Why is it that when you close your eyes all you tend to see are the things that haunt you the most? I couldn’t sleep. Every time that I tried to close my eyes, all I could envision was Howie convulsing on the stage; the life slowly seeping out of him as I tried unsuccessfully to bring him back.
My eyes snapped open and I let out a heavy sigh before rolling over and punching at the pillow. The light from the partially open bathroom door was spilling out into the room, casting a series of long, malformed shadows across the wall. I had left the light on because I didn’t want the room to be completely dark, but now I was seriously second guessing my decision. The shadows were starting to give me the creeps. I could practically see the spindly fingers shooting out from the walls and grabbing me around the throat.
“Pull it together.” I mumbled. “Nobody is coming to get you.”
Of course, I had no idea whether or not that statement was true. For all I knew, someone was waiting on the other side of the door to get me right at that very moment. Sure, we had called in extra members of our security team and two very intimidating looking men were currently guarding the elevator, but how did I know if they were still there? What if they had already been bludgeoned to death by the person, or people, who had tried to murder Howie?
I was in the middle of mentally berating myself for thinking like Mason when a knock at the door nearly sent me toppling out of the bed. I sat straight up and grabbed at my chest. My heart was beating a mile a minute and my breath was coming out in short, noisy puffs. Who was at the door? What did they want? I looked at the clock; 3:00 A.M. Nothing good could possibly come from someone knocking at my door so early in the morning.
“Kevin?” Nick’s voice drifted through the heavy wood. “Kev, can you hear me?”
Jesus Christ! Of course it was Nick. No matter what else happened in my life, I was absolutely sure of the fact that Nick Carter would eventually end up being the death of me.
I swung my feet to the floor and moved quickly towards the door. The light from the bathroom made my trip easier and I yanked open the door just as Nick was raising his fist to knock again.
“You scared the shit out of me.” I admitted.
“Sorry.” Nick mumbled. He ran a hand through his already dishevelled hair and shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “Can I come in?”
“What’s going on?” I stepped back and let Nick into the room, peering down the hallway as I did so. The two men were still sitting by the elevator, playing a game of cards. “Why aren’t you asleep?”
“I couldn’t sleep.” Nick walked by the brightly lit bathroom and took a seat on the bed. “I’m too sc… – I’m too worried about Howie.”
I watched as Nick’s purposefully avoided my gaze, fiddling with the string on his plaid pyjama pants. Despite the fact that a thirty-four year old man was sitting on the bed, all my mind would allow me to see was a thirteen year old kid. It was like Nick the man wasn’t even there. He had been consumed by the floppy haired, fresh faced, high-pitched version of himself that I had viciously loved and despised all at the same time.
“Do you want me to go?” The deepness in Nick’s voice brought me back to reality. “I’m sure that you were already asleep.”
“No.” I shook my head. “I haven’t been able to sleep either.”
I sank down onto the bed so that I was facing the current Nick; the one with the grown-up voice and the wrinkles around his eyes. This man had a better hair cut and a sense of maturity that only those who have hit rock bottom and managed to bounce back can possess, but he was still scared. His eyes gave him away. No matter how much he aged, Nick would always be a little boy in his eyes. He had never been very good at hiding his feelings and that quality hadn’t changed as he’d grown older. His emotions were easy to see, even in the semi-darkness.
“I keep thinking that someone is coming to get me.” Nick revealed with his eyes still locked on his pyjama pants. “I should have taken that sleeping pill from Brian.”
“Brian is taking sleeping pills?” I asked the question with more anger and surprise than I had intended and Nick flinched at my reaction.
“Not all the time or anything.” Nick whipped his head up; his all-revealing eyes were laced with guilt at having betrayed Brian’s trust. “Just sometimes, you know, when things get rough or whatever.”
“I’m scared too.” I decided to change the course of the conversation and let Nick off the hook. I would talk to Brian about his little pill-popping situation in the morning.
“Yeah?” The guilt left Nick’s eyes and was replaced quickly by surprise. “Of what?”
“Of the same things that you are.” I sighed and propped myself up against the headboard. “Do you think that I like being in this situation?”
“Of course not!” Nick paused. “But you never say that you’re scared. I was counting on you to be the calm one.”
“You’re out of luck this time, buddy.” I couldn’t resist smiling as I turned on the television. “You want to kill the next few hours with me by watching some mind-numbing late night TV?”
“Sure.” Nick manoeuvred himself so that he was leaning against the headboard on the other side of the bed. “As long as you promise not to use the word ‘kill’ for the rest of the time that I’m here.”
I pulled my phone off of the nightstand and brought it to my ear just to silence the horrendous ringing. I really had no desire to speak to whoever was on the other end. My mouth felt dry and pasty, as if I hadn’t had anything to drink for days.
“Hello? Kevin? Kevin, are you there? It’s Briaaaan.”
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes as my cousin’s voice filled my ear. He had drawn out his name; a clear indication that he was anxious. I knew that I should probably respond, but my mouth was too dry. I let out a grunt to indicate that I was alive and propped myself up to locate the bottle of water that I was sure that I had left next to the bed.
The television was still blaring and Nick was sprawled out across the other half of the bed. His mouth was open and he was snoring softly, his arms curled tightly around a pillow. I chugged some water and dropped my eyes to the clock. It was after eleven o’clock in the morning. The two of us must have eventually fallen asleep sometime during the Jimmy Fallon rerun.
“Were you sleeping?” Brian demanded. “Have you seen Nick? AJ and I can’t find him!”
“Nick is here.” I reassured my cousin. I finished the rest of the water in another long pull and crushed the bottle between my fingers. “And, yes, for your information, I was sleeping.”
“Seriouslyyyyyy? It’s almost noon.” Brian pointed out the obvious in his still overly enhanced southern drawl.
“What’s got you all worked up?” I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and reached across Nick’s body to grab the remote.
“Who says that I’m worked up?” Brian challenged.
I could hear AJ’s voice drifting through the line as I silenced the television. He was clearly asking Brian if I had seen Nick and my cousin was doing a pretty good job at ignoring him.
“You sound like a Beverly Hillbilly.” I deadpanned. “You get southern when you’re upset.”
“I aaaammm southern.” Brian drawled. “Just like you, remember?”
“Are you and AJ on your way over?” I glanced over at Nick who was still dead to the world beside me. It almost hurt me to know that I was going to have to wake him up. “Or do you want me and Nick to meet you somewhere in a little bit?”
“We’re at your door right now.” Brian’s response came with a loud knock on the door. “Are you gonna let us in, or what?”
I disconnected the call with a swift swipe of my thumb and sighed heavily. Still being careful not to wake Nick, I hauled myself off of the bed and moved, somewhat reluctantly, to open the door. I could have easily done with another few hours of sleep.
“How come we weren’t invited to the slumber party?” AJ boomed as soon as he and Brian stepped into the room. “I packed my pink nightie in anticipation.”
“Sadly, that wouldn’t surprise me.” I shook my head as I closed the door.
The first image that had sprung into my mind was one of AJ lying naked on a bed in a pair of high heels, his bare ass on display. To this day, AJ did and said things that I would never understand. That picture was definitely a prime example of the side of AJ McLean that I did not want, or need, to know anything more about.
“What time is it?” Nick’s sleep-filled voice thankfully sliced through my mental image of AJ’s naked ass. “What are you all doing here?”
“It’s almost lunch time.” Brian supplied. “And we’re here because we were looking for you.”
“I couldn’t sleep.” Nick sat up and rubbed roughly at his face. He looked more than a little disoriented. “Kev let me stay to watch some TV.”
“We – we thought that something might have happened to you.” AJ’s face flushed needlessly in embarrassment. “Brian was all but ready to send out a search party.”
“You act like you weren’t on board with the idea.” Brian flopped down on the bed next to Nick and shot AJ a patronizing look. “I’m not the only one who’s a little on edge.”
“We have to pull ourselves together before Howie gets back.” I dropped down into one of the wing chairs that were positioned near the foot of the bed and tried to hide the fact that I was exhausted. “We can’t let him – we don’t want to cause him any more stress.”
“How are we supposed to do that?” AJ demanded. “What are we supposed to say to him? It’s okay, Howie. Just forget about the fact that someone tried to kill you. It’s cool because, you know, you managed to survive and all.”
“I just meant that we should try to act as normally as possible.” I resisted the urge to slam my head back against the chair. “Howie was adamant that we should continue with the tour, so we should at least try to carry on as though everything is fine.”
“But everything isn’t fine!” Brian spat. “Someone is clearly trying to kill Howie and the same person could be trying to kill every one of us as we speak.”
“Do you think that’s true?” Nick directed his question at Brian. “Do you think that we’re all a target?”
“Truthfully?” Brian studied Nick’s face. I could tell that he was having a hard time shattering the protective bubble that the rest of us tended to place around our youngest member. “Yeah. Yeah, I think that we’re all in some pretty serious trouble.”
“I think that’s the first time in my life that you haven’t tried to sugar-coat the truth.” Nick hung his head in dismay. “I’m not sure what to think about that.”
“You should probably be worried.” The words slipped from my lips without thought. “You should be very, very worried.”