AJ exchanged glances with Howie. “Well, see it’s like this, Train,” AJ said, frigeting just a little in his seat. “Kind of they told us they were going… this.. . is only a shock to you.” He cringed just a little, waiting for Kevin to blow.
Kevin didn’t. Instead, he stood dumbfounded, staring at AJ. “What?”
“Brian told us all about it,” Howie admitted. “Nick did okay keeping it a secret, but Brian was telling us about it, and… he asked us not to tell you.”
“Why in the fuck wouldn’t they tell me?” Kevin exclaimed loudly, looking exhasparated.
“Maybe ‘cos he knew you’d do this?” AJ asked, waving a hand at Kevin’s tense stance.
Kevin eyed AJ, then turned away and started pacing. “You guys, this could literally kill him, you know? They’re both completely insane for doing this, especially right now. His doctors told him not to do anything crazy for a long time, and he hasn’t slowed down a bit. He’s going to end up worse than he was when he started.”
“Well, technically refusing the treatment made him worse than when he started,” Howie pointed out.
Kevin growled and continued pacing angrily.
“Look, Kev, the bottom line is it’s his life and no matter what you do or say to him, he’s gonna do what he wants to do anyway. You know him, he’s like a friggin’ mule.”
Kevin sighed, “I know. It just seems like every time we almost get this figured out a monkey wrench gets thrown into the works. They’re going to be gone for months,” he said.
AJ shrugged, “Look, we’ve never understood the dynamic between those two… ever. But I say if they’re happy and that’s how he wants to spend the rest of his time – gallivanting across the country as a two-part set, then that’s what he’s gotta do, isn’t it?”
“It’s selfish,” Kevin snapped, “That’s the point I’m making here.”
“My apologies,” AJ replied, voice smooth with sacasm.
Kevin sighed. “They could be almost anywhere by now…”
“Another excellent reason why looking would be stupid,” AJ injected.
“And Kev,” Howie said gently, “Is it more selfish for him to take off with his best friend, or for you not to let him?”
Kevin frowned, but the argument ended there.
The bus was parked outside a gas station in the middle of no where. Brian had been humming a country song – something about a ‘lost stop Texaco’ – since they’d unloaded from the bus. Nick had filled the tank, which had cost him over a hundred bucks, and gone inside to stock up on snacks, and Brian was reading posters that were tacked to a board outside the store. Amanda was on the payphone on the corner of the lot, watching the two Boys as she dialed the number on the calling card.
Nick came out the door carrying a YooHoo and a couple Charleston Chews and spotted Brian. “Hey dude,” he said, ripping open the top of one of the Chews and chomping into it. “Anything interesting?”
“A lot of people sell guns down here,” Brian commented, laughing. It was true, more than half of the ads on the board were for guns. He looked at Nick and grabbed one of the Chews from his hands, ripping it open himself. “Did you call Kev yet?”
“I figure I’ll give him a while to cool down before I call him,” Nick answered, shrugging, “I’d rather not hear the whole ‘you’re being stupid’ tirade just yet.”
Brian nodded, “He is gonna be pretty pissed.”
Nick snorted, “When isn’t he.”
“You two have always had your differences,” mumbled Brian around a mouthful of the Chew, “But you know you love him and that he only acts like an asshole because he loves you, too. He wouldn’t be Kevin if he didn’t irritate the ever-lovin’ crap out of you, you know?”
Nick sighed, “I know, I know…”
Brian smiled and clapped Nick on the back. “When we get back you two will be best buds again, you’ll see.”
Nick nodded. “Hey, where’s Amanda?” he asked as they started walking back to the bus from the storefront.
“Over there, at the phone booth,” Brian answered, pointing. “She said she had to make a phone call.”
“Why the hell didn’t she use the cell phone then?” Nick wondered.
“Hers was out of battery,” Brian supplied.
“Well mine isn’t, she could’ve saved the money,” Nick waved Amanda over as they reached the door of the bus. Brian shrugged. “C’mon ‘Manda!” Nick yelled across the parking lot. He climbed onto the bus and Brian followed. “Girls,” Nick said, exasperated.
“Tell me about it,” Brian said, laughing, “You have yet to attempt to live with one for longer than a couple months. Just wait. They get worse the longer you keep them.”
Nick shook his head, “Thanks for the heads up, bro.”
Amanda hung up the phone quickly and ran back across the lot to the bus, and climbed on board, her hair windblown. “Sorry,” she said. She motioned to the passenger seat, “You can sit up front, Brian, I don’t mind sitting in the extra chair.”
Brian beamed, “Thanks!” he leaped into the front seat and stuck his feet up on the dash. “I always wanted to sit here like this,” he commented.
“Chris too boring for you to stay up front?” Nick joked.
Brian laughed, “No he just wouldn’t let me put my feet up like this on the dash. Well, screw him,” he smirked devilishly.
There’s the Brian Littrell I remember seeing, thought Amanda, or at least getting closer to it.
Nick laughed, “What Chris don’t know won’t hurt him.” He shifted the bus into gear and it lurched forward and crawled onto the desolate desert road, heading further into the dry state of Arizona.
Several hours later, Brian had wandered off to go to sleep again. Amanda had plunked herself back into the passenger seat. They were probably about three quarters of the way there, according to Nick’s GPS system, and the road had looked the same for over two hours: flat, reddish tan, and punctuated only by the occasional road sign or tumbling weed.
Nick reached for the stereo knob and turned on the radio and began flipping through the channels. Talk, talk, static, classical, the first couple notes of Poker Face… He started to flip it yet again, but Amanda’s hand shot forward, “Wait,” she said, “I like this song.”
Nick laughed, “Seriously? Gaga?”
Amanda pouted, “What? She’s whacked.”
Nick smirked. “And I suppose you know the lyrics?” he asked.
“Prove it.” A grin crossed his face. “Bet you can’t sing as long as I do.”
He laughed, but as Lady Gaga began singing, so did he, a big smirk spread across his face. “I wanna hold’em like they do in Texas ace…”
Amanda turned red, “Fold’em let’em hit me, raise it baby stay with me…”
Nick intoned, “I love it…”
Amanda was laughing now, her mouth just barely folding around the words, “Luck and intuition play the cards with Spades to start…” She was looking right at Nick’s face, which was crinkled with humor at this point, “Then after he’s been hooked, I’ll play the one that’s on his heart.”
Nick kept singing, but Amanda had stopped and was just listening, watching his face as he sang.