Howie handed the phone to him. Nick swallowed back the words he was going to say and took it. He looked at his friend and realized he refused to look him in the eye. Howie’s eyes would go anywhere but on Nick himself. It felt like a brick of lead had fallen deep into the pit of his stomach. He knew whatever he was about to hear, it couldn’t – wouldn’t be good.
“Hello?” He croaked into the phone, before clearing his throat a bit. “Hello?”
“Is this Nick Carter?”
His brow furrowed as he walked back out into the living room with Howie and Jane. He could feel nine pairs of eyes staring at him. Nick gave a silent prayer right then, fearing the worst just from the tone of the caller alone. He stared at the ground.
“Yeah, this is him.”
“You were listed on Aaron Carter’s contact list. I’m Dr. Branders at the Ronald Regan UCLA Medical Center. Aaron was brought in just an hour ago. He was found along side of the road suffering the effects of a heroin overdose. He was already comatose when he was discovered. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news…”
“Bad news…where’s my brother? I’ll come see him, I don’t care what condition he’s in.” Nick answered, unable to accept what was being said.
“Mr. Carter, we did our best to revive him, but it just wasn’t possible.”
For a moment, Nick couldn’t process the words. His heart stopped. Memories flashed before his eyes within an instant, none of them bad. He knew there were many he could think of but didn’t. No, this time only the blissful, lighthearted moments passed through his mind. The visual of a happier Aaron, one with floppy blond hair, and gleeful brown eyes – only half his own size, following him around when he was only five and Nick had been fourteen.
He could see himself showing Aaron tips on performing for a large crowd. Their first tour together, when Aaron opened up for the group and Nick couldn’t have been any prouder of his brother if he had tried. The two playing basketball together during one of the rare moments they were both home. The five Carter siblings, on Nick’s disastrous attempt of a reality show came to mind, and the time Nick had to show him how to do his own laundry.
The memories faded, giving Nick a new mental image. One of an older, bitter Aaron after trying to revive his career by going on “Dancing With The Stars” and failing. One who got bored with his own life and money. Aaron when he would show up at Nick’s doorstep begging for help once his own savings were gone and he’d gone into debt. Nick saw himself giving in again and again in an attempt to save his brother. So many times he’d tried to pull Aaron out before it was too late. Nick, better than anyone understood the path he’d been on. Even if he hadn’t gone so far down the road as Aaron had.
I’m sorry Aaron.
A solitary tear zigzagged along his cheek. No others fell. He wouldn’t let them. The doctor on the end was still speaking but Nick didn’t hear him. The phone fell from his hand and shattered carelessly upon the floor. He could feel everyone staring at him as they waited for him to say something. For a minute or two he said nothing. If he said anything he knew it would feel more real.
“Nick…” He wasn’t sure who the voice belonged to, his mind wasn’t processing much right then.
“Aaron.” Bile rose up in his throat. He forcefully swallowed it right back down. “Aaron…he’s…he’s dead.”
Leslie and Angel reacted first. Both of them ran to Nick. An arm wrapped around each of them. Angel’s head buried into his shoulder as her body shook. She broke down in a way Nick had never seen before from her. He understood though, despite everything he had been her twin, her other half, and now he was gone. He glanced down at Leslie who was hugging him tightly. Tears could be seen swimming in her eyes but she, like him, was fighting to hold them in. The three held each other and refused to let go.
“What happened to him?” BJ asked shakily, and for the first time he looked up. She wrapped her arms around herself.
Nick once again, said nothing.
“Nick?” Brian nudged gently with his voice. He jerked, startled. He’d actually forgotten the fellas were there for a bit.
“Heroin overdose.” He didn’t elaborate. Nick knew right then he’d take all the details of his little brother’s demise to his own grave. They didn’t need to know how far Aaron had truly fallen. They didn’t need to know how he’d been found. Nick wanted to give him that much if nothing else. There had been so many chances to try and save him, Nick felt, and he’d missed them all. Now, it was simply too late. Right then Nick felt like nothing but a massive failure.
Aaron, if you can hear me, I’m so sorry.
Tears stung his eyes once again.
Please forgive me.
The moon lit up the sky that night, and it was peaceful as Nick walked along the sands of Huntington Beach, California. The waves crashed against his bare feet and he enjoyed the feeling. He couldn’t sleep and refused to stay in his place a moment longer. The feeling of suffocation had only grown worse till he couldn’t stand it anymore. Leslie didn’t know he’d left. After he’d made the calls to the rest of the family, and everyone had calmed down, they had left hours before. But not without some misgivings. Angel and Kevin had been particularly fierce about staying there with him. He felt guilty about wanting them away, especially Angel. But, BJ was staying with her and he needed the time to himself.
He enjoyed the way the moon looked on the reflections of the waves. He could hear some birds calling out into the night. The beach was solitary, and it was beautiful. Nick sighed as he stopped and just stared out into the water.
“Why…why did you have to do this to yourself?” He yelled, picking up a rock and tossing it furiously into the ocean waters. He watched it skip a bit and then sink into the water.
“Come on Aaron! Answer me you shithead!” Nick screamed even though he knew no one would answer. He picked up another and threw it again.
“Why! You threw everything away! Was this what you wanted! Was it?!” He shouted, and unable to find another large stone, grabbed a handful of sand as hurled it as hard as he could. Nick stood there, breathing heavily. He waited for an answer that he knew would never come.
Nick started walking again. “I gave you another chance, I was trying so damn fucking hard for you…why couldn’t you just listen? I got it.” He sighed. “Mom’s right, I am a fuck up.”
“Now if you’re listening your psycho mother, I’m gonna be really fucking worried about you.”
Nick turned, startled. AJ could be seen in the distance walking along the beach. With the whole “Goth Couture” look Nick had long ago become accustomed to, he looked incredibly out of place. And he was flat out surprised to see that AJ had been able to track him down. He waited for him and once he caught up with him, started walking again.
“How did you find me here?”
“How did I not find you here? Nick plus angry plus upset, minus family, minus friends…equals beach. Aw fuck, Nick and anything equals beach. It just took me a long fucking time to figure out which one you ran to.”
“How long you been looking?”
“Two hours, how long you been out here? I mean fuck, it’s three in the damn morning.”
“No wonder Leslie got worried. You got everyone freaked out with your vanishing act dude.”
He didn’t look at AJ. Instead he kept his eyes on the water, the only other sound being the roars of waves crashing up against the shore. “She was asleep when I left.”
“Yeah then she woke up, saw you gone, and called around to see where you went.”
Nick turned on him. “Worried I’d do something stupid? Worried I’d forget where I was, or what I was doing? Worried that Nick would fuck something else up?!”
AJ stepped back, holding his hands up in surrender. “No.” His voice was gentle. “Worried cause she knows you’re dealing with a lot and cause she loves you. We all do.”
“It’s my fault.” Nick replied.
“No, it’s not.”
“Yeah it is, who else was going to help him Aje? Mom?” A bitter laugh followed. “Dad? I bet he didn’t even know Aaron had a fucking problem. Angel tried…but she didn’t understand. Not the way I did…or you did…”
AJ placed a hand on his shoulder. “You’re right; none of them are going to get it like you and me man. So you should know all that stuff about it being your fault is complete fucking bullshit.”
“I mean it; you and I both know you can’t force anyone to get their shit straight. They need to figure it out on their own. You and I got lucky enough to finally realize we needed to fix ourselves before we fucked it all up. Aaron…wasn’t that lucky.”
Nick swung his eyes back at his friend. He wanted to believe him so badly. It would make everything that much simpler. The guilt would fade and he would be able to mourn the loss of his brother in peace. But it wasn’t that simple. Nothing was. For as many times as he gave in and did his best for Aaron, there were just as many where he didn’t. There were just as many fights and slammed doors. The last time he’d been with Aaron, they had been shouting at each other. He’d never be able to tell Aaron how he was sorry. Or that he was trying to help him the only way he knew how.
Instead, his last words had been for Aaron to grow up.
“He died thinking I hated him.” I’m so sorry, so fucking sorry Aaron.
“More bullshit. He knew you loved him whether he wanted to admit it or not.”
Nick shook his head. Aaron hadn’t talked to him since that day over a month before. He’d tried to get in touch with him, to repair some of the damage their fight had caused. Aaron refused all of it. Any updates he’d gotten had been through Angel instead. Nick sighed, there were so many things he’d take back if he could. He’d trade in all the accomplishments of his career, the fame, and fortune, just to redo it all again and prevent Aaron from ever going down that dark path to addiction. He stared out at the ocean yet again.
“Nick…this isn’t your fault.”
Then why does it feel like it is?