When Kevin walked in the room, he was greeted with a symphony of snores coming from the other bed. He had forgotten how hard it was to sleep in the same room with Howie. One of the perks of being the oldest member of an oddly numbered group was he almost never had to share a room. It was nice after being around the guys all day long to just be able to ditch them all for some alone time.
On the rare occasions when he did have to share, he would usually pick Howie over the others just because they could drink together or go out club hopping and had the most in common. Brian would have been his logical second choice but Nick always latched himself on to his cousin. That left AJ.
AJ at least was a quiet sleeper although his over the top - trying so hard to be cool that I am making myself look anything but - antics made Kevin shake his head most times.
He never ever wanted to room with Nick for obvious reasons. He figured he’d just let his cousin deal with the teenager. Brian and Nick were a really good fit when it came to sleeping arrangements and friendship arrangements in general.
He almost wanted to get in touch with his cousin and ask him about the whole role model thing. Was it true that this kid really did look up to him? He never really had anyone look up to him before. Being the youngest in his family, he was the one always looking up. He closed his eyes and tried to think of instances where Nick was following his example or admiring him. He could really think of nothing, except one time when he was lifting weights at a hotel in Canada.
They had just finished a really long and grueling dance rehearsal with Fatima and were happy when they were told they could take the rest of the night off. In that particular instance, Howie and AJ both had their families in town and Brian was suffering from a head cold so Kevin decided to fight his boredom, he’d head down to the gym and work out. Nick came walking in about fifteen minutes later and just sat on the floor with a Coke & bag of chips in his hand watching his older friend do reps.
“Are those hard?”
Kevin rolled his eyes. He had hoped Nick wouldn’t bother him and just sit there quietly but of course that was asking for too much.
“Why are you down here?”
With mouth full he answered, “Brian is sleeping and I didn’t want to put the TV on or bug him so I thought I’d see what you were up to.”
“So you figured you’d bug me instead?”
He hit his chest and let out a burp, “Something like that.”
“How did you know where I was?”
“I followed you.”
Kevin put down his weights and stared at Nick who now was eating a candy bar. “You followed me?”
“Uh huh…so is it hard lifting those things?”
Kevin resumed his exercising, “Maybe you should put down the candy and try it sometime.”
Nick snickered, “I don’t need to…I mean look at this body!” He lifted his shirt to expose his small stomach. He was only 13 and a half at the time, and pretty scrawny.
“Yeah well if you keep eating healthy meals like that, you won’t be able to get your fat ass off the floor.”
Nick let out a really explosive laugh and then stood up, wiping his greasy hands all over his pants and headed towards Kevin. “Will you show me how to do it?”
Kevin was annoyed by this and figured the best way to get the kid off of his back and out of the gym was to let him try, so he waved him over. Nick came running right in front of Kevin and immediately went for the barbells Kevin had been using which were way too heavy for the tween.
“Hang on…you’re going to pull your back out. Just start small. Here use these instead.” He walked over and grabbed the five pound weights off of the rack. This of course offended the blonde.
“Why can’t I just use those? I bet I could lift them! If you can, then I’m sure I can.”
“Start with these or go away!”
Nick sighed, “Fine!”
He smiled at the memory of Nick flexing his muscles in the mirror when they were done with the workout. He had been so annoyed by that entire episode but thinking back on it now, he wasn’t sure why. They really did have a bonding experience that day but Kevin had completely missed out on it because he was so focused on just getting rid of his little shadow so he could do his own thing.
That’s when another realization hit him. How often Nick really did follow him everywhere he went. He never thought much about it at the time, but whenever he’d go off sightseeing, there was Nick about ten strides behind, asking him a ton of questions about every little thing. Or when he would leave to go get pizza, once again there the kid would be, asking if he could buy a slice for him too, please?
In a convenience store buying condoms, “Oh my God… are those really what I think they are?”
“Shut up, Nick!”
In a gift shop picking up something special for Kristin, “That’s ugly, I think you should get this one instead.”
“Shut up, Nick!”
In a restaurant with a wine menu, “Why didn’t we just to go to McDonalds?”
“Shut up, Nick!”
Nick followed him everywhere.
Kevin smiled as he closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep, placing his pillow over his ears to shield him from the snores.
~ * ~
About an hour of sleepless night later, Kevin heard the creak of the door and a shuffling towards the beds as Nick threw his blanket in the middle of the floor right between them, followed by his pillows and then finally himself.
“What are you doing?” Kevin asked once all the kerfuffle subsided.
“I thought you guys might want some company.” He whispered in reply.
Kevin smiled, “Well, thank goodness for that. It was getting much too boring with just Howie and his snoring in here!”
“I bet I could chuck a sock in his mouth and he wouldn’t even know it.”
Thoughts of Howie never wanting to smack a puppy in the face brought about another smile to Kevin’s. “Maybe we should just let him sleep.”
Nick sighed, “I guess…” then a slight pause, “it’s not really comfortable down here.”
“You have a perfectly good bed waiting for you in Howie’s room.”
“I was afraid I’d miss you guys talking about me…”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
Nick sat up and adjusted his pillows before plopping back down. “I was also afraid you might freak out if I was more than an arm’s length away from you.”
Kevin laughed but he actually felt more at ease knowing the teenager was safe right beside him. That’s something he never thought he would entertain, wanting Nick to actually be around, but the day’s events just put everything into perspective for him.
“Hey Nick, do you remember that one time when I taught you how to lift weights?”
“Hell yeah, of course I remember that. I was sore for about a week afterwards.”
Kevin rolled his eyes at the memory of Nick constantly complaining about not being able to lift his arms above his head and even trying to get out of rehearsals because of it. It had made Kevin really angry at the time, but pretty much everything Nick did made Kevin angry at the time.
“It was one of the best days of my life.” He finished after a few moments.
The words took Kevin by complete surprise, “Really?”
“Yeah…just the two of us cool guys hanging out together in the gym. No one believed me when I told them about it.”
The teenager had come into the rehearsal hall that morning, bragging about his little training session to AJ and Howie who kept shaking their heads at the kid. When he was done, AJ had approached Kevin about what Nick was saying and he flat out called him a liar. He had spent the night all alone in his hotel room talking to Kristin on the phone. Of course, AJ wasted no time going back to Nick and calling him on it, which resulted with the two of them rolling around on the floor. When Kevin found out about the fight he had felt bad but still not bad enough to admit what Nick said was true. Why did he do that? What did it matter that he was with Nick?
“I remember…” He answered simply, feeling embarrassed at his own level of immaturity.
Back in those very early days, Kevin was completely embarrassed to be in a group with a kid. He had even lied to his mother about it initially when she had first asked what he thought about the other boys in the band. This was before Brian was there, so it was easy to talk out of his ass. He had said they were great and all about his age. He used to hope back then that Nick would quit the group. He was often whiney and near tears for most of the time. Practice sessions were too hard on him, dancing was too hard on him, tutoring was too hard on him. It was too much pressure for a twelve/thirteen year old and Kevin wanted nothing more than for him to crack under that pressure and just go away.
Another tinge of guilt and shame made its way up his spine as he thought about it.
The first time his mother came out to Florida to meet Lou and the rest of the boys, during the introductions, Kevin actually passed right over the kid as if he was invisible. Of course Anne wouldn’t put up with that and went over to the youngest member of the group, grabbed his hand and asked who he was.
“I’m Nick and your son hates me,” was how he chose to greet Kevin’s mother.
That night, Kevin was given a stern talking to which only intensified his feelings when it came to Nick and wanting him out of the group. He had even approached Lou with the idea of kicking him out. Insisting that there was no way he would be able to pull his own weight when it came to handling the everyday rigor of this business.
Lou made his position quite clear from the get-go “It would be far easier to replace you than to replace Nick.” He was told very matter of factly “The truth of the matter is, that kid is what’s going to sell your band, so you better get used to it or move on.”
Of course, that’s when everything became crystal clear to Kevin. It was a harsh lesson about the business but one that needed to be learned. He never really thought about how it might affect Nick and he really didn’t care. He was made to feel like he was a kid’s back-up singer and he hated Nick for it, even though it wasn’t his fault.
“Do you think someone could climb through this window?” The question was so random but filled with concern that it had Kevin roll over on his side and look down at the kid he had so desperately wanted to get rid of just a few years earlier.
“Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering…like…do you think a fan could climb in during the night?”
“What are you afraid of buddy?”
There was another shuffling on the floor as Nick shifted his head from one end of the covers all the way over to the other where his feet were moments before. “I just want to make sure we’re safe.”
“Were you threatened?” He waited for an answer for quite a while but when none came he continued, “I won’t let anything happen to you or Howie, okay?”
The faintest, “Okay” was heard.
Right there he wanted to ask so many questions, find out what really was going on and why Nick suddenly wasn’t feeling safe. Had he gotten another message from this Don guy? Was he really scared of his uncle and only pretended that he wasn’t? He wished he knew what the hell was going on inside the kid’s mind.
That’s when the idea came to him, tomorrow he was going to teach Nick how to defend himself, just in case, God forbid, he had to.
“I mean it. I won’t let anything happen to you.” He felt the need to reiterate.
“Thanks, Kev” was the simple reply.