1. Chapter One by Rose
2. Chapter Two by Rose
3. Chapter Three by Rose
“We just want to thank you guys again for coming out here for the thirtieth anniversary tonight…”
I decided then to tune Kevin out. Just for the moment. I love the guy, but when he gets emotional, he can go on and on. Practically for forever. April has been a month of mixed emotions during the past few years now and it always has me more often than not stuck in my own head. April is what brought me the group that absolutely saved my life. I wouldn’t be here today if not for the fellas. I know that now. It was also the month that gave me my oldest child Odin.
It also reminded me of what I’d lost.
It’d been three and a half years since I lost Lauren. Three and a half years yet right in that moment it felt like yesterday. I was sitting there fresh off of what would’ve been our ninth anniversary. All because of complications during our daughter’s birth. The baby made it into the world, a blessing, our lost daughter returning to us. That’s what it felt like since the year before Lauren had miscarried what would’ve been a baby girl. This time she was here, but Lauren died due to complications during the labor. That’s how the doctor put it at first, “complications”.
She was supposed to be named Saoirse Reign Carter. In the end I had to name her something else, Michelle Lauren Carter, after the mother who had given everything to her. I wanted her to always carry her mother with her, knowing she’d never know her the way she should have.
The first year had been the hardest. Looking back I’m still shocked I didn’t relapse into my old ways of coping. Drugs, getting blackout drunk? All it never seemed so damned tempting. But my kids needed me. Our kids. They only had me. And I would never subject them to all the trauma I’d been raised in. They deserved so much more. So much better. I was determined to give it to them. Instead I threw myself into the group, into my work.
Thanks to this I ended up never home, and hired on a nanny so the kids could be on tour with me. When it wasn’t BSB related gigs, I was churning out a solo tour. I wrote a new movie. I made a new album. Anything and everything to keep me working and my mind busy. I didn’t want to sit still. The idea of being at the house surrounded by all the memories of the love I’d had and watched get stolen away... it felt like hell. I avoided it at any cost.
During the second year, came therapy. Kevin had talked me into it. In Kevin’s Kevin way of forcing you if you want me to be honest. He threatened to sick Kristin on me if I didn’t listen and I love her but she’s never one I want angry at me. He’d told me that I had them all worried with my workaholic coping. I never took a break. I barely slept. Wonderful Union staff were worried at my VIPs. I was just wrapping up another solo album in between all the tour dates. Music was the best thing to keep me from thinking. I’d already made plans to try and pitch my new script to SyFy. In a way working had become almost as addictive as drugs had been once, which apparently they were all scared would be the next step due to my past.
“I don’t want to see you hitting the headlines in the same ways Leslie and Aaron did.”
Being reminded of my baby brother’s deadly overdose was enough to drive me into therapy.
Another one I couldn’t save.
Therapy helped more than I can say. It helped me learn how to deal and see things for what they were once again. I’d gotten trapped in a haze of grief that nothing was as it really was anymore. It didn’t make the pain go away. Nothing could do that. Not completely. It taught me how to live with it. It let me get to a point where I could accept that it may fade yet never disappear. In doing this, I was able to take a step back again. I could handle the periods where I wasn’t on stage or in a studio without wanting to scream or rage at the unfairness of it all. My kids became the center of everything once again, the way they should be. They were all I had left of Lauren. Living proof of the love we carried between us.
A love I carry alone now.
Sometimes, AJ liked to try and fix me up.
I don’t mind it now as much as I used to. At first I punched him for it. I got lucky in that he forgave me for it, and actually apologized for suggesting it too soon. I punched him in the face and yet he was the one who said he was sorry. How’s that for making you feel like a massive dick?
It’s hard to sink when everyone keeps diving in to keep you from drowning, If there’s anything I learned over the years it’s that the ones who matter end up riding with you through waves of shit. It’s why I considered them family in the end and it’s why I hoped maybe, just maybe, I’d be an okay dad, It still hurt though, every day. It’d become more a dull ache or that moment where I reach for her in the morning before remembering that she’s no longer there.
A sharp elbow to the side brought me back to reality. You’d think at forty three Kevin would stop trying to father me around. You would be dead damn wrong. I grinned sheepishly at him and did a little shrug that caused the fans in the small crowd to laugh. They must have caught me spacing too. Oops. No wonder Kevin was glaring at me. When the fans notice, to him that meant we were cheating them an experience. I couldn't say he was wrong in thinking so. I just couldn't help when my mind wandered, it happened more often ever since I became a widow.
Fuck, I hated that word.
We were doing an anniversary event to kick off our second residency in Las Vegas. The sales this go around were even crazier than the first run and broke even more records. Now this one, dubbed yes, you guessed it Backstreet's Back was the fastest selling residency in the city now. Smashing our own Larger Than Life production's sales from 2017. Fans were picked from random from the fan club and invited for a live stream being recorded right at Zappos Theater in Planet Hollywood. We were still on top and sometimes I kept wondering if or when it would all end, having never forgotten the Kevin-less years when everyone pretended we didn't exist and we did our damnedest to tread water.
"I have a question for Nick." A young girl who had to be a fan thanks to her mom since she was no older than 19, said as she stood with the microphone. Our newest fan support staff from Wonderful Union, Casey, had given it to her before giving me a small smirk. She'd been with us for about three months now and helped Kat run the VIPs.
"If he's done daydreaming." Brian quipped from the other side. Yeah, I was surrounded. I think they knew if Howie was sitting next to me, I would've been even more sidetracked picking on him. Thirty years and that shit still hadn't gotten old.
I laughed. "I am, I promise. What's your question….?" I waited for her name.
"Tami." I smiled more encouragingly as I ran a hand through my hair. I had to dye it to keep the grey out now. I refused to accept looking old until I had to.
"I just wanted to ask you, if your solo album had been successful like...Justin Timberlake." A solid chorus of boos made me laugh again. I had no problems with the members of NSYNC, several were my friends but none of us liked Justin. "Do you think you still would've come back to the group or stayed solo?"
For such a young fan she knew her music history.
AJ looked slightly startled by the question. We’ve all worked past it but he was the one most hurt by my first attempt at a solo record. At first I never understood why. By all rights that should’ve been Brian who’d been the one insisting we get back in the studio. Or Kevin who’d spearheaded the battle against The Firm at the time while I’d chosen to stay with them so I could make Now Or Never happen. But Kevin had understood that I needed to break free and try to find myself. My true rebellion against the only real family I had at the time. Howie had been the one who recognized more than anyone I needed them to stand by me.
Years later I realized it was because AJ had wanted to do it himself but had been scared, and was mad at me for going there first. He’d flirted with it doing his charity Johnny No Name project but I’d gone in head first saying to hell with the consequences, and he’d been jealous. That on top of the album delaying the group one (something I hadn’t known at the time), made AJ act out the most about it. Even now after the old wounds had long since healed, my 2002 record was still a sore spot for him.
I smiled. “I know I would have. I think I wasn’t ready to go solo but Now or Never did what it needed to. It gave me the space I needed to sort out who I was, beyond being a Backstreet Boy. I don’t see it as a failure. I see it as something I needed to grow.” I shrugged. “If it’d succeeded I still would’ve gone back because they’re my brothers and I would’ve missed making music with them.”
Kevin grinned as he bumped my shoulder. “It’s one of many reasons I came back. I missed what we had together.”
Brian pretended to cry then, causing all the fans to laugh among the chorus of awws , “I love you guys!”
Meanwhile Howie snorted. “We can’t get rid of each other no matter what happens.”
I let my attention wander as Casey let another fan ask a question, this one directed at AJ. In so many ways I knew I was blessed. Few people were lucky enough to have a successful thirty year long career in music the way I did. Sometimes though, I still felt cheated. My childhood growing up was a documented disaster. My mother was in an institution, two of my siblings were dead and gone due to succumbing to the same demons that almost got me. Though I was close to Angel and even BJ started coming around over the past few years, once she realized our mother had poisoned and warped our relationship.
I had two beautiful children that I loved more than life itself. Yet I’d lost Lauren and they were cheated out of having their mother raise them. Life was so contradictory. I was thankful for what I did have but sometimes I felt like I was waiting for the bubble to burst, for more shit to rain down upon me now that I’d found a sense of peace and tranquility again.
If Kevin could hear my thoughts in that moment he’d say I was stuck in my head too much.
“Okay guys, thank you so much for joining us today! Remember the Backstreet’s Back Las Vegas residency starts up on Wednesday, April 26th! There’s still tickets available over at BackstreetBoys.com!”
Finally the cameras turn off, and the fans are led out of the venue.
“You doing okay Nick?” I hear Kevin immediately ask.
I nodded. “I’m good, time of year and shit.”
“If you need to talk, you know we’re not far.”
I smirked. “You should just move here. I know you love California and all but it’s nice being fifteen minutes from your house after a show. Not that I’m knocking the penthouses at Caesar’s.”
“Maybe I will.”
If any of them ever moved to Vegas I knew it’d be because they were truly worried. “Yeah okay.”
Howie checked his phone before looking up. “Really Nick. We know this isn’t easy for you.”
“I’m good. Really.”
“You know, Rochelle’s got a friend that lives out here and…”
I shook my head again. “Nah not right now.”
“I’m heading out.” I felt Brian’s hand on my shoulder. “But we’re having a barbecue at my place this weekend.” He always rented a house when we had our runs here. “Baylee’s even going to come out for the residency launch.” Baylee never made a lasting splash in country, but ended up finding a solid niche as a songwriter in the last year or so. It wasn’t the future Leighanne planned for him but he was happier than I’d ever seen him on stage. All the love of music without the pressure. I rooted for the kid and all but you could tell the performance part wasn’t his true passion. Songwriting was it. He did it damn well too.
“Sure. Odin and Shelly will love it.”
As everyone started to disperse, I caught Casey helping clean up. Like me, she actually lived out here though on the other side of town closer to the mountains. Most people don’t know this but Vegas was really spread out and acted more like a small town than the huge city it was. “I don’t think the fans noticed you spacing too much.”
I smirked at her calling me out like that only after the fellas left. “They did but most of them get it.”
She nodded, pausing for a moment to tie her long brown hair back into a ponytail. “We all do. You know they and the guys would’ve understood had you not wanted to do the event today. All you had to do was say something.”
“I know.” I went to help her pack some of the snacks up. “I like working and the fans are why I’m lucky enough to still be doing this.”
“Oh Nick you don’t have to help, you’re paying me remember?” She laughed, her green eyes brightening as she did.
“Yeah I know but Angel’s got the kids for another hour and…” I shrugged, suddenly feeling vulnerable. I hated that damn feeling more than anything these days. “The idea of going back to an empty house doesn’t sound good right now.” I said easily. Something I’d never admit to the fellas. They’d hound me if I did.
“Then thanks.” I picked up another box and followed her out the back. I knew Mike would figure out soon enough where I was so I didn’t bother to text him. If he was worried enough he’d hit me up. But after so many years as my bodyguard he knew how I was by now. I tried not to notice the movement of her hips as I walked, but I even wrote a song about butts at one point. Casey, well she was interesting and she was sweet. I liked talking to her. Mainly because like the fellas, when I did, I noticed she would actually listen. When you grow up a pop star you realize how many people can’t listen because they’re too caught up in the image.
“You got quiet on me again.” She said out of nowhere. “Up in your brain again?”
I loaded the box into the van with her. “Just wondering if you had my poster on your wall when you were a kid.” I teased to chase her off the subject. “You never answered the last time I asked.”
“And I’m not going to.” She turned around and poked me in the chest playfully, looking up at me. She was barely 5’5”. I was practically a giant in comparison. Somehow it always amused me though.
“That answers it for me.”
The victory was in the blush of her cheeks that followed. “Nickolas Carter you are something else.” She started back inside. “And that wasn’t an answer by the way.”
Another laugh followed as I let her lead me inside, trying to shove away more dark thoughts.
Every day was a battle, you see.
And I thought that might always be the case.
Sometimes, being a celebrity had its perks.
You can see a lot of cool shit. Like today. I was on my way to the Luxor for their newest exhibit on Ramses II. They’d found a few hidden chambers of his in Egypt about a year ago and the artifacts along with the mummy itself were touring the world. Right now they would be in Las Vegas over the next couple of months. I wanted to take Odin as he was old enough to appreciate it. Michelle though was a bit too young and I knew if I took one and not the other it’d break my daughter’s heart. So Angel took the kids to the movies while I enjoyed this solo.
Would you believe none of the fellas wanted to see this with me?
And all of this was because I saw a news clip on Twitter, so I tweeted about it. Then I got the invite to come down. Like I said, sometimes being famous had perks. So there I was, getting early access to this whole experience before the general public and was promised a bit of a tour through the relics that weren’t fully ready for display just yet.I was excited.
In fact I was already live streaming as I drove down towards the Strip.
“Good morning everybody! I’m just driving right now to the Luxor. The kids are with their Aunt Angel. I’m getting an early peak at the new Ramses the Second exhibit that’s opening up to the public in a couple weeks. So I’m off to see some MUMMIES. How badass is that?” I grinned as I pulled up to a red light and glanced to where my phone was in a holder on my dashboard. “Don’t worry, I’m at a light that’s why I’m looking at the comments now.”
I smirked at one that said ‘Be careful. Didn’t you watch The Mummy?’
“I did and you know, I think I’d be battling just as good as Brenden Frasier did. Definitely better than Tom Cruise. Bring it on Imhotep.” I glanced up as the light changed. “Okay I gotta drive again.”
It was a beautiful day in Vegas, despite the heat the town usually had clear blue skies for miles. I fell in love with this city back in 2017. The locals respected celebrities enough to leave them alone on their downtime and if you stayed clear of the Strip most of the time then you could avoid tourists who would try to watch and pester you when I was “off” so to speak. All the perks of a major city yet it felt like a small town if you got away from downtown. What I thought would be a temporary move ended up being permanent.
I thought I’d move, after losing Lauren. But oddly despite me wanting to travel all the time in an effort to avoid anything familiar, Vegas still managed to feel like home every time I came back. So I stayed. I thought about selling the house and moving at least into a different one. Southern Highlands had enough options and I did love the community there. But anytime I thought about it I couldn’t pull the trigger. Another way of hanging on I guess. Sometimes I could stand in the living and if I tried hard enough, I could hear her voice calling me, or the way she’d laugh when I was in one of my stupider moods. In a new house I knew it wouldn’t be so easy. So yes, it was a way to keep myself from letting go. Kevin used to suggest I find a new place, but finally he realized I wasn’t ready.
I guess I wasn’t ready for a lot of things.
I adjusted my phone as I hit another light. One of the downsides of Vegas is when you’re forced to drive down Las Vegas Boulevard. Be prepared for tons of tourists walking whenever they wanted and for it to take ten times longer than it should. It was better than any traffic ever in Los Angeles but still. I grinned at the camera, knowing the fans would love it.
‘ Why aren’t the kids there?’
“Why didn’t I bring the kids with me?” I laughed. “I thought about bringing Odin but Shelly is too young and I didn’t want to upset her by leaving her out. I might try to bring both of them when the exhibit officially opens but I was too nervous to bring her with me today. She’s too much like her daddy, long limbs and still learning how to handle them. Maybe later I’ll do another storytime live while I read to her.”
I scrolled through more of the comments while I fixed my hair. I swear these live videos are better than a damn mirror. “Don’t worry. I’m paying attention to the traffic too. Next solo album...I’m not sure. I’m trying to balance that with the group. Whenever I feel the itch you’ll know.”
It wasn’t too long before I was driving up again, pulling around to park on one of the upper levels where I knew I wouldn’t attract much attention. I waved at my phone screen where the fans were still peppering questions as fast as they could. I loved social media. The fans were always there for me no matter how tough things got. They were there through the shit Melissa Schuman and her psychotic family tried to do to me (and my fans), the struggles with Aaron and my mother, and of course through the loss of Lauren. In my darkest times, they could be my light. I knew I always wanted to be the same for them.
‘ We love you Nick! We’re here for you.’
‘Ride or die through everything!’
‘Did you say the latest about Thirsty Melissa?’
‘Hey, no need to bring HER up.’
I couldn’t help the smirk that formed as the thought of Melissa popped into my head even though I didn’t reply to that particular comment. It’d been awhile since she had. Mainly what goes around, had finally come back around. Last year, Melissa’s stalking of my family got a judge to grant me a five year restraining order that solved a lot of problems. After it got granted it sparked the story in the media again but this time questioning her story, her behavior, and her motives. Old friends of hers even spoke up as a result of her trying to pay them to lie about me and explaining they’d been afraid to do so before due to threats from her equally crazy father. In the end I was proven right but stains never quite fade. The effects her psychotic agenda had on my brother, I still believed were a major factor leading to what happened to him. If there was a hell that’s where she’d go.
Still, Karma is a bitch.
Just a few months ago it came out that the rape accusation that destroyed her now ex-husband’s dancing career back in 2021 was a false accusation from a fellow dancer who hated his religious bigotry. The truth came out too late to save anything, including their marriage. One lie ruining everything. Sound familiar? It shattered what was left of her credibility. She was blacklisted from everything including those advocate speeches she used to give thanks to trying to ruin my life.
Hard to feel sorry, though.
“Sorry guys, I got mummies to see! Shh, top secret. This thing won’t open for another two weeks. I’ll let you know how it is later. Byyyyyye!” I turned it off and climbed out of the range rover.
Part of me wished I wasn’t here alone. Lauren would’ve loved this shit. But I wasn’t about to not let myself have fun just because I had to do it solo. I couldn’t let myself stop living. It was something I often had to remind myself. If I didn’t, it was too damn easy to slip back into the darkness that almost got me before. I couldn’t let that happen. For Michelle, for Odin. I had to be there for them and be the parents mine never managed to become.
The owner of the exhibit, Carlos...something. I probably should’ve been nice enough to learn his last name. Shit. Oops. Well, it shouldn’t come up, right? I hoped not. He smiled as I was let inside past the somewhat cheesy neon lit Egyptian symbols. I’d expect nothing less in Vegas. Here, I’d be more shocked if it wasn’t in neon lights.
“Thank you again for letting me see this.”
“You’re welcome. Besides,” He chuckled. “My sister grew up a big fan of yours. She made me listen to your music as a kid just like everyone else that grew up in the nineties.”
I shook my head trying not to smile. I heard that a lot but it was something I never got used to. I just didn’t think of myself as the type to influence a generation like that. “I’ll make sure I sign a few things for her if you want.” I offered. “I’m sure she’d love it.”
He brightened. “That would be great. Thank you.” We walked along the halls into the first room which displayed a lot of artifacts. The set up was as if you were walking through an actual burial chamber. “There’s staff around if you need anything but I want you to get the full experience. Let us know if you need anything.”
And I was left alone surrounded by various pots, statues, and yes, mummies. I assumed the main one, Ramses the Second was probably at the end. I looked at some of the plaques describing the displays. Apparently these were some of his priests, sent to be buried with him so they could serve him in the afterlife. Hmm.
I used to never think much about heaven or hell. I would probably describe myself best, when I was younger agnostic at best. I thought there was some kind of god most likely. Did I know though? Hell no. But I respected people who seemed to know. I had to, growing up around Brian with his steadfast faith. Or even Kevin. Sometimes, I even got jealous. After Lauren entered my life, I thought maybe there was a God. I seemed to be pretty blessed with the life I was able to live. But after she died…
I wondered if maybe I was wrong. Maybe it was just random chance that life would give me the crazy highs and bottomless lows. It felt easier to believe that than to think my suffering anytime I found true happiness was part of some grand plan. If there was a God and that was the case? He had a sick sense of humor and there were a lot of things I wanted to say about it. I’d like to think my wife was up there watching over me, the way Brian always said she was. But that required my giving faith into what I felt was a fucked up God. I was torn. It was easier to not think about it. So I didn’t.
But in a place like this where obviously a whole culture’s ways and beliefs about what happens after you die, it got my brain going in a way I didn’t want it to go. So I continued down the hall and away from what Ancient Egyptians believed the afterlife contained. I read more information about Ramses himself, like finding out the Greeks called him Ozymandians. Which, what the hell? That isn’t even remotely similar. And this guy ruled Egypt a long time compared to other Pharaohs, a solid sixty six years. He was also a redhead and yeah, it’s a stereotype but I wasn’t thinking of that when I pictured it.
Looking at sarcophagi, I was suddenly flooded with thoughts about my own life. Egyptians made their own mark on the world. I guess you can say I’ve done the same. But really I just wanted to have my kids remember me with love. A long, long, long time from now. As much as I at times wished it’d all end, and I wished that more times than I ever wanted to admit...all I wanted now was to live. As hard as life was, I wanted it. I guess in that way, I was a lot better off than I was years ago.
Growth and all.
When I got to the final room, it was almost set up as a memorial. The area was dimly lit with a soft light surrounding the pedestal that hosted the glass case protecting Ramses II inside the open sarcophagus. Looking at mummies can be weird as shit because it’s a petrified human. But it’s also fucking cool. Set up in similar type stands were different figures, statues, and pottery that had been found in his burial chamber. Then just behind him on a small stand was a plate depicting one of the largest legends about him in various hieroglyphs.
A bible story but shit, it was one of the ones shown in a bunch of action movies that even I knew the basics of it. Despite Brian’s best efforts my bible knowledge was pretty weak. I went in to get a closer look and felt my leg get caught on itself. The dangers of having long limbs is sometimes you can’t control them. I saw myself lurch forward and it seemed like everything in that moment was moving in slow motion. I couldn’t catch myself fast enough.
I tried and in doing so knocked the plate off and cringed as it crashed onto the floor.
Smashing into who knows how many pieces.
Seconds later before I could even react to what I just did, everything started shaking. Suddenly I wasn’t giving two shits about breaking a priceless relic. I was diving for cover. It wasn’t my lucky day as there wasn’t much. Then again not much was falling from the ceiling as the ground trembled violently. Now I used to live in California. Earthquakes happened. But not in Vegas, at least not often. Definitely not this strong.
As suddenly as the quake started, it stopped.
Security rushed in before I could make heads or tails of it.
“Mr. Carter! Are you alright?!”
Slowly I stood, taking a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m good. Thanks.”
I probably should’ve admitted that I broke the plate. Not the quake. I was too scared to, I admit it. Instead I let myself be guided back outside after insisting again and again I was fine. Wasn’t their fault there was an earthquake, right? I took the win. Besides I knew Angel couldn’t keep the kids entertained forever. It was time to head home.
So head home I did.
I never light up as much as I do when I see my kids.
“DADDY!!!!” Shelly practically lunged herself at me. It was funny in that she had Lauren’s dark brown hair and her shade of blue eyes, but her face was all me. She reminded me of Leslie, which also hit where it hurts if I let it.
“Whoa!” I pretended to fall backwards onto the couch. “Getting stronger there princess.”
Angel smirked as she came up with Odin beside her and her own 4 year old daughter Harper who made a beeline for the TV. “I don’t know how she’s still running around. She’s been chasing her brother all day.”
I shrugged. “She’s an energizer bunny.” I grinned down at her while tickling her sides. “Aren’t ya?”
“Auntie Angel took us to Wet n Wild!” Odin declared with a grin. He was the perfect blend of myself and Lauren. My blonde hair and eyes but his face was more his own. Some from me, some from her. He didn’t share my love of performing and while part of me wished I could’ve bonded over music with him, another part of me was relieved. I wanted better for him. Maybe even normal. He was so smart too, learning came easier for him than it ever did for me. I’d look at him and think about how he could do anything, anything he wanted.
Shelly however, was a mini me and I suspected would end up following my footsteps. I wasn’t against this but I had bigger dreams. But I wanted to support her passions as best I could. Do what was best for her , something I wasn’t lucky enough to have. She shared my love of music, had my wild energy and loved showing off for people. Easily a performer in the making. But unlike with me, I knew I wouldn’t let her go for it till she was old enough to handle it and with me by her side to protect her. Like Kevin did for me. Unlike my parents trusting me in the hands of Lou. Time would tell if I was right about what her future would hold.
“Did she…?” I smirked. “Then that means I need you straight in the shower before dinner.”
“Daaaaaaaad…” I watched my son whine, side eying me in a way only Lauren used to be able to do.
“Those are the breaks pal.” I grinned down at Michelle as Angel headed into the kitchen. “Time for you to get one too.”
“Will u sing daddy?”
I found myself laughing. It was my own fault. She used to hate bathtime. The only way I could get her to cooperate was to play music for her. I’d sing along mainly due to my inability to not sing when music was playing. Turned out she loved it. I’d been trying to wean her off that but it wasn’t going well. Least it wasn’t Baby Shark . Odin drove me crazy with that shit when he was her age. It was mainly oldies. Lots of sixties music.
“Sure. What do you wanna hear?”
“The sun song!” Her way of saying Here Comes The Sun . I chuckled.
Standing, I stretched for a moment, hearing my back pop and reminding me of my age. Then I swung her up into my arms while Odin ran off to his bedroom. I knew he’d end up playing until I was done and forced him to shower, but that was fine. These were the moments I lived for. Because they were why I got up everyday. If I had to give up singing for the rest of my life but was able to keep my children? I would without a second thought.
They were my world, that simple.
“Are you here yet?” I asked, sighing on the phone as I walked through the light crowds in front of the Bellagio. Mike wasn’t too far behind though he was keeping a relatively low profile right now. During our downtime he’d go back to his family in Los Angeles. Most local fans were really respectful and wouldn’t bother me unless I said something. You could always tell if someone was a fan trying to hold back. And fine, I liked the attention sometimes. But now that we were launching a new residency in mere days, the hardcore fans were swarming. I loved them, don’t get me wrong. But they’d sometimes not know when to give me some space.
So back to having Mike shadow me. But he was practically family anyway.
“You’ve gotten impatient in your old age.”
I rolled my eyes with a snort. “You should talk.”
A tapping on my shoulder caused me to jump ten feet in the air. “You should pay attention.”
“FUCK!” I whirled around to see Kevin laughing his damn ass off at me. “You trying to get us spotted?” I glanced around and shoved my phone into my pocket. Someone screaming fuck in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard isn’t enough to get people to stop. Luckily. “Or give me a fucking heart attack?”
He shrugged. “You’re too young for that.” A smile formed. “And you should’ve been paying more attention.”
“I thought I’d had Mike for that.” I glared at our friend who was too busy laughing at my reaction along with Keith, another one who goes way back with us.
“Angel watching the kids again?”
“Yeah, her and Corey are crashing for opening week anyway, and the kids are having fun with Harper.” I paused, leaning against the railing facing the fountains. “And I think it makes her feel better seeing me get out of the house.”
Kevin adjusted his UK Wildcats hat and gave a light shrug. “I think it makes us all feel better.”
I sighed. I didn’t want to get into it again. I understood, I did. But I hated having to reassure everyone around me that I was alright. Sometimes when I said it, it was actually true. Other times, sure I was lying. It was those moments that made them worry. I know. But I also knew telling them the truth wouldn’t help. It wouldn’t bring anyone back. I had my bad days, my dark days, and according to my therapist it was even normal to have them. So what good did it do any of us to tell them I was pissed off at the world, or feeling down that day? Especially right then. I loved the energy being around fans would bring and they’d want to cancel. No thank you. Doing what I loved would do more than anything else to let me heal, as long as I didn’t go to the extreme again.
“You don’t have to worry about me anymore…” I sighed, keeping my eyes focused on the water. The fountain show hadn’t started yet. “I’m not overworking myself anymore. I’m not drinking or trying to find myself a hit or some shit.”
“Look little man…”
I shot him a look at that term but he still continued.
“I know you’re doing better. We all do. But you’re still shutting everyone out.” He placed a hand on my shoulder, bringing back a lot of memories in the process. How many talks have I had with Kevin that went just like this? Me trying to understand why my parents were the way they were. The day I moved out, not even eighteen. The night Paris sent the paparazzi after me when I was out with Kevin and Kristin. Talking to him about Leslie’s death. Admitting I had a problem. Melissa Schuman. He was the one who always saw me at my lowest of lows and somehow found a way to help get me through it. Even when he took a break from the group he called to check on me.
The one person I knew I could always go to was Kevin. I could go to all of them, I knew that. But sometimes he was the only one who could give me the kind of solace I needed. The kind I rarely received from my own father. Like it or not he’d always been shoved into the role by me. “I’m not trying to shut any of you out…”
“Then what is it?”
I shrugged again. “What is there to say that hasn’t been said?”
He stepped up beside me, and tried to meet my gaze. “Sometimes it’s not about whether or not it’s been said before. Sometimes it’s about getting it out there so it doesn’t build up. We know you Nick, and we know how you are. It’s natural for bad days to pop up but we can’t help you if you never let us.”
“Look that’s all it is, this is a rough month for me and-”
“All the more reason for you to talk to us. We haven’t forgotten you know.”
“If I promise to say more,” I felt a smirk coming on. “Will you guys relax? I know I scared you guys before but I’m not going to get that bad again. Shelly and Odin need their dad. They can’t have that if I bury myself in my work to pretend the world doesn’t fucking exist.”
“It’d be a start.”
I could feel my shoulders slump a bit as I finally allowed myself to relax. “Tell AJ to stop trying to set me up.” My fingers tapped against the gate as I tried to hide yet again how much it bugged me. “If I find someone new...I will. I don’t want help.”
“I’ll remind him.” Kevin chuckled a bit and bumped my shoulder. “I would’ve thought you hitting him the first time would’ve gotten that across. He’s trying to help you know.”
“I know.” And I did. That wasn’t a lie. “I don’t think there will be anyone else. But maybe I’m wrong.” It wouldn’t be the first time. I remembered when I firmly believed I’d never marry or have kids, swearing both ideas off so I’d never become my parents. What I didn’t know then was that it was about the right person, and knowing what was important. Knowing what not to do was something that guided me in every decision I ever made for my kids. I wanted to have everything I never did growing up and to never once question how much I loved them. The way I wondered even now if my parents loved me, or what I could do for them.
“You know she would-”
“But I don’t know.” I cut him off. “I don’t have a way of knowing. Because she died on what should’ve been one of the happiest days of my life. Her life too. It’s not fair that-that she’s not here to see Shelly grow up. To see how big Odin’s gotten and how smart he is. But life ain’t fair. That’s what I know, Kevin.” I shook my head. “I know the nights are the worst, when the kids are asleep and nothing to distract me on the bad days where I can’t shut my damn brain off. Is that enough talking for you?”
“It helps. Nick you know I wasn’t trying to say…”
“I know. I’m being a fucking dick.”
He threw his arm around me. “That’s nothing new.”
I laughed despite myself. I didn’t want to admit that saying it helped. But I knew that he knew. And Kevin knew that I knew he knew. That was just how the two of us worked. I guess that was enough for now. “I learned from the best.”
“I saw you’ve been writing more songs. You sure want to try them for the next album? They’re pretty personal…”
I nodded. “Maybe it’s another form of therapy. Singing them with you guys helps get them out cause if I did it solo…” We both knew what I was leaving unsaid. Solo I might lose control again. And dive into yet another addiction of sorts. I needed a safety net. Writing about my darkest demons did more for me than I ever expected and I felt performing would too. It took years for me to even write songs so close to the vest, feeling so vulnerable. I needed to get them out. But not alone. Not yet. Hopefully someday.
He nodded. “I understand.”
Kevin always did.
The music started and the fountains started to shoot off in the stunning show only the Bellagio provided. I’d seen it a dozen times before and usually avoided it to keep away from tourists but Kevin always liked to come look at it. I came here hoping maybe if we were watching these he would’ve gone easy on me. I should’ve known better. He wasn’t the type to do that if he knew the hard things were what you needed to hear. Then again maybe I did know better and counted on it. My mind’s a damn mess.
Hidden among the crowd as the cool breeze blew around us, it felt nice to feel normal. I never got that too often outside of being home with the kids. They knew me as daddy and nothing more. Odin was old enough to understand who I was to others now, and what I did for a living. Shelly was still too young. But in the end I was simply Nick. The way I was to Lauren. I never knew just how much I needed that feeling until she came along. It’s priceless. I love my fans and I love what I do. But at the same time, as with so many people it takes me so long to trust. Because that nagging voice still lingers, wondering if they’re yet another person in line to try and use me for their own benefit. With the fellas, and my kids, I just know they love me. I know I could never be the kind of person to live in anonymity. That just isn’t me. I love the damn attention and will admit it completely. But sometimes, moments like this were so few and far between that they were nice to. To just be.
I just hated feeling so damn alone sometimes. Even when I knew I wasn’t. I’m not.
I glanced at Kevin again who was furrowing his thick brows at me, a sure sign he was trying to get back into my head again. Shit. “I’m just spacing, don’t---”
Screams coming from the crowd made my next words stop cold. I looked up as Mike and Keith were suddenly right behind us again. I was about to ask why when a sputtering noise with the clangs of metal could be heard coming from the fountains. That was when I felt the sprays hit my face. I could hear the gears getting jammed up, on what I didn’t know. It was all over, a strange rain falling out of the sky. It felt thick, nothing like water. My hand went to my cheek, pulling away as I stared down in horror.
It was covered in blood.
“We’re going!” I could hear Mike command gruffly. He and Keith started forcing a path for us out of the mob. As they rushed us away, the crowds delving into pure chaos as everyone started panicking in their rush to get away, I chanced a glance backwards. The Bellagio fountains were choking on the thick viscous blood. Too thick for what they could handle, causing it to become a monstrous sprinkler whose range caused it to come down all around along Las Vegas boulevard. Cars honking, colliding. All while the blood continued to fall as workers fought to get it to shut down.
It was a vision I knew would haunt my dreams for a long time.