for this break was because AJ's problems hadn't stopped while we were on the road.

Now I was only hoping that we could finish this tour without another incident and that we could take a real, anticipated, stress-free break.
Day 41 by Sakabelle
If you wake up and don't want to smile
If it takes just a little while
Open your eyes and look at the day
You'll see things in a different way

-Fleetwood Mac 'Don't Stop'


I woke up early because the last thing I wanted was to sit and have breakfast with Kevin and Kristin. I was going to get enough of Kevin's disapproving looks when we went back on tour and were trapped in the same hotel. I was going to take my time and do what I wanted while I still could. While there was still no fucking itinerary.

So I walked down the street with sunglasses covering my face and my bucs hat covering my head. Not that it mattered. In LA no one gave a shit about who I was.

I stopped into a coffee shop, ordered an iced cappuccino and sat down at one of the tables with a newspaper. See? I could be sophisticated!

The newspaper was boring though. I didn't care about politics. I read about half an article before I turned to the entertainment section.

It's kind of weird reading that when you're part of it. Not that we were part of it a lot these days. But people we knew were part of it. And it was weird because everything I read was either fake, or not the truth or they'd spun something to make it seem better or worse than it was.

I sighed and closed the paper. I wondered what kind of headline there would be if they knew about what I did and what a mess I was. Then it wouldn't just be all about AJ. Then our whole group would look fucked up.

At least then we'd drop this stupid clean cut New Kids on the Block image. Where'd people get that from anyway? They weren't so clean cut. Didn't Donnie throw a TV out of a window or something? Let Nsync have that stupid image.

I looked around the coffee shop. There were a couple girls in the corner laughing and talking about something. There was this old guy sitting by the window reading the same paper I was. But he was probably actually interested in the world politics stuff. There was another old guy sitting near that guy, writing stuff down on a pad of paper.

It was pretty boring, so I rolled up my paper and walked out of there. Maybe if I gave it to Kevin it'd distract him and he wouldn't bug me so much.

~~~


Leigh and I were sitting on the patio of a restaurant looking over the pier. I sort of couldn't believe that this was going to be our last weekend together before everything changed. Which really meant that everything was going to go back to the same. Back to being on tour. Back to having no stability.

I was excited to go back on tour. Excited to go back to rehearsals. Excited for AJ to be out to transitional care and be back with us again.

I was just sad to leave Leigh back in LA. And I knew she couldn't come with me. She had her own job to do at home – she couldn't follow me around on tour day in and day out. And in a way, that's what was attracting me to her. The fact that she had her own life and how manageable it was.

“What?” Leigh asked me, raising her eyebrow as she took a sip of her iced tea. I must have been looking at her oddly as I was off in my own little world.

“I love you,” I blurted out, surprising myself.

But I think I surprised Leigh more, because she coughed a little bit as she set her glass down and lightly held a hand against her chest. “What?” she asked again.

“I love you,” I repeated, a smile creeping up on my face.

It wasn't like we'd been dating for a long time, but at the same time it felt like we had been. This time off had felt longer than it actually was, and it was skewing my perception of time a little.

Whether Leigh realised all of that or not, she didn't seem to mind.

“I love you too,” she whispered, leaning into the small table to kiss me.

I smiled and leaned in as well, kissing her softly. Maybe it hadn't been that long, but it was long enough for us.

~~~


Packing to go on tour is always frustrating and time consuming.

Luckily I had other things on my mind as I tossed clothes from my closet into my two huge suitcases. Leighanne wasn't coming with me until we actually started the tour. I figured there was no reason for that – our days in LA were going to be busy with rehearsals and group stuff. It seemed strange, but we would have more down time once we were actually on the road.

Besides, the whole reason I was going back to LA a little bit early was to try and reconnect with the guys before we went back on the road. And I knew I'd have a hard time doing that if she was there with me.

I pulled a few more shirts off of their hangers and folded them before tucking them into my suitcase. Then I stared at them for a moment.

I couldn't believe that in a week we'd be back on the road and everything would be back to normal. I couldn't figure out why I was so worried about it. If it was going to be so normal and routine, wouldn't I be feeling less nervous about it? This past month and a half had felt more normal and mundane than touring ever had.

It was nice and I was sad for it to end.

I knew it partially that I didn't know what to expect. AJ's issues might have been on the mend, but Nick was... well, he was stupid. And he was getting worse. I had no idea what I was going to say to him once I saw him. I was lost as to how to relate to him lately, so I basically ignored him.

It wasn't like he ever wanted my advice anyway.

I flipped the lid of my suitcase over and zipped it up. In six days we'd be back on the road and for the first time since our first ever tour, I had no idea what to expect.

~~~


If Kris thought that having Nick stay in our house until we went back on tour would make me worry less, she was wrong. I worried about everything, and I especially worried about Nick – especially when he had just crashed his car into a tree.

I woke up in the middle of the night. Kris was sleeping beside me, so I got out of bed quietly and walked downstairs.

I hadn't meant to go check on Nick, but it was difficult not to when he was right there. He was laying quietly on the couch, his head against one of the throw pillows and the playstation controller in his hand.

He must have fallen asleep playing the game. I wondered what he was going to do when he finished it, because he was obviously using it as a means of ignoring us.

Which was fine. I didn't know what to say to him anyway. I'd given him more than enough lectures and heart-to-heart conversations. At least now he seemed to realise that it was better to just sit around instead of going out and trying to cause trouble.

I sighed and turned off the TV. Nick muttered something in his sleep, but he didn't wake up.

I shook my head and looked at him one last time before walking into the kitchen.

Six days. We'd be back on tour in six days. Then Nick would have more distractions than he knew what to do with.
Day 42 by Sakabelle
Pedal to the floor
Thinkin' of you more
Gotta get us to the show
California here we come
Right back where we started from

-Phantom Planet 'California'


I was lucky that the flight from Atlanta to LA was short. It gave me little time to be introspective and wonder again if I was making the right decision or not.

I didn't bother getting a rental car. Instead I just got a car at LAX to take me to Howie's house. Keeping with my plan to get re-conntected with the other guys, I'd decided to stay with Howie instead of staying in a hotel. That was probably the best course of action. Howie obviously didn't mind, and I really didn't want to stay with Kevin. Besides, Nick was already staying with him.

That was a BS excuse since Kevin's house was huge. But it was the one I was sticking with.

Of course, the drive from LAX to Howie's place was long. The highway was always backed up and we were stuck in traffic.

Still, it was sort of useless to be wondering if I should have come here or not. I was already here!

Leighanne hadn't wanted me to leave. We'd sat silently in the airport in Atlanta until I absolutely had to leave to go through security. You'd think that I was leaving for months. She'd be back on Friday to meet us in Milwaukee.

I still didn't know this felt so strange and foreign. It wasn't like I'd spent nearly the past ten years with these guys. At risk of sounding stuck-up, we'd conquered the world together. We'd shut down Times Square together.

But it felt so different now. Like we'd split up in an angry haste and were now trying desperately to show the world that everything was completely fine.

I didn't even know where to start. And maybe it was all in my head. But things felt different. Now that I'd had a taste of what normalcy felt like I wanted to cling to it. But I also wanted to go back on tour and have things go back to the way things were. Back before AJ's problems and back before we were burnt out.

I just wanted everything to be fun again. I wanted to enjoy it again and not dread it.

At least I wasn't dreading going to Howie's house. I was looking forward to seeing him.

It was Nick and Kevin that I was dreading. And I still didn't really understand why.

~~~


“Hey, Brian! Glad you're here, man.”

Brian showed up at my doorstep right on schedule. Not surprising, really. He's always on time. It's Nick or AJ who are always late – and on rare occasions Kevin. Though no one would ever call him on it.

“Thanks,” he replied, leaning in to hug me tightly. I could tell he was really happy to see me because it was a full on hug, not one of those half-assed one arm things.

Which was sort of strange to me. But the whole idea of him coming to LA early was strange to me.

It was also strange to have him in my house.

“Soooo,” he said, rolling on his feet a little as he stood in my front entrance.

I shrugged. If him coming to LA was strange, him staying with me was even weirder. We didn't usually spend this much time together. Not when we didn't have a whole bunch of work stuff to do, anyway.

“You want to go see what Kevin's up to?” I asked, figuring he probably wanted to visit with everyone else as much as he wanted to visit with me.

“Nah,” he yawned, and then laughed. “I was on too long of a flight to deal with him.”

I raised my eyebrow. The flight from Atlanta to LA is really short. But I didn't call him on it. Instead, I laughed as well. These was no use in arguing.

“Could go walk around the pier,” I suggested.

And Brian nodded, his eye lighting up. “Yeah, yeah that sounds great.”

It wasn't much, but at least it gave us something to do while we waited for the tour to start up again and distract us.

~~~


“No answer at Howie's place,” I said to no one in particular, hanging up my phone after I'd heard Howie's bright answering machine recording.

I sighed, walking into the kitchen where Kris was preparing dinner. I didn't even bother going to talk to Nick – he was still cooped up in the living room with that stupid game of his.

“Guess Howie's not coming for dinner,” I said, wrapping my arms around her waist.

“We invited Howie for dinner?”

“I was going to. Since Brian's here and all.”

“Brian's here?”

I whipped my head around, only to see Nick standing in the hall of the kitchen. He smirked, walking over to us and sticking his hand into the salad Kris was making.

She slapped him away, but not before he was able to grab a cubed potato. “Mmm,” he laughed, making a big show a licking his lips. “So,” he continued, looking at me and probably knowing better than to try and steal anymore food. “Brian's here?”

~~~


I looked at Kevin and waiting for an answer. That guy talks slow, but he's not usually this bad. I don't know why I was so interested in hearing about Brian, but it was sort of weird to me that he'd shown up a few days before he absolutely had to.

“Yeah, he's staying with Howie,” Kevin finally said. See Kevin, was that so hard?

And I laughed, because picturing Brian and Leighanne taking over Howie's house for a few days was hysterical. Howie's place would probably be completely redecorated by the time they left.

“And Howie allowed the aspiring interior decorator into his home? His lamps from Africa will be the first thing to go,” I laughed again, grinning at Kevin.

“Leighanne's not with him,” he replied shortly, giving me a look. Oh come on Kevin, don't act like I was making fun of Leighanne for no reason. There's a reason you knew exactly who I was talking about.

Still, husband was here without his wife?

“Huh?”

Kevin rolled his eyes like he was irritated with me. “She's not here. She's still in Atlanta.”

I bit my lip and looked at the ground. What the hell was Brian doing here without her? It couldn't be that he wanted to chill out with us, could it? There was no way. He didn't give two shits about us ever since he got married. Actually, he didn't give two shits about us ever since he'd met her.

So what the fuck was he doing here? And why the fuck did I care so much? It wasn't like we were best friends anymore. And it definitely wasn't like he was going to show up here asking me to play basketball with him. He probably didn't even want to see me.

“Are they coming over?” I asked, looking around again at the food Kris was preparing.

Kevin shook his head. “Nope.”

I shrugged and went back into the front room to continue playing my game. See? He wasn't here to see us.
Day 43 by Sakabelle
I wish that I could wake up with amnesia
And forget about the stupid little things

-5 Seconds of Summer 'Amnesia'


We showed up at Kevin's doorstep early the next afternoon. We hadn't even called him first, Brian and I just decided to go over there and surprise him.

He didn't even look annoyed at the two of us just standing there and showing up unannounced. Yet another sign that things were weird in the group. Normally Kevin hated that kind of thing. He's a planner and organizer through and through.

But he smiled when he opened the door to let us in, and then he wrapped both of us in a tight hug.

“Hey fellas,” he said after he pulled away. “Good to see you.”

Like we hadn't just seen him a week ago. I think the break was beginning to mess with the timing in our heads a little.

“Hey Kevin,” Brian said, smiling at him all the same. “Where's the little one?” he laughed.

I snickered a little bit too. Nick really was becoming like Kevin's kid as of late.

Kevin rolled his eyes like he was irritated, but I knew he wasn't. If he was, Nick wouldn't be staying at his place. Actually, he probably would be. But I still knew Kevin wasn't annoyed by his presence.

“He's playing video games in the living room.”

Brian nodded, shifting uncomfortably in his spot for a moment before slipping off his shoes and going off in search of Nick.

After he was gone, I turned to Kevin. “We thinking about an impromptu trip to the pier. Brian and I went there for a little bit yesterday, but we decided it'd be better with you guys.”

Kevin raised his eyebrow. “Really?”

“Yeah!” That actually had happened. We were there for about half an hour before we'd started reminiscing and finally deciding on coming back the next day with Nick and Kevin. Neither of us said it out loud, but I knew we were both thinking the same thing. It'd probably be a nice way to try and reconnect before the tour started... and the ocean would be a good distraction for Nick, who might bored with us easily.

“Okay,” Kevin shrugged. “Let me go get changed then.”

~~~


I walked into the living room and looked at Nick. He looked fine. I don't know what I was expecting – maybe that he'd be more banged up or that he'd look more pissed off.

But he looked normal – whatever normal was for him lately. He was just sitting on the sofa with his legs crossed, staring intently at the TV screen with a controller in his hand.

He was eerily reminiscent of the 13 year old kid I remembered. Just a lot taller.

“Hey Nicky,” I said, walking towards him,

He looked up at me for a split second before turning his attention back to his game. “Hi.”

“What'cha playing?” I tried, realising that I had no idea how to talk to him like we were friends.

He didn't even glance at me. “Final Fantasy,” he said, before drawing in a deep breath and glaring at the screen. Something must have happened in the game, but when I looked over at the TV I really couldn't figure out what it was.

“How're things?” I tried again.

“Shitty. They just killed my mage.”

I rolled my eyes. “I meant with you.”

“Oh. Fine,” he shrugged, zoning out and concentrating on the game again. So much for me trying to get through to him. I didn't even know what I'd say if and when I got there anyway, so it was probably for the best.

So I just decided to change the subject. “Howie and I thought that the four of us could go to the pier today.”

That got him to look at me. It was so easy to bait him. “The pier?” he asked, his voice brightening a little bit.

“Yeah. We could walk around or go swimming or something.”

Nick cocked his head to the side like he was considering it, but I knew he had already decided it was a good idea.

“Yeah, okay,” he said finally, tossing his controller to the side and walking off. “I'll go get my trunks.”

So predictable. At least he hadn't completely lost every facet of his personality.

~~~


Going to Santa Monica Pier actually turned out to be a really good idea, I had to hand it to Howie and Brian.

The four of us were walking along the board walk, eating ice cream, laughing and talking. Even Nick, who seemed lately like he couldn't care less about anything looked like he was happy.

“Where'd you get that swimsuit, Howie?” he giggled, walking a couple of paces behind us. “The clearance rack at Wal-Mart?”

I smirked at glanced at Howie. His swim trunks were bright orange with little palm trees scattered all over. Trust Nick to latch onto those and make fun. Whatever kept his brain occupied was fine with me – and making fun of Howie was always good for that.

“No Nick, for your information these are Calvin Klein.”

“Bullshit, they are not classy enough to be Calvin Klein.”

Howie rolled his eyes and I had to stifle a laugh. “Swim trunks don't have to be classy, Nicky. Besides, what would you know about that?”

Oh Howie, don't even try to dish it out on him. You'll just make it worse.

“My swim trunks are super classy,” he said, pointing downwards.

They actually weren't that classy. They were just plaid. But I guess they were classier than Howie's, which was probably Nick's less than articulate point.

“Uh huh,” Howie continued, clearly uninterested in engaging Nick any further. “I'm getting a coffee.”

“I'll join you,” I said, following him over to the stand. “Guys?” I asked, glancing over at Brian and Nick.

“Nah,” Brian shook his head. “Actually, I'm going to go down to the water... Nick?”

Nick glanced over at me, his eyes sort of wide and concerned. I think he was hoping I'd bail him out of going down to the water alone with Brian.

But I wasn't about to do that.

“Yeah, okay,” he said finally, scuffing his flip-flops along the boardwalk as he followed Brian down to the beach.

~~~


I followed behind Brian with my head down. I didn't know what the fuck I was supposed to say to him and I still had no idea why he was here and suddenly acting like we were his best friends.

Walking along the pier? We hadn't done that in... I couldn't remember the last time we'd done that. So that tells you how long ago it was. Probably when I was like, fourteen.

“Water's nice!” Brian called out to me. He was already up to his ankles in it. But he hadn't taken his shirt off, so he probably wasn't planing on going any further in.

I laughed and ran towards him, purposely kicking up water once my feet hit it.

It splashed all over his legs and trunks. Ha!

“Yeah,” I grinned, wading my feet around a little bit until the water was partway up my legs. Then I walked a little bit further.

“Jesus fuck!” I shouted as the water hit my crotch. No matter how warm it was, that part always sucks the most about going to the beach.

I actually heard Brian laugh behind me. He must have been following me. I sort of thought he wouldn't, which was why I'd gone in further, I guess. I stopped when the water was partway up my stomach.

“We're going back on tour soon,” he started, looking at me.

I raised my eyebrow. I didn't know what he was trying to do, but it really seemed like he was trying to have some sort of Kevin-like heart-to-heart conversation. Uh, no thanks, Brian.

“Yup,” I said, pressing my lips together.

He looked at me sadly for a second. I braced myself to tell him to fuck off when he started with the Kevin “I'm just concerned about you.” act, but he didn't. Instead he just sighed and smiled at me.

“We'll always be friends, Nicky,” he said softly.

If this was his way of starting something, I didn't give a shit. But I didn't really want to ruin our nice day, either. So I just took my hand and sliced it through the water, splashing him with a heavy dose of water. “You know it,” I laughed.

And he laughed too, splashing me back until the two of us were soaked.

“Think those old men are done with their coffees?” he laughed, water dripping off of his hair.

I snorted. “Kevin's probably not even done ordering.” I splashed him again.

“Yeah,” he laughed, using both of his hands to splash me and then throwing himself into the water in an attempt to swim away.

I chased after him, and I'm a much better swimmer than he is so it wasn't hard. I caught up to him, grabbing onto his legs and pulling him underneath before swimming away and grinning at him.

It was actually a pretty good day.
Day 44 by Sakabelle
You're out of luck
And the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck
And you're not movin' anywhere

-U2 'Beautiful Day'


I woke up early the next morning. It was the first time in a long time I didn't want to just roll over and go back to sleep.

The last day. Today was the last day of the break.

Okay, not really. I guess we weren't actually going to be back on tour until Friday... but today AJ was out of transitional care. Tomorrow we started rehearsals again (and it was Howie's birthday, so I could spend all day today working on a way to prank him) which meant everything was going to go back to normal.

The last day! I couldn't even go back to sleep if I wanted to. I jumped out of bed and rushed downstairs.

No one else was awake. I guess Kevin was going to spend his last day sleeping in. But not me! All I had to do was get through one more day of boring hell and then I'd be back to performing and doing what I do best.

It seemed like a lifetime ago that we were packing up the tour and heading home. Or since we were on TRL explaining to Carson Fucking Daly what had happened.

But now? Now I was wide awake and ready to wait for the day to be over. The last day!

~~~


I woke up that morning feeling refreshed. Imagine that, I wasn't the one who'd gone through rehab hell. I wasn't the one who had spent the past couple of weeks in a transitional care facility. But I was the one waking up as though the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders.

I turned to look at Kris and actually hugged my pillow as I watched her sleep. She looked so peaceful, like an angel. Just laying there with her wavy blonde hair falling around her face, her mouth slightly open.

I wished I could stay like this forever. Which was odd, because the reason I felt so refreshed and worry-free that morning was because it was the last day of the break.

Not the last day of being at home. And not the last day of Nick staying in my home. But the last day of being left to our own devices before rehearsals started again. Before the five of us were reunited as a group and before we were back to normal.

I didn't even know what normal was anymore, but I knew it wasn't this. It could never be this.

“I can feel you watching me you know,” Kris muttered.

It didn't startle me. I knew she'd wake up eventually. She always did when I woke up and didn't leave the bed. Probably because I shuffled around too much and not because she could feel my eyes on her.

I smiled and kissed her forehead. “Oh really?”

“Yes,” she grinned, her eyes still droopy with sleep. But that didn't stop her from pulling me in closer to her. “I could feel your big green eyes burning into my soul.”

I snorted. “You need to stop reading romance novels.”

“Oh really?” she whispered, kissing me softly.

Okay, maybe not.

“Kevin!” the bedroom door swung open and I was greeted with Nick's high-pitched voice.

I cursed my past self for not getting a lock on the door. Then again I'd never considered the possibility of Nick living with me and being a complete cock-block.

I leaned my head down and sighed, and Kris just laughed. “What?” I asked.

If he heard the annoyance in my voice, he completely ignored it. Why the hell was he in such a good mood? It wasn't even nine yet! Shouldn't he still be asleep for another three hours at least?

“Wake up!” he said, inviting himself into my room and opening the curtains. “It's a beautiful day. A beautiful perfect last day of the break!”

Ah. Of course. When everyone else in the world is content, Nick is manically happy. There's no even-keel with that guy.

Kris gave me a smile and got up, pulling a robe over herself as she walked out of the room. “I'll put some coffee on,” she said.

I glared at Nick. “You're a little shit,” I said, throwing a pillow at him.

He blocked it with his side and laughed, sticking his tougne out when he was done. “If I'm not gettin' any, you're not gettin' any.”

I wanted to hate him, but having him in my house really wasn't so bad. Especially considering the alternative. After all, happy (though irritating) Nick was better than drunken crying Nick.

And hopefully we'd see more of the former since (as he'd so gleefully pointed out) today was the last day of the break.

~~~


I forgot what it was like to be on tour with Brian and without Leighanne.

But as soon as she jumped on the foot of my bed at nine in the morning, I remembered. Where did this guy get his energy from? And why was I his target for release?

I knew the answer to that, because Leighanne wasn't anywhere around and he made up for that by reverting back to his old self. The one who constantly jumped around the tour bus and got into mischief with Nick.

It was a good thing Nick wasn't here too. They'd probably have cooked up some kind of horrible prank that was waiting for me. But Brian wouldn't do that on his own. He needed Nick the instigator to encourage him.

So instead he was just sitting cross-legged on the foot of my bed, grinning like a fool.

“Morning, Howie!” he exclaimed.

“Mmm,” I muttered, trying to savour a couple more precious moments of shut-eye as I rolled over and clung to my pillow.

“Breakfast?” he asked, ignoring my obvious need for sleep.

“No,” I replied, even though I knew I'd end up going out for breakfast with him. “Sleep.”

“Oh come on,” he laughed. “You don't need sleep.”

“It's out last day to sleep in,” I reminded him, since he didn't seem to remember.

“It's also our last day to go out for breakfast without commitments. Just you and me and mimosas.”

“Are you trying to seduce me?” I asked, still hugging my pillow and keeping my eyes shut.

“Ha! No,” he laughed, hopping off the bed.

That right there is the difference between him and Nick. Because Nick would have responded to that by crawling on top of me and creepily whispering in my ear. In fact, I would have known better than to make that joke in Nick's presence.

“Let's just go eat, come on,” he said, pulling at my arm. This guy is like a five year old, I swear to god. Especially when his wife isn't around to soak up all of his attention.

“Fine,” I mumbled, groggilly sitting up. I glanced over at the clock. 9:17.

At this time tomorrow we'd be back at it. It was weird to think about. Too weird – so maybe Brian was onto something with those mimosas.

“Just let me have a shower and get dressed,” I said, stretching as I got out of bed.

He nodded eagerly and wandered off, obviously happy with that answer.

~~~


I knew it wouldn't be hard to get Howie out to breakfast. That guy likes his sleep, but he's also easily convinced to go out.

Which was how we ended up sitting at a fancy French cafe he'd decided on.

I didn't really care where we went to eat, I just knew I wanted to get out of the house and act normal for a day. For the last day before everything went back to...

Well, I hoped it wouldn't go back to normal. Because normal meant AJ drinking and flaking out of performances. Normal apparently meant Nick drinking and while he'd never flaked out of a performance, I was sure he was well on his way.

But maybe without AJ the instigator around, Nick would change his tune. Maybe he'd finally shape up.

Maybe our new normal would be us actually being a functional group, instead of just playing one on TV.

“What do you think it'll be like?” I asked Howie out of the blue. At that moment I was glad that I was out with him and no one else. Because he was the only one who'd give me an honest answer. Obviously I'd never be able to talk to Nick about this and Kevin... well he was either too optimistic or too worrysome. There was no in-between with that guy.

“What?” he asked, raising an eyebrow and taking a sip of his second mimosa.

What? They were on two for one!

“You know what,” I said, lowering my voice a little. Not that anyone was listening to us. “Tour.”

He shrugged. “More of the same, I guess.”

“Really?”

“Well, hopefully not more of the same with AJ. Maybe more of the same of the good parts. More good parts, less worry. Like we can actually enjoy it again.”

I wondered if that was putting too much pressure on AJ. He couldn't be to blame for all of our issues, could he? He wasn't the reason that we dreaded spending another year on the road or that all of five of us had our individual issues with each other.

How could he be responsible for our collective burnout?

I took another sip of my mimosa and contemplated ordering another one, but I didn't.

I studied Howie, but I kept the same easy smile on my face the whole time. Maybe I was the only one feeling the burnout. Which obviously meant that it wasn't collective. And even more obviously meant it wasn't AJ's fault.

I supposed I'd find out tomorrow once all five of us were back together.
Day 45 by Sakabelle
I wanna have it all
Happiness and love
All around

-AJ McLean 'Have It All'


“It's fucking early.”

“Shut up, Nick.” I rolled my eyes. The two of us were the first ones at the studio. Well, aside from some crew and a couple of managers. The first ones of the group.

Which was never the case. I don't think Nick's ever been the first person to show up somewhere in his entire life.

“I mean it,” he said, stuffing half of a muffin into his face. “It's fucking early.”

“Maybe if you would have slept in more yesterday, you wouldn't be so tired.”

“Oh right,” Nick said, rolling his eyes. He licked his fingers and grabbed another muffin off of the table. “It doesn't work like that, Kevin. Can't just sleep in and then when I'm tired say 'oh well better use some of that sleep I got when I slept in the other day! That isn't-”

He stopped when he realised I wasn't listening to him. Which was actually unlike him, but I think that once he saw the reason why he didn't care to argue about sleep anymore.

AJ had just walked in.

Sarah was at his side, holding his arm and looking at him lovingly. She was so much taller than him – it was still weird to get used to. I'd really only met her a couple of times before that.

“Hey fellas,” AJ said, walking over to us with an easy smile on his face. He hugged me first, and then he moved onto Nick.

“How's it going, J?” Nick asked, his face full of muffin again. Sometimes I think he does stuff like that on purpose. Actually, I know he does stuff like that on purpose.

He grinned. It was so good to see him like this – back in our regular environment and looking happy and excited to be there.

I might have teared up a little.

“Great,” he said, wrapping his arm back around Sarah. “Just great. I brought Sarah here to chill out during the first part of the rehearsal. I hope that's okay.”

I nodded. “That's fine.”

“So where're the other guys?” he glanced around, but of course neither Brian or Howie were around. “Gotta give Howie birthday beats.”

Nick's eye widened. He must have forgotten that today was Howie's birthday.

I shrugged. “They'll be along. Soon, I hope. Brian's staying at Howie's place actually.”

AJ furrowed his eyebrows. “Is he a masochist?”

I had to stifle a laugh. Nick didn't though. “Leighanne's not with him.”

“Huh,” AJ said, clearly thinking that was strange as he was brought up to speed. “Oh hey, speak of the devil!” he laughed as Brian and Howie walked into the studio.

~~~


I felt better as soon as I saw AJ standing there with Nick and Kevin. Not because I'd felt bad on the way to the studio, but I just felt better as soon as I saw him.

It was like everything was right with the world again.

“Hey man,” I said, walking over to AJ and hugging him tightly.

“Happy birthday, D,” he grinned, pulling away and turning to hug Brian. I wondered if he actually remembered on his own that it was my birthday or if one of them had told him. My money was on Nick because he never missed a chance to pull a prank.

“Thanks,” I said, unable to hide the happiness on my face. “Glad to have you back.”

“Glad to be back,” he stressed, giving me a bit of a look. “I can't wait to get back on stage and back out on the road. Oh, D, you've met Sarah before, right?” he asked, nodding his head towards here and completely changing the subject.

“Yeah,” I nodded, but I shook her hand all the same. “Hi.”

“Hi,” she replied, giving me a smile. I wondered what all of this must have been like for her – she and AJ hadn't been dating very long before he'd gone into rehab. Maybe a couple of months. It was a strange time for her to come into his life, but probably a good one. AJ needed all of the support he could get and she seemed different than the other girls he'd dated.

“Well, should we get to it?” Nick asked, interrupting our small talk. Since when was he so eager to get to work?

“What, you got some elaborate prank planned for when we're rehearsing?” I asked with a laugh.

He looked mock-offended, clapping a hand onto his chest. “No Howie, I can't believe you would think that! I just think we need to get moving before you get any older!” he laughed, slapping me on the back as he walked out onto the floor.

I shook my head, but I figured he was right. There was no use procrastinating. Our tour wasn't going to run on Backstreet time.

Not anymore, at least.

~~~


Turns out that when you do a show approximately ten thousand times, the choreography sticks itself in your brain. Aside from a couple of hiccups, all of us still knew it pretty well. Even AJ, whose mind had been in another place for god knows how long still hit every move like he'd just performed the show yesterday.

Rehearsing the call was particularly entertaining. We watched AJ run through his little bit on stage where he “answered his phone” and then we just launched into it.

It wasn't like I hadn't seen him do it before. Of course I had – and I had in a dance studio during rehearsals as well.

But the last time he'd done it, he'd run through it so quickly and really hadn't seemed like he'd cared.

This time, he was all smiles as he overacted his part. “I'm sorry, I really can't talk right now,” he said with wide eyes, gesturing at his phone to all of us, who were cracking up. Even Kevin, who had fought to remove that part from the show, seemed to be enjoying it.

“I'm doing a show right now,” he sighed, dramatically, placing a hand on his hips. “Okay well, GOTTA GO!”

We laughed, walking over to him and getting into our formation for the dance as the track started to play.

“Let me tell you the story about the call that changed my destiny,” AJ sang, belting out the words to this song that I'd never liked as the rest of us danced behind him. He held his hands to his chest and sang every word with a power in his voice that I hadn't heard in a long time.

“Me and my boys went out, just to end up in misery,” this was the last song of the show, and every dance step still came to me without a second thought. It wasn't even work anymore – it was second nature. The part that felt like work was getting up every day and going to a different city. Doing interviews and trying to act normal. Trying not to wish I could take a little break and spend some time with my wife.

Not like I hadn't already done that, but she hadn't been with me for the past four days and it was starting to get to me.

“Was about to go home when there she was standing in front of me. She said hi,” he laughed, stopped and waving out into the crowd just like he always did. “I got a little place nearby, wanna go?”

Going through the routine of it all was easy. Actually feeling like my heart was in it? Well, that was a different story. But this was just the dance studio and a rehearsal. Maybe I'd feel differently once I was actually back out on stage.

~~~


After we were finished rehearsals for the day the guys (Kevin and AJ) had decided that we should go out to celebrate.

Which was how the five of us ended up sitting in a corner table at Koi. Since we were all back together and it was Howie's birthday it seemed like we should have.

The waitress came by to offer us drinks. The rest of the guys ordered pretty tame things – coke, water, iced tea. I fumbled around with the drink menu, just like I always did whenever I was at a restaurant. Not like I ever ordered anything off of there – my drink of choice was always the same.

“Yeah,” I said when she finally got to me. “I'll have a cor-”

Kevin kicked me underneath the table. What the fuck? I glared at him and he nodded his head slightly towards AJ. Okay Kevin, not like everyone else at the table can't see what you're doing. There's five of us sitting here, not five hundred.

But I got the hint. I wasn't stupid. “Coke,” I finished lamely, knowing he didn't want me to order any kind of alcohol around AJ. Whatever – after this I'd ditch them and go out and make my own fun. “Coke, yeah,” I repeated, handing the waitress the drink menu and flashing Kevin a grin.

He gave me a look for a second but didn't say anything. Probably didn't want to piss of AJ. Thank god, because I was sick of his fatherly advice. Not that he'd given me advice in a while, but his fatherly presence was enough and I needed a night out before we went back on the road and he was watching me like a hawk.

“Happy birthday, Howie!” I exclaimed, trying to change the subject from Kevin's angry face. “How's it feel to be over the hill?”

He raised his eyebrow and then shook his head. “Well for starters I'm only twenty-eight, so I'd hardly call that over the hill.”

“Pffft,” I laughed, waving my hand in his face.

“But it feels great,” he smiled. “I couldn't imagine a better birthday.”

Aw come on, Howie! Leave it to him to get all sentimental over nothing.

The other guys “awwwed” of course and Brian even leaned over to hug him. I just raised my eyebrows and nodded a bit. I guess it was nice for the five of us to be back together, but it wasn't the same as before. I felt like we were all walking on eggshells around AJ. Which was sort of weird because we were like that before, where anything we said could have set him off. But now it was different. Like with the not being able to order beer – the stuff we were all touchy about was different, but we were still touchy about stuff so it wasn't the same. It wasn't like we were totally comfortable with each other anymore.

I didn't have time to wonder ever would be again because the waitress showed up with our drinks.

And AJ picked his up. “I just want to say,” he said, holding his water glass high in the air. “That you guys are my brothers, and I can't thank you enough for the support over the past few weeks.”

Damn AJ. And few weeks? It felt like a lifetime.

“So I just want to propose a toast,” he nodded, and I think he was actually choking up. Really AJ? I couldn't decide if this was hilarious or if everyone else felt the same way.

I snuck a glance at Kevin. Tearing up. Well, that's not surprising. But Howie and Brian were watching him seriously too. So I guess everyone felt the same way as him.

I mean I was proud of AJ, but couldn't the five of us just go back to having fun instead of being super serious all the fucking time?

“To us, the strongest fucking group on the planet.”

Uh... really?

But we all just went along with it, clinking our glasses together like what he said was actually true. Maybe it was, and I was the only one who didn't feel that way. Maybe I'd feel different once we were back on the road, but probably not because when we were on tour was when they started to piss me off the most. Especially towards the end.

“And to Howie!” I laughed. “Cause it's his birthday. Happy birthday old man!” I grinned, trying to lighten the mood a little bit.

He laughed. “Thanks, Nicky.”

“To us,” AJ repeated. “And Howie.”

“And AJ,” Brian added, glancing around at all of us. “Welcome back, bro.”

“And AJ,” the rest of us affirmed, and I nodded my head. Yeah, that one was legit. I could deal with a toast to AJ. He looked a lot better, and I suppose that made this break from hell worth it.
Day 46 by Sakabelle

I've seen it all nothing shocks me anymore after tonight
I've seen the light but not the kind I would have liked

-Jake Bugg 'Seen It All'


“Where the fuck is Nick?”

The four of us were standing around the next day, back in the dance studio, waiting around for Nick.

At this point he was over an hour late. Which wasn't cause for calling the police yet, but it was enough to piss us off.

“This is unbelievable,” Kevin said, shaking his head. “He's the one who wants to go back on tour the most.”

I gave him a look. “You know that he doesn't care about actually performing, he only cares about the thousands of girls screaming his name.”

“He'll hear screaming when he gets here, alright,” Kevin muttered and I had to laugh. My cousin would never scream at Nick. Long drawn out lecture? Sure. But screaming? Never. Not for anything this tame. It was annoying, but it wasn't that bad.

Besides, it had given me time to sneak out and give my wife a good morning call, so I couldn't be too pissed off.

“Should we just start without him?” Howie suggested, sipping on his coffee as we stood around.

“No,” AJ said, shifting a little bit. He hadn't brought Sarah with him today. I wondered if she was going to join him on tour. Probably not – their relationship was still pretty new for that kind of craziness.

We all nodded. What would be the point in starting without Nick? We'd have to run through all of it with him again anyway. And he would show up eventually. He never just totally flaked out. Only a little bit. Only enough to get attention.

His whole life was about getting attention. It didn't matter what kind. And it didn't matter if he consciously knew he was doing it or not.

So we just stood around and waited.

~~~


The guys were gonna be pissed. I knew they were gonna be pissed as I jogged to the studio.

Okay, I didn't really jog. I maybe jogged a block. Then I walked the rest of the way. But whatever – they could start without me. It wasn't like I didn't know the entire two hour show by heart. I didn't even see why we needed to have a second day of rehearsals after yesterday had gone so well.

I wasn't even that late. I glanced up at a clock on a billboard on the street. I was like... an hour late. And it was so worth it.

Although Kevin was gonna be pissed because I didn't come home the night before. He'd probably walked into my room to wake me up and when he saw I wasn't there he'd probably sighed and started working on his lecture for me right that second.

I'd just get a lecture. And a small one too, because we had a rehearsal to get to. So I wasn't too worried. This wasn't the worst thing I'd ever done.

I gulped. I knew what that was. And I didn't even want to think about it. I'd learned my lesson – I hadn't driven home. I'd taken a cab to a hotel which this chick from the club. I didn't even have a car with me cause Kevin had driven me to the studio and I'd taken off right after dinner.

Still, I knew they were gonna be pissed so I bit my lip as I walked into the studio and rushed up the stairs.

I grinned at them and tried to put on my best sheepish face as I walked through the doorway. “Hey fellas,” I said, running a hand through my hair.

The tricks that work on girls don't work on them.

“Where were you?” Kevin barked. Like an old bitchy dog.

“Out,” I said, picking up a chocolate chip muffin off the catering table and taking a bite out of it. I hadn't realised how hungry I was until right that moment.

“The whole night?!”

“Yeah,” I shrugged. “Met this girl in a club.”

“It better be true love for you to be and hour and fourteen minutes late.”

The rest of them just stood there and watched as Kevin bitched me out. Way to come to my defense, guys!

I shrugged and laughed it off. “Yeah, I don't think so. Come on, let's do this,” I said, walking out onto the dance floor. “Let me tell you the story 'bout the call that changed my des-tin-ayyyy...”

~~~


Well it was good to see that everything was going right back to the way it was before we had gone back on tour. It was eerie actually. After the Nick incident we just ran through the entire show three times. Three times! And we ran through it like it was routine. No joking around, no wasting time.

I was sure Kevin just wanted to get out of there. I knew I did – I wanted to go see Leigh before we left for Houston early the next morning.

Brian probably wanted to get home and call Leighanne. Even AJ, who still looked happy just went through the motions. I think it was because he could tell that the rest of us were eager to leave.

Even Nick just danced and sang and didn't make any jokes or try to distract any of us. Which was probably the most telling. I knew he was in a mood because of Kevin. But mostly because he knew he'd done something wrong and didn't want to admit it to us and to himself.

So we just ran through the show and said our goodbyes when we were done.

This was just a minor setback. I was sure once we were back out on the road things would be different. We'd fall back into being a group again. Things were still a little weird from the break. It had been hard on all of us.

That's all it was. That's all it had to be.

~~~


“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Nick leaned his head against the passenger seat window as we drove back to my place. I couldn't help laying into him again, but I was so pissed off. I'd been pissed off the entire day and it had probably shown in my performance. Not that it was really a performance, so I knew I didn't have to waste energy on a stage persona.

Which was good, because it would have taken a lot of energy to act like everything was fine and goof around with Nick.

“What's wrong with me?” he shot back, getting defensive. Great. Because defensive Nick is always really easy to deal with. “What's wrong with you?”

“Nothing, Nick. Nothing is wrong with me. I'm not the one who showed up and hour and fourteen minutes late.”

“Just say an hour and fifteen minutes, Kevin. Nobody talks like that. Just round the god damn number up like a regular person who isn't so picky about every fucking thing!”

That should have pissed me off, but it didn't. Instead I laughed. Because it was true – I was picky about everything. Even though him being late (whatever number of minutes) what a perfectly legitimate thing to be picky about. “You're an idiot.”

“Fuck off,” he muttered, still obviously trying to be mad at me.

“What'd you do last night, then?”

“I already told you, I went to a club.”

“And had a one-night stand.”

“What other type of stand is there?” he smirked, looking over at me. That kid is such an idiot. He should write a book of his stupid observations. It'd be a best seller to drunken college frat boys everywhere.

I shrugged.

“Oh, Kevin,” he leaned over, poking me in the face with his finger. I shoved his hand away. “Don't act like you've never met a girl and taken her back to the hotel room.”

I had done that. And I was a shitty person for it because I'd been dating Kris since before we'd been in the group. Since before girls started throwing themselves at me.

And he knew that. “I don't have a girlfriend, so it's fine. Whatever. Free as a bird!” he laughed, stretching out his arms.

“You'll change your mind one day,” I said, shaking my head as I kept my eyes out on the road.

“I will not.”

I glanced over at him. He wasn't looking at me anymore. Instead, he was staring out the car window. I really hoped that I was right. That one day he would change his mind. About everything.
Day 47 by Sakabelle
So everybody, everywhere
Don't be afraid, don't have no fear
Gonna tell the world, make it understand
As long as there be music
We'll be coming back again

-Backstreet Boys 'Everybody'


The seatbelt sign is a little bitch. Especially when I spent the whole day so far unable to sit still.

Because you know where we were? We were on a fucking plane. To Milwaukee . To our first fucking tour date since the break had been over.

And for once, all five of us were on the same flight. That never happened! I mean, okay, that happened a lot. But not when we were all going to tour. Usually we just met up at the first date. We didn't all fly there together.

But this time we did. I felt like I was fifteen again! Except older and hotter and more experienced with women. But still!

“Kevin,” I said, leaning over to him. “Kevin, Kevin, Kevin, Kevin...”

“What?” he asked, not even looking up from his book.

“We're going back on tour,” I said, taking a sip of my coke and chewing on the straw.

“Oh, is that where we're going? I wasn't aware.”

Kevin was no fun. I don't think anyone else was as excited as me. Well, maybe AJ was. But he was being really quiet, just sitting in his seat and reading a book.

Actually, all of them were reading books. How could they be doing that? Why read a book? Real life is so much better! What kind of book could they be reading that would be better than what we were living? I didn't want to distract myself for one second!

“Milwaukee ,” I sang to myself. I could tell Kevin was getting annoyed, but I didn't care. Deal with it, Kevin! You're the one who chose the seat beside me, you knew what you were getting into. “Milwaukee Washingtoooooooon.”

Kevin sighed really loudly and I just giggled, squirming in my seat. I couldn't wait for the plane to land and for the car to take us to the venue. I couldn't wait to stand out on the empty stage and look around at all the seats we would fill. I couldn't wait for those seats to be filled and for the crowd to be chanting for us.

“Backstreet Boys, Backstreet Boys, Backstreet Boys...”

Just imagining it got my heart pumping and adrenaline surging throughout my body. The show tonight was going to be my best yet. I could feel it.

“Kevin,” I said again, leaning over to him. “Are you excited.”

“Yes, Nick,” he said, not looking up from his book. “I'm excited.”

I pouted a bit and chewed on one of my ice cubes from my drink. He didn't seem excited.

But he was old and no one would be screaming for him anyway.

~~~


We got to the venue early that afternoon. I took a deep breath as we stepped inside, and another one as I stepped out onto the empty stage.

There was nothing like looking out at an empty stadium. Nothing like knowing that it would soon be filled with fans who were there to see us. It was a little bit humbling. What was so special about the five of us? It was crazy to think that thousands of girls would be here just to see us.

“Glad to be back, D?” AJ asked, walking out onto the empty stage and slinging an arm around my shoulder.

I looked up at him. His eyes were clear and not hidden behind sunglasses. His hair was bleached, but it was starting to grow out. He looked calm and had a smile on his face.

The last time we'd done a show this wasn't how he'd looked. Was I glad to be back? Yeah, of course I was. But looking up at AJ, the thing I was happiest about was that he was glad to be back. That he was happy about anything and it looked real and genuine.

I didn't know if seeing him like that was something I'd ever get used to. I didn't want to take it for granted. After the past couple of years, he was lucky to be here. Lucky things hadn't gotten worse for him and lucky that he'd been able to get some help and that that help had actually helped him.

I gulped because my stream of consciousness was getting to be a little bit too much. Then I realised that I hadn't actually answered his question.

“Yeah, AJ,” I smiled, looking back out at the empty stadium. “I'm glad to be back.”

“Me too.”

~~~


My heart was pounding as we stood backstage. The house lights were down and the crowd was screaming. Leighanne was clinging to me, grinning and chanting along with the crowd. I loved how much she acted like a fan and supported our group. It was the best kind of motivation – I loved our fans, but she was the only woman I ever wanted to scream for me.

“Are you ready?” she whispered to me, rubbing my arm.

Ready? Yeah. Instead of starting our show with a bang we'd decided on something a little different. Something to acknowledge the fans for waiting around for us. So that they could know how grateful we were to them for allowing us to take the break when it was needed the most.

I nodded. “Yeah,” I said, taking a deep breath and kissing her on the forehead. “Gotta go,” I sang, winking at her as I let go and walked towards the stage.

Another deep breath and I prepared myself to step back out on the stage. For the fans to get their first glimpse of me since the lights had come on and we'd been on TRL.

They screamed of course. They probably weren't expecting to see me. If they'd seen the show before, they were expecting the first notes of Larger Than Life to start playing and for us to pop out of the bottom of the stage.

Instead they got me.

“Good evening, Milwaukee!” I said, and of course they screamed even louder. If that was possible.

“Before the show starts there's someone who would like to come out here and say a few words. Is that alright with you?”

More screams.

“Alright!” I sang, walking off the stage.

I tapped AJ on the hand, who was waiting in the wings. “You're up,” I said with a grin, feeling adrenaline rushing through my system. There was nothing like being on stage. Nothing. I wouldn't say it was the best feeling in the world, but it certainly was the most different. It energized me.

I was glad to be back. Eager to get on with the show.

“Thanks,” he said, grinning at me and walking out.

“Knock 'em dead!” I called after him, but I don't think he heard me. How could he? If they'd screamed loud for me, there was no word for how loud they were once they saw AJ.

~~~


I felt my chest tighten as I watched AJ from the side of the stage. I wasn't close enough to actually see, but I suspected he had tears in his eyes. I knew him well enough to know what he sounded like when he was choked up.

At least, I used to. And I was glad that he was familiar to me again.

I almost couldn't believe that I'd broken down his door just five weeks ago. And yet, of course I could. Because if I hadn't done that, where would we be now? Would we be in Europe for the next leg?

Something worse?

I couldn't let myself think about that. Not now. Not when he looked so genuinely happy to be back.

“Milwauuuukee,” he said, and the crowd continued to scream. At this point they couldn't get any louder.

I looked over at the other guys. Howie, Brian and Nick were all standing with me, watching AJ address the crowd.

“Man it is good to be back,” AJ started, his voice cracking a little bit. Truer words had never been spoken. I couldn't wait to get out on stage, but that wasn't the best part of this day. This was. Right now.

“I'm trying not to cry.” I would have laughed a little bit if I wasn't trying so hard as well. I glanced over at the others. I could tell Brian and Howie were feeling the same way. Nick? Well, he didn't really get emotional. But he was standing there watching, bouncing on his feel a little.

“I thank you all for the support, the love and letting me do what I had to do to get myself, myself, see my speech is still screwed up, back.”

I gulped, forcing the tears down my throat. I heard Howie choke back a sob and I looked over as Brian placed a supportive hand on his shoulder.

Nick kept bouncing on his feet, his fists clenched together. I could tell he was eager to get back on stage. Because this was what he lived for, and the past six weeks must have killed him. Hell, I knew they were hard on him. They were hard on all of us.

But that was behind us now. We'd get on with the show. Many shows, I hoped.

As far as I was concerned, our story was far from over.
Chapter End Notes:
Thanks everyone for reading. Sorry for taking so long to finish this x


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