Happiness and love
-AJ McLean 'Have It All'
“It's fucking early.”
“Shut up, Nick.” I rolled my eyes. The two of us were the first ones at the studio. Well, aside from some crew and a couple of managers. The first ones of the group.
Which was never the case. I don't think Nick's ever been the first person to show up somewhere in his entire life.
“I mean it,” he said, stuffing half of a muffin into his face. “It's fucking early.”
“Maybe if you would have slept in more yesterday, you wouldn't be so tired.”
“Oh right,” Nick said, rolling his eyes. He licked his fingers and grabbed another muffin off of the table. “It doesn't work like that, Kevin. Can't just sleep in and then when I'm tired say 'oh well better use some of that sleep I got when I slept in the other day! That isn't-”
He stopped when he realised I wasn't listening to him. Which was actually unlike him, but I think that once he saw the reason why he didn't care to argue about sleep anymore.
AJ had just walked in.
Sarah was at his side, holding his arm and looking at him lovingly. She was so much taller than him – it was still weird to get used to. I'd really only met her a couple of times before that.
“Hey fellas,” AJ said, walking over to us with an easy smile on his face. He hugged me first, and then he moved onto Nick.
“How's it going, J?” Nick asked, his face full of muffin again. Sometimes I think he does stuff like that on purpose. Actually, I know he does stuff like that on purpose.
He grinned. It was so good to see him like this – back in our regular environment and looking happy and excited to be there.
I might have teared up a little.
“Great,” he said, wrapping his arm back around Sarah. “Just great. I brought Sarah here to chill out during the first part of the rehearsal. I hope that's okay.”
I nodded. “That's fine.”
“So where're the other guys?” he glanced around, but of course neither Brian or Howie were around. “Gotta give Howie birthday beats.”
Nick's eye widened. He must have forgotten that today was Howie's birthday.
I shrugged. “They'll be along. Soon, I hope. Brian's staying at Howie's place actually.”
AJ furrowed his eyebrows. “Is he a masochist?”
I had to stifle a laugh. Nick didn't though. “Leighanne's not with him.”
“Huh,” AJ said, clearly thinking that was strange as he was brought up to speed. “Oh hey, speak of the devil!” he laughed as Brian and Howie walked into the studio.
I felt better as soon as I saw AJ standing there with Nick and Kevin. Not because I'd felt bad on the way to the studio, but I just felt better as soon as I saw him.
It was like everything was right with the world again.
“Hey man,” I said, walking over to AJ and hugging him tightly.
“Happy birthday, D,” he grinned, pulling away and turning to hug Brian. I wondered if he actually remembered on his own that it was my birthday or if one of them had told him. My money was on Nick because he never missed a chance to pull a prank.
“Thanks,” I said, unable to hide the happiness on my face. “Glad to have you back.”
“Glad to be back,” he stressed, giving me a bit of a look. “I can't wait to get back on stage and back out on the road. Oh, D, you've met Sarah before, right?” he asked, nodding his head towards here and completely changing the subject.
“Yeah,” I nodded, but I shook her hand all the same. “Hi.”
“Hi,” she replied, giving me a smile. I wondered what all of this must have been like for her – she and AJ hadn't been dating very long before he'd gone into rehab. Maybe a couple of months. It was a strange time for her to come into his life, but probably a good one. AJ needed all of the support he could get and she seemed different than the other girls he'd dated.
“Well, should we get to it?” Nick asked, interrupting our small talk. Since when was he so eager to get to work?
“What, you got some elaborate prank planned for when we're rehearsing?” I asked with a laugh.
He looked mock-offended, clapping a hand onto his chest. “No Howie, I can't believe you would think that! I just think we need to get moving before you get any older!” he laughed, slapping me on the back as he walked out onto the floor.
I shook my head, but I figured he was right. There was no use procrastinating. Our tour wasn't going to run on Backstreet time.
Not anymore, at least.
Turns out that when you do a show approximately ten thousand times, the choreography sticks itself in your brain. Aside from a couple of hiccups, all of us still knew it pretty well. Even AJ, whose mind had been in another place for god knows how long still hit every move like he'd just performed the show yesterday.
Rehearsing the call was particularly entertaining. We watched AJ run through his little bit on stage where he “answered his phone” and then we just launched into it.
It wasn't like I hadn't seen him do it before. Of course I had – and I had in a dance studio during rehearsals as well.
But the last time he'd done it, he'd run through it so quickly and really hadn't seemed like he'd cared.
This time, he was all smiles as he overacted his part. “I'm sorry, I really can't talk right now,” he said with wide eyes, gesturing at his phone to all of us, who were cracking up. Even Kevin, who had fought to remove that part from the show, seemed to be enjoying it.
“I'm doing a show right now,” he sighed, dramatically, placing a hand on his hips. “Okay well, GOTTA GO!”
We laughed, walking over to him and getting into our formation for the dance as the track started to play.
“Let me tell you the story about the call that changed my destiny,” AJ sang, belting out the words to this song that I'd never liked as the rest of us danced behind him. He held his hands to his chest and sang every word with a power in his voice that I hadn't heard in a long time.
“Me and my boys went out, just to end up in misery,” this was the last song of the show, and every dance step still came to me without a second thought. It wasn't even work anymore – it was second nature. The part that felt like work was getting up every day and going to a different city. Doing interviews and trying to act normal. Trying not to wish I could take a little break and spend some time with my wife.
Not like I hadn't already done that, but she hadn't been with me for the past four days and it was starting to get to me.
“Was about to go home when there she was standing in front of me. She said hi,” he laughed, stopped and waving out into the crowd just like he always did. “I got a little place nearby, wanna go?”
Going through the routine of it all was easy. Actually feeling like my heart was in it? Well, that was a different story. But this was just the dance studio and a rehearsal. Maybe I'd feel differently once I was actually back out on stage.
After we were finished rehearsals for the day the guys (Kevin and AJ) had decided that we should go out to celebrate.
Which was how the five of us ended up sitting in a corner table at Koi. Since we were all back together and it was Howie's birthday it seemed like we should have.
The waitress came by to offer us drinks. The rest of the guys ordered pretty tame things – coke, water, iced tea. I fumbled around with the drink menu, just like I always did whenever I was at a restaurant. Not like I ever ordered anything off of there – my drink of choice was always the same.
“Yeah,” I said when she finally got to me. “I'll have a cor-”
Kevin kicked me underneath the table. What the fuck? I glared at him and he nodded his head slightly towards AJ. Okay Kevin, not like everyone else at the table can't see what you're doing. There's five of us sitting here, not five hundred.
But I got the hint. I wasn't stupid. “Coke,” I finished lamely, knowing he didn't want me to order any kind of alcohol around AJ. Whatever – after this I'd ditch them and go out and make my own fun. “Coke, yeah,” I repeated, handing the waitress the drink menu and flashing Kevin a grin.
He gave me a look for a second but didn't say anything. Probably didn't want to piss of AJ. Thank god, because I was sick of his fatherly advice. Not that he'd given me advice in a while, but his fatherly presence was enough and I needed a night out before we went back on the road and he was watching me like a hawk.
“Happy birthday, Howie!” I exclaimed, trying to change the subject from Kevin's angry face. “How's it feel to be over the hill?”
He raised his eyebrow and then shook his head. “Well for starters I'm only twenty-eight, so I'd hardly call that over the hill.”
“Pffft,” I laughed, waving my hand in his face.
“But it feels great,” he smiled. “I couldn't imagine a better birthday.”
Aw come on, Howie! Leave it to him to get all sentimental over nothing.
The other guys “awwwed” of course and Brian even leaned over to hug him. I just raised my eyebrows and nodded a bit. I guess it was nice for the five of us to be back together, but it wasn't the same as before. I felt like we were all walking on eggshells around AJ. Which was sort of weird because we were like that before, where anything we said could have set him off. But now it was different. Like with the not being able to order beer – the stuff we were all touchy about was different, but we were still touchy about stuff so it wasn't the same. It wasn't like we were totally comfortable with each other anymore.
I didn't have time to wonder ever would be again because the waitress showed up with our drinks.
And AJ picked his up. “I just want to say,” he said, holding his water glass high in the air. “That you guys are my brothers, and I can't thank you enough for the support over the past few weeks.”
Damn AJ. And few weeks? It felt like a lifetime.
“So I just want to propose a toast,” he nodded, and I think he was actually choking up. Really AJ? I couldn't decide if this was hilarious or if everyone else felt the same way.
I snuck a glance at Kevin. Tearing up. Well, that's not surprising. But Howie and Brian were watching him seriously too. So I guess everyone felt the same way as him.
I mean I was proud of AJ, but couldn't the five of us just go back to having fun instead of being super serious all the fucking time?
“To us, the strongest fucking group on the planet.”
But we all just went along with it, clinking our glasses together like what he said was actually true. Maybe it was, and I was the only one who didn't feel that way. Maybe I'd feel different once we were back on the road, but probably not because when we were on tour was when they started to piss me off the most. Especially towards the end.
“And to Howie!” I laughed. “Cause it's his birthday. Happy birthday old man!” I grinned, trying to lighten the mood a little bit.
He laughed. “Thanks, Nicky.”
“To us,” AJ repeated. “And Howie.”
“And AJ,” Brian added, glancing around at all of us. “Welcome back, bro.”
“And AJ,” the rest of us affirmed, and I nodded my head. Yeah, that one was legit. I could deal with a toast to AJ. He looked a lot better, and I suppose that made this break from hell worth it.