The pocket comb glided through his carefully coiffed hair for the hundredth time, and Nick finally agreed he looked picture perfect. Fastening a button on his blue striped shirt, he gave himself a flirty smile and winked in the mirror, his friends watching in amusement. Nick blushed. He’d completely forgotten their presence in this poky dressing room their manager Lou forced to share, and he hung his head to hide his blushes. In the five long years the boys had spent touring the Southeast as an upcoming rock band, they’d grown used to the youngest member’s pre-show ritual combined with self-admiration, and their increasing number of screaming teens swooned over the results at every show.
More females meant more recognition. More recognition signified credibility. Credibility could only lead to a highly coveted spot on American Bandstand, and maybe Top of the Pops and Ready Steady Go! both in England, a country they’d always dreamed of visiting. Maybe they’d even meet the queen. A boy could only dream. Too bad Nick focused solely on daydreaming.
“Used all the Brylcreem again?” Howie waved the empty tube at his vain friend who grinned ruefully. “Not funny, Nick!”
“No need to bite my head off!” Nick shrugged. “You said you’d all finished grooming your hair, so I used the rest…”
“Not fair! Have you seen my hair?” Howie pointed to his own untamable frizz. “You’ve been posing in front of that mirror since we got here, and you never share…”
“Guys, give it a rest!” Kevin stepped between the two rowing bandmates, his voice rising. “Nick, your hair is perfect, quit worshipping your own image. And Howie, a few waves won’t make you any less perfect. What about Justin? His hair’s curlier than yours, but he just rolls with it.”
“Good call Kev, using our song’s title and those copycats in the same sentence!” Alex exclaimed, and Nick flinched, nearly throwing up on Brian’s striped shirt. The two upcoming bands had shot daggers at each across the stage from the adjacent wings at a Florida summer festival after the Backstreet Boys discovered their slimy manager Lou mentored them behind their backs, establishing the heated rivalry. The captivating rhythm, the fancy footwork, the fandom… Everything the Backstreet Boys did, Justin and the Timberlakes craftily duplicated, yet their stolen worshippers hailed the latter group as pioneers, infuriating the original band more.
The Timberlakes’ edgy style – smartly-cut suits teamed with trendy mop tops – caught the attention of Teen Beat’s editor who subsequently interviewed the band, describing them as prominent game-changers and future style icons. The Backstreet Boys had worked their sore behinds off longer than those fakes but hadn’t graced a mere column in God-knew-how-long. Because of some lousy suits? Granted, the soaring temperatures had dipped considerably in recent weeks, but who on God’s green earth wore suits and ties in the scorching Florida heat? Their rivalry hadn’t halted at the style and popularity stakes either.
Leah Gaylers. The captivating backing dancer in a blue bikini and bouffant beehive had expertly moved her slender waist to the pulsing beat at the hundredth show the boys opened for a major rock band (At least The Timberlakes hadn’t received top billing, thank God), and Nick was completely smitten. She was breathtakingly beautiful. And he had to have her. Unfortunately, that talentless curly-haired dud had his own eye on her, and Nick only found out the night Justin and Leah slipped out of Lou’s sleek red camaro hand-in-hand, giggling like mischievous high school teens hiding a dirty secret. He’d witnessed the camaro rocking and jigging rhythmically, chuckling at the heated moans floating through the steamed-up car window in the deserted parking lot outside the bowling alley where he’d arranged to meet Leah. No explanation needed.
That lying bitch. He’d wasted a great chunk of the measly weekly allowance Lou paid his artists wooing her with countless dates. Ice cream parlours, drive-in diners, drive-in movies, ice rinks… Eventually she’d caved in, stating in no uncertain terms she refused to be rushed into going all the way while she wasn’t ready. And Nick had complied with her demands, promising to wait for that special moment their budding relationship reached that level. And of all the curly-topped idiots in the Sunshine State, Justin got there first? Nick had smashed his fist into Justin’s smug face that night, cutting his forehead open, but Justin was more than ready to strike back, and Leah tearfully begged the brawling rivals to stop before two bouncers broke them apart.
Justin had left the scene clutching a swollen lower lip (Good – he’d have some explaining to do when he performed with the Timberlakes at the alley later that night). Nick had departed without the love of his life. Damn Justin, stealing his music, his fans…and now his girl?
“Still thinking of Leah?” Brian could read his best friend like an open book. He wrapped an arm round Nick’s shoulder with a reassuring smile. “It’s over Nicky, she’s out of your life, she didn’t care about you.”
“Yeah, look on the bright side,” Kevin added. “A great song came out of your frustration, Don’t Want You Back. You really showed some writing skills there, pal.”
Nick nearly screamed. “And what happened after that?” he raged, pushing Brian’s hand off. “We don’t own any of the few songs we’ve written. I knew we should have shown our families that contract Lou made us sign, but none of us had the patience to even sit down and read it properly, he made sure of that with our ridiculous schedule. And what did Lou do? He gave “Don’t Want You Back” to Justin and the Timberlakes. Said the song suited their sound better when their sound is fucking similar to ours. Crap!”
He punched the wall several times, the veins in his head popping, and Kevin hurriedly rushed over to calm him. The others remained silent, each member contemplating their seemingly bleak future in the band they weren’t sure they still believed in. Lou had stabbed them in the back the minute he took The Timberlakes under his greedy wing, booking them the best spots as opening acts and securing the Teen Beat interview, but handing Backstreet’s work to their competition under Backstreet’s very noses?
“Yeah I know, it sucks.” Kevin turned Nick round to face him and placed his hands on the aggravated teen’s shoulders. “We should have been smarter, but what did we know? We have one thing Lou can’t take away from us – our talent. Anyone ever noticed Justin and the Timberlakes seldom sing live, unlike us?” The boys nodded. “We only have three months left before we’re free of Lou’s control, and we’ll be free to write more songs and show ’em what we’re made of, but until then we have a show to do. We’re all gonna get our there and sing like we really mean it, show those girls Justin and the Timberlakes are all smoke and mirrors underneath those grandpa suits…”
“Yeah,” Alex agreed. “Who knows, maybe there’s a decent manager out there in the audience tonight, maybe he can take over from that fat sleazy slimeball who’s done nothing but steal and cheat like there’s no tomorrow…”
“Alex, that’s not very nice!” Brian gasped, open-mouthed. “Just because you’re skinny like a rail. We ought to call you Bone…”
“Hell yeah. I’m the Bone Daddy, and he is fat! But this is it guys – Lou’s gotta go. He doesn’t give a shit about us anyway, so we’ll make it easier for him when we rock that audience hard enough to make them forget The Timberlakes, and we’ll find another manager who actually cares. We’ve been dying to land TRL for ages, so let’s stop moping and make the most out of it.” He glanced at the wall clock above the door. “Twenty minutes before we hit the stage. I’m gonna get a drink, this room’s making me sweat like crazy. Coming, Howie?”
“Sure, I could use an RC,” Howie offered.
“Me too.” Nick straightened himself up and forced a brave face.
“No RC’s in this building, they’re sponsored by Coke, remember?” Alex rose from his seat to join them. “Think big, amigo, there’s a Coke machine down the corridor, let’s go.”
“Don’t be long, guys,” Kevin warned. “We still need to warm up, and of course there’s prayer…”
“Okay, old man!” Nick replied, his whimsy sing-song voice mocking Kevin’s authoritative demeanour. “We’ll be back in five, promise.” Nick, Howie, and Alex found the machine and bought an ice cold bottle each. Nick had only taken a sip when an unpleasant sight caught his eye, and he nearly choked.
“Oh come on, not today!” Alex moaned, watching their rivals majestically sway in their direction after Joey pointed at them from a distance. “What the hell are they doing here?”
“Well, look who it is,” Justin announced sarcastically. “It’s the Brylcreem Boys!” His backing singers burst out laughing, but their rivals had come prepared.
“Hey guys, look who it isn’t,” Alex mocked. ”Justin and the Timberfakes!”
“What are you clowns doing here?” Nick fiercely demanded. “I thought TRL had standards…”
“Chinese food made LFO sick, and O-Town are outta town, so we filled the gap, and with pleasure!” Chris, the Timberlakes’ annoying falsetto, glanced scornfully at Backstreet from head to foot. “You know, you dorks ain’t kidding when you say TRL used to have standards – six months ago, scrubbing the shit out of Carson’s toilet for a buck would have been your demographic, not raping the shit out of your fan’s ears with your greaser boy ruckus…”
“Oh yeah?” Nick let out an exaggerated yawn, moving a step forward to face his foes. Typical Lou – pitching one of his groups against the other on live TV. “Rape, huh? Think I’m gonna take that shit from you pricks when someone in your talentless fold screwed my girl in Lou’s car?”
“She wasn’t your girl, she was everybody’s, man.” Justin cheekily grinned. “No-strings sex. Hell, even Joey rode her like a space cowboy long before you met her.” Nick turned to Joey who winked mischievously. “And boy, was Leah good!” Justin boasted. “That go-go slut’s the best lay in all of Flo-Rai-Day!”
“Flo-Rai-Day?” Alex seethed. Was there even an atom of originality within this numbskull quintet? “Did you just say Flo-Rai-Day?”
“That’s our word, you thieving jackasses! God, I knew you jerks were copycats, but who gave you the right to use our own pronunciation of Florida?”
“Everyone who’s someone in Florida uses it, stupid. Public property, you put it out there!” Joey ran a comb through his fringe, taking his time to watch the fury clouding in their competition’s eyes before winding them up further. “That song of yours it came from? Dumbest piece of shit we’ve ever heard, but who knows, we might add Flo-Rai-Day to that song Lou gave us. You know, “Don’t Want You Back”? Who knows, pretty soon you’ll be back at Mommy and Daddy’s watching us on American Bandstand…”
“You leave our phrase alone, asshole!” Nick wagged a finger at them. “You assholes should be ashamed, making a career out of stealing songs and stealing girls…”
“Hey Nick, don’t get all worked up,” Howie whispered, longing to see an end to their pointless feuding. “Let it go, we’ve got a show in fifteen minutes, remember?”
“Yeah.” Lance’s deep voice cut through the ruckus. He had also grown tired of fighting the Backstreet Boys, and wanted the two groups the get along for once. “Girls come and go Nick, maybe you and Leah weren’t meant to be…”
“Shut up, Lansten!” Justin barked. How dare their bass singer take their rival’s side?
“Yeah, shut up Lansten!” Nick echoed. “You wouldn’t know how it feels! Fix that hair, maybe you’ll get lucky picking up that blonde lifeguard dude you had your eye on all day at that beach festival.” God, the green-eyed Southerner looked so ridiculous in that chestnut moptop cut with sunbleached highlights, no red-blooded female would fancy him if he swung their way.
“Aw, poor crybaby Nicky, need a nipple for that Coke?” teased Josh, the only Timberlake with a half-decent voice, and Nick considered rearranging his perfect square jaw with his Coke bottle. Abandoning the idea, he gave his soda a thorough shake, his palm covering the top, and aimed at his and Justin’s pristine mod suits.
“Jesus, man!” Josh exclaimed. “What the hell?”
“Fuck, you’ll pay for that!” Justin screamed, reaching into his pocket to produce money for the machine, determined to pay those fools back, sighing in dejection upon realising he didn’t carry enough change. “We have a performance tonight, and you ruin our look?”
“Don’t feel bad, there’s an RC machine across the road, you just might be able to afford that!” Alex could barely contain his laughter. “Enjoy those RC’s because that’s all you’ll ever be, you can’t even touch Pepsi’s league!”
“You hear that, pussycats?” Nick taunted. “Someone got there first before you stole and repackaged the formula under those damn Goodwill rags you call suits. We’re the real thing, baby!”
“Guys, what’s going on?” Kevin poked his head through the dressing room door, noticing the sticky splashes on Justin’s jacket and the brown puddle below, and shook his head disapproving. “Guys, seriously? Can’t you put aside your differences for one hour without starting a damn riot? Come on, we have a show to prepare for…”
“Oh, we’re already prepared, can’t say the same for these punks!” Nick snorted.
“Who you calling punks, stripy?” Justin cast a cold glare at Nick, then turned to his boys shivering in his shoes. None of the Timberlakes were a match for the tough Kentucky dude who had previously beaten the living shit out of Justin’s cowardly bony ass. “Let’s get out of here, let’s leave these glorified doo-wop bores.” The two groups parted ways, and Nick returned to the dressing room with Alex and Howie where they filled Kevin and Brian in on what had occurred with their biggest enemies.
“Didn’t I tell you to let it go, Nick?” Brian scolded. “Do we need to deal with this right before a show?”
“Relax Bri, I said we’re prepared. Those punks may have stolen our song, but it’s still ours, and we’re gonna rock the audience…”
“You are watching Total Rock Live, and I’m Carson Daly coming to you from your favourite channel. Put down that homework and turn up that volume ‘cos it’s time to shake it! We’ve received your letters – keep ‘em coming – and right now your wishes are our command. We have Justin and the Timberlakes right after this, but right now… from Orlando… here they are… the band you’ve requested all week. The Backstreet Boys!”
The crowd went wild, and Nick played their intro on his guitar. His friends shot glances at each other, lost in confusion. This was not the song they’d rehearsed only ten minutes ago. Kevin struggled to keep his anger in check, glaring from his spot behind the keyboard. Why couldn’t that brat ever do as he was told? Their one chance to impress every length and breadth of Orlando on live TV, and he messes up? That argument with Justin and the Timberlakes must have caused this sudden change of plans, but couldn’t he have warned the boys first?
Brian turned towards Kevin who shrugged his shoulders and followed Nick’s lead on his bass. Howie leaned into the mic and delivered the first lines to “I Want You Back” Alex bashing away on his drumset, and within seconds the performance gelled together. Nick grinned, imagining the Timberlakes venting their frustration somewhere in that vast building. Those fakes had spent too much time using Nick’s lyrics to gain popularity, and now the song had returned to the rightful owners who shared more chemistry than the blockheaded Timberfakes could ever produce in a science lab.
Screw Lou and his stupid rules, the song suited Backstreet better, and every chick gyrating to the groove in that studio knew only the original could be the best. Nick observed two middle-aged executives behind the cameramen watching the boys with keen interest and nodding sporadically. Future managers? He gave himself his second satisfactory smile of the day and played harder, the chords blending perfectly with Howie’s lead vocals. Man, what he wouldn’t give to witness the Timberlakes’ sordid reaction.
Not that he waited long. Justin and the Timberlakes, still sporting dark stains on their clothes marched towards the stage, each member still visibly pissed off, especially now the Boys had stolen the very song the Timberlakes had selected for their own performance. The producer panicked, attempting to get these invaders away from the camera’s view, but they carried on undeterred. As did the Backstreet Boys.
Nick ignored the killjoys and continued to sing his heart out to the delight of the girls inside the studio and the viewers at home, until a severe current from the guitar sent shockwaves through his body and sparks flying into the air. Nick yelped at the overwhelming seizure and dropped into a soda puddle on the stage. The music came to a halt, and the high voltage reached his heart, shutting him down completely live on TV.
“I told you you’ll pay for that, you punk-ass stripes!” Justin smirked, watching his gang pelt Nick’s lifeless body with their empty RC bottles while the producer frantically ordered his crew to cut to commercials. The Timberlakes chuckled and walked away triumphantly, slapping each other on the back and dreaming of taking over the world. Coke may have abruptly closed down production, but those girls undoubtedly required another source of refreshment. And were these new kids on the block dying to deliver…
Thanks to Julie Lewis who let me steal one of her characters! She’s inspired me a great deal as a writer, and the story is partly a tribute to her.