Last Christmas, I gave you my heart…but the very next day you gave it away…
Nick changed the station as he drove his Lexus, which showed none of the damage he’d done six months before. If it was only so easy to erase the damage being done to him, he’d do it in a heartbeat. He bit his lip, unsure of what he was going to do. He didn’t have a clue. He felt like he never did these days. Looking around, he decided to pull over. He couldn’t drive anyway till he actually made a decision. Nick hit the steering wheel as hard as he could, frustrated with himself, with everything in his life. His ears caught the lyrics of the new song filtering through the speakers.
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays…
At that, he cut the engine. Hearing a song that he’d always hated, by a group that had made his career ten times more difficult for half of it, wasn’t a good sign in his eyes. He hated that NSYNC song with the fire of a thousand suns, to put it mildly. Nick was supposed to be driving to the airport, but he wasn’t sure where he was going after that. He’d been back in Los Angeles for two weeks, thinking he’d just ignore Christmas alone. Of course, no one would let that happen. In fact, he’d gotten two offers on how to spend his Christmas.
Going back to the Littrells for Christmas was a tradition that started when he was only nineteen. His own family failed him too many times, so Jackie had started making sure he came home with Brian. So that was the first offer.
The second offer, came from his mother. He’d gotten the call only a week before, and was almost shocked into a heart attack. His mother, Jane Carter, acting human? It wasn’t a concept he was used to. At least, not since he was around fifteen years old and he went from son to ATM in her eyes. Still, a small part of him missed having a real mother, despite knowing the fact she would never be one to him again. Maybe there were no ulterior motives. Maybe she was lonely.
Or maybe she needs more money. He shook the thought away. Nick knew he’d have to forgive her, and he didn’t have the longest amount of time to do it. He mused on the idea. Christmas with the Carters. It sounded like one of those bad holiday comedies where everything that could, went wrong. Nick decided then it wouldn’t be nearly as fun trying to live it.
His phone buzzed, and he ignored it, starting up the car again. Nick didn’t care who it was, and wondered if he could just fly off to the Bahamas and hide away till the holidays ended. He knew where he was going to spend Christmas, but he didn’t know how he’d be able to reject his mother’s offer. Nick knew she’d be upset, and even though she made his life hell for so many years of his life, he felt bad for doing so at Christmas time.
Finally he pulled out his phone, staring out at the late night traffic along the highway. “Hello?”
“Hey little man.”
Nick sighed, feeling a bit of relief at it being Kevin. He’d missed him more than he ever had during this last tour. Kevin left the group nine years before, and Nick had adjusted pretty well. There’d be times he wished Kevin was there, but overall he’d been okay. Ever since he’d told Kevin though, it hit him harder than ever not having Kevin there. The whole idea of that was a bit weird; given that part of the reason he figured he told him, was because he wasn’t in the group anymore, and therefore wouldn’t be around him to be coddling him constantly.
“You’re coming down aren’t you? Brian told me he invited you.”
“Jackie or Brian always invite me.”
“You should come, he’s worried.”
Nick scoffed as he started up the car again; it was a bit too nippy to not have the heat on. “He’s been bugging you to tell him hasn’t he?”
“You should tell him.”
“I will. I tried to, I just…I couldn’t do it. You haven’t-”
“Of course not, but you should.”
“…I know. I just, need to figure my shit out.”
“I understand, I’m here if you need help with that.”
“I’ll see you soon?”
Nick nodded, forgetting that Kevin couldn’t see him for a moment before actually answering. He wondered then why he even debated about where to go to begin with. It should’ve been obvious to him the entire time. Home was where your family was, and for Nick, that wasn’t with those who shared the same DNA. “Yep, I’ll see you there.”
The Littrell house always made Nick think of Little House on the Prairie, what little he knew of that show. They lived on a ranch house, not run down, but you could tell it’d been there for a long time and had a sense of character to it. The acre it sat on was covered with snow, giving an almost magical quality as the lights that twinkled upon the roof made him smile. Mature, snow covered and currently leafless tress lined the driveway, also decked out in lights. Nick had been there so many times since he was sixteen, Brian’s parents always did their best to help make up for the lack of a family Nick had. Still, he hesitated actually walking up the driveway.
It was Christmas Eve, and he simply stood there, waiting in the cold. His suitcase in hand, he stood before the house, shivering as a light snowy power came down upon him. He bit his lip as he stared the house from the sidewalk. Nick wondered if he’d have had an easier time going to see his mother and siblings.
A nine year old blonde haired version of Kevin came running out of the house towards him at full speed. Nick dropped his bags and held his arms out, catching him in his arms. Mason tackled him over, causing them both to fall back into the snow.
“You trying to kill me Mase?” Nick joked, ruffling his hair the way Kevin always did to him.
“Dad sent me out, he said you’d run off if I didn’t tackle you down.” He answered back, laughing.
“He probably would have.”
Nick glanced up, and there stood Brian, picking up his bags as Nick lay there in the snow, Mason still on top of him laughing. He rolled off, making a snow angel beside him. Nick glanced over, starting to do the same, chuckling. “Hey Bri, come join us in the great making of snow angels! You know you want to…”
Brian chuckled, shaking his head. “Mom’s got dinner ready, I won’t be missing that.”
Nick’s head shot up. “She’s got dinner done already?”
“Of course, you think anyone wants to wait for her feast?”
Mason perked up and was already running inside the house. Nick simply laughed. The child had his attention span, and he always loved teasing Kevin about how Kristen gave him a mini version of Nick to raise again. Silence came between him and Brian as he rose out of the snow and brushed himself off. It felt awkward and wrong. Nick grabbed his other bag, following Brian inside. Although neither said anything, it felt like a whole argument went unspoken between them. Nick knew Brian wanted him to talk. And Nick knew that Brian knew he wasn’t going to. The silence got thick with tension without any words at all as the two walked into the house.
“Nickolas Gene Carter!”
Nick turned, and dropped his bag by the door as Brian’s mother came to embrace him. She was a little woman, especially within the embrace of Nick’s tall frame. Shorter than Brian even, he hugged her tightly, his chin resting on top of her head as he smiled. “Hey Jackie…”
She pulled back a bit, taking him in as she examined him carefully. “You’re doing okay?”
He nodded. “Yep, better than I have been.” Liar, Liar, soon enough my pants will be on fire…
“Good, you deserve to be happy.” She looked around. “What, no special someone here with you?”
Nick shook his head, his heart aching at the thought. He would never have that. “Nah, just single again.”
Jackie Littrell patted his cheeks gently, giving him a loving smile. “It’ll happen, and that girl will be lucky to have you.”
Nick just nodded, as she led him to the dinner table. “Thanks again for having me.”
“You thank me every year Nick, and every year I tell you you’re family so we’ll have you anytime. Now, sit!”
Smartly, he plopped in the seat she picked for him, placed right in between the two people he wasn’t up to sitting next to. Brian was on his right side, and beside him were Leighanne and Baylee. On Nick’s left was Kevin, with Kristen and Mason at his side. Across sat Brian’s father Harold, as well as his brother Harold Junior. Kevin’s older brothers, Tim and Jerald sat there as well with their wives and kids. It always struck Nick funny that Kevin was the youngest in his family, with Nick the oldest in his, and in the group the roles reversed. It probably explained their dynamic relationship.
What also amused him was while Brian looked very much like his mother, Harold Jr. always made Nick think of what would happen if he was able to blend Brian and Kevin together in a mixer. With the same cheekbones as Brian, he had the same facial features as Kevin. Then when he looked at Jerald, he saw a guy who could almost pose for Brian, while Tim looked like Kevin without the infamous bushy brows. The Littrell genes ran strong in that family, always causing Nick to crack inbred jokes around Kevin when he was younger.
“Nick…why don’t you say grace for us this year.”
Nick blinked at Harold Senior’s request. “Me?”
He nodded, beaming at him. “Sure, you’re family, and in all these years we haven’t asked you to do the honors. Would you mind?”
Nick swallowed hard, shaking his head. “No, sure…I mean, I’ll do it.”
How do I do this when I curse out God every other day for the shit he’s putting me through?
They all bowed their heads, leaving Nick with no choice really but to bow his as well and come up with something as he went. Nick took in a deep breath, and hoped he didn’t end up sounding like an idiot.
“Dear Heavenly Father, I…we…thank you for this meal and the blessings you have given us…” He peeked up, trying to stay calm as he continued.
You gave them blessings, but you cursed me. “We pray that you shall continue to bless us. We thank you um…for the fact we can all be together, healthy and safe and sound…um…so thanks Pops.” He raised his head, looking sheepish. He always called God “Pops” ever since he started believing somewhat again. He hadn’t meant to say it out loud though.
“That was good Nick.” Brian grinned at him, suppressing a laugh at the “Pops” mention as well. For a moment, it almost felt like everything was okay. Just for a moment. They all began to eat contently, leaving Nick lost within his pensive state.
Kevin nudged him; Nick ignored him as the food was placed upon the table. He wasn’t going to talk, and now was not the time. Brian nudged him next. Nick pretended that didn’t happen either as he helped himself to plenty of turkey and stuffing. Kevin leaned over to say something; Nick turned his head and ate while trying his damndest to ignore him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kristen and whisper to Kevin. He only caught fragments of it: “leave” and “alone”. He smirked. He always did love Kristen. Brian leaned over to try and talk to him as well before he could even snicker at the Richardson couple.
“Hey. I wasn’t…”
“I’m full. Thanks, dinner was fantastic.”
Nick rose, suddenly not feeling hungry anymore. Besides, he was sure he broke past his carbs limit for the day as it was. He walked outside, taking in the air. Kevin’s footsteps soon followed. He knew they were his, without even turning to look. They just knew each other that well.
“I’m fine. It’s just hard.”
“Who’s Brian?” Nick asked, with the hint of a smirk.
Kevin stared at him, trying to figure out whether he was serious or not. After letting him sweat it out for about a minute, Nick laughed emptily. “Sorry. Bad joke.”
He rolled his eyes at him. “That wasn’t funny.”
Nick shrugged. “Gotta laugh at yourself right? I’m trying. I’m fucking trying to cope alright? It just ain’t working. It ain’t working and Brian’s constantly trying to figure out just what’s wrong with me. When what I need for him most is to just back off and act normal! I don’t want him remembering me acting like an ass. I want him remembering me as his crazy best friend who’s always causing chaos and living life up. He needs that, he needs that before my brain fucking goes.”
A hand rested on his shoulder as the two watched the snow still falling down softly upon them. “What about what you need?”
“Who cares! I won’t remember it anyway! This fucking Alzheimer’s will destroy my brain, it’ll make me forget everything! Who cares what I want! I won’t remember not getting it, so who gives a damn! God…I just…I’ll handle this easier if I can just go out the way I want…and…and…”
Nick trailed off when he turned away from Kevin. There, caught within his vision, and within definite hearing range stood Brian only several feet away. Frozen in shock and disbelief at what he just heard as he stared at them. He stood there, unmoving, no reactions. Nick screamed, kicking a nearby tree. “Perfect, just fucking perfect. You two talk about it. I’m going inside where at least your family can treat me normal.”
He stalked inside, slamming the door behind him.