"Nick!" Brian yelled from the back of the tourbus the next afternoon. "She's almost on!"
"Okay, I'm coming!" Nick replied from his bunk. He shut the comic book he was reading and put it on his pillow before getting out of the bunk and going to the back of the bus where the TV and the couches were. The other guys were already sitting and watching. Nick sat down on the couch right next to Brian.
As soon as the current commercial was over, the TRL music started to come on. The camera panned over the crowd outside the studio before cutting to upstairs and inside, where Kayla was already standing next to Carson Daly with a big smile on her face.
"Hey everyone, I'm Carson Daly, and this is Total Request Live, I'm standing here with Kayla Prescott, the new singer who, as most of you know, sings on the Backstreet Boys' new single, 'For The Rest Of My Life.'"
Kayla gave the camera a little wave. "Hey, everyone!" she said, making the Boys laugh.
"How cute is she," Brian remarked. "'Hey everyone!'" he mimicked, making everyone laugh again.
Just then a cell phone started to ring near the front of the bus. "Nick, that's you!" someone yelled.
Nick sighed in frustration, mainly because what Kayla was wearing complimented her very much, and went to his bunk. He reached inside and pulled out the ringing phone. "Hello?" he said.
"Nick, it's me," his mom's voice replied. She sounded different than usual.
"Mom? What's up?" Nick asked in surprise. Usually she only called him early in the morning or in the evening.
There was a tense pause on the other end. "Honey...I'm afraid I have some bad news..."
Kayla was smiling contentedly to herself as she came out of hair and makeup before the show that evening. TRL had been absolutely wonderful. She'd had a blast with Carson, and she had been able to meet a lot of her fans that she hadn't even known exist.
She was walking down the hall towards her dressing room when she came across all four of the Boys plus a few other people. They were standing in a loose clump outside a closed door, speaking to each other in worried whispers. Frowning, Kayla went up to Brian and tapped him on the shoulder.
As he turned around and saw her, the anxiety disappeared from his face for a moment. "Hey! You were great, babe!" he told her, giving her a hug.
Kayla hugged back. "Thank you...but what on earth is going on?"
Brian's smile faded, and he cleared his throat. "It's Jeff Cantor...you know who that is?"
Kayla's eyebrows shot up. Jeff Cantor was a very old friend of Nick's family. Basically, he was like a second father to Nick and his brother and sisters. Or actually more like a grandfather because of his age. Nick had known him ever since birth.
"Sure," Kayla said in response to Brian's question. "What happened to him?"
"He passed away this morning," Brian said softly. "And Nick is taking it really, really hard. We've all tried to talk to him about it, but he just either ignores us completely or bites our heads off. We're actually debating whether or not to make him perform tonight."
Kayla swallowed. "Oh, no..."
Brian nodded. "I'm really worried about him, Kayla," he confessed. "I've never seen him like this. I mean, you know Nick."
"He wouldn't even talk to me," Brian said. "Usually, even when he doesn't talk to anyone else, he'll at least talk to me." Brian sighed sharply and turned away.
Kayla touched his arm, and he turned back around. "Let me try," she suggested.
Brian frowned. "I don't think that's a very good idea."
"Come on. I bet I could get him to open up to me," she persisted.
Brian hesitated. That was possible, considering the fact that Nick was basically in love with her, but... "No," he decided. There was a chance, but it wasn't that likely, and he didn't want Nick to say something to Kayla that he would regret later.
"I'm going in there," Kayla resolved, starting towards the door.
"Kayla, no," Brian said.
"Brian, I can do this. Trust me, okay?"
Brian looked at her for a moment before he sighed consent. "Okay, fine."
Kayla smiled. "It'll be fine," she reasoned with a smile, reaching for the doorknob.
"Good luck," Brian said grimly.
Kayla nodded and flashed him a quick smile before going into the room and closing the door behind her.
Nick was sitting on a couch that was up against the wall facing her, his elbow on the armrest and his head resting against his hand. His posture was slouched and careless, and his face looked tired. Hearing her come into the room, he glanced over in her direction, but as soon as he saw who the intruder was and their eyes met, his flicked away quickly. A slight frown crossed his face, and Kayla wasn't completely sure, but she thought that she could see tear stains on his cheeks.
Pursing her lips, she walked over to the couch. Nick watched her silently as she sat down next to him.
"I heard what happened," she said softly, breaking the deafening silence.
He didn't respond except to turn his head away.
"I'm really sorry, Nick. I know that it must be hard for you." She put a hand on his back and started to rub.
He still said nothing.
"I mean...from what you said, the two of you were really close. I've never really lost anyone that close to me before, but I could see how terrible it would be," she said, still keeping her voice as soft and comforting as possible.
Nick cleared his throat. "I'm not really talking to anyone right now," he reminded her, trying to sound out cold but just coming out dejected as he turned his head back to look at her.
Kayla half-smiled. "I know. I heard. But I figured I'd give it a try. I mean, you probably would with me."
Nick looked at her for a long time without moving or saying anything. The pain made his blue eyes look piercing, and Kayla had to resist the urge to look away.
"Nick," she said after awhile, when it became fairly clear that he was trying to stifle something. "If you want to cry, I'm not going to think any worse of you."
He stared at her for another second or two before his face crumpled up, and he quickly turned away. Kayla wrapped both arms around him and pulled him close. "It's okay, sweetie, go ahead," she encouraged, laying his head against her shoulder. Unable to contain himself anymore, he finally broke and started to cry into her shoulder as he wrapped his arms around her.
"Shhh," Kayla soothed. "It's okay...everything's okay."
"Kayla...he was like...my dad...and..."
"Shhh...here, baby, lie down," she encouraged. Pulling his head away from her shoulder, she instead eased it down into her lap so that he was lying on his back. As he kept crying, she combed the fingers of one hand through his hair repeatedly and let her other hand rest on his chest.
"Take a deep breath and slow down," she soothed.
Nick did as he was told. "He was like a second father to me. I told you that."
"I know. I know it's really hard for you," she said. "But he's in a better place now."
Nick shook his head. "I don't care."
"How did it happen? Was there an accident?"
"Brain tumor," Nick mumbled.
"So did you know it was coming?"
"I knew it was going to happen eventually...but no, he was supposed to have at least another two years left," Nick protested.
"How old was he?"
"Well, sweetie, that's a lot. He had a long life."
Nick sighed. "Maybe, but..."
"I know. It still hurts."
Just then there was a knock at the door. "Kayla?" Brian's voice called.
The door opened, and Brian poked his head in. His eyes popped open when he saw Nick lying in Kayla's lap with tears on his cheeks. "Uh...oh, you've gotta go warm up," he told Kayla slowly.
She made a face. "Okay. Thanks."
Brian nodded and shut the door again, shaking his head in surprise and muttering something to himself as he went away.
Kayla patted the back of Nick's head. "I have to go. I'm sorry," she apologized.
He sat up, sniffling. "Yeah, I know. It's okay. I'll be fine, don't worry."
"Listen, after the show tonight, I want you to come up to my hotel room and we'll talk about it some more, okay?"
Nick actually managed a weak smile. "Sounds good."
She smiled back. "Okay." She gave him a big hug. "Feel better, sweetie."
Nick hugged back gratefully, her touch being exactly what he needed to feel in that moment. "I'll try to. Have a good show."
"I'll try to," Kayla echoed. She stood up and ruffled his hair affectionately.
Nick smiled all the way this time. "Bye."
"Bye." She flashed him one more quick smile before leaving out of the room and shutting the door behind her.