Perception, it’s everything. Everyone thinks they know who others are, and they probably don’t even know their own selves. What about me? Just who am I? Am I Nick Carter – Backstreet Boy? What about that kid in Tampa who got bullied and beat up because I loved to perform? Am I the kid who at ten years old was told he was responsible for the entire family? Am I a good person? I could be the fuckup, that loser who fell from the top and “beat Paris Hilton” to a lot of people. But that’s the thing here. It’s never going to be about who other people think I am. What matters is that I know who I am. And…I think I’m finally starting to figure out just who Nick Carter really is.
The house they came upon was a simple one. It was a light blue in color and the home resembled almost a cottage – middle class and average in a seemingly good, though older, neighborhood. It was a sight that surprised him, truthfully. After everything he’d seen so far Nick honestly expected to come up to a crack house or something. The fact everything was so normal threw him completely off base. Maybe it was due to the fact his friends lives were damaged in one way or another, he expected his to be the same, even in another reality of sorts.
Grace grabbed his arm before he could walk up the sidewalk. “Wait.”
He turned, glancing back in her direction. “What?” Nick smirked sardonically. “Let me guess, wrong house? Fucking figures.”
“No, but you’re going to be here in the body of your alternate self. You’ll be aware of it and remember who you are, but he, the other Nick, will be in control. You’re essentially getting a moment, a snapshot of what his life is like.”
He stared at the angelic being. “Why now?”
“The others weren’t you. He is. He’s the you that never had a chance to exist. So it’s best you really feel it for yourself. That you know what you might be getting in every way.”
Grace grinned at him. “Personally? I tend to prefer surreal.”
“You enjoy this too much sometimes.”
“Not as much as you think.” Her voice grew soft.
“I still want to know your deal.” Nick told her before looking back at the cozy home.
“Stop stalling, Nick. You don’t need to know. This isn’t my story. It never was. It’s yours.”
He sighed and ran a hand through his messy blonde hair. “…Okay.”
The two started walking. For Nick, each step forward began to feel heavier. He wouldn’t say that out loud but part of suspected his guardian already knew. “You sure I’m gonna be aware of what’s really happening? This shit is the freakiest so far.”
She nodded. “I’ll be with you the whole time you know. Another voice in your head but one the alternate Nick won’t be able to hear. When you walk through that door you’ll open your eyes in his life. But try not to panic.”
He snorted. “Easier said than done.”
Nick’s hand rested on the doorknob and he nodded. “It’s the weirdest thing about this, but yeah, I do trust you.”
The door slowly opened and the next thing he knew was a pure, white, blinding light consuming him.
I wonder if this will be what it’s like when…if, I die.
The first thing Nick noticed, trivial as it was, was that this Nick’s personal tastes were the same as his own. In a way that helped set him more at ease with this entire situation. Part of him didn’t want to know how this life was. That was the reason he’d been stalling, why he’d been hesitating. If he just walked away, ignored it, then he could just move on. Move on to what though? To death? His fucked up life? To the unknown life? He didn’t know. The frightening thing about this was knowing. Because what if he wanted it? What if he realized he was willing to sacrifice everything, including the fellas to have this? By dooming them to the lives he’d seen, that was the price he’d pay for this. Knowing that, made him wondering. What kind of person could that make him…if that ended up being the case?
Someone not worthy of this life if it was in all actuality a good one. His head hurt just thinking about it.
“Nick?” Her voice called, a voice he hadn’t expected to hear. Mainly because despite his attempts, House of Carters made his relationship with Bobby Jean Carter worse than it already was. For years she hadn’t been a fan of his and the show so far had only gone to deepen those feelings. The biggest crime in her eyes was the fact he’d never been able to forgive their mother for everything she’d done. He knew their mom would never deserve it.
“Beej?” He glanced around, walking further into the house.
I feel like I’m possessed by an alien or some shit. He thought. I’m here but I can’t do anything of my own will. I wonder if that’s where people get the idea from. Did they stowaway in a body with an angel’s help too?
“I’m in the kitchen!”
Before he went to her, he paused at a photograph that caught his eye along a shelf. There he was, on the set of the Mickey Mouse Club. The choice, the path he never took. He was surrounded by a small group of musketeers. Many he recognized from years of the business in his own life, and from the knowledge this version of himself had – Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Tony Lucca, and JC Chasez who went by Josh back then. He smirked inwardly at Ryan Gosling, the almost Backstreet Boy. But, there was someone missing.
Holy shit. He thought with slight surprise. That asshat Justin Timberlake never got in! It was a connection he made from the fact his other self didn’t even know to look for him in the photo. Did I take his spot? If he had control of this body, he knew he’d have the biggest shit-eating grin possible. That’s a bonus.
“Sorry! I got distracted.”
Though it wasn’t his life, seeing her brought back everything his alternate self knew about this version of his sister. Sadly, she was one of his best friends. That’s why every time she lost her job or got kicked out of her apartment, he let her crash in his extra bedroom. Besides Angel, it was the only member of his family he was close to. He leaned up against the archway into the kitchen and watched her eating all his food for what felt like the millionth time. “How’d the job hunt go?”
She shrugged. “I overslept and missed my interview.” BJ shot him an apologetic smile before grabbing herself a beer.
“I thought you were cutting back.” I wonder why this me didn’t chew her ass out for being lazy? Or being an alcoholic?
“God Nick, you sound like Dad.”
The comments hit him hard. He sighed and shook his head. “I’m not trying to be like that asshole. I worry about you. About your life and where’s it going.”
She smiled back at him. “I shouldn’t have said that. But Nick, I’m trying, and you’re helping me. Not like Aaron will ever help me. He has millions of dollars and doesn’t even bother to help his family. I would, if I had a million dollars.”
Nick wished he could roll his eyes but was reminded that he was just “visiting” this body. “You could get a job like me.” He moved and grabbed a soda.
“I’m not you Nick.”
“I never said you were. Look when I got older and had every casting director telling me ‘you were nothing but cute child actor and now you’re not even cute anymore’…” He started fixing himself a sandwich mainly for something to do. “I went back to high school, got my fricking diploma. I hated school but I went to college, remember? It was a bitch but…”
“And now you’re an art teacher.” She rolled her eyes as she took another long swig of her beer. “La-de-dah Nickolas!”
He frowned at her. “And sometimes I still get my paintings into the art shows. Sometimes I sell my work. All I know is that I’m actually happy. Are you happy?”
“Not when you’re harping at me!” The beer bottle was tossed roughly into the nearby trashcan before BJ started storming towards the front door. “I thought you were my brother!”
“That’s why I’m trying to help you! That’s why you know you always have a place to go to! Because I’m your brother.” Nick quickly followed her. “Where are you going?”
“To see Leslie! At least I know she won’t give me hell!”
In this life, Nick realized his alternate self didn’t get angry as easily as he did. The fact BJ was able to press the hot buttons so easily felt rather impressive. “Leslie’s gone!”
“The dead can’t fix your problems BJ!”
“It’s better than hearing you go on and on!” The door slammed and Nick sighed, heading back into the kitchen to eat the forgotten sandwich so it wouldn’t go to waste.
Unbeknownst to that Nick, inside his mind a whirlwind of confusion was brewing.
Leslie’s dead?! How?! Why?!
Grace’s soft, serene voice answered almost immediately. “Because your spotlight started fading rather quickly around the time you hit fifteen, your mother started putting even more pressure on your siblings. More than she did in your life because in your life you were making enough money to keep you secure. Leslie tried but it never went anywhere. The guilt of failure and pressures from everyone else drove her into the same alcohol and drug problems that haunt you. She died five years ago of a drug overdose.”
Oh my god. He didn’t hear the warnings in her voice. Years later, he’d wish he had. What about the others? What happens to them?
“I thought you told me you didn’t care?” There was no derision in her tone, no mocking. It was a simple question.
I do. What happens to them here?!
“You already know about Aaron. Because of your parents, BJ decided not to bother doing anything with herself. Not too different than the one you know. Maybe even more lost cause here you’re so afraid of losing her you can’t come down too hard. Later on you’ll back down and apologize for chasing her off even though it’s the best thing for her.”
“She still models and there’s this inner strength that is so rare to find in the Carter line. That strength to rise up beyond everything that destroys so many members of the family. She uses her modeling money to pay her way through college. You inspired her to be more than a pretty face. It drives her crazy to see you let BJ use you the way she does, but you two are still close. She’s estranged from Aaron in this timeline however, you all are. Same way you are with your parents.”
So my family is still fucked up.
“Fame didn’t destroy your family Nick. You can’t keep blaming yourself for your parents’ mistakes.”
The other Nick finished his sandwich then and picked up his phone as he walked out into the living room. He stared at another photo and dialed a number he knew by heart. In this frame was one of the Carter family as a whole. His parents, his siblings, and himself. They were at the beach and almost looked normal, smiling and laughing like nothing was ever wrong with them. But as the inner Nick noticed, he was only twelve years old in the photo.
He listened to the phone till it got to a voicemail. “Beej, listen, I’m sorry. Please come back. Don’t do anything stupid okay? I only want you to…”
As this Nick rambled into the phone, the visiting one sighed inwardly. Damn I caved quick. I can’t believe that’s the last picture where we all look happy.
“Your mother hated that the Mickey Mouse Club got cancelled about two years into it.” Grace replied, a silhouette of her form appearing within Nick’s vision that he knew the one who belonged to this life couldn’t see. She shimmered and sparkled within the light filtering through the nearby window. “You went to more auditions but all you got were bit parts. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. You weren’t meant to be an actor, so you moved on. You enjoyed going back to high school and diving into one of your other loves – art.”
I became a fucking teacher. He almost wanted to laugh.
“Inspired by those who believed in you and gave you the sanctuary, the escape, that your parents wouldn’t.” She held out her hand. “Come on, it’s time to go.”
He stepped out of the body almost effortlessly to take her hand in his. “This life, it isn’t perfect.” Nick turned to see his other self going towards an easel he had set up in the living room. Like music had always been his escape, in this life it seemed painting filled that void.
She shook her head. “Nothing is.”
The scene around them began to fade. “But I’m happy here.”
“Yeah, you are.”
Within moments the pair was back in Nick’s apartment. Nick was once again nothing but a specter. His body lay there on the floor, still breathing, his heart still beating presumably. For the first time since this never-ending night began he really noticed just how much of a mess he was. He almost didn’t recognize himself there. Is that really what he’d let himself become? Grace knelt by his body and touched it. A small light left her hand and jumped into the body before she rose once again and turned to face him. He wondered if that was something to give his body more time to live.
“Now, there’s something I should tell you.”