The week after the funeral had been awkward and uncomfortable. Nick hated the way those around him were now constantly reaffirming that his mind was back within the here and now. That day had been the first real time he’d confused the present with the past. A quick doctor’s visit had informed him that his condition may have been aggravated by all the emotional stress he’d been dealing with. Or that his condition may be proceeding at a pace they hadn’t predicted.
There was no way to tell.
He was still living alone in his condo, only now the pressure to hire on an experienced aide was increased tenfold. Nick could see why they were so worried, he really could. They only wanted someone there to be there when they couldn’t be to make sure he was alright. At the same time, he wanted to hold on to the life he loved for as long as possible. That included an independence he knew he’d soon have to sacrifice. Angel had offered to live with him. He’d denied her for now. Admittedly he felt ashamed of the idea that he’d feel like he was being babysat by his baby sister. He also knew that was probably the best solution whether he wanted to acknowledge it or not.
Nick stretched and yawned as he went into the kitchen to start making himself dinner. The rest of the family had gone home to the lives they left behind. BJ had left first, the day after the service in fact. It had been an awkward yet oddly sincere goodbye. He wished things were better between them but he also knew it would take time. It would be slow-going between them, if it even happened at all. His father and his family had left for Florida the day after BJ had, with the promise to keep in touch. Nick loved his father despite everything, yet doubted the promise knowing realistically it would likely be soon broken. Leslie had been the last to leave, only two days before today, tearful and apologetic for doing so. Nick had told her she needed to return back to her husband and son, that he would be okay. She immediately started calling to check on him once she was back in Canada, an action that warmed his heart.
Jane Carter had been something else entirely. She’d surprised him by not returning to Tampa yet. Instead she was talking to him about possibly buying a place in the area. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. It appeared to be a good sign at least. She seemed to finally be turning herself and her priorities around. Most of Aaron’s funeral was a blur, but the one thing that had stuck out had been her apology and the way she’d helped Brian and Kevin take care of him after the service. But when it came to her moving to Los Angeles, Nick knew he’d believe it when he actually saw it.
He poked his head into the fridge, looking to see what he actually had. Nick had never been good about grocery shopping, but he’d gotten worse within the past year. He kept forgetting to get what he needed or kept thinking he had when he actually hadn’t. He looked around for some vegetables, suddenly craving some stir fry.
Dumplings sound really good right now too. He mused as he absentmindedly reached in the door next to the fridge to pull out the cutting board while still rummaging for actual food to cook. He knew better than to think about even attempting to make them. He was lucky he could cook stir fry without any incidents. For years he had been a disaster in the kitchen. Lauren was the one who had him take cooking classes with her, and some of the lessons had stuck.
I wish I was in Japan. The thought would seem random to anyone who didn’t know him. After the States, he loved Japan. Of course Japan was now out of the question it seemed. He wished he’d spent more personal time there at the end of the tour with the group. It used to be that he would often visit between tours and recording just because of how much he enjoyed the culture and the people. Not to mention he was almost flat out addicted to authentic Japanese food, like the dumplings he currently craved.
The phone rang, causing him to jerk up and hit his head at the roof of the refrigerator. “Ow! Dammit! My head doesn’t need any more fucking damage…” He ranted as he hurried to the phone. “This better be good.”
He doubted it though; he figured it was probably Angel or Leslie checking in for the day.
“You sick of hiding out yet?”
“You always know when I’m bored.”
“My Nick senses were a tingling!”
“I’m fixing dinner, well I want to but I ain’t got shit in the fridge. Come on over and we can go grocery shopping.” Nick paused. “Wow I’ve gotten exciting.” He remarked dryly.
“Oh you know I’m up for that once in a lifetime opportunity!”
“Leighanne isn’t trying to cook tonight over there, is she?”
Nick laughed. “I thought so. Hurry on over!”
“Be there in a few.”
Nick hung up, and headed back towards the kitchen. A smile could be seen on his face, showing just the effect his best friend could have on him. Now he just needed to put everything away since he wasn’t cooking just yet after all. A few moments passed as he paused once he was in the entryway. He glanced around, taking in everything around him.
Why did I come in here again? He sighed, trying to think it out. He wasn’t telling the others just how often small things like this were happening now. And that’s how he saw them, as tiny inconveniences not worth mentioning. All it would do is make them worry and possibly hover over him more than they already were. As much as he loved everyone in his life he didn’t think he could take much more worry and concern. It was slowly driving him crazy and reminded him of the reasons why he hadn’t wanted anyone knowing. Of course, it was too late now. The disease was progressing too far to have hidden it even if he wanted to at this point.
A knocking at the door saved him from any further pensive musings.
Nick walked back out to the front door, looking confused to see Brian standing before him. Brian was smiling till he read the look on his face. Nick saw the immediate concern appear. Instead of letting Brian worry, he suddenly grinned as if he had known exactly why Brian was at the door. It was better than letting him think he forgot, he rationalized. All it would do is force Brian to brood on something none of them could change.
“Let’s go, you’re driving right?” he asked, wildly guessing Brian was there to pick him up.
He nodded, relief swept over his features. “Right.”
Nick followed Brian out to his navy blue 2015 Jeep Cherokee. Brian had always favored cars like this. Jeeps, Hummers, SUVs, Nick used to always joke that Brian was compensating for his shorter stature through his cars. Neither said anything as his friend started up the car and the two both buckled up. Nick still wasn’t sure of where they were going. Not that it mattered, he knew Brian wouldn’t do anything crazy or take him anywhere he didn’t want to go.
He just wished he could recall what was said, was all.
As the car made its way out of the parking lot and onto the road, he reached over to turn on the radio. Country music was the first thing to invade his ears. He made a face, his hands twitching before immediately turning the knobs to find another station. He could see the corners of Brian’s mouth twitch with amusement, but neither said anything. He settled on a station when System of a Down could be heard filtering through the speakers.
“So which store did you plan on going to?”
Nick’s tongue ran over his lips thoughtfully. At least now he knew they were going shopping. He just couldn’t pick a store because he didn’t know what exactly they were going to get. He’d gotten better at leading people to give him clues for him to pick up on. It felt deceitful, hiding his problems so that they were lower key. “Doesn’t matter, just pick one.”
“Alright!” He sang, and Nick groaned.
“I love ya bro…but that joke’s dead, buried, reanimated as a damn zombie, shot in the head and rekilled again.”
Brian laughed as he navigated the roads. “You love it, don’t lie.”
“So Nick, Kevin and I have been talking…” Uh oh.
“Maybe we should start looking at…well…” Brian stopped at a red light. His gaze avoided Nick’s and instead focused on the window behind him.
“…Well…” Brian bit his lip and his fingers drummed the steering wheel. He began to drive again once the light changed. “…because of stuff lately…”
“Just say it man.”
“Places…for you to go, you know, when you can’t…”
When I can’t take care of myself. Nick finished mentally. Homes for the mentally fucked up. He wasn’t surprised the subject came up. That was why he’d named Brian as his guardian, why he’d named Kevin as the executor of his estate. If anyone needed to think about it, it would be them. But instead of thinking about that and how it made sense, he found himself upset. He could picture himself years from now staring out a window with a blank look in his eyes. He saw himself unable to eat or go to the bathroom because he couldn’t remember why. He shuddered.
“We don’t need to talk about that right now.” He spat out.
“Look I wasn’t trying to-“
Nick turned in his seat quickly; his eyes met Brian’s dead on. “You know what Brian? No one ever ‘tries to’, everyone’s just sooooo concerned and sooooo worried yet y’all wanna shut me away in a mental home real quick huh?”
“That’s not it at all and you know it. You couldn’t even remember I was coming, you don’t even know for sure where we’re going?”
How the hell does Brian know that?
“That ain’t true, I know.”
“You don’t, but I know you and didn’t want to say anything. I know this is scary and this is…”
“No! That’s just it! You don’t know! You don’t have a fucking clue! All of you, you try to know, you tell me you understand, but unless you’re fucking hiding a disease that rots your brain from the inside, you don’t even have a hint of what the fuck I’m trying to deal with.”
“Nick…come on buddy…don’t be like this.”
“Be like what? Fucked in the head? That’s what I am.”
“That isn’t fair Nick.” Brian bit back shortly, his own patience waning.
“Nothing is fair. Not for me. For you, someone who ain’t had to deal with shit, I guess it is. So once again you don’t have a damn clue.” He ignored the flash of hurt that danced across his best friend’s face within an instant.
“You know what? Drop the pity party.”
“Just take me home.”
“Just take me fucking home!” He screamed, unable to hold back anymore of the rage that boiled within.
A part of him knew Brian didn’t deserve this. He knew Brian was trying to do his best at the role he gave him to play. Logic however, he didn’t want to consider. He was just so angry. So angry at the world, angry at the situation, and angry at himself. The fear he didn’t want to admit to mixed carelessly into the swirl of emotions always bubbling just beneath the surface. He sneaked a glance at Brian. Brian, who drove with a controlled look on his face, biting his lip and held the steering wheel with a death grip.
Neither said a thing more the entire way back.