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The next couple days we just weird.
Brian avoided being alone with me like I was diagnosed with the plague. I knew he needed time to process what I'd told him, but I was afraid I'd freaked him out too much. He was my best friend, possibly the best friend I'd ever had over all the cycles of my life, and now I'd scared the shit out of him. He would bolt off the bus in AJ and Howie's wake before I could snatch him aside, and he was always first out of the dressing rooms backstage at the shows. Even on stage he'd run down the other side of the platform before I could reach him. Fans were complaining about the limited Frick and Frack face time on the message boards online.
When the tour ended, and we were in the airport waiting to fly back to our respective destinations, Brian sat in the chair furthest from me in the waiting area. I didn't try to inch closer, even after AJ and Howie's flight had left, bound for Florida, leaving Brian and I alone. I could tell by his body language that he was afraid I'd strike up a conversation, even going so far as to pretend to be asleep when I got up to get a soda out of the vending machine.
I was the first to board the flight back to LA, I sat in my seat and stared out the window, ignoring the other passengers and even the stewardesses. The wing of the plane stretched out across the tarmac, pointing toward other planes in the distance. I wondered which one Brian was sitting on, ready to go to Kentucky, where Leighanne and Baylee waited for him. I wondered if he was gonna tell Leighanne about me, if she'd believe or if she would encourage him to have me looked at or even committed.
The seat beside me was suddenly occupied and I glanced over and found myself looking at a nervous thirty year old guy who hadn't shaved in awhile. His eyes darted around the plane.
Halfway through the flight?
My palms felt wet and dry at the same time and I rubbed them on my knees. "Hey," I said to him.
He jumped about a mile and looked at me, his eyes wild. "Hey."
He was clutching his carry-on bag.
"Need some help getting that into the overhead?" I asked, noticing that he was probably about Howie's height, I figured this was a legitimate question.
"No, no. I'm okay." He looked away.
I swallowed hard and glanced around the cabin. The numbers were alarming. Everyone's numbers were similar to this guys, except just a few. Survivors, I thought darkly.
A stewardess, whose numbers were short, stopped beside our row, a sweet smile on her face. She was blonde and reminded me of Gwenyth Paltrow in that one movie that nobody ever remembers where she was a stewardess. "Are you comfortable?" she asked us. I nodded and the guy beside me did, too. She motioned at his bag. "That needs to go into the overhead until we're in the air, okay, sir?" She smiled.
"Oh, okay. Okay." The guy nodded, but still clutched the bag.
"Would you like me to put it up for you?" she asked, her voice too-sweet now.
"No, no. No. I'll do it."
He stood up, clumsily and she stepped aside as he pushed open the overhead and shoved the army green bag into the full compartment roughly and slammed the tubular door. He sat back down and rebuckled the lap belt, his hands shaking.
The stewardess must not've noticed the oddity that was the guy's behavior because she just thanked him and walked away.
So much for heightened security on planes, I thought bitterly, Something's obviously up with this guy.
I wondered how I would clear off an entire plane full of passengers. Or at least get this guy off the plane. I wondered if I could get him to leave the plane if I could see the other passengers' times and figure out if this guy was some kind of terrorist, or if there was just something legitimately wrong with the plane itself. I furrowed my forehead, staring out the window, thinking. I could hear people boarding in the coach and knew I didn't have much time.
I'd talk to the stewardess. I didn't know how I would approach the topic, especially if it turned out my seat-mate wasn't the problem, but I had to do something. So, I reached for my buckle and undid it casually as I could. "I have to pee," I told the wild-eyed guy.
He stared at me, bewildered. "You're a Backstreet Boy," he stammered suddenly.
"I- uh- yeah," I said.
"Nick," he said. "Nick, right?"
I nodded.
He turned and faced the back of the seat in front of him. His numbers teetered between low and high, low and high. He was having second thoughts about something.
"Excuse me," I muttered. I stood up and climbed over his knees. He was rubbing them in a nervous manner. I glanced around the cabin. Everyone's times were flashing, like strobe lights. My stomach twisted and I felt motion sickness from the constantly changing numbers.
It's definitely him, I thought.
Carefully, I turned and started walking toward the latrine in the front of the cabin. A cluster of stewardesses were standing just beyond the velvet curtain where the latrine was. I could tell by watching the passengers around me as I walked that he still hadn't made up his mind. They were flashing varying times. High, low, high, low.
"Sir, you need to take a seat," one of the stewardesses called to me.
I kept walking toward her.
"Sir, a seat, please."
"I need to talk to you."
She raised an eyebrow. "We're about to prepare for take-off, you can talk to us after we're in the air."
"It's urgent." I hissed.
Surprise filled her eyes and she blinked at me rapidly. "Okay." I passed into their midst and pulled the curtain shut so that prying eyes wouldn't see I was giving them heads up. "What's going on, sir?" she asked.
"That guy... the one I'm sitting next to..." I nodded toward the curtain. "I don't know what, but there's something up with him."
The Gwenyth Paltrow stewardess suddenly bumbled in carrying a pillow. "Coach is seated, they're closing the doors." She looked at me curiously. "Are you all set?"
"What do you mean something up with him?" asked the first stewardess, who was much older than Gwenyth. She looked more like the mother on That 70's Show.
"I mean I think there's reason to- to suspect him," I mumbled.
Gwenyth's eyes widened and she looked from me to the other stewardess. "What's going on?"
"What makes you say that, sir?"
The other stewardesses were all acting nervous, too, now.
Because I can see time? I thought acidly. Why does everyone need proof for suspicions? Seriously...
"He's really uptight," I said, "And he didn't want to let go of his bag. And I just --- have a feeling. Okay? Please, just... do something."
"He was really strange when I asked to help with his carry-on," Gwenyth piped up.
The Debra-Jo Rupp stewardess frowned. "Young man, if we pull the passenger beside you on unfounded suspicions, the airline will end up in a lot of trouble..."
"If you don't get this guy off the plane, every passenger on it - including you," I said, glancing at her numbers, "Is going to die halfway through the flight."
We stood, facing each other awkwardly, for a long moment.
For the love of God, listen to me, I pleaded with her silently.
Finally, she tapped Gwenyth's arm. "Go tell the pilot to radio security." She looked at me. "Go back to your seat, act normal. We're taking care of the situation." She turned and bustled away. The other stewardesses stood in a nervous cluster, looking at each other, unsure what to do.
"It's gonna be okay," I told them in the most reassuring voice I could before I turned back to return to my seat.
As I walked down the aisle, I glanced at the numbers, waiting for them to change back to normal times, but nothing was altering. My eyes roved across the rows of people, talking and reading and poking around in the complimentary bag of stuff that was stuck in the pouch ahead of them. My eyes landed on a mother, cradling an infant.
"I'm back," I said, reaching my row. Again, I climbed over the guy's knees and sat down.
He nodded, still wild-eyed, but studying me.
"There was a line already," I explained lamely, "You'd think people would go before they got on the plane."
He'd made up his mind.
I cracked my knuckles, my mouth felt like I'd been chewing on cotton balls, and stared at his numbers, heart pounding in my chest so loud I was sure the guy could hear it.
"What?" he asked, confused.
"Nothing," I answered, not ripping my eyes from his numbers. "You- I think- Do I know you?" I asked, trying to make an excuse for my staring eyes.
"I- don't- I don't think so," he stammered, looking very uncomfortable.
Where the fuck are they? I wondered, Why the hell haven't they decided to come get this shit off the plane?
The sudden realization that this change of fate could have occurred on any of the planes that any of the guys had taken made me feel sick. What if this guy was one of many? What if Brian's flight had similar trouble, and I wasn't there to save him? Or any flight, for that matter? These numbers - they hadn't been like this in the lobby. They'd changed after getting on the plane.
I felt weak.
I had to be everywhere at once.
People were dying all around me, everyday, and there was nothing I could do because their times changed after I encountered them.
After I wasn't there to save them.
I realized I was still absently staring at the wild-eyed guy.
"Nothing, sorry."
I leaned back, my mind panicked, trying to keep his numbers in my peripheral vision. Then, they changed.
Oh thank God.
Through the velvet curtain came two suited guys with those little Air Force One style ear pieces attached to their heads. One of them stood by the door, the other walked toward us.
Wild-eyed guy stiffened.
The security guy bent down and grasped his arm. "Sir, please come with me."
Other passengers were looking around at us, their faces expressions of curiosity, others of fear. The security guy pulled up my seat-mate and led him out the way he'd come. Wild-eyed guy glanced back at me, and I wondered if he knew I'd ratted him out.
I quickly took an inventory of the numbers over the other passengers heads. No change.
What the hell?
Then I remembered.
I jumped up and pulled open the overhead compartment, grabbed the guy's rucksack and hurried after the security guy. "Wait," I said. I held it out.
Security reached for the bag, giving me a once-over. "This is his," I explained.
He nodded, took the bag, and turned away.
When I turned back to look at the cabin, several things struck me at once. First, the numbers were higher, normal. No one would die on this flight. Second, I was recognized. Several wide-eyed faces stared at me in shock and surprise. A tingling sensation ran through my veins.
A stewardess stepped up behind me and lifted the overhead intercom microphone from the wall. "Attention passengers, due to a detected mechanical problem, we are asking passengers to please evacuate the plane in an orderly fashion. We will be postponing this flight and reboarding on a different vehicle."
The passengers in the cabin where I stood continued staring at me as the stewardess continued.
"There are flight attendants stationed at each exit door, ready to assist you in evacuation of the plane."
"Aren't you Nick Carter?" came a voice to my side. A guy.
I looked down at him, and nodded dumbly.
He extended a hand, "I can't help but notice what you just did," he said, beaming, "My name is Jason, I'm a reporter for the New York Times..."
"...and I'd love the opportunity to interview you and get a couple shots." He patted the camera.
People started liquidating out of their seats, a fluid motion to follow the attendants' pointing hands. It was a blur of color as Jason stood up and pulled out his press pass, showing it to me. I stared at it, his name and position and photo smiling up at me.
"I'd rather not get any recognition for this..." I said reluctantly.
"Oh I'll run a story either way," he said, "But I was hoping to get some quotes to spice it up."
"This young man did an amazing deed," the Debra Rupp stewardess said, laying a hand on my shoulder.
I felt dizzy.
Chapter End Notes:
I wasn't entirely sure how to write the evacuation. I couldn't find any websites that detailed what a flight evacuation would look/sound like. I wasn't even positive this was how the whole situation would've been taken care of. Like I said, I couldn't find anything to describe how it would actually go on the Internet. Please excuse any mistakes!