Toronto, Ontario, Canada - 9:02 AM EST
AJ exited the bathroom of the bus and went back to his bunk, coughing. "It's official: I'm a freaking human faucet." He sniffled and coughed some more as he lay back down. The Boys' hotel plans fell through, so, they were spending yet another tour stop on their buses.
Kim was laying in the bunk across from his, still recovering from her own cold. "I'm sorry, baby."
"Don't be." He coughed again. "Is J up yet?"
"Yeah, he's with Baylee watching cartoons in the back."
"At least one of us is healthy..." He shut his eyes and sighed, he just wanted to rest for a moment...
"Daddy! Daddy, breakfast!"
The next thing he felt was Jordan tugging at his t-shirt. "Papa Bear oatmeal, you promised!"
"What's that?" AJ heard Baylee ask and he sat up. Kim looked at him sympathetically, knowing that all he wanted to do was sleep his already rotten cold away.
"Oatmeal, it's good, I promise." AJ saw it being made on the Food Network a few weeks prior and it was a big hit at their breakfast table. He stood and went to the small kitchen area of the bus which had a small cook top stove. He began to gather the ingredients needed and started on the oatmeal.
About ten minutes later, Brian and Leighanne made their way near the kitchen area as smells of AJ's cooking wafted through the air. "What smells so good in here?" Brian wondered.
"Papa Bear oatmeal!" Jordan cheered as AJ placed a steaming bowl in front of him. "There you go, buddy, eat up." He went back to the stove to continue serving up breakfast for everyone.
Brian glanced at AJ as he was spooning some oatmeal into a bowl for Baylee. "Please tell me Kim made that."
He chuckled. "Nope, I'm flyin' solo. Baylee, do you want bananas and brown sugar?"
"Yes..." He saw Leighanne looking at him. "Please," he grinned.
AJ added some sliced bananas and crumbled brown sugar on top of his oatmeal and gave him his bowl. "Have a taste," he encouraged him.
Baylee placed a spoonful into his mouth and his blue eyes lit up in surprise. "Mm." He immediately dove in for a second bite.
AJ smiled. "See? I told you it'd be good." He turned to Brian and Leighanne. "It's Papa Bear oatmeal, my new breakfast specialty. Want some?" He sniffled.
"Did a duck get shoved up your nose while you were sleeping or something?" Brian smirked.
AJ rolled his eyes. "No, smart eleck, I just caught a...ah...SHOO!" He felt another sneeze coming and grabbed a paper towel. "Aht'SHOO!! Ugh, here we go..."
"God bless you, Alex. Why don't you go back to bed and I'll bring you some hot tea? See if Kim wants any." Leighanne suggested gently and moved past him to use another burner on the cook top to begin boiling water.
"Thanks, there should be enough oatmeal left for y'all and there's plenty of stuff to put on it." AJ went to the bunks and got Kim's tea order before climbing in his bunk to rest until it was ready.
"Ginger tea with honey and lemon for you and chamomile tea for you." Leighanne handed them their mugs. "Drink it while it's hot, the steam should help clear you up Mr. Sick-Backstreet-Boy-Who-Has-A-Show-Tonight and Mrs. Sick-And-Preggers needs her rest."
"I've been resting. Thanks for this, Leighanne," Kim said and took a drink.
She smiled lightly. "No problem, just relax. Me and Bri will keep the boys entertained."
"Thanks, Leighanne," AJ said with a sniffle.
"Alex, the oatmeal is delicious, by the way. You'll have to give me the recipe, Baylee might like it more than my huevos rancheros."
He laughed. "Sure thing."
Leighanne left the two of them alone and after they finished the tea, AJ climbed in beside Kim. "Do you mind?"
"No, come here." She pulled him into a hug.
"Good, you can help keep me warm," he said.
"Are you cold?"
Kim yawned. "Let's go back to sleep..."
AJ kissed her forehead and pulled the curtain back to close it. "Good idea."
It was late afternoon as AJ and Kim continued to sleep as much as possible before soundcheck and the show that night. Kim stirred and checked the time on her phone.
"Didn't you say that you were going to go shower before soundcheck?" she reminded him.
He groaned and coughed. "Say it ain't so, Joe."
"It ain't so Joe," Kim smirked.
AJ groaned as he sat up on the edge of his bunk. "You weren't kidding, this totally blows. I feel like so much shit right now." He stood and went over to kiss Kim's cheek. "I'll be back. You rest."
AJ left the bus and spotted Brian, Baylee, and Jordan shooting hoops in the parking lot behind the venue. Brian waved him over. "What?"
He shrugged. "Just wondered if you wanted to join us."
"Actually, I'm gonna go—ah'SHOO!"
Brian knew that AJ always sneezed in doubles when he was sick, so he counted down until the next one. "Three, two..."
"Shut—aht'SHOO! up Brian!" He could feel his ears turning red, he hated his sneezes; they were always loud and messy. 'Disgusting...'
The trio blessed him along with a few fans that were hanging around the edge of the parking lot, he held up a hand to thank them. "I'b gonna go shower, be good, Jordan."
"Suit yourself." Brian said and shot a basket into the hoop as AJ walked into the venue. He headed for the dressing room to grab some clean clothes and was just about to enter the shower room when Nick called his name.
"What?" he snapped, annoyed. He coughed as a result of it.
Nick put his hands up and backed off. "Sorry, nevermind."
AJ tried again. "No, really, what?"
"It can wait." he insisted.
AJ sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, hoping to find some relief for his congested sinuses. "Sorry, dude, this cold's just got me all whacked out."
"It's okay, I've been there. Summer's the worst for them."
"No kidding. I'll be in here."
Nick walked off and AJ went to go shower, relishing in the hot steamy water that relaxed him and seemed to ease his discomfort. Too bad it was only temporary, he sighed and shut the water off. He dried off, changed clothes, and went to the catering room to make himself some hot tea. He sent Kim a text: Do you want anything from catering before I come back?
She responded about a minute later: Some Gatorade? A sandwich, maybe?
AJ took his tea and Kim's sandwich and Gatorade back to the bus. The fans near by cheered and yelled out his name when he walked across the parking lot, but he didn't stop to greet them. He didn't want to pass off his cold to an unsuspecting fan (some wouldn't mind, he guessed) and he honestly wasn't in the mood to deal with more fans than he had to today. So, he went back inside the bus to chill with Kim before soundcheck.
"I got your stuff," he said and set it down on the booth table near the door.
Kim got up from her bunk and joined him. "Not hungry?"
AJ shook his head for no.
"You should eat something, you need to keep your strength up."
"I'll grab something before soundcheck," A cough escaped his lips and he took a drink of tea.
"Tea?" she assumed and opened her bottle of Fruit Punch Gatorade.
"Mhm." He surrendered to a fit of coughs and groaned. "Just kill me now, still got soundcheck and the show tonight, and three more in a row after that. My timing is awesome."
Kim looked at AJ, her eyes full of sympathy. "Go lie down, baby, I know you're tired. I'll get you at 4, okay?"
He stood and kissed her cheek before going to his bunk. Just as he was getting comfortable, he heard a cry from outside and immediately knew who it was: Jordan.
Kim heard it, too and AJ went outside to find out what was wrong. "Is he okay?"
"Fell and scraped his elbow," Brian said.
AJ went over to his son who was holding his left arm, the same one that was broken in the car accident in late May. This worried him, he hoped that Jordan didn't re-injure himself. "Let me see, buddy." He assessed the damage and decided that the wound needed a bandage. AJ took Jordan inside the bus and let him go back and play after he cleaned and bandaged the scrape with the help of a first-aid kit.
AJ sat back across from Kim and sighed. "A parent's work is never done."
"Nope," she agreed.
AJ decided that it was pointless to try and sleep before soundcheck, but he did grab a Peanut Butter Chocolate PowerBar to eat on his way to the stage.
"Hey, y'all," he said into his microphone, the one closest to him on the end. He unwrapped and took a bite of his PowerBar. "My dinner." That earned a few laughs. "Just kidding."
The others came in after AJ and the soundcheck party started. They sang a couple of songs and everything was going pretty smoothly so far. AJ let the audience know beforehand that he wasn't feeling well and was conserving his voice for the show that night and the three to follow. After they sang "I Want It That Way," he fought a losing battle against a sneeze and was about to unleash a second when his phone went off. 'Saved by the buzz.' AJ thought gratefully and noticed that Kim's doctor was calling. "Sorry, be right back." He held up his phone and quickly walked backstage.
"What's up, Liz?" AJ wondered as he felt the second tickle creep back up in his sinuses.
"Hold ah...on for a second...aht'SHOO!" He sneezed away from the phone and almost immediately felt the nasal congestion return.
"Bless you. You okay?"
"Thanks." He sniffled hard. "I'm fine, what's up?"
"I haven't had an update on Kim today, so, I take it she's feeling better?" Liz assumed.
"A bit, I'm making sure she rests and whatnot."
"Good, her fever's down or at least level?" she asked.
"Yeah, down to just above one-hundred," AJ replied.
"Good. Anything else I need to know?"
"I don't think so."
"Alright, have Kim or you give me a call if anything changes," Dr. Novotny said.
"Take care, Alex, it sounds like Kim's cold is catching."
AJ let out a cough. "Too late." He sighed.
"Aw, that sucks. And you've got four shows in a row, including tonight's? That's gonna be rough." She noted, glancing at a copy of their tour schedule so she could keep track of where Kim was.
"You don't have to tell me twice."
"Yeah. Well, feel better, I'll let you go."
"Thanks, bye." AJ hung up and went back on stage for the rest of soundcheck and crashed on the bus until 6:00 so he could get ready for the concert that night at the Molson Amphitheatre.
After Brian led the prayer circle, everyone got hyped for showtime. Leighanne, Baylee, and Jordan were going to be watching from the side. AJ knelt down in front of Jordan. "Can I have my good luck hug?"
He nodded and squeezed AJ tight. "Love you, Daddy."
"I love you, too. Make sure you clap and sing real loud, okay?"
"Okay!" He let go and ran off to find Baylee.
"Alright," AJ said to pump himself up and to make him forget about how crappy he was feeling, "Let's do this." He walked near the stage with the others to line up for their introductions.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Toronto, Ontario, Canada - 12:09 AM EST (9:09 PM PST)
AJ held the pistol in his shaking hands and swallowed hard. "Well, if I can't have you...no one will..."
He closed his eyes and pulled the trigger.
AJ felt a hand on his face and shot up in his bunk, a few hoarse coughs racked his body as he stared into his surroundings with wide eyes. He saw a face in the darkness and gasped.
That face was Kim and her voice was gentle. "Hey. Hey. Alex, it's me. It's me, baby. It's okay."
"Kim?" he rasped. His breathing was still coming in short pants as he reached for her hand.
"It's okay, I'm right here. You just had a bad dream."
AJ nodded. 'More like a fucking nightmare.' He swallowed. "What happened?"
"I heard you tossing and turning. You were moaning in your sleep." She paused before asking him, "Was it the dream about your dad?"
"Yeah," he lied quickly, "my dad." He certainly didn't have the heart to tell her what he just dreamed. It all seemed so...real. And that's what scared him.
"I'm sorry, baby, I wish I could take all of that pain away," she said with sadness filling her voice.
Now, AJ felt bad for lying to her. "Yeah. I know."
Kim placed a cool hand on his forehead. "You've still got a bit of a fever."
"It'll be gone by morning," he assured her.
"Are you okay now?" She sounded concerned.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Go back to sleep." He tried to sound convincing and it worked.
"Okay, get some sleep. And no more bad dreams." She kissed his cheek and climbed back into her bunk.
AJ waited until he was sure that Kim was asleep to go into the back lounge. He turned the TV on for some background noise and punched in a speed dial number on his BlackBerry. After three rings, the call was answered and AJ cleared his throat.
"Alex? What's wrong?"
"Nothing, Mom." he sighed.
Denise immediately picked up on the congestion in her son's voice. He sounded worn out. "Are you sick, sweetheart?"
"It's just a cold." His lungs decided to betray him and he let out a string of coughs that made the raw feeling in the back of his throat return. "It sounds worse than it really is, I swear."
"Poor baby..." she cooed softly.
"Kim and Jordan both had it, so, it's only fair that I got it, too, I guess. They're feeling better." He sniffled and coughed again. "Ow. Okay, okay...I'm sick, Mommy." He said in a pathetic voice and let himself relax against the couch. "I could kill for some of your chicken soup right now. In an IV drip. Even though I hate needles."
Denise laughed. "You really are sick if you're willing to get stuck with a needle just for my soup."
AJ's chuckle turned into a cough and he sighed.
"But really, why did you call me? Surely not for me to take great pity on you."
"How do you know?" he smirked.
"Number one: It's past midnight where you are and you only call me this late when there's a problem and number two: Sleeping is your favorite thing to do when you're sick, so, obviously something is keeping you from doing that."
"I hate you sometimes."
Denise knew he was kidding. "I'm your mom, I know you. So, spill."
"I don't even why I called you," AJ sighed.
"Alex...you can tell me anything, you know that," she tried to reassure him.
"I know. I just...I guess I'm just stressed out." He rubbed the back of his neck.
"I know, sweetheart, we've all had a rough time lately with the accident and everything. It would put anyone on-edge."
"I know you know that I haven't been sleeping well for awhile now. I just can't without some...help," he admitted.
AJ stopped her. "No, no, no, Mom, not like that. I'm not taking anything, I swear."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I mean, not recently..."
"Define 'not recently.'"
"What did you take?" she wondered.
"Just some Tylenol PM a couple of times, and yes, Kim knows and she was pissed when she found out." AJ coughed.
"I see. Have you talked to John about this?"
"Kind of. It's just these nightmares...of Bob and other shit. Stuff. Sorry," he recovered quickly, knowing that Denise definitely wasn't an advocate of swearing. "Decent nights of sleep have been few and far between for months now."
"Months? When exactly did the nightmares flare up again?"
"The night before the accident," AJ replied and paused to cough again.
"Yeah." He sighed heavily. "I don't know what to do, Mom."
"Sweetheart, I think you and I both know what the only solution is: you have to make things right with him, it's the only way that these nightmares will stop for good."
That was definitely not what AJ wanted to hear, but he knew it was the truth. "I know. I just wish I could sleep at night..."
"I wish you could, too, Alex. When you get home we can talk about this more, but I think that right now you need to get to bed, you need your sleep. It's late and you sound exhausted," Denise said with concern.
AJ laughed. "Gee, thanks, Mom."
"Go get some rest, feel better, okay?"
"Okay, love you."
"I love you, too," she echoed. "Goodnight, Alex."
"Goodnight," AJ said and ended the phone call with a push of a button. He set his phone down on the table in front of him and fell back against the couch, letting out a few coughs and sighing tiredly.
"Alex? You in here?" Moments later, the door was slid open to reveal Brian standing there in his blue sweatpants and matching University of Kentucky Wildcats shirt. "You okay?"
"Yeah." AJ rubbed his eyes wearily and yawned. "I was just headed back to bed."
"Oh. Is everything okay?" he asked again.
"Fine. Well, goodnight." AJ stood to leave the room.
"'Night." Brian said and watched AJ go into the bus' small bathroom to give his nose a good blow and he swallowed a dose of NyQuil before heading back to the bunks. They all had to take a short but early flight to Detroit in the morning for their next tour stop and AJ could only pray that this cold wouldn't stick around for too long.
"Alex? It's about a quarter to nine, we gotta get moving."
"Mm...five more minutes, Mom," AJ joked and pulled the blanket over his head to block out the light.
Kim gently pulled it back and kissed his cheek. "C'mon, sleepyhead, time to get up. Brian made scrambled eggs and toast."
AJ's head was still slightly fuzzy from the cold medicine and food didn't sound too appealing at the moment. "No, thanks." He let out a few coughs into the blanket.
"Baby, you hardly ate yesterday...you gotta get some food in you if you wanna feel better."
"I know, I'm just not feeling very hungry," he said and sat up slowly. He coughed again and could feel his nose start to run. "Where's the Kleenex?"
"I'll get some." Kim left to go find them when Leighanne walked by.
"Hey, feeling any better?"
AJ shook his head for no.
"You poor thing. How about I heat you up some leftover tea?" she asked sweetly.
He smiled a little. "That'd be nice, thanks."
"No problem." She continued on her way and Kim back with a box of tissues.
"Here, baby." She passed them to AJ and he blew into a couple. He coughed afterward and groaned. "Maybe you guys should cancel the show, you don't sound good at all."
"Kim, we are not canceling. We've performed with all kinds of illnesses: colds, flus, stomach flus, strep throat, you name it. Hell, Nick had to puke backstage in between songs for a few days during the Millennium tour."
"I remember that," Brian chimed in.
"I've just gotta push through it. I'll be fine, we packed DayQuil, right?"
"Yeah, and give yourself pneumonia," Kim scoffed. "You're not a kid anymore, Alex, you've gotta take care of yourself if you wanna do this for another fifteen years."
"It's just a cold, stop worrying. I'll sleep on the flight and when we get to the hotel," AJ said, slightly annoyed.
"Fine. Don't come crying to me when you get worse 'cause you won't put yourself first before your job." Kim left him alone to go the kitchen area.
"I won't," AJ called after her and started to cough again just as Leighanne came by with his tea. "Thanks."
She nodded in reply. "Drink up, we've gotta head to the airport soon."
"Great," AJ said with mock enthusiasm, he hated early morning flights. Theirs was at ten from Toronto to Detroit. After he finished the tea, he got up and dressed and ready to fly back to the US with their whole tour crew.
Detroit, Michigan - 11:13 AM EST
AJ felt like he had never been so happy to see a hotel suite in his life. He didn't even bother to check it out as he slipped his shoes off in the closet near the door and collapsed on to the plush bed. He sighed with relief and closed his eyes. 'An actual hotel bed, not a bunk...' The flight was about a half-hour and so was the ride to the hotel and AJ was already exhausted. They still had a soundcheck and show to do later on. 'Fuck that...I just wanna sleep. Maybe we could just take a power nap at soundcheck, the fans wouldn't mind and Howie definitely wouldn't object.' he thought hopefully and got comfortable amongst the top comforter and soft pillows.
Jordan hopped up on the bed. "Daddy, wake up! It's not dark out!"
That yelling seemed to increase AJ's headache. "J, get down, please. I really don't feel good..."
"But—" he started to protest.
Kim came out from the bathroom. "Jordan, get off of the bed. He asked you nicely. Leave Daddy alone for awhile, okay?"
"Okay," he pouted and left to go find some of his toys.
AJ gave her a grateful look and she came to his side of the bed to feel his forehead. "You still feel warm, want some more NyQuil?"
Kim went to pour him a dose and returned to find him sneezing into a Kleenex. "Bless you. Here, drink this and get some more rest."
He did and decided to get under the covers this time. He shivered a bit let out a small cough, wincing at the pain in his throat.
"I'll wake you in a few hours, just sleep."
"Sounds good..." AJ replied, a bit drowsy. He was asleep within minutes.