Nick sat down in his therapist’s office, his eyes focusing once again on the shelf of random items. That’s where his gaze was always drawn, he couldn’t help it. He glanced down at his hand again, where he’d written down his therapist’s name. As time went on, little things were slipping easily from the grasp of his fading memory. Kevin had been the one to suggest he stopped by. With everything that had happened in the past few months, session appointments had been forgotten, amongst other things, and he’d felt Nick needed to talk it out with a professional.
Nick did it just because you didn’t not listen to Kevin, but he was already regretting being there.
These days I wish I was just psychotic. It’d be better than what’s really going on.
When Dr. Julewis entered the room with a friendly smile, Nick glanced down yet again. He knew he shouldn’t be trying so hard to pretend that he wasn’t losing as much as he was. He should accept it, embrace it, and go from there. Yet, something stopped him from doing so. A banner of pride flew boldly from him, and he refused to let it go.
It seemed it was one of the only things he had left.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve talked. A lot’s happened. I’m sorry to hear about your brother.”
He nodded. He didn’t want to talk about Aaron. Aaron who was forever to be marked as the biggest failure of his life. His biggest regret, until he would remember nothing. Only then, would he be at peace with the fate of his little brother. He sighed, saying nothing. It was easier when he thought Aaron was still alive and just ignoring him. The worst was when he remembered. The worst was when he brought back to the reality that he would love to abandon.
“I’m fine, until I forget he’s gone. Someone has to tell me again and…” He couldn’t finish his sentence. He couldn’t even look into the kind doe like eyes of his therapist. Instead, they stared above her, at the Hitler Skunk figure on the shelf that he always wanted to take with him. If he focused on something else, there would be fewer questions. He felt himself fidgeting in the leather chair he was sitting in. Suddenly, he couldn’t get comfortable no matter which way he shifted.
“Nick?” Her voice brought him back to the moment, forcing him to realize she’d been trying to talk to him and he’d simply tuned her out.
“I can only imagine how hard it is for you. It’s like he’s dying again, isn’t it?”
He nodded. “The other day, when I finally moved out of my condo, I asked Brian advice about Aaron. He didn’t want to tell me. I was like…hella confused at first cause AJ went to tell me and Brian tried to stop him.” Nick bit his lip before continuing. His mind flashed back to the argument that had started right there in front of him.
“He doesn’t need to know.”
“Of course he does! Or he’ll think Aaron hates him and will never want to see him. Is that any better? Fuck Brian, we can’t just hide shit from him.”
“You guys…” Howie said, motioning subtly to Nick, who had paused while carrying a box out to the moving truck.
He hadn’t told them that the argument alone had forced the memory of Aaron’s death back to them. Or how it made him feel to watch them fight because of him and his disease. Instead he just smiled, like nothing was wrong. What hurt the most was that they had believed it, unable to see the falseness behind it.
“Right…” he said, rather than elaborating. “I, I have my bad days where it’s harder to remember recent shit. I’m trying my best and I feel like I’m letting the guys down.”
“What makes you think you’re letting them down?”
“Because I am. They don’t get why I’m alone so much.”
“It’s because they love you, they feel you should be around people…”
“Should I? I ain’t happy with people.” He laughed at himself, but it was hollow and bitter. “It’s funny. I used to hate being alone. I was almost as bad as fucking AJ, always needing people around me. Now I just wanna tell everyone who checks in on me to fuck off.” A pause. “Even the fellas.”
“That’s normal, Nick. These are normal feelings that you’re going through in trying to cope. What you’re dealing with isn’t easy, and actually you’re doing better than most in your position.”
“How many people are in my position? I have been given a lot of shit in my life. I realized that when we went out on a boat recently. I’m hella lucky for everything and I want more. I feel cheated, and there’s people who would kill for just getting what I’ve gotten.” Nick sighed, running a hand tiredly through his hair. “I’m greedy.”
“You’re not, you just want out of the situation. Who wouldn’t?”
“And then the guys are there so much…like Thanksgiving is tomorrow. And there’s gonna be this whole big dinner, and I ain’t wanting a damn thing to do with it. I’d rather just get away.” He glanced out the window, on the beautiful, sunny fall day that mocked him. “Brian took me into his place and I’m nothing but a burden.”
“Nick…” She took his hands in hers, trying to warm him with her gentle smile. “You’re not a burden. What’s happening isn’t your fault.”
His eyes met hers. They were startlingly blue, tragically beautiful from the pain that defined them. Pain that defined his life now. Nick pulled his hands away. He rose from the chair furiously, pushing it aside. He turned his face back towards her, his boyish face twisted with anger.
“Not a burden!? Really? How many thirty-six-year-olds do you know have to move in with their best friend and his family cause they ain’t able to live alone?”
Brian’s parents had come to help prepare dinner. Jackie was in the kitchen with Leighanne and Kristin. The inviting aromas of dinner Nick had come to associate with her cooking were teasing him tantalizingly. Harold Senior was out in the backyard with Baylee and Mason. Howie, Leigh, and James hadn’t arrived yet, and Kevin was playing with the McLean twins, adorable in their identical black dresses with ruffles. Nick had been pretty good about dodging people, able to just slip into the background, a recently acquired skill.
The Carter side of his family wasn’t there that day. But this time, the fact didn’t pain him as it had in the past with the exception of Aaron. Leslie called daily from her home in Canada, and Angel always stopped by to see him on a weekly basis. She’d gone to Florida for Thanksgiving, as had Jane, to be with BJ and her family. He’d understood, they needed to support each other.
“Nick!” He almost groaned at hearing the voice of Jackie Littrell. He hadn’t spoken to her since Brian had broken the news to her just before the VMAs. He’d known where it would go and it was hard enough as it was.
I can’t do this.
Pretending he hadn’t heard her, he made his way around the house and out the front door. He wasn’t looking where he was going, and slammed right into Howie. Both fell to the ground, James snickering the entire time. Leigh held out a hand to each of them and helped them up.
“Hey, why don’t you go inside and find Mason and Baylee?” She suggested. James, grinning did as he was told and raced off to the house.
Howie brushed himself off. “You trying to kill me man?”
“Sorry, just spacing.”
“It’s alright, just wondering where you’re trying to go.”
Nick shrugged. “Needed some air.”
Leigh smiled. Nick always liked her, ever since she started working for them. During the Black and Blue tour, they had caused some chaos in her hotel room. Including Howie tossing an ironing board out the window while drunk. Why he’d done that, Nick was never sure. But they’d all been wasted by that point so there probably wasn’t a reason. When they called pretending to be the hotel staff and she ratted them out for the state of the hotel room, he’d known then she was perfect for Howie. She dealt with their antics patiently, unnoticed from the sidelines, but Nick always loved that about her. She left the group to them, unlike Leighanne over the years, and just helped when she was needed.
“So how are you Nick?” She hugged him tightly, his arms wrapped around her in return.
“Okay, I haven’t driven Leighanne insane yet, so that’s a plus.”
Jackie could be seen stepping through the door, watching them at the curb. Howie gave Leigh a look and an unspoken agreement passed between them. She pulled away as Brian’s mother started heading their way and nodded at Nick.
“We’ll see you inside.”
Nick stood there, watching them go to the house with a sigh. He felt like such an asshole. But it was like he was visiting his own funeral with each person he encountered with the news. Sympathy, regret, pity – it was driving him insane. It was why he’d fought so hard to hide it to begin with. How much more could he really take before he lost it?
He wasn’t sure but he knew it couldn’t be much.
She reached him, and patted his cheek lovingly. What hurt was that it was more gentle a touch than his mother had given in years. Even after she attempted to fix things. He sighed, hugging her tightly. The guilt that swept him was overwhelming. It wasn’t right to try and hide from those who loved him just because of the fact they cared. This wasn’t easy for anyone.
“I’m sorry.” He muttered, unable to say it any louder.
“For what Nick? I just wanted to be sure you knew we’re here for you. You’ve been part of the family for a long time, don’t you ever forget that.”
He pulled away with a nod.
“Now, if you hadn’t been trying so hard to avoid me…” She lectured, the southern twang strengthening in her voice similar to the way it would in Brian’s. “I would’ve been able to tell you dinner’s almost ready.”
Nick followed her inside the house. Each footstep felt heavier than the last. This shouldn’t be so hard, he knew. It was just dinner with his family. Family where it counted most. He’d just been talking about this with his therapist. Being around people meant expectations. It meant he had to hold it together as much as he could or they would fall apart. The stress of it was hard to handle.
As everyone headed into the dining room for dinner. Nick did something different. His thoughts had suddenly changed from the events of that Thanksgiving. Why was he there? Where was he? Nick knew one thing – he wasn’t supposed to be there. Knowing that, he strolled out of the house. He wasn’t sure where he was going but he didn’t care much. A smile flitted on his face, looking odd sitting there. He simply continued to walk along the road without a care in the world.
He didn’t know that once everyone was settled and everyone was ready to eat, they noticed his absence. Nick didn’t know, or even think of the worry that settled within those who loved him. As he walked away from them all on a trip to seemingly nowhere, they started trying to find him in a furious wave of panic. He sung to himself as he walked instead. There were no real worries on his mind. Why would there be?
Nick felt, knew was only seventeen, living in what he knew to be “no fan land”.