The Apartment by Mare
Summary: it's the very beginning of the boys careers and Kevin, Brian and Howie are living in one very small apartment together. When they get an unwanted guest staying with them for three weeks it gets ugly! lol
Categories: Fanfiction > Backstreet Boys Characters: Group
Genres: Drama, Humor
Warnings: None
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 26 Completed: Yes Word count: 65148 Read: 20167 Published: 06/10/04 Updated: 08/03/05

1. 1 by Mare

2. 2 by Mare

3. 3 by Mare

4. 4 by Mare

5. 5 by Mare

6. 6 by Mare

7. 7 by Mare

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24. 24 by Mare

25. 25 by Mare

26. 26 by Mare

1 by Mare
1


Kevin looked at the mess in front of him shaking his head in disgust. How many times was he supposed to remind his cousin that the hamper was exactly five steps away from his bed. Boy he wasn’t really that excited to have to room with Brian but his aunt insisted and since Brian was only eighteen it made sense but he had to admit he didn’t much like the role he was beginning to see himself having to play. That of babysitter. Whether it was keeping up on top of Brian making sure he didn’t leave a trail of clothes and clutter behind him, to keeping AJ out of trouble when he managed to always be blunt and speak his mind about things.
Luckily since Howie was only a year younger, he felt like they were more buddies then anything else.

The one guy he really had no connection with no matter how hard he tried was Nick. He had nothing in common with the kid at all. When they were together it just felt odd and Nick let it be known that he felt the same way. In fact whenever they were in a room together just the two of them, Nick would be quick to excuse himself before Kevin could even attempt a conversation.

Kevin didn’t even mind that so much. This all had happened so quickly for him, that he didn’t even allow himself to get really that connected to any of them. He was kind of afraid it would all go away. Why bother getting attached if that was the case right?

“Why does Jane want to see us anyway?” Howie asked coming out of the bathroom half shaved and half dressed. Only thing shielding him from the world was a sky blue terry cloth towel.

“No clue” Kevin said picking up one of Brian’s socks. He walked to the bedroom door they all shared and flung it inside.

“Think she’s pulling him out of the group?”

Kevin shrugged, anything was possible. Jane, Nick’s mother had a problem with many things having to do with the band. Especially the long travel time they spent going back and forth from their home in Tampa to Orlando which is where the rehearsals would take place.

Lou had offered to find them a place in Orlando to make things easier but the Carters had refused saying their lives were firmly planted in Tampa and they wanted some sort of normalcy. Kind of ironic since she was such a stage mom. Kevin smiled because he knew once his own mother ever met Jane she wouldn’t like her much. She’d say something like “That woman is definitely type A”

“I hope not, because well…I kind of like the little nipper” Howie said once again walking into the bathroom and turning on the faucet.

That made Kevin smile, Howie seemed so nice. At first he really thought it was an act. When he first met Howie he wasn’t sure what to think. He looked kind of like a mix between total dork and total geek. He had a look of intense concentration on his face until the greetings happened. Then Howie’s look turned soft and he walked over and half hugged his new band mate and shook his hand, “Welcome to the group…if there’s anything I can do let me know…after all we are really going to be with each other all the time right?”

When Howie spoke those words it had really scared Kevin for the first time since the auditions and first introductions. At that point it just seemed like a dream of some kind, but when Howie said we’ll be spending a lot of time together it really hit home. HARD!

Suddenly he found himself going home to look through the contract, double and quadruple checking it. Talking for hours on the phone with his Mom and oldest brother reading every line and every word making sure he was making the right decision. He almost decided against the whole thing. Did he want to spend every waking minute with those guys? The other thing that kept going through his mind is why did those other two guys leave in the first place? Was there something wrong with the group? After talking himself out of the group all he had left to do was call Lou and tell him.

It was Howie who convinced him to change his mind. He dropped by Kevin’s small cramped apartment with a pizza and of all things a six pack of root beer.

“Hi…just thought I’d drop by” He said stepping into the apartment and smiling at how small it was. He put the pizza box and the sodas down on the table and turned to Kevin, “I like your place…very nice”

“Thanks”

“So…I know you are probably feeling a little overwhelmed, I know I did too when it all happened” Kevin just nodded.

“I guess I just wanted to tell you that we are so happy we found you. I mean you are such a good singer Kevin and our voices just blended so well”

“You’re right” And he was. The four of them sounded awesome together.

“Anyway thought I’d just bring us some dinner and get to know you. I would have brought AJ but he had something to do with his mom and grandma”

“Oh…what about the little one” Howie laughed, “Nick you mean?”

“Yeah sorry…I forgot his name”

“It’s okay…believe me once you get to know him you won’t forget his name. He’s kind of memorable”

“I’m sure he is”

“He’s in Tampa with his family”

“Oh”

“They both really like you. Nick couldn’t stop talking about you actually. He thinks you are the best thing since sliced cheese”

“Isn’t it bread?”

“Yeah Nicky always gets his sayings wrong” Howie said twisting off a cap to a bottle of root beer and handed it over to Kevin.

“Honestly Howie…I’m thinking about not signing the contract”

“I had a feeling you were going to say that Kevin…I did the same thing at first, I mean I was surrounded by children at least I felt like I was. I mean one of the guys was my age but everyone else were babies”

“So what made you change your mind?”

“The music. I love to sing and we sound great together. Besides they grew on me. Well I had known AJ beforehand but Nicky grew on me. He’ll grow on you too”


“Where is your cousin?” Howie said once again emerging from the bathroom this time fully clothed and freshly sprayed with cologne. Too much cologne.

“God D are you trying to kill me with that stuff or something?” Kevin said through a cough.

“Too much?”

“Uh…yeah” Kevin said fanning the smell of Howie away from his nose. “I’m hoping if I smell bad enough she won’t stay that long” Kevin laughed out loud at that one. “You never answered my question…where’s Rok?”

“They are over J’s house being tutored”

“Oh yeah I forgot…Nick is with them too right?” Kevin nodded.

Just as if on cue, the doorbell rang sending Howie running through the apartment as quickly as possible picking up ant stray socks, underwear and pants that he found strewn along the path to the doorway.

Kevin just sat and took a sip of his coffee. Taking a deep breath as he heard Howie greet Jane at the front door.

She came and sat down across from Kevin and smiled at him, “Hello Kevin, thanks for seeing me. I wanted to make sure to talk to the two of you while Nick was at school”

“What’s going on?

“I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind if Nick stayed here with you guys for three weeks” You could tell by the hesitation that neither Kevin or Howie were expecting that one.

“See, we have had a vacation planned for almost a year to go to Europe. We have the tickets and everything. If we cancelled out now we would lose all our money and we have been saving forever!”

Kevin was doing math in his head, “Wait a minute, isn’t that going to be Christmas?”

She nodded, “Yes it falls during Christmas, but I didn’t know what else to do. I know you guys will be working and would be here anyway”

“But I planned on going home for Christmas”

“Oh…I guess Lou didn’t tell you then?”

“Tell us what?” Now Howie asked oddly curious and half annoyed.

“That you guys have a performance on Christmas Day so no one is getting to go home anyway”

“What? We didn’t know that”

“He probably hasn’t told you yet. I only know because I had told him about my plans”

Kevin wanted to storm out of the house and down to Transcon after hearing that. How in the hell is that possible? He had not been able to get home in ages and his whole family was so looking forward to seeing him for Christmas. It was one thing when he only had a day off for Thanksgiving but now he would be stuck up in Florida for what his family always held as the most important holiday of the year.

“So is it okay then if Nick stays with you?” Kevin turned his attention back to Jane, “I don’t know Jane…I mean I’m still going to try to get home”

“Well what am I supposed to do?”

“He can stay here Jane, I mean if Kevin goes home I will watch him” Howie sat down at the table and smiled at both Kevin and Jane instantly making Kevin feel guilty for being so selfish.

“Thank you so much Howie…”then she turned towards Kevin again, “It’s just that if you guys said no then I would have had to ask Johnnie or Lou”

“Yeah or change your plans” Kevin said under his breath.

“Thank you so much I actually have his suitcase with me. I made sure I packed a lot of his things so he wouldn’t need anything”

“Wait…you are leaving him today?”

“Yes, if that okay. We are leaving first thing in the morning” She walked over to the door, opened it up and brought in a huge suitcase.

Placing it in the middle of the kitchen area she looked to both boys, “Thank you so much for doing this guys. Nick just loves you both and I know you will take good care of him”

“Do we have to pick him up?”

“No I’ll handle that. I’m on way over there now actually. Again if there’s anything I can do…”

“Have a good time and bring us back something from Europe”

Howie smiled at her. When she left, Kevin and Howie stood staring at each other, “I hope you don’t mind that I said yes but I didn’t want Nicky left out in the cold”

“Nah it’s okay I guess” He didn’t mean to sound so unsure of his own words but the truth was he was now pissed that he was going to miss Christmas and now to top it all off he was going to be babysitting too.

“I wonder why she didn’t ask Denise. I’m sure she would have taken him”

“No idea” Howie said while grabbing Nick’s huge suitcase and bringing it to the bedroom. “Where are we going to put him anyway?”

“I guess he gets the couch or maybe he can sleep on the floor in our bedroom”

“Well I’ll put this in here for now, I guess we can figure out the rest later” He said lugging the baggage into the bedroom. “You know Brian will just end up entertaining him the entire time”

“Let’s hope” Kevin said under his breath. He walked over to the table and picked up the cup left behind by Jane and brought it over to the huge pile of dishes waiting to be washed in the sink.

“Whose turn is it to wash these?”

“I think it’s Brian’s” Kevin shook his head, debated on leaving the dishes untouched but then rethought his decision and started to wash.

He wanted to go home so badly for Christmas, it was something he looked forward to while in the middle of all the practicing and stupid bullshit they had to put up with. It was all going to be okay because he would be home in no time to see his family and friends.

“It sucks we can’t go home for Christmas” Kevin said placing his hands in the soapy water feeling for left over utensils. He forgot that Howie actually had his family in town and couldn’t help but feel a little jealous.

“I know you’re right about that”

“Brian will not be happy”

“None of us will be”

“Guess we’ll just have to be our own family this year” Howie said taking a seat on the couch and turning on the television.

“Well you’re lucky. You get to go home”

He didn’t mean for his comment to sound so biting but he couldn’t help it. Kevin had a hard time holding back his feelings. He knew this was a trait that tended to drive the other guys crazy.

“I’m not going to get to go home either if we are performing Kevin” He sounded annoyed.

“Well we’ll make the best of it I guess”

“You know worse things could happen” Even though Kevin nodded his head in agreement he couldn’t see what could be worse then having to be stuck so far away from home with kids. Now one that he would be in charge of.

Just as he thought that, the door opened and in walked his messy cousin and the foul mouthed AJ.

“I don’t know about that D” Kevin said as he watched the three boys walk over to the kitchen table and plop down on the chairs.

“I’m hungry man got anything to eat?”

“You were just at your grandmother’s. Why didn’t you eat there?” Howie asked in a joking manner as he grabbed some Cheetos out of the cabinet and tossed them over at AJ.

“She doesn’t have any of this good stuff…Kevin pass me a Coke would ya?” Kevin shook his head as he took his hands out of the soapy water and splattered the suds all over AJ.

“Hey! Watch it…my eyes!”

He ducked his head into the fridge and pulled out a can, before tossing it he gave Brian a look, “You want one to I suppose?”

“Nah I’m good”

“Splendid” Then he threw the can at AJ. “By the way, I did the dishes for you”

“It wasn’t my turn it was Howie’s” At the mention of his name he slinked back into the sofa, “oops” that caused Brian and AJ to laugh but Kevin didn’t seem amused, “Where’s Nick?”

“He is out in the car talking to his Mom about something”

“Oh…actually she’s telling him he’ll be staying here a few weeks” Now Kevin deciding to give up on the dishes went and took a seat on the couch next to Howie leaving the two younger ones in the kitchen by themselves.

“He is? AWESOME!” Brian stood up and entered the living room and sat on the floor and of course AJ followed but not before grabbing the bag of Cheetos.

“Don’t get any on the carpet please!”

“Kevin you’re such a nag!”

The door to the apartment opened and in walked Jane and a very quiet Nick. “Okay guys here he is…take good care of him” She gave him a hug and kiss then blew out the door so fast she almost left a breeze.

Nick just stood there staring at the door. He didn’t look happy. “Great, moody tween alert” Kevin said under his breath. “Come in here and join us little man”

Nick stood up and huffed into the living room and plopped on the couch next to Howie.

“Problem?” Brian asked amused.

“I hate my Mother”

“Aw Nick that’s not nice” Kevin scolded before stopping himself. Great already I sound like his dad. He thought to himself as he rubbed at his temples. He felt a headache coming on.

“You get to spend some time with us and I think that’s pretty cool!” Brian said playfully grabbing at Nick’s feet and pulling him off the couch and onto the floor. This brought about a laughing fit from the soon to be fourteen year old as he was tickled and tackled.

“Maybe this won’t be so bad after all” Kevin said not knowing how wrong he would be.
2 by Mare
2

They all sat around the table eating pizza. For some reason AJ was still at the apartment, “Don’t you have a home to go to kid?” Kevin joked as he picked a piece of pepperoni off the top and plopped it into his mouth.

“He’s like the annoying neighbor in every sitcom ever invented. You know the one who comes over and never leaves”

“Shut up B!” AJ took a swing at Brian and accidentally knocked his can of Coke over.

“Dammit guys! Be careful I’m not paying to have a rug replaced”

“Chill Kev I’m handling it” Brian got up and threw some paper towels on the mess.

“Besides that’s not me it’s him that is never going to leave” AJ pointed his finger over at Nick who had already managed to leave the table and set up his video games in the living room.

Kevin looked at the half eaten piece of pizza where Nick was sitting, “Hey is that all you plan on eating Nick?” He nodded while shooting at aliens.

“AJ seriously you know we love you man but you should probably get going home. You want me to drop you there?” Howie asked standing up and throwing away his plate.

“I thought maybe I could sleep over to. You know have like a little BSB slumber party” He made his hand limp which made the guys laugh, “you are not right kid you know that?”

“Gosh Kevin you hurt my feelings. Okay then I guess I will leave. I know when I’m not wanted”

“No actually I don’t think you do know that” AJ stuck his middle finger up at Kevin.

Once Howie left to bring AJ home, Brian immediately left the table to join Nick on the couch to play video games.

With every beep and pop of a laser gun Kevin became more and more agitated. “You know once I am done cleaning your messes I am in charge of the TV!”

“Who says?”

“I say Brian and besides it’s MY television”

“Okay whatever dude” Nick just stayed quiet and continued to play the game like it had grabbed a hold of him and sucked him in.

Once done with the dishes Kevin did as promised walking over and turning off the game right in the middle of a round. “What the hell!” Nick shouted suddenly coming to life.

“Sorry boys but playtime is over” He had to admit it gave him a little satisfaction to see the look of annoyance in Nick’s as well as Brian’s eyes.

“This sucks!” Nick grumbled throwing his game controller to the floor and storming out of the room and into the bathroom.

“Was that really necessary?” Now Kevin felt guilty a little bit, why oh why did these guys always make him feel guilty. “Brian he needs to understand that there are some rules here and that I am in charge”

“You mean that you are a jerk who likes to boss us around? I am SO telling aunt Anne!”

“Oh please Brian tattletaling went out with the first grade”

They sat in silence, happily as far as Kevin was concerned. He liked his quiet time when he could get it. They so seldom had any free time that when they had a night off after rehearsing like crazy all day he enjoyed flipping channels and blocking everyone out.

Relaxing was a very important ritual in Kevin Richardson’s day. He tended to stress out about everything and the only way he would be able to sleep was to take these few moments to himself and let the day slip away.

Finally Howie’s return broke the silence, “Wow it’s really library quiet in here”

Brian mumbled something under his breath which Kevin chose to ignore. “Hey D”

“Where’s our roomie?”

Kevin took the remote in his hand and flipped from one news program to the next. This time there as a woman giving the forecast while holding an umbrella. “He’s in the bathroom, he’s been in there forever. Maybe he decided to flush himself down the toilet”

“Was there a problem or something?” Kevin sighed isn’t there always one with him?”

“Kev, that’s not fair” Brian turned to Howie, “We were playing video games when Napoleon over here decided to just shut us down”

“Napoleon?”

“Yeah Kev he’s a nasty dictator”

“I know who Napoleon is I’m not stupid Brian, I’m just surprised that you know who he is” Finally the bathroom door opened and Nick harrumphed back into the living room and sat on the floor.

“What took you so long?” Brian asked smiling at his friend.

Nick just shrugged and blankly watched the TV.

”Okay look, I’m sorry for just shutting off the game but this is my quiet time”

“Whatever” Nick looked over at Kevin then, “So watching the news about a bunch of people killing each other is your idea of relaxing? God no wonder why you are always so tense”

“It’s better then actually practicing killing people on some stupid video game” Well it happened. The kid wasn’t even there for a full day and already they were fighting.

“Hey guys I have an idea…let’s play cards or something” Howie stood up to go get a deck of cards.

Kevin handed the remote to Brian, well more like flung it at him, “Actually I am going to bed”

“It’s not even ten o’clock yet Kev”

“I am in a mood and need to sleep it off”

“I know someone who’ll be sleeping for a LONG time then” Nick mocked under his breath. Kevin heard but chose to ignore and turned to go into his bedroom. He didn’t even have that as his own space. He never in his life had to share a bedroom let alone with two people. Being the baby in his family had benefits, one of which was a room of his own.

Just another huge change for him. Kevin shut the door wanting more than anything to lock it but realizing he couldn’t really do that he just laid on the bed and sighed. A faint knock on the door was heard a few minutes later, “Who is it?”

“It’s me” He sat up and watched as Brian came into the room, “We were just wondering where Nick is going to sleep”

Kevin laid back down, “I don’t care… anywhere but my bed”

“The couch is comfy I was thinking of letting him sleep on there. There isn’t enough room on my bed for the both of us and this floor is too uncomfortable”

“Yeah whatever” Kevin was only half listening, his mind drifting to telling his Mom that he was going to miss Christmas.

“Kev, you know you could be a little nicer to him. He doesn’t want to be here anymore then you want him to be”

“Look I have nothing against Nick I’m just tired and crabby”

“Well then go to bed and wake up in a better mood’ Brian shut the door leaving Kevin alone with his thoughts once more.

He sometimes regretted making that phone call to his cousin. What would have happened if he never did? Brian would most likely be living a normal life at home with his family. He would most likely be on his way to college. When he thought about all the time he spent agonizing over his decision to be a part of the group and then how little time he had actually allowed his cousin to make the very same decision. It seemed unfair.

He turned on his side and groaned when he saw how close he was to Howie’s bed. They barely had any room in this place to breathe. He didn’t want to live with Howie at the beginning. He liked his small tiny apartment just the way it was.

“Lou thinks it would be a good idea. You know just another way for you to get to know each other”

Kevin watched as one of the people who was now in charge of his career paced in front of him. “Besides, you probably can do with saving some money on rent. I mean eventually you won’t have to worry about it at all and I know Lou is going to offer to pay if you guys move in together”

“I like Howie, but I enjoy having a place of my own. I mean When I leave rehearsals I at least have this place left that isn’t Backstreet boys related”

“You don’t have to marry him Kevin. You can have your life and he can have his but you’ll just be roomies” Everyone at this company must have gotten there badges in persuasion because he found himself agreeing even though deep down inside he wasn’t pleased. Especially after he saw the place they would call home. He and Howie went apartment hunting with Jeff one of the Trans con people when they finally found this place. Upstairs from a bicycle shop. When it was bare it looked huge. The front door opened into a huge kitchen then off to the side there was one big bedroom.

“There’s only one bedroom here” Howie said sounding disappointed by it.

“Yeah but it’s so big you guys can easily have your own space”

“I guess no bringing girls over then” Howie half laughed at his own joke.

They walked out of the bedroom and down to the end of the kitchen where there was a beautiful bathroom. Large and still Kevin’s favorite place to be in the entire place.

The living room was adjoined to the kitchen with the only division being the sudden introduction of carpet. “What do you think?” Howie asked whispering into Kevin’s ear.

“It seems nice enough and it’s only temporary right?” Howie nodded.

“We’ll take it then” He said confidently shaking Jeff’s hand and sealing the deal on their current living place. They had no idea that less then two months after that they would have a third person living with them.


Kevin opened his eyes temporarily disoriented by where he was. The sound of snoring next to him followed by the hum of the fridge in the kitchen signaled that maybe he had fallen asleep after all. He rolled over and once again closed his eyes.

“Take that alien scum!” He quickly opened them again just to see if maybe he heard right.

There were a few clicks and then some bangs as the living room filled with laughter. He got up and sighed as he made his way into the living room. There he saw Nick sitting in his pajamas on the floor playing video games and eating “Peanut butter?”

Nick quickly turned around at the sound of his older friend’s voice. “Yeah I was a little hungry”

“So you are just eating peanut butter with a spoon?” Nick nodded as if that was the dumbest question he had ever heard.

“It’s the only thing I was able to find”

“You know you wouldn’t have been hungry if you had eaten dinner”

“I wasn’t hungry for pizza”

“But you were for…oh never mind. What are you doing?” Nick pressed pause, “Playing this cool game Space Invaders. It’s like ancient but a lot of fun”

“It’s not THAT ancient I used to play that all the time on my Atari”

“On your what?” Kevin smiled, “Not important. The thing is it’s 4 in the morning”

“I couldn’t sleep”

“Well do you mind keeping it down so that I can sleep?” Nick’s mood changed suddenly and he frowned, “Yeah…okay…sure thing. Sorry”

Kevin turned to go back to the bedroom when he stopped and sighed not really wanting to ask but feeling like he should, “Nick is there something bothering you?”

Once again he placed his game on pause, “No I’m just not tired yet”

“you sure?”

“Kevin did you know that your apartment is really noisy?” Just then the humming of the fridge started again. “Oh yeah that. I guess we’re used to it”

“I’m hearing a lot of weird sounds and stuff. Kind of makes me not want to go to sleep”

“Are you scared or something?” Nick rolled his eyes, “pffft what do you think I am a baby?”

“No I didn’t say that…” now Kevin went and sat down on the sofa to the side of the teen who was still sitting on the floor. “I just know that sometimes when I am in a new place and it’s making noises it can be kind of scary that’s all”

Now Nick went and sat beside his friend, “Yeah to be honest I’m kind of freaked out by it” Kevin smiled.

“Nick how about you sleep in my bed and I’ll take the couch? This way we can maybe both get some sleep tonight?” Nick looked over to his older friend and smiled, “you sure?” Kevin wanted to say no but he didn't, “Yeah I’m sure, but don’t get too comfortable in there. This is a one night deal!”

Nick jumped up and hugged Kevin, “thanks man!” Then he was off to bed while Kevin just sat in amazement at himself. The one thing he said shouldn’t happen had.

“Okay Kevin might as well get some sleep” He said to himself turning off the TV and lying down only to hold his head up in disgust, “Oh gross!” He said as he reached down on the couch and felt a gob of peanut butter. “Why me?” He stood up and went to go clean up the mess quickly peaking in at his bed to see an already dead to the world Nick Carter sleeping there. “Sometimes I’m just too nice” He mumbled as he walked over to the couch, cleaned it off and finally went back to sleep.
3 by Mare
3


A muffled sound filled the stairs leading up to the apartment. At first it sounded like a whisper before turning into a full blown explosion of sound. The loud booming coming from Kevin as he opened the door in disgust, "That was a freaking waste of time!"

"Okay Kevin we get it... enough!" Brian said sitting down at the table and rolling his eyes as Nick ran past him and right for the bathroom.

"Again with the bathroom!" Kevin walked over to the door, "You know you wouldn't have to go to the bathroom every ten minutes if you hadn't been such a dumbass last night!"

"Shut up!"

"Don't tell me to shut up Nickolas! Of course your stomach is going to bother you after eating almost a quarter of a jar of peanut butter at 4 in the morning!"

"He had PB and J last night?" Brian asked amused. Kevin turned towards his cousin, "No that would have been semi normal, he had peanut butter right out of the jar! Just stuffing it into his face because he didn't have the common sense to make himself a bowl of cereal or something"

"Shut up!" Again coming from the bathroom.

"Is that why he kept going to the bathroom during rehearsal?" Again Brian seemed more amused then annoyed, which caused Kevin to grimace.

"Yes! And I don't think it's all that funny either. He totally kept messing up today between his bathroom runs to his sloppy footwork!" He made sure to say the last part especially loud so Nick could here. The toilet flushed and Nick came trouncing out staring up at Kevin, "I didn't mess up on purpose besides you were messing up too!" He walked away and mumbled, "You think you are so perfect? please!"

"Excuse me? What did you just say?" Nick turned around, "I said i'm going to go play video games"

"No you are NOT" Brian watched the heated exchange in a mixture of wonder and amusement.

"What?"

"I said no, you are going to go into that bedroom and take a nap. Do us all a favor!"

Nick cackled, "Are you actually telling me to go take a nap like I am some three year old?"

"Yeah...I am" Now Kevin approached him which sent Nick taking a few steps back. Seeing Nick shy away from him he softened up a little bit, sorry to see that reaction, "Nick, I just know you are tired. You were making SO many stupid mistakes we barely were able to get anything done at all!"

"I am just a huge fuck up!" He growled

"Nice mouth and no i'm not saying that"

"Yeah you just did!"

"Nick I..." Before he could finish Nick walked into the bedroom and slammed the door.

"If he stays here much longer we are going to have to replace the hinges on those doors" Brian said in a half laugh. Kevin turned towards his cousin, "It's not funny Brian!"

"I kind of think it is! You know we should sell tickets and rent a steel cage"

"He made a fool of us today" Then suddenly Brian's tone got more serious, "No he didn't. We all make mistakes Kevin. He's not perfect and he was right you were screwing up too"

"I know but..."

"No one seemed to be mad at him for it but you, even Fatima wasn't annoyed, she was more annoyed with AJ for disappearing with her assistant then she was at Nick for messing up. You're too hard on him Kev"

He sat down across from his cousin, "I have bad news Brian"

"What?"

"We can't go home for Christmas this year" He had wanted to break the news to Brian at a different time maybe over dinner and a movie. Just the two of them, but the news seemed to want to come out now. He watched as Brian sat in silence letting what he said sink in. "Oh" He finally said after a few minutes.

"Yeah...I didn't know either. Jane told me yesterday when she dropped Nick off"

"She knew?"

"Yeah I guess Lou told her"

"Does Howie and AJ know?" He looked back to Brian and nodded, "Howie does but i'm not sure about J"

"That really sucks Kev, I wanted to go home. I haven't been home in forever"

"I know...me too"

"I've almost forgotten what my bedroom looks like" All Kevin could do was nod feeling the same way as Brian. He longed to go home. He missed everything about it, maybe that's why he was being so hard on the kid. Maybe he was just angry at the world?

"Mom is going to be so sad Kevin. She kept talking about how good it will be to see us. did you tell your Mom yet?"

"No not yet Bri...I was going to call her today but thought I should tell you first"

Now his cousin sat quiet, the smile gone from his face, "Maybe i'll take a nap too" He got up and made his way into the bedroom just as Howie walked in, "Brian...Nicky... Denise is here to take you guys to your tutors" Brian turned around and sighed, "Guess naptime will have to wait"

"I'm really sorry Brian. I didn't mean to bum you out" Brian smiled and walked past Howie and down the steps.

"What was that all about?" Howie asked confused about Brian's untypical unhappiness.

"I just told him about Christmas"

"Oh...well where's Nicky?"

"Pouting" That made Howie smile as he opened the door to the bedroom and poked his head in. "Nicky?"

"Go away!"

"You have to go to your tutor. Denise is outside waiting for you"

He walked out of the bedroom and glared at Kevin, "Good at least I will be out of your hair and fucking up for someone else now!"

"Nick the language! tone it down" Howie said smiling and embarassed.

Nick ignored Howie and made his way over to the living room where he had his backpack, "I don't know why I even bother with this crap. it's not like I'm going to graduate or anything. I'm too stupid for that aren't I Kevin?"

"Nick enough! I never once said you were stupid!"

"The night's still young...bye D see ya later" He said before slamming the front door and running down the steps just as Denise honked for him to hurry.

"Should I even ask what that was all about?" Howie said sitting across from Kevin.

"Did Fatima say anything about rehearsal to you Howie?"

"Nope just that maybe tomorrow will be a better day"

"I am having a feeling we'll catch hell about it from Johnnie or Lou"

"It wasn't that bad Kevin. You worry too much" He had heard that statement his whole entire life. Long before he even met these people. It was a known fact that Kevin Richardson worried about every little thing.

All the time!

He tended to worry so much about the smallest of things he would get his mom and dad all worked up.

"Maybe you're right, I just felt like we were getting glares from management everytime Nick made a mistake or excused himself to go to the bathroom"

Howie stood up and walked into the living room, "I didn't notice. In fact..." He stopped and bit on his bottom lip which meant he was about to say something he didn't want to.

"The only time I saw them glare was when you made a mistake" Now Kevin was fully on the defensive, "Whatever D! I'm going to take a shower" He left abruptly leaving Howie shrugging at his mood.

He hated when he felt like this. Usually a good run or session at the gym would help to clear his mind but nowadays he was so tired after rehearsing the last thing he wanted to do was journey to the gym so he figured maybe a nice hot shower would help.

He locked the door and turned on the water just sitting on the toilet and throwing his head back. He was a perfectionist which kind of went along with being a worry wart. If things weren't perfect it threw him for a loop.

His brother reminded him of that the last conversation they had together.

"You know Kev what did you expect you guys are just starting out"

Kevin grabbed the phone cord and closed the bathroom door this way Howie wouldn't here him talking, "I know but God these kids make so many mistakes and now they are saying we can't handle just being a quartet and need a fifth person. They are thinking even younger than Nick possibly...maybe I should get out now before it gets out of hand"

"Kevin you aren't a quitter. Dad didn't raise us to be quitters! Right now things are up in the air but they'll settle down you'll see"

"But what if they don't? I mean you have to see this kid. He acts like he is in daycare" Tim laughed.

"Seriously Tim, I am really out of my league here!"

"You really think they'll go younger?"

"I don't know. I think the only reason they wouldn't is because then they'd have to deal with another stage mom"

"Well Kevin the choice is yours you're 22 and dad isn't around so i'm going to make this easy on you kid okay?"

"Okay" Kevin smiled, he enjoyed Tim's advice. He had a great bond with both of his brothers but Tim seemed to understand him a bit better then Jerald.

"I am saying you have to stay there! Give it at least another month or so and then if things don't get any better maybe we'll re-evaluate"

"Since when do you make these decisions?"

"Since you asked!" Kevin rolled his eyes but nodded in agreement. He wasn't a quitter.


He wasn't sure how long he was in the bathroom but he did make sure he took a nice long shower which turned into a sauna while he sat there letting the heat of the room all misty, calm him down and relax his tired muscles.

By the time he got out of the bathroom, the apartment was vacated. Howie leaving a note saying he was going to visit his mom and staying there for dinner.

Mom...he decided to make that call he had been avoiding since yesterday. He sat in his towel on the bed and dialed his mom's house. She picked up after the third ring sounding rushed until she heard her son's voice on the other end of the line.

They talked for a little while before Kevin actually got to the main reason for his call. He gulped a few times and told her about Christmas. She sounded disappointed but quickly masked those feelings and instead congratulated him on the gig. She had a way of making everything negative into a positive. A trait he wished he inherited from her.

Before they hung up the phone he made sure to tell her he loved her and to please let Brian's parents know about the change in plans. She joked that she was always left with the dirty work and then the phone call was over and done with. Leaving Kevin relieved but still unhappy. He placed his head on the table when peace and quiet was over.

In walked Brian followed by Nick who didn't say two words before going into the bedroom to resume his sulking.

"Do you run around the apartment naked or something while we're not here?"

Kevin had no clue what the question was about until he realized he was sitting there in just his towel. "Yes Brian how did you ever guess?" He stood up, "I would like to go get dressed but i'm afriad if I go in there he'll attack me or something"

"He's in a mood today"

"No really? I would have never guessed! Boy you really are a master of the obvious today B"

"Well excuse me but it's YOUR fault he's so pissy"

Kevin opened the door to the bedroom where Nick was sitting on Brian's bed with one of his text books propped open, a move which kind of surprised the oldest band member.

Nick turned to face the wall when Kevin walked in, "What are you doing buddy?" He asked in the most calming voice he could muster.

"Studying for this stupid history test that I am going to fail because I suck at everything"

As much as Kevin just wanted to say okie dokie well have at it, grab his clothes and run the hell out of there, he stopped himself. "Nick you shouldn't be so hard on yourself"

"I know...that's your job!" Ouch!

"Okay I guess I deserved that" He said now sititng on the bed next to the angry teen.

"Kev, i'm kind of busy here"

"I just wanted to apologize for earlier. I didn't mean to yell at you"

"And tell me to take a freaking nap?" Now Kevin's patience was waning, "Yes and telling you take a nap"

"Okay thanks" Nick said still buried in his text book.

"People make mistakes it's natural. I didn't mean to take everything out on you"

When he failed to get anymore of a reaction out of Nick he stood up and grabbed his clothes. As he was leaving he heard Nick say to himself, "You were right, I am a total loser" He chose to ignore it for now anyway. Parenting time was over as far as he was concerned. Maybe later on tonight they would have a Walton's moment. For now he wanted to just go hang out with guys his age.
4 by Mare
4

The next two days Kevin chose to isolate himself away from his teenage charge as much as possible. Getting an occasional glare across a table or on the couch. He brushed it off and smiled back at the kid. Even though he didn't know Nick that well yet he realized that when Nick was in a mood it was best to leave him be. Eventually he would get over whatever the heck was bothering him.

The rehearsals they had over that two day period were very intense and it turned out that Howie and Brian were right, Fatima didn't mind the mistakes. Seems like she had more important things to worry about like an upcoming junior high tour they were planning.

In three days they would be performing in a mall right outside of Orlando, which seemed like the big time to Kevin. He shook his head in disgust at first thinking of acts like Tiffany and New Kids on the Block. Tim would constantly make fun of those people when he heard that they were touring malls. "What losers!" He would say. Kevin remembered laughing right along with him and Harold as well. "Yeah complete losers!"

Now here he was, biggest loser of them all! Singing in a mall. He never did have his Walton's moment with Nick. Deciding it best to leave him be. In Kevin's head he was never good with kids although the people around him would say otherwise, he just felt like when it came to talking to children, he just didn't have what it took to understand them. That little thing called patience and contrary to what Nick believed, that is what Kevin saw him as, a child.

"Why the hell did they put me in a damn stroller?" Kevin smiled, couldn't help it like Nick was reading his thoughts or something. "And what's so freaking funny?"

Kevin looked up and shrugged, "Nothing...just remembering something funny"

"Yeah...like you in a stroller!" AJ put his two cents in which got the whole table laughing.

"Well I think you are all a bunch of jerks" Nick stood up from the table and marched into the living room to flip channels"

"At least there was no door slamming this time" Howie whispered which caused more chuckles from the table.

"I heard that!" Nick screamed from the other room.

Brian decided to join his friend and retreat to the living room leaving Kevin, Howie and AJ at the table.

"So you think we'll get a good reception at the mall Kev?" He looked over at AJ and shrugged, he noticed he shrugged a lot these days. Once so sure of everything now his life completely up in the air.

"I guess we'll just have to wait and see"

"So far the schools we performed at have liked us. Except for that one that booed when we were done. Assholes!"

Kevin had never been booed in his life until that day. He was definitely the big fish in his school no doubt about it. One of the most popular and THE most talented person there. He could even say so without feeling like he was being stuck up; that's just the way it was. He always got the best parts in school plays, always got the solos in chorus and always got the girls. Always.

When he moved to Orlando he found it an easy transition, auditioning and getting a part in a Disney stage show very quickly. Then he was approached by these people. Given a card with a promise to make him a superstar. That's when he suddenly went from big fish to little minnow.

He was instantly intimidated by the big man that he would later know as Lou Pearlman and even more intimidated by the woman who looked him up and down as if he was for sale. Donna Wright had given him a small smile and a thumbs up to her husband which left an ill taste in the native Kentuckian's mouth.

Then the rest of the boys were brought in. Howie came first and Kevin smiled but that smile faded when he saw the two kids walking in after him. Both AJ and Nick had looked so tiny, at first he thought it was a joke.

But then they sang for him and it sounded great. Kevin walked out knowing the gig was his if he wanted it.

All easy up til know.

Now there were shows, small ones at schools mostly junior highs because as much as he didn't like it, in the end that was going to be his main audience. Once again kids!

The first two had gone on really well but that third one was rough, they had a ton of sound problems which threw the boys out of whack. They never encountered anything like that before and when the music cut out briefly and they were left to sing acapella, to Kevin's horror he heard that they were singing way off pitch!

Once he heard how badly off key they were he stopped singing and just danced his moves. The audience started laughing at them, at that point the others still couldn't hear how badly out of tune they were. They just weren't used to it yet.

When the laughing turned to flat out booing all the guys stopped and just stood there, unsure of what to do. It seemed like an eternity of them standing there and listening to an audience boo them until finally Johnnie signaled for them to follow him out of the room which they happily did.

They were ushered into the school gym where Johnnie laid it into them. The first time but not the last that Johnnie would suddenly lose his cool and start screaming and demeaning them. Kevin was embarrassed and being yelled at did not help at all. Especially when all eyes turned to him, "And YOU should have taken control out there Kevin!"

He was floored at first, "Why me?" He asked innocently enough but that just caused Johnnie to move in closer towards him, "Because you are the one with the most experience, you are the one they look up too! If you lose it out there so will they!"

So much responsibility suddenly falling on his shoulders. It didn't seem fair at all.

They stood in silence in the gym's locker room waiting for the angry crowd to pass and go back to their classes, the room was so quiet you could hear each other's breathing. "I've never been booed before" Brian finally admitted sounding stunned and alarmed.

"Me either" AJ said sitting down on the bench.

"What happened out there?"

Kevin looked over at Howie, "you know what happened? He lost his pitch and never got it back that's what happened" He pointed an accusing finger at his youngest bandmate not even caring how much it would hurt to hear.

"I knew you were going to blame me for this" Nick said ready to walk out the door, "Don't walk away Nick, it's the truth you were almost a half step flat!"

He was surprised to see tears coming down the teens face, "I know okay? I made a stupid mistake so shoot me!" Brian walked over towards Nick and placed a gentle arm around him, "It's okay Nick...we all make mistakes" Then he glared over at Kevin, "Just we all handle it differently I guess... like some of us turn into accusing jerks!"

Kevin was furious at that point, "you know I suddenly have to be the one responsible just in case you didn't listen to Johnnie! He was jumping down MY throat but that didn't seem to bother any of you but HE makes the mistake and cries and you come to his defense? Beautiful!"

"Calm down everyone, all our emotions are in high gear, let's stop fighting" Howie said walking in-between Kevin and his cousin.

"I am such a fuck up! I'm sorry guys" Nick said, now full on tears streaming down his eyes. Kevin felt like crap for making the kid cry but he also got a tiny bit of satisfaction out of it.

That day, instead of going back home and resting like they were promised would happen, they ended up going back to the studio and rehearsing til almost midnight.


"I think that we'll be just fine" Kevin finally said looking over at AJ, trying his best to reassure him.

"I hope so" AJ now stood up and made his way into the living room where a laughing Brian and Nick were. The anger in Nick temporarily subsided. He decided he would take this time as the kids were all occupied and try to get in touch with his girlfriend Kristin. The girl who lived not even a half mile away from him yet who he hadn't seen in a week.

He walked into the bathroom, the only quiet and solitary place to talk and picked up the phone, surprised to hear someone on the other end.

"Hello?" Jane said sounding a bit confused and static breaking up her line.

"Jane is that you?"

"Kevin? Hello yes it's me...how are you?"

"I'm good" He rolled his eyes knowing he must have missed his window of opportunity to talk to Kristin.

"Good...." She said not really interested. "I was just checking in to see how Nicky was doing. Is he behaving for you?"

Well, wasn't that a loaded question, he was going to say no, so take the little brat home NOW! But instead he was polite. "Yes, he's being great. I can go get him if you want"

"No, that's okay I really don't have time to talk I just wanted to make sure"

"Really Jane he's only in the next room I..."

"Just tell him we all love him and miss him okay?" He shrugged again, "Yeah okay I will"

"Thanks Kevin" When they hung up he decided to try Kristin but of course she wasn't home so he trudged back out of the bathroom and into the living room where everyone sat and watched an old Simpsons rerun. It was nice that he was going to play good guy for once. Do something nice in his youngest band mates eyes.

"Hey little man" Nick was laughing about something Homer said and leaning up against Brian on the floor. The site was amusing. Those two seemed connected at the hip sometimes, "Little man" He said a little bit louder, finally sparking Nick to turn around, "Yeah?"

"While I was in the bathroom your mom called" He bolted up, "She did?" He smiled and ran to the phone, "She's not there anymore Nick"

"She hung up?"

"Yes she was rushed and just wanted to call and check up on you" His smile suddenly vanished and a look of pure anger took it's place, "What do you mean she hung up? What the hell didn't you get me?"

Kevin put his hands up in a gesture of peace, "Hang on buddy...relax. She just wanted to make suere you were okay. She said she was in a hurry"

"you could have called for me!" He was angry really angry and Kevin was at a lose for words, "Didn't you hear what I just said? She was busy"

"I think you were just on the line with your girlfriend and blew her off. That's what I think"

Kevin shook his head and got up off the couch, "You know whatever, if you want to think that then go right ahead, i'm threw arguing with you"

He figured maybe he would go try Kris just one more time and hopefully she might be home and was surprised when he suddenly felt himself thrust forward. "What the hell?" He said grabbing onto the table right before falling, "Nick what are you doing?" Howie screamed from behind. It took Kevin a few minutes to realize that he was being attacked by the midget. Once he did though he quickly managed to turn around and reverse things so he was just about lying on top of Nick while he flailed his arms. "Stop it!" Kevin yelled at him.

"I hate you!"

"Nick!" Howie and Brian were now dragging Kevin off of Nick as he actually spat at Kevin.

"Get that kid out of my site before I hurt him!" He threatened as Nick rolled off the ground and bolted out of the door of course slamming it as he went.

"Nick come back here" Brian yelled but by the time he opened the door Nick was gone.

"Is it always this exciting over here?" All three boys looked over at AJ.

"What?" After a pause, Brian put on his light jacket, "I'm going to go look for him"

"Leave him be Bri, he's angry and might bite your ankles or something"

"Why the hell didn't you tell him that his mother called?"

"I did! And you see how that went? I should have kept my big mouth shut"

"Why did he get so angry?" AJ asked kind of perplexed by everything that just took place.

"No idea" Howie said as Brian helped his cousin onto a chair, "you okay?"

"Please Brian...he didn't hurt me at all"

"Are you sure we shouldn't go looking for him? I mean it's getting dark"

"He'll be back. Let him cool off" Kevin said deciding to wipe his hands clean of the whole situation.
5 by Mare
5

After about two hours, Kevin was starting to reconsider the whole wiping his hands clean of the whole situaiton thing. He was sure that by now, Nick would have stomped back into the apartment making sure to be loud enough so that everyone's attention would be drawn to him. Kevin closed his eyes just picturing the scenerio.

Nick walking in arms crossed, of course uncrossing them long enough to slam the door. Everyone running to him making sure he was okay and looking over at mean Kevin. How could he be so mean to you? Afterall you are just little Nicky. The young innocent victim all the time. Poor Nick. Kevin you are such a horrible horrible person.

"Are you falling asleep or something Kev?" He opened his eyes at the sound of AJ's voice.

"No, just thinking"

"Is there an unwritten rule that you can only think with your eyes closed?" Kevin looked over at AJ. "Why are you still even here?"

"I really was afriad i'd miss something. I want to see what happens when Kaos comes back. If he'll tackle you again"

"Home...now! Goodnight J" AJ stood up and shook his head, "Are you going to drive me home? Because it's too far to walk"

"Nevermind you can stay, I would rather be here just in case he comes home you know?" Kevin didn't want to admit he was getting uneasy that Nick hadn't come back yet. He was sure it was just going to be one of his typical little tantrums. But two whole hours had gone by. Howie and Brian decided to drive around and look for him about an hour after he left, which was the reason AJ was still at the apartment with Kevin.

"You know if Jane found out he was MIA she would have your ass!"

"It's Jane's damn fault" Kevin stood up and stretched. "She didn't want to talk to him"

"Why?" Kevin shrugged. "I don't think she meant any harm in it, but he got really defensive there"

"Uh...you think?"

"You sure you don't want to walk home?"

"Okay i'll shut up, but I am getting a little worried about the little shit" That made Kevin smile. He loved AJ's personality although he would NEVER openly admit that to anyone. He wished that sometimes he could act as forthcoming as AJ was.

"You worried Kevin?"

Kevin refused to look up at him, "A little but i'm sure he's okay"

"I think you're just worried that he'll come back and kick your ass!"

Kevin shot him another look to which AJ put his hands up in defense, "Oh right the shut up thing...sorry" He sat down at the table and started humming as Kevin roamed around the living room, looking out the big window hoping to see Nick in view.

Biting his bottom lip he couldn't help but be disappointed in himself somehow. He should have run right after Nick as soon as he went screeching out the door but his anger got the best of him. It always did.

He found himself often complaining to his mom about Nick and nine out of ten times his mom would come back with "He sounds like someone I know!" That would make him so mad but she had a point.

The two of them had SO much in common when it came to how they dealt with things. Both hotheads who seldom thought before they spoke or acted. Kevin had finally gotten his under control but Nick and the word control did not go together at all. He was never as bad as Nick with the physical fighting thing. He had seen that kid get down right ugly about the stupidest thing. Usually hitting a wall or throwing a piece of furniture clear across the room. Usually it was AJ he would attack, probably because he felt he had the best chance of hurting AJ. Even though he would only be further enraged when AJ would laugh at him.

He was surprised that Nick attacked him. He really almost took a swing at the kid but luckily stopped himself when he heard his mother yelling at him in his ear. "He's just a small boy Kevin" She said that all the time which made Kevin feel guilty about complaining in the first place.

AJ stood up and ran to the door at the sound of footsteps. "I think he's back Kev....you gonna go apeshit on his ass?"

Kevin stood up not exactly sure what he was going to do. He wanted to yell at him but he also wanted to act like he could have cared less. Why give Nick the satisfaction of knowing how worried they were. Afterall that is what the kid wanted wasn't it? Maybe he would let his brian decide between the two once Nick walked in the door.

Unfortnuately it wasn't Nick, only Brian and Howie who both looked more concerned than Kevin wanted.

"Kevin we can't find him anywhere. We looked all over the damn place. Even went to the park about five miles up the road. He's nowhere"

Kevin bit at his bottom lip, he was positive that the guys were going to bring Nick home. So certain he refused to completely worry about it. Now he was forced to that point and he didn't like it at all.

"Should we call the police?" Howie squeaked out almost sounding like he had no voice left.

"Maybe we can call my Mom. She'll know what to do" AJ said walking towards the phone.

"What if somebody..." Kevin wouldn't let Brian finish, "Stop he's fine. You know Nick. He's hiding somewhere. He'll come out when he's ready"

Kevin wished he believed himself, but truthfully he was having his doubts, here was this cute little blonde haired blue eyed kid, roaming around in the middle of the night all by his lonesome in not the absolute greatest part of town.

"Kevin I really think we should call somebody...he's just a child" Kevin looked up at his cousin but breifly saw his own mother standing there.

"I am SO sick of hearing that all the time Mom"

"But that's what he is honey! You were 12 once too and you acted just like him"

"But mom the constant fooling aorund and the temper and oh my God he whines like no one's business"

"Kevin...you need patience honey. Sometimes I think you are just looking for a reason to leave that group. Are you? Is that what you're looking for... permission? Because sweetheart no one is forcing you to stay"

"I know mom" Was that what he was looking for? Maybe he was? He did not like what Johnnie had said to him at all. About him being the responsible one. Always the one cornered for every little mistake or every time they walked in late to a meeting. It was seldom his fault but he ALWAYS got the blame. He would be called into the room long after the others got to break only to be lectured about responsibility. When he would return to the rest of the guys, they would all be lounging around. The youngest one in the corner whining about something.

"Kevin you know I love you no matter what you chose. If you're that unhappy with them..." He was interrupted by the sound of an all too familiar whine. "Kevin! I need you"

Nick again, he ignored his band mate and turned to face the wall, "Mom, i'm not sure..."

"Kevin!" Again this time a little bit louder.

"Sweetheart is someone calling you?" Kevin rolled his eyes.

"Yes, it's Nick AGAIN!"

She laughed, "It seems to me that that little boy adores you"

"I think he just likes to annoy me mom" His mother laughed which brought a smile to his face. Nothing made him happier then making his mom laugh.

"Well, better go see what he wants and remember honey if you want to come home just say the word and i'll have Gerald fetch you, okay?"

"I love you mom"

"I love you more Kevin"

"Kevin!!" He hung up the phone with his mother, "What!!" He screamed back to the pip squeak.

"Help me please" Kevin walked into the other room where Nick was just standing there not in mortal danger at all, "I was thinking with all the screaming you were being eaten by an alligator"

"One could always hope" AJ said darting through.

I can't reach that jar of cookies" He said pathetically pointing up to the huge jar that was placed on top of a locker.

"That is why you were screaming at me like a maniac? I was on the phone with my mother! God Nick you are SO selfish sometimes I can't even stand you!"

Nick looked hurt which made Kevin roll his eyes and grab the jar off the top of the lockers, "you know they were probably there for a reason"

"Yeah because there are people in this world who are prejudice against short people"

"Amen to that" Brian said giving Nick a high five.

Kevin began to walk out of the room disgusted when he was once again stopped. "Kev..." He turned around very quickly almost ready to snap the young blondes head off, "WHAT!"

"Um...I just wanted to say thanks...and i'm sorry" Kevin smiled at Nick who at that moment and time looked like a five year old after getting caught with...well his hand in a cookie jar.


"Kevin...should I call my mom?" AJ asked once again, al eyes on the room staring him down waiting for an answer.

"NO, i'm going to call Jane"

"Kevin not a good choice there. She's going to go nuts"

"She'll tell me what she wants us to do"

Kevin didn't want to call Jane but he didn't see he had much of a choice. It would be her call. If she wanted him to call the police so be it. If she wanted to scream her head off at him same thing. Afterall maybe he deserved it for letting a thirteen year old run out of his care late at night.

He stepped out of the others ear shot and dialed up Jane hanging up about three times before actually gaining the nerve to let the call go through. He was a little relieved when he got a message. He wasn't sure if he should leave one or not, so he decided to leave kind of a generic one stating that there was a situation and maybe she could give a call back.

Just as he hung up there was a light knock at the door. Everyone looked at each other before AJ was the one to run over and open it.

There he was, standing there with head down and hands in pockets.

"Kaos...where the hell were you?" AJ surprisingly asked sounding a mix of concerned and annoyed.

"Nick we were worried sick!" Brian now surrounded the still quiet Nick as he stood with his head hanging in shame. He knew he was wrong. Which made Kevin feel a little better but now the question was what to do? Howie didn't say anything just kind of backed up and looked over Kevin's way as if to say 'okay buddy all yours'

Nick looked up at Kevin before he even had a chance to move, "Um...Kevin...I...um..."

"Nick where were you?" Now the other three kind of moved aside to let the lecturing begin.

"Do you have any idea what time it is?"

Nick shrugged, that always bugged Kevin as well... the shrugging.

Kevin had to look at his watch to make his point and then got even madder when he actually did see the time, "Jesus Nick! It's midnight!!"

"Wow dude I need to get home. I'm surprised my mom didn't call"

"J, why don't you just stay the night? Go in and call her so she won't worry" Howie said pointing to the bedroom. "I kind of don't want to miss anything"

Kevin glared at the fifteen year old which got him to move. Howie decided to go in there with him avoiding the possible battle that he felt coming. That left Brian hovering around Nick like some protective mother hen. Just standing there uneasy yet feeling like he had to be there for his friend. Damn Brian.

"Brian can you leave us alone for a minute?" Brian looked at Nick for approval which again drove the eldest band member crazy, then Nick nodded very hesitantly which led Brian to walk into the living room finally leaving the two of them alone.

"So...you never answered me...where were you?"

"Out"

"Yes I know that much...out where?" Now Nick made his way fully into the kitchen area and took a seat on the chair farthest away from where Kevin was standing.

"Just out"

"No Nick...there is no just OUT! When I am in charge of you and you come waltzing back in after MIDNIGHT!"

"You make it sound like you are the boss of me or something when you say that whole 'in charge' thing"

"Stop avoiding the question!"

"Stop yelling at me!!!" He said with his voice cracking just a tinge. Of course that made Brian look over from his position on the couch. Kevin placed his hands up almost making a peace sign and slowly walked over to sit across from Nick, "Okay sorry...just we were worried Nick. You can't just go roaming aorund the streets late at night. Do you have any idea what could have happened to you?"

"I can take care of myself Kev i'm not some dumb little kid who follows someone holding up a piece of candy saying come here little boy" Brian laughed from the couch.

"It takes only a second for a guy to grab a hold of you and drag you away. Hell look at how easy it was for me to get a hold of you after you attacked me.

"You know this is stupid i'm going to bed" Nick said standing up all defensive once again.

"Nick wait...I didn't mean to make you feel bad. We need to talk"

"Okay Kevin you want to know where I was?" He said walking towards a Kevin who was sure he was once again going to get popped by the mini one. "I was sitting in your car"

"What?"

"I went outside and since I didn't know where to go and was afriad i'd get lost I went and sat in your car... the backseat if you want to get technical. You know if you are SO afriad of the people who live around here you shouldn't leave your door unlocked"

"You were here the whole time?"

"Yes"

"So you saw Howie and Brian go looking for you?"

"NO, I kind of laid down and fell asleep"

"Nick that's possibly the stupidest thing I have ever heard!"

"What? Would you rather me say I was abducted and ran for my life away from a big hairy guy before he could screw me up the ass?"

"Frankly...yes!"

"Kevin!" Brian yelled from the living room.

"I called your mother you know! She is probably worried sick about you right now and there you were sitting in my friggin car the entire time?" Nick rolled his eyes at Kevin and placed his arms across his chest. Kevin stood up to walk away before he laid into the kid yet again. He stopped in his tracks when he heard Nick mumble "I wanted you to call her"

"What did you say?" He was shocked.

"Nothing"

"No I heard you. You said you wanted me to call her. Was that why you did this? So I would call your mother?"

Kevin walked slowly back towards Nick again this time getting down eye level to him, "Nick answer me"

"Yes... okay? You happy? The only time I get to ever talk to her anymore is when I do something stupid so there ya go! Now maybe she'll call and talk to me. Even if it's her screaming her ass off at me! I don't care. These days i'll take her however I can get her!"

Kevin stood quietly next to Nick not sure what to say or do. He noticed his cousin looking over just as speechless as he was. The phone rang as if on cue and after the second ring there was a long pause before Howie called out, "Nick...your mom wants to talk to you"

Okay i'm coming. I'll take it in the bathroom" He said getting up refusing to look at Kevin or Brian. Just before he closed the bathroom door he turned and made eye contact, "Kevin I was trying to say I was sorry before" Then he turned and shut the door. When he was gone Kevin just stood there saddened by the whole situation and suddenly feeling lucky he was blessed with such a wonderful family of his own.
6 by Mare
6

Nick didn't say much after he got off the phone with his mom. In fact, if he could've just avoided everybody and slept in the bathroom he would have. Kevin went back and forth all night between feeling sorry for the kid to being mad at him. Brian also wasn't helping, glaring at his cousin every chance he got.

AJ, who ended up spending the night, sat in a pair of borrowed shorts and sweatshirt from Brian. After he talked to his mom and Nick's own called, both he and Howie came back into the living room to the eager anticipation of Kevin and Brian.

"I need to use the john is he ever going to come out of there" AJ had said and as if on cue Nick opened the door and went into the bedroom.

Kevin was never good at this part of being the 'responsible' one because frankly in his real life he was the youngest. It was Kevin that was always the one chased after and consoled by his family.

"Did Jane say anything to you D"? Howie took a sip of iced tea and placed the glass down on the coffee table, "Not really she asked if he was hurt or anything so I said no. She immediately figured out he did something stupid then and angrily asked to talk to him. She was pissed!"

Kevin let out a sigh, knowing that most likely Nick was waiting for someone to go into that bedroom and talk to him. "Brian why don't you go talk to Nick" Brian turned around from his new position on the floor, arms cradled around a pillow. "If he wanted us to talk to him he would be out here don't you think?"

"If I knew what that kid thought he probably wouldn't have spent the whole night sleeping in my car Brian" AJ laughed but a quick glare from Kevin shut him up.

"Maybe you should go talk to him D. You are really good with the kid"

"And what do you suggest I say?"

"I don't know, I'm the youngest in my family. I never had to deal with this kind of crap before"

"Well so am I" Howie admitted a little annoyed that Kevin was trying to pawn off Nick once again.

Kevin nodded for the first time realizing the only one of them that wasn't the youngest in their families was Nick; ironically enough. He laughed when it dawned on him, "Maybe I should ask Nick what to do in a situation like this" Everyone laughed. "I have a feeling there are an awful lot of door slams over at the Carters" Once again everyone cracked up for AJ.

"They better own stock in a wood shop" Howie's lame attempt at humor.

"That family is completely messed up" Brian added not trying to be funny at all.

"We can't really say that Brian" Kevin defended even though he felt the same exact way.

"They treat their son like crap. I'm a little tired of it frankly" He wanted to argue but he couldn't. Brian was right. "I just think they aren't very good at the whole raising kids thing" Howie admitted.

"Then maybe they should stop having them like a couple of horny rabbits" That got another laugh out of everyone.

"Seriously Kevin, I would leave him be for now. He'll come out when he's ready to talk"

"We don't have time to wait for that to happen, we have a long day tomorrow and we need to be asleep like ten minutes ago" Kevin nodded in agreement and they all stood up to go to the bedroom. "I guess I should sleep out here?"

"I wouldn't do that man. If I were you, i'd drag Nick's ass out here otherwise he'll think that whenever he acts like a shithead he'll get what he wants" They looked at AJ surprised once again, "What? Okay i'm an only child but occasionally I am possessed by my mother"

He plopped himself on the couch, "He gets the floor"

The boys walked over to the bedroom door and weren't that surprised to see the light shut off. Howie clicked it on and there was Nick just sitting there on Brian's bed, Indian style staring at the wall. "Hey Nicky it's time to go to bed so..."

Nick didn't say anything just got up and walked out the door placing Brian's pillow down as he went. "oookay" Brian said slowly, pulling his comforter down and jumping inside.

Kevin just stood there once again torn as to what to do but he decided to opt for the easy way out so he shut off the light and they all went to sleep.


~*~*~*~*~*~*
He awoke earlier then anybody else even before the gray of day had given way to full on dawn. A small thread of sunlight made it's way through the curtains as he sat up and stretched. The sound of Howie snoring echoing through the entire room. How he managed to get any sleep in this place was beyond him he thought as he pulled on his tee-shirt and made his way into the kitchen to make some coffee.

Kevin absolutely hated it when he woke up before his alarm clock because once his eyes opened he was awake. He never had the luxury of looking at a clock and saying 'good I still have a few more hours' once he was awake ... he was awake.

Stumbling into the kitchen he was a bit surprised to see Nick already up and sitting at the table, drinking a cup of coffee? At first he wanted to just turn around and head back into his room, not ready to deal with the overly dramatic teen but when Nick looked up from reading the paper and smiled at him he had no choice but to go along with his original plan.

"You read the paper and drink coffee every morning lil man?" Kevin asked mildly amused at the sight before him.

"Nah...just looking for the comics" he held up the cup, "And this is chocolate milk. I couldn't find your regular glasses"

Kevin sat down across from him, "Oh..they're in the top cabinet next to the sink"

"Thanks" Once again Kevin stood up already forgetting his original plan to make coffee. He reached over to the coffeepot and went to work, "So why are you up so early?" He asked as he poured the water into the machine.

"I couldn't sleep. AJ kept kicking me"

"Oh right. I forgot he was still here"

"Do you always get up this early?" Kevin once again sitting down smirked, "No not often"

"Oh" Now an uneasy silence crept it's way to the table. Nick sitting there staring at the paper while Kevin tapped is fingers on the table impatiently waiting for his coffee to be done.

"So Nick....what do you want for Christmas?" It seemed like a fitting question to ask a 13 year old. Of course he answered with a shrug.

"Oh come on you have to have SOME idea"

"Why? Are you going to buy me something?"

"Maybe I have a connection to one of Santa's elves" The look Nick gave Kevin at that point was priceless kind of like a 'you've gotta be kidding me' look mixed with a 'this guy is nuts' look

"ooookay well...probably a video game or something" He finally answered after he tried his best to refrain from answering with a smart ass comment.

"A video game huh?" Nick nodded.

Kevin was so happy to see his coffee done he jumped up and grabbed himself a cup searching the shelves for some sugar. "Hey you hungry Nick? I can whip us up some eggs if you want"

"No thanks, i'm good"

"You sure? Because I don't offer to cook everyday"

"Yeah i'm really not hungry but thanks anyways" He went over to the fridge and decided to make himself a nice bowl of cereal instead.

Halfway through his bowl he found himself staring at Nick who had been on the same page of the newspaper since he walked in the room. "Is something on your mind?"

"No"

"You sure? I know you had a pretty rough night last night"

"I don't want to talk about it Kev. I was a stupid ass okay? No need to remind me"

"I wasn't trying to remind you of anything Nicky...I just..."

"I'm fine Kevin okay? Thanks for asking and thanks for being overly nice to me this morning but i'll live. I'm a big boy"

"Okay" Now Kevin found himself willing someone else to wake up no longer wanting to be the only one with Nick.

"I'm gonna go play my Gameboy" Nick said standing up and placing his cup in the sink.

"Okay...have fun"

The rest of the day pretty much went on as a normal one. They had an early dance rehearsal followed by a vocal one. Then a meeting with Lou and Johnny to run through their agenda for the next few week including Christmas.

Most of the time Nick acted like nothing at all had happened to which the rest of the boys were happy. After that meeting however everyone grew solemn maybe because the fact that they weren't going to be home for the holidays was thrown in their faces.

The way Lou had talked about Christmas he might as well have been saying Groundhog day. He didn't care at all that they would be missing out on such an important holiday. It was nothing to him, even though he made sure to mention he wouldn't be around because he was going to be with his family.

They all went back to their apartment just in time for a late dinner none of them really in the mood to do nothing more than eat and possibly go to bed to start another day as busy as this one had been.

"Do we want to order a pizza guys?" Howie said looking at the Dominoes flyer left for them in their mailbox.

"Sounds good to me" Brian said half hearted, Kevin walked over and sat next to his cousin.

"Bri you okay?"

"I am just bummed we aren't going home you know? I mean is it worth it Kev because sometimes i'm not sure myself"

Kevin wanted to give his cousin an honest answer but he didn't know if it was worth it. "I guess we just have to believe that eventually we'll get somewhere"

"Does pepperoni work for everyone?" Howie said now holding the phone in his hands.

They all nodded except for Nick who had his hands on his Gameboy oblivious to the world.

"Nick?"

"Huh?"

"Pepperoni work for you?"

"Yeah i'm not really hungry but whatever dude"

"Nick why aren't you eating?"

Nick ignored Kevin as he continued to play his game.

"Nick?"

"Huh?"

"I said why aren't you eating?"

"Uh huh"

"Nick that's not even an answer to my question" Kevin walked over and shut Nick's game off.

"Damn it!"

"You aren't listening to me"

"I was choosing NOT to listen to you"

"Here we go again folks round...what is it D like 10 or something?"

Howie shook his head at Brian.

"Okay then don't eat, I don't care. I was just wondering why you all of the sudden are on a little hunger strike"

"Who said anything about a hunger strike? I'll eat the damn pizza Kevin just give me back my Gameboy"

Kevin flung the game at Nick who missed it. The game hit the edge of the ceramic sink and fell to the floor cracking in two. Everyone gasped, even Howie who was still on the phone with the pizza place.

No one knew what to expect from Nick as he stood there staring in shock at his broken Gameboy. Kevin braced himself for the worst, ready to fend off the fists he was sure were coming his way. Instead the blonde walked over calmly and picked up the game. Making sure to get all the batteries that had spilled out. "Nick I'm sorry I didn't mean to break it. I'll buy you a new one I promise"

He took his broken Gameboy and threw it in the garbage then calmly walked away from everybody and into the living room. Kevin felt like a piece of crap, "Hey Brian feel like talking a drive to Toys R Us with me?"

"Only if you buy me something too"

"I don't even know if I can afford to buy him a Gameboy"

"Then don't" Came the detached voice of Nick from the other room.

Kevin walked into the living room and sat down on the coffee table, "I owe you a Gameboy Nick. I'll get one don't worry about it"

"It's my fault, I didn't catch it" His eyes were shiny, he was crying but trying not to.

"I shouldn't have thrown it to you"

"It's not important it's only a game" He said looking everywhere but at Kevin. The weird change in his demeanor threw Kevin for a loop. He almost wanted Nick to attack him, try to bite him or something.

"I'll go now, you want to come with me and Brian?"

Nick shook his head just staring at the infomercial that was on. "Okay" He said squeezing Nick's shoulder as he stood up. "I'm really sorry about that Nick"

"I'll live" The way he said it sounded like he wouldn't though. So sad and morose. The funny thing is if he HAD overreacted Kevin would have almost laughed at the absurdity of it but the way he was acting now was even worse.

"Keep the pizza warm for us, we'll be back" Kevin said nodding at Howie who looked like the last thing he wanted was to be left alone with a moody teen.

"Will do" Kevin went to grab his wallet and hand over a $20 when Howie stopped him, "Don't worry about it, I got the pizza"

"Thanks D"

Brian and Kevin talked some more on the way to and from the toy store about home and how much it sucked not to be going there for Christmas. They promised each other that even though they were away they would have a semi normal holiday. A nice cooked meal, Christmas carols, church and presents. As normal as possible.

Unfortunately they forgot that Christmas was about a week away so the store was busy and Gameboys, which were a hot item this year were sold out. They hated coming back empty handed but they had no choice. By the time they reached a second store it was already closed and both boys were exhausted.

They arrived home shortly after 9. The pizza boxes were sitting on the stove and both boys were starving. They opened them and grabbed 2 slices a piece and headed into the living room where Kevin prepared himself to tell Nick the bad news. To his great relief he saw Howie sitting on the couch with Nick lying down next to him. Nick's head on a pillow in his lap, sound asleep.

"Any luck?" Howie whispered.

"They were all sold out" Howie nodded in understanding.

"How were things after we left?"

"He lost it, started bawling his eyes out. Said he didn't want you to see him cry about a stupid Gameboy"

"Oh, i'm sorry D"

"Don't be. We talked about things. This is all about him missing his family Kevin"

"But his family not missing him" Brian added taking a blanket and covering his best friend.

Kevin nodded looking down at Nick knowing there was so much going on in that child's mind. Sometimes he wished he could go in there and rescue him.
7 by Mare
7

Even though he would NEVER tell his mother about what he had done to Nick’s poor Gameboy, he might as well have because she was screaming at him all night. Sometimes the mother that followed him around in his head was much worse then his real one.

Anne Richardson was as sweet as Apple pie on a warm summer day. He liked that description best which came from one of his neighbors. He had overheard her talking to someone on the phone while she cut her rose bushes. At first he stopped ready to defend his mom but when he heard the words he smiled so wide and bright at the pride those words held for him; the son of a perfect mother.

She did describe his mom to a tee because she was an angel and he loved her to death! But she was also a mom and part of that job was to be stern and strict and if anything, Anne Richardson was stern and strict when she wanted to be.

When that Gameboy shattered he heard her voice instantly inside of his head. Telling him how badly he had handled the situation. “Never grab a toy out of a child’s hand…NEVER! Then throw it at him? Not a good thing to do at all Kevin Scott Richardson. You need to do something to make it up to that child and I’m not talking about just buying him another one. Sometimes the best gift you can give someone is your time”

So with that imaginary scolding in mind Kevin approached Nick the next day during breakfast. Since they had stayed up so late the night before, they managed to wake up late and rushed.

Brian was in charge of setting the alarm clock and making sure everyone was up since the one small nightstand they had in the bedroom happened to be on his side of the room. When the alarm went of this time around, Brian made the mistake of shutting if off instead of hitting the snooze button.

Luckily Howie’s bladder was on a clock all its own and his shout of “Shit!” Woke everyone in the apartment up with a start.

There they were scurrying around the apartment trying to get ready before they heard the beep of Denise’s horn ready to pick them up. Kevin took a second to walk over to Nick who was busily tying his shoe laces.

“Hey” At first he didn’t even look up, he answered with his head down while he switched feet.

“I never got you a Gameboy last night, I tried but they were all out”

Now Nick stood up, looking for something.

“What are you looking for?”

“My backpack, have you seen it?” Kevin walked over by the couch and lifted it off of the floor handing it over to Nick he tried to continue, “Anyway the store was out of it and the other one was closed”

“Thanks” Nick said taking the backpack and placing it on his shoulder.

“Sure no problem, but I will get you one I promise”

“Okay…yeah cool…whatever man”

“She’s here” Brian said turning from the window and putting on his sunglasses. A few seconds later the blare of the horn confirmed Brian’s statement.

Kevin had wanted to make his little invitation to Nick in the morning, he had it all mapped out in his head how he was going to approach the situation and how cool he would come off to the kid. But the oversleeping put a damper on his plans. He would tell him when they got back or if they were lucky when they had a break in the day.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He was silly to think there would be a break, there seldom way anymore. All they had time to do on their breaks was run to the bathroom or if they were really lucky, sit down for a few minutes.

Time found them back at the apartment around 5ish. They had such a great rehearsal they were let go a little early. Thanking God for the small blessing, they tore out of there. Now once again Kevin found himself approaching Nick. Walking into the living room he sat down on the recliner opposite the TV. The most in demand seat in the house. It was one of those rocking recliners and he loved doing just that, rocking back and forth before finally putting his legs up in serious watching TV position.

One thing he really figured out about Nick pretty early on is that he wasn’t happy unless part of his body was resting on someone else’s. Kind of like a puppy or an overly friendly cat. This time the someone else was his cousin, who was watching TV while Nick slouched into him. It looked almost natural like Nick was one of those Siamese twins. Brian sat unfazed by the extra weight on him.

Nick did that with everyone, well almost everyone. In the brief time they had been together he had seen the kid cuddle on everyone from Howie to even Lou!

The only two people he hadn’t done that to yet were Johnny and himself. Nick had attempted to lay his head on Kevin’s shoulder once towards the very beginning but all it took was a small push away followed by an annoyed grunt for him to never try again. Kevin had always felt bad about that but he also liked his personal space. That’s just how he was.

“Long day huh?” Both Brian and Nick looked over at him, one smiled the other nodded.

“I’m kind of glad they let us leave early” He now moved into his reclining position.

“Yeah me too” Brian said flipping over to the Cartoon Network.

“So….I was wondering if maybe you wanted to go to a movie tonight lil man? Just you and me”

Nick looked over at Kevin, “Are you talking to Brian?”

“Do I call him little man?”

“No…but... me? You want to go to a move with…me?”

“Yeah why not? I mean we have an early night I thought maybe we could go and see something, possibly go out for a slice of pizza first”

“Really?”

“Of course really”

“But why? I mean no offense or anything Kev, but you most of the time act like you hate me”

“I don’t hate you kiddo. How many times do I have to tell you that?”

“Okay fine…not hate but not like either” Kevin was beginning to think maybe his mother was wrong. Even though it wasn’t his mother at all; just him doing what he was sure his mother would want him to do no; INSIST that he do.

“Nicky, I know I am tough on you sometimes but I don’t hate you…come on…what do you say?”

“Can Brian come?”

“Aww sorry buddy but I am supposed to go over AJ’s for the night actually” Now Nick sat up finally freeing Brian’s left hand. “You are?”

“Yup, I forgot about it earlier but Denise invited me over for dinner and said I might as well sleep over”

“Oh” The look of disappointment on Nick’s face was so evident it made Brian uncomfortable. He pat his friend on the back, “I’m sure she just forgot you were here you know? Probably so used to you going home”

“Oh…it doesn’t matter, I hate her cooking anyway” Brian laughed and so did Nick trying to play it up as if he wasn’t hurt.

“Speaking of which, I should really go get a bag together” He stood up and let Nick fall over onto the couch. Kevin sacrificed his chair to move next to Nick to continue their conversation.

“If it makes you feel any better I wasn’t invited either” He whispered into Nick’s ear.

“Yeah but we already know she doesn’t like you” He smiled at Kevin. “I bet she invited Howie over”

“Well then he happily declined” Howie had decided to spend the night at home.

“They’re lucky you know? AJ and Howie. They can go home whenever they want” Kevin slouched on the couch now placing his feet on the coffee table. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the chair but it wasn’t that bad either.

“Yeah I know they are, but we can have fun to. So what do you say?”

“What about Kristin? This would probably be a good time for you to see her unless she’s busy doing something” Kevin looked away briefly, the first thing he intended to do when he found out he had his night free was to call Kris and see if she could get time off and see him. He didn’t though, after hearing from Howie how homesick Nick was.

“I didn’t call her. I wanted to hang with you. If you don’t want to go with me, I’ll give her a call”

He finally looked over at Kevin and smiled. “I would like that very much”

Kevin returned the smile, “Good I’m glad, I thought I was going to have to beg” Nick laughed. “So what are we going to see?” Kevin shrugged flipping off the Cartoon Network and putting on Jeopardy.

“I don’t really care. You can pick I guess”

“Can we go see an R rated movie?”

“I’d feel a little better with PG 13 Nick. I don’t want your mom to kick my ass”

“She wouldn’t care” He slouched down on the couch and put his small feet next to Kevin’s.

“Sure she would”

“No she wouldn’t that would involve her calling here and finding out and she won’t do that”

“Aww Nick come on…”

“I heard you guys talking about me and my family the other night” Kevin muted the TV and turned his body towards Nick, who saw the movement out of the corner of his eye but didn’t bother to make eye contact.

“You know… when I was in the bedroom, those walls are pretty thin. I know you guys think my family is horrible”

“Nick we don’t think that”

“Yeah you do but its okay, I’m used to it. If you only knew how many times I have heard people talking about my family Kevin, calling them everything from trailer trash to the stupidest country bumpkins ever. I’ve heard it all” He didn’t know what to say to that. So he said nothing and listened. Thinking what his reaction would be if he had heard that neighbor say his mom was trailer trash instead of as sweet as apple pie on a warm summer day.

“I was going to come out and say something but why bother right?” This time Nick did look at Kevin and shrugged, “It’s not like it’s going to change anybody’s mind”

“I’m sorry Nick” Was all he could think to say.

“So how about something funny or scary? I could do with something scary” Nick said changing the subject before he got too emotional.

“It doesn’t matter to me little man. You pick and we’ll go with it”

“Okay” He said then turned his attention back to the TV but he also managed to rest his head on Kevin’s shoulder which brought about a smile to Kevin’s face. This time he didn’t shy away from Nick, he instead placed his arm around the boy’s shoulder and squeezed him tight. “You did good son…perfect in fact” He could hear his mother whispering in his ear.
8 by Mare
8

They got back to the Apartment a little after 9:00, deciding on a 7 o’clock showing of A Nightmare before Christmas. At first Nick had argued, insisting they see The Piano and Kevin had almost agreed, impressed that Nick wanted to see something that critics had given such rave reviews for, but as they got to the theater, right before Kevin asked for the tickets he asked the man at the counter if there was anything offensive for a thirteen year old.
Kevin’s eyes went wide as the man briefly described some of the scenes in the Piano and Nick looked on disgusted about Kevin even asking.

He grabbed the Nightmare before Christmas tickets instead. “Nick trust me you wouldn’t have wanted to see that movie anyway” He told the kid as they stood in line for popcorn and soda.

“Yes I did want to see it”

“You would have been bored out of your mind and begging me to take you home within thirty minutes”

They approached the counter and Kevin placed his order, “Hey can I have milk duds too?”

“But you just had three slices of pizza. You want popcorn AND Milk Duds?” Nick nodded, “I like putting the Duds in the popcorn” The lady behind the counter smiled and Kevin rolled his eyes and got him what he wanted.

They decided to sit right in the middle of the theatre and had almost the entire place to themselves. Nick was quick to place his feet up on the chair in front of him as he dumped his Milk Duds into his popcorn. “That is about the most disgusting thing I have ever seen” Kevin said taking a sip of his small Mountain Dew, pretty much the only thing he could afford.

Nick passed him the bucket, “You won’t think so after you try it”

“There is NO way I am eating that Nick”

“Okay fine… then you have no room to criticize me”

They pretty much sat in silence the rest of the time as they waited for the movie to start. There were plenty of times that Nick looked over at Kevin but the second Kevin returned the look, Nick quickly looked away.

Feeling the still uncomfortableness that existed between the two.


“That was a kick ass movie wasn’t it Kev?” Nick said bouncing into the living room and jumping over the couch just to land on it.

“Whoa there! Relax. Let’s not break the furniture okay?”

“Sorry…but it was neat wasn’t it?”

Kevin wasn’t really that into it and would have preferred go see Schindler’s list which was playing on about four screens at the megaplex. That was a movie he did not want to sit with a child through.

“Yeah it was good”

"Good? That’s all you have to say? Man it was AWESOME! I LOVED those songs…and that Dude that was made out of worms! How cool was that!”

“Yup really cool” He said half heartedly trying to focus on the news.

“And that mad scientist that looked like a duck…” Kevin was trying to will him to shut up. He found himself always wishing for super powers when it came to Nick. The power to put someone on mute. He also found himself getting a headache and all he wanted to do right now was watch the news and possibly call his girlfriend.

“And the Santa with those tiny feet…”

“Uh huh”

“God and when Sally ripped her legs off and sent them down to Jack…boy that Sally was pretty hot”

Kevin looked at Nick, “She was hot?”

“Yeah…you know for like a puppet and shit”

“Actually it’s stop animation but…okay”

“I’m kind of glad we didn’t see The Piano now”

“Yeah I would think so” Kevin said sighing as he flipped from the news to anything that would make Nick stop talking.

“I only wanted to see it because I heard that there were boobs”

“Pardon?”

“I heard someone say that one of the chicks showed her boobs”

Kevin laughed, “Boobs huh? You wanted to go see The Piano because of boobs?”

“Well, yeah” Kevin rubbed his eyes, “I didn’t even think you cared about that stuff”

“Hello? Kevin I’m not a kid, I just kind of wanted to see…you know”

“Yeah I know…” He grabbed Nick and started to tickle him, “boobies!” He finished as the kid broke into a fit of laughter.

Nick sat up, “So what are we going to do now?”

In Kevin’s mind he was done. His good deed for the day, pat Kevin on the back for being a good guy. “Well, I was just thinking of maybe calling Kris and seeing if she wanted to come over for a little while”

Nick’s smile quickly faded, “Oh…yeah okay…that’s cool”

He realized Nick was disappointed but what did the kid want from him? He never got a chance to spend time with Kris especially when he had the apartment to himself. Well almost to himself, but he could always plant Nick in the living room in front of the TV.

As he stood up to get the phone he never expected to hear what came out of Nick’s mouth next, “Kev…what’s it like to you know…um…have sex?” That stopped him short, almost stopped him completely. Once again wishing for those super powers, this time being able to fast forward himself the hell out of the room before that question was asked.

He turned around and looked at Nick who was sitting on his knees backwards with his arms on the back of the couch waiting for an answer to his question.

“Um…maybe it’s something you should talk to your dad about”

“I don’t think I want to know how sex with my mom is Kevin” He said it so innocently that Kevin couldn’t help laughing out loud at that.

“No…I mean having the sex talk…have your parents had the sex talk with you Nicky?” God please say yes he was thinking to himself as he asked the question.

“Yeah dad has kind of gone over stuff, but I’m not asking you what it is, I’m asking you what it feels like?”

Kevin just stood there probably with the stupidest look on his face, at least judging by the look that Nick was giving him. “Ummm…” He paused again looking up at the ceiling trying to find the right words, “Um…okay…well…” He stopped again this time Nick raised his eyebrows watching his band mate struggling.

The best sound he could have ever heard happened at that moment. The ringing of the phone. “Thank God!” He said, “Um…I mean I’ll get it” He ran to the phone and picked it up happily while Nick watched amused.

“Hello?”

“Hey baby it’s me” Kristin always had that link to him, “I was just going to call you” He said turning away from Nick and walking into the bathroom to take the call.

“You were?” She sounded surprised but in a teasing way.

“Of course, I miss you and wanted to see if you wanted to come over”

“Aww I wish I could but I cant, I have to help mom clean for tomorrow. It’s their big anniversary party”

“Oh that’s right”

“Can you come?” He was so tired of disappointing everyone he loved.

“I wish I could baby but…”

“It’s okay” She said cutting him off. “I understand”

“No really Kris, I feel bad but we have a packed schedule…”

“Kevin I know… it’s really alright” But he could tell by the sudden coldness in her voice that it was far from alright. She was pissed and there wasn’t much he could do about it.

“How about I come over tonight and help you out” She paused for a second, “Aren’t you busy?”

“No, we got off a little early tonight and now I have some extra time”

“I’d love that!”

“Great” Then he remembered, “Oh shit!”

“What?” She asked flatly ready to be disappointed once again, “Well it’s just that I’m kind of babysitting Nick”

“You are?”

“Yeah he’s been staying with me”

“Well, maybe another time then…”

“Kris I’m sure he can stay by himself he’s 13. Look I’ll talk to him and then be over even if it’s just for a little while. I miss you and want to see you”

“You can bring him along if you want”

“NO thanks. The boy is already asking me questions about sex” She laughed, “The last thing we need is him asking to watch an example”

“Why Kevin Richardson…you think I’m having sex with you tonight?”

“Uh…no just some smooches” She laughed, “I’ll see you in a little while baby”

“Bye”

When he got off the phone he opened the door and jumped about a foot when he saw Nick just standing there waiting for him.

“Whoa Nick, you just scared the crap out of me”

“Sorry”

“Were you eavesdropping?”

“Not really, just wondering who you were talking to. If maybe it was my Mom” Kevin walked over and tousled Nick’s hair, “No buddy sorry. That was Kristin actually”

“Oh…”

He moved back to the living room to put on his shoes and Nick followed like a little shadow, “Actually Kris kind of invited me over to her place for a little while”

“Oh” He sounded sadder this time.

“Yeah, I haven’t seen her in a long time Nicky. You understand right?”

Nick nodded, “But you still haven’t answered my question yet”

“The sex thing?” Nick nodded again.

“Okay well…I’m not sure what you want to know really”

“Is it squishy?”

“Pardon?” He turned his body to face Nick.

“You know squishy? I just pictured it feeling squishy”

“Hrmmm…I guess it is a little yeah”

“Cool” Kevin gave him an odd look not wanting to laugh and embarrass him, “you’re not thinking of having sex with someone are you Nick?

The blonde’s face seemed to blush to a ruby red, “No…I was just curious you know for when I do”

"Oh okay because you’re young you have plenty of time buddy”

“How old were you when you first had sex?”

“About 17 or so”

“Wow”

“Why are you asking me this anyway? I mean I would think you’d ask Brian about this stuff”

“I did. He told me to ask you”

“Oh…remind me to thank him for that” Nick laughed.

“You think Howie has had sex yet?” Now Kevin stood up and tucked in his shirt, “Probably but there ya go. That’s a good question to ask him when he gets back. I’m sure he’d love to tell you all about it”

“So you’re leaving me alone then?” Kevin looked at Nick and swore he was staring at a sad little puppy dog. He wondered how often that cute little face of his got him out of trouble.

“If you think you can handle that?”

“Oh please Kevin. My parents leave me alone all the time and usually in charge of the kiddies”

“Well just do me a favor and don’t burn my house down or anything okay?”

“I’ll try not to”

“And don’t answer the door for anybody”

“Okay”

“And…wait I’ll leave you Kristin’s number just in case there’s an emergency”

“Kevin I’ll be okay…just go” He looked up surprised about the permission he received from a kid he was sure would cry about being left alone.

“Really?”

“Yeah it’s okay besides I want a full report about Kristin’s boobies when you get back” Kevin bopped him on the head playfully.

“Sorry, you’ll just have to use your imagination on that one”

“Don’t worry I already do”

“Nick!”

“Jeez relax I’m just kidding”

“You sure you’ll be okay? Howie should be coming home soon”

Nick scooted close to Kevin and gave him an unexpected hug, “I’ll be fine. Thanks for tonight”

“You’re welcome I had fun” Once again he ruffled Nick’s hair.

“Have fun Kev” he said while Kevin opened the door.

“Oh and Kevin…” Kevin peered back inside, “Yeah?”

“Don’t forget to wear a condom!” He shook his head but laughed as he shut the door.
9 by Mare
9

Kevin walked into the apartment a little after 1am. Every single light was on in the place. Every one, not even an exaggeration. The kitchen was a glow not only with the main light but also the one over the oven. The bathroom light was on as well as the bedroom and the living room.

In the living room the glow of the TV was also adding light to the room as well as the power button on the stereo where Journey’s Frontiers was blaring through the speakers. Kevin shook his head and moved quickly to the stereo which was a little too loud for this time of night. The last thing he needed was for a neighbor to complain about the noise.

There he saw Nick lying in a ball on the floor sound asleep gripping onto what was definitely some kind of stuffed animal. He had a game controller in his hand and the television remote was under his head as was one of Brian’s shirts crumpled up as a make shift pillow. A half eaten bowl of microwave popcorn spilled next to him where his lanky legs had knocked it over.

Kevin couldn’t help but smile at the scene almost wanting to go grab a camera and take a picture. Sometimes the kid was too cute but he would never openly admit that to anyone. Never ever.

He moved behind Nick and gently grabbed the controller out of his hand and switched the game off. “How much popcorn can one person eat?” He whispered as he turned the bowl right side up and cleaned the excess kernels off the floor.

He didn’t intend to stay so long at Kristin’s but with the parents already asleep and alone time in such scarce demand, things just had a way of happening. Boy how he missed her. He never really let it sink in until he got the chance to steal a few moments away to be with her.

He thought Howie would have been home in only moments after he left and now seeing the light on in the bedroom and no sign of Howie anywhere he felt really bad for leaving Nick all alone for as long as he did. Time just had a way of escaping him when he was with Kris.

Sitting down on the couch he placed the bowl on the coffee table and removed his shoes. Love making always had a way of exhausting him. Kevin grabbed the blanket hung over the couch and laid it on top of the sleeping boy who didn’t even budge. Then he tried his best to get the remote from under Nick’s head without waking him.

The attempt was unsuccessful as Nick rolled over and sprung to a sitting up position.

“Don’t eat me!” He shouted causing Kevin to jump himself.

“Don’t eat you?” It took a second for Nick to become aware of his surroundings then he smiled, “Oh hey Kevin…I was just watching TV”

“Oh because it looked a lot like you were sleeping to me”

“Nah” Kevin got a better look at the stuffed dog now that Nick wasn’t blocking his view of the toy. When Nick saw Kevin looking he quickly pushed it under the blanket in embarrassment.

As to avoid further embarrassing the blonde he pretended not to notice. “So why did you think I was going to eat you?”

Nick shrugged and stood up plopping onto the couch. “You know what I noticed about you Nicky? You don’t sit you plop”

“So how was Kris?” he asked, ignoring Kevin’s statement.

“She’s good, sends her love to you”

“Excellent” He yawned, “So what time is it?”

“I thought you were awake; then you should know shouldn’t you?”

“Kev just answer the question”

Kevin smiled, “A little after 1. Look I’m sorry you were alone this whole time. I really thought Howie would have been back”

“He called right after you left and said he was spending the night at home”

“Did you tell him you were alone?”

“Yeah but I told him I was a big boy and not to worry”

“What did he say?”

“He said okay but if I needed anything to call him”

“Did you?”

“Nah…I told you Kevin, I am used to being alone. It was no big deal” Kevin turned his head to look around at all of the lights on in the house, “It’s just I noticed all the lights were on”

“Oh sorry I’m really bad at remembering to turn those things off”

“And the radio and the TV were…”

“Okay so I was a tiny bit freaked out okay? Is that what you wanted to hear?” He was whiny and hoarse.

“No, I just wanted to apologize again that’s all”

“I just thought I heard some noises coming from outside”

“It’s no biggie”

“So did you and Kris you know….do the nasty?”

“That is none of your business kid!” Kevin said turning on the TV to a rerun of Bonanza of all things.

“Oooh you SO did! Awesome” Kevin laughed and ignored him and all was quiet until the commercial break.

“Did you have a dream that something was trying to eat you?”

“Yeah…A huge kernel of popcorn. He was chasing after me with a thing of butter”

Kevin laughed, “Well if you eat anymore of this stuff you’re going to start looking like popcorn”

“Kevin that joke is SO old! It’s almost as old as you!” Kevin bat Nick upside the head and the younger one chuckled and once again yawned.

“Why don’t you go to sleep lil man? You actually have a choice of beds. Howie’s or Brian’s

“Are you going to bed?”

“In a little bit, I’m just going to watch some TV first”

“You know you won’t be able to wake up for rehearsal in the morning” Nick said stretching out on the couch next to Kevin.

“I’m used to only going on about 6 hours of sleep”

“Yeah” He said closing his eyes.

“Nick it’s obvious you are tired go to bed. I’ll be in soon”

Now Nick shifted to lie his head against Kevin’s shoulder, “I’ll just wait till you’re done” Knowing the kid just didn’t want to be alone any longer Kevin shut off the TV and helped walk a half asleep Nick to bed.

Leaving the mess there for a morning clean up.


~*~*~*~*~*~*


Another rushed morning found Kevin flinging a pop tart at Nick as he hurried to get himself looking semi decent. He had big plans for the morning. A nice hot shower followed by a good morning call to his girlfriend.

Waking up almost thirty minutes after the alarm clock changed all of that.

They had just fifteen minutes to get ready before Denise honked for them. “Eat Nick!” Kevin nagged as he brushed through his hair with some gel. He only had time to stick his entire head under the faucet.

“I’m not really hungry, my stomach hurts”

“Probably because you ate all that junk yesterday. You should eat because Lord knows when we’ll get time during the day”

“Aren’t you going to eat?”

“Uh huh” He said taking a bite of a granola bar as he passed the table in a rush.

“This place is a mess”

“We’ll clean it when we get back” Nick said as if he’d actually help. He had a milk moustache now from chugging it down until it was gone. Finishing off with a huge burp.

“That’s gross”

“Excuse me”

“Nick get your butt moving! God you haven’t even gotten dressed yet?”

“You said you can function on 6 hours of sleep. My ASS you can. You are grouchy”

“That’s only because we’re running late…get dressed!” He actually yelled at the kid now sounding very much like his father trying to usher three boys out of the door to school. Kevin liked to lag behind when he was a kid, knowing full well that he had to be to school later then his older brothers whose school day started almost a half hour earlier then his.

What he always seemed to forget was that dad had to bring them all to school at once no matter if they weren’t actually attending the same school or not. So most days his two older brothers would be waiting in the car ready to go off to high school while dad yelled up the steps at Kevin to hurry his rump along. The honking out the window pulled Kevin away from memory lane, “Shit! Nick hurry up! She’s here already!”

He hated making Denise wait because as much as he liked her he also felt like she always pulled apart everything he did. When the teen didn’t answer he went and rapped on the door, “Nick come on we’re late!”

“I don’t feel good” Came the very familiar reply. Boy he was tired of that excuse. It seemed a popular one for Mr. Carter. Whenever he didn’t feel like doing something he said he felt sick. The most popular cop out in the book, “Well I’m sorry but we have to go so come on!”

That finally got the kid out of the room and thankfully fully dressed. His hair was a mess but who cared. “Just let me go to the bathroom”

“Nick we don’t have time”

“I’ll end up peeing all over her car” He yelled back, that temper of his shining through.

“Fine” He said as he heard someone trotting up the steps. Great she sent in reinforcements! There was a click as the door unlocked followed by Brian, “Didn’t you hear us beeping?”

Kevin nodded and pointed to the bathroom, “Just waiting for pee boy to finish”

“Pee boy?” Brian seemed amused.

“Nick let’s go buddy!” This time it was Brian yelling at the door. “Lou will be pissed if we’re late”

“No shit hang on I’ll be out in a minute!”

“Uh oh someone’s cranky today”

Kevin laughed under his breath, “When isn’t he Rok? He said he doesn’t feel good” Brian rolled his eyes just as the toilet flushed.

Out walked Nick looking a little neater. He had taken a minute and put a hat on, “What are you doing here?”

Brian answered the question by pointing at his watch, “Times a ticking my little Kemosabi!”

“Well I’m almost done. I just have to put on my sneakers, anyone know where they are?”

“I swear to God we are going to staple those things to your feet Nick” Kevin said literally running around the apartment searching for the sneakers. Once again Denise started beeping, “She’s annoyed… that’s her I’m getting annoyed beep”

“Damit Nick where the hell are they?”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember where I put them” Now all three boys were frantically searching the place. “Just wear another pair”

“I only brought the one pair with me”

“Well that was dumb” Brian said in fun but Nick took it to heart, really getting visibly upset.

“Relax Nick I’m only joking”

“Whatever…now we’ll be really late and Lou will blame me” Kevin at this point was in the living room and picked up the blanket from the floor. The stuffed dog went sailing but luckily so did the shoes, “Found them” He said throwing them across the room towards Nick.

“What’s with the stuffed dog?”

Nick went and grabbed the shoes and put them on, quickly moving the dog out of view, “I don’t know” He outwardly lied but they didn’t have time to press. Kevin without thinking said, “He was sleeping with it last night”

Then another honk was heard, “If she sends someone up after me that’s not good”

“Let’s go guys”

Nick sat on his chair motionless for a second, “Nick let’s go”

“I’m not going I don’t feel good”

“Excuse me?” Kevin turned to the kid who just sat there with one shoe on and one shoe in his hand.

“I said I’m not going. I don’t feel good today” Kevin probably didn’t think wisely canceling his mother’s usually calm voice out of his head and instead his father took over. He did exactly what his father would have done to him in this situation; at least if dad thought he was faking an illness and making everyone late.

He walked over to Nick and grabbed him over his shoulder, one shoe on and one shoe still in his hand, “We don’t have time for this Carter let’s go”

“Get the hell off of me” He said hitting at Kevin with his sneaker, while Brian laughed, “Shut the lights Rok we already will have a huge ass bill after yesterday” He said walking out the door with a pissed Nick over his shoulder.
10 by Mare
10

It was a long day of rehearsing for the boys. Going over the same songs about fifteen times a piece along with the dances that accompanied them. It seemed like all they did was dance, sing and be yelled at in that order. Nothing was ever good enough.

The yelling started the second they got into Denise’s car with a screaming Nick being carried like a sack of potatoes. Denise was less then pleased about the scene it was causing and the looks Kevin got from people as they walked along the sidewalks.

“Now someone is going to call the police on me thinking we are kidnapping that boy” She mumbled under her breath as she ran a few red lights in order to get the boys to their destination on time.

They were late anyway and got a lecture about responsibility followed by a screaming session by Johnny. “Boys this can’t happen again! You need to be more responsible, unless of course I am the only one who cares about your careers? He walked from boy to boy giving them all a look before stopping at Nick, “Am I?”

Nick just looked up and shook his head.


So that was the way the day started, and unfortunately it didn’t get much better from there.

By around 3 none of them were even talking to each other. Nick refused to even make eye contact with the other guys opting to take the only fifteen minute break they had to go sit in the bathroom.

All the others just sighed and ate in silence.

Kevin remembered days like this when he was in school. It was his second grade year and he had the meanest teacher in the world, at least that’s what the class was sure was written in her address book. Mrs. Marrow the meanest teacher in the world… All the woman did was scream and she wouldn’t stop until she made the kid she was screaming at cry.

Kevin was one of those quiet kids in school always did what he was told and never talked back to his teachers. Still, this woman would lay into him so bad sometimes that he would get physically sick. She didn’t like him for some reason. Maybe it was the bushy brows?

Finally one day his parents had enough and called the principal about it and he was happily moved out of the class.

As he sat there and listened to Johnny yell, then Fatima yell then Johnny yell again, he wondered if he could maybe call his mom and have it worked out that he could transfer out of this class and into another one. The only difference between that Kevin and this one was the fact that now he was more than willing to speak out for himself. Which he often did, “Johnny you don’t have to speak to me like I’m a child. We were late. It won’t happen again”

“It better not”

Finally Johnny gave up his tirade still going strong for the last 8 hours, “Well, I’m giving you guys time to go home for a bit since we are due in the studio tonight at 10”

“What?” Brian asked as if he thought Johnny was kidding.

“The only studio time we were able to score was for tonight, so go home and get some rest”

“But we still have to be tutored”

“Then go get tutored and take a nap”

“Johnny you never mentioned the late night session before” Kevin said moving his cousin away from their manager and taking over, “Well I am now”

“This sucks” Nick mumbled under his breath, the first words the kid practically said all day.

“Well that’s too bad” Johnny said literally stepping up and staring Nick down like he was a little ant. Seems like someone else was crabby today.

“So a van will be by to pick you up at Kevin’s place by ten. ON TIME!!” He screamed then their day of rehearsal came to an end.


By the time they got back to the apartment it was almost 5 and the tutor was scheduled to meet them at 6. Nick walked in, right past Kevin and went for the bathroom slamming the door as he did.

“God what is wrong with everybody today?” AJ asked walking over to Nick’s dog and picking it up off the floor and using it as a stress ball.

“The kid woke up crabby; we were making so much progress to…he actually leaned on me last night”

“I don’t think picking him up like a sack of flour made him feel any better Kev” Howie said kind of wishing he was there to witness all the excitement. Yes Howie, because he went to rehearsal on his own, was spared the wrath of Johnny making it there on time. Even showing up about fifteen minutes early.

“It was kind of funny” Brian admitted trying not to laugh.

“He said he didn’t feel good and I just snapped”

“He never feels good”

“I know”

“I wonder how many days of school he got out of with that excuse”

Kevin shrugged, “Who knows but the locking himself in the bathroom thing is getting a little old too”

He didn’t mean to sound so harsh but he was having a hard day just like the other guys. So it was only natural for him to continue forgetting Nick’s admission that the walls in this place were very thin, “Hey AJ…do you think maybe we can convince your mom to take him for a night?”

“Hell no! Then I’d have to deal with his moody ass!”

“I bet he wouldn’t be so moody with you guys though”

“He’s moody with everyone Kev” Brian said walking over to the fridge and looking for something…anything to eat.

“Maybe he really doesn’t feel good” Howie added throwing a paper plate to AJ who was opening a jar of peanut butter.

“Doubtful…he can be a real baby sometimes D, you know that. He probably wasn’t getting his way and flipped”

Nick walked out of the bathroom and right over to Brian, “you know…they all hate me but I didn’t think YOU would talk crap about me too” Now he had a huge pool of tears in his eyes as he looked at them all, “I don’t feel good for your information but know one cares! I am so sick of this…just all of it”

Brian felt like crap now, you could tell by the dejected look on his face. The boy never said anything bad about anybody but he was having a bad day too. So he tried to approach Nick by giving him a hug, the kid pushed his arms away, “Get away from me!”

“Nick I know you’re tired, you went to bed late last night”

“There you go treating me like a kid again Kevin. Think that’s the only time I have ever stayed up that late?”

“Well no but…”

“But nothing I don’t feel well okay? I have had a headache for a few days and now I feel like crap. It’s probably just a stupid ass cold or something but still”

“Do you want some aspirin Nicky?” Howie walked off towards the bathroom, “I took some already and it’s not helping”

“Nick just sit down and relax” Brian pulled out a chair for the kid who was so upset his face was all red now.

“NO, I’m going to go in and take a nap”

“You can’t. Your tutor will be here in about forty minutes”

“Well she can wait”

“No she can’t Nick” Kevin wasn’t giving into his pity party which was only making the teenager madder.

“I don’t want to go to school today” For some reason that made everyone crack up. Maybe because they were over tired or maybe because it was such an overly used phrase but for whatever reason they all laughed.

It didn’t help.

“Let me ask you something Kevin…all of you”

“Okay go ahead” Kevin quickly became serious again.

“When you were my age and you said you didn’t feel well what happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean what did your parents do about it?”

“Usually my dad would throw the covers off of me and say quit your playing around and get the heck up!”

“Okay but what if you weren’t fooling around?”

Now the guys were all quiet and listening, watching with amusement and understanding.

“Mom would…let me stay home I guess”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah”

“What did she do for you?”

“Well before she let me stay home she’d make sure I was really ill and wasn’t faking”

“Okay and?”

“And if I wasn’t she’d make me stay in bed and she’d bring me in some dry toast and tea with lemon” Now Kevin was lost in his own memories, “No matter what was wrong with me it was always tea and lemon” Everyone smiled.

“And then what?” Now Nick wasn’t sounding angry anymore, his tone went to a sad and longing tone. “Well then she’d wheel our TV into my room, which always made my father mad. Those days we only had one TV so the sick person used to get full control of it”

“No wonder you played sick so often Kev” Brian joked.

“Yeah, so I would stay in bed and watch TV” You could tell by his facial expressions that he had transported himself to his old room where he was just an innocent kid. Some of those days off of school with just his mom were also some of his best memories. They had the best conversations when she would poke her head into his room to see if he was sleeping. He would be so bored and want nothing more to get up and go outside and play. So mom would come in, lie next to him on the bed and tell him stories about what it was like for her growing up.

Then he finally got it. Realization came crashing into him at full force as he stared at Nick. There was no mom telling him stories or tucking him in and making sure he was okay. It wasn’t as easy as calling a school and saying he’ll be staying in today. No hot tea and dry toast or TV’s rolled into rooms.

He wasn’t allowed to be a kid, he wasn’t even allowed to be sad about it.

“I’m sorry Nick” He almost whispered to the blonde who still had tears in his eyes.

“All I want it to sleep for a little bit, is that too much to ask?” Kevin shook his head and so did the others, seems they all had the same revelations.

“Why don’t you go ahead and I’ll wake you later okay?” Nick nodded. AJ not knowing what to do exactly walked over to Nick and handed him the dog, “Here” He said without another word, no glib remarks or name calling.

“Thanks” He said taking it and placing it behind his back embarrassed.

When Nick was in the bedroom Kevin walked over to the kitchen and started boiling some water. “I sometimes forget you know? How young he really is” He admitted turning his back to his band mates while he placed two slices of bread in the toaster.

“We are all kind of young” Brian answered and to that Kevin didn’t have a response. That was true. “But yeah he’s just a baby” he added.

“Should we tell her he’s not coming?” AJ asked when he heard their tutor walking up the steps.

Kevin nodded; he had one more call to make as well.

About fifteen minutes later he walked into the bedroom to find Nick lying on his side clutching a pillow while tears still streamed down his face.

“Hey” He said sitting down next to Nick with a tray in his hand.

“Is she here already?” Nick rolled over to face Kevin and was a little surprised to see the toast and tea.

“I brought you some food” Kevin smiled as Nick sat up not even trying to hide his tears anymore.

“Thanks”

He reached over to Nick and felt his forehead, “You do feel warm baby”

“It’s probably just a head cold or something, I’ll be fine”

“Well you don’t have to worry about school OR the studio you have the night off”

“I do?” Kevin nodded. Johnny was not too pleased about it but Kevin stood his ground and wouldn’t back down until Johnny gave Nick the night off.

“Yup”

“Thanks Kevin” He said grabbing Kevin and giving him a huge hug.

“NO problem little man you just feel better okay?” Nick nodded taking a bit out of the toast.

“So Kev…tell me some more stories about when you were little”

Kev laid down beside him and told him story after story while Nick laughed the entire time.
11 by Mare
11


Kevin felt bad leaving Nick alone once again but when he had asked Johnny if he could stay at home and take care of the boy, all he got in return was a laugh and a “You can’t be serious!” He decided it best not to press his luck on the matter.
By the time he left the bedroom with nothing left but toast crumbs and a half a cup of tea, the tutor had come and gone leaving a boatload of make up work for Nick once he was better.

“So how is the little psycho…I mean sicko” AJ received a disapproving head shake from Kevin and a friendly bop on the head from Brian, “Sorry Freudian slip I guess”

“Do you even know who Freud is AJ?”

“Some crazy sex doctor” This made everyone smile “What? I’m right aren’t I?”

Again Kevin shook his head, “Is this his homework?” He asked staring at the pile of books left on the table.

“Yup, she was kind of pissed he didn’t show up”

“Yeah? Well she’ll live with it”

“He was supposed to have a history test today and she wondered if that was why he was suddenly sick” Kevin grabbed the top book off the pile, a Norton reader third edition, and started skimming through the poetry section. “Nah, he’s got a fever. He’s not faking it”

“Was Johnny really pissed?” Howie moved beside him and decided to grab the next book off the pile, much to the amusement of Brian and AJ.

“You know if you guys have a hankering to go back to school just say the word and we can gladly let you do OUR work”

“Just curious, it’s been forever since I have looked in one of these books” Howie turned to a random geometry page filled with formulas and theorems. “How in the world does Nicky even understand this stuff?”

Brian laughed, “He doesn’t…it makes his head spin, just like it made MY head spin”

“I was always bad in math” Howie flipped the pages as if it were a picture book, “And I have to say I don’t miss these days at all” He placed the book back on the table as if planting an exclamation point at the end of his statement.

“Yes” They all looked over at Kevin who never took his eyes away from the page he was reading.

“Uh…yes what Kev?”

He looked over at AJ, then back down at the book. “Yes Johnny was pissed”

“Really pissed?”

“Brian he wasn’t happy, he said that whenever one of us gets the sniffles we can’t expect the whole world to stop”

“But he still gave him the night off anyway?”

Kevin nodded at his cousin. “I don’t know how you guys do it. School and the Backstreet Boys. I give you credit”

“It’s not easy, none of this has been but you know what cousin? I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world”

“Sure he says that…he’s done with stupid ass school at the end of the year”

“Awe poor wittle AJ” Brian grabbed AJ’s cheeks.

“Well what I did for Nicky today, I will gladly do for any of you. If you feel bad, let me know okay? No one should have to be forced to work their ass off when they are feeling ill. I mean sick sick, not I think I stubbed my toe sick”

“But stubbed toes hurt!” Kevin rolled his eyes at Brian who was holding his foot trying to get his toe in his mouth, “There is something seriously wrong with you!”

“Should we maybe call Nicky’s mom to let her know he’s ill?” Kevin looked over at Howie then lowered his voice to a whisper, “No, there’s really nothing she could do about it and truthfully, I doubt she’d care unfortunately”

He learned to speak softly from now on concerning touchy matters. “I mean she’d care but…you know what I mean” They all nodded.

“Anyway he’s sleeping now so maybe that’s all he really needs”

“I still feel bad” Brian hung his head down deciding to give up on getting his toe in his mouth.

“Don’t Bri…he knew you didn’t mean anything bad by it. Besides when we come back from the studio maybe you can talk”

“How long do you suppose we are going to be stuck in the studio anyway?” Kevin shrugged, “He made it seem like a long time so if I were you guys I’d try taking a serious nap”

“I would but Goldilocks is sleeping in my bed isn’t he?”

“You can take mine Bri…and J you can have Howie’s”

“So you really think we need to nap then?” He nodded, “I’m not saying you have to but it’d be a good idea. I have no idea how long we’re going to be stuck tonight and since we are going to be Nickless he might be pissed enough to find a reason to keep us longer”

They both stood up and walked into the bedroom, “And stay quiet…Nick needs his sleep”

“Yes sir pappa bear sir” Kevin rolled his eyes at the boys as they tiptoed over exaggeratedly into the room. “I do sound like a father sometimes don’t I?” He asked Howie once the younger ones were gone.

“Yeah but you know what? I kind of think they like it to be honest. I know AJ would never admit it, but he really looks up to you, we all do”

“Oh stop D…there’s nothing to look up to”

“Sure there is, standing up to Johnny for Nick took a lot of guts Kev….seriously I don’t think I could ever do that”

“Sure you could”

“You suck at getting compliments Kevin” He laughed.

“It just didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me”

“Well it was”

“Thanks Howie”

“You’re welcome, now I’m going to take your advice and take a quick nap. Thanks for giving my bed away”

“Sorry about that”

“That’s okay…I’m stealing the couch though so if you want to sleep you get the floor buddy” He pat Kevin on the back and then walked into the living room.


~*~*~~*~*



Kevin was right about the studio and getting punished for lack of bringing the youngest member with them. It was almost as if Johnny was trying to get the message across that he was the only one allowed to make decisions of whether or not someone could be sick and stay home.

They were at the studio for about 8 hours. Much longer then they had anticipated. Whenever they thought a take was perfect they would be shot down by the producer or Johnny himself saying it could be done better and if Lou were there he’d be having a cow.

According to Johnny; Lou would have had enough cows to have himself a full head of cattle.

When they emerged from the studio it was actually light outside. “Now boys because you worked so hard tonight we’ve cancelled your dance rehearsal so go home and get some sleep”

The boys weren’t excited and didn’t show any emotion at all, they were too physically exhausted to care. Especially Kevin. Even though he had urged all the others to nap, he chose to stay awake and get some things done like exercising and then a few calls, one to Kris and one to home. It almost felt like he had the place all to himself as he sat and talked, no one looking over his shoulder or eavesdropping on his conversation.

He was paying for those few hours of freedom now though as he staggered up the steps with a huge headache. It felt like a hang over actually, he had never been quite so tired in his life.

The boys didn’t even say one word to each other just moved to their nap spots from earlier and went to sleep. This of course left Kevin and Howie out in the living room with poor Kevin having to sleep on the floor.

“I’ll take the floor if you want Kev; I mean you got no sleep yesterday. I at least got a few hours of naptime”

“Nah that’s okay, I am so tired I would be able to sleep on a bed of nails D”

That being said, Howie turned off the light while Kevin drew the blinds and they all fell asleep.


~*~*~*~*~*~



Nick sat up in bed rubbing his sleepy eyes with his fists. Looking around he was a little confused to find AJ sleeping in Howie’s bed. Snoring up a storm. He felt a little better than yesterday, his head not quite throbbing but still overall kind of icky. He could tell he had a fever by the tingling he felt in his cheeks.

Walking into the kitchen it looked like it was midnight; the blinds were drawn to disguise the morning sun.

He tiptoed over to the unmistakable sound of Howie’s snores and went and tapped him lightly on the shoulder. “D?” He whispered but all he got in return was a grunt followed by a roll onto his side.

Nick glanced down at the sleeping form of Kevin; he looked so uncomfortable on the floor, his arms wrapped around himself with no sign of a blanket anywhere; using nothing more then one of the throw pillows from the couch. Scanning the room Nick found a blanket that he took and placed over Kevin as he slept.

All he wanted to do was watch some TV since he was wide awake but decided not to wake Howie and Kevin up. Instead he ventured back towards the bedroom to possibly catch up on some more sleep when he got the brilliant idea to surprise them all by making a huge breakfast. It was the least he could do to show his gratitude to them for letting him stay home.

He knew they had a dance rehearsal later in the morning so he would make a big breakfast for them before they left. Checking the clock he saw that it was 7am, he’d have to work fast before the alarm clock went off at 8.

Part of him wished he could stay home again today since he still wasn’t feeling totally himself but he also realized that would be pressing his luck. Nah he had to go to rehearsal today so why not make the most of it.

He went to work in the kitchen searching the cabinets for something he could make and smiled wide when he saw all the ingredients he’d need for French toast staring him in the face.

Everything was going well until it came time to make the bacon. He had soaked the bread in the egg batter just like he had seen his mother do more than once. Of course when his mother made French toast it very rarely fell apart like his was now. Maybe he was soaking it too long he wondered when moving the bread from the batter to the pan it fell apart and went sailing to the floor.

“Shit!” He growled but then quickly shut himself up glad to see neither Kevin nor Howie stirring from the noise.

He quickly squatted down on the floor to clean the batter up and in the process forgot about the bacon which he had thrown in one lump into a frying pan on high heat. Before he had time to realize what was happening the fire alarm went off as smoke from the overly hot bacon pan finally reached the ceiling.

Now in full on panic mode Nick reached over to shut off the stove only to accidentally touch the burning hot frying pan with his hand.

“AHHHH!!” He screamed at the top of his lungs.

Kevin sat bolt up right when he heard the yell and panicked when he heard the alarm. His fast movement made Howie roll over so fast he fell off the couch. He managed to get into the kitchen in two giant leaps to see Nick holding his hand and screaming in pain.

“What the hell happened?” Before Nick even had a chance to answer Kevin grabbed Nick’s hand and pulled him over to the sink putting the water on and plummeting his hand underneath the faucet. Howie, once he rolled off the couch came running into the room and shut off the burners on the stove top.

“Nick what the hell were you doing?”

“Cooking…owe…. crap it hurts”

“Well stop fidgeting and keep it under the faucet…Howie is there anyway to shut that stupid alarm off?”

“I am trying to get it” He was swiping at the alarm with a broom trying to knock the red button which he finally succeeded in doing.

Kevin pulled Nick’s hand out from under the water and looked it over, “We’ll put some aloe on it but I think you’ll be fine” He didn’t bother to let go of Nick’s arm as he walked towards the bathroom, pulling Nick along. “How the hell did they sleep through all of that?”

“I have no idea” Howie yawned putting the fan over the stove on and opening the windows to get rid of the smoke which was pretty thick in the kitchen.

“I mean the whole friggin house could have brunt down and they didn’t even come in to see what the hell was going on!” Once again Nick was being pulled behind Kevin as he sat him down at the table and opened up the aloe. “And what’s the one thing I asked you not to do Nick?”

“I was just trying to make you guys breakfast”

“That’s not what I asked”

“You told me not to burn down the house”

“Bingo! Very good…so mind telling me why my apartment is a smoky mess?”

“I was just trying to do something nice…that’s all, before we had to go to rehearsal this morning”

“We don’t have rehearsal it was cancelled since we worked our asses off last night”

“Oh” Kevin put down the aloe and grabbed a band aide. “I don’t think it’ll blister”

“I’m sorry Kev I really am”

“So what were you making? Bacon and eggs?” Kevin tried to calm himself down at this point more grateful that his house was still standing and that he didn’t have to call the Carter’s and explain that their eldest son spontaneously combusted, then actually angry about what had happened. Maybe the lack of sleep also helped.

“No actually it’s French toast”

“That’s bread?” Howie asked no longer able to hide his smile.

“Yeah, I think I soaked it too long” Howie cracked up at that, completely losing it to the point of crying.

“Don’t laugh at me” Nick said trying his hardest to keep a straight face.

Now Kevin was also laughing and the three of them burst into hysterics. “I can’t believe you”

“What? I honestly was just trying to be nice”

“Only you can take being nice and turn it into a five alarm fire” Once again more laughter.

“Are you okay?” Kevin finally asked after the laughter had died down. Nick nodded, “I am now that I have my Winnie the Pooh band aide.

“Nick, we’re still really tired so I know I’m heading back to sleep…you think you can manage to stay away from flammable things until we wake up again?”

“I’ll try…again I’m really sorry guys” Both Kevin and Howie hugged him, it was nice.

“I’ll have this kitchen cleaned up by the time you all wake up okay?”

“Okay…but how are you feeling? Better I take it?”

“A little bit better yes”

“Okay because you still feel a little warm there buddy”

“Yeah but I’ll live”

“Hopefully as long as you stay away from the oven” Howie said taking one last dig at Nick before going back to bed.

“Why don’t you go to sleep in the bedroom, Kevin you can have my bed”

Kevin reached over and tousled Nick’s hair, “Thanks lil man”

Once they both left for the bedroom Nick got to cleaning up the kitchen which took about three hours. By the time everyone else was awake, Nick was sound asleep on the living room floor in almost the same position Kevin had been earlier.
12 by Mare
12

The next few days, as Christmas neared it seemed their rehearsal schedules were almost torturous sometimes lasting as long as 15 hours; it was too much on them especially the two younger ones who had taken to whining when they got tired.

It wasn’t unusual for Nick to whine especially when he wasn’t feeling well on top of all of the work but it was odd for AJ to whine and sometimes he was even louder than Nick had been.

When Kevin approached Johnny with the idea of taking a little break he was all but laughed out of the room. “The kids need it they are exhausted!” He had argued but he was answered with the usual, “They knew what they were getting into when they signed on” answer.

He hated to go back and tell them that but he did and no surprise that Nick acted out in anger punching at the wall and then sticking his red knuckles into his mouth. AJ was the one with the most surprising reaction. He cried.

That’s when Kevin knew something was wrong. He let Denise know about the odd behavior her son was displaying as she came to pick them up from rehearsal to bring them back home.

They walked up the stairs with less and less energy with every passing day leading up to the Christmas concert. “At this point we won’t live to see the New Year” Brian said over dramatically.

“Come on guys it’s not so bad” Howie always the peacemaker trying to make the glass half full.

“It sucks” Kevin walked over to the fridge and sighed, there was nothing in there to eat at all and part of him was too tired to even care but he had to make sure the others at least ate something.

“It’s only going to be this way until the concert, than things will slow down again you’ll see”

“Yeah until we have another concert then another one”

“Brian quit bitching! You want to be here right?”

“Don’t tell me to quit bitching I’m entitled to bitch as much as anyone else”

“Guys stop fighting…” Howie looked from one cousin to the other. “It’s not going to do any good”

After a pause Brian continued, “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to lose my temper it’s just that it’s too much and I want to go home… you know what I mean? I miss my parents and my family and my normal life”

Kevin walked over to his cousin and gave him a hug, “I’m sorry too”

“Do you think this is what it’s going to be like all the time?” They all looked over at Nick who had remained so quiet that they had forgotten he was in the room.

“What do you mean lil man?”

“I mean working like crazy and missing home”

“I’m not sure but that’s my guess”

“Oh” Kevin looked over at Howie, did any of them realize what they were in for when they signed their lives away?

They remained quiet as they sat and ate pizza, Brian stealing time to call his parents. “He misses home a lot” Kevin admitted to Howie looking over at his cousin as he talked happily on the phone.

“I know...so does that one” Howie said glancing over at Nick who was sitting cross legged in front of the TV playing with his pizza.

By the time he got off the phone, Brian seemed to be back to his happy old self, “Mom said she’s sending me a huge package from home”

“Yeah?”

“Uh huh, she wouldn’t tell me what was in it but she said it’s going to be heavy and I would love it”

“Nice”

“She said your mom is doing the same for you”

“Very cool!”

“I still can’t believe we aren’t going to be home for Christmas. It’ll suck”

“At least we’ll all be together though” Kevin tried to give his cousin a reassuring smile and Brian smiled back in appreciation.


~*~*~*~*~*~*


The next morning they sat awaiting Denise to pick them up and were surprised when she was late. “That’s odd” Kevin looked out the window, “Usually by this time she has beeped a thousand times”

Howie walked over to the phone, “Maybe I’ll give her a call?”

“Nah...let’s wait a few more minutes, maybe she let Alex sleep in”

“Did you eat anything Nick?” Kevin looked over at Nick who had his head on the table almost near sleep, “You should eat a little something”

“Not hungry too tired”

“Are you still not feeling well?”

“How could he feel well he hasn’t had time to rest” Brian said walking past his friend and lovingly patting his head as he did.

“Ouch! Headache”

“Nicky do you realize whenever you are tired you talk like Tarzan?”

“Me Tarzan and Howie stupid!” Howie ignored him.

“Nick your shoes put them on before we have to wait for you” Nick put up his head and rolled his eyes at Kevin.

“Maybe we should bust on Denise for being late like she always does for us”

“I hope everything is okay, I mean they should have been here a while ago”

A honk made Kevin walk over to the window and look out. He was surprised to see a black van instead of Denise’s car. “Looks like someone else is here to get us today…come on gang let’s go”

“Great I don’t get any breakfast AGAIN!”

“Quit complaining you could have eaten this whole time you just chose to sleep instead”


~*~*~*~*~*~*~


After another long rehearsal, ten hours to be exact they trudged back up into the apartment. Turns out it was one of the secretaries of Trans con that came to pick up the boys after Denise had called refusing to let her son go to rehearsal for the day. Supposedly AJ had woken up with the same thing that afflicted and still was afflicting Nick. She argued back and forth with Johnny but in the end she won and Alex got to stay home.

“How is it fair that AJ gets the whole day off?”

“You got the whole night off”

“That’s different” Nick was especially whiny after hearing that his friend was able to stay home in bed. Kevin as much as he hated to listen to it, couldn’t help but understand where the boy was coming from, he had a point.

“Well you guys can be sick together and bitch about it tomorrow, I’ll just make sure I am nowhere near either of you” Brian and Nick laughed but Howie remained quiet. What they didn’t know was Howie had decided he would give AJ a call while they had a little break just to see how things were with the kid and was surprised to find out that not only had Denise gotten him out of rehearsal for the day but also for the next two. Saying she wasn’t going to let her son dance around for hours at a time until he was fever free. He had a three day pass. Howie very wisely decided not to share this information with the rest of the guys until now.

“That is bullshit!!” Nick stood up and walked into the bathroom.

“How did she manage to do that?” Brian asked Howie who only shrugged in reply.

“Denise can be pretty persistent when she wants to be” Kevin even though he sometimes disagreed with AJ’s mother also couldn’t help but admire her and her strength. She did a great job raising AJ all alone.

“I can’t believe that Johnny gave him three days off with this important concert coming up” Brian made invisible quote marks in the air on the word important letting his sarcastic side shine through.

“You know what I think? I think this whole important concert is not very important then. I mean think about it Kev, would Johnny let AJ off for three days if this concert was that big of a deal? We are sacrificing our Christmas for no reason!”

“Brian, I know how much you want to go home, I do too but yes I think this concert is important. I mean there could be big people in the audience listening to us”

“Then why on earth wouldn’t AJ be…”

“Because his mom cares about him that’s why” Came the unexpected reply from the bathroom door as Nick opened it and walked past the guys into the living room.

“Of course she does that’s not the point”

“Than what is Brian? You asked a question and I’m answering it. The only reason AJ is off for three freaking days is because his mother stood up for him” Brian turned to Kevin, “Maybe I should make mom call Johnny about Christmas”

“Brian…”

“No maybe he’s right Kevin. Have his mom call about Christmas and then maybe you and he can go back home, hell we already know Denise can take care of Johnny and then Howie you can have your mom call and I’ll just do the damn show alone because last time I checked there was no one in my corner”

They all stood looking at Nick, “What? Take a picture it lasts longer!” With that being said he harrumphed back onto the couch.

“Nick you know not everything that happens in this band is about you”

“That’s obvious” He mumbled under his breath.

“I’m going for a drive” Brian grabbed the keys to the one car that he and his cousin shared, “Is that okay?” Kevin nodded, “Don’t stay out too late”

Once Brian was gone Kevin walked over and sat next to Nick grabbing the remote out of the younger ones hand, “Maybe you should call your mom, I’m sure she’d love to hear from you” Nick let out a sarcastic laugh.

“Nick stop already with the poor me crap…call you’re...”

“I tried already, the morning I almost burnt your house down. I called her and left a message. She never called me back”

“You did?”

“Yup after I cleaned my mess, I thought she’d like to know I was sick. I was mistaken I suppose”

“Nick I’m sure she’s just busy I mean she has so many other kids”

“I know Kevin”

“She cares”

“Uh huh” he was only half listening which meant the conversation needed to be dropped. Kevin was good but he wasn’t about to try to convince this kid that his parents cared when clearly he wasn’t sure himself. So instead he placed his arm around the boy, “Well we care…sometimes” That made Nick smile.

“How many days till Christmas anyway?” Nick shrugged, “I think about 4 and a half but whose counting?” Kevin ruffled his hair, “Uh you are!”

“Lou’s rich ass better buy me something fun” Kevin laughed, “Yeah all of us for that matter”

“Do you think Brian is mad at me?” Nick looked up at Kevin with questioning eyes.

“No Nick, I don’t think he’s mad at you”

“Because he left without inviting me along”

“I think he needed some time alone. Just like you, he misses home buddy”

“Yeah” Nick turned his attention back to the TV as he and Kevin sat next to each other flipping aimlessly for something that would make them laugh.
13 by Mare
13

Brian came home just thirty minutes later bringing two giant tubs of ice cream with him. When Nick saw the treats his eyes grew big, “What kind did you get?”

“I didn’t go all fancy got chocolate and vanilla”

“Awesome!” Nick grabbed the chocolate tub out of Brian’s hands which caused him to laugh.

“I also bought hot fudge sauce and whipped cream!”

“Did you get the kind in the can or the kind in a tub?” Nick didn’t wait for an answer as he searched the bag, “Score!! Bri you rock!” He held up the can of Redi whip clicking off the top like a pro and sticking it in his mouth.

“Gross Nicky we all have to use that!”

“I bet you have never even done that before Howie”

“Sure I have”

“I don’t believe you” Howie grabbed the can of whipped cream from Nick and sprayed it in his mouth causing the youngest blonde to go into hysterics. Kevin wasn’t watching that scene unfold but staring at his cousin; he was amazed how well he had a handle on things.

Brian was smiling wide watching Nick, who dramatically fell to the floor to make a point that what Howie was doing was the funniest thing he had ever seen. When he felt his cousin’s eyes on him he looked over and winked.

“I’ll get the bowls” Kevin followed Brian to the cabinet, “Brian that was a great idea”

“Don’t you know cousin that ice cream is the universal cure for everything?”

“Hey Brian watch this” Now Nick had the can in his hand again and went about making a moustache on his face before licking it clean.

“See?” He said once more winking at his cousin before walking over and playfully wrestling Nick for the can of cream.

Kevin looked on with pride; Brian would make a great dad some day. Sometimes he was jealous of his cousin’s abilities to turn situations around like this one. Looking at Nick you would never guess just a few moments ago the kid was near tears. Now he looked like the happiest kid in the world as he plopped some chocolate ice cream into his bowl.

They sat around the table eating ice cream and talking about the stupidest things. No mention of rehearsals or touring or even being anything more then the three kids they were at that moment.

It felt just like what everyone needed, even Kevin who had managed to laugh more than he had in the last month it seemed. It helped them get through the next two days which were rough.

Whenever one of them was sick and not able to attend a rehearsal it kind of threw things off a bit. Dance routines were off as well as harmonies. Especially when it was someone with as many leads as AJ had. Kevin ended up singing all of AJ’s parts in practice but it just seemed pointless to rehearse when one of them were gone.

The smile that lived on Nick’s face as he ate ice cream had all but disappeared as he took part in those two rehearsals. He looked tired, pale and just overall unhappy to be him. Depending on his own mood, either Kevin felt bad for the kid or didn’t want to be anywhere near him. The same could really be said for the other two guys as well. Funny how everyone reacted to being overworked differently.

Brian just became all business minded, like “Look the quicker we get this done the quicker it’ll be over”

Howie for some reason just became a work out nut, choosing to spend any time they had off which was maybe ten minutes here or five minutes there, at the gym lifting weights. And Kevin, well Kevin just would stand in one place and practice the same thing over and over again.

Nick of course would just whine and pout, sometimes grumble under his breath but it’s when he was being completely quiet, that’s when you knew he was really upset and the last hour of rehearsal on that second day without AJ he was as quiet as can be.

When they got back to the apartment that night there were two big boxes waiting at the front door which caused Brian to gallop up the steps in order to reach them.

“Presents!!” He squealed in delight as he unlocked the door and made his way in with the first package. Kevin brought in the second one with Howie and Nick following behind.

“It says our landlord signed for them…he rocks” Brian said searching for a knife to open the boxes with. “Maybe we should wait until Christmas” Brian gave his cousin an incredulous look which made the older boy laugh, “Oh stupid me... what was I thinking”

“Don’t you think we need a little Christmas now?” He said singing the famous carol. “Brian you’re worse than a little kid”

“Haul out the holly…put up the tree before my spirits fall again” He sang dancing around the two boxes like a complete idiot making Nick and Howie laugh. Kevin walked over to Brian’s box with the box cutter in hand, “Give me those”

“No way Brian, let me do it because you’re acting like such a fool you’re bound to rip your finger off or something”

“Fine….way to bring down my good mood” Brian plopped down on the floor by the box, sitting pretzel style. Kevin shook his head and rolled his eyes.

Once Kevin managed to cut open the box, Brian carefully started lifting out the contents, “Hey Nick, you want to help me out?” He looked over at his friend who was sitting at the table holding his head up by his hand.

“Nah that’s okay…actually I think I’m going to go watch some TV” The boy said standing up and walking over to the living room.

Brian looked over at Kevin who gave him the leave him be look. “Let’s see what you got cousin”

Brian pulled out about six boxes a few small ones and two pretty decent sized ones. “Aren’t you going to open them?” Howie asked sitting there trying to look more interested then he actually was. Brian kind of wished that Nick would have done the same but he also understood why he wouldn’t.

Kevin noticed Brian looking over in Nick’s direction again, “Brian, just open them he’ll be okay”

“Well why don’t you open yours?”

“You first”

“Okay if you insist” He tore into the first package which was a sweater with a big Christmas tree on it. “Okay, well I hope they aren’t all like this”

“Who is that from?” Brian read the label, “Oh it’s from grandma guess you’re going to have a matching one as well Kev”

He looked at the next package, “This is from my brother” He tore the package open and gleamed with excitement as he took it out! “Nick man he bought me a new Basketball! Dude we have to go play, I just need to pump it with some air” Nick turned around from the couch, “Cool”

“Come on Nick come over here with me, you’re making me feel bad” Kevin gave Nick a look, he had many Nick looks but this one said “you know he’d do the same for you” So out of guilt Nick trudged back into the kitchen and sat on the floor next to Brian as he opened the next present. “This is from my parents” He opened the box to see two shirts and a pair of jeans.

There were two more presents from his parents, a watch and a gift certificate to Tower Records. At the bottom there were two cards. Brian bent into the box to get them out and ripped the first one open. He read the card and smiled, and then he hugged it close to his heart. Kevin began cutting his box open as he looked at the other card, “Hey this one is for you Nick” He said smiling and handing it over to his friend who looked confused. “Me?”

“Yup that is your name on the envelope isn’t it?”

“Wow maybe my mom sent your mom a card to give to me” For some reason that almost broke Howie’s and Kevin’s hearts hearing him say that.

“Yeah maybe” Brian knew better as he tousled his friend’s hair, “Open it”

Nick looked at the envelope than opened it up. It was a picture of a reindeer standing next to Santa. When he opened it up he sighed seeing it wasn’t from his mom or dad at all but from Brian’s parents.

A little note fell from it along with a $50 dollar bill.

Dear Nick,

I wasn’t sure exactly what to get you for Christmas because I know what you most want I can’t give you and that’s your family there with you. We are so sorry that you boys will be so far away from us over the holidays but know that we all love and care about you.

You make my son so happy Nick, he loves you very much!

And we do too!

Merry Christmas make my nephew take you to the store to pick out anything you would like. Maybe one of those Nintendo Gameboy games you enjoy so much!

Much love,

Mom and Dad Littrell


Nick stared at the letter for a while because he was too embarrassed to look up. He felt like crying.

“Wow man that’s awesome” Brian said looking at the money Nick was holding in his hands. “What are you going to spend it on?”

“I don’t feel right spending it on anything; it’s your money Brian”

“Uh no it’s not Nick. If it were my money they would have given it to me not you”

“It’s still not right” He tried to hand the money to Brian who pushed it away.

“Look Nick, just take it okay? My parents would be upset if you refused their gift”

“I feel bad…I didn’t get them anything”

“That’s okay maybe next time” Brian winked which caused Nick to smile.

Now Kevin was rummaging through his first present and laughed when he did in fact open the same exact sweater that Brian had gotten from their grandmother.

“So what do you plan on getting?” Howie asked Nick as he watched Kevin open up another box. This time it was a pair of sneakers.

“I don’t know. She said I should buy a game for my Gameboy”

“Oh…well I guess that’s out of the question huh?”

“Maybe not” Everyone looked over at Kevin who had a small box in his hand. “Seems like my Mom has something for you in here as well Nick”

“Jeez talk about being spoiled” Howie kidded as Kevin handed the present over to the excited 13 year old.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know but I have my suspicions” Nick smiled and ripped the wrapping off the box to find a brand new Gameboy with just a small note saying.

Merry Christmas Nick,

I heard my son owes you one of these! Have a blessed Christmas

Love,

The Richardsons


“I don’t know what to say” Nick managed to squeak out. Now he was getting very emotional as tons of thoughts were racing through his mind. He was so grateful and felt so blessed to have such wonderful friends with equally wonderful parents, but at the same time he was feeling like his own parents had continued to do nothing but let him down.

Kevin opened up his final two gifts which were money and a new jacket as the boys looked on. He then found a letter from his mom at the bottom under some of the Styrofoam peanuts. “I’m going to go read this in private if you guys don’t mind” He said standing up and ruffling Nick’s hair. Then he went over and squeezed his cousin’s shoulder and pat Howie on the back.

“I hope you don’t feel too left out D” Brian kidded as Kevin left for the bedroom, “I can always lend you the sweater”

“It’s okay Brian I’ll just go roll myself up in a ball and cry under the table”

When Kevin closed the door he laid on his belly and read his mom’s letter.

Hi Sweetheart,

I just wanted you to know we really miss you here honey! Christmas just won’t be the same without you. If there was any way we could come down there we would but you know how hard it is these days to just pick up and leave town.

I just wanted you to know how loved and missed you are by all of us. Not just me in fact your brother Tim just confessed to me the other day that he was sad you weren’t closer to home. He said he really misses you.

I hope you enjoy your presents. I’m sending you a care package that you will receive Christmas Eve with some food that Jackie and I made for you. It’s not home but we want the three of you to feel like you can at least have a semi great Christmas dinner.

I also saved your butt and decided to buy Nickolas that Gameboy. Watch him Kevin; I know this must be hard on him. I’m glad you told me about what’s been going on with Nick. He needs you and your cousin right now to be his family. I was thinking about maybe calling Jane and giving her a small piece of my mind. What are your thoughts on that?

Watch out for each other as well.

I love you more than anything! And I miss you like crazy!

Hugs and kisses!

Mom


Kevin felt tears in his eyes. He knew he missed them, but it wasn’t until he felt these little kisses from home that he yearned to be back there more than anything else. He sat up and placed the letter from his mom in his nightstand. He knew he would be reading it more than once today. In fact he knew that that letter would help him get through the holidays until he got to see his family again.

Walking back out into the kitchen he saw that everyone had now made their way into the living room leaving that Christmas morning look on the floor. He started to clean up the mess but stopped himself. He kind of liked that look. He sat on the couch in between Brian and Nick as he played with his Gameboy. “Your mom was awesome to give me this Kevin…I mean both of your moms”

“Well when we call them later you can say thank you”

“Okay”

For no real reason he wrapped his arms around Nick and hugged him. “We’ll have a great Christmas lil man. I promise”

Nick didn’t answer, only continued to play his videogame as the others sat listening to it beeping.
14 by Mare
14



The next day AJ joined them for their final rehearsal before the big Christmas Eve performance which was keeping them all from their homes for the holidays. When the guys saw how refreshed he looked they all couldn’t help but feel a little bit jealous.



Especially Nick who took an I’m going to be pissy to you all day for no good reason approach to AJ. Actually going so far as ‘accidentally’ tripping him as he walked by.



AJ ignored it all day but towards the last hour of rehearsal when Nick rolled his eyes at the kid for the umpteenth time it finally led to an explosion.



“What the hell is your problem Carter?”



“You’re my problem AJ”



“You’ve been a punk ass to me since I got here this morning”



“Guys enough” Kevin said giving them both a warning glare while their choreographer looked on.



“Don’t look at me Kev; this little shit has been on my back since this morning”



“Do we have to do this now kids?”



“Don’t call me a kid! I hate when you call me a kid”



“Okay sorry AJ...but let’s just do what we need to do so we can all go home okay?”



“Fine just tell him to stay out of my face or he’ll regret it” To which Nick answered with a middle fingered salute.



Kevin tried his hardest not to be embarrassed when the two youngest acted up like that but he still felt his cheeks flush when he saw Fatima and her assistants exchange looks. Somehow he knew that was going to come back and bite him on the ass.



They decided since they had such an early call and hadn’t all been together as five AJ would spend the night at the apartment with the other four and all go to the concert together.



An idea that Kevin was regretting as soon as they walked in the door and Nick shoved AJ aside so he could get into the apartment before him. “What the Hell is your problem?”



“You are my problem!”





“Oh my God can we at least have ten minutes of peace before the fighting starts again?” Howie said under his breath wishing he had decided to go home for the night.



“How am I your problem you have been a little piss ant since I saw you this morning”



“Enough!” Kevin stood in between both boys before one tore into the other. “Nick go play your game and cool off! AJ living room”



“Don’t bark orders at me Kevin, you’re not my babysitter like you are his”



“Shut the hell up AJ he’s not my babysitter”



“Yes he is…because that’s all you are Nick… a big baby”



Nick started walking towards AJ and was literally picked up almost sideways by Kevin before he had a chance to attack. Brian found that highly amusing and started laughing as Nick flailed his arms trying to scratch at Kevin like some kind of wild animal.



AJ stood there next to Brian and began to laugh as well because he knew that would irk Nick which it did when the kid started spewing four letter words like they were a natural part of his vocabulary.



“Cool off!” Kevin demanded shaking his head and trying not to lose his grip on the teen.



“Get the Fuck off me!”



“Enough with the profanity”



“God are you like possessed or something?”



“I hate you AJ!”



“Right back at you asshole!”



“AJ you’re not helping!”



“Let me down!!” Nick said once again furiously kicking at Kevin, “If I let you go will you calm the hell down?”



“Yes” He said suddenly stopping his legs and arms and just hanging there limp like a sack of potatoes.



“Okay then” Kevin loosened his grip on the young one until he was lying on the floor. Unexpectedly Nick grabbed AJ’s ankle trying to get him to fall.



“You son of a whore!” He said kicking Nick right in the head which caused Nick to roll over into a ball and suddenly stop moving.



“Nick!” Brian ran over to Nick and got on the floor, “You okay?” Now Kevin was by Nick’s side as well, “Nick say something buddy”



Brian tried to roll his friend over but Nick refused to move, “You okay? Answer us!”



“GO away”



Brian looked at Kevin as relief washed over both of their faces. Howie came running with a bag of ice in hand, “I thought we might need this” He handed it off to Kevin who felt the need to glare at AJ.



“I didn’t mean to kick him so hard” He looked like he felt so bad, standing there staring down at Nick, Brian and Kevin, unsure of what to do. “It was just a reflex; I swear I didn’t mean it”



“I know AJ” Kevin smiled up at his friend, “He’s okay”



“Nick, come on sit up so we can make sure you’re okay” Brian said in his calm Kentucky way. “Leave me alone”



“Okay fine” Brian said standing up and moving towards the living room, “He wants to be left alone”



“What are you just going to lie on the floor all day Nicky?”



“Yes Howie that’s exactly what I’m going to do” Kevin and Howie shrugged at each other as Howie stood next to AJ and Brian now. Kevin was the only one left on the floor beside Nick.



Part of him wanted to just grab the kid, throw him in a car and take him to the nearest loony bin while the other part of him felt the need to hug him. He had no idea how this child worked. One minute he was the happiest kid ever, playing his video games, smiling and cracking jokes while the next moment he was lying on the floor like a blob, sad and angry.



“Nick I’m sorry I didn’t mean it really”



“He knows AJ” Kevin said nodding at the kid who obviously felt terrible. Kevin placed his hand on Nick’s back as he just continued to ignore everyone. “He’s just in a bad mood”



“Uh that’s an understatement Kevin”



“Why don’t we go watch some TV” Howie suggested to the two boys since he could tell that Kevin wanted some alone time with Nick. “I think Christmas Story is on”



“I love that movie! You do too don’t you Nick?”



“Yeah” He mumbled from the floor which caused Brian to smile.



“Well maybe when you pick yourself up off the floor you can come and watch it with us”



Kevin rubbed at Nick’s back and just looked up at his cousin and winked at him and then mouthed, ‘he’ll be okay’



Once the rest of the guys walked away Kevin directed his attention at Nick. “You want to talk about it lil man?”



“Go away Kevin okay?”



“No, I’m not going away so you might as well tell me about it. Why are you so mad?”



“I’m not mad” Kevin couldn’t help but laugh. “You know Nick, you’re a lousy liar”



“I hate…” Kevin couldn’t quite make out what Nick said after the word hate, “Who do you hate?”



He knew the answer; it was so obvious it was practically slapping him in the face. Of course it was his parents he hated. Kevin hated them too but he was a bit surprised when he heard the answer, “Me…I hate me”



“Nick never say that” Boy that brought back memories of his own boyhood tantrums. Kevin would often get so angry he’d lose control of that anger and do something really dumb, much like what Nick did today. It was his father that would pull him aside and ask him what was wrong and once Kevin’s answer had been that he hated himself.



“Son I love you to death but if I ever hear you say that again I’ll lock you in the basement and throw away the key” Kevin turned towards his father surprised by what he said.



“Seriously when you say you hate yourself you are saying you hate me and your mother. You’re saying you hate your family and all of the wonderful things God placed inside of you. Hate is such a strong word son…you should never say it but especially not talking about yourself or the people you love”



“But dad I…”



“No butts about it Kevin, besides I love you and so does your mom so no matter how much you claim to hate yourself our love overrides that! Do you understand?” Kevin thought about it for a few minutes before finally nodding.



He had never said it again.




“Why? It’s the truth” Kevin sighed, “Nick why on earth would you say that?”



“Because I do okay?”



“No, not okay, now come on let’s at least sit up so I can make sure you’re in one piece” He gingerly grabbed Nick’s arm and started pulling him into a sitting position, grateful that he wasn’t met with resistance. Once fully sitting up Kevin noticed the big black bruise forming around Nick’s left eye, “Oh great” He said grabbing Nick’s chin and further examining the damage.



He couldn’t even begin to imagine what his manager was going to say when he saw this. Kevin grabbed the bag of ice that Howie had brought over earlier, some of it had already turned to water but for now it would have to do. The faster he got something on that eye the better the chance they had of making the bruise go away. Kevin wasn’t dumb tough, he realized that the bruise was going to be another part of their outfits come tomorrow.



“I’m such a loser, it’s bad isn’t it?”



“It’s pretty bad yes”



Nick took the bag of ice offered to him by Kevin and placed it on his eye. “I’m sorry” He whispered.



“It’s not me you should apologize to”



“I always mess everything up”



“No you don’t” He grabbed Nick and pulled him closer.



“Yes I do, look at me I’m a mess!”



“You let your emotions get hold of you all the time, that’s all” Nick nodded.



“So you gonna tell me what brought all that on in the first place?”



“I’m…it’s not fair”



“What’s not fair?”



“Just stuff” Kevin looked up to see AJ walking over towards the two of them. Nick noticed to and his whole body tensed up as a result.



“Hey” He said looking down on both Kevin and Nick

“Hi AJ” Kevin smiled but Nick just looked away.



“Have a seat, the floor’s pretty fine” AJ plopped himself on the floor next to Kevin but facing Nick, “Wow sorry about the eye Nick”



“S’okay”



“I really didn’t mean to kick you so hard”



“I know”



“You want to tell me why you’re so mad at me or what?”



Kevin glanced over at Nick who refused to make eye contact with anything but the floor. “You were just making me mad”



“Yeah I got that part but why?”



Nick shrugged.



“You know I was really sick Nick, I had to take those days off”



“So? What the hell does that have to do with anything?” Just by the way he answered both Kevin and AJ realized it had everything to do with it.



“Because I think you have a problem with the fact that I had off and you didn’t” AJ’s voice was rising to a slightly more agitated state and Kevin hoped he wouldn’t have to come between both kids again.



“I was sick too probably more sicker than you!”



“Just sicker no reason for the word more there” Nick glared at Kevin’s correction.



“You were sick, I know Nick, but it’s no reason to get all mad at me!”



Nick nodded and once again looked at the floor. “I should have had a few days off too. When I was sick none of you even believed me. I had to almost cry to prove my friggin point and all you have to do is sniffle and you get two days off and everyone totally understands”



“You are purple with envy!”



“It’s green AJ” Now AJ glared at Kevin who shrugged, “I’m just sayin that’s all it’s green with envy”



“Whatever the hell color it is, it was still no excuse to take out your anger on me”

“I know”



“What?” Both boys said at the same time.



“I said I know and I’m sorry” AJ wasn’t sure what to do, it was clear to Kevin that he had expected world war three to happen, not an apology.



“I’m sorry too munchkin”



“Don’t call me a munchkin! I hate when you call me that!”



“I know! That’s why I do it…Duh!”



Kevin laughed as Nick stuck his tongue out.



“So you gonna come and watch Christmas story or what? They’re at the part where dad gets that lamp” Nick giggled and jumped up to his feet leaving his bag of ice on the floor. “I love that part!”



Kevin grabbed at Nick’s leg, “Keep that ice on your eye please”



“Okay” He said grabbing the bag from Kevin who just sat on the floor wondering what the heck went on in that child’s mind sometimes and knowing that as soon as he got up he was going to put in a call to Nick’s mom and make sure she at least called her son on Christmas. Lord it was something he didn’t want to do but after seeing how sad he has been and now with the black eye, he had to do it.



So he stood up and headed for the bathroom to make his call, hoping to be undetected as he did so.
15 by Mare
15



It was a long, drawn out conversation Kevin had with Mrs. Carter. He had hoped she wouldn’t be there, that maybe he would just get her voice mail. He’d just leave a friendly reminder that tomorrow was Christmas Eve and how happy Nick would be to hear from her and the family. Unfortunately not only was she there, she was in a bad mood.



Kevin found himself stammering over his words and she seemed put off by the call in the first place. When he finally found his tongue, he just let her know about the black eye to which she gasped and called AJ an immature little brat. At that point he had wanted to ask if she even knew her own son to be calling someone like AJ immature but he didn’t feel right dissing Nick to defend AJ.



The truth is, the more he got to know Jane and the rest of the Carter clan, the more he understood why Nick acted the way he did. It wasn’t his fault; he was doing the best he could under the circumstances.



His Mother had said that she was going to give Jane a call, but Kevin convinced her not to get involved. She hated the way Jane and Bob raised their family, and Kevin could understand why completely. They were from different sides of the tracks Jane Carter and his own mom. Night and day opposites and even though it wasn’t his mom’s nature to step into other people’s family situations she had always talked about how bad she felt for Nick.



It drove her crazy to the point of gossiping about it. She always felt the need to apologize afterwards but that wouldn’t stop her or Jackie Littrell sitting on a Sunday afternoon on the front porch talking about how much better it would be for Nick if they were to be raising that boy.



“She’s not a horrible woman…just she is in over her head you know what I mean? And I would hate for her to drag that beautiful boy down with her”



Kevin and Brian would just nod in agreement but never said anything about it.



The thought was always there though and when Kevin sat there talking to this woman he just felt like grabbing Nick, putting him in an envelope and mailing him to his mom’s house where Nick could get a real mom’s love for a change.



She asked how he was behaving since the last time they had talked. Kevin lied and said he was being an angel. Then he decided to come right out and ask, “I was wondering if maybe you could…call Nick tomorrow night?”



“Why wouldn’t I call him?” Jane sounded agitated which made Kevin squirm on the toilet seat.



“I’m not saying you won’t call him I’m just saying he misses you and would love a call from you that’s all”



“Well we plan on calling him tomorrow night and then again on Christmas day”



“Good”




So he felt like he had a productive call with Jane and when he walked out of the bathroom to join his friends he saw that peace had once again been fully restored. There everyone sat squished onto the couch watching TV and eating popcorn. Nick resting his legs on Brian and his head on Howie while AJ sat on the corner of the couch straddled on it as if it were a horse.



“I was wondering when you were going to get out of there, does it stink?” Kevin rolled his eyes at his cousin, “No it doesn’t stink”



“Good because if it did I’d bring in a gas mask or something”



“Very nice Brian” Brian made sure to give his cousin a friendly hug as he passed by, as a peace offering and Kevin took that opportunity to steal Brian’s spot on the couch. He lifted Nick’s legs and plopped them on his own legs as he sat down.



“Anybody nervous about the concert?” He asked during the next commercial break.



“A little, I mean according to Johnny and Lou, there are going to be very important people in the audience that can either make us or break us” AJ said grabbing a handful of popcorn and popping it into his mouth.



“I still don’t see why it had to be on Christmas Eve?” Kevin looked down at Nick who was biting on his bottom lip, “I mean couldn’t they have scheduled this for the middle of January or something?”



“What’s done is done lil man”



“I know but it still sucks” He yawned and once again nestled into Howie’s shoulder who ignored the extra weight as if it was just always there.



“Hey you stole my seat!”



“Serves you right for getting up Brian”



“Oh and the bathroom totally smells like ass of Kevin!”



“Sometimes I wish your mom could hear you. Her perfect angel of a son and the way he talks to his older cousin”



Brian moved to the chair and stuck his tongue out, “She’d never believe you anyway”



“You’re probably right about that” They all looked over at Nick when they heard a snore to see him sound asleep falling off Howie’s shoulder and lying more on his side.



“So what the hell do we do with him on Christmas?”



“What do you mean AJ?”



“Does Santa come or something”



“He’s 13 AJ”



“Yeah so? He acts like a freaking seven year old most of the time”



“Leave him alone AJ”



“It’s true Howie” Howie moved a pillow onto his lap and then guided Nicks’ head to the pillow.



“Well it’s not like you’re going to have to worry about that anyway. You get to spend Christmas with YOUR family” A small hint of jealousy was heard in Brian’s voice. Kevin was jealous as well though. Howie’s family originally invited all the boys over for the holidays but then their own plans changed which meant going to an aunt’s house. Momma D still had insisted that the three of them should come, they’d make room, but Kevin decided it was best if just he, Brian and Nick enjoyed a quiet Christmas alone.



He had asked Nick if he wanted to go along with Howie or stay with Brian and of course he chose Brian. AJ’s mom however didn’t extend an invitation to any of the boys which kind of hurt Kevin’s feelings. After all, she knew how badly they had all missed home. A break is a break though; at least that is what she told AJ. So yes there was a small amount of jealousy still hanging in the air about that.



“Are we buying each other presents? I mean have we bought each other presents?” Kevin felt horrible when his cousin asked that because truthfully he hadn’t thought about it. Not that he had no intention of buying his friends something but they had NO time to even think of shopping.



“No offense to you guys but I didn’t buy any of you a damn thing”



“Well that’s a shock and a half AJ”



“Well did you buy me anything Rok?”



“No, I haven’t had time to buy anybody anything, not even my family” Kevin nodded feeling horrible that his mom had sent this huge care package to him but yet they didn’t even receive as much as a card in return.



“We suck guys” They all nodded in agreement.



“So, no exchanging presents this year?” He looked at each boy as they shrugged, “Yeah guess not this year”



“Okay then”



“But what about him?” Again AJ asked while pointing over to Nick who was now sleeping with his mouth open and his tongue slightly hanging out.



“God I want to stick something in his mouth so bad right now”



“Brian” Kevin gave his cousin a warning glance. “What? I didn’t say I would actually do it but it is awfully tempting”



“Or at least placing his hand in warm water”



“Not while he’s on my couch your not AJ”



“Relax D!” Now they were giggling quietly. “So what do you mean by him AJ? You think we should still buy him gifts?”



“Well…yeah I mean you guys have gotten these incredible packages from home. I have my mom and my family spoiling me rotten as does Howie. Nick has no one”



“You know beneath that I’m a real badass mask you got going on there you’re a good kid” AJ rolled his eyes at Kevin.



“I just kind of feel for the kid you know?” Brian smiled, got up and ruffled the back of AJ’s hair, “We know”



Kevin glanced down at Nick, “Okay my question to you is when are we going to do that? We have a concert tomorrow”



“Afterwards, maybe my mom can keep him occupied”



“Good idea J”



“Well maybe it’s time we all hit the hay. We have a big day tomorrow, possibly a life changing one”



Kevin gently moved Nick’s legs up so he could get off the couch and then placed them back down. Howie did the same, laying him on the couch and then placing a blanket over him.



“So I guess I get stuck with the floor then?”



“Yup afraid so J”



“Life is so unfair I tell you”



“Goodnight little big man”



AJ laughed, “Little big man?”



“Well yes God forbid I call you lil man right?”



“Uh yes that is correct”



“Well then it’s little big man”



“You’re such a dork Kevin”



“Good night AJ”



“Night guys”



Before shutting the lights off Kevin took a look back into the living room as AJ was getting his floor ready and Nick lay fast asleep, feeling like the more he got to know these guys, the more like a family he felt with them.



He felt a warm feeling in the pit of his heart; he really did love these guys. Even though they drove him crazy most of the time, he did love them.



Which he would have to remind himself a numerous amount of times the following day when he almost quit the band.
16 by Mare
16



Christmas Eve started off without a hitch. Everyone woke up on time and in the best of spirits. Kevin decided that he would not only buy Nick some things for Christmas but all the others as well. After all he was their big brother as Lou always drilled into him every chance he got. He didn’t mind it so much; in fact he kind of enjoyed it as long as he wasn’t being accused of things just because he was the oldest.



He got a kick out of being the one they all looked up to. So knowing that, he decided to be a good ‘brother’ and buy them all something special. Something that would bond them together. At first he tossed and turned during the night trying to come up with the perfect gift.



Matching shirts or sweaters would be too tacky. Hats would make AJ excited but Howie hated them. If everyone was a bit older he would’ve suggested getting all of them the same tattoos but then couldn’t help but smile at the thought of trying to explain to Denise and Jane why their kids looked like truck drivers.



Finally at around 2am he came up with the best idea, so he smiled and closed his eyes and went to sleep.



“What are we going to say about your eye?” Kevin looked over at Brian who was fussing with the very black eye Nick was given yesterday.



“Ouch! Don’t touch it doofus!”



“We’ll just tell them the truth I guess… and the make up people will have to do the best they can to cover it up” Kevin nodded at Howie who took in a deep breath and focused his gaze out the window.



“You’re nervous aren’t you D?”



“A little bit”



“Yeah me too” Kevin admitted biting on his bottom lip and fidgeting in his seat.



“Merry Christmas Eve by the way”



“Thanks and the same to you guys!” AJ said looking around the apartment for his sunglasses.



“Must you wear sunglasses for today’s performance J?”



“Johnny said it’ll give me my own look”



“Well I hope they don’t think that look is hey I’m retarded”



“Shut up munchkin!”



“How many times do I have to tell you not to call me munchkin?”



“I will call you munchkin until you are taller than me”



Nick rolled his eyes, “I’m not going to stay this short forever you know!”



“Well for now you are a munchkin” Nick and AJ started to play wrestle, “Guys quit it! They’ll be here any minute to come and get us”



“Kevin stop being such a party pooper”



“I believe that’s his job AJ” Brian winked at his cousin and laughed as the car horn beeped for them.



“This is it guys”



“I know”



They all grabbed onto each other’s hands and said a silent prayer before walking out the door to their gig. It all seemed to be going just as planned Kevin thought to himself as they walked out the door as brothers. A unit strong confident and sure.



That was going…coming back was a different story.



Kevin opened the door without saying one word to anyone, just came in walked over to the bedroom and shut the door. Howie walked in next, biting on his bottom lip and clearly unhappy about what had gone on earlier.



AJ went home with his mom so Brian and Nick were left bringing up the rear, both not saying one word as Nick gingerly closed the door behind him.



“You think he really means it?”



“I don’t know Nick”



“He can’t leave…if he leaves we won’t have a group”



Brian placed his hand around Nick’s back, “He won’t leave Nick, don’t worry”



Howie was sitting at the table still not saying anything to anyone; just sipping on some iced tea trying to collect his thoughts. Nick went over and sat across from Howie placing his head on the table like a lost little puppy dog. “Why didn’t they like us Howie?”



“I don’t know Nicky…it happens I guess”



“Do you really think Kevin is quitting?” Howie shrugged just as the door to the bedroom opened and out came Kevin carrying a suitcase.



“You’re not really quitting are you?” Kevin wanted to avoid this scene completely, still embarrassed by how unprofessional he had been in there. If he could have just left that room and never looked back he would have, not even to say goodbye to these people who he had referred to as brothers earlier on in the day.



“Yes I am lil man...sorry”



“But why?”



“Because it’s clear that this isn’t right for me”



“So just because they didn’t like us you’re throwing in the towel then? After all the hard work and everything we have been through?”



“Howie it’s more complicated than that”



“No it’s not, you’re just giving up!” Kevin rolled his eyes at Nick who was now standing up in front of him ready to grab the suitcase and bring it back into the bedroom.



“I didn’t expect you to understand”



“And why is that? Because I’m a kid?”



“Yes”



“Well even a ‘kid’ can tell when someone is just nothing more than a lousy quitter”



Kevin looked over at Brian, trying to ignore what Nick had just said, “Look, it’s nothing personal. I like all of you it’s just that, we aren’t going to get anywhere with this thing. Couldn’t you see that today? I mean he said we were wasting our time and theirs”



“So we just go somewhere else”



“Brian, I’m too old to do this”



“No you aren’t”



“I’m only two years younger than you Kevin”



Kevin was now getting angry, “Well it’s easy for you guys to stand there and tell me stay, it’s not you who they yell at whenever anything goes wrong!”



And that is exactly what had happened. The performance went relatively well but the trouble started when Johnny got a look at Nick’s eye.



“What the hell happened?” He had said grabbing a hold of Nick by the face to closely examine the damage.



“I fell”



“When were you going to tell me about this?” Johnny gave Kevin a venomous look, “This is going to make us look like a bunch if idiots”



“I’m sure the make up lady can fix it”



“Well I guess it’s too late to do anything about it now. You should have told me about this earlier” Kevin pushed himself away from his manager’s grip, “Sorry” He finally said after so many more colorful words ran through his mind. This was Christmas Eve and he was not going to let Johnny ruin it, besides he was uptight that was all. There was a lot riding on this performance.



So Nick got his make up done and after they were done with him, you could hardly tell he had a black eye.



They took their places on stage and after a few deep breaths and reassuring smiles at one another, they did their thing.



Not realizing what they would see after the lights went up.



They had been told over and over again how important this particular gig was ever since they had gotten news that home for the holidays was going to be just a meaningless phrase this year. The last thing they expected when the houselights came up was to see about 200 old people wearing reindeer antlers and swaying to the music.



It was up to Kevin to introduce the members of the band to the audience after the first song. To which he glared more than once at both Brian and Nick for cracking up when their backs were turned.



The older people all clapped and as they did their little antlers swayed back and forth. Kevin looked over at Johnny who nodded and then with his head motioned to a few men dressed very nicely standing in the back, standing out in the crowd like three sore thumbs.



“Hi there! We’re the Backstreet Boys and we’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas” He wasn’t sure what set if off. Maybe it was being overworked, maybe it was the lack of sleep or maybe it was all the adults in the room wearing reindeer antlers but he suddenly felt himself wanting to burst into laughter. Especially when they all answered “Merry Christmas” back to him in unison. He smiled and took a deep breath, “We’re going to sing a little song called Loverboy” To which one of the females in the audience wooed. Kevin laughed, he couldn’t help it but the second the music started he fell back into the routine.



The crowd loved them and gave them a standing ovation. The boys grabbed hands and bowed together. They sounded great. All their notes were in key, the dance moves were flawless and they were under the impression that they had given the performance of their lifetimes.



Until they got off the stage.



Johnny wasted no time in getting them into a room in the back and reaming into them about their performance. That’s when things got ugly.



“What the hell was that up there?” Once again he was directing all his comments and tirades to Kevin and no one else.



They all looked confused like the best day of their lives turned into the worst, “What do you mean? I thought we were great”



“Great? You call that great? You guys lost it up there. Your dance moves were forced looking, the singing was semi adequate and what the hell was up with laughing at your audience Kevin?”



“Did you SEE them? I hardly think they noticed”



“Yeah they loved us” Johnny now walked over to Nick who had made that last comment, “Oh yeah they loved you SO much they lasted for about three minutes before leaving”



“What do you mean?”



“Who cares about the old people guys, you were doing this for some record execs who I convinced to leave their families to come and hear you!”



“They only stayed for three minutes?”



“Yes Kevin and only because I all but blocked the door before Loverboy was over”



“I don’t understand, what didn’t they like about it” Brian looked crushed, which made Kevin even madder.



“They said you guys are too flat and you’re basically wasting your time”



“That’s harsh”



“It sounds harsh Howie but that’s show biz”



None of them knew what to say or do; all of them looked down at the floor, deflated and pretty much near tears but it was Kevin that actually lost it this time.



“Well then you know what? Screw it!”



“Excuse me?”



They were all surprised as he continued, “I said screw it, screw them and screw you too!” Kevin started walking away when Johnny grabbed him by the arm, “Don’t walk away from me when I am trying to talk to you kid!”



Kevin pushed Johnny away which made the other boys gasp, “And don’t call me a kid one minute and then make me responsible for everyone in this band the next minute! I am tired of all the rehearsing! I’m tired of not being able to go home for the holidays and most importantly I am sick to death of being treated like garbage by you and everyone else!”



“I am trying to help you!”



“No you are not! All you’re doing is making us feel like crap”



“If you want things sugar coated go try out for the Mickey Mouse Club! This is the real deal”



“Whatever I’m done with this!” Kevin shoved past Johnny and walked out the door. Ready to walk away from it all, go back home where he would be surrounded by the love and warmth of his family. He didn’t need this aggravation. He could just get a piddly job until something better came along.




“Kevin I know today was grim but….”



“Howie, come on you know as well as me that we are wasting our time”



“I don’t think we’re wasting our time” Kevin looked over at his cousin who had his arms wrapped around himself looking more like a grandpa ready to lecture then his baby cousin.



“You can’t leave us…I mean you’re supposed to be watching me” Now Nick had his hand on the suitcase that Kevin was carrying.



“Oh now I’m watching you huh? Before you almost had a cow when AJ said I was babysitting you”



“Please don’t leave…” Kevin sighed and looked at everyone, he was hoping all their heads would be down but actually they were all staring at him. He suddenly felt like a loser, a quitter, everything his father had engrained in him not to be.



“Just give it some more time Kevin…this was our first rejection, the guys were probably in a bad mood because we kept them from their holiday. Give it some more time”



“And we won’t let Johnny blame you for everything anymore…it’s usually all my fault anyways so we’ll just tell Johnny to yell at me”



Kevin smiled and ruffled Nick’s hair, “I’m sorry guys…I guess I just let them get the best of me”



“Does this mean no quitting for Kevin?” Howie asked winking, “Heh? Heh?”



“You’re such a dork Howie”



“So does that mean you’re back?”



“Yes I’m back” Nick ran over and literally jumped into Kevin’s arms. “Woohoo!!!”



“But I am going t go out for a little bit…okay? I need to go get some stuff”



“Oh yeah?” Nick made it so obvious he wanted a present it was almost funny. “Yeah, I need some underwear he said winking which made Nick stick his tongue out at his friend.



“You are coming back though right?” Before Kevin left he turned to his friends and nodded, “I’ll be back!”



“That was the worst Arnold impersonation ever cousin”



Kevin shook his head as he closed the door. Happy he had changed his mind and decided to stay.
17 by Mare
17



While Kevin was driving around town looking for the perfect present he was taken in by the sounds of Christmas in the city around him. He missed Kentucky snow, not that they ever got that much but still, he missed the way snow made everything a little more Christmassy. Palm trees and Christmas didn’t go well together.



He tried to shake his feelings of being homesick off to the side and focus instead on the guys. He felt so guilty for breaking down in front of them when they probably needed him to be at his strongest and instead, he failed them.



He felt so bad that his cousin and Nick had to be so far away from home for the holidays, and he was sad for himself too.



But now was not a time for being sad and thinking of home, now was a time to think about making the best of it. Just like his dad always said, just make the best of it Kevin…no matter what, there will never be a situation so bad that you should just throw in the towel. You take lemons that life gives you and you make lemonade. Kevin sighed as he wondered if that’s how his father thought when he was given the news of his cancer.



Why no one chose to tell him how bad his father’s condition was is beyond him. It had all hit him so fast, hearing about how sick his father was and then finding out that he was going to die.



He stopped at a red light and placed his head on the steering wheel. Would he ever stop hurting? It hadn’t been that long since his father’s death. In fact he often had to stop himself from calling his father to tell him about some of the things that were happening in his life.



It used to be so natural to call home with news of how things were going in Florida. He always asked to speak to dad first. It never even bothered his mother, in fact she laughed it off, “Hang on let me get who you really want to talk to” She would say before handing the phone over to his father.



He could talk his father’s ear off about things, from politics, to the environment. They talked about everything and anything. Most importantly Kevin would consult him on his life and career moves. His father never once steered him in the wrong direction.



When he stormed into the apartment earlier today, he actually had to stop himself from picking up that phone and calling his father. That hurt more than anything else.



Someone honking behind him brought Kevin back to the here and now, the time when dad was now spoken only in past tense.



He felt bad for not sharing his feelings with his band mates more often. Brian knew the entire situation of course, but the others only knew his father had died from cancer. It hurt that none of them had never really asked. In fact the only one that did was ironically enough Nick on a whim one day while waiting to get into a make up chair before a photo shoot. He asked a very odd question, “What did your father smell like?” Kevin had looked over at Nick and at first looked disgusted and then intrigued. Afraid that the teenager was ready to crack some kind of senseless joke about smelling like decaying bones or something. He felt bad that he assumed Nick would go there but at the time he really didn’t know Nick all that well.



“Why the hell are you asking me that?” Kevin had asked very defensively, ready to fight if the need arose.



“I was just wondering…because my dad smells like Coast…you know that soap?”



“My dad wasn’t a big fan of aftershave so he kind of smelled like moth balls”



That brought about a laugh from Nick and a smile from Brian who was sitting in the next chair over getting his hair done.



“Mothballs?”



“Yes Nick mothballs”



“Weird” Kevin smiled as the kid wrestled to keep himself from stirring around too much.



“Why did you bring that up anyway?” Kevin had asked him after a long silence and a few annoyed grunts from the make up artist.



Nick shrugged, “I guess I just miss that smell”



Kevin put his head down and looked at his feet, “Yeah I guess I do too”



And that was the end of that conversation.



Sitting in the car on the way to the store he remembered it was most likely because Nick had gone for a week without seeing his father. He got to go home and smell Coast, but Kevin didn’t. No more mothballs.



He shook off the memory and continued onto his destination before the stores closed down.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*






Meanwhile back at the apartment Nick and Brian sat together on the floor of the kitchen opening the box of goodies that Brian’s mother sent from home.



“Wow I almost want to stay here and eat with you guys…almost” Howie kidded as he saw Brian pull out a huge tin full of Christmas cookies and homemade fudge. Nick took no time in opening the tin and grabbing a piece and then handing the tin off to Howie who also happily stuffed a piece of fudge into his mouth.



“Are we sure that Kev is really coming back?”



“Nick for the zillionth time yes, he’ll be back”



“I mean he could have just said he was coming back to throw us off”



“He’ll be back”



“And then by the time we realized it he would be halfway over the border”



Brian laughed, “He’s coming back and what border are you talking about? You suck at geography”



Nick placed a butter cookie in his mouth, “God Rok your mom is an awesome baker!”



“Yeah I know but this is also Aunt Anne’s doing”



“Do you eat like this all the time?”



“Only the holidays”



“My mother never bakes…well real cookies anyway. We did the whole Pillsbury cookie dough thing”



“But I thought your mom was a great cook Nicky?”



“She is, but she has NO patience”



“My mom is an awesome cook” Howie added and then stood up, “Which reminds me I need to be heading off. I promised her I’d be there before dark. Are you guys going be okay before Kevin gets back?”



Nick rolled his eyes knowing full well that Howie was directing that question at him, “Please D we have gone over this, and I don’t need a babysitter”



“Yeah and I’m here Howie…have a great time at home. Give Mama D a huge hug from me”



“Hey!” Nick said realizing that Brian inadvertently dissed him, “You don’t have to be my babysitter either!”



“Oh relax Nick and have another piece of fudge”



“Yay for fudge” Nick said grabbing another piece and running into the living room.



“You sure you guys will be okay?” Howie asked when Nick was on the couch watching TV.



“Yeah D, Kevin will be back soon and then we’ll eat”



“I feel bad leaving you here”



“Don’t….we have each other… now go!”



Howie wrapped Brian in a hug and then walked over and pat Nick’s shoulder, “Be good and Merry Christmas!”



“Yeah same to you D” Nick said turning around and smiling at Howie. “Nicky you have chocolate all over your face”



“I know” He turned back around and stared at the TV.



“Well okay as long as you know I guess…bye guys”



“Later Howie!” Brian said as their friend walked out the door and home for the holiday. Brian picked up the cooler from the same delivery package his mother sent, the cooler containing the meal she had made for the three of them. Baked ham, sweet potatoes and string beans with bacon as well as his Aunt Anne’s killer biscuits and gravy and placed it in the fridge before joining his friend on the couch.



Brian smiled at Nick as he sat seeming enthralled at what he was watching, an old black and white version of A Christmas Carol.



“When do you think Kevin will be here?”



“Soon”



And as if on cue, Kevin walked in the door causing both guys to turn around and stare at him from the couch. “More presents?” He asked pointing towards the huge box that lie on its side opened while Styrofoam peanuts poured out of it.



“Not quite, more like food”



“Cool” He said placing his bag on the table and walking over to join the gang in the living room.



“Howie left?” Brian nodded.

He sat down and saw the cookie tin and box of fudge and once again became sad thinking of home. “Are my mom’s snicker doodles in there?” Brian nodded as Nick handed the tin over to Kevin.



“Cool” He took one out and held it in his hand for a moment, remembering the smell of the house when his mom would bake for Christmas. His brothers all mad because Kevin was allowed to lick the bowl while they weren’t.



“You okay?” Kevin looked over at Nick whose face was still covered in chocolate, “Yeah I’m okay”



“What about you lil man? Are you okay?” He shrugged, “I’ll be better when I find out what you got in the bag over there”



“Very subtle Nick…very subtle”



“Why don’t you go get it and bring it over here” Kevin said winking at the blonde who happily hopped up and over the couch to get the bag.



“You sure you’re okay?” Kevin looked over at his cousin and nodded, “Just hard this time of year that’s all” Maybe his blow up had something to do with that as well? It made him feel better thinking that way.



When Nick returned with the bag he hopped in-between the Kentucky cousins and Kevin smiled, secretly relieved that on top of not being home he didn’t have to deal with a Nick Carter bad mood.



“You didn’t have to buy us anything Kevin”



“Yeah I know Brian but I wanted to…so…” He grabbed the bag out of Nick’s hand and handed Brian a gift wrapped box. He then did the same to Nick, “Go on….open it”



They both looked at Kevin and then each other, smiling like five year olds as they tore open their boxes only to find…an empty box.



Kevin couldn’t help but giggle when he saw the expression on their faces, “Uh…wow Kevin this is really….um…nice?” Brian said squinting his eyes to show how confused he was.



“Yeah Kevin I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t given me this…box” He laughed at Nick who was sucking at hiding his disappointment.



“I know it seems like an empty box”



“Are there like some magic beans in here or something?” Both Kevin and Nick cracked up at Brian as he said that like a whee little elf, “Magic beans to make us rich rich rich?”

“I swear you are just not right in the head Brian”



“At least when Brian gives boxes he actually puts stuff in them” Kevin rolled his eyes and once again smiled.



“Okay look, this box is a place where you are going to hold your dreams as they begin to come true”



“Huh?” Both boys said in unison.



It had sounded so much better in Kevin’s head then when he was sitting there trying to explain it to the guys now. “It’s a dream box, when I was little…my dad gave us all one of these and he said that we should keep it under our beds as a reminder that one day our dreams would come true. A dream box…see?”



“That’s nice Kevin” Brian said looking into his box and trying to stick his head in it.



“I just thought… you know since this first audition didn’t really pan out for us that we can keep our dream boxes ready under our beds to remind us that our dreams will eventually come true”



“I like that” Nick said looking in his box and then closing the lid, “Because our dreams will come true”



“Good attitude lil man”



“Thanks Kevin” Brian said giving his cousin a huge hug and Nick followed by jumping on top of Brian.



“Okay off already!” Kevin pushed them off and both boys fell to the floor. “Kev, I can’t wait until you give AJ and Howie their empty boxes…I’m going to take a picture of AJ’s face”



Nick suddenly hopped off the floor, “Oooh I got you something too”



“You did?”



“Uh huh” He said winking at Brian as he walked into the bedroom.



“It’s not a bag of flaming poop is it Bri?”



“No cousin besides after Nick just about set our apartment on fire you think I’d let him do that? It’s cold poop of course”



“You’re such a smart ass”



“I know”



Nick walked in with a gift bag, “When I saw these I thought of you” He said handing the bag over to Kevin who was kind of scared to open it.



“It’s nothing much because well…I’m broke but…” He shrugged as Kevin opened up the bag and pulled out a box of mothballs. He felt himself instantly tearing up, the last thing he wanted to do.



Such a thoughtful gift from such an unlikely source.



“I don’t know what to say kiddo” He finally was able to get out after a few seconds, “This is the most thoughtful gift ever”



Kevin grabbed Nick into a hug, “Thank you” He whispered and then looked over at his cousin who looked like he was tearing up.



“So…who wants dinner?” Kevin asked standing up and wiping away a stray tear, damn those things for showing through!



“As long as it’s my mama’s cooking and not yours than I do!!”



“Brian have I mentioned what a smartass you are?”



“Oooh I’m telling…Kevin said ass!” Nick belly laughed and walked over to the kitchen with Brian as Kevin lagged behind once more looking over at the mothballs and taking a deep breath. Trying to remember what his father looked like on Christmas Eve just before a huge family dinner.

Sorry about the delay on this one. I hope some of you are still reading?
18 by Mare
18



They sat around the table eating pepperoni pizza from Dominoes, deciding to leave The Littrell and Richardson family’s food for Christmas day. As they did they joked and laughed about everything under the sun. They talked about the stupidest movies they had ever seen and of course all the ones that made Kevin’s worst movies ever list Nick called classics and the ones Kevin named as classics Nick had never seen before.



How odd it was for Kevin to sometimes look at this young child and think of him as a co worker. He was almost ten years younger and they were just supposed to meld, like best buddies. He was blown away by that sometimes.



“Kevin look at this!” Funny how he turned away from those thoughts to see Nick trying to stick a breadstick up his nose, “I’m a walrus!!”



“Walruses don’t have fangs up their noses idiot!”



“Whatever Brian! Kevin your cousin is such a loser!”



“Yeah well at least I’m not trying to stick a breadstick up MY nose!”



“You should because it would fit!”



“Hey!” A carrot went flying across the table and promptly hit Nick in the face. All Kevin could think to do was shake his head at them both. “You are supposed to be a role model for that child and what do you do? You throw food across the table…way to go Brian your mom would be so proud!”



Kevin shut his eyes as a piece of lettuce came sailing at his face which made both Brian and Nick crack up. “Nice Brian…very ni…” Before he had time to finish a carrot sailed across at him and when he glanced over at this cousin he couldn’t help but laugh at the look on his face. Half devil… half angel but all Brian.



“Okay that’s it!” Kevin stood up which made Nick wince. He felt bad at the reaction he got, it kind of surprised him but then he quickly grabbed a breadstick and flung it at Brian who was so surprised by that reaction he fell off his chair to dodge it.



“Oh my God….that was the BEST!!!” Nick said with the most exasperated look on his face.



“What kid? I can have fun too!” Kevin then grabbed another breadstick and chucked it at Nick who was still so shocked he let it hit him in the forehead without even trying to duck from it.



That made Brian burst into hysterical laughter as Nick just stood there dumbfounded. “Kevin can actually be fun sometimes Nicky I told you”

“You did?” Kevin asked sounding surprised.



“Of course but you yell at him so much he hardly believed me”



“I don’t yell” Both younger boys grunted, “Much…I don’t yell much”



“Kevin come on…you are always yelling”



“No I’m not!” Now he was getting defensive. He sat back down after taking the stray vegetables and setting them in the garbage can. “I’m not a screamer Brian”



“No one said you were a screamer Kev….just a yeller”



“And what the heck is supposed to be the difference?”



“One is more naggier than the other” Kevin shook his head, “You mean one nags more than the other”



“See? That’s exactly it!”



“What’s exactly what?”



“You just corrected Nick” Kevin let out a huge sigh, “I only corrected him because he was wrong”



“That’s nagging Kev”



“No it’s not….telling him to constantly do this or do that is nagging”



“You do that too” Kevin looked over at Nick who had his shoulders slumped as he bit into a piece of pizza. “I don’t nag you Nick…I just...never mind, just eat up!”



“Sorry I didn’t mean to ruin the fun…you’re not a nagger Kevin” Brian stood up and walked over to his cousin. “Now what do you say? Give a little kiss sonny boy…” He said trying to imitate his grandmother.



“Brian I have said this before and I’ll say it again…you are NOT right in the head” But he still kissed his cousin on the cheek, “Not right at all”



“Well at least I’m not a nag”



“Hey!”



Luckily after that conversation, talk once again turned to happy things. They compared notes about past Christmases and how old they were when the truth about Santa was out of the bag. They talked about favorite presents and the most horrendous things they had ever gotten. Nick had won that prize hands down when he said one year his uncle gave him a pair of toe nail clippers. Brian talked about the time he almost burnt his house down when he got up extra early to bake cookies for Santa thinking the best way to do that would be by throwing a box of Chips Ahoy into the oven, which of course prompted Nick to come up with “You weren’t a very bright child were you?”



That was pretty funny too.



After dinner they wandered into the living room where eating some home made chocolate covered popcorn and peanuts they watched A Christmas Story AGAIN! And also threw in The Holy Grail which made next to no sense to Nick but he was given no choice in the matter since Kevin said it was one of the best movies ever and Nick had never seen it before.



Both Brian and Kevin had seen this so many times they even had some of the lines memorized and Nick looked on sometimes in horror as they shouted them at the screen cracking themselves up as they did it.



“You guys don’t get out very much do you?”



“Hush Nick this is the best part…watch for the rabbit” When the rabbit came out of the bushes and attacked the guard the cousins lost their minds and high fived which made Nick laugh right along with them even though the movie wasn’t holding his interest at all.



“You know we need to watch The Goonies now”



“I don’t think so Nick”



“Well that’s not fair! I mean I sat through your stupid movie”



“How can you call the Holy Grail stupid?”



“Because it was…now come on what about the Goonies?”



“But watching the Holy Grail is a tradition with our families Nick, we sit and watch it while our moms are preparing Christmas dinner”



“Really? Every year?”



“Yup every single year and that has happened since my father was little he used to watch with Kevin’s mom and the other cousins while THEIR moms used to cook”



“That’s kind of cool”



“Yeah I know”



“So no Goonies then?”



“No!” they both said at the same time. “That’s okay because I don’t have it anyway”



That conversation ended with a pillow fight and even more laughter. All three boys tried their best to keep the fact that they were so far away from home out of their minds and they did a good job until bed time.



Kevin found himself blue as he was doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen from their little food fight earlier. Nick had since fallen asleep on the couch and Brian headed into the bedroom after talking to his parents on the phone for almost an hour.



Being away from his family was so hard on the holidays; he was fine until they called him. Once that happened his mood changed and he went quiet which sparked him to go into the kitchen in the first place. They sounded happy enough, both brothers getting on the phone and assuring their youngest sibling that mom was in good hands, there was nothing to worry about and that he should just focus on himself and Brian as well as that little teeny one which was their collective nickname for Nick.



What he found himself being most surprised about is how jealous he suddenly became that they were having such a great time without him. He almost would have felt better if his brother had said Kevin you need to come home mom is crying under a table because she misses you so much. We can’t live without you so get on the next plane home before Christmas is ruined for everyone!



The fact that they were fine with his absence only signaled to him how long he had been away in the first place. It was now becoming routine for Kevin to be gone for the important holidays.



That’s what made him sad.



He felt so disconnected to the people he loved that he wanted to cry, but he didn’t. Instead he did the dishes and would occasionally sigh as he went along. Hoping this little funk he was in would pass. He did choose this life didn’t he? He could have backed out; in fact he almost did as early as today.



What made him come back? The fact that he couldn’t live without the life he was so anxious to avoid. He wanted the fame; he wanted the adulation from screaming fans. He also enjoyed having people who he cared about go through it with him. Sure he could have stayed in Kentucky and become a local celebrity. Made his way around the radio shows performed at every Wild Cats pre game show, possibly been on a few community cable programs but that wouldn’t have been enough.



He was living his dream right now and with that dream would come sacrifices but at least he wasn’t alone. He knew that no matter what there would always be four other guys feeling what he was feeling, going through the same exact things he was and how cool was it that one of them was actually his cousin?



By the time the pile of dirty dishes was clean, so was his spirit. He felt better, maybe that’s all he needed a small poor me session. Pity party for one as his dad used to call them when one of his sons was feeling sorry for himself.



He walked over to the living room to make sure that Nick had a blanket wrapped around him when he heard the smallest hint of sniffling. Seems like he wasn’t the only one having a pity party.



When Nick heard Kevin approaching he closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep but he was fooling nobody.



“Nicky…what’s wrong” Kevin decided not to put the light on and instead sat on the coffee table facing the supposedly sleeping form of Nick Carter. When Nick didn’t answer Kevin decided to press instead of leave which is what the moody Kevin from a few minutes ago, the one with the dirty dishes, would have done. “Come on Nick…I know you’re not sleeping you are a terrible actor. What’s wrong buddy?”



Nick sat up, “I thought they would have called” Kevin moved next to him then and nodded, of course he hadn’t realized that the Carter’s never even bothered to call their son today on Christmas Eve and not only Christmas Eve but a pivotal day of his career too.



When they had gotten back from the show from hell…there were three messages waiting for them; one from Brian’s family, one from Kevin’s mom and one from Howie’s brother but nothing for Nick.



Of course there was so much drama going on at the time that no one noticed, but of course Nicky did.



“They were just probably too busy to realize it Nick…I wouldn’t worry about it”



“Too busy to miss their son?” Kevin knew his mother had planned on calling Jane but he forgot to ask about it today in the midst of everything going on. He wanted to call her and yell at her himself and the father, what was wrong with these people?



“They miss you Nick, maybe they’re just waiting for tomorrow to give you a call”



“Yeah maybe” He said wiping his eyes with his shirt.



“You know how you guys were talking about traditions before? That gay movie we watched?”



“It wasn’t gay but you mean the Holy Grail?”

“Uh huh…well my family has a tradition too”



“Yeah? And what is that?”



“We’d all sleep in the living room together on Christmas Eve…at least all of the kids. I mean it made sense mom and dad would be setting up the presents in each of our rooms so they made us sleep together on the floor in the living room. We’d get our sleeping bags out and just kind of huddle together under the tree”



“So your parents didn’t put your presents under the tree?” He shook his head, “No, there would be too much fighting. Santa would leave us each a present in our rooms on our beds this way we knew it was for just us”



“That sounds like fun”



“It was” He frowned again and let out a sigh as another stream of sad tears fell down his face. “This would be the first year we don’t do it…well I’m sure they are still but not me”



Kevin wrapped his arm around the teeny one and smiled, “Well how about we wake Brian up and we all do that in here?”



“Yeah?” Nick smiled a little bit, “Yeah why not…you want me to do the honors of waking Brian up or would you like to do that?”



“Can I put his hand in warm water?”



“I won’t tell if you won’t tell” Kevin said winking at Nick who giggled and jumped up. “Cool!”



Kevin laughed, “Remember it’s late”



“I know…and Kev…thanks”



“Merry Christmas lil man! Now go get Brian and I’ll set things up in here” When Nick went to grab Brian thankfully leaving out the warm water, Kevin set to making the floor of the living room comfortable enough to spend the night on. He threw the couch cushions on the floor and lined them all around the pile of blankets he grabbed from the closet as well as Howie’s bed.



He wasn’t that excited to be sleeping on the floor as he was sure his cousin wouldn’t be either, but sometimes it’s all about sacrifice and if this was going to make the holidays a little easier on Nick than he was willing to do it.



About fifteen minutes after that conversation a very sleepy Brian with a major case of bed head came stumbling out of the bedroom carrying his pillow followed by a very happy Nick.

He plopped himself down on one side and Kevin on the other while Nick wiggled his way in the middle of the two of them.



“I can’t believe I gave up my nice comfortable bed to sleep on the floor with the two of you”



“Brian relax it’s for one night”



“You better not fart Nick or I swear I’m going to hurt you!”



“Hey Brian pull my finger!”



“Shut up”



Kevin smiled lying on his back as he closed his eyes listening to his two band mates arguing and laughing next to him. Making sure he kept his hands under the covers and away from any warm bowls of water that should happen to pop up in the middle of the night.



“I love you guys” He heard himself say which surprised the other two as they stopped long enough to say, “We love you too even though you’re a nag!”



Laughter was followed by a “Hey!”
19 by Mare
19






Kevin woke up unaware of his surroundings and with a huge crick in his neck. He had forgotten that he ended up on the floor and it took a few minutes for him to remember why. The soft sound of snoring coming from his right made him smile. There was Nick sprawled out with one of his arms on Brian and the other on Kevin.



Slowly Kevin moved Nick’s arm and sat himself up once again rubbing at his neck. “Merry Christmas” He whispered to his two sleeping friends and once again to his family that were so far away from him today.



Glancing over at the clock he was unsure if it was too early to call home, “Only 7am? Damn I need to go back to sleep”



“You always wake up talking to yourself cousin?”



“Good morning Brian and Merry Christmas”



Brian sat up and yawned stretching his arms way over his head as Nick rolled over on his side at the sudden movement. “That was about the most uncomfortable night’s sleep I have ever had. Care to tell me why the heck we were sleeping out here in the first place?” He glanced down at Nick, “Although I have my suspicions”



“It’s a family tradition for him. I just thought it would be nice if we spent the night all of us together”



“Well I say next time we all sleep in a bed then” Brian stood up and ran into the bathroom. “Ah well guess going back to sleep is no longer an option” Kevin uttered to himself as he stood up and covered Nick as he lie there dead to the world.



He walked over to the window wishing he would see snow outside to greet him, which was sometimes the hardest part about not being home for the holidays. He loved running out in the snow first thing in the morning before the presents were unwrapped. In fact he would run into his big brother’s room and wake him up begging him to go sledding before mom woke up and ruined their fun.



Tim would roll his eyes and act all disgusted but Kevin knew deep down inside that his brother longed for that quality alone time with the baby of the family. They would go out and sled, make snow angels and then maybe have a small snowball fight until dad would yell at them to get back into the house before they caught pneumonia.



Even last year, now that the Richardsons were all grown men, they still went outside and had that snowball fight before presents were unwrapped.



Kevin suddenly found himself longing for his big brother Tim. He loved both his brothers equally but it was Tim he used to tag along with most. He idolized Tim and always said he wanted to be just like him in every way. Christmas was their time to bond and once Tim left the house it got so lonely. When Christmas rolled around with both Tim and Gerald back home everything felt so normal; even with dad gone.



“Whatcha thinking about?”



Kevin looked over at Brian and smiled, “Just home I guess”



“Yeah…me too. Think it’s too early to call them?”



“I’m sure my mom is up but I don’t want to wake the house up so maybe we should wait a little while longer”



“Good idea” Brian said sinking into a kitchen chair, “So what are you going to feed me?”



Kevin laughed, “Well I was thinking some bacon and eggs maybe?”



“Hey for kicks we could wake up Opie over there and have him cook for us, I’m bummed I missed the last time he attempted to cook”



“Opie?”



“Yeah…first thing that came to my head”



“Should we wake him up?” They both glanced over to the living room where the faintest hint of snoring could be heard.



“Nah let him sleep, I’m sure he’ll be bummed today. Poor little guy, his parents still haven’t called?”



Kevin shook his head as he took out the eggs and began to crack them, “I’m hoping they’ll call today”



“They better!” Just as he said that the phone rang waking the young blonde up as it did. Nick jumped up and ran over to the phone before Kevin could reach it.



“Hello?” He asked in anticipation and then a look of disappointment appeared on his face, “Oh…hi Mrs. Richardson…okay sorry about that….Anne…yes and thank you we’re looking forward to eating it today…Merry Christmas to you too…here’s Kevin” He handed the phone over to Kevin and then walked into the bathroom.



“Hi Mom”



“Merry Christmas baby”

“Same to you…I was going to call you but I thought it was too early”



“It actually is too early, I’m up making breakfast, you know the calm before the storm? And well, I had to call my baby first before things got too crazy. I wanted you all to myself and you know how it gets here it will be pass the phone along to everyone and I’ll hardly get a word in”



Kevin smiled and held the receiver close to his cheek, closing his eyes and trying to picture his mom standing in their kitchen with flour all over her hands from making her home made biscuits.



“I’m actually making breakfast too” He heard her smile; he just knew she would be at that statement. “You are?”



“Yeah I’m making us bacon and eggs”



“Kevin I’m so proud of you! Don’t burn the house down” Now he knew where he got it from.



“No worries mom”



“I know honey, I’m just teasing. Is Brian up and awake?”



“Yup he’s sitting here next to me”



“I know Jackie plans on calling him a little later. I told her I wanted my Kevin time first”



“Your Kevin time?” She laughed, “Yes my Kevin time”



“I miss you mom” Kevin said suddenly feeling all the longing for her creeping into his heart almost to the point of bursting into tears which he probably would have done if Brian and Nick weren’t around to see him become his mother’s baby.



“I miss you more but you know what?”



“What?”



“We’ll have many more Christmases to spend together. I’m willing to sacrifice this one” He wanted to speak the words aching in his heart at that moment. Wanted to mention to her that his own father could have said the very same thing to him and now he was gone. That nothing was certain, who for sure could say if they would have another Christmas. That was the paranoid little boy inside the man coming out, the one who wanted to jump through the phone and make snow angels with his brother. He didn’t say any of those things though; instead he just nodded and said a simple, “I love you.”



“I love you too honey, by the way how is our little boy doing? He sounded very excited when he answered the phone” Anne Richardson as well as Jackie Littrell had all but adopted the youngest member of the Backstreet Boys. They worried constantly about his well being which was probably one of the reasons their sons did as well.



“He probably thought you were going to be his parents”



“Have they called?”



“No, they haven’t” Kevin sighed and looked over to the still closed bathroom door.



“I called them Kevin but they didn’t pick up so I left a message. If they don’t call you give that boy some extra love and attention today okay? Remember he is still only a child”



“Yes I know mom and we will”



“I know you will because you’re my son and I raised you right” Kevin laughed.



“Okay well better go sweetie…give Brian a huge kiss from me”



“Um…I’ll pass” This time she laughed.



“Tell everyone I said I love them and Merry Christmas”



“Will do bye bye honey” He didn’t want to hang up the phone so he held it in his hand and stared at it for a minute.



“You okay?” He placed it back on the carol, “Yeah I’m okay Bri”



“Good because I’m still starving over here!”



“Last time I checked you did have two hands and two feet”



“Yes and I also have one hungry tummy what’s the point?” Kevin shook his head ignoring his cousin and walking over to the bathroom door, “Nicky…are you okay in there? Did you fall in or something?”



Within seconds of him asking, Kevin heard the toilet flush and out came a still sleepy and obviously very upset Nick. He tried not to show his disappointment and instead plastered on a smile. The smile that would one day make all the little girls swoon but the same one that the boys would read as fake.



“Merry Christmas!” He said walking over to Kevin and giving him a hug and then doing the same to Brian”



“Merry Christmas to you too Nick. Kevin is about to feed us!”



“Cool” He said taking a seat next to his friends. He let out a sigh which made Brian smile at him and ruffle his hair, “So were you happy that we slept out in the living room with ya last night?”



“Yup, thanks for doing that too”



“It wasn’t any problem, maybe for the old man over there though”



“Hey!” Brian and Nick laughed as Kevin just turned his head and ignored them, “So Nick did you check the bedroom?”



“Huh?”



“The bedroom, you said your parents would leave all of you something on your beds right?”



“I don’t have a bed here Kev”



“Well maybe Santa knew that and put a present for you on Howie’s bed”



Nick’s eyes lit up as he jumped up and ran into the bedroom, Kevin excitedly following. When he turned on the light he gasped when he saw a video game and sketch pad waiting for him on the bed. “Wow! Awesome!!!” He walked over and picked up the gifts and ran over and gave Kevin a hug”



“You didn’t think I would just give you some dumb box for Christmas right?”



“It wasn’t dumb cousin”



“I know… but it wasn’t exactly the most exciting gift in the world either…by the way, did you check your bed Bri?”



Nick moved out of the way so Brian could see a video game of his very own sitting there. “YAY I get more than a dumb box to!”



“Hey!”



“I’m just kidding….Wow you rock Kevin!”



“Can I get that on tape and play it back when you start bitching at me?”



“Seriously Kevin that was so nice of you. Thanks so much, I feel bad all I got you was crumby moth balls”



“Nick that was one of the most thoughtful presents anyone has ever given me. Besides my mom helped with the funding so you should thank her”



“Your mom rocks my world” Kevin laughed and went over and examined the gifts he had bought for the boys. “Yeah she rocks mine too”



His mom had placed in the letter just for him a $100 bill and told him to spend it on Brian and Nick since they would be missing home this year. She also slipped him a $50 all for himself.



He had planned on giving it to them in the morning but when Nick mentioned his family tradition he decided to wait until both guys were asleep and do it that way instead. “Now are we ready for food?”



Brian and Nick nodded examining each other’s presents as if they were five all over again. In that instance Kevin felt like maybe that was what he and Tim looked like on Christmas day. Looking at what each other had wondering who’s was better. That’s really when it kicked in for him, the love he felt for these guys, how yes even though Brian was his cousin, they were so much more. All five were brothers and he loved them all very much.



They spent the morning eating runny eggs and slightly burnt bacon while talking about which video games were the best. Kevin felt so out of the conversation but seeing how excited the boys were over the topic he still had to smile. This reminded him of home and the silly things they would talk about at the breakfast table.



They were sitting around the table playing a game of poker using Hershey’s kisses as chips when Howie walked in. It took the boys by surprise because Howie had no plans of returning so soon. “Howie D what are you doing here?” Nick said running over to him and giving him a hug. Howie stepped back a little surprised to see the young blonde in such good spirits.



“I thought I’d bring you guys back some food, actually my mom insisted”



“I thought you wouldn’t be back until tomorrow” Kevin said grabbing the huge bag Howie had in his hands from his friend and placed it on the table.



“I know but I kind of felt bad not being here with you guys besides my parent’s house gets insane when the whole family is back.”



“Aww admit it Howie, you just missed us!” Nick said as he opened the bag to see what kinds of goodies were inside. “You can’t honestly be hungry Nick. We just ate what my parent’s sent us less than an hour ago”



“My stomach knows no limit on Christmas Kevin, we are supposed to eat ourselves sick on the holidays remember?”

“Well there’s plenty of food in there plus a gift from my mom to you Nicky”



“Another gift jeez Nick you are getting spoiled rotten today” Brian kidded as Nick took out all of the food to get to the box on the bottom. Howie winked at Kevin who glanced over and smiled at him.



“She told me to tell you it’s nothing much but when she saw it she thought of you”



Nick nodded and ripped the beautifully gift wrapped box open. He pulled out a gold chain with a cross on it, “Wow this is awesome Howie!”



“I hope you like it” Nick walked over and grabbed Howie in a hug, “it’s really perfect thank you”



“Merry Christmas”



Suddenly Nick’s whole demeanor changed and he wiped away a few tears, “What’s wrong Nicky?” He turned away, “Nothing I think its allergies”



Brian, Kevin and Howie all looked from one to the other, “Nick it’s okay to cry”



“God you guys must think I’m nothing but an overgrown crybaby because it seems like all I’ve done since I’ve been here is cry. Sorry”



“It’s understandable little man, it’s the holidays and you miss home”



“You’ve all been so great to me, your parents have just been so…and my own family hasn’t even…” He sighed at a lose for words, “I am going to take a shower…thanks again Howie” Howie nodded and smiled at him.



“I didn’t mean to make him upset, he seemed so happy a few minutes ago”



“You didn’t do anything Howie, it’s his stupid family”



“When I told my mom that they haven’t even bothered to call she was sick with worry so she sent me out to buy Nick something special”



“I’m glad he has us” Brian said sticking a cookie in his mouth that Howie had brought from home.



“Me too” Kevin answered as he looked at the bathroom door once again after hearing the water turn on.

As always thanks for reading!
20 by Mare
20








After Nick came out of the shower, barely a word was spoken for quite some time. He sat on the couch and smiled as Howie told us some crazy story about his uncle Emilio putting a lamp shade on his head and singing Santa Clause is Coming to Town, but yet Nick didn’t say anything.



Kevin noticed Nick looking at the phone almost on an hourly basis, maybe trying to will it to ring. He couldn’t figure out how parents could do that to one of their kids. Even if unintentionally, how could you possible ignore your child on Christmas? A day that was made for family?



That’s also when Kevin realized how strong Nick was, yes he cried a lot and yes he was whiny and needed CONSTANT attention which tended to annoy most of them on any given day, but beyond all that, he was handling this so much better then Kevin would have. If this had been Kevin being stood up by his family, the sadness would have driven him insane. Even at the age he was now, it would have been too much.



Probably the saddest part of that realization, Kevin thought to himself, was that this was something Nick has gotten used to. He’s gotten used to coming in last in a family who wants to live off of his eventual success. How sad is that?



Kevin glanced over at Nick who was staring straight ahead as if listening to what Brian was saying, even giving the occasional nod. He wasn’t listening though; his nods were misplaced, just like that smile.



“Remember that Kevin? Did Tim sock him in the face?” Kevin glanced over at his cousin, feeling bad for not listening either.



“What?”



“That Christmas that grandpa wore that scary Santa mask. Didn’t Tim hit him or something? I swear that he had a shiner after that or maybe it was my imagination.”



“No, Tim didn’t hit him Brian! Geez, but he did scare the crap out of your brother and me.”



Brian laughed, “Yeah that part I remember quite well.”



Howie and Kevin laughed as well, but once again Nick only nodded. See? He wasn’t listening at all. Maybe in his head he was running through the different reasons why his family couldn’t get in touch with him.



Howie noticing the far away look in the young blonde’s eyes tried to bring him into the conversation. “Nicky what about you? Do you have a funny Christmas story?” Nick, now broken out of his thoughts looked over at Howie and shook his head.



“Nope, my Christmases have always been pretty good, nothing overly funny about any of them.”



“Never got into any trouble or anything? Never fell into the dessert tray?”



“There was never much of a dessert tray to fall into so nope, never did that before.”



Nick stood up and yawned, “Well, I think I’m going to bed if it’s okay with all of you.” That made Brian laugh, “Uh…Nick it’s only 7 o’clock. What are you an old man or something?”



He sat back down, “Oh I thought it was later,” He glanced at the phone again and everyone suddenly felt so bad for him. Kevin always the problem solver decided to try to distract him, by clapping his hands together and saying, “Hey why don’t we play a game?”



“We played poker already Kev, which you suck at by the way!” Brian said snickering under his breath, which made his cousin throw a pillow at his head.



“I’m not the best poker player but I’m a mean Pictionary player,” He glanced over at Nick who wasn’t even listening to the conversation. He was staring at the TV, trying to get lost in the happy families on the screen. “What do you say Nick? Me and you versus Howie and Brian?”



Nick looked over and shrugged, “Yeah okay…sounds fine. Whatever.”



“Wow he sounds so excited to be on your team Kevin, I can understand why too… what with your drawing skills and all!”



“Shut up Brian! Nick would you rather be on Brian’s team?”



“I don’t really care, whichever.”



Howie, Kevin and Brian all looked at each other and shrugged. “Let’s leave them the way we said then. Howie and Brian versus Nick and I.”



Brian walked over and shut off the TV making Nick turn his head and stand up, once again directing his gaze on the telephone. “They’ll call buddy don’t worry.” Brian said patting him on the back as they made their way to the kitchen table.



“No they won’t.” Nick whispered in a silent reply. “They’ve forgotten all about me.”



Brian ignored the answer because in truth he didn’t know what to say besides, ‘yup, I think you’re right about that one little buddy’ so instead he just ignored it by pretending he never heard it to begin with.



To make matters even worse, the phone rang which made all three of them stare at each other with hopeful eyes as Nick went to pick it up. He turned quickly and handed the phone to Brian, “It’s your mom,” He said, walking over and sitting down at the table, letting out a big sigh as he did.



Brian smiled, even though he felt guilty for being happy about the call. He grabbed the phone and walked into the bathroom and shut the door. “Well, while we wait for B you want to have some dessert?” Kevin said walking over to the bag that Howie brought home with him and pulling out a box of leftover cookies and pastries. “Come on Nicky, what do you say? You want an éclair?”



“You know normally if I went for one of those you’d swipe my hand away and tell me to lay off the sweets.”



“Well then aren’t you lucky that this is a special day and that I’m in a good mood?” Kevin wiggled his eyebrows at Nick who only pushed the pastry away and sighed again.



“Nicky, maybe they tried to call when Kevin was on the phone earlier. They’ll call you, they will, so stop being so sad and hum drum. It’s Christmas, smile and have a good time. I mean I know we’re not your real family but you’re kind of like a little brother to me so that has to count for something right?”



Kevin smiled, that was Howie’s way. He always knew what to say to try to make things better. “He’s right you know, I feel the same way Nick.”



“That’s nice of you guys to say but I know it’s not true. Come on, Kevin I drive you crazy all the time, I mean I can’t even count the number of times since I’ve been here that I have caught you wishing I wasn’t and Howie you roll your eyes at me so much, you guys are being nice but don’t lie. I’m annoying and hard to live with I mean hello? My parents pushed me aside so they could have a nice vacation.”



“Nicky that’s not true they sent you here because they knew about our performance. If we didn’t have it, you’d be with them. They’d never just throw you aside to have a better time.”



“Oh no? Well they’ve done it before. They’ve left me with my uncle and gone away before.”



“All by yourself or with all the kids?”



“Does it make a difference?”



“Yes, it does.”



“Well than yes, all by myself. They took the rest of the kids and left me, it was a punishment for doing something I don’t even remember what I did.”



Kevin and Howie looked at each knowing that their youngest band mate was very good at making stuff up to prove his point, but the sad look in his eyes made them both realize in this instance what he was saying was true.



“Wow it must have been pretty bad, whatever it was.”



“I don’t remember but I know it involved money...a lot of money that we didn’t have.”



“How many times have I told you…no robbing banks Nicky!” Howie said pointing an accusatory finger towards Nick which despite his mood, made him giggle.



Brian walked out of the bathroom with a smile on his, “What’s everyone laughing at?”



“You.” Nick said sticking out his tongue; once again maybe the bad mood was averted.



“Oh very nice, gee thanks. I think I’m going to cry now.”



“What scares me most about you Brian is that everyday you get more and more like this one over here,” Kevin pointed at Nick, “You guys are morphing into each other.”



“YAY! Mighty Morphing? Or just unmightily morphing?” Kevin shook his head at his cousin, “Oh your Mighty Morphing and you are the pink one!”



“Hey!”



“Cool, I’m the red one. I’ve always wanted to be the red one.”



“That scares me a little bit that you always wanted to be any kind of Power Ranger Nick.”



“Why? Power Rangers are freaking awesome.”



“Riiiight…” The phone ringing once again brought the conversation to a sudden stop. Never in his life had hearing a phone ring been such a stressful experience. They just calmed the boy down now and because of the stupid phone, he was going to be all worked up again.



Nick didn’t run to get it this time so Brian got up and answered, Nick’s smile disappeared and was once again replaced by the rejected sigh, until…a smile laden Brian turned to wards Nick and spoke nice and loudly, “Oh hi Mrs. Carter, yes Merry Christmas to you too…” Nick’s head turned towards Brian in anticipation, “Yes he’s right here…hang on a sec…” Brian winked at Nick and held the phone out to him, “Seems like it’s someone’s Mother.”



Nick jumped out of his seat and grabbed for the phone, “Mom!” He yelled into it which made all three boys laugh, especially when they heard, “Sorry,” as the next word to come out of his mouth.



When Nick ran into the bathroom with phone in hand, he let out his sigh of relief, “Thank God that woman finally called.”



“Yeah, seriously, I was afraid I’d have to resort to standing on my head or something to get him to keep smiling.”



“Howie, you can stand on your head to get ME to smile.”



“Shut up Brian.”



“I didn’t realize that things were so hard for him, did you guys?” Brian asked, now with a more serious tinge to his voice.



“No, its weird isn’t it? Before he came to stay here I don’t think I hardly knew him at all. Just as the little kid who annoyed me, most of the time.”



“Well, I can tell you I have known the Carters for a while now and the way Nick acts explains a lot after spending time with all of them. It’s sad really.” Howie said grabbing his bottle of water and taking a sip.



“I hope this makes him happy, I mean it sucks when you are sad on Christmas, I mean I’m sad because I’m away from home but at least I know that my family cares about me. I don’t think Nick knows that feeling and it makes me mad.”



“His family cares about him, but I just don’t think they know how to show how much they do. We’re lucky you know that Brian?” Brian nodded at his cousin.



“I’m pretty lucky too.”



“Yeah you are D.”



After only about ten minutes in the bathroom, Nick walked out and hung up the phone. It was hard to gauge his mood, but Kevin was trying desperately. “So? How’s the fam?”



Nick turned and nodded, “Good, they said Merry Christmas.”



“See? I knew they’d call you Nick.”



Nick nodded at Brian and smiled a little bit. He still didn’t look happy but maybe it was a look of contentment.



“So can I have an éclair now?” He asked reaching over to the center of the table which made all three men smile. “And then Kevin and I can whoop your butts at Pictionary!”



They never did play the game though; instead they spent time just eating dessert and enjoying each others company. The rest of Christmas went by peacefully with all four of them sitting in the living room, sipping on eggnog and watching TV. It wasn’t a bad Christmas as Christmases went, in fact it would probably be one that they would look back on years later and remember with love.



Nick fell asleep on the couch with his head on Howie and his legs on Brian. Kevin placed a huge comforter on him and sat on the floor.



“Merry Christmas guys.” He said one last time winking at all of them.



“Same to you Kevin...same to you.”


Hey guys Happy New Year! Sorry about the lack of writing on this one!
21 by Mare
21








Two days went by and business was back to usual. Back at rehearsals for yet another gig that Lou had planned without even letting them know. That had to be one of the hardest parts about being in the band. The fact that the only one who ever seemed to know what was going on with the Backstreet Boys was Denise and that’s only because she would constantly make sure to ask.



They were driven to a nine o’clock rehearsal at the dance studio where they did the same routine over and over again until they were ready to collapse. Kevin found himself looking over at all of the kids to make sure they wouldn’t fall right over. Brian was panting and sweaty. AJ looked tired as did Howie but Nick looked absolutely ready to drop.



He demanded they take a few minutes break in which time he made sure they all drank plenty of water and ate some fruit which of course Nick protested, wanting to instead visit the vending machines and have a Coke and a package of M&Ms.



Kevin said no and Nick didn’t pursue his quest for munchies. That showed just how tired he was. As they were told there ten minutes were up, he realized how much the other guys in the group had come to depend on him as their leader, what scared him a little was the fact that he was also getting used to the idea.



Standing up to Johnny almost became a daily ritual, whether it was about how many hours they practiced, or lack of sleep and alone time, he made sure to voice not only his concerns but the concerns of his band mates as well. The role seemed to fit and after a few small fights, even Johnny got used to the idea.



They had fallen into their routine, the same one they would use for years and years.



That night after their dance rehearsal, AJ invited himself over to the apartment for the night since he hardly had time to talk to any of them since before Christmas. Yes even though they spent all day together, they seldom had time to do anything more than dance and sing.



So as they walked into the apartment, they were all exhausted and a little smelly. Howie carried a pizza box courtesy of Lou. “You guys did well, so buy a pizza and some soda for dinner on me!” He said extending a $20 out to the Latino who took it and smiled.



Of course as they gathered into the van, which Kevin had to drive, they grumbled and cursed under their breath. Brian decided to maybe design a tee shirt that said I practice for 40 gazillion hours a day and all I got to show for it was this lousy ass pizza!



“I can’t believe you Nickolas!” Kevin growled as he turned on the light and threw his keys onto the table.



“Kev, it’s not a big deal!”



“Not a big deal? I could have gotten arrested Howie! I mean seriously Nick, I pulled over because I thought those kids were taunting you!”



“Well they were…technically.” Brian said trying to hide his smile, which wasn’t working, further enraging Kevin.



“No Brian! See technically Nick was the one who was taunting them! He just neglected to say anything!”



“They were pissing me off!”



“How? How on earth would people in another car manage to piss you off?”



“I don’t like them!”



“Do you even know them?”



“Yes, I have met them once and they shoved me when I was walking down the street one day.”



“They did?” He asked eyebrow raised in disbelief.



“Yes they did and they are bigger than me! They are practically as old as you are!”



“So do you think it was a GOOD idea to start shit with them today? I mean they could have killed you Nick!”



“Well they didn’t though.”



“Yeah because I stopped them! I thought oh nice to pick on a child! I thought they were provoking you. I didn’t see you sticking your middle finger up at them!”



“I’m not a child.”



At this point Howie leaned over and whispered into Brian’s ear, “Isn’t it nice to see things back to normal?” To which Brian nodded and laughed.



“Well when you pick a fight with a damn 20 year old, that’s something a child would do.”



“God I said I was sorry!”

“No actually you didn’t.”



“Okay then I’m sorry. You happy?”



“Yes, now go wash your hands for dinner!”



“I can’t believe you are telling me to wash my hands as if I was a …”



“GO!”



“You suck!”



“You suck more! Now go before I invite them over to kick your butt!”



Of course Nick entered the bathroom and slammed the door. “That kid….I swear to God!” He said before turning his attention to AJ and Brian, “And the two of you should have known better! You saw exactly what he was doing!”



“I knew we were going to get blamed!”



“Yup I was just wondering when that was going to happen. I guessed ten was I right AJ?”



“Actually it’s more like seven so I guess I win…”



“Oh yes you both are freaking hilarious! Next time I’ll step back and let YOU defend him then.”



“Oh come on Kevin…admit it. You enjoyed playing hero, and you kind of sounded like a psycho! You scared them away. That was really cool.”



“The light turned green Brian, that’s why they left.”



“Okay well you have your version of what happened and I have mine. Mine will be much more entertaining. Fists will be involved.”



“Fabulous.” Kevin said rolling his eyes and looking over at Howie who seemed to have a why am I here with all of these wackos look on his face.



Probably to change the subject he turned to AJ, “So Jay… how was your Christmas?”



AJ sat down and grabbed a piece of pizza out of the box, “It was awesome! I got hooked up with lot’s of stuff this year. Not sure why, but hey I’m not complaining.”



“Oh yeah? What did you get?” Brian asked opening his coke and pouring it into a cup.



“I got a TV, a few video games, about ten videos, some music, oh a CD player…”

“Oh yeah? Well you know what I got?”



“What did you get Bri?”



“I got a box! And not only did I get a box but I got an EMPTY box! So try topping that! HA!” He nodded and took a bite out of his slice.



“You’re never going to stop with the box thing are you smart ass?”



“You know Kevin I have to tell you that my butt is confused. Yes you are totally confusing my butt. One minute you call him smart, then dumb, sometimes lazy, sometimes wise. He doesn’t know what to do about it!”



“Is that right?”



“Yes he told me if you keep it up he’ll end up in therapy!”



“How often do you talk to your ass Brian?” AJ had to ask, playing along.



“We talk often…don’t worry he never says anything bad about you.”



“Well that’s good.”



“Brian this is the dumbest conversation I think I have ever heard.”



“Well obviously you have never listened in on one of Brian and Nick’s farting rules conversations.” Howie said shaking his head at even saying the word fart.



“Nope and I’m glad I have missed those!”



“I never talk to my wiener though so… no worries” AJ spit his soda out at that remark and of course it landed on Kevin. All of them burst into laughter, except for Kev, who calmly got up and grabbed a paper towel to dry himself off.



Nick finally came out of the bathroom and sat at the table, the laughter immediately dying down when he took a seat.



“My hands are all clean Kevin! You happy?”



“Positively giddy yes!”



“Would you like to smell them to make sure I’m not lying to you?”



“Nick I don’t want to smell your hands so NEVER ask me that again please.” Once again everyone cracked up.



“Why was everyone laughing before?”



“Brian was talking about his ass and what it tells him.”



“Oh.” He said as he grabbed a piece of pizza, folded it and stuck it in his mouth.



“He said oh like this is a conversation that you have had before.” Kevin said sounding oddly disturbed but yet not totally surprised.



“My ass is popular. He’s very friendly.”



“Enough Ass talk!” That even made Howie crack up.



The rest of their dinner was spent in silence. Once again Kevin took the time to look at them all. Even though most were smiling they all had one common look and that was exhausted.



“You guys holding up okay?”



“Yeah why do you ask?” Brian said curiously as he pushed his plate away and placed his feet on the table only to be kicked back down by his cousin.



“You all look tired.”



“We had a long day.”



“You think you can handle all the long days?”



“Kevin, this is what we chose to do so I guess so yes.”



There was no arguing with his cousin over that because he was right. But still…



“Maybe you guys should hit the hay early you know? We have another long day ahead of us tomorrow.”



He looked over at Nick who was actually falling asleep right at the table. He had his head tilted to the side and drool coming out of his mouth with the faintest sound of snores coming with each breath.



“Seems like little fart boy over here is already sleeping.”



“Cute nickname I like that AJ.”



“Thanks Rok.”



As they all stood up Kevin walked over to his cousin, “Hey did Nick ever tell you what his mom said to him?”



Brian became a little more serious as he yawned and stretched his arms over his head, “Not really, he just said that she sounded annoyed and bothered by the call.”



“That sucks.”



“He asked her when she was coming to get him and she said she wasn’t sure.”



“Nice.” Kevin shook his head in disgust. Knowing he was being taken advantage of by that woman. Not even bothering to call and ask him if it was okay if Nick stayed a little longer. When they had talked, she made it seem like she would be home a few days after Christmas. At least that’s what she had promised her son before abandoning him on their doorstep.



“Wake up Nicky.” Howie said gently tapping the young blonde awake which ended the conversation between the cousins.



“I’m not tired.”



“You were sleeping.”



“Was not.”



“God Nick do you have to argue about everything? Just go to bed.” Kevin said grabbing Nick’s arm and helping him up off the chair.



“My dad told me I should be a lawyer because I can argue my way out of anything.”



“Well I can too so better go to bed lil’ man because I’m not dealing with a moody you in the morning.”



“I’m not moody Kevin.” He said before pausing to yawn and rub at his sleepy eyes.



“Uh huh, now go to sleep.”



“Do I have to go wash my hands again?”



“Stop rolling your eyes at me and no but hey, brushing your teeth would be swell!”



“Who says swell?”



“I do now go!”



“Ugh! Stop bossing me around.”



“You know this is so much more entertaining then being at home and watching TV.”



Brian laughed at AJ and pat his head, “I know…I live with this. Cool huh?”



“No not really.”



“Well stop making me boss you around.”



“How by punching you’re big ugly face in?”



“Whoa didn’t see that one coming...” AJ whispered, “I’ll give you ten bucks if he whaps Kevin in the head.”



“Okay you’re on.” Brian and AJ shook hands and watched the argument.



“Punching my big ugly face? And what step ladder do you plan on using to get up here squirt?”



“Yeah you’re right. You aren’t worth me hurting my hand.”



“Yup guess it’s a good thing I got out of that one huh?”



“Yes you’re lucky Kevin.” Nick smiled and Kevin shook his head.



“Pay up bone!”



“No fair…” Brian held out his hand.



“Fine I’ll owe you!”



Once Nick walked away Kevin turned to the other two boys once again. “Betting now Brian? Wow you continue to amaze me.”



“Before you say anything else…should I prepare my butt for an insult?”



Kevin laughed, “You really are not right in the head!”



“I know I hear it runs in my family.”



“Go to bed boneheads.”



“Night Kev.”



Howie walked over to Kevin once the boys were all gone, “Kids.” He said before walking into the bedroom and closing the door.



Kevin just stood there shaking his head but all the while wearing a smile on his face. “Kids.” He said to himself before turning out the light and heading to bed.



Wow it's been almost 2 months since I updated this one. Sorry! I have a brand new story coming on Saturday! :)
22 by Mare
22






The next few days proved to be even more tedious than the last ones. They practiced all day every day without taking any breaks. It seemed like no matter what they were rehearsing, whether it be singing, or dancing or even fake interviews, it was never good enough. Every night they would go home, back to the apartment so exhausted and mentally broken down that Kevin wasn’t sure if even he was going to make it.



He had heard how hard this business was going to be, but now that they were on the cusp of stardom, he felt like he was officially over his head. The one positive thing coming out of all of it was that Jane had called him, not even bothering to ask to talk to her son, to let him know she would be back in one weeks’ time. She thanked him kindly for watching her oldest child and said that if he ever needed anything all he had to do was ask.



Kevin was short with her on the phone, even rude, cutting her off in mid-sentence before hanging up abruptly. He felt bad hating the woman so much, mainly because he didn’t really know her that well, but at the same time having to baby-sit Nick for as long as he did, he got a good sense of how the blonde was brought up. He didn’t like what he saw.



The long days of rehearsal were rough for the youngest member of the group. His mood swings were violent; sometimes he would erupt in bouts of cussing at anyone who was in his way. Sometimes those violent outbursts turned to tears of exhaustion over the silliest things. He just about had a complete meltdown when he went to get a bottled water only to find that Howie had taken the last one.



He took his sneaker and flung it at the Latino before storming out of the room. That night as they got back to the apartment, Howie chose to stay as far away from the thirteen year old as possible. “I am at my breaking point with him Kevin, I swear I am a very patient guy but if I see that kid and he rolls his eyes at me one more time I’m going to have to beat him.” Kevin’s eyes just grew wide when he heard someone as calm as Howie utter those words.



“D, he’s leaving in a week.”



“That’s not soon enough for me.”



“He’s just tired, we all are, but you are right to be mad.”



Howie took a deep breath and let it out in the form of a yawn, which Kevin caught and did the same.



“Whatever, it’s just too much you know? He needs major therapy or something.”



“Are you okay Howie? You aren’t acting like yourself.”



“What? Can’t I have a bad day or two? Why must I always be sunshine and lollipops?” Howie answered with such ferocity that even Kevin backed away.



“Sorry…you know what? Maybe I…I think I’m going to go home tonight. A night away from this place will do me some good.” Howie said turning away in embarrassment at his little blow up.



“Maybe you’re right; I mean we actually get a half day off tomorrow.”



“I know, imagine that.” Howie finally smiled which brought much needed relief to the oldest Backstreet boy. After all, it was Howie who was supposed to keep him sane.



That relief didn’t last long when Nick entered the room, coming from outside where he was playing basketball with Brian. He had realized that Howie wanted to be nowhere near him and although he felt horrible for losing it earlier, he had yet to try to apologize to his friend.



Howie’s smile disappeared when the boy emerged, “I’m going to pack my bag.” He said turning around and walking towards the bedroom.



“Where’s D going?” Nick asked innocently as he sat down, removing his jacket and draping it over his chair.



“Home for the night.”



“Because of me?” Now Kevin’s back was turned as he made himself some herbal tea. His mother told him it was a great way to wind down the muscles and cause the body to relax, at which point he wanted to ask her if it came in a syringe but decided against it.



“Yeah I think so,” Kevin tried the blunt route after thinking about it briefly.



“Oh.” The child replied looking down at the table and running his hands through his sweaty hair.



“It wouldn’t hurt to apologize to him you know.”



“I know.” Nick sounded so sad that Kevin didn’t want to turn around. To be frank, he was tired of dealing with the kid’s constant drama, especially since he felt so overwhelmed himself but when he heard him flat out crying he had to turn around. When he did he saw Nick’s head down on the table wrapped around his arms as if he was playing a game of 7up only instead of thumbs up tears were rolling down.



“Nick what is the matter?”



The tween ignored Kevin and just continued to cry, more like ball, which concerned Kevin as he took a seat next to Nick, placing his hand on the boys back.



“Nick…”



Brian entered the apartment whistling a theme of some random video game when he stopped short at the sight in front of him. He looked at his cousin confused to which Kevin was only able to respond with a shrug.



“Hey little man…” Kevin managed to get out in a soft voice even though all he wanted to do was scream, stop being such a little drama queen!



Now Brian was sitting on the other side of Nick looking perplexed and concerned, maybe even a tiny bit amused as his cousin continued to rub the boy’s back.



“Did something happen outside?”



“No, we were playing Around the World but he got really tired so we called it a tie and came in.”



“Did he fall or something?”



“No.”



“Nick, I wish you would tell us what was wrong?” Kevin said directing his gaze back to the kid as he continued crying sucking in breathes as if he was hyperventilating.



“You think this is just exhaustion?”



Brian shrugged, unsure of what to do.



“Just…go…away.” He got out between chocked sobs.



“Nick we live in like a cubicle there’s nowhere to go sorry buddy.”



Kevin felt the back of Nick’s neck to see it was hot so he went over to the sink and wet a cloth to place on him to cool him down. Maybe this was exhaustion, a total breakdown of all emotions and everything. Wasn’t Kevin at that breaking point himself, as well as Howie?



Howie walked out of the bedroom with his duffel bag and stopped short when he saw all the drama at the kitchen table.



“What on earth?” He asked under his breath, but once Nick heard Howie’s voice his face finally came up from the table, his cheeks all red and his eyes puffy.



“Howie I’m so sorry I did that today, I didn’t mean it, please don’t hate me!”



“Uh…” Howie stood dumbfounded, he actually made that uh sound which made Brian laugh.



“Brian!”



“Sorry that was funny.”



“I am sorry Howie.” Nick said ignoring anything else that may have been going on in the room. “I didn’t mean to throw that shoe at you, it was an accident, well not really an accident but I didn’t mean to do it. Don’t hate me… enough people hate me please don’t be one of them.”



“I don’t hate you Nick,” Howie finally said disappointed that now he had no reason to be angry anymore. He needed to feel angry right now but wasn’t quite sure why himself. Maybe it was easier to direct his anger at a person instead of at a job.



Nick stood up and walked over to Howie giving him a hug as the wet towel fell off of his neck and hit the ground. He still looked confused but wrapped his arms around the kid when he walked towards him.



He once again started full on sobbing, which made everyone look at each other confused. “Nicky are you feeling all right?”



Nick nodded, “I’m just so tired… I can’t do this anymore.”



That’s when Kevin realized that he was correct all along. Of course this was exhaustion, plain and simple.



“You know what we need?”



“A vacation, that’s what I need.” Brian said spinning the basketball on his finger.



“Amen to that one brother.” Howie said laughing; now completely calm and feeling bad for getting so mad at a child.



Nick still clung to him hugging; eyes closed almost falling asleep on the guy. “Why don’t you go to sleep on my bed buddy since I won’t be here tonight.”



“Yeah…okay, I’m going to do that now.” Nick said letting go of Howie and walking into the bedroom just like that.



“Well that was odd.” Brian said once the door was closed.



“Doesn’t anyone want to hear the rest of my sentence?”



Howie and Brian looked over at Kevin, “Not particularly but go ahead.”



“Go to hell B.”



“Thanks.”



“Weren’t you going to say this for Nick’s benefit anyway?”



“Yeah D, but I still think it would do us all some good.”



“Oh lord why do I feel the words yoga and cleaning ready to spew out of his mouth.” Kevin shook his head at his cousin.



“I think we should all camp outside tonight.”



“I knew it was going to be something like that.”



“Actually you said yoga and cleaning, nothing about camping out.”



“That would have been next.”



“Right, anyway what do you guys say? I know it’s not home Howie so I won’t hold it against you if you still want to leave but I just think we all need to feel like we are taking a break, look at us, we are all not acting right.”



Howie stood there weighing the pros and cons in his mind until finally placing his duffel bag on the floor, “Okay let’s do it but I think it’s only fair if we get AJ too.”



“Good idea.”



“I’m sure nothing will make him happier than being plucked out of his nice comfy bed and onto our weedy backyard.”



“Why don’t you go get him Brian?”



“Oh fine make me do the dirty work.”



“Either that or you get to pitch the tent.”



“Okay I’ll be back in a bit.”



Kevin and Howie laughed, “Thanks D.”



“Don’t thank me I think it’s a great idea. I feel bad for Nicky, he’s so tired. This schedule is too hard on the kids.” Meaning Both Nick and AJ.



“Come on let’s go pitch a tent.”



“You know I have never done that in my life right?” Howie asked as they walked out the door and down to the basement where all the camping equipment was stored.



~*~*~*~*~*~




It took just under an hour to get the tent up as Howie ended up doing nothing but watch Kevin wrestle with the canvas. By the time the tent was up and the sleeping bags safely tucked inside, Brian had arrived with AJ, who looked annoyed but yet amused by the whole thing.



“Anyone want to tell me why I was kidnapped to your backyard?”



“I told you AJ, it’s because we can’t live without you.”



“Right I almost forgot. Where’s brain fart?”



“Wow you come up with a new nickname for him almost daily, I’m impressed.”



AJ smiled as he sat down on one of many blankets around the hibachi that was supposed to serve as their campfire. “Thanks, it’s a gift.”



“I’m going to go get him.” Kevin said getting up already feeling refreshed, and making his way back into the apartment.



“On your way back down, grab the marshmallows!” Brian yelled to his cousin.



Once inside Kevin made his way to the bedroom where he still heard Nick hiccupping his sobs from earlier, he sat beside him and put on the light next to Howie’s bed. The boy’s eyes were closed as he slept. Huge circles were formed around them. Once again Kevin found himself hating the Carters for putting their son through this when he should be doing what normal 13 year olds did.



“Hey Nick.” He said gently tapping on his shoulder, “Wake up, I want you to come downstairs.”



Nick opened his eyes, “What? It’s not time for work already is it?”



“No….I have a surprise.”



To that Nick shot out of bed excited and smiling, “My family is here aren’t they? I KNEW it!”



Well that made Kevin feel like crap, “Aw no little man, I’m sorry…”



Nick turned back around to Kevin who really got a good close look at the teenager. He looked utterly exhausted. His eyelids half opened, his eyes drooping and his complexion pale.



“Nicky, we decided to have a little campout in the backyard. Did you ever do that when you were little?”



“Yeah…a few times. Camping out?”



“Yeah, AJ is even here. We’re about to toast some marshmallows.” Nick looked confused, a look that was becoming the norm in this apartment.



“I like those...” He sounded like such a young child when he said that.



“Let’s go, you think you’re up to it?” Nick nodded but still looked so sad.



“Aw buddy, I didn’t want to tell you this because I…well I didn’t want you thinking about it constantly...” What he meant to say was he didn’t want to tell him this because he wasn’t sure if it was true, “but your family will be here in one week to get you.”



“Really?”



“Really, your mom called me and told me that a few days ago.”



Nick shook his head but still didn’t look any happier. “Cool, that’s nice.”



“I thought you’d be happy about that.”



“I am, but…” He shrugged, “I guess not as happy as I thought I’d be.”



“Nick, I know you probably won’t believe me but it’s going to get better.”



“What is?”



“Everything…this job, your relationship with your family, it’ll all get better.” If only that turned out to be true.



“I kind of like being here with you guys Kevin.” Nick admitted sitting back on the bed and yawning.



“I know.” He ruffled Nick’s hair, “Now let’s get outside and toast some marshmallows.”



“Do we have anything to make S’mores with?”



“Nope.”



“Dang.”



As they laid out under the stars, ignoring the loud sound of the highway which was less than a mile away, they toasted marshmallows on sticks and sang some of the stupidest camping songs they had ever learned followed by the cheesiest ghost stories they had ever told and ended up laughing the night away.



Nick was the first one to fall asleep as he lay between Brian and AJ, one arm on each as if he needed them to survive, which Kevin was beginning to see he did.



“I have to hand it to you cousin, this was a great idea.”



“Yeah? Thanks, I’m glad you thought so Brian.”



“I think it was what we needed although I would still enjoy a vacation.”



“Wouldn’t we all, is Willy Wonka over here going to be all over me all night?”



“Probably.” All three boys answered in unison.



“Great!” AJ rolled his eyes but just like Nick, Kevin could see that AJ would rather be nowhere else at the moment.



Kevin was the last to fall asleep, putting dirt onto the fire as he watched everyone huddled together. His eyes landed on Nick the longest who was sleeping peacefully with his arm totally around Brian as if he was a big stuffed teddy bear.



He had to admit that even though Nick drove him crazy he was going to miss the little guy. Finally he allowed himself to lie down and fell asleep staring up at the stars.

WOW! It's been a looong time since i've updated this one. Long time for me anyway lol sorry about the wait if you are even reading this anymore, which I hope you are. I hope I won't make you wait so long for the next chapter.
23 by Mare
23






The next morning Kevin awoke anxious and disoriented, not remembering why he was outside in the first place. Looking over at the hibachi and then at the loudly snoring Howie lying next to him, he nodded and smiled. Rubbing at his shoulder, he climbed out of the tent and took in the smell of Florida in the morning. He had to admit that he loved this place, for all the sudden downpours and completely hot, humid days, he never really regretted the move to the Sunshine state.



Glancing at his watch he allowed himself to sit down on one of the blankets they had left by the hibachi and just take in the peace and quiet that this morning had to offer. This time of day was always his favorite. A time reserved just for him. He was always the first one to rise in his house, even his mother liked to sleep in, so Kevin would delight in waking up early especially on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and go downstairs and pretend the house was all his.



He pulled his knees closer to his chest as he felt himself yawn, how he would so much enjoy not having to do anything at all today. When was the last day he was able to do that? Just hang in front of the television without moving all day? No worries or cares in the world.



He heard someone moving around in the tent which meant that soon he would have company and within a few seconds of that thought he felt arms around his neck and a hug from behind.



“Thanks for having us do this Kevin.” He knew it was Nick even before he turned around, he could tell by the scrawny little arms so he put his arms up over his head and with all his strength pulled the child over his head flipping him onto the ground.



This took Nick by surprise who giggled as it happened making the others groan inside the tent, “Aw now see? You woke everyone up squirt!”



“Hey it was your fault not mine!” Nick said still laughing as he lay on the ground. Kevin was happy to see that the baby of the group was looking a little more refreshed but not as refreshed as he should have looked. The exhaustion still lived around his eyes in the form of darkish and puffy circles.



“Let’s play hookey today Kevin…please?” It was as if Nick was reading his friend’s thoughts.



“Nicky, it’s not that simple, I mean it’s not like a normal job where we can all call in sick to work.”



“And why is that?” That was a good question, one that Kevin didn’t have an answer for.



“Must you both be so loud? I mean if you are going to kidnap a guy out of his own nice soft bed, could you at least have the decency to stay quiet and let him sleep?”



Kevin turned to AJ and rolled his eyes, “Good morning Mr. Happy pants.”



“Excuse me…did you just call me Mr. Happy pants?”



“Yes I did.”



“Okay who are you and what have you done with Kevin?”



Nick laughed once more still lying on the ground and watching AJ as he plopped down next to Kevin. “It’s me AJ...can’t a guy make a joke?”



“Most guys yes…but not you. Kevin no offense man...but you are the unfunniest guy I have ever met!”



“Yeah and serious too, don’t you think we should play hookey today AJ?”



“Oh….hookey…me likes that idea Nick.”



“Now wait a minute why do you think I’m not funny and so serious all the time? And no we can NOT play hookey today kids.”



Both boys laughed, “Kevin you just answered your own question dude!”



“Just because I’m responsible doesn’t make me serious and unfunny.”



“No, begin unfunny makes you unfunny.”



AJ gave Brian a high five as he wandered out of the tent yawning and stretching while dissing his cousin. Brian was such a multi-tasker.



“Says the comedian of the family.”



“You know it cousin!”



Nick sat up when he saw Brian appear from out of the tent, “And how are you doing munchkin? Any better today?”



“Don’t call me that Brian, you know I HATE it when you call me that.”



“Of course why do you think I do it?”



“I would be much better if Kevin would let us all play hookey today.”



“Guys it’s not the simple…we have a schedule to keep and people to please.”



“But I’m so tired.” It’s like the kid knew exactly what to say and do to get his way. Nick put his head down and pouted rubbing at his already puffy eyes as he said that.



“I know little man but still…”



“Do you really think Lou would go ballistic on us if we took one day off? I mean AJ took like three months off when he was sick.”



“Exaggerate much Brian?” AJ asked batting his friend on the head.



“Not by much no…anyway, Kevin I bet Lou will say yes. Just tell him that we are all so tired and exhausted and Nick is a baby so he needs his nap-page.”



“Stop!” The young blonde whined.



There was nothing more that Kevin would have liked than to do exactly that. Call Lou and ask him for a day off, or better yet, demand a day off.



“Man Howie snores like a…I don’t know…like a big snoring thing!”



Everyone laughed at AJ’s brilliant description of Howie’s snoring patterns but Kevin caught Nick staring at him. He had a pleading look on his face and the thing that killed Kevin was the fact that he knew if anyone needed a day off it was Nick.



“Okay I’ll tell you what; I’ll see what I can do okay?” They all jumped on top of Kevin and tackled him to the ground as Howie was startled awake.



“What’s going on?” He asked which brought about more laughter from the kids as they played on the weedy grass.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~






“Lou, I wish you would reconsider. Nick had a complete meltdown last night; I mean he was bawling his eyes out and looks like he’s ready to drop now.” Kevin shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he held the phone to his ear. It took him about three tries to get the nerve to actually let the call go through, hanging up every time as soon as the first ring sounded.



“I understand your concern Kevin but we have been through this before, this is your job.”



“Yeah but Lou everyone gets a sick day now and then. I just really think it’s something we all need.”



Kevin glanced over at the boys as they sat on the couch all in a row staring at him like puppy dogs in a store window, greatly anticipating what the answer would be. He looked away, just in case it was an answer he didn’t want to hear. Even though he only knew these guys for a brief amount of time he already figured out that he was the barometer of their emotions, especially the two youngest ones. If he acted sad or angry than they would as well.



Lou was quiet for a little bit before continuing, “Is it really that bad? Because you know as you guys get more popular it’s only going to get worse.”



“Yes Lou it is that bad and I do understand that it’s going to get worse. For now though, I think we need time. Some of us haven’t even been able to go home and see our families or anything all I’m asking is just for one day…that’s all.”



“Okay Kevin, that’s fine if you are willing to put in extra hours tomorrow I’ll give you today to rest…but I mean rest! No running all over the place.”



He felt the need to object, say he was an adult and if he wanted a personal day to do anything he pleased he should be entitled to it, but looking over at the rest of the guys he found himself nodding, “Okay Lou it’s a deal!”



“Kevin I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. This is only the beginning of our journey. It’s going to get a lot harder.”



“I know and I’m sorry Lou.”



He felt guilty up until he hung up the phone, once Lou’s voice was nothing but a memory he suddenly felt a huge release of tension as he looked at his band brothers and smiled. “Guess what gang? We got the day off!”



“Kevin stop playing with our emotions!”



“I ain’t lying Brian…he actually gave us the day off.”



“Did he ask for sexual favors in return or something?”



“AJ!”



“What? I mean I guess we can throw the little blonde at him if worse came to worse.”



“AJ!”



“So this means no dancing or singing or….or….school?” When Nick said the last word his eyes grew wide as saucers.



“Oh not sure about that last one little man, we might want to double check on that.”

“No school! Even if she shows up here I say we lock her out.” To that AJ and Nick high fived and then butted heads which garnered interesting looks from the rest but after a few seconds they went on as if it never happened.



“So what do we plan on doing then?”



“I want to sleep until noon,” Brian said throwing himself on the couch and closing his eyes.



“Yeah and I want to get in my pajamas and eat cereal in front of the television.”



“You get cereal and milk all over the carpet and you’re cleaning it with your mouth Nicky.” Nick stuck his tongue out at Howie who shook his fist and scowled.



Ignoring that he continued, “I want to go swimming.”



“I thought you just said you want to go watch TV in your pajamas.”



“Yeah but then when I get bored with that, I want to go swimming! Can we do that Kevin?”



“I don’t know Nick, Lou was pretty adamant about us just staying home and relaxing. I think if he found out we were out doing things like swimming he’d be mad.”



“Yes I can see that,” Brian put a pillow under his shirt to try to make himself chubby and then in his best Lou voice he said, “Now boys you can have the day off but absolutely no fun! Got it? You…Howie you go clean the toilet with a toothbrush…and you Alexander…you better go take out the garbage…Kevin you must go shine my shoes and teach my pet monkey how to sing and Nick you get on all fours and become my footrest!”



That got all the boys laughing and Kevin once again shaking his head, “You are a nut job Brian.”



“Who? Lil ole me?” He said taking the pillow out from under his shirt and holding it over his head as if it were a bonnet.



“What do you plan on doing Kev?” Kevin glanced over at Howie who looked much the same way he felt, at ease for once.



“I think I’m just taking Mr. Pearlman’s advice and chilling out. Maybe find something good to watch on the TV, take a nap and then call home.”



“Sounds nice.”



“Thanks for sticking up for us Kevin…for asking Lou for the day off. That took guts.”



Kevin looked down at Nick who was now standing next to him ready to embrace him in a hug. It seemed the little one was always no further than an arms length away from any of them at any given time, something that they’d all get used to eventually.



“No problem little man, now why don’t you go get some more rest and maybe later we’ll sneak out and play mini golf or something.”



Nick nodded and flung himself onto the couch that Brian was still occupying bringing a fake groan from his cousin on impact. Kevin couldn’t help but smile watching his cousin interact with Nick. For as long as he knew Brian, he used to bug his mother for a little brother and now finally years later he got his wish.



Kevin walked over to the boys and sat on the recliner, taking the remote control from his cousin’s hand as he wrestled with Nick.



“I’m in charge of the flipper boys!”



Howie and AJ made their way over to the living room as well, scooting Brian and Nick over and all four squishing onto the couch. “Hey how come you get your own chair? I’m the guest shouldn’t I get the recliner?”



“Uh…no but nice try AJ. I’m the oldest I should get the comfy chair.”



“I’m the youngest so shouldn’t we share?” Nick said walking over and just like that, plopping onto Kevin’s lap as if he was five.



Kevin scooted over a little bit to allow Nick to fall next to him onto the recliner. Funny to think that once he was so small he was able to do that and that’s where he fell asleep head tilted off to the side, next to his big brother who also fell asleep using Nick’s head as an arm rest.



Looking back on that day for the five of them, it was probably the most memorable vacation they had. They didn’t do much, in fact most of them slept the day away, Howie the only one to leave and go spend some time with his family. Just as Kevin promised, the remaining foursome snuck out to the nearest Putt Putt to play a few rounds of mini golf. They laughed as Nick managed to lose his ball four times in the course of the game. Brian won by a landslide to which they all owed him the chant: Brian is our God all hail to Brian the sporting God.



That night they had some take out Chinese and laughed as they played Uno. No one had a breakdown; no one got mad and stressed out. It was a perfect day, one that they would look back on for years and smile about. Memorable because it was the last day off they would have for the next two years.


I have no idea why it takes me so long to update in-between chapters on this one but I do hope some of you are reading it. I updated because I recently recieved some new feedback on it so thanks to Mandy, BSB fan forever, Anita and Swenglish for the feedback and motivating me to finally get my butt working on this one again lol
24 by Mare
24






Kevin used to sing the song Fame when he was a child, it was from a movie that he had only seen once, but it was the show that was spun off from that movie that Kevin was addicted to. He would sit glued to the television for the full hour it was on, thinking ‘that’s going to be me someday!’



His brothers used to make fun of him. They called him a day dreamer, ‘get your head out of your butt and do your home work!’ That’s what Jerald would say to him all the time as he would go on and on about wanting to be famous, living the life of a rock star and randomly bursting out into songs on tables like the kids in the show Fame did.



They never thought he would do it, but they were wrong.



He was doing it, slowly but surely.



The day after their little vacation they were met for the very first time with The wrath of Lou….they would see a lot more of those wraths before they parted ways but the first time just took them all by surprise.



Lou didn’t scream and yell at them, nor did he whip them and force them to do his laundry, as Brian so eloquently had re-enacted for the guys the night before. It was in his icy attitude to the guys that shocked them most. How quickly someone can turn from the father figure you were looking up to, to some generic business man who owned them. It was a horrible feeling, especially for Kevin who just shook his head after their morning meeting that day where Lou listed all the things that needed to be done and all the people they needed to mingle with.



One item on their agenda was a performance at a night club at 2 in the morning. The way Lou spit that out was so non-chalant as first Kevin thought he had just made a silly mistake, but later upon checking with Donna, he found out that it was truth. When he approached Lou about it, he was brushed out of the room as if he was a person who had accidentally roamed into the building.



After the meeting came the vocal rehearsal where things only got worse. No matter what they sang, no matter how many times they sang it, it was never good enough. Brian was flat, AJ was sharp, Howie wasn’t loud enough, Kevin wasn’t strong enough and Nick was just a mess. They were screamed at, told if they sang like that for an audition or for a performance people would boo them off the stage. The guy stormed out of the rehearsal hall and slammed the door and the boys had no idea what to do next.



Luckily, or unluckily as the case seemed to be, they didn’t have to ponder that too long because they were pulled over to the dance studio where they rehearsed over and over again the same three numbers. All it took was one mistake for them to be forced to do it all over again. Whether it was AJ accidentally missing a box step or Nick tripping over his own feet, it didn’t matter. They worked until they were sweating their butts off.



There was no lunch break that day, no break of any kind, when Kevin tried to complain about it saying could they just have at least a few minutes if nothing else than to at least go to the damn bathroom, he was reminded that he agreed on behalf of the boys to put in extra hours, so he took it like a man.



Right after dancing they were fitted for costumes, something catchy they could wear for their late night club performance. Their designer, who also at the time was their manager Donna, thought is was best to have them match. They finally agreed, well actually she finally agreed on leather jackets and denim jeans for them all. By this time, it was almost 5pm. Instead of being brought back home, they were ushered back into the studio to have another go round with the ‘you can do nothing right’ vocal coach.



They sang, he yelled, they sang some more. At 7 pm they ended the night back in the dance hall once again going over the routine for their little mini concert. They were all so tired; they were beyond complaining or whining. Unfortunately they weren’t beyond clumsiness. Kevin learned this the hard way as he carried Nick on his back up the never ending flight of stairs to the apartment.



Howie flicked on the light and walked over to the freezer, pulling out ice and some paper towels. Brian held the door opened for Kevin and Nick as they made their way in, Kevin gently letting Nick down onto the table as tears streamed down the kids face.



“Aw Nicky, I’m sure it’s not that bad.” Howie said walking over and handing Nick the ice.



“Take your shoe and your sock off Nick, so we can see what we’re dealing with okay?”



Nick nodded as he gently went for his shoe, grimacing in pain as he removed it. His ankle was swollen, all of them could tell just by looking at it. “Oh crap on a stick…um…what now?” Brian asked his cousin as he sat beside Nick gently rubbing his back.



“Now we ice it, that’s all, here ya go little man.” Kevin said gently applying the ice onto the swollen ankle which once again caused Nick to grimace in pain.



“Only you can manage to sprain your ankle getting out of a van meathead!” Brian laughed, trying to lighten the mood in the room. It didn’t really work, no one was laughing.



“You think we need to bring him to the emergency room?” Howie asked Kevin as they looked at the ankle which was horribly swollen and bruising.



“No hospital!” The panicked look on Nick’s face was comical and sad all at the same time.



“But Nicky…you might need X-rays; I mean it could be broken.”



“No…my mom is going to kill me.” Nick shrieked now allowing himself to look at his own leg.



“She’s going to have to get in line buddy.”



“Brian!”



“What? It’s true, she needs to wait her time in line behind Lou and Donna and Johnny and everyone else for that matter.”



“I am such a loser.” Nick placed his hands on his face and shook his head.



“Why don’t you get the car Howie, and I’ll carry him down…”



“NOO I don’t want to go to the hospital!!”



“Nick, what if it’s broken?”



“Then it’s broken, I’m not going please. I hate the hospital and my mom and dad will kill me. We don’t have enough money to pay for this! And Lou will fire me!” He was talking so fast, he said it all in one huge anxious breath.



“Nicky calm down…it’s not big deal…we’ll go, get some x rays and then come back.”



“But I don’t want to Howie; I’ve never had to go to the hospital before.”



“Nick, I’m a pro at the hospital thing, it’s no sweat. You need to get that checked buddy, I’d hate it if they had to saw your foot off because you didn’t get it looked at.”



“Saw my FOOT OFF?”



“Nice Brian…very nice.”



“I’m being serious, if he doesn’t get it looked at and it’s broken they’ll end up hacking it off. We can’t have a one legged Backstreet Boy!” That made them all laugh to which Brian winked at Kevin.



Once again Kevin was taken aback at how natural his younger cousin was when it came to dealing with Nick. He looked over at the blonde who seemed to be calmer already, even smiling as he rubbed at his ankle.



“You know I’ll go with you Nick…I’ll stay with you the entire time if you want, but you do need to get it checked out.” Brian said lowering his head down so that he could look in Nick’s tear filled eyes.



Nick took in a deep sigh which was chocked by his tears, “Okay I guess, but my mom…”



“She’ll understand Nick; I’ll call her and tell her okay?”



“She’s going to be mad at me; she’ll probably not come home now.” Once again the words came out in hiccups of emotion which made Nick appear as the child he was. Kevin half smiled up at the boy while he held the ice pack on his ankle. He tried not to show how utterly annoyed and aggravated he was.



Now he couldn’t just take a hot bath and then go to bed like he had planned, he had to go sit in a dank, stinky emergency room all damn night only to have to get up at the crack of ass and have another day as bad as this one was. This wouldn’t have been his problem if the kid’s parents had been responsible and gotten home when they said they would. Part of him was tempted to just put Nick in a cab and send him alone with a sign reading Kevin’s babysitting service is closed for the night, be aware this one bites!



He could never do that though, would never do that. It wasn’t Nick’s fault he was just a kid who ALWAYS managed to get into trouble for one thing or another. Okay maybe the trouble part was Nick’s fault but, this was just an honest accident. It’s not like the kid purposely tried to hurt himself. Heck how many times had Kevin done the same thing when he was that young?



For once he didn’t mind having to call Jane because he was in a foul enough mood to tell her off if she started with anything. It was Lou he didn’t want to call. “Let Jane call Lou, why not? It’s her kid’s damn fault not mine,” Kevin almost said out loud, but luckily managed to catch himself before that happened.



“I really don’t want to go Kevin.” Nick said with pleading eyes.



Kevin reached over and wiped the tears off of Nick’s cheek with his thumb, “I know, but Brian is right…well half right. I mean we can’t take the chance that it’s broken and then what if it became infected or something?”



“I can move it though; I think it’s just a sprain.”



“But Nick, you can’t dance on it or anything, we have to get it checked out, if nothing else so this way Lou can’t force you to dance on it.”



Those words seemed to do the trick, in Nick’s eyes he saw a boy who had just gotten the long awaited pass out of gym class.



That wasn’t going to happen, even though Nick wouldn’t be able to dance, Lou would still make sure the kid showed up to all the rehearsals. He wasn’t about to say that now though. No, now was a time of consoling, holding hands and saying everything would be all right.



“But…”



“Nicky…listen to Kevin.” Howie said in a sickly sweet tone. You could tell he was trying too hard to be calm. He was probably as frustrated as Kevin was.



“Okay but call my mom first because she might not want me to go.”



Kevin was trying his hardest not to lose his patience, the selfish side of him staring at the clock on the wall and thinking about how tired he was going to be come the morning. “I will call from the hospital Nick, come on let’s go.”



“NO! Kevin she might not want me to go, I’d rather talk to her first okay?”



Kevin put a chair by the phone and then picked Nick up and carried him over and sat him down, “You want me to talk first little man?” Happily Nick shook his head.



He was glad, maybe he’d be able to avoid the she devil completely, and maybe she would tell Nick to go the hospital himself or better yet NOT to go at all. Kevin felt guilty thinking like that, he knew he’d be getting a glare from his mom if she was here. Although if his mom was here and saw the way he was being worked she probably would have had it out with Lou herself and scored them all a few days off. Suddenly and unexplainably, the worst feeling of homesickness hit him. He wanted to usher Nick off the phone just so he could call home.



“Hi mom…I know it’s late…sorry….but,” Kevin looked over at Nick as he twirled the phone chord in his hand and bit at his bottom lip as he talked to his mother. He looked absolutely horrified to tell her anything.



He heard his young friend take in a deep breath, Kevin recognized this breath all too well, it usually came right before the tears did and sure enough he was right, “I had an accident mom…I fell out of the van and well…my foot is swollen, I think I sprained my ankle.”



Kevin found himself glancing at his cousin as they all eavesdropped on the conversation. He was met with a shake of his head, a shake of pure disgust directed at Jane Carter. It was at that point Kevin realized he wasn’t going to have to go to the hospital with Nick after all. Jane was going to brush it off. Like she brushed Nick off all the time.



“Yes it hurts….no…I can move it…it’s swollen though…Kevin wants me to go to the hospital but I know we can’t afford it…medicine to help the pain…I think so…”



Nick tried moving his ankle as he talked slowly moving it around in circles. Kevin knew it wasn’t broken at all, just a bad sprain but still the responsible person his parents had taught him to be said that the kid needed to go get x rays just to make sure.



“What about Lou though…Kevin said that if for nothing else we should go so this way Lou wouldn’t make me dance.” The boy’s face grew panicked now, “NO mom you don’t understand he won’t care…he’ll make me!”



A new batch of tears started to fall from his eyes which he tried to shield from the guys, now that he was fully aware they were all listening in. “Will you call Lou and talk to him?” Now He glanced over towards Kevin, “Yeah he’s standing right here…”



Those words made Kevin’s heart sink. Nick held out the phone, “She wants to talk to you.”



Kevin nodded and took the phone, ‘just don’t lose your temper’ he chanted to himself not exactly sure what he would hear from the other end of the line.



“Hi Jane.”



“Is he okay Kevin or is this just because he’s missing home?”



If Nick weren’t sitting there staring up at him with those big blue puppy dog eyes, he might have decided to lay into her right then and there, but instead he calmly smiled at the blonde in question then said, “No, fell out of the van on the way home and his ankle is looking pretty bad.”



“Damn that kid! He needs to watch what he’s doing…he said he can move it right?”



“Yes he can move it.”



“Okay well we’re going to skip the hospital, if it doesn’t look like the swelling has gone down by tomorrow though would you mind taking him Kevin?”



“Jane the only problem is Lou, we have to be at the studio by 8, he’s not going to let me leave to take Nick to the emergency room.”



Jane paused for a few seconds, “True but maybe if he saw the ankle he would have someone else take him…and who knows he might even pay for it.” Jane cackled a nervous cackle but once again that just enraged Kevin. “Anyway I’m sorry you have to deal with yet another crisis my son is having…for now I told him to take some aspirin and leave his foot up iced. We’re going to be home day after tomorrow and then I’ll bring him in for the full work up.”



“Day after tomorrow?”



“Yes, but it might be three days since we’re getting in late. Thank you so much Kevin for everything.”



Kevin looked down at Nick and ruffled his hair, “No problem Jane…but there’s still Lou and what happens tomorrow?”



“I’ll call Lou first thing in the morning and explain to him what happened…I’m sure he’ll let Nick sit out, if he doesn’t promise you’ll call me Kevin okay?”



For once she sounded like a real parent protective of her son, “I will don’t worry.”



“Okay good, can you pass the phone back to Nicky please?”



“Sure thing.” Kevin passed the phone over to Nick and smiled once more. Secretly happy he could continue with his night’s plans.



“Okay mom…I love you too…” Nick paused to look up at Kevin and smile, “I will…okay bye.” When he was done with the phone he handed it back to Kevin, “She said that I don’t have to go to the emergency room.”



“I know squirt, I’m going to give you some aspirin and then lay you on the couch where you can sleep with your leg up, but I want you to promise me that if the pain gets too bad you’ll let me know okay?”



Nick nodded and once again Kevin ruffled his hair.



“I’ll bring him to the couch….want me to Nick?” Brian asked ready to throw the kid over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.



“No Bri, I’ll do it why don’t you go into the bedroom and grab my extra pillow off my bed.”



“If everyone is okay now I’m hitting the sack guys I’m beat…you need anything Nicky?” Howie asked through the beginning of a contagious yawn that then bounced into the mouths of the other guys as well.



Nick shook his head so Howie looked at Kevin for permission to leave, it made Kevin laugh. “Night D.” he figured that would work.



“Night guys.”



“All right little man here we go,” Kevin said scooping Nick up in his arms and bringing him over to the couch.



“You know I could have probably walked.”



“I know but better to just stay off the thing for the night.” He gently placed Nick on the couch and propped his leg up using the sofa cushions. “Here’s some aspirin hang on while I get you some water.”



“Kay.”



By now Brian was back in the living room with the extra pillow entertaining Nick by once again pretending to be Lou. “Now young man how many times do I have to tell you to watch where you are walking, you know now that means that I have to eat you right? So what are you waiting for? Get in my belly!” Brian started gnawing at Nick’s stomach which had the kid roaring with laughter.



“Here ya go kiddo, some water for you.”



“Well aren’t you the little prince Nick, my cousin waits on no one. This is a big deal maybe you should mark it down on your calendar or something.”



“Shut up Brian…maybe I don’t wait on you because I don’t like you!”



Once again Nick laughed. Kevin was proud of himself for not showing his anger and frustration and most importantly not taking it out on Nick like he had done so many times.



“Okay well if the young prince is comfy I am going to go hop in the shower then what do you say Nickers? You up for some TV after that?”



“Sure Brian.”



“Okay catch you later then!”



Brian stuck his tongue out at his cousin as he ran towards the bathroom. He knew he should have called dibbs on a hot shower first but at least this gave him some down time to watch TV and out his feet up.



“Kev?”



“Yes?” He asked as he plopped himself on the recliner.



“I just wanted to say I’m sorry for all of this and thanks for not getting mad at me.”



“It wasn’t your fault Nick, poop happens.”



“Did you just say poop happens?” Nick asked very amused by the self editing.



“Okay shit happens you happy?”



“Yes, I also wanted to say thanks for being my big brother these last few weeks. I’m going to miss you.”



“It’s not like I’ll never see you again.”



“I know but still it was fun living here with you guys.”



Kevin smiled, “Same here.”



Suddenly his head turned to the sound of the song Fame as it blared on the TV.



“Can we watch this Kevin? I love this show; I try to catch reruns as much as possible.”



Kevin looked over at the blonde who was almost ten years younger then he was but yet who he had more in common with then most people his own age. They were going to have a special bond the two of them, he figured it out right then and there as they sat and watched Fame.

Have a Happy Fourth of July!!
25 by Mare
25






Kevin had the nicest dream that night. He was sitting in a boat on a lake fishing with his father, something he had done often as a way to bond as father and son do. They were talking and laughing about random silly things. That’s when Jerald turned to his son, placed a loving hand on his shoulder and told him how proud he was of him.



Kevin told his father all about Lou and how hard he was being worked and that he sometimes wanted to quit but his dad said never give up on your dreams. They embraced and then just like that he was gone.



The entire time it was happening, Kevin knew it was only a dream yet when the first stream of light broke through the window, he didn’t want to open his eyes. He finally did though, to see it was only 5 A.M.



He sat up and rubbed at his achy back, his legs still felt like rubber from the workout the day before and he wasn’t sure if he had it in him to put in another day like that one. Wanting so badly to fall asleep again he closed his eyes hoping he would find himself in that boat with his father smiling next to him, yet he only saw black. So he forced himself to get up and at least go the bathroom, maybe take a shower before anyone else, enjoy some quiet time.



Kevin stepped into the kitchen and sighed, he missed his family so much. He realized it was all part of growing up, moving away from home and getting a place of your very own but on days like this, he would have killed to wake up to his mom’s smiling face in the kitchen.



“Damn, I forgot to call her.” He muttered to himself when he realized that in all the excitement he never did make that call home to his mom.



“Call who?” Kevin’s eyes shot over to the couch where he saw the sleepy blonde head of Nick Carter sit up and rub at his eyes.



“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to wake you.” Kevin said making his way over to the living room and plopping on the recliner.



“You didn’t, I was already awake. I couldn’t sleep.”



“How’s the leg?”



“It’s sore, I was hoping the swelling would have gone down by now.”



“You want some more ice?”



“No it’s okay.”



“So how come you didn’t sleep? You know you’ll be exhausted today.”



“I know.” Nick adjusted and pulled himself to a sitting position with his bad leg still on the couch while the other one dangled off the side.



Kevin smiled at his baby brother well at least that is what he felt like. It was the first time he had thought about Nick like that, as his baby brother. “Are you hungry?”



“No, I’m really nervous about today. I am afraid Lou is going to scream at me or even worse, that maybe he screamed at my mom and kicked me out of the group.”



“Don’t worry about that Nick, I’m sure he will understand and he’d never kick you out of the group. We wouldn’t let him.”



“I just worry; I mean my family is counting on me to support them you know?”



It blew Kevin away, the things that Nick thought about sometimes, the things he was forced to think about. How a family could put so much on a child’s plate sickened him. Kevin moved from the comfy recliner to the couch to sit closer to Nick, he knew the kid needed a hug, that was one thing he had figured out by now, Nick always needed a hug. So he sat down next to the blonde and grabbed him into a hug, taking Nick by surprise.



“What was that for?” Nick asked pulling away.



“Just seemed like something you needed.”



“I did and thanks, Kevin?”



“Yeah buddy?”



“When my mom comes and gets me tomorrow, can I tell her I’m staying with you instead?”



That melted Kevin’s heart, he took a deep breath and smiled down at Nick who of course was now leaning against him, “I thought you couldn’t wait to go home.”



“I know, but this kind of feels like home.”



“I’m glad you think so, at first I thought you were going to hate it here.”



Nick laughed, “At first I DID hate it here.”



“Yeah I know.”



“But it wasn’t anything personal; I just didn’t want to be left behind. I wish they wouldn’t always do that to me you know?”



“I know and you can stay with us whenever you want okay? I’m glad this feels like a second home to you.”



“I didn’t say second home Kev…I said home. Nowadays my home doesn’t really feel like a home at all. It’s weird; I wish I could explain it. Things are changing that’s all I guess.”



Kevin reached down and pet Nick’s head as if he were a dog, “I’m sorry buddy, but maybe this change is a good thing. Anyway, you can always call this your home okay?”



“Thanks Kevin, so I can stay then?”



Kevin was hoping that Nick wasn’t being serious about the staying part, that maybe the teen had said that without thinking, like he had said so many things without thinking about them. Of course he couldn’t stay longer, and it’s not that Kevin didn’t want him around, just that there was a lot of responsibility that came with watching after the youngest Backstreet Boy. He needed a break, but he didn’t want Nick to feel like it was a rejection.



Something else that Kevin realized about the kid was how easily he was hurt. Maybe at first he confused Nick’s feelings with just being a spoiled brat but after spending so much time with him, now there was no doubt in his mind, Nick was NOT spoiled. Both Kevin and Brian were far more spoiled than Nick could ever be. In fact all of the guys minus Nick usually got whatever they wanted.



“Buddy, as much as I’d love for you to stay around…”



Nick nodded, “It’s okay Kevin. I know I’m a pain, you guys will probably throw a party when I walk out the door.”



“Don’t worry…it won’t be a big party.”



“You’re such a big jerk!” Nick laughed as he leaned his head into Kevin’s shoulder.



“Seriously little man, I’ve enjoyed you being here and so has Brian and Howie, but you haven’t been home in a long time. I know once you see your mom and dad you’ll forget you even asked to stay longer.”



“I hope you’re right.” Nick replied opening his mouth and letting out a big yawn.



“I’m always right…gosh haven’t you learned that by now?”



They both chuckled and soon fell asleep in their positions on the couch.



~*~*~*~*~




It was a wet Howie who woke them up about three hours later with the smell of coffee and cologne in the air as well as the sound of the shower water in the bathroom. He pat Kevin’s shoulder lightly a few times and gently whispered in his ear, “Kev….you awake?”



When Kevin opened his eyes he felt disoriented for a second until he felt the warm body of Nick snuggled up next to him.



“Was everything all right last night?” Howie asked curiously, his eyes shifting from Kevin to Nick.



“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep and neither could he. I guess we both dozed off.”



“His ankle still looks swollen.” Howie responded looking down at Nick’s leg.



“Yeah, I hope Lou doesn’t give us a hard time. He was up all night worrying about that, he’s afraid he’s going to get fired.”



Kevin moved Nick off of him so he could stand up, deciding to let the child sleep for just a few more minutes while he got his coffee.



“Brian?”



“In the shower, can’t you hear him singing at the top of his lungs?” Sure enough on second listen there was Brian belting out the Rainbow Connection singing as Kermit the Frog.



“That child is NOT right in the head, I swear to God he was dropped or something.”



“I should count how many times you say that about your cousin on any given day.”



“Can you count that high D?”



“Hey!” Howie handed Kevin a cup of steaming hot coffee as he sat down at the table, “I’m still sore from yesterday what about you?”



“A bit, I guess it’ll be something that we’ll get used to.” Kevin lied, really not believing he would ever get used to the hard schedule they seemed to face daily.



“I hope so…” Howie blew on his coffee a few times before glancing back in Nick’s direction, “So you think we should wake him? I feel so bad having to force him to wake up knowing he hasn’t slept all night, he’s just a kid.”



“He asked me if he could stay with us when his parents came to get him.”



“Really”



Kevin nodded, “Yup, his parent’s suck D. It doesn’t seem fair.”



“I know what you mean, but you said no right?” Kevin laughed.



“I said he wouldn’t want to once he saw his parents.”



“I told you…”



Kevin glanced over at Howie, “You told me what?”



“That you were going to get attached to Nicky, remember at first how you were on the fence about him? I told you once you spent a lot of time with him you can’t help but start getting attached.”



“Yeah you did say that.”



The bathroom door opened and one wet Brian stepped out, steam cascading into the kitchen along with him, “Cool! Look guys, I come with my own special effects!”



“Not right, that boy is not right.”



“That was twice already.”



“Why are we counting and where is the munchkin?” Brian said sitting down at the kitchen table and grabbing the cereal that until then had remained untouched.



“He’s still sleeping.”



“Shouldn’t he not be?”



“Yeah, let me go wake him up.” Kevin said standing up and walking back towards the softly snoring Nick.



He squatted down and gently tapped Nick as he quietly stirred and then opened his eyes, “Hey little man, time to get up.”



“I fell asleep?”



“Yup, we both did.”



Nick sat up and rubbed his eyes, “Oh, wow I’m really tired and I have a headache,” He said in his all familiar whiny voice that usually came with lack of sleep.



“Hey Waldo come and eat some breakfast….how’s the leg?” Brian shouted from the table holding his spoon in a salute to his young friend.



“Waldo?”



Kevin shook his head, “Don’t mind him Nick he’s not right in the head.”



“That’s three.” Kevin laughed at Howie as he counted while reading the paper.



“What if he makes me dance?”



“He won’t make you dance.”



“But what if he does?”



“He won’t, I won’t let him. Haven’t you figured that out by now Nick?”



“I have a headache.”



“I know I heard you the first time, come to the table and I’ll give you some more aspirin okay?”



“Okay.”



“Think you can walk on it or do you want a ride?”



“Take the ride Nick, why walk when you don’t have to? If I had a man servant offering, I would ride whenever I got the chance.”



Nick laughed at Brian while Kevin shook his head, “I guess that means you’re hopping on right?”



“Right.” Kevin turned and offered his back to his young friend who happily climbed on as they made their way to the kitchen table.



~*~*~*~*~*




Rehearsal was a little better that day then the last one, Lou was in a much better mood despite the injury that Nick suffered. Jane had indeed called and told Lou that she would prefer her son not participating in the dance rehearsals that day but if he absolutely needed to he could. That did nothing but further disgust all the guys and hurt Nick, making him feel like garbage, but luckily, Lou never made him dance.



He did however remind Nick almost every single time he stepped into the room, that it hurt the group as a unit whenever one of them was unable to perform. He was a real jerk, that Lou, in hindsight, how the guys hadn’t picked it up sooner remained a mystery to them.



Kevin was tired, hot and sweaty by their fifteen minute lunch break, yes only fifteen. He used that time to make sure the others were eating and drinking enough liquids almost forgetting to do the same for himself.



When did he become so responsible? He wondered as he stared at himself in the bathroom mirror before going out to start the second half of their day. He felt himself becoming a man, taking on the same kinds of responsibilities his father did. Taking a minute to remember the dream he had in the morning, which felt like eons ago, how his dad had told him he was proud. “I hope you are proud of me dad.” He whispered before going back out into the dance hall.



The second half of the day was less strenuous for them since they spent it in the studio recording what they hoped would get them signed. Because there was no moving involved, Nick was able to actively participate so the sad cloud that was hanging over him disappeared for the rest of the afternoon thankfully.



They sang three different songs, none of which Kevin was overly excited about. He thought they were a bit babyish and weren’t of the best quality but Lou knew best so he wasn’t about to open his mouth. There would be time for that later.



AJ, who had been pouting from missing out on all the excitement, asked if he could spend the night over at the guy’s place. Poor kid felt left out, since the four of them were bonding and he was stuck at home.



“Why not? The more the merrier,” Kevin had said as they made their way back to his place carrying a pot of spaghetti and meatballs that Denise made for them all. She often sent food along with AJ for the rest of the boys, like a den mother as Kevin’s mom always called her.



This time Howie carried Nick up the steps on his back, as they entered the dark apartment. “I hope you guys are hungry my mom made enough food to feed an army.” AJ said staring at the huge pot Kevin was holding.



“Well we are the Backstreet army,” Brian said grabbing the pot out of his cousin’s hands and placing it on the stove top.



“Hey for fun maybe we should have Nicky cook, remember how he almost burned down the place on one of his first days here?”



“Gee, thanks for reminding them Bri.” Nick said rolling his eyes at his friend as he gingerly made his way off of Howie’s back.



“Aw come here you,” Brian said walking over and picking Nick up over his shoulders making the young blonde giggle himself silly.



Howie laughed as he passed plates to AJ to set the table, they were all acting like a family, one big happy family that was interrupted by a knock on the door.



“I’ll get it!” Brian said still holding a struggling Nick over his shoulder.



“Let me down.”



“Say uncle.”



“No!”



“Then perched on my shoulder you shall stay just like a little parrot! I will call you Polly!”



Nick was still laughing as another knock was heard, this time a little harder and less patient.



“Guys stop fooling around and get that!” Kevin scolded as he started to pour the food into the plates.



“Okay fine, it’s probably someone trying to sell us something, hey maybe we can trade. We’ll give them Nick and take a new vacuum or whatever it is he tries to sell us.”



“What if he isn’t selling anything?” Nick asked still almost upside down on Brian’s shoulder.



“Then I guess we just give him you for free.”



“Hey!”



Brian laughed as he finally opened the door, almost dropping Nick when he saw who was standing on the other side, “Mrs. Carter…hello.”

Hey guys! Sorry about the lack of updates on this one but to make up for it i'll be back on Wednesday with another chapter which means if you are a Serve and Protect reader, no update this week. Sorry Backstreet high and serial killers/kidnapped kids don't mix very well lmao. See ya Wednesday with the last Apartment chapter *sobs* and as always thanks for the reviews!
26 by Mare
26






When Kevin heard his cousin mention Jane’s name he swung his head around so fast, he almost dropped the plate of spaghetti he was getting ready to pass to Howie. Sure enough, there she was, standing in the doorway, staring at Brian as he put her son on the ground. Much to no one’s surprise the first words out of her mouth weren’t, “Nick I love you and missed you so much” but…



“I knew you were faking that injury Nickolas.”



Nick now stood facing his mother, looking like a deer caught in the headlights, “Mom I’m really hurt that’s why Brian was carrying me.”



“I’m sure.”



They stood there looking at each other, poor Nick had played out this scene so differently from what was happening now. He pictured himself running into his mother’s arms so thankful to see her and never wanting to let her go. Funny what time away from someone can do to change your perspective. Being with the guys made Nick realize what family was all about, even if they weren’t his real one.



“Well come here aren’t you going to give me a hug?”



It was only after the invitation was offered that Nick hobbled forward and fell into his mother’s embrace.



“Hi Jane, we weren’t expecting you for a few more days.”



“I know but after talking to Lou yesterday I got to missing my baby and decided to get here early. Seems like its dinner time.” She said glancing over at the table full of food.



“Yes, we just got done with rehearsal, you’re welcome to stay and eat with us.” Kevin replied as Howie grabbed another plate out of the cabinet.



“Thanks, I’ll take you up on that offer, I was going to just grab us some fast food on the way home but this looks much healthier, did you make that Kevin?”



“No, Denise did.”



Jane didn’t seem thrilled with that answer but still smiled and made her way over to the table as her son limped behind, “So where’s dad and the kids?”



“They are still coming home in two days, I just came early.”



“Oh.” Nick seemed disappointed as he took a seat next to his mother.



There was an uncomfortable silence in the air at first, since none of the boys felt very comfortable being around Jane, even her own son, who grew quiet and distant as they ate their meal.



“How have rehearsals been?” She finally asked, breaking the silence that hung in the air.



“Good, we were in the studio today.”



“Lou told me that you guys would be recording when I talked to him. Do you like the songs?”



When no one answered it was Kevin who took on the question, a roll he would soon be getting used to, “Well I think they are kind of dumb but hey if it get’s us signed I’m all for stupid, sappy love songs.”



Brian let out a laugh, to which everyone looked over his way, “Sorry, just the sappy love songs part cracked me up.”



“You’re so NOT right…”



“That’s about number 15.”



“Thanks Howie.”



“No problem Kevin.”



Jane ignoring the unimportant conversation glanced over at her son, “So Nick, were you well behaved for Kevin?”



“I guess.”



“He was great Jane.” Kevin said nodding at the woman, not quite sure why she had really come rushing home. He wanted to believe it was for the benefit of her son, but truthfully in the almost thirty minutes she was there, most of her interactions were addressed to him and not Nick, as if the kid didn’t exist.



“I hope so; I know he can be a handful sometimes.”



“Mom…” Nick said blushing from embarrassment.



“We have enjoyed having Nicky here and anytime he wants to come again he’s welcome to.” Kevin glanced over at Howie as he spoke; he had that same put off look that all of them had on their faces.



“Thanks Howie.” Nick said giving D a quick smile before putting his head back down.



Kevin noticed how quickly Nick’s posture changed when his mom entered the room; he barely made eye contact with anyone, just staring down at the floor, shoulders hunched over looking small and guilty. He wondered why he had never noticed it before, the way he acted when his mother was around versus the way he acted when she wasn’t. It wasn’t only the mother either, it was also Bob. The patriarch of the Carter clan, Nick was a different person around him as well.



Had they always seemed so uncomfortable in each other’s company? Kevin was embarrassed and a little guilty that he couldn’t answer the question he posed to himself. Next time he would have to be more aware of everyone’s situations, particularly Nick. He glanced over at his little brother who still had head down as he shoveled food in his mouth.



“So did you all have a good vacation?” Kevin asked when the blonde never bothered to look up from his plate.



“It went too fast and didn’t really feel like much of a vacation. You know we are getting Aaron ready to follow in Nicky’s footsteps. Have you noticed how well he can sing?”



“Sure, he has a great voice.”



“He told me he wants to be a pop star, a full fledged one so that’s what we are going to work on.” She placed her arm around her son, “Two pop stars in the same family! We can be like the Jacksons!”



“Mom Aaron’s too young to be a pop star; he’s barely out of diapers for God’s sake.”



“Oh come on Nickolas, he’s about the same age as you were when you said you wanted to sing all the time.”



“I said a lot of things when I was five mom, he’s just a kid.”



“So are you baby and look at you, my son the pop star!” Nick didn’t say anything only smiled, but it was not a real one. One of those plastered on ones that so many people just assume is real. Kevin was already beginning to be able to tell the difference.



After a few seconds of holding onto Nick, she let go of the embrace and dipped into her plate once again, “Anyway I told Lou all about Aaron on the phone yesterday and he insisted we get together and talk about it.”



“So that’s why you came home early?” Nick asked with a mix of sadness and anger in his voice. The saddest part being he already knew the answer to that question as did the rest of the boys who now all were staring down at the floor and their plates, anywhere but ahead.



“Well one of them, of course I came home mainly for you sweet heart.”



“When are you meeting with Lou?”



“Tonight, actually I’m going to his office in about an hour or so.”



“Oh.”



Once again a silence encompassed the table but this time it felt explosive, the anger was ever present in the way the guys were sitting. Kevin fidgeting every couple of seconds, trying to keep his cool and not say something he would later regret. It was bad enough this horrid woman was exploiting one of her children but now she was doing it to another one?



He wondered if that’s how it felt for Nick when he was so young, being pushed into a field he might not have really wanted to go into. You know how some kids say they want to be a fireman or a policeman. Maybe one day he said on a whim, “Mommy I want to sing,” and the next thing you know, Jane sees dollar signs and just like that Nick is no longer a child but a bread winner.



Suddenly he felt the worst sense of sadness wash over him, a melancholy feeling but not for himself, it was for the young blonde sitting across the table. He wasn’t even listening to what Jane was saying as she prattled on and on about show business, probably about the steps she would take to help Aaron in his career. Kevin instead focused his attention on Nick, the way he pretended to be excited about what his mom was saying while at the same time his facial expression stated “Look at me, I’m here!”



“I’d like to take Nicky out for ice cream,” Kevin suddenly blurted out which made Jane finally stop talking. Had he said that in the middle of one of her sentences? Her face and look of disgust told him that yes, maybe he had.



“Ice cream?” She asked.



“Yes, kind of as a goodbye present. Maybe we can hang onto him while you have your meeting.” Nick was now looking up and smiling.



“That sounds like a great idea!” Howie said winking at the blonde.



“Only if I get to go too.” AJ said biting into a meatball.



“No AJ, we are going to leave you here because you smell.” Brian replied rolling his eyes.



“Who says YOU get to go cousin? Maybe it’s just a me and Nick thing.” Kevin replied taking his cousin by surprise.



“But…I want ice cream too!”



Kevin looked over at Jane, “What do you say Jane? Is it okay?”



“Sure, I guess so, I mean it makes more work for me having to double back to get him but sure, not a problem.”



Once again Kevin had to bite his tongue, because what he was saying in his head was not very pretty. In fact if his mother was able to read minds she would have gotten on the first plane out of Kentucky, shown up on his doorstep and slapped him silly. So he settled for a silent ‘Good forbid we inconvenience Jane’ instead.



Jane looked down at her watch, “I should probably go now, think you can have him ready to leave in about two hours?”



“I think that will be fine.”



“Excellent.” She stood up and hugged her son, “Be good baby, I’ll be back later.”



When she walked out the door an audible sigh of relief was heard, “That was most unexpected.” Brian whispered to his cousin as he cleared the table, “I don’t want him to go.”



“I know Brian, but he needs his mother.”



“Pffft, is that what she is?”



“Bri!”



“Sorry but it’s true, you know Kevin…we’re really lucky.”



“Yeah I know.”



“So you really don’t want us to come with you guys? If not I hope you bring us back something.”



“You guys can all come too if you want.”



“Good because I am not going to entertain AJ and winky D. Have you noticed how much Howie winks? I always ask him if he has something in his eye.” Kevin just laughed.



“I’ll help you pack gimpy.” AJ said as he got up and helped Nick walk into the bedroom to get his things.



“Hey Kev…”



Kevin looked up from the sink when he heard Nick say his name. “Yeah?”



“Thanks.”



“Not a problem, try to hurry along though. We need to make sure we’re back before your mom.”



“Kay.”



“You want to keep him don’t you?” Brian asked amused.



“What?”



“You know if you keep him you have to take him out for walks and feed him.”



“Brian do you ever make any sense?”



“I’m making perfect sense; you are actually sad to see Carter go and for some reason that greatly amuses me.”



“Yeah, how about we send you home with Jane and he can take your place.”



“Oh please you’d be crying for me within minutes of my exit. You know you can’t live without me.”



“Maybe… but I’m willing to try; now why don’t you go help Nick so we can go?”



“Fine, anything is better than dishes.”



Once Brian was gone, Howie walked over to Kevin and took his cousin’s place as the dish dryer, “That Aaron talk made you ill too didn’t it?”



“Yeah, I feel for them D, that whole family is messed up. I worry about them all but I especially worry about Nick.”



“Me too. But he has us you know?”



“I never really let myself see what it was like for him, but him being here with us for all this time kind of opened my eyes. I’m never taking my family for granted ever again.”



“I have a feeling you never did in the first place.”



Brian came out of the bedroom with Nick once again slung over one shoulder while AJ was slung over the other.



“So we ready to go? I have Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum here.”



AJ was laughing but Nick wasn’t. He was just hanging there quietly, like a piece of meat.



“Put me down Brian.” Nick asked a few moments later. To which surprisingly he obeyed.



“Guys, before we go I just wanted to say thanks for putting up with me the last few weeks. I know I have been hard to be around, heck I mean I almost burned your apartment down. I got us in trouble more than once, I have slammed your doors so much that the hinges probably need replacing and I know I’ve been a butt. I just wanted to let you guys know that I’m sorry.”



The blonde had tears in his eyes, which once again threw them for a loop. Well not all of them, Kevin was almost expecting it. “No need to apologize Nick.” He found himself saying.



It’s funny to think what can happen in a month, how at first Kevin was ready to throw Nick out the window with his little temper tantrums and fits of crying and then laughing, tireless mood swings and the talking back. All he wanted was for this child to stop acting like a child and just grow up.



He realized now that by the time Nick came to them he was already grown up in a lot of ways. It was the guys who brought out the child in Nick, because they were the only ones in his life who let him be just that, a child.



“I’m going to miss hanging with you guys all the time.” He was full blown crying when he turned his eyes to Kevin, “Are you sure I can’t stay?”



Kevin walked over and gave him a huge hug, “I tell you what maybe we can ask your mom if you can stay for one more night. I’ll drive you home the next day after rehearsal.”



“See I knew it! He wants to keep him!” Brian said to AJ.



“Okay who wants ice cream?” Howie asked breaking up the tender moment being shared.



“Me, I want a honking huge sundae!” AJ said.



“I want a banana split!” Brian replied.



“Well better get going then shall we? A ride young one?” Kevin said turning around and offering Nick his back.



“Sure why not.” He said hoping on and being the kid he so desperately wanted to be as he wiped away the rest of his tears.



As they were leaving, right before Kevin turned out the lights, he glanced into the place where he would grow into an adult. It was just a small glance, nothing big. He didn’t realize he was staring into a space that would hold so much laughter and tears. A place they would celebrate their first record deal while eating pizza around the coffee table in the living room or a place where he would comfort Howie when he lost his sister.



Nick would be a frequent visitor to this place, sometimes by choice, but most times just like this one, left behind. If the walls could talk they would know more than even the best Backstreet fan could ever hope to know or wish to never have found out. So much sadness was shared in this place and so much happiness as well.



They grew to love each other and come together as less of a group and more of a family in this stupid, smelly one bedroom apartment that barely had enough light to see in the middle of a sunny Florida day, and when they would eventually make more than enough money to move out on their own, they would at certain points in their lives all miss this place. It was simple, it was plain but it was their home, even the ones who didn’t live there.



Kevin smiled, shut the light and closed the door.





The End







Author’s note: Wow I can’t believe another story done! This one has been going forever and I was sad to see it go, but at some point Nicky had to go home I guess. LOL



Just wanted to thank all of you who have given me feedback since the start of this one especially Kris (Swenglish) for giving me the idea in the first place. I hope it ended to your liking guys. I suck at endings but I felt like this one needed a very simple one.



Thanks again!



Mare