These were the things he wanted as he kept his eyes shut tight in hopes of sleeping once again. Everything was easier when he slept, and he was sick of everything being so hard these days. He turned to his side, a pillow caught within his embrace as he tried to get comfortable and return to the oblivion he so desperately craved.
Instead, he lay there with his eyes closed, failing miserably. All he wanted were sweet dreams granting him what reality refused to. He sighed and shifted yet again. Images danced before his eyes vivid and strong. He could see himself infirm before his time. He saw himself as a lost soul, wandering the world confused and alone. He could see the real Nick trapped within, knowing everything but unable to connect to himself.
Nick saw everything he worked for as nothing. For what was it if he didn’t even know his own accomplishments? He saw himself looking at the walls filled with awards and plaques earned over his lifetime, and not knowing what they meant. He saw his family visit and him stare at them blankly. He saw their tears and the inability to comfort them. He saw his band mates, the best family he’d ever known, sticking by him when everyone else would give up. He watched the years go by in his head, his golden hair thinning and growing greyer. Nick looked down at himself infirm in a bed crying for reasons he didn’t understand.
When his eyes opened, the tears were still wet as they streaked freshly down his cheeks.
He wiped them hastily despite the fact there was no one to see them. He walked into the living room and over to the entertainment center. Above the flat jumbo screen television were the shelves proudly displaying everything he’d done. Photos over the years of him and the fellas adored them. His eyes ran over the American Music Awards, Video Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, and even the several Grammys that the group had finally accomplished towards the end of their run as a group. He lifted the one they got for Album of the Year off the shelf, staring at it oddly. It was just a trinket really, it was what it symbolized, and it was the prestige that made it so valuable.
So one day this would mean nothing.
Too bad I never gotta chance to try and get one of these solo. He mused. Within all the accomplishments, Nick always fought to find ways to set goals in his life. Something to work for. It helped keep him sane even if it turned him into a work-a-holic.
The phone rang and it almost caused him to drop it. Nick didn’t hurry to answer it. He knew it would be either one of the fellas, family, or management. Those he used to consider his “casual” friends had ditched him once word came out of his ailment. He had long since gotten used to the phone not ringing much.
The phone continued to ring. He turned the answering machine off the night before. He was getting sick of Brian trying to call. It had been a week since their argument and Nick wasn’t up for talking. Deep down, he knew he’d been wrong to snap at him. He knew Brian was trying to do what he asked of him, and it was just as hard for him as it was for Nick. But admitting that meant facing the future.
While he wouldn’t deny what was to come, he wasn’t ready to face it head on either.
Finally, he answered. “Hello?”
“About time Nicky.”
He made a face. “D…”
“Don’t call me Nicky!” He said in a whiny yet accurate imitation. “I know.”
“But you still do it!” Nick whined.
“Because I can.”
“So are you checking on me?”
“Yikes, don’t be so defensive.”
He sighed, running a hand through his tousled hair. “Sorry, I’m just on edge.”
“We know. Look, I’ll be by in about ten, we can do something and talk.”
The phone went dead. Nick set it back in the holder. He knew he better get dressed. Their relationship was an interesting one, understated by the fans but not by each other. There was only one other person other than Kevin that he knew better than to say no to, and that was Howie.
Still, he smiled.
“Can I ask why we’re at a karaoke bar in the middle of the afternoon?”
“Because it’s fun!”
“Nick when I decided to let you pick what we did, this wasn’t what I had in mind.”
They were in a dark, dim, rustic looking bar. It was the type of the hole in the wall where no one would look to find them. That was the first thing that always appealed to Nick. Most people here didn’t know who he was here or simply didn’t care. The other thing that appealed was the twenty-four hour karaoke bar up on the tiny wooden stage. About twenty tables were on the floor before it, with a bar in the corner on the other side of the room. It had a western style to it, one seemingly out of place in California. It was one of those places you heard about simply from word of mouth. It was cozy, old, and comfortable. At night the place was packed with people and even during the day it was still about half filled with the same regulars Nick used to see nightly.
How many times had Nick come here to sing? To forget everything and do what he loved?
Too many to count.
He grinned at Howie, motioning towards the stage. “Come on.”
“Dude, we sing for a living, why not?”
“Don’t be such a kill-joy!”
“Fine, we’ll do it, but you need to call Brian later. “
Nick stopped, staring at Howie angrily. “No.”
“Nick, you’re being ridiculous.”
Howie watched him, giving him an imitation of Kevin’s infamous “dirty brow”. Nick shrugged as his gaze shifted elsewhere. A young woman took the stage now. Raven black hair, a body of curves in the right places. He smirked appreciatively and somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he’d be planning moves if the circumstances were different. She looked uncomfortable on the stage, a bit shy. He found it endearing.
As the beginning notes began to play, he recognized the song immediately. He bit his lip as he tried to focus on the song rather than the lecture Howie was now giving. Years of practice had given him the skills to tune him out in the ways he’d never been able to do so with Kevin. It was the song that was making it harder than normal.
“Brian was only doing what you asked him to, in your last requests. I know it can’t be easy…”
*Oh life is bigger
It’s bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no I’ve said too much
I set it up
“Nick are you even listening to me?”
That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
He glanced up at the woman, and back at Howie. He felt surrounded suddenly. The room felt as if it were closing in on him. He couldn’t fight it and a panic rose up within him. Had this been planned? Were they trying to all convince him that he was going to be shut away and forgotten before it was time? How did they get her in on it? To sing a song like this…
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try
Rationality would show him that it was simply coincidence. That he was turning everything into something that wasn’t there. However within Nick’s own haunted mind, he couldn’t see things that way anymore. It was becoming more and more difficult. But he couldn’t know that. The disease that was slowly taking over prevented it. The way things were and the way Nick perceived them no longer matched up the way they once had. Nick didn’t know this and never would. He glanced around, standing and looking more like a deer in the headlights, a spooked look in his eyes.
“Nick, what’s wrong.”
“You guys…you guys are planning this. Hide me away…”
“Nick, calm down…”
“No, I’m not calming down. I trusted you!”
People were staring now at the thirty-six year old, wondering what was causing him to act this way. Howie was reaching towards them and Nick instinctively pulled away. How could he trust them? How could he trust anyone anymore? He shook his head and stormed out. As he did he could still hear the young woman singing. Taunting him with the lyrics of the well known song.
But that was just a dream
Just a dream
Nick started walking. He didn’t know where to. He didn’t know where Howie parked the car, and he didn’t know where to even start in finding his way back home. He didn’t care. He started walking. It gave him a feeling of a goal even if there wasn’t one. He was alone now. No one could help him. No one wanted to protect him. Nick knew that everyone just wanted to shove him aside and take what they could. Forget him, the way he would forget them.
“Nick!” Howie yelled, running through the mass of people walking down the sidewalk.
He ignored him.
He continued walking. Why was he doing so? He racked his brain for the answers. Nick hated trying to find answers, it was always so hard. These days it was harder than it had ever been before. Everything felt so muddled and a blur. All he wanted was to sort things out. He looked around for clues, the way he often did those days.
Nick turned and suddenly, he smiled. “D, dude it’s about time you caught up.”
Howie stopped, his mouth hanging open slightly. “Um…right. Sorry, I’m slow.”
“We’ve gotta get to that meeting, remember?”
His brows furrowed and Nick laughed at his confusion. “Did you forget? D, the tour meeting! We gotta start working out what we wanna do. The set list…I wanna keep That’s The Way I Like It, and 10,000 Promises. Aren’t you excited? Calling it the ‘Into the Millennium’ tour is cheesy, but whatever.”
A light was lit up in his expression. If one watched him, they could almost see that teenaged Nick brought back to life within the face of the middle aged man. It was almost like time travel, for any outsider who could’ve witnessed it. The self consciousness Nick had then, the innocence before his family and the media stole it away completely.
Howie swallowed hard, putting his arm around Nick. He didn’t know how he could take much more of this. Dealing with the confusion, the time and space lapses. Yet today had brought something new. Paranoia. Suspicion. It was clear to see from Howie’s expression that this day scared him more than ever.
“Right…I remember. How could I forget?”
“Maybe you were sleeping.”Nick teased happily, and then paused. “What’s wrong Howie?”
“Nothing Nick…nothing at all.” Howie replied, when in truth – everything was.
(Author’s Note – lyrics used are “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M)