A/N: Okay, so just a head's up: I don't know much about dates and that kind of stuff. I don't know where the guys were in 1995, most of my knowledge of the guys come from interviews and Wikipedia. So if you're sitting there wondering why I've gotten all the facts messed up, that's the reason LOL But if you do see something that is factually inaccurate, then please let me know for future reference. Thanks for the reviews!!
Chapter 7: Sweet D
The newspaper lay on AJ's kitchen table, a mere metre away from me, Nick's face plastered on the front page. I turned it over so I wouldn't have to see it anymore and instead focused on Nick's cell phone which I gripped in my hand. I had found it near the dumpster in the alley and had the sense to pick it up before someone else got their hands on it. The screen was cracked and some of the buttons were missing from the keypad but it still worked. I knew this because at that very moment, I was going through his call list.
Now, I'm not one to snoop - I leave that to Kevin - but what Nick said last night about his mum got me curious. As far as I knew, Nick and Jane didn't get along anymore - in fact, they hardly spoke. So, I was a little surprised when Nick mentioned her.
Going through his phone now, my curiousity peaked further. Apparently, he had received one call from his mum at least every day for at least the past month. Maybe they had reconnected? Maybe they -
Before I could finish that thought, I heard a crash from upstairs. I shoved the phone in my pocket, groaned at the thought of having to tell AJ that Nick had thrown up all over his carpet again, and raced upstairs. I barged into Nick's room only to find him sitting on the bed, his back to me, his legs dangling off the side and his right hand in his hair, scratching.
"Nicky, what was that crash?"
"It was staring at me," his voice was croaky and he spoke in a monotonous tone.
Confused, I moved closer to the bed and noticed the gargoyle lamp lying broken on the floor. Well, I couldn't blame him. Who wants to wake up to that every morning? Besides our excessively tattooed friend of course.
"Why is there blood in my hair?" Nick had taken his hand away from his head and was looking intently at his fingernails. I peered over his shoulder and saw the dried blood that was stuck to his nails.
"You don't remember?" That was a stupid question. Of course he didn't remember. He was so fucked up last night I was surprised he was even able to string a sentence together.
He shook his head but stopped almost immediately, bringing his hand back up to massage his temple. I felt a wave of pity for him.
"Yeah," he said. "Do you have any Tylenol?"
I shook my head. "Not on me, but I'll see what AJ's got." I paused, watching him carefully as he stood from the bed, swayed a bit on the spot, and treaded around the broken lamp to the bathroom. He looked better than earlier, that was a given. He was still wearing the same clothes he had been wearing last night though. Neither AJ nor I wanted to undress him. We had taken off his shoes and socks and that was as far as either of us was willing to go. But like I said, besides that, he looked much better. He must have had a restful sleep this time, but he was still pale and I noticed that he was shaking a bit.
I was about to say something along the lines of ‘It's really great to see you Nicky. It's been too long. I've missed you', but I could feel a coldness coming from him which made me nervous. So I forsook the mushiness.
"I'm going to take a shower," he said, reaching the door to the bathroom. I noticed that he never once looked at me.
"Okay. Well AJ went to your house this morning and brought over your stuff," I pointed to the suitcases I had put on the other side of the room.
Nick's head snapped up as he looked at them with alarm. It was only then that he met my eyes with his own and I could see the horror displayed there.
"You went to my house?" Did I detect a hint of wariness? "How did you get in?"
I wasn't completely surprised by Nick's reaction. First, because Nick had spent the best part of the year locking us out of his life. Second, because according to AJ there was a big ‘For Sale' sign on the front gate. When he entered the house, all he found was three packed suitcases. No furniture, no bed, no anything. Just three packed suitcases. It looked like Nick was moving and that made no sense to us. Nick loved that house; it was right on the beach, it was spacious, and, according to him, it was the perfect ‘love shack'. Apparently, once he had sex with some girl on the living room floor and her screams echoed around the house. Perfect acoustics for love making, to hear him tell it. Whatever Nick.
"How'd you get in?"
I shook my head, distracted by my thoughts. "What?"
Nick was starting to get annoyed, but I could still sense his anxiety. "How did you get in my house? I locked it."
"We took the keys from your jeans," I shrugged, trying to play down his obvious discomfort, and mine own at admitting that I had put my hands way too close to his special area.
Nick's face turned red at an alarming speed. "What gave you the right to do that?"
I ignored the question, a liked miffed. What gave me the right? Oh, I don't know Nicky. Maybe getting up at four in the morning to drag your junkie ass home gave me that right. Or maybe it was years of looking after your sorry ass. I wanted to say all that, but instead I said, "Go have a shower Nicky. When you come down I'll have something for you to eat and we can talk about it."
I didn't give him a chance to reply. I briskly walked out the door, closing it softly behind me. I reclaimed my chair at the kitchen table, staring glumly at that damned newspaper (why hadn't we thrown it out?) and minutes later I heard the sound of the water system come to life and I surmised Nick had finally jumped in the shower.
I got up from my seat and started preparing a sandwich for Nick. As I was putting lettuce on the bread, something AJ had said to me last night came back to me.
"You could be his mother."
I didn't think anything of it until that very moment as I began to fuss over whether to put on tomato or not. I lurched away from the sandwich as though it had stung me. What exactly did he mean by that? Was he insinuating that I mother him? Or was he saying that I was feminine?
I berated myself for that thought for a second, realising that I needed some sleep. But it still niggled at me, so I thought of a solution.
"I'm gonna grow a beard," I said aloud, stroking my chin.
"What's this about a beard?"
I mustn't have heard the front door open because there standing in the kitchen, with a smirk on his face, was AJ, holding a suitcase in one hand. A second later, Kevin appeared, wearing a look I've seen too many times before. When he spotted me, though, his growl disappeared and a huge smile materialised on his face.
"Kevin," I strode towards him, the sandwich forgotten. We embraced and I couldn't help but let out a little laugh. Four out of the five Backstreet Boys were back under the same roof. If only Brian could be here, it would be just like old times. That made me happy. Except for the whole Nick taking PCP thing.
We parted and although he was still smiling, I could see a sadness in his eyes. AJ had told him.
We had planned on telling him together so we could both take the blunt force of Kevin's rage, but once AJ offered to pick him up from the airport, I knew he'd be the one to tell Kevin. I was slightly relieved.
"He's fine. He's having a shower," I assured him.
"He should be in the hospital," Kevin snapped. No more smiley Kevin.
"Did AJ tell you everything?" I asked, looking over at our bandmate who had set down the suitcase and had made his way over to the kitchen counter where he was surveying the half-made sandwich with a disgruntled expression.
"Yep," AJ replied for Kevin. "The house, the drugs, the vomiting, the mummy issues, everything."
"Yeah, about those ‘mummy issues'," I pulled out Nick's cell phone from my pocket.
"Is that his cell?" Kevin asked, peering at the cracked screen. "I thought he might have lost it."
"It was in the alley with him," I explained. "Anyway - "
Before I had time to continue, a buzzing went off and Kevin reached into his own pocket to retrieve his cell.
"Shit, it's Brian," he swore. "I forgot to call him back," and then he stalked out of the kitchen and into the living room to take the call.
I looked over at AJ who was still inspecting the sandwich. "That's for Nick."
"Fine with me," he replied dryly. "Too healthy for me anyway."
I laughed just as Kevin made his re-emergence.
"He's waiting for a flight to Florida," he informed us and both AJ and I grinned. Despite the circumstance for this reunion, we couldn't be anything but happy. It had been two years since we had all been together last and even though we needed the break, being away from each other for so long didn't feel right. "He said you guys haven't been answering your phones."
I almost slapped my head in a ‘duh' kind of moment. Usually I never go anywhere without my phone, but today, with playing nurse for Nick and all, I had left it in my bedroom, which I hadn't been in since AJ had yelled for me to get out of bed.
"Crap, my brother was meant to ring me," I swore. My brother John was supposed to call me today about meeting investors for Sweet D Inc. - our real estate business.
Kevin turned to AJ for his explanation. "I unplugged the phone," AJ shrugged.
Now that Kevin reminded me, I was itching to run upstairs.
"So you were saying something about Nick's phone?" Too late.
I looked down at the phone which was still clutched in my hand, prioritising. I took a seat at the head of the kitchen table, with my back facing the door that linked the living room and kitchen. I motioned for the other two to sit down too. Kevin sat next to me, giving the newspaper on the table a dirty look, and AJ took the other end of the table.
"I went through his call list. His mum has been calling him every day for at least the past month."
Kevin furrowed his brow. "What?"
"Didn't she, like, disown him or something when he fired her?" This was the first time AJ was hearing about this too.
"Something's going on here," I said simply.
I could feel Kevin getting worked up next to me. "Whenever his mum is involved with his life, he always self-destructs," he said angrily.
"We don't know what's going on," I tried to reason.
I'm sure Kevin would have spat if he was a lesser man. "I think I have a pretty good idea of what's going on," he growled. "She's fucking his life up and he's letting her."
"Guys," AJ hissed suddenly in an urgent manner. "I think he's coming down the stairs."
Kevin and I listened intently and sure enough we could hear the loud thumps of his footfalls. The three of us turned to watch the doorway, holding our breaths in anticipation, waiting for him to come through.
We didn't have to wait long.
He walked into the kitchen, noticing me and the incriminating cell phone in my hand first. Once his eyes fell on Kevin, however, he froze in his spot. A look overcame his features that I have seen many times before. This was the look Nick reserved only for Kevin. The ‘oh shit, I'm in trouble' look. Like I said, I've seen it many times before, and it had become such a frequent visitor to Nick's face that I couldn't recount half the reasons it had appeared in the first place. But there was this one time I will never forget. I always thought of it whenever I wanted to think of a time when Nick was still innocent. However, in that moment, as I stared at Nick, this memory suddenly seemed much more sinister.
January 10, 1996.
"I don't know why we had to leave so early," AJ complained as we all tumbled out of the cab.
"Because," Kevin began to explain patiently as he handed over cash to the driver, "in Germany, you can only stay until midnight if you're underage."
"You're lucky Germany lets seventeen and eighteen year olds into clubs at all," I scoffed. "At home, you wouldn't be able to get near a club, let alone in it! And then we'd have to take you to one of those lame underage clubs for your birthday instead."
Brian laughed and I ducked my head just as AJ took a swing at me. I stuck my tongue out at him and then lead the way back to the motel room we were all sharing. Lou said we were running short on funds so we needed to make a few sacrifices. One of these said sacrifices was sharing a family sized motel room - all five of us. It was a nightmare. There was only one queen sized bed and a bunk bed. Kevin and I claimed the bunks, perks for being the two eldest of the group - I got top, Kevin got bottom. Brian, AJ and Nick had to share the queen sized bed. None of us were particularly happy with the arrangement, but at least I got a bed to myself. According to AJ, Nick kicks in his sleep.
"Besides," Brian continued, "Nick should be the one complaining."
AJ laughed. "Ah, Rok, did you have a brain aneurism or something? All he did all day was complain."
AJ was right. When we announced to Nick that morning that we would be going out to a club to celebrate AJ's seventeenth birthday, he assumed ‘we' included him too. When Kevin corrected him, you could see the devastation. That look was quickly replaced with one of anger. For some reason - it probably had something to do with being a hormonal fifteen year old kid - Nick took this as a personal slight. He raged on about how we just didn't want to be around him anymore (to which AJ replied unhelpfully with ‘well yeah'), how life was unfair, and how he would be turning sixteen in a few weeks, why the hell not? Despite our efforts, Brian and I could not calm him. AJ made snide comments from the queen sized bed, once in a while sarcastically thanking Nick for making his birthday memorable. But when Kevin screamed that there was no way he'd even take Nick out in public if this was the way he was going to act, did Nick finally shut up. And he stayed in a sullen silence all day, through all the planned interviews and publicity stunts.
We were closing in on our motel room and I reached into my pocket for the key. Kevin loped his arm around AJ's shoulders and I smiled warmly. What? Guys can be sentimental too.
"Happy birthday Aje," Kevin said. "Did you have a good time?"
AJ nodded, putting his own arm around Kevin's shoulders. "I did," he glowed. "Thanks guys."
"Naww," Brian pulled a face and began to fake cry as we reached the motel room. "A moment. God, it's beautiful!"
As I slid the key into the lock, I heard the unmistakable sound of Nick's laughter. I grinned and motioned for the others to come closer. They pressed their ears against the door, listening intently, identical smiles crossing their faces as the sound of Nick's hysterical laughter came out to us from inside the motel room.
"Looks like he's gotten over it," Kevin grinned.
I unlocked the door, opened it, and lead the way into the room, only to stop short a metre in when I noticed a cloud of smoke floating above the queen sized bed. I felt the others crowd in around me, Kevin pushing his way to the front. Together, we stared in dumb disbelief at Nick who was lying on the bed, laughing hysterically at the puffs of smoke that were coming out of his mouth - courtesy of the joint that he held between his fingers.
Nick didn't seem to notice us despite the fact we were standing mere metres away from him. None of us moved, perhaps too stunned by the fact that a fourteen year old kid had somehow gotten his hands on weed.
I moved forward, thinking maybe I could defuse the bomb that I could see ticking away in Kevin's head. Before I had the chance however, AJ lunged past me and grabbed Nick by the collar of his shirt. It was safe to say Nick had finally noticed us - or at least he noticed AJ.
"You little shit!" AJ roared. "That was the last of my weed!"
The rest of us quickly snapped out of our haze. Kevin was the first to reach the two youngest Backstreet members now wrestling on the bed. Nick, obviously high, was still laughing, which only served to enrage AJ that much more. AJ kept shouting about how much that weed cost him and how he was saving it for later. Nick just laughed in his face.
Kevin pulled AJ off Nick, who instantly fell off and behind the bed. Kevin pushed AJ at Brian who caught him by the shoulders and held him firmly. Nick was still laughing.
"Fucking asshole!" AJ swore, trying unsuccessfully to escape Brian's hold.
Kevin's face had turned red, which was never a good sign. He pointed at AJ furiously. "Your weed?"
AJ switched his attention to Kevin, suddenly realising the mistake he had made in confronting Nick.
"We had a fucking discussion about this!" Kevin screamed, spittle flying onto AJ's face. He turned his head to Brian. "Take him outside and cool him off."
Brian pushed AJ out the door, but not before the younger of the two snarled, "Thanks for making my birthday memorable Nick."
To which Nick replied, still laughing, "It's not even your birthday anymore dickhead."
I shouldn't have laughed, but I did. AJ's face as he was pushed out of the door was priceless and Nick's laughter always had me joining in. But Kevin gave me a look. Kevin never gives me looks.
We couldn't see Nick - he was behind the bed - but we could hear him. As soon as Kevin shouted his name, that laughter turned quickly into, the only way I can describe it, a strangled gasp. Kind of like ‘hahaha-rrrrrrrggggggh'. It was enough to make me start laughing again. I noticed the joint on the bed and I went to pick it up, peering over the other side to find Nick staring up at me as he crouched, his eyes pleading with me. I stepped back - I wasn't going to be the bad guy here.
"Nick, get your ass off the floor!" Kevin snatched the joint off me in disgust, holding it between the tips of his fingers.
Slowly, Nick obliged. First, he peered over the bed, so we could only see his eyes and his mop of blonde hair, and then, when he had assessed the situation, he stood up.
I only caught it for a second because Nick ducked his head almost immediately, but there was that look on his face. The one that said ‘oh shit, I'm in trouble'. That was the look reserved for Kevin.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Kevin was furious.
"It was just one joint," Nick raised his eyes to look at me. That pleading look was back on his face. That just made Kevin angrier.
"Don't look at Howie!" he screamed, striding forward to meet Nick on the other side of the bed. "You're not talking to Howie! You're talking to me!"
"Kevin," I tried to settle him. I knew that in a year or so we'd be having a big laugh over this - or at least Brian and I would - but for now, Nick looked on the verge of tears and Kevin looked ready to do some serious damage. This was getting out of hand and I just couldn't find the humour in this situation anymore. "Kevin," I repeated slowly.
But Kevin ignored me, his sights set firmly on the squirming teenager who by all accounts was just about to pee his pants. No one liked going up against a pissed Kevin. Lucky for me, I never have and probably never will. That was another perk of being one of the eldest: Kevin couldn't claim ‘guardianship'.
"It's not a big deal! Mum lets me!" Nick's voice was rising, which only meant one of two things was going to happen. One, someone's nose was about to be broken, or two, Nick was gonna start bawling.
I hoped I would be wiping blood off the floor tonight.
There was silence for a minute as both Kevin and I comprehended what Nick just said. His mum lets him smoke weed? What?
Kevin quickly recovered. Still holding the joint, he thrust it in Nick's face. "Is this what you want? To smoke dope? What's next Nick? Coke?" Overreact much Kev? "Well go ahead then!" Kevin grabbed Nick's wrist, turned his hand over and pushed the joint into it.
Yep, there were those tears, just waiting to burst from those eyes in a dramatic display of teen angst.
Kevin had turned away, but Nick followed him, holding out the joint as if asking for Kevin to take it back.
"I'm sorry okay? You left me alone again. I always get left behind."
Ugh. The way he said it made me feel a little guilty.
Kevin turned back to Nick. "So that gives you reason to get high?"
"I'm not high!" Nick said. "I only smoked half a joint."
"I'm not dealing with this now." Kevin had gone from all furious to all quiet. Kevin is what AJ likes to call a ‘guilt-tripping enthusiast'. He threw one more look my way before stalking into the only bathroom in the motel room and slamming the door.
Nick stared after him, and then turned to me, those tears finally slipping.
"I'm sorry, Howie, okay? Mum lets me do it. I didn't think it mattered."
That made me sad. If it had been AJ or Brian that had claimed their mum lets them smoke pot, I would never have believed them. But knowing Jane Carter, I completely trusted that what Nick was saying was, unfortunately, the truth.
"Nicky, why don't you go to bed?" I was aware that AJ and Brian probably had their ears pressed against the door listening to everything that had gone on. "You can take my bunk tonight."
"Above from Kevin?" Nick was trying so hard to keep the tears in; you could hear it in his voice.
"Would you prefer to sleep next to AJ?" I reasoned, taking a step toward him when I noticed he was holding his breath, as though the next one he took might mean the end of his composure.
He shook his head. Poor kid must feel like everyone's against him.
"I'll swap with AJ," I said softly.
Nick opened his mouth and breathed. I hugged him before I had to witness any more tears.
I slept with Brian and Nick that night. Nick slept in the middle, his face buried in my arm with Brian's arm around him.
Just for the record, Nick does kick in his sleep.