“How could you lose him?”
“Kevin, it’s not like we can put a collar on him and send shocks anytime he wanders. This, this hasn’t happened before.”
“Dammit, we’re trusting him in your care-“
“Maybe it’s time to you know…”
“Nick would kill himself if we did that to him now!”
“Is there really a difference these days?”
“AJ! How the fuck can you say that?!” Brian yelled, uncaring about the language just then. They were in one of the spare rooms, as the women of the family stayed in the kitchen with the kids and his father to try and make it seem like everything was okay. They didn’t want any of their children worried. There was no reason for them to know that their Uncle Nick had wandered off. All it would do was cause a lot of questions, fear, and panic. Something they didn’t need more of.
“Brian, keep it down. Or the kids will hear and come in asking what’s wrong. We agreed we didn’t want them knowing about this.”
“I say that because it’s true. The Nick we know is dying. You think that’s easy for me to say? Sometimes, yeah, I think it’d be more fucking merciful, on him and us, if…” AJ’s hands were shaking as he ran his hands over his smooth, bald skull.
“No…it wouldn’t.” Brian said, his voice was shaking. “At least he’s still here. A part of him is still here.”
“And for how long? You think he likes being like this?”
“No one does AJ! But it doesn’t mean he takes the easy way, kills himself, and ends up in hell because you couldn’t cope! What, you wanna just buy a gun and do it for him? That way you can end up in hell instead! Or lets lock him up in a home, when most of the time he’s having good days where he knows who he is, and would know hell in that place! Yes he has to go there someday but I’ll be damned if I’ll do it to him when he’ll know daily that we just passed him off to be their problem! Do you know how hard it was for him to move in with me? How much that killed him? No you wouldn’t and that’s because-”
“Brian, stop it.” Kevin said, placing his hand on his younger cousin’s shoulder. Brian shrugged it off angrily.
“No, someone should say it.”
“Why Brian?! Because I’m not some perfect fucking saint like you?! You’re right, I’m not. And if you think I’m gonna stand here and have you accuse me of not giving a damn about Nick, I’m-”
“If you do you sure have a funny way of showing it!”
“Guys, we can argue about this later.” Howie snapped, stepping between the two men before it escalated any further. At that moment Brian, who was always the peaceful one, looked ready to come to blows with a man he always considered a brother. AJ’s own gaze was covered by sunglasses, but Howie sensed if looks could kill, Brian wouldn’t be standing there any longer. “Right now we need to find Nick.”
“Any ideas how?”
“LA’s a big city, it’s gonna take time if we try driving around.”
“Any idea where he’d go?”
“Ideas? Sure, he’d head for the beach. I swear beaches are like Nick’s fucking motherland.”
“Any one specifically?”
A pause. “No. God Dammit!”
“He also loves those karaoke bars; I could see him going there too. That’s where he likes to drag me to. He says it helps him deal, singing, even in dives.”
“Any place he likes specifically?”
“If there is, I can’t remember.”
“Great, we call ourselves his brothers, and we can’t even figure out where he’s going.” Brian lamented, kicking the wall in frustration. From the expression on his face, it was clear to see he blamed himself. It may have been beyond his control, but the feelings were still there. They washed though him painfully, as vivid and all consuming as anything.
Kevin pulled his out his phone, scrolling down through the list of contacts. “He has his phone with him?”
“Not a clue, I think so though. He almost never puts that thing down…but he may not know where he is.”
“Gives us a place to start. Maybe even tell him to tweet something, then we can track his location.”
AJ tilted his shades down, his brows raised. He stared at Kevin, as if Brian wasn’t even there beside him. “When did you go all James fucking Bond on us?”
“Just be glad I have an idea.”
“And if he doesn’t know? We may have to go out and search manually.”
Kevin nodded. “I’m just hoping we have some good luck. We need some.”
Howie sighed, glancing out the window. “Some Thanksgiving. After we find him, I’m giving thanks just for that.”
Nick walked down the streets of Los Angeles, completely unsure of where he was going. He couldn’t remember how he got there or exactly what he was looking for. He kept going because he didn’t have much of a choice. His wallet had been left at home, not that he could remember quite where that was at the moment. But it meant not being able to catch a cab or anything even if he did know a location.
You can do this. Just try to remember how you got here.
It felt so unnatural, having no idea of how to get anywhere. He was used to being at ease in so many places because of the life he lived. And now, Nick wasn’t sure of anything. His phone was in his pocket, he could feel it vibrating. It had been going off for the past hour, he thought anyway. Time had a funny way of slipping through his fingers these days. Either way, as the phone buzzed away, he ignored it. He didn’t want to talk to anyone. He felt ashamed, embarrassed, a waste of time for those around him. He was going to do this on his own.
I just gotta figure out what I’m doing.
Nick continued to walk. Maybe he could find a beach. How far from was he? That had always been his best place for thinking. When nothing else felt like home, the ocean welcomed him in a way nothing else ever had. He glanced around for a sign, something recognizable, for anything really. He saw street signs, but those meant nothing to him anymore.
“Oh my God, are you Nick Carter?”
He looked away, recognizing the tone of a teenaged fan. Suddenly he was nineteen again, thrust back into the height of his fame. One fan spotting him meant soon he’d be surrounded by a mob that would grab at him without any sense of control. What was he doing without any security? Where were the fellas? Where was he? Why was he here?
He did what made the most sense to him. He ran without a look back, into the crowds as he entered The Grove, a well known shopping center. One frequently a hot spot for not only celebrities, but everyone else included in that. He skidded to a stop before the bronze statue of two angels flying up into the air, intertwined. He glanced around in a panic. It seemed there was no one around. But he couldn’t be sure.
Nick kept walking, wishing now that his phone was ringing, but it had stopped.
Should I call? Kevin’s probably furious; I must be late for one of those boring ass meetings…
“Hey Nick, long time no see.”
Camera flashes blinded his vision. They seemed to come from everywhere. A swarm of paparazzi, locusts that sensed his weakness and prayed upon it mercilessly. He stepped back, startled and frightened by all the random attention he was getting. They were shouting questions at them but he heard none of them. It felt like a random buzzing. He was thrust back into the present, bewildered and confused.
“Leave me alone.” Nick demanded, trying to sound more sure of himself than he actually was. He went completely ignored as the paparazzi continued. He felt himself backing up against the wall, ready to give up. His phone rang again. Nick felt a new energy rise. This time as he fought his way through the mob of cameras, tears welling up in his eyes from fear and frustration, he answered.
“Hello?” He was breathless as he ran.
“NICK!? Nick, its Kevin, where are you?”
“I…” Nick stopped, glancing around. He didn’t know. “I…” Finally, as much as it killed him inside to do it, he stopped a young girl walking along the sidewalk. She couldn’t be much older than twelve.
“This is gonna sound crazy, but…” He swallowed down every inch of pride and self respect as he whispered. “Where are we?”
She smiled, eager to help and without any questions. “The Grove.”
“I heard her Nick. Don’t worry. We’re on our way.”
His voice shook as he spoke. “Hurry.”
The ride back in Brian’s hummer was a silent one. Nick had never felt so humiliated in his entire life. He didn’t know what to say. What could he say? He’d wandered off like a child of five. They had tried to embrace him, once they found him, but he pulled away. He had simply followed them to the car without a word. This was a first; he’d never done anything like this before. The idea frightened him to his very core. He didn’t remember leaving. He didn’t remember anything before the paparazzi had come upon him.
There was tension in the vehicle. AJ was sitting in the backseat with him, and Howie was between them. The two cousins sat up front. The few times words were spoken, they were clipped, short, and tight. Brian and AJ refused to acknowledge each other and Nick had no idea why. But should he? That’s what he hated most. If something happened that he should know about or not. He always felt so afraid to ask. To admit to such a crippling weakness, even if they did know about the disease.
Even if they understood.
He thought the words, even though he didn’t speak them. Guys, I’m so sorry.
Up front, Brian was thinking of what could’ve happened. Anything, that was what. Because he had been careless. What if someone other than the scum of fame had come upon them? They had been incredibly lucky that that had been the worst of it. Nick had signed over all responsibility to him. Had Nick made a mistake? Would he screw things up even worse than if Jane had gotten the rights?
Brian bit his nails nervously. He didn’t want to admit that the Nick he knew was fading. Parts were still there, alive and strong. Just the other day, he’d made a promise to Nick. Because Nick knew he was getting worse by the day. He only wondered if he’d be able to do it. He felt he owed it to his best friend, the person he was closest to ever since he was eighteen. And now, twenty three years later, at the age of forty-one, he felt like he was doing nothing but failing him. A single tear ran down his face, away from the eyes of his band mates as he stared out the window.
Nick, I’m so sorry. Somehow, I’m going to take care of you.