Nick was poking at his salad with the end of his fork, rolling a cherry tomato around the plate. It had a weird brown spot on the side and though AJ insisted that was nothing, he was certain it was rotted, so he refused to eat it. The tomato scurried around the ridge of an oversized lettuce leaf, sending ripples through a pool of oily salad dressing, which he was also refusing to eat.
"I was thinking maybe we should hit Australia first," Howie was saying as he chowed down on his tuna on rye. "We haven't been Down Under in awhile," he pointed out. He picked up a chip and shoved it into his mouth.
"Yeah, the New Kids tour wasn't very Aussie-friendly," Brian commented around a mouthful of yogurt.
AJ grabbed a handful of popcorn from the bowl that sat in the center of the table, kernels falling onto the table as he rummaged his fingers among them. "I'm down with the Down Undah," he said, employing his crappy Aussie accent.
Nick shuffled his feet under the table and dropped his fork, making a clanging sound. "I was thinking we should stick to the US and Canada, while the momentum's still there," he commented, "I mean think about it, they're excited for it right now, there's a lot of fans that didn't get to come out to see the show because both fanbases were crowding the queues..." Nick shrugged, "I'm just thinking maybe we should capitalize on that while we've got the chance."
AJ chomped on the popcorn thoughtfully. "Yeah, but it's gonna be fucking winter," he said, "It's cold. Australia's hot."
Brian pointed at AJ, "A plus."
Howie nodded, "And the fans down there are chomping at the bit on all the social networking sites."
Nick sighed. "I'm just saying, from a business point of view, it's gonna be better to give the people here what they want while we've got their interest."
"We're giving them an album," Brian said, "Won't that appease them?"
"But a tour is... it's a tour," Nick said, "It's more exciting." AJ dragged the popcorn bowl to his seat, since nobody else was eating it. Nick grabbed a small bowl of hummus and picked up the remaining carrot stick next to it and shoved it into the hummus. "I'm just thinking they deserve it, since they all came back to us. We haven't had that here in a long time. Let's not take it for granted."
Howie paused. "Do we really want the momentum we had in '99 here, though? I mean I like being able to go out with Leigh and James without getting mowed down by crazies."
"I like it when the fans are crazy," Nick muttered.
"You're single," Brian pointed out, "You've got no kids to worry about."
AJ nodded, "Yeah. The fans freak Rochelle out sometimes, I think."
"Rochelle loves the fans," Nick said, rolling his eyes.
AJ shrugged, "I guess."
Howie stretched, "It's no use really, arguing about it. Especially now, when we don't even have the album taped yet." He looked at his watch, "Why don't we head back to the studio, then we can wrap up for the day. Maybe finish off this song."
"Alright," Brian said. He balled up the paper that his sandwich had come in and tossed it onto the table.
Nick pushed his plastic salad container away, abandoning the tomato.
They got up and piled out the door of the little cafe onto the streets of Los Angeles. The sunlight was pouring down over the rooftops of the tall buildings around them, turning the street a strange golden color. It was late afternoon. Nick pulled out the keys to the van they used when they were all in the city taping or working, and clicked the doors unlocked. Brian and Howie got in the backseat, AJ got in the front passenger side and Nick the driver's seat.
"How many more songs do we have to tape?" Howie asked, leaning forward, looking at Nick. "Like twenty?"
"Last count, I think it was fourteen," he answered.
Howie sat back as Brian fought with his seatbelt. "Dude, we need to get these things fixed," he complained, yanking it and fighting with the click. "They don't stay attached."
Howie looked down at it, "Push the red thingy."
Nick had the van started and was moving out of the parking space already as Howie and Brian worked on the buckle, their heads bent low as they argued about how to get it clicked shut.
"We're only like two fucking blocks from the damn studio," AJ muttered, "I still don't understand why we didn't walk it."
Nick reached for the stereo and turned the music up. The iPod randomly landed on a Good Charlotte song he hadn't heard since it came out - I Just Wanna Live. Him and AJ had spent weeks bopping to this song, head banging and singing in high-pitched falsettos. They'd even sang it at soundchecks a few times, much to the amusement of the fans. "Oh dude," AJ said, laughing, "This is bad. We were so stupid."
"I love it," Nick laughed, and broke into singing along in falsetto and shaking his head like they used to.
AJ snorted, but couldn't resist. Within minutes, he'd joined in and started doing the same thing as Nick.
Howie looked up front. "You two are ridiculous," he laughed.
Brian crowed in triumph. "Take that, you bitch seatbelt," he pointed at it. "I clicked you." He smiled and turned to look up at the front seat as his brothers goofed off.
Nick was beating the wheel with his palms.
They were approaching a red light and Nick was slowing down. The light turned green and he sped up. The velocity of the van speeding up sent Nick's iPod flying out of the cupholder he'd put it into, and into the backseat, cutting the music as the iPod's jack fell out.
"I got it," Brian looked down and reached for the iPod, where it'd landed by his foot, and the seatbelt came unclicked.
Nick glanced back at Brian's head between the two seats. "It went back further than that," he said, "I think it's under your seat."
"Nick!" AJ's voice was loud, panicked.
Nick turned to face forward, but he didn't even have time to focus before they were struck.