Things Have Changed by freedomwriter
Summary: Stress does funny things to a person. A little stress never hurt anyone. A little stress keeps you focused and ready for action Extreme stress causes severe headaches and panic attacks; it makes your heart think it should be ready to explode in your ribcage; it makes you wake up screaming in the middle of the night; it makes your life a complete hell.


Short story focusing on Brian and his position in the group as he tries to hold on. But how long can you keep running when the ground is slowly crumbling underneath your feet? When you need to run harder and faster and be bigger and better, how much pressure can you take before you crumble yourself?
Categories: Fanfiction > Backstreet Boys Characters: Brian, Group
Genres: Angst, Drama
Warnings: None
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 21 Completed: No Word count: 35547 Read: 29293 Published: 07/10/15 Updated: 03/16/18

1. 1. My Love by freedomwriter

2. 2. My Life by freedomwriter

3. 3. My Fears by freedomwriter

4. 4. My Doubts by freedomwriter

5. 5. My Dreams by freedomwriter

6. 6. The Natural by freedomwriter

7. 7. The Stranger by freedomwriter

8. 8. My Nightmare by freedomwriter

9. The Stubborn by freedomwriter

10. 10. My Break by freedomwriter

11. 11. The Conquerer by freedomwriter

12. 12. The Relative by freedomwriter

13. 13. My Failure by freedomwriter

14. 14. The Friend by freedomwriter

15. 15. The Bottom by freedomwriter

16. 16. My Chances by freedomwriter

17. 17 The Conqueror by freedomwriter

18. 18. The Liar by freedomwriter

19. 19. The Unexpected by freedomwriter

20. The Unbelievable by freedomwriter

21. 21. The Defeated by freedomwriter

1. My Love by freedomwriter
Things have changed, my love.

Not overnight, that’s ridiculous. Gradually though, things have become somewhat… unhinged. Out of order. I don’t like that. I cannot handle that.

For the longest time, I could have been easily described as an observer. A person that would rather watch from the sidelines than to interfere when trouble was occurring. It worked. For a long time, it worked. I would avoid confrontation whenever I could, would try to please and make everyone around me happy. I would never let anyone in on the closest, deepest fears I had. Not even you, my love. I would smile, jump around and act like a goofy kid every time things were on the breaking point of turning serious.

It’s a cheap kind of defense.

And over the years, I began to feel like a circus clown. The fakeness was dripping off of me like watercolors would do in a rainstorm. I felt faceless, lifeless even. It’s not your fault, love. It isn’t anybody’s fault, I suppose. Just… gradually, I think, I began to forget who I was. Right now I’m not even sure I ever knew.

I know for a fact you will never believe me again when I tell you I am okay. Too much has happened for that. Things I cannot even try to begin to explain. But I am.

Okay, I mean. I am okay.

I used to be caught in the middle. I used to be the one to put out fires other people started. I was never directly involved. Never the cause of the commotion. And even when I was, I would pretend I wasn’t. I didn’t want that kind of attention. I hated the very thought of being the center of attention when I wasn’t on stage or on the job.

And then… things changed.

Things I didn’t have control over, and that scared me more than anything else ever could. I was so scared of losing control. Of losing the perfectly planned out life I was living. The dull, boring kind of life that I loved more than anything. I was selfish, blind to the world outside of that perfect bubble. I had you, I had our son, and that was more than I would ever need. But for some reason, along those lines, I forgot the fact that things always have to change.

Because they did. I have no idea why, or when exactly. But they did. I pretended to not be affected. Like it was just a minor setback. I had hope, in the beginning.

Lots of hope. I was overflowing with hope, so to speak. Indulging in therapies and medications, trying to prove to mostly myself that this was just a random little thing that was not going to hold me back. Sure, it would take a few months to get it under control and to get the whole show on the road again. But I would take it and make it better. Nobody had to know; it wasn’t even that important.

No worries.

But those few months became a year and I could feel my confidence falter. The more I told myself it was just a little thing that wouldn’t actually hurt me, the bigger it became. And nobody knew. Only you, my love. I know you had to watch from the sidelines too. I know you wanted to help me, but I didn’t let you. Because it was just a little random thing that I was in denial about.

Because if the little random thing was really true, that would mean the beginning of the end of a life I had so carefully build up for the better half of my existence. A life build on perfection and beauty; a life without flaws, far away from any anomalies. I believed in that fairytale for such a longtime that I forgot that it wasn’t real. Because nothing is ever perfect, my love. God didn’t want it to be.

Of course they knew something was up. I guess at some point, everyone did. All the managers and PR-agents and publicists would look at me with caution. There was this kind of unspoken tension that would instantly drop the mood in every single encounter I had. And I would be too stubborn to let them know that their suspicions were right. They were so worried, it was almost comical. I remember the uncomfortable glances my fellow band members would throw me on stage from time to time. But they didn’t dare to bring it up. Not once. Probably because my temper was an easy thing to trigger back in that period.

I know you remember that.

Then came the end of the joined tour with the New Kids and the inevitable Talk of the Future. Usually, those kind of meetings left me stoked and excited for what was to come. But I was awfully silent the whole time, not sharing in the enthusiasm the others held over recording a new album. Kevin would come back, and we would finally have the creative freedom we had craved for such a long time. Everything would be bigger, better and sweeter than it had ever been, right?

Right.

I didn’t want to crush their dreams, and I was too selfish to resign. At that time, I had no hope that they would be patient and supportive enough to cope with my insignificant troubles. I didn’t want to be the cause of destruction. I was a team player. I did what I thought was right for the group, and if that meant keeping my little problems secret, then so be it.


Until Nick came up with sharing three weeks together in London. Just the five of us, he said. To reconnect, to become family again. This family was important to him, I knew that. It was the only kind of family he still had. He relished in the thought that there were actually people out there that cared about the stuff he had been through. People that would support him, no matter what. He was the baby of our little family; he held a special place in our hearts. He had come a long way, but he had finally found peace in the thought that we would help him, come what may.

I was jealous of that.

When Nick came up with the suggestion, I felt the fear suffocating my already closed up throat. Three long weeks of having to hang around the people that I wanted to keep at a distance more than anything. That didn’t sound like anything I wanted to dive into. It was then for the first time that I realized that things had changed. I was no longer the observer; they were. I was the limp monkey in the zoo and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. I was acting strange and uncharacteristic. And I couldn’t tell them. I wouldn’t let them know the kind of stress and pressure I was feeling; half of which came from them, and half of which I was putting on myself.

Stress does funny things to a person. A little stress never hurt anyone. A little stress keeps you focused and ready for action. A little more can keep you awake at night and make you worry about every little detail in your life. Extreme stress causes severe headaches and panic attacks; it makes your heart think it should be ready to explode in your ribcage; it makes you wake up screaming in the middle of the night; it makes your life a complete hell.

And, although I have spend years denying that anything happened, things have changed, my love.

And so have I.
2. My Life by freedomwriter
I felt sick on the day I was supposed to go to London.

I hadn’t had a good night sleep in three weeks and the upcoming airway infection did nothing to support my case. I was relieved to see that only Howie and myself were the first ones to arrive. He offered me the master bedroom, which I gladly accepted without thinking twice. I’m sure Howie thought I was selfish.

Which was so true. The first few days in London we were meant to reconnect, -as Nick had so desperately put it- I was doing the exact opposite. I kept them at a huge distance and pushed anyone away when I felt they were trying to come close. I foolishly thought that if the time came when we would have to start recording and I would have to tell them what was going on, it wouldn’t hurt as much. If I build a ten feet wall around me and kept my bandmates at a distance, I wouldn’t be affected by their shock and disappointment. I wouldn’t be hurt, or feel guilty when they were unsupportive or harsh.

It didn’t work.

I felt like having a nervous breakdown when I stopped talking and waited for their reactions. They were unusually quiet when you considered the news they just got. My heart hammered a mile a minute as I watched their faces one by one. I could easily see the confusion as they tried to fathom the story I had just unclearly blurted out. For a moment, I was taken back to that day I had to tell them about that heart surgery. They had the exact same expressions on their faces then, only now, they were older.

I shifted uncomfortably, the kitchen suddenly seeming very small and running quickly out of oxygen. They stared back at me with unreadable faces, suddenly a united front of four. I was, not for the first time in my life, the complete outsider. But then again, I put that on myself. I had gone over this conversation ten million times the night before when I figured I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway. I now came to the conclusion that I had never been able to predict how they would react. I finally realized that it didn’t matter that I spend almost twenty years in close proximity of these guys; I didn’t know them at all.

Howie was the first to recover, asking in a stern voice what the prognosis was. I saw the other faces looking at me questioningly, the undisguised hope evident in their eyes. Although it didn’t come as a complete surprise that something was wrong with my voice; now that they heard it had an official name; it sounded so much more serious and undeniable. When I remained silent for a few moments longer, I saw the hope slowly diminishing from their eyes and the fear and worry grow.

I opened my mouth, choosing to only focus on Howie instead, “W-well,” I said, cursing softly as my voice choice that perfect moment to give out, “there’s not a surefire cure, actually.” I watched their faces fall for real now, and brought my hands up in defiance, “but I’m going to therapy, I’m taking medication... you know? I-I’m trying to beat it, I just need time, and support. I can’t do this without your support, guys.”

It remained silent again for a few moments and they all looked at me like they’d never seen me before. Kevin studied me intently and I moved nervously under their burning gazes. “How long have you known this?” Kevin asked eventually, in that slow, thoughtful way I had come to dread over the years.

I bit my lip and shot them a desperate look, feeling like they were ganging up on me, while there was no indication that they actually were. I am very certain that the desperation and frustration I felt were completely shining through on my face. My gaze dropped to the table’s surface and I suddenly became very aware of the various irregular patterns on the table. It was bothering me.

“F-for about a year and a half,” I whispered so softly, I was sure they couldn’t have heard me.

“Over a year?” Nick exclaimed incredulously nevertheless. I looked up; his face was a pure image of disbelief. “You’ve known this was a serious thing for over a year, and you never told us?” he stated the obvious and I dropped my eyes back down to the table, tracing my fingers over the irregular shapes that were nagging me to no end.

“I-I...” I stammered. I didn’t usually stammer and I wondered why I was starting that habit now, “I was dealing with it. I thought it would be handled by now, but...”

“But it’s not,” Nick finished my sentence, trying to poorly disguise the roll of his eyes that he couldn’t control. “You’ve waited until we are actually in the studio to record stuff and until all contracts for a new album were signed before you dared open up your mouth about it. Wow. Real classy, Brian. You just fucked all of us big time.”

His statements hurt and they weren’t entirely true. Or maybe they were. I honestly didn’t know anymore what I was thinking at that point. Had I really consciously waited for us to be forced to continue a new album cycle before I opened up about my problems? Had I consciously condemned myself to a torturous hell for the coming three years? Why would I do that? Was I that afraid of them kicking me out? Was I that afraid of being cast out of a life I had lived for almost twenty years? Was I that afraid of change?

Yes. Yes I was.

Because I didn’t know what else to do. I was a singer.

I had identified myself as a singer for such a huge chunk of my life that without that identity, I had no freaking clue on who I truly was. I would be damned if I let them take that away from me. I had spend a large amount of time pretending that my job wasn’t that important to me; that it was just a job. That I could identify myself apart from it, but damn if that was true. Was I being selfish for not telling them anything sooner?

Yes. Incredibly.

When I looked back up to face Nick’s drilling stare, I could see the worry behind the anger and it made my throat tighten up a little more. I saw the desperate need for an explanation as to why I had tangled myself into such an intricate web of trouble. I saw all the countless questions that he and the others were ready to fire at me that I couldn’t answer. Howie had discreetly pulled up a laptop and was searching the web together with Kevin. I saw his lips move and his brow furrow in concentration as he looked up any info on muscle tension dysphonia he could possibly find. At points, he would read some of the sentences out loud and look at me for confirmation. I would nod silently, avoiding his calculative eyes. His question were stern and business like, just like I had expected from him. I answered each of them curtly, just as stern and business like.

“So, you’re doing therapy and meds, right?”

“Yes.”

“How’s that coming along?”

“Slow.”

“Surgery an option?”

“No.”

“How frequent is that therapy?”

“Three times a week.”

“Are you planning on doing it here in London?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t have a voice therapist here.”

“Right.”

“But I can do the exercises alone anyway.”

“Okay. When can you start recording?”

“Right now.”

Howie and Kevin looked at me thoughtfully. I cleared my throat; the sound getting stuck somewhere half way. I could feel the muscles in my throat working to let through the air and I winced. It really did hurt sometimes. The others looked at me, absolutely unimpressed by my statement to start recording now.

“Look, we can wait,” AJ suggested softly, his sympathetic eyes taking me in as he spoke for the first time that morning, “We can push it back until you feel better. We’ll just have to figure something out with management.”

I smiled sadly at him and shook my head, finally letting the tears of frustration spill over. I didn’t dare telling him that I hadn’t felt better for the better part of a year, “We’ll totally lose our momentum,” I muttered instead.

AJ sighed, but I could see that he agreed. Nick looked in confusion from AJ to me and back, “So what are we supposed to do? Make a so-so album for our twentieth anniversary? We can’t do that!”

AJ looked at him angrily because of his harsh wording and I lowered my gaze once again to the table, my breakfast feeling like it was trying to make a grand comeback as I stared at my now empty plate. Life as I knew it was slowly deteriorating around me and I couldn’t control one single aspect of it. I heard AJ answer Nick that we didn’t really have to give me such a huge role on this album anyway and I could feel his sentence physically stab my pride and smack it down in the sand. He was right, of course, but there was this irrational part of me that felt that I was entitled to have the same lions-share I’d always had on an album.

Had I not carried this group on my back vocally for the past nineteen years? What was going to happen to the sound when I had no prominent part in it? What was gonna happen to the sound if I had? How was I supposed to take back control of my life when I was forced into such radical changes? Why was it not enough that I was doing all I could?

“I’m-” I cleared my throat again, my voice completely destroyed now, “I’m just asking for your support as my friends and as my co-workers. I’m doing all I can to heal this thing. Please don’t ask more of me than that. I can’t use anymore pressure right now.”

Kevin nodded quickly and to my relief, I saw nothing else but compassion in his eyes. He knew the enormous bouts of nervousness and anxiety that had most likely caused this condition to begin with. He knew about the huge amount of tension I felt when I took the stage; the weight of delivering to the expectations had been slowly crushing me for years now. And he also knew the pride I took in being able to deliver to those expectations every single time, without faltering. That was; until one and a half years ago. I felt like throwing myself down into a bottomless pit whenever my voice would horribly crack in the middle of a line during the tour with the New Kids. My nerves and anxiety had been multiplied exponentially over the last eighteen months. I still can’t believe no one had the guts to confront me about it when they must have noticed the unhealthy sound and tension too.

Were they afraid of how I could have reacted?

I thought about this while the others awkwardly got up and filed out of the kitchen one by one. I felt AJ’s heavy hand press down on my shoulder and he leaned close to my face with one of the most serious expressions I’d seen on him in quite a while.

“We’ve got you, bro,” he mumbled before leaving the kitchen.

I let out the shaky breath I had been holding for the entire conversation. I stared aimlessly into the now empty kitchen, not bothering to stop the tears from flowing freely down my face. I had dreaded this talk for so long, and although it had brought some relief and had gone better than I had expected, I still wasn’t able to see a silver lining throughout any of it.

That night would be the first night of many nights I would wake up at three am to find Nick Carter practically curled up beside me. In the morning, he would say that there was no air conditioning in his small loft room and that the heat was killing him, so ‘suck it up, bitch, you have the largest room and I need my sleep as well.’ But the fact that he had no problem lying next to me, where he would have had one a day before, was very noteworthy. He reminded me of a loyal dog that would stay beside its owner when they were wounded or in trouble. It made me think that maybe my friends wouldn’t be so harsh and judgmental and insensitive when it came to a huge problem nobody really knew how to deal with. It made me appreciate them a little more for sticking by me no matter what.

They wouldn’t let me down, not really. They would support me and help me in every way they could.

Boy, was I wrong.
3. My Fears by freedomwriter
And the way you do your thing, oh, you’re m-”

Ah, crap!

I didn’t realize that I said that last part out loud until I looked up and saw Jeffrey frowning at me. I mumbled an apology and looked away. He’d been looking more and more annoyed the longer it took to get the verse done. I could see it on his face; this verse was not hard to sing for anybody, regardless if they were even professional singers. Anybody can do it, Brian.

Not me.

For a minute, I considered if it would be that weird if I stormed out of the studio, crossed the street and hide behind a tree in the park or something. I could just stay there until it got dark and then I would go home. I had been running from my problems for so long, why not do it a bit more? I squinted at the documentary camera that was trying to discreetly film the whole thing. Stephen frowned and mouthed that I should pretend they were not there. It wasn’t working. I felt the knot in my stomach tighten when I thought about how the others were going to watch this footage.

What if everybody in the world was going to watch this footage?

I didn’t hear Jeffrey’s suggestion of taking a break over the wave of panic that was crashing into me like a thunderstorm. I choked out another quick apology and left the confining, suffocating studio. Outside, I heard AJ grumble something as I brushed past him and his cigarette. I was practically running as I turned the corner and pressed my back against the wall, fairly certain that no one was there to see me. The nauseating weight of panic was literally suffocating me. I felt the troublesome muscles in my throat tightening around my airway and gasped for air.

I tried to remember what my therapist had said about what to do when something like this happened. I drew a complete blank and my heart pounded falteringly in my chest as the world started to spin around me.

What if everyone knows, Brian?

Black spots were dancing in front of my vision and I let out a strangled sound as I doubled over and squeezed my eyes closed, trying my hardest to keep my balance. My stomach turned and I felt the bile rise in my throat. I coughed and wheezed pathetically, momentarily forgetting what you were supposed to do when hyperventilating. I choked on a panicked cry when I felt my heart beating madly fast and the crushing weight on my chest increasing by the second.

“Hey!”

Before the dark spots could completely take over my vision, I felt two hands grab my upper arms and catch me when my knees gave out.

Wouldn’t this scene make a swell documentary?

“Easy, easy.” AJ’s voice seemed miles away, like I was listening to it from underwater. He guided me and himself down along the solid wall and looked straight at me while he placed one hand on my shoulder and the other hand on my knee, “You gotta relax, alright?”

I shook my head wildly, still gasping. I was dying here, couldn’t he see that? My breath hitched in my throat and the black spots were suddenly everywhere.

“Hey!” AJ said again, “Hey, come on, man. You gotta stay with me here. Just breathe.”

I shook my head again, squeezing my eyes closed, “...can’t-” I managed to croak out.

“Yes, you can!” AJ barked harshly and he squeezed my shoulder almost painfully. “It’s not that difficult. You’re having a panic attack right now. It’s freakishly scary, believe me, I know, but it’s gonna go away, you just gotta breathe. Just... deep and slow breaths, come on!”

I tried to focus on what he said, but it was so hard with the lack of oxygen and unwanted thoughts flying through my mind. I didn’t want to have these attacks, I didn’t want to feel like I was being strangled by my own body.

It wasn’t fair! None of it was fair!

“Hurts,” I gasped, though I felt the weight be lifted from my chest somewhat as I regained control over my lungs slowly but surely.

“That’s it, bro,” AJ guided softly, his large hand rubbing my shoulder soothingly. “You’re okay.”

“Hurts,” I repeated hoarsely.

“What hurts?” He asked calmly, but I could hear the concern in his voice.

I decided not to answer, but clutched my throat with trembling hands. He nodded silently in understanding and I leaned my head against the wall, tiredly closing my eyes. “I don’t want this,” I said in a faltering tone.

“I know.”

“I can’t do this, AJ!” I cried out, or; I tried to, as the sound was almost completely eliminated from my voice now, “What if everyone knows? What am I gonna do? What are we gonna do? What if it’s always gonna be like this? I can’t do it. I can’t do it!”

“It’s okay,” was everything he offered. I could see the worry and fear in his eyes too. We were screwed because of me, and we both knew it. There was nothing he could say that would make that untrue.

“I should go back,” I said monotonously after clearing my throat. “Take sixteen, here I come.”

“I think you’ve done enough recording for today, Bri,” AJ said, “You’ve been in there for like three hours.”
“But we need all the time we have, Alex. We have only three weeks, you know.”

“But if it causes you to panic like this, I’ll make it four,” he simply said.

“But-.”

“We’ll figure it out.”

Yeah, right.
4. My Doubts by freedomwriter
I leaned my head back against the couch and tried to swallow. I could hear AJs voice coming through the headphones, his smooth tones soothing my ears.

It must be so nice to open your mouth and trust whatever sound comes out.

He was crazy excited about this song, and so was the rest. I guessed I should have been too, but the fact that I couldn’t get it out of my throat stopped me in my enthusiasm a bit. I had tried, don’t get me wrong, it was just so completely out of my range, it wasn’t even funny.

It didn’t always used to be that way.

There were times I carried fifty percent of an album vocally. There were times I went into the studios days before the others did and I would lay out every foundation of a song. I would pick out the harmonies, just to get the main idea of the melodies. If you wondered about how certain harmonies or melodies would be, go to Brian.

I would do their job for them.

I thought about this with quite a bit of resentment as I heard AJ slightly crack on one of his lines. Two albums ago, I would have said something about his sometimes inconsistent voice, but I figured that it was not my place this time. The recording stopped and I heard AJ mumble something. AJ mumbled a lot, half the time I had no idea what he was talking about. The music started up again and he started over. He nailed it.

Screw him.

“So, I think AJ’s done,” Kevin said and I jumped in shock. I hadn’t even noticed he was sitting next to me.

“You ready?”

“Sure.”

Kevin was biting his lip and I knew he was going to say something, so I stood up and let him sit there on the couch. I heard him sigh when I walked out.

I don’t know when I realized just how much of an outsider I was. I just know now that I was reinforcing that notion greatly. I would be quiet around the others, almost apologetic for my presence. All the while, the big question playing tricks on my mind was: What am I still doing here?

The recording session wasn’t as embarrassing as I’d expected. By now, we only needed to add adlibs to songs and I was quite good at those. With a somewhat renewed confidence I walked through the house that afternoon with a cup of tea. I already heard the soft strings of the guitar from upstairs. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment when Nick became better with a guitar than I, but I didn’t mind it in the least. He’d always been creative on a whole different level, was unafraid to think outside the preset lines and I really admired that about him. His talents went beyond a nice voice and a pretty face and he could sometimes be described as overly ambitious. I clutched my fingers around the mug when I remembered how rude and insensitive I had been that morning with him. The night had been warm as hell and I hadn’t really been able to sleep without a few bad dreams plaguing my mind. It didn’t help that I found Nick next to me once again early in the morning, unaware of anything around him and having the most peaceful sleeps I’d ever seen. Not a worry in the world.

So I kicked him out of bed.

He didn’t seem bothered with the rude awakening, which annoyed the hell out of me. So I just kept being a dick until he left. I hadn’t seen him for the remainder of the day.

“Stop playing on that guitar,” I sang loudly in a high tone of voice. The music stopped for a few seconds and I heard Nick mutter something. Then he continued like nothing happened. When I walked up the stairs, I began to recognize the melody and softly sang with him. He laughed and his smile grew wider with each second. I planted the mug of tea pointedly on the nightstand next to his bed.

“Don’t get used to me bringing you tea,” I mumbled, before turning around, feeling the cameras on my back and tensing noticeably.

“Wait,” he called when I’d already walked three steps down the stairs.

“Hmm?” I grumbled.

“What’s for dinner?” Nick asked with a grin when I came back.

I stared at him before rolling my eyes, then took a seat next to him on the bed. “Your wiener, how about that?”

“You’re hilarious.”

“It’s been told.”

“I thought you were the cook?”

“I can order pizza, if that’s what you mean.”

“Pizza? Again?”

“uhuh,” I sighed, staring at the stark white wall in front of us. We’d been here for two and a half weeks, in three days, we’d go back home.

I couldn’t wait.

“How’d the recording go today?” Nick asked quietly, avoiding my eyes.

I stared at the side of his head. He knew damn well how the recording went today, “Okay,” I replied curtly.

“You were phenomenal on those adlibs, dude!” he exclaimed, almost hitting me in the face with his guitar.

“I didn’t know you knew the word ‘phenomenal,’ Nick,” I muttered. If there was one thing I avoided like it was the black plague, it was compliments. I knew they were meant well, but they were often so undeserved, it gave me chills.

“You really are a buzzkill today, aren’t you?” Nick sighed and this time he was the one that got up and left. “You don’t have to push everyone away, you know?”

He walked away, totally forgetting the now cold mug of tea. I shook my head slightly at the camera. With a sigh, I picked up the disregarded guitar. After five minutes of useless plunking, I put it down again.

Even the guitar sounded awful when I played it.

I fell back on the bed, massaging my temples to will the nagging headache away. Nick and Kevin were talking downstairs. I heard them laughing and joking, like nothing was wrong. Like the world was a sunlit paradise and life was as fair as a children’s story. Like they could just ignore everything that was wrong with this situation and move on in their jolly ways.

Three more days, I reminded myself. Three more days and I could just be alone again.
5. My Dreams by freedomwriter
“Are you kidding me? I can’t throw that flat ball that far!” I mutter as I weigh the soft basketball in my hands. Dents appear where my fingers have been.

“Why not?” Nick exclaims, almost offended at my words. “I’ve seen you do it!”

I pull a face as I jump and throw the ball with practiced ease. A dim sense of triumph bubbles up as I watch it land exactly where I had intended it to. In the past, I would have bragged about it to no end. Did you see that shot? Did you see it? Wasn’t that the most awesome shot you’ve ever seen? And with a flat ball!

Now I could only shrug and walk to the exit of the basketball court. Nick’s howling sounds of approval would have to suffice as a replacement for my absent enthusiasm.

“That’s insane!” he cries, as if he’d never seen anyone score a point before. He looks at me with a big grin and sparkling eyes. I offer him a smile before turning and stuffing my hands in my pockets. In the past, we would have talked about the flat ball and the score for some more time, annoying the hell out everybody around us. Now; it didn’t mean a thing.

I dig my hands a bit further into my pockets until I can feel my jeans slipping down. They are becoming too big. Strange; they are still fairly new. Without looking back at the camera, I trudge out of the familiar gym court. I have good memories here and had fully welcomed them as they came crashing back into me when I set foot on the grounds of Tates Creek High School. Although some things have changed in setting and colors, the building was still pretty much the same. My heart surges when I walk through the empty halls, past the locker of my junior year.

I am not sure who’d come up with the idea of visiting our hometowns and essentially our childhoods, but the impact is uncanny. I remember AJ scoffing when the idea was mentioned, heard him mumbling, “Cheesy,” but saw the glistening in his eyes betraying that he secretly loved the idea just as much. I stop in front of my old locker with a reminiscent look on my face. I hear the other guys still in the gym and smile. How can four guys make more noise than an entire high school basketball team? They surely have forgotten that I was supposed to be there. I sigh and turn slowly as I lean against the lockers; the thought of them forgetting about me so easily stings beyond anything. I lean my head against the repainted red metal and try to relax.

I remember smashing the locker closed with disgusted anger when I was sixteen and found out they didn’t elect me for the basketball team because I was too short. While that was true, it didn’t mean I couldn’t be part of the team, surely. I was agile and fast and was able to win games against the kids in my neighborhood who were taller than me. I had tried to explain that, but the coach had just smiled the whole time and asked how I was going to defend anybody when I was five foot six. Not everybody can be in the team, no matter how much they want to, Brian. We have to make an election of the players that fit in best. I remember coming home that afternoon with an expression that predicted thunder. I had smashed the front door closed not much unlike I had smashed the locker. I rushed passed my mother without any type of explanation and tramped upstairs to my room, where I put on the loudest rock music casette tape that I stole from my brother and stayed like that for the rest of the day. I bitterly vowed that the basketball could go to hell for all I cared. They didn’t want me? Fine. I would just focus on something else then. People seemed to like my singing voice, so maybe I could go and do something with that? Maybe a choir director at church or in school? I didn’t need that stupid basketball team.

They didn’t need me either. The team won that year with flying colors.

I wince inwardly at the memory of rejection. The noise from the basketball court has died down. I realize that I was supposed to function as a guide this afternoon, but figure they’ll find their way out. Kevin knows the way too after all. I wonder if he ever had any rejection in his high school days. Mister Quarterback with the numerous pretty girlfriends that was the star of every school play. If it wasn’t for superhero Kevin, I would have never gone to Florida on a whim in an overcrowded airplane. If Kevin the Perfect hadn’t thought of his little cousin Brian back in Kentucky that fateful day, I would probably be a quirky music teacher in a midlife crisis, who made lame jokes all the time and has never seen the outside of Kentucky.

Instead, I am a quirky popstar in a midlife crisis, that makes lame jokes all the time, who has seen most of everything there is to see in this world.

Bravo.

I guess I should be more appreciative. I still not fully understand why Kevin had suddenly thought of me to be in that band. It was not like we were particularly close and we only saw each other on family gatherings, basically. We only knew each other superficially and he hadn’t really heard me sing outside of the jovial family outings, where basically everybody sang. I remember almost all details of that phone call in the principal’s office. I remember the awkward way I stood there, holding the phone with quivering hands. At that time, I had no idea why Kevin was calling. Had something terrible happened? Was everybody dead? Then why was Kevin the one calling of all people? My thoughts had run a mile a minute when I answered that call.

“Hello?”

“Hey Brian, what’s up?”

“Kevin? What are you calling me at school for?” I had stammered incredulously, trying to avoid eye contact with the principal, who was grinning at me for no apparent reason. I wondered what Kevin had told her in that sweet convincing voice of his.

“Okay, so I’m in this band, and they’re looking for another member to... you know, to get started. And I thought of you!” Kevin had said in a loud, revealing tone of voice. My mouth had dropped open and I was able to read the clear sense of amusement on the principal’s face. She most likely knew everything.

“M-me?” I had croaked in shock.
“Oh, you’ll fit right in!” Kevin had happily proclaimed, “You’re the perfect age and I told them about your voice! There’s these three other guys, and they’re amazing singers as well! It’ll be great, Brian!‘’

“My parents are going to have a fit,” I muttered.

“Oh no no, I already asked them, they’re totally on board!” Kevin explained. His voice had gotten higher and higher in pitch as the conversation continued, “You can audition over the phone tonight, if you want. Lou -he’s our manager- booked a flight for tomorrow so you can come meet us.”

I remember staying quiet for a while. It had been a lot to take in for a seemingly normal Thursday afternoon. I glanced at the principal, and she just smiled back at me. If I’d had to guess, the school was on board as well. It was strange how everyone seemed to know about this opportunity before I did. Kevin’s enthusiasm was incredible and I wondered how much he’d promised the other guys of my talents for their manager to book a flight for me when I hadn’t even given my approval yet.

That, r they were just really desperate for another member because no one else wanted to audition.

None of those thoughts had had any real importance though and I had grabbed the phone tightly to mask the fact that my hands were shaking in earnest now, “Alright,” I had said in a steady voice, “When’s the audition?”

I smile at that memory, still leaning back against the old locker. I could hear the others approaching slowly and closed my eyes, willing them to stay away for just a bit longer. I don’t want their judging, pitying stares. Not now, not here. My former choir teacher had spoken with such admiration and pride that I had died a little inside as he talked. I hadn’t had the heart to tell him about the struggles I’d been facing. I’m sure he would have understood, but he was just as much a part of my childhood as the rest of the building and I didn’t want my childhood memories to mix into the present.

I never asked Kevin why exactly he’d gone through all that trouble to recruit me. I guess I’m too proud for that.

6. The Natural by freedomwriter
“I don’t know about this,” I mumbled gloomily as we stood backstage. The microphone in my hand was warm and slightly clammy because of my sweaty hands. “How do you guys always remember those steps? I’m totally going to mess up, I can feel it.”

“If you wanted to complain, Howie, you should have done so years ago,” Nick’s voice resounded from the very end of the line. He didn’t sound annoyed or accusing, but rather cheerful. He knew I was going to mess up one way or another, and it didn’t seem to bother him at all. I sighed, a bit relieved. In the past, even the tiniest of mistakes would have been picked apart and scolded for all eternity. We would totally fall over who stepped wrong where, who forgot his line where and who didn’t change his clothes on time where. No wonder we needed a break.

I felt a bit better, knowing that I could rely on my intuition and memory to get the steps right. Even if I screwed up, nobody in the crowd would really notice until one of the other guys would put emphasis on it - which they would totally do, of course- and then it would just turn into something we would laugh about and forget after a day. It didn’t really matter.

I frowned slightly as my gaze drifted to my left.

Brian was frantically hopping from one foot to another and if I had to guess, I would assume he desperately needed to pee.

He probably did.

Nerves do funny things to a man’s bladder. And Brian tended to take nervousness to the extreme. If I was worried about getting some steps wrong or not standing in the position that I should be standing in, I couldn’t imagine what would be going through Brian’s head at this very moment. Everything about him seemed tensed and if he could, I know he would be hiding somewhere in a bathroom right now until the show was over. I wanted to go over to him and tell him that it was just two songs; that it would be over before he knew it, but I knew that it wouldn’t help. In fact, I think he would snap at me if I even so much as pretended to comfort him. Instead I just stood there and watched, hoping that he wouldn’t go into complete panic mode until after we had done our job.

I remember the cocky teenager with that unreal thick accent that had joined the group years and years ago. We’d already heard a great deal about him from Kevin and by the time Brian came to the band house, I had pictured a large, dark haired young man with a deep voice. Kinda like Kevin himself. They were family after all.

The moment I came back to the apartment, on my way home from college, everybody was already there. They were gushing and smiling and curiously, I went to see what they were so happy about. I was sort of stunned when I learnt Brian was as tall as me, blond and barely looked his age. Kevin said he had recently turned eighteen, but when I looked at him, I would barely give him sixteen. Maybe even fifteen. Certainly not three years over AJ. He’d had kind of a charm about him though when he introduced himself. The ice broke with that warm, twangy accent of his and I asked him what his experiences in singing and dancing were. Turned out that aside from church and school choirs, he didn’t know a whole lot about singing. I had questioningly turned to Kevin, wondering what had convinced him to bring Brian all the way over here. Kevin just winked at me. I’m sure Brian had my uncertainty, because he had raised his eyebrows and smiled, “Oh don’t worry,” he had said innocently, “Kevin says I’ll do background.”

My uneasiness didn’t go away. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that we had finally found the missing piece, but it seemed a little too good to be true, know what I mean? When we finally came around to singing together for the very first time, my suspicion that Brian had a similar range to mine was confirmed. Nevertheless, the mixture of voices sounded close to perfection on the first try. Despite his lack of experience, Brian had known exactly which melody to follow, how to manage his volume and how to expertly weave his voice around those of ours.

He was a natural.

We needed a natural.

I don’t remember if I realized it then or not, but at one point, I knew Brian would one day come in and take the spot on the foreground that had previously been reserved for me. And I was right. The first two years or so, Brian remained in the background, and he seemed to be just fine with it. Kevin, me and AJ had taken most of the leads and that had gone on until we at last got our record deal and went to Sweden. It was then that I realized just how inexperienced we all really were. We went into that studio and completely gave up control. Producers knew what was best for us. And they didn’t want the Howie D sound for this group.

They wanted a natural.

I am not afraid to admit I was jealous when Brian went in for those solos and absolutely killed them. My pride black and blue when I heard the producers and executives talking like they had found the rough diamond they’d been forever looking for. I was tossed aside, not very much a part of the preset formula that was the very start of the Backstreet Sound. We were all not very surprised when the final cut of that first album was mostly Brian and AJ, with a little Nick thrown into the mix. Kevin fulfilled most of the low notes in melodies and I did my best to be heard on the high notes.

It took me a long time to get used to it. The next albums were made of the same formula, the safest bet, they would say. What worked in the past; continues to work in the present. He didn’t admit it until years and years later, but producers and other rich people had offered Brian his own solo album from the very start. I remained jealous of him for a very long time, until the moment I came to see what the pressure to succeed was doing to him. He changed. The stress and pressure he put on himself was noticeable as early as two albums in. And with it came the nerves and the anxiety. He was easily put off, would sometimes snap out of nowhere and would be absolutely terrified when something didn’t go as well as he had imagined.

And over time I realized, that although naturals had a miraculous sound about them, they also lacked proper techniques and exercise. Brian’s accent had faded in time, and so had his voice.

He shot me a horrified look when the signal to go onto the stage was heard. I shrugged, feeling my heartstrings tug at the panic in his eyes. Then I nodded and winked, as if telling him not to worry, I got this. His eyes followed me insecurely as we walked onto the stage. He had lost weight, I noticed, as I purposely messed up all the dance steps I could get away with. Better put emphasis and attention on something that can easily be corrected, I thought, than to force that attention on something that does not seem to want to go away.
7. The Stranger by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
Okay, so this chapter was inevitable from the start. It's way longer than I realized, lol. I have been debating for a while whether to do it in Nick's or Brian's perspective, but I think I figured it out. Sadly it doesn't end very cheerfully.

Just tell me what you think and if the scene was portrayed accordingly.
Putting an elbow on the table, I rested my head on my hand and barely listened as Jen continued to sum up the possible candidates to be picked for the album. Day three and we had hardly settled on anything. What was wrong with us? Was this what it was like to be in charge of your own work? Was this what we had been fighting for for so long?

The biggest problem was that we were five people with five different tastes and five different opinions that were supposed to think as one. How do music groups ever get things done, I wondered, wincing slightly as the headache that had been lurking since morning decided to make its presence more apparent. AJ shot me a look, dramatically sighing and rolling his eyes and I smiled back at him. At least I was not the only one who thought this whole song picking thing took too long.

How did we even manage to record 32 songs?

I was busy playing with the water bottle in front of my face before I realized Jen had stopped talking. I looked up at the sudden silence and felt Kevin’s gaze burning me down. “What?” I mumbled.

“Anything to add to that?” Kevin asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Not really,” I said slowly, wondering if that was the right answer. I saw Howie roll his eyes and knew that it wasn’t.

“Alright, let’s not dwell on songs, we have limited time,” Jen reminded us patiently, knowing that we usually analyzed every little bit out of them until the point that nobody really liked the songs anymore. I looked around the conference table carefully, seeing the tired faces of my bandmates. AJ’s hands were nervously picking at a tiny hole in the table, Howie’s mouth was pressed into a thin line and his face was tense, Kevin was uselessly rocking back and forth on the legs of his chair and Brian already looked asleep.

Shortly said; our nerves were fried.

“Define what not dwell means,” I said, smiling knowingly at Howie.

“There’s no time limit, just don’t dwell,” Jen repeated unfazed. “Play ‘Be Your Soldier’,”

I bopped my head to the beat for the duration of the song. The more I listened to it, the more I liked it.

Howie and I wrote it after all.

“The chorus just doesn’t do it for me; the song is great-” I looked up at Brian’s words, surprised that he’d finally decided to wake up. Not that he really had been sleeping, but the entire day he’d had something disinterested about him, just like the two previous days.

And now he didn’t like my chorus.

“I agree, but as a subject matter,” Kevin interjected, “I like what the song is saying.”

“It’s cool,” Brian relented, “But the chorus- “I’ll be your soldieeer”, it doesn’t do it.”

I narrowed my eyes as his voice cracked on the word soldier. Him and his chorus. Nobody else had a problem with it, right? “I disagree,” I said tightly, “I think the chorus is actually good.” I looked straight at Brian, who raised his eyebrows.

“I like the verses...” Howie said slowly, pausing, “I hear what you’re saying on the chorus.”

That traitor.

“It’s just that one little...,” Brian continued, humming the melody, “it bothers me.”

“- I can sing this with conviction,” Kevin said, “because it means something to me.”

“I know, it’s just the melody,” Brian muttered.

I sighed, feeling the frustration build up underneath my skin. Brian was steadily getting on my nerves and he knew it very well. Why was he so bothered with that chorus? He wasn’t even on it.

Maybe that was the problem.

“I’m not comfortable with changing the chorus of this song,” I stated as calmly as I could manage. Everyone started talking at once, like I had made a big announcement, “No, no, no, no,” I said as Howie laid a hand on my shoulder, “You don’t have to do that to me, I’m fine, I’m just saying.”

I was not very good at hiding anger or frustration, I noticed as Kevin jokingly started to calm me down. I could see Brian out of the corner of my eye stoically staring ahead. He was better at hiding his feelings, apparently. Or he just didn’t care.

“Nick’s getting red,” Kevin warned, smiling at my expense.

“No!” I said in a higher pitch than I had intended, “people are gonna... if it’s not on a record, we’re gonna be regretting it.”

“My point is,” Brian said, willfully staring at me in particular and I knew he was going to push every single one of my buttons, I just didn’t know why, “I still don’t like it, whether you change it or not, I still don’t like it.”

“I’ve heard your point,” I said slowly.

“I know,” he drawled, “And we see your point.”

He wanted a fight, I was sure of it. He always knew exactly what to say and when to say it, and there was no way he accidentally ever said the wrong things. He was challenging me in front of everybody, criticizing my song and humiliating me with my poorly hidden aggravation. He wanted me to snap, he was waiting for it, almost counting on it.

Why?

I stared down as the others tried to make light of the situation. By now some of them had figured what Brian was trying to accomplish and they did their best to diffuse the tension that was slowly building between him and me. I smiled and shrugged, delaying the moment Brian was aiming for.

“Alright, next song,” Jen announced finally and I saw a sigh of relief pass through Kevin and Howie next to me.

“We haven’t decided yet,” Brian interjected. I swear the whole room did a collective eye-roll. What the hell was he doing? He was getting on everyone’s nerves now, why did he have to be so damn annoying. I preferred him being half asleep like yesterday.

“Will you shut up about the fucking song?” I asked harshly. “You’re dwelling.”

“We could do a different version maybe,” Brian continued, ignoring my request. AJ looked at me like he had no idea what was going on anymore.

“The current version is fine,” I grumbled.

“You might want to hear everybody about that,” Brian countered.

“You’re just pissed cause you don’t have any leads,” I muttered.

“You wanna hear what everybody has to say about it,” Brian repeated, pretending he didn’t hear what I said.

“You’re not gonna get it either,” I said, studying my water bottle. If Brian could blatantly push my buttons, then I could press his. I just wanted him to explode first. The room had suddenly gone quiet and I felt the stares of the others on me and Brian as our argument slowly escalated.

“I don’t care about your leads,” Brian said in a constricted voice, indicating that he actually did care.

“Sure you do,” I drawled, “you don’t like the chorus, because you want the chorus. Don’t pretend that isn’t true, you said it yourself.”

“Maybe in a different version-”

“See!”

“Would you shut the fuck up and let me talk?” There it was. The little hypocrite swore in front of a camera.

Ha! I leaned forward as I pointed a finger sharply in his direction.

“You shut the fuck up!,” I yelled, finally letting the frustration that had been building for the better part of the afternoon explode in Brian’s face. I pointedly stabbed a finger in his direction.

“Listen-” Brian started.

“Shut the fuck up!” I repeated, determined not to let Brian finish one more sentence. Everybody was so done with him, couldn’t he just see that?

“You-” he tried again, only to be cut off for a third time.

“You shut the fuck up!” I felt like my mind was going to explode in anger. I didn’t care about the camera that was now curiously floating around me. People had heard me swear dozens of times on TV and in public; I didn’t get what the big deal was.

“You-” Brian just didn’t know how to quit, did he? “You wanna hear everyone around the t-”

“I swear, don’t fucking talk to me that way!” I growled, “I swear to God.”

“I’ll talk to you however I wanna talk to you,” Brian stated defiantly, looking at me as if I were nothing but a little kid that he needed to put straight. And there you had it; that obvious lack of respect just because he was older. But just because I was thirteen when he met me, doesn’t mean I’m still thirteen. When was he ever going to treat me with some respect? When was he ever going to stop pretending like he was better than me for some reason? Sure, I have been pretty messed up throughout the years, but so was he. The difference between him and me was that I had finally owned up to that fact, and he never has. I decided to make my point clear.

“Don’t talk to me that way, you don’t get respect out of me that way,” I warned him, but he didn’t seem to care as he continued about his mantra of hearing everybody around the table. I decided to turn it up a notch.

“Don’t be a fucking dick like everyone knows you are,” I sneered as he continued to defy me, “You understand what I’m saying? Don’t be a fucking dick,” I tried to inform him, but could tell he didn’t hear a thing of what I was saying, as he went on about hearing everybody’s opinion, “Don’t be a dick!” I exploded to get his attention. By now I could tell that everybody was pretty much tired of this fight, and I was too. I just wanted to make Brian and his stupid, ignorant stubbornness see why he couldn’t get every lead on every song that he wanted. “Trust me, you don’t want it from me baby,” I tried to warn him again.

Brian threw himself back in his chair and looked at me challengingly, “Dude,” he said with an irritating grin, the lack of respect again apparent on his face.

“I’m not afraid of you anymore!” I cried out, watching with some satisfaction as Brian began to frown. I had never spoken those thoughts out loud and it was clear that he had no idea what I was talking about. The grin fell from his face and he looked at me with growing confusion.

“What, and you were afraid of me?” he asked incredulously. He had a point, considering I was almost a head bigger than him. There had just always been something about him that I’d found quite intimidating.

Like he was too perfect for me to ever cross him. Like he was the almighty Greek God that would save the day and was obviously better at everything than anybody else. And now that he wasn’t perfect anymore, I stopped being afraid, and started being angry and disillusioned. But he obviously didn’t know any of these deeply hidden beliefs. Nevertheless, I tried to explain it as I felt Kevin’s hands on my shoulders that tried to put out some of the flames that roared deep inside of me.

“No,” I said in a high pitched voice, “he knows what I’m talking about, dude! He knows exactly what I’m talking about, we all know what I’m talking about!” I stood up, ignoring the warning eyes of the people around me that told me to immediately drop it. Because they did know what I was talking about, and they didn’t want to have this conversation.

“What about fucking vocals on songs, are we gonna talk about that?” I spat, “are we gonna talk about the fact that you don’t necessarily sound as good as you used to?”

There. I said it. I saw him wince, despite him trying to hide it by taking a sip of his water. A shadow had fallen over his eyes as he shrugged, trying to be nonchalant, “Is that what you wanna talk about?” he asked, his voice far more quiet than before, “Let’s talk about it.”

I continued my rampage, at that point not caring where it lead me or what regrettable things I might say, “Are we gonna talk about when producers come to us and tell that they got problems because of your fucking voice?”

I had crossed a line. I had broken the frail truce that had silently existed between the five of us. I could almost hear it break. Brian’s face turned cold as he directly stared at me. “Yeah, cause I can’t do your job anymore,” He said calmly, a detached look in his eyes.

I knew that he had no idea that producers had actually come to us, instead of directly to him. I could see how much the information hurt. I also remembered how stupid I looked when producers asked that question and I had no idea how to answer, because I didn’t know what was going on with his voice. He never, ever talked about it.

“No, it’s the truth,” I said, trying to ignore Kevin’s increasing attempts at calming us, primarily me, down; talking about places of love and anger and all that bullshit. “I’m not being angry,” I exclaimed angrily, “I’m fucking being real, cause everyone just wants to sugarcoat it. Everyone wants to sugarcoat it, let’s fucking bring it out in the open,” I spoke so fast, I couldn’t even keep track of my own words anymore. Kevin went on and on about his place of love and Brian just stared at me, suddenly have gone completely silent. I saw his defenses had completely shattered and suddenly, I couldn’t stop myself anymore, spewing out the frustrations that had developed over the course of the album cycle. Kevin didn’t back down, and now Jen was trying to interfere as well. Why was everybody always so behind Brian and so against me?

“Stop!” I exclaimed at Kevin and Jen. AJ and Howie wisely kept their thoughts to themselves and Brian tried to look everywhere except at me. “When producers come to us,” I started again, a little slower this time, “and say, what is wrong with Brian’s voice? What’s happening with his voice?” Brian made a brave attempt to look at me and nodded, as if he understood where I was coming from. “And then you wanna sing on the records dawg, and you sound great on the records cause you could do a fucking little bit of editing,” I went on, the tempo of words already breaking the speed limits again, and my voice in a pitch I only recognized as me being angry. I looked at the pain and anger on Brian’s face as I took his pride and ego and smashed it to the ground, stomping on it as I went. Because he and I both knew that he required a shit ton of editing to sound decent on the record, whereas in the past, that had never ever needed to happen before. “But when we got to go on stage and sing that shit, when we got to go do a world tour, I mean, this is the kinda... this is all I’m trying to say!”

I backed off a little bit at the strange hatred I saw appearing on his face. Brian had never looked at me like that before. His face was tense and his mouth was firmly pressed into a thin line as he observed me and I sensed that the hatred was not directed at me. “Yeah, but you take the good and the bad, dawg,” he finally said after I had scattered everything he had been afraid to hear over the table, “you take the good and the bad, we’re a group.” He sounded assured and collected, but I could see that he was on the verge of storming out of the room and away from the crushing pressure we were laying on him. I continued to argue with Kevin, who found it appropriate that I sit down and act like an adult. Good old Kevin always found it necessary to bump in and get involved in a fight, just so he could try and settle it. He would calmly evaluate the situation as if it were something we should look at from a distance and try and figure it out.

I paced around, letting Kevin do the talking for a minute as I tried to regain control over myself. He was right, as usual. There was a lot of baggage that was coming out. Brian used to be my best friend and we used to know each other to the point that I could almost read his thoughts. Now, Brian’s eyes were those of a stranger’s to me and I wondered where it had gone so wrong that we had merely turned into colleagues, at best. I missed the carefree Brian with a heavenly voice that hadn’t been ripped apart by countless years of stress and anxiety. I missed the way we used to get on the other guys’ nerves, instead of on each other’s. And I hated myself for letting it come to this, even though it wasn’t particularly my fault. I hated how I had been too swallowed up in my own misery that I had never noticed his struggles and crumbling facade until it was too late.

Was it too late?

“Yeah, we need to talk about Brian’s vocal issues, we need to find a way to make it work,” Kevin said in a neutral tone of voice. I nodded swiftly, not bearing to look at Brian and the lost expression on his face.

“That’s all I’m saying,” I muttered with a sigh.

“I think this is an appropriate time to get dinner and take a break,” Jen suggested and we all grunted our approval. I got up, muttering something about stretching my legs and left the suffocating room. I rolled my eyes as I heard Howie’s voice behind me.

“You’re going to give me a lecture as well?” I drawled when he caught up with me.

“Depends on your definition of lecture,” Howie mumbled.

“I just don’t understand,” I replied, “Why does he even want those leads?”

“Habit, I suppose,” Howie mused, “Fear of change, maybe.”

I grinned at Howie’s attempt at basic psychology. We both knew that trying to dig into Brian’s psyche was a whole new level of stupid. God, that idiot had layers that went from here to Jerusalem. “We’re long overdue for some change.”

Howie paused a couple of seconds, shivering as we stepped outside in the cold air of March evening. “Did you know he only has like twelve solos and leads the way this record is shaping up?” Howie stated.

I looked at him with a bit of surprise, “Really?”

“Yeah,” Howie continued, “You take the cake with like 35, then there’s me and AJ with around thirty, then Kevin with 23, and then there’s Brian. With twelve. And that’s including adlips on songs.”

Twelve.

Perhaps I was a little harsh on him.

“Huh,” I grunted as I took a seat on one of the benches outside, breathing in the fresh air around me.

“There’s your change,” Howie muttered, staring straight ahead as he took a seat beside me, “How would you like it if you went from the main lead singer with a whopping average of 33 leads per record, to a poor total of twelve solos on an album?”

I frowned, wondering when Howie had taken the time to get familiar with these statistics. But you could always count on Howard to win an argument solely based on numbers. I rubbed tiredly at me face, sighing in frustration, “But we have to do something,” I stated quietly.

“I agree,” Howie replied, “but you could have gone about it a whole different way.”

I looked at him and raised my eyebrows, “A better person could have,” I said.

“You could have too,” Howie answered, “You’re angry, right?”

I nodded.

“And frustrated?”

I nodded again.

“And you want this whole situation to sort itself out?”

“Well, yeah,” I sighed.

“Now try to sum up that anger, frustration and impatience and try to think of how Brian must feel about it. Whatever you’re feeling, he’s experiencing it on a whole different level.”

I frowned; then scoffed. I hadn’t quite thought of it like that yet. Brian’s voice issues were primarily Brian’s. I could go home tomorrow, have a nice dinner with my fiance and banish Brian and his broken voice out of my thought entirely, knowing that after all, I would sound good enough on stage and on a world tour.

But Brian would have to drag the burden with him wherever he went. He would barely eat or sleep, which I had noticed as early as London, when we were busy recording the damn record in the first place. Those nights I had come into his room because my own room was too hot for any human being to find sleep in and I needed my sleep if I did not want to end up cranky for the entirety of my day, thank you very much. He would pretend he was sleeping, but I could tell he wasn’t.

Not really. I only know because I had slipped a sleeping pill into his coffee one day and he was out cold for the better part of the evening and night. I’m still not sure whether I feel guilty about drugging him like that or not, I just couldn’t bear the look of pure exhaustion on his face anymore, I guess.

I stared up at the darkening sky with Howie beside me.

It was starting to rain and I wondered for the first time if we didn’t have a much bigger problem on our hands than just Brian’s voice.
8. My Nightmare by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
darn

why don't we crank up the drama a little bit here? This is the scene that followed the infamous fight scene in the film, as we're all pretty much familiar with by now. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, we can go onto broader paths.
“-And it’s frustrating for me because... I-I don’t know where you’re at... I don’t know what happened with your therapy lately,” Kevin droned and I watched him wearily. Truth was that I hated everything and everyone at that moment, but that wasn’t Kevin’s fault. It wasn’t even Nick’s fault. I suppose it was just my own fault as usual. I couldn’t tell them what happened with my therapy; they only wanted the good updates, and unless I could provide those, I kept quiet. Because honestly, my therapy was pretty much stuck, “And I know you’re living it,” Kevin pointed out, “but not a day goes by that I don’t think about you.”

How sweet, I thought sarcastically, it was good to know that me being included in Kevin’s thoughts was going to help me in this struggle. I nodded every now and then to let him think that I was hanging on every word that came from his mouth, but in truth, I felt like falling asleep right then and there. I didn’t understand how I could be so tired and not able to sleep at the same time. It was ridiculous.

“-I think we should put the brakes on for a little while,” Kevin concluded and I saw the others nod reluctantly at his suggestion. We had a twentieth anniversary coming up and they just wanted to sit it out? They really wanted to throw away the only chance we had at putting ourselves in the picture again? What the heck? No way. I was not going to be responsible for yet another huge delay and then be looked at as the sole reason we missed our chance in the first place. It just wasn’t worth it.

“But I don’t wanna stop the train. This is the thing, and this is a huge year for us,” I reminded them, not daring to look up from the table I was staring a whole into. I let my hands do most of my expressions as I went on, “And I have to be in tiptop shape, somehow, someway.” I stated, letting them know that I would like to figure this out without having them on my back every minute, “The frustrating thing for me is that... I’m the one that has to live with it; I’m the one that has to hear it each and every day,” I said hatefully, “You guys, I could talk to you until I’m blue in the face, and you’d never understand it, I don’t expect you to understand it,” I mumbled, feeling the frustration burn up again as I heard myself crack on every other word I spoke.

“We’re not trying to do an intervention on you,” Howie spoke as he tried to do an intervention on me, “But it’s almost like... like with a person who’s going into rehab, you really need to have this possibly taken really serious and have somebody working with you every single day. Cause if you don't get this sorted out soon, it might be the beginning of the end.”

I looked at Howie thoughtfully. Sure, no pressure. Did he just compare my situation to rehab? Did he think I was some kind of junkie that with enough counseling and praying, would be perfectly fine again? Did he realize how much therapy and praying I had already done? What? Did they think I’d been sitting on my ass all year, trying to ignore an issue that I was faced with every hour, every minute of every single day? Jep, get yourself checked into rehab for a few months to get everything magically sorted out, because that surely was the way to go as far as Howie was concerned.


What the fuck did he know?

Nothing. He knew nothing and that was because I never told him anything. I never told any of them anything.

They didn’t want to hear it. They were too caught up in their own problems, their own hectic lives to also consider my disappointing, almost non-existent progress that was threatening the very livelihood of this group.

Why would I bother them with bad news if I could choose to not bother them at all?

I only half listened as AJ went on about working on yourself and facing fears and be open about problems. I knew he was speaking from experiences from his own struggles, but for goodness sake, I didn’t have an alcohol problem. I had a crappy-voice-that-used-to-be-good problem. Were any of them familiar with that kind of problem? No? Good for them. Why not back off then and let me handle my shit on my own?

I tuned back in when Kevin was talking again. He seemed to have taken the lead in the whole conversation and was neatly laying out what needed to be done, “Let’s stop performing live until some of this shit, we get it worked out. Let’s let you do your therapy, let’s let you experiment with whatever the doctors say.”

I sighed, trying to collect my thoughts and to compose what I was going to say. I wasn’t one to snap at people, and if I was angry, I would likely go for the silent kill, which Nick had been reacquainted to only two hours ago. But honestly, now I wanted nothing more than to scream at Kevin and the others. What was this we they were speaking of? How were we going to work anything out? How were they going to help me by only demanding more and more of me, things that they knew I wouldn’t be able to give, no matter how much I wanted to. I tried to keep my composure as I cleared my dried up throat; this entire conversation was pointless.

“Let’s face it,” I said quietly, my voice nearly gone from having talked too much already, “It’s the pressure that I put on myself of what I was, what I am and what I’m gonna be,” I continued, rehashing the stuff I had talked about with my therapist a few days ago. I could see on the guys’ faces that they had no idea what I was talking about. Psychology wasn’t the subject they majored in. “-and then I woke up one day and thought like, damn, I just need to fix this for me,” I tried to continue the story in words I hoped they would understand and heard some grunts of agreement as I went on, “You can’t fix alcohol abuse for me,” I said to AJ, who nodded loyally. “I apologize that if my bad performance takes the stock down, which is true, but I can only do what I can do to be best for me right now,” I said as my throat constricted the airflow and eliminated the sound from my voice completely. Great.

Way to prove a point there.

The room fell silent and I saw the rest nod absently. I tried not to look at the nauseating food in front of me. I had barely even touched my own plate, my stomach constricting and wringing into knots with every thought of food. Nick was staring at his plate with a faraway look on his face and I started to wonder if he had even followed half of what had been said. I could still see the frustration clearly written on his features and decided to ask him about it.

“When it comes to your point of view of for yourself,” he started, much calmer and more collected than two hours before, when his words had flown like a wildfire into my face, “I completely accept that and that is, that’s you, that’s what you gotta do.” I nodded, a load slipping of my shoulders. I hadn’t realized that I needed Nick’s understanding so much. It was kind of surprising how it suddenly seemed so important to have him behind me. “I do think there’s a fifty fifty thing here though. I’ve gone through this thing before in this group when I was overweight,” he said pointedly, “when I was drinking and doing drugs, when I was being a maniac and it affected the group.” I kept silent as I listened to him. Why was everyone so hung up on comparing their addiction problems to my voice issues?

Why did that apparently have everything to do with each other? Why was being a maniac, as in Nick’s own words, somehow the same thing as having a crippled voice? The comparison was astounding to me. Why did they pretend like I was not doing everything in my might to tackle this issue? Why did they not know that I might go to therapy seventeen times a week and it would not likely make much of a difference.

Because they knew nothing. Because I never told them anything.

“I had to get better, for you,” Nick continued, his voice rising again as his frustration got the better of him, “AJ had to as well. And that’s all I’m trying to say and I’m passionate about it cause I’m still pissed off.”

“But Nick, it starts with you,” I interjected in a pathetic excuse for a voice.

“Of course it starts with me,” Nick replied matter-of-factly.

“Yes, it’s reflective,” I continued, “but it starts with me. This shit happens to be about me. So let it start with me first, and let it filter.”

“Yes,” Nick agreed quickly, pretty much done with the conversation. The table fell silent again and we all looked down. I felt my stomach turn for a second time and quickly closed my eyes. I only looked up when I heard Nick sigh.

“I want you to get better, I really do, I genuinely want you to get better,” he said and when I looked at him, I could see the sincerity right there. There was desperation to his voice as well. I didn’t have the strength to tell that just wanting me to get better, wouldn’t make it so. He proceeded to start a metaphor of Jordan and Pippin and I felt myself crumbling apart on the inside, agonizingly slowly. “And I miss that voice,” he continued, his eyes pleading with me as I looked away, “and I believe you can have it back.”

Great, he could believe for the both of us then. Why did he have so much faith? Where did that naive belief come from? What had I ever done for him to look up at me so much? “We need Jordan, and I know that it’s gonna happen.”

He looked at me for a time, a pleading look on his face that begged me to say something. To confirm his beliefs. To say, sure Nick, don’t you worry one more second, everything’s gonna be fine, it was a joke after all. A year long, horribly executed joke. I stared back at him, trying to hide how empty and tired I felt, but knowing I failed horribly as his face slowly changed from hope into disappointment. We all sat in silence for a couple more minutes and I realized that the whole intervention had finally ended; without any promising results. The disappointment and sadness of the others resonated around the room, radiating off of them in waves only I could see. The walls were getting terrifyingly close and the air seemed to get thinner and thinner in seconds.

Hurriedly, I stood up, mumbled something about bathroom and got out of the boardroom. I half expected someone to jump up and follow me, but when that didn’t happen I faltered through the hall on my own in search of the nearest bathroom. I felt my knees shaking and the sweat suddenly streaming off my face, into my neck and hair; making it stick to my head like it was raining. My stomach twisted one more time before I crashed to my knees and gave in, miserably throwing up into the very clean toilet. It was strange, considering I hadn’t eaten much of anything that day; still the waves of nausea never seemed to stop. And when they finally did, I could see the black spots dancing in front of my eyes and leaned back against the wall in exhaustion. My breathing was out of control, but I didn’t really care.

I could feel my heart madly beating in my chest way too fast. I pressed my eyes shut in an attempt to get rid of the black spots. I barely heard it when someone’s fist pounded roughly against the door. “Brian?” Nick’s voice was laced with worry and fear and I pressed my eyes closed tighter.

Not Nick, not Nick. Don’t let Nick see you like this. Not Nick. Anybody but him.

His fist connected with the door again, even louder this time and I felt the sound stabbing through my head. Nick probably had brought the entire camera crew with him; he was a sucker for catching dramatic moments on film. Wouldn’t that sell a great documentary? Brian on the floor of a toilet, sick and hyperventilating like an idiot. Surely that would shock most people around the world, and wasn’t shock value one of the most important things of movie material?

I tried to pull myself together, I wanted to get up, open the door and tell Nick to stop being dramatic. I tried to, but I couldn’t manage it. Everything was just too much. Their disappointed faces danced tauntingly in front of my vision. Once I had been one of those faces, I’m sure, dancing in front of Nick’s or even AJ’s vision. My chest burned with the insufficient breaths I took in and the tiny room around me began to spin.

“Brian!” Nick called out, panicked now, even though he couldn’t really see me through the door that separated us. There was a loud crashing sound against the door, and I felt a tremor of shock travel through me. I opened my eyes wide when the locked door flew open with another crashing sound and Nick almost tumbled in right after it. He held his shoulder with a grimace on his face and it took him a second to locate me on the floor. He didn’t have a camera crew with him.

“Shit!” he cursed. One part of me wanted to get mad at him for breaking the door, another wanted to pass out and the third one wanted to throw up again. I turned my face away from Nick and continued to gasp for air, like a fish on dry land. Nick noticed my struggle immediately and I felt his large hands grab me and turn me towards him. His face swam in front of my vision, his image blurred and overtaken by the black splotches that were expanding rapidly.

“Goddamnit, Jesus Christ, Brian,” he growled, inches away from my face, but still sounding like he was calling me from a hundred feet away. I couldn’t breathe anymore, not even a little. His hands tightened around my arms and he yelled something I couldn’t hear. Soon enough, I couldn’t hear anything anymore above the crashing waves of panic that didn’t stop and swallowed me whole. It was the worst panic attack I had ever experienced and I didn’t see a way out of it. Nick’s voice drifted in and out of my senses, but his hands never left my arms.

“Hey, talk to me, man,” Nick pleaded, knowing very well that I couldn’t talk even if I wanted to. “Y-you gotta breathe, Bri.” His voice was steady and suddenly very calm. I felt his hands move from my arms to my back as my eyes rolled up.

“No no no,” Nick said urgently, “Hey, stay with me here, alright? You just gotta breathe.”

I gasped, a horrible strangled sound escaping my mouth. I winced as the relentless pain shot up and down my throat and I fought against the muscles that were surely suffocating the life out of me. Why was this happening? What the hell did I do wrong here?

“Brian, listen, just listen,” Nick’s voice was even and controlled and I wondered for a split second if he’d ever had to handle something quite like this situation before, “Just try to look at me, alright? That’s all. That’s all you gotta do. Just breathe and look at me.”

I did my best as I tried to focus on his voice, above the sound of my drumming heart and above the horrifying feeling of getting strangled by my own body. I tried to steer my attention to the blurred splotches that somehow resembled Nick’s face. I wasn’t quite aware of the details on how long a human body could do without proper oxygenation, but it couldn’t be much longer. My vision blackened almost entirely and Nick yelled for help, his hands swatting my face to keep me from losing consciousness completely.

“Brian!” he called to me, “Somebody help!” he called into the hallway, “Goddamnit!” he called to the universe. And before everything ended, the last thing I was aware of was his trembling hands still rubbing against my back.
The Stubborn by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
It has only just begun...
A shiver traveled up my spine when I heard Nick’s loud voice echo down the hall. I looked at Kevin and Howie’s shocked face only a second before jumping up and stumbling out of the room, running down the hall as fast as I could. I had actually advised against Nick going to check on Brian, arguing that the best thing to do for Brian right now was to give him some space.

“Somebody help!” Nick called again, and I was choking on fear as I heard the urgency in his voice. What the hell could have happened? Behind me, I could hear the others catching up as I raced around the corner, skidding to a perfect stop in front of the open bathroom door. Nick was on the floor on his knees next to Brian. Brian was leaning awkwardly against Nick and I could see that his eyes were closed. My very first thought was that he was drunk.

“W-what the hell happened?” I stuttered, watching as Nick tried to hoist Brian up against the wall.

“He passed out,” Nick grumbled, preoccupied with holding our band mate somewhat steady.

“H-how?” I wondered, barely noticing Howie and Kevin and the others appearing right next to me.

“You wanna take a guess?” Nick snarled and finally looked up at me, anger and sadness twisting his expression into a tight grimace. “Help me get him out of here.”

“Is he okay?” Jen asked in astonishment, quickly taking a step to the side as I wrenched myself into the tiny bathroom. I reached out, sighing as I felt the steady, somewhat fast pulse when I pressed my fingers to Brian’s throat.

“He’s alright,” I muttered, maneuvering around the area with my back pressed against the wall until I could grab Brian’s legs, motioning for Nick to take a hold of his arms. “Let’s get him out of this place.”

Nick nodded quickly, lifting Brian up without much of an effort. I held onto Brian’s legs and so our parade through the hallway began. I heard the hushed voices of our followers behind me and saw their concerned looks cast our way. Brian didn’t wake up during this rough journey. I could tell he took this whole being unconscious thing very seriously.

“In there,” Jen suddenly said, running out in front of us as she opened a door to the left, “there’s a couch in there, you can put him on that.”

“Alright,” I nodded impatiently, my back starting to hurt as Nick and I carried our band mate into the room.

“There you go,” Nick mumbled as he carefully laid Brian down on the couch. The thing was too small to fit an entire Brian, so eventually his feet were forced to stick over the edge.

“Well then,” Nick said as he took a step back, wearily observing the miserable person lying on the couch.

“Did he have another attack?” I asked quietly.

“Another?”

Oh, right. Nick didn’t know about the panic attacks.

Basically, only Brian and I knew. Stupid. He should have told the others. But there was a whole bunch of things Brian should tell us that he never did. “What are we gonna do with him?” I asked, looking up at Nick.

“I swear,” Nick sighed, rubbing his face tiredly as he sat down at the coffee table across from the couch, “he was freaking out like no tomorrow. I’ve never seen something like it.”

“You need to calm him down by forcing him to breathe,” Howie popped up beside me with a glass of water in his hand.

“I tried, God knows, I tried!” Nick grumbled, “And I think he tried too, but he just couldn’t do it. It was the most scary thing I’ve seen in my life. He just really couldn’t breathe. Like, for real.”

“It’s all in his head,” Howie muttered, sitting down next to Nick.

“What if it isn’t?”

“It is though,” Howie said adamantly.

“Then we’re fucked.”

Howie shrugged absently, twisting around in his chair and sighing, “Hold on, I have to keep Kevin from calling the hospital.”

“Why is he not waking up?” Nick asked, his voice rising with a hint of panic.

“Give him a minute,” I muttered, carefully placing the glass of water Howie had pushed into my hands on the coffee table.

“It’s been ten minutes!”

“He’s fine, go get some coffee or something.” I replied. I wasn’t a stranger to panic attacks. They were nothing fun. They were the most terrifying and horrible experiences I had up to date. Sure, I had never had one so severe that I blacked out from it, but I could remember the need to just block everything out and give in to the darkness. Luckily for me, the attacks usually went away before that could happen. I pinched the bridge of my nose and sighed deeply. This day was dragging on for far too long. It already went wrong when I left home this morning, Ava crying like heaven and hell were crashing down. She never liked it when I left and I always found it heartbreaking the moment when I had to step out of the house. I promised her I would be home by tonight before she went to sleep, but she would have none of it, too young to understand such a promise, and kept screaming. Then later that day, Nick started screaming at Brian because Brian didn’t like his chorus and wanted to sing more leads. Then in the evening we bombarded Brian with expectations and wishes, so much so that he passed out in a bathroom not very much later.

Great day.

I muttered something as I completed the text to my wife about how I would be a bit later tonight, considering I needed to sort something out here first. She would understand, she was awesome like that. I rubbed at my eyes, feeling like I could fall asleep for a month and I didn’t look up until I heard a groan coming from the couch.

“Hey buddy,” I greeted as Brian slowly woke up and stared back at me with a blank expression. It took him a few seconds to focus on me and he frowned in confusion, blinking rapidly to clear his vision.

“Wh-?” he wanted to say something, but there was no sound coming from him. He looked like he’d been to hell and back, his hat had fallen off and was probably still lying uselessly in the bathroom and his hair stuck to his head in a messy, uncoordinated manner.

He looked nothing like Brian.

Brian wasn’t uncoordinated and messy. Brian didn’t pass out in bathrooms and the Brian I knew didn’t give up faith... ever. But the look I’d seen in this Brian’s eyes when Nick had pleaded with him to get better was not something I recognized. That moment of bare darkness in his expression had scared the crap out of me. He didn’t believe in a good outcome anymore. And if he couldn’t believe in it, then no one could.

I reached out a hand to slow him down when Brian tried to get upright, immediately noticing him wavering. He opened his mouth again, tried to say something, but just wasn’t able to. With a sigh, he let himself fall back on the couch. I could practically read how much he hated everything, off of his face. “Just take it slow there, Bri,” I muttered softly.

He groaned again, tenderly rubbing the sides of his head as he sat up slowly. He looked rather pale under the fluorescent light and I felt a stab of worry when the pained expression didn’t disappear from his face.

“Headache?” I asked cautiously.

“Very much so,” he whispered quietly. I had to strain to even be able to hear him. “What happened?”

I licked my lips and sighed, “You blacked out in the bathroom. Do you remember anything?”

He winced, carefully reaching out to the glass of water on the table in that slow, overly measured way drunk people did when they wanted to focus on something. His balance soon faltered again and he grabbed onto the edge of the couch to keep himself steady. I quickly grabbed the water and held it in front of his face. He gladly accepted and took a few sips; then frowned. “I dunno,” he sighed, leaning back against the couch, “I think I threw up.”

I grunted, my concern flaring up when I watched him squint a few times, “Dizzy?” I asked.

He nodded almost unnoticeably, “What happened?” he asked again.

“Another panic attack,” I explained carefully, “A pretty bad one, apparently.”

Brian’s eyes unfocused as he stared into the distance, “I couldn’t breathe,” he muttered quietly. “Why couldn’t I breathe?”

I shrugged helplessly, biting my bottom lip thoughtfully, “You think too much, Brian.”

A small smile appeared on his face as he looked at me, “That’s cause I have to think for the both of us.”

“Shut up,” I grinned back.

“Good morning, Sunshine,” Kevin mumbled around a mouthful of what I suspected were leftover meatballs from dinner. “So Howie, Nick and I talked,” he said after he swallowed and I saw Nick and Howie return after him. “And it was decided that tour and album are postponed.” My eyes widened as I looked at Kevin. Why was I not included in this sudden decision? But before I could open my mouth to ask, Kevin raised a hand to silence me.

“But-” Brian squeaked, not usually so easily silenced by a look from Kevin, but I guess the disorientation and exhaustion from the previous ordeal did the job.
I turned around at Nick and Howie, “You guys agreed to this?” I asked incredulously.

Nick shrugged, “Not really,” he admitted, “he used his veto.” He pointed at Kevin.

“I did,” Kevin nodded sternly. “Someone had to do it.” I saw Howie nod thoughtfully, which meant he stood behind Kevin’s decision for one. Kevin probably didn’t want to take the risk of the remaining three of us to decide against it and used a veto.

Smart.

Let me explain. We make most of all decisions together, which can sometimes lead to some fairly heated debates about how and why something should happen or not. With each album cycle, we all get one veto. Most of those vetos are used on song choices, setlist picks and I even used one on an album cover once, don’t ask me why.

And now Kevin used it on postponing a tour. That sort of influence was usually never covered by a veto, but there wasn’t a rule that said he couldn’t do it.

“But,” Brian tried again, “You can’t just do that!” His voice was raw and barely audible and I could already hear him starting to wheeze again.

“Calm down,” Kevin instructed sternly, “Last to my knowledge, I can do it, and I did.”

“Then I veto your veto,” Brian said angrily. I saw Howie shake his head and Nick rolled his eyes, but Kevin remained stoic.

“It doesn’t work like that and you know it,” he explained patiently, like Brian was just a little kid throwing a tantrum, which, basically, he was, “Besides, you already used your veto on Trust Me.”

Brian’s shoulders slumped as he recalled the use of his veto. “But we need an album for the anniversary next month,” he mumbled.

“No we don’t,” Kevin stated clearly, “We’re not ready yet.”

“You mean I’m not ready yet,” Brian snarled.

You’re not ready yet, but neither am I. Neither are any of us,” Kevin said, looking at me and Nick pointedly. I nodded slowly. I knew he was mainly doing this because of Brian, but didn’t want Brian to think he was the sole reason things got postponed. I remember when tour got cancelled because I had to go to rehab, I remember how bad that had felt very clearly.

“Who are you to say I’m not ready?” Brian grumbled lowly and his eyes narrowed dangerously. I knew he was going for a silent kill. He did that whenever he felt himself driven into a narrow spot.

“Dude! Seriously!” Nick exclaimed suddenly, his eyebrows raised and his arms wide open in disbelief, “You, like, literally passed out from stress twenty minutes ago!”

Brian looked down as his face turned red, “That won’t happen again,” he mumbled quietly.

“You don’t know that; you can’t control it,” Kevin said calmly, “And it’s very understandable, believe me. That’s why we’re doing this. Having to see you destroy yourself over this, that’s not worth it. That’s not ever going to be worth it.”

His words rang so true, it almost physically hurt. I felt a lump in my throat as Brian’s face fell, and the mask and protective walls fell with it for a second, before shooting back up. But I had seen it, I think we all had. That tiredness; that frustrated kind of self-loathing I knew of myself all too well, and the utter depression that came with it. I had the paralyzing feeling that Brian was throwing himself down a deep dark pit, and until he would reach the bottom, none of what we said would ever really get through to him. It was terrifying to me that I suddenly found myself on the other side of it, where I had to watch someone self-destruct without being able to stop it. I had to admit that it felt almost just as bad as being the one self-destructing. It was only a matter of time before Brian would break completely under this stress and pressure and I wondered if there was any way we could prevent it.

It would start by making Brian realized that we were not the enemy. That the enemy came from within himself, most likely. I stared at him while he refused to acknowledge any of us. He just stared at the table, unmoving. Kevin sighed and got up, putting on his jacket as he prepared to leave, “Jen is going to manage the postponing,” he said softly, “It’s all going to work out fine. I suggested late July for the album and the start of August for the tour. That gives us three and a half more months. We need this.”

I nodded in confirmation; I could see where he came from, as we were not halfway done with the setlist and the dance practice yet. It occurred to me that having an album out already next month was a ludicrous idea anyway. Kevin nodded swiftly, muttered a goodbye and left. After a few minutes, Nick and Howie got up as well, mumbling their goodnights before leaving. I was astonished to learn that it was nine o’clock already. I sighed as I looked at Brian, who hadn’t moved from his spot on the couch.

“Make sure you eat something before you leave,” I suggested softly.

Brian looked up with a icy glint in his eyes, “It’s already cold,” he grumbled before getting up, wavering only slightly as he left the room.

I closed my eyes in resignation, suddenly very lonely in the big conference room. I wondered how this situation was ever going to work.
10. My Break by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
alright, bonus round.

I'm really mean in this one, but I like the chapter. I think it stirs up some emotion ^^
Why do you yell, you can whisper as well, walk away. These teardrops of rain, they’re masking your shame, you walk away. There’s a midsummer storm, you see a midsummer fight, put your head in the sand if you can’t make this right, walk away.

Looking up, I saw Simon smile brightly, giving me a thumbs up. The adrenaline coursed through my veins when I realized this was the best take of these lines yet.

In fact, the whole song was going great.

“Wanna do it again?” Simon questioned, the grin still apparent on his face.

“Yes!” I confirmed eagerly. This was shaping up to be a good day. I needed a good day.

“Alrighty,” Simon said, carefully pressing the button that I had told him to press. Simon Clance was one of my best friends that happened to live four houses down the road. He owned a huge car dealership and his house was ginormous; bigger than mine. He also knew nothing about music, and to be honest, I quite liked that about him. He still loved to mess around in my studio though.

It was often quite funny, actually. In return, he let me mess around in his Bentleys, and that, in my opinion was more than a great deal.

I heard the soft, warm acoustic sounds of a guitar flow through the headphones into my ears and closed my eyes.

The song was soulful, an easy invitation for a singer to put their heart and soul into when singing it. I swallowed before I began. “Cover your eyes, if you can’t stand the sight, walk away. You cover your ears, so you don’t have to hear it, walk away.” The song was mid range mostly, my great weakness. But not today; today I didn’t crack once, the notes flowing into the microphone with ease, a feeling I had been missing for so long. It felt ecstatic; it was a break I had been waiting for.

“Keep going,” I heard Simon encourage with a laugh and I smiled back, my eyes still closed.

You cover your nightmares, you put them away; cause if nobody knows them they might go away, walk away... walk away... walk away... without me.” Everything went so perfect, I could just dance. In the past, I would have taken a good performance for granted, knowing that that was the standard. Now, it felt like a breath of fresh air, out of the suffocating atmosphere that seemed to hang around me wherever I went. My right foot tapped along to the music automatically and my hands swung around the microphone to guide the flow of the notes; it felt like the old days. “You cover your lies with stories and smiles, walk away. You’re scared what to find, so you just run and hide, you run away.

“Now comes the good part,” Simon laughed and I had to keep myself under control before I laughed too.

If you play with a gun, then you will shoot someone. When you sit in the fire, it’s your ass getting warm, walk away, w-” I couldn’t hold it in and covered the microphone as I burst into laughter.

The original line was It’s Yourself Who’s Getting Warm, but you know, Simon and I were juvenile kids. Our obnoxious giggles filled the entire studio and I motioned for him to cut off the music. After some clumsy searching he finally found the right button and the guitar stopped playing.

“You should totally produce this version of the song, dude,” Simon gasped, still amused.

“Are you kidding me?” I grinned, “I can’t say ass on a Christian record!”

“Why not?” he said in a high voice, “How much do I have to pay you to put it on there?”

“No!” I protested, laughing, then paused, “Well...”

“See, I knew it!”

“Shut up, it’s not gonna happen. It’s not... professional.”

“Right,” Simon nodded, but I could see he was about to laugh again.

“Seriously,” I said, “How would you like it if I sprayed one of your Bentleys purple and gold and you would still have to sell it?”

“There’s not many purple gold Bentleys going round,” Simon replied in all seriousness, “We could make a pretty buck out of that if we sell it smart. I bet there are not many Christian records saying ‘ass’ either, are there? It’ll be unique.”

“The community will totally kill me.”

“Totally worth it.”

“You know what you are?” I said, still smiling, “You’re an ass.”

“And you’re on fire,” he pointed out with a smirk, “This whole thing sounded flipping awesome. Did I mention I love your voice on this?”

“Did I mention I love your Bentleys?” I said, avoiding the compliment.

“You did. More than once, actually. It makes me assume we’re only friends because of my cars.”

“That is so true.”

“See? Nailed it. That degree in psychology wasn’t wasted after all.”

“What wasn’t wasted after all?” I heard my wife’s voice before I saw her. She came in with two huge mugs of tea. She made tea a lot lately. She thought it worked.

Maybe it did.

“Did you know Simon has a psychology degree?” I mumbled as I walked out of the sound booth and flopped down on a desk chair besides Simon at the key panel.

Leighanne observed Simon for a second, then smiled, “Really?” she said tauntingly, “Can’t imagine.”

Simon smiled back at her, then looked at me, “You’re gonna wish you had a degree, dawg. The pretty face and voice are not gonna last forever, you know?”

I looked at him thoughtfully. I knew he meant it as a joke, but I didn’t laugh and I felt my wife shoot me a quick look. Simon immediately realized his mistake and cleared his throat, “Anyway. He nailed Walk Away just a minute ago.”

“Oh yeah?” Leighanne did her best to keep the surprise out of her voice, handing me the mug of tea that was steaming hot. “Did you put that word in there again?”

I nodded effusively, “Very much so.”

She shook her head disapprovingly, but I could see she was smiling, “I’m surrounded by ten-year olds. There’s one upstairs, and apparently, there’s two down here as well.”

Simon grinned sheepishly at her, his long arms stretching out as he leaned back. “Ten year olds are a handful.”

“The one upstairs is behaving better than the two in here,” Leighanne warned him. “You,” she turned, pointing at me, “Are going to be late for rehearsal. It’s not often they agree to come all the way over here.”

“They can wait,” I grinned cheekily. For some reason or another, it had suddenly been no problem for my four bandmates to get all down to Atlanta. I suspected they were kind of afraid of me since I passed out in the bathroom two months ago. They were all too happy to agree to whatever was in my benefit all of a sudden.

“That’s mean,” my wife informed me.

I sighed, “Alright, alright.” I grunted as I got up, “You free tonight? Drinks are on me, or whatever we still have in the cupboards,” I suggested to Simon.

“You’re on.”

“Great,” I said before turning to my wife, “I’ll be home in about three hours, give or take. I love you,” I promised with a kiss.

------------------
My hands shook as I fumbled with the door. Gritting my teeth, I finally managed to open it and stumbled inside. I surely lost my balance when I tripped over one of Baylee’s shoes in the hallway. “Goddamnit,” I growled out loud after I fell on one knee. A blond head popped up out of a doorway and frowned at me. “Pick it up,” I grumbled, pointing at the shoe. Baylee knew from the tone in my voice not to argue and quickly shot out of the doorway, picking up the abandoned shoe.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

“Next time, I’m throwing it away,” I said, making my way to the kitchen.

Baylee followed me curiously, “How did rehearsals go?”

I looked at him and I guess he saw something in my expression as he suddenly stood still, “So... not good, huh?” he said uncertainly.

“Just... go put that shoe where it belongs,” I sighed, not having the energy to deal with his curious questions right now.

Baylee looked at me thoughtfully for a moment before shrugging, “Whatever,” he mumbled, walking away towards the stairs. I groaned, sitting down at the dining table, my hands slowly turning into shaking fists.

It wasn’t fair.

I got up slowly, shuffling towards the sink. I opened the cupboard with a snarl, feeling the anger course through my veins as I searched for a glass, putting it on the countertop with a loud noise. I jumped when I felt her hands on my back just as my fingers circled around the bottle of bourbon hidden away in the back of the cupboard.

“It didn’t go very well, did it?” She asked softly.
I let go of the bottle, letting my hand fall uselessly to the counter. “How would you know?” I muttered.

“Baylee told me,” she said calmly.

“Baylee doesn’t know anything about it,” I grumbled, still not turning around to look at her.

“True,” she said, “But he’s very perceptive. He can tell when you’re in a bad mood.”

“Who says I’m in a bad mood?”

“Brian,” her voice was soft, a hint of sadness lacing through the sound of my name.

“I just wanna be alone,” I mumbled, my stare burning through the countertop.

“Don’t do this,” she whispered, her hands gently caressing my back. “Just tell me what happened, we’ll figure it out.”

I scoffed, “No, we won’t,” I said, my voice catching in my throat, “we never will.”

“Don’t say that,” she said willfully, “Don’t ever say that.”

I felt the tears stinging as my hand curled around the glass, “I don’t know what else to say.”

“Just tell me about the rehearsal, we’ll talk about this,” she almost pleaded with me.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, my voice low, “It won’t change anything.”

“You never know,” she replied, carefully massaging the sore spot between my shoulder blades, “We might find ways we haven’t thought about yet.”

I closed my eyes and tried to count my breaths. When one of them got stuck in my throat, it sent me over the edge, “I was good!” I yelled as I threw the empty glass across the kitchen. Leighanne gasped when it hit the floor with a satisfying crash, shattering into a thousand different pieces. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that Baylee could hear me. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I had never been so outraged in front of my family before. I wasn’t thinking.

“Brian,” she began, but I cut her off.

“I was good this morning!” I screamed, my throat flaming in pain at the loudness of my voice, “It worked! Everything worked! I have it recorded, you can hear it!”

“I believe you,” my wife replied quickly.

“Then why doesn’t it work?” I kept screaming, frustration roughening my voice within seconds. “Why did I sound like shit?”

“Oh baby,” she muttered, her hands already finding their way to my back again, but I shrugged them off.

“You should have seen them,” I went on, out of breath, “They were so disappointed. It was laughable.”

“I’m sure they understood...”

“They gave me an extra three months, and I screwed it up,” I growled, letting the tears stream freely now. “There’s no excuse.”

“Don’t do this to yourself, Brian. Please,” she said softly.

“I was really good,” I cried out, “I was better this morning. I thought it was finally gonna work.”

“It will.”

“It didn’t!”

“But it will,” she said sternly, grabbing one of my arms to turn me around, “you have to have faith.”

I looked at her and sighed. Faith. She had enough for the both of us. She never gave up even though I was a terrible husband. “I’m sorry.” I mumbled when I got my breathing under control.

“You don’t have to apologize,” she whispered.

“You don’t deserve this,” I told her.

“Neither do you.”

“I’ll clean up the glass, then I’m gonna go to bed,” I mumbled, not caring that it was only seven thirty.

“You want me to cancel Simon coming over?” Leighanne called as she walked out of the kitchen.

“Yeah,” I said, knowing she couldn’t hear me anyway.

By the time I made it upstairs, there was a warm mug of tea waiting for me on the nightstand.
End Notes:
so the song is actually a song and can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtSvmGWsCP8 for anyone interested (it's quite good actually, and it fits the story fairly well -and it actually does say 'ass')
11. The Conquerer by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
short chapter, though there is some foreshadowing going on here....

have I said too much now?
Indecisively, I let my hand hover over the table. My brow furrowed as I picked up a tuna sandwich, thought about it, and then put it back.

“Nick, for crying out loud, would you just pick?” Howie squeaked next to me.

“This is going to be my entire lunch for today, I have to make it count,” I replied in all seriousness. Howard narrowed his eyes; then shook his head, grabbing the bacon and eggs sandwich from the top.

I wanted that.

I watch him leave before I grabbed the tuna sandwich again. I did like fish, I contemplated. AJ popped up beside me so fast, I almost jumped and squealed. His gigantic grin was taunting and his face got a little closer to mine. I looked at him, wondering what he wanted.

“What?” I sighed eventually.

“Look at that,” he said, turning and pointing at the table to our right.

I squinted; then scoffed, “Is he actually calling his wife?”

“Absolutely.”

“Why?”

“Because we’re making him strip.”

“And he needs permission?” I asked, almost choking on the tuna sandwich from held in laughter.

“Nah. I think he just wants to complain.”

What a wuss.

I slowly got closer to Brian’s table. His eyes shot in my direction and he hung up the phone before I could snatch it from his hand. He carefully put it in his pocket and folded his hands on the table. “Gentlemen,” he greeted slowly.

“Are we in the clear?” AJ asked, a laugh intertwining with his voice.

“I’m not going to do it,” Brian stated calmly.

“We’ve talked about this, haven’t we?” I replied in an amused tone, knowing he had no choice.

“I still don’t see the point,” Brian argued.

“I’mma do it,” AJ drawled.

“Good for you.”

I sighed, “You know the song, you know the concept, don’t crawl back now.”

“The concept didn’t say I had to take off my shirt,” Brian grumbled.

“Yes it did.”

“Fine, you take it off then.”

“That wouldn’t make sense; I didn’t have surgery,” I replied patiently. I knew Brian was fairly prudish. I often wondered if he ever even took his clothes off at all. Maybe he showered with his shorts and t-shirt on?

I don’t actually really remember when I last saw him without at least a tank top on. The funny thing was; he didn’t always used to be so squeamish. It was only after that surgery that he became much more prude. If it was up to him, there would be always something covering that scar from view. I don’t think he ever showed it to public. I know I totally would. I’d only seen quick glimpses of it in dressing rooms, but I knew it was quite impressive.

“Like anybody’s gonna grasp onto the concept,” Brian mumbled dejectedly, “They’ll just think we’re desperately trying to be young.”

“Aren’t we?” Howie piped in behind me.

“Totally,” AJ laughed, stirring his coffee passionately. “It’ll be a total shock to everybody.”

“Kevin’s almost done with his take,” Howie mused, slipping passed me and AJ and sitting down at the table. “Who’s next?”

“Brian,” I smiled, seeing Brian pale a little bit further.

He groaned, “Why? Why do I let myself be objectified?”

“You’ve been objectified your whole life, get over it,” Howie simply said. Brian shot him a look of indignation. I didn’t really understand what he was so afraid of. Out of the five of us, he was definitely in the best shape. I knew he didn’t necessarily spend much more time at the gym than me, but he just had that athletic build that I envied so much. He could eat practically anything too and wouldn’t get flabby at all. It was so unfair. He just always had it all, didn’t he?

Brian got up slowly and my smile fell all of a sudden when I noticed him falter a little. I swallowed, looking around to see if anyone else saw it or if I was maybe imagining things. Nobody seemed to have noticed and an uneasy feeling settled in my stomach. I walked up to Brian as he grumblingly pulled off his over shirt in front of the green screen. “Are you okay?” I asked quietly.

He looked at me with confused eyes, “Yeah...” he drawled, like he didn’t know what I was talking about, “You here to gawk at me?”

I smiled, deciding not to press the issue further; I had probably imagined the whole thing anyway. “Of course!” I grinned at his disapproving look, pushing the issue to the back of my mind. I remember being overly concerned fifteen years earlier when he came back on the road with us after his surgery. I must have asked him if he was alright every five minutes. It had steadily driven both of us insane.

“Great,” Brian mumbled, scoffing as he pulled off the black t-shirt now as well.

“Your nipples are shiny,” I pointed out, looking at him challengingly. I tried not to stare at the seven inch scar running down his chest. I imagined him being split open, doctors cutting through bone and tissue to get to his heart and I shuddered. It was not a thing I like to be reminded of.

Brian grumbled something in annoyance; then stared impatiently at the camera, “Let’s just do this quickly, alright?”

“Are you going to keep that shirt in your hands the entire time?” I asked, pointing at the black shirt he still held in his hand.

“Absolutely.”

“Alright then.”

The music started and Brian did his thing. He barely let the annoyance slip through in his performance, although I could see him gripping the t-shirt tightly every now and then and smiled. Afterwards, he muttered something about them better having what they needed, because he was not going to do it over.

“Nice,” I congratulated him, slapping a hand on his shoulder.

“Thanks,” he said, without looking at me.
12. The Relative by freedomwriter
“You okay?”

I pounded my fist on the door a couple more times, straining my ears to be able to hear a response.

“For crying out loud,” I heard Brian mumble, “Are you guys going to be ramming on the door every time I go to a bathroom?” I heard him fumbling with the lock and two seconds later, he appeared. I gave him a skeptical look. We had every reason to be ramming on the door whenever he disappeared into a bathroom; considering we’d found him half-unconscious three times already since the tour started. He stared back at me waywardly; still I couldn’t help but notice he looked three shades paler than he did before he went in there.

“Cousin,” he addressed me sternly.

“Cousin,” I replied. I wanted to ask him if he was okay again, but I remained silent; knowing he wouldn’t necessarily appreciate my concern.

“Well, thank you, for the vigil,” he said with a smile, “I think I can handle myself from here.”

“Eight more minutes!” A voice shouted down the studio’s corridor. I sighed as I saw Brian pale even further if that was possible.

“It’ll be fine,” I mumbled.

“It’s Everybody,” Brian replied pointedly.

“It’ll be fine,” I repeated with a bit more emphasis.

“Uhuh,” my cousin grunted without any conviction.

“It’s alright to miss a note,” I said softly.

His jaw clenched and he shot me a furious look, “It’s vh1, missing a note is not acceptable.”

“Nobody is going to care if you miss one.”

I’ll care!”

I bit my tongue, knowing from past experiences that engaging this conversation wasn’t going to lead us anywhere. Not for the first time I started to wonder what the hell we thought we were doing. I remembered the promo we’d done back in the States. I remember how we’d dragged ourselves through it. Overall, the feedback had been great and most shows had sold out fairly quickly. Overall, it was a success story. And I suspected that promo in Europe was going to be a success story as well.

But that didn’t mean anything.

Not when Nick took his frustration out on a stocked dining table in a dressing room after a particular bad TV performance that was supposed to be very important.

Not when I noticed AJ smoking twice as much as before the cycle started. Not when Howie was running around like a headless chicken trying to keep everyone and everything together and somewhat functional. Not when Brian walked around like a zombie, wrapped up in a cold layer of depression that seemed to drag him down deeper and deeper.

And me?

I was an outsider. I had been the entire time. I started to realize more and more how the four of them had changed as a group and as individuals since I had left. The dynamic had shifted and transformed and I had nothing to do with it.

It was a strange phenomenon.

“We should go to the stage,” I said calmly, seeing the clear reluctance on my cousin’s face. He didn’t say anything, stumbling behind me as we made our way to the stage and to the others. AJ was nervously biting his nails and Nick seemed to have a permanent frown ever since he woke up. The tension was cut-able.

Wasn’t this supposed to be fun? Wasn’t that why I had come back? Because I had fun on a stage and missed the music and the atmosphere and the feeling a well-choreographed performance gave me? As I looked around, I could detect no fun at all on any of my bandmates’ faces as we waited for the performance to start.

To his credit, Brian usually refrained from total panic mode until after a performance was over. I was so thankful that we had not had to deal with any hyperventilation or fainting during a song.

Yet.

Never say never, I thought wryly as I felt my cousin tremble in earnest beside me. Performances on live TV were the absolute worst. I could not even begin to imagine the fear he had to be feeling at the moment. As we walked onto the stage, I tried to hold on to the fact that rehearsals had gone well enough yesterday.

All vocals had been more or less on point and the song had seemed to naturally flow into the empty studio. Of course, there had not been any cameras pointing towards our faces then. The presenter did his thing and then the music started. Nick did that howl thingy that we had discussed during rehearsal and it sounded pretty cool. AJ started the song very strongly, not missing a beat, his voice echoing solidly through my ear monitor.

Nick was next, obviously trying to outdo AJs performance with his own. I started to smile; it was going well.

Then it all went wrong.

When it came to Brian, there were good days, bad days, and absolutely horrible days. On good days, he could make it through a song with only minor problems. On those days, he smiled more and was fairly easy to be around. On bad days, his voice would crack during songs on almost every line he sang and he would have to try his hardest not to let the displeasure shine through in his expression. On those days, he was frustrated and had a tendency to snap at people. On horrible days; -which were thankfully the rarest of the days- he would be barely audible at all and could even hardly speak.

On those days, nobody really saw much of him and I could only guess what he was doing when we all weren’t looking. Those were the days we were likely to find him panicking in a bathroom.

This seemed to be one of those days.

I could barely hear him on his part of the bridge. I shot him a quick look and saw the absolute embarrassment on his face. I had to do my best not to frown and looked down, hoping with all my might that Brian would keep it together for the remainder of the song. I kept my eyes on him as I joined in for the chorus. He didn’t dare to look me in the eyes. I had to remind myself that it wasn’t particularly his fault when the second bridge came along and I had to witness him croak through it. For the millionth time, I wondered what I would do if something like that happened to me on stage in front of cameras. Would I be able to keep singing? Would I just storm off stage and disappear to get rid of the utter humiliation?

I don’t know.

After the torture was done, we quickly exited the stage. I saw Nick’s undisguised fuming expression and shot him a warning look, clearly telling him that this was not the time for Nick to tell Brian what he thought of this performance. Nick squinted at me before tearing off his ear monitor and demonstratively leaving the back stage. AJ threw me a helpless glance before venturing after Nick, while Howie did his best to get through to Brian, who seemed to be rooted to the spot with a terrifyingly expressionless look on his face.

“It wasn’t that bad, alright?” Howie lied quickly, gripping Brian’s shoulder tightly to get his attention.

The far-away look in my cousin’s eyes was scaring me and he didn’t seem to react to Howie’s words at all.

After a few moments, Brian just walked away, like we weren’t even there in the first place. Howie gave me an astonished look and I nodded before we both followed Brian down the hallway. He was surprisingly fast and the fear that his frame of mind was nowhere near positive kept growing.

“Brian, wait!” I called, reaching out to grab his shoulder and turn him around. He lashed out quicker than I could ever have imagined, his nails leaving angry red marks on my arm as they scratched the skin.

“Leave me alone,” he fumed in a low, warning tone.

I took a stumbling step backwards; completely taken aback as I watched him leave. Howie ran after him, grumbling in anger. I stayed perfectly still as my hopes shattered and the veil was finally lifted from my eyes.

We had a far bigger problem than I had ever thought.
13. My Failure by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
this one's a bit weird, especially in the beginning, but I don't think I need to tell you that. :)
It was almost like I was ascending. Maybe I was, I’m not sure. The pain faded and the light brightened and a warm feeling took hold of me. I was calm and peaceful.

It was the way it should be.

---------------


I was highly aware of Howie’s presence behind me as I stormed through the halls. I had no idea where I was going; I just knew that I wanted to get rid of my insistent bandmate as soon as possible. I wanted to go somewhere quiet, somewhere peaceful, somewhere organized.

I wanted to go somewhere I could smash things to pieces.

I hurried around a corner and quickly went inside a room, fairly sure that Howie hadn’t been able to see me go in. And indeed, I could hear him marching passed it a few seconds later. I listened as I heard him grumble in anger as he returned moments after and his footsteps faded away. He was angry with me for lashing out at Kevin, I suppose. I was angry too; so angry. Not at anyone in particular, though. I turned around slowly.

Bathroom. How typical.

Clenching my teeth, I walked up to the sink; my hands shaking like mad. My heart was beating in my throat for no apparent reason I could think of, other than the anger that was coursing through my veins. Panting, I gripped the sides of the sink, my knuckles soon turning white from the fierce grip. I looked up.

“Fuck!” I shouted at my reflection in the mirror. I am ashamed to say that I don’t know what happened next.

All I know is that I ended up with no voice at all, a dangerously bruised and bleeding hand and a mirror that was in a thousand pieces. When I realized all this, I sank to the ground with my back against the wall. I didn’t hear the footsteps outside and didn’t notice Howie until he was already inside. He gave me a look that was almost comical if you didn’t consider the situation.

“I think I went on a rampage,” I said monotonously with the words stuck in my throat, nodding at the broken mirror and the pushed over trash cans.

“Oh Jesus,” Howie mumbled.

“I’m gonna have to pay for that mirror and the mess though,” I went on, my voice merely a whisper. “Are mirror’s expensive? I don’t really know. I’ll look it up when-”

“Brian, what happened?” Howie interrupted my continuous flow of words.

I looked at him. He could probably figure out what had happened here by himself. He watched me with concern in his eyes. I had expected him to be angry at me for letting myself go like this, but he wasn’t. He seemed shocked, which made sense. This whole thing was particularly out of character for me. I was still shaking, clutching my hand that was still throbbing and bleeding as I sat on the floor and looked at Howie in total bewilderment. “I don’t really know.”

Howie’s jaw clenched as he crouched down next to me under the bloodied sink. “Are you bleeding?” He asked urgently, grabbing at my hand.

I winced when he touched my bruised skin, “How’d you find me?”

“Well, I was looking for you,” Howie grumbled, studying my hand closely, “Then there was some noise and I figured, bathroom.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Can you move your fingers?” He asked.

I hesitatingly moved my fingers; it hurt, but it was possible. I nodded tiredly, letting my head fall back against the wall behind me, “What’s happening to me?” I muttered quietly.

“What do you mean?” Howie replied, finally letting go of my hand.

“I just feel... so angry,” I said, feeling my throat already closing up again, “Like... all the time.”

“You’re way too stressed out, Bri,” he answered and I could clearly hear the worry in his voice.

“Can you blame me?” I whispered, suddenly completely exhausted. It was not even eleven am yet and I felt like going to sleep. Not that I would be able to sleep, but that was an entire different story.

“Not really,” Howie said honestly, “But I do think you are taking all of this much too hard.”

“It’s my job,” I whispered back, “How can I not take it too hard when I can’t even do my job?”

“You’ve got the four of us as well, you know.” I knew he meant that as comfort, but it truly made my heart beat faster just thinking about how there were four other careers dependent on mine. I felt sick. My lack of response must have alarmed him, as he quickly rushed, “We’ve got your back, I mean.”

“I honestly can’t believe you guys haven’t kicked me out yet.”

Howie looked at me in total surprise, like I had said something completely out of the ordinary. “Why on earth would we ever do that?”

“I’m the weakest link,” I mumbled weakly, “No, worse. I’m a freaking burden. You’ll never be great again if I’m there.”

“Are you even listening to yourself?” Howie asked in a disbelieving tone, “You sound like you’ve given up.”

“It’s been two years already,” I said, wiping my eyes angrily. I had shed enough tears over this stupid voice.

“So?” Howie asked sternly, “That doesn’t mean anything. Last time I checked, we don’t kick people out of the band... like ever.”

“You’ve never had such a horrible voice in the band either... like ever,” I replied stubbornly. I had intended to make myself feel bad and wallow in self pity for the rest of the day, so that was what I was gonna do.

Howie stayed silent for a while, moving to sit next to me and resting his head against the wall as well.

“Would you kick someone out of your family just because they’re not as strong as they used to be? Just because they got sick?” He asked quietly after a few minutes.

I thought about it for a minute, “It’s a business, Howard,” I whispered dejectedly.

“It’s also a family, don’t ever forget that,” Howie answered calmly, “We stick it out.”

“Then you’re screwed,” I choked out, “What if I’m gonna ruin everything?”

“If that’s really what you’re worried about, then why haven’t you resigned?” He asked wonderingly.

“I don’t want to.”

“Exactly.” Howie sighed deeply, staring into the ravaged bathroom, “Don’t let this thing define you, Brian. You are more than this.”

I looked at him, trying to swallow the tears. Howie and I had never been really close. I could usually only guess what he really thought about things. He was a really private guy when it came to his opinions and feelings. I was sometimes the opposite; having no problem of letting my thoughts know when I didn’t necessarily agree with something. Howie and I were by a lot of means incompatible, but at the same time, he was closer to me than I thought.

“What am I gonna do?” I whispered somberly.
Howie shrugged, “Don’t know. Just... continue, I guess.”

I scoffed; it sounded easy enough. “I’m sorry I lashed out at Kevin.”

“Tell that to Kevin, not to me,” He replied simply, then smiled, “I think he’s fine.”

“We should get out of here before anyone sees us,” I grunted.

“Sounds like a good plan,” Howie said, not making any move to get up. “Let someone look at that hand though; it might be broken after all.”

“It’s probably fine,” I mumbled absently.

“And you should really eat more,” Howie continued, “You are getting freakishly thin, it’s not funny.”

“Yes mother,” I replied.

“I said it’s not funny.”

I smiled as I slowly got to my feet, grabbing the sink as a sudden wave of dizziness washed over me. Howie didn’t seem to notice my wavering as he too got to his feet.

I should eat more. And I should try to keep it inside.
End Notes:
foreshadowing, oh jolly foreshadowing
14. The Friend by freedomwriter
“Where is he?” I screamed. I actually screamed into the quiet hallway. Kevin jumped up and laid a hand on my shoulder to calm me down.

“Nick, sit down.”

“No! I don’t wanna sit down!” I yelled, immediately realizing how childish it sounded, “Just someone tell me where he is!”

“Show some respect, and sit down,” Kevin repeated, a bit more agitated now. I could see he was freaking out as well, but did a damn good job trying to hide it.

“How about you respect me and let me stand up,” I argued, the conversation suddenly awfully familiar in my ears.

“Fine, I respect you, stand up then,” Kevin bitterly replied. I promptly sat down, feeling the tears stream over my face.


---------------------
Things actually got a lot better towards the end of the European leg. I don’t exactly know why, but shows just seemed to get better and better and became less of a chore and more fun again. Maybe we just got used to the circumstances; that was possible too. Either way, I was glad. We only had one more song and it was going great tonight. No slips ups, no moments that made me cringe, it was totally magical, just like it used to be. Well, Howie messed up a dance step, but we had had a great laugh about it, actually. So had the crowd. Howie didn’t mind being the subject of the joke, I loved that about him.

“Anybody remember the lyrics to the last song?” I jokingly asked backstage as we prepared for the encore.

I could almost feel the crowd out there getting tenser and tenser with anticipation.

“Better remember it,” I heard Brian grumble next to me, “I wrote it.”

I smiled at him; he always made sure to remind everybody of the fact that he wrote on Larger than Life. Never failed. “I dunno,” I mused, “It’s been a while.”

“You sung it yesterday,” he pointed out with a grin. “Is married life messing with your mind already?”
I smirked back at him, fueled by the positive adrenaline the amazing night was causing. It was giving us wings; we were literally soaring. “Not sure,” I replied cheekily, glad by the fact that Brian had actually made a joke backstage, which hadn’t happened in way too long, “Don’t care.”

Brian laughed, giving me a thumbs up as we made our way back to the stairs that led onto the stage. His smile was genuine; not that fake shit he usually gave me on stage or in front of a camera, but an actual smile. It brought an incredible sense of relief and I suddenly had the urge to tell him how happy I was with tonight.

Now that I came to think of it, he had been doing consistently well all week. We all usually made a point of telling Brian when he was doing well, but before I could do so, the music started and we hurried onstage.

The final was ecstatic. I’m pretty sure the crowd felt our energy and fed off of it, just as we did theirs. It was amazing; I hadn’t felt like this in so long. All the positive energy flowing through me like a cleaning shower, like all my worries were just streaming away down the drain.

A natural high.

After the final song was over, I hurried to where Brian was getting rid of the equipment. “You were amazing!” I cried out, sounding decidedly like a star struck fourteen year old. I didn’t care.

“Thanks!” He replied with a wide smile. AJ and Howie came up behind me, congratulating Brian as well.

“Damn, we should celebrate this!” AJ exclaimed in a higher voice than normal. “You should totally come to the after party tonight.”

“Nah,” Brian replied hesitatingly, “I’m dead tired.”

“That’s alright,” I said quickly. I knew how terrified he was for us to show any kind of special attention to him in public that had to do with his voice. People might pick up on it. Like people didn’t pick up on it whenever his voice broke during a line, but I decided not to dwell on that. Kevin eventually came back from his speech about the after party and how everyone should be there and buy tickets. He had an earsplitting grin on as well.

“Good job everyone,” he roared, “This was the best night of the tour so far, if you ask me.”

I saw the rest nod in agreement; we were all so agreeable when things went well. We split up, only having thirty minutes before the after party started. I needed to take a shower really bad, I noticed as I stepped into the dressing room. I saw Howie running around with his baby in his arms and could only guess what he was doing. His older son, James, was in turn running after him, not tired at all, despite the fact that it was eleven pm. I knew Lauren couldn’t wait to get pregnant, but when I regarded the hectic way Howie ran all over the place, I usually decided it could wait a bit longer. Shaking my head, I grabbed the door handle of the bathroom.

Locked.

“Who’s in my bathroom?” I roared.

Howie actually skidded to a halt, Holden still crying in his arms. “Brian,” he replied loudly to be heard over the baby’s tantrum.

Who else, I thought, sighing as I plopped down on a chair closest to the bathroom. This wasn’t even Brian’s dressing room, what the hell was he doing here? “Does he have a bathroom fetish, or something?” I mumbled.

“Will you not say that word in front of my kids?” Howie sighed.

“Wa’s a fetisj, daddy?” James questioned right on cue.

Howie shot me a murderous look and I just smiled back, “It’s something you really love.”

“Does Brian really love bathrooms?” the boy asked uncertainly.

“Seems so,” I replied.

“No he doesn’t,” Howie mumbled, “Come on, we’ve gotta go find mommy.”

“But daddy, you still smell like sweat!” James piped happily and I saw Howie clench his jaw.

“Don’t worry about it,” He replied calmly, “Where are you shoes?”

“Mommy has my shoes.”

“Did you get here without shoes on?”

“Yup!” I’m sure Howie would have done a perfect facepalm if he had any hands free. Instead he sighed and trudged out of the room, the wails of the baby echoing into the hall.

I sighed, finally able to think clearly now that the noise was dying away. I could hear Brian in the shower.

He was sure taking his sweet time. He wasn’t even going to the after party, couldn’t he just take a shower in the hotel?

“Hurry up,” I yelled, giving a ram on the door to get his attention. “I only have fifteen minutes left!”

I heard a noise coming from the bathroom and frowned. It sounded really weird and very off. I took a deep breath, wondering if I should break down the door again. Was the sound alarming enough? “Brian?” I called, unsure. This all seemed far too familiar. Would I find him on the floor again? And why? The night had been amazing, there was no reason at all for him to panic. Maybe I was panicking over nothing.

After another five minutes of no reply I spotted the screwdriver on the table. Perfect. I stuck the end of it in the lock and it turned easily. I swung open the door, immediately seeing Brian standing over the sink.

He turned around in shock and looked at me in bewilderment. “What the fuck?” he mumbled.

“You okay?” I asked with wide eyes.

“Yes,” he replied awkwardly, “What the hell are you doing?”

“I...uhhh-” I faltered, suddenly very aware that me breaking into the bathroom like this was very unwarranted, “I thought I heard something.”

“Oh Jesus,” Brian grumbled, quickly propping the pills from his hand into his mouth. “You’re 34 and you still gotta learn privacy.”

I had expected him to be angrier, but was glad that he didn’t seem to mind as much. His face scrunched up in pain as the medication slid down his throat. He seemed a lot paler in the stark bathroom light and there was a strange smell about him as I wrapped my arms around him and enveloped us in a hug. He seemed very surprised at the sudden affection, but quickly returned the gesture.

“Thank you,” I mumbled.

“For what?”

“For not giving up,” I answered quietly.

He gave me a wry smile.
15. The Bottom by freedomwriter
I poured the hot water carefully into the large tea-mug. I read up on the combination of herbs and spices online. I had gotten very familiar with all kinds of remedies against sore and dry throats. It must work, I kept telling myself.

My husband was still in bed for whatever reason. Now that he could sleep in for three months on end, I guess he took full advantage of that. I looked at the clock above the counter, shaking my head when I noticed it was already passed noon. There went our day.

Nevertheless, I took hold of the tea recipe that I had printed out from a website on natural remedies. Tea with honey and lemon. Sounded easy enough. I busied myself with the honey until my son came trudging in.

“What are you doing?” he asked in an annoyed tone.

“What does it look like?” I mumbled back, carefully measuring the amount of lemon to put into the tea.
“Where’s Dad?” Baylee asked without interest.

“Upstairs.”

“What’s he doing?”

“I don’t know; why don’t you go and find out?” I replied, finally satisfied with the tea.

“Nah,” Baylee said, disappearing into the living room.

“Stay away from your father’s laptop,” I called after him.

“Why?” he whined from the other room. “He’s got the fastest.”

“He’s working on something.”

“Can’t he do that on his work laptop?” Baylee questioned, reappearing into the kitchen now that he wasn’t sure if he would get his way.

“I’m not discussing this,” I said sternly, “Go play your videogames on the house computer.”

He narrowed his eyes, but didn’t start an argument, which I was thankful for. He usually argued against every little thing, now that he was becoming a teenager. It steadily drove Brian and me both insane, but I knew it was just part of him growing up. I was the exact same at his age. I heard some stumbling above me, indicating that Brian had finally decided to get out of bed. Maybe we could do something nice together today. I wondered if I should make pancakes for dessert or if we could maybe go out for dinner as I made my way upstairs, the hot, steaming tea in my hands. “Brian?” I called softly when I saw him standing in the hallway with his back facing me.

He turned around, startled and looked at me with wide, horror filled eyes. I took a step back, almost releasing the tea mug I held. “What’s wrong?” I rushed worriedly.

He shook his head, grabbing at his throat with shaking hands. Suddenly very fearful, I slowly approached him, putting the tea on top of a decorative table. “Are you okay?”

He shook his head again and I noticed every breath he took got stuck in his throat. I took a hold of his shaking arm, which was still clutching at his throat.

“It’s alright,” I said quickly, “It’s alright, just calm down.”

He gave me a helpless look, opening his mouth to try and say something. All that came out was a wheezy and breathy type of sound that I could only guess was a word. He bit his lip as he started to shake more and more. I already knew where this was going. “Hey, hey,” I said, trying to sound calm and assertive, “We’ll just call doctor Emmerly, okay? It’s probably nothing too bad. We’ll figure this out.”

I led him to the bedroom and sat him down on the bed. “Just try and take deep breaths. You can do that. It’s not hard,” I explained, feeling like I was talking to Baylee, instead of Brian. His shaking became less prominent as he focused on his breathing. After five minutes, he’d calmed down enough to be able to breathe somewhat normally again. I sank down next to him on the bed, wondering if I should ask what had caused the initial panic attack in the first place. For a while, we sat in silence and I busied myself with rubbing his tensed back.

“I...” he started, his voice merely a whisper, “I... can’t... talk...”

I felt the stone sink deep in my stomach as I watched the tears in his eyes slowly slide down. Every word he tried to say seemed to get cut off and stuck somewhere between his throat and his mouth. I noticed he was swallowing a lot as well, indicating that every sound he made was really hurting him. No wonder he had freaked out. His breathing was still heavy and I got a little closer.

“You’re really warm,” I noticed, my hand gliding over his upper arm. His skin was dry and hot to the touch.

Maybe he just had the flu or a bad cold or something. I actually felt a bit of relief. If he had lost his voice due to an infection, then it would come back once the infection was cleared, right? He looked at me with tired eyes, not daring to even attempt to say something. I smiled softly, “You should stay in bed,” I concluded with a firm nod. “I for one, think you’ve been running yourself down the past couple of months. Now it’s all getting back at you.”

He laid down obediently, grabbing a pillow from the head of the bed and burying his face in it. I quietly got out of the room, picking the mug of tea up before reentering. I gently placed it on the nightstand. Brian didn’t move and I decided quickly to not disturb him.

He didn’t get sick often, but when he did, he got it serious. I walked down the stairs on my toes, trying to be as quiet as possible.

“What’s for dinner?” Baylee popped up suddenly out of nowhere and I jumped in surprise.

“Shh,” I hushed him and he frowned, “Your dad’s sleeping.”

“It’s like, two pm,” Baylee drawled.

“He’s sick.”

“Oh,” Baylee sighed, “Does that mean I can get on his computer?”

“No,” I replied, rolling my eyes. Since when was he so insensitive towards other people? I made a mental note to talk to Baylee about that later. After I called the doctor it took about half an hour for her to arrive.

She stayed in the bedroom for quite some time and just as I began to worry if something was wrong, she stepped out.

“Well, he certainly caught an airway infection.”

“Oh dear,” I mumbled. “How long will that last?”

“About a week, I presume,” the doctor calmly said as we walked back down again, “I’ve prescribed some pills to soothe the throat and help with coughing.”

Great. More pills. I had to surpress a sigh. “Anything I can do?”

“Tea helps,” Doctor Emmerly nodded when we got to the door, “I saw you were already on that,” she gave me a smile. “He just needs rest, basically. It should sort itself out fairly soon. I told him not to try and talk for as long as it takes.”

I nodded, already knowing that Brian was not going to take this well. He hated being sick and having to have people taking care of him. “Thanks,” I mumbled quickly and the doctor nodded.

“Just try to keep him in bed,” she smiled knowingly before she left.

A week went by and the fever disappeared rather quickly. Brian stayed in bed mostly, though. After a few days it was clear that his voice wasn’t recovering even a little bit. I busied myself with all kinds of tea now; I nearly got obsessed with it. Ever since two years ago I was quite aware of the depression he’d been diagnosed with that seemed to go in waves. I remember days where he was fine, talked a lot with me and Baylee and seemed to genuinely enjoy what he was doing. I also remember days where he could barely get out of bed and only talked when it was absolutely necessary. He stayed on his own a lot those days. I knew Baylee picked up on it and I had tried to explain what was happening, but hadn’t booked too much success.

Now, Brian didn’t get out of bed at all, except when he had to go to his therapy, and I decided it was the worst wave yet. It was like he wasn’t even there when I went in to bring him tea and medication. He refused to eat anything and just blankly stared at a fixed spot on the wall. I often wondered if he heard me at all when I talked to him. I had never seen him like that and I had known him for over seventeen years. It scared me to no end. At night, he would sleep fitfully, waking up every so often in sweat and panting.

I walked the stairs slowly, wondering how long this would last. He hadn’t said a word in three weeks and to say that I was worried would be an understatement. What if he could never speak normally again? What if this was a lasting thing? Much of Brian’s life depended on his voice, so what if he could never have it back? I was very sure these thoughts must have been flying through his head as well, because when I entered the bedroom, I saw him propped up against the pillows with papers scattered all around him and his computer next to his legs. He looked up when he noticed me and when he saw my confused face, he grabbed a paper and hurriedly wrote something down.

I quit.

My mouth fell open in shock and I frowned at him. He swallowed and pressed his mouth into a thin line. I quickly got closer, carefully sitting down on the edge of the bed where the papers had not yet invaded. “I don’t think you can just quit, honey,” I said softly.

Brian shrugged, turning the page. Don’t care.

“Brian,” I hesitated, not exactly knowing what to say. At least he was being honest. “How long have you been thinking about this?”

He looked thoughtfully at me for a moment; then grabbed a new paper. A while.

“I think you should really talk to someone about this before you make a decision,” I said quietly. His eyes narrowed at the word ‘talk’ and he scoffed. I sighed, “I mean, did you contact any of the guys about this?”

He looked away, his shoulders slumping. He shook his head, turning the paper over and over in his hands. I saw him trying to swallow; then he looked up, a desperate glint in his eyes. I’m of no use anymore to them, he wrote slowly; then looked back at me.

My mind went a hundred miles per hour. I was fairly sure there was no possible way he could just quit and be done with it. There were contracts, planned events and four other people that depended on him. If anything, there was an up and coming cruise that he was expected to take part in, and a movie. But then again; how was he going to manage that without a voice? I had watched him struggle through interviews and performances when his voice was anything but cooperative, but now... now it was actually really gone. “I think you should let them know what’s going on right now,” I said slowly.

I’ll write them an email, Brian wrote, grabbing his laptop. I sighed in frustration.

“No, wait,” I said hesitatingly and he looked at me questioningly. “I mean, is this really how you want this all to end? With a goodbye email?”

Brian frowned at me. Well, I can’t call them up, so...

“That’s not what I meant,” I sighed, “I think you should really think about this before making a decision.”

He gave me a heated glare and started to scribble down quite a long reply. I waited patiently, watching his handwriting get messier with the anger that made his hands shake. You think I want to do this? You think I haven’t thought about this? I just really don’t see another solution; so if you do, be my guest.

I leaned forward, touching his arm and he looked up at me with those stubborn eyes that I recognized from all those years ago. When he was dead set on something; there was almost no way in hell anybody could change his mind. I saw that look on Baylee sometimes too and I was well aware of where he got it from. “You’re still doing your therapy, right? Nowhere does it say that this is a permanent thing. Maybe you just gotta work through it,” I said, knowing that I had said the exact same thing for almost three weeks now.

He closed his eyes and bit down on his lip and I saw the tears fall down. These last two years, I had seen him cry more than in the entire seventeen years I knew him. He looked at me; silently begging me to come up with a solution that would be beneficial for everybody. I stayed silent and he sighed. Do you know how bad it feels when you get your hopes up when things seem to go better, only to have all of it crash down faster than you can imagine? Do you know how that feels?

“I do,” I whispered, feeling my own tears now as well, “Because you’re not the only one going through this.”

He watched me thoughtfully, then nodded slowly. That’s why I should quit.

“Don’t give up,” I said hoarsely.

I’m tired of fighting this, it’s been too long. I’ve been fighting and working my ass off, and this is what I get. The letters were barely recognizable with the way his hands shook as he wrote them down.

“This is not just your life, Brian,” I whispered. “You cannot make rash decisions like this when it involves Baylee and me as well.”

He frowned at me in anger, his fist tightening around the pen. You just don’t wanna give up the lifestyle that comes with my job.

I read it and gasped. I’m pretty sure he saw the hurt on my face, “That’s not true, Brian, you know very well that that’s not true.” Where on earth was his consideration? Where the hell was his ability to sympathize with other people? What was this voice condition doing to him? Where the hell had my Brian gone?

I’m tired, he wrote, even though it was six o’clock.

I rolled my eyes, standing up from the bed. “If you bother to come, there’s soup and carrots for dinner,” I said, turning around. I already knew he wouldn’t bother to come. I heard a shuffling of papers as he finally decided to clear out the bed. I sighed, walking out of the room.

He didn’t come down for dinner, just like I suspected.

When I returned upstairs, he was already asleep. Most of the papers were thrown in the trash can and his computer had been shoved under the bed. I sighed, picking up one of the papers that had landed next to the intended target. Frowning, I folded it open. It appeared to be song lyrics I had never seen before.

Curiously, I took some other papers from the trash bin.
They were all songs. Most of them angry and frustrated.

Some of them dark and depressing. Only a few of them uplifting and hopeful. I clutched the crumpled sheets, knowing that they were never supposed to see the light of day. Knowing that I, nor anybody else was ever supposed to see them at all. I looked at my husband, who was lying on his stomach, fast asleep. I carefully took some of the songs I thought were especially outstanding and put them inside one of my drawers. I would keep them safe there, and maybe, when his head was at it, he would be thankful.
16. My Chances by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
y'all see the trend here of happy chapter - sad chapter, right? Cause it's important :P
I felt their hands on me, groping and squeezing, but it didn’t hurt. Nothing hurt anymore and I was thankful. I heard their voices screaming and crying, but they sounded like they came from a hundred feet away. I could feel myself falling, unable to see anything beyond the bright light that came from all around me. Their shadows faded, their voices disappeared and their hands went away. The light darkened; everything darkened; everything stopped.
------------------------------------------------

I dug the heels of my hands into my eyes; then blinked at the computer screen tiredly. The email was long, far too long for anyone’s comfort. I had been meaning to send it for two days, but was never able to, somehow. I sighed, taking another sip of the whiskey. It burnt down my throat and I was pretty sure it didn’t help anything with the healing process. There were a whole bunch of things holding me back from sending the email.

The guys, for one. They would absolutely not appreciate being informed of my departure this way. What would they say if they found out I was leaving them to pick up the pieces? They would emphasize the fact that we were a team and that everyone had to play his part.

Sure.

I bit my lip, contemplating if I wanted to end this 21 year old journey with a fight. No, of course not. But it wasn’t a question of wanting. It was a question of failure. Hadn’t I let them down enough already? Wasn’t I doing this for the good of the group? They would work it out, the four of them; they would be fine. They didn’t need me. Just like that basketball team hadn’t needed me all those years back. They’d be better off, that was for sure.

But what about me?

I stood up slowly from the bed. My legs felt weak and wobbly. I shivered. Although it was mid-August, I felt cold as ice. Shuffling towards the bathroom slowly, I winced when I saw my reflection. The tired, disheveled figure in the mirror resembled the quirky popstar act I had carefully build up for years only very little. His hair was all over the place, some white grey strands intruding the hairline. His pale complexion was accentuated by the dark bags under his eyes and his face was skinnier than I can remember.

What was wrong with me?

I shivered again as the hairs on the back of my neck rose, the cold chills slowly travelling over my body.

Opening my mouth as wide as it could go, I carefully massaged the joints of my jaw. It didn’t hurt as badly as it had before and slightly encouraged, I experimentally cleared my throat. I winced as the scorching pain travelled up with the vibration; but at least there was sound. I swallowed cautiously and took a deep breath.

“Maaaa,” I croaked at my reflection, my eyes widening.

I sounded like an eighty year old with pneumonia, but that was quite okay. My reflection smiled at me and I could see tears forming in his bloodshot eyes. I closed my eyes, croaking out the exercises I had been taught.

My hands shook in excitement as I hummed falteringly, hissed and pulled all kinds of faces in order to relax the muscles. I was well aware of how weird it looked; having seen the footage from my therapy. It was definitely cringe worthy.

It was also essential.

Glaring disapprovingly at my reflection, I quickly opened the medicine cabinet to retrieve the pills neatly ordered there. There were all kinds of sizes and I expertly picked the ones I needed from the collection. The medication was one of the aspects I despised most about the treatment. I often had the feeling that swallowing Tic Tacs would decidedly have the same effect. There was just no indication that any of them really worked. Whatever success I accomplished had likely more to do with therapy than with drugs.

Still I quickly propped them into my mouth and took a sip of water, then swallowed, squeezing my eyes shut and holding my breath as they went down. It hurt more than I wanted to admit. I put the anti depressants and anxiety medication back, unused; feeling like I didn’t really need them today. They were optional anyway.

I walked down the stairs slowly in my sweatpants, my bare feet making no sound on the steps. It didn’t take long before I detected Baylee in the hallway, cooing to the small white dog; which he’d appropriately called Big Dave. Baylee had spent a large part of his childhood trying to teach tricks to the three Maltese dogs we had. And although Maltese weren’t exactly that smart, he did manage to teach one of them to speak once. “Hey,” I greeted quietly.

Baylee’s head shot up and he turned around, more than a little surprised to see me, let alone hear me. A wide grin spread across his face and he picked up the dog with ease, “Hey Dad,” he replied, his smirk not faltering.

“What ya doing?” I asked; my voice hoarse and a bit awkward. I sounded a little bit like AJ, but with a horrible cold. It felt like someone had aligned my throat with gravel.

Baylee didn’t seem to mind the roughness of my voice as he demonstratively put the dog in front of me and put up a hand, “Big Dave can sit,” he declared.

“That so?” I smiled, raising one eyebrow.

“Uhuh,” Baylee replied, looking at the dog, “Dave!” he called; a shock travelling through the white Maltese at the sound of its name, “Sit!”

Big Dave looked at him uncertainly and didn’t move.

Baylee’s face fell and he glared at the small dog.

“Dave!” he repeated, a bit more urgent, “Sit!” Dave watched him with big round eyes, then plopped his behind down on the floor and eventually jumped right back up at Baylee’s approving, high voice. “Good dog!” the boy praised, “Good dog; did you see that, Dad? He sat! I taught him that! I taught him to sit!”

“Quite impressive,” I nodded, deciding to speak in as few words as possible. Baylee’s youthful enthusiasm reminded me of when he was younger, and everything was a big happening to him. Did you see that seagull, Daddy? He snatched my sandwich, Daddy! I don’t mind, he can have my sandwich, Daddy! He’s hungry, isn’t he, Daddy? Are there more sandwiches, Daddy? The older he got, the less things impressed him. Nowadays, I got a burning glare whenever I told him to finish his math homework, and that was about all the emotion I got out of the young teenager. It was good to see him excited again.

Baylee grinned in agreement, picking the dog up again, “Mom’s in the living room,” he commented matter-of-factly.

I smiled gratefully and made my way into the room. My wife was on the computer, leaning forward with her eyes trained on the monitor and her glasses at the end of her nose. I walked up behind her, draping my arms around her shoulders.

“Oh!” she yelped in surprise, twisting around on the chair to see who was behind her.

I gave her a lopsided smirk, “Didn’t mean to scare you,” I said in a low tone and watched her eyes widen at the sound of my voice. I saw the relief pass over her face and she smiled back at me.

“Sure you didn’t,” she said.

“Are there still pancakes left?” I asked softly, coughing slightly as the last word got stuck halfway.

“That depends,” she mused, her eyes returning to the computer screen. “Did you delete that email yet?”

I sighed. I knew she was well aware of the fact that I hadn’t sent that email, but hadn’t deleted it either.

Just like I was aware that she was hiding three of my songs in her drawer. “No,” I said.

“Then no pancakes for you,” she commented sternly.

“So that’s how it’s gonna be,” I muttered, my hands slowly massaging her shoulders as we both looked at the computer, “What are you doing?”

“Tea,” she replied.

“I think your tea is working,” I whispered.

“I’ll make some more in a minute,” she mumbled, “Licorice root. Supposed to be against swelling and irritation. I’ll add some honey if you like, should make it a little sweeter.” She looked at me with questioning eyes.

I smiled, “Thank you.”

She took my hand and gave it a tight squeeze; then frowned. “Are you cold?” she asked in confusion.

I shrugged, “I don’t know,” I mumbled, “Maybe a little.”

“Brian, it’s like a hundred degrees outside,” she said, like the temperature of my hands was my fault.

“Maybe I should go outside then,” I stated calmly, avoiding the concern in her eyes.

“We should all go outside before we turn into zombies,” Leighanne muttered and I knew she was primarily addressing me. “I’ll go get Baylee; we could sit by the pool.”

“Good luck getting him away from my laptop,” I laughed; then coughed. Laughing hurt.

“Don’t let him play on your laptop,” Leighanne sighed and stood up.

“Is there any food left?” I called as she walked out of the living room. Food had become somewhat of a chore since the whole voice thing had started to get worse.

Swallowing was painful and if I felt too stressed before or after a show, I would likely throw up. But now I was hungry.

“There’s some pancakes in the fridge,” she replied absently and I smiled.

“Pancakes it is.”
17 The Conqueror by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
sorry for the short chapter, but there's more coming soon.
I narrowed my eyes as I saw Brian play with his food.

He looked up when he felt my burning stare. I cleared my throat, “Eat it,” I grumbled warningly. He shoved the fry into his mouth, but not before giving me an annoyed look.

“You are not my mother,” he said slowly.

I sighed, taking a bite out of my own food. I hadn’t seen him this nervous in almost a year; it surely didn’t predict anything good. It didn’t help that the performance would be broadcasted in theatres all over the world.

Theatres.

How did we end up in theatres?

I had known from the start that the movie would change a lot and had initially been afraid it would completely destroy the image of the teenage boyband we had had since day one. But it hadn’t, and if it had, the reactions were predominantly positive. When I had first announced the idea of a movie to the public, I had received disbelieving remarks. So you wanna be relevant again? Making a glitter glamour promo movie? Instead it had become a raw and even dark piece, eventually revolving around Lou Pearlman’s betrayal and Brian’s voice struggle.

I looked at him as he did his best to avoid all stares casually directed his way every now and then. I must have seen the movie about sixty times, and I still couldn’t believe he’d agreed to keep the voice issue in there. Don’t get me wrong, it had taken a pretty deal of convincing, but I had expected my cousin to just pull a veto and be done with it. Instead he’d listened carefully to what everyone had to say and was eventually ultimately convinced by Stephen’s silver tongue that said the movie wouldn’t be remotely real if we left such a big part out. And so a whole new collection of material had become available and I had been taken aback by the frustration and rawness I saw in it. In the end, we had all selected the footage we found essential, but had left the final decision on what to include with Brian.

I was proud of how he handled it.

We had spent the last couple of weeks cautiously gauging the public’s reaction. I had seen shock and confusion. A bit of relief as well, and I had figured out that the fan base had known for years that something was wrong already. But ultimately, I had seen a big source of support, just like I had expected. I was incredibly thankful for that and I knew Brian was as well.

But now it looked like we were back at square one as I watched his foot incessantly tap the floor underneath his chair in a nervous, uncontrollable way. He looked paler than I cared for and his plate was still full with what I now presumed was cold food. Damnit, I thought. I could understand why he was nervous now that his problems were laying bare ass in the open, but his nerves would often lead up to a bad performance.

I took a deep breath, reminding myself that he had done astoundingly well on the cruise a few months ago, even if that had been after three glasses of wine. His voice had been strong and unfaltering, and it had reminded me of old times and I had been so happy, so relieved. He had been too; it had given all of us so much hope for the future. I had learnt from Leighanne that there had been a period of almost four weeks in the summer where he hadn’t been able to talk at all and to see that he had not only found his voice back, but had improved it to the best of his abilities made me proud to be his bandmate.

But truth was; I hadn’t really heard him since the cruise and I knew his condition could change every other month, it seemed. I was more than a little worried for tonight.

For nothing.

The performance went better than I could have expected.

It was intimate, acoustic, nothing but our voices and a few guitars. Brian was next to me, incredibly tensed and I believe he had his eyes closed for most of the performance. I was intrigued by the way he focused all of his energy and concentration on nothing but his voice. And it worked; against every little bit of my expectation, it worked tremendously. I saw the relief and astonishment on the faces of the other three and knew they had had the same worries as I had. But it was all for nothing; Brian sounded stronger than he had done in I don’t know how long and the crowd in the theatre fed off of it, cheering him on as he went. It was lifting him up; it was lifting all of us up and I dared to hope for once that maybe this was the start to real improvement, that maybe, just maybe, the issue was finally resolving itself and we were finally rid of the nightmare that had followed us for so long.

Brian didn’t say a whole lot after the performance and made it clear that he would like to go back to the hotel; flop down on his bed and stay unconscious until tomorrow morning. The performance had taken a lot out of him, but I knew he was proud of it. I knew that he too had gotten sense of that small glint of hope that brew in all five of us. We knew now that he could take this thing and beat its ass. We saw a future again.

But it was stupid to think that way.

Because we should know by now that when things tended to start looking up, something would come and throw a wrench into everything, and we would end up worse than ever.
18. The Liar by freedomwriter
The first clear sign that something was really wrong came towards the end of the tour, in South America somewhere, I don’t remember. I often tend to forget exact dates or places. We should have intervened, but we didn’t. Kevin and I were walking down a corridor towards the dressing room when we heard a strange, muffled sound. Like a dull thud on the floor. I looked at Kevin, and he looked back at me in confusion.

“The hell was that?” he muttered.

“Dunno, could be anything,” I replied with a yawn. It was still only past noon, I did not have energy to really think about anything. His frown deepened, but he didn’t say anything until we opened the door to the dressing room.

“Wh-,” I started, trailing off when I saw the curled up figure on the floor. “Oh God,” I mumbled dejectedly. It wasn’t the first time we found him passed out from stress somewhere, but Brian had been doing so well for so long, it came as a surprise nevertheless. He hadn’t really had any panic attacks in nearly a year and we had believed the worst was over when it came to anxiety.

As I expected, he was fine; his pulse strong and his breathing normal. Neither Kevin nor I freaked out, because apparently, we had gotten vaguely used to the situation. Brian woke up when we turned him on his back, confused as he stared up at our faces.

“I thought we had quit this habit,” I commented with raised eyebrows. Brian blinked at me, not entirely there yet. He let out a groan as we helped him sit up.

I frowned at the way he was leaning heavily against me.

“You alright?” Kevin grumbled, laying a steady hand on his cousin’s shoulder.

Brian nodded slowly; then squeezed his eyes tightly shut, “I’m just really dizzy,” he sighed.

My frown deepened and I shot Kevin a quick look. Kevin cleared his throat, “You’re exhausted,” he stated sternly.

“I’ll be fine,” Brian said, slowly trying to get to his feet. He wavered dangerously and I grabbed his arm. To my surprise, he didn’t shrug me off. “What time is it?” he asked quietly.

“Almost three thirty,” Kevin said, checking his phone.

Brian’s eyes widened, “We have soundcheck in thirty minutes?” he gasped.

“Oh no, baby, you don’t,” Kevin said in that strict, fatherly tone that I had heard him use countless times before.

“I don’t?” Brian replied, surprised.

“You look like death warmed over. When’s the last time you’ve had a good night’s sleep anyway?” Kevin commented, not sugar coating anything.

“How’s that any of your business?” Brian answered roughly and I rolled my eyes. Here we go again, I thought.

“I think it’s my business when you keel over from exhaustion from time to time, because believe it or not, we’re in the same group here,” Kevin said slowly, keeping his voice calm. “I’ll let Nick and Howie know and you’re gonna get some sleep if you want to be able to perform tonight.” Kevin turned around resolutely and walked out the door.

“Yes boss,” I muttered.

Brian scoffed, “Can you believe that?”

“Well, you do kinda look like death, dawg,” I replied reluctantly.

“I can do a soundcheck, AJ!” he exclaimed, pointing a finger at the now closed door, “How does he get to decide everything? He left for six years!”

“You just don’t want us to do a soundcheck without you, do you?” I asked, cutting to the core immediately.

Brian looked at me with fiery eyes, but then his expression changed, “Is that really so obvious?” he mumbled silently.

I nodded slowly, guiding us both to the couch. I could understand his side of things; not wanting us to confirm that we would be fine without him; to show that he was dispensable. But the feeling that he was going to collapse on stage was nagging me and I pushed him down on the couch, a bit forcefully.

“What made you panic?” I asked softly as I took a place beside him.

He frowned deeply and stayed silent for a time, “I don’t know,” he eventually said, “I don’t feel anxious. I mean, my voice is fine.”

“Hmm, weird,” I mumbled.

I felt the stone in my stomach sink further as Brian looked up at me in desperation, “Please let me do this,” He begged quietly.

I bit my lip, but then shook my head, “Sorry bro, you heard the boss. Just get some sleep.”

Soundcheck without Brian looked and sounded weird. I saw some very confused and disappointed faces when we told the VIP fans that Brian wasn’t coming. But when we promised them he would get some sleep and be there tonight, I heard a collective sigh of relief. We tried to joke around as much as we normally would, but it didn’t feel quite the same. And during the songs, Nick shot me a few uncertain looks to try and determine who was going to cover Brian’s parts. I had never realized just how many parts Brian truly had. It was exhausting.

He better get better for tonight, I thought, because there’s no way we can host a full show without him.

When we returned, Mike told us Brian was still in his bus, presumably asleep. I sighed in relief, glad that he’d at least taken our advice and went to bed. He didn’t return until after dinner, and seemed optimally recharged, possessing an energy that I hadn’t seen in him for a long time.

The show went great. There wasn’t even a small indication of the reason Brian hadn’t shown up for soundcheck. I smiled to myself as I felt him balancing on my and Howie’s shoulders at our final song and wondered what had made me so worried in the first place. We all were exhausted every now and then, primarily due to jetlags and going to bed late and getting up early. We all had had moments in the past where we nearly fell over from sleep deprivation. Brian smiled brightly at me as we went for our last bow; his good mood seemingly unbreakable.

So I decided to shrug my worries off.

Backstage, we exchanged words of approval and excitement. The show had been going great for months now and we were nearly unstoppable where ambition was concerned. I saw Nick jumping up and down with energy, even though he had just finished a two and a half hour show, going on about how the next record would be our official comeback for real, how we’d all show them that Backstreet was still in the game and not going anywhere. Everybody approved without hesitation and the atmosphere remained celebratory.

But I froze to my spot when we all said our goodnights and went to our busses. Brian walked away, stumbling only slightly, but it was enough for an icy fear to grip me tight. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t go after him and I still regret it to this day.

Now I keep wondering if there was maybe something that we could have done to prevent it. Maybe we should have not let him push himself so hard. Maybe we should have intervened when we suspected things were going wrong. Maybe it would have mattered.
19. The Unexpected by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
I decided to take this story in a slightly different direction, because I feel like it fits into the storyline and theme a bit better. So if you like, please read the previous few chapters to know where it left of and where the story changes
“Well, did you call him?”

“What do you think?” I fumed, clutching my phone tightly.

“And he’s not answering?” Howie mumbled, his brow furrowed. “Did he like, say anything?”

“What do you think?” I repeated, even angrier.

“Hey, I’m trying to figure this out as much as you are,” Howie scoffed, irritated.

“They’re getting anxious,” AJ announced as he walked into the small dressing room of the venue.

“Did you check every bathroom?” Nick mumbled, nervously playing with the piece of paper that had all our deadlines on it.

“Dude,” I sighed, “this isn’t a joke.”

“I know!” Nick replied defensively, “That’s where I would check, ‘s all I’m saying.”

Ignoring him, I dialed Brian’s number again, for what must have been the twentieth time that morning. It rang twice, then went straight to voice mail. My cousin knew exactly what time he needed to be at the venue, and was now officially over 40 minutes late. And sure, it wasn’t like none of us were ever late to anything, but at least we picked up our phones when that happened.

“What about the hotel, you can try the hotel,” Howie suggested and I saw AJ nod affirmatively.

“Fine,” I mumbled, dialing impatiently, “Just tell Jen that I will kill him for her if he doesn’t show up within now and twenty minutes. I swear to God, he’s dead if he overslept.” The lady at the desk of the hotel lobby answered the phone with practiced cheer and I rolled my eyes, “Yeah, did Brian Littrell leave already,” I asked, going straight to the point.

It was silent on the other end for a moment, besides the typing I could hear her doing on her computer, “No sir, it seems he has not checked out yet.”

I thanked her through clenched teeth, shoving my phone into my pocket and grabbing my coat. I gave the others a furious gaze before I turned around and started to walk towards the door.

“Where you going?” AJ asked, surprised.

“He hasn’t checked out, so he’s mostly likely still there,” I replied, still seething, “I’mma beat the crap outta him.”

AJ’s brow furrowed in worry, “I’m going with you,” he announced.

I frowned at him, realizing I had only been this mad once before in my life, and I was sure that AJ remembered that too. I was shaking by the time we arrived at the hotel and went to Brian’s door. I rammed my fist against the wood, impatiently waiting for any kind of noise from inside.

Nothing.

AJ nervously went from one foot to the other next to me, looking like he had to pee. He retrieved his phone and dialed, putting it up to his ear.

My breath caught in my throat as I heard a muffled ringtone from the other side of the door.

“Hey!” I yelled, pounding my fist against the door again, “Get your ass up, you’re fucking late!”

The sound of the ringtone continued and AJ stared at me with an incredulous expression and his mouth open. The anger in my veins came to a boiling point and I took a few steps back before slamming my foot into the door handle, just like I had done to AJ all those years ago.

Brian had responsibilities goddammit. He was 40 years old, and it was a work day. A busy work day at that. I did not need to haul him outta bed, that was his own job.

He wasn’t in bed though.

There was nobody in the room and my eyes flew to Brian’s phone, which was still buzzing and ringing. I frowned, looking at AJ behind me.

“Bathroom,” AJ suggested and I nodded. Of course.

The bathroom door was not locked and as I reached out my hand to open it, I hesitated, very aware of a growing feeling of dread. The sense that something was suddenly very off was almost physically stopping me from moving forward. I was half aware of AJ continuing his nervous dance behind me. Steeling myself I lay my hand on the doorknob and turned it.

“Oh Jesus,” I muttered, a kind of familiar sight greeting me. The fact that it didn’t entirely add up, didn’t register in my brain at that very moment. Brian was on the ground, unmoving and his eyes closed. “Not again,” I grumbled, kneeling next to him.

His eyes didn’t open as I turned him on his back, and there was a strange smell coming off him. My brow furrowed and I looked up. AJ was standing in the doorway, wordlessly looking at me, his face sixteen shades paler than just a minute ago. The look in his eyes was terrifying and I wondered for a brief moment if he knew something I didn’t. “What?” I asked, suddenly afraid.

AJ didn’t say anything, just pointed at the small plastic bottle on the ground that had been hidden from my view previously.

The world came to a crashing halt when I saw it. “No…” I made a noise that was somewhere between a whisper and a moan and felt a crushing weight suddenly burdening my chest. Refusing to let the implications of the bottle make sense in my mind, panic suffocating the very breath out of me, I grabbed my cousin tightly for dear life.

The scene became a blur to me. My heart dropped another few inches, noticing I could barely detect him breathing or a heartbeat.

“No no no no no,” I kept murmuring, looking at AJ in desperation. AJ was on the phone, his words tumbling over each other as he tried to assess the situation.

“I-I don’t know,” he stammered helplessly, “He’s really pale and he smells like chemicals, I don’t know what he took, please, just hurry.” I nodded slowly, gripping my cousin a little tighter, rocking us both back and forth.

I didn’t dare to really consider what had happened, sure that it would drive me crazy if I did.

“I’ll ask,” AJ said, taking the phone from his ear, “You know CPR?” I saw the desperation in his eyes. I nodded absently, still rocking, still refusing to let his words sink in. I was not performing CPR on my cousin. Not in a million years. I gasped when I felt Brian move slightly.

He coughed miserably, his eyelids fluttering wildly.

“If he’s gotta throw up, that’s a good thing,” AJ pointed out, watching our band mate intently.

I tried not to be disturbed by how knowledgeable AJ seemed to be about this whole situation as I cautiously turned Brian on his side. He gagged and heaved a few times, but nothing really came up. The smell of chemicals was making me nauseous. I fisted my hands in the back of Brian’s shirt, “What did you do?” I cried, shaking him. “What did you do?”

Brian gave a wheezing gasp, turning his face to me. His gaze focused on mine for a few seconds, his pupils dilated and completely vacant. I saw him close his eyes and with a last painful sigh, he went still. I panicked completely. I began screaming at him, shaking him, curling my fingers in his damp t-shirt. I vaguely heard AJ screaming as well, but didn’t realize he was screaming at me and not at Brian. I didn’t look at him until AJ grabbed my arms and pulled me away roughly.

“He’s not breathing, Kev,” he said, his voice amazingly calm. I froze, watching as AJ pinched my cousin’s nose and breathed into his mouth. The feeling that AJ had seen situations that were similar before grew more and more. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t do anything but stare and let myself be shoved aside by AJ’s hands when he moved to Brian’s chest. I sank back against the wall, under the sink and covered my face in my hands. My sobs were uncontrolled and I felt completely useless as I sat there, watching AJ do the best he could.

My fingers slowly encircled the nearly empty plastic bottle. Baclofen. It could have been Chinese for all I knew. These were prescription drugs, I realized, gasping for breath. These didn’t look like just some aspirins, these were serious stuff.

I looked on as AJ’s efforts became wilder and more desperate. I could see that he too was starting to lose it. I didn’t realize the paramedics had arrived until they were standing right in front of us. They made quick work of ushering us out of the bathroom, one of them staying with us in order to ask us dozens of questions we most likely didn’t know the answer to.

I lifelessly handed him the bottle when he asked what Brian had taken and I shrugged, not knowing the details of the medication at all. Next to me, AJ looked almost as pale as Brian had done. He didn’t say much, just nodded or shrugged at the questions, just like me. No, we didn’t know any specifics about the drugs, we only were vaguely aware that he had to take them. No, we didn’t know the prescribed dose. No, we didn’t suspect he would ever accidentally overdose them. No, we didn’t think he would ever intentionally overdose them.

At the last question, I felt the bile rise in my throat and I promptly stood up and walked out of the room. I didn’t want to think about the implication of the situation at hand. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t important.
The Unbelievable by freedomwriter
By the time I got AJ on the phone, I had nearly given up. Howie and me both had been trying to contact them for hours, not getting any response and we had slowly moved from anger and frustration to unforgiving worry and fear. One person not picking up their phone could happen, but three? Jen had eventually been forced to cancel the entire schedule of the day, which I had initially been very pissed about, but until I knew exactly what was going on, I decided to push my worries about our schedule aside.

“AJ?” I barked into the phone, seeing Howie’s head across the room perk up immediately and decided to put my phone on speaker. Both Howie and Jen were next to me in an instant, intently waiting for AJ’s reply.

“Nick?” AJ sounded soft, strange, I would later say.

“Where the hell are you guys?” I demanded, “We’ve been waiting here for hours!”

AJ’s voice was strangled and upset, but I could hear his words clear as a bell, “Something’s happened; you… better sit down for this.”

My eyes flew to Howie’s and Jen’s, whose shocked and fearful expression I was sure mirrored my own. I stumbled backwards into the couch. I’d been here the whole morning, contemplating whether I should just leave or not, because after two hours, it became rather clear that we would not get to do our job today. Now, I couldn’t move a muscle. Howie cleared his throat, “What’s going on, Alex?” he asked soft and calmly.

And then it all went wrong.

“We’re at the hospital,” AJ choked out and I felt my heart drop. Even though by now, I’d expected something serious to be going on, it felt terrifying to have it confirmed. All of me wanted AJ to say that he had stubbed his toe or something, something weird, something funny. Something we’d all laugh about two days later.

“Yes?” Howie gently encouraged, when he noticed that I had not the power to form any words or sounds.

“Brian’s… he…” AJ sighed, and I thought I could vaguely hear Kevin say something on the other line, but I didn’t understand, “Brian overdosed on neuro-blockers this morning,” AJ finally rushed out, “It’s not looking good.”

His revelation was like a stab in the gut. I couldn’t believe what he said, even though I had clearly heard him. I gave a short, incredulous laugh. This was not a subject to joke with, this was not funny. “It’s not funny, Alex,” I let him know through clenched teeth.

“It’s not a joke, Nick,” AJ said softly.

“No!” I grumbled, shrugging off Jen’s hand that had somehow found its way onto my shoulder, “You don’t have to do that to me,” I told her, “I just want him to stop lying!”

“Nick, for fuck’s sake,” AJ’s voice broke, and I heard the tears lacing through. Still, I would not believe him. I shook my head wildly, backing away from the phone.

“It’s not funny, Alex!” I yelled, the words getting stuck somewhere halfway through my throat. “Now, y’all get over here and do your job!”

“Nick,” Howie spoke as quietly as he’d done since I picked up the phone, “Nick, you gotta listen to me.” I kept shaking my head, not understanding why he was so easily convinced. Cause if there was even the tiniest possibility of AJ making this all up, I was gonna hold on to that with all I had.

It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be. There simply was no possible scenario in which this could be true. Surely Howie understood that as well, right? Apparently he didn’t, because he took the phone, pulled it off speaker and continued the conversation with AJ softly. I just sat there, staring ahead in pure disbelief, feeling but ignoring Jen’s pitiful gaze upon me. I felt completely frozen, even when we were on our way to the hospital. I was only vaguely aware of Howie’s arm around my shoulder; didn’t hear the soft, calming words he spoke to me. I stared at the rain that was crashing against the car’s windows, still in utter ignorance.

Because I knew drugs. I knew the destruction they could, and would cause. I had seen it in AJ, in my sister, my brother, even in myself. I knew the signs, the symptoms, the way it could all go wrong. Because I had seen it all before.

I would have known.

And Brian was one of the most careful and collected people I’d ever met. He wouldn’t ever…

The panicked sobs that escaped my throat were loud and uncontrollable. Howie’s arm around my shoulders tightened reassuringly as I let my head fall against the window and closed my eyes tightly.

“Where is he?” I screamed. I actually screamed into the quiet hallway when we arrived. Kevin jumped up and laid a hand on my shoulder to calm me down.

“Nick, sit down.”

“No! I don’t wanna sit down!” I yelled, immediately realizing how childish it sounded, “Just someone tell me where he is!”

“Show some respect, and sit down,” Kevin repeated, a bit more agitated now. I could see he was freaking out as well, but did a damn good job trying to hide it.

“How about you respect me and let me stand up,” I argued, the conversation suddenly awfully familiar in my ears.

“Fine, I respect you, stand up then,” Kevin bitterly replied. I promptly sat down, feeling the tears stream over my face. Burying my face in my hands I mumbled an apology.

“It’s fine,” Kevin said, but I heard the strain behind his words. He was pushed to his limits. So was I. I wanted to call my wife so badly, but at the same time, I had no idea what to tell her. How would I ever start to explain this.

“It’s been hours though,” Howie began calmly. “They must have told you something.”

AJ just shrugged, “I don’t even know,” he mumbled.

Silence continued for what seemed like ages. I was the first to jump up when a doctor entered the waiting room, again demanding to know where Brian was.

The doctor made a calming gesture with his hands, “If you will sit down, I will try to explain,” he said slowly. I sat back down under Kevin’s glare, seeing the strained, expectant faces around before I looked back at the doctor. The doctor’s face relented into a frown. He sighed deeply before speaking, “It’s not good news.”
21. The Defeated by freedomwriter
Brian had taken six times the prescribed dose of Baclofen. It had shut down his nervous system to the point where he couldn’t breathe on his own. By the time he arrived at the hospital, he was having continuous seizures, unrelenting, unstoppable. It took a long time to stabilize him to the point where he could be moved to the ICU. Doctor Roberts looked tired and didn’t sound very hopeful as he spoke. He promised that they would continue to monitor Brian’s condition and do what they could to ensure that the effects of the drug were as overseeable as possible. But, in the end, they wouldn’t know the full extent of the damage until Brian would wake up.

If he woke up.

The word punched me in the gut and I tried to swallow the bile in my throat. I had seen scenes like this in movies, but I was quite sure that they weren’t supposed to happen in real life. To other people, sure, but not to us. Not like this.

Because I had not seen this coming.

And I have been described as analytical before. I was calculative, cautious and observant. I would have noticed something, surely. My bandmates seemed as numb as I was feeling. I saw their faces turn into masks of sorrow when the bad news continued on. The doctor was not hopeful. He gave Brian a few days, a week, at most.

The coma would become deeper and deeper and then he’d just… fade away. Just like that.

I listened silently, sniffing every now and then. My head was pounding and my hands were shaking. I recognized the feeling as grief, which was ridiculous, really. Brian wasn’t gone. He would fight.

Wouldn’t he?

I felt the oxygen in the small waiting room get thinner and thinner as I realized there was only one real question left. The silent truce that seemed to have been established between the five of us in the waiting room was to not speak, or even think that question aloud.

But I had to know.

I cleared my throat roughly, feeling the other’s stares on me intensifying by the second. I took a deep breath before speaking, “Is- is there…” I couldn’t even begin to form the words, but I continued anyway, “do you know if- if this was an accidental overdose, or…?” I decided to leave the rest of the question hanging, but could feel an immediate mood shift nevertheless.

The doctor noticed it too and looked around the room for a few moments before sighing. “Honestly, there’s no way to absolutely know for sure. But there are factors to consider.”

“Factors?” I said, while all eyes on me were intently trying to make me shut up.

“Look, I’m not a detective,” doctor Roberts relented, “six times a prescribed dose seems like a lot, but at the same time, he didn’t take the full contents of the bottle. Mr McLean has made me aware that your friend has been diagnosed with depression for years, but has never before shown signs of suicidal thoughts. He has been using this medication for a long time, and I do not rule out the possibility that he upped the dose by himself because he became accustomed to the effects. He might have forgotten he already took them, or he might have planned it. As you can tell, there’s no conclusive answer if you look at it from different sides.”

I nodded slowly, feeling the tears start to form in my eyes. “Thank you,” I mumbled, trying to ignore the angry stares from the other four people in the room. The doctor left with a short nod and the promise that we were allowed to visit as soon as they hooked Brian up in the ICU. I bowed my head, trying to escape the pressure of my band mates’ incessant gazes.

“What does it matter, Howard?” Kevin grumbled through gritted teeth.

I sighed deeply, sure that Kevin was well aware why it mattered. Of course I didn’t want to think it either. Of course I’d never suspect Brian, who had a steady support system and a loving family at that, to do anything even remotely close to this on purpose. His pride and religious background would always keep him far from this kind of edge, but at the same time, I couldn’t shake the feeling. The feeling that this was a long time coming.

Because somehow, I couldn’t forget the constant look of exhaustion in his eyes. Or the way he barely seemed to wanna eat anything. Or the shame and defeat on his face when he finally told us he’d wanted to quit for a while, little over a year ago. I could see now, that it was likely too late, what kind of destruction the whole ordeal had done to him. While we had looked on, it had swallowed him whole and spit out what was left.

And even if what had happened had been an accident, that would be just as bad.
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