Nick was having one of his better days. A couple weeks after the incident outside of the karaoke bar, he was getting more daily visits from the fellas. He knew why, and he knew what was coming, but for the moment preferred acting oblivious. He wasn’t ready for the adult care facilities and had been prepared to fight any who wanted to force that on him. However, all of them had agreed on that, surprisingly enough. At the same time, after what had happened with Howie, they were all a bit wary about the idea of Nick continuing to live alone. Without a solution, it felt like a standstill.
His life was on hold, even if it didn’t have anywhere to go these days.
He stepped out on his balcony to take in the view he seldom enjoyed these days. The city looked magnificent before him. He sighed, glancing idly at the easel that was off to the side. It used to be that he would sometimes come out to draw or paint. Nick had always been an artistic soul but it was as if his inspiration was slowly being stolen away from him at the same time as his memories.
“Niiiiiiick…” he could hear Brian’s voice call out after him.
He turned away and said nothing. An apology never did come up between them. It had happened however, unspoken, said with the way Brian checked on him, the way Nick was confiding in him once again. He knew Brian would come out there soon enough. For the moment Nick was enjoying his solitude. He used to hate being alone so much. It once annoyed everyone around him to no end. Now he found himself craving it. Because with everyone around, he felt pressured to act “normal”. He could feel their eyes constantly on him. He never felt like himself anymore unless he was alone.
“Hey, there you are.”
Nick nodded. “Here I am.”
He kept his back to his friend, feeling unsociable even in the best of intentions.
“I feel so wanted.”
“It’s not that you’re not…”
Brian walked up beside him, leaning forwards upon the railing. He looked over at Nick. Nick took a good look at his best friend for the first time in a long while. While Brian was now forty-one, it used to be that he never looked his age really, with the exception of his thinning hair. Now Nick could see the lines creeping in his face, the weathered look within his normally jovial blue eyes. There were even the hints of grey along the hairline. That caused his brows to rise just slightly. Brian was always just as fearful as him about going grey and kept it dyed regularly as a result. It was like he had tripped and fallen straight out of his prime and into the beginnings of old age. Age was catching up on all of them.
Is this my fault?
“No really, I want you here. Everything’s just…”
He nodded. “Right. So when I’m alone, it gets easy again.”
Brian nodded, and silence fell between them once again. He reached over for the radio sitting on the small little table next to the chair on the balcony. He turned it on, listening for a moment and smiling. Music still and always would have an effect on him. It always touched him down to the core in ways he’d never be able to explain to those who didn’t already understand.
“You shouldn’t be alone so much though Nick. You hate being alone, you always did.”
“I know, I just don’t want you guys always worrying about me.”
“Why not, we did before this, we just hid it better.”
Nick smirked. “Funny.”
Nick kept his line of vision directed at the horizon. Looking at Brian hurt more than he cared to admit. Birds could be heard twittering, their forms dark in the setting sun. His hands gripped the railing on the balcony. Everything felt so awkward. And this was with the one person who knew him better than anyone. He hated this. Hated the way this disease was destroying his life, destroying himself, destroying his friendships. He hated the way he didn’t know what to say or do anymore. Everything felt like such an act.
“I’m sorry I’m not fun to be around.”
“Eh, just reminds me of your teen years, you were moodier than any girl I came across.”
Nick laughed. “I was not.”
“You were too.”
“I was not.” He whined.
“See, you still are.”
Nick sighed, as the laughter between them began to die down. He brushed off his pants idly. “So why are you here Bri? I mean really.”
“To see what you were doing for Halloween.”
The holiday was tomorrow, and had always been Nick’s favorite day of the year. This was the first time in he didn’t even know how long that he actually had nothing planned. The thought saddened him. It was just another sign of how much had changed in his life. He had chosen to just pretend it was another day. What could he do? He felt trapped by his own mind. It stung that Brian had brought it up when all he wanted was to forget it.
“Nothing, and that’s not why you came, and you know it.”
Brian held up his hands in mock innocence. “No, really, it is. And wait…really? Nothing?”
“So let’s go sailing tomorrow, just the five of us.”
Nick blinked. “Sailing?”
“Yeah, you know that thing with a boat that you love to do.”
“You guys planned this.”
A mischievous gleam appeared in Brian’s eyes. “Maybe.”
“We just don’t think it’s healthy for you to shut everything and everyone out like this.”
“Does it matter anymore?”
“Yes, it does. Don’t make me go get Kevin.”
“Alright fine, we can meet up tomorrow morning and take my boat out.”
“Good, Kevin says he wants us all here at eight o’ clock.”
“Fine…wait, you guys planned all this through already?”
Brian grinned, wrapping his arm around Nick. His head instinctively lay upon the shorter man’s shoulder. How many times had they been like this over the years? It was second nature for him. It went all the way back to the days when he was actually shorter than Brian. Nick smiled at the memories.
“Of course. We knew you wouldn’t say no. Nickolas Gene Carter…saying no to sailing? Never gonna happen.”
He heard himself laughing despite himself, enjoying the moment. “Y’all suck.”
“I’m on a boat!”
“I’m on a boat!”
“Everybody look at me!”
“Cause I’m sailing on a boat!”
“I’m on a boat!”
“I’m on a boat!”
“Take a good hard look…”
“At the motherfucking boat!”
Kevin shook his head at Nick and AJ as he walked past; carrying the food he was preparing them for lunch. Nick just laughed. AJ grinned as the two walked along the deck, rubbing his shiny, bald head. The sun was high in the sky that day, the water gleaming in the light. It was a perfect day for sailing, and Nick was once again awed by the beauty of the ocean. Somehow it never got old for him.
I ain’t telling them cause Kev’ll never let me live it down, but this was a good idea.
“You’d think he’d be used to us by now.”
A chuckle escaped as Nick went to the side of the boat, looking down into the water. He wondered if he would still love the ocean once his memories were gone from him completely. Would he still love music? Would he still want to draw? Or would all the things he loved fade away with the memories of the people he loved?
Brian had asked him earlier that day to move into his place out there in Los Angeles. Nick had known then this whole outing had been a setup for that. The logic made sense. Nick wasn’t ready for a facility and they all knew it. At the same time, even Nick wasn’t that comfortable living alone these days. Too much could happen. The idea of that scared him. Not that he would ever admit it. He hadn’t wanted to burden any of the fellas, and kept it to himself. But they had known, as they always had.
If he knew them at all, he guessed they’d had a meeting to figure it out.
Brian was the most logical choice as well. Baylee was old enough to understand what was happening, as most of the other kids weren’t. Brian and Leighanne had decided together not to move back to Atlanta given the circumstances. His heart had swelled at how much they were giving up because of him. It just stung to know that once he moved out of his condo, he’d never live alone in his own personal place ever again.
The thought was a sobering one.
“Nick? You still here on planet earth man?”
A grin. “Nah, I took off on my rocket.”
AJ smirked, singing. “I think I’ll put my spacesuit on…”
Nick laughed, walking along the deck once again. Howie and Brian were debating about something off on the other side. As to what it was, Nick couldn’t say. He was just enjoying the moment with his friends. No work and no pressure. Truthfully, there was a part of it that felt freeing. He glanced back at AJ who had picked up some fishing rods.
“Dude, let’s go fishing.”
“After the last time you tried to fish?”
“Hey man that didn’t turn out too bad.”
He snorted. “Dude you lost your swim trunks, got pulled into the water, and was dragged out till you finally had the sense to let go.”
“I don’t think Kevin’ll wanna rescue you again.” He concluded with a snicker. Both men laughed, thinking fondly of their memories and escapades as a group. AJ turned towards him with a small smile.
“Can you believe our last group album comes out next month?”
Nick sighed as his shoulders slumped. It was true. The final “new” Backstreet Boys album, aptly titled End Of The Road, was out on November fifteenth. He hadn’t thought about it in awhile, probably because they had wisely decided as a group to have minimal promotion and no live interviews. “The end of an era. This wasn’t how I saw it coming.”
He saw the worried look appear in AJ’s face. The same look that appeared in all their faces anytime they noticed Nick get down when realization would hit him. That they were coming towards the end. He forced a smile. One he knew AJ would buy better than Brian or Kevin ever would. AJ always wanted to believe the best of people, especially those close to him. It was an endearing quality and one that made it easier for Nick to try and keep up appearances.
“Dude that’s not what I meant, think about it. They said when we started we wouldn’t make it past our first album. We have ten albums to our name, not counting the Chapter One or Chapter Two CDs, solo records, or even that unreleased anthology we did for our twentieth anniversary. We lasted for twenty three years.”
Nick beamed. When it was put that way, it did sound like something. They had accomplished so much, overcome so many obstacles. For the first time since his diagnosis, Nick actually felt blessed with the life he had been given. Amidst all the family issues, the drama, he’d been given his dream career. He accomplished so many things that people only dreamed of.
“Wow man, you’re right.”
“Of course I am.”
He knew it would soon be taken from him. For so much of the past year and a half, Nick had felt robbed. But now, Nick felt grateful. He could’ve had none of this during his life. He could have never met Brian, Howie, Kevin, or AJ. His attempts at a viable singing career could’ve been crushed as a child. They could’ve broken up years ago. Yet, none of that happened. Instead they had risen to the heights of fame. Nick knew then, that he had been lucky ever to have it to begin with.
“Hey, you’re spacing out again blondie! Kevin says lunch is ready…” AJ’s voice lowered. “He’s giving you the dirty brow man.”
“Alright old man!” Nick called out cheekily. “I’m coming!”