The Big 3-0

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you,”

I’ll let you in on a little secret, I hate it when people sing happy birthday to me.

“Happy birthday dear Nicky…”

I know, I know. It’s my career and I should appreciate the fact that song is used so widely, yadda, yadda, yadda… I hate it! Always have.

“Happy birthday to you!”

Especially when that birthday is the big 3-0. Yeah that’s right, me, Nick Carter, the baby of the group finally turned thirty. We’ve officially gone from being backstreet boys to backstreet men. And no, we’re not going to be changing the group name!

The fellas were all singing to me, loud and horribly off key. Maybe that’s the reason that damn song annoys me so much. I take my craft more seriously now than I ever have. Hell, I take most things more seriously now than I ever have. I guess I’m just turning sort of stuffy and boring in my old age. Or maybe I’ve just realized what actually matters in life.

I glanced over at Lauren. She was standing with AJ and grinning as Howie and Brian brought out my cake. As much as I wanted to hate my birthday, I was looking forward to that! I’d been trying to eat healthier for the past couple of years, ever since my heart problems started but the occasional treat wasn’t that bad.

Plus they’d managed to find ice cream cake. In January! I guess it doesn’t really count as cake, since it’s just a big brick of ice cream, but hey, that’s cool with me. It’s always been my favorite!

The guys had even been nice enough to let it sit out for a while before serving it so I wouldn’t have to fight through cutting it. I guess that makes up for their fake tone deaf performance earlier. Ice cream cake is awesome, but cutting it is a pain in the ass! I guess the universe just wants to make me pay for the awesomeness.

It was kind of an odd sight, but not one I wasn’t used to. All of us were sitting on the floor of the dance studio with paper plates and forks. I even had a paper hat on… it was backstreet tradition. And one that would end with me, I guess. This paper hat that Kristin had bought for Kevin when he turned thirty had finally made its way through all five of us. Everyone thought it was the most hilarious thing ever… until it was their turn to wear it. I know that I always pointed and laughed, thinking that my day was so far off it would never come.

I mean, along with turning thirty, the hat is big and has wires with little number 30s sticking out all over it. By the time it made its way to me, some of them were bent and broken off, but for the most part it was in pretty good shape. I should have destroyed it after AJ’s birthday!

Actually, come to think of it, my thirtieth birthday wasn’t that different from AJ’s. We were in the same dance studio, in rehearsals for a tour. He didn’t have ice cream cake (AJ’s weakness is black forest) but we all sat around eating, laughing, singing and making fun of him for being old.

I didn’t actually think we’d still be doing this when it was my turn. Well… let me rephrase that. When AJ turned thirty I knew that we’d still be in the group, and that we’d still be in the group for a long time after that. But if you would have told me when I was twenty that I’d still be in the group ten years later, I’d have told you to fuck off.

No, really. In my early twenties I went through a phase of hating being a Backstreet Boy and everything that went along with it. We released a damn greatest hits album by the time I was twenty-one! How messed up is that? I felt like my career was over before it would even begin for most other people my age. I hated the stigma of being in a boyband and did everything I could to try and break away from that.

Actually, the year that we released that album was the year that Kevin turned thirty – starting this whole hat tradition! We were on tour for Black and Blue, and all of us were really tired, grumpy and generally pissed off. We’d been working our asses off for years at that point, and none of us really wanted to be there anymore.

Now that I think about it, that’s probably why Kristin bought that hat. To cheer all of us up for a little while. Nothing like being in a group with four guys you can’t stand.

Eventually, we all got over that. I guess it was just because we were all spending too much time together. Everyone needs a break, you know? But we never got one. Not until we reached our breaking point, anyway. Get it? Break? Breaking point? Ha!

“So, Nicky, how does it feel to be the big 3-0?” Howie asked, and that was when I realized I’d spaced out. Oops. Thirty years old and I’m still as ADD as ever.

“You tell me, D,” I shot back, with that shit eating grin he hates so much. “You’ve been thirty for… what is it, ten years?”

“Six and a half,” he replied lightly.

I laughed. “Oh, right, it’s hard to keep track since you’re the old man of the group now.”

No matter how old he or I get, I’ll still rag on him.

But thinking about it, I felt sort of bad for Howie. His thirtieth birthday had been when we were on that much needed break. It came right before we started recording Never Gone, and it was when I was genuinely missing being in the group. I was eager to get back into the studio. I was eager to be a Backstreet Boy again. I remember flying down to LA to visit D on his birthday. Kevin was the only other one who was there. I guess it wasn’t anything special, the three of us just went out to dinner, but I remember it meaning the world to me at the time.

Also, I made Howie wear the hat the whole time we were at that fancy steakhouse.

“Says the baby of the group,” Brian laughed, and pretended to wipe his eyes. “They grow up so fast!”

Brian’s was the only birthday I wasn’t there for. None of us were, actually. He’d wanted to spend the day with just his family, instead of the rest of us. At the time I was sort of annoyed about it, but now I can understand it. When he had turned thirty, we were almost done recording Never Gone. Hell, the first single was about to drop! We were going to be doing TV appearances, radio interviews, travelling, all the stuff that comes with promoting an album. Except it was going to be absolute chaos, and we all knew it because we hadn’t been around in a while and needed to get our names out there again.

We ended up having a small party the day after, and he wore the hat, but it just hadn’t felt the same. I resented him a little. On one hand, he had this great family and he was happy all the time and I was happy for him. On the other hand, I was as jealous as I’d ever been. I never had the family life that he had, and even though I wasn’t sure a wife and kids was what I wanted (hell, I’m still not sure!) I was still jealous. And I was jealous of Leighanne, because I felt like she’d taken my best friend away.

People probably think that the year Brian got married was the worst year for our friendship, but it wasn’t. The first year that we were back as a group was. I had sort of expected everything to go back to how it was in the old days, I guess. But it didn’t. Brian had his wife and his son and he couldn’t be bothered to goof around with us (with me) on our off time.

Eventually I got used to the fact that Brian had this whole other life outside of the group, but it took a while. Even when I was twenty-five, I still had a lot of growing up to do. It wasn’t even until my cardiomyopathy diagnosis that I began to realize that. Wouldn’t you know it, once I started making changes to my life and stopped acting like a total womanizing cokehead, out relationship got better. We actually started understanding each other again and now I think our friendship is as good as it’s ever been.

“Finish eating, guys, we need to get back to rehearsals,” Jen, our manager said. I had already finished both my pieces of cake (I turned thirty, I can do what I want!) so I stood up and went to take my hat off.

“Uh, no,” AJ said, pointing at me. “That hat stays on for the rest of the rehearsal.”

Damn AJ. I was hoping he’d forget I’d made him do the exact same thing on his birthday.

But, even if I was thirty, I’ll still always be the youngest! And hey, Kevin’s turning forty next year! Maybe I’ll buy a new hat and start a new tradition! Because, come on, it’s still ten years away for me!

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