February Stars

There were some days I just didn’t want it any more. Any of it. Those were usually the days we were in a random city, doing a random concert or a random press junket. I felt like I didn’t even matter as much as the rest of them. They didn’t seem to want to listen to what I had to say, and when I finally did get to speak, Kevin would interrupt me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for what I have and everything. I love performing and everything about being on stage in front of a crowd. I also really love being in the recording studio and getting to experience the creation of a new song, that’s really cool too. But all of the media stuff? Kill me now. Answering the same questions and posing for the same pictures for teenybopper magazines gets tiring after a while. Especially when you think about the fact that those pictures are plastered all over the bedroom walls of thirteen year old girls. It’s a little creepy to think about.

Even though they can be a little nuts (okay, not just a little…) I still love our fans. Of course I do. As hard as is it to believe, sometimes I get a little bit jealous of them. To them, we’re just a fantasy. Something that can be forgotten about when real life stuff happens. Something that can even help them through a rough time. But for me? I have to keep going and going with a smile always on my face. It gets tiring. I’d give anything just to be normal for a day. I didn’t even know what being a normal teenager felt like. I’ve been in this business ever since I was eight years old, and with the fellas since I was twelve. I can’t even tell you the amount of times I’ve told an interviewer that I never got to go to my senior prom. They always look at me with sympathy, but at the end of the day they don’t know how much that sucks. As cheesy as it sounds, I really would have liked to slow dance to Stairway to Heaven.

I guess the only thing that kept me going through all of that was that when I started to feel depressed or like I was missing out on something, Kevin, AJ, Howie and especially Brian were always there for me. They’d tell me how that high school stuff sucked anyway, or we’d just hang out like normal guys and play a game of basketball. They understood what it was like to be me.

At least they did before. Back in the beginning. Years later, it’s Valentine’s day and I’m stuck in a hotel room somewhere in Canada alone. I don’t mean to sound like a teenage girl, but come on. I don’t know if it gets any more depressing than that. Sure, I guess I didn’t have to be alone if I really didn’t want to be. There are millions of girls out there who would have agreed with that. Hell, our current album was the best selling album of all time! But no one gave a shit about plain old Nick. On one of our rare days off I had to spend it with the shady hotel blanket.

Staring at the ceiling can make life very depressing. Lame as it is, I just missed the other guys. In the old days we were more than just a “male vocal group” (thank Kevin for that one). We were tight. We were brothers. Brian and I had spent this girly holiday (if you can even call it that) in 1996 having a cinnamon heart eating contest.

I mean he won, but that’s not the point.

Last year AJ and I sent Howie one of those singing telegrams and video taped the entire thing. That was priceless. He nearly shit himself – he thought it was a fan. Not that a fan had sent it – that the singing bear was a fan. You should have seen him trying to get security to “remove it from the premises.”

Now what? Brian and Kevin were out for dinner with their secret fiancees, AJ with Amanda and Howie… actually I didn’t know what Howie was up to. Maybe it was time for another singing telegram.

Maybe I was just getting antsy because I was single. What kind of a guy gets all pissy over his friends ditching him on Valentine’s Day anyway? I shrugged it off and tried to watch some TV. Not that there was anything good on.

It didn’t take an hour before there was a knock at my door.

“Yeah?” I shouted over the sounds on Dawson’s Creek. I hated that show.

“It’s Kevin.”

I didn’t bother to turn the TV off, instead I just went to open the door.

“Can I come in?” He asked. He had a really concerned look on his face. Remember how I said I missed hanging out with the guys? Well the thing I don’t miss about that is Kevin giving us lectures all the time. Or even worse, his comforting chats.

All I had to do was open the door wider and he waltzed right in. Jeez Kevin, it’s Valentine’s day. Shouldn’t you be getting your freak on with Kristin? I know I would be if I were him.

“What’s up Kev?” I asked. I knew he didn’t just come here to watch Dawson’s Creek. “Did you and Kristin run into some fans and telling them she was your cousin ruin the mood?”

He actually laughed. I liked it when I could make Kevin laugh. “No, I just wanted to come see you.”

“I don’t like you in that way, Bro.”

He didn’t laugh that time though. I think Kevin had a sixth sense for when I was upset. Because he was always right around the corner. “Are you doing okay?”

See, what did I tell you? “Fine.” I muttered.

He raised his eyebrow, something else he was really good at. “So you’re just watching Dawson’s Creek for the sheer entertainment value then?”

“It’s compelling.”

“No it isn’t.”

He was right. It wasn’t.

He tried again. “You can talk to me, Nick.”

I didn’t even know what to say to him. “I know.”

I still didn’t say anything. We just sat silently for a few minutes. Kevin was probably waiting for me to bare my soul to him and I sure as hell wasn’t going to do that. I was kind of just in the mood to brood.

“All right, Nick.” Kevin finally broke the silence as he got up. “I’m going to get going.”

“I miss us.” I blurted out. I guess I was feeling the need to talk after all. Damn Kevin, he always knows how to force the truth out of me.

“Who?” He asked, sitting back down. “You and Mandy?”

I glared at him. Not in a million years, Kev. “Us. The group. As friends.”

“We’re still friends, Nicky.” Twenty years old and he still called me Nicky.

“It’s not the same.”

He sighed, but never gave up. Kevin was good like that, he could be really patient when you needed him to be. “What do you mean?”

I couldn’t really explain it, because I knew Kevin wouldn’t understand. “I just miss all of us hanging out together. Like we were friends and we were doing this because we loved it. Now it’s all like it’s just work. When we do have free time we don’t goof off anymore, you guys just go do your own thing.”

Kevin took that in for a minute. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to agree with me or disagree with what I was saying. “You would go do your own thing with Mandy when she was here.”

Thanks for pointing that out, Kev. “I know. But I still miss you guys.”

“We’re growing up.” He said. “I know it’s hard for you because you’re the youngest.”

And just like that Kevin started droning on about how I was the youngest of the group and when he was my age our group didn’t even exist yet. Something about how of course this is hard for me because I had to grow up on the road and I’m not ready to move on like the rest of them. I guess that stuff was true, but it wasn’t really helpful.

“I guess so.” I said, I couldn’t really argue with Kevin. He always had a response. He was always right. “I just wish you guys would make time for me too.”

“I’m making time for you right now.” He reminded me. Okay Kevin, making time for me to talk about how no one else makes time for me doesn’t count. I wasn’t about to say that to him though. It’d either make him really upset or piss him off. That was the last thing I wanted.

“I know.”

“It’s not really about me, is it? Or AJ or Howie?” He asked gently. This was very quickly turning into an after school special. Imagine that, a moral show featuring the Backstreet Boys. I was sure we could have our own cheesy reality show.

“He was my best friend.” I replied, Kevin had hit the nail right on the head. I felt a lump in my throat and swallowed.

“He’s still your best friend.”

I scoffed. That wasn’t true at all. “Leighanne’s his best friend.” She was the worst. Call me immature, but I kind of hated her. Kevin knew that, but he was smart enough not to mention it.

There was a whole other can of worms. What happened to Frick and Frack? I’ll tell you what happened to Frick and Frack, Leighanne did. She showed up and right away they were attached at the hip. Suddenly we weren’t hanging out anymore, he was always with her. She wasn’t interested in getting to know me, she just thought that I was some bratty kid.

“It’s a different kind of friendship.”

“I’m not retarded, Kevin.” I rolled my eyes.

He just laughed. “I meant whatever they do together will never be the same as the early days when you guys goofed off in Europe or on the tour buses. It’s not the same.”

He was probably right about that. Too bad it seemed like Brian wasn’t keen on making any new memories any time soon. “Yeah, that’s true.”

“I gotta get going. Feel better, little man.” He said, as he tousled my hair.

Normally I hated it when he called me ‘little man’ but that day I was okay with that. It even made me feel a little better. “I’m just as tall as you now.” I pointed out.

“You’re right.” He said on his way out of my room. “Feel better, Nick.”

~~~

An hour and another terrible television show later, there was knocking at my door again. This time I didn’t have the faintest idea who it was. I mean, you could always count on Kevin to show up in a crisis. I should have expected him before.

So instead of shouting like I usually did, I actually got up opened the door. I was kind of shocked, but I didn’t let it show. I should have known better, after all the math is pretty simple. Nick has a problem. Kevin senses this and comes to talk to Nick. Kevin comes up with a solution to the problem and tells Brian. Brian comes to sort it out with Nick and eventually tells Kevin everything.

So really, I should have seen this all coming.

“Sup Rok. Did you have a nice Valentine’s Day?” I asked, but I think it came out more rude than I meant it to.

He smiled. “Yes, it was nice.” He shuffled around a bit, but he didn’t ask to come in. “I was wondering if you wanted to go for a walk?”

That was a weird request. “It’s like, minus thirty outside.” I said dryly. Canada is fucking cold.

“It’s not that cold. Come on, get your coat.”

I grumbled, but I still went and got that ugly black coat. “And what if someone sees us?” I asked as I buttoned it up. “Shouldn’t we bring a bodyguard or something?”

“It’s fine. There’s no one around.”

Just like that we were trudging through the snow. Maybe not trudging. Maybe more like trekking. Either way it was silent for a long time and the only thing I could hear was the snow underneath my shoes.

“Remember the first time we were in Canada?” Brian asked, stopping to look up at the sky. I looked up too, but I wasn’t sure what he was really looking at. It was just dark.

“Yeah, I thought I’d finally be able to speak English again.” I recalled.

“Right, but we ended up in Quebec City and the interviewer started speaking in French. You were so flustered that instead of saying ‘I’m Nick.’ you mixed the two languages together and said ‘Je am Nick’. They of course interpreted it wrong.”

“I love Nick.” We both said at the same time, made eye contact and laughed. That hadn’t been one of my finer moments, that’s for sure.

I felt really awkward standing there with Brian, remembering how our friendship used to be. It shouldn’t have been that way, but that was probably the first time we’d been on our own in nearly a year. It felt weird. I didn’t know what to say to him.

Brian didn’t seem to feel the same way. Or if he did, he was really good at hiding it. He just made conversation like everything was completely normal between us. “So what happened between you and Mandy anyway?”

I shrugged. “Just wasn’t working. She had her own career she wanted to pursue.”

Brian raised his eyebrow. “You don’t have to give me the same answer you give the press, Nick.”

“I just wasn’t that into having a relationship I guess.” That was the truth. I just wasn’t interested anymore.

Brian knelt down to scoop up some snow. He started packing a ball with his hands. “I guess I can understand that.”

I wasn’t sure he did. How could he? He was planning a wedding. How would he have been able to understand all my relationship issues? That was probably another reason our friendship had started to fade.

“You know, you’ll always be my brother, Nick.” He was looking up at the sky again.

I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t really good with heart to heart conversations. “I know.” I didn’t feel like I meant that though. “Kevin sent you, didn’t he?” I blurted out.

“No.” We both knew that was a lie.

I shivered. It wasn’t that cold, but I think there were other reasons. This was getting awkward again. “Let’s go back.”

Brian nodded. I wondered if maybe he felt disconnected from me too. Maybe because I didn’t get relationships like he did and I didn’t have the perfect girlfriend or fiancee or whatever. I wanted Brian to be happy, even though I didn’t really like Leighanne. I probably could have acted nicer to her.

“I’m sorry.” I said.

“What?” Brian looked at me funny. “For what?”

I sighed. I sucked at explaining my feelings and all that shit. “For being kind of an ass. I’m really happy for you and Leigh.”

“Thanks Nick.” He didn’t make a joke or anything. What he said was sincere. I always thought that was great about him.

“I’m sorry I never congratulated you when you guys got engaged.” That was one of the shittiest things I’d ever done. He’d proposed to her on New Years Eve, we’d known he was going to. We were doing the Dick Clark thing, and Brian told us right after our set was done. Everyone had hugged them and I’d just hung back. It was like a death sentence to our friendship. Or so I’d thought, anyway.

“It’s okay, Nick.”

“I feel like shit about it.” I admitted.

He shook his head. “Don’t. It’s in the past.”

I felt a little bit better. Like whatever misunderstanding we’d had was kind of cleared up. Things weren’t like they used to be, but it wasn’t exactly awkward anymore either. The rest of the walk back to the hotel was silent and it was almost comforting.

We did make it back to the hotel safely, and as we rode back up the elevator to our floor, I turned to Brian. “That was a nice walk.” I meant it.

“Nothing like the brisk winter air.” He grinned. “Night, Frack.” He said as we got off the elevator and he headed to his room.

I stood there for a second before saying anything back. Maybe things were slowly starting to repair themselves after all.

“Night, Frick.”

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