Here We Stand – Chapter Nine

An Escape – Nick

I think all of us needed a break from recording and the documentary.

After hearing Brian say he needed vocal surgery, after discussing it further and returning to the studio yesterday, Howie made a good suggestion. That we work the rest of the day and then take the next two days off. For a break, a getaway from all the pressure. We’d been having fun and all that shit, but ya know, it was still work in a sense. Knowing Howie, he probably saw if we kept at it without a day off we’d probably start battling like we used to. We almost did yesterday. I felt bad but I wasn’t going to apologize.

I didn’t want to tell Brian he needs to step back from leads so we can survive this year. But someone had to.

We had a major problem we kept arguing about too. Probably what lead to the decision we made. It’s our twentieth anniversary. No matter what we’d have to do the classics. I mean hell, we do them every damn tour with songs added in now and then (like 10,000 Promises which should’ve been added long before NKOTBSB because it’s the best song we’ve done I think). I always thought we should take a few off. But this one we can’t just do that. It’s celebrating our entire career. You try telling our fans “oh hey, sorry, we can’t perform any of the classics even though it’s an anniversary tour”. I love our fans but it won’t fly.

Brian’s voice can’t handle that many solos either.

A hand rested on my shoulder in the beautiful country fields. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure where we were at. Some historical place caterpillar brows insisted on seeing. It was actually really nice and peaceful. I turned but instead of seeing Kevin the way I expected, I saw Howie. I grinned a bit, Howie doesn’t say much. In the sense of trying to get something out of you. That was Kevin’s style. Instead what he does is let you know he’s there and just chill till you started talking. And it’s weird how it seems to work every damn time. I’ve tried to escape it.

“I’m okay. Really.”

He smiled at me when I glanced at him. “Okay.”

Dammit.

“I feel guilty okay?”

“Why?”

Stupid Howie and his one word responses.

I sighed, shaking my head. There were a lot of reasons I was feeling guilty. I hated that I had to be the one to say we should just try and hide Brian’s problems till after the twentieth anniversary album and tour. I hated the look of betrayal on his face when I said it, and continued to say we should give less solos to him. Let him have the adlibs instead where he hides this better. We hadn’t made a full on decision on how much we’re going to try and hide. I don’t think we will for awhile. Our relationship had finally started recovering from all the damage my partying and Leighanne’s ongoing hatred of me had done over the years. We weren’t “Frick and Frack” yet but someday we could be again. And I just knocked us back a level away from that by saying what needed to be said.

These were the easier reasons for my guilt, too.

I felt guilty because of how much I missed Lauren. I wanted to break the “No Women” rule we set up before coming to London and fly her out to see me. I loved her. So much that I was considering things I never considered before. Something I’d sworn off forever after seeing my entire family implode over and over again. Yet there I was with a ring I’d been carrying in my pocket for the past two months. Maybe someday it’d actually end up on her finger. I still wasn’t too sure to be honest.

There was also another reason for my guilt.

I was happy. Everything in my life despite the problems, my own insecurities and some of the bullshit, seemed to be lining up. I was at peace with myself. I was healthy and content. The anger I’ve had probably since I was only seventeen years old was finally gone. I had my own personal sense of Zen. All because of that damn heart scare finally got me to see straight. Well that and the book from Kevin I ignored for years. All this had happened for me, I’d won my battle and I loved my life. Yet my sister was lying in the ground in a New York cemetery. It felt horrible and wrong and I hated myself for it. She should’ve won the battle too. God, it’s been what, almost five months? Shouldn’t I have hit acceptance? But I hadn’t. I was still thinking about how I could’ve done things differently. How she should be having the same sort of peace I am.

And I don’t mean in the afterlife.

“There’s a lot of reasons.”

He gave me that stupid cheesy smile of his. Damn Howie. “Nicky…” Twenty years almost and he still calls me Nicky. Can you believe that? “You know what happened with Brian wasn’t your fault.”

I had a feeling he was going with the easiest topic and leaving the rest for Kevin.

“Yeah well, I’m used to Brian being pissed off at me.”

He sighed, because he’s heard this from me before, but honestly it’s the truth. I pissed off Brian plenty of times over the years. Mainly cause for the longest time I called his wife “Yoko”. Then when I got over that, because he saw my cry for help as me screwing up. Which I was, but I needed him. Not the lectures. Howie and Kevin always sort of got that in ways Brian and AJ didn’t. Alright, not fair probably because of AJ and his issues but I had mine too. My first solo stint was something no one agreed with but you know what? Those two supported me anyway. And then there was the whole House of Carters debacle.

Okay that was a fuck up.

But blurring himself out was a bit much.

“Stop thinking about the past.” Geeze, when did he inherit Kevin’s mind reading powers?

“I’m alright.” I said stubbornly instead.

“Look, this isn’t like your fights before.” He stepped in front of me, blocking my view of this random squirrel stealing a nut from another squirrel and racing off. Run thieving squirrel, run! “You’re not a kid and you’re not off making us all worry.” Howie smirked. “And Brian isn’t off with Leighanne ignoring you. He’s having a rough time cause he’s not able to be what he was. You just were the one who said what was needed to.”

“Now I know what Kevin feels like.”

He laughed. “Don’t tell him, he needs to feel like no one gets him. Like how you do.”

Smart ass. “I think he knows I’m talking about you.”

“Why’s that?”

I pointed Kevin who was definitely giving Howie the look. “Cause his dirty brow is after you.”

We laughed and before he could give cheesy ass reply, his phone rang. He checked and grinned. “That’s Leigh.” And I watched him go off to check on her. She was like four months pregnant and even though it was the second time for him, he was one of those nervous fathers.

You’ll never see me having kids though. I don’t think I’d be a good dad to be honest.

“Are you really okay?”

I about jumped out of my skin while Kevin just laughed at me. “Fuck, way to sneak up on me.”

He shrugged. “You were spacing out again Little Man.”

Shaking my head I plopped my ass right on down on the grass. Sure there were chairs and tables along the edge of this endless green field but meh. Too far. Shit. It’s wet. Oh well, I’m not getting up right now. “I was thinking.”

Grabbing a chair, he sat down beside me. “About what? Besides the album problems I mean.”

I sighed; if anyone would get it I’d guess it’d be Kevin and Howie. And Howie was dealing with his pregnant wife. “How long did you feel…guilty?”

“Sometimes I still do.” He said softly, somehow I knew he’d know what I was asking without outright saying it. “I’m here living out every dream possible. My dad used to always encourage me but never got to see any of it happen. Not here, where it counts. I know he wanted nothing more than for me to do what I’m doing and be happy but…I’m here and he’s not. But that’s okay, that’s normal.”

“It never goes away?”

“It fades Nick, and you learn how to cope. But I remember when you kept trying to save your siblings.” He paused. “And my biggest worry is that you’d go down with them. You almost did no matter what I tried. You tried for Leslie but…none of that is your fault.” A beat. “No matter what anyone tries to tell you.”

“I know that, really.”

“And you’ll have moments. Just don’t shut us out okay?”

“I won’t.” And I meant it, because really these guys were my family. In all the ways my so called real family never could be. I couldn’t afford to push them away. Slowly I pushed myself off and immediately I heard both of those assholes laughing at the big water stain on my butt. Because obviously that’s what Stealth D decided to come back over.

“Oh that’s smooth.”

“Shut up!”

“Why didn’t he get a chair?”

I stuck my tongue out at them. “Because it was far.”

“Two whole feet.”

“No one asked you Kevykins!”

I really do love these guys. Sometimes I looked at my brother Aaron who no matter what I tried pushed me away harder than Leslie ever did. He grew up in the same life I did, the same sort of fame. But he was stuck having to cope with all of it alone. That could’ve easily been me. It’s sobering really. That’s why I don’t think the fellas will truly know how damn thankful I am for them. And I knew once we got back to the house the first thing I was going to do is try and work things out with Brian.

Because that’s what brothers do.

*****

It didn’t take long to find him really. Out in the backyard taking a photo because by some miracle the sky was still clear and not raining. You don’t realize how rare that is in London. I bet he was “chirping” a picture of that too. I felt my phone vibrate and laughed. Yup, that’s exactly what he did. Man we’re not even inseparable anymore and we could still predict each other’s actions. That’s gotta be scary on some sort of level. I leaned up against the wall and smirked.

“Tweeting?”

“Chirping.”

I sighed, moving to sit on an actual chair this time. “Bri, we should talk.”

“What about?”

“About yesterday, look you know I didn’t say that to be an asshole right?”

He nodded slowly. “I know it wasn’t easy for you.”

I bit my lip nervously. Old habit fifteen years in the making. “Yeah well, I don’t want you thinking we’re sacrificing you to make next year happen. Dude, if you wanted to take a break we’d do it.” I paused. “I of all people can’t try and tell you not to do your own thing.”

“That’s water under the bridge Nick.”

“Yeah well, I haven’t forgotten it.”

“We’ve hashed that out. None of us were innocent.” He grinned. “We’re old men, aren’t we supposed to be wiser?”

I laughed. “You’re old, I’m in my prime.”

“Yeah…” He sighed. “I’m not. I’m going to try every way I can to sound better and surgery, if I can. But we deserve our twentieth anniversary. Our fans do too.” He smoothed a hand over his thinning hair. “I hated that I agreed with you. That’s all.”

“I’m still sorry. And look I’ll put you in contact with my vocal coach. She knows more and she can help all of us.”

“Thanks Nick, that means a lot.”

“I wanna be sure you don’t feel like you’re alone in this.”

Brian sat beside me and wrapped his arm around my shoulders. For a moment I felt like that fifteen year old overseas for the first time, upset because I was homesick with no one but the fellas to comfort me. Brian in particular cause the others would find ways to go out to the clubs. That same feeling of safety still followed despite everything we’d put our friendship through.

Some things never change.

And honestly, I’m a little thankful for that.

Next Chapter

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