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Title: "Another Tribute to You" (a sequel to "A Tribute to You")
Nick had felt better since writing the letter and mailing it off to the woman he thought of as his 'special' fan. He thought of her frequently as the break finished and he went about the grind of appearances and interviews and preparations for the second half of the year.
Rehearsals finally began for the Summer Tour, and Nick was very glad to be back in the swing of things. It was good to be back with the guys, because in his heart Nick felt they were more of a family to him than his own blood relatives, though he was careful never to express that out loud.
Nick found the physical exertions very tiring at first. He was out of shape, and the extra weight he'd gained over the break was dragging him down. When he was especially tired or upset, he would think about her. He would move off by himself and have a quiet conversation with her in his head.
Nick was surprised one day when Howie suddenly came up to him and asked, "Who are you talking to?"
Nick started and turned to his smiling friend. "I'm... " Nick paused and considered. He'd almost automatically started to say he was just talking to himself. The lie came easily after years of training in how to respond to the questions of others.
But this was Howie--one of his best friends! Why should he lie to Sweet D.? After all, Howie was the most reflective and tender-hearted of men. He might be precisely the person Nick could share this with.
"I'd like to show you something later," Nick said, grinning back at Howie. Their eyes were locked and something wordless passed between them. Howie nodded, and then they both turned and hurried back at Kevin's call.
Later, sweating and somewhat frustrated, Nick moved toward his room. He jumped when he felt Howie's hand on his arm.
"You wanted to show me something?" Howie prompted, falling into step beside him.
Nick shot him a quick smile. "Yeah. Come on."
They both entered the room, dabbing at their faces with large towels. Nick went to the bedside table and drew open the drawer, bringing out the now worn envelope. "Why don't you read this and I'll grab a quick shower. You can jump in as soon as you've finished it. I'll be really quick."
Howie smiled and nodded his ascent as he took the treasure from Nick's fingers. He moved to sit, carrying the letter with him. Nick walked to the bathroom tossing off rehearsal clothes as he went, anxious to be under the hot stream of water.
Nick lathered quickly, and ducked down to let the stream rush through his matted hair. Then he was out and toweling off as Howie entered the steamy room.
"Go on, guy," Nick instructed, gesturing with his elbow at the shower. Howie moved past him and Nick headed into the bedroom to don fresh clothing.
When Howie had finished showering, he came out wrapped in one of the thick terrycloth hotel robes. His damp hair was dripping and he looked as tired as Nick felt.
"Hey, you can use the hairdryer if you wanna," Nick offered. "You want some water or something?"
Howie shook his head. "Naw, I like to use my own hairdryer. I don't usually use the hotel ones. And my hair takes forever Nick. I'll just do it when I get back to my room. But thanks, anyway."
Nick nodded. He knew that Howie would want to take off, so he gathered his courage and asked him. "Did you read the letter?"
Howie smiled. "Yeah, Nick, I did. That was really nice. It made me feel good. She seems to really care about you. I think that's great."
Nick knew he was grinning foolishly, but he couldn't stop himself. For some reason it was so exciting to be sharing this with his friend. It was almost like telling Howie about a girlfriend or something.
Howie walked over and dropped a hand on Nick's forearm. "If this is helping you to get through the day, then I'm glad for you, man. So, you were talking to her, right?"
Howie understood. Well, of course he would. Howie was more than just another member of the Backstreet Boys. He was Nick's friend. And just as Nick wished only the best for Howie, so Howie wished the same for him. Nick knew that he would always be able to count on his friend. And thinking about that made him feel warm--in much the same way that his cherished letter did.
"Yeah, I do that sometimes. I didn't know I was talking out loud."
"It's okay," Howie said in a soft voice. "We all have things like that, Nick. And this is a lovely letter."
Nick and Howie stared at each other, smiling but wordless. What else needed saying? Finally Nick remembered Howie's wet hair.
"Gee, Howie, you'd better go and get dry. I don't want you to get a chill or something."
"Yeah, I should. But, Nick?"
"I'm really glad you shared this with me." Howie handed the envelope back to him with a tender expression. Nick took back his letter and moved to open the door for his friend.
"For what?" Howie queried, as he moved toward the door.
"For getting it."
Howie swung to face Nick again. "You don't need to thank me for that, Nick. Really."
And then Howie was padding barefoot to a nearby door, carrying his shoes dangling from one hand and his clothing draped over his arm. Nick watched Howie swipe his key and head into his own room before he moved back inside, letting the door close behind him.
Once back in his room, Nick moved to the bathroom and decided that he should perhaps dry his own hair. So he let the hot air of the dryer haphazardly dash his hair around while he stared into space thinking about her.
Finally done, he threw himself on the bed and pulled out the letter and read it over. He really didn't need to read it now. He'd read it so many times that he knew it almost word for word. But he liked to mouth the words, "I love you," when he came to them. That always made a warmth spread inside him.
Before he knew it Nick Carter had drifted off to sleep. He was dreaming again of the faceless woman who was always there for him. He would catch a blur of long red hair in a restaurant or on a street corner and he would just feel that it was her. Perhaps her spirit followed him from place to place. At least, it made Nick feel better to think so. It made Nick feel good and feel strong.
Time passed quickly and the tour was upon them. But Nick was unsettled as he readied himself for stage on the first night.
A.J. McLean approached him, a wary look on his face. "Hey, dude?" Nick turned nervously toward A.J. and found that his friend was having trouble meeting his eyes. "Look, Nick," A.J. said, lowering his voice, "don't take this the wrong way, okay?"
Nick could feel his heart pounding in his chest. His body was already feeling the effects of adrenaline rushing through it. He nodded as A.J. fidgeted in front of him. "Go on, what is it?"
"Man, you need to skip that one move until you get some more weight off, okay? I just don't want you to hurt yourself or anything." A.J. had spoken the words as kindly as possible and Nick could see that he was bothered to say them at all.
"Okay." Nick knew A.J. was referring to the move that had made such an impression with fans during the first half of the Black and Blue Tour. The move that brought Nick jumping up from a lying on his back position to full standing in one quick motion. And he knew that A.J. was right--he still wasn't in the proper shape to be attempting it. He nodded and reached to squeeze his friend's shoulder. Nick was glad A.J. cared enough to tell him, even though he'd been afraid the words would hurt him.
A.J. shot him a grateful glance as he moved away. Nick shook back the tears that sprang to his eyes. "It doesn't matter," he breathed to himself. "Debra, it really doesn't matter."
And saying her name did the trick. He was suddenly excited and yet calm. The tears were gone as quickly as they had come and he felt clear-headed and ready to perform.
Nick moved to pray with his friends and then joined them for their standard before concert chant. Then they were together on stage once more--the place that always made Nick Carter's life complete and right.
After the concert had ended, Nick moved happily from person to person, congratulating them on a good job. Crewmembers and dancers and all of the guys were grinning widely. The show had been a success and there were only a few bugs that would need working out before the next show.
Finally Nick was alone. He sat in the dark and held his letter clutched tightly in his hands as he thought about her. "Thank you," he whispered, smiling to himself. "Thank you so very much."
-the end--back to top of page-