Comforting Lie
Chapter Twenty-Two
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

I am Jekyll, I am Hyde
Found this place to hide
Come seek me

Gentle guitar strumming through earphones and he knew nothing but that he had to leave. Right then. He'd spent countless hours in this studio with her, listening to her pour out lyrics and music like she'd been studying his life for years and writing it all down in poetry form. Sure, the long brown hair was gorgeous and he loved the talent that he'd found in such a young, innocent little girl, but he felt like he was robbing her of something, sitting in a chair completely hopeless like this. She was too young a person and too old a soul to hear his angry take on the evil ways of humanity. Of course, listening to her, he was starting to believe that the world wasn't so evil. Listening to her, he was starting to believe that he was the evil one, and that just wouldn't do.

I'm walking down the alley with your picture in my pocket
It's not too safe for little girls here
A single light bulb flickers over doors without their locks
But I'm too damn tired to know fear

It's been miles back that we were walking here in daylight and
Miles back since we were laughing in the dark
And you fade to black each time I'm somewhere within your sight
You fade to black, and we're just drifting apart

Deep beneath an exterior roughened by years in the business and even more years alone, he still loved what he did. He still loved the music--making it, writing it, singing it, listening to it. And, sitting in the studio listening to Rhine, he realized just how long it had been since he'd hear good music. Sadly, he hadn't missed it. He was too sore now to deal with words that tore at his soul and notes that stayed with him long after fingers had ceased to grace the strings or the keys. He was too tired to being pulled apart to let himself relate to music like this, music that meant more in three minutes than his life had meant for the past five years.

On one hand, he loved sessions with Rhine because she was so talented. On the other hand, he hated them, because she came so damn close to ripping him apart every time he heard her play.

This is the five-second silence that bites at your lips
This is the awkward middle-ground between broken and bliss
I'm writing on your hands again
You're snoring deep into my skin
I'm branded and I'm lonely
You're sleeping but you're home

It took all the courage he could muster to keep from ripping off the headphones before the chorus. He just couldn't take it anymore. No more self-examination. Every time he sat down and took a good look at himself, he started to hate his reflection, and it was way too late for him to be rectifying old mistakes.

The time for repentance, sadly, had come and gone.

He let the last chord ring for a moment before stopping the track and tugging the headphones down around his neck. Tiredly, he leaned towards the microphone and waved to get her attention.

"We're done today."

She nodded and came trotting, barefooted, out of the soundproof recording booth. She spoke to him only when the door had closed safely behind her. "How'd it go?"

"Good. The last take was good."

She rolled her eyes. "You're just saying that because you're sick of the song."

God, if you only knew... "Honestly? It wasn't bad. It's a painful song, but you sing it like you're a lot happier now than you were when you wrote it."

"Astute observation," she teased lightly. "That isn't saying a whole lot, though."

He sighed heavily. "I tell you what you need, Rhine. You need to be more transparent in your music. You write about some pretty heavy situations, but you sing them all with the same lilting, delicate tone. I want to hear you let some of the pain that you write about come out in your vocals, okay? If you've actually dealt with shit like this and you really want to share that with people, then you need to let go enough to sing it out."

She nodded thoughtfully at the criticism, absorbing the words with the same barely sarcastic complacency she used with everyone. He knew simply by the look on her face that she'd take his words to heart. The next take would be one for the record books, surely.

Inwardly, though, he was grimacing at the hypocrisy of his little lecture, wondering what Aaron and the girls would have to say about the determination with which he coached his protégé. Such confidence was hardly apparent in the way he lived his own life. Of course, Aaron, Cara, and Theresa probably wouldn't take the time to lecture him about it these days. Ever since the night he'd arrived home with dilated pupils and a more energetic outlook, they'd ignored him.

He ran a hand through his hair and groaned. Story of my life.

"You sure you don't want me to go again?"

He looked up in surprise at the sound of Rhine's voice. "Huh?"

She smiled slightly. "Another take. Are you sure?"

Am I sure? There were so many things he'd thought he was sure of that faded to black as soon as the curtain threatened to close for good. He was sure of very few things these days. But, shit, Carter, it's just a question. Best to fucking answer the girl before she starts to wonder how much crack you're smoking.

He fought the urge to smile at the irony of his thinking. "You up for another take?" He hoped not. He wasn't in any mood to listen to the song again. Anything titled "This Is Not A Love Song" was hardly one to cheer him up.


Lovely. "Go ahead, then. But don't forget what I said about feeling the music."

She was already through the door, settling the headphones over her ears while she plucked a few strings to make sure that the guitar was still in tune. Wearily, he replaced his own headphones and pushed a few buttons on the control board. When he was ready to re-record, he shot her a thumbs-up, and the sound of gentle guitar strumming filled the room once more.

I'm staring at your floor now picking pictures off the carpet
There's nothing here of you and I together
It's close to three am and the room is bathed in darkness
It feels like I've been sitting here forever *

It was barely lunchtime, and he'd already had a long day.

*      *      *       *       *

The minor and augmented chords were pounding against his skull with volume, and the auditorium seemed to shake as he opened his eyes wide and let the words rush from him.

The world has gone insane
And parasites are eating at my brain
And nothing is the way it was before
A pack of wolves is howling at my door
I'm living in a non-stop nightmare, dead men's dreams
Filled with screaming pain
Hurling me to mad extremes
In a world that's gone insane

It didn't matter anymore that he was in jeans and a tee-shirt instead of slacks and a ripped chambray shirt, or that the images in his head were of his brother and not of the horrors that Hyde had forced Jekyll to endure. It didn't matter that the only voice in the auditorium was his own, despite the fact that fifteen people were randomly dispersed throughout the space. It didn't matter that the music was coming from a speaker system instead of a live orchestra. It only mattered that the music had taken control, and he was willing to give everything to the show so he could finally get his life back.

The world has lost its head
And every evil hour is filled with dread
I'm floating in a lake--but upside down!
And when I try to breathe, I start to drown
I cannot speak as nameless ghosts and faceless ghouls
Bid me join the dead
No one tells these gruesome fools
That the world has lost its head

He was stumbling around the stage in a convincing impersonation of a crazed Dr. Jekyll, fumbling for anything that appeared to have some semblance of reality. He was grasping air in search of sanity, but the pounding in his head made it difficult for him to breathe properly. He wanted to close his eyes and scream as loudly as he could with frustration. Pandora's box had been opened, and he wasn't quite sure what to do with the thousand feelings that were suddenly weighing him down, so he kept on singing.

Fiendish creatures leave their graves to taunt me
Old friends risen from the dead to haunt me
Godforsaken images that daunt me
Drowning in an endless flood of blood!

He took a deeper breath for the next verse, and in the corner of his mind he knew that if he kept moving like this, singing like this, feeling like this, the first performance alone would kill him.

The world has lost its mind
And everywhere I turn, I fear I'll find
Some nightmare even worse than those I see
Satanic demons closing in on me
How can it be that even though they see my plight
Everyone is blind?
Night is day and day is night
In a world that's lost its mind

Another deep breath, and he wasn't sure anymore whether it was the bright stage lighting or his own dizziness that was blinding him.

The world has gone berserk
And hiding in the murk, new monsters lurk!
I see a sea of snakes upon the floor
I see the reaper grinning at my door
I scream in silence!

It took everything in him not to make good on his declaration as he stood, poised in the middle of the stage, ready to take on the world. He wanted to believe that he could take on Nick like this, like the man that almost surrendered to insanity, but he knew that he didn't have enough strength yet to deal with the threats his brother continued to pose. He closed his eyes tightly as Nick's face rushed through his head and lowered his voice into Hyde's growling range to compensate for the anger that suddenly had him seeing red.

Bad is good and good is bad
Sacred is profane
And it's wiser to be mad
In a world that's gone insane! **

The music stopped, thank God, and he used every last ounce of energy to keep from collapsing as he awaited Cal's reponse to what would hopefully be the last number of the day.

His waiting was not in vain.

"Holy fucking shit."

God, there's no way that can be good...

"You want to take a seat after that? Hell, kid, MY knees are shaking, and I was just watching you. How you managed to sing the whole song like that without falling over is beyond me."

Aaron groaned. Truth to tell, Cal, it's kinda beyond me too. With that thought, he collapsed into an Indian-style position in the middle of the stage and rested his elbows against his knees.

"That was excellent. Fucking amazing, but I'm sure you know that. Dammit, Aaron, if I got that kind of a performance out of you every day I'd quite possibly be the happiest director in the history of music theater, but--and here's the catch--you'd be dead. I know I'm an asshole to all of you every day, but I do love you all, and I'd hate to see you fall over in the middle of my performance."

Aaron lifted his head long enough to nod at the older man, and he thought he heard Cal chuckle.

"When I said to let it out, Aaron, I meant to let it out slowly. Too much more of that, and you'll spend the season in the hospital. Your breathing was perfect, though, and you knocked my socks off. That's the kind of performance that I knew you were capable of, and I think that, for fear of jinxing myself, I'm going to end today's rehearsal on that note."

A collective sigh of relief echoed through the auditorium, but Aaron was too tired to acknowledge anything.

Cal rolled his eyes and vaulted onto the stage. "Not so fast, children. I need everyone up here for a second. Believe it or not, we are running on a schedule here, and our deadline is fast approaching."

Reluctantly, the twenty or so cast members that had been forced to stay until ten o'clock trudged up onto the stage and plopped down in a manner similar to Aaron's.

"Lovely. Tomorrow, we'll be exactly one month from our Broadway debut. I know how hard you all have worked on this project so far, and whether or not I've told you yet, I appreciate your dedication to this piece. However, that's not to say that we get to relax now. One month means that we're going to have to work harder, and I'm going to be cracking a much thicker whip to get your asses in shape. If we want to sell tickets to this thing, there's a lot of improvement that needs to be made, and I won't accept anything less than the best from any of you. I know what you're capable of, and I expect all that and more. To loosen the noose at this point would be the equivalent of suicide, and I'm nowhere near that stupid. When you come in tomorrow morning, I expect you to be ready to work. If there's something going on in your personal life, leave it at the door. I care about you guys, but I care about this musical too much to see you rip it to shreds when you have the chance to do it justice. Are we in accord?"

There was a chorus of groans, but everyone nodded. It was late, and they weren't about to argue.

"Great. Now, for the next week or so, we'll be running dialogue. I want these lines memorized and I want them done with EMOTION. Maybe not the kind of passion that Aaron showed us just now" and a few tired laughs arose, "but almost. I want this show memorized. If it isn't already, expect to see me every night this week until you know your lines backwards, forwards, and fucking sideways. You know from experience by now that I'm NOT kidding."

Another chorus of groans sounded, but the cast nodded again.

"A week from now, we begin run-throughs. We're going to perform this thing from beginning to end, and we're going to do it over and over and over. Get used to the idea. Don't screw it up. The better you know it, the more quickly we'll be able to rehearse. You're cutting into your spare time, not mine. You should know by now that I live, breathe, eat, and shit this musical."

At that, everyone did laugh. Somehow, Cal's blatant honesty struck them as funny, despite the fact that they were about to become even more exhausted than they had been.

"In two weeks, we start dress rehearsal. The days will be shorter, but harder to get through. That's the schedule as it stands now. Late-night tutorial sessions will ensue as needed, but trust me when I say that you don't want to see me after the group has been dismissed. I'm not a nice person when the night hours become double-digits."

The snorts of agreement were testament to the truth of his statement, and he smiled at the predictability of the people he had come to call his.

"That's all for tonight. I'm proud of you guys thus far. Don't make me regret saying that."

As the cast members began to filter out of the auditorium, Theresa rolled her eyes and nudged Cara. "How typically Cal is that?"

Cara sighed. "Ending a compliment with a threat, you mean?"


"Too freaking typical," she groaned. "Unfortunately, it doesn't look like he's going to cut us a break anytime soon."

"Bring it on!" Theresa cheered. "I can so handle this..."

"Keep saying that," Cara taunted. "Just don't be surprised when you're popping Tylenol like candy, crying during breaks, and passing out on the couch directly after practice."

Theresa rolled her eyes. "Don't hate. You know you'll be doing the same thing."

"Yeah," Cara agreed with a grin. "But I'll take one look at you and laugh my ass off."

Aaron padded up to them before Theresa could retort. "Are we ready to go now?"

Cara spoke for both of them. "Absolutely."

*       *      *      *      *

He was leaving. The stress of the session with Rhine combined with the stony silence that surrounded him in the apartment was too much, and he had known by the end of his day in the studio that he needed a vacation. So the moment that the office called looking for someone to oversee a video being shot in LA, he'd agreed to do it. A weekend in California would do him good--not to mention the fact that he'd be across the country from the guilt that seemed permanently mounted to his shoulders whenever he was around Aaron. Oh, he'd left a note for his suitemates on the kitchen table, just so they wouldn't worry, but he was hardly in the mood to deal with them. He'd had enough hostility in the past three days to last him a lifetime.

He definitely needed some distance.

He wasn't usually one to monitor a video shoot--he'd done too many of them in his day and hated the schedules--but the opportunity to escape for the weekend was a welcome one. He'd spent too much time thinking, too much time feeling like the bugs that fed off the scum on the bottom of the ocean, and he was ready to make a break for it. Hence the reason that Thursday evening found him walking hurriedly down a dark street, an airplane ticket clutched in his mittened hand and his suitcase rolling behind him. He was ready to go.

He just had one thing left to take care of.

With a quick glance over each shoulder, he unearthed his cellular phone from his coat pocket and scrolled down until he found the number he was looking for. He brought the phone cautiously to his ear, listening for the voice of a friend. He narrowed his eyes as the ringing continued, but finally relaxed his shoulders when he heard the click of someone picking up.

"Hey, Jason? Yeah, this is Nick Carter, Esmerelda's friend. The former Backstreet Boy? Yeah. Listen, I'm going to LA for the weekend, and I was wondering if you could hook me up with something from your stash. Where can I find you tonight?" He listened for a moment and then nodded. "Cool. I'll be right there. I appreciate it, man."

And that was the end of the conversation. He continued to walk briskly down the street, suitcase and ticket in hand, as though nothing had happened. Because nothing has happened. Nothing ever happens. And it won't, either.

I'm going to be fine.

"Comforting Lie"
lyrics and music by No Doubt
* "This Is Not A Love Song"
lyrics and music by ME
copyright 2003
** "The World Has Gone Insane"
lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
music by Frank Wildhorn