The sound check was extremely entertaining. Some lucky members of the fan club were invited in for the check and their enthusiasm seemed to have a great effect on the guys. After 45 minutes of great music, the guys took the time to greet each fan and sign autographs. I was able to capture some fan interviews (most obsessing over Nick) and logged on to Twitter for a status update before heading backstage.
I was locking up my camcorder in one of the lockers when the guys came backstage.
“Hey Livvy,” Brian said, taking up Nick’s nickname for me. “Want to come with us for dinner?”
“Sure,” I said with a grin.
“Meet us outside by the busses in about 45 minutes,” AJ said.
“Aye, Aye, Cap’n,” I said with mock salute before heading back to “my” bus.
Climbing aboard, all was quiet; the backup dancers were having a dinner of crisp lettuce before changing into their outfits for tonight.
I changed into a more concert-worthy outfit, hoping that I wouldn’t slop any food on myself in the meantime. A pair of low slung black jeans, a matching tank top and a pair of hoops completed the ensemble. Lamenting that I needed to get my hair done on one of the stops, I swept my hair up and headed out to meet the guys.
Howie was the first one waiting outside. In his arms was his baby boy, James. By his side was his wife, Leigh. I had never seen her in person; she was absolutely beautiful. They made a striking pair. Howie tossed James in the air, both of their faces lighting up in delight.
“Hey Howie,” I said. “You must be Leigh,” I added, holding out my hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
“It’s good to meet you too. You must be Olivia?” she said, tilting her head. The green-eyed monster had me wishing my hair looked half as good as hers.
“Yep, that’s me. I’m the guys’ shadow this summer,” I said.
“Say hi James,” Howie said. He lifted James’ pudgy arm. James did the rest of the work.
“He’s absolutely adorable, Howie,” I said, giving James a baby high five. His grin was contagious.
“Adorable? You must be talking about me,” AJ said, walking up. His fiancée, Rochelle, held onto his arm. She had a laid back air about her that made me like her instantly. I also loved how in love AJ looked when he stole a glance at her.
“Not quite. James beats you on adorable factor. Actually, he beats you on hair quantity too,” Howie said, grinning. AJ gave him the finger, then turned to me. “Rochelle, meet Olivia. Olivia this is my fiancée, Rochelle.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I said.
Moments later I was introduced to Brian’s wife Leighanne and their son Baylee. Baylee was as cute as a button, a spitting image of Brian. He seemed to have inherited his dad’s humor as well, chattering nonstop until Nick finally arrived. Nick looked extremely preoccupied.
“Everything okay?” Brian asked, eyeing him.
“Yeah, fine. Let’s go, I’m starving.”
We all piled into a large black van. Nick and Howie argued for a few minutes about where to eat, but finally George, the driver, was given our destination and we were off. In the car, everyone chattered amongst themselves. Leigh was the first to turn to me, a kind smile playing on her lips.
“Are you married Olivia?” Leigh asked .
“Yes, I am. I’ve been married four years.”
“Any children?” Leighanne chimed in.
“No,” I said quietly, my smile wavering just slightly. I laughed to cover the awkwardness. “I have enough trouble taking care of my husband.”
The girls laughed; the boys rolled their eyes…except for Nick. He was studying me, and he looked, dare I say, a little disappointed. I saw his eyes stray to my wedding band and then back to my face. He then turned back to his cellphone.
After another ten minutes of idle chit chat we arrived at the restaurant. We were seated at a round table in the VIP section. Nick had lost the battle; the restaurant was Howie’s pick. Opening up the menu I saw tons of entrees, most of which I had never heard before. The few I understood turned my stomach: octopus salad and shark. Glancing around nervously, I saw that Nick and Brian were already looking at Howie.
“Dude, what is with you and weird food?” Nick asked. “You’re going to burn a hole in your stomach with
all this crazy shit.”
“Be adventurous Nick,” Howie said with a laugh. “Even though every country in the world seems to have a McDonald’s it’s nice to eat something different every now and then.”
“What’s Baylee getting Bri?” Nick said, ignoring Howie’s little lecture. I laughed.
“Chicken fingers!” Baylee called out. Brian studied the menu then made a face.
“Dude they don’t have chicken fingers.”
“Macaroni and cheese!” Baylee said loudly.
After about ten minutes, Brian, Leighanne, Baylee, Nick, and I ended up at the McDonald’s across the street.
“It’s not that we don’t like different foods,” Leighanne explained as she walked with me to the table. “Baylee’s not that picky, but with Howie talking about McDonald’s and then Bay seeing the Golden Arches through that restaurant window it was all over.”
“Well, I’ve got to admit, I like his taste,” I said. We laughed as we slid into the booth.
Forty-five minutes later Leighanne and I sat watching Brian and Nick trying to coax Baylee out of the ball pit in the Playland. Brian was holding his shoes; Nick was leaning halfway into the pit. I practically snorted my Diet Coke out of my nose as I saw another kid pop out of the balls and hurl a red plastic ball at Nick’s head. It hit him square in the forehead.
“Brian’s feeding Nick to the lions,” Leighanne said, sipping her sweet tea. “The last time Brian had to get Baylee out of the ball pit he was attacked by about five kids. Then he was attacked by their mothers once they realized who he was.”
“Doesn’t it ever get scary?” I asked. Her face got a little more serious.
“It does, but with every negative aspect comes the positives. The guys have some of the best fans in the world. Plus Baylee has opportunities that other children could never even dream of…uh-oh.”
I followed her gaze; my eyes widened in surprise. Obviously Nick had been pounded with one ball too many. Grabbing my digital camera I turned it on to video just in time to see Nick belly flop into the balls. Kids flew out from all sides, yelling and running to their mothers. In one fell swoop Nick locked his arms around Baylee’s waist and struggling to get footing, passed him out to Brian.
I paused the camera, starting it again when the guys came outside.
“Great teamwork!” I said.
Nick looked at Brian. Brian was grinning ear to ear, so was Baylee.
“It’s not funny. That’s the last time I’m playing wingman at McDonald’s, Littrell.”
“You just need to work on your technique, Carter,” Brian said. Then he looked straight into the camera. “Did you catch the dive? Nick loves him some balls.”
I burst out laughing, shutting off the camera.
Ten minutes later the brave souls from the octopus restaurant met up with us and we headed back to the van. Nick was still half-scowling. Brian filled AJ and Howie in on the events, Baylee added commentary where necessary. We pulled up to Hard Rock Live all in fairly good spirits, all except Nick who had been glued to his cell phone, texting away.
The van stopped and we piled out and headed back into the venue. The rest of the evening was pretty much a blur. The concert was amazing. Whatever was bothering Nick took a backseat at the guys took the stage. I ran into Paul and told him about the whoopee cushion incident; he told me I got off too easy (and to watch my back). I watched Andrea dance across the stage, envious of her legs that seemed to never end. I only hoped that the other dancers would be half as friendly to the “techie” as she was.
I had expected some clubbing to go on after the concert. Instead, everyone went to their bus, checking that all luggage was accounted for and things were ready to go. All this happened under the bright lights beside the venue in conjunction with dozens of flashlights making eerie shadows on the blacktop. Andrea showed me my bunk and I stowed my bags away safely. After a quick shower, I slipped on my PJ’s. As each of the girls came onto the bus, said a quick hello, and tucked herself into her bunk, I sat up on the couch, pouring over the day’s photographs and videos and compiling late into the night. The busses took off around two o’clock in the morning. After another hour on the computer and several glances out the window to watch the open highway stretching out for miles, I stowed everything away and finally crawled into my own bunk.
The first day had been fun and exhausting; even so, I struggled to turn off my brain. I couldn’t help thinking about every photograph I took and every video I shot. But admittedly the thing weighing on my mind the most was the fact that something was bothering Nick.