- Can You See Me?
Frowning, he looked into the pot with a disgusted expression. Oh well, he’d always known he couldn’t cook, so he didn’t understand why they’d given that assignment to him. To make matters worse, he didn’t notice Baylee creeping up on him.
“What’s that supposed to be?” the child questioned and Nick jumped a mile up in the air. Exhaling in shock, he gave his friend’s son an angry look.
“It’s chilli, what does it look like?” he stated with a growl.
“Ah, no not again!” Baylee exclaimed dramatically and threw his hands up in desperation. “I’m sick of chilli!”
“Too bad for you. It’s the only thing I know how to make decently, and we don’t have stuff for anything else,” he explained impatiently.
“Why doesn’t Mom make anything?” Baylee asked instead.
“She’s having a conversation with your Dad,” Nick replied crankily. They were having a really long conversation at that too.
“’Bout what?” Baylee continued.
“I don’t know,” Nick informed, “Any more questions?”
“Good, go set the table,” he ordered, taking the pot off of the stove. He grabbed a coaster out of the drawer and tossed it onto the table. He was about to put the hot saucepan on top of it when they both were startled by a loud thump coming from upstairs, and he almost dropped the chilli pan instantly.
“What was that?” he heard Baylee ask amazed.
“Dunno, sounded like something fell,” Nick shrugged. Or someone.
“Do we need to take a look?” the boy questioned fearfully.
“I’ll do it,” Nick stated, “I thought you were setting the table.”
Baylee nodded quickly and continued with his task, glad he didn’t have to find out what was going on upstairs. As he walked the steps, Nick wondered if he was doing the right thing. Maybe he shouldn’t interfere with whatever the two of them had going on in there? But the crash had sounded rather painful and Nick didn’t know why, but he had the feeling something was wrong. Reaching the top of the stairs, he contemplated his options. He waited a few minutes in the hallway, then realized he didn’t hear any voices, and concluded that the conversation the two had, must be over. As he reached Brian’s room, he noticed the door being open and when he glanced inside, he felt his heart break. He wordlessly watched his big brother sitting against the wall in the corner of the room, with his face pressed to his knees, trembling from the obvious sobs that wrecked his entire body painfully.
Nick finally found the courage to go inside and carefully kneeled besides his fallen friend. The former Backstreet Boy didn’t seem aware of anything around him and Nick wondered what to do.
When he heard his name, Brian’s head shot up, but he wasn’t looking at Nick. Instead, his gaze darted all over the place, trying to find where the voice had come from.
“Brian, it’s me,” Nick whispered desperately, trying to catch the ailing man’s attention, “I’m right here.”
When Brian still didn’t look at him, Nick frowned and cautiously placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. He felt Brian jump sharply and his friend finally focused on somewhere near Nick.
“Why’s it so dark in here?” he questioned, swaying noticeably.
Alarmed, Nick’s frown grew deeper and he tentatively waved a hand in his friend’s line of sight. When Brian didn’t react, didn’t even blink, Nick feared the worse.
“Brian, can you see me?” He asked carefully, not really wanting to know the answer.
“I told you, it’s too goddamn dark in here, didn’t I?” Brian snarled, frustrated. Nick looked around feverishly. Sure, the room was a bit darkened, but if Nick could see Brian, then why the hell couldn’t Brian see him? And where the hell was Leighanne? Taking a deep breath, he willed himself to stay calm and think this through. He remembered the doctor mentioning loss of sight as a possible side-effect and sighed relieved, realizing, hoping, it was probably just temporary.
It still didn’t explain why Leighanne wasn’t there. But when he saw Brian pressing his palms into his eyes, trying to block out the pain, he told himself he’d figure that out later. Now he had more urgent business to deal with. Grabbing Brian’s wrists firmly, he forced him to pull his hands away and looked in his eyes. They were red from tears and unfocused, but they didn’t seem damaged.
Encouragingly, he patted Brian on the shoulder, “You’re gonna be okay bud,” he assured him.
“Don leave,” Brian said sharply.
“I wanna go home.”
“But you’re…” Nick began, but then changed his mind. “Alright, come on, I’ll bring you home,” he offered, wrapping his arm around Brian’s shoulder and the other one under his knees. Brian jerked at his touch and Nick loosened his grip briefly.
“Trust me,” he whispered softly and felt Brian trying to relax.
“I wanna go home.”
“I know,” Nick mumbled, “We’re almost there.” He lifted Brian up without much effort, glad that he could at least trust his stiff shoulder again, and quickly carried him to the bed. “There we are,” he announced, as if they had travelled miles to get there.
“Where are we?” Brian questioned swiftly.
“Home,” Nick reassured.
“Thanks, Frack.” Nick smiled at the old nickname. Their relation could easily be described as ‘complicated’, going from enemies, to brothers, to friends, to colleagues, to strangers, to enemies, to brothers again, but he couldn’t imagine his life without Brian and only prayed he’d never have to.
“Just try and get some sleep, kay?” he said.
“Oh, Brian?” he said, halting his step, “where’s your wife?”
“She left,” Brian said resentfully and Nick heard the betrayal in his voice.
“She what?” he only hoped he hadn’t heard it clear.
“She left,” Brian repeated, “I asked her not to, but she still left. She always does.”
“I see,” Nick muttered, feeling his blood begin to boil.
“I’m sorry I threw up.”
“That’s okay,” he mumbled. Great.
“I’m sorry I threw up.”
“You should be,” Brian growled, “lift your head.”
Nick did as he was told and winced when Brian pressed the washcloth to the cut on his chin, a cut he didn’t even remember getting. “Ow!” he yelled out.
“You’re acting like a baby,” Brian stated, “How’d you even manage to get this drunk?”
“You were drunk too!” he defended.
“Not that drunk, never that drunk,” Brian assured sternly, then he sighed. “When are you going to do something with your life?”
“I’m a singer, I’ve already done something with my life,” Nick replied stubbornly.
“I meant something useful.” Brian continued, unfazed.
“Oh, you mean like marriage and babies!” Nick exclaimed as if he’d just realized something important, “becoming a dull fart! I thought that was more your kind of thing!”
“See, I’m not going to hit you for calling me a dull fart, because I can see you’re already wounded and because I know you will have no recollection of any of this tomorrow morning, so it’s no use. The prospect of you waking up with a major hangover is in itself, satisfying enough,” Brian explained carefully, but despite of his words, he pressed the washcloth a little tighter to Nick’s chin, making the younger man cringe. Nick wondered if Brian would have helped him out of the night club if they hadn’t been sharing a hotel room together. He’d even been surprised his friend had agreed to go with him in the first place. Brian wasn’t drunk, not really, Nick knew that. The older singer didn’t need alcohol to act like a lunatic and could certainly do without the extra energy. That’s why Nick would have a killer headache tomorrow and Brian wouldn’t. He didn’t think that was fair, but grinned when he realized that it could be worse.
“Well, at least I still have my voice,” he taunted and immediately noticed it worked.
“That’s funny, I don’t remember asking you anything,” Brian warned in a dangerous tone.
“Okay, normally, that threat would scare the hell out of me,” Nick joked lightly, “but I guess I’m too drunk to care.”
“Great, now we’ve got that settled, do you think you can take a shower without falling over?”
“Nope. You wanna help me?”
“Let me consider that,” Brian paused for a moment, “No.”
“Well, a goodnight to you then, or shall I say, good morning?”
“See for yourself,” Brian replied, “You stink.”
When he was sure his friend had fallen asleep, Nick cleaned the room quickly and went out. He wanted to go downstairs and finish the chilli with Baylee, but noticed something remarkable when he walked through the hallway. There, in one of the guestrooms, was Leighanne, staring dully into the distance. Stopping dead in his tracks, Nick tried to figure what she was doing there.
This family is weird, he thought, suddenly wondering if he were the only functioning adult left in the house. Sure, don’t worry, count on Nick, he’ll pick up the pieces. With an angry sigh, he marched into the room and noticed Leighanne quickly looking up.
“I’m sorry, I think you’re in the wrong room,” he told her resentfully.
“I know, I just… I couldn’t…’ she began, but Nick broke her off.
“I don’t wanna hear it.”
“I’m such a coward,” she said hatefully.
“Yes,’’ Nick agreed.
“How’d you know I was here?’
“I didn’t. Brian just said you left, seemed pretty upset about it too,” Nick told her, trying to make her feel as guilty as possible. By the looks of it, he did a remarkable job. “Did you even notice he can’t see a damn thing?” he questioned.
“Huh? He was fine when I was there…” she told him with a frown.
“Well, he keeps mumbling that it’s too dark.’’
“Yeah, he did say that,” Leighanne remembered, “I just thought he was confused.”
“Even if he was, it still doesn’t give you the right to leave,” Nick accused darkly.
“I know,” she admitted, “do you think he’s getting blind?”
Nick didn’t answer right away. He hadn’t really thought about that, had just assumed it was temporary. What if it wasn’t? No, it had to be. Dr Quinn had listed it in the side-effects and that was what it was, just temporary… right?
“Did you call him?” Nick wanted to know, deciding he wasn’t going to give a certain answer on the previous question.
“What?” Leighanne asked, taken aback, “Who?”
“Him,” Nick growled.
It took some time before she answered him, sighing deeply and looking away, “No. But I wanted to.”
Terrific. It was like dealing with AJ all over again. Only this time it wasn’t cocaine, it was Larry and Nick realised that they were actually pretty much the same thing. It was addicting to run away from your problems, either by snorting tons of drugs, or screwing the very next guy you came across. He knew, cause he’d done both at one point in his life. The only difference was that he hadn’t had fifteen years of marriage and a desperately ill husband to take into account. Deciding that enough was enough, that addiction was not to be fed, that addiction needed interference from the outside world, otherwise it would only escalate, that Leighanne clearly wasn’t able to stop said addiction by herself, and that this couldn’t go on without some harsh decisions being made, he centred himself in Leighanne’s line of sight.
“Tomorrow,” he demanded and paused. When Leighanne raised her eyebrows he continued, “Tomorrow you’re gonna tell him why you left.” She nodded guiltily, but he wasn’t finished yet.
“And who it was you were going to call.”