Nick looked up expectantly when he heard the door to the apartment being
unlocked. It was the Saturday after his question session with Cara and he didn't have any work to do, but the other three
had rehearsal. He'd been sitting around aimlessly, watching bits of television shows and attempting to entertain himself,
so the thought of company of any sort was welcome. He smiled when he saw Theresa step through the door, closing it softly
behind her. When she looked up, she returned his smile and gave a light laugh.
"Returning Aaron's favor by waiting
up for us?"
Nick grinned. "Not quite. I'm bored, though. There isn't a whole lot to do in this apartment, and I didn't
feel like going out today." He had come to like Theresa a lot in the short time he'd been staying with Aaron and his friends.
She wasn't as easily rattled or as excitable as Cara seemed to be, and she wasn't as concerned with his life as Aaron was.
She didn't pry, and she didn't judge. He appreciated it more than he could tell her.
Theresa smirked. "Why do I feel
like I'm about to get roped into entertaining you?"
Nick laughed. "I'm that obvious, huh?"
She shrugged and sat
down on an armchair, dropping her bag by the door on the way. "Pretty much. What's up?"
He sighed. "Not a whole lot.
There's nothing interesting on TV, and nobody in Tampa is home to talk to."
Theresa offered a somewhat sympathetic
smile. "Sorry. How'd the seminar at the university go?"
Nick rolled his eyes. "I hate talking in front of people.
I'm not really great with words, either, and these are people who've been in college for three years. Had I not been in this
business for as long as I have, they would've eaten me alive."
Theresa cocked her head to the side. "Yuck. Are you
feeling any better?"
Nick blew out a stream of air. "I'm sure I sound better. I think I'm going through withdrawal,
though." He paused to wink at her. "How offended would Cara and Aaron be if I got the gum?"
Theresa shrugged again
and offered a small smile. "They wouldn't be too offended, I don't think. They really aren't as uptight as they seem." She
winked back at him. "Don't get addicted to that, though, or Cara will send you into rehab."
Nick's eyes widened. "Seriously?"
Theresa laughed. "Yup. And gullible was taken out of the dictionary, too."
Nick frowned at her in mock hurt.
"I thought you were supposed to play the nice one!"
Theresa grinned. "Well, Nicky dear, that's why they call it acting."
"So you aren't sweet and innocent?"
Theresa's grin became a full-out laugh. "No way! That's Cara. She's a
sweetheart, and she cares way too much about everyone and everything. She was actually the first to take a liking to Aaron,
even though he was Mr. Superstar when he first got here. He talks to me, and we're close, but he really trusts Cara." She
paused thoughtfully. "Not that I blame him. I trust her too. She's my best friend, and we're practically sisters."
shuddered. "God, you make her sound nice..."
Theresa looked amused at the comment. "She is, Nick. She's just...you're
just not her favorite person."
Theresa frowned. "Why are you so fixated on Cara anyway?"
brow furrowed in protest. "I'm not. It's just that you've said she's nice, and Aaron called her the peacemaker, but she bites
my head off every time I try to talk to her! I'm beginning to think they cast the wrong person for the role of Jekyll and
Hyde, you know?"
Theresa laughed again. "Okay, first of all, you've only talked to her to demand that something be
done or to tease her about being a former Backstreet fan, so that really doesn't count. And, secondly, don't question her
role in the play until you see her as Lucy."
Nick looked up curiously. "Why's that?"
Theresa shrugged. "She
Nick groaned. "Yeah, I know. She's taken a special liking to kicking mine, remember?"
laughter grew. "Man, you ought to tell her that...she'd definitely appreciate the humor in it."
Nick gave Theresa
a doubtful look, but the younger woman shrugged it off. "Nick, I'm serious, okay? You just have to get to know Cara. She's
not really the Wicked Witch of the West. She's just really loyal to Aaron."
Nick frowned deeply, feeling his temper
stir at the thought that Aaron had said something to Cara about him before his arrival. "What do you mean by that?"
paled, and she offered an attempt at an innocent smile. "Okay, have I mentioned that it's a really bad idea to tell me a secret?"
Nick's features darkened. "No, but I'm dying to know what secret you just spilled."
Theresa sighed heavily when
she saw the angry look on Nick's face and inwardly cursed her inability to keep her mouth shut. "Look, Nick, don't get mad,
okay? All I know is that Aaron confides in Cara, and he didn't exactly feel comfortable around you for awhile."
took a few deep breaths to calm himself down before asking his next question. He was slowly starting to feel a slight pain
in his stomach at the thought that Aaron had ever been uncomfortable around him. He looked up at the blonde girl hopefully.
"Theresa, he doesn't still feel uncomfortable, does he?"
She was going to lie. She had actually decided to
put her acting experience to good use and tell Nick that Aaron felt perfectly comfortable around him, that he had nothing
to worry about, but she couldn't do it. She took one look at Nick's hopeful expression and cringed. All at once, she knew
that he wasn't really a bad guy. Her curiosity peaked as she wondered what had made him change so drastically, but she didn't
press the matter. She had a question to answer and--much as she hated to do it--she was going to answer honestly. She took
a deep breath and hesitantly met his gaze. Eloquence wasn't necessarily her strong point, so she tried to word her answer
"Look, Nick...from what I know, you've grown up into a very different person than everyone originally thought
you'd be. Aaron...he loves you, but I'm not sure that he's totally comfortable with the change in you."
in a breath, feeling as though someone had taken a fist to his stomach. Regardless of how many times he had denied it, he
knew deep down that a noticeable change had taken place in his character. He hadn't, however, suspected at any point in time
that Aaron's feelings towards him would change because of it. He frowned as he recalled their phone conversations and the
conversation that they'd had on the couch two evenings before. He couldn't remember Aaron being hesitant toward or wary of
him at all. He also knew that Aaron was an actor, and his doubt began to surface. So he was uncomfortable all this time,
but he never let on that anything was up. I know I changed, dammit, but he wasn't honest with me! How the hell was I supposed
Nick looked at Theresa with a frank expression. "Are you uncomfortable around me?"
a face. "Honestly? No offense, Mr. Backstreet Boy, but I really don't care what you do unless it directly affects Aaron, Cara,
or me. As long as you drink outside the apartment, as long as you're not so loud during sex that we can't get sleep, and as
long as you don't bitch about being hungover in the mornings, I really couldn't care less about whatever you do in your spare
time. It doesn't matter to me because I don't know you. Aaron...he knows you, Nick, so he cares. As for Cara...she cares about
way too much. If you're screwing yourself over, she'll be the first to tell you, but it's just because she cares enough to
say something. I'm not trying to be a bitch, but I learned a long time ago that it doesn't do any good to worry about the
stuff you can't fix. I can't fix you, so no, you don't make me uncomfortable."
Nick leaned back against the couch
and breathed a huge sigh. Before any more of the information could process, however, he grew defensive and turned a loaded
gaze on Theresa. "I'm not doing anything stupid, you know. It's my life. I don't get why it bothers Aaron so much. As for
Cara, it's none of her business anyway."
Theresa smirked at him. "Lord, are you in for a surprise. The way Cara looks
at things, everything is her business."
Nick's eyes darkened. "Yeah, well my life isn't."
grew knowingly. "It will be, but you'll understand that later. I don't know what to tell you about Aaron."
For a moment,
Nick's anger dissipated and he looked imploringly at Theresa, hoping that she might have more of the answers to the questions
that were suddenly exploding inside his head. "Does Aaron hate me?"
Theresa shrugged. "I'm not the person to ask,
'cause I don't know. He certainly doesn't like your behavior, but, like you said, it's your life." She was growing restless
with the tension in the room and the serious tone of the conversation, so she stood and stretched. "Listen, they'll be home
soon. C had a crappy day, so Aaron took her out for ice cream. She's not a big whiner, though, and Aaron doesn't have too
much that he can complain about, so they'll only stay out until he gets her to laugh. He's good at that, so I give them about
another ten or fifteen minutes."
Nick looked up in alarm, lost in his thoughts. "Where are you going?"
laughed. "I'll probably go out tonight. There were some really hot guys at the club the other night, and I've been busy."
She paused to wink at him. "Need to work off a little stress, you know? I'm thinking that some heavy dancing and a drink or
two might do the trick. Besides, I don't have to get up tomorrow morning."
Nick's eyebrows rose considerably. "I thought
you didn't approve of any of that stuff!"
Theresa winked at him. "I approve of it all, but only in moderation. And,
when it's not in moderation, you'll see me become a very, very different person. Just ask Cara."
Nick groaned. Like
she'd answer me anyway... "Well, have fun, I guess."
Theresa cocked her head to the side inquisitively. "Will
I see you around later?"
Nick frowned. "I think I'm going to stay in tonight, actually."
Theresa nodded. "Suit
yourself." She gave a little wave before disappearing behind her bedroom door and leaving Nick alone with his thoughts.
sighed heavily and leaned back into the couch again. He was completely and totally overwhelmed at the thought that Aaron no
longer looked up to him nor felt comfortable around him. He had the feeling that the news shouldn't have been such a surprise,
but he couldn't help but feel the slightest bit betrayed. After all, Aaron had acted as though nothing was wrong, as though
they were still the great friends they had used to be. When the hell did everything change?
He found himself
going over the events of the past few years with a fine tooth comb, looking for anything that might have made his younger
brother so wary of him, but he couldn't think of anything. No, that was a lie--he could think of many things, but Aaron didn't
know about any of them. He had taken care to make sure that few people knew, and his family was not included in those few.
His first instinct was to fix himself a drink and numb himself a little, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. It
was as though his mind knew that he needed the emotional torment of dealing with such rejection sober. He groaned as guilt
began to overwhelm him. But I didn't do anything wrong! It's my life, and Aaron has no control over it! Besides, how was
I supposed to know that I was doing anything to upset him when he still acts normal around me?
Before he could
delve any deeper into his psyche, however, the door opened again and laughter filled the apartment.
"My God, did you
see the look on that guy's face?"
Aaron grinned. "Sure did. He was totally freaked out!"
Cara stared at him
in amazement, unable to hide her smile. "Well, gee, I wonder why! Aaron, you scared the shit out of him with that horn. He
thought you were going to run him over!"
Aaron smirked. "Yeah, well, he won't park his bike in my parking space again,
Cara rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "No, he'll avoid you for life."
Aaron puffed out his chest.
"His loss, though, right?" He poked her playfully. "Right?"
Cara squealed when he poked her again and shook her head,
causing her braid to swing from side to side behind her. "No way, AC. I refuse to serve that rock star ego of yours."
groaned. "C, who are you kidding? After that verbal lashing from Cal today, I don't think I even have an ego." He looked to
her with a pitiful expression. "It's fragile, and he broke it."
Cara fought back giggles and stroked his hair teasingly.
"Aw, poor baby..."
Nick shook his head slightly to clear it. After watching the scene before him, it was obvious that
Aaron was far more comfortable around Cara than Nick. He continued to watch Cara as she teased Aaron, completely surprised
at her delicate way of keeping him grounded. Maybe she isn't all that bad after all...
After having learned
that Aaron no longer felt comfortable around him, though, he couldn't stand to watch the two acting so carefree. It only reminded
him of what he no longer had. He cleared his throat to make his presence known, and fought the urge to flinch when both fell
"Hey," he greeted lightly, and Aaron nodded in his direction.
"Hey. How'd the seminar go?"
sighed. Just business. Now that I think about it, he stopped being personal awhile ago, didn't he? "Not bad, considering
the circumstances. I'm not very eloquent, but I think I pulled it off."
Aaron gave Nick a tired smile that didn't
reach his eyes. "That's good."
"Yeah. How was your day?"
Aaron looked at Cara, and the two made a face. Aaron
rolled his eyes and turned back to Nick. "Cal was in rare form today. According to him, I'm not mastering the Jekyll quite
as well as the Hyde."
Cara smiled gently. "A, you know he's just a perfectionist. You were much better after he worked
Aaron gave her a doubtful look. "Don't you mean after he screamed at me?"
Nick frowned sympathetically.
"Yuck. Must've been an awful rehearsal, then."
Aaron shrugged. "Just long." He smirked lightly and poked Cara in the
side again. "I think C got the worst of it, though."
Nick's eyebrows rose in surprise, and he turned to Cara. "Really?"
Cara winced. "I had a sharp day today, and I tripped during my catwalk strut."
Nick frowned lightly. "Sounds
like the cure for that is more practice."
Aaron gave Nick a warning look and Cara rolled her eyes. "You would know,
Mr. Backstreet Boy."
Nick politely ignored Aaron's warning look and pushed his conversation with Theresa out of his
mind long enough to try and achieve some normalcy. He didn't want to think about it any longer, and Cara had provided him
with the perfect opportunity to tease her. Besides, teasing Cara is always fun. She gets so pissed...
course I would!" Nick beamed at her. "You of all people would know, Cara. I'm perfect."
Cara gave him a doubtful look
but refrained from saying anything more than a very uncertain, "Right."
"Aw, Cara, you were a fan. Didn't you think
I was perfect?"
Cara gave him a warning look that he hadn't seen before. "Nick, let it alone for today, okay? I'm
not in the mood."
Nick's eyes twinkled mischievously. "Or maybe you've still got a crush on me and just don't want
to admit it..."
Cara turned to face him, brown eyes blazing menacingly. "Look, Carter, maybe Aaron didn't tell you,
but I don't have a problem doing so. Egos do not last in this apartment. If you're going to be a prick, you can go right back
where you came from. I don't care how many albums you sold; that doesn't give you the right to get haughty about it. We didn't
tolerate it from Aaron, and we won't tolerate it from you, so check the ego at the door next time, okay?"
giving him an intense glare that made him feel no more than two inches tall, and all he could do was nod meekly. When he refused
to say anything more, Cara rolled her eyes and went to her bedroom, slamming the door shut after her. When Nick looked up
at Aaron, the younger man was giving him a look of disgust.
"Nick, try not to tease her when she warns you, okay?"
as Aaron said it, Nick saw the pity and hesitancy in his eyes. It was almost as though he was holding back a lecture for fear
of losing Nick completely, and the thought made the other Carter ill. God, Theresa was right...
agreed, watching as Aaron too left the room. When he was alone again, he let out a sigh and groaned inwardly. Damn, that
Despite his guilt over the newfound situation with Aaron, he found his mind wandering to Cara. Out
of the three roommates, she had been the only one to tell him exactly what bothered her and exactly how much she disliked
his behavior. Despite the pain or protest that her statements sometimes evoked, he couldn't help but harbor more respect for
her because she was honest. Besides, something about the way she treated him made him wonder if she really did care for no
reason at all. Theresa didn't, and Aaron was too afraid to let loose with his feelings and disgust, but Cara was brutally
honest. She was honest to the point that he was having nightmares again, honest to the point that a conscience was beginning
to surface again. He flinched at the thought and shook his head. No, it's not wrong. None of it is wrong. I'm just trying
to enjoy my life in the only way I know how...
He sighed heavily. But why do I feel so damn guilty every
time she yells at me?
He definitely respected her for her ability to stand up to him, and he even valued her opinion
to some extent. He was somewhat suspicious that she was still caught in seeing him as the Backstreet Boy he was supposed to
be, but he felt that she might be genuinely interested in who he was. Well, she might be interested if she didn't hate
me so much...
He shook his head again and studied the door to her room, wondering why he was even interested in
someone who didn't admire him or tolerate him for what he was. He supposed that it had something to do with the fact that
he was used to being admired, and rejection was something fresh and different. However, something warned him that it went
deeper than that.
It was becoming painfully obvious that he was going to have to have a talk with Cara.