Kevin was the type of kid that everyone knew they could count on. He was pretty popular in junior high and high school and despite his looks, which were a big plus in attracting the girls to him, it was his attentiveness to the people around him that really drew them in.
Kevin cared, he cared what people had to say. He would sit and listen intently to his friends as they talked about their lives, hopes, dreams and problems. He'd place a loving hand on your shoulder and nod in total understanding even when some of what was being said was way beyond anything he had been through.
He was a great friend to all of the guys and girls alike. None of his closest friends ever thought it was a facade. Even though to some who didn't know him quite so well, it could have come off as a ruse to get in someone's pants or garner a spot on a varsity team. Everyone else knew he was genuine. His concern came from a place of love that he inherited from both of his parents.
That attitude took a turn after Kevin set off to Florida to become a Backstreet Boy. His heart had hardened a bit after being lied to about his father's cancer.
When he had finally been told the truth he felt this incredible sense of hurt and betrayal. Deep down, he understood why they chose to shield him from what was really happening. The last thing his father wanted was to make his youngest son feel burdened with the choice of giving up his dream or caring for his ailing father. And it was because Kevin was SO caring, his father made sure he wouldn't be the reason his son never lived out his dreams. He forbid his wife, Jerald and Tim from telling their baby brother the truth.
So, when he was suddenly hit with the information withheld from him, it felt like being slammed in the head with a ton of bricks.
Instead of being that sympathetic Kevin in those final days before his dad's death, he was replaced by an angry and bitter version of himself. Mad that he wasn't given the choice to come home. Mad that he missed out on precious moments with his father while he was still relatively healthy enough to enjoy them. He felt slighted and it changed him. Made him less caring and more critical. He built up a wall and came off as stern and unsympathetic.
That was the Kevin that the boys were introduced to.
In time, he had softened considerably, especially at his cousin's urging. It was Brian who reminded him how he used to be. He approached Kevin one day after one of their very first rehearsals as a group of five and said "Why are you acting so different with these guys? Don't you like them?"
Kevin didn't understand where that question even came from. "I like them just fine...well most of them." He had answered. Making it no secret his distaste for Nick.
"You act like you don't want to be around them. The second anyone starts talking about their lives, you walk away like you don't care what they have to say."
"That's not true.." He had replied, "I care."
"Well you certainly don't act like it and they can tell. If you keep it up, they're not going to want to be around you and I wouldn't blame them."
They were harsh words but also very true, so Kevin took them to heart and did take the time to listen and learn about his fellow bandmates, even AJ.
It was Nick's story he was never truly interested in. The kid came off like a spoiled brat who had been catered to his whole life. The kid he was constantly taking a back seat to.
Whenever Nick would come into the room ready to lament to his cousin, Kevin would be quick to exit. He'd roll his eyes when tears fell from the blondes. He'd only half listen to the stories he'd tell about being bullied in elementary school. It was as if Kevin couldn't possibly understand how a thirteen year old could even feel like or know what a problem was.
He had no idea...
When Howie walked back outside, after saying goodbye to his brother, Kevin and Nick were staring at each other so intently, it looked like they were having some kind of contest.
"What's going on guys?"
"So, you did lie about Mandy then?" Kevin said, completely ignoring Howie's question as he continued, "it was your uncle who paged you?"
Nick nodded slowly with his eyes opened wide enough to sense fright behind them. "He told me not to tell anybody." His voice was shaky and tense, "I shouldn't be telling either of you anything."
Howie joined his friends on the grass, sitting right beside Nick as he continued, "He gave me an address and told me he wants me to go there to see him."
Howie gave Kevin a look of concern but he was too focused on Nick to pay him any attention.
"We have to call the police!" He insisted, "He needs to stop harassing you!"
Nick nervously shook his head, "No! You can't do that!! Please, Kevin...he said no one can know."
Howie placed his hand on Nick's shoulder, his words coming out softly but insistent. "Of course he would say that Nicky because he knows if you were to tell anyone, he'd end up back in jail which is where he belongs."
"He doesn't mean to be a bad person. He's had a hard life, you know?" A lone tear slowly streamed down Nick's face, "his father used to do terrible things to him."
"Just like he's threatening to do terrible things to you." Kevin was quick to reply.
Nick nodded, a look of sadness on his face so deep that Kevin found himself choking up just looking at him.
"I thought you weren't afraid of him, Nicky. You told Johnny you thought he was harmless."
"I had to. He made me."
"What was he threatening you with?"
Nick shook his head as if he wasn't quite sure he wanted to share anything else but then finally spoke, "He said he'd make up lies about me and convince Lou to fire me. Then he said my parents wouldn't even care about me anymore because I wouldn't be making them money. He said you guys wouldn't care about me anymore too. He said I'd end up all alone and all I'd have is him."
Once again Howie glanced over to Kevin and this time they did catch each others eyes. To think this kid felt like his own parents would dispose of him so quickly just because he wasn't supplying them with what they needed, broke both of their hearts. But even worse? The knowledge that they could both see it happening.
"He started writing me letters when I was about ten..."
Both boys fell out of their thoughts and focused on Nick, "they were pretty innocent at first. He'd tell me how bored he was in jail. How he never got any visitors including my dad. He said he missed coming to my dance recitals and performances." He looked up at his friends, "He always came to listen to me."
"My parents encouraged me to write him back. They said it would probably do him some good since he always looked at me like the son he never had." He gulped back his emotions and swiped at more tears escaping from his eyes.
"The letters started becoming a little more disturbing as I got older. He started asking me to send pictures of myself in my underwear...stuff like that." He shifted uncomfortable and embarrassed and stopped speaking as If he couldn't find his voice.
Kevin, the listener, the one who cared about everyone didn't want Nick to keep going. He wasn't sure he could handle it. No one had ever divulged this level of problem to him before. Yet, this kid time and again just kept walloping him with these horrible nuggets of information. It wasn't that Kevin didn't care to hear it; he cared too much to hear it. But it was that level of concern and love he felt for Nick that made him press on.
So he took a deep breath and urged his young friend to continue. "It's okay, Nick...you can talk to us."
Howie nodded in agreement. "Let it all out, Nicky. It's about time you let it go."
Nick slowly nodded at Howie before looking down at the grass and placing both hands onto the dewy blades and gripping tightly as if they were tufts of hair waiting to be pulled out of the ground's head.
Kevin felt the apprehension coming off the youngest member of the group as braced himself to finally open up to his friends.