“We should talk.”
“Shhh, I’m trying to work here.”
“AJ about my-”
“We’re not talking about this man.”
AJ’s hands ran through Nick’s scalp as he mixed the pink dye into his hair. Nick glanced up in the mirror, just in time for AJ to shut his eyes in determination as he shook his head slightly. Nick rolled his eyes, tilting his head back over the sink he sat in front of so AJ could do his work. After his revelation on the rollercoaster, the rest of the day was being spent in a world of pointless denial. They tried going on other rides afterwards, but the day had been ruined. The ride home had been quiet and uneventful till AJ declared they still needed to get the dye so he could do Nick’s hair when they got back. Anytime Nick tried to explain, he cut him off, every single time.
“Look at what? How much like that idiot Perez you’ll look when I’m done?” A forced laugh followed. “I already know.”
Before Nick could even attempt to move, AJ forced his head back further, making sure the dye was applied evenly. Nick sighed. “Dammit dude, I-”
“You know man; it’d be easier if you just relaxed while I did this.”
“Fine, fuck it; you want to pretend it’s not happening. Go ahead. I’ve already joined that club, won the t-shirt, starred in the commercial, and even designed the damn mascot. In fact, I even went and changed my middle name to denial!”
“So I was thinking about the next album…”
Instead of fighting it, Nick simply nodded. He knew he shouldn’t be getting upset at AJ. Not for doing the exact same thing he had attempted to do when he was diagnosed. Still, he felt hurt by his friend’s refusal to acknowledge what was happening to him. Nick wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was because AJ was able to play denial if he wanted. Or maybe it was because he knew if AJ did do that, it would just be that much less support then. Nick hated even thinking about it, but the fact was that he could use all that he could get.
“Yeah?” he asked, leaving his thoughts where they belonged, in his own traitorous mind.
AJ nodded, rising the excess dye out of his hair. Nick shut his eyes. It helped, really, because then he could pretend far easier that this was just another day on tour. That he hadn’t just confessed something vital, that he wasn’t slowly fading away. Shutting his eyes, helped him shut out reality, the way AJ wanted it. In all honesty, it was the way he wanted it too. The difference was Nick had hit the point where he knew that wasn’t going to happen. At least not till he couldn’t remember anything, so that the point was moot.
“Yeah, I’m thinking let’s get crazy, really break some boundaries.”
Nick chuckled; trying his best to act like nothing was wrong, the way AJ wanted it. “Are there any left for you to break?”
“Man, haven’t you learned from me yet? There are always boundaries to tear down, rules to break, and ways to shake everything up.”
“Wisdom from the king of mani-pedis.”
“Shit, just because I’m rebellious and wise, don’t mean I can’t look good.”
The sink was turned off and AJ set to dry off his hair. He toweled it first, before beginning to blow dry. Nothing was said between them, leading once again to an awkward silence Nick didn’t know how to feel. So, Nick laughed to himself at the image of the two of them; it was stuff like this he knew caused others to believe they were all gay.
If a picture of this got on the internet, it would just feed the flame. Ha! Flame. Flaming. He snickered silently at the pun in his head.
The blow-dryer was shut off, and AJ spun the chair around. Nick stared at himself in the mirror. He wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry at his own reflection. There, sitting with a shocked expression, was himself. He looked normal beyond the expression, as long as people didn’t look at the top of his head. There, fluffy and being spiked as AJ applied gel to style it, was his hair. It was like instead, he had mini glow sticks implanted to the top of his skull.
“You look…” AJ couldn’t even finish his sentence as he put the styling gel away, he was laughing too hard.
Nick glanced at him as he stood, wondering how exactly he could make this look cool rather than ridiculous. “The rest of the tour?”
“That’s just cruel and unusual punishment.”
“You’re the one who agreed to it. You lost.”
Nick nodded, groaning. “Fuck.”
“Wait till the others see you!”
The others had no idea about the bet of course, or about Nick’s new hairdo. He chuckled, if nothing else, their reactions would be fun to watch. He brushed off some nonexistent dust, idly trying to find a way to talk to his friend without freaking him out again. A hand ran through his bubblegum colored hair, trying to tousle it just enough for his own liking.
“AJ…look about what I said at the park…”
“I already told you, I’m not talking about this. In fact you know what man? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He practically ran off their tour bus, with Nick following closely behind him. He and AJ were sharing a bus for this leg, and Howie and Brian shared the other as their families weren’t coming out for this part of the tour. Nick was mentally cursing this fact at the moment, because now it was going to be that much harder with AJ’s current attitude if it continued.
“Come on man! You think I want to deal with this?”
“I’m going for a walk, I’ll see you later!” He called back behind him, not one glance back at him.
AJ kept going, pulling out his cell phone and walking down the road away from where the busses were parked. Nick let him go, rolling his eyes. He suddenly wished he did have a show tonight, he could use the distraction. He turned and kicked the door of the nearest bus, angry at himself, angry at the situation, just angry in general. The door opened, and Brian was there, a small smile of amusement lit up his face as he came down the steps.
“Was the bus being mean to you or something?”
Nick looked at him, completely puzzled. “You heard me kick it?”
“Saw you through the window.”
The two stared at each other. Neither blinked, it was a sudden staring war. Nick knew what Brian was fighting not to do. He also knew he’d lose that battle. Finally, Brian couldn’t hold it in anymore, he started laughing uncontrollably. The southern man clutched his stomach as the giggles continued to come, becoming higher pitched, louder and harder to stop. Soon, Nick was beginning to join in the amusement-fest. Nick could never resist laughing when Brian really got going. Cause his laughs went from normal to “hahehe-haheheeee!” and it always brought out his own infectious laughter. Sometimes when the two got started, they couldn’t stop till their stomachs hurt. This was starting to look like one of those times.
Nick smirked. “Don’t you know Brian? Pink is all the raaaage in Japan. I have to be totally chic.” He flipped his hand over effeminately, laughing at himself.
“Oh honey…” The shorter man walked over, running his hand affectionately through his hair. “This is definitely your color. It’s so…FAB-U-LOUS!”
He cracked up, pulling away. “You scare me sometimes man. Nah, I lost a bet.”
“Nice.” He eyed Nick carefully, and he knew Brian was just trying to figure out how best to ask about AJ. Of everyone, he knew Brian was taking it the best, and he was including himself into that as well. He wasn’t sure why. Was it because of Brian’s unwavering faith? Was it because Brian was the biggest optimist he’d ever known? Kevin was handling it, but Nick couldn’t see how he coped daily since he was back in the states, still doing his run on Rent. He knew how he was though, and guessed Kevin was putting on a strong face for his sake. One he appreciated more than Kevin would ever know.
Oddly, his mind went to his therapist as well. It had been awhile since he talked with her, and felt the urge to call her up later. Maybe talking about everything actually would do some good. At this point, he was running out of options. Couldn’t hurt, could it?
He blinked, coming back to reality. He hated the way he spaced out more these days. “Sorry. I bet you’re wondering about the pink hair right? I lost a bet to AJ, heh.”
Brian’s brow creased as he watched him. “I know; we were joking about it ten minutes ago, remember? You spaced out a bit.”
Nick felt like screaming, he hated this. He was lately experiencing more and more this feeling of confusion where he couldn’t connect like everyone else. It made him feel like an outsider and he hated it. Every single bit of it.
“No! That’s my damn problem.” He softened when he saw the look on his best friend’s face. The one who was sticking by him despite everything, always had, and from the looks of it, he always would. Nick knew he’d been lucky the day Kevin called his cousin to have him join the Backstreet Boys.
“It’s okay.” He wrapped his arm around Nick, leading him back to the bus where they sat on the ground, their backs resting against it. It was almost peaceful. Nick rest his head on Brian’s shoulder, sighing.
“How’d AJ take it?”
“According to him, it’s not happening. I wish he was right.”
The two sat there silently, Brian patting his back. He didn’t tell Nick it’d be okay, and he was thankful. He didn’t try to lie to Nick, or give false hope that would just disappear like popping bubbles. In fact, he said nothing. All he did was rub his back soothingly, and ignored the fact that Nick’s eyes shined from unshed tears.
And he was thankful.