Running Up That Hill – Day 30

Light a candle’s end
You are a light turned low
And like the rest of us
You got those old eternity blues

-The New Pornographers ‘The Crash Years’

The drive to the transitional care facility was quiet. I’d put the radio on, but quickly turned it off. Even though music was usually helpful for me and definitely soothing, it wasn’t what I’d needed.

So I drove the LA streets, alone with my thoughts.

Was I nervous about seeing AJ? No, actually I wasn’t. I was feeling pretty good about it, because the change in him we’d seen when we’d visited him in rehab was a good one. Back then, I’d been worried about the fact that he’d hate us, or that he’d want to leave the group but now?

Now I knew things were only going to get better from here on out.

I wasn’t nervous, but I wasn’t really excited. I just… drove. I felt a sense of clarity, which was nice and was probably the reason I didn’t want any music. The streets of LA are maddening, that’s no word of a lie, but inside my car, the mood was calm.

Except for that four second window when some fucker cut me off.

But I calmed down quickly after that.

It was early in the afternoon, and I knew that AJ had left Arizona that morning and would probably already be settled in. I’d told Denise I was coming to visit him, and I wasn’t sure she’d passed along the message to AJ, but I was sure it’d be fine. She hadn’t told me not to come.

I parked my car and walked up the stone steps. I had to sign in as a visitor, and it wasn’t unlike when I’d gone to visit AJ in rehab. Sure the ambiance was a little different, but the procedure was still the same. It was still a calm place filled with solitude.

I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not.

I was led down to the visiting area and that part was a little different than the rehab facility. We weren’t in a white room with a doctor, it looked more like a lounge or a den. There were couches, TV and even a pool table. It was pretty nice.

“Kev,” I heard AJ say, and I turned around.

I smiled. He had his hands in his pockets and his hair was still that caramel yellow colour it had been when I’d last seen him. Simply put, he was still the same, but now he had a smile on his face.

And it was so nice to see.

“Hey man,” I said, walking over to him and giving him a hug. “Nice new digs,” I laughed.

“Thanks,” he replied, then looked a little sheepish. “Sorry… I know today was when we were supposed to go back on the road.”

“Don’t even worry about it,” I said quickly. “We said from day one that we were going to give you all the time you needed.”

He eyed me. “And how are the others handling it?”

Well, Brian’s off in Atlanta pretending he’s not a Backstreet Boy, Howie’s spending his time banging our webmaster and Nick’s falling further and further down the path of destruction. “They’re fine.”

He nodded and then whistled a bit. “I’m looking forward to getting back out on the road and doing shows,” he admitted.

Yeah, I bet he was. If I was feeling antsy to get back to normalcy, I could only imagine how he was feeling. I was sure he wanted to get back to it and actually be able to enjoy it again. Enjoying our fame and success was probably something he hadn’t even considered was a possibility in a very long time.

Now, thanks to this break, it was. Through all the drama, I think we sometimes forgot we were doing this for AJ. And in that regard, the break had served its purpose.

~~~

“He was really, really in a good place,” Kevin said through the phone. I was standing in my kitchen, looking out the window and… actually, that was pretty much it.

“Yeah?” I asked. “You mean-”

“I mean physically and emotionally,” he clarified. “He just seemed really happy, and it was nice to see.”

I smiled to myself. At least it meant that all of this was worth it. I really wished I’d been able to go down to Arizona. Of course I was glad I’d gone to visit Nick, and at the time I thought he’d needed the visit more (well, I still think that) but it would have been nice to see AJ myself instead of just get the second-hand information, you know?

“That’s good to hear,” I finally said. “I’ll have to go down and see him as well.”

“I’m sure we could all go visit him there at one point or another,” Kevin said. His words had a calm tone to them, but as soon as they were spoken, there was an awkward silence.

I knew what we were both thinking. Would Nick actually go visit AJ? It would have been sort of rude for him to not, given that they were now both in the same city. I wanted to bring the subject up with him, but I had no clue how to do so without starting another catastrophe. Lately, being around Nick was like walking on eggshells.

Which, no so ironically, was the same situation we’d been in with AJ before he’d gone to rehab.

“Do you think Brian’ll come here to visit him?”

Oh, so maybe we weren’t thinking the same thing. Or maybe the question regarding Nick was so painfully obvious that Kevin didn’t even bother asking it.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. Brian seemed to be pretty wrapped up with his life in Atlanta at the moment. Not that I could say I blamed him – we rarely got any time to just be at home. Brian was such a homebody that he was probably milking this time with his wife for all it was worth.

Kevin sighed. “I hope he does. I know he’s at home doing his thing, but I think AJ would really appreciate it.”

“Maybe he’ll come up to LA a few days early,” I suggested. Somehow, I doubted that was what was going to happen, but you never know. We’d probably all have to reconvene at some point to get our tour moving again and make sure we were all on the same page.

Or close enough to the same page. A part of the same book, at least.

“I’ll call him,” I said quickly, not bothering to bring up the Nick subject.

“Okay, let me know how it goes,” he said. He took a breath and started to say something else but then stopped. “Oh and Howie?” he asked me instead.

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

Huh? “For what?”

“For being there for all of us.”

Oh. I couldn’t really take credit for anything, I hadn’t done much. But Kevin tended to get reflective like this after a heart-to-heart. It didn’t matter who that heart-to-heart was with – he always tended to re-evaluate everything in his life afterwards.

“You’re welcome,” I said finally. Because really, what else could I say to that?

~~~

I dashed inside the house when I heard the phone ringing. I personally didn’t really care to know who was on the other end, but I knew it would have bugged Leighanne to have a missed call.

And that missed call would have just been Howie. Darn it!

“Hi,” I said, figuring since I had gone through the trouble of going back into the house I might as well pick up the phone.

“Hey,” he said quickly. He actually sounded like he was in a pretty good mood. I mean, he usually sounded like he was in a good mood, but today he was especially chipper.

He must’ve had a good night with Leigh.

“So… AJ’s at the facility here in LA now.” Oh, was that today? I hadn’t given it much thought. The days at home were all starting to blur together, and I had to admit it was a nice kind of blur. Not that draining tour exhausted blur, but a nice one. One with my wife outside in the garden wearing a really small tank top.

Why was I talking on the phone with Howie again?

“How’s he doing?” I asked. I really did care, it’s just that I knew he was doing well. I’d seen him for myself in Arizona.

“I haven’t gone to see him yet, but Kevin has and he said he’s doing really good. You should come out to LA and pay him a visit.”

I knew Howie was probably right, but LA was honestly the last place I wanted to be. “Maybe.”

“I’m sure Nick would like to see you too.”

Where did that comment come from? Was Howie Nick’s keeper now? It seemed like it, actually. Since Nick was living in his house probably acting like an entitled brat. I was pretty sure Nick didn’t want to see me, and frankly I didn’t want to see him. “Yeah, maybe.”

“I think we’re all going to try and be in LA for a few days before the tour starts up again,” Howie said quickly. I wasn’t sure if that was actually a plan, or something he was making up as he went along to try and make peace. Howie tended to do things like that.

“Yeah?” I asked. I really didn’t want to go to LA any earlier than I had to. In fact, bypassing LA altogether and going straight to our first tour date would have been ideal.

“It’d be nice for all five of us to be together again,” he said when he didn’t get the answer he wanted out of me.

“I’ll have to think about it.” It wasn’t a lie.

“Okay, well keep in touch,” he said before hanging up.

I stared at the receiver in my hands before placing it back on the cradle. Going to LA might not be the worst thing in the world.

Of course, then it would mean less time at home with Leighanne.

~~~

I needed to buy some new curtains for Howie’s guest room. Black ones. So the sun could never, ever get in. Fuck. I rubbed my eyes and glanced around.

How early was it? I looked at the alarm clock on the bedside table. Which matched the bed. And the desk. What did I need a desk for? Jesus Howie, your house isn’t a Bed and Breakfast.

Anyway, the time. It was nearly four in the afternoon.

Dammit.

Oh well. It wasn’t like I had anything to do that day. I could sleep in as late as I wanted! Ah, the beauty of being on vacation! Or break. Break. Right.

I pulled a t-shirt over my head and walked downstairs. It would have been nice if Howie had some kind of meal prepared to go along with the creepy Bed and Breakfast vibe he had going on, but he didn’t. Instead he was sitting in the living room, watching TV.

“Well, good morning,” he laughed brightly.

“Morning,” I muttered, sitting down next to him. I was hungry, but I was sure he’d eventually make food for me. I wouldn’t have to do anything if I just sat there long enough.

“AJ’s back,” he said shortly.

Huh?

Oh, right. It was supposed-to-be-tour-day-but-not. Fuck. That was kind of a downer. I really wanted to be back out on stage. Not hanging out in Howie’s perfect looking house for the rest of my life.

Okay, I know, it was only for a few weeks, but it was beginning to feel like the rest of my life.

“Oh,” I said dumbly. I rubbed my eyes and tried to play it off like I was still tired.

“You should go visit him,” he said, giving me a look. A judging Howie look. Which isn’t very judging, cause Howie’s a nice guy like that. But still, it was like he was implying I should go visit AJ because I hadn’t gone down to Arizona.

Okay, I guess he was sort of right. “Are we even allowed to?”

“Yeah, Kevin’s already gone to see him.”

Of course.

I shrugged. Maybe this place would be better than the rehab clinic… but still. I didn’t know how to react to enlightened post rehab AJ. I pictured him wearing a white suit and a cross and looking all holy and shit.

He and Brian were probably going to become best friends. Or not, because Brian wasn’t friends with anyone who wasn’t named Leighanne anymore.

“Maybe,” I said, giving him a bit of a smile.

Howie smiled back. “You hungry?” he asked, getting up from the couch. “I’ll make you something to eat.”

Ha! I told you I had him all figured out.

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