The sky was as blue as could be and no clouds could be seen. And that was the day they put Aaron Carter down into the ground. It was a day they should’ve all been enjoying together as a family. Instead, each of the Carter siblings mourned in their own little world before the service, separate from one another. Birds fluttered around in breeze. The grounds at Forest Lawn Memorial Park were striking, and it was why Nick chose them. And he chose the location in Long Beach, as a tribute to Aaron’s former love of the ocean so close to the one he and Angel still had. If he couldn’t be buried in the water, he wanted him as close to it as he could manage.
Nick stared at the sleek white tomb stoically.
Ever since the night he’d learned of his brother’s overdose, he hadn’t shown any emotion. He let out what he could then, so he could be the ones his siblings could lean on. The funeral was about to begin, and Nick had decided to have it outdoors rather than in a church. Nick had actually wanted a cremation, but both Bob and Jane Carter had stopped that from happening. It was the only thing he’d seen them united on in over a decade.
A minister was going to give a sermon of course, but this wasn’t Nick’s decision either. That one had been his mother, who insisted on having one. It made no sense to him really, since the Carters had never been anything close to religious. Nick was more spiritual than anyone, not that it said much. It had also been because of Brian’s influence over the years.
The day was beautiful, and it felt all wrong. Nick needed it to be raining, for the sky to be showing the same emotions he held inside. Maybe if nature expressed them, he’d feel safe to do the same. However, with no clouds to be seen, Nick held little hope. The day mocked them. It was one of those days that invigorated him, made him happy to be alive. At least before everything in his life had been unraveled by forces beyond his control. A day like this had no business being there at his brother’s funeral.
He could see his father making his way across the lawn. Behind him was his current wife Ginger. His step sister Taelyn could be seen further back. She was a slender, young, sandy haired, teenaged beauty. She was dragging along his half brother Kanden, who kept getting distracted by everything around him. He was eleven now, blonde and blue eyed as can be. It served as a punch in the gut to Nick, gasping at the resemblance he bore to Aaron and even himself at that age. Nick barely knew Kanden and the idea stung that he never would. It wasn’t so much his fault as it had been circumstances. Bob didn’t want the old family he left behind in the mix of the new one, Nick being bitter, gave him what he wanted. It was yet another thing he wished he could do over again.
Regret swelled and Nick shoved it back down. Today wasn’t the day for that.
He walked up to his father. Bob watched him as he did, his eyes rimmed with red. Ginger smiled weakly at Nick before leading her two children to their seats. For Nick it was just as well, he’d make nice with the more awkward parts of his family later. Nick glanced around, still in a bit of awe of the peaceful serenity of the place. There were rolling hills of green as far as he could see. Simple, elegant tombstones stood within the ground row by row. Aaron was to be buried by a large tree at the top of the hill overlooking the grounds. Nick had paid the costly price without a second thought in hopes it would soothe the burning guilt within.
“Hey dad.” Were the only words said aloud.
Bob nodded, running a hand through the remains of his thinning hair. “Nick I…”
Nick shook his head. “I don’t wanna hear it. I’m just glad you actually came this time.”
It felt wrong to be so petty right then, but he couldn’t help himself. It took death to bring Bob Carter back into his life to be a father. There was so much wrong with that and deep down it pissed Nick off to no end. None of it showed however in his facial expressions. What little signs there were came off in the tone of his voice and the words he said. More guilt was added to the mix however when he saw the stricken look upon the face of Bob Carter.
“I’m …well…I wish I’d been there more for you, and for him.” The two men stared at one another. Each wanting to do something, express what they were feeling and neither sure of how to do so.
“Thanks Dad.” He replied instead, realizing what was really weird about the entire situation, was that he actually meant what he said.
The two found themselves within an awkward silence once again. Fortunately, they didn’t need to say anything. Nick saw his mother walking towards them. Another first came that day, he saw her without any make-up on. Her hair was brushed back and she was wearing a plain black dress. Even in this situation he found himself a bit shocked that his mother didn’t care how she looked. Normally she always fussed about it in case of cameras. As cold as it was, he expected her to think of that that day.
He was happy she didn’t.
Jane came up and embraced him immediately. Nick stumbled at the force, taken completely aback at the unexpected rush of emotion coming from his mother. Bob watched silently for a moment before motioning to Nick that he would be taking his seat. Nick simply nodded as he held Jane. She pulled away, staring at her eldest son. A hand came up and stroked his cheek. Nick was in simple awe at the entire series of behavior.
I can’t deal with this right now. He tried to pull free of the situation, to run off and not have to deal with any of it. At that moment, Nick suddenly saw the frightening disease as a blessing.
“Wait…what?” He asked, sure he heard her wrong. This seemed to be a day of surprises as well as mourning.
“I said, that I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry?” He asked again, still unable to fully compute what was being said.
She sighed, looking away. “You never did make anything easy did you…” Jane kept her eyes on the ground, rather than at her son. “I know I’m not the kind of mother that you wanted, or that you needed Nick. I made a lot of bad choices over the years. And…instead of admitting that I blamed you instead. Blaming you for everything was easier than knowing I drove my own children away. I should’ve said this to you years ago but after…after…” She began to break down then, tears streaming down her face at the thought of her youngest. A hand shakily held a handkerchief to her eyes as she fought to continue.
“No, I need to say this. After learning about what you’re dealing with, I came because I cared. But it’s always been so easy to fight with you and instead of saying what I needed to say, I let myself goad you into an argument instead. But then Aaron… I already lost one son and I know I’m going to lose another…and I wanted to say I’m sorry Nick.” Jane finally looked up at him then, her watery eyes meeting his gaze dead on. “I’m sorry I was never much of a mother to you. You’re a better child than I deserved.”
Nick was in shock. Here was his mother, saying everything he’d ever wanted her to. He’d been wishing for this for years, begging God in his thoughts to finally give him his mother back. How many times had he given her whatever she asked in hopes it would bring the mother he missed back to him? And now he had it. Finally. The only tragedy was been the price at which this had been delivered to him.
A price that had been far too high.
His eyes glanced upwards wondering briefly if Aaron was really up there, watching them all from above. He took a deep breath, readying himself for the words he thought he would never hear himself say.
“Mom, it’s okay…I forgive you.”
The funeral service had been one that didn’t fit his brother at all. It was too formal and too stuffy for the likes of Aaron. Nick tuned it out, lost within his own thoughts instead. He sat in the front row of the pew. At the start was his father, then his mother, himself, and his three sisters according to age. The Carters appeared to be a united front as they fought to deal with his grief.
The fellas along with their families had all come as well. Nick had seen them as they took their seats. He was once again incredibly thankful he had such loyal friends who had become far more than that in the twenty three years they had known each other. This was the reality.
Nick wasn’t thinking about any of that then however. Instead he was looking up at the sky, wondering when he would be called up to speak. When Nick looked around, he knew he was at his grandfather’s funeral. It frustrated him that he hadn’t been able to be with him much towards the end. Instead he’d been on the first ever Backstreet Boys’ cruise. Following that had been the work and promotional interviews for his second solo record I’m Taking Off. He tapped his foot impatiently. He hated funerals. He loved his grandfather, but he always felt so out of place at memorials like this. Nick looked around.
He stood, having thought he heard the priest mention his name. Nick readied himself to speak his own eulogy to the crowd. Before he could move to go up to the little podium, Jane tugged at his arm to pull him back down. He pulled it away roughly. “Mom what are you doing?”
“Nick, honey, sit down.”
“Mom, I gotta go up.”
“No, you don’t. Just sit down.” She answered gently.
He rolled his eyes. “Stop it, what you want the attention for yourself?” He hissed not realizing the attention they were attracting.
“I’m not confused, I’m fine. Now if you excuse me…”
The priest had stopped speaking, and everyone was watching. Kevin and Brian had hurried up discretely as they could to Nick’s side. Brian looked at him, his eyes filled with concern. “Nick, come on buddy, let’s go talk.”
“Jesus Brian! Leave me alone, what you’re on her side now?”
“Nick, what year is it?” Kevin asked far more calmly than he felt.
“What the fuck? It’s 2011 dumbass and you need to leave me alone. This is my grandfather’s funeral and you’re causing a scene.”
“It’s not 2011, it’s 2016. You’re just a bit mixed up.”
Brian wrapped his arm around Nick’s shoulders. “Hey, calm down.”
Nick tore away from both of them. Jane stared at her son unsure of what to do. She looked completely pained to watch him in such a state. Nick watched all of them suspiciously. He was confused. He thought he was at his grandfather’s funeral. Yet, something about that felt off. Nick racked his brain for any realization and everything seemed to elude him. It killed him to know it was there but just beyond his grasp. He wasn’t sure why he was here or what was going on. All he wanted was some answers and everyone was attacking him instead.
Leslie stood, and she hugged him. “Nick, it’s okay. You’re just a little mixed up.” She whispered into his ear. “We’re here for Aaron…this is his funeral, remember?”
No, I don’t remember. My God, what’s happening to me?
That was when he finally broke down and cried.