Nickolas Gene Carter was never the average Joe.
No, in his world, everything seemed to orbit around the extraordinary. Whether it was in his career as one fourth of the Backstreet Boys, or his life in general, nothing was simple. He noticed that in all honesty, his life was never uncomplicated. Even when he laid low and stayed out of trouble, something always came up to keep things interesting. He tossed his jacket on the couch as he walked into his condo. He headed into the kitchen, his stomach rumbling mildly as it did. It was an observation caused by the run around he’d been forced to give some stalker fans, on his way home. Rather than leave him be, they followed his car to the point where he decided to speed up and make as many random turns as he could till he lost them.
They were in Los Angeles again, putting the final touches on yet another album. He was anxious for it; he wanted to return to Tennessee. He’d have never thought it, but the southern state did something for him. Not that he liked admitting Brian had been right about that. It’d been the Kentuckian’s suggestion that Nick avoided both the east and west coasts during their time off, and tried going south somewhere. The vibe was nothing like the shallow ones he knew of in California, and was even better than Florida, the home state he still loved but couldn’t get any peace in. Too many knew how to find him there.
Still, what bothered him wasn’t anything like that. Overall, Nick found himself okay with everything. Happy was too strong a word. He was single once again, Lauren having dumped him the year before over his inability to fully commit to anything. She wanted to settle, and Nick despite everything, couldn’t do it. He often wondered if he loved her the way he thought he did. If he had, why couldn’t he marry her the way she wanted him to? He never believed in marriage, but he had once figured that if a woman he was in love with wanted it, he’d do it for her.
So when Lauren asked, it should’ve been an easy yes, right? Instead it lead to an intensely difficult no, and the demise of their relationship.
‘Why am I thinking about this anyway? Oh yeah, cause I was dumb enough to move near her place cause I figured I could love the damn condo and ignore the fact she’s so damn close’
He’d bought his latest LA residence almost immediately after the split, even though he went back to Tennessee for the next six months. But anytime he had to come to town, thoughts of his ex soon followed. Nick had just loved the airy layout of the condo too much to say no to it despite the proximity and the way it got to him. He sighed as he rummaged through his refrigerator, pausing and chuckling at his watch that was waiting inside, beeping at the start of the hour, next to the milk.
“How did…eh, must’ve fallen off last night when I got in.” He told himself, ignoring the fact it likely didn’t. The most likely explanation, he knew, deep down, was that he’d been drunk beyond reason the night before. He probably thought the fridge was his countertop at that point. Nick grabbed the sports watch and strapped it on his wrist, still lost in thought.
That had been the other reason Lauren left, his drinking. Although he never binged the way he had before, or let himself fall into the habits that had consumed his twenties; at the age of thirty five, Nick found himself drinking more recklessly once again. He knew everyone was concerned, but in all honesty, Nick had a handle on things. It was just that, as he got older, he found more reasons to escape the world.
Spotting what he was looking for, he reached in and grabbed the apple from the back. If nothing else, he still ate healthy, determined as ever to keep his shape trim. His cell rang, and exerting a sudden rush of energy, he shut the fridge, thrust himself over his countertop and lunged for the couch where the jacket still lay.
“Hi Nicky!” he made a face. After all these years, still he couldn’t tolerate being called “Nicky”, he’d never forgive Howie for making sure the world tried to call him that during his teen years. The voice was female and vaguely familiar. Though he couldn’t put a name to it. Playing “Name That Groupie!” in his head was never a fun thing to try and do when on the phone with said one night stand. He knew it had to be one, cause no one legitimately close to him called him Nicky. They knew better. His mother called him Nicky, which said all it needed to about their relationship.
“So I was thinking…maybe later tonight…”
His mind panicked. Never repeat groupies. That always led to attachment. AJ was the one who taught him that lesson during earlier (though not innocent) days. Having the same groupie twice would soon turn into an obsessive girlfriend you never even dated. In fact having a friend with benefits deal was the better alternative.
‘Why did I give her my number?’
“Listen, I have a hangover and…” His phone buzzed in his hand. Checking the screen, he could see Brian’s name flashing across it. Saved by the holy man. “…and now I gotta work because Brian’s calling. Later baby.” Swiftly he ended the call. He felt a twinge of guilt at using her like that, but it soon passed. People still used him, and have been for almost twenty years now. It was only right if he did the same thing to those who did it to him, right? He knew those girls never loved him, they only wanted the image he put out. Once they had it, they never wanted him. So why bother?
“Frackolas!” Nick felt himself grin. If there was one person in the world he knew would never use him, or betray him, it’d be Brian. Their relationship had been through a lot over the years, but as they got older, their bond got closer.
“What are you doing…right now.”
Nick took a loud bite of his apple and chomped down as annoyingly as he could next to the cell. “Eashing.” He replied, mouth full as he took another bite.
“You sound like a horse.”
“You’d know country boy.”
Brian laughed. “Says the guy who now lives in good ole’ Tennessee.”
“I miss it actually. You’re never gonna let me live it down are ya man?”
“So whatcha want?” Nick asked, eating the apple in a less annoying manner now. He lay back on the couch, getting comfortable.
“I’m thinking I stop by for a b-ball game, your complex has a court right?”
“I dunno, I’m kinda wiped. We’re recording early tomorrow aren’t we?”
“Nick, I’m worried about you. AJ relapsed hard cause he thought he could drink again, I don’t want you-“
He sighed. “I’m alright. I’m not acting crazy, the doc says my heart’s alright and I can drink as long as I don’t go crazy with it. I’m okay Bri, really. You don’t need to babysit me.” His tone had become agitated, knowing the real reason Brian was calling now. He thought he’d pull a Kevin and check up on the youngest. They all thought he was still that reckless fifteen year old, despite the fact they were off by a good twenty years.
“I wasn’t babysitting Nick, I really thought it was a cool idea. Plus Baylee’s been wanting to stay over again.”
It was funny, as jealous as Nick was when Baylee was first born; they had a special relationship now. It had been childish, but he felt the kid was stealing his best friend away with the help of Leighanne. As the years had gone by, “Uncle Nick” had formed a bond with the kid. He was like Brian in miniature in so many ways; it had been hard for Nick not to. It lead to sleepovers, Nick taking Baylee out on trips, and being there for him when the kid felt he couldn’t go to Brian during the past eleven years. Their bond was special to the both of them, and now that Nick lived closer, they were able to hang out more than they used to. Nick had often called Baylee his adopted child; since he was pretty sure at his current rate he’d remain a lifelong bachelor, never to have any kids of his own.
It wasn’t what he’d predicted when he was younger; he always assumed that’d be AJ, who ironically had three year old twin girls. The man was divorced, but at least he’d have his kids. Jealousy stabbed Nick’s heart once more. He wouldn’t even have that from the looks of it.
“Nick, you there?”
“I’m here Brian. Safe and sound. No worries.”
“Look, you’d get upset if I wasn’t doing this. There’s times I can’t win. If I wasn’t, you’d think I don’t give a damn. Like during our hiatus. And when I check up on you, I’m a worrywart.”
“That’s not true anymore. And like I said, I am fine. I’m gonna just crash tonight.”
“Nick, you’re lying to me aren’t you?” And then there were times he wished Brian couldn’t read him so well. Even over a phone, he always seemed to know.
“I’m not. Look…” He faked a yawn, making sure it was loud enough for Brian to hear over the phone as he tossed his apple core into the nearby trashcan. “I need to get some rest. I was out hella late last night and I don’t wanna sleep in and be all late tomorrow. Howie will kill me. Dude he’s gotten to be like Kevin.”
“Goodnight Brian.” He cut him off, hanging up the phone with a final flip. He jumped up from the couch, heading into the bathroom. Nick stared at himself in the mirror as he ran some gel to spike up his hair a bit, checking for grey. It had yet to make an appearance, and he mentally thanked his dad’s genes for that small fact, before thanking his mother’s for the fact he wasn’t balding yet either. He rubbed his chin, feeling the slight stubble there. Aside from a few laugh lines around his eyes, you could hardly tell his age still. If people didn’t know who he was, they’d probably guess him to be in his mid twenties. At least he had that going for him.
He grabbed his cologne, dabbed himself a bit with it, and walked back out to grab his jacket and keys. Nick stormed out of his condo, feeling so rebelliously angry at Brian for his protectiveness. He’d show him he had a handle on things. He’d go out to the clubs tonight, probably Mood as it tended to be his favorite nightclub in Los Angeles. He’d drink and party, but not go crazy.
‘I’m fine. I’ll be fine. Brian just doesn’t get that I can’t live his life and never will.’ He thought to himself as he made his way down to his Lexus Hybrid. He was still as environmentally conscious as ever, even though he was still unable to commit to a specific charity for it.
His thoughts however as he got inside and started up the car, were mainly those wishing he could live the life Brian wanted him to. He wanted it, but he was unable to ever get a solid grasp upon it. Nick simply wished he’d give up the idea, and resented the fact Brian couldn’t give it up either. Perhaps if his best friend could, Nick could one day as well.
It was those thoughts that made him crave a drink even more as he drove out of the parking lot.
It was thoughts like those that had driven him back to his old habits to begin with.
And those were the things Nick kept praying he could forget.
One day, Nick would wish he’d been careful with what he wished for.