“We just want to thank you guys again for coming out here for the thirtieth anniversary tonight…”
I decided then to tune Kevin out. Just for the moment. I love the guy, but when he gets emotional, he can go on and on. Practically for forever. April has been a month of mixed emotions during the past few years now and it always has me more often than not stuck in my own head. April is what brought me the group that absolutely saved my life. I wouldn’t be here today if not for the fellas. I know that now. It was also the month that gave me my oldest child Odin.
It also reminded me of what I’d lost.
It’d been three and a half years since I lost Lauren. Three and a half years yet right in that moment it felt like yesterday. I was sitting there fresh off of what would’ve been our ninth anniversary. All because of complications during our daughter’s birth. The baby made it into the world, a blessing, our lost daughter returning to us. That’s what it felt like since the year before Lauren had miscarried what would’ve been a baby girl. This time she was here, but Lauren died due to complications during the labor. That’s how the doctor put it at first, “complications”.
She was supposed to be named Saoirse Reign Carter. In the end I had to name her something else, Michelle Lauren Carter, after the mother who had given everything to her. I wanted her to always carry her mother with her, knowing she’d never know her the way she should have.
The first year had been the hardest. Looking back I’m still shocked I didn’t relapse into my old ways of coping. Drugs, getting blackout drunk? All it never seemed so damned tempting. But my kids needed me. Our kids. They only had me. And I would never subject them to all the trauma I’d been raised in. They deserved so much more. So much better. I was determined to give it to them. Instead I threw myself into the group, into my work.
Thanks to this I ended up never home, and hired on a nanny so the kids could be on tour with me. When it wasn’t BSB related gigs, I was churning out a solo tour. I wrote a new movie. I made a new album. Anything and everything to keep me working and my mind busy. I didn’t want to sit still. The idea of being at the house surrounded by all the memories of the love I’d had and watched get stolen away... it felt like hell. I avoided it at any cost.
During the second year, came therapy. Kevin had talked me into it. In Kevin’s Kevin way of forcing you if you want me to be honest. He threatened to sick Kristin on me if I didn’t listen and I love her but she’s never one I want angry at me. He’d told me that I had them all worried with my workaholic coping. I never took a break. I barely slept. Wonderful Union staff were worried at my VIPs. I was just wrapping up another solo album in between all the tour dates. Music was the best thing to keep me from thinking. I’d already made plans to try and pitch my new script to SyFy. In a way working had become almost as addictive as drugs had been once, which apparently they were all scared would be the next step due to my past.
“I don’t want to see you hitting the headlines in the same ways Leslie and Aaron did.”
Being reminded of my baby brother’s deadly overdose was enough to drive me into therapy.
Another one I couldn’t save.
Therapy helped more than I can say. It helped me learn how to deal and see things for what they were once again. I’d gotten trapped in a haze of grief that nothing was as it really was anymore. It didn’t make the pain go away. Nothing could do that. Not completely. It taught me how to live with it. It let me get to a point where I could accept that it may fade yet never disappear. In doing this, I was able to take a step back again. I could handle the periods where I wasn’t on stage or in a studio without wanting to scream or rage at the unfairness of it all. My kids became the center of everything once again, the way they should be. They were all I had left of Lauren. Living proof of the love we carried between us.
A love I carry alone now.
Sometimes, AJ liked to try and fix me up.
I don’t mind it now as much as I used to. At first I punched him for it. I got lucky in that he forgave me for it, and actually apologized for suggesting it too soon. I punched him in the face and yet he was the one who said he was sorry. How’s that for making you feel like a massive dick?
It’s hard to sink when everyone keeps diving in to keep you from drowning, If there’s anything I learned over the years it’s that the ones who matter end up riding with you through waves of shit. It’s why I considered them family in the end and it’s why I hoped maybe, just maybe, I’d be an okay dad, It still hurt though, every day. It’d become more a dull ache or that moment where I reach for her in the morning before remembering that she’s no longer there.
A sharp elbow to the side brought me back to reality. You’d think at forty three Kevin would stop trying to father me around. You would be dead damn wrong. I grinned sheepishly at him and did a little shrug that caused the fans in the small crowd to laugh. They must have caught me spacing too. Oops. No wonder Kevin was glaring at me. When the fans notice, to him that meant we were cheating them an experience. I couldn't say he was wrong in thinking so. I just couldn't help when my mind wandered, it happened more often ever since I became a widow.
Fuck, I hated that word.
We were doing an anniversary event to kick off our second residency in Las Vegas. The sales this go around were even crazier than the first run and broke even more records. Now this one, dubbed yes, you guessed it Backstreet's Back was the fastest selling residency in the city now. Smashing our own Larger Than Life production's sales from 2017. Fans were picked from random from the fan club and invited for a live stream being recorded right at Zappos Theater in Planet Hollywood. We were still on top and sometimes I kept wondering if or when it would all end, having never forgotten the Kevin-less years when everyone pretended we didn't exist and we did our damnedest to tread water.
"I have a question for Nick." A young girl who had to be a fan thanks to her mom since she was no older than 19, said as she stood with the microphone. Our newest fan support staff from Wonderful Union, Casey, had given it to her before giving me a small smirk. She'd been with us for about three months now and helped Kat run the VIPs.
"If he's done daydreaming." Brian quipped from the other side. Yeah, I was surrounded. I think they knew if Howie was sitting next to me, I would've been even more sidetracked picking on him. Thirty years and that shit still hadn't gotten old.
I laughed. "I am, I promise. What's your question….?" I waited for her name.
"Tami." I smiled more encouragingly as I ran a hand through my hair. I had to dye it to keep the grey out now. I refused to accept looking old until I had to.
"I just wanted to ask you, if your solo album had been successful like...Justin Timberlake." A solid chorus of boos made me laugh again. I had no problems with the members of NSYNC, several were my friends but none of us liked Justin. "Do you think you still would've come back to the group or stayed solo?"
For such a young fan she knew her music history.
AJ looked slightly startled by the question. We’ve all worked past it but he was the one most hurt by my first attempt at a solo record. At first I never understood why. By all rights that should’ve been Brian who’d been the one insisting we get back in the studio. Or Kevin who’d spearheaded the battle against The Firm at the time while I’d chosen to stay with them so I could make Now Or Never happen. But Kevin had understood that I needed to break free and try to find myself. My true rebellion against the only real family I had at the time. Howie had been the one who recognized more than anyone I needed them to stand by me.
Years later I realized it was because AJ had wanted to do it himself but had been scared, and was mad at me for going there first. He’d flirted with it doing his charity Johnny No Name project but I’d gone in head first saying to hell with the consequences, and he’d been jealous. That on top of the album delaying the group one (something I hadn’t known at the time), made AJ act out the most about it. Even now after the old wounds had long since healed, my 2002 record was still a sore spot for him.
I smiled. “I know I would have. I think I wasn’t ready to go solo but Now or Never did what it needed to. It gave me the space I needed to sort out who I was, beyond being a Backstreet Boy. I don’t see it as a failure. I see it as something I needed to grow.” I shrugged. “If it’d succeeded I still would’ve gone back because they’re my brothers and I would’ve missed making music with them.”
Kevin grinned as he bumped my shoulder. “It’s one of many reasons I came back. I missed what we had together.”
Brian pretended to cry then, causing all the fans to laugh among the chorus of awws , “I love you guys!”
Meanwhile Howie snorted. “We can’t get rid of each other no matter what happens.”
I let my attention wander as Casey let another fan ask a question, this one directed at AJ. In so many ways I knew I was blessed. Few people were lucky enough to have a successful thirty year long career in music the way I did. Sometimes though, I still felt cheated. My childhood growing up was a documented disaster. My mother was in an institution, two of my siblings were dead and gone due to succumbing to the same demons that almost got me. Though I was close to Angel and even BJ started coming around over the past few years, once she realized our mother had poisoned and warped our relationship.
I had two beautiful children that I loved more than life itself. Yet I’d lost Lauren and they were cheated out of having their mother raise them. Life was so contradictory. I was thankful for what I did have but sometimes I felt like I was waiting for the bubble to burst, for more shit to rain down upon me now that I’d found a sense of peace and tranquility again.
If Kevin could hear my thoughts in that moment he’d say I was stuck in my head too much.
“Okay guys, thank you so much for joining us today! Remember the Backstreet’s Back Las Vegas residency starts up on Wednesday, April 26th! There’s still tickets available over at BackstreetBoys.com!”
Finally the cameras turn off, and the fans are led out of the venue.
“You doing okay Nick?” I hear Kevin immediately ask.
I nodded. “I’m good, time of year and shit.”
“If you need to talk, you know we’re not far.”
I smirked. “You should just move here. I know you love California and all but it’s nice being fifteen minutes from your house after a show. Not that I’m knocking the penthouses at Caesar’s.”
“Maybe I will.”
If any of them ever moved to Vegas I knew it’d be because they were truly worried. “Yeah okay.”
Howie checked his phone before looking up. “Really Nick. We know this isn’t easy for you.”
“I’m good. Really.”
“You know, Rochelle’s got a friend that lives out here and…”
I shook my head again. “Nah not right now.”
“I’m heading out.” I felt Brian’s hand on my shoulder. “But we’re having a barbecue at my place this weekend.” He always rented a house when we had our runs here. “Baylee’s even going to come out for the residency launch.” Baylee never made a lasting splash in country, but ended up finding a solid niche as a songwriter in the last year or so. It wasn’t the future Leighanne planned for him but he was happier than I’d ever seen him on stage. All the love of music without the pressure. I rooted for the kid and all but you could tell the performance part wasn’t his true passion. Songwriting was it. He did it damn well too.
“Sure. Odin and Shelly will love it.”
As everyone started to disperse, I caught Casey helping clean up. Like me, she actually lived out here though on the other side of town closer to the mountains. Most people don’t know this but Vegas was really spread out and acted more like a small town than the huge city it was. “I don’t think the fans noticed you spacing too much.”
I smirked at her calling me out like that only after the fellas left. “They did but most of them get it.”
She nodded, pausing for a moment to tie her long brown hair back into a ponytail. “We all do. You know they and the guys would’ve understood had you not wanted to do the event today. All you had to do was say something.”
“I know.” I went to help her pack some of the snacks up. “I like working and the fans are why I’m lucky enough to still be doing this.”
“Oh Nick you don’t have to help, you’re paying me remember?” She laughed, her green eyes brightening as she did.
“Yeah I know but Angel’s got the kids for another hour and…” I shrugged, suddenly feeling vulnerable. I hated that damn feeling more than anything these days. “The idea of going back to an empty house doesn’t sound good right now.” I said easily. Something I’d never admit to the fellas. They’d hound me if I did.
“Then thanks.” I picked up another box and followed her out the back. I knew Mike would figure out soon enough where I was so I didn’t bother to text him. If he was worried enough he’d hit me up. But after so many years as my bodyguard he knew how I was by now. I tried not to notice the movement of her hips as I walked, but I even wrote a song about butts at one point. Casey, well she was interesting and she was sweet. I liked talking to her. Mainly because like the fellas, when I did, I noticed she would actually listen. When you grow up a pop star you realize how many people can’t listen because they’re too caught up in the image.
“You got quiet on me again.” She said out of nowhere. “Up in your brain again?”
I loaded the box into the van with her. “Just wondering if you had my poster on your wall when you were a kid.” I teased to chase her off the subject. “You never answered the last time I asked.”
“And I’m not going to.” She turned around and poked me in the chest playfully, looking up at me. She was barely 5’5”. I was practically a giant in comparison. Somehow it always amused me though.
“That answers it for me.”
The victory was in the blush of her cheeks that followed. “Nickolas Carter you are something else.” She started back inside. “And that wasn’t an answer by the way.”
Another laugh followed as I let her lead me inside, trying to shove away more dark thoughts.
Every day was a battle, you see.
And I thought that might always be the case.