“Are you here yet?” I asked, sighing on the phone as I walked through the light crowds in front of the Bellagio. Mike wasn’t too far behind though he was keeping a relatively low profile right now. During our downtime he’d go back to his family in Los Angeles. Most local fans were really respectful and wouldn’t bother me unless I said something. You could always tell if someone was a fan trying to hold back. And fine, I liked the attention sometimes. But now that we were launching a new residency in mere days, the hardcore fans were swarming. I loved them, don’t get me wrong. But they’d sometimes not know when to give me some space.
So back to having Mike shadow me. But he was practically family anyway.
“You’ve gotten impatient in your old age.”
I rolled my eyes with a snort. “You should talk.”
A tapping on my shoulder caused me to jump ten feet in the air. “You should pay attention.”
“FUCK!” I whirled around to see Kevin laughing his damn ass off at me. “You trying to get us spotted?” I glanced around and shoved my phone into my pocket. Someone screaming fuck in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard isn’t enough to get people to stop. Luckily. “Or give me a fucking heart attack?”
He shrugged. “You’re too young for that.” A smile formed. “And you should’ve been paying more attention.”
“I thought I’d had Mike for that.” I glared at our friend who was too busy laughing at my reaction along with Keith, another one who goes way back with us.
“Angel watching the kids again?”
“Yeah, her and Corey are crashing for opening week anyway, and the kids are having fun with Harper.” I paused, leaning against the railing facing the fountains. “And I think it makes her feel better seeing me get out of the house.”
Kevin adjusted his UK Wildcats hat and gave a light shrug. “I think it makes us all feel better.”
I sighed. I didn’t want to get into it again. I understood, I did. But I hated having to reassure everyone around me that I was alright. Sometimes when I said it, it was actually true. Other times, sure I was lying. It was those moments that made them worry. I know. But I also knew telling them the truth wouldn’t help. It wouldn’t bring anyone back. I had my bad days, my dark days, and according to my therapist it was even normal to have them. So what good did it do any of us to tell them I was pissed off at the world, or feeling down that day? Especially right then. I loved the energy being around fans would bring and they’d want to cancel. No thank you. Doing what I loved would do more than anything else to let me heal, as long as I didn’t go to the extreme again.
“You don’t have to worry about me anymore…” I sighed, keeping my eyes focused on the water. The fountain show hadn’t started yet. “I’m not overworking myself anymore. I’m not drinking or trying to find myself a hit or some shit.”
“Look little man…”
I shot him a look at that term but he still continued.
“I know you’re doing better. We all do. But you’re still shutting everyone out.” He placed a hand on my shoulder, bringing back a lot of memories in the process. How many talks have I had with Kevin that went just like this? Me trying to understand why my parents were the way they were. The day I moved out, not even eighteen. The night Paris sent the paparazzi after me when I was out with Kevin and Kristin. Talking to him about Leslie’s death. Admitting I had a problem. Melissa Schuman. He was the one who always saw me at my lowest of lows and somehow found a way to help get me through it. Even when he took a break from the group he called to check on me.
The one person I knew I could always go to was Kevin. I could go to all of them, I knew that. But sometimes he was the only one who could give me the kind of solace I needed. The kind I rarely received from my own father. Like it or not he’d always been shoved into the role by me. “I’m not trying to shut any of you out…”
“Then what is it?”
I shrugged again. “What is there to say that hasn’t been said?”
He stepped up beside me, and tried to meet my gaze. “Sometimes it’s not about whether or not it’s been said before. Sometimes it’s about getting it out there so it doesn’t build up. We know you Nick, and we know how you are. It’s natural for bad days to pop up but we can’t help you if you never let us.”
“Look that’s all it is, this is a rough month for me and-”
“All the more reason for you to talk to us. We haven’t forgotten you know.”
“If I promise to say more,” I felt a smirk coming on. “Will you guys relax? I know I scared you guys before but I’m not going to get that bad again. Shelly and Odin need their dad. They can’t have that if I bury myself in my work to pretend the world doesn’t fucking exist.”
“It’d be a start.”
I could feel my shoulders slump a bit as I finally allowed myself to relax. “Tell AJ to stop trying to set me up.” My fingers tapped against the gate as I tried to hide yet again how much it bugged me. “If I find someone new...I will. I don’t want help.”
“I’ll remind him.” Kevin chuckled a bit and bumped my shoulder. “I would’ve thought you hitting him the first time would’ve gotten that across. He’s trying to help you know.”
“I know.” And I did. That wasn’t a lie. “I don’t think there will be anyone else. But maybe I’m wrong.” It wouldn’t be the first time. I remembered when I firmly believed I’d never marry or have kids, swearing both ideas off so I’d never become my parents. What I didn’t know then was that it was about the right person, and knowing what was important. Knowing what not to do was something that guided me in every decision I ever made for my kids. I wanted to have everything I never did growing up and to never once question how much I loved them. The way I wondered even now if my parents loved me, or what I could do for them.
“You know she would-”
“But I don’t know.” I cut him off. “I don’t have a way of knowing. Because she died on what should’ve been one of the happiest days of my life. Her life too. It’s not fair that-that she’s not here to see Shelly grow up. To see how big Odin’s gotten and how smart he is. But life ain’t fair. That’s what I know, Kevin.” I shook my head. “I know the nights are the worst, when the kids are asleep and nothing to distract me on the bad days where I can’t shut my damn brain off. Is that enough talking for you?”
“It helps. Nick you know I wasn’t trying to say…”
“I know. I’m being a fucking dick.”
He threw his arm around me. “That’s nothing new.”
I laughed despite myself. I didn’t want to admit that saying it helped. But I knew that he knew. And Kevin knew that I knew he knew. That was just how the two of us worked. I guess that was enough for now. “I learned from the best.”
“I saw you’ve been writing more songs. You sure want to try them for the next album? They’re pretty personal…”
I nodded. “Maybe it’s another form of therapy. Singing them with you guys helps get them out cause if I did it solo…” We both knew what I was leaving unsaid. Solo I might lose control again. And dive into yet another addiction of sorts. I needed a safety net. Writing about my darkest demons did more for me than I ever expected and I felt performing would too. It took years for me to even write songs so close to the vest, feeling so vulnerable. I needed to get them out. But not alone. Not yet. Hopefully someday.
He nodded. “I understand.”
Kevin always did.
The music started and the fountains started to shoot off in the stunning show only the Bellagio provided. I’d seen it a dozen times before and usually avoided it to keep away from tourists but Kevin always liked to come look at it. I came here hoping maybe if we were watching these he would’ve gone easy on me. I should’ve known better. He wasn’t the type to do that if he knew the hard things were what you needed to hear. Then again maybe I did know better and counted on it. My mind’s a damn mess.
Hidden among the crowd as the cool breeze blew around us, it felt nice to feel normal. I never got that too often outside of being home with the kids. They knew me as daddy and nothing more. Odin was old enough to understand who I was to others now, and what I did for a living. Shelly was still too young. But in the end I was simply Nick. The way I was to Lauren. I never knew just how much I needed that feeling until she came along. It’s priceless. I love my fans and I love what I do. But at the same time, as with so many people it takes me so long to trust. Because that nagging voice still lingers, wondering if they’re yet another person in line to try and use me for their own benefit. With the fellas, and my kids, I just know they love me. I know I could never be the kind of person to live in anonymity. That just isn’t me. I love the damn attention and will admit it completely. But sometimes, moments like this were so few and far between that they were nice to. To just be.
I just hated feeling so damn alone sometimes. Even when I knew I wasn’t. I’m not.
I glanced at Kevin again who was furrowing his thick brows at me, a sure sign he was trying to get back into my head again. Shit. “I’m just spacing, don’t---”
Screams coming from the crowd made my next words stop cold. I looked up as Mike and Keith were suddenly right behind us again. I was about to ask why when a sputtering noise with the clangs of metal could be heard coming from the fountains. That was when I felt the sprays hit my face. I could hear the gears getting jammed up, on what I didn’t know. It was all over, a strange rain falling out of the sky. It felt thick, nothing like water. My hand went to my cheek, pulling away as I stared down in horror.
It was covered in blood.
“We’re going!” I could hear Mike command gruffly. He and Keith started forcing a path for us out of the mob. As they rushed us away, the crowds delving into pure chaos as everyone started panicking in their rush to get away, I chanced a glance backwards. The Bellagio fountains were choking on the thick viscous blood. Too thick for what they could handle, causing it to become a monstrous sprinkler whose range caused it to come down all around along Las Vegas boulevard. Cars honking, colliding. All while the blood continued to fall as workers fought to get it to shut down.
It was a vision I knew would haunt my dreams for a long time.