There’s no better place to party on New Year’s Eve than Vegas, baby! I spent the last few hours of 2007 playing a gig with the Boys at Body English, this cool nightclub inside the Hard Rock Hotel, not far from The Strip.
It was one of the first times we’d performed a full set as a foursome, and even though it had been over a year since Kevin quit the band, his absence was felt. It was weird hearing Howie sing all his solos, and it just felt like something was missing from our sound, which wasn’t as rich without the lowest voice in our five-part – now four-part – harmony. But if the fans noticed, they didn’t seem to mind. Maybe it was just the fact that it was New Year’s Eve and everyone was in a good mood, but they wouldn’t stop screaming for us, even after we left the stage. You’d have thought it was still 1998, not about to be 2008.
We finished our set before midnight so we could ring in the new year with the rest of the club. By one, all the other guys had gone back up to their rooms, but I was still having a damn good time downstairs. I’d lost count of how many drinks I’d had or how many different hot girls I’d danced with – not that it mattered much to me. The one who was hanging all over me at the moment was blonde, but a little older-looking than I liked. I was looking for a good excuse to get rid of her when I felt my phone vibrating in my back pocket.
I reached around, pulled it out, and glanced at the screen, surprised to see that the Boys had been blowing up my phone. Somehow, I had two missed calls – one from Brian, the other from Howie – and a text message from AJ. Nick, get your ass up here, it said. I frowned. Leave it to my “big brothers” to try and cut me off, like I was still some little kid with a curfew. Who were they to tell me what to do? I was a grown-ass man, and I did whatever I damn well pleased. If I wanted to stay out and party all night, I would. It was New Year’s Eve, for fuck’s sake.
Fuck u, im havin fun, I sent back, but kept my phone in my hand as I continued to half-ass dance with the blonde cougar who had her arms around me. I dared AJ to start giving me shit about my drinking – as if he hadn’t done way more than his fair share of it back in the day. Just because he was sober now didn’t mean he had the right to act all self-righteous about it. Hell, he was the one who’d introduced me to drugs and alcohol in the first place, so who was he to judge?
But the response I got from him a few seconds later wasn’t judgmental. It just sounded serious. Nick, NOW! 911!
My eyes narrowed as I stared at the message. I knew 911 meant an emergency, but what could be so urgent in the middle of the night? I wondered. The new year had just begun; nothing that bad could have happened already, could it?
Whats wrong? I asked AJ, not ready to go running up to his room just yet. For all I knew, this was just a ploy to get me to leave the party.
“Are you going to pay any attention to me?” pouted the woman I was dancing with.
“Apparently not,” I said, shaking her off me as I saw my bodyguard Q approaching. I could tell by the look on his face that he was about to tell me it was time to leave; they must have been texting him, too.
Sure enough, Q leaned over and shouted into my ear, “Time to go, Nick. They need you upstairs, right now.”
The woman didn’t seem to be able to take a hint, so I added, “Sorry, but I gotta go see what the guys want,” and waved my phone in front of her face.
She frowned, the lines in her forehead making her look even older. “Whatever, asshole.”
“Happy new year to you, too… bitch,” I replied, muttering that last part under my breath as I walked away, accompanied by Q. Once we were outside the club and could hear each other without shouting over the music, I stopped and turned to him. “You wanna tell me what the hell is going on?”
“I dunno, man, but something must’ve happened. Howie said we’re driving back to L.A. tonight.”
“Oh, Howie said, huh? I didn’t realize Howie was the one making all the decisions around here,” I replied sarcastically. “Why the fuck would I wanna drive to L.A. anyway? I don’t even live there anymore.”
In an effort to better myself, I had sold my place in Los Angeles a few months before and bought a house in Franklin, Tennessee, far away from all the temptations that kept getting the best of me. I had flown into Vegas from Nashville and no intention of going back to L.A. until I absolutely had to for work. Rehearsals for our upcoming Unbreakable tour didn’t start for another two weeks.
“I dunno, man,” Q repeated. “Let’s just go find out what’s up.”
He led me to the nearest elevator, and we went up to the floor where the Hard Rock had reserved us a block of rooms. Howie, Brian, and AJ were all waiting for us outside mine. When I saw the looks on their faces, my anger faded away, and I knew that whatever had happened, it was bad. Really bad.
“What’s going on?” I asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
But no one would tell me anything out in the hallway. “Where’s your room key?” Howie demanded. Wordlessly, I fumbled with my wallet until I finally found the key card and stuck it into the slot on the door. The lock clicked open, and we all went inside. Normally, I could count on one of them to comment on the dirty clothes and empty food containers lying around everywhere, but nobody said a thing about my messy room.
As soon as the door slammed shut, Brian turned to me and said, “I got a call from my Aunt Ann – Kevin’s mom – a few minutes ago. Kevin and Kristin were involved in a bad car accident in L.A. tonight.”
My stomach dropped, and my heart started hammering hard against my ribcage. “How bad?” I whispered, my throat suddenly as dry as the desert outside.
Brian shook his head. I could tell by the redness around his eyes that he’d been crying, and I tried to brace myself for what I thought he was going to say next: that Kevin and his wife had been killed in the crash. But instead, Brian continued, “The hospital wouldn’t tell her much over the phone, just that it was serious and someone should get there as soon as possible. She can’t get a flight out of Kentucky until the airport opens in the morning, so I’m gonna rent a car and drive there tonight.”
“We’re all going,” Howie added, and AJ nodded. “You’ll come with us, won’t you?” They both gave me hard looks, as if daring me to say no.
“Yeah, of course,” I agreed without a second thought. Kevin was like my big brother, like all of them were. If he needed me – if they needed me – then I would be there.
“Leigh’s calling the car rental company right now,” said Howie. I’d almost forgotten his wife of less than a month was with us, since the newlyweds hadn’t wanted to spend their first New Year’s Eve as a married couple apart. “Can you be ready to leave in fifteen minutes?”
I looked around my messy room again, feeling overwhelmed. “Uh, yeah… sure.”
“I’ll help you pack,” AJ offered. “I already shoved all my shit back into my suitcase.”
“Thanks, man,” I replied. As the other guys returned to their own rooms to get ready to go, AJ and I picked up around mine. He grabbed every piece of clothing I’d left laying around and tossed it to me to put in my luggage.
“You need to invest in a laundry bag, dude,” he said, giving me a look of disgust as he lifted a pair of my dirty underwear with his thumb and forefinger, trying to touch as little of the fabric as possible. “Since when do you even wear undies? What happened to going commando?”
“Chafing. Chafing happened,” I said, ducking out of the way as he whipped them at my head.
Chuckling, AJ went into the bathroom.
“Wait!” I called, suddenly remembering what I’d left on the counter. “I’ll clean up in there!”
AJ didn’t say anything until he walked back out a few seconds later. “Too late, Prick,” he replied, holding up a plastic baggie in each of his hands. One contained a small amount of white powder; the other, an array of colorful pills. “I already found your stash.”
My heart sank as I heard the disappointment in his voice and saw the look of defeat on his face. I hung my head, ashamed, as he continued, “Damn it, Nick, I thought you quit this shit!”
“I did!” I cried. “It’s not like I do it all the time, just… you know, sometimes, when I’m out partying. It’s like how some people only smoke when they drink.” I hesitated. “You’re not gonna tell the other guys, are you? Please, AJ… What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right?” I knew I sounded pathetic, but I didn’t care. As far as Brian and Howie knew, I had cleaned up my act over the past few months. They had enough to worry about without finding out I was still using. I didn’t want them to see what a mess I was.
AJ shook his head. “Now’s not the time for that.” At least we agreed on that much. “We’ll talk about it later.”
He flushed my drugs down the toilet while I finished packing my bag. Neither of us spoke again until we were out in the hall with the others. “Do you think Kev’s gonna be okay?” I asked him quietly, as we walked down the hallway, wheeling our luggage along with us.
“He better be,” was all AJ would say back.