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Chapter Twenty

It's kind of a blur how I got from the stage to the bathroom of the hotel later that night. But I know this: for one magic moment on the stage, right before the big bow at the end with the fellas, when the music was reaching it's crescendo, I felt like I was on top of the world and everything was exactly as it should've been. But like most things - when you reach the top, you gotta come back down. Gravity's a bitch like that.

Here's what I remember.

Kevin glancing over my way throughout the show. I remember that vividly. He was about to cry every time our eyes met, I thought, and he looked just so proud of me. I'd always wanted someone to be proud of me. It sounds silly. I mean, I'm a Backstreet Boy, shouldn't there be a lot of people proud of me? And maybe there was. But Kevin wasn't just proud of me that way, he was proud of me because of something deeper than a god-given talent. And that's what I'd wanted alla my life. I remember thinking about that as the lyrics to the songs became easier and the steps in the choreography became more fluid. I remember thinking, this is what I sent myself back for.

And then the show was ending and we were all joined hands and taking our bows at the front of the stage and AJ was laughing and Brian was squeezing my fingers and Kevin bowed the lowest of the five and Howie nearly tripped off the stage... and we were waving to the fans and promising to return and running off into the darkness behind the curtain and below the stage... ripping off microphone packs and rushing with bodyguards to the vans that would bring us back to the after party. There was a thundering of screaming women outside, blurs of loud color and sweeping arms and piercing shrieks.

It was such a head rush. Such a strange feeling.

I remember the ride in the van only vaguely. I remember Brian's look of concern as Kevin yelled loudly over the cranked stereo system about how much he loved us all and how much this fucking band meant to him, how he couldn't believe he'd ever dreamed of leaving us... Brian kept staring at me and he'd glance at Kevin then back to me with this questioning look in his eyes and I just yelled along with Kevin.

At the club, I saw AJ rush off to get a Red Bull and Howie followed him. Kevin and Brian lingered with me at the van and Kevin clapped me on the back and congratulated me on making a good choice and we walked toward the doors and Brian waited until Kevin's long strides had left us a good distance before he grabbed hold of my arm. "Nick," he hissed, "Nick, we gotta talk."

"We can talk later!" I shouted and I bounded after Kevin.

"No, Nick, we gotta talk now!" Brian persisted as he rushed after me.

But I was too caught up and I didn't really care what he had to say anyways. I rushed through the bar, ready to celebrate, ready to live life. Kevin wasn't leaving, my life wouldn't spiral out of control. I could stop drinking, I could sober up. I'd be a better role model for my siblings and we'd all be closer. I couldn't quite remember why it was so bitterly important to me that I sober up and get close to my siblings -- there was a reason, wasn't there? -- but I could do it anyways.

Brian stayed by my side as we walked through the club. Beats played overhead, thundering against the walls and the ceiling. I hit the bar and ordered a drink - a Jack on the rocks. "Nick!" Brian shouted, "What the hell are you doing?"

"Ordering my last drink," I announced.

"Nick, you can't. You're changing things," he shouted.

"I know." I reached for the glass as the bar tender held it out.

Brian reached to grab my glass away but I simply held it up out of his reach and turned away - the benefits of being tall. I started pushing my way out of the frenzy around the bar. "Nick, you said you came back to stop yourself from - from ruining everything." He waved at the drink I held aloft.

"Brian -- c'mon, you can't expect me not to cap the night off. One drink ain't gonna hurt me none and besides, I already changed it all for the better. One drink ain't gonna wreck up my liver at all."

"Nick -- you're making a huge mistake."

But I knocked it back anyways.

Like I said, everything else is pretty much a blur. The only thing I know for certain is that there was more than just the one drink and Brian was right about me making a huge mistake.

I woke up horizontal, staring at another toilet basin. My body felt weak. I groaned and moved slowly, peeling my face off the floor. "Oh God," I groaned.

I heard something shift and I moved and looked up to see a girl... a girl with dark curly hair and almond shaped eyes... a girl I had a feeling I should recognize but I couldn't put a name to. She was standing in the doorway. She stared down at me, her hands on the frame. "What's today?" she whispered.

"I dunno," I replied. I stared at her, mesmerized. Had I taken her home from the club?

She sighed. "I'm early. Again. Why am I always early? Why can't I ever be just in time?" She shook her head.

"What're you early for?" I mumbled.

"You," she replied. "It's too early." She shook her head and started to turn away.

"Wait," I said, "Where are you going?"

"I'm not sitting here watching you roll about in your own filth," she answered. "I love you too much to watch this. It hurts too much." She started to walk away again and I reached for her ankle, nearly tripping her.

"Wait," I begged, "Wait. Please. Who are you? Did we sleep together?"

"You'll know me someday," she replied. "If I can ever get you at the right time. Ugh. I don't know why we can't just touch down at the right time." She shook her head.

I squinted up at her... and there was something... something I needed to remember. The information lay there somewhere in my head, I could feel it... just under the surface memories.

"You'd think since you built the damn thing you'd know how to run it, but noooo -- knowing how to run it is too much to ask," she mumbled as she shook me off her ankle.

I struggled - fighting against my own brain because as I lay there listening to her speaking I felt like there was something else... something important. Something... something that could save me.

"I gotta go," she said.

"But wait," I begged because I knew I needed to remember and her presence there was somehow making me remember.

"I can't stay here. I'm too early. I gotta go." And she ducked out the door of the bathroom.

It came to me in a rush, a big glob of information just bursting in my head like a raindrop hitting the sidewalk. "Wait!" I shouted and I struggled to my feet and rushed into the room after her, but it was empty and my head was spinning like I'd done a million revolutions. I sat down on the bed and held my head in my hand. "Fuck," I muttered. I closed my eyes. And I forced myself to remember.

But it was so much harder now that she was gone.

The year I was from was 2014, I reminded myself. I was in the past. I was here to change the past because when I was from I was dying of liver disease probably caused by the drinks I had last night, judging by how fucked my liver felt now. I came back after meeting Meira - a girl from my future, the girl who I'd just seen now in the hotel room in 2006 - who came to my past to tell me to go back to my even more distant past - now - because the me of the future - her future - had told her to tell me - of 2014 - to go back - as in to 2006 - which is where I am now.

Fuck. That's confusing. No wonder I was getting lost. But the key to all of it was the message she'd come to give me - the message she kept saying she was too early or too late to give.

Go back, the words rang in my mind.

I repeated this information over and over in my mind. It was the only way to keep it because the moment I stopped thinking about it, the moment I let the image of Meira leave my head, I started to lose a grip on what I'd come for and I started to fall into the same past that I'd already lived.

There was a knock on the door, and I fought myself to get back up again an stumbled out to the door. When I opened it, Brian was on the other side.

And he wasn't happy.