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When Kevin heard his cousin mention Jane’s name he swung his head around so fast, he almost dropped the plate of spaghetti he was getting ready to pass to Howie. Sure enough, there she was, standing in the doorway, staring at Brian as he put her son on the ground. Much to no one’s surprise the first words out of her mouth weren’t, “Nick I love you and missed you so much” but…



“I knew you were faking that injury Nickolas.”



Nick now stood facing his mother, looking like a deer caught in the headlights, “Mom I’m really hurt that’s why Brian was carrying me.”



“I’m sure.”



They stood there looking at each other, poor Nick had played out this scene so differently from what was happening now. He pictured himself running into his mother’s arms so thankful to see her and never wanting to let her go. Funny what time away from someone can do to change your perspective. Being with the guys made Nick realize what family was all about, even if they weren’t his real one.



“Well come here aren’t you going to give me a hug?”



It was only after the invitation was offered that Nick hobbled forward and fell into his mother’s embrace.



“Hi Jane, we weren’t expecting you for a few more days.”



“I know but after talking to Lou yesterday I got to missing my baby and decided to get here early. Seems like its dinner time.” She said glancing over at the table full of food.



“Yes, we just got done with rehearsal, you’re welcome to stay and eat with us.” Kevin replied as Howie grabbed another plate out of the cabinet.



“Thanks, I’ll take you up on that offer, I was going to just grab us some fast food on the way home but this looks much healthier, did you make that Kevin?”



“No, Denise did.”



Jane didn’t seem thrilled with that answer but still smiled and made her way over to the table as her son limped behind, “So where’s dad and the kids?”



“They are still coming home in two days, I just came early.”



“Oh.” Nick seemed disappointed as he took a seat next to his mother.



There was an uncomfortable silence in the air at first, since none of the boys felt very comfortable being around Jane, even her own son, who grew quiet and distant as they ate their meal.



“How have rehearsals been?” She finally asked, breaking the silence that hung in the air.



“Good, we were in the studio today.”



“Lou told me that you guys would be recording when I talked to him. Do you like the songs?”



When no one answered it was Kevin who took on the question, a roll he would soon be getting used to, “Well I think they are kind of dumb but hey if it get’s us signed I’m all for stupid, sappy love songs.”



Brian let out a laugh, to which everyone looked over his way, “Sorry, just the sappy love songs part cracked me up.”



“You’re so NOT right…”



“That’s about number 15.”



“Thanks Howie.”



“No problem Kevin.”



Jane ignoring the unimportant conversation glanced over at her son, “So Nick, were you well behaved for Kevin?”



“I guess.”



“He was great Jane.” Kevin said nodding at the woman, not quite sure why she had really come rushing home. He wanted to believe it was for the benefit of her son, but truthfully in the almost thirty minutes she was there, most of her interactions were addressed to him and not Nick, as if the kid didn’t exist.



“I hope so; I know he can be a handful sometimes.”



“Mom…” Nick said blushing from embarrassment.



“We have enjoyed having Nicky here and anytime he wants to come again he’s welcome to.” Kevin glanced over at Howie as he spoke; he had that same put off look that all of them had on their faces.



“Thanks Howie.” Nick said giving D a quick smile before putting his head back down.



Kevin noticed how quickly Nick’s posture changed when his mom entered the room; he barely made eye contact with anyone, just staring down at the floor, shoulders hunched over looking small and guilty. He wondered why he had never noticed it before, the way he acted when his mother was around versus the way he acted when she wasn’t. It wasn’t only the mother either, it was also Bob. The patriarch of the Carter clan, Nick was a different person around him as well.



Had they always seemed so uncomfortable in each other’s company? Kevin was embarrassed and a little guilty that he couldn’t answer the question he posed to himself. Next time he would have to be more aware of everyone’s situations, particularly Nick. He glanced over at his little brother who still had head down as he shoveled food in his mouth.



“So did you all have a good vacation?” Kevin asked when the blonde never bothered to look up from his plate.



“It went too fast and didn’t really feel like much of a vacation. You know we are getting Aaron ready to follow in Nicky’s footsteps. Have you noticed how well he can sing?”



“Sure, he has a great voice.”



“He told me he wants to be a pop star, a full fledged one so that’s what we are going to work on.” She placed her arm around her son, “Two pop stars in the same family! We can be like the Jacksons!”



“Mom Aaron’s too young to be a pop star; he’s barely out of diapers for God’s sake.”



“Oh come on Nickolas, he’s about the same age as you were when you said you wanted to sing all the time.”



“I said a lot of things when I was five mom, he’s just a kid.”



“So are you baby and look at you, my son the pop star!” Nick didn’t say anything only smiled, but it was not a real one. One of those plastered on ones that so many people just assume is real. Kevin was already beginning to be able to tell the difference.



After a few seconds of holding onto Nick, she let go of the embrace and dipped into her plate once again, “Anyway I told Lou all about Aaron on the phone yesterday and he insisted we get together and talk about it.”



“So that’s why you came home early?” Nick asked with a mix of sadness and anger in his voice. The saddest part being he already knew the answer to that question as did the rest of the boys who now all were staring down at the floor and their plates, anywhere but ahead.



“Well one of them, of course I came home mainly for you sweet heart.”



“When are you meeting with Lou?”



“Tonight, actually I’m going to his office in about an hour or so.”



“Oh.”



Once again a silence encompassed the table but this time it felt explosive, the anger was ever present in the way the guys were sitting. Kevin fidgeting every couple of seconds, trying to keep his cool and not say something he would later regret. It was bad enough this horrid woman was exploiting one of her children but now she was doing it to another one?



He wondered if that’s how it felt for Nick when he was so young, being pushed into a field he might not have really wanted to go into. You know how some kids say they want to be a fireman or a policeman. Maybe one day he said on a whim, “Mommy I want to sing,” and the next thing you know, Jane sees dollar signs and just like that Nick is no longer a child but a bread winner.



Suddenly he felt the worst sense of sadness wash over him, a melancholy feeling but not for himself, it was for the young blonde sitting across the table. He wasn’t even listening to what Jane was saying as she prattled on and on about show business, probably about the steps she would take to help Aaron in his career. Kevin instead focused his attention on Nick, the way he pretended to be excited about what his mom was saying while at the same time his facial expression stated “Look at me, I’m here!”



“I’d like to take Nicky out for ice cream,” Kevin suddenly blurted out which made Jane finally stop talking. Had he said that in the middle of one of her sentences? Her face and look of disgust told him that yes, maybe he had.



“Ice cream?” She asked.



“Yes, kind of as a goodbye present. Maybe we can hang onto him while you have your meeting.” Nick was now looking up and smiling.



“That sounds like a great idea!” Howie said winking at the blonde.



“Only if I get to go too.” AJ said biting into a meatball.



“No AJ, we are going to leave you here because you smell.” Brian replied rolling his eyes.



“Who says YOU get to go cousin? Maybe it’s just a me and Nick thing.” Kevin replied taking his cousin by surprise.



“But…I want ice cream too!”



Kevin looked over at Jane, “What do you say Jane? Is it okay?”



“Sure, I guess so, I mean it makes more work for me having to double back to get him but sure, not a problem.”



Once again Kevin had to bite his tongue, because what he was saying in his head was not very pretty. In fact if his mother was able to read minds she would have gotten on the first plane out of Kentucky, shown up on his doorstep and slapped him silly. So he settled for a silent ‘Good forbid we inconvenience Jane’ instead.



Jane looked down at her watch, “I should probably go now, think you can have him ready to leave in about two hours?”



“I think that will be fine.”



“Excellent.” She stood up and hugged her son, “Be good baby, I’ll be back later.”



When she walked out the door an audible sigh of relief was heard, “That was most unexpected.” Brian whispered to his cousin as he cleared the table, “I don’t want him to go.”



“I know Brian, but he needs his mother.”



“Pffft, is that what she is?”



“Bri!”



“Sorry but it’s true, you know Kevin…we’re really lucky.”



“Yeah I know.”



“So you really don’t want us to come with you guys? If not I hope you bring us back something.”



“You guys can all come too if you want.”



“Good because I am not going to entertain AJ and winky D. Have you noticed how much Howie winks? I always ask him if he has something in his eye.” Kevin just laughed.



“I’ll help you pack gimpy.” AJ said as he got up and helped Nick walk into the bedroom to get his things.



“Hey Kev…”



Kevin looked up from the sink when he heard Nick say his name. “Yeah?”



“Thanks.”



“Not a problem, try to hurry along though. We need to make sure we’re back before your mom.”



“Kay.”



“You want to keep him don’t you?” Brian asked amused.



“What?”



“You know if you keep him you have to take him out for walks and feed him.”



“Brian do you ever make any sense?”



“I’m making perfect sense; you are actually sad to see Carter go and for some reason that greatly amuses me.”



“Yeah, how about we send you home with Jane and he can take your place.”



“Oh please you’d be crying for me within minutes of my exit. You know you can’t live without me.”



“Maybe… but I’m willing to try; now why don’t you go help Nick so we can go?”



“Fine, anything is better than dishes.”



Once Brian was gone, Howie walked over to Kevin and took his cousin’s place as the dish dryer, “That Aaron talk made you ill too didn’t it?”



“Yeah, I feel for them D, that whole family is messed up. I worry about them all but I especially worry about Nick.”



“Me too. But he has us you know?”



“I never really let myself see what it was like for him, but him being here with us for all this time kind of opened my eyes. I’m never taking my family for granted ever again.”



“I have a feeling you never did in the first place.”



Brian came out of the bedroom with Nick once again slung over one shoulder while AJ was slung over the other.



“So we ready to go? I have Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum here.”



AJ was laughing but Nick wasn’t. He was just hanging there quietly, like a piece of meat.



“Put me down Brian.” Nick asked a few moments later. To which surprisingly he obeyed.



“Guys, before we go I just wanted to say thanks for putting up with me the last few weeks. I know I have been hard to be around, heck I mean I almost burned your apartment down. I got us in trouble more than once, I have slammed your doors so much that the hinges probably need replacing and I know I’ve been a butt. I just wanted to let you guys know that I’m sorry.”



The blonde had tears in his eyes, which once again threw them for a loop. Well not all of them, Kevin was almost expecting it. “No need to apologize Nick.” He found himself saying.



It’s funny to think what can happen in a month, how at first Kevin was ready to throw Nick out the window with his little temper tantrums and fits of crying and then laughing, tireless mood swings and the talking back. All he wanted was for this child to stop acting like a child and just grow up.



He realized now that by the time Nick came to them he was already grown up in a lot of ways. It was the guys who brought out the child in Nick, because they were the only ones in his life who let him be just that, a child.



“I’m going to miss hanging with you guys all the time.” He was full blown crying when he turned his eyes to Kevin, “Are you sure I can’t stay?”



Kevin walked over and gave him a huge hug, “I tell you what maybe we can ask your mom if you can stay for one more night. I’ll drive you home the next day after rehearsal.”



“See I knew it! He wants to keep him!” Brian said to AJ.



“Okay who wants ice cream?” Howie asked breaking up the tender moment being shared.



“Me, I want a honking huge sundae!” AJ said.



“I want a banana split!” Brian replied.



“Well better get going then shall we? A ride young one?” Kevin said turning around and offering Nick his back.



“Sure why not.” He said hoping on and being the kid he so desperately wanted to be as he wiped away the rest of his tears.



As they were leaving, right before Kevin turned out the lights, he glanced into the place where he would grow into an adult. It was just a small glance, nothing big. He didn’t realize he was staring into a space that would hold so much laughter and tears. A place they would celebrate their first record deal while eating pizza around the coffee table in the living room or a place where he would comfort Howie when he lost his sister.



Nick would be a frequent visitor to this place, sometimes by choice, but most times just like this one, left behind. If the walls could talk they would know more than even the best Backstreet fan could ever hope to know or wish to never have found out. So much sadness was shared in this place and so much happiness as well.



They grew to love each other and come together as less of a group and more of a family in this stupid, smelly one bedroom apartment that barely had enough light to see in the middle of a sunny Florida day, and when they would eventually make more than enough money to move out on their own, they would at certain points in their lives all miss this place. It was simple, it was plain but it was their home, even the ones who didn’t live there.



Kevin smiled, shut the light and closed the door.





The End







Author’s note: Wow I can’t believe another story done! This one has been going forever and I was sad to see it go, but at some point Nicky had to go home I guess. LOL



Just wanted to thank all of you who have given me feedback since the start of this one especially Kris (Swenglish) for giving me the idea in the first place. I hope it ended to your liking guys. I suck at endings but I felt like this one needed a very simple one.



Thanks again!



Mare
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