On The Outside: By Amy
The room was dark and silent as the five distraught friends sat alone with their own thoughts as their only active company. Kevin Richardson had refused to accept the presence of light entering his home and he rejected any sound. He only sat in absolutely stillness, living in his own world and ignoring the one that revolved around him.
Thirteen-year-old Nick Carter nervously lifted his head, inspecting the solemn expressions sewn across the others faces.
Howie Dorough sat at Kevin's side, keeping a steady hand resting against his back. AJ McLean and Brian Littrell simply reclined against the couch cushions, seeming more shocked than disturbed after hearing the tragic news.
Carter observed the others outward emotions, not knowing how to properly behave in their presence. He dare not upset them or deepen their pain by showing his own remorse, yet, he couldn't continue without expressing the complete devastation that loomed within him.
"Um, anybody hungry?" Brian Littrell asked aloud, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
"Yeah, I could use some food," AJ lied, eager to leave the awkard tension behind.
"That's a good idea," Howie agreed, with a nod. "You hungry, Nicky?"
"Yep," Nick answered shortly, afraid to say much else.
"Come on, Kev," Howie encouraged, gently squeezing his shoulder. "Let's go get some grub. My treat."
"No," Kevin responded immediately.
Howie sighed. "You need to eat."
Dorough turned to AJ, reaching into the pocket of his blue jeans. "Boys, why don't you head over to the diner and have some dinner on me."
"But, Howie, we can't afford-" AJ began to interject, ending his protest as Howie shook his head.
"Go on," Howie urged. "Take my wallet," he stated, passing over the object. "Get whatever you like."
"But what about Kevin?" Nick asked innocently, looking back at the depressed man. "He needs to eat too. So do you, Howie."
Dorough offered the young orphan a sad smile. "Well then, why don't you do me a big favor and bring us back something, okay?"
"Okay," Nick replied quietly.
"Come on, Nick," Brian called out lethargically, holding out the blonde's jacket. "Let's go now before it gets any colder outside."
Maintaining the modern trend of silence, the teenagers slipped out the door. Together venturing into the cold, dark streets, shadowed by grief and despair.
"Level with me, Kev," Howie pleaded after the younger men exited. "Be real with me."
"What's to level out?" Kevin asked hastily. "Kit's dead and life's bitch. There's not much to tell."
"Are you gonna' be okay?"
Richardson's green eyes narrowed, intensifying in color as his anger grew. "I will never be okay. I haven't been okay since I first started losing all the people I loved in my life, and then watching others that were dear to people I knew slipping away...I'm definitely not going to be okay after losing a beautiful person that didn't have a chance to live the life she wanted!"
"But she was a charismatic person," Howie whispered, honestly. "She won't be forgotten, Kev. Everybody will be remember that she was full of a sassy yet gentle attitude and very talented."
"But no one should have to remember!" Kevin hollered, slamming his fist against the small table that lye before him. "She should still be here showing it! So we could see it instead of remembering it! You know what I really want?" he cried out.
Tears slipped down the bitter man's cheeks. "I want to say 'Kit is', that's all I want! I don't want to say 'Kit was'; it's like she's completely gone and we'll never know anything more about her again! And we won't!" Kevin's shoulders shook with each gasping sob that overtook his body. "I just don't want to watch another person go in the ground beneath me."
Howie cautiously wrapped his arm around Richardson's shoulders. "I know what you mean, believe me, I know. We all do."
"So, what's the truth?"
"Excuse me?" the Latino queried, his forehead creasing in concern.
Kevin slowly cleared his throat, struggling with the words he was preparing to say. "I know the coroner examined Kit's body at the doctor's office where you work. The article in the newspaper simply said she had been found dead behind the bar and the cause of death had not been determined. It must have been by now, do you know?"
Howie paled, wishing to push away the subject matter. "Kevin, I don't want to discuss it."
"Well, I do," Kevin stated evenly. "I want to know how Kit died. Was it suicide?"
"Absolutely not!" Howie exclaimed, his brown eyes widening. "Don't say something like that."
The green-eyed man tightened his jaw, clutching his fists together. "Accidental death? Natural causes?"
"I don't want to discuss it," Dorough repeated, turning away from the inquisitive older man.
Kevin paused, standing and walking toward the window. He drew in a weak deep breath, glaring at the small town of Lendon through the glass. "So, it was murder? Somebody took her life?" he rasped.
"She was beaten to death," Howie answered through his trembling lips. "The coroner and police believe she w-was walking home a-and someone approached her. There was obviously a struggle because they wanted to-" the frazzled man became quiet, ending his stuttering sentence.
Kevin hung his head. "Somebody wanted to get some off her."
"Yes. Obviously, there was a struggle and-" Howie pushed away the tears that passed from his eyes. "He beat her up, real bad. She died from injuries brought on and irritated by the criminal's actions."
"How could someone have not heard her screaming? You said there was a struggle! She must have been screaming."
Dorough bit his lip. "He was choking her at one point, she couldn't scream. And by the time he stopped, if he did stop...She would've been too hurt to make any noise at all or even move."
"It's my fault," Kevin coughed out, his voice barely audible. "I could have saved her."
Howie shook his head, walking toward his grief-stricken friend. "Somehow I doubt that."
"You don't understand," Kevin breathed. "I was going to walk her home. If I had...I could have stopped it and she'd still be alive." He turned to the Puerto Rican. "If I had been there, I could've stopped it!"
Richardson then returned to his routine silence, appearing to steadily drift away into a trance. His eyes became glazed over, staring straight ahead, but unable to actually view the world before him. His facial _expression remained blank as he seemed bury himself with the sad truth.
"Kevin," Howie whispered cautiously, "some things we have no control over. Death is one of those things. You can't blame yourself for her death."
"I can," Kevin retorted unhappily, "and I do. It doesn't matter what you say. I'll never be able to live with this guilt. I should have known it could have been serious, she was trying to tell me."
"Kev, I'm confused," Dorough said, running a shaky hand through his black hair. "What was serious? And what was Kit trying to tell you?"
Kevin slowly fell to his knees, allowing his body to sink into the carpet. "She kept on saying that she knew something was going to happen. She didn't know what though...." He paused, feeling his eyes mist over with tears. "Then, she looked at me and she said that she knew that she wouldn't be able to necessarily accomplish her dreams, but she knew I was going to be okay." He glanced back at his companion in disbelief. "She knew, Howie. She knew she wasn't going to be around...That it was fate or something. I only joked with her about it. I acted like nothing was seriously going to happen. I shouldn't have left her."
"Kit didn't like being sheltered all the time. That's just who she was."
"And she shouldn't have died because of it."
"Of course not," Howie agreed. "But, she was in a lot pain, Kev. Now, she isn't."
The depression lingering in Kevin's features soon disappeared. He cleared his throat, pulling himself to his feet. "You said it was murder. So, the police must have a few leads, right?"
"Well, yeah, I guess so," Howie assumed. "But they haven't caught the guy yet, Kev. I'm sure they will soon."
Richardson walked to the door, pushing away his sadness. "Fine, if they can't find the bastard, then I will!"
"Kevin, you can't do that!" Howie declared firmly. "You're in no condition to go out and start trying to act like a damn cop!"
Kevin opened the door, rejecting Howie's worthy advice. "Whoever did that to Kit deserves to have the same thing happen to them; and I'm going to make damn sure they get it!"
Bits of chicken, corn and bread were scattered carelessly across Nick Carter's plate as he aimlessly picked at his food.
"Come on, Nick," Brian exhorted, "you need to eat before it gets cold."
"I'm not very hungry," the blonde whispered, pushing his meal away.
"Me either," AJ agreed, staring down at the soup remaining in his bowl.
Brian sighed, gingerly rubbing his temples. "Yeah, I guess none of us have much of an appetite today."
"How's Patti?" AJ pondered, raising his head.
Littrell bit his lip, shrugging his shoulders. "She was hysterical earlier, but now, she kinda' seems numb. Basically, feeling disbelief from it all. It is a lot to take in."
"I don't know why everybody's so surprised," McLean grumbled, shoving his body further into the booth. "This kinda' shit has been happenin' to us over the pass few years. We shoulda' known it was coming. Things had been too good for us."
"That depends on your definition of 'good'," Brian retorted softly.
"She was nice," Nick said abruptly. "Good people shouldn't have to lose their lives. Jackasses should be killed instead, they're just takin' up space."
"That's no way to talk," Brian lectured.
AJ pulled his red baseball cap down, covering his sad brown eyes. "Kid's got the right idea if you ask me."
"Let's get out of here," Brian propounded, sliding out of the booth.
"What are we gonna' do?" Nick wondered, trotting along behind the older teenagers.
"I don't know," Brian admitted, heaving a sigh. "I guess we'll just go walking."
"Shouldn't we get back to Kevin and Howie?" AJ asked, retrieving Howie's wallet from his jacket pocket.
"I don't want to go back yet," Brian whispered, hanging his head. "It kinda' freaks me out to see Kevin like this. He's acting so strange. It was hard enough seeing Patti so upset all day, I need a little break from it. I know Kevin...He's going to snap soon and I don't want to be there when he does."
Nick rolled his eyes. "How did you expect Kevin to act? He had the hots for her and now she's dead. He's stuck wondering what might have been. Of course he's pissed."
AJ smiled, ruffling the blonde's shaggy mane. "You have a cool way of putting things into perspective."
"Cool and ornery," Brian commented as they reached the cash register. "Hi ya', Mr. Angelo," he greeted quietly, glancing up at the Italian standing behind the counter.
"Hey, kid," Tony responded, dully.
He lifted his hand into the air as he noticed AJ opening the wallet resting within his grasp. "No charge."
"You sure?" AJ questioned further, holding the money out toward the owner.
"Positive," Angelo repeated. "The least I can do is give you boys a hot meal after the day you went through."
"You're too good to us," Nick muttered, gazing up at the owner.
"I'm not to good to you," Tony retorted. "I'm just treating you kids the way you should have been treated all along."
"When do you want me and Kev back at work?" Brian inquired, shoving his cold hands into his jacket pockets.
"You kids take your time, I'll manage somehow."
Brian lifted his head. "If it's all the same to you I'd rather work, it keeps my mind off things."
"I want to work too," Nick added. He tilted his head toward the sky just as Brian had done. "It keeps my mind off things."
Tony Angelo grinned down at the young lad, amused to see his desire to mimic his older friend. "All right, you two be here tomorrow, normal time. But if you feel that you need to be alone or that it's too much, ya' don't worry about comin' in. And tell Kev to take as long as he needs."
"Thanks, Tony," Brian said in return. "You don't now how much you've done for us."
"You boys keep me young and are basically the only people that treated me well first I first came to Lendon after leaving New York. You've done plenty for me, I promise. But if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my customers. You boys be careful now."
"So, what do we do now?" AJ McLean whispered as the small group of teenagers exited the diner.
"I don't want to go home," Brian echoed. "Anywhere but there."
"You want to go to my place?" AJ offered, meekly.
Littrell shook his head. "Nah, still too close to my place."
"Then, let's just start walkin'," Nick suggested, shivering in the night air. "It's too cold to just stand here."
Slowly, the three young men started traveling down the Town Square, glancing at the solemn environment surrounding them. The streets were silent as members of the town hurried down the sidewalks, they remained quiet, only staring at the ground beneath their feet. It was as if Lendon had been silenced by Kit's death. No one was brave enough to look another soul in the face or dare say a word to them.
"So, where are we going?" AJ pondered, listening to the rocks gently crashing together beneath his footsteps.
"I don't know," Brian admitted. "Let's just start walking. Maybe if we're lucky we'll end up in another place with new lives."
AJ rolled his eyes, trailing behind the others. "Not even God is that lucky."
"How long have we been walking?" Nick asked randomly, as the teens continued their aimless journey through the town.
"I dunno," AJ replied, with a shrug. "You think we should get back?"
Brian stared down at the sidewalk. "Why bother?"
"I guess you're right," McLean whispered, walking further into the distance.
"This is silly," Nick grumbled, kicking at the rocks beneath his feet. "We're just be goin' in circles gettin' colder."
"At least if you can feel the cold air you know you're alive," AJ mumbled out, his eyes narrowing.
"Don't say stuff like that," Brian reprimanded. "It won't do anyone any good."
"I'm only saying the truth," AJ defended harshly.
"Guys.." Nick suddenly whispered, his voice filled with fear. "Is this the place?" he asked meekly, slowly dragging his body away from the dark street.
"Nick! Nick, where are you going?" Brian yelled, running after the teen.
Nick's skin paled as he stared at the secluded area hidden behind The Jazz Note. It was dark alleyway, contained within old brick walls, decorated with graffiti along the sides. Police barriers and yellow lines of caution tape stood before the sordid location, seperating it from the rest of the town.
The youth's blue eyes found tears as he gazed into the space. "That's where they found Kit. That's where she died!" he blurted out, spinning around to face them. "It's not that far away! Why didn't anybody know?"
"Nick, look how dark it is," Brian said gently, resting his hand to the thirteen-year-old's shaking shoulder. "And it's kinda' hard to see."
"But it's not fair!"
"No, it's not. But it doesn't matter how many times we keep on saying it isn't fair," Brian sighed. "The fact is, we can't change what happened. We can't bring her back. She's with God now."
"Why do you always depend on God?" Nick asked bitterly, wiping his nose. "You go to church, you pray to Him and looked what happened! If God does exist then He only cares about Himself! So, you know what? I don't believe!"
Brian stood in shock, watching the angry teenager dash away from him. Nick never looked back, only contuing to run forward, his sobs echoing the evening air.
"Come on," AJ encouraged, lightly tugging the end of Brian's jacket. "Let's go back to your place. I think that's where the kid is headin'."
"H-he said it so plainly," the fair skinned teenager stuttered. "He's the only person I've ever met that doesn't believe at all."
Slowly, the disturbed young man followed behind his friend, traveling the path guiding them home. "I don't get how he couldn't, AJ. I mean, people that have seen and lived stuff like we have...What else do we have to believe in?"
"We could believe in ourselves," McLean suggested as they turned the corner. "But then, we might start thinkin' that we were somethin' above the trash that we are."
"We aren't trash," Brian argued. "Bein' poor don't make you trash."
"I feel like trash," AJ stated freely. "I've been left behind by people, thrown out, beat up...Yeah, I think I'm basically the same thing. Maybe Nick's just feelin' the same. Ya' gotta' feel for him."
"What are you talkin' about?"
AJ steadily maintained his pace across the dark concrete, keeping his head down as he watched his footsteps. "He finally got something. Something different than anything he's had in a long time. And now part of it's been ripped away just like before. Maybe this is what he believed in. This dream of finally finding a family..a home. It's not so different from people believin' in God. They look at Heaven as their home. Nick's mind just hasn't developed that much trust and faith yet, that's all."
Brian shook his head in bewilderment. "AJ McLean: the philosopher. You gonna' go off to college and study?"
AJ rolled his eyes. "Yeah right. But at least I want to graduate which is one step above you. You don't even care."
"School's stupid," Brian commented angrily. "There's no point. There's nothing those teachers can teach us in there about the real world or preparing us for it that we don't already know. We've all lived it already."
AJ nodded. "Maybe, but I look at it as a getaway. Within those walls we learn about math, history, music...Teachers give you assignments, but it's a lot easier to be sitting at a desk looking for the answer to a problem. At least the problems they give us have an answer and we know that ahead of time. It's just a matter of finding it. Our lives outside that school...Not nearly as simple. We don't know that there is an answer, we just know we got problems."
"You said it," Brian muttered, watching his breath travel into the air, developing into icy puffs. "Are you like Nick?" he inquired, abruptly.
"Yeah," AJ assumed, stepping onto the dead-end street where their homes were located. "He's angry about Kit's death, and so am I. I can't find a reason for it at all. And I'm mad because I'm sick of watchin' people go before their time." He stopped speaking as his eyes uncharacteristically filled with tears. "And it's scary, it's like a wake-up call. We're not exempt from any of this. I might..What if I were next? It's scary to think it's a possiblity. It's like this reminder that we weren't ever going to be happy. The most important thing on our minds was a dance. Now, all of that seems so stupid."
Brian nodded, cautiously looking up at the steps of his home. He released a sigh of relief, seeing Nick sitting by the doorstep, his face resting in his hands.
"At least he got home okay," AJ stated, trailing off into Brian's yard.
"AJ," Littrell whispered, catching his arm. "Am I only the only one that believes?"
"Nah," AJ rasped. "I believe. Besides, I pray there is a Heaven, because I'm tired of living in this hell."
Nick stood, brushing away his remaining tears with his sleeve. "Can we go inside now? It's cold."
"Sure," Brian allowed, "open the door."
"I can't," Nick said with a roll of his eyes. "Nobody's home."
"I wonder where Kevin is," Brian pondered worriedly.
"Don't worry," AJ assured him, offering a slight grin. "Maybe he and Howie just needed some grub. Or to go for a walk like we did. At least now you missed him snapping."
"Thank God," Brian breathed, unlocking the door to the tiny home.
Nick Carter merged ahead of the older teens, retreating the to living room sofa, his head buried beneath the pillows.
"You wanna' talk?" Brian queried.
"Wanna' watch TV?" AJ asked, flipping the dial. "Alf's on."
"Alf?" Nick repeated, peeking his head out.
"Yeah," McLean said with a nod. "I think he's an alien that came to live with this family or something."
"Aliens!" Nick exclaimed. "Cool!"
The blonde's good spirits were soon stripped away as the boys were greeted with the sounds of three men quarreling loudly as they stumbled upon the road.
"LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!" one of them blared.
Brian winced, listening to the comment. "That's Kevin."
Instinctively, the three inhabitants of the home rushed to the window, gazing out into the open street.
Kevin Richardson was being led down the narrow aisle by Howie Dorough and his boss, Tony Angelo, on either side of his body. His words were jumbled together by anger and slighty slurred phrasing.
"Is he drunk?" AJ gasped in disbelief.
"I don't know," Brian answered honestly.
"He drinks?" Nick asked, suddenly becoming nervous as he stared at the home owner. "I hate it when people drink."
"Me too," AJ muttered, shutting his brown eyes as his own memories came back to haunt him.
"Kev, what happened?" Brian hollered, running out into the road. "You're bleeding!"
"Nothing happened! It's just a little blood." Kevin shouted, pulling away from the other mens' grip.
Mr. Angelo looked down at Brian. "I saw him at The Jazz Note, he got a couple drinks in him and started gettin' hysterical with everybody in there."
"Of course I did!" Kevin proclaimed. "One of those bastards might have been the asshole that killed Kit! And he was- he deserves whatever the hell I do to him!"
Howie hung his head. "Going around and playing cop isn't going to make anything any easier," he berated. "You acted like a fool. You're lucky Tony caught you before you were falling down drunk and being hauled off to jail."
"I'm not drunk!" Kevin argued. "I only had two beers. I just decided to release some rage on people that deserved it."
"Just calm down," Angelo directed. "You just need some time to cool off and get things in perspective."
"There is no perspective," Kevin snarled, dragging his tired body up-the-stairs.
"I want to take a look at that cut," Howie decided, getting a closer look at the gash resting across the angry man's forehead as they came into the lit home.
"Do whatever you want," Richardson grumbled, yanking his body from their hold. "You guys can let go now, I'm fine. I'm not drunk or going to act violent with ya'. I'm just pissed."
"I better get home then," Tony Angelo said with a sigh. "You gonna' be okay, Kev?"
The tall man nodded, taking a seat at the kitchen table. "Yeah, Mr. Angelo," he retorted. "Thanks for what you did, I appreciate it, even if I don't seem grateful."
"No need for thanks," his boss promised him, giving his shoulder a little squeeze. "You just take care of yourself, kid. You've always been a good guy, no matter what happens there's no need to change that. I'll check in on you kids later and if you need anything, anything at all, you just let me know."
Nick Carter stood silently in the corner of the small kitchen, watching with anxious eyes as the owner of the diner exited. "AJ," he whispered, pulling on the sleeve of the teen that stood beside him. "Kevin's scarying me."
"You ain't the only one," the other breathed.
Brian Littrell stood on the opposite of his friends, peering at his cousin. He shook his head. "I told you he'd snap."
AJ lifted his head. "Yeah, but I expected he would just yell. I didn't think he'd turn into a lunatic."
"He's not!" Brian hissed, glaring up at him. "You'd be upset too."
"Boys," Howie Dorough announced as he returned to the room, "why don't you go wait at my house?" he suggested, noticing the stricken emotions laced upon their faces. "You can all just stay there tonight with me."
"Sure," AJ answered immediately, silently thankfully to be given an escape from the situation at hand.
"I'll go pack some stuff," Nick stated, walking toward Brian's bedroom. "Come on, AJ!" he called out. "You can help me."
"Is he gonna' be okay?" Brian whispered, quietly seating himself at Kevin's side.
"Yeah, he'll be fine," Howie responded, cleansing Kevin's skin with rubbing alcohol. "The cut looks worse than it really is."
"I'll stay here with you, Kev," Brian offered, glancing up at his cousin. "I don't want you to be alone right now."
"No," Kevin whispered, looking away from his relative. "You go with Howie," he ordered softly.
"But I want to stay with you," Brian argued. "You need me right now."
"You can't give me what I need."
"What I need is to be alone," Kevin told him, finally managing to look into the younger man's eyes. "I'm very angry right now, Brian. I don't want to lose my temper again and take it out on any of you, okay?"
Brian sadly nodded. "Okay, I'll do whatever you want me to do."
"I need some more tape," Howie said, securing the top part of the bandage to the wounded area. "You have any?"
"Yeah," Kevin responded dully, "in the bathroom cabinet."
"Okay," Howie replied, turning away. "I'll be right back."
Brian nervously picked at his fingernails as he stared into Kevin's pale face. The man's angry expression had now relented, turning into a view of blank emotion. Yet, somehow the essence of deep pain lingered in his glazed green eyes.
"Kevin?" he whispered. "I know now isn't the time to bring up certain things. But I'm kinda' scared about somethin'."
The dark-haired male rubbed his sore neck, tossing a glance at the teen. "I'm sane enough now to listen, but I can't promise any good advice. What's up?"
"Nick said he doesn't believe in God. And this time he really meant it."
Kevin shut his eyes, leaning back in the wooden chair. "Well, Brian, maybe he's right."
Brian's blue eyes widened in disbelief as gazed at the other male. He swallowed roughly, trying to put his feelings behind him. "I get scared when people act like this. When are you going to be normal again? You're the only person I can depend on."
"Oh, Brian, take the wake up call," Kevin whispered, sitting up. "Nothing is ever going to be the same again."