1. Chapter 1 by Mare
2. Chapter 2 by Mare
3. Chapter 3 by Mare
4. Chapter 4 by Mare
5. Chapter 5 by Mare
6. Chapter 6 by Mare
7. Chapter 7 by Mare
8. Chapter 8 by Mare
9. Chapter 9 by Mare
10. Chapter 10 by Mare
11. Chapter 11 by Mare
12. Chapter 12 by Mare
13. Chapter 13 by Mare
14. Chapter 14 by Mare
15. Chapter 15 by Mare
16. Chapter 16 by Mare
17. Chapter 17 by Mare
18. Chapter 18 by Mare
The Secrets That We Keep
~ 1 ~
Once again there they were, sitting in a cramped waiting area. Seemed like all they ever did was wait and it was beginning to take its toll on Kevin. He closed his eyes and moved his neck in a slow circular motion as he placed his hand where his carotid artery was, as if urging his head not to explode. It had been a very long day of press and photo shoots and small guest appearances with people he already forgot existed. At one point he had even posed with a stuffed gorilla, no idea why and he didn’t even ask.
“Looking at your watch will not magically speed up the process, cousin.”
“Maybe if they see how impatient we are, they’ll do something about it.”
Brian laughed at that. “Or maybe they just won’t care.”
Kevin nodded and once again closed his eyes. He felt the smallest hint of a headache coming on, the kind that hit you behind the eyes. Stress was the cause of those.
“Just think only a few more days of this, then a break.”
That brought about a smile. The break that Brian mentioned had been one that seemed so far away. They had been going for months without as much as a day off. Lots of promises of a break but then they’d all fall through. Seemed like this one was really going to happen though and for that, Kevin was thankful. It had been a long haul.
Fame came quick to the Backstreet Boys once they became a name in Canada. Sure, they were already famous in Europe but at least when they came home their lives were semi normal. That all changed when they finally broke in North America. To be known in Canada was one thing but the first time they heard one of their songs on an American station, they knew they had arrived.
Touring endlessly and promoting their album was taking a toll on everyone in the group. “God is this almost done, I want to GOOOO!!”
Kevin rolled his eyes. He really needed to get away from the guys for a bit, especially that one. Nick just drove him crazy. Every little thing the fifteen year old did got on his nerves, especially these days. He actually had a dream about strangling him the other night. He woke up smiling.
Yup, it was definitely time for a break.
“Relax Frack, this is the last interview today. Then we’re done!” Brian responded with a half laugh.
Kevin shifted when Nick decided to jump on the couch planting himself between both cousins. “Do you want to play a game of basketball when we get back to the hotel?”
“I’m kind of tired, Nick.”
“I’ll take that as a yes!”
Kevin felt the need to get involved. “Jesus, leave him alone. Brian said he’s tired.” He then forcefully shoved the teen so he’d have more room, “Personal space is always a good thing as well.”
Nick’s CD player fell to the ground and broke as a result. “Asshole!” He grumbled under his breath as he stood up and walked away.
Brian glanced over at his cousin with a pretty disapproving look, “What? He was practically sitting on my lap.”
“You broke his CD player.”
“It’s not like he doesn’t have a thousand more.”
Brian stood up, “I sometimes wonder which one of you is the teenager!” He walked away shaking his head.
Normally Kevin would have had some remorse for doing something as drastic as breaking the kid’s CD player but not today. Most likely he’d end up apologizing for it later, for now he felt the slightest tinge of satisfaction.
“Okay, we’re on!” Johnny signaled for the boys to follow him out of the small room and to the interview.
The interview seemed never ending. It was clear that the lady conducting it had no clue who the Backstreet Boys even were. She kept asking them generic questions like how did they meet? And How did they get their name etc… She also kept getting everyone confused, calling Brian AJ, and AJ Howie and forgetting Kevin’s name altogether. Nick was the only one she seemed to remember. He had headphones in his ears (Another CD player just like Kevin knew there would be) and didn’t even appear as if he wanted to be there let alone answer this woman’s questions but yet, she kept asking away.
Kevin watched the youngest member of his group as this was happening. Nick sat there fidgeting as if he was going to pee his pants at any moment. His right leg shaking away making the entire couch they were sitting on shake. Every other word out of his mouth was “Um…” or “Hrmm” as he bit on his bottom lip and looked up to the heavens for help before going to his ever familiar response of, “Kevin?”
Of course than the lady would search down the couch trying to remember which one that was before landing her eyes on the overly annoyed, grouchy one. Her words used to describe him in the interview and the same words that had Johnny Wright talking to him at this very moment.
“We look to you…”
“To set a good example, I know Johnny…I know.”
“Then why don’t you do it?” Johnny was pacing which was not a good sign.
“I thought I was doing just fine.”
“Not if an interviewer feels the need to ask you why you seem angry or annoyed.”
“It’s been a long day.”
“For everyone…” Johnny added before Kevin had a chance to continue.
“Sorry.” Was all he decided on, realizing no matter what he said, in the end, that’s really all their manager wanted to hear.
Of course he was right as Johnny nodded and took a seat on the couch across from Kevin. “It’s okay; just try not to look so mad even if you are.”
“When I get back from this break I’ll feel refreshed and not quite as homicidal, I promise.”
“Speaking of this break…”
“Jesus Johnny, please don’t tell me you’re canceling this because I swear…”
“No, relax Kevin, we’re still taking a break but I do have a favor to ask.”
At those words, Kevin who had tensed up at the mention of the word break, visibly relaxed and sat back, taking a sip of his now cold cup of coffee. “What is it?”
“Nick’s mother called us while you guys were doing that interview and it turns out that now Nick has nowhere to go during this break.”
He seemed disgusted when he said it and Kevin couldn’t help but roll his eyes at the mention of the she devil. He wasn’t a very big fan of any of the Carters, especially the mother.
“That sucks for him.”
“Well yes it does. He’s really upset about it.”
“The thing is… I can’t take him because I have plans to go away with my wife.” Kevin felt himself tensing again, he knew what was coming. “So, I thought maybe you wouldn’t mind bringing him home with you?”
“He loves my cousin, what about him? He is Nick’s legal guardian.” He made quotey fingers on the word legal, remembering that discussion as well. Long story short, the Carters were unreliable, management wanted Kevin to step up; he refused, so Brian it was.
“They are all going to Hawaii for a family vacation.” Kevin knew this but was still holding out hope. He knew his cousin would include Nick in a second but his aunt and uncle took their family vacation time very seriously.
“Denise said she wanted time alone with her son. I understand, I mean she’s on the road with Nick and the rest of you all the time.”
“So am I!” he felt the need to remind Johnny.
“I know it’s asking a lot.”
“It is and I don’t think I can. He’s fifteen, I’m sure he’d be okay alone.”
“Kevin he’s not supposed to ever be alone. Legally he can’t even be alone when we’re all in the same place. Besides there are other reasons too…” Johnny was getting annoyed but Kevin was not backing down.
“He would hate coming home with me, he hates me.”
“He looks up to you.”
“Only because I’m taller than he is.”
“Kev…” Johnny started when an “I’ll take him.” Was heard making both men turn to the doorway where Howie was standing.
He made his way into the room, “My family loves Nicky, I’m sure it’ll be no big deal.”
Johnny stood up and walked over to Howie, “Thanks. I’ll tell him the good news. There is another issue we need to discuss but we’ll do that tomorrow.”
Howie nodded at Johnny and smiled. Kevin didn’t bother to look up when his manager left but he didn’t have to, he knew he was being glared at. “Enjoy your peaceful break then, Kevin.” He said before walking out of the room.
“You’re a good man, D.”
Howie sat down and nodded, “Not really. I feel bad for him, you know? His family always does this to the poor kid.”
“Well he is annoying.”
“Kevin…” Howie laughed and shook his head.
“I know… I feel bad for him to. I just know I’d kill him.” And he did feel bad for Nick and he felt a little guilty. It seemed like the young blonde always had a way of making him feel just a little guilty all the time.
Howie nodded, “It’s all good. He is the same age as one of my nieces and a few of the kids in the neighborhood. He likes coming home with me.”
That’s when it dawned on Kevin that this wasn’t the first time this has happened. The Dorough’s had frequently opened their home to the baby of the group. He knew that his mother would do the same and would be mad at Kevin if she knew how quickly he had turned Nick away without even a second thought. He was sure she’d find out too, if Brian had any say in the matter.
“Still, it’s really nice of you to give up your vacation to babysit.”
“I don’t feel like it’s babysitting. I like the little shit. He makes me smile.” Howie stood up, “I’m going to jump in the shower before we all head out for dinner; do you need to get in there?”
Kevin shook his head, “I’m going to call home.”
As Howie closed the door to the bathroom, Kevin picked up the phone.
The call home didn’t go as expected. There were a lot of apologies and some crying ending with a dramatic fling of his cellphone across the room which Howie had to dodge as he came out wrapped in a towel.
“Whoa…what the hell?”
Kevin placed his pointer and middle finger up above his left eye and pressed hard as if that would help squelch the horrible mood he now found himself in. “Sorry, D.”
“Looks like I won’t be going home after all.”
“My mom’s good friend’s husband just died so she’s flying out to be with her.”
“Kevin, I’m sorry. Maybe you can still go home even though your mom won’t be there. I’m sure there are friends you could catch up with.”
“I was thinking of doing that, but honestly, everyone I’d want to see doesn’t live there anymore.”
“What are you going to do?”
That was a great question. He had been looking forward to this trip for so long, now that it was taken away all he wanted to do was roll up in a ball and cry. He needed this break so badly. He needed to be refreshed and spend time with people that loved him. When his mother told him the news, he literally started crying on the phone like a ten year old. Now he was embarrassed by how selfish he had been. There was his mother who was telling him the story of her friend’s heartbreaking loss and all Kevin cared about were his plans being ruined.
He finally looked up at Howie and shrugged, “I have no clue. Maybe I’ll just stay here.”
“You can always come home with me. The more the merrier.”
He smiled at that. “Thanks, but I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“It would be no big deal. My family loves you and we can go hit some of the new clubs in the area.”
Kevin thought for a few minutes before nodding, “Okay, maybe I will then.”
Howie winked at his friend, “Awesome. I’ll let my family know. I’m sorry your plans went south.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Just before Howie reentered the bathroom with his clothes, he turned back to his friend, “Kevin, how awful you felt just now, is how Nick always feels when his parents do this to him and he’s just a kid.” He paused for a second to make sure what he had said sunk in, “Just some food for thought.”
Kevin glanced over at his broken phone and nodded his head, once again feeling that slightest bit of guilt.
~ 2 ~
As much as he didn’t want to be, Kevin found himself jealous of Howie as he talked on the phone with his parents that night about how excited he was to see them both. They of course were more than happy to have the extra company.
The next morning, Johnny had pulled Howie into a meeting while they were all packing to leave and just for a moment, Kevin started to have second thoughts. Maybe he would go home and just hang out in his mom’s house. It would be lonely but it would also be quiet and isn’t that what he really wanted, time away and peace and quiet?
“I’m sorry you aren’t getting to go home, Kevin.”
He glanced up to see the sympathetic face of his cousin staring back at him.
“Yeah, me too.”
“You’ll have a great time at Howie’s though!”
Kevin nodded, “Have fun in Hawaii.”
“Maybe you can come with us if you want?”
Kevin had thought about that as well but in all honestly, the Littrells were kind of a boring bunch and as much as he loved Brian, he didn’t really feel like he had all that much in common with his younger cousin. If Harold was going, there wouldn’t even be a second thought but sadly, he wasn’t.
“No, that’s okay. Tell your parents I said hello though.”
Brian nodded just as Nick walked out of his room with nothing more than his backpack. “Where is the rest of your stuff?” He asked his best friend amused.
Nick who had his headphones around his neck at this point, just shrugged, “I managed to fit everything in here.”
“Can’t wait to see how that turns out for you.” Kevin said under his breath which made the blonde roll his eyes and shake his head.
Brian found this exchange to be equally amusing. “I wish I was going to Howie’s just to watch the two of you in action together.”
“It’ll be okay as long as he stays out of my way and stops breaking my stuff!”
“It was an accident.” Kevin grumbled as Nick walked over to Brian and pulled him into a hug.
After their embrace, Brian walked over to his cousin and whispered, “Be nice to him…” in his ear.
Kevin fought back the urge to make a sarcastic comment until he saw the look on Nick’s face as he watched his best friend abandon him. It was almost heartbreaking. Kevin walked over and placed his hand on Nick’s shoulder.
“Are you sure you have everything you need in there because the last thing the Doroughs are going to want to do is take you clothes shopping.” He tried to ask sympathetically as he pointed to Nick’s bulging backpack.
“Jesus Kevin, you’re not the goddamned boss of me!” Nick brushed past his bandmate, “I’m heading down to the lobby.”
“I’m going to take that as a yes then?” He screamed after the teenager, followed by a quieter “So help me God, I’m going to kill that child...”
He shook his head and grabbed his own suitcase just as Howie came out of his meeting with Johnny.
~ * ~
The plan ride was pretty quiet with both Nick and Kevin reeling from the negative thoughts this sudden change of plans brought about. The younger one was once again wearing his headphones as if they were his security blanket, blocking out the rest of the world while also holding a Gameboy in his hands. The older one was just pensively looking out the window and sighing on occasion.
Howie was stuck in between both of the boys not even quite sure which direction to turn. So, instead he had his eyes closed and within minutes was fast asleep. That was always something Kevin was envious of, how easily D was able to fall asleep, like he didn’t have a care in the world. This time around he was wondering if it was an act just to avoid conversation. Howie hadn’t said much once he came out of that room with Johnny.
He was trying to think if there was anything that had happened that would merit a private meeting between the two but nothing came to mind. Then he wondered if maybe Howie had done something that would have gotten his friend into trouble but he highly doubted that as well.
His curiosity got the best of him, “What did Johnny want to talk to you about?” He randomly blurted out to the sleeping man.
He glanced over at Howie, hoping for an answer.
“He’s sleeping, dumbass!” And he got one, just not from the person he was hoping to hear from.
Kevin glared over at Nick who had taken his headphones off as he grabbed the small cup of Coke and bag of peanuts from the stewardess. Kevin declined a beverage but took the bag of nuts as she moved on to the seats in front of them.
“What is your problem?”
Nick shook his head, “Nothing…whatever…”
“Jesus, learn to use your words.” Kevin lowered his voice slightly when he noticed people staring at him. “It’s clear you’re having an issue with me.”
“Now that you’re here, I’m going to be left in the dust.”
Kevin let out a tiny laugh and shook his head, “You’re not serious, really Nick? What are you, twelve?”
Nick pushed his chair back and placed his headphones on his ears, “Whatever…”
“I wish the two of you would stop.” Howie said with his eyes still closed, “You’re giving me a headache and we haven’t even landed yet.”
Nick’s music was so loud that Kevin could hear every word or mumble that was coming out of Kurt Cobain’s mouth. “Sorry, D. Nick just seems to think I’ll be stealing you away while I’m here. It’s clear I’m your favorite.” He tried to say that loud enough so the ‘baby’ could hear but unfortunately the music was a little louder than the sarcasm.
“At this point I’m ready to leave you both in the dust!”
Despite how annoyed he was, Kevin laughed. “Sorry buddy. I promise I’ll stop arguing with the little shit.”
“So…what did Johnny want to talk to you about?”
Howie’s body language changed as he nervously shifted in his seat. “Nothing much, just some stuff I needed to know.”
That answer was far too vague for Kevin, “Like?”
Howie Shrugged and looked over at Nick as if to make sure he wasn’t listening. “Just stuff concerning Nicky, that’s all.”
Kevin nodded; once again glad he didn’t have to deal with all that crap. “Oh, I get it.”
Howie nodded but his body language still remained tense which led Kevin to think there was more to the story. Hopefully he would get the answer after he got a few beers into his friend.
~ * ~
Howie’s Mom and Dad were there to pick the boys up at the airport. The happiness emanating from his friend was so contagious that Kevin even found himself smiling wide at their reunion. Momma D pulled him into a hug “Welcome home sweetheart, we’re so happy to have you here.” She landed a kiss on his cheek.
“Thanks for having us.” He also motioned to Nick who just looked tired and grouchy and of course ungrateful.
She then landed her attention on the young one as she grabbed his chin in her hands and gave him a kiss, “Nicky we love you!”
He smiled at her and gave her a hug. “I love you too! Thanks for letting me stay here.”
Hokie then picked up Nick’s backpack, “Are we ready to go then?” He asked as they all followed Howie’s parents to their minivan.
“How come you take his bag and not mine, Dad?” Howie joked.
“Because clearly it means I like him more than you, son!”
Nick turned around and stuck his tongue out at his friend who rolled his eyes and smiled.
Howie’s mom had her arm wrapped around Nick as they walked ahead. Asking him if he was hungry and what he would like for dinner.
“They make him feel special when he’s here.” D whispered, “It usually helps him forget he’s been dumped by his own family that way.”
“I just hope he appreciates it.”
Howie looked disgusted, “He does.”
~ * ~
By the time they got to the house after stopping for dinner on the way home, Kevin was just about ready to pass out from exhaustion. It was a long flight and all he wanted was a bed to collapse on. Howie brought them up the stairs and opened the door to Pollyanna’s old bedroom. “This is where the two of you will be staying.” He flicked on the lights as Nick pushed his way into the room.
It was small with two double beds. He threw his backpack on the one closest to the window, before throwing himself right afterwards. His feet were dangling off the end which signaled to Kevin his would be doing the same thing. “Sorry you guys have to share but the other guest bedroom is full of John’s crap since he’s in the process of moving.”
“No problem, Howie. This is just fine.”
Kevin pulled his good friend into a hug, “Thanks for letting us stay again.”
“No need to keep thanking me. I love hanging with my bros!” He tried to sound all gangsta when he said it but it just came out geeky dorksta instead.
“Night, Nicky” He said with a wink but there was no reply because he was already asleep. Sneakers still on, jacket still on and backpack lying right next to him. “Guess he was tired.”
Kevin nodded, “Guess so.”
After Howie left, he thought about waking Nick up just so he could get changed and make himself more comfortable but he also knew that might come with flying fists and a confrontation, so he let things be and got himself ready for bed. “This will be interesting.” He said to himself as he lay on the bed which was much too small for him.
~ 3 ~
It was a very restless night for Kevin, the majority of it spent tossing and turning and trying his best to make himself comfortable. Every time he closed his eyes, the replay of the conversation he had with his mother echoed in his ears making him feel terrible for acting the way he had but also angered that he wasn’t able to get to see her. He missed his mother so much. He’d always been a momma’s boy but especially after his father’s death the two of them seemed to cling to each other for comfort.
When he left home for Florida, such an overwhelming feeling of sadness and anxiety came over him, he almost took the next flight back right after landing. It was his oldest brother who convinced him to stay or he’d end up being “That weird 40 year old who never left his mother’s house.” Yup, leave it to Gerald to not sugarcoat anything, but it was the truth so as much as he hated to, he stayed.
While working at Disney he made it back to Kentucky at least once every few months. Sometimes he’d rent a car and drive or when his mom had the extra money, she’d send him a plane ticket. When he started dated Kristin, the visits became less frequent and the need to see his family waned a bit. Then came the Backstreet Boys.
Once he made the group he hardly made it home but things were so new and exciting for him, it didn’t really make much of a difference. It wasn’t until they had really blown up in Europe that he found himself constantly wishing his mother and brothers could be there to experience the same feelings he had. What was the point if he had to do it all alone?
A small kerfuffle was heard on the bed next to his so he glanced over to see Nick slowly sit up. “Where the hell am I?” His voice was groggy and his eyes disoriented.
He nodded and rubbed his neck, “Oh, right.” Nick looked down at his shoes, “Wow, I must have passed out last night huh?”
“You could have at least taken off my shoes.”
“And risked being kicked in the face? I think not.” He half laughed.
Nick grabbed at his sneakers and pulled them off, flinging them a few feet before laying back down on his back with his arms across his chest. “I hate when I get this room. John’s old room is much better.”
“Don’t be ungrateful, Nick. At least they took you in.”
At that, Nick turned on his side, away from Kevin, “Whatever…I’m going back to sleep.”
Kevin shook his head and bit on his bottom lip. He was perpetually mad at that kid. Sometimes he didn’t even understand why. Maybe the reason was a simple one. Maybe it was because as much as he didn’t want to admit it, he saw a lot of himself in Nick, at least the younger him.
When he was a kid, he had a very hot temper and would frequently lash out with his fists. His brothers took the brunt of those attacks but he was lucky in that they never retaliated. One day over lunch with Tim, he asked why it was they never once hit him back. All the times he had taken swings at them over the dumbest things. Tim looked over at his baby brother and simply said, “Because you were a kid and if we laid a hand on you, mom would have killed us.”
“They didn’t take me in like I was some charity case, you know. They took you in too.” Nick’s voice was muffled sounding as if he was talking into his pillow while speaking.
“It’s a little different.”
“Why?” He still had his back facing Kevin.
“Because…it just is.”
“It’s the same.”
Kevin shook his head and sighed, “Whatever you say.” He stood up and made his way downstairs leaving the teen alone with his thoughts.
As he made his way down the stairs, Kevin stopped to look at all the photos displayed. Pictures of each of the Dorough children in various stages of their lives were all looking happy and firmly put together ending on the bottom step with a barely one year old Howie being embraced by his siblings. When he turned the corner to enter the kitchen he was met with a waft of coffee still brewing away as Howie’s mother busied herself folding eggs onto a platter.
“Good morning, Kevin.” She said smiling. “I hope you’re hungry. Of course my son isn’t up yet. I’m hoping the smell of breakfast will do the trick.”
Kevin sat down at the table, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
She turned and placed the huge platter of eggs in front of him. “Just eat up. I have some bacon in the oven.”
“I can smell it. “ He smiled as he took a small portion of eggs and placed them on his plate.
“Is Nicky up yet?” She asked as she poured him a glass of orange juice.
Kevin shook his head, “Just long enough to take off his shoes, then he went back to sleep.”
She nodded, “Good, let the boy sleep. I’m sure he needs it. I’m sure you both do. Lou certainly does keep you busy.”
Kevin nodded as he bit into his breakfast. The eggs were silky and smooth. Much different than the generic ones he had been living off of for months. They just tasted like home. Before he even had a chance to swallow his first bite, momma D was placing even more on his plate along with a healthy portion of bacon. “Don’t be modest, please eat up!”
He laughed at that but was more than willing to oblige. At least he wouldn’t be missing out on home cooked meals this visit, even though they weren’t from his own mother.
“Well look who’s up. I told you the coffee would work.”
Howie walked in and kissed his mother on the cheek. “Morning,” He nodded at Kevin as he poured himself a cup of the freshly brewed coffee. “No Nicky yet?”
Kevin shook his head. “He’ll probably sleep most of the day away.”
Howie nodded, “Well, that’s fine by me. I can do with more sleep myself. What did you want to do today?”
Kevin shrugged, “I don’t know, I thought we could maybe just hang at the beach and then hit one of those clubs you mentioned yesterday.”
Howie laughed as his mother piled food onto his plate. “You want me to just sink to the bottom of the ocean mommy?”
“You need to eat. You don’t eat enough when you’re on the road.”
He placed a huge forkful of eggs into his mouth and then nodded, “Sounds good to me.”
“What sounds good?” Nick chimed in as he came running into the kitchen as if he owned the place, throwing himself on a chair and grabbing the platter of eggs off of the table before Momma D even had a chance to do it for him. “I am starving!” his hair was disheveled and he was still wearing the clothes he had fallen asleep in the night before.
“See? This is the way you eat breakfast. Good morning, bambino.” Howie’s mother walked over and gave Nick a kiss on the cheek and then lovingly placed a hand through his messy hair.
“I had a hard time getting comfortable in that bed. The mattress is so hard.”
Kevin tensed up when he heard the teen’s complaint, biting his lip and trying his hardest not to say anything, instead choosing to give Nick the stare of death.
“I agree, Polly loves her hard mattress though. My sister is weird. She could easily sleep on a bed of nails.”
“So could you!” Kevin countered.
“True…we Doroughs enjoy our sleep.”
“I’m sorry you are uncomfortable in there sweetheart, maybe we can move John’s stuff and…”
“Don’t go to any trouble for him, he’ll be fine.”
Nick nodded at Kevin’s words, “Yeah, I’m good. Thanks though, momma D!”
She smiled and nodded, “Well, help yourselves to as much as you like and then Howard, make sure you put those dishes in the washer before you go do what you’re going to do today.”
“Yes Ma’am. What are you up to?”
“I need to wake up your father and then we are going to run a few errands.”
Howie walked over to his mother and gave her a huge hug, “I love you mommy!”
“I love you too.” She then winked at all the boys and walked out of the kitchen just as Nick grabbed another heaping spoonful of eggs and a few more slices of bacon.
~ * ~
The warm sun on Kevin’s face as he lay with his eyes closed on the sand, made some of the tension and regret he had been feeling dissolve. If he went home to Kentucky, he wouldn’t have been by the water. The closest thing he had to a beach there was a lake about 15 miles from his parent’s home and it most likely would have been too chilly to sit down there in a bathing suit and enjoy it. Water seemed to have a calming effect on him. If he was having a bad day or needed to think, he’d almost always head towards a body of water, whether it was a beach, a pool or even a fish tank.
“We need to go fishing…” He said as he opened his eyes and looked over to his left where Howie was also sun bathing.
“That sounds like a good idea. I just have to get the keys to the boat from my brother. He might want to come along, would that be okay?”
“Fine by me.” Kevin and John always got along. They had the same sense of humor and seemed to think the same way about things. He slowly sat up and put on his sunglasses. Glancing out at the water, he saw Nick just standing there and letting the waves hit his legs. “Did Johnny give a reason the Carters bailed on their son?”
Howie was also staring out Nick’s way, “He wasn’t too specific. Just said the parents were fighting. Bob took some of the kids and went one way while Jane took some and went the other, leaving this kid out of the mix.”
“They seem like truly terrible parents.” Kevin said, shaking his head in disgust.
“You know, I sometimes wonder…”
“Just how Nick is so quick to violence, if his dad…he just seems scared of his father.”
“You think Bob abuses him?”
Howie took in a deep breath and shrugged, “I hope not, but…” He glanced over at Kevin, “I don’t know.”
“If that were the case, I would think he wouldn’t want to go home, but he seems to ALWAYS want to go home.”
“Yeah…I wish I knew, Kevin. There’s a lot going on there.”
“And we’d see bruises, wouldn’t we?”
As Nick started to walk back towards the boys, Howie simply said, “Sometimes the biggest bruises are the ones we can’t actually see.”
~ 4 ~
“Sometimes the biggest bruises are the ones we can’t actually see.”
Those words stuck with Kevin as the young blonde made his way onto Kevin’s blanket and sat Indian style across from his friends. It was almost as if he was looking at Nick with a different pair of eyes. He was well aware of the tumultuous relationship all the Carters had with one another, and often cringed whenever he heard Jane or Bob screaming at either Nick or each other when they were out on the road with their son. Some of the things he heard were just not appropriate. The language Bob Carter used alone made even AJ squirm sometimes.
“Having fun, squirt?” Kevin asked as kindly as he possibly could.
Nick rolled his eyes at the nickname and then shrugged, “I’m bored,” he shifted his position, “I was thinking maybe the three of us could catch a movie tonight or something.”
“Actually, Kevin and I were thinking about hitting a nightclub later.”
Nick shifted once again; “Oh…” he moved his legs in front of him and let out a sigh.
Kevin had completely forgotten about Nick when it came to some of the plans he had made in his head with Howie. Those plans included nightly visits to the bars and clubs all around the town, things that a fifteen year old would not be able to do. Judging by the look on Howie’s face, he had forgotten too.
“Can’t I come too?” They both laughed which angered the teenager. “What’s so funny?”
“How can you come too? It’s not like we’re in Europe.”
“He’s too young to go to clubs there too, Howie.”
“I look old enough.”
Kevin let out a sarcastic laugh, “Right…sure you do…You can’t come with us.”
Nick glared at Kevin and for a brief moment, he thought the teenager was going to punch him. “I don’t think you should go then. It’s not fair!”
Howie was trying to calm his friend down placing a hand on his leg as he spoke softly, “Nicky…this is our vacation too and we really want to go to some of these new places. We’ll go late so this way you’ll be in bed and won’t even notice we’re gone.”
“So, you’re going to give me a fucking bedtime now?” Nick grabbed D’s hand and pushed it away.
The gesture angered Kevin who blurted out, “Maybe if you stopped acting like a twelve year old, we wouldn’t have to!”
Nick stood up, “You know what? Screw you, Kevin!” He kicked dirt onto Kevin’s legs and blanket and headed back down to the water.
Kevin brushed off his legs and stood up; taking his blanket and giving it a good shake as he watched the youngest member of the group throw rocks into the water. “That kid is the most immature child I have ever encountered! You know, even if he WAS old enough, I wouldn’t want to go out with him. He’ll probably be one of those sloppy drunks we’d end up having to take care of, Shithead!”
He sat back down, obviously not over it yet, “And to think I was just trying to be nice to him.”
“How were you nice to him?” Kevin looked over to Howie who was just sitting there waiting for an answer.
“What do you mean?”
“You said you were being nice…”
“You know, I asked him if he was having a good time.”
Howie laughed; “Oh…” he rolled his eyes and placed his sunglasses back on his face.
“What?” Kevin asked defensively.
“You keep telling him he acts like a twelve year old.”
“Because he does.”
“He just turned fifteen, Kevin. Twelve was barely two years ago.”
At those words, Kevin once again looked over at the teenager, “Oh…I never thought about it that way.”
“You seldom do.” Howie stood up, “You need to give the kid a chance, Kev.” It seemed like he was searching for more to say before landing on, “He needs us…”
Before Kevin had a chance to respond, Howie was walking down towards the water where he placed himself right beside Nick, grabbed some rocks and started tossing them into the water as well. No words were spoken between the two of them and none had to be, within a few minutes, Nick was smiling and once again Kevin felt like crap.
The rest of the day was relatively quiet. After leaving the beach, the boys made their way back to the house where all three decided to take a nap. After a nice homemade BBQ dinner and some quality time with Howie’s parents. Kevin was getting ready to go out on the town while Nick just sat on his bed and watched, blindly flipping the pages of a book as he did.
Kevin, who was adjusting the collar on his shirt, glanced over, “What are you reading?”
“A stupid book for school.”
“I figured that much, I meant what is it?”
Nick flipped to the front cover, “1984”
“Oh…I read that one. Be careful… Big Brother is watching.” The blank stare made Kevin shake his head, “Are you even reading it or just flipping the pages?”
“What does it matter to you?”
He turned away, “It doesn’t, just making conversation.”
“Well, no need. It’s clear the two of you want to have nothing to do with me on this break. I’m obviously just a huge pain in the ass to you both so why bother event talking?”
“Nick, cut out the over dramatics. It’s not like we’re tying you to a post and making you wait outside while we go in and have fun.”
“You probably would if Howie wasn’t here…” He mumbled under his breath.
Kevin stopped himself from calling Nick a child and instead sighed and sat on the bed across from him. “Look kiddo, I’m sorry you can’t come along. It’s not like we’re going to do this every night, okay? Tomorrow we are going fishing out on the boat all day, just the three of us and maybe John.”
Nick looked up from his book, “We are?”
Kevin smiled at him, “Yup, didn’t Howie tell you?”
Nick shook his head, “Nope.”
“Well we are, so get a good night’s sleep tonight and then tomorrow we fish!” He stood up and ruffled Nick’s hair, proud of the way he handled himself.
The first club they went to was overly crowded to the extent that both boys almost felt unsafe especially if they were to be recognized. It was a long shot at this point in their careers, but even still, with no security and a crowd this big, if something were to happen neither one would be prepared for it. The next club they went to was across town and in a smaller neighborhood. Because of that the crowd was almost cut in half. It was dark inside and the music was booming but not so loud they couldn’t hear each other. It proved to be the perfect place as they both planted themselves by the bar.
“Now I know why John recommended this place.” Howie said as he motioned for the bartender to bring them another round.
Kevin nodded as he glanced around the place. There were a ton of girls dancing and glancing his way. One in particular was standing at a round table. She kept smiling at him as she slowly sipped on her drink, dunking the end of her paper umbrella into it before slowly licking the liquid off. He felt bad for looking but at the same time, he knew it was probably time to move on. He and Kris had decided to part ways about two weeks ago. It was a hard decision, one that neither of them took lightly. It’s not like they had a horrible argument or even hated each other. They just both came to a realization that they were no longer heading down the same road. Kris needed her space to do what she wanted and Kevin of course needed his. To expect his girlfriend to put her life on hold while he lived his dream was too much to ask, especially since Lou also forbad them to be open about whom they were seeing. They needed to appear uncommitted to anyone but the fans. All the others were okay with that but none of them had a serious relationship either.
He was heartbroken but he knew it was for the best and if they were really meant to be together, they would end up that way. Only time would tell.
“Are you going to go for it?” Howie asked when he saw the flirty exchange happen between the blonde at the round table and his friend.
“I don’t think so.”
“You should, Kevin. What do you have to lose?”
He shrugged, “I’m just not ready yet.”
Howie nodded, “Understandable I guess.”
“I tell you what, after being in Sweden, the clubs here seem so dull, don’t they?”
Kevin laughed at the truth in that statement. The clubs in Sweden and all across Europe for that matter put these to shame. When they toured Europe the only outlet they had was to go out clubbing which they did often. Lou at first wasn’t happy about it, but after he saw the kind of exposure it gave his band, he jumped on board. The only one not old enough to indulge was Nick but since Brian wasn’t very big on clubbing either, AJ, Kevin and Howie would tend to go out leaving the other two behind. Even though Brian was content with not going anywhere, Nick would often object and mention how cruel and unfair life was that they always got to party and he didn’t.
“It’s weird not needing security here, isn’t it?”
Howie nodded, “I’m still trying to decide if I like that or not. It’s kind of cool getting VIP treatment as opposed to not.”
“But it’s also nice being able to just sit back and relax without having to take a ton of pictures or sign a bunch of autographs.”
“Or have a bunch of random sex?”
“Eh, I like the random sex part.”
“Want to go somewhere else?” Howie asked looking at his watch, “The night is still young-ish.”
Kevin nodded, not quite ready to go back to the house yet. “I’m game.”
They finally made their way home just as the sun was coming up. They had hit about four different clubs, deciding that the last one was the best and making a mental note to go to that one first next time. By the time Kevin’s head hit his pillow, it was about 6 in the morning.
“Kevin…” He heard a whisper in his ear. He bat at it with his hand as if it was a fly but it wouldn’t go away. “Kevin…it’s almost 9. Aren’t we going fishing?”
“Later…” He managed to grumble before turning his body towards the wall and away from Nick.
What felt like moments later he was interrupted again, “Kevin…time to get up! Jesus I knew this would happen!”
Kevin felt like he had swallowed an entire sheep, his cotton mouth making him want to get up and get a cup of water but his head saying do not move!
“You guys are unreal!” Nick was not happy.
“Shut up and let me sleep. I’ll be up in a minute!”
“Whatever! Screw you. I’m going down to the beach.”
He closed his eyes and then opened them wide when he heard the door slam.
“AHH!” Kevin said as he closed his eyes once more.
~ * ~
After having a series of very hazy dreams that made very little sense, Kevin sat up and ran his fingers through his hair. He looked at the clock sitting next to his bed and shook his head when he saw it was almost 3 in the afternoon. He stood up and literally staggered out of the room, feeling the dullest throb of a headache but luckily no sickness accompanying it. He hadn’t partied that hard in a long time. Now he remembered why.
It seemed as if Howie had just woken up as well. He passed his friend in the hallway coming out of the bathroom.
“It’s 3 in the afternoon.” Kevin couldn’t even recognize his own voice it was so rough and croaky.
“Wow, that’s not good.” Howie yawned. “Where’s Nicky?”
Kevin shrugged, “No clue but my guess is wherever he is, he’s pissed at us.”
Howie nodded, “I would be too. He’s probably hanging with my parents. I’m going to go down and talk to him. Maybe we should go do that movie tonight.”
“He thought we were going to go fishing.”
“I never told him that.” Howie seemed surprised.
“I might have…in passing.”
“Oh, wonderful…” Howie shook his head and sighed, “Well looks like today will be a ‘whatever Nick wants’ type of day then.”
“Isn’t that every damn day?” Kevin muttered under his breath as he walked into the bathroom and took a nice cold shower.
~ * ~
The shower did not help Kevin wake up, in fact he was very well prepared to go right back to bed and sleep for another 8 hours at least and would have if he didn’t find Howie pacing nervously. “Kevin, do you have any idea where Nicky could be?”
“Isn’t he with your parents?”
“They left a note saying they were heading out for the day.”
“Maybe he went with them.”
“That’s what I was hoping but my mother just called and said he decided to stay home because he thought we were going fishing.”
“Did you check the pool?”
“He’s not outside.”
Kevin shrugged, unsure why Howie seemed so on edge and nervous. It’s not like the kid was going to be kidnapped or murdered.
“We need to go look for him. He’s not answering his phone.”
“He’s probably pissed off at us. Maybe he needs some alone time…” Kevin paused, “Wait…I think he said he was going to the beach.”
“When did he say that?”
“I don’t remember, one of the times he tried to wake me up.”
“We need to go get him!”
“D, relax what’s the problem?”
“Kevin, you don’t get it, but…his life is in danger. We need to go find him.”
For some reason those words completely woke Kevin up as Howie grabbed his car keys and motioned for his friend to follow.
~ 5 ~
Kevin sat in the passenger seat as Howie sped down the highway towards the beach they had visited yesterday. There were so many questions going through his mind he didn’t even know where to start.
“How is Nick’s life in danger?”
Howie gripped the steering wheel tightly, “He’s been getting threatening letters.”
“We all do, there are a lot of crazy ass people out there.”
“No, this is different. Apparently it’s been happening for a while now.”
“Johnny said well over two years.”
“Is that what your meeting was about?”
Howie nodded, “It’s complicated Kevin. This isn’t some crazy, deranged fan we’re talking about but one of his distant relatives.”
Kevin shook his head in disgust not surprised that one of Nick’s own family members was the cause of this crisis. They were about as crazy as anyone could be so it made sense really. “Of course it is…so what is his deal then?”
Howie turned down one of the small side streets that led directly to the beach, “I see him.” He said, relief washing over him as he slowed and parked. There right next to the lifeguard’s post sat Nick, cross legged and writing things in the sand with a big stick. “Thank God.” He said as he turned off the car and then turned to face Kevin with a very serious look on his face.
“Supposedly this guy…he tried to do things to Nicky when he was younger.”
Kevin shut his eyes when he realized what Howie was talking about. “No…”
Howie nodded, “Supposedly…there was no real proof but he ended up in jail for kidnapping and child endangerment, not Nicky but he attacked another kid apparently.”
“Did Nick tell you this?”
“No, I don’t think he has any idea I know about it at all. He hasn’t mentioned a thing, not even about the letters.”
“What do the letters say?”
“Johnny showed them to me and they were pretty sick. He said that when he got out of prison he was going to find Nicky and make a new life with him.”
“When is that going to happen? When is he getting out of prison?”
“No one was really worried until the guy supposedly called Nick’s hotel room while we were overseas.”
“What? And he still didn’t tell any of us? Does Brian know?”
“Kev, I don’t think so. I don’t think he told anyone.”
“How could his parents leave him alone knowing all of this?”
Howie shook his head and glanced over at Nick once again. He was still writing something in the sand, looking pensive and sad as he did. “I have no idea.”
“Did they even file a restraining order?”
“I think Johnny is actually handling that but I’m not sure if it went through yet.”
“Does the guy know he’s here with you?”
“I don’t know, but he is in Florida.”
“How could he be so stupid and come out here all alone knowing that some psycho is out to get him!”
Kevin was angry, but he wasn’t entirely sure it had to do with Nick’s irresponsibility but more to do with the fact that this information was kept from him. Not that he would have wanted to be burdened with knowing but still, a catch twenty two.
“Kevin, we don’t want him to know we know. Obviously, if he wanted us to know he would have told us, so let’s not say anything, okay? I’m sure it’s scary and embarrassing for him.”
“What if this guy shows up? Do we even know what he looks like?”
“I have a picture, I’ll show it to you when we get back.”
“Do your parents know?”
Howie nodded, “Johnny made sure to fill them in.”
Now it was Kevin’s turn to glance down at Nick as he played with his stick in the sand, “Okay…let’s go get him.”
They both got out of the car and headed towards the beach.
He looked so innocent as he sat there playing with his stick and writing in the sand. It wasn’t until closer observation and seeing what was being written that both Kevin and Howie couldn’t help but smile as they sat beside him.
“You spelled douchebag wrong.” Kevin said as he glanced down at the message written in the sand. “And why am I the only douchebag? Shouldn’t Howie’s name be there too?”
“It was… this is my newest creation.”’
“Nicky, how did you get here?” Howie asked as Nick erased his latest message.
“I hitched a ride with a bunch of college kids.”
“You hitchhiked? Nick what were you thinking? Do you have ANY idea how dangerous that is?” Kevin was yelling to the point that both Howie and Nick cringed.
“Relax, it’s not like it was that far away and it was a group of girls in bikinis. I figured I’d take my chances.”
“We were worried about you. Why didn’t you leave a note?”
“I told Kevin where I was going.”
“I was asleep.”
“Well then you managed to tell me to fuck off while you were sleeping. Way to go.”
“Even still…you could have just stayed by the pool.” Howie put his hand on Nick’s shoulder.
“I did for like the first two or three hours. I was bored and when I figured out we weren’t actually going to go fishing, I decided to come here instead. I’m surprised to see you here. I thought for sure I’d end up coming back home just in time to see you guys go out and leave me again.”
Kevin rolled his eyes and shook his head, a move that had Howie give a little warning shake of his own before turning his attention back to the teenager, “We’re really sorry about that, Nicky. Tonight you get to pick what we do and then tomorrow we fish. I promise!”
“That sounded oddly like what Kevin said to me last night.”
“Maybe… but I will not go back on my word!”
“Hey!” Kevin said which made both Nick and Howie laugh.
Howie stood up first and then extended his hand to the youngest member of the group, swooping him up in one long pull and then together they helped Kevin up off the sand.
“So…where are those girls in the bikinis you mentioned?” Howie asked as they started walking back towards the car.
When they couldn’t decide on a movie they ended up just renting one, getting a pizza and relaxing on the couch. At first Nick wasn’t pleased with this choice, wanting to go bowling or play laser tag, mini golf or anything else that didn’t involve hanging around Howie’s house, but once he was reassured that they would eventually get to do some if not all of those things, he relented…just as long as he got to pick the movie and choose the pizza toppings. So, there they sat watching “Weekend at Bernie’s” and gnawing on Pineapple and pepperoni pizza.
“If you wanted pineapple so badly, why are you picking them all off?” Howie asked amused when he saw Nick’s mound of rejected pineapples growing on his greasy almost see through, paper plate.
“Because he knows I hate them on my pizza.”
Of course it was just going to be plain pepperoni at first but once the word pineapple was mentioned and a scowl ran across Kevin’s face, it seemed only fitting that it would be included on the pizza as that final act of retribution.
“Not true, Kevy Kev! I just guessed you might not like them!” He let out a belly laugh afterwards followed by a huge “HA!” and burp.
Kevin shook his head at the overly hyper blonde wishing that his cousin were here to rescue them. Whenever Nick got like this, the guys sought out Brian. He had this calming affect over the kid, or maybe he was just as hyper, whatever the case, it worked for the two of them and resulted in peace and quiet for the rest. Unfortunately this was not going to happen tonight.
“This has got to be the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen!” Howie grumbled as he took a sip of Coke. No alcohol tonight, Momma D’s orders after being told by Nick how they had both stood him up because of their night of partying. Lucky for them, he didn’t mention the whole hitchhiking to the beach part.
Nick was sitting on the floor beside Howie while Kevin opted for stretching his legs out on the couch.
“How could you say that man? This movie is a classic! The guy is totally dead but yet no one realizes it!”
“Exactly, how do these people not realize the guy is dead?”
Nick shrugged and chugged a Coke as if it was a beer, letting out another huge burp when he was done. “Because he’s like walking and shit.”
Kevin laughed which had Nick turn around, “What?”
Nick jumped onto the couch as if he was a dog and landed on top of Kevin’s legs. “Seriously what?”
Kevin tried pushing Nick off the couch but was unable to because of the grip he had on the arms of the furniture. “Get off me!”
“Not until you tell me why you laughed!” Nick was being overly playful and silly but Kevin was getting annoyed. He tried to get Nick off of him once more but it only made the blonde giggle.
“Nick…I mean it!”
“Come on Kevin…have some fun.”
“This isn’t fun…get off of me!” Kevin pushed one final time and ended up knocking Nick off of the couch and a can of Coke all over the floor. “Shit!” He said as he jumped up out of his seat.
Howie stood up, “Relax man. I’ll get some paper towels. This carpet has seen much worse!”
“See what you made me do?” Kevin pointed an accusatory finger at Nick. “Not everything is a game! Grow up!!”
Just as Howie came back with a roll of paper towels, Nick stood up, “I’m going to bed.” He suddenly was quiet and somber. “Goodnight.”
Before Howie could say one word Kevin beat him too it, “I know…I know…I’m going to go up and talk to him.”
D just smiled as he cleaned up Kevin’s mess.
When he got up the stairs, the light in the bedroom was off and Nick was lying on his side facing the wall. Kevin put the light on which had the teenager place his pillow over his head “Go away!”
Kevin sat on his bed across from Nick and just stared at his back, “I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
“I don’t’ like when people jump on me. I hate the feeling of not being able to move. I’m kind of claustrophobic.”
The confession made Nick turn around, “You are?”
Kevin nodded, “I get nervous when I can’t move.”
Nick sat up in his bed and placed the pillow on his lap, “I’m sorry. I never knew that. Wow, when we are completely surrounded by fans that must drive you crazy huh?”
Kevin nodded, “It’s not my favorite sensation.”
“I get that…I promise I’ll try to not jump on you as much anymore.”
Kevin laughed, “Thanks, Nick. I appreciate that.”
“I think that’s the first time you’ve ever shared a secret with me.”
Kevin nodded his head, “Well there you go.” He thought that maybe he found his opening. “Care to share any secrets with me?”
Nick thought about this for a few minutes, in which time Kevin was trying to prepare in his head what he would say to the kid about this guy who had been terrorizing him. How everything would be just fine because neither he nor Howie would let anything happen to him.
“I may have farted on your pizza when you weren’t paying attention.”
But instead he came up with that nugget of information.
Kevin just nodded…then shook his head…then nodded before shutting the light and saying, “Goodnight Nick. See you in the morning.”
~ 6 ~
The next morning, the boys woke up at around six. Nick made sure of that. There was no way they were going to miss this promised fishing trip. Howie’s brother had other plans so at 7:20 am; the three guys boarded the SS Double D and set sail for the middle of the Atlantic.
Kevin woke with glassy eyes and another headache. He felt like he needed at least three more hours of sleep to feel fully rejuvenated. This was a break. Weren’t they supposed to be able to sleep in during a break? Why was it that this kid was almost impossible to wake up when work needed to be done, but was wide awake by 6 and ready to go when on vacation? On most days, it took all four of them to pull Nick out of bed and get him dressed just for a dance rehearsal. He made no sense.
Kevin glanced over at Nick who was sitting right beside Howie as he steered the boat, seeming to not have any idea what he was doing. “You do know how to drive this thing right, D?”
Howie nodded, “I’ve done it a few times. How hard can it be? It’s kind of like driving a really big and wet car. John gave me pretty good directions.”
“I know how to drive the boat!”
“NO!” both Kevin and Howie said in unison.
“Jesus…alright. I was just sayin’” the blonde paused for a few seconds, “We should have a competition to see who will catch the most fish!” Nick said excitedly.
“Why does everything have to be a contest with you?”
“Because it makes life exciting, Kevin.”
“Yeah, except when you lose. Then we have to hear how you weren’t really serious about the contest…blah blah blah. Same story over and over.”
“You say that as if I lose all the time, which I never do.”
“Substitute the word never with always…that’s more accurate.”
Nick stood up and moved beside Kevin, “Sounds like you’re just chicken…brock brock brock.”
“You seriously did not just cluck at me, did you?”
“Brock brock brock!” Nick stood up, flapped his wings and started pecking.
“Can we throw him overboard?” Kevin asked Howie who had a huge smile on his face.
“Maybe after we stop.”
Which will be when?”
“Yeah, D…this seems like a good place to catch some fish and watch Kevin lose my bet!”
Howie nodded and stopped, a little too fast which had Nick fly across the boat and fall to the ground.
“Sorry...you okay, Nicky?”
Nick sat up and rubbed at his lower back, “I think you broke my ass!”
Kevin stood up and walked over to Nick, offering him his hand, “Oh, no what will you ever be able to talk out of now?”
Nick smiled as he let his older bandmate help him up, “Ha Ha Ha You is a real riot.”
“Yes, I is…”
“I’ll go get the rods.”
“They’re below deck, Nicky.”
Nick nodded at Howie and left.
“It’s going to be a long day…” Kevin admitted to his friend once Nick had descended the steps.
They sat there for a while with their feet dangling off the side of the boat and their fishing rods in their hands. No one had caught a thing. It’s like all the fish in the ocean decided to take a break or something. Kevin felt a mounting frustration as he just sat there and waited. There were other things he could be doing, like sleeping. This seemed like a complete and utter waste of time. He decided in his head that if they went another hour with nothing to show for it, he would make the suggestion that they turn back.
He glanced over at Howie who he wished was sitting next to him so he could share his plan. Of course that’s not how it worked since Nick, who always needed to be the center of attention, sat right in between both of the guys.
“I haven’t even seen any minnows or guppies down there.” Nick sounded annoyed. “Maybe we should move to another place?” He glanced over at Howie and squinted his eyes when the sun hit them head on.
“I’m not sure doing that would change anything, Nicky. Maybe the fish just aren’t biting today.”
“It’s because we left too late!” For whatever reason, he directed a death glare look over at Kevin.
“We left early enough, Nick.”
“My dad made us leave before the sunrise and we always caught a ton of fish.” He said this, emphasizing the ‘we’ as if to show how much better his father was at this then him. “We would have caught about ten huge ones by now.”
Kevin resisted the urge to say what he wanted and instead opted to shrug, “Ah well…what can you do?”
Nick let out a sigh, rested his elbow on his leg and placed his hand on his chin. Then there it was… the refreshing sound of silence.
The oldest closed his eyes and tried to take a nap sitting up. He had napped in stranger positions before. Unlike Howie, he didn’t have the power to just make himself fall asleep anywhere at any time but if he was tired enough, like now, he could make it happen. He felt himself dosing off as he heard Nick once again start whining, this time directing his anger at Howie.
“D, you’re holding the rod wrong.”
“There’s a wrong way to do this?”
“Yeah and you’re doing it!”
Kevin kept his eyes closed as he felt Nick shift his position, surely showing Howie the ‘correct’ way to hold his stupid fishing rod. There was a slight rocking of the boat which didn’t help with the nausea he felt since he woke up and then an “Oh, I see…” from Howie who was obviously just telling the teenager what he wanted to hear. “Thanks, Nicky.”
“No wonder no fish were biting. Maybe that will help.” Then there was a pause before the all too familiar, “What?” was directed at Kevin who had inadvertently laughed in a sarcastic manner after Nick’s last statement.
He felt the need to open his eyes, and shrug. “I doubt that will help at all. It’s not like the fish were offended that Howie didn’t’ know what he was doing.”
“Uh…I know what I’m doing…” was almost whispered by poor D.
“Sorry, D…what I meant was how Howie is or isn’t holding his stupid fishing pole isn’t going to make a bit of difference.”
“We call it a fishing rod, Kevin.”
“My dad and I. He always says that only people who do not know what they are doing, call it a fishing pole. Now I see what he means.”
Kevin bit at his lip and tensed his fingers around his fishing ‘rod’ before throwing it back into the ocean. “No matter what it’s called, the fact that Howie is clueless doesn’t matter.”
“Um…I’m not clueless…” Once again the smallest protest was heard coming from the other side of Nick.
“What I think we should do is head back.” Kevin decided to just go for it while given the opportunity. “You said so yourself that nothing is down there, so why waste our time when there is other stuff we could be doing?”
“Like what exactly? Me staying home while you two go out again?”
“Relax, no…just anything.”
“You just want to leave because I want to stay!” Nick’s voice was taking on that higher pitched whine that Kevin hated so much, the mark of a child who gets all mad when it doesn’t get its way.
“No, I want to leave because we aren’t actually fishing!”
“That’s because neither of you know how to do it right! If my dad was here…”
“But he’s not which is why YOU are here, isn’t it?” He tried to stop himself as the words were coming out of his mouth. His brain was saying “Nooooo” but his heart refused to listen. He couldn’t help it. He had been goaded by the kid all morning. He was tired and cranky and he had enough. He instantly regretted it.
There was a very uncomfortable silence at that point. “Nick, I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to…”
Nick glared right at him, “Yes, you did.” Then he calmly got up and went below deck.
Kevin rubbed at his eyes and threw his pole down in frustration. “I am never having kids!” He grumbled as he moved his legs from the side of the boat and stood up to follow the youngest down the steps.
“I know what I’m doing…” Howie grumbled as Kevin disappeared from site.
When he reached the bottom of the steps Kevin had to grab onto the small bannister to keep his balance as the boat rocked ever so slightly. He looked at the table with built in booth and then moved his gaze underneath where Nick was sitting, arms protectively wrapped around his knees as if he was a child playing hide and seek.
At first Kevin went to go sit in the booth but then opted to just sit right beside his bandmate on the ground. Nick ignored his presence, refusing to look his way and instead turned his head in the other direction.
“Nick, I am really sorry about what I said. I am cranky and tired and I just lost my temper.” He said this in a very quiet and calm voice, but most of all sincere because that’s how he felt. Sincerely sorry for what he had said.
Upon hearing those words, Nick turned his head to face his friend but still rested it on his knees as he held on tight to his own legs.
“Why do you hate me?”
Kevin seemed surprised by this question, “What are you talking about? I don’t hate you.”
“Yes, you do. You hate that I’m here. You don’t want me around. No one does.”
He tried not to act like it, but he was totally confused. Until after a few seconds of silence, Nick said “They never want me around either.”
“Who?” He asked even though he already knew the answer.
“Of course they do…”
“No they don’t and you know it too.” He paused for a few seconds and then confessed, “My father told me all I did was complicate things when I was born.” He looked over at Kevin with tears streaming down his face, “Why would he tell me that?”
“I wish I knew, Nick. Sometimes we say stupid things without thinking about it.”
Nick nodded, “But it doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
Kevin had no idea what to say to make this child feel better so instead of speaking he just put his hand on the kid’s foot.
“Everyone would be happier if I just disappeared.” He continued when he didn’t get the answer he had been searching for.
Kevin looked up to the steps, hoping that Howie would make his way down and rescue him. When Nick caught that panicked expression, even through tears he managed to let out a small laugh as he wiped his cheeks with the bottom of his tee shirt.
“Never mind…”He crawled out from under the table, “Maybe we should just head back…this was a stupid idea.”
Nick stood up and then used the table to steady himself. He looked so lost and sad, that it really did break Kevin’s heart. “I don’t hate you, Nick. Not even close.”
“Kev, it’s okay. I know I’m annoying and nothing more than a stupid kid to you.”
“That’s not true. You’re my little brother.”
At those words, Nick’s face seemed to light up just a little bit. “You’re not used to being the little brother. You’re used to being the older one. But the way I treat you is no different than how my big brothers treated me.”
Kevin nodded and smiled. He suddenly had a new mission to try to convince the fifteen year old that he wasn’t hated or unwanted. “Let’s get back up there before Howie breaks the boat.” He joked and then placed a loving arm around his little brother as he guided him back up the steps.
~ 7 ~
“I can’t believe you actually broke the boat, Howie.”
“Shut up, Kevin! It’s not my fault. The engine just decided to stop working.”
It was comedic timing that the second the two of them had reached the deck, Howie had tried to move the boat which caused the engine to let out a small cry of help in the form of major sputtering sounds before dying altogether.
“Well that didn’t sound good.” Kevin said, trying his best not to smile.
Of course Nick didn’t try to hide his feelings as he walked over to his friend and pat him on the back, “Way to go, D! Kevin just said he was afraid this was going to happen. You totally called it, Bro!”
Howie looked really annoyed as he took a deep breath and began pacing back and forth on the deck. “I don’t know why this is happening. Everything seemed to be working fine before.”
Kevin walked over and placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder, “It’s okay, D. We’ll just call for help. No big deal.”
“Maybe not to you, but my brother is going to kill me!”
Nick laughed as he once again dangled his feet over the water. “Maybe you should have let me drive the boat!”
Howie was ignoring the teenager and instead kept playing around with the steering wheel as if that would magically make things better. Kevin decided to help, standing next to his friend and placing a hand on his shoulder, “I don’t think that’s going to do much. We might as well just sit back and enjoy the day. I mean we are on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Things could be worse, right?”
Howie looked at Kevin suspiciously, “Did you take a heavy amount of drugs while you were below deck?”
Kevin shook his head, “Just trying to make the best of the situation.”
“I know and it’s a little odd!”
Nick laughed at that. “Howie’s got a point.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Howie and Nick both looked at each other before the younger of the two answered, “You aren’t exactly the most optimistic guy on the planet.”
“I’m a realist.”
“You’re a Debbie Downer!”
“I am NOT!”
“Kevin, you know there are those glass half full people and then the glass half empty people. You’re like the guy who is holding the broken glass because it shattered from all your negativity.”
Howie started laughing at Nick’s analogy but all it was doing was angering Kevin which maybe was proving their points. “Whatever.”
“Hey, that’s my line!”
“Do you think it’s easy having to be the one that everyone counts on to do the right thing all the time?” Kevin asked both his friends as the sun slowly sank behind a cloud as if to coincide with the mood shift in the boat. “Do you have any idea the kind of pressure I’m under to make sure you all do the right thing all the damn time?” He paused for a few seconds to make eye contact with both of them and then shook his head, “Maybe that’s why I seem so serious all the time. Someone in this group has to be!”
“I call bullshit!”
Kevin turned to Nick, “Excuse me?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean shit that comes out of a bull, Kevin!”
Kevin tilted his head slightly which made Nick giggle. “Huh?”
“This right here has nothing to do with our band. We are on a vacation, trying to fish on a beautiful day and yet, you are here being all serious and anal.”
“I was just accused of taking drugs because I was being positive.”
“Yes, but then you got all serious and anal about it.”
Kevin looked over at Howie for some support but all he got was a shrug, “The kid’s kind of got a point.”
“Fine! Then you know what? I’ll just sit here and not say anything and I’m sure that will make both of you pretty happy.”
“Could you try not scowling too?” Kevin didn’t say anything but turned to look at Nick as he continued, “Because I don’t know man…your brows just kind of like… do the talking for you.”
He tried not to laugh. He tried to keep a serious look on his face, but the look on Nick’s just made him crack a smile. “You’re such an idiot!” Kevin said as he shook his head and lay down on the deck, shielding his eyes from the sun which once again came out from behind the clouds.
“I spy with my own eyes…”
Both Kevin and Nick sighed because they knew what the next word out of Howie’s mouth was going to be.
“Uh….could it be the water…again?” Kevin asked sarcastically as they all lay on their backs staring up at the sky.
“Ding Ding Ding!”
“How did I ever know?”
“Lucky guess, it could have been the sky.”
“Yeah, like the last five times you went…D, you seriously suck at this game.” Nick whined. “And no offense, but this is the worst fishing trip I’ve ever been on. I’m surprised the fish haven’t jumped onto the boat and bitch slapped us yet.”
“The night’s still young.”
“But I’m not. I swear how long are we just going to sit here? I feel like I’ve aged about ten years.”
“I thought you were the one that wanted to stay, Nick.”
“That was before I realized how incredibly boring the two of you could be.”
The three of them had been floating on a dead boat for more than four hours now. In which time, they had swam, argued, took a short nap, argued some more, ate some lunch, argued some more and then started playing ‘I Spy’
All right, I guess I’ll go again. Kevin said looking around for something they haven’t used yet…“I spy with my own eyes…Nick...why is your ass beeping?”
“Well that’s a new one.” Howie said as he opened his eyes at the sound that Kevin alluded to. “You are beeping.”
“No, I’m not!” Nick said all defensively as clearly a beeping sound was heard coming from his shorts.
“Do you have a pager?”
Nick rolled his eyes and took it out of his back pocket, “Well duh…”
“When did you get that? I don’t remember you having one before.” Howie said curiously watching as Nick looked at the number.
“Howie did you bring that huge ass phone with you?”
“Yes Nicky, but I decided not to use it to call for help.” When Nick looked confused by Howie’s attempt at sarcasm, he shook his head, “Of course I didn’t. The last thing I need is to get it wet. You know how expensive those phones are?”
“Did your parents give you that?” Kevin asked as he watched Nick nervously shift his position as he stared at the number. “Is that them trying to call you?”’
Nick hesitated slightly before answering, “Yeah…they need me to call them right away.”
“Well, they’re out of luck then.” Howie answered before closing his eyes to the sun again. Kevin however wasn’t buying it.
“When did they give that to you?”
Nick shrugged and placed the beeper beside him but he seemed nervous, uneasy and on edge, all things that alarmed Kevin. “How come we didn’t know you had that?”
“Sorry, I didn’t know I had to report every little thing I got from home.”
“Just that, I’m surprised you haven’t bragged about having it yet. Seems like something you would have talked about by now. Does Brian even know you have one of those?”
“God, can we stop talking about my stupid pager already?”
“What do you think your parents want?” Howie asked with his eyes still closed to the sun.
“No idea, they probably are just checking up on me to see if I’m having a good time.”
Kevin was still looking at Nick suspiciously as he continued to explain, “They gave it to me when they knew I wasn’t coming home.”
At that blatant lie, Kevin looked over at Howie who was staring right back at him. Apparently, in his haste to not tell the truth, Nick had forgotten that this vacation was unplanned.
“Well, that’s good then, Nicky.” Howie answered. “We’ll make sure we give them a call as soon as we get back on dry land.”
Howie was sitting up too now. Both men thinking the same thing as they watched the youngest nervously shift while biting on his bottom lip, “I spy with my own eyes…” he said looking out into the big ocean.
~ 8 ~
Kevin was always a terrible liar. Not for lack of trying though. Whenever he stretched the truth or flat out lied to his parents, they would instantly know and he would be punished. He was very envious of his two older brothers who could look either their mother or father in the eye and say the biggest load of crap story ever and they’d be so convincing both parents would believe them. Heck even Kevin, who KNEW they were lying, would believe them! It used to make him so mad and was yet, another thing he had in common with the youngest member of the band.
Nick thought he was a genius liar. He thought he was outsmarting people all the time, but he was never able to pull the wool over Kevin’s eyes. He always saw right through his bullshit. The whining about not feeling well just so he could stay in and play video games. Or the times he would swear up and down that he lost his ATM card or his money mysteriously disappeared. Kevin always knew there was more to the story because the teenager had a ‘tell,’ several of them in fact. He would always look up and a little to the left when he wasn’t being honest, followed by running his hands through his hair and ending with biting his bottom lip. It was done in rapid succession as if it was one fluid motion.
The youngest member of the group would get so mad when after telling a tale to all of them, Kevin would say “That was great but how about you tell us the truth now?” Nick would storm off only to be followed by Brian giving his usual look of disapproval. Admittedly, most times Kevin would rat out Nick just to get a rise out of the kid or just for his own satisfaction since he found everything the blond did annoying.
Things slowly changed for Kevin though when he would catch Nick telling lies which seemed odd at the time. Little things like when people asked him about his family and if they were close. He would say “I love my parents and my siblings.” Followed by those same tells. Another time, Nick came in with an unexplained black eye after a weekend home. “I got into it with some neighbor kids because they called me a boy band loser!” He had said in a bragging tone to which he received high fives from both AJ and Brian. He had looked to Kevin for some kind of approval but all he got was a shake of his head. The ‘tell’ gave him away. He had been lying about the neighbor kids. Of course, never did Kevin once think it was something much worse. No, he just chalked it up to Nick being just a liar.
Now he found himself staring down at Nick as he lay there sound asleep. They were thankfully back on land after being rescued by the Coast Guard. Howie’s parents came to pick them up and then together they all went out for dinner. By the time they got back to the house, all three were exhausted and decided to just stay in for the rest of the night. They all ventured out into the backyard and lit up the Dorough’s fire pit. Making S’mores and just relaxing as the sun went down and a gentle breeze hit them. Nick had been oddly quiet after receiving that mysterious page. When he got back to the house, Kevin had watched him carefully, ready to listen in to any phone call he might have made, but he never got the chance because as soon as Nick reclined on one of the lounge chairs outside, he was out like a light.
“Kevin, what’s wrong?”
Kevin looked over at Howie as he handed him a stick to roast a marshmallow. He grabbed it and gently placed the white goo at the end, holding it to the fire.
“Why do you think he lied to us?”
“About who paged him?”
Kevin nodded as he turned his marshmallow to get it crisp on the other side.
“I don’t know…” Howie continued, “Maybe he has a girlfriend and he’s just too shy to admit it?”
“You really believe that?”
Howie shrugged, “Not really… what do you think?”
Kevin took his marshmallow off the flame and blew on it, “I just have a bad feeling.”
“You don’t think it’s the guy; do you, the one threatening him?”
That’s exactly what Kevin was thinking. He hoped he was wrong but he couldn’t help but feel like whomever this person was, Nick knew he shouldn’t be talking to him. He grabbed his marshmallow with his fingers and placed it in his mouth forgoing the rest of the S’more ingredients. “I’d like to get a look at the number and give it a call.”
“That’s a bit of an invasion of privacy, don’t you think?” Howie licked some of the melting chocolate off of his hand as he spoke.
“Not if it’s only an accidental ‘wrong number’ call.”
Howie thought about it, even though he appeared as if he wasn’t concerned, Kevin could clearly tell he was. There was just something overly suspicious about the whole pager thing as well as Nick’s behavior after seeing the number and message. “Do you know where he keeps it?” He asked after a few moments of quiet contemplation.
“It’s on the ground right beside him.” Kevin said eyeing the beeper as he had been almost the entire time they’d been outside.
Howie checked to make sure Nicky was still asleep and then motioned for Kevin to grab it. He realized how pissed off the kid would be if he were caught because Kevin would be just as annoyed, but sometimes it was worth the risk. This was one of those times. He bent down and grabbed the pager off the ground, quickly turning away from Nick as he did and looked for the last page he got. There was no number like he had hoped, but only five words – Found you…better call me!
“What?” Howie asked as he walked over to where Kevin was sitting and sat down beside him.
Kevin passed the pager to Howie who looked at it with a mixture of confusion and fear.
“What should we do?” He asked as he handed the pager back and glanced over at the sleeping form of their friend once again.
“Maybe we should just flat out ask him about it. Tell him we know and make sure it’s not that psycho.”
“I hope it’s not that psycho.” Howie sounded legitimately scared.
“Howie, is there something else you haven’t told me?”
There was a hesitation before he answered Kevin. You could tell he was struggling internally with whether or not to divulge any more information. “Just that this guy is really dangerous and Nicky is well…really vulnerable.” He whispered the last word and looked over to make sure he was still asleep.
“That kid he supposedly attacked? Well he actually almost killed him. He was charged with sexual assault and attempted murder. He was found not guilty of the attempted murder charge which is why he got out so early.”
“Jesus…” Kevin rubbed his chin and let out a sigh.
“The thing is… I guess Nicky doesn’t really think this guy will harm him. He looks at him more like a family member who actually wants to be around him.”
That thought appalled Kevin. How could Nick be so stupid to read the letters he got from this guy and come to the conclusion that he was only looking out for his best interest.
“Johnny was telling me that in Nick’s mind, this guy just had a hard life and needed to be in touch with someone who cared. It was just by luck that security even found out about it at all. Q just happened to see an opened letter that Nick had left on the table. He begged him not to tell Johnny but of course he did.”
Kevin shook his head and let out a sigh. “I think we need to talk to him about this, Howie. I know it’ll make him feel uncomfortable but what if? We have to talk to him.”
Howie nodded, “He’s not going to be happy.”
“But at least he’ll be safe.”
After those words came out of his mouth, Kevin thought back to his conversation with Nick on the boat. Now he was really feeling for the first time a new set of feelings for the kid. This need to protect him was slowly taking over. It seemed like Nick didn’t have anyone in his life that would step up and try to keep him safe. It kind of broke his heart to think that. Know that if this was happening to him, he would have not only his mother right there with him but both of his older brothers, ready to rip this guy in half if he even tried to get close. Nick seemingly had no one in his life that cared for him in that way.
“You know…for someone who doesn’t care about the kid….” Howie said as if driving home what Kevin was thinking only a few moments earlier.
“Howie, of course I care about Nick. I want to kill Nick most of the time, but I care.”
D placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder, “I know Kev…he gets under your skin, but you can’t help but love him a little.” He finished his thought with a wink and then they both looked down at the topic of their conversation, still fast asleep and oblivious to what was going on.
~ 9 ~
That night, Kevin had a really strange dream. He was camping with his family, just like they used to do when he was little. Almost every weekend during their summer vacation, Kevin’s father would take his three boys camping.
Kevin’s favorite part of those trips, besides spending quality time with his father, was the horseback riding excursions. In this particular dream, he was getting on his horse, ready to go on a brand new trail, but instead of his brothers there with him, Nick was.
Nick of course was whining about not knowing how to put a saddle on the horse, so Kevin’s father went over and helped him. Instead of being grateful, he had rolled his eyes when Mr. Richardson began explaining in a slow drawl how to do it correctly. The next time Kevin glanced over; Nick was on the horse, patting it’s back and anxious to get moving.
“What are you waiting for?” He asked in his ever present inpatient, whiny voice.
“Hold your horses…I’m coming.” Kevin had growled under his breath, annoyed that once again, he was the one stuck with the task of entertaining his youngest bandmate.
“HA!” Carter had responded to the unintentional pun.
Kevin’s father had then lovingly pat Nick’s leg before moving over to his son, “Watch out for him, Kevin. That’s all he needs is some guidance. I love you and am so proud of you!” He winked then and hugged his boy before disappearing.
When Kevin looked up he saw that Nick was gone, the horse seemingly galloping out of control while the blonde was screaming. “Kevin!!!” like he always did for any kind of situation, no matter how big or small.
Kevin jumped on his horse like a pro and took off after Nick down the trail. Every time he thought he was going to get close enough to reach out and grab him, the horse would pull away.
“I’m going to fall off, Kevin!”
“Just don’t let go!” but it was clear that Nick wasn’t listening. The teenager was only holding on with one hand now as he tried to turn around to face Kevin.
“Nick, what are you doing? Hold on with both hands!!”
“I’m going to fall!!”
“Not if you listen to me!”
But it was too late. The horse veered to the left while Nick was leaning towards the right and he flew off the horse and hit a tree full force.
Kevin’s eyes popped open and he shot up in his bed to see Nick staring at him, glassy eyes, hair all over the place and looking rather antsy himself.
The dream seemed so real that Kevin’s heart was actually racing to the point he was out of breath. It took him a few seconds to realize he had just been dreaming before a small sense of relief had washed over him.
“You even yell at me in your sleep.” Nick said groggily.
“Sorry…I was just…I had a nightmare.”
“Yeah, I figured that much. Nice to know I was in the middle of things. Did I eat your brains or something?”
Kevin was still discombobulated, “It was a horse.”
“A horse ate your brains?” Nick looked amused.
“What? No…no one ate my brains. I just…my dad was there…” Kevin pulled his hands through his hair.
Kevin nodded at the teenager who was now sitting cross legged on the bed, holding his pillow on his lap.
“Yeah, you were there too.”
“What happened? Why were you yelling at me?”
“I wasn’t yelling at you.”
“Yes you were. You said my name in that ‘way’ of yours.”
“Way of mine?”
“Yeah…you know…like all mad teacher-y like.”
Kevin smiled and yawned, “I wasn’t mad at you…you were…” For some reason he didn’t want to tell Nick what had happened in the dream. He wasn’t even sure why. He’d probably love the fact that Kevin had tried to rescue him, but for whatever reason, he kept it to himself. Instead he decided to say, “I wish you had gotten a chance to meet my dad.”
His father would have taken an instant liking to Nick. He also would have felt the need to take him under his wing. His dad was always great like that. Taking kids from troubled homes and making them feel like he was their surrogate father. It used to make Kevin jealous when he was about Nick’s age. He’d see his dad talking to some of the campers, arm around them and giving them encouraging words and he used to feel slighted, like they were trying to take his dad away from him. What an ignorant way to think… or maybe childlike way?
He tried just then to put himself in Nick’s shoes. How it always seemed that unless it came to his money, Bob Carter almost always chose just about anyone else over his own son, but not only Bob. Jane did as well. No wonder he would look to this psychopath for attention. Any attention was better than nothing.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
Kevin didn’t realize he was staring at Nick until the question was posed.
“I mean it’s a little creepy.”
He and Howie had decided that they would confront Nick about this guy the next day. Possibly after doing a slew of fun, Nick centered activities that might soften the blow a bit but Kevin felt like maybe now would be the best time, so he took a deep breath while the teenager looked on confused and impatient.
“Still being creepy…” Nick decided to throw in there when at least a full minute went by in complete silence.
Kevin had no clue how to even start this conversation. He opened his mouth and said, “Want ice cream?”
Now Nick was even more confused as he looked at the clock on his nightstand.
That made Kevin glance in the direction of the clock to see it was 5:45 in the morning.
“Hell yeah I want ice cream for breakfast. Who wouldn’t?”
“Probably Mama D.”
Nick nodded and let out a small sigh, “You’re probably right, besides she makes killer pancakes! I hope she makes them this morning. I think I hinted enough.”
“You mean at dinner when you said about fifteen times…Gee you know what would be great for breakfast, Pancakes?”
“I guess I wasn’t very subtle then, huh?”
Kevin laughed, “Not so much.”
“Kev, are you okay? What’s wrong? Is it about your dad?”
Once again he wanted to be honest, tell him “Actually I’m worried about you. I am afraid you’re going to get hurt. I had a dream about you getting hurt and it almost gave me a heart attack. I have no idea why. I usually want to sucker punch you…” He couldn’t do it though and he hated himself for it.
“Maybe…I don’t know…it’s too damn early to be awake.”
“Well yeah… I mean if you didn’t scream out my name…”
“You never told me what I was doing in your dream.”
“You were eating Howie’s brains…”
They both laid back down in silence. Kevin on his back looking up at the ceiling and Nick on his side, staring at Kevin looking up at the ceiling.
“Remember when you said you got into a fight with those neighbor kids?”
“What really happened?”
He heard Nick move on the bed as it creaked under his weight. “Why don’t you ever believe me?”
“Who gave you that black eye?”
Nick let out a sigh, “I don’t remember his name. He was just a stupid kid who lived up the block.”
“Why would I lie?”
Now it was Kevin’s turn to shift. They had managed to reverse roles. Nick was now looking up at the ceiling while Kevin was staring at Nick.
“I don’t know…but you don’t have to. You can tell the truth.”
In the smallest of voices Nick replied, “No I can’t…”
Kevin closed his eyes and let out a sigh, knowing that if he wanted Nick to open up to him, he had to go first. Just like the other night. “I dreamt you fell off a horse and really hurt yourself. That’s why I screamed your name…I tried to grab you before you fell but I couldn’t get to you in time.”
There was a long pause; so long in fact, that Kevin thought maybe Nick had fallen asleep.
“He didn’t mean it, Kevin. Sometimes he just gets mad and doesn’t think before he does stuff. He didn’t mean to punch me. He never means to hurt me, really.” he finally answered in that small voice, the one that made him sound as young as he actually was.
Kevin swallowed, for some reason he wanted to cry. “Does he hit you a lot, your dad?” Hoping his guess was incorrect and they were not talking about Bob Carter.
“No…not anymore…he mostly yells and threatens but…no, not anymore.”
Kevin nodded and closed his eyes. Of course Bob wouldn’t hit him anymore because it’s the kid’s face that keeps money going into his pockets. At that moment he wanted to get out of bed, find Bob Carter and punch him in the face.
“Please don’t tell, Kevin. He really doesn’t mean it and like I said he doesn’t do it anymore.”
How many times had he heard his father mimic those same words over family dinner when talking about some of those troubled kids Kevin was jealous over? His dad would say how in tears they would beg him not to tell a soul about the abuse. It would only make things so much worse. In the end his dad always ended up having to tell. It would be against the law if he didn’t. The kids always felt betrayed afterwards, but maybe also a little relieved.
“Kevin? Please…” It sounded like Nick was the one crying now.
He was torn at that moment and kind of mad at himself for asking. If he had just allowed himself to stay in the dark, things would have been simpler, but no, he had to ask. He was also ashamed of himself for thinking so selfishly. This kid just admitted his father physically abused him and all Kevin could think was how he now had the burden of knowing…poor him.
“If you tell, they’ll pull me out of the band…” Nick now sounded absolutely panic stricken. He was sitting on the edge of his bed staring at Kevin, his eyes cutting through the gray of the early morning. “He doesn’t do it anymore, I promise!”
Kevin took a deep breath, “I won’t tell…”
A few sniffles followed a “Really?”
“Yes, but you have to promise me that if he ever touches you again, you’ll let me know.”
Kevin heard a creak of Nick’s bed before he felt the weight of the teenager next to him, giving him a hug and then a peck on the cheek. “Thanks, Kev…I promise.”
“Now go back to sleep…” Kevin ordered in a whisper, his voice cracking a little.
Nick hugged him tight once more. “Will do!” he said as he jumped off Kevin’s bed and back onto his own.
Within a few minutes, he heard heavy breathing followed by snores, but for Kevin there would be no more sleep, only troubling thoughts. He and Howie still had to confront Nick about this relative and the pager and now more than ever he just didn’t want to. He wasn’t sure how much more he wanted to know about this child. He wasn’t sure his heart could take it.
~ 10 ~
A big stack of chocolate chip pancakes were waiting for the boys when they finally woke up for the day and headed downstairs. Kevin felt himself dragging since he was unable to go back to sleep after his dream and ensuing conversation with his young roommate. Nick however woke up refreshed and relaxed as if no deep and intense discussion had occurred between the two just a few hours earlier.
Howie didn’t appear to have slept well either. He sat oddly quiet during their breakfast and hardly said two words as he just kind of pushed his whipped cream from one side of the dish to the other while his mother looked on disapprovingly.
After they finished eating and helped Mama D wash the dishes and put everything away, they sat in the living room to decide on what they would do for the day. Nick’s idea of horseback riding was quickly shot down by Kevin, which of course didn’t see it was just a joke as the blonde gave a quick wink right after suggesting it.
Howie suggested they have just a simple day on the beach or even stick close to home. Maybe just chill out by their family pool and then at night, catch a movie at the local cinema. Neither Kevin nor Nick felt like being by the water again after yesterday’s fiasco, so it was Kevin’s idea of miniature golfing that won out in the end. So at around 3 in the afternoon, the trio ended up at Putt U.
They had tackled two holes before Kevin was able to pull Howie aside, while Nick was just up ahead taking a shot on the penguin filled green. “Is everything okay, D?”
Howie looked over at Kevin and smiled, “Yeah, why do you ask?”
“You’ve just been kind of quiet.”
Howie let out a small sigh but then quickly smiled over at Nick who seemed very proud of himself for getting his ball into the hole in about his third try. D moved over and placed his own purple ball into the middle groove and gripped his putter tight before answering Kevin’s question. “I’ve just been thinking a lot about what that pager said.”
Kevin nodded as Howie pulled his arms back to swing at the ball. It moved slowly up the hill and then traveled back down to where he was standing which got Nick positively giggling.
“Wow Howie that royally sucked!”
“Shut up kid, I’m just warming up!”
“Yeah sure you are!” Nick goaded from his spot off the green.
Howie turned to Kevin and whispered, “I feel horrible for saying it, but I can’t help but feel like I’m putting my family in danger just by having Nicky stay with us, you know what I mean? I was thinking about telling my dad about the message. Do you think I should?”
Kevin hadn’t even thought about that. But it was true, if it really was this guy, he said he knew where Nick was which meant he also knew where Howie lived.
“Come on Howieeeee make your shot already!!” Nick whined, growing impatient and looking at his wrist as if he was wearing or even knew how to read a watch.
Once again Howie pulled back and hit the ball, this time getting it all the way up the hill and through the huge penguin’s feet as it landed right in the hole. “Yes!”
“No way!!” Nick yelled, “You totally cheated!”
“Well it’s not like it was a hole in one or anything.”
Howie glanced back at Kevin “I don’t know what to do.”
“We’ll figure it out D.” Kevin said as he placed his ball down and aimed.
Throughout the entire round of golf, Kevin and Howie discreetly went back and forth about how to handle the situation with the mysterious message on Nick’s pager. Whether or not it was a good idea to let his parent’s know about it or if they should just confront Nick first. Kevin was unsure if he should tell Howie about their conversation last night. He had promised not to tell anyone, including Howie he supposed, but then again, if he told D, then at least the two of them could share the burden of knowing about Bob’s abuse.
Nick seemed to be in a very good mood, striking up casual conversation with the group of teens who were put-putting before them. He was smiling and flirting with a teenage girl about his age as she tried her best to get her ball into the hole.
“Look at that little player.” Howie whispered to Kevin as they both watched the blond in action.
“Howie…last night, Nick told me it was Bob who gave him that black eye.”
The smile on D’s face instantly disappeared, “What? You mean when he said those kids were ganging up on him?”
“And he just told you this out of the blue?”
“I know, I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
“Well it didn’t take you long to break that promise.”
“I felt like you needed to know because I’m not sure if after telling me that, he’d be so willing to talk about this other guy now.”
They were both interrupted by the young brunette giggling as Nick had his arms around her waist, showing her the correct way to hold the putter. “He just thinks he knows it all, doesn’t he?” Howie said with a smile on his face.
“He’s like a young version of my cousin.” Kevin couldn’t help but think of Brian and his ‘vast’ knowledge about everything, well at least in his own mind. Nick pretty much had built a shrine to his little cousin so it was no wonder he picked up this trait as well.
“He’s had a hard life, this kid…” Howie said turning his attention back to Kevin.
“I’m starting to get that.” Kevin agreed.
~ * ~
When they were finished with their round of golf, they gathered at the small snack area to add up their scores and grab some ice cream. It was there that Nick who had pretty much all but left his bandmates behind to hang with the cute brunette, requested that he be allowed to go play one more round of golf with his new found friends, if it was okay with them of course. Kevin and Howie both said it was fine but not before stressing that if either one of them did that to him, he’d be whining and complaining about how unfair life was. Nick then had to bring up the fact that by leaving him to go out clubbing and then canceling their fishing trip, they owed him!
So, as the two men watched their young band mate head back onto the golf course they sat back, put their feet up on the bench and enjoyed just relaxing for a bit.
“That was kind of fun.”
Kevin nodded, “I haven’t played mini golf in a long time.”
“Same here.” Howie took a bite out of his ice cream taco, slurping the melted vanilla ice cream before it landed on his shirt. “I love these things.”
Kevin decided on an Italian Ice as he grabbed the overly small wooden spoon and scraped at the top of the watermelon flavored treat. “So, have we decided what to do about Nick?”
“I think we should talk to him. Maybe it’s best to leave my parents out of it for now. Who knows? Maybe it was someone else and not anyone we should be worried about. I don’t want to send my parents into a needless tizzy for nothing.”
“And what about Bob?”
Howie took one final bite of his taco and then threw the overly messy wrapper away, leaving a puddle of melted ice cream on the ground. “Bob needs to be kicked in the ass.”
“That was my thought too, but I mean do we tell someone?”
“I don’t know…” and he honestly looked as lost as Kevin felt last night when Nick had confided in him. “I mean…Nicky could be taken out of his home if that were to happen and he’s famous, you know? It would make all the papers and headlines overseas. Here no one cares, but in Canada and everywhere else? Then there are the others to consider too. All the kids would probably end up being removed from the home or at least they would be investigated. I don’t know, Kev…”
Kevin nodded “At least he’s not with his parents most of the time.” It was sad he even had to say that, but the more he got to know Nick, the more he understood that it was a saving grace that his family remained absent from that kid’s life.
As if he knew he was the subject of conversation, Nick came running over towards them and sat beside Kevin.
“Wow, you’re done already?”
“No, but we’re right by a food truck and I wanted to be nice and treat everyone to lunch.”
“So, why are you over here then?”
“Because I was wondering if I can borrow some cash?”
Kevin looked over at Howie and rolled his eyes as D smiled.
“So, basically I’m the one that’s being nice and treating your new friends to lunch?”
“Well, either you or Howie…either way works…so? Do either of you have $50?”
“What the hell? Are you buying the entire truck?” Howie asked fishing in his wallet for cash.
“Have you ever eaten at a food truck? That crap is pricey.”
Howie handed Nick a $20. “That’s all I have, buddy.”
He then glanced over at Kevin, “Kevy?”
Kevin let out a sigh and then opened his own wallet, pulling out another $20 and handing it over, “That means dinner is on you!”
Nick leaned over and gave Kevin a sloppy kiss! “No problem! Thanks guys!”
“And Nicky, let’s not stay here forever, okay?”
“If you guys want to head back home, I’m sure I can get a ride from one of them.” He said nodding over at his new friends.
“Nah, we’ll wait here…just don’t take forever.” Kevin said, not feeling like it was a good idea leaving him with these new kids.
Nick nodded and smiled at his friends. “Thanks, guys!” He turned and then ran back to the small group of teenagers.
It was nice how normal things felt in that moment for Kevin, just being able to hang out with his best friend and do nothing. No deadlines or press conferences to worry about. No chance of being recognized. He felt like a normal human being for once. A feeling of calmness overtook him at that moment, which for him was a pretty rare occurrence. It seemed like he was always worrying about something.
“They’re probably using him for free food.” Howie said.
“Kind of like how he just used us for free food?”
“Okay, good point… so, what now? Nick will probably be gone for at least an hour, you want to be a kid and hit the arcade? I haven’t played videogames in years!”
Kevin smiled, “You know what? Yes! Let’s go for it!!” They both stood up and made their way into the game room, Kevin making sure to take one last look at Nick as he stood off in the distance by the food truck with his new friends.
About an hour later, Kevin and Howie walked out of the game room where they found the table they had vacated earlier, still empty. They once again sat down but this time Howie had a really ugly stuffed dog with him.
“You are like some kind of Zen master when it comes to those pick it up type games, D. Seriously, I’ve never seen anyone that can maneuver that claw thing like you can.”
Howie picked up the blue dog that said ‘World’s Best Mom’ on it and smiled, “I know…it’s a gift. Now where is that kid? I’m starving!”
“You know he’s not going to want to go eat after stuffing his face at the food truck, right?”
“Well then he can sit in the car, give us money and we can go in and eat!”
Kevin laughed, “I’d like to see that happen.”
“They should be finishing up soon.” Howie looked out onto the course, trying to see if he could spot the kids but they were nowhere to be found.
“It must be nice for him to hang around with kids his own age for once.” Kevin had liked the look on Nick's face when he had come over and asked for money. He seemed to be genuinely happy.
“Here they come!” Howie said as he stood up and stretched. “Wait…he’s not with them.”
Kevin looked over in the direction that the kids were coming from and there were the four kids Nick had been hanging with, including the cute brunette, but Nick was nowhere to be found. They were joking around and laughing as they walked past Howie and Kevin.
“Hey!” Kevin snapped at them.
All of them stopped, “Yeah?”
“Where is Nick, the blonde kid who was playing golf with you?”
One of them answered, “Oh, some older guy called him over and started talking to him so we split.”
Kevin’s stomach dropped, “Some guy?”
The cute brunette shrugged, “It looked like it could have been his dad or something.”
“When?” Now Howie asked in a slightly panicked voice.
“I don’t know…about an hour ago maybe? We were hanging by the food truck.” She looked confused by the inquisition. “Tell him my name is Wendy and I had a great time when you see him again, okay?”
Howie nodded as he dropped the blue bear, “Yeah…okay…sure.” He half answered as the teens walked away.
The calmness Kevin had been feeling earlier was replaced by a sudden surge of panic and dread as both boys went running towards the food truck as the words, “World’s Best Mom” fell into that small melted pile of ice cream on the ground.
Kevin felt like he was suffocating as they made their way to that food truck. The kids had said Nick had met up with this guy an hour ago. A full hour he had been gone while Kevin and Howie had played in that game room, clueless to that fact. Was that pedophile right there when Kevin had looked back? Maybe he was standing right beside Nick. How could Kevin not have seen him? Or maybe he walked up right after the two had gone inside. Maybe the guy was waiting to make his move until he saw the coast was clear. Why did they even allow the coast TO be clear? Why did they let Nick do his own thing when they both were well aware that this guy might have known where he was?
All those questions were suffocating Kevin to the point where he actually had to stop running, bend slightly and place his hands on his knees. He felt like he was going to vomit.
“Are you okay, Kev?” Howie asked as he put a hand on Kevin’s back.
“Yeah…” He barely managed to get out.
“I’m going to go ask the guy in the truck if he saw Nicky and which way he might have gone.”
Kevin slowly stood up, “Good idea.”
Howie nodded, looking just as pale as Kevin probably looked as he walked over to the truck.
Kevin moved further away now and really tried to look around. The way the mini golf course was set up it was easily accessible to the main road which meant this guy could have parked anywhere by the truck and just grabbed Nick and put him in the car and drove off. No one would be the wiser. There wasn’t even a fence or gate blocking the course.
“He said he remembered Nick but didn’t see him talking to anyone besides the kids.”
“This guy could have grabbed him and put him in a car anywhere around here.”
“It didn’t sound like Nicky was taken by force. The kids made it seem like it was a friendly encounter. “
“Why would he leave without coming to tell us then?”
Howie was biting at one of his fingernails as he looked around the course. “I don’t know…”
Kevin felt that suffocating feeling once again and started to breath heavy. He had only felt like that once before and that was the day of his father’s funeral. He had been fine during the entire church service and even at the gravesite as they lowered his dad’s casket into the ground. The panic didn’t start to settle in until they had reached the house where droves of people were there just waiting for his family. People kept coming at him, giving him kisses and hugs. People he had never even met were placing their hands on his head and petting him like he was a dog. Those strangers were telling him everything was going to be alright and kissing him on the cheek. It was then that he felt this weight on his chest, a rising panic moving slowly inside him making him want to scream, run or both.
In that instance, he ran right out of the house and down the street. He probably would have kept running if Tim hadn’t called after him and begged him to stop. It was at the corner of Hamilton and Main that he just stood there and waited for his brother to catch up. Once he did, he had fallen into his arms and just began to cry. He had felt so helpless back then just like he was feeling now.
Obviously it was a different set of circumstances, but the fear felt the same. He was scared to death that this kid who he wanted to kill only days before was possibly going to be hurt or killed for real. Someone he knew and cared about was in actual danger. The word never felt real to him before this moment, even though he had heard it countless times before. His security guards, management and his family constantly told him to be careful. There were dangerous people out there. People who meant to do harm to them, but again it didn’t feel like something he actually had to consider…until now.
“Maybe he just went to the bathroom. I’m going to go check the bathroom.” Howie muttered, sounding a little like a crazy person, but Kevin nodded “Good idea. I’ll stay here.”
Howie nodded and then ran back towards the snack area as Kevin turned towards the road. His main thought at the moment was to try to get in touch with his cousin. Not that Brian would be able to do anything to help, but maybe Nick had called Brian? Maybe he had confided in his best friend about this relative. He wished he could remember the guy’s name. He even failed at that much. He began to walk down the street a bit, making sure to look all around in hopes to see Nick just casually walking towards him. “Dave? Don? What the hell was this guy’s name?” he asked the air around him. “Nick, where the hell are you?” Once again he asked as if the teenager would suddenly materialize in front of him.
He saw Howie running towards him shaking his head as he did. “Not in there. Maybe we should call the police?”
“Maybe we should call Brian. He might know something we don’t.”
“Brian? What’s Brian going to do? Besides, isn’t he in Hawaii with his family? There’s no way Nicky could have even contacted your cousin.” Howie’s voice was also escalating to a level of panic Kevin had never heard before which wasn’t helping him feel any better.
Kevin nodded and once again found himself looking into the street, “Maybe we should check the entire golf course before we call the cops? You know… make sure he’s not here.”
Howie nodded, “Why don’t you take the far end and I’ll take this end and we’ll meet back here!”
They gave each other a friendly pat on the shoulder and went in search of Nick.
As Kevin went from hole to hole, asking random people if they had seen a teenage blonde, this tall and with an older gentleman, he wished he had taken more notice of what the kid had been wearing. He couldn’t even remember if Nick was wearing a baseball cap or not. It was embarrassing when people asked him that, but he had no answer, especially the women who seemed particularly worried about the level of fear in Kevin’s voice as he was asking. One even offered up her mobile phone and asked if he wanted to call their parents to see if his brother had made it home. Of course everyone thought that was the case, that Kevin was an older brother looking for his younger one. He had declined the offer saying he was probably just over reacting. Honestly, he had no clue who he would even call. Should he call Nick’s parents, or maybe Johnny? Howie’s parents seemed the most logical people to get in touch with.
The truth of the matter was simple, Kevin didn’t want to call anyone because once that happened then it meant all of this was real. He glanced down at his watch as he stood in front of the food truck. About another thirty minutes had gone by. That’s ninety minutes now that Nick had been missing. It seemed like so much longer.
He tried not the think the worst but he couldn’t help it. Visions of Nick being dragged into a car or pulled into a trunk kicking and screaming for help would not leave his brain. Most likely he was yelling Kevin’s name since he seemed to do that even for the stupidest of things. Then of course there was the threat of the other kind of abuse. Kevin wouldn’t even allow his brain to go there.
His stomach was tied in knots as he paced back and forth waiting for Howie to show up. He had never been so worried about another human being before. It kind of threw him off guard. It was weird; this feeling that was coming over him. In many ways, he was feeling like it was a family member this was happening to. He hadn’t really looked at things in that way before, which was kind of funny because the press, especially the cutesy tabloids, always compared them to brothers. Automatically they had just agreed that yes, they were like brothers, but Kevin never fully felt that way. This was a job and yes Brian was his cousin, his blood and he loved him but the other three were just co-workers, although he did consider Howie one of his best friends. AJ and Nick were just kids he worked with, nothing more. But if that was really the case, why was he panicking like this? He realized it wasn’t the case at all. He really did care for these guys as if they were his family. The panic he was feeling inside would be the same level of panic he would feel if one of his brothers was missing.
One of his brothers WAS missing, his baby brother…only fifteen…barely fifteen.
That suffocating feeling returned just as he saw Howie walking towards him, alone.
~ 12 ~
Once again they were standing by the food truck, both looking like lost puppies unsure of what to do next. Howie said he went back into the game room and asked everyone if they had seen Nick, hoping that maybe the teenager had come in there looking for his two older friends, but no one was helpful. Kevin had asked if the food truck guy had heard anyone screaming for help to which there was a terse reply of, “If I heard a kid yelling I would have come out and done something!” It seemed as though the man was getting annoyed with both Howie and Kevin’s constant interruptions. He also had a mobile phone he said, and that they could use it to call the police if they wanted to.
It was looking more and more like that was the next logical step. Call the police and let them know Nick was missing, officially.
“I should have talked to him last night, Howie. Instead of bringing up the bruises, I should have just asked him about his damned uncle or whatever the hell he is.”
Howie sighed, “Don’t do that, Kev…”
But Kevin wasn’t listening. He was stuck in his own world of self-blame. “I could have let him know this guy doesn’t have his best interest in mind. I could have prevented this from happening.”
“Well…If I had told him from day one that I knew, maybe he would have confided in me. So, it’s not your fault Kevin…it’s mine.”
Kevin looked over at Howie who seemed completely distraught as he continued, “But…how about we stop blaming ourselves and figure out what to do now.” They were both feeling the exact same way, helpless.
“Should we use that guy’s phone to call the police?”
Howie thought about it for a few seconds and then shook his head, “I think we should head home to my parent’s house. I’d feel better talking to them first and then they’ll tell us what to do.”
Kevin nodded, “Maybe I should wait here though, just in case he comes back?” Even though he knew it was a far-fetched idea that Nick had just wandered away, still…
They started walking towards the parking lot, “Yeah…maybe that’s a good idea.” Howie said sounding detached from the situation.
Kevin was walking with his head down, trying to relax himself and not think the worst, but he couldn’t help it. Thoughts of this guy all alone with Nick. Nick who thought for some reason this relative was only looking out for his best interest. Nick, one of the most naïve people he had ever come into contact with. Nick, who would gladly take candy from a stranger and then climb into their big, black van with windows blackened to help with directions…
“What was that guy’s name, the relative?”
“I knew it started with a D…” He paused as they turned the corner and made their way out of the course and into the lot, “I couldn’t even remember what Nick was wearing, I felt so stupid, Howie. People were trying to help and asking me to describe him and I couldn’t remember one single detail…like if he was wearing a baseball cap or what color shirt he had on...not one damned thing.”
“He’s wearing a baseball cap.” Howie answered, “A red one…with a Tampa Bay Bucs Jersey and jeans.”
That made Kevin feel even worse, that while Howie remembered every little detail, Kevin was lucky he could remember what color the kid’s eyes were. He stopped walking when Howie placed a hand across Kevin’s chest as if stopping him from being thrown through a windshield. “Kevin…look.”
Kevin’s eyes met with what Howie was staring at, no wonder he was able to describe him to a tee because there sitting on the hood of their car, headphones on and Gameboy in hand, sat Nick.
“We never checked the parking lot…” Howie said in that same detached voice before looking over at Kevin, “why didn’t we check the parking lot?”
Kevin shook his head as they both stood there staring at the teenager, totally oblivious to the panic he had caused his two friends.
“Because we are morons.”
They stood staring at Nick for an uncomfortable amount of time. It probably looked weird to the families that were getting out of their own cars and heading into the Putt U. It was as if they were seeing something totally unbelievable like a pile of unicorns being abducted by aliens, or a gaggle of pigs flying around.
In that moment, Kevin should have felt a huge sense of relief, but all he felt was this intense anger, a rage almost as he finally got his legs moving and headed towards Nick and the car.
Nick had only a few seconds to look up before Kevin bat the Gameboy right out of his hands an onto the ground.
“Kevin!” Howie screamed, just as Nick yelled, “What the fuck?” almost in perfect unison.
“Where the hell have you been?” Kevin’s voice was sharp and loud as Howie once again said his name.
Nick threw off his head phones, jumped off the car and grabbed his Gameboy, relieved to see it wasn’t broken, before turning towards Kevin, “Where the hell have I been? I’ve been sitting right here. Where the hell have you been?” Nick’s voice was giving Kevin’s a run for the money in the ‘I can be louder than you’ contest.
“We’ve been searching all over the damn place looking for you, that’s where we’ve been!”
“Well bang up job with that!” - Nick’s sarcastic reply.
Kevin took one step closer to Nick and grabbed his arms, one in each hand, gripping tightly and shaking, “Do you have any idea how fucking worried we were about you?” He yelled as he continued to shake the teenager.
“KEVIN KNOCK IT OFF!” Howie screamed from behind now trying to pull his much bigger friend off the younger one.
“We were just about to call the police!!” He continued.
When Nick failed to come back with a smart ass reply, Kevin made eye contact with him and instantly froze when he saw a look of terror staring back at him. Nick was terrified in that moment and instantly he loosened his grip as once again a plea from Howie was heard in the background.
Howie didn’t let Kevin finish his thought. He stood in between both of his friends and through gritted teeth said, “Both of you get in the car now before someone calls the police on us!”
Nick opened the back door and climbed in while a still in shock Kevin moved into the passenger seat. Howie sighed and quickly moved to the driver’s side, started up the car and drove the hell out of there before anyone had a chance to do anything about the scene that just unfolded.
The quiet tension in the car was probably the most uncomfortable one any of them had ever experienced. Not one word was uttered, it didn’t even seem like they were breathing. It was so silent. Howie seemed to be driving around aimlessly until he pulled into a small park with a picnic area.
“Now let’s get out and talk about what just happened.” Howie looked at Kevin and then at Nick before opening his door and making his way over to a picnic bench.
Nick quickly followed Howie, not wanting to be alone with Kevin who was consumed by thoughts of what he had done. He couldn’t’ believe he had lost control of his temper like that. Even when he was so mad he wanted to punch a wall, he would be able to contain his emotions. This kid who had poured out his heart to him only the night before, telling him about his father’s abusive behavior, now had the very same thing happen to him from the person he trusted enough to confide in.
How could he do that? Why would he do that? It’s not like this was the first time Nick had flared his anger to a breaking point, but the most he had ever done in retaliation was a small push followed by a finger point to his chest with a warning not to do that again. What he did today was completely unacceptable.
Howie glaring into the car, made Kevin finally get out and make his way over to the table. He decided to sit opposite where Howie and Nick were. Right across from the teenager so he could look him in the eyes and apologize.
Nick would have none of it though, refusing to look up as Kevin sat down. He still seemed shook up and on edge as Howie was the first to speak. It was apparent he was trying to speak calmly even though he seemed a mixture of angry and upset. “Nicky, we were worried because those kids you were with said you walked away with an older guy.”
Nick nodded, still not looking at Howie or Kevin. Instead he chose to tell his tale to the picnic table. “He recognized me. Said his daughter was a huge fan. He was from Quebec, didn’t speak really great English.” He stopped and took a deep breath, “I didn’t want them to know I was famous…you know? I just wanted to be a normal kid…so I told them I’d be back in a minute and went and signed something for his daughter.” Kevin watched as Nick continued, “It was taking him forever to tell me about his kid because of the language barrier and as I was talking to this guy, I saw them split…” The teenager wiped tears away from his eyes. “They like took no time at all to try to ditch me, I guess.” He sounded absolutely heartbroken, as if it was the biggest betrayal on the planet, those new friends of his leaving him on the course.
Howie placed his hand on Nick’s back once he saw how visibly upset the teenager was, his voice now quiet, calm and back to normal “Why didn’t you come get us?”
“I tried, but you weren’t at the table anymore. I figured you just went to the car, so that’s where I went and waited.”
“You didn’t think to go into the game room?”
“I couldn’t picture you guys even trying to have that kind of fun so I went in search of a bank…” He then looked over at Kevin, “You know, since I owed you money and all! I even left a note on the damn windshield, see?” He pointed to the note he was holding in his hands, threw it over at Kevin and then his eyes went back to the table, “After that I hit the game room but you weren’t in there.”
“That must have been when we went looking for you. We must have just missed each other.” Howie said looking at Kevin with a forlorn expression on his face.
Kevin had no idea what to do or say. He wanted to apologize to this kid for acting the way he did, but he was so upset at the moment, he had so much emotion going through him, he wasn’t sure if he could actually even say one word without either screaming or crying.
“I don’t see what the big deal is…” Nick said after a few seconds of silence. “I mean it’s not like I’m a kid or anything. There was no reason to get so worked up. Do you guys really distrust me that much?”
His eyes moved from the table directly to Kevin again. They were wet with tears that needed to be wiped away as they just pooled inside his eyes before naturally falling onto his face. He looked like a kid who was just betrayed by someone he thought he could trust.
Kevin gulped and felt his own tears start to fall, a move that confused Nick. Of course it was weird to him, how overly emotional both of the boys were about this because he had no clue what was going through their minds for the brief amount of time he was missing. He really had no idea of the panic he had caused them.
“What’s your deal?” Nick finally asked with a mixture of anger and confusion in his voice.
“We thought something bad might have happened to you.” Howie said as he placed his hand from Nick’s back onto his shoulder.
“Because we know about Donald…” Kevin was finally able to get out. “We know about the letters and we know he’s been contacting you.”
Kevin and Nick just sat staring at one another, one feeling great remorse and the other total surprise.
~ 16 ~
The next morning, Kevin awoke to the unexpected sight of Howie asleep on the floor and Nick all comfortable, snoring lightly on the bed. In his mind he knew exactly what had happened. At one point during the night, Nick must have pleaded with Howie to switch places with him, and D in his zombie like state probably just agreed.
It was no secret that when Howie was super tired you could get him to do or agree to just about anything. They had all used this to their advantage on more than one occasion, even Kevin. Ironically the most recent had to do with seating arrangements in a van on a very very long ride to a venue. Kevin had been placed right in between Nick and Brian while Howie and AJ were lucky enough to get the back all to themselves. During the first hour of the ride, Howie fell sound asleep and while he was out and they were stopped for gas, Kevin had asked him if he wouldn’t mind changing places. He had snorted, said something completely unintelligible but then just kind of agreed and moved. About ninety minutes later when he was woken up by Nick trying to throw a skittle into his mouth he had no idea how he ended up where he was, which caused everyone except Howie to erupt in fits of laughter.
Kevin carefully stood up so as not to accidentally step on his friend and made his way out of the bedroom and into the bathroom. He was excited to work with Nick on how to do simple things to defend himself. After the blond fell asleep, Kevin went over to the windows not only in the room they were sleeping in but also Howie’s room and made sure they were locked. He also went looking for Nick’s pager because he was almost certain that Don had said something to trigger Nick coming in and sleeping in the room with them. Not that it was an unusual thing, because he hated being by himself, but just the fear in his voice when he said it. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to locate it but something was up and today was the day he was going to get to the bottom of it.
He only hoped that Nick would take to the idea of learning self-defense in stride and not get all defensive about it like Kevin had when his brother did the same thing shortly after he had been beaten up. Tim insisted that Kevin learn a few basics after his attack so one day in their back yard he decided to teach his younger brother how to throw a punch.
Kevin who didn’t like feeling weak to begin with just took such offense to the idea that he screamed at Tim and refused to listen to him. He knew what he was doing, he had insisted, he was attacked from behind. It could have happened to anybody, even you! He had shouted as he walked away and that was that. End of lesson.
It was his father that eventually took him aside and offered him advice on how to handle himself if a bad situation would occur. Up until that point, his dad had kept himself out of the whole situation. That was the thing with his dad; he never once made a big deal out of anything. His brothers were the ones who fussed and constantly tried to protect the youngest. Jerald senior felt his children would learn the best life lessons if they learned them through dealing on their own with only the smallest of nudges in the right direction. Tim went to his father shortly after Kevin refused his help and that sparked the patriarch’s involvement. His dad didn’t make Kevin feel like he was a loser for not knowing how to defend himself more like he was lucky that it had taken him this long before he had to worry about such things. He had explained that when he was a boy he was beaten up at the age of eight. Then he went on to say that both Jerald and Tim had their fair share of bullying instances as well, which had them out in this very back yard learning these very same things that Kevin was about to learn.
Instead of feeling belittled and embarrassed, Kevin walked away feeling empowered and most of all safe. This is what he would try to do for Nick today. He would try to channel his father’s wisdom and patience.
With that thought in his mind, he jumped in the shower and got a head start on his day.
When Kevin made his way back to the bedroom, Howie was sitting on the bed rubbing at his neck. When D looked up and saw his friend, he stopped rubbing and placed his hand up, “I know what you’re going to say so don’t even bother…”
Kevin laughed, “Good thing he’s a puppy, huh?”
“Yeah…seriously.” He answered looking over at Nick as he continued to sleep soundly. “What was he doing in here anyway?”
“Something spooked him…he asked if anyone would be able to sneak in the windows.”
Howie resumed rubbing the kink out of his neck with a look of confusion on his face, “Why?”
Kevin shrugged and moved to sit next to Howie, “My guess is he got another message. I think I’m going to teach him how to defend himself today, if that’s okay with you.”
“Fine by me, as long as I don’t have to get attacked in the process.”
Kevin nodded, “Sounds fair.”
Howie laid down not caring that Kevin was in the way as he did, “So I take it, the two of you squared things away last night then?”
“You could say that.”
“Shut up I’m trying to sleep over here…”
They both looked over at Nick whose head was just barely visible from under the covers. Howie answered his young friend by taking one of Kevin’s pillows and tossing it at his head.
~ * ~
When Kevin brought up the idea of showing Nick some fighting moves, Nick kind of shrugged it off as a whatever…if you want to show me some stuff…go ahead- type of thing. So, after some breakfast and bonding time with Howie’s parents, Kevin and Nick ventured into the back yard with a very sleepy Howie following behind.
“So, do I put up my dukes or what?”
Kevin laughed, “Put up your dukes? What are you in a 70’s cop show or something?”
“I don’t know…that’s what you always hear people say.”
Nick then showed Kevin what he was talking about by placing his two fisted hands up in the air as if he was just about to enter a boxing match. Howie was shaking his head as he sat there sipping his coffee on the back steps watching the action unfold.
“I’m not showing you boxing moves, Nick. Just basic self-defense moves.”
“Why me and not Howie?” He pointed over at D who was in mid yawn.
It occurred to Kevin at that point that Nick hadn’t clued into the fact that he was teaching him how to defend himself. He seemed pretty proud of that and wished Tim was there so he could say “See that’s how it’s done, brother!”
“I think all I’d have to do it tap Howie and he’d fall over.”
“It’s true man…”
Howie shook his head and gave Kevin the middle finger. To which brought about a big laugh from the teenager. “I learned how to kick ass from John when I was around Nicky’s age.”
“John knows how to fight?”
“Damn right I do!” All three boys turned to see John walk out the screened back door, forcing Howie to move from his spot on the stairs.
Nick walked over and embraced Johnny D in a hug. “Hey John!!”
“What are you doing here?” Howie asked his brother confused yet happy to see him.
“I wanted to make sure I came by to see these two and I guess you too.” He said smiling at his little brother. He then turned his attention back to Nick who still had him in a grasp, “So are we learning to fight today or something?” He directed the question to the blonde who finally pulled away from him.
“Kevin wanted to show me some of his moves.”
John looked at Kevin, “Did he now?” He asked with that same Dorough wink at the end. “And why is that?”
Nick shrugged, “No idea…guess he just wants to show off or something.”
John laughed, “Probably…” He tousled Nick’s hair “you know I had a lot of fun beating the crap out of Howie in this backyard.” He then glanced over at Howie who was once again sitting on the stairs and sipping his coffee. “Do you want to show him?”
Howie laughed, “Uh…no thanks.”
“Come on Howie! Let John beat the crap out of you for me…please!!”
John laughed as he looked at Nick from behind. Kevin was watching this scene with a mixture of delight but also jealousy. Even though he was very close to Tim and felt the same way about Jerald, they were never as outwardly close as Howie and his older brother were. Howie’s eyes lit up the second he saw John and you could feel the love just by the way they exchanged unspoken facial expressions. Then there was also the way that Nick was looking at John. It screamed I wish you were my older brother too!
Why Kevin was jealous of that look was beyond him, but he was. Even though he had just come to the realization that Nick did look up to him, he still felt like the kid would always fight him tooth and nail about everything. John meanwhile could do no wrong.
“Why don’t you demonstrate on Nicky?” Howie was quick to volunteer.
John grabbed Nick from behind and pulled him over his shoulder, doing the windmill as Nick screamed and laughed at the sudden motion. As this was happening, Kevin walked over to Howie as they both watched, “Maybe you guys should just adopt him. His parents probably wouldn’t even mind.”
Howie let out a little snort, “They would mind when the paychecks stopped, but don’t think my parents haven’t talked about it.”
Kevin seemed surprised, “Really?”
“The Carters fine parenting skills are a frequent source of conversation at this house. They love Nick and know he’s neglected.”
Neglected was a harsh but truly accurate word. Kevin felt stupid for being jealous of what Howie had right then and instead felt grateful for what he was given; two parents and two older brothers who loved him.
John lightly threw Nick to the ground and then helped him up. “He was rougher with me.” Howie decided to add as he gave his brother a fake growl.
“You couldn’t sue me if I accidently broke you!”
John nodded at his brother and then walked over and tousled his hair, “I love this guy!” he said as he bent down and gave Howie a kiss on the cheek. “I need to get going, just wanted to drop by and say hello.”
Howie stood up, “I’ll walk you out!”
John turned to Kevin and Nick and nodded their way, “Maybe I’ll try to drop by once more before you guys leave, if not have a safe flight!”
“Thanks!” Kevin said.
Nick looked disappointed that John wasn’t staying but he smiled through it, “See ya!” He said as the Dorough brothers walked back inside.
Nick turned to Kevin, “I really like him.” He said as he sat down on the grass.
Kevin nodded, "I do too." As he moved to sit down beside him.
"I sometimes wish that I..." Nick started before letting his thoughts drift off.
Suddenly there was a shift in the mood of the teenager as he let out a deep breath and looked straight ahead at nothing in particular. "He wants me to meet him." He blurted out unexpectedly. "He says I have no choice & I'm scared."
Nick slowly turned his head to look at Kevin who didn't know what to say.