AJ felt surprisingly well rested when he opened his eyes the next day. He thought he heard birds chirping right outside the window sill. Everything was calm and peaceful, he likes waking up early in the morning and have that little alone moment for himself before everybody else started to wake up and the routine chaos that followed the Backstreet Boys fell upon him again.
It lasted for a mere second though, before sleep slowly dissipated and he quickly became aware of where he was. Amazing, he thought, as he recalled sleeping in a bed with four other grown men and still managed not to wake up on the floor. And then it dawned upon him, the black cloud.
Did he make it through another day?
Pushing himself up, he looked over the sleeping form of Howie next to him and found the space where Nick should be, now empty. Next to the empty space laid Brian, still undisturbed from sleep. Kevin was still at the foot of the bed, his right arm under his head, like a pillow.
This should be a good sign right? Nick is walking around somewhere, he’s not dead.
Or maybe something happened last night that he wasn’t aware of and they took him back to the hospital.
“Guys, wake up!” He cried, shaking Howie awake. Brian woke up with a start while Kevin slowly wove his way through dreamless sleep before opening his eyes. Howie needed more shaking before he too, finally woke up.
“Where’s Nick?” Brian asked, the colours on his face slowly draining.
“I don’t know.” AJ replied. “I was hoping you’d know.”
Howie yawned. “He’s probably in the bathroom taking a leak or something.”
“Last I check, he can’t even sit up straight.” Kevin replied.
“I don’t feel good.”
“You coming down with something J?” Brian asked. AJ rolled his eyes. “I meant something’s not right. Did something happened to him last night that we’re not aware of?”
“I don’t think so. I mean, someone’s bound to wake us up if something did. Besides, they need to move dead log over here to get to Nick.” Howie said, pointing at Brian.
“You snores, but that’s another problem,” Brian said. “lets go find him, if he’s really in the bathroom, he shouldn’t be there alone, he could slip and fall or something.”
“I’ll check the kitchen, he’s probably just hungry.” AJ said as he made his way out of the room.
“I’ll check the backyard.” Howie offered.
Kevin dragged his half-asleep legs towards the door. “I’ll go check…somewhere else.”
Truth be told, Kevin was scared. There was no way Nick could just get up and walk around the house. He was bedridden ever since the incident at the red carpet a few days ago. He couldn’t hold anything down and barely spoke a sentence before drifting into a deep sleep. Kevin didn’t even want to open his eyes when AJ started waking them up, sounding alarmed. He knew AJ would tell him that Nick was gone.
One thing was true though. Nick was gone, just not dead. He wasn’t even sure if that should make him somewhat relieved. For all they know, he might be lying dead somewhere in the house; and if that was the case, Kevin didn’t want to be the one to find him.
“Well, seems like we don’t have to play hide and seek.” AJ said, pointing to the figure sitting at the top of the stairs. His body was hunched, the wrinkles on his white shirt and the tousles of his blonde locks, felt like a rare gift.
“Oh thank God.” Kevin whispered, sighing with relief. “Nick?”
Kevin’s voice broke the silence ambience of the house. Something felt strange then but he couldn’t put what it was. But that all didn’t matter much when Nick responded with a turn of his head and then a smile on his flushed face. Could it be a miracle, Kevin thought. How could all those colours return to his face overnight?
“Hey, was waiting for you guys to wake up.” Nick said, not moving.
“Why didn’t you wake us?” Howie asked as they approached him.
Nick shrugged. “You guys looked like you need them.”
Brian sat next to Nick on the staircase, staring forward, trying to find what was it that Nick was looking at. He was met with nothing more than a slight view of the living room. Nothing there seemed to change. “What are you doing sitting here alone?”
Nick turned to look at him and Brian thought he saw confusion on his face. “Felt a little dizzy so I sit.”
AJ frowned. “Didn’t anybody see you here? You know your family’s here right? They couldn’t still be asleep, feels like noon already.”
Nick scratched his head. “They left. I told them I’ll be all right, we don’t need everybody here to take care of one person.”
“How are you feeling Nick? Last night, you can’t even sit up straight. I’m not even sure how you got out of bed and climb all these stairs down to the kitchen and then back up again.” Kevin said.
“Except for the dizzy thing awhile ago, I feel great actually.” Nick smiled. “I walked all the way down and up again on my own, thank you very much.”
Brian gasped. There was a huge smile on his face. He pulled Nick for a hug and started laughing. “That’s great Nicky. I don’t know what happen but it’s a miracle!”
“Not too fast,” Kevin said, which doesn’t surprise any of them. “How about a visit to your doctor Nick? Let him decide if you’re really okay.”
Nick bit his lower lip. After seconds of hesitation, he said, “Sure, whatever.”
AJ was getting utterly bored doing nothing in the waiting room. He didn’t even volunteer to accompany Nick for his check up but of course Kevin just had to pick him. Whatever happen to nominating the responsible one, like Howie?
But when he later found out that D was given the task to liase with their PR while Brian had to face Management along with Kevin, AJ thought he got out with a bargain. What could be so difficult about sending a full grown man to his appointment? Nothing, it seemed. However, he didn’t count on the boredom factor to bring his mood down.
It still amazed him at the turn around of event with just a night. Could it really be a miracle that Nick was now walking on his own, without as much as falling over? What happened last night, he thought.
“Nothing you idiot.” AJ whispered out loud to himself. They had all fallen asleep, it was that simple. And he had expected that it would be a busy day when he woke up again, having to plan Nick’s funeral since he passed away in his sleep the night before. Of course that didn’t happen. So was it safe to say it was miracle, like Brian declared?
A black note book fell on his lap, which almost made him jumped out of his seat. He looked up to see an old man in a black robe looking back at him. His slightly curly hair was of pure white, his bushy beard although rather long seemed neat and perfectly shaped. His eyes were of pale blue, somehow reminding AJ that the man was old with age. Also, of Santa Claus.
“Take it son, you’ll need it more than I do.”
AJ looked back down on the note book now in his hands. ‘My Confession’ engraved on the cover. He shook his head. “But I don’t need a-” He looked up to give the book back and found no one there. He eyed the corridor to his left and right and saw no one. “Bible.”
He sighed heavily, wondering what the heck was that all about. Resuming his place on the uncomfortable plastic chair, he raised the book in front of him and shook his head. “I’ll give this to Brian,” he smiled, knowing that Rok would probably have his eyes popping out of their sockets at the sight of the book. “here’s your miracle bro.”
But when he decided to skim through the pages and found it filled with nothing but blankness, he was left confused again. Resting the book on his lap, he decided the day was filled with too much confusion that the only way out was to ignore them. “Before I go crazy.” He said out loud, which was followed by a scoff. “I think it’s too late for that now Alex. You’re talking to your freaking self.”
His gaze finally rested on the poster plastered on the wall in front of him. No matter what he did, he would end up staring at the same old poster. He rolled his eyes at the poster’s attempt to make something educational sound so unoriginal. A word a day keeps the Fs away. Read.
“Thanks Dr. Little, I appreciate all your help.”
“No problem Nick, I’m just glad you’re up and about this fast. It truly is a miracle.”
“Yeah, been hearing that a lot today.” Nick said, shaking the doctor’s hand as AJ looked on. Once the doctor was out of sight, AJ got up from his seat, ready to get away from the hallway of boredom.
“He said I’m okay.” Nick smiled. “A little clog on the lungs and liver but it should go away with some meds. He couldn’t explain it though, guess it’s a miracle, like they say.”
“Yeah, it is.” AJ yawned, tired of the amount of redundancy he had to endure that day. “Hey, gotta pen?”
Nick pulled out his small ball point from his breast pocket. “Here.”
“Thanks.” He opened the black book to the first page and wrote down ‘miracle’.
“What’s that?” Nick asked, peering over to see what he had just written. AJ closed the book before Nick could see it. “Haven’t you heard? A word a day keeps the Fs away.”
Nick eyed AJ suspiciously before the teasing smirk played around his lips. “You know J, I think it’s a bit too late for you though.”
Finally, the stepped out of the hospital and into the warmth of the afternoon sun. The car park was empty, save for the Escalade.
“Never say never bro, miracles can happen.”
“God, quit with the miracles crap already.”
That made AJ stopped, it didn’t bother Nick though, who kept on walking towards the car. “Hey!”
Nick sighed and continued on walking, the last time someone called out to him like that in the parking lot, they were having a huge argument that led to the accident. “What AJ.”
“I said hey!” AJ said louder, this time grabbing his shoulder from the back and forcing the taller man to look at him. Truth be told, he had no idea where all that anger came from but he didn’t care. “You could be a little more thankful you’re walking around like no shit ever happened to you, you know. Last night, we thought we’re gonna lose you so forgive everyone for saying it’s a miracle!”
“Look at us AJ, look!” Nick almost yelled. AJ was confused by his sudden outburst. What was there to see exactly? “You don’t see it, do you?”
“See what Nick!” AJ exclaimed. “Why don’t you point it out to me and maybe I’ll see what you’re seeing.”
Nick’s gaze left him and rested upon something above his head. AJ looked up but found nothing except for the perfect blue sky. Was he talking about the sky?
“What’s wrong with the sky?” He asked. Nick looked disappointed at his remark that it made him doubt his sanity for a second. The sky has always been blue, right?
“Nothing J, lets just get the hell out of here.”
“Want me to drive?” AJ asked.
“Nah, I’m good.”
Nick seemed rush to get out of there and AJ wasn’t complaining, he needed to get back to the guys, where hopefully someone else would notice this strange behaviour in Nick. Not that the day hadn’t been strange enough for him already.
“I know this seems strange to you, believe me, I’m finding it hard to believe too,” AJ said, once and for all breaking the tensed silence in the car. “but if it’s a miracle that I gotta believe in just so you’re still with us, I’ll take that.”
“I know J, I’m sorry.”
“If it’s any good, I don’t believe in miracles.” AJ said. “But I don’t have a better explanation than Rok either.”
“I don’t believe in such things either, although the whole twilight zone thing could be considered as one.” Nick said.
“Yeah. But lets keep this between you and I okay? Brian’s over the moon this morning, lets keep him that way.”
Nick didn’t say a word but AJ decided that he was matured enough to understand where he was going with Brian and his miracle notions. The silence was back and AJ decided that Nick deserved some quiet time. If it was difficult for him to understand what was going on, he could only imagine what was going on in the young man’s head. The road stretched on in front of them, he was glad at first that there was no traffic in sight, it would make their trip home even faster. But that contentment didn’t last long, the very sight of an empty road reminded him of the car crash.
What was it that happened that day? Sure they were told of the other two car chases that they were caught in. There was supposed to be a highway car shooting going on but Kevin couldn’t recall even hearing any shots being fired. And AJ didn’t want to believe that Kevin simply doze off in the middle of a drive because Kevin was never callous, or irresponsible.
He stared hard on the road in front of them. It was like one moment they were driving across an empty road and the next moment…
The Escalade made an urgent swerve to the left, screeching the tires in the process and violently smacking AJ to his side of the seat. His shoulder hit the glass window, which was pulled all the way up before the car stopped to a halt.
AJ ignored the throbbing pain on his shoulder and quickly undo his seat belt. “What the hell was that Nick?”
“You didn’t see it?” Nick said, almost yelling.
“See WHAT? I was watching the road the entire time and I saw NOTHING!”
“I saw SOMETHING okay?” Nick cried.
AJ opened his side of the door, totally confused at why he was feeling so frustrated at Nick. There could be something that he didn’t see. “You know what Nick, get out, I’m driving.”
“I’M FINE! I CAN DRIVE A FUCKING CAR!” Nick retaliated. He had his grips firmly on the steering wheel and by the look of it, he wasn’t ready to let go.
“Okay you’re fine, but you also almost killed us both,” AJ reasoned. “Just let me drive the rest of the ride home okay? I’m tired and I don’t want to start arguing with you again.”
Nick said nothing, choosing to unbuckle his seat belt instead and got out of the driver’s seat. Perhaps it was too fast a movement for him because AJ was in time to see his legs gave way managed to grab him by the arm.
“Whoa hey, easy there.”
Nick just pulled his hand away and walked to the shotgun.
“You sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine, lets just go home, I’m tired.” And that was the end of their conversation. Nick leaned back and closed his eyes; by the time AJ entered his compound, his head was already lolled to the side, leaning against the window, still deep in sleep.
Noticing that Howie’s car was still missing, AJ sighed inwardly. He was depending on the guys to get him out of the sticky situation he had got himself into with Nick. Perhaps he was being too harsh on him. AJ decided to give Howie a call before he had to wake Nick up and probably pissed him even more.
“Dude, when are you guys coming back?”
“Soon J. Is Nick all right?"
“Good as new, he's asleep right now. So when is soon?"
There was a heavy sigh before Howie replied. "I don't...know...I can't tell you right now but something's up, it might take a while."
"Are you guys okay? Is Jim being unreasonable again?"
"It's not Jim...it's just...something's not right, like...strange...don't tell Brian I said though okay?"
"It's okay to tell Kevin?"
"Maybe...look, I gotta go, don't worry about us, I'll fill you in when we get back, I promise. Stay safe."
AJ couldn't bring himself to tell Howie about Nick and his strange behaviour. In fact, Howie telling him to stay safe just summed up the whole day as, in AJ's terms, fucked up.