Nick was in the studio yet again for another session. This time, they were in England, but he’d heard one of his favorite Swedish producers had been in the area. So of course, he had to give him a call and set something up. Rami Yacoub has been part of many of their hits throughout the years as a group, and even helped Nick with his second solo album. It felt right, going to him for the last album. He sat at the soundboard, a smirk resting upon his otherwise neutral face. Nick looked over at him, and knew he was nailing it.
Money’s the only love there is
Fame’s the only attention you see
One dollar, two dollars, three dollars, four
Oops I meant kids…
Walking out the door
Yelling, screaming, here we go again
Just another day at the family reunion
Do they hate me?
Do they love me?
I don’t think I wanna know anymore
Yelling, screaming, here we go again…
Just another daaaaay…
Just another daaaaay…
At the family reunion
Do they love me?
Do they hate me?
I don’t give a damn anymore.
Nick closed his eyes, fighting the emotion that came with this song. He knew this would be the last solo record he’d ever do. If he was going to let it out, he knew it would have to be now. This was the last song he’d penned for the album; all the others he wanted were recorded. It was also one of the most personal songs he’d ever written. It would let the fans into the disaster he tried to keep hidden, especially after his reality show debacle. The last attempt he’d made at fixing his family flashed through his mind. He’d never be able to have a stable family, and it stung more than he would ever admit. It was because of that he was always thankful for the fellas, if not for them, he was sure he’d have lost his sanity by now.
And no matter what he sang, he still cared. It still hurt.
His lips almost touched the mike as the last notes played. “You hear that? I don’t give a damn anymore.” He almost whispered, before stepping back. Nick was trying to convince himself more than anyone else right then.
“That was fantastic Nick! I’ve never heard you go that deep.”
Nick smiled a bit, walking out of the booth as he pulled off the headphones. “Vocally or lyrically man?”
“A bit of both.”
“You got what you need?”
“I’ll send you the finished product once I’m done and see what you think. Can’t wait till you do this again.”
The two embraced as Nick inwardly sighed. It wasn’t going to happen again. Still, he said nothing. It had become standard and he was going to be talking enough that day anyway. It was the day he knew he had to tell Howie. Well, technically he knew he didn’t have to, but it was one of their rare days off, and he knew he may not get another solid chance at this for awhile. In fact, he’d told Howie to stop by the studio he’d reserved time in, after he was done recording. He wanted to connect with him, and he wanted to come clean.
“You’ll be one of the first ones I call. I’ll hit ya up later alright?”
It was hard hiding from the world. It tore him apart that he was still hiding it from one of them men he considered his brothers. He waved as he walked down the halls of the building, passing various recording studios as he did. Nick had been talking to management a lot lately, planning the release of the album. There was only one thing that was keeping it from having an actual release date.
See, this album was different from his previous two. This one, he wanted to tie into another project. He knew he wanted to leave more behind, to start that organization he’d been wanting to do for years. Ever since his last one fell through actually. And Nick even knew what he wanted to do with the nonprofit. It was just how to do it, that was stumping him. His first one, the one he’d done when he was just a kid, had been set up for him by Kevin. He’d used his own organization to launch Nick’s as a subsection. He smiled fondly, thinking of his old ocean campaign, and the way he’d made Kevin so proud of him as he worked on that.
Maybe this time, I can work on this with Brian… He knew he couldn’t do this alone. Someone had to help him, and someone had to run it when he no longer could. Nick had no guaranteed time slot before everything was lost. That five year window Dr. Hansen had given him was only a guesstimate, and even so he was already only two and a half months from the first year having gone by. It was the beginning of spring, mid March, and Nick felt the time fleeing from him at a quicker pace than he’d have liked.
Regardless of the fact AJ had known for almost a month now, he was as deep in denial as ever. Brian had tried to talk to him. Even Kevin had tried to call and intervene, knowing Nick and AJ needed him. Nothing had done any good as of late. AJ would either talk to him as if all was well, or he would go silent and pretend Nick didn’t exist any time he tried to broach the subject.
His phone vibrated against his leg from within his pocket, before blaring the Macarena song. Nick smiled a bit. That was his ringtone for Howie, which of course, he hated from the moment he learned Nick had set that for him.
“Hooooowwwwwiiiiiie!” He cried into the phone, sounding playful and upbeat as he shoved his darker thoughts aside.
“I’m outside man, where are you?”
“Shit, I’m coming!”
“I cannot believe we’re at the petting zoo.”
The two walked through the petting zoo that had actually been a bit difficult to find there in London. But the idea had been Nick’s and he’d stubbornly refused to get out of the car unless Howie had tracked down a petting zoo. The older Backstreet Boy had never been able to understand the youngest member of the group and decided now wasn’t the time to resume a mission he’d long ago dropped.
“Aww come on! This is fun.” Nick grinned as they approached a small pen with several baby goats inside, coming over to see them. He laughed as one in particular bleated at him hopefully. That one, warmed up to Nick, remaining there as the other two wandered to the other people standing at the other side of the pen.
“I’ll say it again; I can’t believe you wanted to go to the petting zoo on our day off.”
“Hey now, I spent my morning recording. This is a good way to chillax man.” He pulled out his Blackberry, taking a picture of the goat and immersed in his phone for a few minutes.
Howie raised a brow at him. “Nick, what are you doing?”
“Tweeting… see?” He handed over the phone to Howie so that he could see.
hey peeps look, its kid nicky!
4:53 PM March 13th via Twitpic
And there, once Howie clicked on the link, was a picture of the goat that was happily being petted by Nick once again. He handed the phone back to his friend, laughing to himself. “You’re such a nerd.”
“But you love me!” Nick couldn’t be happier, he loved animals, their innocence and their way of love without judgment. It was something he always felt people could learn from them, really. It took Nick a long time to realize he’d been one of the people who needed to learn it. Of course, when he did, that had been when only a few years later, he’d been given his death sentence. He snapped one more picture, this time catching himself with the goat so that he could post it later.
“You know how many times I question why?” Howie teased, nudging Nick so that they could let the kids behind them up close to see.
The two continued to walk, calmly, towards the other animals. In other circumstances Nick would’ve been more excited, he knew. He’d be hyper and running around like he was a little kid again. He’d have been so excited to do something he’d never been given a chance to do as a kid. There were so many times Nick wanted to relive his childhood now that he was grown, and could.
“There’s a reason why I wanted to bond today.”
The Latin man smirked, running a hand through his slowly thinning hair. He still had the most hair in the group, after Nick of course. However, as the years went by, he grew more paranoid about it. He sighed a bit, and Nick immediately knew why. It sucked, getting old.
“Cause AJ’s sick of ya, all that time sharing a bus… and Brian wanted to web chat with his family? And because you got really really bored.”
“Well, yeah… there’s that. But there’s something else too.” He led Howie off to a corner, where not many people could be within hearing reach. As of yet, no one recognized them. Nick had hidden his bubblegum pink hair underneath a Celtics hat. Still, he didn’t need to risk it.
“So what’s up?”
“Well… you know I’ve been acting weird.”
“You always act weird.”
“You know what I mean!”
A smirk twitched at the corners of Howie’s mouth. “Hey I’m right though. But this is about that thing Brian and Kevin know isn’t it?”
Nick nodded. “And AJ… though AJ’s wishing he didn’t know right now.”
“Nick, what are you trying to say?”
“Something you really don’t want to hear. I didn’t want to tell you this soon, but I couldn’t keep it from Kevin. Then you guys realized I was acting funky. So then Brian found out, and now it’s just gotten to this mess I didn’t think you guys deserved…”
“And I can barely deal with it myself! So asking you guys to try to fucking deal ain’t fair. But I need you to, and AJ’s pissing me off lately cause I need his ass just like I need yours, and Brian’s and Kevin’s. I know my so called real family except Angel won’t do shit for me… so I ain’t got a choice…”
“I just, I don’t know how to fucking cope. I keep asking why me, I keep fucking getting mad, and just… don’t know what to do with myself. So I’m sorry I gotta do this D, you don’t need it and-”
“Nick! You’re rambling. You only ramble when you’re nervous. What are you trying to tell me?”
Nick steadied himself as he stared into the concerned eyes of his friend. A lot of people underestimated Howie. The fans, his casual friends outside the group, his family, all of them underestimated him. They didn’t know how loyally he protected him over the years, coming second only to Kevin. They didn’t know about his cheesy sense of humor always coming up when it needed to, to comfort Nick when he was at his lowest. They didn’t know about the fact that the real reason Howie used to club so much, was to keep an eye on Nick and AJ. Howie did so much, gave so much, and no one ever knew. They let him stay in the shadows, a forgotten member of the group most of the time.
He embraced him, suddenly having the hardest time forming the actual words. It hadn’t been this hard with AJ, and even Kevin, the words had come out easier than he’d have thought. Brian had found out by accident. So why couldn’t he just vocalize the thought and finally say it to Howie?
Howie patted his back, hugging him back tightly. “You’ve got me scared now. What’s wrong?”
Nick buried his head into his friend’s shoulder and uttered the words that had destroyed his life. Even though he was taller, he suddenly felt safer. Howie stiffened, and he knew his friend had heard what he said. Neither said anything more.
Everything that needed to be said, was expressed as the embrace tightened.