Running Up That Hill – Day 9

“I’m having trouble sleeping
You’re jumping in my bed
Twisting in my head”

-The Perishers ‘Trouble Sleeping’

I woke up early the next morning and didn’t waste any time. I’d thought about pulling another prank on Howie, but after the scene with Kevin at the restaurant the night before, I figured it probably wasn’t a good idea. I mean sure, I could have done something other than hiding a Smirnoff Ice, but where was the fun in that?

What was Kevin’s problem anyway? It wasn’t like I was drinking in my hotel room alone. Well, okay, I had done that, but he didn’t know about it so there was no way he could be mad about it. I didn’t know why he had to treat me like such a baby, and the more I thought about it, the more pissed off I got.

I hated how he acted like I needed to be taken care of and that I always needed a chaperone. I felt like my opinion in the group didn’t matter to him as much as Howie’s or Brian’s. I mean I know that’s not true, but sometimes it seemed like it. Like I was just the mess of the group he needed to clean up after.

He used to do it to AJ too. AJ was my partner in crime after Leighanne came and took Brian away from me. And then AJ started drinking a lot and well, we all know how that turned out.

So now I was just the kid of the group, and that sucked. I can’t wait for AJ to come back.

It sucked too because I was really looking forward to hanging out with the guys on this trip but after being at the restaurant for a while they didn’t really want to do anything fun. Howie and I just came back to his place and watched a movie. And Howie fell asleep halfway through it. It was freaking 8:30 in the evening! Who sleeps that much?

I had a hard time falling asleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about AJ, and how weird our meeting had been without him, and how much Kevin was pissing me off. I shouldn’t be alone with my thoughts. They just make me depressed.

Eventually I rolled out of bed and starting packing my very few things into my backpack. I thought about having a quick shower, but decided not to. I didn’t care if I smelled like a grub, I just wanted to go home. Chris and I could go out to the club and I could forget about all the crap that came with being a Backstreet Boy.

At least I’m the most popular one!

I almost made it out of the house before Howie caught me.

“Where are you going?” I heard his voice behind me. God dammit, I wanted to slip out unnoticed!

“To the airport,” I replied, looking down at him. Howie is really short. He’s like a mini Puerto Rican
guy that always knows what’s best for everyone. But not in the same douchebag way that Kevin did.

He gave me a weird look. “Your flight’s not for another few hours, Nick.”

I know that! “Yeah, I just wanted to take come of some stuff at home, so I thought I’d try and catch an earlier one…”

He was still giving me that weird look, like he didn’t really believe me. I couldn’t really blame him, I guess. I wasn’t telling the whole truth, but I didn’t even know what the whole truth was. I just wanted to get out of there. He and Kevin could deal with the greatest hits stuff just fine without me.

“Okay then… I can drive you there if you want.”

“Nah, you don’t have to,” I shrugged. “I’ll just take a cab.”

“No, I’ll take you. Just give me a couple minutes to put on some nicer clothes.”

Ha, Howie take only a couple minutes to put on some nicer clothes? That guy takes longer to get ready that any girl I have ever met. But he did end up proving me wrong because he was back pretty quickly.

I looked out the window as Howie drove me to the airport. LA was pretty cool. Much better than Florida. Sometimes I wished I could just stay there forever. But stay there forever by myself. Without the other guys around all the time. I really liked having a whole state to myself sometimes. I mean, not to myself, I’m not the only person that lives in Florida. I just mean somewhere to go home to that’s only mine.

“Take care, Nick.”

“Huh?”

I guess I’d started daydreaming again. Or maybe I’d started actually dreaming. I didn’t get a lot of sleep the night before. Maybe for once I’d actually be able to sleep on the plane. “We’re here.”

“Oh,” I said, looking around. I guess I might as well get out of the car, then.

“Hey Nicky, don’t be a stranger, okay?” he said as I was closing the door. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. It wasn’t like we could hang out all the time. And I never knew what to say on the phone with him. Or anyone really. That’s why I don’t call people.

“Yeah… I won’t. Later, D.”

~~~

“Have you been up the whole night?” I heard Kristin say as she walked into the living room that morning. She was wearing this cute baby blue robe thing. I loved it. It was so unlike her usual style and made her look so sweet and innocent. Which she of course, is not.

“No, I just got up very early this morning,” I said quickly.

“How early?”

“Four…” I trailed off. At least, I think it had been four. It might have been a little later. But I hadn’t been able to sleep. The record company was making me too angry. I wanted to do something about it, and the best plan of action was to show them we were serious about making the next record. Which I was, hence why I got up at four in the morning to start working on some new material.

That, and I was too pissed off to sleep. I needed to put some of that energy to good use.

“This thing with Jive is really upsetting you, huh?”

“Yes.”

She sighed and sat down next to me on the piano bench. “I don’t think it means that your career is over.”

“Neither do I,” I assured her. “But apparently the fans already think it is. And the record company. And they always seem to know all of this stuff before we do.”

“Kevin,” she said sweetly, and I could tell she was going to lecture me. I know the other guys think that I lecture them a lot, but I learned from the master. “You have to show them that’s not the case. And who cares what the fans think? You didn’t care what the fans thought when we got married, neither did Brian.”

“That’s just because it wasn’t Nick who got married,” I joked.

She laughed. “Okay… fair enough. But if you guys do the work and put your next album out there, they’ll buy it, they’ll love it and the record company will be proven wrong once again. You guys are good at that.”

“I know.”

She leaned her head on my shoulder and poked around at the piano keys a little. It was a nice little moment we had and it helped to relieve some of the stress I’d built up over the last few hours.

“Are Brian and Leighanne still asleep?” I asked, though I already knew what the answer was. If Brian had been awake he’d probably already been in the living room with me trying to chit chat.

“Mmhmm.”

“Isn’t their flight leaving soonish?”

“Oh, yeah, about that,” Kristin looked up at me sheepishly. “Leigh and I thought it might be nice to spend a little more time together, so I don’t think they’re going to leave for a couple of days.”

I raised an eyebrow. “How did I not know about that?”

“Because you and Brian were already asleep by the time the two of us got home,” she laughed.

She had me there. Those girls had stayed out late.

“Besides,” she continued. “It might be nice for you to spend some quality time with the other guys, instead of just being cooped up with your piano all the time.”

“We just got off of a world tour, Kris,” I reminded her. “It’s nice to have some space.”

“I know, but this also isn’t a normal break. You guys are all going through the same thing right now, whether you like to admit it or not,” she shrugged, and then got up to leave. “I think you guys could benefit from some fun and hanging out the way you used to.”

“I guess you’re right,” I nodded. There was no harm in us just hanging out, and truth be told I couldn’t remember the last time we’d done that. It might be fun to just go out as friends and forget about all the record company and tour drama that we’d been dealing with in the last little while.

~~~

There was something about Nick leaving like that which left me feeling very unsettled. He wasn’t someone who was very good at hiding his emotions. He tried, but usually I could see right through him.

For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was so wrong, or what had changed between the night before and this morning. The only thing I could come up with was that he was angry about the greatest hits, but even that didn’t make much sense because all of us were annoyed about that. And it didn’t seem like the type of thing to upset Nick. At least not to the point of him wanting to rush home in a hurry.

I tried not to think about it as I drove home from the airport, but I couldn’t exactly help it. I knew there were sometimes he’d felt like he didn’t belong in the group or that we didn’t want him, but I didn’t know what would make him think that way this time. That distant look on his face had really freaked me out.

When I got home I tried to brush it off. He was a big boy, he would be okay. For all I knew he could have just been tired, or there was some girl back home he was waiting to see. Nick didn’t like to tell us about his girlfriends, so that was probably it. I was probably just being overly paranoid.

Speaking of girls, I had my own date to get ready for! That was exciting, with all that had been going on in the last couple of days I’d nearly forgotten about it.

Well, not forgotten about it, but put it on the back-burner for a little while. That being said, as I was getting ready for my lunch date with Leigh, I was growing more and more excited about it. It’s hard to meet people in this business, and Leigh was a lot of fun to hang around.

I was just about to head out the door when I heard my phone ring. I thought about just letting it go to the answering machine, but I decided to answer it. I figured it might have been something important. I was also slightly worried that Leigh would call and cancel.

But she didn’t. It was Kevin on the other end.

“So it turns out Brian and Leighanne are staying for another couple of days,” he said through the phone, and I couldn’t tell if he was happy about it or not. Kevin was someone who really enjoyed his alone time with his wife on the rare occasion he got it. Not that I could say I blamed him.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, well Kristin and Leigh were having a good time so I guess they figured there was no reason not to. Anyway, I was just calling to see if Nick had left yet, because I thought we could have a guys night out. No business talk or anything.”

Who was this guy I was talking to on the phone and what had he done with Kevin Richardson? He never wanted to have a guys night out. “That sounds fun, and I’d love to join you guys, but Nick left early this morning.”

“What? I figured he wouldn’t have even rolled out of bed yet!”

Yeah, that’s what I would have thought too. “I guess he had some business to attend to in Florida,” I said, not wanting to worry Kevin.

“Some girl probably,” he laughed.

Yeah, I was worrying for nothing. Kevin was right, that was probably all it was. “Yeah, probably. I’m actually just heading out the door, but I’ll give you a call later. We’ll meet up.”

“Sounds good, talk to you later.”

And with that, the conversation was over. I grinned to myself as I left the house and headed out for my date with Leigh.

~~~

Spending two evenings in a row without Leighanne was weird. I was starting to miss her. But as much as she loved Atlanta, I knew she also loved LA. There was no reason to deny her a little vacation. Especially when Kristin had invited us so graciously to stay for a couple days longer.

And it was nice for me too. Even though it had only been about a week, I forgot how much I’d missed the others. Sure we can get on each others nerves once in a while, but at the end of the day, like we say in every interview, we’re just like brothers.

We were sitting in some Chinese food restaurant. It was later in the evening, since Kevin and I had a late lunch and Howie was out all afternoon. We weren’t bothered by any fans while we were eating, which was nice.

There had been a minor hugging incident with Kevin outside the restaurant, but that was all. And we’d all had a good laugh. Well… maybe just Howie and I did.

I picked around at my food using my chopsticks. I’d never quite learned how to use them, despite spending a lot of time in Asia. Usually I just gave up and ordered food that didn’t require me to use them. The nice thing was, in Chinese food restaurants at home, there’s always the default fork option! I always took advantage of it.

“We should get dessert,” I suggested, half looking at the menu that was posted on the wall. They had a deep fried banana. That sounded fantastic!

“You didn’t even finish your food,” Kevin pointed out.

I shook my head and gave him a cheesy grin. “Now now Kev, you don’t need to start picking on me just because I’m the youngest here.”

We all had a good laugh at that, because it was true. AJ and Nick were the ones that Kevin picked on the most. He rarely lectured Howie and I. Then again, AJ and Nick were usually the ones doing something more worthy of a lecture.

“Doesn’t it feel weird?” Howie asked. Kevin and I looked at him, waiting for him to continue. “I mean, it’s kind of like being out without the children,” he laughed.

I thought about that for a minute, and I guess it was true. Like I said before, AJ and Nick were the ones who were always acting up and doing crazy things. I used to be like that too, especially with Nick. But I guess I just grew up a little.

I knew what Nick would say though, he’d blame it all on Leighanne.

“It’s a little strange that Nick took off so early,” Kevin pondered. Now he was looking at the desserts too. I knew I’d reel him in! “And AJ…”

And there it was. The taboo subject that none of us had been willing to touch.

“How do you think he’s doing?” Howie asked, pushing his food around his plate.

“Well, we haven’t heard from him or his mom… so that’s probably a good sign,” Kevin said, looking at us for confirmation. I knew he still felt guilty about how the whole thing had happened. It hadn’t been an ideal situation, but it was for the best.

“I think so,” I said confidently. “I’m sure he’s getting the help he needs. I think he’ll come out of this stronger.”

“I hope so,” Howie said quickly, looking sympathetic.

We didn’t talk about it for the rest of the evening. What more was there to say? Eventually AJ would get into contact with us again, and we’d be able to see for ourselves how he was doing. Hopefully this would be the first and only break we’d have to take for a reason like this.

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