I heard the quiet ping of the power button being pressed before I saw the video camera itself. When I turned my head, the mechanical face was staring at me, expectant.
"Put the damn camera away." My words came automatically.
It didnít move.
I pushed it away with my hand. "Enough. Leave me alone."
The camera came down, another ping sounded, and Nick gave me a clownish smile.
"Nick, Iím on camera every day. Every fucking day. Go away."
"Sorry. Maybe later?"
He was completely unfazed by my harsh tone. And I just couldnít take that. I wanted to be mean, and I wanted him to take me that way. I wanted to make impact.
Instead, I wrenched up the stuff I was working on and locked myself in my room. Away from him and everyone else that could possibly bother me.
He was the only one that was bothering me anymore anyway. Everyone else just stuck to themselves. I did the same.
"Okay, now, tell me ... the best day of your life."
He found me again the next day as I was making my way to my car, and the camera was shoved up in my face once more.
"The day before I met you."
He actually laughed. "Shut up."
"Okay." I started unlocking my car door.
"No," he said. There was no more smile on his face. "I mean, be serious. This is serious, AJ."
Him. Serious. What an oxymoron.
"Maybe I am being serious," I said.
"Oh." The camera dropped. No ping. It was still on.
"Why donít you bother someone else. Iím going."
I didnít wait for him to say anything; I just got in the car and left him standing there. I didnít care. I honestly, seriously, did not give a damn.
"What," dramatic pause, "do you regret?"
"Coming back to this shit." I looked up to glare at the figure in front of me. Flip-flops, cargo shorts, an old t-shirt, and a video camera for a head. The red light was still on. "Look man, go away. I donít want to be on your damn tape."
"Iím making a-"
"I donít care what the hell youíre doing. I donít want to be bothered by it. I told you. Understand?"
"Yeah." He paused, giving a little shrug. "Well let me know, okay? Everybody else is gonna be on it. And it won't be too late, because I want you on it too."
We came together on Thursday to talk about what was in store for us. Where we were going; if that was anywhere. We were kind of running out of steam.
So there we sat, in the main room of the hotel room. All of us. Or not quite all of us.
I was the one who asked.
There was a long pause.
"Shooting his 'documentary'?" Brian offered. The words were tinged with sarcasm.
"Yeah, what is with that?"
"I don't know, but it's getting old." A pause. "I just don't want anything to do with it."
I guess I wasn't the only one. So everyone else wasn't "gonna be on it", as Nick had claimed. Damn con-artist.
"Whatever, we can get through this without him here," Kevin interrupted, voice short. "We'll just relay it back to him later."
No one seemed to have an objection to that. No spoken one at least. No one even offered to be the relayer.
Knocking. Calm but insistent tapping awoke me from my trance. I had been staring at a blank page of paper, pen in hand. I lifted my head, hearing the locked doorknob being tried.
"What," I hollered.
The noises stopped.
"I have a question," I heard Nick call from the other side of the door.
I was suddenly angry. "I'm sick of your questions."
"It's not on camera."
Didn't make a difference.
"I don't care."
There was a long pause. I thought he was gone.
Then, "You're not drinking, are you?"
I glared at the door, feeling the presence of the one cold beer, barely touched, burning next to me without even looking at it. "No, fuck off, Nick."
Then, no more noise. Finally.
My attention drifted to the beer, Nick's insistence angering me to want to drink it. He didn't have the right to ask. I was sick of being bothered. Of people asking. People wanting to prove me wrong.
He just wanted to prove me wrong.
I slid the bottle closer to me. It was only one. I had resisted drinking it for so long, obviously I could decide not to have a second.
Everyone else was wrong.
"What is one thing that no one knows about you?"
I turned my head to the sound of his voice, staring at him. He was sitting cross-legged on the couch, about a foot between us, the camera in front of his face.
"If no one knows, don't you think that's for a reason?"
He paused, smirking. "No ..."
"Well." I stopped looking at the camera and focused back on what I was doing. I had had this idea for some lyrics. They were slowing melting away.
"You can tell me."
"And the world." I motioned with my hand to the camera annoyedly, accidentally bumping it. He didn't say anything. "Sorry."
"This isn't for the world. This is for me."
"Okay ... Well, say something then."
"Something," I repeated.
Nick rolled his eyes.
"I'm kind of busy right now, go bug the other guys first."
"I already did. You're last. Best for last, right?"
"What did they say?"
"Well at least I'm original," I muttered. Nick was looking way too serious suddenly. He turned the camera off. "What."
"If you only knew..." He trailed off.
"What?" I repeated, annoyed.
"Nothing. What are you writing?"
"I had an idea for some stuff."
"I've been writing a lot lately too ..." The seriousness was gone, and he gave me a lopsided smile. "Maybe I could show you sometime."
"Yeah, maybe sometime." I didn't even pretend to be interested, I just focused on my own work, not giving him any more attention.
Nick had started taping us randomly now. Not asking any questions, not saying anything really, just taping. I guess he figured that was the only way he would get stuff. It was starting to make me paranoid.
One time, I got into an argument with Brian, and he taped it. I didn't realize he was there until Brian noticed and said something.
"Nick, what the hell ..."
"Why are you taping-"
"Pretend I'm not," Nick interrupted, lowering the camera slightly. "Pretend I'm not here."
"Ugh." Brian muttered something under his breath and left the room, knocking into me as he went. I ignored him, glaring at Nick.
"Find a better time to tape shit, man."
Nick just shook his head. "This is all-"
"Better yet, go tape other people. In case you haven't noticed, we're not really interested."
"That doesn't matter."
"I think it does."
"That's not the point." The camera fell to his side. "God. I figured this would happen. Don't you even care?"
"Why should I care. Take a hint, kiddo." I said it sarcastically, not a hint of anything else in my voice. "Take a goddamn hint."
And then, about a week went by where Nick didn't have the camera on him. It was just him, nothing in front of his face. He didn't ask any questions. He came to a meeting. He didn't talk when we got into an argument about our contract.
That was a weird week. Especially looking at it now.
On Wednesday at the hotel, Nick sat down next to me, as if he was going to say something, but he never did. Silence.
I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye, not moving my head, wondering if I was supposed to be the one to say something. I said nothing. I didn't want to talk.
For the record, he left first.
I was out when Howie called me on Thursday. In fact, I didn't even have my cell phone on- I had been checking out some stuff in the next town over from where we were and I hadn't wanted to be bothered by anything. It was dark when I was driving back and finally did.
The voicemail indicator appeared on the screen, accompanied by a beep, and I absently started listening to my messages.
When I got the one from Howie, I almost swerved off the road.
I immediately started to call him back, dialing clumsily with one hand, the other still on the wheel. It rang twice before he picked up.
"Is he okay?" My voice sounded hoarse, even to my own ears. My stomach had started to eat itself.
"He's alive." I heard voices in the background. Howie sounded really distant. "Look, why don't you come out here, where are you?"
"I'm coming back."
"Okay ..." He repeated the location he had listed off in the message, and before I knew it I had hung up and was starting to run the information back through my brain.
I felt kind of lost. Afraid I was going to make a wrong turn.
In the hospital bed, Nick's face was colorless, his head wrapped in bandages of the same pale shade, with bits of blond hair sticking out all over. He was hooked up to about four machines.
"They said the truck lost control and went over the line." Howie's voice was really, really low. Lower than a whisper.
I ignored him, approaching the bed. "Hey, Nick ... hey."
"He hasn't woken up yet."
"Hey. Hey, buddy," I was saying, but suddenly Howie's words processed in the back of my mind. I had heard, even though I wasn't listening. I turned my head. "What?"
"He hasn't ... He's in a coma. He hasn't woken up yet."
"What," I repeated, even though I had heard him clearly. I looked back down at the unmoved face in front of me. What? "Hey, Nick."
"They've run a lot of tests ... we haven't gotten too much information back."
"Where's everyone else?"
"They were here earlier, they had to go."
"When did ..." I trailed off. I needed to lean against something but I was afraid to touch the siderail of the bed. "When did it happen?"
"Sometime this morning ... around eleven I think they said."
Where was I?
I absently touched part of the blonde hair sticking out from the narrow bandage. Where was I around eleven? I couldn't remember. My eye caught on something on the adjustable bed table. I looked closer.
The camera. The damn, stupid camera. In perfect condition.
"That was in the car," Howie said, following my line of sight. "It survived, surprisingly enough."
I didn't like the way he said that.
"One of us should take it back with us, it might get stolen."
I reached for it absently, noticing that there was still a tape in it. I set it back down and looked back at him. "I'll take it."
"Okay, sounds good."
He seemed to be waiting around for something.
"You can go, if you want," I said. He was making me uncomfortable. I hadn't been that long with him in a room for a long time. Aside from a meeting. We just didn't do that anymore. "I'm going to stick around for awhile."
"Okay." He nodded. "Hey, AJ..." He trailed off as a nurse came into the room and checked a few things that I did not understand in the least. When she left, I looked at him expectantly, but he was grabbing his light jacket off the back of a chair.
"Were you saying something?"
"Oh." He stopped. "Just that, if you wanted, you could ... Never mind." He shook his head, forcing a smile at me. "Night, man. I'll be back in the morning sometime."
He left, and I sat back in a chair, staring at Nick. At first, I blinked back tears of frustration.
I had never noticed it before, not really, but Nick smiled a lot. The stark difference between that and the emotionless, sleeping face in front of me brought that to my attention.
When I got back, I slowly slid the tape into the VCR and pressed the rewind button, listening to the whirring noise and then hearing a click.
The beginning. I sat on the foot of the bed as Nick appeared on the screen.
"Okay," he began. "Now I feel stupid ... But ... This is January, and you know what January is."
Big, clownish grin.
"That's right. Resolution! Change! I was thinking the other day ..." His cocked his head to the side slightly at this. "Yes, I think sometimes too."
And he laughed. Somehow, it made me smile.
"And I was thinking about how a couple years back when we were at that show, I forget which one, and we saw those people, you know, people like us, and we said we'd never be like them."
He was always so vague. I shifted on the bed, feeling a frown crossing my face.
"They didn't appreciate anything. Not even each other. They were fighting with each other, remember? And we thought they were so stupid. And I got to thinking, and I thought, we are them now. That's what we've become. Like them."
He paused, and the tension was thick in the air for a moment. He didn't like talking about serious things. He thought about them though. He thought about them a lot.
"And that's not us, that's them. But no one seems to see that anymore except for me, so I figured, you know, what better way to show you than to show you through my eyes."
I looked away from the screen and stared hard at the wall, shutting my eyes tightly. I heard his voice pick up again.
"And so, this is day one of my- oh shit."
I looked up at the screen and saw that the view from the camera was from the floor. It had fallen to the ground.
It was so Nick. The smile that came on my face made me want to cry.
Static interrupted the fallen scene, and for a moment everything turned blue.
Brian was the next one on the TV when the picture came back, and I heard Nick asking him a question. Brian told Nick that he should concentrate his attention on more important things, like work maybe? Making your own interviews wasn't helping anybody. When was the last time he had paid attention to a contract?
Then Kevin, then Howie, and finally, me. The process repeated itself for a long time, and I saw I wasn't the only one that had given Nick combative responses. As the tape progressed, the responses got worse.
Somehow, the questions never got answered. Not a single one.
And somehow, I didn't recognize any of us. Not even myself.
I realized the questions weren't the main objective. Nick had caught a lot of interaction on that tape. None of it I would have liked to watch again. Some of it I had never seen before, stuff the other guys had said, stuff I hadn't known was taped. Things I had forgotten I had said. Guilt was gnawing on the inside of my brain, slowly eating itself out.
The last words on the tape were mine, my "take a goddamn hint." He hadn't taped anything after that.
Kevin was in Nick's room when I got there the next day, and I stood in the doorway a minute, a little bit surprised at that. I felt put out, actually, at just the sight of him.
He was holding Nick's limp hand in his own, but when he turned his head and noticed me standing there, he let it go, moving back slightly.
"He's the same."
I nodded. I could see that.
"Do you want ..." He trailed off.
"Want what?" I interrupted, unable to avoid sounding short. "I'll come back later."
I left then, but not without feeling a little bit annoyed at myself. And annoyed with him. Me because I had no patience, him because he was there. Us because we didn't give a damn until this.
I wasn't even so sure we even did now, it could be something else. Just guilt served cold, with nothing on the side.
I stayed away awhile, just because. I felt out of place everywhere I tried to wait, and I eventually made my way back to the room.
I walked down the tiled hall slowly, almost dragging my feet, hoping that the room would be empty. The weird smell of the hospital invaded my senses, almost giving me a headache, and when I got into the room I peeked in first to make sure.
"Hey ..." I glanced behind me as I took the seat near the bed that Kevin had been in before. "What's up, huh, pal?" It was a little disconcerting not to be getting any sort of response from him, to see him just laying there. Sleeping.
Technically, I knew he wasn't sleeping. I didn't know what he was doing.
I risked leaning on the side of the bed, bracing even when nothing fell or started beeping.
"Hey," I repeated lowly. I was never good with words. Not words to people. I was good with words when I wasn't face to face with someone. I mostly kept words to myself. It was better that way.
It was at this time that I realized I was not good at starting, maintaining, or developing conversation at all.
Finally I just leaned my head down, feeling the bar on the side of the bed press into my forehead. I just didn't know. Didn't know what to say.
"I watched the video," I blurted out, keeping my head lowered in the same position. I didn't have the strength to raise it up. "It was..."
I trailed off. I didn't know what it was.
"It was..." I tried again. "Good."
I didn't really know how to put into words that it made me sick to my stomach, sick inside, deep down.
I raised my eyes slightly toward the motionless figure in front of me. Hoping.
Nothing from him.
"Not good. God. You know what I mean." I let out a breath. The only other noise in the room was beeping. "I'm sorry. About shit. But you know that too." I don't know why I added that last part. Probably to slice away some of the guilt from my plate.
"People change. Maybe not completely back to the way we used to be, but you know."
We were stupid back then anyway. Looking back, people were always stupid.
I gave up on speech. I sucked at it. I leaned away from the bed, letting my back rest against the worn chair I was sitting in. I didn't know what I was thinking anymore. My eyes shut themselves.
Brian woke me up.
I jerked awake, not even realizing I had dozed off until it hit me that it was morning and I had come at night. I squinted at the greeting Brian gave me, some sort of hello. I needed a cigarette.
"No," I muttered.
I wrenched myself out of the chair, feeling the effect of the last night in my back and neck. I glowered at him for having been the one to bring the new day, but then I forced myself to look passive. Things had to change.
"How's he doing?"
The glower almost came back. What the hell did he think? "How he looks."
I shook my head. "No... Look, I'm gonna go."
"I didn't mean to interrupt," Brian said quickly. "If you need more time-"
"Hell no. Go ahead. It's not like he's gonna die before I see him again."
Crude, yes. Brian's expression made that clear. I grabbed my coat and headed to the door. I made it through two cigarettes before I even found my car.
Kevin's phone call came as a surprise. Calling to make a meeting for us to talk about stuff. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but it could have been a start to something so I didn't object.
But the tape was haunting my mind. Because I felt badly. But I wondered if I would have felt so bad about things had I not seen it. So how could I put myself above the other guys, who didn't even have a clue.
They didn't have a damn clue.
I soon learned that Kevin's meeting was about how we were going to continue to work on the album, probably the last one, and everything else that came with it, without Nick.
They all stared at me when I opened my mouth.
"Yes, AJ," Kevin said slowly, "same as it has been."
I shook my head slightly, flicking my cigarette slightly over the ashtray on the table next to me. "This is different now."
"Because it's not his choice."
"Look man, I don't mean to be a hardass but even if this meeting was a couple days ago, he still wouldn't be sitting here with us. He made his choice a long time ago."
"Let's be honest. It wasn't always his fucking choice."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
I shifted forward in my seat. "Oh, come off it, Kevin. We pretty much made it for him. We didn't even tell him about half the shit we ever planned, including meetings. Then we blamed him when he wasn't there. Just like the last album."
Kevin's stared at me hard.
"Things are going to have to change," I said. I flicked my cigarette again. I was getting annoyed.
Kevin's eyes followed my hand. "Stop smoking. Your voice is getting to be crap. You're not supposed to even do that in here anyway."
Change of topic. I bit.
"You gave me the ashtray."
"Rather than you burning holes into the table."
"The fact there's an ashtray in the room is an invitation in itself."
Howie cleared his throat and simply slid a piece of paper forward. It was a tentative schedule we had been working on for several weeks. "Let's just solidify the plans without marking who's going to be there. That doesn't matter right now."
Right. It didn't. I would have rather not to have been there either. The rest of the meeting, I pretended I wasn't.
"Hey, AJ, c'mere a second?"
I looked up from the search for my keys, frowning slightly. "Why?"
"I want to ask you something," Brian said.
I approached him slowly, only guessing what sort of things he could ask me. I started to formulate responses in my head.
"You were right earlier. In the meeting."
I just looked at him, a little surprised. That wasn't a question. Formulated responses left my brain. "What?"
"About ... the way it is. I've been thinking about it too."
I shrugged slightly, looking at my car with my keys in my hand. "Great," I said, not meaning to have it sound sarcastic, but it fell just that way. Splat. Oh well. It wasn't what I meant, but I didn't care.
Brian's expression was a mixture of quizzical and annoyed.
"What," I said.
"You would think ... Never mind."
For some reason, that made me mad. I caught his arm as he was about to turn away. "No. What."
"Nothing, you would just think that after the crap you said in there, you might actually have meant something."
I let him go. "Why wouldn't I have meant it?"
"For the sake of making an argument, maybe, I don't know. You tell me."
I just let out a huff.
For some reason, that made him smile slightly. I almost expected him to laugh. He used to always laugh at my frustrations. It used to make me mad, until I realized what he realized. I never knew what I was frustrated about.
"Come on," he said.
My expression softened, and I let my guard down slightly. "So ..."
"You know, I just ... I think it's crappy something bad always has to happen in order to make something change."
I shrugged. I thought it was crappy that I didn't know if I would have felt this way if I hadn't seen the video. And then there was Brian. He had always been the better one out of us anyway.
"It has to change," I said.
"If it doesn't, I'm moving away and never talking to any of you again. It's over."
"You couldn't do that."
"At this point right now, I could."
"For Nick," I said.
Brian shook his head slightly. "For all of us."
Two people wanting things to change didn't exactly start a revolution in my eyes. It was something. A start, maybe.
Yet when I came into Nick's room the next day, I felt like the start of the revolution had ended. My soul just sucked it right back inside at the sight of Kevin.
"Hey," he attempted.
"Hi." I felt like a doofus, standing there and trying not to shuffle my feet. But I felt even more stupid thinking about running out.
"How's it going?"
I nodded. "Good," I said softly. "You?"
"Good. You eaten yet?"
I shook my head no.
"You wanna go grab something with me? I was about to go downstairs."
He was giving me the option. Here, I'm leaving, you can stay here or you can come with me. I guess he was lonely. I was lonely too.
I picked the latter, even though I wasn't that hungry. I just found myself nodding. Maybe because I had replayed yesterday in my mind and I had looked stupid. Maybe because I just was stupid.
I nodded again, backing a little ways out of the door to show that I was actually coming.
The trip down the hall was silent until Kevin pressed the button for the elevator. The clear button lit up and that seemed to make it okay to make conversation.
"I talked to one of the doctors," Kevin said.
"What'd he say?"
"They said his vitals are good. He's going to need surgery on the ankle-"
"Ankle?" The elevator doors opened and we stepped on.
"His ankle's broken."
I had not known that. What else was broken? It was quite probable that I didn't know any of his injuries. I stayed silent.
"But that he should pull out of this," Kevin was saying.
Of course he would. But he had to wake up first. That would be nice of him.
Kevin was keeping the elevator doors from sliding shut. We were on the first floor.
I shook my head slightly and stepped out after him, pretending I hadn't been completely oblivious to all my surroundings.
I began to wonder why I had come down with him. It was funny to me, that I was afraid to talk to the guy that had practically raised me the past several years. But ever since we first met, we had either really gotten along or really hadn't.
Now there was starting to be a sort of in-between. I wasn't sure which end of the spectrum we were on.
"Look, I wanted to say sorry about the other day." Kevin caught my arm as I started toward the glass doors that led to the outside world. "AJ."
"I just need a quick cigarette." I didn't pull away, but I gave him a look.
"Did you hear me?"
"Yes, I heard you."
"I said it's okay." I shrugged slightly, my fingers brushing against the box of cigarettes in my pocket. This was the longest conversation I had had with him in probably a year. "You know what I think? I think we need time off. We've been together too long."
"Time off? We pretty much are on time off."
"Close to it."
"The real thing. We need the real thing. Without stuff hanging over our heads. Before we all hate each other."
"Are you saying you hate me, AJ?" Kevin's tone was light, but the question wasn't.
"This close," I said, holding two fingers an inch apart. It was the truth. I pulled away and headed for the door.
"What are you doing?"
I didn't expect Howie to be the first one to speak when I pulled out the camera, but he was. I raised my head, feeling protected by the rim of the baseball cap I was wearing.
He gave me a curious look, but his questions tapered off.
"Is this a documentary too?"
"It's a sequel," I said, catching Brian's eye.
"Isn't that Nick's camera?" Kevin spoke this time, giving me and my equipment a critical look.
"Mm," I mumbled, squinting at the small buttons on the side. There were a lot of little buttons.
"Don't break it."
His words, criticism in my mind, instructions of the most misunderstanding kind, made me want to drop it right there and watch it smash on the floor, but I forced my mind to concentrate on my idea instead.
"The business at hand," Kevin was saying, not skipping a beat, and I felt the seat next to me sink in. I turned my head slightly.
"You know," Brian's soft voice started. "This is interesting."
A couple seconds ticked by.
"Nick'll see what he missed."
"I see. Is that all?" He knew that couldn't be my only reason.
"What else then?"
"I'm not sure."
"I have a plan," I said slowly. "It's just ... I can't describe it. I'm not even that sure of it."
He nodded slightly. "Trying to finish his thing for him?"
"I don't know."
I turned my head away from him then, but only because Howie was starting to give us a look.
Nick woke up on Saturday.
No one was there.
I came by later, unknowing, and was surprised at the number of nurses that were around his door. My heartbeat immediately quickened, of course fearing the worst.
His blue eyes caught me at the door. The emotion in them made me stop dead in my tracks. But the anger, the resentment, the betrayal-- those things disappeared so quickly from his eyes that I wondered if I had even seen them at all. Yet I knew I had. The excitement, the relief, the happiness-- those that replaced the others were only a facade. I did not trust the mask.
I allowed myself in the room then, only because I had hesitated a moment too long, and reached out to touch the head of the actor in front of me. "Hey." It wasn't the best greeting in the world, but I barely managed a greeting at all.
The nurses were clearing out.
"Hey," he repeated back, his voice sounding slightly rusty from disuse. He smiled at me then, and I was done. Inside, I crumbled.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, and I took his face in my hands, kissing his forehead. He froze slightly at the rare display of affection, but he said nothing. "I'm sorry," I repeated.
"Shut up, AJ." He gave me a lopsided smile that didn't go with his words, and I realized how much I had really missed him.
I said nothing for a moment.
"How you feeling?"
"Like I just played in the Superbowl," he said. He rubbed at the bandage absently, his eyes not leaving me. "They said I was out for awhile."
"You were, you faker."
"They said you guys visited a lot."
I said nothing.
"No one was here when I woke up." It wasn't accusing, it wasn't angry. His voice was matter-of-fact.
My throat tightened. "I'm sorry."
He just shook his head.
"Things are getting better, Nick, I swear."
He didn't acknowledge my words.
"I'm glad you were here first," was all he said. "But you can go, I'm tired."
I did go. I didn't give myself another choice.
"How many days was I ... out?"
It was the next day. I counted backwards in my head. "Six."
"I got a cast on while you were gone." He motioned to the stark white plaster peaking out from under the sheet at the end of the bed. I looked back at his face, still pale, but slowly gaining color. A smaller bandage replaced the big one that had adorned him. "Go ahead, sign it. You can use profanity. My mom won't be seeing it."
"Maybe later," I said, a slight smile gracing my lips at his words.
"You don't have to."
"No, I will." I leaned back in my chair, running my hands through my hair. "Have the other guys been to see you?"
He looked at me. "Yes."
"You told them I was awake, huh?"
"No-- I mean, yes, but that's not why they came. They've been coming."
"I know, you told me."
I let a few moments slip by before I leaned forward and finally said it. "I watched it."
"What." Nick's expression was quizzical.
At first I thought he didn't remember, that maybe the accident had stolen part of his memory and the whole thing had been erased to him, but then I realized he was waiting. Waiting for my response. Yet he spoke before I did.
"You made your point. It was good."
Good? I cursed my wording again.
He was silent then, staring down at the sheet in front of him intently. I wondered if I had spoken about it too quickly, if I had ruined my chance to tell him that I wanted things to change too. That I was sorry. I was sorry things had gone as far as they had. That I wanted things back the way they used to be. Not to be over.
"Look," he said finally. He looked up, and I was surprised to see a trace of anger in his eyes. "It was just a stupid idea. I quit it, it wasn't working."
"No, shut up. You weren't supposed to see it, anyway." He almost looked defeated. "Just shut up about it."
"Did the other guys see it, too?"
"Good. Throw the shit out. That's what I wanted to do with it."
"No, it's not. You were going to show it to us."
"Were. Were. Fuck, AJ. Just go away."
I went, wondering why both my visits had ended in him asking me to leave. It was kind of a reverse for us.
I skipped a meeting the next morning and then came back to the hospital that afternoon. My luck had run out, and Brian was there.
Nick noticed me in the doorway first, but Brian was the first to say anything.
"We missed you this morning." Brian raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah, well." I shrugged my shoulders absently and gave Nick a look. He had been studying the two of us, as if judging our reactions to each other. "Hey, slugger."
He rolled his eyes at the greeting.
"Can we break you out of this joint yet?"
"How you feeling?"
"Fine. I'm fine."
There was a slight pause.
"Where's that video camera?" Brian asked me, and then leaned on the bed toward Nick, a smirk on his lips. "AJ here has taken up your position of group filmmaker, did he tell you?"
I could have died.
"No," Nick answered, looking at me curiously. He frowned. "He didn't mention it."
Brian looked at me then.
I just shrugged. Drop it.
"Well, I gotta get going," Brian said suddenly, breaking the sudden silence that swallowed the room whole. "I'll see you guys later. Feel better, Frack."
And he was gone.
"He hasn't called me that in a year," Nick said. Again, I didn't hear anger or bitterness in his voice. It was matter-of-fact.
I just shrugged.
"So. Making a movie?" Nick asked expressionlessly.
"What was part one."
"I didn't make anything."
I ignored his words. "You should show them."
"Why don't you?"
"Because it's yours."
Silence returned to me. Nick's mind seemed to be on something else already. "Are you sure Brian didn't see it?"
"He's acting different now, like he wants to spend time with me again or something. Like he cares."
"Maybe he does. Is it too late?"
"It's because of the accident." He sounded bitter this time. "Kevin and Howie, too. Because of the accident."
He seemed puzzled then. "No, not you."
He was too generous with those words. I just shook my head, mentally disagreeing with him. "Sometimes," I said slowly, "something bad needs to happen to make good happen." Just like Brian had said. Just like he regretted.
"Don't I know it," Nick muttered.
I said nothing.
"Imagine I died. Imagine how nice you would all be then."
I stared at him then as his reasoning hit me, my eyes boring into him, questioning. "You didn't...?"
"A truck hit me, AJ."
"I know," I said quickly, forcing myself to dismiss the thought as fast as it had crossed into my brain.
"A truck crossed the line and hit me."
"I know. Sorry. I know."
Nick stared down, his eyes not meeting mine and I really wondered. I wondered if maybe it was his second plan, and maybe the one that worked. But no.
He wasn't crazy.
But I wondered.
He looked back up. "You can do what you want."
"Do what you want with the tape." He swallowed. "Can you show them for me?"
I hesitated, and then I nodded. "Yeah. I can do that for you."
That night, they saw the tape. I didn't stay to see their reactions, because I knew what they would feel about it. The same way I felt. But that's what a documentary was meant to do. Show the facts.
I was busy making a documentary of my own. I took the bits of film I had shot since the accident, and I found some old tapes of ours. I mixed them together, and I came up with ten minutes of our life, from beginning to present.
When I finished, I sat back and watched. I saw exactly what I wanted.
The note that went with it said this: "We were stupid back then too, we just didn't know it until now. I thought I would show you some of what you missed while you were gone, and some of what we forgot while we were here. I left out your part, I think that's the question of what we regret. I think we know what that is now, but I think we can grow past it too."
I had said my words.
For the first time in a long time, I looked back at the past year as what it was. The past.
The next day, when Nick was back with his flip-flops, cargo shorts, and old t-shirt, limping on crutches and wearing a cast soon to be covered in profanity, I gave it to him.
He frowned as he read the note, and then that lopsided smile crossed his face.
"I don't know what to say," he said later.
"What's to say?"
That's what a documentary is for. It doesn't need any more words.
Originally published on Backstreet Fan Fiction
© ca. 2004 by Izzy