His hands were shaking.
Nick never liked doctors, and the fact he’d been forced to see more after his brush with heart problems years before just made it worse. The fact he hated them so much caused him to put it off for over a week since the Early Show performance. He’d known he couldn’t put it off forever, that something was in fact wrong. Still, he’d tried to ignore it.
Finding his wallet in the dishwasher however, unnerved him a bit.
Maybe he was overreacting; maybe it was just drunken stupidity and a lack of sleep causing all this. In fact, Nick was hoping it was. Still, he knew he had to get himself checked out. If nothing else, his heart scare back in 2008 had taught him that. So as he took a long sip of coffee in the kitchen, he tried to steady his hands, calm himself, and keep the coffee from spilling on the floor. He’d avoided the Boys outside of promotional performances, happy to be in LA for once. It was easier to keep away from them here. He needed to keep this on the down low, and he knew the perfect place to go.
He glanced at the clock on the wall; it was 10:15 in the morning. His appointment was closer to noon. The office he was planning to go to was downtown, hidden away as a private practice. It appealed because it was a decent sized practice and had all the facilities, but overall went unnoticed. It was the same place he’d gone when he was feeling chest pains. He just hoped he could sneak in again without being caught by any form of the media.
He set down his empty coffee mug in the sink, sighing. He grabbed his keys and debated on grabbing a coat. Deciding it was getting too warm for it, he walked out and down to this car. As he got in and began to drive out of his condominium complex, a feeling of trepidation filled him.
Nick knew that somehow, whatever happened today, he wasn’t going to like it.
His feet were tapping.
He never had the ability to keep himself still, however nerves always made that problem ten times worse. He couldn’t stop moving as he sat in the waiting room, waiting endlessly for his name to be called. Nick kept his shades on, the Celtics cap he wore tucked low upon his brow. As long as no one recognized him, he’d be okay. As long as the doctor told him he’d just been overreacting, he’d be alright. His nerves until then were shot and would remain as such.
He wondered if he should’ve told Brian.
‘No’ He decided firmly. ‘Brian’s bad enough as it is, and this will just make that worse, even if it is just nothing. Which it will be. It will be.’
But if it wasn’t?
“Mr. Carter?” A young nurse stepped out to greet him. She had strawberry blonde hair, green eyes, and an impish smile meant to comfort him as they walked down the hall. If this had been any other situation, Nick would’ve been flirting within moments. As it was, random pick up lines were floating through his head that his brain fought to ignore.
‘Focus…don’t worry, you can hit on her on your way out of here and you know you just overreacted. Note to self: Thank Kevin for raising me to get paranoid.’
The thought of Kevin made Nick suddenly want to call him as he walked into the examination room. The man had always been more like his father in terms of who taught him the good lessons life had to offer. When his parents neglected him to try and sell his siblings to the spotlight as well, Kevin had stepped in, taking Nick under his wing. Nick knew he hadn’t come out perfect, but he also knew he’d be a lot worse off if it hadn’t been for “big brother”. Kevin was currently doing a stint in “Rent” on Broadway at the moment. Right then, he missed him terribly.
He sat on the table, as the nurse shot him another pretty smile. “Dr. Hansen will be with you shortly, he’s just finishing up with another patient.” Nick contently watched her firm butt shimmy as she walked smoothly out the door. He glanced at his watch, almost one.
‘What’s the point of appointments if they never see you on time anyway?’
The moment he thought that, Dr. Hansen walked through the door, he looked older than the last time Nick had visited him for his yearly checkups with his heart. The forty-eight year old doctor stood before him with a full head of graying hair, bright blue eyes, and just the hint of what could be mistaken as a beer belly.
“You look troubled Nick; the last time we met you were in good shape. What seems to be the problem?”
Nick breathed slowly in an attempt to relax himself. A nervous hand ran through his spiky blonde hair. His eyes darted around a bit, trying not to look at Dr. Hansen. “I’m not sure where to start on it. I think I’m overreacting…”
“But you’ve learned to be cautious, that’s a good thing.”
He nodded. “Things have just…been weird lately. I’m starting to black out things. I…maybe it’s the fact I’m drinking again too much.” Nick ignored the reproachful look from the doctor and continued. “But then it would happen when I didn’t drink. Last week I blanked out a song I’ve been singing up and down for the past month, I still can’t remember the lyrics that well even with trying to memorize them again.”
He saw the frown on the doctor’s face, and wondered if he’d been right to come after all. “Anything else that strikes you as odd?”
“…this is gonna sound stupid.”
“Nothing sounds stupid when it comes to your health Nick.”
“I’m finding shit in weird places. Like, there was a time my watch was in the fridge, another where my wallet was in the freaking dishwasher, and today my shoes were in my damn dresser. I have no idea how the hell they got there.”
“And you remember nothing about doing those things.”
“Not a damn clue.”
“Has your doctor in Nashville put you on any new medications? Any new medical problems I don’t know about? I’m having him fax your file to me as well.”
“Nothing, he said the same thing you did before I moved back there, that I was in good shape.”
“No drug use anymore, just alcohol?”
After jotting down a couple notes on his clipboard, Dr. Hansen looked at Nick. “Alright, here’s what we’ll do. I want to run a couple tests, urine sample, a blood test, and see if anything comes up. Then we’ll go from there, alright?”
It’d been two days before Nick was called to come back into the doctor’s office. His heart pounded fiercely against his chest. If the results had been simple, they’d have just told him over the phone wouldn’t they? But instead, they’d called him in. His feet felt like blocks of lead as he walked down the hall behind the cute nurse once more. This time, no pickup lines came to mind, no flirting tips, nothing but a subtle appreciation of how attractive she was. That was how on edge Nick Carter was as he walked in and sat once again on the examination table.
He’d been forced to flake out on a meeting for this. They were supposed to decide on the track-listing for the new album, which finally had a name. “Phoenix”, it was simply a testament how they’d risen out of the ashes of their career with their previous album, “Freedom”. These meetings were fun these days, where the group had control of what made the album and what didn’t, rather than management or the record label. So instead of the meeting, the Boys were doing their solo photo shoots today for the album booklet. Nick was to do his tomorrow, along with the group ones.
For a moment, he wondered why he was thinking of this. It seemed random. Then he realized why. It was because all he wanted at this very moment was to be at that meeting with them. If he was, it would mean there were no problems, no new worries. It would mean that by the standards of “The Life of Nickolas Gene Carter” handbook, his life would be boring for the moment.
A pair of fingers snapped in front of his eyes, bringing him out of his daze.
‘I’m losing it, how long was I spacing out?’
Nick blinked; he hadn’t realized he said that out loud. He refocused back upon Dr. Hansen, who stood in front of him. His face was more guarded than usual, sending a red flag to Nick that he didn’t want to see.
“So what is it?”
“Well that’s the thing, your urine sample and blood tests came up normal.”
He felt himself grin, the pressure lifting, but only slightly. They wouldn’t just call him in to tell him he’s fine and dandy and he knew it. There was a catch to this somewhere. “That’s good then right?”
“So far, but I need to rule everything out. What I want to do is put you through an MRI and possibly a CT scan.”
“I want to rule out possibilities like tumors causing your blackouts. They’re harmless exams and are rather short really. After you’re done with those, I’m going to have Nurse Maebelle ask you some questions in here to help me narrow this down. It may be nothing; I just need to make sure it’s nothing before I tell you that.”
Dr. Hansen reached into a cabinet, pulling out a standardized hospital gown. “I’ll just need you to take off everything but your undergarments and put this on.” He handed it to Nick, who took it and walked out and down the hall to the bathroom. He began humming almost silently to himself. Music always helped in keeping him calm, no matter what the song. It was one of his own actually, well the group’s. As he walked into the restroom and locked himself in a stall, he quietly sang his favorite song the Backstreet Boys had ever done.
“What about your…your ten…thousand promises…that yooou gave to me…”
He sighed as he changed into the gown, remembering then that they had no back to him, and as always, Nick had gone commando. He chuckled at himself. “Maybe that nurse will like it and I’ll get a date out of this nightmare.”
Nick stepped out of the stall, staring once more into the mirror as he set his clothing upon the counter. His eyes were drawn, bags rested under his eyes. His skin was pale, despite the tan he had. Beads of sweat gathered upon his brow even though the air conditioning made goose bumps rise along his arms. His phone rang as he walked down the hall, the breeze tickling his bare bottom as he did. He ignored it, knowing it had to be one of the fellas; he’d call them back later. Dr. Hansen was waiting for him outside the door along with the cute nurse who apparently was named Maebelle.
“Excellent, just hand your personal items to Maebelle here and follow me.” Nick obliged, following him while Maebelle went back into the examination room. He was led to a room with a large tube like machine, with a long tablet sticking out of it. Nick shivered a bit. He was going in to that thing to have his head scanned?
“Now Nick, I just need you to lay down here for me.” He motioned to the tablet. “And try to relax. Are you claustrophobic?”
‘I may be after this bullshit’
“Okay, just lie down then, and let our technician do his job.”
He lay down, trying to get comfortable in one of the most frightening, awkward, oddest moment of his life. Which, given his life events, said a lot about this situation. They placed headphones upon his ears, waited a few moments as they prepared the machine. Nick closed his eyes as the tablet moved into the tube, feeling suddenly like an alien about to be autopsied. Although the process took mere minutes, it felt like a lifetime to Nick. Once the tablet came back out, he was led to yet another room.
This machine looked similar to the MRI; however the tube was more like a small ring. As they set him up the same way, and he lay down once more, he felt less scared because of that. As the CT scanner did its job, Nick found himself praying, truly praying, for the first time in years.
‘Please, God, don’t let there be anything wrong with me. Please. I know I don’t appreciate anything in my life, but hell I do now. Please, please don’t let there be anything wrong with me.’
“Alright Nick, you’re done.”
Blinking with surprise, Nick climbed off, annoyed he’d spaced off again. He was suddenly struck by something Brian had said to him once. It was when he first started letting himself believe again in the idea God existed, only a few years before.
‘God won’t give me anything I can’t handle.’
It was then Nick hoped that God had no faith in his coping abilities.
Nick knew as soon as he got the phone call that it was news from the doctor only a day and a half later. Dread bubbled inside him. He only prayed that it was good news. He answered, taking a sip of the Dr. Pepper he had sitting next to him while he watched the basketball game as casually as possible.
“Nick, its Dr. Hansen, why don’t you come down? We have your test results and a diagnosis.”
Suddenly the soda he’d been drinking felt like a series of weights going down his throat as he swallowed. “Doc, if you know, just tell me straight up over the phone.”
“Are you sure you-“
Was he sure? He wasn’t, yet at the same time didn’t want to draw this out any longer. He wasn’t sure his heart would take it. “Just give it to me straight.”
“I think an appointment would be better, I don’t feel this is news that should be given over the phone.”
At that point, Nick would swear on his life that he heard his own heart pounding like an Indian war drum. It was almost like his body knew before he did that it was about to head into battle. “I need to know, I can’t take waiting for this.”
“If you’re sure.”
Nick swallowed hard, fighting to hold on to that last semblance of self control. “I’m sure, I’d rather know now.”
“Keep in mind, this is something that has no hundred percent diagnosis till post mortem examinations, more testing will be helpful in assuring there are no other causes. However, I wouldn’t diagnose this unless I was positive this was the cause.”
“Doc, I need you to tell me, now.”
“I think it might be what’s known as Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease. It’s extremely rare in someone your age, but it does occur. It’s a form of dementia that slowly impairs your functions of memory.”
His battle worn heart stopped then and there.
“No, I can’t have that, that’s an old man disease. My grandfather didn’t get that till he was in his eighties! I’m ONLY fucking thirty five! Shit, I ain’t even forty and you’re gonna tell me that I’m gonna go senile?!”
“There’s ways we can slow it down, now I know this news is hard to take-”
“Fuck you!” He slammed the phone down, breathing heavily as if he’d just run a marathon.
Nick simply sat there, trying to process what he’d just heard. Nick felt haunted. In God knew how many years, Nick wouldn’t have any idea who the fellas were, who his siblings were. Hell, he wouldn’t even know who he was. Nick knew what the disease was, what it did. He remembered when Ronald Regan had it. There was no cure. Angrily he launched his phone across the room, fighting the urge to cry. He wasn’t going to let those tears fall.
“WHY!? Why?! Why is it you have to fuck with my life God?! Don’t I get enough shit from you?!” He thrust a lamp off the end table, hearing it crash satisfactorily. What did it matter now? He’d replace it; spend what he could, because it wasn’t like he’d remember even having the money years from now.
Nick simply didn’t care. He threw the remote into the fifty inch flat screen, kicking it to make it fall over and taking joy in the noise that followed. He overturned his couch, screaming once again. He tore a pillow up, happy to hear the fabric tear while he threw the stuffing upon the floor. He made the end table fly over, the base of the phone shattering as it fell as well. The damage continued, his soul still raged against the injustice he felt about it all. He threw a vase his mother gave him, stared as it shattered and fell in fragments along the ground. That’s what he was going to be, shattered, fragmented, nothing like the original form.
Broken pieces that would do no one any good.
He stormed out the door with his keys, running as fast as he could out to his Lexus. Flooring the gas pedal, he drove with no clear destination in mind. He swerved around other cars; not paying attention or even caring that he’d almost caused several accidents. He simply sped up, almost hoping he’d crash and solve everything then and there. Nick drove on, no music playing, no clear coherent thoughts running through his mind. It was pure rage and fear, nothing more.
Finally he stopped, tires squealing in protest while the car spun slightly in its stop. He cut the engine, noticing he was on a random side road not too far from the beach. He climbed out, wishing then he had the courage to drive off a bridge or overdose on sleeping pills. It was all the same in the end wasn’t it? If he simply committed suicide, he’d save himself and everyone else a lot of trouble. His end would be glamorized rather than pathetic. He sat on the hood of his car, watching the beach-goers from the top of the hill where he parked.
Still, Nick knew, even then, that he couldn’t do it. He never possessed that kind of courage and never would.
Instead he’d be forced to watch himself fall apart, forget everything he knows, everything he was, unable to become anything more than a helpless being that had no point in living. Once again, he couldn’t understand why it had to be him. So many others did far worse than he ever did. Why was he being punished this way? Why did it always have to be him? For all intents and purposes, Nick knew his life was over.
As the night fell and stars were scattered across the dark velvet sky, that was when the tears finally began to fall.