Rather, she almost insisted she come and only she and Nick knew the reason why. They were trying to convince Brian he was getting sick but he was still being stubborn. Another thing was becoming apparent with the group as well, the fact that Lou Pearlman had taken another singing group under his wing.
“This is such bullshit, I can’t stand it. Why doesn’t anyone else see a problem with what he’s doing?” Brian hissed when he came in the hotel room to find his girlfriend watching TV, or trying to watch TV in German.
“What is the matter? Come here.” Leighanne said softly, motioning him over to the bed. Brian was very angry, more angry than she’d seen him in a long time. She immediately began to massage his shoulders as she let him rant. His shoulders and back were so tense it was like feeling a wooden plank and she worried about him even more than she did before. Brian was running himself ragged.
“That fat bastard is not only doesn’t give a shit about our health, but he is managing another group like us. He pretty much told us they think they’re better than we are, too.”
He breathed in and exhaled, feeling his chest throbbing from the stress. His anxiety was high today after seeing Lou and Johnny talk about the other group when they thought nobody was listening.
“Babe, you need to calm down. You are going to worry yourself sick. If you would just go see a doctor, you-“
That was the key word. At the sound of the word “doctor” Brian got up, pushing her away. The last thing he needed was another lecture like Nick was always giving him, the ones where Nick would pester him and ask him what was wrong. The truth was, he was getting worse and there wasn’t enough time to figure anything out. They were in the middle of a tour, and were in the process of scheduling more US shows for their first real tour there. Rehearsals would come after that, and then recording another album. There was literally no option to take any time off, no option to rest or even go to a doctor. He had to keep pushing forward for the group even though it was killing him.
“Hello, boys. Sleep well?” Lou asked them all at breakfast one morning, at some big restaurant in Germany. Everyone was getting settled at the table and sleepily exchanged greetings with Lou, who sat at the head of the table. Brian rolled his eyes and nobody noticed but Kevin, who nudged him under the table with his foot.
“Everything is great, Lou. What’s new? You said you wanted to talk to us about something?” Kevin piped up as the waitress took orders.
Brian almost spit out his coffee in disbelief at his cousin going along with their manager after he’d been trying to convince the other guys that Lou wasn’t what he seemed. Nobody seemed to be listening and it frustrated him beyond belief.
“Boys, I am arranging a basketball game between you and my other group, NSYNC- for charity.”
A collective groan escaped from everyone.
“Look, I know they don’t like you but you have to do this event. It’s good press. It will make a lot of money for charity.”
“More like make money to line your pockets.” Brian thought to himself sourly. He kept wondering the whole time if the money would actually go to charity or not. What else was their manager hiding from them? Brian had been poking around and what he was finding was unsettling. He hadn’t been telling the guys much but he wanted to talk to Lou privately and maybe get him to make things right before it got worse and they all walked. Brian could definitely see himself quitting the group if the others did not agree with the fact that their manager was screwing them over.
“Do we have to? I don’t like them, they’re stupid.” Nick said as he rolled his eyes. He preferred playing basketball when it was just him and Brian.
“Fuck those guys.” AJ agreed.
“Now, now. That isn’t very nice. Even after all the nasty things they’ve said about you, you should still act professional at this game.” Lou said. The guys all exchanged looks, they were indeed frustrated with this other group competing for everything they’d been working so hard for the last five years. Lou was always telling them that the members of NSYNC hated them and made fun of them, that they worked harder than them and sounded better. He would compare the two often and it pissed everyone off, especially Kevin who was a perfectionist and would go along with it.
After everyone ordered their breakfasts, the conversation turned to paychecks and schedules.
“So we have the tour into the fall and then we can go into the studio to record the next album right away if we work things the way we’ve been doing...and look for a release early next year sometime. Sales are going up in the States so there will be more demand…” Lou droned on.
“Wait, wait….so we won’t be home for the holidays at all?” Howie asked suddenly, setting down his coffee. Howie was looking forward to the holidays and seeing his parents because he’d been away so much.
“You’ve already missed a few holidays, what’s a couple more? I let you boys have the Fourth Of July weekend off which was more than generous. Don’t get greedy,” Lou said. Nick exchanged looks with Brian, who pretended he wasn’t thinking about their kiss at all. Brian could feel his chest start to tighten because he was so anxious.
“Lou, we hardly see our families.” Howie said softly.
“Well, I’m afraid that’s part of this business. You knew there would be a lot of work and being away for periods of time.”
Howie looked down at the table, feeling defeated.
Nick watched Brian closely and he could tell that he was holding back but close to exploding so he nudged him, but Brian pushed him away and scowled.
“Periods of time? Lou, we’ve been working our asses off for five years. We are all tired, doesn’t that mean anything to you? We just want a little break.” Brian protested. Nick started kicking him under the table to tell him to stop talking but he ignored him.
“If you want to be successful, you have to sacrifice sometimes. We can’t all get our way. What is all this complaining now? My other group doesn’t ask for so much time off, you know. You are getting paid and be grateful for it.” Lou snapped.
Brian started counting backwards from ten in his mind, trying to calm himself down but it wasn’t working. Anger was boiling inside him.,
“A paycheck that you take your cut from….” he muttered.
“What was that?” Lou said, looking up from his many plates in front of him.
“You heard me, Why don’t you tell everyone what you and Johnny are up to, or why we aren’t getting paid what we should be getting paid. I’d like to know what’s going on.”
“What exactly are you accusing me of?”
It was getting very heated at the table, Howie was watching and looked as if he wished he had some popcorn. Kevin’s mouth was hanging open and AJ was busily chewing on his bacon but trying to listen to the conversation. Nick’s plate remained full as he was still trying to stop Brian and forgotten all about his food.
“Brian, stop….” Kevin whispered, but Brian ignored them. Lou was casting a very angry look in their direction and Johnny looked uncomfortable. Everyone was dead silent after Brian spoke but they kept eating and avoiding eye contact with one another.
“I do not appreciate this after everything I’ve done for you. Either you stop or I can pull the plug on this tour right now. Is that what you want? To ruin everything you all have worked so hard for?”
Brian looked at his plate of sausage and eggs and sighed, he didn’t want to ruin the group, he simply wanted to make things right.
“All you have to do is make things right, Lou. That’s it. Just make it right. Please.” Brian begged. Lou got up and left, without a word but Brian could tell he was getting to him. Just like that, breakfast was officially over and everyone was uncomfortable. Kevin turned to him, furious.
“Brian, why did you have to start shit like that? He’s going to take everything away….”
“Kev, he is up to something. I heard things, and I’ve seen that our pay isn’t what it should be. If he’s doing this to us, he’s gotta be doing it to this other band. I’m going to talk to them at the game.”
“Personally I wouldn’t bother with them but do whatever you want. We have a good thing going here, I suggest you don’t screw things up further.” Kevin scoffed, going back to his food.
Brian turned to Nick, who had finally started eating in silence.
“You and I are going to do some investigating….”
Nick looked back at him and smiled. Things were definitely about to go down.