“YOOT! A day off!” Nick cheered as he and AJ got into a rental car. They were back on tour, making their way across Europe over the past couple weeks. Nick had been trying to find a way to tell him and Howie just what was going on. The first thing they’d noticed, was that Nick and Brian seemed to be okay again. Like Brian predicted, they knew he knew now.
“What is yoot?”
“A combo deal of yay and woot.” Nick replied like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “And the only word able to show my joy from an actual day off.”
“Okay then…heh, we better enjoy it.”
Because of this, Nick knew he’d have to tell them soon. He couldn’t handle the idea of telling them both at the same time however. Instead, he decided today would be a day to bond with the second youngest member of the group, and a chance to tell him. The relationship he had with AJ had always been a complicated one. They’d been the two who didn’t really know life without fame, they’d never been given a chance to know, given the age they were when they started performing. And then when the group formed, Nick had been only twelve, AJ had been fourteen. Hardly old enough to know how life worked outside of fame, and to know how to live with it without being sucked in and destroyed by it.
It had been for this reason; they’d been the two who struggled with it all. The reason why they’d bonded over their late night outings, the drugs, and the alcohol. It’d been why Nick had been the most shaken up when AJ went into rehab. Not to mention why Nick continued to struggle with it and unable to learn from watching AJ alone, thinking he was different, he was okay, because this was what he knew and he could handle it. When both of them had finally cleaned up their acts, it would still feel weird from time to time, hanging out with just each other. Because when they had been so young, that had been their link. Sure, these days they had more, but everything still went back to that. So as always, it rose to the forefront of Nick’s mind.
But because of their history, Nick felt AJ would be the one who never suspected drugs. Perhaps alcohol, but not drugs. And even the alcohol not to extent of what had been Brian’s suspected before he learned the truth. AJ knew the signs better than anyone, and while Nick had been acting suspicious, it wasn’t suspicious in relation to that.
“Nick?” AJ called, snapping him back to attention as they drove down the roads of Berlin. They had a show tomorrow and wouldn’t have another day off for a good two weeks, so this outing had to count. He refused to tell them when they had a show the same night. No need to affect the performance.
“Sorry, I’m here.”
A smirk emerged on his friend’s face. “You sure? You’ve been damn out of it lately. You’ve become more of a space cadet than Lance Bass.”
“I’m alright. Just tired from touring.”
AJ gave him a look. Nothing like one Kevin could give, but it clearly expressed the who do you think you’re kidding thought that was running through his mind. “Alright then.” But that was the thing about him, normally, he’d let it go. He’d make it clear he thought something wasn’t right, but without getting too aggressive about it, unlike Brian, Kevin, and Howie who got forceful each and every time. It was refreshing in a sense, but it also made him feel guilty.
“So where do you wanna go?”
AJ shrugged. “No idea, this was your brilliant plan remember?”
Nick glanced out the window, looking for ideas. Then, something came into view, something he hadn’t done in some time. He grinned. “How’s an amusement park sound? I can’t bring Brian ever cause he still can’t handle rollercoasters.” It was true, while both he and Brian had a deathly fear of heights; Nick’s didn’t go as far as rides. Brian’s did. He couldn’t explain really why rides were the exception to the rule for him, they just were. He always attributed it to the fact he was at least strapped down on a ride, giving a sense of safety.
“Looks more like a carnival.” AJ shuddered, while Nick snickered.
“Not worried about clowns are ya?”
“Clowns are fucking freaky alright?”
Nick pulled into the parking lot, cruising around in search for a decent spot. He started laughing again, seeing the look on his band mate’s face. It was an amusing mix of dead pan seriousness and panic at the idea of encountering a clown. “Fucking hell this place is packed.”
“You think we’ll be recognized?”
Finally pulling into a spot, Nick parked and cut the engine. He turned and stretched his arm into the backseat to grab two baseball caps, and large sunglasses. He handed one of each to AJ. “I don’t know, but just in case.”
AJ laughed. “I might be recognized easier cause of these.” He joked as he put them on.
The two got out of the car, making their way towards what Nick realized was closer to a carnival, like AJ had said. They walked together, an awkward silence hanging between them. While he could do this with Kevin and feel at ease, with AJ it was different. Normally, both of them were talkers. Neither liked silence, and so usually if one grew between the two of them, it was because of words both sides were afraid to say.
Once they were on the grounds, Nick felt himself beam happily. He always got like that around theme parks, carnivals, fairs, you name it. It brought back that inner child that never actually got to be a kid when he actually was one. Growing up it’d been nonstop auditions, and then once in the group, nonstop working. So when he came to places such as this, it just made him content to act like a silly kid, and not worry about who was watching. AJ he always guessed felt the same as him, seeing as his actions usually were similar to his own.
“Dude, bet I can do better than you at the test your strength.” AJ pointed. It was the typical attraction, the standard for any carnival. Even in Germany, where they both expected things to differ a bit.
The two ran over, resembling more little kids than men in their mid to late thirties. The man at the stand was calling people over, but in German. Despite all their travels, the two only knew basic phrases. Nick’s best one was along the lines of “You’re a beautiful girl”; it was something he’d set out to learn for clubbing purposes when he had only been eighteen.
AJ took the hammer first, stepping up. He swung it around a bit, to feel its weight in his hands. Nick watched, amused. We’re gonna have fun just long enough for me to fuck it up by telling him. He knew this, but what else could he do? Reality had hit, he had to let him know. But there was still that part – that inner child wanting so badly to have its fun, that screamed in protest. Out of fear, out of that desperate need to keep everyone he loved happy for as long as he could.
His friend slammed the device as hard as he could, and grabbed Nick’s attention once more. The plug rose about two thirds of the way up, before falling right back down. The German carnie tried to console him, but was unable to do so in any intelligible English, causing him to laugh at the confused look on AJ’s face.
“Bet I still do better than you.”
A brow quirked as Nick grabbed the hammer. “A bet huh? Okay, what are the terms?”
“If I win, you have to dye your hair hot pink, and leave it that way for the rest of the tour.”
“Oh if you’re getting that, I better get something better.”
“You…” An almost evil look came upon Nick’s normally deceivingly innocent face. “have to go get your face painted.”
“As a clown.”
Nick smirked. “Is it a bet?”
AJ glanced him over, and Nick knew he was judging his odds right then and there. “You’re on.”
The two shook on it as Nick headed over. He felt the weight of it in his hands, and gazed upwards to see how high it would have to go to beat AJ’s. Nodding to himself, he swung down, hard as he could. He wondered if he could just do this all day, beat the frustration out. The plug rose, and rose, came close to where AJ’s had been. Nick’s face fell when he saw it started to fall only five inches below where AJ’s went.
“YES! You know Nick; pink is totally the new green.”
“We’ll have to stop for the dye on the way back man.” AJ couldn’t stop laughing. “Wait till the guys see your new do…”
“Hey at least I have hair to kill” Nick joked good naturedly.
Instead of being mad, Nick found himself cracking up. The reactions of the fans would be worth any suffering he’d be doing at the mercy of his pink hair. He handed the hammer back over to the man working the stand, and walked through the park. AJ was practically skipping. He couldn’t tell if it was a victory dance, or a dance of relief at not having to be made up as his greatest fear.
I’m never gonna understand that clown phobia. AJ’s so weird.
Nick grinned when he found the reason he wanted to come there. The rollercoaster raced over the tracks, a chorus of screams not too far away. His eyes met AJ’s. “Rollercoaster?”
“Do you even have to ask?”
The two ran again for the rollercoaster, getting to the front of the line in no time. Nick sat in the front cab, and AJ climbed in beside him. As per the request of the ride operators, they took off their hats and shades, and just hoped no one would spot them. They were getting strapped in, and Nick just sighed. He wasn’t going to be able to keep putting this off all day. The anticipation alone would kill the good mood of the day.
“Alright, start talking. I don’t know what the fuck’s gotten in your cheerios lately, but something has. I know it ain’t drugs, and you have your shit together. But something’s up.”
Nick looked the other way, trying to find the words that he could never find. The bar fell into place, locking in front of them. Nick gripped it as the ride began. The car went down the tracks slowly as it started its ascent. “You’re right there is.”
“So what is it?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“The hell I don’t.”
The ride continued its steady climb. “That’s what Brian and Kevin said too. I can tell they wish they didn’t know now.”
“I knew they knew! Come on Nick, enough with the hiding shit! You’ve been spacey, spastic -more than usual I mean- you’re forgetting shit you’ve been doing for ages. You’re keeping to yourself. Just say it man! I can handle it.”
The ride came to a sudden halt, looking over the entire carnival grounds. Nick could see people blissfully wandering the park. He could see the kids enjoying their childhood freedom in a way he never could. He could see everything his life could have had, but did not and never could. He looked over at AJ. He stared into the expressive eyes that always held emotions his friend could never hide.
“I got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.”
Before Nick could receive a reply, the rollercoaster rapidly dove down the tracks, leaving everything else behind. Those around him shrieked with delight. Nick and AJ made no noise at all.
Instead, all their screaming was on the inside.