Soldiers

“What does it mean to be a grown man in a boyband?”

I looked up at the screen as the clip to our documentary started playing. I sort of wished I didn’t have to be sitting there in front of all the fans when it was shown. Not that I was embarrassed about anything that was going to be shown in there, but…

Okay, I was sort of embarrassed. I mean, I knew they were going to show that clip of me crying , and all the fans were going to go “Awww…” and as much as I love attention, I don’t need a theatre full of girls feeling sorry for me! I’d much rather a theatre full of girls feeling horny for me!

Speaking of the theatre full of girls, I’d never seen them so silent in my entire life. Usually when we were on stage the music was blaring and the fans were screaming. But today they actually quieted down and listened to our music clips and were now focusing on our documentary clip.

I mean, there was the odd, “I love you, Nick!” (which was always nice, don’t get me wrong!) but other than that they were quiet and respectful and actually listening.

It was a nice change.

I glanced around at the other fellas, because I really wasn’t interested in watching the clip I’d already seen about seven thousand four hundred thirty eight times. (Because seven thousand four hundred and thirty seven just wasn’t enough for Kevin to be satisfied that we’d gotten it just right.)

Speaking of Kevin, I couldn’t believe he was sitting there with us. I didn’t think he’d ever come back after leaving. It wasn’t like there was bad blood or anything… but he seemed really finished with the whole boyband thing when he told us he was done.

I played with the rim of my wine glass as Kevin went on and on about another one of his life stories, and the journey he’d been on to get us to that point.

Booooring. I wondered what Bean was up to and if we could go out and bar hop later. That is if it wasn’t late enough that he’d already taken off without me. That little shit was always up to something and even though I had all the money it was hard to get him to give me the time of day.

What an ass. His attitude was worse than Kevin’s story. Which still wasn’t over, by the way.

“Man, are you sure?” Howie said, looking more concerned than usual.

“I just really think it’s for the best.”

Wait what? I missed something.

I glanced over at Brian, because back in the day when I used to ignore Kevin’s stories he’d usually help me me out by bailing me out. Of course now Brian was a jackass and didn’t help me out with anything.

Which was why when I glanced at him for support he just rolled his eyes. Fuck off, Bri! Frick and Frack, my ass. Go have another kid.

“I’m taking a break from the group, Nicky.” Kevin said, looking at me almost sympathetically.

Wait…what? First of all, he stopped calling me Nicky right around the time AJ went to rehab. Second of all… he’s leaving the fucking group? I was so shocked I couldn’t even form words.

“I said I’m taking a break. And I stopped calling you Nicky because you explicitly told me only Howie could call you that.”

Oh, guess I could form words after all.

“Yeah but… for how long?” Not that I cared or anything. Kevin could go take his long winded life story lectures to another boyband. I heard Nsync’s missing a member.

“I don’t know. I need to see what else is out there. I want to try acting, I really liked Broadway…”

What. The. Fuck.

But now Kevin was back and he was exactly the same. Taking control of any situation, being our leader, and more of a manager than our manager was being. The difference now was that he actually listened to our opinions and took them into our consideration. He wasn’t a dictator anymore, he was a leader of a team.

Another difference was that now I appreciated him and hung on to his every word.

That was pretty different than someone else in the group. I looked over at Brian. At one point, the two of us were the closest friends in the world. Or it seemed like to me, anyway. Then we went from that to being the worst enemies in the world. Again… it probably only seemed that way to me.

Now? I didn’t really know, but things definitely weren’t the same between us.

“Hey,” Brian said, walking into Lou’s living room with a Kentucky Wildcats jersey on.

My eyes widened. Kentucky Wildcats? Basketball? Dude, I could play basketball!! I mean, not well, but I knew how to bounce one and I was okay at the three point. Maybe we could play together! There was a court not too far from this place, I’d seen it when Mom and I drove by, and she never lets me stop and play but now maybe that there was someone older and in the group it’d be okay…

“How y’all doin’?”

I giggled a little bit, because who talks like that?

One by one, he shook hands with all the fellas, until he got to me.

“Hi,” I choked out awkwardly, because I didn’t even know him yet and I already wanted him to be my best friend. “Nick… is my name.”

He smiled easily. I could see where he was related to Kevin, because he was good at being nice to people. But I could see where he was only Kevin’s cousin, because he wasn’t so serious as Kevin was. “Hi Nick, I’m Brian.”

“Yeah, Lou told us.”

Most people probably would have rolled their eyes at my stupid comment, but Brian just laughed. “Yeah? He didn’t tell me what y’all are into though and what you do for fun around here.”

“Basketball,” I blurted out, because I couldn’t stop myself.

“Oh yeah?” he grinned. “We’ll have to shoot some hoops sometime.”

“Hell yeah!” I exclaimed.

“Nick, don’t swear,” Kevin cautioned me, but Brian just laughed again.

“Sounds good.”

I took a deep breath and got up off the couch. I hated that part where I cried and I didn’t want all the fans looking at me and feeling bad for me, so I made my way backstage in search of some water or something. You know, conveniently during that part.

Of course, Howie knew me better than that and followed me. These days, Howie was more my best friend than Brian was. And I think it’s because he really got me. He understood me, and even though he also had a wife and a kid, he didn’t think that made him any better than anyone else.

Thank God I was on tour. Thank fucking God. I don’t know how I would have coped with this had I not been out on the road. If I’d just been sitting at home on a break I don’t know what I would have done with myself.

Obviously I wasn’t thankful that this happened, and I wasn’t thankful that my family (okay, brother) were being such dicks about it, but I was thankful that I was in my element when it did. So I’d have the distraction and I’d be in what Lauren liked to call “my happy place.”

I didn’t know that any play would feel overly happy again, but if anywhere would, it was the stage.

My cell phone buzzed in my pocket. I sighed a little before digging it out, wondering who would be calling this time to offer their condolences. I’d ignored a lot of calls in the last couple of days and I didn’t give a shit. Everyone deals with grief in their own way.

And not everyone accepts that, but what the fuck ever. Aaron had always been a little shit and…

It was Howie.

“Hey,” I said, rubbing my eyes a little, trying to wake up.

“Hey Nicky, I just wanted to see how it was going. How’s the tour? Are you getting all the fans’ appetites ready for a Backstreet tour?” he laughed.

What? Did he not know? “Uh… yeah…” I said awkwardly, because this was the first normal conversation I’d had with anyone in the past two days.

“They’re still as loud as ever, I take it?”

I laughed. You’d never know it by the screams in those venues, but the crowds I drew as a solo artist were about a tenth of the size we’d done for NKOTBSB (okay fine, probably a lot smaller).

“Yeah man, you know the ladies love me.”

“Of course they do,” Howie laughed. “You’ve always been the favourite.”

“Nah man, if you did a solo tour, you’d get just as many screams.” He probably wouldn’t, but I was trying to be nice.

“That’s a lie and you know it.”

“Oh come on Howie,” I laughed, sitting up a little. “One hundred kisses girl, straight to your heart!” I half sang, mocking his ridiculous single. He knew it was ridiculous too, that’s why he hated when I did that.

“Don’t forget, Nick, you used up and entire tube of one of those chapsticks in a week.”

Sue me, I have dry lips! “Hey, that was a quality product.”

I could almost hear him smiling through the phone. “It was.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, take care Nicky. Enjoy the rest of your tour.”

“Thanks, I will. Later D.”

We hung up, and I looked at my phone kind of oddly. That was a random phone call from him. And his chapstick really was good, I don’t know why he brought that up though.

Then it hit me – Howie calling to talk about mundane shit had distracted for me a couple minutes, and I’d actually smiled for real.

And he knew it would too.

I smiled again and sent him a quick text.

‘Thanks.’

I got a reply almost instantly.

‘No problem.’

“Didn’t want them seeing you while they saw you cry, huh?” he asked, with a smirk and a little wink.

Damn Howie and his constant winks. He’ll never change – he even does that same smiley face in his signature after all these years.

“Yeah,” I shrugged, before JoJo came up to us and started talking into the livestream camera. That was fine – I could talk about the documentary, I just didn’t want to actually watch it and –

“Awww!”

Man, I knew that was going to happen. But I grinned a little. The worst had passed and I wasn’t out there on the stage to witness it. Good!

A couple minutes later the clip ended and we walked back out there. Of course everyone cheered because that’s what happens when I walk on stage. I grinned and sat down, but of course I had to defend myself and explain that I hated seeing myself cry.

I can never keep my mouth shut. And neither can Kevin, because he told me to embrace crying. What does that even mean? I made a mental note to ask him later as they started talking more about our documentary and when it was going to premiere. I supposed I was going to have to watch it then, too. But at least it wouldn’t be in a room full of fans feeling sorry for me.

AJ started answering some questions about it and I smiled a bit. He was so open and confident now. Not that he wasn’t really open before, but he was definitely a lot more confident. Getting married and having a kid had been good for him.

And going to rehab again… this time on his own terms, had also been good for him.

“Congrats, man,” I said, grinning and wrapping him tightly in a hug. “Bet it feels good to have all that wedding planning over with, huh?” I laughed. AJ loved planning his wedding. I don’t think that there was actually any girl in history who had loved planning her wedding more than AJ had loved planning his.

“Thanks,” he said, pulling back with the grin that had been on his face the entire day. “So,” he said, slapping me playfully on the back. “You’re the only single man left. The last one standing in the group.”

“Yeah,” I said awkwardly. I used to hate whenever anyone brought up the marriage topic. I’d always tell them I wasn’t a marriage guy and I didn’t believe in it.

I wasn’t so sure about that anymore.

AJ just shook his head. He was still smiling though, and it was nice. I wanted him to be this happy all the time. I hoped now that he was married and seemed to have everything he wanted, he would be.

“Well,” he said, raising his eyebrows a bit. “Just so you know, Lauren looks really good in white.”

I glanced over at her. She really, really did.

I looked out at the crowd again. The fellas were still talking about the documentary. I smiled to myself thinking about that. Even though there were some parts in it that I wasn’t a huge fan of (okay fine, just one) I was still really proud of how it had turned out, and I was definitely glad that we’d had the opportunity to share our story with the world.

It was sort of cliché, and I know that we say this all the time but those four guys are like my brothers. We really do fight like brothers sometimes, but through all the times we’ve had, we really are like family.

I guess that’s what it means to be a grown man in a boyband.

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