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The next few days proved to be even more tedious than the last ones. They practiced all day every day without taking any breaks. It seemed like no matter what they were rehearsing, whether it be singing, or dancing or even fake interviews, it was never good enough. Every night they would go home, back to the apartment so exhausted and mentally broken down that Kevin wasn’t sure if even he was going to make it.



He had heard how hard this business was going to be, but now that they were on the cusp of stardom, he felt like he was officially over his head. The one positive thing coming out of all of it was that Jane had called him, not even bothering to ask to talk to her son, to let him know she would be back in one weeks’ time. She thanked him kindly for watching her oldest child and said that if he ever needed anything all he had to do was ask.



Kevin was short with her on the phone, even rude, cutting her off in mid-sentence before hanging up abruptly. He felt bad hating the woman so much, mainly because he didn’t really know her that well, but at the same time having to baby-sit Nick for as long as he did, he got a good sense of how the blonde was brought up. He didn’t like what he saw.



The long days of rehearsal were rough for the youngest member of the group. His mood swings were violent; sometimes he would erupt in bouts of cussing at anyone who was in his way. Sometimes those violent outbursts turned to tears of exhaustion over the silliest things. He just about had a complete meltdown when he went to get a bottled water only to find that Howie had taken the last one.



He took his sneaker and flung it at the Latino before storming out of the room. That night as they got back to the apartment, Howie chose to stay as far away from the thirteen year old as possible. “I am at my breaking point with him Kevin, I swear I am a very patient guy but if I see that kid and he rolls his eyes at me one more time I’m going to have to beat him.” Kevin’s eyes just grew wide when he heard someone as calm as Howie utter those words.



“D, he’s leaving in a week.”



“That’s not soon enough for me.”



“He’s just tired, we all are, but you are right to be mad.”



Howie took a deep breath and let it out in the form of a yawn, which Kevin caught and did the same.



“Whatever, it’s just too much you know? He needs major therapy or something.”



“Are you okay Howie? You aren’t acting like yourself.”



“What? Can’t I have a bad day or two? Why must I always be sunshine and lollipops?” Howie answered with such ferocity that even Kevin backed away.



“Sorry…you know what? Maybe I…I think I’m going to go home tonight. A night away from this place will do me some good.” Howie said turning away in embarrassment at his little blow up.



“Maybe you’re right; I mean we actually get a half day off tomorrow.”



“I know, imagine that.” Howie finally smiled which brought much needed relief to the oldest Backstreet boy. After all, it was Howie who was supposed to keep him sane.



That relief didn’t last long when Nick entered the room, coming from outside where he was playing basketball with Brian. He had realized that Howie wanted to be nowhere near him and although he felt horrible for losing it earlier, he had yet to try to apologize to his friend.



Howie’s smile disappeared when the boy emerged, “I’m going to pack my bag.” He said turning around and walking towards the bedroom.



“Where’s D going?” Nick asked innocently as he sat down, removing his jacket and draping it over his chair.



“Home for the night.”



“Because of me?” Now Kevin’s back was turned as he made himself some herbal tea. His mother told him it was a great way to wind down the muscles and cause the body to relax, at which point he wanted to ask her if it came in a syringe but decided against it.



“Yeah I think so,” Kevin tried the blunt route after thinking about it briefly.



“Oh.” The child replied looking down at the table and running his hands through his sweaty hair.



“It wouldn’t hurt to apologize to him you know.”



“I know.” Nick sounded so sad that Kevin didn’t want to turn around. To be frank, he was tired of dealing with the kid’s constant drama, especially since he felt so overwhelmed himself but when he heard him flat out crying he had to turn around. When he did he saw Nick’s head down on the table wrapped around his arms as if he was playing a game of 7up only instead of thumbs up tears were rolling down.



“Nick what is the matter?”



The tween ignored Kevin and just continued to cry, more like ball, which concerned Kevin as he took a seat next to Nick, placing his hand on the boys back.



“Nick…”



Brian entered the apartment whistling a theme of some random video game when he stopped short at the sight in front of him. He looked at his cousin confused to which Kevin was only able to respond with a shrug.



“Hey little man…” Kevin managed to get out in a soft voice even though all he wanted to do was scream, stop being such a little drama queen!



Now Brian was sitting on the other side of Nick looking perplexed and concerned, maybe even a tiny bit amused as his cousin continued to rub the boy’s back.



“Did something happen outside?”



“No, we were playing Around the World but he got really tired so we called it a tie and came in.”



“Did he fall or something?”



“No.”



“Nick, I wish you would tell us what was wrong?” Kevin said directing his gaze back to the kid as he continued crying sucking in breathes as if he was hyperventilating.



“You think this is just exhaustion?”



Brian shrugged, unsure of what to do.



“Just…go…away.” He got out between chocked sobs.



“Nick we live in like a cubicle there’s nowhere to go sorry buddy.”



Kevin felt the back of Nick’s neck to see it was hot so he went over to the sink and wet a cloth to place on him to cool him down. Maybe this was exhaustion, a total breakdown of all emotions and everything. Wasn’t Kevin at that breaking point himself, as well as Howie?



Howie walked out of the bedroom with his duffel bag and stopped short when he saw all the drama at the kitchen table.



“What on earth?” He asked under his breath, but once Nick heard Howie’s voice his face finally came up from the table, his cheeks all red and his eyes puffy.



“Howie I’m so sorry I did that today, I didn’t mean it, please don’t hate me!”



“Uh…” Howie stood dumbfounded, he actually made that uh sound which made Brian laugh.



“Brian!”



“Sorry that was funny.”



“I am sorry Howie.” Nick said ignoring anything else that may have been going on in the room. “I didn’t mean to throw that shoe at you, it was an accident, well not really an accident but I didn’t mean to do it. Don’t hate me… enough people hate me please don’t be one of them.”



“I don’t hate you Nick,” Howie finally said disappointed that now he had no reason to be angry anymore. He needed to feel angry right now but wasn’t quite sure why himself. Maybe it was easier to direct his anger at a person instead of at a job.



Nick stood up and walked over to Howie giving him a hug as the wet towel fell off of his neck and hit the ground. He still looked confused but wrapped his arms around the kid when he walked towards him.



He once again started full on sobbing, which made everyone look at each other confused. “Nicky are you feeling all right?”



Nick nodded, “I’m just so tired… I can’t do this anymore.”



That’s when Kevin realized that he was correct all along. Of course this was exhaustion, plain and simple.



“You know what we need?”



“A vacation, that’s what I need.” Brian said spinning the basketball on his finger.



“Amen to that one brother.” Howie said laughing; now completely calm and feeling bad for getting so mad at a child.



Nick still clung to him hugging; eyes closed almost falling asleep on the guy. “Why don’t you go to sleep on my bed buddy since I won’t be here tonight.”



“Yeah…okay, I’m going to do that now.” Nick said letting go of Howie and walking into the bedroom just like that.



“Well that was odd.” Brian said once the door was closed.



“Doesn’t anyone want to hear the rest of my sentence?”



Howie and Brian looked over at Kevin, “Not particularly but go ahead.”



“Go to hell B.”



“Thanks.”



“Weren’t you going to say this for Nick’s benefit anyway?”



“Yeah D, but I still think it would do us all some good.”



“Oh lord why do I feel the words yoga and cleaning ready to spew out of his mouth.” Kevin shook his head at his cousin.



“I think we should all camp outside tonight.”



“I knew it was going to be something like that.”



“Actually you said yoga and cleaning, nothing about camping out.”



“That would have been next.”



“Right, anyway what do you guys say? I know it’s not home Howie so I won’t hold it against you if you still want to leave but I just think we all need to feel like we are taking a break, look at us, we are all not acting right.”



Howie stood there weighing the pros and cons in his mind until finally placing his duffel bag on the floor, “Okay let’s do it but I think it’s only fair if we get AJ too.”



“Good idea.”



“I’m sure nothing will make him happier than being plucked out of his nice comfy bed and onto our weedy backyard.”



“Why don’t you go get him Brian?”



“Oh fine make me do the dirty work.”



“Either that or you get to pitch the tent.”



“Okay I’ll be back in a bit.”



Kevin and Howie laughed, “Thanks D.”



“Don’t thank me I think it’s a great idea. I feel bad for Nicky, he’s so tired. This schedule is too hard on the kids.” Meaning Both Nick and AJ.



“Come on let’s go pitch a tent.”



“You know I have never done that in my life right?” Howie asked as they walked out the door and down to the basement where all the camping equipment was stored.



~*~*~*~*~*~




It took just under an hour to get the tent up as Howie ended up doing nothing but watch Kevin wrestle with the canvas. By the time the tent was up and the sleeping bags safely tucked inside, Brian had arrived with AJ, who looked annoyed but yet amused by the whole thing.



“Anyone want to tell me why I was kidnapped to your backyard?”



“I told you AJ, it’s because we can’t live without you.”



“Right I almost forgot. Where’s brain fart?”



“Wow you come up with a new nickname for him almost daily, I’m impressed.”



AJ smiled as he sat down on one of many blankets around the hibachi that was supposed to serve as their campfire. “Thanks, it’s a gift.”



“I’m going to go get him.” Kevin said getting up already feeling refreshed, and making his way back into the apartment.



“On your way back down, grab the marshmallows!” Brian yelled to his cousin.



Once inside Kevin made his way to the bedroom where he still heard Nick hiccupping his sobs from earlier, he sat beside him and put on the light next to Howie’s bed. The boy’s eyes were closed as he slept. Huge circles were formed around them. Once again Kevin found himself hating the Carters for putting their son through this when he should be doing what normal 13 year olds did.



“Hey Nick.” He said gently tapping on his shoulder, “Wake up, I want you to come downstairs.”



Nick opened his eyes, “What? It’s not time for work already is it?”



“No….I have a surprise.”



To that Nick shot out of bed excited and smiling, “My family is here aren’t they? I KNEW it!”



Well that made Kevin feel like crap, “Aw no little man, I’m sorry…”



Nick turned back around to Kevin who really got a good close look at the teenager. He looked utterly exhausted. His eyelids half opened, his eyes drooping and his complexion pale.



“Nicky, we decided to have a little campout in the backyard. Did you ever do that when you were little?”



“Yeah…a few times. Camping out?”



“Yeah, AJ is even here. We’re about to toast some marshmallows.” Nick looked confused, a look that was becoming the norm in this apartment.



“I like those...” He sounded like such a young child when he said that.



“Let’s go, you think you’re up to it?” Nick nodded but still looked so sad.



“Aw buddy, I didn’t want to tell you this because I…well I didn’t want you thinking about it constantly...” What he meant to say was he didn’t want to tell him this because he wasn’t sure if it was true, “but your family will be here in one week to get you.”



“Really?”



“Really, your mom called me and told me that a few days ago.”



Nick shook his head but still didn’t look any happier. “Cool, that’s nice.”



“I thought you’d be happy about that.”



“I am, but…” He shrugged, “I guess not as happy as I thought I’d be.”



“Nick, I know you probably won’t believe me but it’s going to get better.”



“What is?”



“Everything…this job, your relationship with your family, it’ll all get better.” If only that turned out to be true.



“I kind of like being here with you guys Kevin.” Nick admitted sitting back on the bed and yawning.



“I know.” He ruffled Nick’s hair, “Now let’s get outside and toast some marshmallows.”



“Do we have anything to make S’mores with?”



“Nope.”



“Dang.”



As they laid out under the stars, ignoring the loud sound of the highway which was less than a mile away, they toasted marshmallows on sticks and sang some of the stupidest camping songs they had ever learned followed by the cheesiest ghost stories they had ever told and ended up laughing the night away.



Nick was the first one to fall asleep as he lay between Brian and AJ, one arm on each as if he needed them to survive, which Kevin was beginning to see he did.



“I have to hand it to you cousin, this was a great idea.”



“Yeah? Thanks, I’m glad you thought so Brian.”



“I think it was what we needed although I would still enjoy a vacation.”



“Wouldn’t we all, is Willy Wonka over here going to be all over me all night?”



“Probably.” All three boys answered in unison.



“Great!” AJ rolled his eyes but just like Nick, Kevin could see that AJ would rather be nowhere else at the moment.



Kevin was the last to fall asleep, putting dirt onto the fire as he watched everyone huddled together. His eyes landed on Nick the longest who was sleeping peacefully with his arm totally around Brian as if he was a big stuffed teddy bear.



He had to admit that even though Nick drove him crazy he was going to miss the little guy. Finally he allowed himself to lie down and fell asleep staring up at the stars.

WOW! It's been a looong time since i've updated this one. Long time for me anyway lol sorry about the wait if you are even reading this anymore, which I hope you are. I hope I won't make you wait so long for the next chapter.
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