Comforting Lie
Chapter Twenty
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

The ball rolled down the alley with lightening speed and daunting precision. Eight pairs of eyes watched eagerly as it spun into the rows of pins, and the echo of the subsequent falls reached them in time for a torrent of emotion.


Unfortunately, the abrupt cheer of joy and accompanying victory dance incited more disgruntled groans than fellow cheers.

"Oh, God, not again..."

"Another strike?"

"It's not possible. Not freaking possible."

The voice of Jekyll's best friend rang out most clearly, though.

"You know, Terry, I'm beginning to think you lied to us whenever you said that you'd never been bowling before."

Theresa shrugged innocently and offered Trent an impish grin. "Beginner's luck?" she hinted hopefully.

Trent chuckled, but Larkin's eyebrows fell easily into a glare. "Two words, T."

Theresa winced, already beginning to detect the widening cracks in her beginner's fašade. "Yeah?"

"Bull. Shit."

The group laughed easily, and Theresa had the decency to blush. She wasn't humbled for long, though. Sunday had arrived at last, and despite their mounting sarcasm and obvious exhaustion, the elite cast members of Jekyll & Hyde had treated themselves to a night at the bowling alley instead of their usual weekly dinner. At the clerk's insistence, they had split up into teams for the occasion, pitting veterans against beginners in hopes of balancing the talent evenly. As a result, Theresa, Aaron, Tabitha, and Kyle were bowling against Trent, Cara, Rob, and Larkin. The odds had been even with the assumption that Theresa was a beginner, but her emergence as a seasoned veteran was causing the carefully constructed balance to topple. Regardless of the fun she had had keeping up the front, her daunting presence on the scoreboard had quickly blown her cover.

Thus, it came as no surprise that Aaron had to chuckle at Larkin's blunt assertion. "No joke. Man, I had to practice for years to get a form like that..."

Theresa had expected the cynicism from Larkin (after all, they were opponents in the alley), but she whirled around in surprise upon hearing Aaron's remark. "What the hell are you whining about? That's your score too, you know..."

Aaron grinned, wrapping an arm affectionately around Theresa'a shoulders as she reclaimed her seat beside him. "Oh, I'm not complaining. In fact, for the first time in a long time, I think I'm actually glad to be working with you."

Theresa's eyes twinkled mischievously. "Can I quote you on that?"


"But you said you were glad to be working with me! Can't one teammate humor another?"

"Not like that," Aaron laughed. "I'm glad to be working with you because it means I get to kick some ass, but I'm definitely not glad enough to willingly walk into blackmail." That said, he glanced at the order of bowlers and directed an amused grin towards the other side of the aisle. "Tabby, you're up."

Trent's girlfriend reluctantly removed herself from his lap and trudged over to the collection of bowling balls. "I suck at this." Her gutterball proved the statement correct, but earned her a half-hearted chuckle from Cara, who was seated on the floor beside Rob.

"I'm right there with you, babe."

Theresa turned to face her friend expectantly. "Yeah, but you're having fun, right?"

Cara couldn't help but laugh at the self-satisfied grin on Theresa's face. "Yes, Theresa, I'm having fun."

Kyle, who was beginning to enjoy his team's winning streak, nodded his agreement. "Yeah, I'll second that."

Rob yawned. "I'm having fun, but I'd be having even more fun if our team could actually strike sometime soon. Hell, I'd even take a spare."

Trent, ever the dutiful boyfriend, managed to suppress on his girlfriend's behalf the plethora of retorts that came to mind. Theresa, however, proved to be less considerate as she tossed a saccharine smile in Rob's direction.

"Learn to bowl."

That said, she turned her back on Rob's feeble attempts at a reply and arched her eyebrows at Aaron. "How about you, A? Glad we finally dragged you out of that cave we call an apartment and forced you to have some fun?"

Aaron rolled his eyes at Theresa's trademark exaggerations, but the frown on Cara's face proved that the words were less than a hyperbole.

"She's not kidding, A. You had us worried there for a while. The only time we ever saw any life in you was onstage."

Trent, having been through enough rehearsals with Cal to know a musical cue when he saw one, picked up the entrance willingly and began to croon in Aaron's direction.

"This is not the man I knew...there's something deeply troubling long do you plan to hide away here?"

Aaron groaned at the introduction of the number that had killed them in practice all week, but Larkin quickly picked up where Trent left off.

"This increasing isolation only adds to your frustration..."

"And it could endanger your career!" Rob sang cheekily, finishing the phrase with all the giddiness of a kid in a candy store. Aaron rolled his eyes in annoyance.

"It could, but it obviously hasn't. Keep in mind that Cal hasn't been breathing down my neck for the past few days. I may be immersed, but I'm no longer bearing the brunt of his stupid lectures, am I?"

Theresa shrugged. "Maybe not, but..." An odd grin took over as she picked up the chorus. "You have your work, and nothing are possessed...what is your demon? You've never been this way before..." *

Aaron winced. "Okay. OKAY. You've made your point. As though that freaking song isn't torturous enough in rehearsals..."

Rob winked. "Oh, I don't know. It's not so bad when we get to watch your cheeks get redder and redder with every note."

Aaron glared. "Funny, but the amusement still doesn't help you stay on pitch."

Cara, always quick to play the peacemaker, could see the Aaron's anger rising and knew enough to shut them all up before anything went too far. "Guys, enough. There's no need to fight over it."

Surprisingly enough, that was all it took to bring Aaron back to earth. "She's right, man; I'm sorry. It's been a long week."

Rob nodded. "Hey, no harm done. I spent most of it right next to you, remember?"

Trent smirked. "With all due respect, I think I was a bit closer to him. You know, stage positions and all..."

Larkin rolled her eyes. "You guys are so weird."

Kyle chuckled. "Nah, not really. We're just trying to bring Aaron back out of his shell. He's been too quiet lately."

Theresa turned an inquisitive eye on her friend and prodded him gently. "Maybe he was abducted by aliens..."

Cara didn't miss a beat. "No, they wouldn't want Aaron. He's no use to them without the hordes of teenage girls following him around."

Trent nudge Aaron knowingly. "Come on, man. You gonna take that?"

Aaron laughed to himself and turned to wink at Cara. "Not much use to them, but lots more use to you, right C?"

A chorus of "Ooh!" took over, taunting Cara to further the verbal sparring.

"I don't know, man. After last night..."

Tabitha flinched. "Oh, wow. That's enough of that line of commentating."

"I don't know," Aaron chuckled. He arched an eyebrow in Cara's direction. "Well, you certainly weren't complaining then."

She shrugged. "I had time to think about it. Decided that Hyde was better in bed."

Aaron frowned, feigning confusion. "Is this before or after he kills you?"

Finally, Cara caved, thankful for such an obvious return of her best friend. "You win, A. I don't have an answer to that one."

Rob and Aaron shared a high five as Trent wiggled his eyebrows. "He's back..."

"Thank the Lord," Theresa muttered. "The apartment was starting to get really boring."

Cara pouted teasingly at her friend. "Aww, poor Theresa didn't have anyone to fight with..."

Rob's grin faded to a glare as he locked eyes with Aaron. "So, now I know who to blame for the sudden excess of mental abuse."

Larkin burst out laughing. "Hate to inform you, man, but there's always an excess of mental abuse when T's around. It has absolutely nothing to do with Aaron."

Theresa immediately frowned in protest. "Hey! I'm not that bad!"

Kyle leveled her with a doubtful look. "Yes, you are."

She folded her arms petulantly and stared at Trent's toss of the ball to avoid looking at the rest of the cast. "You guys are always picking on me..."

Rob smiled innocently and ruffled her hair. "Only because you're such an easy target."

Aaron laughed. "Man, as long as I'm not the target..."

Cara grinned. "Stop being so reclusive and you won't be. We're only mean when we've got a good reason to be."

"Yeah," Larkin joked. "We only tease when we want something to change."

Rob nodded his agreement. "Yeah, I've wanted Terry here to quit her bitching for months, but she just doesn't seem to be getting the hint."

Theresa rolled her eyes. "Will it register anywhere on your radar if I tell you to fuck off?"

Kyle laughed. "Knowing Rob, he'll take it as a direct order and make an immediate break for the bathroom."

At last, it was Rob's turn to pout.

Theresa could only laugh as she ruffled his hair in return for his earlier attack. "Aw, look. We hurt his wittle feelers..."

Rob groaned. "You guys suck, you know that?"

"No, but I know that you wish we did," Cara deadpanned. Rob's jaw dropped in surprise, and Kyle's eyebrows rose appreciatively.

"Cara, I think all of that quality time with Terry is finally starting to pay off."

Aaron had to laugh at the assumption. "Not a chance in hell, man. She doesn't get that from T, she gets it from me. I'm the only one in that building with enough gall to harass poor Cara."

Trent grinned. "Somehow, I don't doubt that."

Tabitha, who could only shake her head at the endless banter, chose that moment to speak up. "Hey, isn't it someone else's turn to bowl?"

"Mine," Rob sighed. In a last minute plea for victory, he turned to Aaron with a hopeful countenance. "Got any tips, man?"

Aaron laughed. "Just think about the best sex you ever had, and you'll knock 'em dead."

Theresa's retort was razor-sharp. "Don't you mean the best sex he never had?"

Rob turned around belligerently. "Are you calling me a virgin?"

Theresa smiled sweetly. "Hell, no, honey. I was just referring to all of those Britney Spears fantasies of yours."

Aaron stifled more laughter at the angry look on Rob's face. "On second thought, man, just pretend the pins are Terry's head, okay?"

Amazingly enough, Rob actually threw a strike.

Theresa laughed. "Man, I don't know whether to be thrilled or insulted."

Tabitha turned to the blonde in surprise. "Why would you be thrilled?"

Theresa winked. "Well, it's always nice to know that I'm such an inspiration..."

Cara flinched. "Somehow, T, I don't think it has quite the same value if you've inspired murder."

Theresa turned a smirk to her friend. "Why, Cara, do I hear the pot calling the kettle black?"

Cara rolled her eyes. "This is ridiculous. How many more cracks are you all planning to make in regards to the fate of my character?"

Trent grinned. "Now, Cara, look at the people you're sitting with. Do you really want to know?"

Cara laughed. "Okay, point proven. Maybe not."

Rob strolled back to the seating area impatiently. "Hello? Team? We just raised our score."

Larkin looked up at him, obviously nonplussed. "Your point?"

"Don't I get a congratulations? A good job? Hell, I'd settle for a pat on the back at this rate..."

Larkin shrugged. "Not from this end of the bench. Encouragement is Cara's territory."

He stared at her, openmouthed, for about five seconds before she caved and gave him an overly enthusiastic embrace. "Aw, great job, Robby. You've made us all so proud..."

Rob's countenance was less than impressed. "A little sincerity would be nice, you know."

Larkin chuckled. "Don't press your luck."

"Fine. I see how it is. You guys just don't appreciate me."

Theresa chose that moment to re-enter the conversation. "Hey! Guess what, guys? He finally gets it!"

Cara groaned. "Don't you two ever get sick of bickering with each other?"

Rob and Theresa exchanged looks and shrugged. When they finally replied, it was in unison.


Aaron nodded knowingly. "Like father, like daughter."

Tabitha, who had been around long enough to know when another round of verbal assault was about to begin, quickly halted the conversation. "Hey, guys? Whose turn is it?"

All eyes flew to the scoreboard, and Aaron sighed heavily. "Mine."

As he stood up to take his position at the top of the alley, Rob stood with him. "Hey, man, you don't really want to go again, do you? Aren't you getting hungry? I mean, we've been at this for an hour already..."

Theresa rolled her eyes. "Translation: 'Oh, Aaron, don't bowl now, we just got caught up and I can't afford to lose any more testosterone tonight'."

Rob rolled his eyes in return, but shot a hopeful smile at Aaron. "She's right, man. Let us retain some dignity, would you?"

Aaron sighed. "Only if you promise not to regale us with any more choruses of 'His Work And Nothing More' for the duration of the evening."

Cara laughed. "Yeah, I second that. Not that it isn't a good song, but we've heard it too much this past week. Enough is enough."

Rob smiled gratefully and shook hands with Aaron. "Deal."

Theresa grinned wildly at another chance to tease her so-called father. "Aw, does Robby have Sore Loser Syndrome?"

Rob sighed. "No, T, Robby has Sore Stomach Syndrome. He's hungry."

Aaron laughed. "Hey, man, it's cool. I'm hungry too."

"Of course," Cara began, "Aaron's always hungry..."

Tabitha laughed. "Trent's the same way. I think it's a guy thing."

Kyle frowned. "I don't know, Tabs. I've seen Theresa wolf down enough to put both Trent and Aaron to shame."

"Of course," Theresa interjected with a smile. "That's only one of the many ways in which I've put those two boys to shame."

Aaron cast a disbelieving glance in his friend's direction. "Geez, T, ego much?"

Theresa's grin lit up the room. "Very much."


Trent shook his head in amusement at the familiar banter between the two housemates. "So, who's up for pizza?"

Theresa and Aaron looked up in unison, their previous argument completely forgotten. "Pizza?"

"That would be what he said," Larkin prompted, biting back laughter.

Tabitha merely wrapped an arm around Trent's waist and smiled up at him. "I think you picked a winner, sweetie."

Trent's smile matched hers exactly as he met her gaze. "In more ways than one..."

The rest of the cast groaned simultaneously as the couple kissed.

"Oh, God..."

"Can't you two give it a rest? I'm trying to keep up an appetite over here."

Rob winked at Theresa. "I guess they didn't think you needed any help."

Larkin cast a weary look at the father/daughter duo. "Speaking of giving it a rest..."

Cara nodded her agreement. "No joke, guys. Put a lid on it for awhile, okay?"

Kyle snickered. "Yeah, don't awake the wrath of Mommy Cara..."

Cara's eyes rolled skyward as the jeers and jabs turned towards her. "You all are insufferable."

Aaron grinned mischievously. "Insufferable? Not exactly. Your presence proves that much. Incorrigible? Yes. Most definitely."

Theresa chuckled at the glare Cara threw towards Aaron. "Enjoy that, A. That's going to be the last time you ever correct C's grammar."

"You know," Kyle began slowly, examining the three roommates one by one. "If you put your initials together, it spells 'CAT'."

Larkin's infamous incredulous expression found its way to Kyle. "What in the hell?"

Rob, however, immediately saw an opportunity for impromptu recitation. "Delirium; a common side effect of hunger."

Trent frowned. "Since when did you become a Snickers commercial?"

Aaron and Cara exchanged knowing looks before Aaron let rip with a shrill, obnoxious whistle. "Gang! Pizza!"

Cara nodded anxiously. "Yeah. Let's focus on food for a sec, okay? How much are we going to need?"

As with any other question, the entire cast felt the need to answer at once.




"The works."


"Hey, I'm pretty large..."

Theresa smiled sweetly at Rob and proceeded to mimic him. "Disillusionment; a common side effect of hunger."

Having been successfully admonished, Rob frowned. "Dammit."

"And that would be our cue to order," Trent laughed. "How about Tabby and I go and place it?"

Not surprisingly, no arguments rose to meet the couple, and so they trotted off towards the counter, hand-in-hand and hip-to-hip.

Aaron shook his head in disgust as he grabbed a table. "God, they're ridiculous."

Theresa pulled up the seat next to him, followed by Cara and Larkin. "You aren't kidding. It's enough to make a girl sick."

"Or a guy, for that matter," Rob added, pulling up a stool. "Of course, you'd think we'd be used to it by now...they're always like this."

Larkin chuckled. "Personally, I think I'd rather take pride and peace from the fact that I'm not used to it."

Theresa nodded her agreement. "Yeah, that would definitely be a sign of brain damage."

"And I'm not sure that we could pay those kind of medical bills on a performer's salary," Cara finished with a frown.

"Well, not on our performer's salary," Kyle laughed. "I'm sure that someone like Madonna could manage."

Theresa sighed dreamily at the mention of her idol. "Oh, Madonna could probably manage just about anything..."

"Including three marriages, a sex book, and two children from different parents," Aaron added with a grin. The glare Theresa gave him as a retort only caused his smile to widen. "What's wrong, T? Can't handle the reality of the lady's situation?"

Cara frowned. "I'm not sure I'd use the word 'lady' to describe Madonna."

Theresa stared at her best friend in shock. "Why not? Because she isn't exactly the model of Southern hospitality?"

Rob chuckled. "Cara, hon, where you come from, I'm not even sure that you'd count as a real lady."

Theresa turned her perplexed from to Rob. "Did you just agree with me?"

He flinched. "Shit. I think I did."

"Don't ever do it again."

Aaron winked at Rob. "Yeah, T likes to fight her own battles."

Kyle grinned across the table at the Southern belle of the group. "How about you, Care-bear? Can you handle a fight or two every now and then?"

Cara frowned. "I don't like to fight..."

"Bullshit!" Larkin hollered with glee. "Damn, Cara, if I had a dollar for every time I've heard a story about you picking a fight with the Backstreet Boy, I'd be rich enough to treat him to a year of therapy!"

Aaron groaned. "Then it's really too damn bad you didn't get a dollar every time Cara picked a fight."

Cara grimaced. "No joke."

Theresa, however, frowned thoughtfully into her newly acquired diet Coke. "You know, I'm beginning to think he's on something..."

Cara rubbed a tired hand over her eyes. "You would know, Terry."

Theresa stared at Cara in surprise. "Damn, bitchy much? Can we say 'uncalled for'?"

Cara turned to Aaron for help, but he shook his head. "Don't look at me, babe. From what I understand, your past ain't all that pretty either."

"No shit," Theresa muttered. "I mean, I may have been the addict, but you aren't exactly a stranger to the stuff."

Cara winced at the blow. "Can we not talk about that?"

Kyle sighed and turned morosely to Larkin. "I feel like I missed out on something fairly significant here..."

Theresa's laugh was bitter. "Let's just say that college brought out the wild side of Cara."

Rob stared at the brunette in disbelief. "What? Cara has a wild side?"

Cara looked up from the table to stare pointedly at him. "You mean you missed my run at the whorehouse, Rob? Where the hell were you, man?"

He flinched. "Okay, that's the last time I ask an honest question..."

Aaron nudged his roommate lightly. "Cara, dear, this is where you apologize for going PMS on the rest of us."

Cara sighed obediently. "Sorry. It's a touchy subject."

Larkin smiled slightly. "We can tell, hon."

Kyle shrugged. "Yeah. I mean, we've all got our touchy subjects. There's T's stint in rehab, your formerly wild night life, my brief tryst with my last director, Aaron's bastard Backstreet brother..."

Aaron's groan echoed through the crowded food court. "Can we NOT talk about Nick tonight? Please?"

As if on cue, the song that had been blaring through the speakers gave way to a lighter, funkier beat, and a prepubescent male voice addressed them with a laugh.

It's the kids, baby
It's the kids, baby
It's the kids, come on... **

Rob grinned brightly upon recognizing the old tune and turned a devilish smile to Aaron. "Yeah. I mean, there are bigger stars at this table anyway."

Aaron, who had buried his face in his hands at the sound of his voice, dropped his head to the table with a resounding thud. "Shit."

Kyle burst out laughing. "This is one of your songs? Damn, man, how old were you when you recorded this?"

Theresa snickered as the first verse began. "I think the better question might be how young was he..."

Aaron lifted his head long enough to glare at her. "Gee, thanks. Some roommate you are."

Theresa feigned innocence. "Oh, you mean I have to be supportive too? I don't remember that being in the job description."

Cara nodded knowingly and offered a sympathetic frown. "Fine print."


Larkin chuckled at the more predictable Cara/Theresa banter and directed her attention back to Aaron. "So, man, answer the question. How young were you?"

He flinched. "Thirteen, maybe? I forget."
Rob's grin brightened. "Well, that explains the interesting octave."

Cara laughed. "If you think that's interesting, just wait 'til you find out what movie he recorded it for..."

Aaron's previous glare turned incredulous as he stared at Cara. "Et tu, Brute?"

She shrugged. "What can I say, man? Payback's a bitch."

"Of course, our innocent little Cara has made it her bitch for the day," Theresa laughed. "So, do tell, A. What movie is this atrocity from?"

Aaron frowned petulantly. "Atrocity? Excuse me, but this song is NOT that bad."

His comment was met with a myriad of pointed looks, at which point he sighed in defeat. "You all suck, you know that? Each and every last one of you."

Larkin smiled sweetly. "We might stop sucking if you gave us the name of the soundtrack."

He mumbled something incoherently, and five heads leaned forward.

"What was that?"

He rolled his eyes and stared at them, obviously annoyed. "Jimmy Neutron."

To his relief, many of their faces registered confusion, but he knew he had sighed too soon when Kyle spoke.

"Wait...wasn't that that Nickelodeon movie about all these parents getting abducted by aliens?"

Aaron sighed again. "Yes." He knew they should've gone to eat at a restaurant. He knew it.

Rob frowned at Kyle. "How the hell do you know about that movie?"

Kyle shrugged. "I've got younger cousins, man, what can I say?"

Rob nodded thoughtfully. "Okay, you're excused." His attention turned back to Aaron immediately, however, and he frowned. "You, however, are not. Why the hell did you record something like this for a movie like that?"

At long last, it was Aaron's turn to squirm uncomfortably in his seat as he rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Man, I don't know. I was young and stupid, okay? Shouldn't you be asking Cara how she knew what movie this went with? I mean, shit, I was only thirteen, but she was, like, twenty-something."

All gazes turned expectantly to Cara, who was busy glaring at Aaron.

"Okay, shoot me. I had a teenybopper phase."

Larkin laughed. "At twenty?"

Rob joined her. "Chica, screw the wild night life. This is the kind of shit that you don't want other people to know about."

Aaron's frown became offended rather quickly. "Hey! Quit knocking the song, dude. There were a lot of teenage girls who loved shit like this!"

Rob turned doubtfully to Theresa, but she only shrugged. "Hey, he's got a point. How often to you get to pay your bills with a toddler's pocket change?"

Aaron grimaced at his friend's wording. "You guys are just cruel."

At long last, Kyle sported a proud smile. "Hey, man, we try."

Aaron groaned in response. "There has GOT to be a better conversation alternative."

Rob shrugged. "We could always go back to Kyle's tryst with his last director..."

Aaron's sigh of relief was monumental. "Yes, let's. For the love of GOD, talk about something else."

"I don't know..." Larkin began with a frown. "I mean, the song's not exactly over yet."

Finally, Aaron cracked a smile. "I always told them it was too damn long."

"Aw, Aaron," Theresa cooed. "This must mark the first time you've ever been right!"

If looks could kill, Theresa would've been long buried. "Shut up."

Rob laid a sympathetic hand on his friend's shoulder. "Man, I'm telling you, it's a lost cause."

Cara, who was slightly wary about revisiting old conversations, turned back to Kyle with renewed interest. "So, what's this about your last director again?"

Kyle sighed heavily. "Shit. Where's the obsessive couple when you need them?"

"Making out in the corner," Aaron retorted, waving a hand dismissively. "Tell us the director story."

"She was young. She was hot. She thought I sang pretty, and she turned out to be a great fuck. The end."

Theresa frowned. "No offense, man, but that story sucked."

"No shit!" Larkin added. "We want details!"

"You're not getting them," Kyle replied. "A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell."

"Aw," Cara intoned, southern accent thickly present. "My hero..."

Her ridiculous display was promptly interrupted by Trent's jovial shout.

"Pizza's here!"

That said, they laid Aaron's former career, Cara's past, and Kyle's tryst to rest with a mound of cheese and pepperoni.

*      *      *      *      *

Two hours later, the tired trio stumbled up the steps that led to their little New York flat, still laughing over the evening's events.

"Well, Terry," Cara began with a laugh, "I've got to hand it to you. Bowling was a blast."

"Thank you very much," Theresa replied, giving a low bow for the amusement of her two onlookers. "Of course, chatting with the rest of the cast was just as much fun. It's nice to really have a chance to get to know everyone, you know?"

Aaron groaned. "The evening would've been better had we disregarded the soundtrack."

Cara smiled thoughtfully. "Oh, I don't seems to me that your history has enriched you in more ways than one."

"And talking about it really brings out your charm," Theresa added with a saccharine tone and a devilish grin to boot.

Aaron's second groan, not surprisingly, was louder than the first. "I hate you both."

Cara sighed. "Maybe so, but I know for a fact that you had fun tonight."

Finally, he did the two women the honor of smiling at them. "Yeah, I did. Thanks for dragging me out of my room."

Theresa chuckled. "Anytime, man. That's what friends are for."

"Speaking of..." Aaron began, abandoning said smile for a more serious expression, "I really wanted to thank you guys for putting up with me. I know I haven't been the easiest guy to deal with from day one, but...your friendship means a lot. Both of you."

Theresa faked a sniffle and grabbed him in an overly tight embrace, but Cara simply smiled a soft, southern smile and chuckled. "You're welcome, A. Just know that you mean a lot to us, too."

"No shit," Theresa offered, having let go of him long enough to stick her key in the door. "I mean, you're practically family now. Hell, you're better than family. Especially mine."

Aaron laughed at the predictable response. "Bitter much, chick?"

"Who, me? Never."

He rolled his eyes knowingly. "Right..."

Before either of them could continue their friendly banter, however, the door was open and a rather excitable blonde was found pacing the living room. The moment they entered, the former Backstreet Boy, clad in a rumpled shirt and jeans, let rip with a monologue that would've put Cal and his entire production crew to shame.

"There you guys are! You had me worried sick! I was thinking you'd been abducted, or you hadn't come home, or you'd gotten so frustrated that you decided to abandon me, or..."

Cara eyed Nick with cool nonchalance. "We thought about it, believe me."

He continued breathlessly, giving no indication that he'd heard her. "I mean, I know I seem like an insensitive prick sometimes, but I'm not entirely a dick, and I do worry about people when they don't show up on time, and..."

Cara's eyes widened. "You seem like an insensitive prick sometimes? Sometimes?! Try all the time."

"I guess I'm trying to find out where you were, because it's almost one in the morning and I know you have to go to work tomorrow and I'm just not sure this is the healthiest avenue for three up-and-coming Broadway stars to be taking, you know, so..."

"God, you're one to talk. Why don't you try monitoring your own lifestyle a little more closely, okay? Stay the hell out of ours." With that, Cara headed off to her room in a huff, slamming the door loudly once she'd made her exit.

Nick watched her leave with a strange sense of indifference. "She really doesn't like me, does she?"

"Well, you're just fucking brilliant tonight, aren't you?" Aaron shot back. "What has you all keyed up anyway? You know we go out to dinner with the cast every Sunday night."

"You're usually back much earlier than this." Nick paused in his rant to frown at the air vent above him. "Fuck, it's hot in here. Are you sure the air conditioning is working?"

Aaron shrugged. "How the hell should I know? I just got here, remember?"

"Of course I remember. I'm not stupid."

Aaron turned to Theresa to share an exasperated glance, but the blonde was busy studying the Backstreet Boy with an odd look on her face. Aaron frowned at Theresa's expression, suddenly curious as to what could have her so caught up. While Nick's odd behavior usually sent Cara into a fit, Theresa was rarely affected by the actions of his older brother, and her sudden interest enough to disturb him.

"T? Everything okay?"

She didn't answer. Instead, she stared at Nick for another moment before beckoning to him.

"Hey, Blondie. Come here for a second."

Amazingly enough, Nick obeyed without a second thought. "Yeah? What?"

She shook her head, taking in his dilated pupils with a mere deep breath. "Nothing. It's just been awhile since I've gotten a good look at you. Wanted to make sure you still resembled all those posters Cara used to have on her wall."

Nick's eyes darkened considerably at the thought of his pop star past. "Fuck you."

"Not tonight, Pretty Boy. You've had enough fun for one evening."

Nick's frown deepened, and Aaron thought he saw a hint of fear in his older brother's eyes. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Theresa sighed heavily. "You know what that means. Look, man, I'll let you fuck up as much as the next chick, but I have a limit, and when you start doing dangerous shit like this, I have to put my foot down."

Finally, Aaron spoke up. "Theresa? What the hell are you talking about?"

He had been expecting a calm, measured answer, so when Theresa's wide eyes incredulously met Aaron's, it shocked him almost more than her response.

"Hello? Are you blind?"

Aaron sucked in a breath. "No, but apparently I'm clueless. What are you all bent out of shape about?"

Theresa threw her arms in the air, exasperated. "He's fucking high!"

Aaron and Nick entered the doors of denial at exactly the same time.

"No, he's not. He's a dick, but he's not that stupid..."

"No way. Why would I do something like that?"

Her eyes moved to Nick's, and she answered him first. "I don't know. Lots of reasons. Of course, you sure as shit won't be doing it again."

Anger flashed in his baby blues, but Theresa didn't flinch as his voice roared to life.

"Oh? And, pray tell, why is that?"

Theresa sighed. "Because, man, you've been playing with fire for awhile now. I don't care how drunk you get. If you're hungover in the morning, that's your prerogative. When you start messing with drugs, though, you can get yourself killed, and I'm not so keen on cleaning up the mess your death would cause."

Nick grimaced. "Dammit, if this has anything to do with Backstreet..."

Theresa was shaking her head fervently as soon as the word left his lips. "Nothing to do with Backstreet. I'm talking about Aaron, Nick. You may not care, but your brother does, and I'm not about to let you sit here and destroy yourself in front of him."

"I'm not destroying myself, okay? I'm not even high. You're just fucking insane, and you're all way too concerned about shit that is NONE of your damn business. Now, stay the hell out of my life!"

Aaron sighed, too tired to attempt to fight with his brother anymore. After the evening with the cast, all he wanted to do was put the drama behind him and make peace. He was sick of fighting the past, and his tone held all the exhaustion he hadn't conveyed for so long. "Look, man, we believe you, okay? You're not high. Please, don't get pissed..."

Nick paused in his silent tirade when he heard the pleading tone in Aaron's voice. Shit. He's actually trying to be nice about this. Since when does he care? Normally, he would've held his tongue and saved the question for another late-night soul-searching, but he'd quit caring about tact whenever Theresa started hurling accusations in his direction.

"Since when do you care?"

Aaron frowned, suddenly far more hurt than angry. "Nick...that's not fair, and you know it."

Theresa shook her head, having decided to take another approach to the situation. "Look, we've gotten into too much at once. Let's all just sit down and talk about this. I'll make us some sandwiches, and we can just..."

Nick didn't even let her finish. "I'm not hungry."

Theresa flinched, because it was exactly the answer she'd expected.

Nick began to move towards the guest bedroom that had become his solace when Aaron began pleading with him again. "Look, man, I'm tired of fighting with you. Just sit down with us, okay? I'm really touched that you were worried about all of us."

Nick rolled his eyes in disgust. ", you're not. You just want to see if she's right." He gestured towards Theresa with wild eyes. "You just want to see if I screwed up again. Newsflash, Aaron: I'm not the angel you keep thinking I am, okay? I'm not even close. And I'm sorry I don't quite meet your criteria for the perfect brother, but I'm fucking SICK of the expectations in this house! It's like a fucking concentration camp in here!"

Theresa shook her head sadly. "Man, you really have no idea what you're getting yourself into."

"I'm not getting myself into anything! You're fucking delusional!"

Finally, she lost her temper. "Oh, I'm delusional? I'm delusional?! You're the one snorting shit because you can't acknowledge that your life fell apart five years ago! I've done stupid things, and I can admit to them, dammit, but you just don't quit, do you? It's not enough until you've completely burned every single bridge that might give you a way out of this pity party you're so involved in."

Nick's black, bloodshot eyes were daggers as he narrowed them in her direction, and his words were filled with venom. "Fuck. You."

"Is that all you have to say to me? Can't you think of anything more creative than that? Or, better yet, why don't you dabble in denial for a bit longer? Tell us one more time that you didn't shove anything up your nose tonight."

Nick was poised to defend what little honor he had left for the blonde fireball that had exploded in front of him, but Aaron spoke first.

"Theresa, that's enough. It's all in the past, okay? And it's not his past, it's yours. Just forget about it."

Nick was so startled to hear his younger brother defending him that he was rendered speechless. In the meantime, Theresa stared incredulously at Aaron.

"I can't believe you'd throw that in my face when you've got this kind of evidence in front of you. Hell, Aaron, do you want me to start ticking off symptoms for you?"

Aaron closed his eyes and tried to maintain his composure. "No, T. I just want to go to bed. Is that really so much to ask?"

Suddenly, the tiff between the two elders dissolved as they got a good look at the man-turned-boy in the middle of the room. All night, Aaron had been full of energy and ready to entertain, but, standing in the middle of the room trying to make peace between his roommates and his family, he looked weak, withered, and exhausted. Nick didn't know what to say, but Theresa had the common sense to
drop the subject.

"No. No, it's not. You're right." She turned to Nick with a reluctant sigh. "Look, I'm sorry."

He nodded, unable to repeat the apology. He knew that Aaron needed to hear it from him before Theresa did, but he couldn't seem to form the words.

Theresa turned her attention back to Aaron. "I'm going to my room. If you need me..."

Aaron nodded slowly. "I'll find you. Thanks."

She disappeared, and Aaron turned his attention to Nick.

"Look, I don't know what happened tonight, but I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt."

Nick closed his eyes for a moment to still the blood rushing in his ears and the voices screaming in his head. When he opened them again, tears were blurring his vision. "Thank you."

Aaron laughed bitterly, hollowly, and Nick couldn't help thinking that his tone was way too old to belong to someone so young.

"Don't thank me. I can't help you." He began to move slowly towards his bedroom, but he turned to look at Nick for one last moment before disappearing behind the door. "Try to get some sleep, okay?"

Nick nodded mutely. It was all he could do. He wanted to apologize, to hug Aaron, to tell him that things would get better, that they'd both get better, but he couldn't find the words.

Deep down, he knew that things were hardly that simple anymore.

* "His Work And Nothing More"
lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
music by Frank Wildhorn
JEKYLL & HYDE Soundtrack
** "Leave It Up To Me"
performed by Aaron Carter