When they got home, they were greeted by Howie’s parents who were curious to know how the day’s activities went. “You must have had a great time since you were gone so long,” Momma D had said making note of the time. It was almost 10 by the time they walked in the door with their Taco Bell bags in hand.
“Yeah, it was a ton of fun.” Howie said with a brimming smile. Leaving out the whole losing Nick and thinking he was almost kidnapped by a pedophile part.
“Well, I’ll leave you boys to do whatever it is you’re going to do.” She then walked over to Nick, who still had his headphones on and gently kissed him on the cheek, tousling his hair gently as she walked away. Nick looked after her and smiled, with a deep sadness in his eyes. The look did not go unnoticed by either of his friends before he once again put his head down and tuned everyone else out.
Howie winked at his mother as she left and then turned his attention to the bag of food sitting on the counter. Both he and Kevin devoured their tacos in no time flat, but Nick declined to eat anything, instead just chose to sit there with headphones on and stare down at the table.
Kevin was a mixture of annoyed, frustrated but most of all exhausted. He felt like he hadn’t slept in weeks and aged about ten years in a matter of a few hours. “I think I’m actually going to head up to bed.”
Howie laughed. “Wow, we are getting old aren’t we?”
Kevin nodded, “If this keeps up I’m going to have gray hair by the end of our little vacation.” He looked over at Nick who wasn’t giving him the time of day. Nice to see that all the progress he thought he had made had gone right out the window.
“Good night!” He said despite being completely ignored by the younger one.
“Have a good one!” Howie said, “I have a feeling I’ll be heading up soon myself.”
Even though Kevin was completely wiped out, he couldn’t manage to fall asleep. Too many thoughts were running through his mind, mostly about his own family. Nick’s little episode brought memories of his own childhood back. Thoughts wandered to his mother. How if things hadn’t turned out differently he most likely would have been sitting across the kitchen table from her, cup of hot tea in hand and talking about everything under the sun. That was their routine when he made his way home. No matter what the two of them had going on during the day, sometimes both so busy they hardly had any time to see each other, right before bed he would meet his mother at the kitchen table for a date.
This wasn’t something new though, they had done that long before Kevin left to become a Backstreet Boy. It was Anne’s way of connecting with her youngest and making him feel like no matter what, the two of them would always have their one on one time. Kevin was sure she had done the same with Tim and Jerald too, but that didn’t matter. As far as he was concerned it would always be just their thing.
He wondered if it was too late to give her a call. She most likely would be up but he was too afraid he’d wake up her friend in the process. Maybe he’d give her a call tomorrow morning. He’d try to wake up early and talk to her before the rest of the house woke up.
Of course he also couldn’t help thinking about his brothers as well. He had always been really close to Tim. They shared a room for most of Kevin’s life, until Jerald moved out of the house. Even after Tim took over their oldest brother’s room, Kevin would find himself sneaking into it late and night and sometimes even sleep on the floor, making sure to wake up and move back to his own room before Tim even noticed. It’s not like he was really young either, but still he did not like being alone. He didn’t feel too bad about it because when he would sneak downstairs to grab a snack after leaving Tim’s room, he’d find Jerald asleep on the couch in the living room. As a matter of fact, Jerald had been staying over at the house at the time of the bullying incident and used that as an excuse to extend his stay.
Seems like none of the Richardson men enjoyed change.
The bedroom door opening sucked Kevin back into the here and now. He was hoping Nick would be over his little mood by tomorrow. He was going to try to talk to him tonight, maybe apologize for being such a jerk and he really did feel like that. But, to his surprise, it was Howie who strolled into the room and made his way over to the other bed.
“D, What are you doing in here?”
“You’re still awake?”
“Yeah, I couldn’t fall asleep. Where’s Nick?”
“He asked if he could sleep on my floor.”
“Yeah…he said…and I quote…I don’t feel like possibly getting attacked in the middle of the night if I accidently wake Kevin up and have to pee or something.”
“Anyway, I told him he could just take my bed and I’d sleep in here with you.”
“Wow, and he said yes? The kid hates being all alone.”
“I know…that says a lot, doesn’t it?”
“I really screwed things up with him, didn’t I, D?”
“The shaking was a bit much. Did you ever apologize to him for that?”
Kevin let out a sigh, “Not yet. I was hoping I’d get a chance to before we went to sleep.”
“Why did you do that to him?” Howie asked as he removed the comforter off the bed and laid himself down. “You were kind of scary.”
“I wish I knew. I don’t know what came over me. I feel terrible about it.”
Kevin wasn’t expecting that response, “Pardon?”
“You should feel bad about it. The kid just told you his father abused him and then you shook the hell out of him. I’m just saying, you should feel horrible, in fact I have no idea why you are in here talking to me. You should be telling him you’re sorry for being an asshole.” Howie sounded legitimately angry. Something Kevin wasn’t really used to seeing.
“I didn’t do it on purpose, D. I did it because he scared the hell out of me.”
“I know that, but he doesn’t.”
Kevin sat up in his bed and let out another aggravated sigh. He found himself regretting wanting this little vacation so badly. It had turned out being more stressful than it would have, had he just continued working nonstop.
“He probably won’t even listen to me. He’ll give me attitude, do his rolling eye thing and act…”
“Like a teenager? I know but when you leave that room he’ll realize you care about him. He needs to realize that people care about him, Kevin.” Howie faced his friend, “For as long as I’ve known him, and it’s been awhile now, he’s been a lost puppy. That’s what he reminds me of. A puppy that follows everyone around, wagging his tail and all he wants is for you to stop, turn around and pet him.”
“Wow… that was pretty deep.”
“Thank, I try.” Howie winked, “I think that’s why it takes him so long to get under my skin. I can see past all the obnoxious behavior. I see that little, innocent puppy. No one wants to smack a puppy in the face, right?”
Kevin laughed, “Is that how you restrain yourself?”
Howie nodded, “Most of the time.”
Kevin stood up to leave, “Okay fine…time to pet the puppy.”
“You know…” Howie said just as Kevin opened the door to leave. “I’m not sure you realize this, but he completely looks up to you.”
“No he doesn’t.”
Howie nodded, “He certainly does. He watches everything you do with a look of wonder on his face. He tries to be you. It’s annoying.”
“Now I know you’re full of shit.”
“Don’t believe me; ask Brian or Johnny or even AJ! It’s true; everyone can see it but you. You’re his role model…so start acting like one.”
With those words ringing in his ears, he made his way down the hall and into Howie’s room.
Kevin slowly opened the door to Howie’s room and walked over to the bed, just as the blonde put his head up from under the covers. “Did you forget something Howie?” His voice was raspy and he sounded half asleep.
For the briefest of moments, Kevin actually contemplated just backing out of the room and making his way back into his own, lying to Howie and telling him Nick was asleep and he would just talk to him in the morning but instead, he put the small night light on, “Actually it’s me. Do you mind if we talk for a second?”
Nick squinted with the addition of the light, but even then he managed to roll his eyes. “Oh, it’s you, fabulous!” He turned his body away from Kevin to face the wall.
“Nick…” Kevin decided to sit down on the ground facing his friend’s back. “Can you please turn around?”
He let out one of his trademark annoyed sighs and turned around to face Kevin, “What do you want?”
“I just wanted to say how sorry I am for the way I treated you before. I had no right to shake you like that, especially after you told me about your dad.”
“Forget about what I said. I was just angry and made it all up.”
The words cut through Kevin sharper than any insult he was expecting to hear from the teenager. The abject sudden denial of what was probably the deepest darkest secret he had ever confided to anyone. Nick no longer trusted him and it completely broke his heart.
“I’m not going to forget what you told me, Nick. You weren’t lying and I meant what I said last night. You can talk to me about anything.”
Nick just laid there not saying anything but he clearly looked emotional. So, Kevin continued “I was just worried about you and then when I saw you sitting there like nothing had happened, I lost it.”
“Nothing did happen.”
“I know that now and it’s not even your fault…I wish I could explain it better.”
“Me too… because you’re doing a pretty sucky job.”
Kevin let out a small laugh, “Sorry…it’s just that I never…well…” Once again he was stopping himself from opening up to the kid. Telling him how he was really feeling. “Did I ever tell you about my brother Jerald?”
Nick seemed confused about the weird transition but he went with it, “A little, I mean I’ve met him a few times.”
“We aren’t very close. He’s a lot older than I am and we really never had very much in common.”
“Like you and me?”
“Yeah…like you and me.” He shifted his position on the floor stretching his legs out a little more since he started to feel the pinpricks of sleep hitting them. “Anyway…when I was about your age, I kind of got beaten up.”
“Holy shit, really?” The way Nick said this, made Kevin think back to what Howie said about being looked up to. The look on Nick’s face was one of pure disbelief which made the storyteller feel pretty good as he continued, “Yeah…he was older and bigger than me.”
“Did Jerald beat the shit out of him?”
“No, actually it was the other way around. Jerald tried to beat the shit out of me.”
“My guess is the same reason I shook you the way I did.”
“Oh, because he’s a shit head?”
Kevin let out a small laugh and shook his head, “Because he cared.”
“Oh…” Nick suddenly looked unimpressed.
“Let me ask you a question…if Aaron had gone missing today what would you have done?”
“Aaron’s only eight. I wouldn’t have left him alone.”
“Let’s say for argument’s sake, he was your age and you were my age…if he went missing and you found out he walked off with an older guy, what would you do?”
“I’d worry but I wouldn’t have attacked him if I found him safe.”
“What would you have done? To let him know you love him and were glad he was back?”
“I would have given him a hug.”
Kevin stood up, walked over to the bed and before Nick knew what was happening, the older one pulled Nick up into a huge embrace. “Jesus, what are you doing?” Nick said as he giggled.
“I’m hugging you.”
“Yeah...I figured that out…”
Kevin held onto him tight and strong. “I’m sorry I shook you. I was just mad you made me worry.” He realized in that moment, this should have been what he had done the second he saw his young friend was safe.
“Kev…you’re really hugging tight…if this keeps up I might have to yell stranger danger or something.”
Kevin let go but held firm to Nick’s shoulders much like he had as he shook him earlier in the day. “Nick, anything I do to you, whether it’s a lecture or scream or shake or anything, I do out of love. I want you to know that because I don’t think you do, but today when we thought something horrible had happened to you…I just needed you to know that, okay?”
Kevin could tell Nick was trying to act annoyed but he saw beyond the eye rolls. He saw understanding and the smallest glint of happiness shine through and relief, he was pretty sure he sensed a great feeling of relief.
“Okay.” Nick finally answered, “I guess.” He had to add as indicted in the teenager’s guide to ambivalence.
Kevin nodded and then pet the top of Nick’s head, very symbolic given Howie’s puppy analogy. “Good.” He stood up to leave, “Having said that, we still need to talk about Don, but that can wait until tomorrow.”
“Great…” was the more than expected reply.
Kevin turned, “Yeah?”
“What happened with your brother? Did he give you a hug like that?”
“No, I wish he did though.”
“I would have…”
Kevin smiled at the teenager, “I know you would’ve. Night, Nick.”
With that being said he walked out the door, nodding and smiling.