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The next two days Kevin chose to isolate himself away from his teenage charge as much as possible. Getting an occasional glare across a table or on the couch. He brushed it off and smiled back at the kid. Even though he didn't know Nick that well yet he realized that when Nick was in a mood it was best to leave him be. Eventually he would get over whatever the heck was bothering him.

The rehearsals they had over that two day period were very intense and it turned out that Howie and Brian were right, Fatima didn't mind the mistakes. Seems like she had more important things to worry about like an upcoming junior high tour they were planning.

In three days they would be performing in a mall right outside of Orlando, which seemed like the big time to Kevin. He shook his head in disgust at first thinking of acts like Tiffany and New Kids on the Block. Tim would constantly make fun of those people when he heard that they were touring malls. "What losers!" He would say. Kevin remembered laughing right along with him and Harold as well. "Yeah complete losers!"

Now here he was, biggest loser of them all! Singing in a mall. He never did have his Walton's moment with Nick. Deciding it best to leave him be. In Kevin's head he was never good with kids although the people around him would say otherwise, he just felt like when it came to talking to children, he just didn't have what it took to understand them. That little thing called patience and contrary to what Nick believed, that is what Kevin saw him as, a child.

"Why the hell did they put me in a damn stroller?" Kevin smiled, couldn't help it like Nick was reading his thoughts or something. "And what's so freaking funny?"

Kevin looked up and shrugged, "Nothing...just remembering something funny"

"Yeah...like you in a stroller!" AJ put his two cents in which got the whole table laughing.

"Well I think you are all a bunch of jerks" Nick stood up from the table and marched into the living room to flip channels"

"At least there was no door slamming this time" Howie whispered which caused more chuckles from the table.

"I heard that!" Nick screamed from the other room.

Brian decided to join his friend and retreat to the living room leaving Kevin, Howie and AJ at the table.

"So you think we'll get a good reception at the mall Kev?" He looked over at AJ and shrugged, he noticed he shrugged a lot these days. Once so sure of everything now his life completely up in the air.

"I guess we'll just have to wait and see"

"So far the schools we performed at have liked us. Except for that one that booed when we were done. Assholes!"

Kevin had never been booed in his life until that day. He was definitely the big fish in his school no doubt about it. One of the most popular and THE most talented person there. He could even say so without feeling like he was being stuck up; that's just the way it was. He always got the best parts in school plays, always got the solos in chorus and always got the girls. Always.

When he moved to Orlando he found it an easy transition, auditioning and getting a part in a Disney stage show very quickly. Then he was approached by these people. Given a card with a promise to make him a superstar. That's when he suddenly went from big fish to little minnow.

He was instantly intimidated by the big man that he would later know as Lou Pearlman and even more intimidated by the woman who looked him up and down as if he was for sale. Donna Wright had given him a small smile and a thumbs up to her husband which left an ill taste in the native Kentuckian's mouth.

Then the rest of the boys were brought in. Howie came first and Kevin smiled but that smile faded when he saw the two kids walking in after him. Both AJ and Nick had looked so tiny, at first he thought it was a joke.

But then they sang for him and it sounded great. Kevin walked out knowing the gig was his if he wanted it.

All easy up til know.

Now there were shows, small ones at schools mostly junior highs because as much as he didn't like it, in the end that was going to be his main audience. Once again kids!

The first two had gone on really well but that third one was rough, they had a ton of sound problems which threw the boys out of whack. They never encountered anything like that before and when the music cut out briefly and they were left to sing acapella, to Kevin's horror he heard that they were singing way off pitch!

Once he heard how badly off key they were he stopped singing and just danced his moves. The audience started laughing at them, at that point the others still couldn't hear how badly out of tune they were. They just weren't used to it yet.

When the laughing turned to flat out booing all the guys stopped and just stood there, unsure of what to do. It seemed like an eternity of them standing there and listening to an audience boo them until finally Johnnie signaled for them to follow him out of the room which they happily did.

They were ushered into the school gym where Johnnie laid it into them. The first time but not the last that Johnnie would suddenly lose his cool and start screaming and demeaning them. Kevin was embarrassed and being yelled at did not help at all. Especially when all eyes turned to him, "And YOU should have taken control out there Kevin!"

He was floored at first, "Why me?" He asked innocently enough but that just caused Johnnie to move in closer towards him, "Because you are the one with the most experience, you are the one they look up too! If you lose it out there so will they!"

So much responsibility suddenly falling on his shoulders. It didn't seem fair at all.

They stood in silence in the gym's locker room waiting for the angry crowd to pass and go back to their classes, the room was so quiet you could hear each other's breathing. "I've never been booed before" Brian finally admitted sounding stunned and alarmed.

"Me either" AJ said sitting down on the bench.

"What happened out there?"

Kevin looked over at Howie, "you know what happened? He lost his pitch and never got it back that's what happened" He pointed an accusing finger at his youngest bandmate not even caring how much it would hurt to hear.

"I knew you were going to blame me for this" Nick said ready to walk out the door, "Don't walk away Nick, it's the truth you were almost a half step flat!"

He was surprised to see tears coming down the teens face, "I know okay? I made a stupid mistake so shoot me!" Brian walked over towards Nick and placed a gentle arm around him, "It's okay Nick...we all make mistakes" Then he glared over at Kevin, "Just we all handle it differently I guess... like some of us turn into accusing jerks!"

Kevin was furious at that point, "you know I suddenly have to be the one responsible just in case you didn't listen to Johnnie! He was jumping down MY throat but that didn't seem to bother any of you but HE makes the mistake and cries and you come to his defense? Beautiful!"

"Calm down everyone, all our emotions are in high gear, let's stop fighting" Howie said walking in-between Kevin and his cousin.

"I am such a fuck up! I'm sorry guys" Nick said, now full on tears streaming down his eyes. Kevin felt like crap for making the kid cry but he also got a tiny bit of satisfaction out of it.

That day, instead of going back home and resting like they were promised would happen, they ended up going back to the studio and rehearsing til almost midnight.


"I think that we'll be just fine" Kevin finally said looking over at AJ, trying his best to reassure him.

"I hope so" AJ now stood up and made his way into the living room where a laughing Brian and Nick were. The anger in Nick temporarily subsided. He decided he would take this time as the kids were all occupied and try to get in touch with his girlfriend Kristin. The girl who lived not even a half mile away from him yet who he hadn't seen in a week.

He walked into the bathroom, the only quiet and solitary place to talk and picked up the phone, surprised to hear someone on the other end.

"Hello?" Jane said sounding a bit confused and static breaking up her line.

"Jane is that you?"

"Kevin? Hello yes it's me...how are you?"

"I'm good" He rolled his eyes knowing he must have missed his window of opportunity to talk to Kristin.

"Good...." She said not really interested. "I was just checking in to see how Nicky was doing. Is he behaving for you?"

Well, wasn't that a loaded question, he was going to say no, so take the little brat home NOW! But instead he was polite. "Yes, he's being great. I can go get him if you want"

"No, that's okay I really don't have time to talk I just wanted to make sure"

"Really Jane he's only in the next room I..."

"Just tell him we all love him and miss him okay?" He shrugged again, "Yeah okay I will"

"Thanks Kevin" When they hung up he decided to try Kristin but of course she wasn't home so he trudged back out of the bathroom and into the living room where everyone sat and watched an old Simpsons rerun. It was nice that he was going to play good guy for once. Do something nice in his youngest band mates eyes.

"Hey little man" Nick was laughing about something Homer said and leaning up against Brian on the floor. The site was amusing. Those two seemed connected at the hip sometimes, "Little man" He said a little bit louder, finally sparking Nick to turn around, "Yeah?"

"While I was in the bathroom your mom called" He bolted up, "She did?" He smiled and ran to the phone, "She's not there anymore Nick"

"She hung up?"

"Yes she was rushed and just wanted to call and check up on you" His smile suddenly vanished and a look of pure anger took it's place, "What do you mean she hung up? What the hell didn't you get me?"

Kevin put his hands up in a gesture of peace, "Hang on buddy...relax. She just wanted to make suere you were okay. She said she was in a hurry"

"you could have called for me!" He was angry really angry and Kevin was at a lose for words, "Didn't you hear what I just said? She was busy"

"I think you were just on the line with your girlfriend and blew her off. That's what I think"

Kevin shook his head and got up off the couch, "You know whatever, if you want to think that then go right ahead, i'm threw arguing with you"

He figured maybe he would go try Kris just one more time and hopefully she might be home and was surprised when he suddenly felt himself thrust forward. "What the hell?" He said grabbing onto the table right before falling, "Nick what are you doing?" Howie screamed from behind. It took Kevin a few minutes to realize that he was being attacked by the midget. Once he did though he quickly managed to turn around and reverse things so he was just about lying on top of Nick while he flailed his arms. "Stop it!" Kevin yelled at him.

"I hate you!"

"Nick!" Howie and Brian were now dragging Kevin off of Nick as he actually spat at Kevin.

"Get that kid out of my site before I hurt him!" He threatened as Nick rolled off the ground and bolted out of the door of course slamming it as he went.

"Nick come back here" Brian yelled but by the time he opened the door Nick was gone.

"Is it always this exciting over here?" All three boys looked over at AJ.

"What?" After a pause, Brian put on his light jacket, "I'm going to go look for him"

"Leave him be Bri, he's angry and might bite your ankles or something"

"Why the hell didn't you tell him that his mother called?"

"I did! And you see how that went? I should have kept my big mouth shut"

"Why did he get so angry?" AJ asked kind of perplexed by everything that just took place.

"No idea" Howie said as Brian helped his cousin onto a chair, "you okay?"

"Please Brian...he didn't hurt me at all"

"Are you sure we shouldn't go looking for him? I mean it's getting dark"

"He'll be back. Let him cool off" Kevin said deciding to wipe his hands clean of the whole situation.
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