Nick stared at the item he held within his hands as his friends got into the large bright green custom stretch hummer they’d arranged for the evening with him. He couldn’t believe it. Of all days, this had to come out now. He didn’t need this today, not now. All this would do was make everything that much more awkward when they arrived. He didn’t want the questions, didn’t want the harassment until that night when he invited them to. Tabloid magazines taunted him endlessly, reminded him there would be no peace. Not in his life. He continued the stare at them, standing next to the car.
Nick Carter – Caught at the clinic. Back to old habits?
A Dying Man – Nick Carter caught coming out of the doctors, his heart condition coming back to haunt him…was it his own doing?
Nick Carter doesn’t want a solo tour? Or can’t? Is he too trashed to try?
In all of them, he saw himself clearly coming out of the back of the hospital he’d been in days before. It had just been a check up, for the doctors to monitor the progression of the disease. They had upped his medication, as he expected. Ran a few tests, to see where he was at. All stuff that had sadly become a standard within Nick Carter’s life. And now, it was being warped, twisted into something it wasn’t.
At least the last title has it right; it just needs to know the real damn cause.
“I’m sorry bro.” AJ’s voice cut into his thoughts, causing Nick to finally climb into the vehicle and shut the door behind him. He sat, glanced around, and tried to relax.
“I love it. I’m fucked in the head and they think its drugs or my heart.” He shook his head. “What the hell happened to people actually finding out the story?”
Kevin pat his back comfortingly, taking the magazines away from Nick’s grasp. He tossed them on the floor and kicked them out his reach, eyeing him when Nick still began to move for them anyway. He leaned back, shot the oldest member a sheepish grin, and said nothing. It was almost amusing, the way Kevin was still trying to protect them all. Old habits die hard, as his own tattoo said.
“Those pieces of trash think it’s a bigger story if you became like Aaron, that’s all.”
Nick winced at the mention as he shook his head. His hands wrung together nervously. He tried to gather his thoughts and he glanced around in the luxury vehicle. Even though his performance that night was to be solo, as was the announcement, they said they would go with him. They ignored his protests that he could handle it, saying it wasn’t about that. They wanted to arrive as a group to support their youngest brother. Just the five of them. No wives and no kids were to accompany them that night. It was solely the five men who had been together since the beginning, and now would be there till the end.
One last appearance, a final goodbye.
“Nick?” Brian called, his eyes watched him intently.
“It’s okay; I just asked if you heard from him?”
Brian nodded, sharing a quick glance with Howie. “Yeah.”
Nick scoffed, not looking any of them in the eye now. “No, he’s mad at me. Ignoring my calls because I told him he needs to get his shit together. Angel’s been checking in on me though, checking on him, and updating me.” The Carters never deserved her; she’s too good for our bullshit. He added on mentally.
“Does he know?” Howie asked? “About…” he left the rest unsaid. None of them actually spoke of the disease by name. It had been taboo for some time. It was as if they were afraid actually saying it would make it progress faster than it already was.
“He never gave me a chance to tell him. I was going to that night. And-”
“Wait, wait, wait little man…”
“-Not little anymore…” Nick interjected.
“Beyond Angel, does anyone in your family know?”
“Nope.” He stared out the window, ignoring the looks he knew he was earning.
“Does it look like I’m kidding Bri? I didn’t know how to fucking tell them, I first tried to set something up at New Year’s, remember? That was the first plan, and I couldn’t even get far enough to say hi really. And then, I just didn’t want to. It’s not easy to figure out a damn way to tell them when they can’t stand me… unless I’m acting like an ATM. I already warned Angel so she could turn her phone off. So, they’ll find out tonight.”
“Along with the rest of the world.” Howie added on dryly. “That’s not going to go over well.”
Nick shrugged. “Not much with the caring lately.”
AJ smirked. “At least it’ll make things interesting. Your mom’s gonna flip her gourd dude.”
“So nothing new for me then.”
The stretch hummer finally got into the line of vehicles, waiting to arrive at the red carpet. That year the awards were being held at Paramount studios, which he actually liked better than Radio City Music Hall. It hit Nick once again, as they slowly got closer to where the cameras, the glitz, the glamour, and media waited, what all of this meant. They had agreed that tonight and the interviews that followed would be their final appearance as the Backstreet Boys. It would be Nick’s final public appearance all together. It was the end of the façade he had worn since the diagnosis. No more hiding. No more performance. It was the ending, yet it was the beginning. It was the true acceptance.
He knew he was slipping more than he would admit to the others. He had to write where he placed things before he slept, so that he could find them the next day. Sometimes, even that didn’t help. Things were becoming harder, and he was completely reliant on his GPS to get around these days. The past and the present were still overall clear, but like in New York, slips were happening. This was going to be it, and then, he would begin to set everything else in motion.
Nick was terrified of what was to come.
The hummer pulled to a stop, and the five of them glanced at each other. Nick smiled. He couldn’t let fear touch him now. Not when he had the best people in his life around him. They were his protective shield and his hope that maybe he had done something right in his life. If he hadn’t, he knew they wouldn’t have stuck with him so long, and would continue to do so until the end.
“You ready?” Howie asked with a tap on the shoulder.
Nick opened the door, and was greeted by an overwhelming amount of light. The five of them exited the car and began their walk down the red carpet. The cameras continued to go off around them. Nick paused, and waited for the others to get to him. When he did, he ran over between the two cousins, with AJ and Howie on each end. He grinned cheekily, posing for the cameras.
“Nick! Over here!”
“Backstreet Boys! We hear you guys are retiring! Is that true?”
“Nick! Is the reason you won’t tour due to drug problems?”
“Are you going to go to rehab? Will Aaron Carter go with you?!”
“Is Backstreet breaking up?”
“Why were you at the doctor’s?”
They waved them off, till Nick took a microphone from one of the paparazzi. “Everything’s gonna be answered after the show. Hell, during the show. So you guys better be payin’ attention when it happens.”
With a grin, he handed it back, and they continued on, where the more legitimate press were waiting for them. They continued down, stopping and posing for the cameras now and again. They looked to be content, happy, and at yet another height of their careers. The image was everything, because they all knew that was what would be flashed to the world when the news hit later that night.
They got to where MTV’s VJs were waiting, all wanting to interview them as the next ones in line. He felt an arm wrap around his shoulder, and smiled at Brian, who understood what he was thinking of without even saying a word. A young girl was waiting for them, with bouncy curly blonde hair, and bright blue eyes. Nick wondered if she even knew much about them, given her age. Before she could open her mouth to greet them, however, something else captured their attention.
“NICK!” A female voice shrieked, holding up a pass hanging around her neck. It was for some paper Nick had never heard of in Georgia. He didn’t get much time to think about this though because she immediately lunged at him.
They fell to the ground, Nick pinned down beneath her overweight body. Lank, dull, brown hair fell into her face hovering over his. She grinned widely as she sat on him. Nick struggled as the Boys immediately tried to wrestle her off of his body. She flattened herself against him. Her arms wrapped securely around his body, refusing to let go. She fit her face into the crook of his neck.
“SECURITY!” Someone yelled, Nick wasn’t sure who, but it sounded like Howie.
“Nick! It’s about time I found you! You remember me right? You called me sexy…and…and we created eye babies together back in 2010!”
Even if he didn’t have Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Nick knew he’d never remember that. He tried shoving her off, but she held on fast, a human leech. They were being jerked around, and he figured it had to be from the fellas trying to pull her off. Nick glanced up at her and she looked down at him again.
“You gotta let me up…how did you even get in here?!” He asked, trying not to sound frightened, but failing. She reminded him of the more “passionate” fans in Brazil.
“I’m a journalist!” She exclaimed proudly. “And now I’ve found you, and we can be together…and…” Her mouth pressed against his, her tongue snaking into his own. Disgusted by the clearly psychotic and delusional fan’s actions Nick did the only thing he could – he bit her tongue.
She shrieked. The reaction gave her enough pause that the beefy security men who just arrived were able to pull her away. Gentle arms helped pull him back up to a standing position. He didn’t bother to look at who it was, he knew. Nick stared as the nameless fan was torn away, struggling and screaming to get back to him. Her face was bright red, tears streamed down her face.
“But wait! I needed to ask him questions! I’m a journalist!” The middle aged woman fought to break free again. “I wanted to ask him about fan fiction! The world wants to KNOW! We’re meant to be Nick!” And finally, she disappeared from sight. He took a deep breath, trying to settle his own nerves.
This was clearly going to be a night to remember, or in his case…forget.
Nick peered around from backstage. The fellas were sitting out in the audience, and now he could finally quit hiding how nervous he was. He had just escaped makeup; his headset mike was just hooked in, along with his ear piece. Nick just hoped it didn’t glitch on him. He had a history of bad moments where he couldn’t hear himself on the earpiece and therefore couldn’t keep himself in tune. He had a guitar strapped around him, red and black, one he’d had since the “Now or Never” days of his solo performing. As the lights went dark, and the cameras cut to commercial, Nick walked slowly to the large stage set up for his performance. He stood there, breathing, and looking sneakily at the crowd waiting for him. He was the last song of the night, and with good reason.
Just remember, they’re set to tell you lyrics in the earpiece if you look lost. So stay calm. He reminded himself. Jenn had truly thought of everything to help make sure this moment was iconic in its own way.
“And now, back with his third solo record, from the Backstreet Boys…Nick Carter!”
Strobe lights began to flash around him, as he readied himself. The beginning notes began to play from the piano below on the side of the stage. His head shot up. The lights stopped, except for the sole spotlight that settled upon him.
“Lost out on the road with my head spin-spinning, speeding heading for a dead end…”
Pyrotechnics shot up on either side of him as he made his way down the steps. He grinned. “But I turned it around…” He looked to his left. “YOU!” A chorus came from the background singers just out of his line of vision. “I did it for you…” He looked to his right. “YOU!” He stared directly at the crowd before him, jumping down from the steps and onto the stage. He meant every word.
“I did it for you…” On his album the song would continue. However he wanted to be sure the message simply got to them. The music began to change, have a rockier edge because of his love of all styles of music, especially rock. He played the guitar feeling the music as he made his way up to the edge of the stage, the music far more upbeat now. Nick wanted to give them a performance no one would ever forget.
Behind him the stage he was just on split into too, pulling away. A scene of a broken down Hollywood sign took its place. Dancers also came up on the stage, dolled up in jewels and fancy clothing, meant to be a mockery of the world of fame he lived in. Nick was dead center of it all, adrenaline running high, and somehow he knew, everything would be alright as he began to sing.
So you wanna be famous
You’re looking for that rush that comes along
Well come along with me baaaby
And I’ll give you one Hollywood Style
Welcome to lifestyles of the rich and famous
That’s the American dream
Nothing’s as it appears, nothing’s as it seems
You can’t see the darkness within
It’s a world of glitz and glamour
One run by corruption and sin…
The dancers surrounded him with cameras, as if they were paparazzi. Bright lights strobbed heavily around him. He broke free of the circle of the dancers, and ran to the edge of the stage, lost within the music.
It’s alright you’re safe with me baby
Come with me on the ultimate thrill ride
You looking for a thrill
You wanna go on that ride
Well come along with me baby,
I’ll give you one Hollywood Style
He pulled a dancer close, the lead. He let the guitar fall to the side of him as the backing band continued to play. While the other dancers continued to stare and snap pictures as part of the performance, he pulled her close, kissing her deeply. Nick smirked, looking at the crowd.
I’ll give you one Hollywood style
He looked to have shoved her aside, and resumed his guitar once more. He ran to one edge of the stage, grinning at the fans reaching out to touch him as he sang. Nick felt the pride at what he did consume him, keep the energy he needed to finish the performance. He didn’t think about what was about to come after when the song ended.
Hollywood will suck your soul
That’s the price of fame
You give up yourself
And they grant you your dreams
Now the dream gone, nightmare’s forever alive
On this fucked up Hollywood Thrill Ride…
But it’s alright you’re safe with me baby
Come with me on the ultimate thrill riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide!
Nick continued to play, holding the note for as long as he could do so vocally. Passion for the music consumed him, in a way it hadn’t before.
You looking for a thrill
You wanna go on that ride
Well come along with me baby,
I’ll give you one Hollywood Style
Nick didn’t try to see if the crowd was truly into it or not. For once, he didn’t care. This wasn’t about them this time. Despite the fact it was for them, it wasn’t about them. This was about him, who he was, and everything he loved. He loved music, loved performing. Somehow, Nick hoped that would never change. Even when his memories left him. He was at the center of the stage once again, singing his heart out in a way he hadn’t done for years.
You try to escape, to break away free
You want to live, you want to just be
It’s never gonna happen…they own your soul
For every dream granted, you gave them control…
Did you love it?
Was it worth it?
Did you enjoy the thrill…?
It’s alright you’re safe with me baby
Come with me on the ultimate thrill ride…
I’m gonna escape
I’m gonna survive…
So come on you’re safe with me baby…
On this ultimate Hollywood Thrill Ride…
The music faded, and the lights went dark. The spotlight settled on him once again. To him, the performance was perfect. It had been just the way he’d imagined it to be. A lasting legacy to leave behind once he told the world the truth he had been hiding. For a moment all he could hear was his own breathing. Then, the crowd erupted with cheers. So many were standing and cheering. Nick looked around, amazed he could have such a perfect moment still within his life.
“Once again…Nick Carter!” The host said, only to be drowned out once again by the cheers. Nick bowed, grinning, waving. He couldn’t believe how well received it was. His solo career had never reached the highs his career in the group had, and he’d always been okay with that. Now, with the ending of everything so near, he was just incredibly thankful to have people loving the music what he’d put his heart and soul in.
Nick headed backstage, taking off his guitar, getting cleaned up by makeup. He only had a few moments, as they had just gone to commercial. He took a long swig of water. They took his headset equipment off. Too many people were hurrying about him; trying to make sure he was ready to go back out and announce what people thought would be a special announcement. Only it was just the sad truth he was living with. His high was slowly dying, and he plummeted back to reality.
When he was given the signal, Nick jogged back onto the stage, going directly to the podium. The cheers began again, and Nick found himself beaming, despite the situation. He would be remembered, he knew, and he would be loved by so many for what he created during his lifetime. That’s what he wanted to believe, that’s what he told himself repeatedly. As the crowd once again quieted down, Nick swallowed hard. He lifted up the microphone waiting for him.
“Thank you. I know you think I’m about to say the winner for some um, special award, but that’s not it.” He stepped away from the podium, walking out on the stage to keep himself busy. “I have an announcement to make, and…I’d like to thank MTV for this opportunity to do so, here at the VMAs. And I’d like to thank my brothers, AJ, Howie, Kevin, and Brian…for supporting me right now as I try to tell you what…what it is.”
Nick sighed. Now or Never.
“I’ve been diagnosed….” He stopped, his voice catching within his throat. He coughed, to clear it and start again. “I’ve…I’ve been diagnosed with Early…Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease. And this…this will be my final performance.”
The crowd that had been so loud with cheers only minutes before, was now utterly silent.