It didn’t take long for Brian to come back to the table with Nick. No one said anything – Nick didn’t mention why he suddenly made a sweet escape to the bathroom and AJ, Kevin and I didn’t ask. As soon as he sat down, Brian clapped his hands together and said “Shall we order?”
Dinner wasn’t nearly as fun as it used to be back in the day. It was much more civil, much more grown up. There was still a nervous feeling between us, like we were just settling back in. It gave me unnerved me but it also gave me hope – maybe we could salvage the magic. Nick hardly spoke, which didn’t surprise me. I was floored that he was still standing after the day he had. But it wasn’t just that he was obviously exhausted. He hadn’t spoken to Kevin and that caused more tension around the table.
It was in the middle of a conversation about football that I heard more than two words from him at a time. He nudged me softly in the ribs. This was something meant only for me, and I sidled closer to him so that he could whisper in confidence.
“Is AJ going to be okay?”
“Yeah, Nicky,” I said softly, pausing slightly to make sure the others were still deeply involved in their conversation. “He’s going to be fine. Nothing to worry about.”
“Good,” he said. “Because I don’t think I can go through that again.”
I nodded, knowing exactly what he meant.
9 July, 2001
We stood by the back door of the TRL studio, waiting for our cars to be brought around. The backstage interview was even worse without the fans than it was with the fans. The first interview we had with TRL discussing AJ’s entry into rehab had been with the fans, so we had to hold in a lot of what we were feeling. The backstage interview, there were no fans and somehow it was like their absence gave us an excuse to be more open with our emotions and thoughts. I shudder to think that that interview would air.
“So I guess this is goodbye,” Brian said, looking at each of us in turn.
“Only for a month,” I said. “And then AJ gets out and it’ll be business as usual.”
“Unless he thinks he needs more time,” Brian said.
“Yeah,” I said softly.
“Will he need more time?” Nick asked, his eyes still wet from the interview.
“We’re just going to have to wait and see,” Kevin said, wiping at his own eyes.
“When do you leave?” I asked Brian.
He and Kevin had cleaned out their hotel rooms and their luggages were waiting in the car for them.
“I fly out at nine tonight,” Brian answered.
“And you?” I asked Kevin.
“Ten-thirty,” he said. “Kristin’s meeting me in Kentucky. It’ll be good to get away.”
The sound of a car approaching made me turn away from them. The car I had rented parked on the street opposite the TRL building. The driver, a valet, got out and waved at us.
“Looks like we’re off,” I said, turning to Nick. I was driving the two of us back to our hotel, neither of us had decided what we were going to do or go after the interview. I guess my only destination was home.
“Well, take care brother,” Brian wrapped his arms around me and hugged me tight while Kevin and Nick embraced much the same way.
“See you in a month,” I said, breaking away from him.
Brian went to Nick and I went to Kevin.
“I’ll see you soon,” Kevin said to me, hugging me.
“I need a break anyway,” I said lightly.
“Call me if you need anything,” he said as we broke apart.
“Ready?” I asked Nick as he and Brian separated.
He nodded and with one final glance at our brothers, we ran across the street, took the keys from the valet and were in the car and driving towards our hotel in minutes, me behind the wheel.
It was quiet in the car and for the first time I hated the silence. All it did was make me think back to the interview and back to AJ. More importantly, it gave me the chance to feel and I have tried so hard not to feel. And what I was feeling now was not something I wanted to explore while Nick was in the car. So I forced conversation.
“He’ll be okay,” I said to Nick. He was silently looking out the car window, watching the buildings flash by. Every now and then a tear would trickle down his face, but he would ignore them and continue looking out. “Did you hear me Nicky?” I asked when he didn’t say anything. “He’ll be okay. He’s getting the help he needs.”
“How do you know he’ll be okay?” Nick asked, looking over at me.
“I know,” I said firmly.
Maybe that was enough for him, because he turned back to look out of the window. But that wasn’t enough for me. I needed him to speak. I needed him to be angry or sad – I needed him to need me at that moment because suddenly I was in a confined space, with nothing to help me escape from my emotions. And I don’t do well with emotions. I try my hardest to never show too much emotion especially in interviews but even to the guys. But there were times when hiding my emotions became too difficult, especially if I didn’t have a distraction. I needed a distraction. Nicky was a good distraction, even if it did entail a discussion about his feelings on the matter. At least they weren’t my feelings.
“How’s your hand?”
He looked down at his casted arm.
“Hurts,” he said simply. “I’ll just take a couple of pain killers when we get back.”
“Didn’t you take some this morning?” I asked.
“Yeah, two,” he replied.
“Well do you think it’s a good idea to take more?”
“It hurts, Howie,” he said.
“I’m sure it’s not that bad,” I said.
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” I said, honestly. “They have codeine in them.”
“So, that’s pretty strong stuff.”
“Good,” Nick said, not looking away from the window. “Because my hand hurts a lot.”
“I really don’t think it hurts that much, Nicky,” I said.
“How would you know?” he asked, but there was no fire in his voice.
“If it really hurts that much I’ll take you to the ER,” I suggested.
“I don’t need to go to the ER,” Nick said, finally turning around to face me. “I’ll be fine if I take a couple of those painkillers.”
“I don’t think you should,” I pushed.
“Well it’s not your decision anyway,” Nick said hotly.
“Your hand does not hurt that much and you know it,” I said, angry. “Don’t take those pills Nick.”
“How would you know how much my hand hurts?” he asked, raising his voice.
“Because you broke your hand a week ago!” I said. “The doctor said you’d only be having twinges after that long.”
Nick humphed and turned away again.
“I’m going to take the painkillers anyway,” he mumbled.
I should have never opened my mouth. I should have been content with the silence.
“Nick, just don’t take the painkillers,” I said, my voice rising slightly.
“What the hell, Howie?” Nick’s voice was raised too. “It’s none of your business anyway.”
“Damn it Nick!” I banged my hands on the steering wheel. I was getting frustrated. Why couldn’t he just do what he was told like when he was younger? “You think you’re the only one who’s worried about AJ?” I demanded. “You think you’re the only one who’s hurting here?”
“They’re for my hand Howie!” Nick exclaimed, a little alarmed at my outburst.
I ignored him.
“We’re all hurting here Nick,” I continued, but my voice was by no means any softer. “And it hurts a lot but you don’t just start taking pills whenever something bad happens. How do you think AJ got into this mess in the first place?”
“I won’t take them then, okay!” Nick exclaimed and for some reason that made me angrier.
I pulled the car over and put it in park in front of a little shop selling vintage furniture. I turned to him.
“So you won’t take them this time,” I shrugged sarcastically. “How about next time when I’m not around? Huh, Nick? What about then?”
Nick opened his mouth to reply, but I cut him off.
“If you do to us what AJ did...” Suddenly it was way too hot and I turned to roll down the window. “If you do to us what AJ did, I...” I stopped again. It felt like my whole body temperature had just risen by ten degrees. My eyes felt particularly hot. “If you do to me what AJ did, I’ll never forgive you Nicky. I never will.”
“Okay,” Nick said quickly, tears running down his face at a much quicker pace than before. “I’ll never do that to you, I promise. But please, Howie, don’t cry.”
I was confused for a minute before I felt my own tears on my face. A tear dripped from my nose and onto my lap. I looked at the little water stain on my pants in surprise.
Halfway through dinner, I opened my phone and checked my missed calls. Thirteen missed calls from my mother. I groaned.
“What’s up J?” Brian asked, a forkful of risotto halfway to his mouth.
“My mum called me thirteen times,” I said, shutting my phone off and putting it back in my pocket.
“What does she want?” Kevin asked.
I shrugged. “Who knows,” I said.
“Well, why don’t you call her back?”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “When we get back I’ll give her a ring.” I couldn’t keep ignoring my mum and I guess she thought she was only trying to help me by suggesting I kick Nick out of my house.
The rest of dinner was uneventful. We ate, we spoke, we ate, we spoke. No one mentioned my little relapse again. I have a feeling they might be saving that for a one on one session. It was nine at night by the time we finished dinner and paid the bill – well actually Howie paid the bill. It was dark outside and quite warm and for some reason I felt like getting an ice-cream. But instead we all piled back into my car and headed home. The first thing I did when I parked my car in my driveway was take out my phone.
“I’ll meet you guys inside,” I said, handing the keys to my house to Kevin. “I’m going to ring my mum.”
I dialled her number as the guys exited my car. It only took half a ring for her to answer.
“Alex, thank God!” she sounded flustered.
“Hi mum,” I said in a sour tone, wanting her to know I was still upset.
“Alex, there’s something you need to know...”
We were interrupted by a loud rapping on my car window. I jumped in alarm and turned to see Brian looking panicked. I rolled down the window quickly.
“Mum, hold on for a sec,” I said into the phone and then to Brian, “What’s wrong Rok?”
“You have to come,” he said. He said it quietly but urgently. “I think someone is in your house.”
“Shhh, come on!”
“Mum I got to go, I’ll ring you back tomorrow,” I said and before she could answer, I hung up. I got out of the car quickly, closed the door – careful not to slam it – and rushed over to the other guys who were standing on my front porch looking nervously at the house.
There was definitely someone in there. The lights were on – and they were definitely switched off when we left – and I could see someone’s silhouette flicking past the front window every now and then.
“Did you lock the house?” Kevin asked me quietly.
“Yeah,” I said, inspecting the front door. It looked untouched. I tried the handle. It was still locked. “It’s locked,” I said. “How did they get in?”
“Is that broken glass?” Howie asked, looking down at the ground.
I looked down. In the darkness it was hard to tell but sure enough broken glass scattered the ground. I looked up trying to find the source.
“There!” Brian said, pointing to a small hole that had been made into the window pane of the front door.
I peered through the hole. There was a rock lying in my hallway but whoever was in there was not in my line of sight.
“Okay, we need to call the cops,” Howie said, taking out his phone.
“I have a silent alarm,” I said. “They’re probably on their way over right now.”
“Still,” Howie said, punching in 911.
“What do we do if he comes out?” I asked Kevin.
Kevin was cut off from replying by the sound of breaking glass and a scream. A mere second later, that scream was followed by inaudible shouts with a few choice swear words thrown in and more smashing sounds.
Suddenly, before I was able to comprehend if the voice belonged to a male or female, Nick lunged his hand through the hole in my door’s window pane, felt around and opened the front door from the inside.
“Nick!” Kevin shouted as the blonde ran into the house. Kevin hardly paused before he ran after Nick and not knowing exactly what to do, I followed.
The first thing I noticed was that my house was a complete mess. The couch had been cut into, the television and stereo lay on the ground, my medieval antiques that hung from the walls were broken on the floor and my vases were smashed.
But the shock I felt at seeing all that paled in comparison to what I felt when I laid my eyes on the perpetrator. I looked over at Nick who stood in front of the person who had just broken into my home.
“Mum!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
A/N: Thanks for reading! Thanks to KeepThisSecret, KimberlyCan, emeraldbecca1991, Mare and libragurl for your reviews! I say it every time and I mean it: I appreciate you all so much for reading and reviewing.