“So where should I start?” Rich asked as he sat down on the couch next to Heather as she helped pass out the bagels, plastic knives and cream cheese.
“Start from the beginning,” Heather answered simply.
“Beginning of what though? I have a few problems I want to talk to you about and they all have different beginnings.”
“Well I have a feeling that they all stem from the same thing so start from there.”
Rich sighed and looked down at his hands then said, “Ok… it all started after our high school graduation. I became depressed because the four of us were going in separate directions with our lives and you three had a set plan and futures a head of yourselves and I was left behind in community college not knowing where my live was headed. After we started losing contact with each other I became a loner. It was like I totally forgot how to socialize with new people after I stopped seeing the three of you on a daily basis. That’s where it all started.”
Heather could see that Rich was starting to struggle with what he was going to say next so she grabbed his hand and lightly squeezed it, “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to or if you can’t but what happened after that?”
“I’m ok,” he flashed a small smile at her then continued, “Next thing I know I started becoming closer to Harlow.”
“Harlow as in Harper’s best friend right?” Kelshie asked making sure her facts were straight.
Rich nodded his head, “You got that right. And because I got close to Harlow I got close to Harper.”
Although Rich and Harper were step siblings they never got along. After Rich’s mom died and his father remarried Harper’s mom they hated each other. Harper never had a father figure in her life and she was jealous of the close bond Rich and his father had. She also never had a good relationship with her mother either. She wanted attention from anyone and everyone who would give it to her. Rich’s father was very proud of his only son. He was the smart one who juggled sports, school work, jobs, and other school activities. He excelled in everything he did. Harper was the girl that always got herself into trouble. For example she lost her virginity to an eighteen year old when she was only eleven. Harper was notorious for using drugs, almost over dosing more than once. When Harper wasn’t drunk or high she and Rich would constantly fight. It was always Harper starting the fights and they were over stupid things. She even fought with Heather, Jess and Kelshie for no apparent reason other than the fact that they were always hanging out with Rich. To put it plainly, Harper was a bitch. Rich and the girls couldn’t stand messed up bitches.
Harlow was a girl who used to hang out with the four best friends. She too was a Backstreet fan and they were all close until Harper pulled her into the “dark side” as Kelshie was famous for calling it. Poor Harlow didn’t stand a chance when she started hanging out with Harper. Harlow, like the sponge that she was, slowly became just like Harper and ended her longtime friendship with the Backstreet Buds and Rich when she stabbed them in the back. The girls never forgave Harlow after that but apparently Rich did.
“I started dating Harlow and it was like she and my step sister were joined at the hip. It was almost like I was dating both of them,” Rich chuckled slightly but Heather could tell that he was uncomfortable, “She got me addicted to all the drugs she was addicted to. You name it I snorted it, smoked it, swallowed it…”
“You never injected did you?” Jess asked astonished.
Rich shook his head vigorously, “Never!”
“You’re still scared shitless of needles huh?”
“Oh yeah. That’s still the one thing I’m afraid of.”
Nothing could scare Rich. He was always the guy laughing at any and all horror movies he watched. His one weakness was needles. He told the girls stories of how he would break into a sweat and start shaking when he needed to get vaccines at the doctor’s office. The girls could remember vividly when they were talking about getting the same tattoo emulating Backstreet, Rich had to run out of the room because of how shaky and scared he got.
“Well,” Rich continued, “Once I was hooked on those drugs it all went down from there. I dropped out of college, lost my apartment and moved in with Harlow and Harper. I started selling to support myself. Harper and Harlow started selling too, and not just drugs. They sold themselves almost every day until they got themselves a job at a strip club. That kind of helped me a little bit because I got a job there as a DJ.”
“What did your dad say about all of this?” Heather asked cautiously.
He shrugged, “He didn’t know about it for a while. He and my step mom still thought I was in college supporting myself. He was half right. Sure enough he found out though.”
“How?” Kelshie questioned.
“One of his friends was having a bachelor party at the club I was working at. I didn’t know he was there and he didn’t know it was me. He couldn’t recognize me; he couldn’t even recognize Harper and Harlow either because the drugs had changed us physically as well as mentally. He surprised me in the bathroom. It was sheer coincidence that he walked into the bathroom while I was on my break snorting my fix. Boy did he scream at me. He was screaming so much that I could have sworn I saw tears in his eyes. I couldn’t look at him anymore as he was saying how much I disappointed him after I said I dropped out of college and how I threw my future away. He knew that I was messed up. I just walked away from him and went back to my work. I watched him storm out of the club dragging Harper behind him. She tried to leave before he saw her but it was too late. He dragged her home that night. I escaped him because my boss was talking to me. Actually I was selling him stuff. But the next morning I find myself being thrown into an intervention. After that the three of us were thrown into rehab for a few months. It didn’t work for Harper. She got right back into drugs and drinking a day after she got out. Harlow and I stayed sober for about a month and a half after rehab. But then I found out that Dad had cancer. I stayed sober until after he told me about the tumor on his brain. He lived in agony for three months and I wanted to go back to drugs and drinking to ease my own pain. I couldn’t stand seeing the strongest man I knew wilt away in a hospital bed… in so much pain… dying right in front of me. I didn’t want to disappoint him either. He had intervened and stopped my addiction. I didn’t want him to die thinking that he failed to keep his son sober. So I stayed sober and felt the pain with him,” he stopped for a second and looked away from the girls, “Then he died.”
“Rich,” Heather said in a near whisper, “I had no idea. Why didn’t you contact us?”
“I’ll get to that later,” he took a sip from his water bottle then continued, “I was there when he died. I was holding his hand.”
He took a pause and sniffled, “The night he was buried was the night I relapsed. Harlow was being very supportive of me through all of this and she was sober too. But Harper never stopped. She didn’t listen to my dad at all, but that’s no surprise there. She had the audacity to come up to me after the funeral and say, “You know what will ease the pain brother? This stuff.” She handed me a baggie. I took it. Harlow and I used it the second we got home. We got fucked up that night and paid for it the next day. But then Harper and a few of her buddies came over the next night and we partied again. I lost it. And it’s scary to think that for a few days of partying like that, I had forgotten all about my own father and that I had watched him die.”
“My god,” Kelshie gasped. “I… I don’t know what to say.”
“I’m so sorry Rich,” Jess said shaking her head.
“That was my worst point. I almost over dosed once and it scared me but not enough to make me stop.”
“What did make you stop?” Heather asked.
“Harlow was reading People magazine one day and she came across an article titled “I Didn’t Want to Die”…”
“Nick Carter’s interview,” Heather finished for him.
“Exactly. She read it to me and I couldn’t help but think that I was just like him. I didn’t want to die young and I wasn’t feeling like myself besides the whole drugs and alcohol thing. So I went to the doctor after I read that article and it turns out that I’ve got a cardiomyopathy like Nick Carter.”
The Backstreet Buds gasped.
“I’m better now,” he reassured them, “I’ve been sober for almost a year now and my doctor has said that the cariomyopathy has greatly improved. I’m not completely better but I’m on my way to a full bill of health. I dumped both Harper and Harlow once I was diagnosed and that was my first step to recovery. My second step was checking myself into rehab and sticking with it. The third step was reconnecting with my step mom. She didn’t know what went on with me and what I did the night Dad was buried. She forgave me and said that Dad would do the same and that he was proud of me for becoming clean again. It was nice to hear. It took a little weight off my shoulders and ever since she and I have been closer than ever before. My final step was to see if I could find you guys again.”
Heather smiled, “You found us.”
“In a way that no one would have ever expected too,” Jess commented.
“How did you land a job with Backstreet anyhow?” Kelshie questioned.
“I went to the same rehab that Nick went to. We became friends and stayed in contact after rehab. He came to some of my DJ-ing gigs and offered me a job as Backstreet’s DJ. I’ve been on the This Is Us tour with them since the beginning. I finally got to fulfill my dream of traveling the world. It’s just funny that I had to go through that hell before I was able to go around the world.”
“It is funny how life beats you up and then mends your wounds again,” said Heather. She looked into his eyes and asked, “Why didn’t you look for us before now?”
Rich’s voice dropped, “I didn’t want to bother you. And I didn’t expect you three to be so close to home.”
“I never left our home town Rich.”
“Are you kidding me Heather? You were the one who wanted to get out the most.”
“I’m not kidding. I still live there and I teach music in the high school. It’s Kelshie and Jess that got out. They live full time in their shore houses.”
“Wow I would have never figured you were that much of a homebody Hermie.”
“Well… things happen. And what do you mean you didn’t want to be a burden to us? Do you not remember all the shit we got each other through during high school and even more shit dealing with our messed up families? The four of us got each other through so much Rich, what made you think that you would be burdening us with your addiction? We could have helped you.”
“Hermie… let’s not talk about it. Let’s just say that I needed to fight my inner demons by myself.”
Rich looked up into Heather’s eyes and she could see pain in them so she grabbed his hand and said in a near whisper, “I’ll drop the subject. It’s really good to have you here Rich.”
Rich grinned and whipped a single tear from Heather’s cheek and joked, “Cry baby.”
Heather lightly smacked his arm, “You’re tearing too! Shut up!”
He laughed and then his phone rang. After he hung up he looked around the room and said in a saddened voice, “I have to go now girls. I don’t want to but I have to.”
“Aren’t you going to stay in New York for a few days?” Heather asked.
“Yeah we are. The last show of the tour is next Saturday but we have a lot of interviews and TV shows to do in between and after that so we should be here until the end of the summer actually.”
“I live 15 minutes away. Come and find me when you’re not busy. The three of them will be staying with me until the end of the week. You can always stop by and we’ll do something together like we used to in the old days.”
“I’d like that a lot. Correction I’d love that,” Rich smiled.
He hugged each of the girls before he left.
“I’ll call you most likely tomorrow when I figure out how busy I’m going to be.”
“Ok Rich. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Later babe,” he winked at her and she smiled before she watched him start down the hall.
“Did he just call you babe?” Kelshie asked as soon as Heather closed the door.
“Yeah, I don’t know what that was about.”
Jess and Kelshie looked at each other and raised their eyebrows.
Heather saw them and raised her hands in the air in surrender, “I don’t want to know what you two are thinking.”