Comforting Lie
Chapter Six
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Twenty-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Chapter Thirty-Nine
Chapter Forty
Chapter Forty-One
Chapter Forty-Two
Chapter Forty-Three
Chapter Forty-Four
Chapter Forty-Five
Chapter Forty-Six
Chapter Forty-Seven
Chapter Forty-Eight
Chapter Forty-Nine
Chapter Fifty
Chapter Fifty-One
Chapter Fifty-Two

Oh, look, I took the Band-Aid off
Did I take it off too soon?

Cara took a slow sip of her coffee, eyeing Aaron as she did so. The younger man was seated across from her on the countertop, holding his coffee in both hands and staring blankly at the floor. The purple rings under his eyes warned her that he hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, and she silently cursed Nick for keeping him up. Right before going to bed, Aaron had told her that he intended to wait for his older brother to get home. Of course, the three roommates hadn't agreed to go to their own rooms until midnight, which meant that Nick hadn't come home until early that morning. She took a deep breath and cocked her head to one side, still studying Aaron.

"So, what time did he finally get home last night?"

Aaron rolled his eyes in exasperation before returning his gaze to Cara. Theresa, like most mornings, was still in bed. "Don't you mean what time did he finally get home this morning?"

Cara fought the urge to flinch. Aaron didn't get angry or exasperated easily, so when he did, she knew that the situation had been less than pleasant. "That late?"

Aaron chortled. "Try that early. The shit didn't turn in until four fucking o'clock. I was ready to shoot him, but he walked in the door absolutely trashed, so I didn't even bother. I left two aspirin and a glass of water on his night stand, so I can yell at him when he gets out here."

Cara arched an eyebrow in mild amusement. "He's going to have the hangover from hell. Terry wasn't lying when she said that the morning after is the worst part."

Aaron shrugged nonchalantly and took another sip of coffee. "At this rate? He deserves it. I can't believe I even stayed up waiting for him. I knew he wasn't going to come home before he absolutely had to." He sighed heavily and his eyebrows rose and fell with the force of it. "I guess I should be thankful that he didn't get caught up at some girl's apartment with a wrinkled condom and no way home."

Cara yawned tiredly and slid off the counter to retrieve the toast that was preparing to fly out of the toaster. "Yeah, he would do that, wouldn't he?"

"He didn't, thank God."

Before Cara could reply, the toaster rang and spit out the two pieces of bread it had been crisping. She managed to catch one piece, but the other landed in Aaron's lap, eliciting a small smile from the younger man.

"C, I know I've said it before, but we have got to get a new toaster."

Theresa, who had just emerged from her bedroom stretching and yawning, nodded her agreement. "Yeah, amen to that. Next time it hits me in the head with my breakfast, I'm going postal on it."

Cara bit back a laugh. "Aw, come on, Terry, it's good for entertainment in the mornings."

Aaron snickered at the appearance of his roommate. "Of course, if we need post-toaster entertainment, we can always check out your hairstyle."

Theresa rolled her eyes and shot Aaron the middle finger while she poured herself a bowl of milk. However, once she sat down with the bowl and box, her hand flew self-consciously to her hair, and she flinched when she tried to run her fingers through it and caught a knot. "Dammit, I give up. It just doesn't like me."

Cara chuckled lightly. "Don't worry, T, you can borrow that detangler we've got in the bathroom." As she watched Theresa eat and buttered her toast, she couldn't help thinking that her friend's hair resembled an American flag in a blender. Theresa, being the outlandish personality that she was, had tipped her blonde hair with a layer of blue and a layer of red to inspire American pride. Cara couldn't help thinking that Theresa was the only person she knew that could pull off such a look.

Aaron gladly caught the jar of jam that Cara threw at him and uncapped it. "C, she's gonna need a lot more than detangler to straighten that bird's nest."

Cara shot him a warning look as she handed him a knife. "A, be nice. It's too early for Theresa to come up with an adequate comeback."

Theresa shook her head and swallowed. "No, I'm just being nice. I think it's enough that Aaron has to live with the creep in the other bedroom."

Aaron smiled gratefully at her, and Cara laughed. "What do you suddenly have against him?"

Theresa rolled her eyes. "Honestly? He snores loudly enough to wake the dead, and I heard him come in this morning at four fifteen. The boy does NOT know the meaning of subtle."

Aaron nearly choked on his toast with the force of his laughter. "Terry, hon, I could've told you that much..."

Cara rolled her eyes. "A, why don't you try swallowing before you comment?"

Aaron batted his eyes sweetly in her direction. "Because, C, it's just too much fun to annoy you."

Cara's retort was interrupted by Nick's much-awaited entrance to the kitchen. Without a single word, he moved to the cabinet, grabbed a bowl and spoon, poured himself some milk, and sat down at the table to pour himself a bowl of cereal. The other three exchanged amused looks at his petulant expression, all of them trying desperately to keep a straight face. They soon lost the battle, however, and all of them ended up laughing hysterically. It wasn't really that funny, but it was too early in the morning for any of them to care. When they finally did calm down, the sight of Nick's hands over his ears was enough to send Theresa and Cara into a fit of stifled giggles again while Aaron began his lecture.

"Look, Nick, I know you're twenty-five years old, and I know you're a retired Backstreet Boy. I also know that you think that makes you a hot shot. Unfortunately, right now, you're living under our roof. I'm not giving you a curfew, but coming home that late was absolutely ridiculous, not to mention the fact that you were fucking plastered," Aaron snapped. He seemed to spit the last word, as though the very taste of it burned his mouth. He shook his head in disgust and lifted his gaze to stare at his brother, surprised by the violence of his argument. "Nick, that's just stupid to get that drunk! Something could've happened to you, or someone could've taken advantage of you--hell, you could've taken advantage of someone else! God forbid you contribute to the gene pool..."

"Dammit, Aaron, not so loud..."

At first, it wasn't clear as to who was more surprised at the sound: Aaron or Nick. Aaron's eyes widened as the hoarse, gravelly whisper registered, and he turned to stare at his brother in horror. Nick's eyes widened in a similar fashion, and Aaron could only watch as his older brother pushed his chair back from the table and abandoned his cereal in favor of an apple. Cara jumped off the counter and fetched one of the various sinus remedies from the medicine cabinet, handing it to a grateful Nick, but Aaron continued to watch in shock. That cannot be Nick's voice. God, not when he's got that presentation tomorrow and more crap during the rest of the week...

"Nick, what the hell did you do to yourself last night?" he hissed with more malice than he'd intended. Nick turned to him with bright, angry eyes and began shaking his head.

"Oh, no, don't pull this on me, Aaron Carter. This one's all you. You and your damn brilliant ideas..."

Aaron frowned in disagreement as he leapt to his own defense. "How is this my fault? I have no control over what you do, dammit. Last night certainly proved that much."

Nick waved his hands, cutting Aaron off in the process. "No, dumbass, not that. The cigarettes, dipshit. You made me quit during a fucking stressful week." The contrast of his harsh words with his nearly absent voice was near comical to the two onlookers, but both men were too livid to notice.

Aaron shook his head as realization dawned on him. "You don't know that..."

"Oh, don't I?" Nick sneered, rolling his eyes in frustration when it didn't come out quite as he'd envisioned. He waved an arm dismissively. "Fuck it. I've got to go call in sick and pray that something clears up by tomorrow. Just think about it, Aaron."

With that, he made his exit, leaving the other three in somewhat astonished silence. When they were sure that Nick was out of hearing range, Cara turned to Aaron with wide eyes and dipped her chin expectantly. "What the heck was that all about?"

Aaron rubbed a tired hand over his face as he began to piece things together and sighed. "Nick's mad because he's under stress at work and had to quit smoking."

Theresa got up from the table and took both her bowl and Nick's to the sink. "Sure, but what does that have to do with his voice?"

Aaron closed his eyes and rammed his head against the cabinet at his own stupidity. "I don't know, but the same thing happened to AJ years ago when he tried to quit. He stopped twice in the middle of a tour, and he couldn't talk either time. Of course, he'd start up again and he'd be fine. I guess this is just Nick's body's way of reacting to the stress and the lack of coping devices."

Cara closed the pantry door behind her after putting the cereal box back in its place and frowned. "So you're just going to let him light up again so he can talk tomorrow?"

Aaron shook his head sadly. "No, I'm not. I really hate to do this to him, but smoking in the first place is stupid. I'm hoping he'll learn his lesson and keep from doing this again. Granted, he could smoke while we're at rehearsal, but he's got to stop eventually, or he's going to make us sick. He may be an ass sometimes, but he won't do that. He knows how much this musical means to me."

Theresa smirked. "So he won't be able to talk for the next few days?"

Aaron shrugged. "Beats me. I think he's hoping that it'll blow over by tomorrow. If not, he's going to be really pissed at me for awhile."

Cara nodded. "Well, he did the right thing by passing up the milk for the apple. The little things might make a big difference." Being a vocalist herself, Cara knew that even the slightest bit of milk could make a negative difference in vocal performance. However, she also knew that apples were an old trick to speed up the healing process that a cold or sinus infection might cause. Aaron nodded his agreement.

"Yeah, I think that's what he's hoping for. I'm not the least bit surprised that he actually remembers all of those little things about the business."

Theresa shrugged. "How could he forget? The man was a Backstreet Boy for ten years. You'd think that, after awhile, those kinds of things are just ingrained in your brain."

Aaron nodded. "I'm sure they are. However, guys, it is on our account that he's in that kind of condition, so we might want to keep grease and dairy out of dinner to help him out."

Cara smiled. "I'm sure we can work something out. Judging by the way he sounded just a second ago, he's going to need all the help he can get."

Theresa grinned. "Yeah, I'm thinking salads and sandwiches are going to have to do for tonight. Maybe a little chicken noodle soup too."

Aaron laughed and turned to Cara expectantly. "Think your culinary skills can handle that?"

Cara winked at him as she turned the dishwasher on. "I'm sure I can manage. Meanwhile, we've got to get down to rehearsal before we're late again."

Aaron's playful smile immediately drooped. "Aw, man, we can't stall for five more minutes?"

Theresa arched an eyebrow skeptically. "You want another lecture about punctuality?"

Aaron groaned audibly. "No, but I really don't want to go to rehearsal today. I just want to sleep..."

Cara smirked at him. "A, usually I'd be sympathetic, but it's your own fault for waiting up for Nick." Her serious voice took on a playful tone. "Besides, I thought that you loved your job?"

Theresa nodded her agreement. "Yeah, Aaron, I thought you loved your job. You know..." She trailed off, singing in a deep voice. "I have a thirst...That I cannot deprive...Never have I felt so alive...There is no battle...I couldn't survive...Feeling like this...Feeling alive..." *

Aaron rolled his eyes at her. "I think I might feel a bit more alive if I had more than two freakin' hours of sleep, don't you?"

Cara sighed. "But, Aaron, you love it...and if you love your job, it shouldn't be a job. It should be fun. And I know you love your job..."

Aaron eyed Cara with a mischievous grin. "Not as much as you love yours, lady." He slid off the counter and struck a pose in imitation of Cara's character, twirling an imaginary boa as he sang in a ridiculous falsetto. "There was a time...I don't know when...I didn't have much time for men...But this is now...And that was then...I'm learning..." **

Cara hurled her dishtowel in his direction. "You suck, Aaron! I so do not look like that..."

Aaron batted his eyelashes at her innocently and continued singing, this time in his own voice. "And yet I sense...There's more to you..." ***

Cara grinned and walked over to him, dragging a nail along his jawline as she sang her own part. "You flatter sir...You really do...With half a chance..." ***

Theresa rolled her eyes and stepped between the two, effectively interrupting their performance. "With half a chance, we won't be late. That is, provided that you two haul ass and quit goofing off..."

Both laughed at the audacity of the other, but obliged and hurried to their rooms to get ready for the day ahead. However, as Cara passed Nick's room, she couldn't help but shake her head as the familiar tune ran through it once more.

And yet I sense...there's more to you... ***

"Comforting Lie" - lyrics and music by No Doubt, on album RETURN OF SATURN

* "Alive"
** "Bring On The Men"
*** "Lucy Meets Jekyll"
lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, music by Frank Wildhorn
taken from the musical JEKYLL & HYDE