Not every choice has to be bad. Choices and the consequences of them can be good in the right circumstances. I think it all comes down to what you might’ve sacrificed to make those things happen. Is it worth it? That’s the first question you should ask. Especially because sometimes it’s the ones you don’t appreciate that you would miss the most.
The first thought Nick had when he appeared before what he assumed to be Howie’s home was that the house was massive. It was a mansion, plain and simple. Nick himself remembered when he bought what was later dubbed as the “Carter Compound” and gave it to his family. That had been plenty big enough with its ten bedrooms, the guest house he once lived in and rolling green grounds that were completely gated. In the end that much close proximity with his family and the coldness only a large house like that held had been enough to make him move again.
He glanced around but didn’t see Grace anywhere. “That damn angel’s as flighty as Aaron.” Nick muttered as he started walking towards the grand building. “Only her head isn’t up her ass like his is.”
One thing he wondered about was his own family. He noticed there’d been a clear aversion to them so far and it depressed him more than he’d like to admit. As much as he liked to say he didn’t give a damn about any of the Carters besides Angel, it simply wasn’t true. Since he was only a kid at the age of eight he felt a responsibility to care for them and make up for all his parents failing. It wasn’t fair, nor was it right but it didn’t make that feeling go away.
Stepping inside he immediately shivered. Not that Nick could actively feel the temperatures; it was simply that, he felt like he walked into a stranger’s home. Howie was someone Nick always fell back on. Sometimes he felt guilty, as if he used his friend’s dependability. He remembered when he dated Howie’s niece and how readily the Doroughs accepted him as their own. They never treated him as an outsider, or as Howie’s friend. They accepted him immediately. Though, honestly, every Backstreet “family” did, far better than the Carters could. Yet in the end it was their love he craved the most. Their love that would help him justify every sacrifice he made, and every single way that fame had slowly chipped away at his spirit and soul.
A little blonde, curly haired boy with bright blue eyes ran down the halls with someone else dressed in a suit hurrying just behind him. “Holden, your father asked me to get you dressed!”
The little boy, Holden, laughed. He couldn’t be any older than two and wore nothing but pull-ups. “No!”
Nick snorted, though he couldn’t help but smile. So far this house was the happiest place he’d been to in this alternate reality. He made his way up the stairs without a clue of what room Howie and God only knew who else would be in. Howie’s home in his reality was one where awards won with the group were displayed proudly along the walls, family photos and pictures of the five of them together took up the rest of free space throughout the house. In this house though everything was different. Pristine works of art were up. There were no smiling faces or happy photographs. A stark contrast to the happy child running around. Nick frowned slightly. Was Holden someone else’s child? Was Howie just as broken down as AJ or Kevin?
A young woman, pretty with long brown hair and a warm smile was in one of the rooms, chattering on the phone. It took a moment but he recognized her, Leigh. That was unexpected. Leigh met Howie when she got hired to help run the BSB fan club. But there was no BSB in this world. He always liked Leigh. Mainly because she gave Howie space to do his thing. She respected what they did and the fact she needed to be in the background at certain times. She also didn’t constantly make him feel like an asshole the way a certain blonde with a similar name did either.
I wonder how they met this time.
Nick paused in the doorway and tilted his head to listen. “Howard?” She laughed. “He’s working in his office as usual but he’s taking next week off so the three of us can go to the Alps.” Another laugh followed as she turned to glance at her reflection in a large and ornately decorated, full length mirror. “Holden’s excited, he wants to build a snowman.”
Nick arched a brow and kept down the hallway, almost tripping over his own feet in an attempt to avoid knocking over a statue. He rolled his eyes at himself when he passed right through it. “Duh dumbass. You’re like a ghost right now.”
Grace laughed from behind him, shimmering slowly into place. “It’s easy to forget. Sometimes I still do after almost a century.”
“Howie seems to have a good life.” He said as he walked into his friend’s office.
Howie was leaned over his desk, looking at papers while his computer had several files open. He had a business partner on his Blackberry as he looked through the sheets for something specific. “I know but trust me that property is a gold mine! Most don’t realize that the woods around it are protected by national park boundaries so no one will ever build around the house. As long as the owner never realizes it we can make a killing.” He listened, snickering. “Exactly. She’s some old widow, what does she know?”
“Happy but maybe not compassionate.” She replied softly.
The desk was the only place in the entire house that had any personal effects. Pictures littered the walls of Holden from birth to his current age. Some were with Howie, with Leigh who Nick assumed was his wife here, with Howie’s mom, everything revolved around that little boy. “Holden’s cute.”
“Howie loves him.” She agreed. “More than anything else in the world, despite everything.”
Nick frowned. “What do you mean, despite everything?”
Grace shrugged, reaching through Howie – who shivered in that moment – for one of the photographs. She handed it over to Nick carefully. “Blonde hair, blue eyes…doesn’t look anything like neither Howie nor Leigh.”
He arched a brow at her as he ran a finger along the picture frame. “You’re not saying what I think you are.”
“I’m supposed to do a family vacation to the Alps next week but…perhaps I can postpone…”
She looked at Howie pointedly who was still in deep conversation. “I am. Howie works a lot. He’s almost consumed by the idea of success. You guys call him Trump Jr., well; here he doesn’t have anything to bring him back to what’s important.”
Howie soon hung up and held his arms out as the child in question burst into the room and lunged at his father. He swung Holden up onto his lap and ticked him fiercely. “Hey why aren’t you wearing any clothes you crazy little guy?”
“No clothes!” The toddler waved at them.
Nick chuckled and waved back before he made himself refocus. “Holden is his world. Fuck I wish my parents cared that much.”
Grace sighed. “He is and that’s why Howie works so hard, not realizing that all Holden wants is to see him more. Deep down I think Howie suspects he’s not really his son. It’s just that he doesn’t care because of how much he loves him. He’d rather have the lie than the truth. Sad as it is sometimes lies do more for you. Sometimes the truth does nothing but destroy everything it touches.”
He nodded. “Is Howie happy?”
“He is and he’s the happiest one you’ve seen so far.” She pushed her blonde hair out of her eyes, and it startled him yet again how much she reminded him of Leslie. “I told you not everyone is miserable. No, Howie’s life isn’t perfect but that’s because of the choices he made in a life without the Backstreet Boys. And it’s because life is never perfect.”
“What about Brian?”
A shadow crossed over his expression fleetingly before it left so quickly Nick thought he possibly imagined it. “You’ll see.” She took his hand and led him away. “That’s our next destination but first we should go see Leigh.”
Nick’s brows furrowed but he followed her anyway. “I saw her on my way here and she seemed alright.”
“That’s because he wasn’t here yet. While we were up there listening to Howie’s latest housing deal that’ll make him thousands because this poor lady has no idea what she has, Leigh was doing something else.”
“You know if I remembered anything and I change shit, I think I’d miss Howie the most.”
That caught her attention. “You wouldn’t remember but, why Howie?”
He shrugged casually, picking at a stray thread from his worn out Journey shirt. “Because Howie and I always clicked. Hell I know people saw me and Brian and he was my best friend. Frick and Frack was real. Or Kevin and the way he was everything my dad didn’t bother with. But Howie…” Nick grinned to himself. “Howie was the one who was there no matter what. Fuck I tried pushing him away so many times. He’d butt in or see past my bullshit first. Howie…Howie was the first one I thought of as a brother.”
Grace smiled at his answer. “That’s sweet.”
“Yeah well, Howie never gets enough credit.”
She led him outside and around a spacious pool to a small pool house Nick guessed they let guests sleep in. On the Carter Compound he turned that into his small sanctuary before he learned that wouldn’t be nearly enough space to keep his sanity. “You’re making me feel guilty about this. But I’m only showing you this because in a way, this still involves you too.”
“What whoever Leigh’s cheating on Howie with?” It felt weird to say because the Leigh he knew wouldn’t dream of doing anything like this. But this wasn’t the Leigh he knew. This wasn’t the Howie he knew. In fact everything he knew might become nothing, depending on what he decided at the end of this so-called enlightening journey he was forced to take with the angelic spirit. “How does that involve me?”
She opened the door and instantly Nick got the answer to his question.
Aaron was how this directly involved Nick. He was there, making out with Leigh and completely unaware anyone else was watching. How could they be? The pair was invisible to the eye. Nick’s eyes were wide as saucers as he struggled to take in the crystal clear sight before him. “The fuck? How? How does she even know Aaron?! I thought you said I didn’t know them in this life?”
“You don’t know them.” Grace turned to look at him and ignored the moans. “I said I could change a single choice Nick. Your choice. That choice doesn’t change who your parents are. It doesn’t change who your siblings are deep down. All it changes is the path. The person deep down is the same. Everything you’ve seen is a possibility from what could have been. What ifs.”
He shuddered and used all his willpower to shut the door. Thankfully it worked because honestly that was something that could keep him up at night. Aaron’s kissing style reminded him of a leech. “So Aaron still became famous.”
“Somewhat.” Grace shrugged. “He didn’t live under your shadow but, your limelight wasn’t there to help him either. It’s a bit of a wash. Leigh ran his fan club; Howie sold one of his houses. That’s how they met since you were wondering earlier.”
Nick ran a hand through his hair tiredly. “He still looked like he was high.” He felt tired, all the responsibility for trying to raise his siblings slammed back on top of him like an avalanche. “God, he’s with a woman he knows is married, had a kid he’s not taking responsibility for…fucking hell Aaron. What the hell was I doing for him to turn out like this?”
That was because Aaron was high but Grace knew this wasn’t the right time to let Nick dwell on other versions of his family. “The person doesn’t change. It’s the circumstances, the choices, and possibly the temptations do.” Her form began to shimmer and glow. “Now, it’s time to move on to Brian. We’re not ready for you or any Carter yet.”
“Wait, you said Howie’s happy…” He glanced back at the pool house. “Does he know Leigh’s cheating on him still?”
“I told you, the truth is what we want it to be. So…yes and no. But I wasn’t lying. Howie’s happy.”
“But how? I mean…”
She shook her head. “Because he focuses on the positives of his imperfect life.”
It was hard for Nick to comprehend what should have been a simple concept. Grace could see it in his face as she gently took his hand once more. It didn’t surprise her in the slightest. In fact she fully expected it. Mainly because the two of them both knew deep down, he wasn’t capable of doing that for himself.
She simply hoped he would learn.