“Nick, come on, you said you’d come down.”
Nick glanced out the window of his hotel in Tampa. He wondered how long he could hide out in his former home state before he was discovered. He smiled at the ocean, it crashed against the shores invitingly, beckoning him to go out into the surf. The sun was setting, beautiful as always. For the first time in quite awhile, he got the urge to go grab a drawing pad and go sketch it like he did during his younger days on tour. Drawing, now there was something he missed doing.
I should do my own artwork for the solo album.
“Nick?” He could hear his brother’s voice whine over the phone. It scared him, how much Aaron sounded like him. How much he acted like he did at that age. Making all the wrong choices, listening to all the wrong people, sinking lower and lower without a clue how far he was really going.
“I know, but…” He trailed off. But what? He wasn’t planning on telling Aaron just yet. Or any of his family. Not until after he told AJ and Howie, probably not until he had to. He was the one who’d told his family he’d be down in Tampa for New Year’s Eve. So why was he trying to back out?
I don’t wanna do this. I need to, but I don’t want to. I can’t fix them. He sighed, maybe that was the problem. He wanted to fix his family, make them become a real one, rather than accept they never would be. “…but nothing. I’ll just be a little late is all. No big Airboy, I’ll be by mom’s soon and meet y’all there.”
“Do we have to do this with the family? You and I should go out, live it up a little. It’s New Year’s Eve! This ain’t the time for family bonding.”
Now there’s a really bad idea for you. “Yes it is, we agreed. Dude, even Leslie came down.”
“But not with Mike and her kid.” What Aaron said stung, Nick had at least figured she’d bring his nephew. He barely knew him, due to her isolation from the rest of them. Despite all the assumptions that being in a big family meant they all had each other when no one else was there, it was far from true. Despite his large family, Nick normally felt like an only child with a lot of hanger-ons hoping for a handout. The thought depressed him.
“Don’t matter. I’ll meet you there.” He hung up, sliding his phone back in his pocket, staring out at the ocean again. If only he could just escape it all, swim in the ocean and become a dolphin. Nick knew he’d be happier, for one. It’d be easier as well.
His phone buzzed against his rear in his pocket. Reaching for it, he answered it, completely agitated. “Look Aaron, we’re not going to some damn club when we’re supposed to have a family bonding session! For the love of Holy fucking Howie, the Carters are gonna try and act like a family for one damn night!”
A pause. “Do I wanna ask what mini Nick did to piss you off?”
Nick felt a bit bad as he went back to the bed, lying back against the pillows while grabbed the remote. He turned the TV on and began to channel surf. “Sorry AJ.”
“It’s alright man. How was your country Christmas?”
“Better than Christmas with the Carters.”
“That sounds like a reality show.”
“Ugh, hell no. I am never making that mistake again.” Nick reached over for his mountain dew, and sipped it idly. Caffeine was definitely his new addiction, and if the doctors were right, it would only help his memory. That, and he was developing a fondness for mountain dew and its various flavors, the Code Red one in particular.
“So why you doing this? You know you could’ve done New Years right, with me and D.”
“I felt bad for skipping out on them to go be with Brian and Kev’s family.” Which this wasn’t a completely lie. Because of that, Nick felt less guilty, and considered it an upgrade from his current trends as of late.
He could hear AJ scoff. “They treat you like shit, why do you put up with it?” Before Nick could even answer, he could hear crying in the background. “Shit, I’ll call you back, sounds like Lenni had a bad dream again during her nap.”
“Okay, bye Aje.”
And he got the dial tone once more.
Nick glanced at the clock, and sighed. This had been his idea. Why had he decided on doing this? What did he think was going to happen? Nothing would change, and he’d be even more miserable than he was already from everything going on. He stretched, standing and walked over to the bathroom to take a shower. He was wearing boxers, which for his own commando preferences was impressive. Nick learned a long time ago that in hotels, fans could stalk and get inside quite easily. So when he lounged, he made sure everything was covered. The boxers came off quickly enough as he locked the door behind him, just in case. Steam soon filled the room from the running water, and he stepped in the shower.
He smiled as the hot stream came down on him. It was relaxing, and able to take him from his problems, at least momentarily. Nick always loved trying to meditate in the shower if he knew he couldn’t make it to the beach. There was just something about him and the water that always just clicked. As the beads of water massaged him lightly, making him less tense, he found himself smiling as he washed his hair.
He knew tonight was going to be rough. He knew later, he probably would have to call one of the fellas, to make himself feel alright. Nick knew, at the end of the night, he’d be regretting everything. But at the same time, the thought hit him, that even with all the problems, all the chaos, deep down he loved his family. And in the end, that was a start. Even with the pain and the hate, the distance and the troubles… if nothing else, it said he was an okay person. He could live with that.
Nick turned the water off, reaching out to grab a towel for himself. As he got dry and went on a hunt for clothes, he began to sing with it wrapped around his waist. “Ain’t nobody dope as me I’m dressed so fresh so clean…So fresh and so clean clean…Don’t you think I’m so sexy I’m dressed so fresh so clean….So fresh and so clean clean…”
Of course, for rest of the night, he wasn’t quite so cheerful.
The drive to what he once thought of as the Carter Compound was relatively uneventful. He smiled a bit as he passed familiar streets, getting the urge to once again stroll his former home and look up old friends he hadn’t talked to in awhile. But that wasn’t his purpose, he was going to tough out a night for his family. They were going to try and bond. Even if it killed them all. When his rental car pulled up to the gates, he rolled down the window and went to punch in the code.
A code he’d forgotten. He hit the steering wheel angrily. “Fuck!” Nick wasn’t even sure if he forgot due to his condition or just from the fact he never visited. He dialed Aaron’s number.
“AC’s house of oh baaaybee!”
“I…never mind. Dude, what the heck is the damn code for the gate?”
“You’re shitting me. How the hell did you get in?”
“I ain’t there yet.”
“Oh fuck me!”
“No thanks bro.”
“Airboy, get your ass down here already. I don’t care if you’re grown, you know I can still get you down here.” Before Aaron could reply, he turned off his phone, wondering how many times he could get the code wrong before the alarms went off.
Nick rolled his eyes at the entire situation, turning off the car so it didn’t just sit there. He climbed out, staring out at the large home he’d bought for his mother when he was nineteen, almost twenty. It wasn’t a gigantic mansion or anything. It was however a ten bedroom, two story home, sitting upon several acres of rolling grass. Trees and beautiful flowers went along a cobblestone path to the door. It was a classy home, with Grecian columns and Spanish moss along the side of the wall. He’d bought this for his mother one year for Christmas, as her other home was being repossessed at the time. Not that he wanted to think about why that had been happening, as he’d been helping her out with money when it happened.
Even then, when he gave it to her, fully paid for and in her name thanks to the Millennium royalties, she didn’t even tell him thank you. She never thanked him. And really, that’s all he craved. Appreciation for all that he’d sacrificed for this family. And maybe, just maybe, a little love.
Angel came out of the door before his train of upsetting thoughts went any further. When she saw Nick she started sprinting across the lawn. Angel was the one member of the family Nick always would think was adopted if he hadn’t known better. With her dark brown hair, slender willowy frame, and caring dark eyes, she looked nothing like Bob or Jane Carter. Or even her own twin brother for that matter. In addition, she acted like none of their siblings, showing consideration for others, and always wanting to find her own way to do things rather than always use Nick as a way to get there. Almost at her thirties, at the age of twenty seven, she was the most settled of the Carters, and the happiest in Nick’s opinion. She punched in the code and the gate opened.
Nick opened his arms, welcoming his youngest sister into his embrace. Like him, she was still single, and he couldn’t understand that, as she loved so much more freely than anyone else in their family. She was also a storm to deal with if provoked however. “Angel…I’ve missed ya, miss me?” He teased, talking into her hair as they hugged tightly.
“Of course!” She pulled away, smacking him on the arm. “You left me alone to deal with the others you know!”
He gave her a sideways grin as the two climbed into his car so he could drive in and park in front of the house. “Sorry, Brian invited me…”
“-Brian always invites you.”
“I just wasn’t up for it.”
“You okay?” She asked as he parked and cut the engine once more.
“Yeah, I’m alright, why?” Nick asked, giving her a smile he’d perfected long ago. It wasn’t real, but few could tell.
“You just seem distracted is all.”
“Just tired, been busy.” The two walked inside, and he glanced around once again at the beautiful entryway. The high ceilings, and the beautiful white marble floors. Two dogs started barking and running down the hall. A small pug and a larger akita came to greet them, barking incessantly as Nick bent down to pet them.
“Baby Doll! You need to shush!” He could hear BJ yell as she ran up to the snowy white akita, grabbing the collar to calm her down. Nick stood, chuckling a bit.
“Hey BJ.” He smiled, moving to give her a hug.
“Nick.” She just nodded. Despite the fact him getting the family to intervene and force her into rehab four years before, had been what saved her, she never forgave him for it. Even though her sobriety enabled her to run the diner efficiently, and that she’d even met her husband at the clinic, Nick was seen as the enemy ever since. As the years went by, she grew more and more like their mother in both looks and personality.
“How’s Jake?” He asked, he actually liked the man she married and the stability he gave her.
“Okay, he wanted to come, but someone had to mind the diner.” This they both knew was a lie, but they both ignored it.
Feels awkward and distant as hell. Yup, I’m back with the family.
They followed her into the living room with the dogs. “Where’s Leslie?” Angel asked BJ, sharing a look with her older brother.
“In the kitchen with mom.”
Nick raised a brow. “They’re trying to cook?”
“They’re going through take out menus.”
He nodded as he made his way down the halls towards the kitchen. Seeing some pictures upon the walls, he made himself stop to look at them. Pictures of Aaron and Angel together, he grinned a little. Jane had always dressed the two alike when they were younger, for the fun of it. There were plenty of the two together, and even more of Aaron alone as he grew up. The ones of Angel were far fewer in comparison. A picture of Leslie caught his attention next, of her at the age of nine, singing into a microphone wearing a Spice Girls t-shirt. His smile grew, she was always like him in that way, with a love for the music. Pictures of BJ were also set on the wall, one that he eyed in particular was one of her with the E-Z-Bake oven he loved to steal from her when they were kids. He glanced around, and he once again felt the sour disappointment when he noticed there was none of him. Not one picture of Nick was on the walls, his jaw set irritably. Jane was never going to forgive him for cutting her off, refusing to send her money five years before, when he’d finally hit his limit on being used. That was when the contact truly ceased, and he learned what his family really was.
Not that she ever stopped asking. He was an ATM, rather than a son.
I shouldn’t have done this. Maybe I can run while I still can, go see a movie. Or buy some fireworks to set off along the beach. Or…just drive to AJ’s.
“Nick!” Leslie cried, as she walked over to hug him. Nick hugged her back as well. He never really understood Leslie, her way of keeping herself away from the family but then expecting them all to know and understand her like she didn’t.
“Hey, how are Mike and Jackson?”
“They’re okay…” She read the look on Nick’s face. She always could, and Nick always blamed that on the fact that they looked more like twins. She was him in female form, looks wise, always reminding him that there was no way he was adopted. No matter how many times he wished he was. “I should’ve had them come with me. I’m sorry.”
Jane Carter glanced over from the menus they were sorting through. Nick stared at her, he wanted to go to her. He wanted to hug her, to feel like she was finally his mother again. He wanted so badly to just have some semblance of what he had before the fame, before the auditions, that he once had with her. Instead, he forced on a smile. “Hey mom.”
She said nothing, just nodded and went back to what she was doing. Angel came into the room at that moment, glancing around. No one said anything, as tension thickened the air. The awkward silence got to Nick, and he couldn’t handle it. Not then, being treated as the invisible one yet again by his mother and one of his sisters. “I’m going outside.”
He could hear Angel tear into Jane the moment he started walking away and back down the hall. “Mom! You’re not even going to say hi to him?”
“He ignored us at Christmas, I can ignore him.”
“Oh my God, he didn’t ignore us mom! I didn’t want to come either! I just didn’t have a good excuse like he did!”
“Oh, so now you think you’re too good for us too Angel!” He heard BJ yell as she must’ve entered the kitchen.
“You know what? Yes, yes I do. This isn’t a family, it’s a damn circus. You guys can run to Nick when you’re in debt or whatever. But God forbid you guys treat him like he’s part of this family. And then you wonder why he won’t come home for Christmas?!” His heart swelled at his baby sister defending him so fiercely. He walked back into the kitchen, where the yelling continued.
“Enough alright!” Nick bellowed. “You don’t want me here? Fuck it, I’m out. I’m done. Done. I’m sick of trying with you guys.” He turned to look at Angel, who was watching him sadly. “I’ll call you later okay?”
Nick stormed out of the house. The night stars twinkled above him as he got into the car and turned up the radio full blast. He didn’t know what was playing, wasn’t paying enough attention. He didn’t really care. He revved the engine, peeling out of the driveway and through the gate. He felt the tears threaten to fall, but they stayed where they were. Nick needed his emotions in check, something that had become far harder to do this year.
Why did I bother? They fucking just don’t give a damn. Why the hell do I? Beyond Angel, why should I even care about them? They don’t about me. Not unless they want something. They don’t care. They just don’t fucking care. That was when it hit him.
Aaron was the one who hadn’t even cared enough to bother showing up.