The only thing he’d been able to salvage from the bus was the leather jacket he’d been sporting throughout the tour. Well that and a water bottle he’d found by Dave’s body and was thankfully unopened. While temping, he knew that he would have to go easy on the water until he found help or any sign of human life whatsoever. The rain from earlier had stopped completely – for now, and Nick considered that a lucky break. Later it might become unlucky once he was in a desperate thirst, if it ever reached that point. His mind kept coming up with different tangents and felt like it was spinning out of control. Images of the crash kept flashing through his head over and over as a morbid and grotesque inner instant replay. He had many questions but they were ones he knew he wouldn’t get the answers to.
Does Kevin know what happened?
The logical assumption would be yes. Still, Nick knew it wasn’t that simple. Nothing ever was. It all came down to this: Did Kevin hear the crash? Or, did the phone disconnect before he heard anything revealing? The connection had been slightly strained. They’d clearly been in an area where reception could come or go at any moment. Kevin was a logical sort of guy. He always had been in all the years he’d known him. What if without the telltale noises he simply thought the best rather than the worst? If that were the case, his situation shifted. That would mean judging by how close it was to nightfall, they would have only just realized that perhaps something was wrong.
Of course they would’ve noticed his and Jordan’s “tardiness” a few hours earlier. The VIPs and soundcheck parties would be cancelled due to their absences. Even so, that might have been chalked up to traffic problems, especially if the jam led to their doomed detour made it on to the news. Not to mention their band could’ve mentioned it upon their arrival. None of the band would know anything else even remotely helpful. How could they? It occurred to Nick then there was likely a massive amount of angry messages on their cell phones. Mike would be especially mad at him. He and Jordan’s bodyguard Gus had decided to take a short charter flight. He wished now he’d joined them.
Picturing the voicemails themselves almost made Nick want to laugh.
Nick where the hell are you?
You guys better be late for a good reason and not because of some personal after party of Jordan’s again!
Nick, it’s Jenn, where are you? Stop ignoring your calls and call me back!
Where are you? This better not be like Texas where you took that side trip to see the world’s largest cowboy hat!
The lack of answers and the fact they still hadn’t shown would end up being just cause to worry. He was absolutely sure of that. Showtime was about now – or so he guessed. There was no way to be sure without his phone or a watch. Anyone who knew him personally or hell even fans knew that he’d never do a no-show on a concert consciously. He remembered being barred from travel back in 2008 because he so sick and yet the next day when he was cleared he forced himself on stage despite the fact his voice hadn’t even returned completely. Even in the height of his train wreck days he stayed sober on stage and never failed to appear for a show. So the next, their people would shift the calls to Lauren and Jordan’s wife Evelyn. The assumption being that perhaps the wives knew something they didn’t. Fair enough.
Nick rubbed his arms with a shiver. The wind was just beginning to really pick up. The jacket did help, but it wasn’t as much as he’d have liked. His thoughts traveled elsewhere yet again. Perhaps to keep from focusing on how bleak his situation really was. This time his mind focused on the bright spot in his life, Lauren. His heart ached at the realization his wife was likely worried beyond belief about him at this very moment. Because there was nothing he could do about it. There was no way to reach out and tell her that he was alright and alive. In the end the only bit of solace Nick could seek was in the fact the last time they’d talked he had said (well, texted) that he loved her. Because he knew what she was doing right then. How she was likely reacting.
He could see her pacing.
Lauren was always the worrier. Nick was the dreamer; she balanced him by being the realist. Dreaming had always been his escape. Whether it was art or music or just performing in general, his ability to dream and imagine beyond what was simply around him had created the haven he’d so desperately needed as a child. It was what helped him in that moment. The way he focused on what was happening with those he knew as opposed to himself. Lauren used to tease him early in their relationship that his head was often lived in outer space with the aliens he loved. What it really was, was that Nick had learned years ago if he didn’t take life as it came or spin it into his own fantasies, he’d always find him quick to anger with the urge to break whatever was near. So as the worrier, she’d pace. She always paced.
The conversation that he imaged was likely happening now or soon enough was easy enough to picture.
“Josh, what do you mean he’s not there?”
“His and Jordan’s bus never showed up.” A pause. “When did you last talk to him?”
She’d bite her lip then and suddenly stop in her tracks. “Around noon. We didn’t talk-talk, we just texted.” She’d try to keep control. “Has he been missing since then?”
“We don’t know but so far you’re the last to hear from either one. Can you think of any reason why Nick would be late? Something the rest of us wouldn’t think of?”
He hoped Lauren wouldn’t be close to tears, but he imagined her to be. “No. Nick puts the show above everything else. Always.”
Nick sighed deeply before jerking at the immediate reminder of his injuries. He gazed upwards, focusing past the congestion of leaves caused by the many trees and at the patches of sky he could see. The clouds had broken up a bit and revealed stars clearer than any he’d ever seen in Los Angeles or Nashville. The moon was partially obscured yet still managed to lend enough light to aide Nick in his attempt to navigate through the dark and lonely woods. Owls hooted in the distance as the wind continued to blow and added an eerie howl to the soft chorus of nature. His head throbbed dully still, almost in tune with the other aches of his body and even the music of the woods.
Am I even going in the right direction? He wondered. It would be cruelly ironic if with every step he took was a step further from the help he (and Jordan) so desperately needed.
Fuck, what would Kevin do? In his younger days he and AJ would often joke about WWOAKD – What Would Old Ass Kevin Do? It was meant to mock their surrogate older brother with his old fashioned lectures. As the years went by however it became something Nick took to heart. So much so that it and the book Kevin had gifted him with were a direct cause of his personal battles against substance abuse and turning his life back around.
“Kevin, seriously, what the fuck would you do?!” He yelled up at the stars, knowing no true answer would follow.
Not that it mattered. Deep down Nick knew the answer anyway. Kevin grew up surrounded with woods like these. He’d been their own personal Nature Boy, complete with caterpillar eyebrows that Nick used to joke came from sleeping in the woods so much. He’d never seen his friend’s home back then, but had heard enough stories from Brian to give him proper mocking material. Though finally, last year the five had decided to revisit their hometowns as a way to give a story to the documentary they’d started filming. Kevin’s had been the first. His had also been the hardest to get to. He smiled to himself at the memory.
“Who’s fucking idea was it to hike through this shit?” AJ whined with a pout, causing Nick to laugh. Back in the day it’d been him who did all the whining while AJ laughed at him. It was a nice change. It also felt like in some ways the group really had come full circle in their twenty years together. Often he wondered just what the next twenty would have in store for them. Would they still be together? He hoped so. He couldn’t imagine life without this surrogate family of his.
Kevin smirked. “Who’s the old man of the group now?”
The middle finger was the only answer given.
Brian laughed, close behind Nick. “Are we camping outside tonight?”
“Why else are we dragging this shit with us?”
Nick snorted. “By drag you mean carry a backpack with sleeping bags on top. At least this part ain’t being filmed. No one will see you being a wuss.” The group had decided that they’d take an extra day and camp out on their way up towards the campgrounds Kevin had grown up on. This way they could reconnect as they had in London but this time with less cameras. The five men had agreed that a break might do them some good.
“I’ve never been camping.” Howie chimed in. He was the most excited of them all. “I’m glad we are. I’ve always wanted to do it.”
“Howie’s so happy.” Brian lisped playfully as they continued the trudge uphill.
“AJ! Come on!”
“My body’s fucking falling apart!” He called out after them as he attempted to catch up. “Someone should carry me.”
“Oh sure man,” Nick grinned back at him. “I’ll carry you.”
“And drop me down a fucking cliff.” His friend retorted with a laugh. “Kevin!”
“I’m not carrying you dawg. Come on y’all, there’s a clearing up ahead we can settle down in for the night. We’ll need a lot of rest for tomorrow.”
“Especially AJ.” Howie chimed in. “He’s got the body of a sixty year old.”
“Fuck you guys!”
Kevin paused by a tree with Nick as the two waited for the others to reach them before continuing. He smiled at him. “You can learn a lot just by being out in nature.”
“Yeah? I mean it’s pretty out here.”
“But more than that. You can navigate yourself by following the stars because out here you can see all the ones you’d miss in the city.” His voice was wistful. “My dad taught me how when I was a kid so I’d never get lost.”
“My dad, well you know.” Nick’s dad taught him things he wished he never learned. Even now he still went to therapy sessions to help him un-learn them. “Your dad sounds like he was a great guy.”
Kevin wrapped his arm around his shoulders. It was like he knew exactly what Nick was thinking. It wasn’t surprising. Kevin just had that way about him and while he’d never admit it, Nick secretly loved that. “He was. You are too. We’re proud of you, you know. And tonight I’ll teach you some of the things I know. Alright?”
He gazed up at the stars again, searching for a certain constellation. He didn’t know a lot but what he did know he planned on using. Maybe going north wasn’t the right direction but at least he’d know what direction he was going in. That would be a start. It was hard to see due to the many intimidating tall trees but he eventually managed to spot the big dipper. Nick’s smile began to grow.
“Once you find the corner of the big dipper, little man, you just look straight above it.”
He snorted teasingly. “It’s just a really bright star Kev.”
Kevin ruffled Nick’s golden hair, knowing he hated when he did that. “That really bright star is Polaris. It’s directly above the North Pole. So if you follow that by staying beneath that star, you’ll always know what direction you’re going in because it never changes.”
A smirk formed. “Is that why you’re using Google Maps?”
“You’re such a wise-ass. The stars can guide you but yeah, I feel better using a map.” He laughed. “It doesn’t mean it’s not good to know these things.”
Brian popped up in that moment with a cheesy grin. “Look! AJ’s still alive!”
“I need a fucking smoke.”
Kevin and Nick rolled their eyes almost in unison which got Howie and Brian cracking up again. Kevin smirked. “That’s why you’re having so much trouble to begin with. Now come on.”
Kevin would tell him the follow the North Star and hope it led to the road or some sign of human civilization. He’d tell Nick that he needed to stay strong but not to push too hard. It was weird but he really missed Kevin right then. Perhaps because in times like these people needed their fathers. But for Nick that role had always been filled by the oldest of the fellas. The fellas probably knew by now. Lauren would’ve called them before his “real” family tied together by matching DNA.
Sighing he found a large tree and slid down to the ground against it. He wasn’t sure if he could sleep yet. His head still hurt and he had no idea how to tell if he had a concussion. Nick took a swig of water and tried to ignore the endless rumbling of his stomach. Food would have to be a problem of tomorrow. For now, he just wanted to relax. He hugged himself tightly for warmth and hoped perhaps nature would continue to smile on him by having the wind quit. A lone howl reached his ears and he shivered, though it wasn’t from the cold.
It’s gonna be a long fucking night.