Bad things had happened in Kevin's life. Things he would consider life altering and devastating. Losing his father was of course at the top of the list, but one he had never really talked about before was a really bad car accident that Tim was involved in.
There was a three car pile up on the interstate during Tim's junior year of high school. His parents received a call from the emergency room saying Tim had been taken there along with three other boys that were in the car. Of course they wouldn't give any details over the phone, just that the accident was pretty severe.
Jerald was left watching Kevin as his parents drove to the hospital. He pleaded to go but Anne refused to let him.
That night felt like one of the longest of his life. He had prepared himself for the worst possible news. He figured since his parents had been gone for over an hour with no word, it had to be the most horrific kind.
"He's dead, isn't he?" He had meekly asked his oldest brother as they sat on the front porch with no lights on, listening to crickets chirping and watching the fireflies light up the night sky.
"Don't say things like that!" Jerald had answered back. "I'm sure he's fine."
"If he's fine, mom would have called and told us."
Jerald rolled his eyes at Kevin, "Why don't you go to bed. I'll wake you up the minute someone calls."
At that point, it became crystal clear to Kevin that Jerald just wanted him to go away. That in his mind, he would rather go through this all alone then to have to deal with his baby brother.
Kevin felt so hurt he almost started to cry, but instead he just nodded "I'm going in to watch some TV." He had said, getting up and walking towards the front door hoping that Jerald would stop him and ask him to stay.
"Okay! Go do that little man."
He stopped briefly when he heard the new nickname. "Little man?"
Jerald turned towards his baby brother, "Yeah...is that a problem?"
Kevin shook his head.
"Good. I'll be in after a while."
Up until that point, Jerald had never used any endearing term to refer to his little brother. He was alway just Kevin or Kev. It was weird how two little words could make you feel special.
After a little while, Jerald ventured inside and sat beside his brother. "What are you watching?" He asked as he placed his arm around Kevin.
Jerald nodded, "Sounds good to me."
They sat in silence before the phone's ringing sliced through the air.
After they received the news that Tim would be just fine, despite a bad ankle sprain and a few bumps and bruises, they both celebrated over a gallon of ice cream and two spoons.
Thinking back to that day, Kevin realized that was the closest he had ever felt to his eldest brother. Through something awful, they were able to bond and connect.
Kevin came back from his memories and focused his attention on Nick as he continued to share the hell he had been going through.
"He would ask me to do things like touch myself and then he'd ask for me to take pictures."
"Did you do it? Did you send him those type of pictures?"
Kevin looked over at Howie a little annoyed he would actually ask Nick that question as if the conversation wasn't already awkward enough.
"No...I couldn't and there's no way I would even think about doing that...so I just stopped writing him altogether."
"After about two weeks of not hearing from me, I started to get a letter a day just about. All of them asking me why I wasn't writing back to him and how could I just stop like that? I was being selfish and cruel while he rotted in jail for no reason."
"Why was I trying to punish him? He would ask, followed by please write me back."
Nick moved one of his hands up to his face to swipe at a few tears before he continued.
"When I still refused to write him, he called my house and talked to my dad."
"My father grounded me and wouldn't let me go out and play or do anything fun until I wrote my uncle and apologized for being rude." He let out a small laugh, "I had to apologize to him! And so I did...I had no choice."
"Why didn't you tell your dad about Don then? You could have shown him those letters."
Nick shook his head, "I threw them all away. I was too afraid someone would find them, besides it would've killed my dad to know what was happening. Don was his favorite uncle. He would have never spoken to me again...or worse."
Kevin nodded in understanding, knowing that if he were in the same position, which thank God would never have happened, he most likely would have done the same thing.
"After he got my apology, his letters were normal for a little while. Kind of like how they should have been all along. How was school? Was I still dancing and singing? Did I have a girlfriend yet. Typical stuff like that."
"When did things change again?" I asked.
He looked up at me, "When I told him about auditioning for the group."
There was a mixture of sadness and fear in his young friends eyes that suddenly made him look older than he was. As if Nick's life experiences were aging him as he talked. Each sentence making his childhood disappear before their eyes.
Nick took a deep breath, "He started asking me all kinds of questions about you guys, how old you were, if he had ever met any of you. Then he'd ask about Lou and about how much money I'd be making."
"He told me that when he got out of jail, maybe he could go out on the road with me since I would be a minor and need an adult. He said he'd talk to my dad about it. Maybe they would consider an early release from prison for him."
"Jesus..." Howie said softly. "I actually remember his name coming up as a guardian. I hadn't ever heard you mention him but Lou was putting him on the list."
"How is that even possible since he was still in prison? There would be NO way they'd release him to watch over a minor with his conviction record." Kevin added sounding annoyed.
"He decided to contact Lou directly. He said he was wrongly accused and would be set free and cleared soon enough. He said he was accused of beating up someone."
"But even still...your parents..."
Nick looked over at Howie and sighed, "They okayed it as well. My mother figured if Don could go on the road with me, it would free them up to travel with Aaron."
Kevin shook his head in disbelief, "But, didn't your parents know why he was in jail in the first place? That he was convicted of assaulting a minor and accused of...well...they knew, right?"
Nick very sadly & reflectively nodded his head. "They didn't think he did anything wrong."
Kevin and Howie exchanged looks of disbelief and disgust but both tried to mask it for the sake of their friend who already seemed ashamed that his family cared so little for his own well being.
"After his request was denied, he started being all creepy again. Kept asking me to send him pictures & stuff. I asked him to stop & told him if he kept bugging me I'd tell my dad."
Nick's voice was getting shaky as he spoke. The look on his face was one of deep regret and Kevin was having a hard time telling if it was because he decided to open up or just about the circumstances in general.
"That's really when he started with the more violent replies and when he told me my family wouldn't ever take my word over his."
"I told him I'd show them the letters but he said he'd just say I was making it all up...so I didn't."
Kevin couldn't believe how manipulative this jerk was. Who would have the nerve to do this to a kid? But then he thought more deeply and realized that Nick's entire life was virtually manipulated by everyone.
"I don't know what to do guys." Nick began to cry, trying to stop himself by balling his hand into a fist and swiping angrily at his eye.
Kevin embraced him as a very quiet Howie looked on.
"We'll figure something out...but in the meantime I think we need some ice cream. What do you think, D?" Kevin looked over at his friend, lost as to what to do or say to make the situation any better. "Do you know of a place the three of us can go get the biggest hot fudge sundaes known to man?"
Howie nodded, "There's quite a few places to choose from."
Kevin nodded and smiled, "Good!" He pulled away from Nick who had managed to stop the tears but still looked ashamed, embarrassed and scared. He looked the teenager in the eyes, "What do you say little man? Are you up for some ice cream?"
Nick nodded, "Little man?"
Kevin smiled and stood up holding his hand out to Nick to help him off the ground. "Yeah...you got a problem with that?"
Nick smiled through his tears, "No...I kind of like it. It's much better than dumbass."
Kevin felt a little pang of guilt as he let out a very small laugh. "Why don't you go wash your face and tell Howie's parents we're going out."
"Kay..." His voice trailed off as he wiped at his eyes again.
Once he went inside, Howie walked over and let out a sigh, "That poor kid...what are we going to do?"
"We're going to go meet this guy and put him in his place!" He said looking at his friend sternly in the eyes. "