Rising to the top and staying there is incredible. The fucked up thing is that what comes up, always comes crashing down. When it did I felt like I lost myself. Because they were the only stability I had. Now, like with my parents, that was gone. All that was left was me. I couldn’t handle it.
Grace sat down on the cushions of the luxury private plane and smiled to herself. “This is pretty cozy.”
Nick chose to stand and look around with a simple shrug. Sometimes it felt surreal, knowing all the things he’d done in his career so far. Incredible achievements spanned the list that people wouldn’t even dream of in their lifetimes. Yet he’d done them. He knew he didn’t appreciate them for what they were. Mainly because what he really wanted, so many had and couldn’t even see how amazing that was. He glanced over at her. “It was but not with the way we used it.” He sighed. “And not with the way things were then. Look…”
Her gaze followed his at the scene before them.
“Damn, this is sweet…” AJ whistled lowly.
“Around the world in a hundred hours.” A now twenty year old Nick grumbled, feeling exhausted as he climbed onboard. “Who’s dumbass idea was this again?”
“Watch it.” Kevin reminded him with a nod at the camera crew coming in behind them. Management, Jive specifically, loved the idea of this trip being aired for the fans. There was going to be a video, it was gonna be turned into a special for MTV Diary. It was a huge media blitzkrieg to help launch their Black and Blue album. The idea was that if it had the upmost attention, sales would be able to top those set by NSYNC’s No Strings Attached which had broke the first week sales record set by Millennium. While it hadn’t outsold the album over all worldwide, not even close, so far, the media didn’t care about that.
Kevin started exploring immediately. “This is the way to travel right here y’all…daaaannng…”
AJ was following Kevin further into the plane and most of the cameras had chosen to follow the two of them. It was a relief mainly because they were getting enough press about the boyband rivalry.
“Let’s see NSYNC top this.” Brian cracked before plugging his nose and wailing. “Guess what, it’s gonna be meeeeeee.”
“A little more nose.” Howie chimed in. “He sings like he always has a cold.”
Suddenly they could hear shouting before Nick could comment. “HOLY SHIT! Rok you gotta come see this toilet man! It’s like a reclinable chair!”
“I’m coming!” Glancing around, Brian snatched a camera and stared down into it. “AJ’s just so excited.” He whirled it back around and followed the sound of AJ’s voice. “Look at this! It just keeps on going! It’s an energizer bunny!”
Now that only Nick and Howie were in the room, Nick stretched out on the couch. “Wake me when we’re finally wherever the hell we’re going first.”
His friend frowned, deciding to sit on the younger one’s legs. “What’s wrong? You’re pretty crabby today.”
“The fact I’m up at asscrack of dawn isn’t enough?” Nick retorted, his voice muffled by the cushion he pulled over his head.
“Nope.” Howie smirked down at him. “Not when we know there’s more to it than that.”
Nick sighed; trying to move but of course couldn’t with the tiny Latin man sitting on him. Well, he could throw him off but that wasn’t worth the effort because he really was tired. Howie asking what’s wrong was such a loaded question though. He was living in Florida again rather than LA, having had more than enough of his family. He bought them a freaking compound basically and then they get upset when he decides they need to make their own money. Suddenly he’s a horrible son. He was never enough. Why wasn’t he ever enough? He’d been working ever since he was thirteen and yet, he felt like a failure despite everything he’s accomplished.
Not to mention once again, he was single. For what felt like the millionth time he’d gotten into an argument with Mandy. Mandy who wanted nothing more than to be known the way he was. He understood that fire, that passion. He didn’t see her as a gold digger or a fame whore the way so many fans seemed to. At least from what he saw on fan sites when he got bored. Kevin hated her. AJ got along with her alright. Howie was indifferent and Brian, well…Brian didn’t care about much of anything now that he was married to Leighanne. Or Yoko, his personal name for her.
If the group ever broke up he knew it’d be because of their Yoko.
Brian had changed ever since he met her. It’d been a slow process sure, but the closer he got, the more distant they became. Suddenly Brian didn’t care about Nick anymore. The person who was once his best friend didn’t have time. Leighanne hated him since day one of course. When he needed advice, the person he always went to wasn’t there. He couldn’t go to Kevin because Kevin’s advice was to dump Mandy and move on. That he deserved better. But Nick, well, Nick knew he didn’t. He was too much of a screw-up.
“Don’t push me away Nicky.”
Knowing Howie wouldn’t leave him alone till the cameras came back or he fessed up, Nick sighed again. “Fine. I’m sick of fighting with my family. They see me as their ATM and then act shocked when I tell them they maxed out their limits. But hey, it’s fine. I’m sure my mom is doing just fine.” He rolled his eyes. “She’s probably leeching off of Aaron some more and filling his head with how I’m her fuckup son who doesn’t give two shits. Or she’s selling the latest argument to the National Enquirer. Upside of this vacation from hell is that I ain’t gonna see it till we’re back in the states.”
His friend frowned, his long straightened hair falling into his face. “Nick, it’s gonna be okay. You have us and…”
“I know. I’m okay.” He didn’t want to hear it though so he forced a smile. Over the years it’d become a refined skill.
“I’m sure. Hey D, when you gonna cut your damn hair?” Nick snickered. “You look like a Jesus impersonator.”
“That’s it!” He cried playfully and immediately grabbed at his neck. Nick squealed. It was his most sensitive spot and he hated how the fellas always exploited it.
Present Day Nick shook his head as he watched the others come back in, acting as if nothing was wrong. Like they were all one happy family and everything was as it seemed. “Funny thing is Grace; they had to edit a lot out. If The Firm hadn’t had our backs then, a lot of our dirty laundry would’ve been thrown out the window.”
“Because it wasn’t like this.” It wasn’t a question.
“No.” He crossed his arms. “Brian and I were barely fucking talking. Kevin was worried but he hated Mandy so I didn’t go to him the way I used to. He was right but hell I didn’t want to admit it to anyone, let alone me. AJ was a train wreck. I can’t remember how he managed to get out of having his alcohol abuse counselor on board but he did. It probably helped him hit rock bottom next year. Howie was the only stable one to me then and,” He shrugged. “I always felt like he was getting sick of it. Fans don’t see it but Howie always saw the stuff no one else did. He saw through me like I was made of glass. It pissed me off.” Nick smirked a little. “We were always fighting and it took a lot of creative edits to keep it out. That’s why they used practically the same footage for the specials, the video, MTV Diary…cause there wasn’t much they could keep without fucking up our image.”
“Why don’t we move on to one of those moments then?” It was a suggestion but Nick also knew he couldn’t say no.
He wished, like he did back then, that the image they portrayed to the world during that album had actually been real.
Grace pulled Nick off into a corner of a pretty posh lobby. “Don’t get too close. Sometimes the distance prevents anyone for sensing an extra presence.”
“You think they could?”
“They haven’t yet but as crazy as this time period was and how out of it AJ is, I’m not risking it.” The jump was a bit of lengthy one. They were well into the Black and Blue tour, sometime during 2001 though watching his younger self he couldn’t put a finger on the date.
“Where the hell is AJ?” Kevin shouted as they waited in the hotel lobby.
The group was getting ready for their soundchecks and everything so that tonight everything would run smooth. It was about noon and Nick could feel his stomach grumbling. Later on he was so getting a pizza. The night they were in Boston and so far this tour had been huge. Amphitheaters had become the norm and oddly enough Nick found himself missing the smaller venues. He felt like they connected with the fans better back then. Obviously no one else outside the group felt that way so what did they know?
Today was one of the few days they’d gotten to crash in a hotel rather than on their busses. That was the other thing this cycle. Everything was separate. No one shared a bus; there was no feeling of family. Each of them were on their own. The others had their family or loved ones with them often during the tour. Nick had no one.
“How am I supposed to know?” Nick muttered, checking his phone. No calls from Mandy. Didn’t she miss him? He missed her. They’d been back together for a couple months now. Plenty of messages left from his mother however. Some apologizing, others yelling at him for being a horrible son. He deleted those.
Brian was on his cell phone, talking to Leighanne. “No baby, of course I miss you.” Pause. “I know but why don’t you meet up with me on tour again? Then…”
Nick hadn’t even realized Kevin had stormed out till he glanced around. “Shit. Where’s Kev?”
Howie glanced over; it was easy to see he wasn’t comfortable with any of this. “He went to go find AJ.”
“Shit. I don’t want to be him right now.”
“I’m fucking fine Kevin! Get off my ass!” AJ was shouting from down the hallway.
Nick walked over with a frown, not really thinking about what he was doing. He wasn’t so convinced AJ had a problem. Now that he was twenty-one he drank and partied too. Sure, unlike AJ he never got drunk before going on stage. Or high. When he did pot it was well after their performances when he wanted to forget things. But even then it wasn’t that bad. He wasn’t his parents. As the two youngest of the group, AJ and Nick understood each other. So, maybe it wasn’t that bad. Kevin did have a tendency to blow things up sometimes.
“The hell I will! You have a fucking responsibility here! Now you can come down on time, and let’s try sober. Maybe then I won’t have to treat you like a five year old!”
“You treat everyone like a five year old! You’re not my father Kevin!”
“I’m the closest thing you got because your father doesn’t give a shit!”
Whoa. Kevin crossed the line. Nick stepped between the two. “Guys, stop for a minute-”
“No Nick! He needs to hear this!” Kevin pushed forward. “I thought you were serious about getting it together! About getting help! Isn’t that what you told me before that little league game? Before you decided to quit for five seconds? Wasn’t that why we hired that counselor to go with us on tour? Instead you ditch her every chance you get like a fucking child!”
That was news to Nick though part of him wasn’t surprised at being out of the loop. Again.
“Fuck this group and fuck you!”
Caught in the middle it was hard to tell what happened. Both men were fighting in a moment of rage. Nick did his best to try and keep them apart. He couldn’t have this happen. His family did this. Fought, threw things, got violent and then the cops were called. The group, the fellas, they were supposed to be his escape from that. They always had been since that fateful day Brian flew down from Kentucky. He had to stop it somehow. AJ grabbed him and threw him aside. Somehow his hand twisted forcefully in the process. The three could hear the crystal clear snap as his hand broke and Nick crumpled to the floor, holding his hand to his chest. “Fuck! What the hell did I do to you!?”
Both men immediately rushed beside him, their anger forgotten. “Nick are you alright?”
“Shit man I’m sorry…”
“To hell with the both of you!”Tears shone in his eyes but they didn’t fall. He learned long ago that crying for a broken family did nothing.
The scene faded away and the two were sounded by relative darkness, a void though it was comforting rather than scary. A light with no true source illuminated the pair so that they could see each other. Grace could see how upsetting it was to face this again and she reached over to squeeze his hand. “I know seeing that wasn’t easy.”
“Why the hell are you showing me that? To remind me how the only other family I knew fell apart?”
“Life isn’t just the ups, it’s the downs too and how you face them.” She said softly.
“I didn’t face them.” Nick admitted. “I ran away from them, and the group.”
“I know. And that’s what we’re off to see next.”