Running Up That Hill – Day 32

Let us die young or let us live forever
We don’t have the power, but we never say never
Sitting in a sand-pit, life is a short trip
The music’s for the sad men.

-Alphaville ‘Forever Young’

“Well good morning, sunshine,” I smiled as Nick walked into the kitchen.

He sort of gave me a look and headed straight to the coffee pot. It was a little weird to see him up at a regular time, but who I was I to complain? Still, I assumed he’d been out late the night before. As usual, he was still gone when I’d headed to bed.

He sat down at the table and stared into his coffee. Nick Carter is the only person I know who puts extra icing on his cinnamon bun, but takes his coffee black.

“What time were you out until last night?” I asked. It was an innocent enough question, but I felt sort of like his parent when I was asking it. I hadn’t really meant it in a lecturing way, I was just curious.

He shrugged and ran a hand through his hair. It was sticking up in every direction and his hand did little to help that. He was also wearing one of my plush robes that I didn’t recall letting him borrow.

“I dunno,” he said, finally taking a sip from his mug. “Maybe like one?”

“Strike out with the ladies?” I laughed.

He just glared at me. I guess that meant he did. Poor Nick. While he might have been the lone celebrity down in Florida, here in LA he was nothing special. It was always a little blow to his ego.

“What’re you up to today?”

“God Howie,” he said with a sigh and put his hands over his face for a moment. “What’s with all the fucking questions?”

I rolled my eyes. I should have known better than to speak before he’d had his caffeine fix. “Just making conversation,” I said lightly, not wanting to get into an argument with him.

“Okay,” he shrugged, looking away from me again. “I dunno,” he said after a few minutes.

“What?”

He sighed and gave me that irritated look again. Man, was he ever in a bad mood. Something must have happened to him while he was out that he wasn’t telling me about.

“You asked me what I was doing today. I said I didn’t know.”

Oh right. Well Nick, maybe if you had answered the question when I asked it, I wouldn’t have time to forget about it. But if I pointed that out to him he’d just laugh and call me old, so…

“Oh,” I said dumbly. “Well, I’m probably going to head over to visit AJ today, so if you want to come along…”

He raised his eyebrow at me. Yeah, I played that card a little too early. I didn’t really understand what he had against going to visit AJ, to be honest. It was probably something to do with the fact that he knew he was acting ridiculous, and that he was afraid he’d end up in one of those facilities one day.

But there was no way I, or any of us, for that matter, were about to say that to him. Not if we didn’t want to deal with Cartergate 2001. So I kept my mouth shut.

“Come on,” I prodded. “We didn’t get to see him when he was in Arizona….”

“Yeah, I know,” he snapped at me.

“Okay,” I tried again. “So we should go see him now. Either way, I’m going, so if you want to come along, you’re more than welcome.”

He shrugged his shoulders again. “I’ll think about it.”

~~~

I leaned back in my lawn chair and peered out onto the backyard. My mom’s house was small, but it was homey and I liked it. When I’d started making money I’d offered to buy her a bigger house, but she’d refused, saying she wanted to stay in this one.

I was secretly glad. Not because I hadn’t wanted to spend the money, but I wanted her to stay in the house I’d grown up in.

Call me sappy, but it’s true. I love the nostalgia of coming home, and I often forget about it until I’m back. When you’re in this business it can be difficult to let yourself slow down and enjoy life.

I watched as my brother threw the football around with his son. That was another thing I often forgot about – starting a family. Though Kris and I had gotten married about a year before, it was something we’d hardly talked about. We simply didn’t have the time to even consider it since we were both always on the go.

I smiled to myself as I watched them. I hoped I would be able to have a little boy of my own one day.

“Do you want something to eat?” my mother asked, walking up behind me and putting her hand on my shoulder.

“I’m good, mom,” I smiled, glancing up at her and then looking back to my brother. My mom was babying me and I was enjoying some quality time with my family. Really, it was easy to forget about all the trials and tribulations of being a popstar in this environment.

“Are you sure?” she asked with a smile. “There’s plenty in the kitchen. I can make you something really quick.”

“It’s fine, really,” I said. “I’m still full from lunch, and Jerald said we’re having a big supper, so…”

“Oh,” she nodded, waving her hand a little. “That all got changed. We were going to have a big meal tonight, but we’re going to do it tomorrow instead since Brian and Leighanne are going to be here.”

What? Who had pulled out the jaws of life to get my cousin to leave Atlanta?

“Oh?”

She frowned a little. “You didn’t know?”

“No,” I said plainly. How would I have known? It’s not like Brian tells me anything. “Does he know I’m here?”

“Yeah,” my mom said, still giving me that mom-look. You know the look, when they know that something’s amiss but they won’t say what or ask for details. “He knows. Jackie told him yesterday and that’s why he’s coming down, so we can have the whole family here together.”

“Ah.”

“Is everything alright?” she asked.

“It’s fine.”

She nodded and went back into the kitchen. “Are you sure you don’t want something to eat?” she called back to me.

“I’m sure.”

So much for forgetting about my troubles. With Brian here it’d be hard to forget about my Backstreet life. That, and I was still sort of annoyed with him from before.

I sighed to myself. Hopefully once he got here I’d feel differently. Still, I couldn’t help but worry. As usual.

~~~

“We can stay longer, if you want,” Leighanne said as the two of us stood in our bedroom. Well, I was standing. She was packing our suitcase in preparation for our flight the next day.

“No, no,” I said. “The weekend is long enough. I want to have some time here with you before we have to go back to LA and things get all crazy again.”

“Brian,” she said, giving me a look. “They’re your family, you should spend time with them.”

“I am spending time with them,” I stated. “We’re going there for the weekend. That’s plenty of time.”

She shrugged and continued folding clothes and placing them in the suitcase. I didn’t know why she was all of a sudden so eager to see my family, but I didn’t really mind. At least one of us was.

Okay, that was a lie. I wasn’t sure why I was being so negative about the whole thing, but I was pretty sure it had something to do with the fact that Kevin was there and I wasn’t really interested in hanging out with him. That’s the problem when your co-workers are also your family. You can never really get away from work.

But I supposed I had Kevin to thank that I had this job in the first place. So I couldn’t be too annoyed with him.

“Are you going to tell them?” she asked, glancing over her shoulder at me.

“Tell them what?”

She gave me a look. “Brian,” she said with a slight nod. Like that would help.

I shook my head at her.

“You know,” she said, “that we’re trying.”

Oh right! That. It hadn’t even crossed my mind. I mean, I knew that she’d told her parents, but I hadn’t even thought to tell mine. Is that the kind of thing you even tell your parents? I felt awkward just thinking about it. It was basically like admitting to my mother that my wife and I were having a lot of sex, which I’m sure she already knew, but she doesn’t need it spelled out for her over supper, you know?

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.

“You should tell them,” she said with a grin. “I bet it’d make your mom really happy.”

It probably would, but I still felt weird about it. “Maybe.”

She just shrugged and went back to packing, but she seemed a lot less enthusiastic than she had before.

~~~

I rolled down the window while Howie and I drove down the LA highway. The wind was in my hair and I sort of felt like a dog. You know? Like how when dogs have their head stuck out the window of a car and they look like they’re in heaven. That’s what I felt like.

Except for the heaven part. Howie and I were on our way to visit AJ, and for some reason I’d decided to go with him. I guess I felt pretty guilty about not going to Arizona, and Howie was making me feel pretty guilty by saying he was going to visit him and then offering for me to come along.

What kind of an ass would I be if I didn’t go? Especially if we were in the same city.

Not that I really wanted to. I didn’t need to see this clinic with all these doctors and white walls and AJ sitting there in a white outfit looking all zen and peaceful and shit. I didn’t know what to expect from him. The more I thought about it, the more it fucking freaked me out and I began to wonder why I’d even agreed to this in the first place.

“Nicky?” Howie said, stopping the car. “We’re here.”

Fuck.

I nodded as I stepped out of the car. My hands were in my pockets as we walked up to the facility. What was it called again? Transitional care? I guess it looked like a nice way to transition back to society. There were palm trees all around (though to be fair, it’s LA, there are palm trees everywhere) and everything looked all calm.

We stepped inside and there was a little pool with a fountain near the front desk. I watched it as Howie talked to the receptionist. Once we got signed in we were taken to this little room to wait for AJ.

It wasn’t even white! It was just a nice relaxing area. I could live in a place like this! Then I frowned. I never wanted to have to be in a place like this.

The thought was quickly pushed out of my mind as I looked up and saw AJ walking towards us. “Hey guys,” he smiled.

It was weird. He looked the same. His hair was still that stupid colour (let’s be real, I’m the only one who can pull off yellow-blonde in the group) and he still had all his tattoos. I don’t know what I’d been thinking because it wasn’t like all that stuff was going to go away, but it was nice to see. It was like he hadn’t changed.

Except that he had changed. He looked happier. Not like that bleak shell of a person who’d been on tour with us. I couldn’t even remember the last time AJ had been happy to see us. Usually he was avoiding all of us.

I shifted uncomfortably at that thought.

“Hey AJ,” Howie said, pulling him in for a hug. “It’s good to finally see you.”

“You too,” AJ said, pulling away and smiling back at him. “And Nicky,” he grinned, and before I knew it he was hugging me tightly. “It’s good to see you.”

“Good to see you too,” I said sincerely. I didn’t know what else to say. I felt weird just being there. What was I supposed to talk with him about?

“So,” he said, shrugging a little. “How’s the break been treating you guys?”

I shrugged. What had I done? A whole lot of nothing! I couldn’t exactly tell him I’d been hitting up the clubs and shit, could I? Was I ever going to be allowed to mention that stuff around him again, or would it always have to be a secret?

Luckily Howie had been doing stuff on the break that he could talk about. “I started seeing Leigh,” he said with a smile.

AJ raised his eyebrow. “Like, Brian’s wife?”

I burst out laughing at that. I couldn’t help it! The visual of Howie stealing Leighanne away from Brian and then being completely normal about it when he told AJ was too much for me to handle. That, and if that ever actually did happen, that would be exactly Howie’s attitude. He’d be all “Yeah? I’m banging your wife. So?”

That little Latin lover. What an ass. At least I had my blonde hair going for me. No matter how smooth he was, I was still the cute one!

“No,” Howie said, rolling his eyes. “You know, the girl who does our site.”

“Oh…” AJ said, furrowing his eyebrows. “Oh!” Ha, he totally didn’t know who Howie was talking about at first. “Wow. Good work.”

Yeah Howie, good work. I slept with three of our opening acts though, and almost slept with Britney, so I’m still winning.

“And what about you?” he asked, turning to me. “Got a new girlfriend yet?”

Ha! Post-rehab AJ was a comedian, it seemed. “No,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I don’t need a girlfriend.”

He and Howie both gave each other this look. It was the same shared look that I often got from Kevin and Brian when I started talking about how I never wanted to be married. What the hell? Since when were these two all gung-ho about girlfriends and settling down?

Whatever. No more groupies for them meant all the more for me! Less competition. You know, because there was so much competition in the first place.

“So,” AJ said, looking at the two of us. “Are you guys gonna stick around for a while? Wanna play some pool?”

I looked over at Howie, and Howie just nodded. Yeah, sure, whatever, I could stick around and play some pool with the guys. We weren’t back on tour, but I felt a little bit better. Like things were slowly beginning to go back to normal.

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