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** Brian **

“Are you sure that you don’t need any help?” I knocked on the bathroom door. “I think it’s been more than two minutes now.”

Actually, it had been exactly two minutes and nineteen seconds since Leighanne had disappeared into the bathroom. Scratch that; it had now been exactly two minutes and twenty-two seconds since Leighanne had locked the bathroom door in my face and peed on the little plastic stick to determine whether or not the implantation procedure had been successful. I knocked again; desperate to know the outcome. When Leighanne had first found out that she was pregnant with Baylee, the two of us had watched hand-in-hand as the little pink cross had materialized in the testing window. We had both been so excited back then. Now, I felt entirely alone in my excitement; projecting my eagerness at the wooden door to the master bathroom.

“I’m fully capable of peeing on a stick, Brian.” Leighanne’s snide response drifted out through the closed door. “I don’t need any help to go to the bathroom. Besides, I already told you that taking the test is pointless. I’ve been spotting for the past two days. My period is coming.”

My heart was sinking faster than a popped balloon. “Does that mean that the test is negative?” I once again directed my question towards the bathroom door. “Are you finished?”

“See for yourself.” Leighanne yanked open the bathroom door with such force that I actually had to take a step backwards. She thrust the testing stick forward and waited for me to take it out of her hand before walking off towards her closet. “You knew that it was a long shot anyways.”

I dropped my eyes to the piece of plastic in my hand. A solid pink line occupied the testing window. There was no little pink cross. The test was negative. There was no baby. I was not going to be celebrating a Christmas miracle.

“I’m going to the store to pick up some tampons.” Leighanne breezed out of the closet; purse in hand. “Do you need anything?”

I shook my head. My brain was barely registering the words that were coming out of my wife’s mouth. All I could focus on was the fact that the test was negative. We had waited too long.

“Brian, I know that you’re upset.” Leighanne gently laid her hand on my arm. “But, we already have Baylee, and he’s amazing. You should be happy about that.”

I forced myself to swallow past the lump in my throat. I had been praying almost non-stop for a positive outcome since we had left the clinic. I had practically been begging God to bless us with another baby; so much for my faith.

“Brian?” Leighanne increased the pressure on my arm. “Are you okay? Did you really think that the test was going to be positive? You couldn’t have ...”

The lump in my throat was growing. I couldn’t even force myself to tell Leighanne that I wasn’t okay; that I had truly been hoping against all hope that the procedure would be a success. To make matters worse, the look on my wife’s face was only compounding my devastation. All of the fake compassion in the world couldn’t disguise the glimmer of relief in her eyes; Leighanne was happy that the test was negative.

“We’ll get through this.” Leighanne gave my arm a final squeeze before planting a soft kiss on my lips. “We can get through anything.”

I said nothing; dropping my attention back to the stick of plastic in my hand. For the first time in our married life, I was really questioning our relationship. Couldn’t Leighanne see that I was miserable? Couldn’t she understand that I had wanted this baby more than anything else in the world? Couldn’t she feel that the spark between us was gone? Couldn’t she hear the tiredness and the desperation in my voice? The two of us were on the brink of destruction, and Leighanne either didn’t realize it or just simply didn’t want to accept it.

“Aren’t you supposed to check in with the guys soon?” Leighanne was still talking as if everything was normal. She let go of my arm and walked over to her dresser; spraying herself with perfume. “You said that you had that thing to do over Skype ...”

“Yeah ...” I cleared my throat to dislodge the lump in my airway. “... we have to talk to Abby about the set-list.”

“Abby?” Leighanne’s eyebrows rose ever-so-slightly. “Who’s that again?”

“The girl – lady – woman from Planet Hollywood; our residency co-ordinator.” I struggled to explain what Abigail did. “She’s like the Vegas version of Eddie and Jenn put together.”

“Right.” Leighanne still didn’t look impressed. “Do you want to go out to eat later; after you’re done with your meeting and I’m back from shopping?”

“I dunno ... maybe.” I, once again, looked down at the negative pregnancy test in my hand. The last thing that I wanted to do was go out in public. If I was being completely honest with myself, the last thing that I wanted to do was spend any time with Leighanne that wasn’t absolutely necessary. “I’m pretty tired ...”

“Well, we can decide when I get home, I guess.” Leighanne dismissed my feelings with a quick wave of her hand. “Are you sure that you don’t need me to get you anything while I’m out?”

“I’m sure.” I delivered my first completely honest comment of the conversation as I watched Leighanne head for the door. “Take your time. I’m sure my Skype thing will take a while.”

“Dude, you look like shit!” Nick’s voice blasted through the laptop speakers. “Are you sick?”

“Nah, I just, you know, have a headache.” I rubbed at my temples and turned down the volume.

Of course, Nick had been the first to answer my Skype call. He was usually the last one out of all of us to accept a group call request, so my shock had been noticeable when his face had suddenly invaded my computer screen. I had been hoping for Howie or Kevin to pop up first; someone who couldn’t read me like an open book.

“What happened?” Nick pressed. “You seriously look like someone took a dump in your Corn Flakes.”

“Leighanne and I are just – just going through some stuff at the moment.” My mind flashed to the negative pregnancy test that was currently hidden at the bottom of the bathroom garbage can. “We’ve had a bit of a disagreement.” I paused. “Although, I’m not entirely sure if she realizes the fact that we’re not on the same page.”

Nick cocked his head to the side. “You need a break? You want to come out here for a bit? Not right now, obviously, but you can come out next week ... after Christmas and all that shit.”

“What’s that?” AJ’s face abruptly appeared on the screen as he accepted the call request. “Brian’s coming to spend some time with us?”

“J, I can totally see up your nose!” Nick pulled his face away from his computer and scrunched up his own nose in disgust. “Move back from the camera, man!”

“You mean like this?” AJ moved even closer to his own computer and angled his face so that the camera was pointing directly up his left nostril. “Is this better?”

“What the ...” Howie joined the conversation at the exact moment that AJ began to flare his nostrils. “Why does this shit always happen to me?”

“Jesus Christ!” Kevin’s exasperated face popped up on the screen. “I thought that I was supposed to initiate this call. I walked into the office to get my laptop and the stupid thing was already ding-donging away.”

“Your cousin is clearly more organized than you are.” AJ pulled his nose away from the camera and winked at the screen. “I guess you’re just getting too old to keep up with us. Also, in case you didn’t realize, you just used the word ‘donging’ ...”

“I’m getting too old for a lot of things.” Kevin answered dryly. “Did I miss anything?”

“Just AJ’s disgusting nose hairs.” Howie shuddered.

I smirked as AJ made a big show out of pretending to be offended. I couldn’t wait to get to Vegas full-time; to start rehearsing, to spend some time with the guys, and to blatantly ignore the problems that were currently plaguing my personal life. There had been a time when I was tired of touring, when I had just wanted it all to come to an end. Now, I was craving the fame. I needed the insanity, and the screams, and the constant high of being on stage. I just needed an escape; a way to forget about everything except for the music, and the fans, and my brothers.

“Hey, guys!” Abigail’s face abruptly materialized in the middle of the computer screen. “Ya’ll weren’t playin’ when ya’ll said three o’clock, huh?”

I quickly checked the time at the bottom of the screen; 3:04 P.M.. Considering our tendency to run on ‘Backstreet time’, it was actually a miracle that we were all online and waiting for her. Of course, Abigail didn’t need to know anything about our chronic lateness just yet. She would have plenty of time to figure out our tendency to run behind scheduled in the upcoming weeks.

“What can I say?” I laughed softly. “We like to be punctual.”

Nick actually cackled. “Yeah, we’re definitely known for our on-time-ness!”

“Punctuality! You idiot!” AJ corrected. “No one with even half a brain says ‘on-time-ness’!”

“You don’t need to be mean.” Nick huffed. “Besides, Brian started it by lying to Abby about us being punctuation, or punctual, or whatever the fuck it is that he said.”

“Punctuation?!” It was Howie’s turn to cackle. “Jesus, Nick, go download a dictionary app or something.”

“Oh my God! We’re not even in the same room and we can’t keep it together!” Kevin slammed his palm into his forehead. “This residency is going to be the death of me. I swear to God, I’m too old for this.”

My eyes drifted to the little square of the screen housing Abigail’s face. She was smiling, but her eyes were darting back and forth at an alarming rate as she tried to keep track of the nonsense that we were each spewing at her. There was something endearing about her distinct lack of desire to keep us on track. It wasn’t that she didn’t care about getting the job done. It was as if she somehow just knew that we would eventually get there on our own. We had spent far too many years listening to people scream at us to hurry up, to do things their way, and to keep our opinions to ourselves. It was definitely refreshing to work with someone who at least appeared to respect the fact that the five of us were now responsible for managing ourselves.

“I’ve read all about ‘Backstreet time’.” Abigail laughed; putting air quotes around the final phrase. “I think it was actually part of your press package ...”

“Seriously?” Howie stopped laughing. “I mean, I know that we’re kind of, like, notoriously late for a lot of stuff, but we’re not that bad.”

Abigail smirked. “I was joking ...”

“So, back to the setlist!” Kevin clapped his hands so sharply that it made me flinch. “Abigail, I emailed our final version over to you. Did you get it? Are we good to go?”

“Almost.” Abigail held up a few sheets of paper to prove that she had, indeed, received Kevin’s email. “I ran it by Bill, your production lead, and he’s concerned about the length of time between the acoustic portion and the second up-tempo grouping. Basically, to make everything work as it should in terms of timing, you need to increase the acoustic break by one song and decrease the proceeding up-tempo set by one song. You guys can take some more time to think about it. I, honestly, wasn’t expecting to have this conversation with you so soon. I just saw ya’ll on Monday!”

“I think that ‘Treat Me Right’ is the song that we should drop.” Howie spoke up almost immediately. “Kevin’s not on the track anyways, and we’re already doing better up-tempo crowd pleasers in the first set.”

“I agree.” AJ provided his support. “Fellas?”

Kevin, Nick, and I indicated our agreement without discussion, and Abigail quickly noted the change. I braced myself for what was about to come as I watched her pen move across the paper. The acoustic portion of the show had been our biggest source of contention while we had been putting together the initial set-list, and I definitely didn’t want to revisit the suggestion that I knew was about to be made.

“We should add ‘Darlin’’ to the acoustic set.” Kevin voiced the words that I hadn’t wanted to hear. “Initially, we only dropped it to save time anyways.”

I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose. If Kevin and I had been in the same room, I would have been highly tempted to punch him in the face. He knew how I felt about the situation.

“I still think that ‘Madeleine’ is a better choice.” I forced myself to open my eyes; to make myself sound civil. “It has a more modern sound.”

“Yeah, but we’ve been riding the nineties nostalgia wave pretty hard these past few months.” Kevin continued to push his opinion. “A lot of the people who are going to come to see us will want to hear the older stuff. Hell, some of the people who come to see us in Vegas won’t even realize that we released an album after Black and Blue, let alone four albums!”

“Kev, you know that I can’t do it.” I struggled to keep the tremor out of my voice. “You know that I can’t carry practically a full song on my own three times a week, especially not without heavy musical accompaniment. Let AJ and Nick sing ‘Madeleine’.”

“While I have to agree that our fans would probably love to hear ‘Darlin’’, I’m not about to push Brian into doing something that he doesn’t feel ready to do.” AJ chimed in. “You guys already know how I feel about this. I vote for ‘Madeleine’.”

“Abby, you know our music, right?” Nick interjected. “The five of us have already fought about this shit. What do you think?”

“Me?” Abigail twirled a chunk of hair around her finger and bit at her bottom lip. “I mean, speaking as someone who’s in charge of promoting your show and of making sure that you guys actually make some money off of this whole thing, I think that you’re better off going with the song that will make you sound the best as far as the critics are concerned. So, if Brian feels as though he can’t carry ‘Darlin’’ on a consistent basis, then you ought to go with ‘Madeleine’ and let him rest his voice. Both of the songs are good, but if Brian’s current vocal situation is going to be the deciding factor then there’s really nothing to discuss.” She paused briefly. “You could always slot ‘Madeleine in for now and switch it out for ‘Darlin’’ later if Brian feels up to it. Or, you could do a mash-up type melody with ‘Anywhere For You’, “Darlin’’ and ‘Undone’. That would still give Brian some lead vocals, but it would allow the rest of you to easily jump in to back him up, if necessary, without it sounding awkward.”

I let out the breath that I didn’t even know that I had been holding. Abigail’s words couldn’t have been any truer. As much as it killed me to admit it; my voice was weak. I knew that I sounded terrible when I pushed myself beyond my current level of ability. The only way that I was going to make it through our entire residency with even a shred of my decency still intact was to give my voice the rest that it needed. I had to put my pride aside and let the other guys help me out, even if that meant taking a step, or two, backwards.

“I agree.” Nick backed Abigail up; just like I knew he would. He grinned stupidly into his laptop camera. “Let’s go with the mash-up option. It gives Brian time to shine without killing himself. Besides, the ladies will go crazy if Kevin steps in to sing on ‘Undone’.”