"Could Be Worse"
(***NOTE*** All text in italics denotes flashbacks)
I slammed through the door, still fuming and ignored the looks of bewilderment I'm sure I was receiving from curious onlookers. I couldn't have possibly cared less though. The only thing I cared about was the fact that Kevin was an asshole and I detested him more then anything at that moment. He could drop off the face of the planet and I wouldn't be bothered by it in the least...ok, fine, so I'm exaggerating there and yes I would miss him (only a little), but can you really blame me for being slightly peeved at the man? To think he had the nerve to stand in front of me, point his finger in my face, and blame me for the position he was in. Honestly now, how was I supposed to know that we'd get caught in the middle of some freak blizzard and find ourselves snowed inside a small private airport just outside of Chicago on Christmas Eve? It's not like I woke up this morning and said to myself, "Self, today I think I am going to get us caught in the middle of a snow storm because it will piss Kevin off. Why? Because I am Nick Carter and I can." Give me a break. After all, it is the holidays and for once I have decided to take a day off from making Kevin's life miserable. Surprised? Me too. Not that it makes the present situation any better. It doesn't change the fact that we are all stuck inside this crappy little airport and it doesn't look like we'll be getting out any time soon.
But do you think Kevin stopped to think about the fact that the rest of us were stuck here right along with him? Hardly. No, the guy was so caught up in making me understand that this was my fault and my fault alone that he could hardly breathe, and his face...that shade of red couldn't have been natural or healthy. He elicited his own share of curious stares from the few patrons around us and if proof of his insanity finally shows up in the papers tomorrow after all of these years then it serves him right. I didn't want to be stuck here any more then he did. I guess that didn't matter to him though. This was not how I had imagined spending my Christmas vacation. Far from it actually. Right now I should have been flying at a high altitude on my way to a tropical destination somewhere in the Caribbean where I would sit on the beach Christmas morning sipping margaritas. Damn blizzard sent that dream spiraling right down the drain. Now it looks like I will be spending the holiday stuck in some shit hole with an unstable old timer breathing down my neck and blaming me for his life problems. Feels great to be me... Maybe I shouldn't be complaining so much, but I think I deserved to be cut a little bit of slack. It'd been a long day and due to our not so comfortable dilemma, the tension had risen tenfold, which is more then I can say I cared to see it become. I wanted to be anywhere but here in this stuffy bathroom where my haggard appearance reflected back at me in the mirror. I was hungry, cranky, and damnit, Kevin overreacted! Then again there were some of us who were having worse luck on top of the being stranded issue.
Take Howie for example. It is a well known fact that he out of the five of us tends to be the one to lose his luggage at the airport and over the years he has learned to plan ahead of time to prepare for that scenario he's been subjected to so many times in the past. Now he always carries a duffle bag onto the plane containing a traveler's survival kit of spare clothes and necessities. Problem solved right? Lets try N-O on for an answer. At least that wasn't the case today. Either Howie is cursed with traveler's bad luck or he just needs to give up traveling all together. I felt bad for him, I really did, but can you blame me for still finding it funny each time he loses his luggage and he gets that look on his face as if he is surprised it actually happened...again? Some curses just never die I guess.
I couldn't help myself but let loose of a laugh as I made my way up the aisle of the first class cabin, watching Howie fail horribly at the task of trying to stuff his oversized duffle bag into the tinier over head compartment. It made for a classic scene to relieve the stress of having to travel on the eve of a major holiday, but I'm sure my open and audible expression of humor didn't help matters any because a second later he was glaring vehemently in my direction, his hands gripping the front of the duffle tighter then what was required. "Maybe if you wouldn't stuff the thing so full?" I suggested with a small shrug, only to duck into the nearest seat as an annoyed fist flew through the air towards my left shoulder. "Geez Howie! Would you watch where you throw that thing?! It's dangerous!" I wheezed and tried to pull myself back onto my feet. My only answer was a barely withheld string of obscenities. I had almost felt bad for laughing but after that close call with Howie's fist, there was absolutely no guilt to be found and just out of sheer spite, as I settled myself into my assigned seat I laughed at him again.
They say that the definition of insanity is someone who repeats the same thing over and over expecting different results, but always finding the same result as before. Call me unsympathetic but trial and error is just one concept that Howie has never been able to grasp. Not that I can say so much more for myself. However, we're not talking about me right now, we are talking about Howie. At least I decided to give the poor guy a break and pretend that I didn't notice the way his face got beet red as his temper flared when one of the flight attendants tentatively approached him to suggest taking his bag to have it stowed below. Instead, I allowed AJ the wonderful job of being next to give our unlucky friend his own outlook on the matter. Either that or AJ just stole my opportunity as he walked up to the two, slipping his own back pack into the compartment above our two seats.
"Stop harassing the woman D," AJ stated casually as if it were common occurence for Howie to express such behavior.
"I'm not harassing her," Howie gritted, forcing his tone to remain calm as he held the bag protectively against his chest. Don't be fooled by that sweet smile he offered or the cool demeanor though. Howie's not as innocent as he may seem and sometimes he tries way too hard to make people believe otherwise. I think it might have something to do with dealing with AJ, Brian, and I over the years that caused his patience to run thin. Now he's just as anal as Kevin was in the beginning and well...still is today.
"Sir, I apologize for any inconvenience this causes, but I insist you need to hand over your bag so I can take it out to be put below with the other luggage," the flight attendant attempted to convince Howie once more, reaching for the handle of the duffle and clearly frustrated.
I really wanted to tell her that she was fighting a lost cause, but once again AJ beat me to it. He squeezed in between the two and yanked the bag from Howie's arms before turning back to the attendant with a charming smile. "You'll have to excuse my friend," he explained seriously and handed the bag over without further argument. "You see, he forgot to take his meds this morning and now all of that eggnog he drank earlier isn't settling very well in his system. He tends to get a little irrational when he forgets to take his meds, but I assure you sweetheart, you're doing you're job just fine and I'll make sure my friend behaves during the duration of this flight."
All I could do at that moment was smirk as the flight attendant blushed and walked away in the opposite direction. Some things never change and when it comes to AJ, nothing ever changes and never will. I knew this was certain as he kept his eyes trained on the attendant's backside up until the point she disappeared out the door of the plane. Even as he squeezed past me into the seat by the window he had yet to wipe that sickeningly sweet smile from his face. Nope, AJ would never change. "She's already out the door, so you can stop drooling," I noted a second later when AJ rose halfway from his seat to peer over the tops of the other seats in hopes of catching one more glimpse.
"Admit it, you were drooling too," AJ scowled as he slammed back into his seat.
"Oh come all ye Backstreet/ Come and drink some eggnog/ Oh come ye/ Oh follow me to the bar back there!/ You can hold the cu-up/ And drink it in one gu-u-ulp!"
I shrugged nonchalantly and looked up as Brian and Kevin finally boarded the plane. I had wondered what was taking them so long, but with their loud entrance, or rather Brian's loud entrance, the answer was almost all too apparent. I watched curiously as Kevin ushered his cousin quickly down the narrow aisle and it didn't take long for me or AJ to realize the reason for Kevin's urgency or the reason why Brian exerted such an outburst as he walked (or stumbled...however you want to look at it) towards us. The obvious culprit for his sudden erratic behavior was a medium sized styrofoam cup bearing the symbol of the lounge I had seen him sneaking off to only an hour before we were due to board the plane. By the way, has anyone ever mentioned that Brian can't hold his liquor very well? It still makes me wonder how he managed to smuggle the drink on board. Then again for as long as I have known him, Brian has always had the talent of getting his own way and what he wants. And by the looks of it, he'd already gotten more then enough eggnog to last him the remainder of the holidays. So much for keeping a low profile that day...
"You been dipping into the eggnog there buddy?" I blurted, grinning as AJ's cackle echoed after me.
Brian paused abruptly, ignoring as Kevin stumbled into his back, and held his cup up for AJ and I to see. Even Howie glanced over briefly to witness the scene. For a second Brian just stood there grinning madly with Kevin behind him appearing as if he were about to commit murder. I couldn't decide what was more humorous, Brian's intoxication or the way Kevin's face turned so red that he looked like an enormous ripened tomato. Thinking back on it my pick would have to definitely be the former. Kevin is not too much fun to be around when he sets his mind on being mad. Although imagining Kevin as an enormous ripened tomato will always bring a smile to my face.
"Aw Kev, why you look so grumpy?" AJ called out when Kevin rather roughly forced Brian to sit in his assigned seat two rows ahead of us.
Without a word Kevin looked pointedly at me and gave me "the" look. It wasn't just any look, but one where he didn't have to say a single word and he was speaking a magnitude of millions. But what I didn't get was why he was all of a sudden looking at me. I was just sitting in my seat and minding my own business with the occasional laugh at Howie's expense. I wasn't the one who wasn't behaving, so why was he glaring at me like Brian's behavior was all my fault? Ok, so I did happen to mention to Brian earlier that the bar served the best holiday eggnog that I had ever had, and Brian had been down in the dumps about having to be away from his family throughout the duration of the trip. The closer he got to going home though, he just became downright annoying. Frankly, if I had to hear him say how much he missed his wifey (yes, he said "wifey") one more time, then I couldn't be held responsible for whatever personal actions of mine that followed. So naturally I offered the guy some subtle encouragement to seek a bit of liquid sedation. Whether Brian took my advice or not was his choice and it sure seemed like he had listened to me. Without realizing it I had begun to laugh at that thought, which caused Kevin's glare to thicken by the second.
"This is your fault," he spat.
I fell abruptly silent, wheezing as I pressed back into my seat. My fault?! I looked to AJ for clarification to Kevin's seemingly inability to place correct blame, but he could only cock an eyebrow in response. It was the first time that day that Kevin began to blame everything on me and honestly I was just...I was offended. Yes, offended because Brian was drinking too much eggnog and Kevin believed it was my fault. For crying out loud Kev, it's only eggnog! Maybe you need to drink some eggnog also!
But before I could voice my distaste though, the same flight attendant from before had approached Kevin and requested that he take his seat so the plane could depart. I barely heard Kevin grumble something before he slipped out of view into his seat and I settled as comfortably into mine as was possible. I hated flying, but even worse I hated being cramped in such small spaces for any lengthy period of time. I always ended up fidgeting in one way or another, which usually resorted in annoying Kevin further. Tapping my foot lightly against the floor I resorted to looking around the cabin with a general disinterest. Did I mention that I hated flying? AJ had already slipped a pair of headphones over his ears with a faint echo of rock music sounding just above the hum of the plane's engines so there was no use in trying to bother him with my restlessness. I didn't even want to call out to Brian in fear that he would once again burst out in his own rendition of some original christmas song parody and that would only lead to Kevin probably becoming violent towards me. Howie needed some bothering- I mean cheering up. So I turned to him with the full intent of consoling him over the loss of his beloved duffle bag when a rather peculiar sight on the ground outside caught my eyes.
"Hey D, isn't that your duffle bag still on the ground outside?"
Silence followed. Either he didn't believe a word I said or he was still stuck in denial over the loss, I don't know, but Howie ignored me all the same. So I did the only thing I could think of and naturally slugged him in the shoulder. I believe it would be called delayed reaction to the punch I almost received from him not too long before, but at least now I had caught his attention. He slowly turned his head in my direction and glared at the offensive hit. Oddly enough he still didn't say a word. "What?" I questioned innocently. "You were ignoring me."
"Gee Nick, I wonder why I would do that..." Howie grumbled in return and stared forward.
I scuffed. With the way he was acting you would have thought him and Kevin were the blood related cousins. "That's a shame really," I noted simply as the plane began to move in reverse. "I just thought you would like to know that your duffle bag is still sitting on the ground outside and if I'm not mistaken, I'd have to say that we are moving away from it."
Then just like that Howie's eyes snapped to attention as he whipped around in his seat and scrambled to the tiny window in disbelief. "Son of a-"
"Howard! Language!" I interrupted him promptly.
"B-but...but!" Howie stuttered, pressing his nose against the window, watching pathetically as we inched closer to the runway and further away from his bag.
I suppose I could have tried to convince him that things could have been worse, but when I thought about it, doing so would have been like a slap in Howie's face. I felt bad for him right then. Honest. Not only did the previous airport lose his suitcase, but now he was having to part without his precious last reserve of personal belongings that he had brought on the trip. Wincing, I sank down in my seat and tried to ignore the string of curses that flew from Howie's mouth. Some way to start the Christmas holiday.
Chicago here we come...
I squinted into the mirror, thinking, before splashing a collection of cool water onto my face. It had been an interesting flight to say the least and speaking on behalf of the five of us, I could definitely say we were all more then glad to depart from the plane when it landed, despite the fact that we found ourselves stranded the moment we were on the ground. But I really had to weigh my options when I thought about it. Did I really want to fight the fact that we were stranded and weren't going to be going anywhere for a while when there was absolutely nothing I could do about it? Or did I want to accept the situation and at least be thankful that I was no longer stuck on that aircraft with a nearly postal mid life crisis-like Kevin, a Brian who still felt it necessary to burst out randomly with his own rendition of christmas carols, an AJ who was still infatuated with the flight attendant and amazingly clueless to what was going on around him, and a Howie who was now covered in Brian's puke. About that last one there, trust me when I say you don't want to know.
"So this is where you ran off to? If I didn't know any better I'd say you were trying to hide from someone."
I nearly groaned towards the gruff tone as I hastily shut the faucet off and turned. But I withheld my show of displeasure for being bothered when I noticed AJ appeared just as weathered as I did. "Had to take a leak," I answered simply with a small shrug. AJ was correct about one thing though. I was on a mission to avoid Kevin at all costs and Kevin was seemingly on a mission to find me and squish me like a bug. I think I shall rename Kevin "Mr. Scrooge" this year. The title rather befits him I believe. Although I think I will keep that to myself for the time being.
"Oh, so that's what this room is for?" AJ chortled as he walked right past me. He made a bee line for the only urinal next to the only stall, unzipped his pants, and began to do his business without regards to the fact that I was still present in the room. And on top of it all he was whistling some rediculously off key tune that resembled one the songs Brian had burst onto the plane singing earlier. I swear that man has no shame and if he even begins to sing a single word of that song, I may just go find Kevin and allow him to squish me like a bug after all. A moment later AJ turned back around, his horrific tune halting as he made his way over to the sink. "Still avoiding Kev?"
"Planning on staying in this shit hole the entire time?"
"Because I find it funny that after all these years you are still afraid of Kevin."
He laughed as he said it and I looked at him incredulously. Afraid of Kevin? Hardly! I was not afraid of Kevin. I just didn't feel like listening to his bitching as he blamed me for this whole disaster. If anybody was afraid of Kevin it was AJ and why the Hell was he still laughing? If he really thought he was that funny then maybe he should go tell someone who cared, like the wall for instance. I'm sure the wall would listen. AJ was a freaking lunatic sometimes and yet I somehow always managed to have to take the downfall for being the not so sane one of the group. "...Shut up!"
Ok, so that wasn't exactly the reply I was looking to produce and AJ only laughed harder. "You're an idiot," I grumbled and side stepped towards the door, moving back out into the main lobby of the airport, which wasn't saying much. It was damn small and very distasteful in appearance. I wanted to bend down, rip off a piece of the brown colored carpeting, find Kevin, and shove it in his face. You think you feel like crud Scrooge? Well this is what I feel like- shit-toned carpet! I know I was just blowing off steam but I wasn't going to forget his lack of sympathy for everyone else, especially when he blamed it all on me and in front of the eyes of everyone else who were stranded right along with us. And great, now my stomach was growling something awful just to make matters worse. I think I'll blame my hunger on Kevin since he was so Hell bent on blaming everything on me. If I die from starvation then I will so come back to haunt him.
I could still hear Kevin ranting several feet behind me as I trudged along the snow laden ground, gritting my teeth as the breath flew from my chest into the frigid evening air. The ground was so slick that I could feel my feet nearly slipping out from under me every few steps I took and it made me wonder how it was possible that we were able to land on the frozen runway behind us, and a somewhat safe landing at that. Not that the landing process had been all that pleasant in the least. It reminded me all too much of some horrifying rollercoaster that would haunt my dreams for nights after and I'm sure I wouldn't be forgetting the turbulent ride anytime soon. I just wanted out of the cold. I wanted to be happy and enjoy my holiday. But now that wouldn't be happening and Kevin was making damn sure that I wouldn't forget that.
Was it possible to freeze in the time it was taking us to walk from our deserted plane to the small airport? With the way my teeth were chattering I was beginning to think it was all too entirely possible and the stupid bag I was having to carry was only slowing me down. If only I could heave it blindly over my head and have it somehow "accidently" hit Kevin...in the head...hmmm, that might make me feel a little better after having endured his PMS'ing bullshit as we debarked from the plane. Probably wouldn't shut him up, but I'd still like to see him try to dodge the heavy ass bag while on an ice covered ground. I actually considered doing it, just out of spite. But just as I was about to lift the bag to go through with my assault, Howie stalked by me so quickly that I lost my footing and found myself suddenly staring up at a snowy downfall.
"Son of a bitch!" I hissed, partially stunned as a stinging pain soared through my bottom and back side. I don't care if Howie did lose his bag or not; he needed to take some midol and put out the fuse that was lit on his tampon.
AJ was at my side in a second and reaching down with a hand to pull me back up onto my feet. "You alright?"
I grunted in response and wiped the wet slick from my face with a numb hand. God, could this night get any worse? I suppose Howie was gonna start blaming me for the loss of his bag now too. When I noticed AJ staring at me oddly, still waiting for an answer, I sighed. "I'm fine," I grumbled and bent partially to retrieve my bag. AJ offered me a sypathetic smile. Either he was actually concerned with the fall I had taken or he was trying damn hard not to laugh. Nonetheless I moved away from him, not the least bit sorry I had left him just standing there.
I had just about made it to the door that I was hoping would welcome me into a warm-aired atmosphere when I felt a hand grip my shoulder tightly. Thinking it was AJ again, I spun around ready with a mouthful of choice words, but stopped abruptly upon seeing Kevin's narrowed glare. If it were at all possible I swore the temperature just dropped several more degrees from seeing his expression. He looked as if he were having some sort of allergic reaction to something he had just eaten, his face was so red. Somehow I knew it had nothing to do with food or the cold weather we were standing in though.
"What?" I snapped, yanking my shoulder away from his grasp. I figured he was just going to start complaining again about Brian's run in with the eggnog and as irritated as I was at that moment, I was gonna stand there and let him blow off his steam then get on with my life. I wasn't prepared in the least for what he did say however.
"You ruined my christmas."
For a moment I couldn't help but think how childish and funny that sounded coming from his mouth, but his expression didn't change and I was downright baffled at the fact that he was actually serious. "What the Hell is that supposed to mean?" I blurted, my mouth dropping.
He stepped closer, his chest heaving and his hands balled in fists at his sides. Any other time I probably would have started laughing, but there was something in his eyes that made my sarcasm melt away. Then he pointed a finger directly in my face. His eyes narrowed further. "It's because of you that I'm stuck here! I shouldn't even be here right now! I'm supposed to be at home with my family where I belong, not stuck in the middle of some damn blizzard because you dragged me along on your little charity appearance! I didn't even want to go in the first place but you just had to drag me along! Now I might not even make it home in time for christmas and it's all thanks to you!"
Well damn, a simple "this is all your fault" again would have sufficed just fine in my books. But of course Kevin didn't see it that way. He becomes way too analytical when he's angry and he was absolutely livid. I wanted to deck him in the face at that moment and see if he would actually blame me for it also, but AJ had already stopped next to us and was watching bewildered. I guess maybe he could tell I was preparing to put a little pain icing on Kevin's anger cake because he placed a hand on my chest and pushed me back a step, cocking an eyebrow in Kevin's direction.
"Nice way to place the blame Kev. Very subtle."
Kevin's lips pursed into a thin line as his glare narrowed further, and he brushed past us, making a conscious effort to ram into my side as he moved by. Oh yeah, that's real mature Kevin. So nice of you to show a little bit of christmas cheer there buddy. And he says I'm the one who has growing up issues? If you ask me, he needs to practice what he preaches. I wasn't the one who was standing out in the down pouring snow whining like a two year old. Ok, yes I was standing out in the down pouring snow, but the whining like a two year old was all Kevin.
"Ignore him. He's just cranky," AJ offered.
I looked at AJ with a glare of my own. "Yeah? Well I'm starving and I want a bloody steak, but you don't hear me whining like a two year old about it!" And with that I stormed inside. Screw being mature...
Thirty minutes later I found myself standing in front of a sparcely stocked vending machine, slamming my hand against the glass in frustration as I cursed outloud. Damnit, I wanted my cheetos and not only did the machine steal my dollar, the little orange bag was hanging teasingly on the edge of the hook, refusing to drop. Of course that would be my luck. Really now, why me? I just want my cheetos! Is that too much to ask for? I slammed my hand against the glass again, hoping by some chance that I could get the item to dislodge, but no such luck. Grumbling, I rested my forehead against the glass front, trying to ignore the hunger pangs in the core of my stomach. I wasn't sure my mood could stoop any lower. So much for an enjoyable freaking holiday. It was turning out to be another depressing chapter I could add to the book that I called my life. "Stupid machine!" I cursed once more, kicking the side as I went to turn away. Not the brightest move of course, but at least the pain in my foot allowed me to forget about the hunger that was making me sick to my stomach.
I turned slowly and watched Howie approach me tentatively. Now that was a sight for sore eyes. The poor guy appeared all too uncomfortable as he walked towards me, his hands shoved deep in the pockets of a pair of tan construction overalls. I winced towards the ugly plad shirt that engulfed his thin frame and tried not to show that I noticed the rediculous get up he was wearing, but he had already glanced down at himself then back up at me and shrugged. Someone had obviously lent him a spare pair of clothing, no matter how atrocious the outfit was, so he could get rid of his own destroyed clothing all thanks to our wonderful eggnog loving bandmate. I guess my lack of cheetos situation didn't compare to Howie's misfortune, but that still didn't lift my disappointment.
"Whatever it is, I swear I didn't do it!" I blurted, putting my hands up in defense.
Howie stopped walking, staring at me oddly with his brows raised as if I had sprouted an extra head. "Do what?" he questioned hesitantly.
I stared back at him just as confused. "Um, yeah, nevermind. Disregard that last statement."
"You feeling alright?" he chuckled.
Of course! I feel just fine, dandy, and fuzzy peachy keen! I just happened to be stuck in an airport somewhere outside of Chicago during the middle of a blizzard on Christmas Eve. Life couldn't be better! Geez, Howie really can be dense sometimes, but you gotta give the man some credit. All kidding aside though, I couldn't stop the frown that curled my mouth down and I turned back to the vending machine where I was hoping I could distract myself by taking my frustrations out on the thing that had stolen my dollar and had yet to give me my cheetos. But the second kick hurt more then the first and it left me feeling even worse. I hung my head with a sigh and rubbed at my throbbing temples. "Sorry about your bag," I grumbled when I heard Howie take a few steps closer.
Howie shrugged in his nochalant way and it was just like that that his moodiness from earlier was completely gone. He's a little crazy like that. One moment he can be moody like there's no ending and the next moment it's as if he had never let a frown disgrace his face. "Figures it would only happen to me," he replied lightly and cracked a small smile.
"Yeah, figures..." I agreed quietly.
Howie could sense my lack of willingness to hold a conversation and he shifted his weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other. One of his many antics when he was nervous or anxious. Or maybe it was because of the rediculous outfit he was having to wear that made him look like a misshapened lumberjack. "They set up some food in the break room," he mentioned.
Once again I was back to staring longingly at that stupid bag of cheetos. Damn you evil vending machine! "Who's 'they'?"
"This place has a staff?"
"It may be a private airport, but someone has to run it Nicky."
I turned to him with my brows furled. Now he was just poking fun at me, though I couldn't help but smile. "Is there steak? Yummy, bloody, and still mooing?" I asked hopefully.
"No, but there are sandwiches. I'm sure you could use your imagination and pretend it is a still mooing steak."
"Very funny. Not interested."
Howie sighed. It was one of those 'I'm losing my patience' sighes that was a tell tale sign he was still running on a short fuse, despite his recent show of humor. "You won't be doing yourself any good wandering around out here all alone. AJ, Brian, and Kevin are all back there already along with some of the other passengers-"
My eyes narrowed at the mention of Kevin's name. I'd be damned if I let him make me feel even worse then he had already succeeded in doing. "Now I'm definitely not interested."
"He told me I ruined his christmas Howie," I interrupted quietly. I could see the confusion reflect in my bandmate's eyes. Of course he would be confused. He hadn't stuck around to witness Kevin's accusation. By that point Howie had already gone and knocked me on my ass then disappeared into the building. I didn't expect him to understand. I still didn't completely understand myself, but I would have much rather just forgotten about it.
"He couldn't have said that..." Howie started.
I cut him off sharply. "He did say it and rather bluntly too. Pointed his finger in my face and told me I ruined his christmas."
"God, sue me for missing having Kev around, especially for the holidays!" I don't know why I yelled. I mean, it's not like Howie couldn't hear me. He was practically standing not even a foot in front of me, but I still managed to yell and caused him to stumble back a few steps. And that's when those stupid emotions I'll never admit to and hardly ever show started threatening me in the gut. It started as a small anxious feeling of abandonment and slowly moved up until I could feel the tears prickling at the backs of my eyes. I refused to cry in front of Howie and become some emotional wuss becaused I missed having the five of us together.
That had been my first mistake before we even left for the trip. The four of us had agreed to appear at a small charity benefit in New York a few days before christmas and I thought it would be a wonderful idea to invite Kevin along. It had been awhile since the five of us as a group had been in the same room together and somehow the holidays just didn't feel the same without Kevin there to share the memories. I would never admit it fully outloud, because like I've said many times in the past I love to make Kevin's life miserable, but nothing felt the same without Kevin along side us. Of course things had changed with Kevin becoming a father and the new opportunities in his life that he had come across, but I still believed he deserved to experience the joy of performing with us that he used to get, even if he was the one to leave us. I've never done well with accepting change. It had taken quite a bit of work at getting him to leave his family so close to the holiday, but after convincing him he would be back with plenty of time to spend the first christmas with his son Mason, he reluctantly agreed. And so it was like I had opened all my gifts before christmas morning like some giddy child.
Some mistake I made.
Now Howie was standing there speechless and I was ready to start crying like a baby. "Just forget it," I grumbled and began to walk away. I was a grown man and all I really wanted at that moment was to be left alone. Howie hurried after me and was at my side again before I had a chance to get very far away. I continued to walk though, hoping he would eventually get the point and just leave it be. But Howie has always been a very persistant person though and he hates just letting matters drop before he reaches some sort of resolution. It's rather irritating sometimes but I do have to say it's one of his best qualities. Howie genuinely cares.
"He couldn't have possibly meant it like that. You probably just misunderstood him-"
"What was there to misunderstand? He was as blunt as blunt gets."
Howie frowned. "He's just cranky that he's stuck here. We all are Nick. You can't blame Kevin for wanting to get back to his family for christmas."
"I don't blame him for that!" I argued, feeling my cheeks turn a deep crimson color with heat. "But what about us?"
"What do you mean?"
I grimaced as my head ached with a dull pain. "We're not his family anymore?"
"What? Of course we are! It's just-"
"It's just what?" I could tell he was struggling with his answer because he fumbled over his words and adverted his gaze to anything but me. I knew exactly what he was trying to say and frankly speaking I didn't care much to hear it anymore then he didn't want to say it.
"Kevin moved on with his life Nicky..." Howie finally answered just a note above a whisper.
An odd and uncomfortable silence formed around us right then as we continued walking slowly. We had all talked about that many times since Kevin had first come to the four of us and announced that he was making the decision to call it quits. None of us had been exactly thrilled with the decision but what could we do? Force him to remain a member of the group until his dying day? Hell, shortly after his announcement I even tried to convince him that he would be committing a holy sin against the five Backstreet Commandments if he left and what was his reaction to that? He chuckled quietly in his annoying Kevin way, patted me on the shoulder, and told me I'd be fine. So maybe I was a little bitter about him abandoning us. I hate change. Obviously Kevin embraces it.
"Just because he's moved on doesn't mean he's forgotten."
I looked at Howie to find his troubled expression mirroring mine. "Sure feels like he has."
"It's weird," Howie agreed with a tight nod. "It's just gonna take some time to get used to."
I wanted to tell him I disagreed; I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to get used to it. It just didn't feel right, but we still had our obligations and I couldn't deny that I couldn't imagine doing anything different. So I resigned to offering a simple shrug. "I just thought it would be kind of cool for him to tag along, you know? Include him in some of the old traditions. Now I feel like it was a mistake. He doesn't even want to be here."
"That's not true Nicky and you know it. Kev wants to be around, but he left for a reason."
I was really beginning to hate Christmas at that point. I had never been too fond of the holiday season; any memories I had of them from my younger years never turned out to be very memorable all thanks to my overly dysfunctional family, but I used to be able to enjoy the holidays I'd spend with the guys and as dysfunctional as we were as a group to a certain point, it was those holidays spent with them that I cherished the most. Now it was just depressing. I wanted to blame that on Kevin. He abandoned the group when we still needed him. Though no matter how much I thought about it or how hard I tried, I couldn't blame him in the least. I was just selfish and holding onto a past that I should have known wouldn't continue forever. Like Howie said, Kevin left for a reason and he left without looking back.
"Listen Nick," Howie started again a few moments later as we rounded a corner and entered a short hallway. "I know the situation sucks, but we're stuck here and we aren't going to be going anywhere for while. And afterall, it is christmas. The situation could be worse, but at least we're all together. So make the best of it." He tried to give me one of those strange bear hugs as he said it, but the movement came out awkward and it's a wonder why all of those gay rumors sprouted up about the group early in our career. Poor Howie; he really does mean well.
"Sure," I mustered as we neared a door that was cracked half way open. I cringed towards the singing that was emitting from the room and couldn't help but think that it resembled all too much the song Brian had been blabbing on the plane earlier. In fact, I could have sworn that it was Brian and AJ singing horribly off key from somewhere inside the room. I looked to Howie again. "Please tell me Brian hasn't been hitting the eggnog again? 'Cause it obviously don't mix well in his system."
Howie grinned, a real honest grin, as he reached out without a word and pushed the door open.
"Oh christmas tree!/ Oh christmas tree!/ You caught on fire/ And burnt my house down!"
"Well ho ho ho! Look what the cat just dragged in!" AJ greeted with a loud cackle of enjoyment. "Where the Hell you been Nick?"
I looked at him with a small smirk, but felt my voice fail when I noticed Kevin sitting sullenly by himself next to the only window in the tiny break room. Frowning, I hesitated near the door way, noticing just how crappy Kevin appeared at that moment. Suddenly I no longer felt that animosity I had been dwelling on toward the older man, but rather I couldn't get past the dejected expression masking his face. It was as if he was holding the entire weight of the world on just his shoulders and it was finally starting to wear him down. And I thought I was feeling bad? Well now I felt even worse and it left me without even a word I could think of to say. With the way he was looking Kevin had every right to be mad at me, even if I still didn't understand it.
"What the Hell you still standing there for?" AJ cruedly asked when Howie and I had yet to move from our spot in the doorway. He lamely held up a floppy sandwich. "Come and enjoy what is left of this delicious holiday feast."
Brian laughed obnoxiously at the comment and I couldn't help but crack a smile as I moved forward. "I think I am going to have to pass," was the only answer I could muster while I slouched down in the only seat available after Howie quickly claimed the chair on the opposite side of the table where our two other bandmates sat. I glanced nervously to my right, noticing that Kevin hadn't even bothered to look over in our direction and my growling appetite from earlier disappeared completely. He appeared horribly troubled and other then the obvious, I couldn't think of why. It still didn't stop me from standing up and dragging my chair over to my eldest friend. Ok, what the heck was I just thinking? Not too long ago I could have sworn that Kevin wanted to murder me and now I was actually approaching him again to talk? Surprisingly though, he beat me to it before I could even get a word out.
Kevin turned to me as if someone had pointed a remote control and put him on slow motion and his glare was so icy that I actually recoiled, wincing because I honestly thought he was going to hit me. But as quick as the look had appeared it was gone just as fast. He frowned, his shoulders slumping. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Wait, hold up. Huh? Did he really say what I thought he did? My first thought was to get right up in his face like he did with me and tell him he damn well should be sorry and then I would blame him for ruining my christmas. But my first reaction was totally opposite then what I had expected. I was truly floored that those two words had just slipped from his mouth and I continued to stand there stupidly. I'm sure my facial expression looked just as pathetic as my stature at that moment, but I suppose that had to of been the least of my worries. All I could manage to focus on was the fact that Kevin was staring up at me as I towered over him and I could see the evidence of unshed tears in his eyes. Wow, Kevin can really be more emotional then a pregnant woman or a woman on her period sometimes. And just as moody.
Finally after a long moment had passed, I responded. "Uh...huh?" Not the most intelligent reply, I know, but hey, I'm allowed.
Kevin sighed one of those long dramatic sighs and motioned for me to sit. I did so obediently and immediately began to fidget in my seat. "About earlier..." he drawled and rung his hands together nervously.
"Do you really hate being around us that bad now?" I interrupted him before I could even stop myself.
He winced, wheezing a sharp breath of air. "God Nicky, no. Why would you...how could you even think that?" he stuttered, yet he still refused to meet my stare. And he wonders why I would think that?
You know, it's funny how I was so sure I knew what I wanted to say when I eventually got the courage to confront Kevin for his lack of judgement or rather lack of feelings for everyone else. But now sitting next to him I could hardly think of a single thing to say that would sum up everything that I was thinking. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Kevin seemed to be just as speechless as I was, because I had expected him to charge at me again with another episode of tear Nick down. He was doing less then that though and then some.
"Because you don't want to be here."
He looked over at me then, his mouth agape. "You really think that?"
"I...yeah. I just don't understand why."
"If it's because of what I said earlier-"
I shook my head, silencing him as I stared down at my feet which were tapping horribly against the tiled flooring out of habit. It was more then just what he had said earlier, so much more and I wished he could see it. Kevin hadn't been pleasant company since shortly after we left on our excursion and to say the four of us were surprised about our ex bandmate's demeanor would have been putting it lightly. Seemingly, Kevin had made it clear that he was unpleased he had even accompanied us in the first place. That was the first blow. Then came the detachment he held the entire time from the rest of us and that was far too unlike the Kevin that had walked out the door when he quit the group in the first place. The last blow was what had brought me to where I was sitting at that moment. "It's not just what you said earlier," I mumbled.
"Then why would you think I don't want to be here?"
"That's the impression you've given throughout this entire trip," I answered pointedly and looked to him, only to see his reserve shatter. So much for taking a break from making Kevin's life miserable. Obviously I wasn't off to a good start and the more I opened my mouth the worse the situation seemed to get. I stood from my chair and stepped closer to the window, staring out at the vast black hole of darkness in hopes that maybe I could slip through the glass and the outside world would swallow me hole. Now that would be the solution to all solutions. Unfortunately for me luck has never come easily.
"Nicky..." Kevin started and without even realizing it, he had risen also and stood next to me. Ok, he was standing a little too close for comfort. No touching the personal bubble Kev. Talk about awkward.
"It's been weird without you around you know? So I thought it would be nice to invite you along, for old time's sake. You could have told me no if you didn't want to come. It would have saved us all a Hell of a lot of trouble if you would have just said so instead of acting as if you couldn't give two shits to be around us. I would have figured we meant more to you then-"
He sort of smiled towards my ranting at that moment, but it quickly turned into a frown. "You want to know the truth?" he asked simply, but I could tell he was struggling just to spit it out.
"Try me. I'm smarter then you give me credit for."
"I've never doubted your intelligence, just your lack of knowing how to use it."
"Ok, now that was just plain rude."
Kevin chuckled. "My apologies. I was only joking."
"Do you really not want to be here?" I repeated.
"Of course I want to be here," he answered with a short sigh. "It makes me feel good to know that you all would still want to include me after I left the group. It's just...I'm afraid of becoming too attached. I don't doubt that I made the right decision to quit and I thought it would be refreshing to come along for this appearance, but it got me to thinking about how things used to be and what I'm missing out on. It just hit a little close to home and I don't think I was prepared for that."
"Well then there's a simple solution to that. Come back to the group."
Kevin looked at me long and hard before shaking his head. "You know I can't do that Nicky."
"It's not that you can't. You just don't want to," I contradicted sharply and I hadn't even meant for it to come out sounding as harsh as it did. It just sort of slipped and I reeled back, feeling worse then I had all day because as he didn't say a word, the answer I already knew was confirmed all that much more. As childish as it felt my stomach twisted into a tight series of knots and the only thing I could think to do was look back out the window, feeling oddly out of place. "You don't want to, do you?"
It took another second before he answered and despite his hesitance in answering, I knew Kevin wasn't the least bit reluctant in giving his answer. That was because he had made his decision long ago, before he had even quit the group. He shook his head. "I'm sorry Nicky, but no, I don't."
I had no idea how to reply to that. It didn't seem that statement merited any sort of answer and for once I was perfectly comfortable with just letting the silence develop between us once more. Doesn't mean hearing him repeat it hurt any less then the first time he said it when he came to the four of us with his decision. And now he was standing there, desperate for me to accept what he had just said. The only problem was was that I wasn't so sure I'd ever be ready to. I hated change and he should have been able to understand that. So when I felt him place a light hand on my shoulder to grab my attention I jumped, shrugging his touch away. It was an awkward moment and I was almost certain that everyone else was watching the situation unfold because it had grown extremely quiet all of a sudden. Alright Brian, now would be the time for you to bust out in one of your cheesy christmas song parodies. I'll even provide you with the eggnog!
"I might not be a part of the group anymore, but I haven't really gone anywhere. I'm just watching from the sidelines now and I'm fine with that," Kevin said and before I could react he had pulled me in for a tight hug. I suppose he figured I was due for a nice showmanship of male bonding, but frankly speaking, he was practically squishing me. "Sorry to bust your bubble, but you can't get rid of me that easily."
AJ cleared his throat, grinning wryly to interrupt the moment, which I was rather thankful for. I could hardly stand the tension and was ready for any possible escape. "Alright ladies, that was really touching and all, but lets break up the love session already."
Thank God for AJ and his smart ass sense of humor. I flipped him the finger as my cheeks turned a deep shade of crimson and dragged my seat back over to the table, with Kevin in short tow. Before I could stop it, not that I would have been able to, my stomach growled so loud I found four pairs of eyes staring at me with raised eyebrows. I adverted my attention elsewhere in a sheepish manner.
"Shit Nick, would you shut your stomach up and just eat a damn sandwich already?" AJ quipped and shoved a paper plate in my direction.
I studied it with a scowl, resulting in a loud round of laughter. "What?" I asked, looking back up.
Brian was wheezing as he continued to laugh. For having drank so much eggnog earlier, it looked like he was managing pretty well with sobering up. Although throwing up all over Howie earlier during the process of the rough landing at this cruddy little airport probably had something to do with it. His eyes twinkled with a hidden mischief as he sat back in his seat. "Oh it's nothing," Brian chuckled with an accented twang in his voice. "I was just remembering that one year during christmas when we were stuck over in...was it Germany? Yeah, yeah, that's where it was. Had to of been like one of the first years we were together as a group. You guys know what I'm talking about. We were absolutely miserable that we were going to be unable to make it home for the holidays. Nick kept complaining that he wouldn't be getting to eat his grandma's famous christmas casserole that he had been looking forward to for months. So we rounded what cash we had on us that day and Kevin took us out to some little fancy restaurant in the heart of the town were stuck in."
"Wasn't it snowing really hard?" Howie piped in.
"Snowing D? It was almost as much a blizzard back then as it is outside right now," AJ groaned, but he smirked fondly towards the memory. "I remember this because it took forty five minutes just to get to the place from our hotel and the distance was only about ten minutes worth. Kev took it upon himself to drive like a little old lady that day."
Kevin rolled his eyes. "It was called driving with caution. Besides, the roads were so slick we shouldn't have been out on them anyway."
"True. Nick proved that when he stepped out of the car and immediately landed on his ass. Gee Nicky, it really seems like you make it a habit to slip and fall on your ass."
I flipped AJ off for the second time that day. "I wouldn't start to crack jokes so soon asshole because if I remember correctly I took you down shortly after because you couldn't keep your big mouth shut and stop laughing."
"Touche," AJ replied thoughtfully. "But there's just something about you landing on your ass in the snow that's so priceless it can't be explained."
"Sort of like when Nick tries to order from a foreign menu?" Brian cackled.
I glared at my friend. Thanks for the support there, Bri. Glad to know I can count on you to be on my side when the rest of the world is ganging up on me. "Shut up. It's not my fault I couldn't speak Germanese."
Brian cocked an eyebrow. "Germanese?"
"Shut up..." I grumbled.
I sank down further in my seat as my bandmates continued on with reliving the embarrassing memory from so many years ago. Sure they could laugh now, but I hadn't found it all too funny at the time. I could still remember that day perfectly and no matter what, they refused to let me live it down. Not that I could really complain. I had been rather naive back in the day and it had turned out to be what would become known as a classic Carter moment. Leave it to Kevin to have picked the most outrageous restaurant in town. He had actually glared at me when I had recommended we go to the local McDonalds and instead dragged us all to this place where I still can't even pronounce the name, let alone any of the items on the menu. It was definitely a unique experience to say the least but one I would have rather forgotten. It wouldn't have been so bad if maybe the restaurant had been kind enough to include pictures with each of the menu items. But no, the writing was not understandable in the least and while the others discussed the possibilities, I closed my eyes, twirled my finger in the air and ordered the first item my finger landed on. I'd figured it was the most logical idea at the time. So imagine my surprise when our dinner finally arrived at the table and it appeared as if my meal was still alive and squirming. I made a loud show of gagging and hastily shoved the plate back into the waiter's hands, demanding I be served a Big Mac with a super sized fries pronto. That turned out to be another classic Carter moment because the waiter only ignored my demands and walked away laughing at my expense.
"That day turned out to be pretty great though," Kevin agreed several moments later when the laughter had finally died down. He stretched his arms over his head and I can say we were all relieved that he was finally starting to settle back into the same demeanor we had grown so used to.
"I never did get my Big Mac that day either," I mentioned with a small shrug.
"Don't remind us," Howie returned. "You complained the entire way back to the hotel."
"So? You weren't the one who received a plate that had food on it that was still moving!"
"I hate to say it Nicky, but that was your own fault," Howie noted towards my displeasure. "You had every opportunity to have the waiter translate for you, but you insisted you would have what you ordered."
So he had a point there but...damnit fine, yes, Howie had a point. "Wouldn't have had to bother if Kev would have just went with my suggestion," I grumbled. When I looked up at them they were starting to laugh at me again. "You guys suck!"
Kevin reached over and offered a gentle patting on the back. "I still owe you a Big Mac after all these years for that one. You were stubborn. Even went to bed without eating a thing. You told me christmas was ruined and that I made it even worse because you wouldn't be getting any dinner."
He was raising his eyebrows at me, but I knew the real meaning behind his statement, even if it was just meant to be known between the two of us. Still, I frowned and spoke up. "I'm sorry that I ruined your christmas this year. Really, I'm sorry."
"You didn't ruin it," he started slowly in return. Nice slow Kevin drawl. It can put even the crankiest babies to sleep. Just ask Baylee. "I shouldn't have said that Nick and it should be me apologizing to you. I was just really looking forward to christmas this year now that Kris and I have Mason, ya know?"
"What's the big deal?" AJ cut in. "You're going to make it home...might be a little late, but you're still gonna be there."
Kevin nodded, but he chuckled kind of sheepishly. "I know that, but we had a plan for Mason. At midnight I was going to dress up in a santa suit and then Kris was going to bring Mason downstairs to see me so that he could meet "Santa Claus" for the first time."
Brian looked down at his watch. "I hate to say it, but uh, I don't think you're going to quite make it."
"Nice way to rub it in B," AJ rolled his eyes. Brian shrugged.
"He's only going on six months old isn't he?" I said, tearing a piece of crust from the bread and shoving it into my mouth. "Isn't that a little young? I mean, he's not gonna understand the significance of you dressing up as Santa. If anything, he'll be cranky enough from being woken up. He'll take one look at you dressed in that red suit and he'll start screaming his ass off. Seriously Kev, you dressed as Santa? I know I'd be scarred for life. At least Mason is still young enough to be spared such tragedy and he's got a while to be able to believe in Santa. That luxury was cut short for me."
"Why? Did some big bad music exec finally tell you this year that Santa doesn't exist?" AJ cooed sarcastically.
I just glared at him, but inside a sour ball was forming deep in the pit of my stomach. "Ha ha, funny but no. Actually it was my oh so loving parents who didn't give a shit that ruined the whole thing for me," I explained, pushing the plate away distastefully. "I think I was only like six or seven that year. Dad had been away for business and I remember really wishing that he would come home for christmas. So I refused to go to sleep christmas eve and sometime in the middle of the night I heard a bunch of commotion coming from the living room. I knew it had to be Santa so I ran in there, expecting him to have brought my dad home. Only when I got in there I found Mom in her bathrobe and Dad in a santa suit arguing over God knows what. But what really ruined the whole Santa thing for me was when Mom reached out and ripped off the white hair and beard. Never really phased me that Santa was smoking a cigarette and drinking from a bottle of Jack Daniels."
"God Nick, that's horrible," Brian choked out with a frown.
"Yeah well, shit like that was normal in my house."
AJ cleared his throat to move on from the rough subject. He appeared just as uncomfortable listening to it as it was for me to tell it. Not like it mattered all too much to me. They knew how dysfunctional my family was. It shouldn't have surprised them. "I have an idea."
"You didn't have to think too hard did you?"
"Shut up Nick."
"What's the idea?" Kevin asked.
"Well, I was thinking-"
"Did you hurt yourself from thinking so hard?"
"I swear Nick-"
"Settle down Nick."
Settle down, Kevin? What do I look like to you? A three year old? Just tell me to shut the fuck up and I'll listen. "Sorry. You may proceed with what you were going to say J."
"Since it doesn't look like we're going anywhere for a while and it's fairly close to midnight, how about we go ahead and pass out gifts?"
Wow, AJ was getting sentimental by the looks of it. He bounced somewhat childishly in his chair, glancing around for agreement to his suggestion and his hand was already inching towards the bag that was laying on the floor next to his feet. "C'mon, why not? Maybe it will bring a little more holiday cheer to what we are going through right now."
He had a good point. We were all in need of a little cheering up right then and what better way than to let go of everything for a while and just enjoy each other's company. The opportunity to actually be together in celebration like we were was becoming less and less frequent as the time passed and who knew when we would get the chance again. I think we were all realizing this because one by one we straightened our posture where we sat. Brian nodded eagerly, reaching for his own bag as Kevin stood to retrieve his own.
"You'll have to count me out on this one," Howie said sheepishly, a sullen reminder that he was without his luggage. He smiled apologetically until AJ shoved a small box into his hands. "But-"
"Don't argue," AJ told him. "Remember, it's better to give then to receive."
Howie's lips curled into a crooked grin amidst his hesitance and he put the gift on the table in front of him, waiting as the round of passing the gifts out was finished. I watched, humored; it was almost like a round of musical chairs as we all rose and sat, shifting the various gifts between each seat. The only difference was there was no music, even though Brian still found it absolutely necessary to grace us with his originality when it came to singing christmas carols. It was a short period, but by the time we were silent once again, there were multiple packages randomly placed around the table.
"Ooh goodie!" Brian shrieked in a giddy manner, lifting a small box that fit in the palm of his hand and shook it next to his ear. His eyebrows furled as he continued to shake it vigorously. "Aw, I can't hear nothin'!"
I swear AJ nearly pummeled Brian for being so careless with the gift and for a moment they argued playfully until AJ threatened to take it back and the two settled down. But it was calming to watch their harmless interaction and I was satisfied with just sitting back and witnessing the scene unfold. It wasn't until a scrunched up ball of wrapping paper bounced off the middle of my forehead that I realized I was the only one who had yet to finish opening all of the gifts that had been passed to me and everyone was looking in my direction, waiting. I pushed aside the newest football game for my xbox that Brian had given me, along with the stylish beanie from Howie and the gold chain from AJ, and reached for the thin square package sitting in front of me. It wasn't large by any means, but it was by far bigger then the others and I stared at Kevin with question. "Should I shake it like Brian shook his?" I grinned.
Kevin didn't find the statement nearly as funny as I did. "Just open it moron."
I wanted to flip him the finger but held back and tore at the gold wrapping paper. "Gee Kev, did you wrap this yourself?"
"As a matter of fact I did."
I really wanted to tell him it wasn't a compliment but his look of anticipation made me stop and the fact that things had been somewhat patched up between the two of us was enough to keep me from opening my big mouth and ruining it further. "Cardboard?" I asked, staring at the back of the object.
Kevin sighed, rolling his eyes. "You have it upside down. Turn it over."
I did as I was told and felt my jaw drop. "W-where did you get this?" I stuttered, allowing my fingers to trace over the glass plate of the frame. My eyes laid sight on a very detailed sketch inside. I hadn't seen it in years and at one point resigned to the fact that it was most undoubtedly lost. But there it was on my lap, encased in a delicate frame. It's no secret that I like to draw and back in the day the guys used to get annoyed often because according to them I rarely was without a sketch pad and pencil whenever we weren't at some business related event. I could spend hours with just those two tools and not even Kevin could break my attention away from it. Most of the time it was the various comic characters or cartoons I preferred drawing, but this right in front of me was something that meant more to me then any gift that could be bought by money at that moment. I had used a casual photograph that had been taken of us back in the early stages of our career (almost certainly snapped by Denise...she happened to be quite the camera nazi back then) and sketched a just as detailed profile of the image. I noticed then that the four by six photo was also included in the bottom right hand corner of the frame and I forced myself to look up, finding Kevin watching me expectantly. "I thought I lost this. Where did you find it?"
"Kris was going through some boxes in the attic during one of Mason's naps last week and she found it stuffed in the bottom of one of the boxes of memorabilia," Kevin explained. "I don't know how it got there, but I knew you were pretty proud of it when you originally drew it and I thought you would like to have it back."
"This is awesome Kev," I whispered, looking at it once more. "I really don't know what to say..."
"You don't need to say anything."
We all looked so happy in that picture. How could we not? We were beginning to experience something not very many people ever got the chance to experience and I had been able to artfully capture it with the skill of my hand. Biting down on my bottom lip as I felt something sting at the corners of my eyes, I placed the frame back upon the table top and leaned over to engulf Kevin in a bear hug. I must have taken him aback because he jolted with surprise at first but he returned the hug all the same. It was at that moment that I finally felt myself beginning to accept the change that had occured within the group. Yeah, Kevin was no longer a physical part of it and I would always think that sucked, but I knew now that things hadn't changed that much at all. I had been afraid of being abandoned, but having Kevin there right then and receiving that priceless drawing made me realize he had never abandoned us to begin with. He just took a step off to the side and for once I believed I was ok with that.
Suddenly everything that had happened that day seemed so small in the scheme of things and I knew what was really important. I was having the chance to once again spend a special moment with some of the most important people in my life, nearly the only ones that I could consider my real family, and I knew I wouldn't always get that chance. I was honestly. And besides, things could have been worse.