Chapter 2

One Year Prior

“Sixteen thousand dollars, I can’t believe it!” Nick exclaimed, staring at his laptop screen in shock. “Guys!” he shouted, carrying his computer over to where the others were sitting in the catering area. “Check this out!” he pointed excitedly to the screen.

“What’s that?” AJ asked, leaning over to look at Nick’s computer. “Oh, your shoe auction?”

“Yeah!” Nick grinned, setting his computer down. “Look! Sixteen thousand! Isn’t that great? We’re really going raise awareness for clean energy with this!”

“Good for you, buddy,” Howie smiled, though he appeared to be busy with something else. Still, he turned to AJ. “At least signing those dirty shoes wasn’t for nothing,” he laughed.

Nick wasn’t fazed by their less than enthusiastic reactions. He continued to grin ear to ear, sitting down at the table and making sure to post on Twitter.

“You’d better send those shoes to her fast,” AJ said after a couple of minutes. “She paid a lot of money for them.”

“Yeah,” Nick nodded, shutting his laptop closed. “You’re right. I should go get them.”

So he scurried off to his tour bus in search of his dubbed ‘Dirty Kicks’. However, when he got there what he found was most certainly not what he was expecting.

He had stepped onto the bus excitedly, but froze when he saw Brian at the kitchen table. He was just sitting there, staring at the sixteen thousand dollar pair of shoes. He had a look on his face that Nick couldn’t read. It almost looked like the same look he wore whenever Leighanne wore a low cut top.

But that couldn’t be right.

“Rok?” Nick asked nervously, stepping towards him.

Brian looked up at Nick, but he still looked deep in thought. It seemed as though he was somewhere else.

“What’re you doing?” Nick asked, sitting down at the table across from him.

Brian continued to stare at the shoes that were resting on the table in between the two men. It seemed like he was in a trance.

Nick raised his eyebrow and waved his hand in front of Brian’s face. What the hell was going on with him? Was this some kind of elaborate prank that was being pulled on him as revenge for all the torture he’d given the others over the years?

Nonsense, if it was a prank, then it would have been Howie eyeing the shoes lustfully.

“Yo, dude,” Nick said, snapping his fingers.

Brian shook his head and came back to reality. “Sorry, Nick, did you say something?”

Nick gave his friend a strange look. “Uh, yeah… what were you doing?” he asked, momentarily forgetting that the reason he’d come to get the shoes in the first place was because they’d managed to raise so much money for his cause.

“Oh…” Brian said, shifting his weight uncomfortably. “Just taking a little breather before the show,” he laughed.

Nick wasn’t convinced. “On my tour bus?”

Brian avoided Nick’s eyes. “Yeah.”

“With my shoes?” Nick pressed, and protectively snatched the shoes off the table. “My shoes that won sixteen thousand dollars on eBay, by the way!” he grinned, but it held less delight than before.

Brian’s eyes followed Nick’s arms as they held the shoes. He leaned over just a little as one of the laces came untucked.

“Dude!” Nick exclaimed, looking at Brian oddly once again. “Are you the one that won the shoes or something?”

“Uh…” Brian stammered, looking down at his palms. They were sweating. He glanced up at Nick. Nick, who was still wearing that look of confusion and horror. Nick, who had once been his best friend in the entire world. “If I tell you… will you promise not to think I’m crazy?”

“No,” Nick replied, clutching his shoes close to his chest.

Brian sighed and looked back down at the ground. He muttered something inaudible.

“What?” Nick asked.

“I wanted to eat them,” Brian repeated, a little louder.

It was then that Nick burst into a fit of giggles. He laughed so hard he almost doubled over, all the while clutching his precious shoes. “I’m sorry,” he said, taking a few deep breaths. “I thought I heard you say you wanted to eat my shoes.”

“I did,” Brian said, in all seriousness.

Nick looked at his friend and felt all the blood drain from his face. Was Brian actually being serious? “B…but, they’re shoes,” Nick stammered.

“I know,” Brian said, gazing over at the canvas objects of his affection. “Shoes… they smell so much like your feet, Nick…”

Nick watched in horror as Brian leaned over and took a whiff of the shoes. He leaned in closer, stuck out his tounge and began to lick one of the scuffed up rubber bottoms. For a couple of seconds, Nick was in too much shock to do or say anything. Then he jerked away from Brian.

Suddenly, it all made sense. His precious Nikes he’d worn for the entirety of the This Is Us tour had gone mysteriously missing. He had been sure that AJ had stolen them, but the more he thought about it, the more little things came back to him. Howie had complained of missing shoes at one point or another as well.

In fact, so had AJ.

And every time the boys had fought over said shoes, Brian had always stayed mysteriously silent.

“I… I need to go…” Nick said, backing away from Brian slowly and exiting the bus. He was breathing heavily. Once he was far enough away, he began to run. His feet hit the pavement hard, but he didn’t dare stop. He nearly knocked over their manager, Jenn, as he barrelled backstage.

“Guys,” he said, catching his breath as he dropped his shoes onto Howie and AJ’s table and leaned over.

The two of them both looked up at him with confusion.

“What’s going on, Nicky?” Howie asked, a hint of amusement in his voice.

“Brian… shoes… licking…” Nick breathed, unable to form a coherent sentence. He could hardly form coherent thoughts.

“What?” AJ asked, giving Howie a glance.

Nick shook his head as he continued to breathe. He tried to collect his thoughts and slouched down into one of the chairs. Once he was breathing steadily again, he eyed his two Backstreet brothers. “Brian wanted to eat my shoes.”

Howie rolled his eyes and went back to eating his dinner. “Yeah, okay Nicky,” he laughed. “Your pranks are getting weak in your old age.”

“No,” Nick said solemnly, annoyed that they weren’t taking him seriously. “He said it. He was just sitting there on my bus… looking at the shoes… and then he licked them and said he wanted to eat them…” Nick looked down at his hands. They were shaking.

AJ and Howie exchanged another look. “Are you serous?” AJ asked sceptically.

“Of course I’m serious!” Nick exclaimed, tears starting to form in his eyes. “And think about it… my Nikes went missing. And your shoes did too…”

“And mine,” Howie whispered.

The three men looked at each other. None of them knew what to say or do.

Howie was the first one to speak. “Well, we’ll just have to confront him,” he said as Nick and AJ nodded.

“When?” Nick asked shakily.

Howie looked down at the watch on his wrist. “We’ll have to do it after the show.”

~~~

Howie, Nick and AJ gathered in front of Brian’s hotel room door later that evening as planned. The three of them looked at each other. Nick took a deep breath as he knocked.

As she usually did, Leighanne answered right away. “Hi guys,” she said with a look of slight confusion on her face. “Aren’t you supposed to be at the after party?” she asked sweetly.

Nick shook his head. “It was cancelled. Important group business. Can we talk to Brian for a second?”

Leighanne gave Nick a look of annoyance, but nevertheless she opened the door and allowed him, AJ and Howie into the room.

“Can you give us a minute, Leigh?” AJ asked her once they were inside.

“Uh… sure,” she said. “Come on Baylee… let’s go find something to eat,” she called out to her son, who was always up for a midnight snack.

As soon as the door shut behind them, Nick, AJ and Howie stood around Brian. He was just sitting on the hotel bed, staring at the television.

“Brian,” Nick said, switching off the screen. “We need to talk.”

Brian avoided eye contact with them. “Sure… about what?”

“I think you know what,” Nick said, sitting down next to him. He, AJ and Howie had agreed that in this intervention he would take the lead. After all, it had been him who Brian had confessed to. Even though he’d eaten all of their shoes.

“I don’t,” Brian said, looking around nervously.

“Brian,” Nick said softly. “You tried to eat my charity shoes. And we know you ate my Nikes.”

“And mine,” AJ said, with his hands in his pockets.

“And mine,” Howie added.

Brian shook his head and looked at the ground. “I didn’t mean to…” he said quietly. “I’m so sorry you guys…” he breathed.

Nick glanced up at Howie and AJ. He awkwardly placed his hand on Brian’s back. “It’s okay, man. I mean… it’s shoes… but… it’s okay. We forgive you.”

“You don’t understand,” Brian said, looking up at Nick with tear filled eyes. “Those shoes…” he glanced down at Nick’s feet. Nick’s feet that were housed in an old pair of Vans. They were somewhat snug and a little scuffed up. Nick had yet to go out shoe shopping since he’d decided to donate his ‘Dirty Kicks.’ Brian leaned down. “Those… shoes…” he said again, almost hypnotized by them.

“Dude…” Nick said anxiously.

But it was too late. Brian’s face was next to his sneakers, his mouth was open and ready to take a bite.

“Whoa!” AJ exclaimed, pulling Brian away from Nick. Brian fought against him, elbowing him, as Nick just sat there in shock, unable to believe what he was witnessing.

Howie grabbed hold of Brian’s arms. “Brian!” he shouted. “Stop!”

“Let me go!” Brian shouted, trying to break free. He kicked and frantically moved from side to side as Howie and AJ restrained him. “I need them!” he screamed, not taking his eyes off Nick’s feet. “I need them! They look so delicious!”

“Nick, go!” AJ shouted, as Nick just sat there, his face white. “Get out of here!”

Nick just nodded. He felt like he was going to throw up. He exited the room slowly looked back at Brian.

Brian didn’t look at him at all. His eyes were still fixated on his feet.

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