Chapter 31 – The End of the Road

Part V – Right Back Where We Started From
April 2019

Nick took a deep breath as he sat in the living room of his Nashville home. Ever since his heart problems had resurfaced, he’d been trying to make the most of every minute. This of course meant that he was overworking himself, even if he tried to keep that as quiet as possible.

It wasn’t as though he was stressed. He was just putting in overtime and trying his best to get things done.

Which was exactly why Kevin has insisted on coming out to Nashville to visit.

“It’s a nice place you’ve got out here,” Kevin said, smiling as the two of them sat in Nick’s living room, watching late-night TV.

Nick just shrugged, tracing his finger around the rim of his water glass. “You’ve been here before.”

“Yeah, but not for an extended period of time,” Kevin said, raising his eyebrows a little and trying to meet Nick’s eyes. “It’s nice to just come out here and relax.”

Nick nodded. That was definitely something he could agree with. Even if he hadn’t been doing much in the way of relaxing lately. He felt this urge to complete every project he had left unfinished. It was almost like he was in a constant state of mania, which wasn’t healthy at all.

“You need to relax, Nick,” Kevin advised him.

“I am relaxed,” Nick shrugged. “Working on my music relaxes me.”

Kevin gave him a look, but seemed to accept that.

Nick sighed. He knew Kevin was worried about him. Hell, Kevin had always been worried about him. Ever since he’d been thirteen years old Kevin had looked out for him and tried to be the older brother he never had. Their relationship was such a strange role-reversal that it had taken some time for them to settle into it, but once they had, they’d gotten along a lot better.

“Remember when we used to be famous?” Nick asked, changing the subject slightly and glancing over at Kevin.

If Kevin thought Nick’s question was weird or out of place, he didn’t show it. “Yeah,” he said simply.

“Those were good times,” Nick said, a fond smile creeping up on his face. “Remember that time we shut down Times Square?”

“Yeah,” Kevin laughed. “I still can’t believe we did that.”

Nick shook his head. It was hard for him to believe that part of his life was over now. It had been for quite some time, but he still missed it. It made sense – he was the youngest out of the group, and they had all wanted to settle down with their lives.

Nick had never understood the meaning of settling down, but then again, he’d always been young at heart.

“Neither could Carson,” Nick said, still reminiscing. “That guy was such a douche.”

Kevin smiled at Nick’s inability to let anything from the past go. “To be fair, Nsync was his favourite boyband.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Nick said, rolling his eyes a little. “You couldn’t like both of us.”

“Nope.”

Nick took a sip of his water. As he set his glass down on the table, he felt his cell phone vibrate in his pocket. He debated just ignoring it, but changed his mind at the last second.

He smiled a little at the display, and nodded a quick apology to Kevin as he answered it.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” came Brittany’s light voice through the speaker. “How’s it going? I haven’t talked to you in a couple of days. How’s your song writing coming along?”

“Great,” he said. “How’s the time off? I bet you’re happy to be home after that tour.”

“Yeah,” she replied, and he could practically hear her grin through the phone. “I am,” she paused a little. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come out to Nashville for a few days?”

“Nah,” he shrugged. He tried to play it off, but he really didn’t want her to. He was enjoying his time with Kevin in Nashville, and was looking forward to having a few days to himself once his friend went back home. “Kevin’s out here with me right now. Besides, I’ll be back in LA in a couple of weeks, we’ll hang out then.”

“I’ll be sick of LA by then, I’m sure,” she laughed. “The only thing I’m looking forward to is seeing Danielle in a couple of days.”

Nick shrugged. “You could always go to my Malibu house. That’s why I gave you a key.”

“Yeah,” she said contemplatively. “Maybe I will.”

“I was thinking about coming out there for a bit. We could spend some time there. Maybe start thinking about stuff for your new album.”

“That’d be fun.”

“Or you could always go clubbing in LA and be the big popstar that you are,” he laughed a little, knowing how she would react to that.

“I’m not a big popstar,” she laughed.

“Whatever you say, Miss Grammy Nominee,” he joked.

She scoffed a little. “I didn’t win.”

“Yeah, neither did I,” he said, a tad bitterly. All these years, and he’d still never quite let that go.

“Makes sense,” she giggled. “Because you’re not a big popstar either.”

“I was,” he protested.

“Sure you were,” she said sarcastically.

“I won a best haircut award,” he said, matter-of-factly. Of course it didn’t really matter, but over the years his silly banter with Brittany was one of the things that had hardly changed. He hoped it never would.

“Not very well deserved,” she laughed.

“Wow,” he said, clutching his hand to his chest, even though she couldn’t see him. “Harsh.”

“Sorry,” she giggled.

There was a slight pause, and Nick glanced up at the TV. He didn’t really want to get off the phone with Brittany, but given that Kevin was sitting there, he figured that he probably should. “Well, Kevin and I are just watching stuff, so I should probably let you go.”

“If you have to,” she replied, and Nick knew she was rolling her eyes. “Call me when you have a song epiphany,” she laughed.

“I always do,” he grinned. “Talk to you later, Britt.”

“Wait, Nick,” she said quickly, before he had a chance to hang up.

“Yeah?”

She hesitated. “Nothing. Nevermind. I’ll talk to you later.”

He raised his eyebrow, wondering what that was all about. Had it been a few years ago, he would have possibly suspected some kind of love confession. But all of that was behind them now, wasn’t it? “Okay. Talk to you later.”

“Bye,” she said, the cheerful tone returning to her voice again.

“Bye.” He hung up the phone and looked back at Kevin as he put it back in his pocket. “Sorry,” he said.

Kevin shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. What’s she up to?”

Nick picked up his nearly empty water glass and traced the etched design on it with his finger. “You know, the usual. Touring, hanging out in LA. Being all famous and popular and not knowing what to do now that she’s got a break.”

“Huh,” Kevin said, giving Nick a little grin. “Sounds like someone else I know.”

Nick just laughed a little, not quite pull off by the comparison. He could live with the fact that he and Brittany were fairly alike. In fact, it was the basis for their entire friendship and why they got along so well.

“Yeah,” Nick shrugged, finishing his water and setting the glass back down on the table. “She’s good at what she does, though.”

“So are you,” Kevin said seriously. “You grew up and made your record label your own. You manage Brittany, which can’t be easy.”

Nick laughed a little. Kevin didn’t know the half of it. In fact, the music part of working with Brittany was easy. The hard part had been being her friend and learning how to act around her. Something he still hadn’t quite mastered.

“Thanks, Kev,” Nick smiled, patting his friend on the back. “I think I’m gonna go to bed, I’m beat.”

Kevin nodded. “Have a good sleep, Nicky.”

“Don’t call me Nicky,” Nick joked, pointing at Kevin and offering him his signature grin as he walked out of the room and up to his bedroom.

He smiled to himself as he climbed the stairs, but frowned a little as the dull pain in his chest started up again. This was a regular occurrence for him now, and part of the reason he felt such a haste to tie up all the loose ends in his life.

Nick shook his head slightly, walking into his bedroom and pulling his shirt off without even bothering to flip the light on. He laid down on his back and closed his eyes. He tried to take deep, steady breaths, hoping the pain would stop. It did a little and he sighed, feeling slightly relieved.

Crossing his arms over his chest, he smiled to himself. He replayed his conversation with Kevin over again in his mind, feeling nostalgic for the good old days when the only thing he’d had to worry about was whether Nsync was going to take home the VMA that he wanted for his own.

Nick rolled over slightly onto his side and smiled as he thought back to his younger years. All things considered, things had gone pretty well for him once he’d gotten his life figured out.

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