“What?!” Brendan gasped. “Kill him?!”
“That’s right. Why do you need to keep ‘im around anyway? If someone found ‘im, there’d be trouble. But if we killed ‘im, there ain’t no way anybody could ever find out the truth. If you destroy the evidence, there ain’t no proof of anything,” Sonny explained.
“That’s true…” Brendan said slowly. “But to actually kill him? If we did get caught, we’d be in much worse trouble.”
“Yeah, but who’s gonna catch us?” Sonny pointed out. “Ain’t nobody gonna think that Brian Littrell ain’t really Brian Littrell. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“So let’s kill ‘im. Then we won’t have nothin’ to worry about no more.”
Brendan swallowed hard. “You’re right, Sonny,” he said. “We gotta kill him.”
It was nearly pitch black in the basement where Brian lay, unable to sleep. The only source of light was the moonlight that streamed in through the tiny rectangular windows near the ceiling.
Suddenly, he heard footsteps from upstairs. Two pairs of them. And then, through the heat vents, he heard faint, muffled voices. As the two people upstairs neared the stairs that led to the basement, the voices got louder.
“How ya wanna do it?” Brian heard Sonny ask. “Want me to get my rifle?”
“Nah…” Brendan replied. “Not good enough. Too instant. I want something long and painful. Plus, someone might hear the gunshot.”
“How about we stab ‘im? That’d be more painful,” Sonny said.
“Nah… too much blood.”
Brian listened from below in silent horror, as the two men talked at the top of the stairs. They were coming to kill him! And he was powerless to stop them.
“We could jus’ starve ‘im to death then,” Sonny suggested.
“That would take too long,” Brendan responded.
“Even more boring.”
“Let’s jus’ beat the crap outta him then,” Sonny said.
“Alright. But not enough to kill him. Not yet anyway. We want to make him suffer first.”
As then they started down the steps. With each footstep, Brian grew more and more terrified. And by the time the two men entered the room, he was about ready to throw up.
His eyes widened in horror, as they walked slowly closer to him, their eyes narrow and menacing.
“Enough’s enough, Littrell,” Brendan said, his voice low and hateful. “Are you ready to die?”
Brian struggled, grunting and twisting about as much as he could. But with the cords tied around him, he couldn’t get far, and with the tape over his mouth, he couldn’t scream. They could do anything they wanted to him. And he knew they would.
Brendan stepped up first, his fists clenched together. He raised one of them, prepared to get in the first punch. Brian clenched his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut, knowing there was nothing he could do to protect himself. It was all a matter of waiting for Brendan’s fist to connect. And so he waited. And waited. And waited some more.
Perplexed, Brian opened up one eye. Right at that moment, Brendan propelled his fist forward. Brian prepared for contact. But, inches away from his face, Brendan’s fist dropped. He just stood there for a moment, staring at Brian.
“Brendan?” Sonny asked, cocking his head in confusion.
“Take care of it,” Brendan said, shoving Sonny up to the bed. Then he hurried upstairs without a glance back.
Brian was confused. What had just happened there? Had Brendan chickened out? He’s a coward, Brian thought.
But unfortunately for him, Sonny was not.
Seconds later, Sonny’s fist was in Brian’s face. Pain instantly radiated through his jaw. But Sonny did not back off. He struck Brian again.
With each blow, Brian saw his life flash before his eyes. He saw visions of his mother and father, his brother Harold, his wife Leighanne, his four best friends, Kevin, Howie, AJ, and Nick. He pictured himself as a child, performing in church. He saw himself on stage with the Backstreet Boys. He envisioned himself at his wedding with Leighanne.
Sonny struck him now in the chest and in the stomach. Brian gasped for breath, and blackness appeared at the edges of his vision. As Sonny raised his foot and shoved the heel of his cowboy boot into Brian’s gut, he let out a muffled cry, gasping and choking for air. The blackness spread. With one more blow, it flashed red. And then, finally, everything went black again. And this time, it stayed that way.
One week later
“Let’s try that again. Brian, I need you to give me some more expression.”
That day had been one of the longest of Brendan’s life. It was his first video shoot, for the song “More Than That”, and so far, it was not going as well as he had expected. The director, Marcus Rayboy, was extremely picky and made them repeat the same scenes over and over again until they were exactly perfect. Brendan was so tired of lip-syncing the same thing over and over again, he could scream.
“Fine,” he muttered, going back into his position, as the song started up again.
Pasting a cheesy smile on his face, he began to mouth the words to the song. Well, at least he attempted to.
“Cut!” Marcus yelled. The music cut off. “Brian, why are you smiling? This song isn’t happy. I need some real emotion. And you need to make your lip-syncing look more realistic. Your mouth isn’t lined up with the words.”
Brendan rolled his eyes, but nodded. “Okay,” he said, forcing a tight smile. And then the song started again.
“What’s going on with Brian?” AJ asked Kevin. The two were standing off to the side, watching their band mate shoot his verse of the song. It was not going very well.
“I don’t know. He does seem a little off today, doesn’t he?” Kevin replied.
AJ snorted. “A little off? He isn’t even singing the right words half the time, Kev!”
Kevin sighed. “I know. Maybe he’s just not feeling well or something.”
AJ rolled his eyes. “Well, he better get over it. He can’t afford to be sick right now.”
“Come on, Bone, cut him some slack.”
“Why should I? He’s not even trying! Look at him.”
Kevin did. And AJ was right; it didn’t look like Brian was giving it much effort. He stood stock still, mouthing the words at the wrong time, his hands at his side, and his eyes wide open. Anyone could see he wasn’t putting anything into it. Normally, when Brian sang, his eyes were closed, and his fists were going at it. Today, that was just not the case.
When Marcus finally told Brian to take a break, Kevin and AJ approached him.
“Dude, Brian, what is going on with you? Are you sick or something?” Kevin asked, partly concerned and partly annoyed with his cousin.
“Sick? Well, uh… yeah, I have sort of a headache,” Brian replied, color creeping into his cheeks. He was clearly embarrassed.
“I’m sorry about that, Bri, but you really need to put some more effort into this shoot. We only have a couple days to do it, and you’re wasting our time,” Kevin said. AJ nodded in agreement.
“I’m sorry, guys,” Brian said, but he didn’t look that sorry. “I’ll try harder.”
And with that, the guys walked off in opposite directions.
What am I doing wrong?Brendan wondered. He knew he wasn’t performing up to Brian’s standards, and that had to change.
Instead of grabbing a bottled water and chilling out like the other guys did on their breaks, he dug his portable CD player out of his backpack and put the “Black and Blue” CD into it. He put on number 8 and listened. He was going to get the lyrics to this song right if it killed him.
Twenty minutes later, he was back in front of the camera, trying once again to get his verse right. This time he at least got the lyrics right. But he could tell the director still wasn’t happy.
When the final “cut!” of the day sounded, Brendan was more than relieved. He and the guys got together their stuff and rode in a limo to the hotel they would be staying at.
The hotel was a nice one, with two pools, one of which they had rented for later that night, so they could swim alone. As Brendan tagged along with the rest of his band mates and their bodyguards, he could not help but stare at his surroundings in awe. He had never been in such a fancy place in his lifetime. Yet, he knew these guys were used to this luxury.
And soon, Brendan thought, grinning inwardly, I will be too.
“Hey, Bri, the guys and I are heading down to the pool now. Do you feel up to swimming?” AJ asked later that night. “Or do you still have a headache?”
“No, it’s gone now. A swim sounds great,” Brendan replied honestly. The video was being shot in California, and after shooting scenes in the hot desert for a good part of the day, a plunge in the pool sounded like heaven to him.
“Okay, cool. Get your trunks on, and we’ll meet you in the hall in a few minutes,” AJ said. As soon as he had left the room, Brendan opened up his suitcase and fished through it for his swim trunks. He found them and quickly put them on. He slipped a pair of Nike soccer sandals on, grabbed a towel, and left his room. Kevin, Howie, AJ, and Nick were waiting in the hall.
“Ready?” Howie asked.
“Yup,” Brendan replied. “Let’s go.”
A couple of bodyguards walked along with them down to the pool they had reserved. Then the two burly guards sat down in lawn chairs, while the Boys tossed their stuff down and removed their T-shirts and sandals.
Brendan did the same, relieved. Swimming was something he was used to doing. Shooting a video was not.
Nick, just as mischievous as he seemed on TV, gave Howie a shove from behind, sending him falling into the pool. He laughed hysterically, as Howie came to the surface, sputtering and laughing at the same time.
With a swift motion, Kevin gave Nick a push. Caught off-guard, Nick lost his balance and fell into the pool as well. Playfully sticking his tongue out, Nick splashed Kevin.
The three were so involved in splashing and pushing each other that they did not even notice Brian. But AJ did.
He watched as Brian took off his T-shirt, tossing it over to where his towel and sandals sat. He continued to watch as Brian walked around to the deep end of the pool and climbed up to the diving board. As his friend bounced on the end of the board, AJ cocked his head to the side. Something didn’t seem right. Something seemed different than usual. But what it was, AJ had no idea.
Brian did a cannonball off the diving board, sending water spewing in all directions. AJ shrugged. Brian was sure acting like his normal self now. Telling himself that he was just imagining things, AJ jumped into the pool.
It was not until awhile later, when AJ came up close to dunk Brian underwater, that the feeling that something was different came back to him. And as his eyes traveled up and down Brian’s bare chest, he realized what it was. The scar. The long, white scar that ran down the middle of Brian’s chest, left over from his heart surgery three years earlier, was not there.
“AJ? Something wrong?” Brian asked.
Still staring at the flawless, tan skin of Brian’s chest, AJ dumbly shook his head. Brian gave him a strange look, shrugged, and swam away. AJ swam to the side of the pool and hauled himself out. He sat on the edge for a few minutes, his legs dangling into the water, and thought.
Could it be that the scar had faded so much it was not noticeable? AJ didn’t think so. It had faded a lot over the years, but the last time he had seen Brian shirtless, while they were on tour, it was still easily seen. Surely in just a month, it couldn’t have just disappeared.
Deciding to get another good look before he thought about it anymore, AJ lowered himself back into the pool and swam back up to Brian. He quickly dunked him underwater, and when Brian came back up, spitting out water and rubbing his eyes, AJ stared again at his chest. But, like before, he saw nothing, no trace of the scar. It was like it had never been there.
Brian splashed AJ in return for getting dunked, but AJ barely even noticed. He was dumbfounded.
“Dude, Bone, what is up with you?” Brian asked.
AJ just shook his head. Something told him not to ask Brian about it. Not yet anyway. “Nothing. I guess I’m just tired from the video shoot,” he replied lamely.
Brian nodded. “Me too,” he said.
“Hey, Frick! Watch this!” Nick yelled from the top of the diving board, diverting Brian’s attention from AJ. As Brian turned to watch Nick do a flip off the diving board, AJ got out of the pool.
“Hey, guys, I think I’m gonna go back up to my room. I’m tired,” he announced. Nick and Brian were splashing each other, but Kevin and Howie heard him and nodded in response.
AJ wrapped his towel around his dripping body, slipped on his sandals, grabbed his T-shirt, and left the pool area.
In his hotel room, AJ immediately picked up his phone and dialed a familiar number. Moments later, a woman answered.
“Hello?” she said.
“Leigh? It’s AJ.”
“Oh, hey, Aje, what’s up?” asked Leighanne Littrell, sounding surprised to hear from him.
“Oh, not much. Just got back from swimming,” he replied casually.
“Oh, that’s a relief. I was worried something had happened to Brian. I mean, usually he’s the one to call me when y’all are gone, not you.” She laughed a little.
“Yeah, I know. Well, actually, I am calling about Brian. Don’t worry, nothing happened to him. But he… well, he’s been acting sort of funny lately,” AJ said hesitantly.
“Funny? What do you mean?” Leighanne inquired.
“Well, I dunno… he just seemed a little off at the video shoot today. He wasn’t acting like he normally does, and his performance just wasn’t up to standards,” AJ replied, trying to put his observations into words.
“Oh…” Leighanne sounded just as confused as AJ felt. “That’s strange.”
“Yeah. And there’s something else too,” AJ went on. “It’s… well, it’s the scar.”
“Yeah, the scar on his chest. You know, from his surgery.”
“Yeah, what about it?” asked Leighanne.
“Well, uh… it’s gone,” AJ replied bluntly.
“Gone?? What do you mean?”
“It’s gone,” AJ repeated. “Literally, it’s not there anymore.”
“How could it be gone?” Leighanne asked.
“Well, I don’t know. So it was there last time you saw him?”
“Well… I don’t really know, actually. I never noticed. I mean, I’ve just become so used to it that I never even look at it anymore.”
“Yeah, me too. I didn’t realize that’s what it was right away, but when we were swimming, as soon as he took his shirt off, I had this feeling that something was not quite right. And that’s what it was.”
“Are you sure?” Leighanne asked, sounding as if she still didn’t quite believe what he was trying to tell her.
“I’m positive. I double checked. I was right up by him, and there was not even a trace of it. It’s not there.”
Leighanne was silent, probably because she was as confused as AJ. How could a scar like that just disappear? There were probably medical procedures that could get rid of it, but why would Brian do that? He had never seemed to mind the scar before. And if he had gotten it taken off, why didn’t he tell anyone? Especially his wife. Surely Leighanne would know if he had done something like that.
“Do you think he could have gone to some doctor and had it taken off somehow?” AJ asked Leighanne.
“Well… I guess maybe he could have. But why wouldn’t he tell me about that?” she asked, voicing AJ’s own question.
“That’s what I thought too. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“Well, did you ask Brian about it?” Leighanne asked.
“No. I thought I would call you and ask first. I didn’t want to seem nosy.”
“Well, don’t worry about it. I’ll ask him when he gets home, okay?”
“Okay. Thanks, Leigh,” AJ said. Moments later, they hung up, each with no answers and even more questions than before.