“Nick?” She stared down at him, with the soft doe eyes he once loved more than anything. She held the coffee out to him, with the oddest expression. He really couldn’t blame her. What was she supposed to think, him in nothing but boxers, sitting on the toilet holding the phone and looking panicked? Now, granted, he knew she expected him to be odd. Still, this was a new level of strangeness, even for him.
“Hi Lauren.” He said once again, at a complete loss for words. He felt like at least if he repeated himself, it would still be better than the silence making everything that much more awkward.
Jesus Nick, come up with something new to say.
“What are you doing?”
He sighed, trying to figure out just how to come out and ask how long he’d been at her place. And if he’d told her why he came. Somehow, he had a feeling she wasn’t going to take those questions all that well. Nick took a death breath, standing as he took a sip of the coffee.
“Okay, this is gonna sound weird…”
She raised a brow at him. “I became used to weird from you a long time ago.”
Nick nodded, wearing a sheepish grin. “I know, but this is weird even by my standards. So, um…when did I come over? It’s just…” He couldn’t even finish. How could he explain his actions before even knowing what they were?
“When you came over? Jesus Christ Nick, were you that plastered last night?” She replied, looking hurt as she leaned up against door. A bit of the wife beater she wore rode up, revealing a perfectly tones tummy. He bit his lip, wanting to just take her then and there. It had been awhile, and he knew soon he wouldn’t be able to anymore, making it that much more tempting.
So it was last night and I fucking drank. Idiot! You’re still on the medication you fucking dumbass! He shouted at himself mentally. He really was trying to quit with all the bad habits, he knew it would do no good. But then, it had probably been a bad few nights. Depression was a constant companion now, making that goal far more difficult than it had once before.
She shook her head, walking away. Nick set the coffee aside and walked after her. Despite their breakup, despite their differences, he knew she didn’t deserve to be hurt like this. He wasn’t sure what had happened, but now he was getting the general idea. Why he’d gone to her place he still had no clue, but maybe it was because he knew she’d still welcome him. In spite of everything.
“I can explain everything!” he called out. Brian was right, he was going to have to tell her and pray she didn’t tell the world. It wasn’t like her to do that, but he knew what he was doing to her wasn’t fair, and that if she did tell, he’d deserved it. Lauren came to a sudden stop, turned towards him with her face contorted with rage.
“I should’ve known you hadn’t changed. You’re still doing the same dumb shit. You’re still too terrified of any real commitment. I mean God Nick! You show up at my door, and I thought you were just a little buzzed. You tell me you need someone, that no one else gets you, that you missed me all this time… I mean god damn Nick! When the hell are you gonna grow up?!”
He bit his lip. All of that was true, and all it took was some alcohol and Exelon to really bring it out of him. What could he do now? He couldn’t say he didn’t mean it, that he was too trashed by the combination to control what he was saying. Nick was about to tell her the truth, but now, the truth didn’t seem good enough.
“Don’t you have anything to say? You said you could explain!”
Nick scoffed with a roll of his eyes. “I can, but you wouldn’t believe me anyway.”
I’m such a chicken shit. I’m still trying to bullshit my way out of this. Way to go Nick.
Wishing he was wearing more than just those boxers, Nick strengthened his resolve. He was getting to the point where hiding it wasn’t going to be an option for much longer. Already it was getting him into more trouble, leaving him in situations he couldn’t get out of because he had no idea what had occurred to begin with.
What really sucks is I can’t even remember getting laid. Or if I even did.
“Nick? I’m waiting…”
“Fine, you want to know?”
“Yep, let’s hear what excuse ‘Nothing is ever MY fault’ Carter has for messing with my emotions every which way, today! It better be good, that’s all I’m saying.” She crossed her arms beneath her large bosom. Nick’s eyes traveled there, resting upon them even with Lauren giving him one of the deadliest glares he’d ever encountered.
“I can’t believe she gave you a black eye!” AJ snickered as he drove Nick back to his place.
“Dude, she didn’t believe me at first.” Nick explained, tenderly touching the area around his eye, and checking out his hair out in the rearview mirror. At least he had managed to dye it back to its natural color. Not that he could remember doing it.
When he told her, she actually punched him. And as much as that hurt, surprising as it was, the fact she actually did it shocked him the most. Of all the ways she could’ve reacted, that hadn’t been one of his predictions. Unlike every other girlfriend he’d had, she never once got like that during their relationship. What really got to him, was how Lauren took it even worse once he showed her the medication as proof.
“How’d she take it once she did?”
“She started crying. That’s why I didn’t want her knowing. Fuck man, why the hell did I end up back over there? We’ve been broken up for about two years now.”
“Because you still love her man, and when you got fucked up, you went back to her. She didn’t know, and she was able to comfort your dumb ass.”
Nick glanced over at AJ with surprise. His friend simply laughed. “What? Come on, being around Kevin and Brian so many years rubbed off on me.”
“Great so country bumpkinism is contagious.”
“I’m so telling Kevin you said that.”
“Shit I’ll just say I don’t remember.” Nick joked, only to be met with an awkward silence in response. He sighed. “Sorry, bad joke.”
AJ said nothing.
“I feel like I have to joke or I’m gonna lose my damn sanity, that’s all.”
AJ smirked, adjusting his shades as they waited for the light to change at the intersection. “You were never sane.”
“Look who’s talking.”
“Man, just wait till Brian gets a load of you with that shiner.”
“He’s coming out?”
“Yeah, tomorrow. Farewell album recordings, your charity and solo album stuff. He said he wants to come along with you for your promo, just in case.” He could see the frustration in AJ’s face, even though he didn’t say anything. They must have told him, and of course he lost that as he did everything else from the past week.
“I can handle going on my solo stuff by myself.” There wasn’t much, just promotional stops.
The idea of losing days at a time, or a week in this case, terrified Nick. He could end up anywhere, doing anything, and not have any clue of how it happened. This time was just luck, having gone to his ex-girlfriend’s. Someone who he knew wouldn’t take advantage of him, even when he unintentionally used her. He originally had planned to do all his solo media stops solo. But now? Now he was just happy Brian decided for him.
“There’s something else I gotta do tomorrow too.”
“What’s that?” AJ asked as they drove down the roads. Nick glanced out the windows, still missing the calm country home he felt like he’d never see again in Tennessee.
“I gotta tell Angel. And tonight…I’m gonna call Jenn. All this shit, fuck, I can’t put it off anymore.” He looked away, his expression sad and wistful. His gaze focused on nothing in particular.
AJ’s voice brought him out of his thoughts. “Dude, she doesn’t know? I assumed she knew.”
Nick stared at him. “Are you kidding? Fuck she’s gonna flip…”
“Little girl, but man she’s scary when she’s angry.”
“Tell me about it.”
When Nick had called Jenn to tell her he needed to talk to her about the solo album, he hadn’t expected her to actually show up at his condo. He glanced down at her petite frame. That was the thing about their manager. What she lacked in height she made up for with intimidation. He knew she wasn’t going to like what he had to say, and he wasn’t looking forward to her reaction.
“Okay Nick, you say it’s serious, what’s up?”
“Well, I can’t tour for the solo album. One promo performance and that’s probably all I can handle. I can’t do a tour though.”
“WHAT?!” She shrieked. “What do you mean you can’t do a tour? The only reason I was able to sell Universal on the idea of your charity album was because of the tour profits that’ll come in!”
“I know, but there’s a good reason and-”
“Whatever it is, it’ll have to wait. You have to tour. End of story.”
Nick felt like ripping his hair out as he watched the petite brunette before him. Did she think he just didn’t want to tour for the heck of it? He loved touring, he loved performing. Deciding he wasn’t going to ever really perform the solo album he put his heart and soul in, it almost destroyed him. This wasn’t easy for him. And although she didn’t know why, and therefore didn’t understand how difficult this was, he hated her for not making this any easier. He stepped forward almost shoving the prescription slip he’d had to tote around to her.
“What…” Her eyes scanned the piece of paper, and he could almost determine exactly the moment it hit her. The light in her eyes dimmed, and the look she gave him was a broken one.
“Tell me this is fake.”
He shook his head. “Wish it was. I found out just when we were getting ready for the album launch and all that. You know why I’d mix up new lyrics sometimes? There’s your answer. So…I can’t tour.”
Gently she handed back the slip back to him. “I’ll fill the suits in.”
He came up and hugged her. It felt weird, comforting Jenn. Even though she was so tough on them, she’d become close to the four of them. It was only natural. The anger he had only moments before dissipated. He rested his chin on top of her head, chuckling. “You make a good headrest you know.”
Jenn pulled away, swatting his arm. “Watch it Carter.”
“I’m not ready for it yet, but when I announce it to the media…I want it to be at my first and last solo performance for this album.”
“VMAs maybe? It gives you a couple months; I’m sure when I tell them you’ve got a major announcement…” She said as she grabbed her purse from the coffee table. Nick couldn’t blame her for wanting to leave. Everyone would have to cope differently.
A smile slowly grew. Jenn headed for the door and he nodded. “Yeah, sounds good.”
Nick watched her go before going out to the balcony. He was lying. Nothing about this sounded good. The fact he was planning his goodbye to the industry. The fact he was saying far more goodbyes than he ever wanted to. Tomorrow he’d have to say what was essentially another one. He’d have to plan everything out with the lawyers now. It just felt odd and heartbreaking.
After today, he doubted that five year window the doctors originally gave him. The thought was terrifying. He had been counting on it more than he realized. There were plenty of signs telling him he needed to get it together. Nick couldn’t ignore them any longer.
He was running out of time.