"Good, now hand me the detergent."
A hand reached for one of the
massive containers atop the machine. "This?"
A small shake of the head, and a roll of the eyes. "No, that's the fabric
softener. The detergent is the other one."
"The one with the little bear on the front?"
"No, you're holding
the one with the bear on the front, retard."
Nick sighed heavily and dropped the fabric softener in favor of the larger
container of detergent. "This one?"
"I don't know," Cara said with a sigh. "Does it say 'detergent'?"
had the decency to blush as his eyes strayed to the label on the package. "Oh. Yeah. My bad, sorry."
Theresa, who was
folding clothes by the dryer, rolled her eyes in annoyance. "I thought you told us that you passed first grade reading."
grinned. "Oh, I did. My attention span didn't improve any, though."
Cara bit her lip to keep from laughing and shook
her head at him. "Try not to make it so obvious, okay?"
Nick shook his head and spun the cap off, twirling it in his
fingers. "Remind me one more time why I have to do this?"
Cara smiled sweetly at him. "Because you promised that you
were going to be a good house guest, and that involves chores."
Nick groaned. "Can I not just pay for a maid? Wouldn't
that solve our problems?"
Theresa gave him a condescending look. "Independence isn't your strong suit, is it?"
sighed heavily. "Getting hired help is not being dependent, it's being convenient."
Theresa gave him an impressed thumbs
up. "Whoa, two big words in one sentence, Pretty Boy. I'm mucho impressed."
Nick rolled his eyes. "I'm not going to
get away without learning to do this, am I?"
Cara shook her head with a sad smile. "Nope. You're stuck now. You offered,
which means that you're required to learn."
Theresa batted her eyelashes at him innocently. "Besides, Nicky, I seem
to recall you saying something along the lines of 'why would I not know how to wash my own clothes?'"
smile became a full-out grin. "You know, Terry, now that you mention it, I seem to remember something similar..."
groaned aloud again and turned his attention back to the task at hand. "Okay, okay, okay, I get it. You've made your point,
ladies. Now, what the hell do I do next?"
Theresa clucked her tongue in disapproval. "Watch your fucking language,
Nick gave her an annoyed look. "Must you insist on that stupid nickname?"
Theresa smiled sweetly.
"What can I say? It fits you."
Cara gave Nick a once-over and shook her head. "Although not nearly as well as it used
Nick looked at the more innocent of the two in surprise. "What's that supposed to mean?"
smiled beamed up at him. "Nothing, Nick. Now, fill the cap with detergent and pour it in the water for me, okay?"
poured the detergent carefully, narrowing his eyes in Cara's direction. "I want to know what you meant by 'not nearly as well
as it used to', Cara."
Cara bit back a laugh. "Um, maybe you ought to watch what you're doing first..."
looked down to the cap in his hands and gave a grunt of frustration when he saw that the detergent had spilled over onto his
Cara let loose with a girlish giggle. "Man, you're worse than Aaron, you know that?"
his eyes. "Yeah, he might've said that once or twice before." He dumped the detergent into the warm water and rinsed his hands
under the tiny waterfall. He grabbed one of Theresa's towels and dried his hands on it, amid her protests. When he was finished,
he tossed the towel back in the wash and looked imploringly at Cara. "Cara, what did you mean earlier?"
elusively, and Theresa rolled her eyes. "Nick, she meant that you look like shit compared to that hot look you were sporting
in your early days. The hair is too long, the chin is too unshaven, and the voice is just a little off."
at her playfully. "You know, I don't think I like you anymore. You used to be a lot nicer than that one." He pointed to Cara,
who snorted. "I mean, she finally starts being nice, and then you get on my case."
Theresa grinned sarcastically at
him. "Well, it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it."
Cara gave her friend a warning look and pulled the towel
back out of the wash, shaking her head at Nick's lack of knowledge. "Hey, Carter, come here."
Nick looked up curiously,
his eyebrows arched. "Yeah?"
"What color is this?"
Nick gave her a frown of uncertainty. "White."
color is that pile of dirty clothes over there?"
Nick squinted in the direction to which she was pointing. "Uh, I dunno.
Cara smirked at him slowly. "Now, I know you're a bit inexperienced..."
Nick interrupted her
with as much of a sexy grin as he could muster. "Baby, I'm definitely not inexperienced. Hell, I'll prove it to you..."
glanced up disgustedly. "Oh, God, you are worse than Aaron."
Nick frowned at her. "What?"
Theresa sighed. "Look,
Pretty Boy, I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure Cara wants you to think with the other head, okay?"
his tongue out at her and turned his glance back to Cara. "You were saying?"
Cara groaned and shook her head. "I know
you're inexperienced at this, Nick, but even you should know that you separate whites and colors."
Nick wrinkled his
nose in concentration. "Do towels count?"
Theresa groaned again. "No, there's a special exception for towels. They're
color-proof, right C?"
Cara bit back a smile at the familiar sarcasm. "Yes, Nick, towels count."
his hair back in frustration. "Dammit. Okay, fine, what happens next?" He glanced reproachfully down at the inside of the
washing machine and frowned when he noticed that the water had stopped. "Is it supposed to do that?"
"Supposed to do what?"
Nick sighed. "It stopped running. The water stopped."
Cara smirked. "Nick, dear, there
aren't magical drains down there. If the water didn't stop, the thing would overflow."
Nick threw up his hands at her
sarcastic tone. Two women in cynical mode were more than his temper could handle for one day. "I was just asking! God!"
shrugged from her post, having finished her load of folding. "Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer, Pretty Boy. There
are no exceptions."
Nick whirled around to give her a piece of his mind, but Cara spoke first. "Terry, leave him alone.
With any luck, he'll be more useful than Aaron is in the laundry department, and you'll have to do it less often."
threw her hands up in exasperation and sighed. "As long as he doesn't make any more of my clothes change colors, I'm cool.
I'm tired of dealing with cranky, spoiled pop stars. I'm going out."
Nick turned to Cara with a distastefully confused
look and jerked his thumb in Theresa's general direction. "Is she always like that?"
Cara smiled softly. "Yeah, she
can get a little out of sorts. Terry has a temper on her, but she'll be fine after she gets to dance it off. She just had
a bad day. Rehearsal sucked again, and she had to play damsel in distress for about three hours because her pathetic look
wasn't convincing enough for the likes of Cal."
Nick shook his head with a low whistle. "He sounds like quite a slave
Cara chuckled. "Oh, he is, but it's good for us in the end. I've learned quite a bit since starting this project,
and every bit of criticism makes the performance that much better."
"It also makes your day suck that much more," Nick
countered, and Cara shrugged.
"I agree, but..." she trailed off, unable to find the words to describe it. "I don't
know. Wait 'til you see Aaron, though. He's going to be majorly pissed tonight."
Nick arched an eyebrow in curiosity.
"Any reason why?"
Cara smiled smugly. "He had to stay after rehearsal to work on breathing exercises with Cal because
he's reverting back to tour habits. He's breathing from his chest and not from his diaphragm, and he keeps going flat."
groaned. "Lovely. Shouldn't he know better?"
Cara gave him an amused smirk. "I wouldn't be talking, Nicky dearest.
I heard you in the car the other day, and you were notes away from being on pitch."
Nick rolled his eyes good-naturedly,
but Cara had effectively made her point. He refrained from making any more snide comments about Aaron's pitch problems. He
was, however, sympathetic. "Is singing in the musical that much different from singing on tour?"
Cara shrugged. "I
wouldn't know, because I've never been on a tour, but apparently it's a big adjustment to make. Aaron's always complaining
about it when Cal's not within earshot. He was doing really well for awhile there, but now that Cal's starting to add choreography,
the breathing is a bit harder."
Nick thought for a moment before nodding carefully. "I guess I can see that. Dancing
and singing sucked at times, from what I remember."
Cara grinned at him. "Well, you guys always looked pretty good
doing it, from what I remember..."
Nick stared at her in surprise before rolling his eyes. "Oh, of course. Now that
I finally stop harassing you about being a fan, you start with the Backstreet comments."
Cara chuckled to herself.
"Fitting, isn't it?"
"Very," Nick agreed dryly before turning back to the washing machine. "Okay, what comes next?"
bit back a smile. "Now you grab the one with the bear on it."
He sighed heavily. "You'd better be glad I decided to
be nice, girl, 'cause you're really pushing it..."
Cara ignored his complaints. "Take that cap off and fill it. That
container is the fabric softener."
Nick's eyes widened in understanding, and Cara could almost see the cartoon light
bulb going off over his head. "Oh! Is that why the little bear on the front is all cute and snuggly?"
stifle her giggle at Nick's wording. "Yeah, that's why the bear is there. Make sure you don't spill it all over yourself this
Nick waved her off. "Yeah, yeah. Contrary to popular belief, I'm not entirely deficient."
grinned. "Yeah, I'll believe that when I see it."
Nick sighed in mock sadness and shook his head as he poured the fabric
softener into the cap. "Why is it that you and your firecracker of a roommate have no faith in me?"
"We remember your
brother," Cara muttered dryly. "Now, pour that into the little crevice in the top of the cylinder in the middle."
eyed her in amusement as he followed her directions. "Crevice?"
Cara rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Shut up."
vocabulary and a sense of geometrical figures. I'm impressed, Cara."
Cara shook her head, biting back her amusement.
"Shut up and do the laundry, Carter."
Nick smiled sweetly at her, propping himself against the dryer after replacing
the cap on the fabric softener. "I'm waiting for you to teach me, Cara darling."
Cara shook her head seriously that
time. "Oh, no. It is way too early for terms of endearment, Mr. Carter. I'm only just now starting to tolerate you."
watched her curiously before furrowing his brow inquisitively. "It really bothers you when guys try to hit on you, doesn't
Cara quirked an eyebrow at him. "No, just when Backstreet Boys try to hit on me. I can only handle so much ego
at a time."
"Retired Backstreet Boy," Nick corrected sourly. "I haven't been a Backstreet Boy for quite some time."
smiled softly. "Nick, you'll always be a Backstreet Boy."
Nick's expression did enough to convey his disgust where
the sudden change of topic was concerned. "I believe we were doing laundry."
Cara sighed reluctantly, knowing that
the conversation with Nick about his past would have to wait for another day. Although she was insanely curious about his
dwindling relationship with the four men who had once been his brothers, she wasn't about to breach his confidence before
having gained it. "You're finished, dude. The only thing you have to do now is put the clothes in and close the top."
looked over at her in pleasant surprise. "Seriously?"
Cara laughed at his lack of knowledge. "Yeah, seriously. Just
don't mix the whites with the colors, and try not to mix really light colors with really dark colors."
bounced in indifference. "That wasn't all too hard."
Cara laughed again. "And what were you expecting, slave labor?"
gave her a pointed look. "You forget that I've seen you and Theresa in action. You girls can definitely be slavedrivers."
think they're bad now, you should see them in bed," came a hoarse voice from the living room. Nick's jaw dropped at the connotations,
but Cara gave Aaron nothing more than a glance.
"Well you should, but you won't...we made Aaron destroy the tapes after
we caught him spending quality time with himself to the video one too many times."
"Guilty as charged," Aaron smirked,
and Cara rolled her eyes at him before tending to the rest of the colored load. She wasn't a sarcastic person by nature, but
Aaron always helped to bring out the most of her sense of humor.
Nick's mouth, if possible, opened more widely. He
opened and closed it a few times before finally managing to speak. "What the hell?" He turned to Cara in shock. "Aren't you
supposed to be the pious, innocent one?"
Aaron eyed his brother with smug amusement. "You mean we didn't warn you about
this one earlier?" He nudged Cara lightly. "What was that Britney Spears song again? 'Oops!'? How'd it go?"
that innocent," Cara smirked, recalling the number of times she had danced to Britney in her bedroom during her teenybopper
years. Aaron nodded in satisfaction.
"Yeah, that. All too fitting for our C, here."
Nick's gaze went from Aaron
to Cara and back again before he finally shook his head slightly. "Man, you guys are too much."
Cara smiled sweetly
at him, shutting the top to the washer. "Well, we try."
"Yeah, but it never seems to be good enough," Aaron whined,
falling against the wall in exhaustion. Cara gave him a sympathetic frown.
"Aw, was rehearsal really that bad?"
groaned. "You were at rehearsal. You know how rehearsal went."
Cara's features contorted in pain at the look on Aaron's
face. "Cal was bad tonight, wasn't he?"
"Like you wouldn't believe," Aaron croaked, rubbing a hand over his face before
presenting Cara with the most pathetic face she'd seen in a long while. "It totally sucked."
"You look like you're
in pain," Nick observed with a frown. Aaron turned his pathetic countenance to his brother with a sigh.
"I feel like
my vocal chords have been tugged, pulled, and plucked like some damn set of guitar strings. As if that's not enough, my legs
are going to fall off from trying to master than damn dance sequence. It's almost midnight, and I have to be BACK in that
hellhole at seven tomorrow morning."
"Aw, poor baby," Cara sympathized, and Aaron leaned his head on Cara's shoulder
for one of her famous hugs. Nick watched from the sidelines as Aaron closed his eyes, looking instantly better than he had
moments earlier. As Nick watched his brother embrace his new friend, however, he felt a pang of jealousy. He honestly couldn't
remember the last time he'd been hugged. With an uncomfortable sigh, he folded his arms tightly against his chest and examined
the carpet by the washer and dryer. When he finally looked up, Cara and Aaron were still leaning against each other with Cara
whispering words of encouragement to Aaron while he whined. Nick wasn't positive, but he thought he could see tears on his
younger brother's cheeks.
Damn, they're close...
He closed his eyes against the wave of memories that
Aaron and Cara had sent rushing forth. He didn't want to remember. Watching Cara and Aaron, he knew exactly what he had lost,
and exactly what he had to gain from being "good" again. He just wasn't sure he was ready to let go...in fact, he wasn't sure
that he could. When he had asked Cara to help him, he hadn't had any idea
what he wanted from the deal. Now that he knew...well, that made it just that much harder for him to comprehend finally receiving
When the two still hadn't parted, he cleared his throat awkwardly and attempted to run a hand through his hair,
frowning when his fingers caught against the hair tie. "Listen, you two, I think I'm gonna take Theresa's lead and head out
tonight. Don't wait up, okay?"
Cara looked up from her hiding place in Aaron's shoulder and gave him a grin. "Sure
thing, Nick. Thanks for sitting through my laundry lesson."
He shrugged. "Hey, it's the least I could do. I can't promise
to remember it, though."
Cara smiled reassuringly. "Aw, it's not a big deal. I'd be more than willing to teach you
again. As long as you eventually start doing chores around here."
Nick bit back the urge to laugh. Eventually is
a funny word... He shook his head lightly and motioned to Aaron, lowering his voice in the process. "Is he gonna be okay?"
nodded, lowering her voice to a whisper as well. "Yeah, he'll be fine. He's just tired and frustrated, and the two don't always
make for a good mix."
Nick nodded in return, seeming to accept the response. "Okay, cool. I should be back later, but
don't worry. I may just follow Theresa."
Cara laughed. "No, don't do that. She just get pissed at you if you follow
her. Her crowd isn't really your type. They're a bit wild."
Nick chuckled bitterly. "Oh, I can be wild." It's this
attempt at gentle that I'm starting to worry about...
Cara frowned lightly in his direction. "Don't drink too
much, okay? You've got work tomorrow."
Nick rolled his eyes. "Yes, MOM. I'll be fine. I'm a grown man."
fooled me," Aaron muttered, removing himself from Cara's shoulder. Nick frowned, half in surprise and half in hurt.
Aaron shook his head and waved Nick away. "Don't bother, I'm just in a pissy mood. Go. Have fun. Don't wake
Nick nodded slowly, his concern for his younger brother obvious in his penetrating blue gaze. "Okay, AC. Feel
better, all right?"
Aaron rolled his eyes. Like you care. "Will do. Be careful tonight."
"I'm not a
kid," Nick shot back sharply, and Aaron groaned.
"I never said you were, Nick. I'll see you in the morning." With
that, Aaron vanished, and Cara gave Nick an apologetic smile and a pat on the back. Nick couldn't have been more surprised
at how much he bristled at her touch. God, what the hell is wrong with me?
He shook his head and headed for
his bedroom. He wasn't ready to answer any questions that night. He was sick of looking for answers. Now, he just wanted to
* * *
"Do you think he's going to be okay?" Cara asked quietly as she shut the
door to Aaron's bedroom. On the bed, the young man let out another painful-sounding groan.
"At this point, C? I really
Cara arched an eyebrow skeptically in his direction. "Yeah, you do."
Aaron grunted. "I'm trying
to pretend that I don't."
Cara gave a small, knowing smile. "Is it working?"
Aaron sighed and rolled over to
face her. "Not a chance in hell. He's family, and my family is screwed up to the point that I've got to hold onto every little
bit that I've got left."
Cara sighed in turn and sat down on the bed next to Aaron. "You know, I really thought I was
getting somewhere with him."
Aaron shrugged. "Maybe you are. I mean, shit, with him, who the hell knows? He's so damn
cryptic sometimes, and other times he's just an asshole, straight up."
Cara gave Aaron a curious frown. "And which
would you rather he be?"
Aaron's eyebrows rose in confusion. "A cryptic or an asshole?" Cara nodded, and Aaron sighed
again before expelling a bitter laugh.
"I'd rather he be cryptic. At least, when he's secretive, a part of me can believe
that there's still some part of the brother I remember."
"And you need that," Cara finished, holding his gaze. Aaron
Cara sighed heavily. "Do you believe that there's any part of him left that remembers the
music and the passion?"
Aaron's bitter laugh returned, nearly burning Cara's ears with the pain it held. "I'd like
to think so. Honestly, though, C?" He paused, and she nodded again. He sighed. "I don't know anymore. I just don't know. And,
somehow, I think that the not knowing part sucks the most of all."