Every eight days, Brian hooked up with a girl. It wasn't exact, of course, but Nick kept careful track and after a couple of months he worked it out and there it was. Eight days.
AJ brought someone back to the hotel every second night. Nick didn't need to work out the average to figure that one out.
"I hope you're doing your homework, Nicky."
He slammed the notebook shut and scowled. Jane. He was fourteen now, he was too old to be calling her "mom". Especially in front of the guys, and not even in his head. He hadn't been calling her that in his head for a long time now.
"Just finishing," he said. He could do it later. She wouldn't check.
"Good," she said. "You have time to do your vocal exercises, then. You're going to be recording tomorrow."
"Aw, come on, I was gonna play--"
"Now, Nicky," she said, and Nick wondered how it was possible the other guys could hear stuff like that and not get why he hated that nickname so much.
"All right, all right, I'll go find Brian," he said, tucking his notebook in between a couple of textbooks and throwing some clothes on top. "We can go through some stuff."
"Okay, honey," she said, and let him go. The homework she wouldn't check on but the singing she would, so Nick did go across the hall and bang on Brian's door. Brian wasn't even around, but Kevin was, and so that would have to do.
Kevin had a girlfriend back home and didn't hook up very often. Once every two or three weeks, more or less, especially when they were still in America and he could get away to see her. Seldom enough that Nick couldn't get a really good average on it. Nick thought that when he had a girlfriend he would be really respectful about it, like Kevin.
"All right, Nicky, so what do we need to do?"
"Don't call me Nicky," he scowled, and sat down on Brian's side of the room. "We don't need to do anything. You just need to tell my mom I was doing vocal exercises when she asks."
"It couldn't hurt to actually do some," said Kevin, and he got up again and Nick had a sinking feeling he would be setting up his keyboard. "I was just watching TV anyway."
"Oh come on, Kev, you're no fun at all."
"Nope," he said unapologetically. "If you want fun, hang out with Brian."
"That's what I was trying to do," he said, but there was no use whining about it now. What was done was done, and he ran through a couple songs with just him and Kevin, and learned a couple new warm-up exercises that were cooler than the scales he always did. Or maybe they just seemed cool because he hadn't been doing them since he was five.
They kept going until Howie knocked on the door, looking for Brian. Clearly, Brian was a popular guy. Nick wasn't surprised; Brian would have let him have some fun.
Howie didn't date much either, and when he did he went all out. Nick thought that was maybe because he really didn't like girls and was in denial. When he told Kevin his theory, though, Kevin laughed and said Howie wasn't the one in denial, and that he was just a romantic. Nick wasn't sure what Kevin meant by that, but he didn't ask.
"Brian's downstairs in the gym playing one on one with AJ," Kevin told Howie, which was more than he'd said to Nick. Nick opened his mouth to protest but Kevin clapped a hand over it. "And since we're done here, Nicky, the both of you go down. You can play some two on two."
Nick was so cheerful on his way out he didn't even scowl at Kevin for using the name.
* * *
Brian met a girl named Alexis and started seeing her at least three times a week, which really threw Nick's averages off. Mostly they would get together late at night, after they were finished for the day, and the other guys would hardly see her. For the first week or two, Nick only really knew she existed because Brian never stopped talking about her.
The third week, though, the third week he had the room next door to Brian and Kevin's and after Jane had fallen asleep, snoring softly in the bed next to his, Nick could hear noises coming from the other room. Sex noises, squeaks and moans and grunts and whispers that he couldn't make out. Now he understood why Kevin always stayed down in the piano lounge so late.
Nick was especially glad Jane was asleep when he snuck into the bathroom and quickly jerked off. He was hard right from the first moan. And then, when he came out and heard them starting up again, she slept through him pulling some clothes on and sneaking downstairs.
"There's no way you're supposed to be up," said Kevin, pushing his glass away from himself like Nick wasn't supposed to see him drinking. He was an adult, of course he drank. "We have a showcase tomorrow morning."
"Brian's fucking his girlfriend and I couldn't sleep," he said, and sat down without invitation.
"What? He is."
"I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to say fuck."
Nick just gave him a look, one he hoped was intimidating. By the look on Kevin's face, it really wasn't. "Even my-- Jane wouldn't care about that," he insisted.
"Well, I care," said Kevin. "And I know exactly what Brian is doing. He'll be done in about half an hour. He promised me I could come back up then."
"He shouldn't be able to kick you out of your own room. That's not fair." Nick slowly pushed Kevin's drink back toward him.
"Well, now he owes me one, for the next time I might want the room." Right, which Nick figured was at least another week away. He took the drink back, but he didn't sip it.
"I think AJ is too young to be having sex," he proclaimed after a few moments of awkward silence. He wished Kevin would just drink already.
"I think you're right," said Kevin, then snorted. "You'll probably change your mind about that in a couple of years, though. Can't wait. Is he at it tonight, too?"
Nick shrugged. "Don't have the room next to him tonight. Probably. He usually does it earlier, though. Howie likes his sleep, I think."
"Don't we all," muttered Kevin. "AJ's precocious."
"It means he's advanced for his age. When it comes to stuff like this, at least." Kevin didn't look like he thought that was a very good thing, even though Nick thought it might be cool to be really good at sex when he was only sixteen. Except he still thought AJ did it too much. Or with too many different girls. Or something.
"He needs to slow down," Kevin went on when Nick didn't say anything. "While he's out trying to prove something, his childhood's passing him right by."
"He's not a child," said Nick impatiently. "And neither am I. And if you're not actually going to drink that, can I have it?"
Kevin stared at him and sighed. "No, I guess he's not," he said. Nick noticed that Kevin didn't say anything about him, but at least he passed over what was left of his drink.
* * *
The day after Nick overheard Brian going at it, AJ decided to get himself a girlfriend, too. Nick wasn't sure if he actually decided this or just found someone that was really good in bed -- which seemed to be the most important thing to him at sixteen -- but either way he was now getting laid every night which made working things out all the easier.
Nick wasn't sure she actually did anything except follow AJ from Sweden to the U.K. and back again, and sleep with him. She was older, though, and looked kinda rich and maybe she did have nothing better to do.
While Brian's Alexis was slim and dark, AJ's Brandi had a fuller build with long, strawberry blonde hair. AJ seemed to pick girls with large breasts and Nick couldn't blame him. He hadn't needed porn to teach him that boobs were an awful lot of fun.
He met Howie by the ice machine one night when he was trying not to listen to either one of them. Jane slept like the dead. Nick had already done nine laps of the corridors on their floor.
"Are you supposed to be up this late?"
"Aww, come on Howie, you're not my mom," he whined. "And besides, it's not like I have much choice."
Howie looked back up the corridor and ahh'd knowingly. "I might say something," he confessed to Nick. "We're worn out enough as it is. We need our sleep."
"If they weren't allowed, someone would've stopped them already."
"It's not a matter of being allowed," said Howie. "It's a matter of being considerate. They aren't thinking about anyone but themselves."
"Yeah," said Nick. "Yeah. And we're a group, and they should be thinking about us more than girls." Though if he had a girl that looked like that -- and fat chance of that ever happening when Jane was always with him -- he couldn't say he wouldn't be doing the exact same thing.
Howie, apparently, agreed. "Just wait until you like girls, Nick Or whatever."
"I like girls just fine!"
"Because it would be okay if you didn't, ever. That would be fine."
"Yeah, I know it would be fine," said Nick defensively. "Of course it would be fine. But I do. Like girls."
"Okay, Nick, okay," said Howie. "Okay, I just wanted to say, that it's normal for some people, to not like girls. Even if it's not you, if it's someone else, someone you know."
Nick sighed and realized Kevin was a dumbass. "I know it's okay to be gay, Howie. I even have gay friends, back home. It's no big thing to me. So if you're trying to come out to me, you can just, like, say so."
Howie gaped at him, and okay, maybe Kevin wasn't such a dumbass after all. "What... me? You though I was... ? No, no, I wasn't talking about me."
"Well, who then?" pushed Nick. "Who are you talking about?"
"No one. No one in particular. Just in general. You know, in the business and all, there are bound to be some people who you meet who are. And that's a normal thing."
Nick just stared for a moment, then grinned at him. "Yeah, Howie, I kinda had that one figured out by the time I was, like, ten or so. Which doesn't change the fact that I stare at girls all the time. Or the fact that I still can't get any sleep because Brian or AJ or both are making too much noise."
Howie grinned back. "Well, they have to finish sooner or later. Come on, I'll walk with you."
And Nick started on his tenth lap.
* * *
It didn't take Nick long to get very tired of hearing how beautiful Alexis' eyes were, how soft Brandi's hair was. He even booked himself extra time with their vocal coach in between all their other things to get away from it, which had the side benefit of keeping Jane off his back. Nick was gonna come out of this singing like an angel.
He'd even started playing ball with Howie, who, by virtue of sharing a room with AJ, was getting it even worse than Nick was.
"Brandi this and Brandi that," he said as he missed the basket. "The guy is such a little idiot, I swear."
"Maybe he just likes her that much," said Nick, but it really did seem kinda dumb. All that mooning over some girl really didn't seem like much fun; sure girls were great, but Nick didn't get all poetic about them.
"Yeah, maybe," scoffed Howie, and missed again. Nick couldn't wait until he was tall enough to get the ball away from Howie and keep it there, so he wouldn't have to watch him miss so much.
"He seems to like her an awful lot. Maybe even love her."
"Yeah, seems that way, doesn't it," said Howie, which itself seemed a very strange and un-Howieish thing to say.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," said Howie. And missed again.
"Okay, you know what?" said Nick, grabbing the ball before it bounced away. "I think it's time for a break."
"Aw, come on, Nicky, I was just getting warmed up," said Howie, but he didn't look too unhappy about getting off the makeshift court for a while.
"Don't call me Nicky," he grumbled, and found a place to sit. "So... do you not like them?"
"The girlfriends." Nick had picked that up from Kevin, who called them "The Girlfriends" like they were some single thing. Or a punk band. Or a B-movie monster, like The Blob.
"Oh," said Howie. "I like them fine. Don't know them real well, though." Brandi hung out with them sometimes, but AJ pretty much kept her to himself. Even when they weren't alone.
"Me too," said Nick. "They're pretty. Feels like I kinda know them already."
Howie snorted. "Yeah, I just bet," he said.
"Now what's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, sorry, nothing."
"No, come on Howie, I'm tired of your guys always doing that to me. I'm not twelve anymore, you know."
"Yeah, but you'll always be my kid brother," said Howie, and ruffled his hair, and if there was one thing Nick hated more than being called Nicky, it was having his hair ruffled. He batted Howie's hand away, and he seemed to get the picture that time. "Just, you know, they're just pretty familiar types of girls. Probably the type you're always noticing, these days."
"I guess," said Nick, and it was at least a little bit true. Except he was noticing everything that had breasts these days. Not that he was going to tell Howie that.
"Now don't you have homework to do?"
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," he said, but Howie didn't look like he was kidding.
"You might as well do it now, before your mom gets on your case."
"Jane won't care," he said, and scuffed his shoe on the concrete. He did have some problems he needed to finish. And Jane would take an interest if it interfered with his performing schedule. "Okay, can I at least do it in your room?"
"Yeah, sure, Nicky. I had some stuff I wanted to catch up on anyway."
"Don't call me Nicky," said Nick, and grabbed the ball and followed him back inside.
* * *
Brian saw Alexis five times in one week, and AJ saw Brandi six, and Nick was going to have to start keeping track of how many times in one day instead of just how many times. Which was too hard to bother with so most of his little notes these days were about Kevin and Howie, who weren't active enough to be interesting. Except that one night with that one girl who they each got some time with, but Nick didn't think they realized that so he didn't say anything.
She was really hot, and he kinda wished she'd paid a visit to his room, too. She was just the kind of person Nick figured would making losing your virginity a memorable experience.
"Nicky, honey, hold still," said Jane, and Nick was trying but the measuring tape was tickling him and from where he was standing he could kind of see down the costumer's blouse so most of his concentration was fixed on not getting hard. Looking at Jane helped with that.
"Is this gonna take much longer?" he asked, closing his eyes for about five seconds before peeking again.
"Nick, manners," said Jane sharply, giving someone behind him an apologetic look. "You've grown another inch. Everything needs to be refitted." She said it like he'd gone and grown another head.
"Yeah, but I only need to be measured once, right?" he said, and squirmed. Jane looked at him disapprovingly.
"You'll be here as long as they need you," she said firmly. "They'll hold rehearsal for you if we run late. You won't miss anything important."
"I have to finish reading Catcher in the Rye," he said, and bit his lip hard as the costumer measured his inseam.
"You can do that on the bus after the showcase tonight," she insisted. "Before you sleep, but not too late. You have that photo shoot in the morning and you want to look good."
He sighed and closed his eyes again. He wasn't the one she needed to worry about, even though he was the only one she ever did. Even when she was looking out for AJ, too. Alexis was riding on the bus tonight, and Brian probably wouldn't get much sleep. And AJ either, since when Brandi wasn't around he got way too worked up about the time Brian spent with her.
In spite of that, though, he was looking forward to getting to rehearsal. It would just be the guys -- and the vocal coach and the choreographer and one of Johnny's people and probably someone from the label to check up on their progress -- which was kinda nice.
As long as Brian wasn't busy composing epic ballads to Alexis, he would compliment, and probably tease, Nick on how much he'd grown. And if AJ wasn't talking about getting Brandi's name tattooed on his body -- he wouldn't really do that, would he? -- Nick could tell him about the hot costumer and how she'd been wearing a blue, lacy bra and AJ would get it.
"Okay, you're done, hop down," said Jane. Nick was happy to hop down off the chair they'd set up in the middle of his hotel room. "Maybe you can get down to rehearsal early and warm up a bit."
"Sure," he said, meaning to do no such thing. He glanced at the book on his bed, but if Jane figured it could wait till later then he'd leave it till later.
He pulled on his tee shirt and slipped into his shoes and shot them a quick "Bye!" and was out the door before they could reply.
* * *
The rocking of the bus threatened to put Nick to sleep when he was barely past halfway in his book. It was only Kevin's periodic jabs at his shoulder and Howie's snores from where he was dozing on the couch that kept him going.
"I can write an essay on the first half of the book, right?" he grumbled. "I already get the point."
"You can write it and fail," said Kevin, giving him another jab eve though Nick's eyes hadn't even closed that time.
"Ow!" he said, jabbing back. "I would not." He'd probably get a C, as long as he didn't spell too much wrong and got Brian or Howie to read it over before he submitted it.
"Okay, maybe not," Kevin had to admit, "but you'll know you didn't finish."
"I'm pretty okay with that, actually," said Nick, but he kept reading anyway. It beat starting the essay, which he'd have to do if he stopped reading now.
He'd have gone to bed, but Brian and Alexis, and AJ, were already back there and he wouldn't be getting any sleep if he joined them. And Howie had already taken over the whole couch.
"Why does he do that anyway?"
"What, Howie?" said Kevin. "He's just worn out. He didn't sleep well last night."
"No, AJ," said Nick. "Why's he even back there? He's gotta know he's not gonna sleep. Unless he has earplugs. And a sleep mask. Which I know he doesn't."
"Because he's a masochist," said Kevin, glancing back toward the bunks.
Kevin used a lot of words that Nick didn't know, but he knew what masochist meant. It was what his dad called Jane when she came on the road with all of them.
"Because he's wishing that Brandi, was here, huh?" said Nick.
"Yeah, something like that," said Kevin, and snorted, and Nick was really, really tired of people doing that around him. Like they knew something that he didn't, even though he was as clear as any of them on what Brian and AJ were doing. He wasn't a kid. He knew about sex, and was pretty much ready to do it himself as soon as he had half a chance.
"Well, I'm glad she's not here," he said. "Can you imagine it if they were both around?"
"I shudder to think," said Kevin, and it didn't even sound like he was being sarcastic. "Has Brian been spending much time with you, Nicky? Lately?"
Nick shrugged and pretended he was reading, but Kevin was waiting for an answer. He really needed to make up his mind about what he wanted Nick to do. "It's fine," he said finally. "He makes time sometimes. He's got a girlfriend, I understand." He wasn't making much time for someone who was supposed to be his best friend, but some.
Kevin sighed and shook his head. "If it helps," he said, "the two of them can't keep this up forever. Something's gotta give."
Nick thought about how often they were with their girlfriends and wasn't so sure that Kevin was right.
* * *
Brian called AJ "Alex" when his mother couldn't be with them to do it, so at least one person was still reminding him of who he really was. None of the rest of them did, just Brian, and AJ seemed okay with that.
AJ called Brian "Bri" because he didn't like words of more than one syllable when one would do. And it made Brian smile a little, the way nicknames like that always did when they made a person feel special and accepted. With the exception of "Nicky" of course.
When Brian called Alexis "Alex" on the phone and AJ called Brandi "Bri", Nick finally got it.
"Why don't AJ and Brian just tell each other how they feel?" he asked Kevin, sitting down next to him at lunchtime, the first chance he'd gotten.
Kevin spit his coffee out all over his freshly unwrapped ham sandwich. "Who told you?" he asked, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. "Who told you that?"
"No one had to tell me," said Nick. "I figured it out on my own. No thanks to you guys and all your secrets."
"You didn't need to know," said Kevin, frowning at his ruined sandwich. Nick offered him half of his own. "They'll figure it out sooner or later. Unfortunately, we all get to suffer through this phase before they do."
"I should do something to help," said Nick. "I should... I should pretend I'm gay or something, and get them talking about it with me and then maybe they'll be able to--"
"Nick, no," said Kevin firmly. "No. Don't go getting in the middle of this, it won't do anyone any good. They need to work this thing out on their own."
"Well they aren't doing a very good job of it so far," muttered Nick, taking a big bite of his sandwich.
Kevin almost spit his coffee out again. "No, they're sure as hell not," he agreed.
"Fucking stupid," added Nick.
"I'm still pretty sure you're not supposed to be saying "fuck", Nicky."
"Oh don't," he said, and rolled his eyes at him. "They are, Kevin, and if you can think of a better way to put it, go ahead and share it with me."
Kevin grunted and didn't complain again. "Okay, yeah," he said, and tossed the ruins of his sandwich with his styrofoam cup in the trash. "Yeah they are, but they're young. They'll work it out eventually."
"Are you sure I shouldn't... ?"
"No, Nick," said Kevin, and that was his final word on the subject.
* * *
It took another three weeks, three weeks of near-daily activity on their parts, but one morning Nick woke up on the bus and stumbled out from the bunks and there they were. No Alexis, no Brandi, just AJ and Brian, kissing in the kitchenette.
He was about to clear his throat at them when he felt a hand on his shoulder and a quiet "Shh" in his ear. The hand was Kevin's, the shh was Howie's, and they pulled him back behind the curtain and out of sight.
"You have better things to do than spy on them, Nicky," said Kevin softly. "Go do your homework."
"I don't have any," he said. "And I wasn't spying."
"Just let them have their moment," said Howie. "Then we'll get the room assignments changed and everyone will get some sleep again. It's about time. This was bound to happen, sooner or later."
"I wasn't gonna interrupt!" he protested. "I'm not dumb. I just wanted a cupcake." Which were behind Brian's shoulder, which would mean Nick would have to sidle up right next to him and give him a knowing grin as he grabbed one.
"The cupcake can wait," said Kevin, his grip firming on Nick's shoulder, tugging him backwards. "There's a Playboy in my bag. You can borrow it if you want.
Nick was going to protest that he couldn't be bought off like that, that he wasn't that shallow, but it was a Playboy and how many chances like that did he get, anyway? Besides, it wasn't like AJ and Brian were going to be stopping any time soon.
He hoped they didn't. He just wanted things to get back to normal again. Now that Brian and AJ had finally sorted things out, maybe it was time for Nick to add his own name to the tallies he kept in his notebook.
And maybe AJ could even give him Brandi's number, now that he wouldn't be needing it anymore. She really did have a nice rack.