Later in the morning, once my plan was formulated and the other fellas were up, I called a group meeting by the couch. They plopped down on the couches staring up at me as I nervously twitched in the aisle, the words I was about to say tumbling through my head. I wrung my hands until they were all settled and Kevin asked, "Okay Nick. What've you got to say for yourself this time?"
All eyes on me.
"Okay. So." I took a deep breath, "So I've made a lotta mistakes and I wanna fix'em," I announced. Kevin raised one wooly eyebrow. "I'm gonna stop drinking. I'm gonna be better about being in the moment, gonna pay more attention. I'm gonna be a better person. I'm gonna get healthy, lose weight, and I'm gonna make you proud of me. In the future, we're gonna look back at this moment and its gonna be the one when I changed for good."
I'd pictured them cheering uproariously, raising me up on their shoulders, chanting my name in exultation because I'd finally got it right. I'd pictured everything being perfect and smooth sailing from there. Like just making up my mind was gonna be enough to change my life from bad to good.
Instead, Brian looked down at his knees. Howie looked over at AJ and they shared a concerned expression. Kevin sighed, "Nick. You say this every week."
"For real this time," I persisted.
"You say that every week, too," Kevin said.
I looked between them. None of them looked convinced. Howie had that almost pitying look in his eyes. "No guys, really, it's gonna be different this time," I said.
Kevin stood up and clapped me on the back. "I believe ya, Nicky," he said. But the way he said it, I could tell he didn't. He fully believed he'd be pulling me out of a bar later that night. "Now let's get ready for this interview we've got today," he said and he turned away. The other guys did, too, back to business and off of focusing on me.
I felt frustrated.
But also determined.
We got ready and headed off to the interview, which I stayed quiet during because to be honest I still wasn't entirely positive I knew where I'd landed in my own timeline and I didn't wanna say something stupid. Kevin rambled on about the Never Gone tour and plans we had for videos that I already knew we'd never make. Or at least we hadn't the first time I'd lived through this era of my life. I studied my hands in my lap, still weirded out by how swollen up they looked. It was strangely mesmerizing, and I kept flexing my fingers and watching the muscles move under my skin, consciously commanding my body to move just to reinforce that those were really my hands, and they were really attached to me.
We did a show that night and I felt brilliantly out of sync with the other guys. It'd been years since I'd performed the Never Gone choreography and I could barely remember the steps. I felt breathless moments into it, too, and I remembered how awful and uncomfortable I'd been before I'd lost all that weight. I couldn't believe that I hadn't figured out all on my own that maybe it was time to diet. I mean I felt a bit like I was hauling a baby hippo around on my back. I also could only just barely remember the lyrics to some of the songs that were standard on that tour - songs we hadn't really performed since. Kevin kept glancing over at me, eyebrows together, disapproval on his face as I fumbled through verses and lines that I should've known.
I felt like telling him to leave me the fuck alone, I was lucky I remembered what little I did after all that time.
Backstage during the second clothing change of the show, Kevin came over to me. "What the hell is going on out there?" he asked.
"You. You're stumbling around like a drunken hobo, mumbling lyrics. Those fans out there -- they paid to be here. They're looking up to you. There's kids out there Nick that think you're worth looking up to." He glowered. "Get your fucking act together."
"I'm doing my best!" I snapped, frustrated with myself and my inability to remember the steps and the words and with him for pointing it out.
Kevin shook his head and turned for his suit jacket, shrugging it onto his shoulders. Howie was already dressed and waiting by the steps leading up to the stage, not wanting to get involved with the argument blooming between Kev and I. This was typical, I remembered, the other guys scattering when Kev and I were about to get into it. None of them wanted to tell Kev he was being too hard on me or me that Kevin wasn't being hard enough, which ever.
"Maybe just try and get some of the lyrics right," Brian said quietly. I don't think he meant it as mean as it came out, but Brian's always been good at pushing buttons for me.
"Well fuck you, you try not singing a song for eight years and see if you remember the fucking lyrics," I snarled. And the moment the words were out of my mouth I winced because I was gonna have to explain eight years.
"It hasn't even been twenty-four hours..." Brian muttered, but he turned and dropped the subject.
Kevin came over and stared me in the eyes "What'd you take and when?" he demanded.
"What?" I asked.
"You heard me." He stared right into my pupils, getting real close, squinting. "What did you take and when did you take it?"
"I didn't take anything," I answered, dodging away from Kevin.
Kevin sighed. "I swear," he grouched as he headed to the stairs, pushing past Howie, who jumped out of the way, "I'm done after this tour. I will not be on stage with you high every fucking night."
"I'M NOT HIGH!" I shouted, and I rushed after him. I grabbed his arm, stopped him. The music was starting, our cue nearly upon us. "I'm not high," I repeated, staring into his face.
"Then how the hell do you explain your sorry excuse for a performance tonight?" Kevin asked, waving his arm at the stage as AJ, Brian, and Howie stepped by us and started getting into position for the next part of the show.
I stared into Kevin's eyes, "Because I'm from the future."
Kevin stared back into my face. A tense moment passed between us. For a moment, I thought maybe, just maybe, Kevin might believe me. And then he shook his head and sighed, "Jesus Christ, you get more and more ridiculous every god damn day --" and he pulled his arm out of my grasp and stormed off onto the stage.
I stared after them - the four of them standing there, ready to go, and I yanked on the hem of my shirt, which fit a little tighter than I would've pleased, and took a deep breath before joining them.
After the show, Kevin wouldn't talk to me. We were brought to a hotel and the other guys went to their respective rooms, leaving me standing in the hallway alone, staring around at four closed doors, my throat tight. I walked alone to my room and closed the door, staring around at the bright, off beat patterns on the walls and the carpet. I threw my bag onto the floor and dropped onto the bed, my hair puffing out around my head and stared up at the ceiling.
How was I supposed to prove to the guys that things would be different this time when they wouldn't even give me the chance? I wondered.
As I laid there, a burning sensation was pouring through my veins. Withdrawals. I scratched my arms as the nervous, tingly feeling spread through me. I sat up, restless, and looked around the room. It was standard - a TV, a small couch, two beds, a balcony, desk, mini-fridge. I got up and walked over to the mini-fridge and pulled it out. Lining the shelves were bottles of water and soda. A small selection of mini bottles of alcohol stood there, too, and a bowl full of those little bags of nuts on top.
I picked up one of the little bottles of tequila, spinning it in my fingers, staring at the label and the clear liquid inside.
My veins were on fire.
I carried it back to the bed. Just one wouldn't hurt, I told myself, and I unscrewed the cap and sniffed it. It was powerful smelling. Just the scent of it relieved a little bit of the ache in my body. I hesitated.
Did I really wanna use my second chance like this?
I put the cap back on the bottle and put it on the nightstand.
I got up and walked out into the hallway. I couldn't stay in that room alone. It was too quiet, too tempting to open that bottle back up and knock it back in one gulp. To return to the fridge and suck it all down. The burning in my limbs raged. This was the hardest part, I remembered. Every time I swore to myself I wouldn't drink anymore I'd gotten to this point where my blood seemed to be filled with pins and needles all throughout me, like it'd been replaced by ice or fire or both.
I was waiting for the elevator to open when I heard a door close down the hallway. I turned and saw Brian.
My heart raced.
He looked down the hall at me. "Nick? Where you going?" he asked, concerned.
"I just needed some fresh air," I answered.
Brian sighed. "Don't go out, Nick," he said. "I really don't feel like listening to Kevin."
I shook my head, "I really am just going for air," I replied.
Brian hesitated. "Okay." I could tell the way he said it he didn't believe me. He turned and started down the hallway the opposite direction.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Vending machine," he replied without turning back.
I chewed my lip, watching him walk. "Hey," I called.
He turned, walking backwards. "Yeah?"
"I saw a hoop across the street," I said.
Brian stopped. "A hoop?"
"Yeah," I replied. "Bet I could kick your ass."
Brian stared at me. "It's two o'clock in the morning," he said.
I shrugged. "So? You scared of the ass whoopin'?"
Brian flapped his arms thoughtfully. "Hell no," he replied. He started back toward me. "Lemme get my ball." He eyed me as he reached his room door, one eyebrow raised. "It's been forever since we've done this," he said, a little smirk crawling across his mouth, and there was a flicker - a crack in a wall that had been built up.