When Kevin told us he couldn’t do this anymore, I think I was the angriest. It was the biggest betrayal. I lost the only man who tried his best to raise me when my parents failed over and over again. Now, he’d abandoned me too. The one person who’d been there through everything. In that moment it felt like everything he’d ever told me was a lie. And suddenly, I stopped caring about everything and everyone. In a life filled with broken promises, it feels like nothing matters.
So the five of them were eating dinner at this local café. No one had recognized them so things weren’t as bad as they could be. Their album was their lowest selling one yet; no one wanted to hear Backstreet Boys try to play at singing pop/rock. At least that was what all the critics were saying. Normally no one would care because the sales and charts would state otherwise. Except this time that wasn’t the case. MTV refused to really advertise them beyond their first single because “Boybands are done, and so you will be too”. Jive hadn’t let them put the songs they wanted. Towards their release date, three months before, they demanded they change the direction.
Suddenly “organic” and “rnb” became “pop/rock” with a song that sounded so similar to Kelly Clarkson’s new single Kevin had almost punched his fist into a wall after another meeting with the label. Management reminded them they didn’t have much room to go against them. Their contract stated that Jive had the right to release the albums when they saw fit. That could mean now, or it could mean ten years from now. So in the end the five of them were forced to go along with it. Their sole act of rebellion was the fact Nick and Howie snagged the cds with unused demos and purposely leaked as many songs as possible onto the internet using Nick’s fake screen names on the popular fan forum LiveDaily.
At least the music wasn’t completely wasted. Someone would hear them and enjoy them.
“Alright Kev, what’s this about?” Howie asked between bites.
He sighed, looking nervous. Kevin was never nervous and the observation scared Nick. “Guys, I know things have been really rough in the past couple of years.”
“Between me almost fucking us up completely…”
“AJ, I’m proud of you. I don’t mean that.”
“We all are.” Brian added.
“And my solo album.” He muttered, knowing it was better he said it first.
“Hey, I was just as proud of you by standing by your music Nick.”
The silence that had become typical anytime someone mentioned Now or Never followed. It was a taboo subject these days. He suspected that was mainly because of AJ and Brian. No one wanted to cause another argument despite the fact Brian himself was going to be doing some dates for his Christian record that would be out early next year. Nick thought about calling him out on his hypocrisy but it wasn’t worth it. He was too afraid it would ruin what little hopes he had about getting their friendship back to the way it was. He missed Frick and Frack but also felt like they’d died long ago.
Brian frowned a little, his brow furrowing as he took a long sip from his cocktail. Finally the time had come where AJ felt comfortable enough to allow the guys to drink around him. Most times they avoided doing so but that night it was pretty clear to see something was up. So all of them with the exception of the recovering alcoholic had opted for some. “Then tell us.”
The words that followed shocked them all.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
“Can’t do what anymore?” Nick blurted out. If it’d been anything else they were discussing everyone would’ve started laughing. But it wasn’t.
“This.” His gaze met theirs. “I can’t keep going in the group anymore. We all know I haven’t been happy. It’s been affecting the group, our performances. Even the fans are starting to notice.”
“You’re not saying what I think you’re saying.”
“C’mon don’t get angry…”
“How the fuck did you think I’d react?” AJ retorted, all thoughts of food forgotten.
A glance around told Howie others had noticed the rapidly elevating voices and he motioned for both of them to calm down. “Okay let’s talk this out. Maybe another break after this album-”
“Another break?” Nick laughed but it was far from a happy sound. “We barely survived the last one.”
“I don’t know if another break will fix this.” Kevin explained. It was more complicated than that but a lot of it was tied up in their problems with Jive. As long as they stayed with the label he knew he’d be miserable. He had so many ideas, so many visions, of where the group could go – they all did really. None of them would ever be realized however unless something changed. Jive saw them as a figment of the nineties that didn’t belong anymore. That logic led them to nothing but dead ends and controlling CEOs who wanted them off their label and into oblivion. Especially now that Justin Timberlake was the new thing, and Nick Carter had failed to launch. It was frustrating and infuriating, and even thinking about it Kevin could feel his jaw clenching.
“But it might, right?” Nick asked, breaking him free from his thoughts. His voice, it was subtle but Kevin could hear the earnest tones. The almost silent pleas for him to stay. He hated to do this to him. Even at twenty-six, he knew Nick needed some guidance. He’d tried by giving him a book for his twenty-fourth birthday but both of them knew he hadn’t read it yet. Kevin was watching him self-destruct but there wasn’t anything he could do. AJ he could scare into rehab. Nick would only fall further into waste if he tried that. And there was his own life he needed to think about, selfish as it sounded. Part of him needed to put himself first instead of the four men he knew to be his second family.
Present Day Nick was with Grace at a nearby table, glancing back at the angel inquisitively. “I can hear his train of thought.”
She nodded, taking a bite of the food at the table. It was only when she was working that she could enjoy meals like this. “I figured you needed that in this case. What you’ll see next will explain more but I want you to really see that Kevin wasn’t making this decision lightly.”
He said nothing, and she hoped maybe he was letting it sink in as the events unfolded before them.
“I don’t think it will. But I don’t want this to stop you guys. You can keep recording without me and…”
The younger Nick rolled his eyes and stood up, unable to hear anymore. “Fuck this. We will keep going. And the group will be ten times better without your anal ass screwing everything up. I hope you enjoy being normal.” He threw down his napkin and stormed out. “We don’t need you anyway.” He could be heard muttering on his way out. “We’re better off without you.”
“Nick, wait! We can talk about this.”
“Nick!” Kevin stood, torn as to whether to follow or not. “Don’t do this!”
Nick flipped him off but said nothing else. The four watched him leave but none moved to chase him down.
Howie frowned before turning to Kevin as he sat back down. “I’ll talk to him later, maybe help him see things better. You know he doesn’t mean what he said.”
AJ on the other hand was upset, angry even, but had grown quieter than any of them expected. “You’re really doing this aren’t you?”
“I want you guys to understand. I’m not happy. I’m miserable and everyone knows it. I don’t want to keep bringing you down.” Kevin sighed deeply. He was really worried about Nick. His own hurt feelings didn’t matter. “And maybe one day, if you guys wanted, I could come back if I felt it was right.”
Brian frowned. “So an open ended break.”
“If you felt it was alright.”
Howie glanced between the three of them. “I think that’s fair. We always promised no one would be kicked out or anything. We stuck it out for Nick, and for you AJ…” He looked at Brian. “And we’d do it for you if you’d wanted to focus only on your solo stuff instead of doing both. It’s only right we do it for you man.”
“And it doesn’t mean I won’t be around. Y’all are still my brothers.” He looked at AJ as he said this; wanting the other member who was almost destroyed by fame to really understand this. If Nick couldn’t, he needed AJ to. “That’s why if you guys want to keep going as a group you should. You have my blessing.” He was sincere. He hated even making this choice but there was no other as far he knew.
Dinner was awkward and silent for the rest of the meal. Nick glanced towards Grace with the expectation of being whisked off somewhere else which was now the usual. He wondered how much time had passed for his body. He was still alive. How long would he be? Did he want to stay that way? He didn’t have answers for any of it. Not even the last question. If he wasn’t half dead the thought would’ve likely been a sobering one. As everyone dispersed about after thirty minutes of idle chatter with AJ, Brian and Howie all avoiding the real issue, Grace stood up. He did as well, glancing at her curiously.
“What did watching that show me? Except that I didn’t miss shit.”
She rolled her eyes and started walking. “We were waiting, not watching.”
The pair followed Kevin out and slipped into the back of his Honda Hybrid, because he was forever the environmentalist of course. “We waited so we could stalk Kevin?”
She nodded towards the front where seemed to be contemplative as he drove. “Because nothing is ever simple. It’s not black or white and there’s more to why he left than you think. As I tried to tell you earlier.”
When they arrived at Kevin’s they followed him inside where he made a beeline for Kristin. She was waiting knowingly in the doorway. Nick frowned at her appearance. Kristin was always cheerful and understanding. This one was tired, worn out, and possibly even depressed. He moved to give her a hug before remembering he was essentially a ghost. He didn’t belong in this time and couldn’t touch anything or do anything. Not without some serious concentration anyway, according to Grace. This had already happened.
“Did you talk to them?”
Kevin nodded with a sigh. “I did. I told them I couldn’t be in the group anymore. I didn’t tell them why just that…I had to take a break.”
She frowned before taking her hands in his, bringing them up to her cheek. “You didn’t have to do that. You could’ve explained. They’re family and they would’ve understood.”
He pulled away. “No. I couldn’t put this on them. Nick’s still trying to figure everything out. AJ’s still working on being sober. Brian has his solo tour. And Howie, is Howie. He would’ve eventually pushed me to telling the rest. I couldn’t do this to them.” Kevin started pacing. “Tell them that day trip we took during the tour was really a trip to the doctor. That my insisting you come along on my bus made you…made you…”
“Kevin, I’ve told you this before. It’s not your fault I lost the baby. It’s no ones. The doctor even said sometimes there is no reason. If you really need this break from the group take it. But I don’t want you doing it because you feel you have to for me.” She smiled softly. “I’d never ask that.”
“It’s done anyway.” Kevin replied, running a hand through his dark hair. He didn’t respond to her other comments. “Maybe I’ll come back someday, if they let me. Howie seemed okay with that idea. But for right now I need to stop. I get so sick of Jive keep us from really being creative, the industry telling us we’re done when we’re not. I’m…”
Kristin stepped up behind and rubbed his shoulders. “Then do what’s right for you. But maybe one day tell them the truth. I think it’d be good for you.”
Nick walked outside before he could watch anymore. His mind was blown. How had Kevin kept that big a secret from them? From the media even? It explained a lot, he realized. There was an about-face in the middle of the Never Gone tour. He’d been frustrated when Jive shot them down. He’d been angry when MTV along with radio stations would tell them after interviews that boybands were over so they wouldn’t play their music. But there had been this moment in that year where the man seemed to just snap. That he’d stopped caring.
“I bet that’s when he decided to leave, when she miscarried.”
Grace nodded, appearing suddenly behind him. “It was. He felt like the industry was destroying him the way it was you and AJ, only in a different way. So he took a break before it could.”
“Didn’t he realize what-”
“It’d do to you? Of course.” She glanced back at the house. “He tried to reach out to you but you’ve been angry all this time. He’s still trying. You ignored his calls for dinner earlier tonight.”
“Yeah well…” He hadn’t known. He was angry, so angry still. It was the reason that changed. Maybe if Kevin had told him things would be different. Why couldn’t he trust him? Didn’t he always tell Nick they were brothers? Didn’t he try to be the father Bob Carter never seemed to be? But part of him felt sorry. Kevin sacrificed more for the group than any of them ever realized.
It destroyed him just as much as it destroyed me when he left, didn’t it?
“Come on.” She yawned. “We have one more stop.”
“Tired? Didn’t know angels could get tired.” He smirked.
“They can if their charges are exhausting.” Grace retorted playfully. “Let’s get going.”