Howie felt like he was in one of those survival documentaries on National Geographic. He did not feel like a Backstreet Boy at all. Being a Backstreet Boy was a life full of having people do all kinds of things for you. They got your coffee, your clothes, managed your schedule, drove you to your destinations and made reservations at your favorite restaurants. Basically, the only thing you really had to do yourself was learn the moves and lyrics, and stay in shape.
And how he’d kill to be in his favorite restaurant right now. Or just get a coffee at StarBucks, for that matter.
“Is it just me, or is that daylight?” He heard Kevin grumble behind him.
“That is not just you,” Howie sighed. Daylight meant they had been in the stupid field for over six hours without anyone finding them.
Were they the Backstreet Boys or what?
Howie scoffed to himself. If this had happened fifteen years earlier, there would be helicopters everywhere by now. They would arrive thirty minutes later at a hotel, and whole management would shit their pants. The media would even know they were lost before they themselves did. He used to think that was ridiculous, but would it not be convenient now, that type of popularity?
Had anyone even noticed they weren’t where they were supposed to be? Had to be. By now someone must have noticed, right?
He could already see the abandoned road at the end of the field. The road they had been on a few hours before, well on their way to Orlando. He had been looking forward to a quick check in at the hotel and subsequently slamming his head into a pillow to pass out. It didn’t usually take much for him to fall asleep. He knew Kevin and Brian always whined about the hard, rigid beds in hotels, while they had six-thousand dollar mattresses at home. Howie didn’t mind hotel beds. He could sleep anywhere.
How he longed for a hard and rigid hotel bed right now, as he splashed through the mud in the darkened grass.
The snow had nearly melted, only a few remnants of white remaining. He’d felt the water eventually seeping through his expensive shoes, freezing his feet to a point where they felt completely numb. He’d figured they would all be suffering from the cold on some level. But for him, it wouldn’t be something that a night with warm tea and a dozen of blankets couldn’t fix.
He was a bit more concerned about Brian, though.
He’d felt really bad when he and Kevin had to leave him and AJ behind. He’d left AJ with a bunch of instructions on first aid care, but that didn’t make him feel much better. The feeling that he should have been the one that stayed kept getting stronger the further they walked away from the other two. For the umpteenth time, he tried to list the symptoms of hypothermia as they progressed. Shivering, slow movements, no more shivering, confusion, slowing heart rate, sluggish thinking, blue skin, organ failure, heart arrhythmias, death. He’d read it in one of the books when he’d taken the first aid course. He usually remembered most things he read. It was just one of his qualities. And just as he was trying hard not to connect them to one of his bandmates, Kevin seemed to read his mind.
“How long does it actually take for the cold to become like… you know… really dangerous?”
Howie sighed, feeling his foot disappear into a particularly deep puddle of mud and cursed under his breath, “Depends,” he murmured, trying to pull his shoe out of the dirt. God, this sucked.
“On what?” Kevin asked.
Howie gave another sigh, indicating he really did not want to think about it, “Exposure.”
“Do I really have to spell it out for you?” He exclaimed, turning around angrily.
Kevin threw his hands up in defense, an offended expression on his face, “Dude…”
“I’m sorry,” Howie mumbled, turning again as he walked on, “We should have stayed.”
“It was your idea, remember?”
“Yeah, a stupid idea.”
“Well, we’re almost there,” Kevin stated, accelerating his pace to prove his point. “And just like you said, help’s not gonna come by itself.”
“Figures.” Howie nodded, running a little to keep up with the taller man. He often hated walking with Kevin or Nick. They had these incredibly long legs that would carry them in half the amount of time as Howie’s own legs. They would make fun of his and Brian’s shortness all the time, but then Brian would make a remark about leg space on airplanes and they would shut up for a while again.
Howie smiled at that thought, remembering when Nick had first introduced Lauren and wasted no time in making sure they knew she was taller than both Howie and Brian. He felt his smile faltering as he thought about how they were going to tell Lauren about what happened tonight.
“This is going to be a PR-nightmare,” he grumbled and raised his eyebrows when he noticed Kevin had stopped walking. “What?” he asked as he came up beside the older man.
Kevin scoffed, “I forgot you do that.”
“You’re so… so emotionless, like… all the time!”
“Would it really be so hard to just stop thinking about the business for a while and start showing that you give a crap?”
Howie took a step back, surprised at Kevin’s sudden anger, “What are you talking about?”
“It’s not all just about money and management, Howard!” Kevin exclaimed furiously, stepping closer as Howie took another step back, “I mean… Brian is freezing over there, and Nick is dead! Nick is dead. There is no more business!”
Howie stared at him, feeling his own anger burn as well. How dare he? Just because he wasn’t emotional all the time like Kevin, did that mean he didn’t feel anything? Just because he didn’t like to think or talk about Nick too much at this particular moment, did that mean he didn’t care? He wanted to scream all that at his older friend, but instead muttered, “Asshole,” and walked past him.
He pretended he didn’t hear Kevin’s snort of disgust as he finally planted his foot on the worn asphalt. The road was as forsaken as it seemed. In the far stretch of land it covered, there were no headlights or any other signs of life to be seen. Trying to push past his disappointment, Howie surly started walking in the direction the bus had been heading when it crashed. He had no idea how long this road was and when it would finally be joined with a road that was a little more occupied. It could be miles. It could be tens of miles.
Howie was not sure if his legs could carry him for tens of miles. He took a deep breath, firmly planting one hand on his painful side, and fastened his pace. He heard Kevin grumble something behind him, but didn’t look back, knowing the older man would follow no matter what.
They walked like that for a while, knowing fully well that there would be no way back now. It all depended on them and their quest for help. Howie tried to keep that in mind as he stumbled and flinched, pressing his hand deeper onto the wound in his left side. It hurt. A lot.
But it wouldn’t kill him. No. This night wouldn’t kill him. Not like it had killed Nick. Not like it might kill Brian. Howie swallowed thickly as he squeezed his eyes shut.
So God help me, don’t let another one of us die. I will not let you let another one of us die. Not tonight and not tomorrow. I can not bear that thought.
He didn’t realize his step had slowed until he noticed Kevin walking beside him, instead of behind him. The oldest Backstreet Boy seemed to have somewhat of a limp in his walk, but it didn’t keep him from carrying a stern, determined expression.
“It’s almost like we’re the only ones left on this planet,” Kevin sighed, waving the beam of his flashlight over the sides of the road. “There aren’t even streetlights here.”
Howie nodded slightly, “I’m going to cry if it turns out it’s a dead end road.”
“Nah,” Kevin smiled wryly, “Then the bus wouldn’t have been on it.”
“We could have missed a turn or an exit.”
“Don’t be like that.”
“Like what? Realistic?”
“No, such a pessimist! The road will lead somewhere,” Kevin nodded to himself, “It has to.”
They continued to walk in silence. Kevin suggested to take a break and eat something, but Howie refused. They could eat while they walked, he stated. He did not want to waste anymore time. It was like one of those stupid racing games Nick used to play with him, in which you had to reach a certain checkpoint before the time ran out. He could almost see the time-clock above his head, slowly ticking away to an unknown number. He shivered as he accepted one of the chocolate bars in Kevin’s hand. They were going too slow.
“Is that a crossroad over there?” Kevin asked with his mouthful, pointing straight ahead as he concentrated his flashlight on the road ahead.
Howie squinted and took a second before answering. “I think it is!”
He felt his pace quickening with renewed hope as they reached the crossroad. Before them were fields, behind them were fields, and beside them were fields. But crossroads meant that there would likely be a road sign. Something that told them where they were, or where they should go.
Kevin’s flashlight wildly shone around the asphalt, searching for a sign. “There!” Howie pointed excitedly.
Kevin quickly flashed the beam in the direction he’d pointed.
Orlando: 25 miles
“Yeah!” Howie exclaimed, feeling the pain in his body subside and a warm relief replace it. They were on the right path. Soon they’d be close to the city, soon there would be cars and trucks and people and whatnot.
Soon they’d be saved.
"Told you it lead somewhere!" Kevin smiled.
"Yeah, I was being negative, I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry for yelling at you too."
Howie nodded, "Thanks."