He glanced out across the backyard, taking into account everything from
the torn streamers to the empty plastic cups that chased each other around the lawn to the tune of an old Led Zepplin song.
Cake and icing served to decorate the redwood deck, and the occasional beer bottle could be found lounging lazily in the pool,
drinking chlorine in the absence of liquor. The neon-colored tablecloth had been ripped in two and was sliding off the table
and into the lawn chairs, coloring them a hideous bright green. The entire yard was a wreck.
He closed his eyes and
rubbed a tired hand over his face at the sight of the mess, but he couldn't stifle his smile. Despite his horror at the fact
that five men and their significant others could make such a disastrous impact on the lap of Floridian luxury, he had to laugh.
In the end, the mess didn't matter. Not by a long shot.
After all, it had been one hell of a party.
"What're you thinking
Brian looked up from his reverie and into the bright blue eyes of his taller, blonder friend. "The hurricane
that went through here. I feel like we should've boarded the windows."
Nick chuckled. "Nah, we would've heard the wind
go by. Besides, Kevin would've taken care of all the safety shit. You know that."
His voice softened as he reached
down to finger one of the flying paper plates. "Yeah, I do."
There was a moment of silence before Nick's voice came
again. "Hey, man, don't worry about nothing. Every good party comes with one hell of a mess."
Brian arched his eyebrows
in concession and nodded his surrender. "Yeah, that's true." He paused and managed to pry his gaze from the pool long enough
to smile tentatively at his friend. "We're thrown a lot of good parties in our time, haven't we?"
Nick's laughter bounced
off the beer bottles and danced across the Japanese lanterns that still glowed above them. "Hell, yes! We're the kings
of good party-throwing."
"Funny, but I distinctly remember that being AJ's territory," Brian retorted with a mischievous
smile. Nick rolled his eyes in mock exasperation.
"What would you know? You always went to bed early."
you were always late to check-in the next morning," Brian countered with an expectant gaze. "Don't play innocent
with me, Boy. I know where you've been."
Nick chuckled again and plopped down into the hammock. "Not half as well as
we know where you've been, buddy. I'm still having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that you got the wife knocked
Brian winced. "Must you use such crude terminology? I've got a kid running around here somewhere..."
looked up doubtfully. "All due respect, Bri, his legs ain't long enough for running yet. He's got at least another month or
two before you can start fitting him for basketball shoes."
Brian rolled his eyes playfully. "Har har...you're freakin'
Nick shrugged good-naturedly. "I may not be too funny, but I can throw one hell of a surprise party."
nodded his appreciation, allowing a nostalgic smile--the countless one of the evening--to cross his softened features. "That
you can, Frack. That you can. I'm still surprised."
Nick turned to Brian with a twinkle in his eye. "What? You didn't
expect me to make an effort to commemorate the most important event in all of Backstreet history?"
"In all honesty?"
Brian began expectantly, eyebrow raised. When Nick nodded, he expelled a sigh. "No. Of course, I didn't expect for you to
ever use the word 'commemorate' correctly in a sentence, either."
Nick groaned. "Man, I have basic knowledge of the
English language. You guys underestimate my verbal skills."
Brian chuckled. "All due respect, Nick...we don't exactly
have much to go on."
Nick dipped his chin and frowned teasingly. "You know, you're not any funnier than I am."
sighed. "Maybe not, man. Maybe not. I'm definitely not as cool as you are, though."
Nick frowned seriously. "How do
Brian's laugh was hollow. "I wouldn't have gone this route, Nick. After everything that happened this
year, I would've been hard-pressed to make an excuse to see any of you."
Nick grinned with pride. "So you're saying
I've finally become the bigger man?"
Brian eyed him up and down before grinning mischievously. "I don't know about
that, Nicky. Seems to be that you've always been the bigger man."
Nick nudged him with annoyance, but smiled nonetheless.
"Hey, man, be nice. I just got through throwing you a surprise party."
"And you have no idea how much it means to me,"
Brian finished, staring at the alcohol-diluted chlorine with a newfound intensity. "Seriously, Nick--it was a long year. There
were a lot of hard feelings. It must have taken a lot for you to overlook all of that and get us together again."
shrugged modestly. "Not really, man. All I know is, well--us? We're destiny, B. The five of us make something really fucking
incredible when we get together. I had a lot of fun spinning records on my own this summer, but I'd be lying if I said that
I didn't miss that Backstreet magic."
Brian smiled knowingly. "Yeah, I missed it too."
"So you understand, then.
You understand that I couldn't let the big one-oh go by without some kind of informal bash. We've had too much history not
to celebrate it."
Brian grimaced at the kindness in the younger man's voice. "Yeah, but Nick...to make it a surprise
for me, even though I screwed you over when you first introduced the solo idea...you have no idea how much that means to me."
He lifted a hesitant gaze to Nick's smiling features and his heart fell when he saw the sadness in his friend's eyes. "I'm
still so sorry about that, man. I don't know what went on with the rest of us."
Nick shrugged and looked modestly into
the pool water. "It's cool. Well...it's not cool, and it wasn't cool then, but it's over. Y'all were upset because you thought
I was leaving you behind. I wasn't, though." He furrowed his brow and looked to Brian with an unusually serious countenance.
"I'd never leave you guys behind, man. Y'all are my family. You know that, right?"
Brian smiled. "I know that now.
I should've known it before, but it didn't really register until I saw those thank-you's in your album." He exchanged his
melancholy smile of guilt for a bonafide grin. "You went and waxed poetic on us, Nick."
Nick blushed crimson. "Yeah,
well...I had to think of some way to remind you guys that you can't lose me. Hell, I gave y'all the best ten years of my life.
I'm not about to turn my back on that."
Brian chuckled and patted Nick's thigh with his hand. "It took this to really
sink it in, but neither are we. We're not going anywhere. Or, rather, I'm not."
Nick glanced over his shoulder to the
bay window, where AJ was attempting to steal a piggyback ride from Kevin while Howie looked on in adult amusement. "They aren't
either. They act like a bunch of hardasses, but they aren't going anywhere. There's a lot of love in this little family."
Brian added with a hint of awe. "No matter what. It's almost like a fairy tale. It's like, no matter how much we hurt each
other, there's still that bond running beneath it all."
Nick nodded in agreement. "Aww, hell yeah. And that won't ever
go away. That's what punched the numbers that got me in touch with AJ, Kevin, and Howie. I figured that, despite the hard
feelings, there was still a lot of love left. And I figured it'd be enough, you know?"
The staple phrase brought another
smile to Brian's face. "Yeah, man, I know. I just can't believe you threw this thing as a surprise party."
an arm around Brian's shoulder gleefully. "Well...you were the last one to join us, Bri. It's only fitting that you were the
last one to show up at the ten-year bash."
"Besides, this way Nicky couldn't possibly be late," AJ cackled, slamming
the screen door shut behind him. He skidding to a halt directly in front of the hammock, though, and his eyes bulged when
he saw the mess that they'd made of the backyard. "Shit, Nick, I think we about destroyed your house."
Nick waved a
dismissive hand. "Nah, not at all. You just reminded me why I hired a cleaning service."
"We really should help you
pick some of this up, though," Kevin interjected. "I mean, all of this waste can't be good for the environment."
rolled his eyes and mock-whispered to Brian and Nick. "See? Ten years, and he's still hugging trees with the best of the flower
children." After a parental shake of the head, he turned to Kevin. "Kev, man, the whole environmental thing went out of style
Kevin arched an eyebrow. "So did silicone, Bone, but you don't seem to mind a trip to the Playboy mansion
every now and then."
AJ sighed. "Nah, I've been good lately. I've got a good girl this time, and I'm determined not
to screw it up."
Howie chuckled, emerging from the house with the last six-pack of beer. "Anyone care to place a bet
on how long AJ stays faithful this time around?"
AJ groaned. "Gee, thanks, D. Your never-ending faith in my love life
just astounds me."
"As it should," Kevin retorted, taking the beer that Howie offered. "You haven't exactly given us
a good reason to maintain any faith at all."
Brian turned to Nick long enough to tune out the playful argument that
was starting. "That's what I did, man. I gave you no reason to keep the faith."
Nick frowned in surprise. "What the
hell? Are you kidding? Rok, you've been my best buddy from day one of this lovely Backstreet extravaganza! When I got homesick,
you told me bedtime stories to make me feel better. When I was tired, you'd let me ramble to you across the bunks until I
finally fell asleep. When the others ditched me because I was too young to have the adult kind of fun that they were after,
you'd stay in and hold a MarioKart-a-thon with me. I mean, sure, the support wavered a bit when it looked like I was planning
to abandon you guys, but that's hardly enough to make me overlook ten years of friendship. I don't hold those kinds of grudges,
and neither do you."
"Not anymore," Brian consented. "But who knew how long I was going to keep that charade going?"
Kevin came to kick you in the ass," Nick answered with a smile. "I know how it works here in Backstreet camp. You may not
listen to me, but you'll sure as hell listen to Kevin."
Brian rolled his eyes. "Yeah, because he doesn't shut up until
Nick's eyes twinkled. "Need I remind you that you're talking to the guy that kidnapped you and your family this
Brian shook his head at the memory. "I really ought to kill you for doing that."
Nick grinned. "Yeah,
but you won't. You couldn't, because the mission's accomplished. Not only are we all back together, but now you know you can't
lose me. Or any of us, for that matter." He paused to think. "Besides, if you were going to kill anybody, it'd be AJ. No matter
what I do, I can guarantee that he's done worse."
Brian nodded in
agreement. "Point made."
"So see? Kidnapping you and your family was a good thing. We even left enough time for the
girls to bond again."
Brian winced. "That's a scary, scary thought."
For the first time all evening, Nick sobered.
"Not as scary as the idea of not spending our ten-year anniversary as a group together. No way in hell was I doing that."
grinned. "Hey, man...all kidding aside? I'm really glad you didn't."
Nick laughed. "Yeah, this whole thing kicked ass,
Brian chuckled, taking the opportunity to scan his surroundings again. "It definitely kicked your backyard's
Nick shrugged. "It's all replaceable, though. You guys aren't."
Brian shook his head in surprise and cocked
his head towards Nick in amazement. "Damn, Nick when did you grow up?"
Nick laughed. "Sometime between puberty and
the third lawsuit against Jive."
Brian wasn't laughing, though. "And I missed it."
Nick smiled softly. "Nah,
man, you didn't miss it. You were there for all of it. You were just too close to it to see all of the improvements."
smile matched Nick's exactly. "Either way, you grew to be quite a man, Frack." He paused at the satisfied smile on Nick's
face. "Regardless of how big you get, though, you can't lose me either. Hell, you can't lose any of us."
"Yeah, I know."
"Do you really?"
Nick sighed. "After today? Definitely."
"Good," Brian concluded, the
beginnings of a mischievous grin on his face. "Because I have every intention of getting you back for that whole kidnapping
incident, and I wouldn't want there to be any hard feelings."
Nick grinned. "Quite the contrary, man. I'll be looking
forward to it."
Brian smiled nostalgically out along the mess of a backyard that had helped to put the Boys back together.
"Eh, I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you. I've got the next ten years to come up with some form of payback."
looked up in pleasant surprise. "Really? You think we'll survive that long?"
Brian glanced over at the other three,
who were engaged in a heavy debate over the pros and cons of a midnight edition of "spin the bottle", and smiled. "Definitely."