Dinner was at this cool little alleyway restaurant. Very trendy. I said it was my shout, mostly because I knew Nick couldn’t spare the money and if I was going to pay for him, it would look suss if I didn’t pay for anyone else.
We settled into a little booth at the back of the restaurant. I was wedged between Nick and AJ but it wasn’t uncomfortable. What was more uncomfortable was the tension I could feel between Nick and Kevin and to a much lesser extent, Brian and Nick. In fact, there was a tension that kind of emanated around the table – I guess we were still getting used to each other’s presence again.
“Let’s see what looks good,” AJ picked up a menu and leafed through it.
“Nothing too expensive J,” I quickly said.
“You can afford it, Trump Junior,” AJ said.
“Trump Junior?” I asked with half a grin on my face. “I hope that doesn’t stick.”
“I feel like risotto,” Brian said, taking his own menu from the pile on the table.
“The lamb looks good,” Kevin noted.
“What about you Nick?” I asked, looking over. “What are you gonna get?”
Nick shrugged, no menu in his hands or open before him. “Pizza.”
AJ laughed. “Never change, Kaos,” he said.
I looked over AJ’s shoulder at the menu but he snapped it shut before I could get a good look.
“Guys, I want to tell you something before we order,” AJ’s laugh had faded and his face was serious.
“What is it J?” Kevin asked, shutting his own menu, obviously sensing a change in the atmosphere. Brian and Nick looked up too. Nick looked curious - that is as optimistic as I’d seen him this whole time I’ve been here – and Brian looked worried.
I knew what was coming. It was why I was here in the first place.
“About a week ago...” AJ was nervous. His eyes were flicking all over the place, never landing on any of our faces. “About a week ago I...”
“You what AJ?” Brian didn’t seem to have any patience.
“I was feeling really...shit,” I looked down at the table as he continued. “And I...I was having a hard time and I was lonely and sad and...”
He finally looked at each of us and I looked up from the table long enough to give him a reassuring smile before turning my attention back to the table.
“And I bought a drink,” he finished.
There was silence. I looked up at him, knowing this was not the end of the story and silently urging him to continue.
“How did it taste?” Kevin asked finally.
AJ looked at him in shock and so did I. Kevin had said it so calmly and emotionless, very unlike himself.
“Well,” AJ shifted in his seat. “I didn’t actually drink it.”
Brian let out a burst of laughter. “What?” he exclaimed. “That’s great J!”
AJ shook his head fiercely. “No, it’s not,” he said. “I bought alcohol, Rok, how is that great?”
“Because you didn’t drink it,” Kevin answered him. “You resisted the temptation. That’s a HUGE thing!”
AJ shook his head. “No, I didn’t,” he insisted. “I didn’t resist the temptation. I bought alcohol with the intention of drinking it.”
“What stopped you?” Brian asked. “What stopped you from drinking it?”
“I got home and I put it on my coffee table and I looked at it,” AJ said, his voice small and quiet. “And then I picked up the phone and I called D.”
Brian and Kevin looked over at me.
“That’s why you were staying over at J’s?” Kevin asked.
“He called, I came,” I said simply. “It was just a slip up. Nothing big.”
“Nothing big to you Howie,” AJ said, almost indignantly. “But it’s a big thing to me!”
“Yeah, it is a big thing,” I agreed. “It’s a huge thing!” he looked disappointed, so I continued. “You made the choice to ring me up and fight your demons! You’re right, that is huge!”
AJ shook his head. “That’s not what I meant...”
“Everyone has slip ups J,” Kevin said. “It’s called being human.”
“The point is, you fought it and you beat it,” I said. “All this says to me is that you’re getting stronger. I’ve been saying that ever since I got here!”
“How does it make me stronger?” AJ asked. This would be the millionth time we’ve had this conversation but now that I had Kevin and Brian with me, maybe I could finally get through to him.
“Because setbacks are really just learning curves,” Brian put in. “You had a setback, a moment of weakness, but you fought through it. Next time, it’ll be easier.”
“Howie and Brian are right, J,” Kevin put in. “You’re stronger because of this.”
“Can I take your order?”
A pretty waitress was standing at our table, looking down at us and unaware that she had interrupted a very personal conversation.
“Uh,” I was caught off guard, as were the others.
“Your order?” the waitress repeated.
“Right,” Brian said, coming to first. “Can I have the risotto?”
“And you sir?” the waitress asked, looking at Kevin.
Kevin, on the other hand, did not appear to be aware that the waitress had spoken to him. He was staring slightly to the left of me.
“Where’s Nick?” he asked.
I looked to my left. How did I not notice Nick had left during our conversation?
I looked into the bathroom mirror and breathed out slowly. There was some guy taking a piss behind me. He had no shame whatsoever. His pants were down at his ankles. I tried to avoid looking at his bare cheeks that were reflected in the mirror.
I turned the faucet to the sink on and cupped my hands under the water. I splashed the water on my face and enjoyed the feeling of it dripping down and off my skin. I took in another deep breath and looked back in the mirror. The guy who had been peeing butt naked at the urinal was now standing next to me, washing his hands. He looked at me in the mirror closely and I started to feel a little nervous.
“Do I know you from somewhere?” he asked, turning the water off and shaking it from his hands.
“Don’t think so,” I said, not really in the mood for the ‘Oh, you’re a Backstreet Boy’ talk.
“Must have a common face,” the guy shrugged, drying his hands with some paper towels now.
“Must have,” I said, smiling softly.
“Huh,” the guy dropped the paper towels in a little waste basket and walked out.
I looked back at myself in the mirror. I looked so tired. I rubbed my eyes and looked back at myself. Great, now my eyes are red and wet. It looks like I’ve been crying, which, in all honesty, is what I feel like doing anyways.
I can’t believe AJ bought a drink! Okay, so he didn’t drink any, but he had bought one! God, I don’t think I can do the whole AJ/rehab thing again – it was too hard the first time. He said he was feeling like shit when he bought it – why would he feel like shit? AJ was awesome! AJ’s always been awesome! They all are awesome. Why would they ever feel like that? I was the one that should feel like shit – because I am shit. I couldn’t sit there and listen to him go on about his troubles so I left.
I looked hard into my own eyes. I stared at the green and I stared at the black and the white. A drop of water ran down my cheek and now I’m not sure if that’s from the water I splashed on my face or a tear.
“He’s probably just in the bathroom,” I said casually.
Howie nodded. “Yeah,” he agreed. “He pees like a race horse.”
“We’ll just wait until he comes back and then we’ll order,” AJ said to the waitress, who nodded politely and left.
There was a silence. “He’s fine, you know,” AJ said suddenly. “I mean, he will be fine. I talked to him and he’s gonna be fine. Now that we’re all here anyway.”
“I leave at the end of the week,” I said.
“That’s okay,” Howie said. “I’ll be here.”
“And he can stay at mine for however long he needs,” AJ put in.
“Plus, we won’t be apart long if we do another album,” Howie said eagerly.
“You’re really excited for this new album, hey D?” I said.
“Well,” he looked at Kevin uncertainly. “If we’re all in.”
We all looked at Kevin, waiting for him to tell us what he’d decided, if he had decided anything.
“Have you all spoken with him?” was what he said instead.
“What?” I asked.
He nodded towards Nick’s empty seat. “Have you all reconciled with Nick?”
Howie and AJ nodded slowly, looking a little uncomfortable. I didn’t make a move. What had I done with Nick? Surely it wasn’t reconciling? I just gave him a little speech about how he didn’t bother to call and tell him how maybe him doing Angel Dust was fate, and then telling him that he should speak to Howie.
“Brian?” Kevin looked at me. I could tell he was sad.
“I spoke to him,” I said, not wanting to admit that my relationship with Nick wasn’t as mended as his relationship with Howie and now AJ was.
“He’s coming around Kev,” Howie said. “He wants to speak to you.”
Kevin nodded. “I never should have stopped calling,” he said quietly.
Howie shook his head, but I didn’t hear what he had to say. I was up and out of my seat in seconds and seconds after that I was striding towards the bathroom.
He was standing in front of the mirror looking at himself with such intensity I thought maybe he was trying to break the glass with his mind.
I startled him. He jumped and turned towards me looking alarmed.
“Are you okay?” I asked him when he recognised me and settled down.
“Yeah,” he said, but I knew he wasn’t.
I strode further into the bathroom and stood right in front of him.
“You’re gonna be okay, Nick,” I said, wrapping my arms around him and holding on tightly. I felt his arms around me too. In the past, we might have had a deep conversation about our relationship, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to have one with him now. For the time being, a hug would have to do, but for Nick, a hug is really all he needs.
11 August, 1996
“Home sweet home!” AJ flung his arms in the air as he stepped off the plane.
“Not yet, J,” I said. “We’re only in California.”
“Still on American soil,” he said.
“True,” I replied, lifting my carryon luggage up and following Kevin, Howie and Nick towards the terminal.
We made our way to the baggage claim area and waited for the conveyor to start.
“Okay boys,” Lou met us there, a smile on his face. “We’re shooting our first music video tomorrow, so get rested. You have drivers waiting outside for you and I’ve booked out a suite at the Marriot.”
“Wow, Lou!” AJ looked ecstatic. “That’s so cool! How did you get that?”
“I have connections,” he winked at us. “Nine A.M sharp tomorrow boys. Enough time for you to sleep in and have breakfast. We’ll meet you in the hotel lobby at nine. Got it?”
We all nodded and watched as he left.
“Wow!” AJ turned to the rest of us. “A suite at the Marriot! How cool is that?”
“He must be more successful than we thought,” Howie said. “This is it guys. This is our chance.”
“We’re gonna be big!” AJ said as the first round of bags made their way around. “I can feel it!”
“Don’t get too excited,” Kevin warned. “Europe is one thing, but the US is something else entirely.”
“Stop being such a downer,” I said, poking my elbow into my cousin’s ribs.
“Just being realistic,” he said.
“What do you think Nick?” I asked. “Do you think we’ll make it big?”
The blonde shrugged, his eyes a little faraway as if he wasn’t really with us. “I don’t know,” he said. “But what if we don’t make it big? What happens then?”
“Don’t listen to Kevin, Nicky,” Howie said. “Think positive and positive things will happen.”
“I want a girl with big breasts, I want a girl with big breasts, I want a girl with big breasts,” AJ muttered.
“I said think positive thoughts, not unrealistic ones,” Howie laughed.
We made it to the Marriot an hour and a half later. The suite was gorgeous. Lou must have signed other talents to his company because there was no way that he could have afforded this with us being his only client.
“There are only four bedrooms,” AJ groaned. “Two of us have to double up.”
“Not it!” Kevin and Howie shouted together and then raced to have the master bedroom.
“Rok?” AJ looked at me with pleading eyes.
“God, AJ, want to make it any more obvious?” Nick pouted. “I am standing right here.”
I laughed. “I’ll share with Nick,” I said.
“What if I don’t want to share?” Nick snapped. “How come I always have to share? Why can’t you share for once?” he looked at AJ, clearly angry.
“You’re the youngest,” AJ said matter-of-factly.
“So what?!” he exclaimed and I was shocked to see that he was actually and legitimately getting upset over this. “I’m only younger than you by like two years. It’s not fair!”
“Someone has to share with little Nicky,” AJ said in a sing song sort of way, clearly losing his patience with Nick. “Little itty bitty Nicky needs a guardian.”
“Shut up!” Nick screamed.
“What the hell is going on?” Kevin and Howie walked back towards us.
“This little shit is having a hissy fit because he doesn’t want to share a room with Rok,” AJ said quickly.
“No,” Nick jumped in. “I don’t want to share a room with anyone.”
“What? After all that talk in Germany about being family and staying together and all that shit? I thought you’d be jumping for joy to share with someone,” AJ was deliberately stirring Nick up, I could see that. Lately Nick had been going through some major mood changes – like major – and AJ seems to have lost all patience with him, conveniently forgetting that only a few years back we had to deal with the same thing from him.
“I’ll share with AJ,” I said, putting my hand on Nick’s shoulder.
“No, we already agreed that I was going to have a room to myself!” AJ said. Now I knew for certain that he was only doing it to spite Nick.
“Two people have to share!” Kevin said loudly. “Nick, stop being a brat and share with Brian. You love sharing with Brian.”
Nick turned to Kevin angrily. “No, I always share! It’s not fair!”
“You are the youngest Nick,” Kevin said, matter-of-factly.
“ARGH!” Nick shouted and I could see a tantrum coming on. “So what?! I’m sixteen! I don’t need to share with anyone! And why do you always get the master bedroom anyways? That’s not fair! How come I never get the master bedroom? How come Howie doesn’t get the master bedroom?”
“I got it this time,” Howie piped up, looking a little affronted.
“Nick what the hell?!” Kevin exclaimed. “Why are you being so difficult?”
I stepped closer to Nick, just in case I needed to restrain him at the last second. Along with the mood changes, he has picked up the habit of throwing punches willy-nilly.
“Because it’s not fair!” Nick exclaimed. “Why does it always happen to me?! Why don’t you force AJ to sleep with Brian?”
Kevin didn’t say anything for a minute, just staring pensively at Nick and we all waited with baited breath to see what would happen next.
“AJ, you can share with me,” he said finally. “And Nick can take the master bedroom.”
“Hey, that was mine!” Howie said indignantly.
“I am NOT sharing with you,” AJ said, folding his arms across his chest.
“You share with me or you sleep on the couch,” Kevin said, on the verge of screaming.
“What?!” AJ did scream. “How is that fair?!”
“Enough AJ,” Kevin said, his voice dangerously low. “Howie, are you okay with Nick taking the master bedroom?”
Howie looked at Kevin and then looked at Nick. “Yeah, that’s fine,” he said. “But you owe me one kid,” he said at Nick.
Nick nodded and then made his exit towards the master bedroom, not saying a word.
“This is bullshit Kevin!” AJ said. “I’ll share with Howie then.”
“I don’t want you in my bedroom,” Howie said.
“Why the hell not?!”
“You were goading him!” Howie said. “You couldn’t compromise?”
“I don’t see you offering to double up,” AJ said.
“He gave up the master bedroom,” Kevin said. “Nick is right, though. He always shares with someone and that someone is always Brian so let’s give them a break tonight.” Kevin’s eyes softened. “What do you say J?”
“I say this is bullshit,” AJ swore, before walking off to sit in a huff before the TV.
Kevin, Howie and I were left standing there, a look of exhaustion on each of our faces.
“What was that about?” Howie asked quietly so AJ couldn’t hear.
“I don’t know,” I said truthfully. “Nick just went nuts.”
“I think I have an idea,” Kevin said. “But I think you should go talk to him.”
“Me?” I asked when he pointed at me. “But I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“You remember in Germany? The night we watched Die Hard?” Kevin asked.
Howie and I nodded.
“The night before we left,” Kevin said. “Nick said we’re family?”
Howie and I nodded again, waiting for this to make sense.
“Well,” Kevin continued. “He asked us what ‘cash cow’ meant. Remember?”
I nodded, still not quite getting it, but Howie seemed to have caught on.
“He made a call to his mum before that,” the Latino said.
“What?” I asked, a little confused.
Kevin sighed. “I think maybe something happened on the phone,” he explained. “Nick overheard someone call him a cash cow or something. Maybe someone said it to him, maybe one of his sisters or something.”
“He’s been crabby and down the whole way home,” Howie said.
I shook my head. If what Kevin speculated was true, all I wanted to do is ring my own mother up and tell her how much I love and appreciate her.
“I’ll go talk to him,” I said, breaking away from Kevin and Howie and walking towards the master bedroom.
I knocked on the door and when I didn’t get an answer, I turned the door knob. It was locked.
“Nick, it’s Brian,” I said through the door. “Can I come in?”
I heard shuffling in the room and then the door unlocking. More shuffling before I opened the door.
He was lying on the bed, headphones in his ears. He had his eyes closed and was moving his foot to the beat on his walkman.
I sat down on the bed beside him. It was a nice room: king sized bed, large screen TV, couches, coffee table and an en suite.
“Awesome room,” I said.
He kept his eyes closed and his headphones on. I reached forward and grabbed at them. He opened his eyes in alarm but let me take the headphones off anyway.
“I said, awesome room,” I repeated.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s dope.”
“Can I ask you a question?” I asked.
“You already have,” Nick said and I could tell that his mood had lightened.
“Why did you ask about cash cows?”
Nick looked shocked that I had asked that question. He slowly sat up.
“I...I was just curious,” he said.
“Where did you hear it?” I asked.
“TV,” he said simply. He was lying.
“You’re lying,” I said.
“No I’m not!” he said defensively.
“Yes you are,” I objected.
He didn’t say anything, he just sat there, looking as if all the energy had been taken out of him. I stared at him unwaveringly.
“I haven’t even made that much money yet anyway,” he finally said.
I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t very well tell him that his family were not those kind of people when I knew first hand that they were. He looked so sad, so I did the one thing that I knew would, for at least a moment, take away some of that sadness: I hugged him.
A/N: So close to the end of this story now! Thanks to everyone who reviewed: KimberlyCan, Kyrie, KeepThisSecret, emeraldbecca1991 and Mare. Thanks for reading and reviewing and being so supportive! Especially after last chapter lol Thanks again! xx