Comforting Lie
Chapter Sixteen
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

Can't get this taste out of my mouth
Swallow it down

Theresa tossed her little black bag on the counter with a heavy sigh and drop her head into her hands. "Man, I'm so glad we're going out tonight. That rehearsal thoroughly sucked."

Aaron gave a groan of his own as he mused his hair into a sexy, disheveled style. "You aren't kidding. I was ready to scream at the top of my lungs by the time he finally let us out."

"No joke! I mean, we had four days of really good rehearsals, you know? I was really starting to like the happy, complimentary Cal."

Aaron tossed a smirk in Theresa's direction. "You knew it wouldn't last, babe. I mean, it'd be like trying to turn a pit bull into a toy poodle."

Theresa arched an eyebrow skeptically. "Don't smirk like that, A."

Aaron frowned. "Why not?"

"Because you look sexy as sin, even when you're saying stupid stuff about dog breeds and Broadway directors."

Aaron laughed. "That's one of those backhanded compliments, isn't it?"

Theresa nodded. "Yeah, it is."

Aaron shrugged. "Eh, well. I'll take what I can get."

"You'll get plenty more when we actually hit the clubs," Theresa insisted, giving him an appreciative once-over. "In fact, if I didn't live with you, I'd probably go in for the kill."

Aaron tossed a friendly arm around her shoulder, smiling gently. "Well then, T, I'm extremely glad we're roommates, because I'd hate to be your romantic roadkill of the evening."

Theresa rolled her eyes and shoved his arm off, folding both of her own in protest. "We've talked about this. I'm not really THAT bad with men."

Aaron frowned and began sniffing around Theresa in a rather obnoxious fashion. She was immediately annoyed.

"Aaron, what in the hell are you doing?"

He grinned. "Making sure you're still sober, because I KNOW you're not drunk enough to believe that you're a good girl yet."

"That was just mean," Theresa insisted.

"Maybe so," Aaron agreed, "but it was totally called for."

"Can we not discuss my love life, please?"

"Sure!" Aaron agreed cheerfully. "We can talk about my love life!"

Theresa's pleading look immediately became a smirk. "Don't you mean your lack of love life?"

Aaron frowned. "Man, you aren't kidding. I don't understand it. I used to be seriously popular with the ladies. In fact, I used to have trouble choosing a girlfriend..."

Theresa groaned. "Aaron, are C and I going to have to deflate the pop star ego again?"

Aaron winced at the memory of his first ego deflation. "Um, no. Not quite. I was just saying that I'm not a bad boyfriend, and I'm really friendly around girls."

"Maybe that's your problem, then," Theresa shrugged idly. "Maybe you're just too friendly."

"I thought the problem was that I wasn't friendly enough."

"No, if you're too friendly, then you give off the whole 'I just want to be friends' vibe, and no girl will willingly go after something like that for fear of rejection," Theresa explained.

"And you would know this because...?"

She laughed. "It's the law, man! It's written up in the dating rulebook for women. Rule number fifty-two."

Aaron flinched. "Do I want to know what rule number one is?"

"Even if you did," Theresa winked at him, "I couldn't tell you. It's Victoria's Secret."

Aaron pretended to furrow his brow in confusion. "Really? That's odd. I always thought Victoria's Secret involved trying to sell dental floss as underwear for women."

Theresa burst out laughing at the seemingly innocent expression on Aaron's face and threw an arm around him in friendly appreciation. "A, you crack me up..."

He wiggled his eyebrows teasingly in her direction. "Good thing, I'm assuming?"

Theresa's laugh died to a chuckle. "After the rehearsal we had today? Great thing. I'm shocked that we managed to get out of there alive."

"Not all of us did," Aaron reminded her with a gentle frown. "Cara's still stuck in the wrath formerly known as Cal, remember?"

Theresa flinched. "Poor girl. I can't say I envy her the extra practice, though. Those seriously suck."

"Suck is not the word," Aaron countered. "Cal's extra practices are the scum on the bottom of the ocean."

"The scum that grows on the scum at the bottom of the ocean," Theresa chimed in.

"The bugs that eat the scum that grows on the scum at the bottom of the ocean, even," Aaron finished, and Theresa nodded her head in agreement.

"Or worse, depending on how long they last. If Cara's lucky, she'll be home soon. I mean, out of the three of us, she's got the best work ethic, so it's not likely that he'll make her stay as long as we had to."

"That," Aaron agreed, "and she got stuck on a fairly easy song. The only reason she's caught is because it's not as much of a ballad as she's used to singing."

"Yeah, 'Girls of the Night' isn't too terribly difficult," Theresa admitted. "She's certainly living up to the reputation by tonight's extra performance, though."

Aaron winced at the thought. "If she's lucky, he will have kept Larkin a bit longer as well so they can go out for ice cream afterwards. I mean, the song is a duet."

"Yeah, but Larkin didn't screw it up today like Cara did," Theresa pointed out with a sigh. "It's not likely that Cal would keep her over. I mean, he knew that we were planning on going out as a cast tonight. He always knows things like that."

Aaron rolled his eyes. "The man has to be psychic. I don't think there's a single thing about this little group of ours that he doesn't know."

Theresa sighed heavily. "Then hopefully he knows enough to send Cara home before the bars close so that she can join us. She's gong to need to wind down after such a stressful day."

Aaron glanced at his watch. "Yeah, she will, but I'm not sure we're going to get to wait on her at this rate. If she doesn't show up in the next five minutes, we've got to leave without her. If we don't, we're going to be late, and I get teased enough about my past as is."

Theresa chuckled. "I'm not so sure they'd tease you about being late, A. They aren't THAT cruel."

Aaron raised an eyebrow skeptically. "They were cruel enough to tease you about tripping on the backstage staircase for five hours straight today."

Theresa grimaced and rubbed her elbow gingerly at the memory of her less-than-graceful maneuver. "Dammit. Point proven."

Aaron smirked in triumph. "Thought so. We have the kind of friends that take pleasure in other people's pain."

"Only because they've had so much of their own," Theresa pointed out with a laugh. "I mean, do I need to remind you of the time that Rob fell of the stage during 'His Work And Nothing More' because he missed his cue?"

"Or the time when Trent knocked the whole lab set over because he tripped on a wire," Aaron added, chuckling at the memory. "Man, Cal was SO pissed at him. I didn't think he was going to get out of that rehearsal alive..."

"Good thing he's got Tabitha on his side," Theresa remarked with a mischievous grin. "Lord knows that Cal wouldn't do anything to Trent while Tabs was watching. Tabitha's too sweet for anyone to be mean to her."

"I don't know about that," Aaron countered. "She's had her share of late-night practices, just like the rest of us have. Her role is tough because it's so far from her actual character."

"Yeah, but so is Cara's," Theresa added.

"And where is Cara now?" Aaron asked with a grin. "It's harder to play the role if you don't fit the character in the slightest."

"Tell me about it," Theresa groaned, thinking of her own lovesick character. "However, speaking of Cara, it's getting late."

Aaron sighed heavily. "We need to go, don't we?"

"Yeah," Theresa agreed, "but we'd better write her a note so that she doesn't hate us. I mean, we will be leaving her with Nick."

"Poor, poor Cara," Aaron began in mock solemnity. Theresa just laughed.

"I'd hold off on the sympathy for now, man. Somehow, I think she'll manage. As much as I hate to say it, he's really been good these past few days."

Aaron shook his head. "Don't count your chickens, T. He has been good, but...I don't know. I've known Nick my whole life, and something tells me that this one isn't going to last."

*      *      *      *      *

Nick heaved a sigh and released a delicate smile as he turned a tentative key in the lock. Aaron had left a message to let him know that he and the girls would be gone for the evening, so he was looking forward to having the apartment to himself for a little while. It had been a relatively long day, and he needed the time to unwind.

As he shut the door behind him, he glanced down into his Virgin Megastore bag with a proud grin--he also needed some private time to explore his new purchases.

In celebration of his new attitude and outlook, he had finally made the trek to a record store to pick up the essential research materials for a foray into the magnificent world of Jekyll & Hyde. He had spent an hour in the store, perusing the shelves in search of DVDs, CDs, memorabilia, and other things that might be of use in his education. At the end of the trip, he had three CDs, a DVD, and a beautiful program full of pictures from the musical. All in all, he was quite pleased with himself. However, he had only gotten to unwrap the first CD (which happened to be the complete original work) when the door creaked open again to reveal a rather disheveled Cara.

Nick couldn't hide his look of disbelief when his brother's friend finally came into full view. "Cara? Is that you?"

"Yeah, it's me," she answered dryly. "A little worse for the wear, perhaps, but I'm home."

With an inward sigh of resignation, he put the CD back into the bag and turned a sympathetic gaze to the girl who had saved his butt over the past two weeks. "You okay?"

Cara shrugged. "As okay as I can be. I'll be better when I can get out of these clothes and into an ice cream parlor."

Nick's sympathetic frown deepened convincingly. "Bad rehearsal?"

Cara flinched at the mere mention of the word "rehearsal". Memories of Cal's face from moments before were still dancing in her head, and she had been none too thrilled to serve as the evening's victim of choice. "It went beyond bad. It was like a smorgasbord of everything bad and terrible and generally unpleasant."

Nick smiled weakly. "Sounds like a blast." Unfortunately, the comment elicited little more than a groan from Cara.

"I'm not in the mood for sarcasm, man." She paused to study Nick for a moment before speaking again. "You don't happen to like ice cream, do you?"

Nick chuckled. "I think everyone likes ice cream. Why?"

She frowned. "Would you mind coming to get some with me?"

Actually, yes. I'm getting tired of being good because I don't feel like I'm being good enough, and I need some time to myself. I don't want to have to pretend for anyone tonight, dammit. "Not at all!"

She cracked a small smile at his falsely enthusiastic response. "Thanks. I just really don't want to be alone right now, you know?"

Nick managed an outward smile of understanding, but inwardly, he was gulping in fear. Oh, shit.

"Yeah, I totally understand."

But he didn't. Sadly, he'd spent the past week feeling suffocated beyond belief, and he wasn't sure how much longer he could last. He wanted to stay at the apartment and remember what it was like to escape from his life and into someone else's.

Instead, he ended up eating a kiddie cup of mint chocolate chip while Cara savored a cone of French vanilla with almonds.

"You know," he began, swallowing a spoonful of ice cream carefully as he eyed Cara, "I would've definitely pictured you to be a vanilla type of girl."

Cara laughed. "Really?"

"Yup. You seem relatively bland. Now, Theresa, however...she'd be a rocky road kinda gal."

Cara smiled a decent smile in his direction. "You've got her pegged there. She adores rocky road."

"Yeah, she seems like a wild child."

Cara shrugged. "She is to most, but when you take into account the rough childhood she had, I think she came out pretty well."

Nick's eyebrows rose in surprise. "Theresa had a rough childhood?"

Cara laughed. "Yeah, but you'd better ask her about that if you want to know. What's your favorite flavor ice cream?"

Nick paused for a moment to think. "Honestly? I think I'm a chocolate-chip cookie dough kinda guy."

Cara smiled knowingly at the new knowledge. "You know what that means, right?"

Nick feigned a fearful smile, trying to play the part of the All-American guy best friend. Of course, he couldn't deny that he was scared to hear Cara's assumptions. From his past experience, he knew that she tended to be dead on when reading people. "What?"

Cara winked at him. "It means that, beneath that tough exterior you've been trying to pull off recently, you really are just an average guy looking to find his place in the world."

Outwardly, he was smiling in amusement. Inwardly, however, his insides were quaking at the knowledge that someone had finally gotten close enough to figure him out. Am I really that transparent, or is she just that good?

"Does it really?"

Cara nodded confidently. "Yeah, it does."

Nick fought the urge to run screaming out of the ice cream parlor and chose to take another bits of his flavor of choice instead. "You know what I think?"

Cara's playful smirk faded to a curious frown. "What's that?"

He swallowed before delivering his matter-of-fact reply. Time to be blunt, Nick. Before she starts to pick you apart into pieces that you can't put back together. "I think you're avoiding whatever put you in such a vulnerable mood earlier this evening."

Cara flinched visibly at the mention of the evening's earlier events. "There's not much to avoid. It was just a sucky practice."

"But it kept you out later than the others," Nick pointed out. "Are you sure you don't want to talk about it?"

Cara laughed bitterly. "What is there to say? I had a bad day, and I couldn't make a masterpiece of 'Girls of the Night' like Cal wants me to. Larkin did an amazing job with her part today, and I just couldn't keep up. It's not my favorite song anyway."

Nick frowned. "But you seemed to love your character so much...why isn't it your favorite song?"

Cara sighed heavily. "Well, as I'm sure you've guessed, I'm a ballad kind of girl. I like to sing big, slow songs that allow the singer to display vocal range and depth. I'm not as much a fan of songs with more of a pop flavor, and while 'Girls of the Night' is a sort of ballad, it's not a very classical song."

Nick cautiously swallowed another bite of ice cream. "What's it about?"

Cara cast a tentatively curious look in his direction. "Do you remember most of the plotline that Aaron and I narrated to you?"

Nick nodded, and so Cara continued. "Well, the song occurs at the Dregs after Hyde has abused Lucy a bit and she's had a chance to find kindness in Dr. Jekyll. It's basically an argument between Lucy and her best friend at the Dregs over whether or not Lucy has anything beyond the night club to turn to and whether or not her dreams are worth pursuing."

Nick frowned. "What kind of dreams?"

Cara smiled sadly. "The dreams of a better life. Keep in mind, Nick, that Lucy has never known love, and she's only known men in the sense of prostitution. Knowing Jekyll, however, makes her realize that there are kind men in the world. She's always been a bit of a dreamer, and getting a taste of the world that she someday hopes to enter is enough to renew all of the dreams that she had almost cast aside. Of course, Nellie, Lucy's friend, doesn't exactly agree. Nellie thinks that the girls are damned for life, and that they're stuck in their situation merely because they aren't capable of anything else. Lucy's the idealist of the play, whereas Nellie is a harsh realist. Nellie holds the theory that we are who we are, and we can't change."

Outwardly, Nick was nodding, but inwardly, he was panicked at the reality that Cara's words and Nellie's theory seemed to hold for him. Oh, shit. If Nellie's right, then that means that everything I've been doing for the past week and all the progress I've been making is nothing more than a scam. I'm nothing more than a scam. Which means that Cara's whole theory is bullshit. I don't need to become a good boy again to feel complete.

Somehow, despite his wild thoughts, he still managed to answer her. "Sounds like a pretty meaningful song."

Cara nodded her agreement, quick to defend the music she had been butchering only hours earlier. "Oh, it is. It's also a duet, though, which makes it harder for me because I'm used to taking center stage with my vocals."

Nick nodded knowingly. "I can definitely understand that. It was the same way with me." And, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he couldn't help but let the color drain from his face. Because he did remember, and he did understand, and he wasn't sure whether it was more frightening to be staring at his past or to be reliving it through Cara's anecdotes. Dammit, I'm not sure how much longer I can do this...

He quickly mended his comment before she could ask any questions that he wouldn't be able to answer without losing control. "It still doesn't sound too bad, though."

Cara shrugged and stared thoughtfully down into her ice cream cone. "It isn't, I guess. When you think about it, there's actually a lot of truth to it. No matter how hard you try, you can't escape your past."

And that was all it took for his thoughts to begin screaming in his head again.

You can't escape your past. Shit. She can't be serious. She's got to be wrong. Because he had spent the past four years of his life trying to escape his past. He had spent the past four years of his life running from a person that he didn't want to be anymore. And he'd thought that he could break down those walls, that he could find the good guy he remembered from the days when work was fun, but he wasn't so sure anymore.

Suddenly, breaking down the walls was looking to be a lot more difficult than he had anticipated. Because I'm not good by nature. I'm not used to being the best friend. I'm not used to eating ice cream.

It was more than that, though. Looking at Cara, he realized that by trying to be good, he was running into the arms of the very thing he had spent four years trying to escape.

Suddenly, he didn't want to be good anymore. And even as they tossed their trash and left, even as they walked the short distance back to the apartment, he was deconstructing his vow to be on his best behavior.

You can't escape your past.

He was going to try his damnedest to prove them wrong.

"Comforting Lie"
lyrics and music by No Doubt