“The hell was that?” he muttered.
“Dunno, could be anything,” I replied with a yawn. It was still only past noon, I did not have energy to really think about anything. His frown deepened, but he didn’t say anything until we opened the door to the dressing room.
“Wh-,” I started, trailing off when I saw the curled up figure on the floor. “Oh God,” I mumbled dejectedly. It wasn’t the first time we found him passed out from stress somewhere, but Brian had been doing so well for so long, it came as a surprise nevertheless. He hadn’t really had any panic attacks in nearly a year and we had believed the worst was over when it came to anxiety.
As I expected, he was fine; his pulse strong and his breathing normal. Neither Kevin nor I freaked out, because apparently, we had gotten vaguely used to the situation. Brian woke up when we turned him on his back, confused as he stared up at our faces.
“I thought we had quit this habit,” I commented with raised eyebrows. Brian blinked at me, not entirely there yet. He let out a groan as we helped him sit up.
I frowned at the way he was leaning heavily against me.
“You alright?” Kevin grumbled, laying a steady hand on his cousin’s shoulder.
Brian nodded slowly; then squeezed his eyes tightly shut, “I’m just really dizzy,” he sighed.
My frown deepened and I shot Kevin a quick look. Kevin cleared his throat, “You’re exhausted,” he stated sternly.
“I’ll be fine,” Brian said, slowly trying to get to his feet. He wavered dangerously and I grabbed his arm. To my surprise, he didn’t shrug me off. “What time is it?” he asked quietly.
“Almost three thirty,” Kevin said, checking his phone.
Brian’s eyes widened, “We have soundcheck in thirty minutes?” he gasped.
“Oh no, baby, you don’t,” Kevin said in that strict, fatherly tone that I had heard him use countless times before.
“I don’t?” Brian replied, surprised.
“You look like death warmed over. When’s the last time you’ve had a good night’s sleep anyway?” Kevin commented, not sugar coating anything.
“How’s that any of your business?” Brian answered roughly and I rolled my eyes. Here we go again, I thought.
“I think it’s my business when you keel over from exhaustion from time to time, because believe it or not, we’re in the same group here,” Kevin said slowly, keeping his voice calm. “I’ll let Nick and Howie know and you’re gonna get some sleep if you want to be able to perform tonight.” Kevin turned around resolutely and walked out the door.
“Yes boss,” I muttered.
Brian scoffed, “Can you believe that?”
“Well, you do kinda look like death, dawg,” I replied reluctantly.
“I can do a soundcheck, AJ!” he exclaimed, pointing a finger at the now closed door, “How does he get to decide everything? He left for six years!”
“You just don’t want us to do a soundcheck without you, do you?” I asked, cutting to the core immediately.
Brian looked at me with fiery eyes, but then his expression changed, “Is that really so obvious?” he mumbled silently.
I nodded slowly, guiding us both to the couch. I could understand his side of things; not wanting us to confirm that we would be fine without him; to show that he was dispensable. But the feeling that he was going to collapse on stage was nagging me and I pushed him down on the couch, a bit forcefully.
“What made you panic?” I asked softly as I took a place beside him.
He frowned deeply and stayed silent for a time, “I don’t know,” he eventually said, “I don’t feel anxious. I mean, my voice is fine.”
“Hmm, weird,” I mumbled.
I felt the stone in my stomach sink further as Brian looked up at me in desperation, “Please let me do this,” He begged quietly.
I bit my lip, but then shook my head, “Sorry bro, you heard the boss. Just get some sleep.”
Soundcheck without Brian looked and sounded weird. I saw some very confused and disappointed faces when we told the VIP fans that Brian wasn’t coming. But when we promised them he would get some sleep and be there tonight, I heard a collective sigh of relief. We tried to joke around as much as we normally would, but it didn’t feel quite the same. And during the songs, Nick shot me a few uncertain looks to try and determine who was going to cover Brian’s parts. I had never realized just how many parts Brian truly had. It was exhausting.
He better get better for tonight, I thought, because there’s no way we can host a full show without him.
When we returned, Mike told us Brian was still in his bus, presumably asleep. I sighed in relief, glad that he’d at least taken our advice and went to bed. He didn’t return until after dinner, and seemed optimally recharged, possessing an energy that I hadn’t seen in him for a long time.
The show went great. There wasn’t even a small indication of the reason Brian hadn’t shown up for soundcheck. I smiled to myself as I felt him balancing on my and Howie’s shoulders at our final song and wondered what had made me so worried in the first place. We all were exhausted every now and then, primarily due to jetlags and going to bed late and getting up early. We all had had moments in the past where we nearly fell over from sleep deprivation. Brian smiled brightly at me as we went for our last bow; his good mood seemingly unbreakable.
So I decided to shrug my worries off.
Backstage, we exchanged words of approval and excitement. The show had been going great for months now and we were nearly unstoppable where ambition was concerned. I saw Nick jumping up and down with energy, even though he had just finished a two and a half hour show, going on about how the next record would be our official comeback for real, how we’d all show them that Backstreet was still in the game and not going anywhere. Everybody approved without hesitation and the atmosphere remained celebratory.
But I froze to my spot when we all said our goodnights and went to our busses. Brian walked away, stumbling only slightly, but it was enough for an icy fear to grip me tight. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t go after him and I still regret it to this day.
Now I keep wondering if there was maybe something that we could have done to prevent it. Maybe we should have not let him push himself so hard. Maybe we should have intervened when we suspected things were going wrong. Maybe it would have mattered.