I stood behind Nick, ready to tackle him if he thought about backing out. But he didn’t. He asked Howie for help and I was so relieved when he did. Finally! Some progress! I had fully intended on sitting with them and hearing what Howie had to say. But more importantly, I was more curious as to what Nick had to say. Beside his admission that he was struggling with money, he hadn’t really revealed much and I wanted to know the full story. I guess I would have to find out Nick’s story another way because just as Nick was gonna spill, Leighanne called. I couldn’t not take it – I hadn’t talked to her since she hung up on me.
I quietly excused myself and left the kitchen, taking the stairs two at a time as I ran up to my bedroom.
“Hey babe,” I answered the phone.
“Hi baby,” her voice was soft and full of love – she’d forgiven me.
“How are you?” I asked. “How’s Bay?”
“He misses you,” she said. “We both do.”
“I miss you too,” I said truthfully.
There was a pause and I didn’t know what to say next or what to expect from her.
“I’m sorry about last night,” she said finally.
“What?” I was so surprised – Leighanne never apologised.
“I’m sorry,” I’m sure it pained her to say it a second time and I couldn’t help but smile. “I was just upset.”
“I know,” I said.
“It’s just that,” she sighed heavily. “When he does stupid stuff like that, it looks bad on you.”
She had a point.
“He doesn’t do it on purpose,” I assured. “He’s just going through something.”
Another sigh. “Yeah, I know,” she said. “Kristin called. Told me about his parents.”
“It’s more than that,” I wondered how much I should tell her. “There’s a lot of crap in his life at the moment.”
“Then stay,” she said simply.
“Stay,” she repeated. “Only a week though,” she quickly put in.
“Why?” I asked curious where this change of mind came from.
“He needs you,” she said. “We’ll be okay. And we’ll see you in a week.”
“I love you,” I gushed.
“I know,” she replied. “I love you too.”
We stayed talking for the next hour, my thoughts completely drifting away from Nick and his problems. I was content talking to my wife and when she put Baylee on the phone all I wanted to do was take back what I had said about staying here for Nick. I wanted to see my son! When she came back on the phone, I restrained myself. A week wasn’t that long after all. We continued to talk about everything and nothing.
I was momentarily distracted by the sound of a car pulling into AJ’s driveway. I went to the window which, fortunately, looked out onto the front of the house. AJ’s car was sitting in the driveway. Kevin and AJ were back.
“Brian? Did you hear me?”
“Huh?” I asked as I looked down into the car to see AJ and Kevin just sitting there talking.
“I want you to ring me every morning and night,” she said.
“Of course, babe,” I replied more out of instinct than anything else as I thought maybe I should warn Nick and Howie that the others were back so they could continue their conversation somewhere more private. “Look, hun, I got to go.”
“Oh, alright,” she sounded upset.
“But I’ll ring you tonight,” I said quickly. “I love you.”
“Love you too.”
I let her hang up first so she didn’t think I was trying to get rid of her. Once she did hang up though I was bounding out the room and down the stairs.
I found them sitting eating burritos. They were quietly talking and when they noticed me they stopped. Nick had red eyes and I knew something major had gone down.
“They’re back,” I announced. “Just thought you should know if you want to continue the conversation in private.”
“I think we’re done for now,” Howie said, looking at Nick for confirmation.
“And I’ve finished eating,” Nick said, pushing his plate aside, a half eaten burrito still on it. “I might go upstairs for a bit.”
“Okay Nicky,” Howie said, standing up and taking Nick and his own plate to the kitchen bench top. “We’ll talk later.”
Nick nodded and left. When I heard an upstairs door closing I turned to Howie.
“So?” I asked. “What did he say?”
“I’m gonna help him out,” Howie said, not really answering my question.
“Yeah, but what did you talk about?”
There was movement at the front of the house and we heard the front door open and footsteps coming closer.
“Later,” Howie said as Kevin and AJ walked in.
I let go of his arm. Kevin was looking at me like I had just sprouted a second head. I got a little nervous and intimidated, like I had said something wrong and now he was gonna lecture me on it.
“What?” I asked back defensively.
“What did you say?” he asked, closing the car door and repositioning himself in his seat so that his body was facing towards me.
“I said I want to do another album,” I repeated. “Another Backstreet Boys album.”
“Where is this coming from?”
Good question, Kev. In all honesty, I had no idea where this had come from. It hadn’t even entered my mind until I was in that skeazy lawyer’s office listening him tell me how he was gonna ruin my career.
“Is this for the money?” he asked sympathetically, as if I needed reminding that I was now two and a half grand down.
“No,” it was an honest answer. “I just miss it.”
“Everything,” I expanded, and as I said it I became to realise that I really had missed it. I missed everything. “I miss you guys. I miss singing. I miss the fans. I miss the concerts. I miss the music.”
He looked at me carefully. “Are you up for this again?”
I was touched by the concern but annoyed at the lack of faith. “Yeah, I am,” I said. “I need this.”
He sat there staring at me for a full minute. I could almost see the cogs in his head turning as he thought what I said through.
“The thing is, Aje,” he finally said. “I don’t know if I’m up for it.”
My heart leaped into my throat. “Are you thinking of quitting?” I asked, very scared and anxious.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It hadn’t really occurred to me.”
Oh shit, did I just give him ideas?
He must have read my mind because he quickly said, “I mean, I haven’t really thought about it because I just kinda lived as if this hiatus would never end. I guess it never occurred to me that we’d get out of the hiatus.”
“But it’s something to think about. Doing another album,” he said. “While we’re all together, we should have a serious talk about our future.”
A serious talk about our future. Usually when we have those talks, it ends in disagreements, arguing, sometimes hurt feelings and at least one threat from one of us that we would just quit the band altogether. But we’d only had a couple of those ‘serious talk about our future’ talks since we hit it big. The most recent of those talks happened just after I got out of rehab and for once everyone was in agreement: we needed a break. But that time no one was threatening to leave and it felt like all we needed was some down time and then we’d be back.
“Let’s go in,” Kevin said, taking his hand away from my shoulder and reopening the car door to let himself out.
He shut the door behind him and I sat there for a full minute, thinking about the other time after we had hit it big that we had one of those future talks. That time it felt like we were at the end of everything. It felt like we were gonna lose everything.
6 May, 1998
Our team of lawyers left the room leaving just the five us there to make a decision. We all sat spread around the conference table. We sat in silence for a few minutes contemplating our choices. Whoever spoke first would be initiating the talk that would forever decide our future as a successful boy band.
“Whatever we decide, it has to be unanimous,” Kevin was the one to start. I knew it would be him.
He looked around at each of us as we all nodded our heads. Rok was a bit hesitant, but finally, he too nodded.
“So, what does everyone think?”
“What do you think Kevin?” I asked.
He sighed, closed his eyes for a second and then opened them again. He looked directly at Brian to answer my question.
“I think we should take the money,” he said. “I think we should settle.”
Brian didn’t look too happy.
“No, we have to take them to court,” he said fiercely. “No way am I settling with that man!”
“If we don’t settle Brian, we could be losing months, maybe even years in court,” Kevin tried to reason. “We’ll be losing more money. We’ll be performing less, have less time with the fans, we’ll need to put future albums on hold.”
Brian shook his head. “I don’t care,” he said. “It’s not about the money and it’s not about the music, it’s about what he did to us! We can’t let that go!”
Kevin huffed. “Dragging this out will only make things worse,” he said. “For us, for the fans and for you!”
“What do you ‘for me?’” Brian almost hissed it out.
“If we want a successful career, we need to move on,” Kevin said. “And you need to let the hurt go.”
“Let the hurt go?” Brian seethed.
“Yes Brian,” Kevin said loudly. “Let the hurt go.”
“How can you say that?”
“Quite easily actually.”
“If it wasn’t for me, he’d still be stealing from us,” Brian was furious.
“And we’re grateful,” Kevin said. “That’s why Howie, AJ and I have joined the lawsuit. You were right. But now it’s time to end it.”
Brian looked about ready to flip.
“Look,” Howie jumped in, ever the negotiator. “Both ways of dealing with Lou have merit...”
“Dear Lord Howie,” Brian snapped. “Pick a side for once, will you?”
Howie looked indignant. “Fine,” he said coolly. “I think we should settle.”
“I’m with Kevin on this one,” Howie repeated. “We should settle. They’re offering us a lot and our contract with Lou will be officially terminated. It’s an easy exit.”
Brian opened his mouth to object but Howie continued.
“Besides, the things I’ve heard, Lou isn’t going to get away with everything. A lot of people are mad at him.”
“AJ?” Brian turned to me hotly.
I felt like a spotlight was shone on my face. Everyone was looking at me.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m thinking.”
“This will ruin us Brian!”
“So what Kevin?” Brian snapped. “It’s not about our careers! It’s about justice!”
“So what?” Kevin asked. “What if Howie, AJ and I think settling is a good idea? What are you going to do, take Lou to court by yourself?”
“I started this by myself!”
“Yeah, without telling us!”
Brian didn’t have an answer for that.
“We decided that we would back each other up on this decision,” Howie broke in. “If the majority votes one way, we’re all in on that decision.”
“No,” Brian said. “That’s not what unanimous means Howie! It means we all have to agree!”
I was scared to speak up and ruin my friendship with these guys, but I didn’t want to ruin my career over some slime ball like Lou Pearlman either, so I said, “I think we should settle.”
Brian looked furious and he turned on me.
“You too huh?” he said. “Does no one care what he did to us?”
“Of course we care Brian,” Howie said.
“Really D?” suddenly he stood up from his seat and began pacing. “He stole from us! He was paid as the SIXTH member of the band! He was making millions while we were doing all the work and earning nothing.”
“Brian sit down,” Kevin said calmly.
“Sit down!” Kevin stood up and banged his hands on the table. “We either discuss this rationally and calmly or we don’t discuss it at all. I am NOT going to sit in court for months on end because you have some score to settle. The three of us want to settle and if you’re not okay with that, if that really bothers you, then you do your own damn thing!”
No Kevin! Don’t say that! We have to do this altogether. We have to stay united or we won’t make it.
“What do you think Nick?” Howie asked.
I had almost forgotten Nick was in the room. He had been silent the whole time, sitting at the far end of the table. He looked surprised that someone had finally spoken to him.
“Oh, so now you want my opinion?” he asked sarcastically.
“Nick, this is a group decision,” Kevin said. “You’re in the group.”
“Guess you should have thought about that when you all decided to sue Lou,” he sneered.
Brian had stopped pacing, but didn’t sit down like Kevin had suggested. He stood looking at Nick.
“You could have sued too Nick,” he said, but his voice was a little softer.
“Why?” he said and suddenly I felt uncomfortable. “What’s the point?”
“Because he stole from us!” Brian said exasperated, as if we didn’t get that already.
“I don’t want to sue him,” Nick said and I bowed my head, not wanting to know what was going through Nick’s head. I was scared of what I mind find there.
“So now you want to settle too?” Brian asked furiously.
Nick looked defeated. “I just want all this to go away,” he said. I detected a little hesitance in his voice. He didn’t want Brian to hate him. “He was good to us.”
Howie shook his head and Kevin closed his eyes. I watched Brian’s face fall.
“Frack, he was never good to us,” he said, his fire gone.
Nick didn’t reply, just sat silently, all emotion gone from his face. Seeing Nick like that almost made me change my mind.
“What’s it going to be Brian?” Kevin finally asked. “The four of us want to settle. It has to be unanimous.”
Brian flopped down in his seat again.
“Fine,” he said forcefully. “Fine.”
AN: Another chapter done and dusted. Thankyou all for such all the wonderful reviews on the last chapter. Thanks to PaulaKTBPA, libragurl, KeepThisSecret, emeraldbecca1991 and Mare! Hopefully you enjoyed this chapter too. I should be back with another one this time next week! Thanks for reading!