And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
From “When I Have Fears” by John Keats
~ 34 ~
Dawn’s Early Light
Brian’s eyes shot open as he temporarily forgot he was safe from harm. The warm body of his wife lying next to him on the hospital bed brought him back to reality quickly as he held tightly to her and kissed the top of her head. He wasn’t sure how long he was asleep but he knew he didn’t feel rested. Glancing at the window he could see the smallest hint of sunlight begin to creep through the blinds giving the room an eerie glow. He looked over at his roommate and noticed he was awake as well. It seemed like he was wiping at tears as he watched his wife sleeping on a chair beside him, holding hands with one another as if ready to skip away.
“Are you okay?” Brian whispered which caught AJ off guard.
“Yeah…sorry…I thought you were asleep.”
“I was for a little bit. What time is it?”
AJ shrugged, “I have no idea.”
“Did you get any sleep?”
AJ shook his head, “Not really. Every time I close my eyes I see and hear those damn wolves and Nick with those wrists…and the gun…Kevin leaving…” With each visual his voice became quieter and more reflective as if he was reliving the words he was speaking.
Brian felt the same way. He knew it would be a very long time before he would be able to enjoy a peaceful sleep, a very long time. “I wish that detective would give us an update or something. I feel so helpless.”
AJ nodded and took a deep breath. “How are we going to come back from this, Rok?”
It was a question that Brian had been asking himself too. Between all the feelings of guilt and anger there was this smaller, underlying voice asking what now? How do you pick up where you left off after something like this? Do something as mundane as going back on the road and singing in front of thousands of screaming people. It all seemed so unimportant now as he clung to his wife. How could he ever justify leaving her and his son again, even if only for one night when he learned through this experience that all it takes is a few minutes for your entire life to change.
“I don’t know, AJ, but we’ll figure it out.” He gave his friend a reassuring smile and nodded confidently just as Agent Pagano walked in the room.
Howie was shaking so hard as he held onto the wheel he wasn’t even sure he would be able to make a turn without losing control of the truck. He felt like he was being chased which was normal he supposed, considering that’s what most of his life for the last few hours consisted of. The more irrational fear he had was that Tim was hiding in the backseat. He couldn’t shake that feeling of the crazy man’s stare directly behind him and that at any second he was going to be grabbed and pulled in the back. He placed a hand on his neck, remembering what it felt like to be strangled by those same hands he feared now. He was so close to death, so close.
So, he glanced back once again. In fact it seemed like he was concentrating more on what was behind him then what was in front. He feared that would become a metaphor for this new life of his, never being able to focus on anything more than the past and not being able to see a future. The sound of dinging brought him out of his thoughts. The gaslight on the dashboard was red, signaling there wasn’t much time before the car died.
“Of course!” Howie screamed in frustration as he banged his hands on the steering wheel only to wince when a shooting pain went all the way up his arm.
He decided to put his foot way down on the accelerator and go as fast as the stupid truck would take him. He needed to get as far away as possible, just in case Tim could catch up. That was another irrational fear since he was in the truck and it wasn’t like Tim could fly, but even still. He once again glanced behind to make sure no one was lurking in the back seat.
The sky looked pink as the sun was trying to peek through the darkness. It was ironic how something so beautiful could happen in the middle of something so ugly. Maybe the sun was serving as a gentle reminder that things would get better with the new day. Of course that thought went out the window as the car started to slow down and make a clattering noise.
“Really?” He said out loud as the truck came to a stop. Frustrated, he placed his head down on the steering wheel and began to cry.
Kevin just sat there staring out the door at Tim. He wasn’t even sure if he allowed himself to blink because it would just take a second…just one. Thankfully he hadn’t moved at all and he found himself hopeful that the guy was dead. He wished he could see his entire body but all that was in his sightline were his legs.
The fact that Tim hadn’t stirred brought him great satisfaction but the fact that Nick hadn’t moved since he had entered the bedroom, brought such a sense of overwhelming grief he couldn’t handle it. He shifted under Nick’s weight to make himself a little more comfortable because his legs were starting to tingle. He was afraid to let go of his baby brother though, even for a minute. He knew he was being irrational but he felt like his loving touch was the only thing keeping Nick alive. Once he let go, that would be it and there was no way Kevin was going to let that happen. No way!
“Everything will be okay, Nick. I know it’s scary right now, but everything will be okay.” He felt for the rifle which was right next to his hand. He had decided to let go of it after worrying he might accidentally pull the trigger and hurt Nick or himself. If he saw those legs move he would grab it in a second. All it would take is a second…
The smallest ray of sun was slowly enveloping the bedroom and making its way to where the two friends were lying on the ground. Kevin couldn’t believe it was morning. He didn’t think he was going to live to see another sunrise. That thought alone got him crying again. He was an emotional wreck. He missed his wife and his kids. He missed his life, how things used to be and would never be again. There were so many things he needed to say to the people he loved. Had he told his mother he loved her the last time they spoke on the phone? Had he mentioned to Kristin that she was the reason he was a better person? Did he make Mason laugh the last time he grabbed the boy in a hug and kissed his stomach? His son would tell him to stop and that he wasn’t a baby anymore but Kevin would just keep going because deep down inside, he knew that his boy loved it. Did he kiss his newborn baby on the head before he left?
He glanced at Tim’s legs once more as he kept one hand on the butt of the rifle. How did he end up here in this moment? Clinging to someone he loved as they slowly died while he sat helpless to do anything about it. One of his best friend’s was dying in his arms. It seemed unimaginable to him. In movies or shows people made it seem like they were so grateful to have that kind of moment, but that wasn’t reality. No, the reality was he would have rather gotten a call.
Ironically enough, He had expected that call so many times within the last few years that when his phone would ring after 2 am he was sure it was news that Nick was found dead somewhere. Before he left the band he knew Nick was out of control but after he was gone for a year or two he frequently worried about the youngest. Brian would update him on things he saw or heard Nick doing but felt helpless to stop him. AJ would do the same. Kevin had felt torn during those years. He wasn’t sure how much interfering he should do. He would call occasionally just to check up on him but once the lecturing started, there was suddenly another call Nick had to take or a business matter he had to attend to. So, Kevin just prepared himself for the worst.
The day Howie called him about Nick’s heart condition he remembered going through a mixture of emotions, first anger at the kid for causing things to get so bad, then fear about the possibility of losing him but that final emotion which he didn’t really expect to have was relief. He knew it would be a wakeup call for his younger friend, a catalyst to turn his life around and happily he was right.
Up until the last two years, he had expected Nick was going to die first, just not like this….not like this.
He clung tightly to his friend, the one that had confided in him so much over the years. The one who always needed protection and guidance but always acted like it was the last thing he ever wanted. The one he would always see as a scared and vulnerable teenager, no matter how old he got and kissed the top of his head, “Please don’t die on me, Nick,” He whispered softly. He let go of the rifle for just a second to pull down a blanket from the bed. Nick’s skin was feeling a little cold to the touch and he wanted to keep him safe and warm. “You have to fight, buddy. Please…” he placed his hand back on the rifle as he stared out into the other room making sure the legs were still unmoving.
AJ let go of his wife’s hand when the Agent walked into the room, causing her to stir and open her eyes.
“I’m sorry to interrupt.” He said to both men.
“Do you have any news?” Brian asked, hopeful.
The agent shook his head, “We’re still working on a few leads, but as of now, still no sign of them. We have found the crash site though and lifted fingerprints and now that it’s daybreak, we’re getting a chopper up in the air to help cover more ground.”
“What do you think their chances are?” AJ asked, “I mean seriously, be honest with us.”
“I wish I could tell you that. Unfortunately we don’t really know who we’re dealing with. Once we get a profile of the suspect, those questions may become clearer but we’re hoping it won’t even come to that. We’re hoping that now that it’s light out, we’ll be able to track that truck down.
Rochelle sat up in her chair and yawned as the agent moved between both beds, “I really wanted to come in and warn you that as of about thirty minutes ago there were 50 different media outlets waiting outside the hospital wanting to get in to talk to you. We have agents posted at your door plus your own bodyguards are standing guard by the main entrance but just in case someone happens to make it through posed as a nurse, doctor or anything else, it’s really important that you say nothing about this case to anyone who may ask.”
He made sure to look at both wives as well, “Any of you. I also told Lauren, Kristin and Leigh the same thing as well as your management. It’s vitally important to the welfare of your friends that this man is kept in the dark as much as possible.”
Leighanne was still asleep but Rochelle nodded knowingly as well as both of the men. Pagano then continued, “I will probably be making an official statement regarding the case a little later on in the morning. At that time if there’s something you’d like me to say on your behalf, just let me know and as long as it doesn’t hinder the investigation, I will be more than happy to read it for you.”
“Thank you for everything Agent Pagano.” Brian said as he shook his hand with his good arm.
“I’ll let you get back to your family now.” He winked and walked out the door.
“Wow that was fast.” AJ said once he was gone, “I bet there will be double that amount out there by lunchtime.”
Brian nodded, “All the work we put into the album and touring etc…barely got us noticed, but this is what’s going to put us right back into the spotlight. It seems so unfair.”
“You don’t think there’s any way he could get in here, do you? I mean if Pagano thinks a reporter might be able to make their way into the room to talk to us disguised as a hospital worker, what’s to say this Tim guy won’t be able to do the same?”
It seemed like an irrational fear, but a good one. Brian even thought about that himself, imagining a scenario where the guy came back to finish what he had started. If it’s one thing he learned tonight, anything was possible. But he found himself playing the role he was cast about twenty years ago as he looked at his friend, “We’re safe now AJ. Nothing is going to get us.” He reassured and hoped that he was right.
Nick was able to hear everything. He wasn’t able to open his eyes and he was much too weak to do anything but concentrate on breathing but he heard every word being uttered by his big brother as he was being held in his arms. Kevin’s words were very comforting to him as was his grip.
He was glad Howie was gone, he wasn’t exactly sure how it happened but he knew he was all alone with Kevin now just waiting for help. The worst was finally over and all he had to do was hang on just a little bit longer. “Please don’t die on me…” he heard his friend say once again. He wished he could open his eyes or even move his hand or something, just to let Kevin know he was trying his best, but he couldn’t do it.
He was fighting between being here and being gone. He felt himself floating between the two places. It felt dreamlike and quiet where he was. He wasn’t feeling that much pain anymore, just exhaustion. So tired that his brain was beginning to shut itself off from being able to do things his body took for granted like breathing.
“He’s moving…” The words seemed to come out of nowhere unexpectedly. “Jesus, he’s moving.” He felt Kevin’s grasp on him tighten. “He’s standing up…”
Nick tried to understand what was happening, but then it was made clear, “Don’t’ you come any closer or I swear I will kill you, you son of a bitch!” He heard Kevin as he felt his body shift slightly off to the side.
“That’s mine…” He heard a groggy voice answer. “Give it back!”
“Stay away from us!”
There was movement as Nick felt himself fall off of Kevin’s legs. “If you come any closer I swear to God I’ll shoot you!” Kevin screamed followed by a, “Keep your hands off of him!”
Nick felt someone grab at his arm and then a small scuffle was heard followed by that all too familiar sound of a gunshot ringing in the air. He wasn’t even sure if he flinched or not, but there was a sudden quiet, a grunt and then a thud before he felt himself being turned around and pulled by one arm out of the room.