If we can fight together, we must strive together
If we can play together, we must pray together
If we can plan together, we must stand together
If we can cry together, we must try together
From “When If Meets Must” by James Weldon Lane
~ 15 ~
Kevin sat swaddled in the cover of two of the blankets Nick’s captor had brought to them. He decided to take off his clothes, except for his underwear and get himself as dry as possible. The others were also wrapped in blankets gathered around their campfire which was nothing more than their three flashlights piled in the center of the floor.
He had been trying to force himself to sleep for the last hour but whenever he closed his eyes the image of Nick standing in front of him, looking terrified with his rope burnt wrists and pale, bloody face jolted him back to a state of uncomfortable wakefulness. Neither of his band mates were having much better luck. They all just laid there in silence, wanting to say so much but yet not being able to find the proper words to accurately verbalize their feelings.
He would never forgive himself for letting Nick just leave like that. Especially if something were to happen. The what if’s started to plague his mind. What if he had taken one of those rocks he had used to get himself into the van and aimed it at the head of the maniac and then Brian and AJ could have tackled him. What if he had forced Nick to stay inside the van no matter what the cost, banking on the guy not really being capable of killing anyone? What if he did let Brian and AJ go up that hill right after Nick left, if nothing else just to get a better look at the car they had used. What if he had never made them go on this trip together in the first place?
“You don’t think he is doing anything to Nick, do you?” AJ finally knocked Kevin out of his self-doubting waking nightmare.
AJ looked down at the ground, “You know…”
“Jesus AJ, please stop.” Brian urged.
“And we have no idea if Howie is even alive…”
“AJ, I said shut up, please!”
After Nick left, it took a little while for them to calm down. AJ had to physically restrain Brian from gong up to the road and trying to get help, at the urging of Kevin who insisted he not leave. There were names shouted and things said that they would later regret, but in the end, they all realized waiting was for the best, no matter how hard it would be.
They reluctantly broke open the junk food and water, and after doing that, all three did feel a little bit better, physically at least. They also had taken advantage of the aspirin in the bag and there was even a few ace bandages which Kevin decided to wrap around his ankle, trying to relieve the pressure anyway he could. Both the aspirin and the wrap seemed to be working a little bit. Maybe after a good night’s rest he would even be able to make it up that hill and try to get help without having to just sit back and rely on his two brothers to do it for him.
After letting Nick go, the last thing he wanted to do was send two more of them off by themselves. It was his job to take care of them, even though they were pretty much old enough to look after themselves. He still felt obligated to make sure they were all okay.
“I’ve never felt more helpless in my entire life.” Brian confessed taking a swig of water and placing it by his side. “The look on Nick’s face when he told us to go; he didn’t want us to go anywhere, he wanted me to help him but I just turned around and left.”
“You had a gun aimed at you, you both did.”
“You had to see him, Kev. He was on the ground. The guy was practically dragging him.”
“I know, you keep telling me that AJ, it’s not really helping.”
“Do you think they’re looking for us yet?”
Kevin wanted a magic button to shut AJ off. He couldn’t even imagine what it was like for Brian to be stuck listening to AJ’s laments for as long as he had to. But he also realized that’s just how AJ was. He was scared and this is what he did when he was scared, so as much as he wanted to smack his younger brother, instead he tried to answer his questions as patiently as he could.
“I would think that by now they know something is wrong and hopefully they are out searching.”
“They would have no idea to look here though. We didn’t take the same route as the busses.”
“AJ, if they don’t find us someone will. Once the sun comes up, we’ll go up top and get help and then this entire nightmare will be over.”
“But, not for Nick and Howie?”
“Oh God, please stop AJ!” Brian yelled this time, his patience all but gone. “Can’t you see you’re just making it worse?”
AJ was near tears now, “I’m sorry, but I can’t help it! What if he fucking kills them? What if he killed Howie already?”
Kevin closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then looking over at AJ, he placed a hand on his blanket covered leg, “AJ, we just have to think that they are both okay. We need to stay positive for them. Remember what I said before, if he wanted to kill Nick he wouldn’t have let him bring us this stuff.” Even though he was having a hard time believing it himself, he tried to smile at his friend and tightened the grip on his leg, “Have faith, okay?”
AJ just nodded, “I’ll try.”
“Thanks!” He let go of AJ’s leg and once again put his head back and closed his eyes.
The truth was, the more he thought about it and played the scenario in his mind, the worse it was getting. Another whole batch of what if’s cropped up. What if he had meant to kill the three of them but Nick said if you help my friends you can kill me instead? What if the guy had already killed Howie and Nick was going to be next but he had intended for the three of them to rescue him instead of believe what he was saying? What if he misread his baby brother? How could he let the same kid who was scared to go to the bathroom by himself, leave with a lunatic? Someone who would tie him up so tight he would have those kinds of rope burns and barely be able to stand on his own two feet without falling over? How could he possibly convince the others Nick would be safe after they all witnessed what the guy was capable of? How readily he had taken out that rifle and how ready he was to shoot his cousin and AJ just for following him outside?
His eyes opened again and he sat up straight, yup sleep for Kevin wasn’t going to happen tonight, not as long as he knew Nick and Howie weren’t safe.
“At least they have each other.” Kevin looked over at AJ as he put a Triscuit in his mouth, “Nick and Howie, at least they are together, just like we are.”
“Do you remember the time we all went to that festival, it had to be years ago.”
“You’re going to have to be a little more specific, Brian.” Kevin glanced over at his cousin who had pushed his blanket aside and was shaking his leg nervously, the same habit Nick had. It was almost as if he was channeling him.
“It was some kind of cheese festival. We had to sing three songs.”
“Wow that was a really long time ago! I remember that, they had all these famous people’s heads carved out of cheese! That was awesome.” AJ answered.
“It had to be back in 93 or maybe 94, anyway, remember Nick convinced Howie to go on a roller coaster with him?”
Kevin nodded and smiled at the memory. “It was his first time.”
“Yeah, he was always afraid to ride those things, but Nick bugged him about it so much he said yes to just shut him up. How bad can it be? Do you remember him saying that?” Brian half laughed as he recalled the story, “D’s all like…oh okay this is no big deal…this will be fun! Until we started going down and then the words coming out of his mouth,” He was full on laughing now and as much as he didn’t want to, Kevin found himself laughing too. “I never knew half those words until I heard them being yelled by Howie! I think I even had to ask you what some of those meant, Kevin. Do you remember that?”
“I do…and all Nick did was giggle the entire time as he sat next to him. Only Nick could get Howie to do stuff like that.”
“Yeah, seriously he also got Howie to try pop rocks and coke, remember?”
Once again Kevin nodded at his cousin. “He also convinced Howie to dump his head in a vat of ice.”
“He got us all to do that one!”
There were a few minutes of silence before Brian spoke once again.
“Do you remember when Nick tried to Nair your eye brows?”
Kevin grunted at the memory but once again smiled, “That kid…”
“He did it out of love, Kevin.”
“Yeah, well he really loved me a lot when he was little then.”
“Yeah, Kevin…he really did.”
Kevin looked over at Brian who stared back sincerely and nodded, “He really did love you, he just liked getting under your skin.”
“I know.” And he did. He was well aware that deep down inside, the youngest member of the band yearned for the attention the oldest one gave him, whether it be bad or good. He wasn’t used to being cared for or about. That was pretty clear to Kevin when they first met. Brian who was a little more naïve, was often surprised by the things that Nick would tell them concerning his parents and his upbringing, but Kevin was never all that surprised by any of it. He could tell that Nick just craved love and attention. Still craves it.
AJ who had been quiet during the entire exchange finally spoke up. “I don’t see how what you guys are doing is any better than what I was doing.”
“What do mean?”
“You’re talking about Howie and Nick as if they are already dead. I feel like I’m at their fucking memorial service.”
Brian’s smile quickly faded from his face because he realized that AJ was right. “I’m sorry; I don’t know what else to do. It’s driving me crazy, you know?”
“We all know, Brian.” Kevin nodded and smiled at his cousin who looked down at the ground and sighed.
“You know, if we learned one thing from young Nickolas, is that he could be very persuasive.”
“Meaning?” AJ asked.
“Well, we already know he convinced this guy to help us out, maybe he actually did the same for Howie too? What if the reason Howie wasn’t with him was because Nick convinced him to let him go? Of what if right now he’s trying to convince the guy that maybe he should just turn himself in? He’s got a way of wrapping people around his finger, right? I can see him easily being able to do that with this guy too.”
“Yeah…maybe.” AJ actually smiled for a brief second, which meant progress.
For once, the what if’s had turned positive and none of those were completely irrational thoughts either. He could very well see Nick talking himself out of the situation he was in. If any of them could, it would be him.
Brian nodded, “Nick is…” his thought was interrupted by the sudden sound of howling, very close. “uh…guys?”
Kevin sat up and turned to face the window. It was really dark outside but he could hear them coming. “I think they’re in the clearing.”
“What are we going to do? They can get in through the windshield now!” AJ said in a panicked voice.
Brian bent over and grabbed one of the flashlights and headed for the opening, “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” AJ said placing his hand on Brian’s arm to stop him.
“We need to see how close they are. Relax I’m not going to go way out, just enough to be able to see.”
“Be careful!” Kevin warned as he watched his cousin climb through the window, AJ ready to follow him out if he needed help.
He came running back in within a few moments, “They are in the clearing now, just by the tree line. I think I made out at least six of them.” One howled and then the others answered. “They’re probably hungry.”
“And we’re the prey.” Kevin let out a deep breath as a whole new batch of what ifs entered his mind, none of them having to do with Howie or Nick.