I couldn’t believe I had gone from completely sealed off and broody to wanting to spill me guts and ask Howie for help. I was just plain embarrassed. I had really wanted to handle all of this on my own. You know, be a man, a grown-up, responsible. Standing in front of Howie now, with Brian behind me making sure I didn’t make a run for it, I knew I had failed.
“What can I do Nicky?” Howie asked.
We were back in the kitchen where they had tried to talk to me when I first woke up. Howie had been cooking what looked to be burritos. Brian told me that it was just us three in the house because Kevin and AJ had gone out for lunch.
When I asked him for help, Howie had dropped what he was doing almost instantly and sat down at the kitchen table.
“I’m...” I was having trouble trying to find the right words to answer Howie’s question. I knew I had to tell the whole story but I didn’t know how to start. I was about to try again when Brian’s cell phone went off. He quietly excused himself. I watched him go, not because it was particularly exciting but because I didn’t want to face Howie again. Maybe it wasn’t too late to back out.
“Nick, come sit down,” Howie wasn’t going to let me escape, not now that I’d finally asked him for his help. So I sat down across from him and put my hands on the table.
“What’s going on Nick?” Howie asked again.
“I...” I cleared my throat and pushed forward. “I’m having some money problems.”
Howie nodded, no judgement on his face or in his eyes. “Is that why you sold the house?” he asked.
I instantly felt my face turn red. I looked down at my hands – I knew having them on the table there would be useful.
“I didn’t sell my house,” I admitted quietly. “The bank took it,” and just to emphasise my predicament and maybe because I was feeling really sorry for myself, I added, “and I don’t know where I’m supposed to go.”
He didn’t say anything but I could just imagine what he was thinking. Something along the lines of ‘What a messed up kid, always getting into trouble’.
“How did that happen?” Howie asked, his voice steady and even, betraying nothing.
“I’ve...” Dear Lord, Carter, not now! Don’t you dear tear up! Don’t be more pathetic than you already are.
“It’s okay Nicky,” he reached across the table and squeezed my hand. “You’ll be okay.” I wasn’t exactly sure how he knew that, but I was slightly reassured. “As long as I’m around, you’ll always have a roof over your head.”
I looked up at that, surprised and, just to add confusion to the mix, surprised at my reaction of surprise. I mean, what did I expect him to say? Get out? I don’t want to know you anymore? Howie has always been supportive of me. Always. But still, the past two years did happen and if he was so supportive where was he?
“Why?” I asked. “You’ve ignored me since we went on break. You hardly called.” Suddenly I felt that my relationship with Howie was more important than my money issues. Because my relationship with Howie – with any of them – is always more important than my money issues.
Howie sighed and pulled his hand away from mine. I stopped breathing for a second as I thought maybe I had reminded Howie of why he had ignored me in the first place and he would decide after all that I was not worth the trouble.
“I’ve been a crappy friend,” he sighed finally. “But so have you.”
Well that was honest.
“You’ve been pushing me out of your life,” he said sadly. “When we first went on hiatus, it was like you wanted to individuate yourself. And that’s fine – you were becoming your own person. But it felt like you didn’t want us in your life anymore.”
He was right. When we went on break, I did everything to separate myself from the guys, even once going so far as going to meetings with Jive to talk about doing a solo album. It turned out falling out of contact with Brian was easy – he was too focused on his family to care about me and I didn’t want to call just in case Leighanne answered. Anytime I spoke to Kevin, it would turn into an argument or him giving me a lecture. After a while, I just stopped taking his calls and he stopped calling altogether. AJ only lives five blocks away from where I lived, but even so, I expected him to come to me, not the other way around. And Howie. Howie had called in the beginning. I was rude, abrupt and always in a hurry to get off the phone. And like Kevin, he quickly stopped calling altogether. But when everyone stopped calling, I was angry with them, because they’re the ones that are meant to call me, they’re my big brothers, and they have to check up on me, not the other way around. That’s what I thought.
“But Nick,” Howie continued. “It wasn’t just you. I hardly kept in touch with any of the guys.”
“That’s what Brian said too,” I replied quietly and then much louder, “I invited you to my housewarming party!” That was true too. I didn’t completely push them out.
“Which I honestly couldn’t come to,” Howie said sincerely. “I’ve been very busy with my brother at the moment.”
“But you were down here visiting AJ and you didn’t even let me know!”
It looked as if Howie was avoiding my eyes for the first time since we started this conversation.
“Nick trust me when I say that the reason I didn’t tell you has nothing to do with our relationship,” he seemed sincere but he also seemed nervous.
“Nick, trust me on this one,” he looked at me earnestly.
I nodded, trusting him fully but slightly curious.
Howie cleared his throat. “All you ever need to know is that I love you, bro. I never want to not have you, and any of the other guys, in my life.”
It took me a second to figure out what the hell he just said but when I did I smiled. I felt so relieved and so happy for the first time in such a long time I felt like bursting out into tears. I had Sweet D back. I’m never gonna let him go again!
“I love you too Howie,” I said, getting out of my chair, extending my body over the table and giving him a sloppy kiss on his cheek.
He laughed as he wiped away my saliva. “Never thought I’d miss that,” he said, and then his face turned sombre. “Now, Nicky, tell me everything. What happened to your money?”
I sat back down, the fluffy moment had passed and I didn’t even have time to reflect on it or even just soak it in. Howie wanted to get straight to business.
“I got a letter in the mail three months ago saying that the bank was going to take my house,” I said, my happy feelings doing an amazing disappearing act. I was back to feeling shitty and pathetic.
“But there were notices before then right?”
I nodded. “Yeah, they gave me three notices to pay off my debts,” I said.
“Okay, the house is gone,” Howie was getting all pragmatic. “There’s no use in crying over it anymore.”
My jaw dropped.
“I told you Nick,” he said when he saw my face. “You’ll always have a roof over your head as long as I’m around.”
“What we really need to do now,” Howie just completely ignored my attempt to get emotional, “is figure out where your money went and how we can get it back.”
Getting it back was not likely to happen D.
“Did you make bad investments?” Howie asked. “Did you buy pricey things that you didn’t need?”
I shrugged. “No on the investments,” I said truthfully. “But yeah to the pricey things.”
“Okay,” Howie said slowly. “So we can return those pricey things right?”
I shook my head slowly, a little afraid. “Most of that has been repossessed by the bank too.”
Howie’s reaction would have been funny if the situation hadn’t been so freaking awful.
“Nick, how much money do you currently have?” he asked it slowly and cautiously as though he was afraid to find the answer.
I gulped. “Just over ten thousand,” I said, bowing my head in shame.
Howie made a gurgling noise like he had a tube of toothpaste poured down his throat.
“Ten thousand?” he spluttered. “What happened?”
“I over-spent,” I said. “Parties, food, alcohol, clothes, furniture, cars, limos...”
“That’s it?” Howie asked, raising an eyebrow in suspicion.
I swallowed. I had to tell. He’d been through my phone, he probably already suspected.
“A year ago my parents got divorced,” it came out of my mouth and as soon as it did I felt a weight lift.
“I know Nicky,” Howie said gently. “Your mum spoke to –“
I nodded, cutting him off. I didn’t want to think about how fast that piece of news was going around. “BJ, Leslie, Angel and Aaron took my dad’s side,” I continued, my head still bowed. “He got custody of Angel and Aaron.” I paused, swallowing thickly. “He took the house and all their assets,” I looked up at D, begging for him to understand. “She had nothing.”
Howie at such a sad look in his eyes and it made me want to cry.
“How much money did you give her?” he asked.
“I bought her a house,” I said evasively.
“But how much money did you give her?” Howie pressed.
Suddenly I was scared. Really scared. I didn’t want to admit what I had done because it was so irresponsible and so naive.
“Please Howie,” I pleaded. “Don’t tell Kevin. Please! Please, D? Oh God, Kevin can’t know...”
Howie looked alarmed, maybe because now there were tears on my face and I was starting to hyperventilate.
“Okay, Nicky,” he said, grabbing onto my hands again. “I promise. It’ll just be between you and me. Just take a deep breath and calm down.”
I did what he said. I took in a deep breath and nodded, showing that I was calm or at least calmer.
“Okay,” Howie looked relieved. “Just between me and you, what happened?”
It was so hard to say the next few words. “I gave her access to my bank account,” I said.
Howie’s facial expression remained the same. I guess he was in shock. I was a little proud I still had that effect. When he didn’t speak for a while I continued.
“But I cut her off three months ago when the bank told me they were taking the house,” I said quickly. “She still keeps calling me for money though.”
“Would you have stayed with your dad?”
Where did that question come from?
“D, did you hear what I said about my mum?”
“Yeah,” he said it somewhat dismissively as if everything I had told him no longer mattered. “But Nick, you lost the house. Would you have stayed with you dad?”
I shook my head.
“Why not?” he asked.
And just like that all Nick Carter’s shameful and terrible secrets come rolling out.
“Because he said that if I helped mum, he wants nothing to do with me,” I choked, hearing my voice break.
“What about friends?” Howie pushed, seemingly unaware that I was slowly breaking down. “Would you have stayed with friends?”
“Howie...can we stop now?” I felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room.
“You said you had parties,” Howie was determined. “So you have friends. Would you have stayed with one of them?”
“Howie...” the tears were falling freely and my heart started to hurt.
Howie got up from his seat, circled around the table and came to sit next to me. He forced me around in my seat so that we were sitting face to face. I avoided eye contact because I was embarrassed to be crying and ashamed of what I knew I was about to admit.
“Would you have stayed with friends?” Howie asked again, reaching over to grab the back of my neck.
“Why not Nicky?” he asked sadly, like he knew what the answer would be.
“Because...” I sniffled and held back a sob. “Because they stopped being my friends when I stopped having money to give them...”
I couldn’t hold the sobs in then. Everything I had been hiding, not only from the guys but from myself, had just been poured out in one sitting. I was such a fucking loser! I knew it, my family knew it, my friends knew it, Howie now knew it and soon the other guys would know it too.
Howie pushed me forward by the back of my neck and soon my face lay in the nook between Howie’s jaw and shoulder. I squeezed him tightly, not realising how much I wanted and needed this for so long.
Before we left for AJ’s meeting, I rang Kristin. AJ was up in his room, Nick and Brian were up in Nick’s and Howie decided to make burritos so I took the opportunity to find a quiet place in the house to talk to my wife. I just really, really wanted to talk to her.
It didn’t take long for me to tear up and let all my fears and worries out. I told her everything, everything about Nick and my suspicions about his mum and my fears that he was going down the same path as AJ. I told her everything about AJ and my concerns that he was going back to that dark place he used to be stuck in. I cried and expressed to her my feelings of guilt and shame. She listened patiently and when I was done she said, quite calmly and in no uncertain terms, to suck it up. She said I needed to be strong because Nick was going through something tough and although he would never admit it, he needed me and I needed to be strong for him. She said that all AJ needed was my support, to know I was proud of him and that I loved him.
Now, in the waiting room of Juan Pellegrino’s lawyer’s office I looked over at AJ and his lawyer and smiled. Kristin was amazing. She got me, better than anyone. She was my rock and reminded me of who I was when I sometimes forget.
“He’s ready for you now,” the receptionist at the desk called out to us and AJ and I followed AJ’s lawyer, George Gonzales, into Pellegrino’s lawyer’s office.
They sat at a small rectangular conference table in the middle of the large office. Judging by their attire, I guessed that the lawyer was the stuffy looking man in the suit and the kid with the baseball jersey was Pellegrino. Shit, that kid couldn’t have been older than Nick.
“Please take a seat,” Pellegrino’s lawyer, Don Smith – I guess they thought John was a little too cliché – didn’t even bother to stand up to greet us. He gave me a dirty look though, as if I shouldn’t even be there.
We sat down, AJ between me and Gonzales.
“My client is willing to settle,” Don Smith said.
“How much?” Gonzales was getting straight to business.
“Two and a half grand,” Pellegrino had a cocky look on his face and a snide grin on his lips. His lawyer gave him a stern look.
“Two and a half?!” AJ exclaimed. “That piece of shit was not worth that much!”
Smith cocked an eyebrow and pushed a piece of paper towards AJ and Gonzales. “No, the camera cost six hundred and seventy five dollars,” he said, pointing to a figure.
“But I had pictures on that camera!” Gonzales butts in again. “Photos of my sister’s wedding! They can’t be replaced!”
“Well you should have made copies then, shouldn’t you?” I sneered. “It’s not AJ’s fault you didn’t take the photos off the camera.” I was given a very sour look by Gonzales. I was told by him that under no circumstances was I to talk – I was just AJ’s witness. But I couldn’t stop myself.
“Maybe my client would have made copies if he knew he would be attacked by Mr. McLean here,” Smith shot back.
Gonzales sat up straight. “What are you trying to do here Don?” he asked dryly. “You trying to swindle my client?”
“Not at all, George,” Don Smith shot back. “Those were precious memories. Memories that my client can’t replace.”
“Then take us to court,” I blurted, receiving an incredulous look from AJ.
Smith smiled. “I don’t think you want that, Mr. Richardson,” I was not surprised he knew my name. “Mr. McLean did a stint in rehab didn’t he? Wouldn’t look very good if he is sued for violent behaviour. Imagine the headlines: Backstreet Boy falls off wagon. Even if they don’t connect it to drugs, just think what this will do to the already fractured image of the once on top, all forgotten Backstreet Boys?”
I was fuming.
“Not to mention what’s been going on with that train wreck Nick Carter.”
Pellegrino looked ecstatic and all I wanted to do was throttle him with the Smith’s entrails.
“This is low, Don,” Gonzales was breathing fire.
“This is business George,” Smith fired back.
“We’ll go to court!” I said again loudly, standing up and ready to leave.
“No,” AJ said, grabbing onto my arm. “I’ll settle. I’ll pay the two and a half grand.”
I looked down at him incredulously. “AJ, you don’t have to –“
AJ still had his hand gripped around my arm. “No, I know,” he said. “But I’ll settle.”
When the paperwork had been drawn up and everything was signed, we started to leave the office. Before we made it to the door, I heard Pellegrino sing, “Backstreet’s back, ALRIGHT!” It took all my restraint to ignore him.
The ride back to AJ’s was quiet. I didn’t know what to say. I thought back to Kris’ words, that all AJ really needed was my support and love. So I leaned across to him and gave him a sideways hug. When I let him go, he nodded, like that’s all he ever needed.
When we arrived at his house, I went to open the door, but before I could get out he grabbed my arm. I turned to him.
“I think we should do another album,” he said. “I want to do another album.”
AN: So. Much. Drah-MAH. Lol Hope you all enjoyed that chapter. Should be back with another one this time next week, maybe a bit later, say Wednesday-ish because I have a deadline to get to this Friday so I might be a bit late. Thanks so much to KimberlyCan, Mare and PaulaKTBPA! I really appreciate all the reviews I get and hope to see more! Also should quickly mention that in my story Nick never did a solo album and this story will come to a close before they even start working on their next album xxx