Onstage, Aaron Carter had transformed. His lips were pursed, his brow furrowed.
The sleeves of his chambray shirt were rolled up to his elbows, and the collar had been unbuttoned long ago. He was deep in
concentration, bent over a notebook with a quill pen tucked securely between his fingers. The pen flew across the page as
he spoke aloud, seemingly deep in thought.
"The experiment is out of control. The beast has taken a heavy toll, not
only on me, who can yet be saved, but on others who cannot. The transformations are starting to recur of their own accord..."
Aaron's voice trailed off when he heard a rustling from the other side of the stage, and he glanced over his shoulder in surprise.
"John?" The surprised expression turned indignant as he became aware of his friend's presence. "John, please leave
me alone! I told you, I must work!"
Trent shook his head with an expression that was equally furious and indignant,
brandishing a collection of papers like a weapon before him. "You must give me some answers first. What is the meaning of
this document? Who is Edward Hyde? Why in God's name would you bequeath to him everything that you possess?"
Both boys obliged the shout that erupted from downstage
right, and Cal rolled his eyes in frustration.
"Rewind, please. Trent, I certainly can't speak for the rest of the
auditorium, but I didn't understand a single fucking word of that last sentence. You're pissed, yes, and you're rushing your
words because you're pissed, but you're not speaking another language. We're not doing this in fucking Spanish, okay? These
are important lines, and there's no reason to butcher them like that. And Aaron...now, this may be news to you, but you do
have more than two volumes to your voice. Soft and Loud are nice, yes, but let's give the others a chance, shall we? Again.
Go from 'Who is Edward Hyde?' because God forbid we let Trent start waving those papers around again."
In the wings,
Theresa stifled her laughter as the two onstage rolled their eyes in annoyance and repositioned themselves for the scene at
hand. Trent took a breath, and they were lost in the words again.
"Who is Edward Hyde? Why in God's name would you
bequeath to him everything that you possess?"
Aaron narrowed his eyes in anger. "Those letters were only to be opened
Trent waved a hand in dismissal and interrupted Aaron's Jekyll, too angry to listen to the justifications
that had begun to pour forth. "Only if you went away or became ill. You have gone away, Henry...and clearly you are ill. Who
is Edward Hyde?"
Aaron grew immediately reserved at the mention of the monster that had begun to consume his character.
"A colleague...inextricably involved in the experiment. If I should be unable to complete it, he should have the wherewithal
to finish my work."
"If I am to act as your lawyer and as your friend, you must tell me everything..."
Aaron raised his voice slightly. "I have told you everything."
tone was pleading when he spoke again. "Henry."
Aaron's voice rose to a shout. "Everything I can comprehend myself!"
He paused and took a deep breath, falling into a velvet armchair in despair. When he spoke again, his voice shook with uncertainty.
"And now I must ask you an even greater favor."
Trent frowned in concern, both to perfect the part of John Utterson
and to express his personal concern for his friend. "Tell me!"
"They said the chemist has acquired a quantity of rare
drugs for my immediate use. They are to be delivered to your offices the instant he has them, and then you must bring them
Trent continued to shake his head, but Aaron's character was relentless. "Please, no further questions!
John, I dare not leave this room until the next step is accomplished." Aaron sighed heavily and looked at Trent with more
pain than someone his age should have experienced. "You must trust me a few more days."
Trent's sigh was one of great
helplessness. "I trust you with my life, Henry. I suppose I must trust you with your own."
Aaron allowed himself a
small, albeit a hollow laugh. "Yes, old friend. My life is in the balance. Many lives are in the balance." *
fully ready to launch into the following monologue, but Cal called another halt to the rehearsal.
boys gladly dropped to the floor.
"It wasn't perfect, but that's nothing you don't know. Trent, don't rush your lines.
People are paying to hear you, not to watch your mouth move. Believe it or not, this isn't one of those pre-dubbed Asian movies.
Slow the hell down." His gaze moved to the figure on Trent's left. "Aaron, keep in mind that you're playing Jekyll right now
and NOT Hyde. I know you're the same person throughout this sucker, but you're playing two characters, and I want to see you
separate them. You can't slip into Hyde every time Jekyll gets pissed off." Cal stood up slowly enough to give both Trent
and Aaron meaningful looks. "The dialogue is better, kids, but it's still not up to snuff. Fortunately for the both of you,
though, I think I might prematurely murder dear Jekyll if I have to listen to this scene one more time." He scanned the audience
with eyebrows raised expectantly. "Where's Cara?"
Cara stepped out from backstage left in a ripped sweatshirt and jeans.
Cal nodded to her in acknowledgement and turned to Aaron and Trent. "I think I've tortured you two and
Theresa enough for one day. Go downstairs or into one of the dressing rooms and rehearse your lines." He paused and glanced
at Trent. "Well, maybe not you. If I know you, you're going to want to make out with Tabitha in the audience." Trent turned
a pretty shade of pink, and Cal smirked. "Exactly. As for you two," he motioned to Aaron and Theresa, "I'm done with you for
now. DO NOT LEAVE, though, because you'd better bet both your asses that we're rehearsing that damn finale before we leave
All three of the day's victims groaned at the thought. The finale was by far the cast's least favorite scene.
yeah. Whine all you want, but I want the lines fucking perfect before you scamper out those doors tonight. I'm fucking sick
of trying to fix that scene." That said, the three mentioned vaulted off the stage and into the audience, leaving Cara to
receive the remainder of Cal's daily wrath. The gesture didn't go unnoticed, and Cara discreetly gave Theresa the finger when
the blonde had the audacity to wave at her.
Cara turned to face Cal, bracing herself for whatever he
"You and the rest of the cast are going to rehearse the first scene from the Dregs. We're going to take
it from 'No One Knows Who I Am'. If any of you miss a word, forget a line, or screw up your choreography on 'Bring On The
Men', I'll make sure you regret it. Understood?"
A mumbled chorus of "yes" rose from the tired group trudging onto
"Brilliant. Take it from the top."
* * *
Backstage, Aaron Carter let out a whoop of joy and pumped an enthusiastic
fist in the air.
"No shit. What are we going to do? I mean, I can't remember a single time that
we've actually been able to wander around this place unattended."
Aaron rolled his eyes. "Aside from the first day
tours, I don't think we've had time to wander at all."
Theresa groaned at the thought. "Me neither, but I'm not about
to slow down and ask Cal where to hang out. With our luck, he'd probably change his mind and drag us back onstage for an encore
of 'Once Upon A Dream'."
Aaron laughed. "You aren't kidding. This morning sucked major ass."
her agreement. "You're telling me. No offense, man, but if I have to fawn over you one more time within the next twenty-four
hours, I'm going to go from Lisa Carew to Lorena Bobbit."
Aaron flinched at the mental image that graced him. "Maybe
we should try and avoid that transformation."
Theresa shrugged. "Your call. They're not my balls."
cut off his balls. She cut off his penis."
Aaron shuddered. "Not to a guy, T. To a guy, that's
a BIG fucking difference."
Theresa arched an eyebrow. "When have I ever concerned myself with details?"
you're running the risk of a late-night solo rehearsal?"
"Of course. I always make good points."
smirked. "Sure you do, A. Unfortunately, the only people who care about those points are fourteen years old."
made a face. "T, I love you and all, but that's disgusting."
Theresa was formulating another disturbingly sexual comeback
when Aaron skidded to a stop in front of her. "Jackpot!"
"Pool table," Aaron answered with a grin,
gesturing to the billiard equipment in front of him. "This place has a vending machine too. Apparently, Cal's been keeping
us from the luxury of the dressing rooms down here."
Theresa laughed. "Somehow, that wouldn't surprise me in the least."
She walked over to the rack and lifted a pool cue from it. "Do you play?"
Aaron shrugged. "A little. Nick had a table
at his place when I was younger, so I practiced when I was hiding out from the parents and the big bad d-word."
nodded knowingly. "Ah, yes. Divorce. Cuts through a family like a knife through butter."
"Unless you didn't have a
family to begin with," Aaron countered casually. He reached around Theresa to rosin the end of the cue he'd selected. "Do
Theresa shrugged, deciding wisely to ignore Aaron's side comment about his home situation. She knew enough
from Aaron's silence in the past to know that, if he wanted to talk about something, he would. As a rule, she left the emotional
probing to Cara. Her friend was much more tactful.
"A little," she mimicked, and Aaron allowed a smile. "Actually,
I used to hustle pool in college. It's been awhile since I've played, though. Haven't had much time."
his eyes. "Imagine that." Satisfied with the condition of his cue stick, he motioned to the pool table with an inquisitive
gaze. "You want to rack 'em, or do you want me to?"
Theresa smiled mischievously. "They're all yours."
winced at her tone. "You're going to kick my ass, aren't you?"
"We'll see," Theresa responded noncommittally. "So far,
it's been a long day. I'm feeling nice."
"For a change?"
Theresa's eyes narrowed as Aaron moved the triangle
along the table. "Careful with the comments, Carter, or I might change my mind about the niceties."
Aaron bit back
a smile at Theresa's competitive nature. "I'm shaking in my Sketchers."
"You'd better be."
He ignored her. "You
want to break?"
Theresa pulled a penny out of the pocket of her sweatpants. "We'll flip for it." She laid the copper
coin flat on her palm and tossed with as much grace as could be expected. "Call it in the air."
Theresa declared triumphantly. "Step back, Carter."
Aaron obliged and watched amusedly as Theresa broke the design,
sending the balls flying deep into the recesses of the pool table. She managed to land a solid ball in the left corner pocket,
though, and stood back to admire her work with pride.
"I guess that makes you stripes, AC."
rose upon the usage of Nick's old nickname for him, but he allowed no other sign of the inner turmoil the mention had caused.
"I guess so, T."
"So," Theresa began as she set up another shot, "you did well with the dialogue this morning. I think
that's the first time you haven't missed a single word."
Careless small talk. Aaron knew the game well, and he knew
that Theresa was waiting for him to initiate intense conversation. Unfortunately, he wasn't quite ready, so he chose to lay
low for the moment.
"What can I say? I've been studying up. Guess those late-night rehearsals with Cal finally paid
off. That, and I knew he'd make good on his threat."
Theresa missed the shot, but stood up gallantly and tossed a smirk
in Aaron's direction. "What, you don't want to spend quality time with Cal? You know he wants to spend quality time with you..."
flinched and moved towards the table. "Yeah, I do. And, quite frankly, that's what scared me into study mode."
Theresa chuckled. "Either way, it was nice to have the dialogue run like normal conversation."
the girl who interjects random profanity into her lines because she 'forgot the fucking word'?"
Theresa sighed. "Okay,
so we all have our faults..."
"Some more than others," Aaron continued with a mischievous grin.
laughed aloud, and suddenly the fact that he'd pissed Theresa off meant more than the fact that he'd accidentally knocked
the white ball into the corner pocket.
"Your shot," he pointed out, and she rolled her eyes and moved to place the
ball. "Seriously, though, T, it's not like you to beat around the bush. What do you really want to ask me?"
was so stunned by Aaron's forward question that she, too, knocked the white ball into the corner. "Um, so we'll call ourselves
even with that one, okay?"
Aaron bit back a smile. "Sure, T, whatever you say."
"That makes it your shot."
glanced over his shoulder at her before lining up his shot. "And your turn to answer the question."
Just Aaron, T. Come on. You've had family shit happen. Just fucking ask him the question. "A, with your family...how
bad did it get?"
Aaron knocked a striped ball into the side pocket and stood up, sucking in a deep breath and exhaling
before he finally looked up at the blonde in front of him. "Pretty bad."
"I mean, I read about it because Cara was
fucking obsessed with the Backstreet Boys, but...how bad was it really? How much of it was true?"
Aaron chuckled hollowly
as he made for the next striped ball. "You want the PG version?"
She sighed. Truth to tell, she didn't have as much
heart-to-heart experience as Cara did, and she wasn't quite sure whether or not to call Aaron on his sudden and relentless
sarcasm. "Whichever's easiest."
Aaron sighed in turn. "If you were looking for easy, Theresa, you asked the wrong question."
if you don't want to answer, you don't..."
He cut her off with a wave of his hand. "No, you asked. It's just...it's
hard to explain how bad it got because we were trying so hard not to acknowledge it at the time."
Theresa nodded her
understanding, remembering her parents' divorce. "Yeah. Sometimes it's better to ignore it all until you know you can handle
Aaron snorted. "Especially when you're in the public eye."
Theresa frowned sympathetically as Aaron whacked
another ball into the side pocket. "Must've been hard."
He shrugged, setting up for another shot as he did so. "You
live, you learn."
Theresa groaned and decided to throw away the cautious, sensitive approach. "Bullshit, Aaron. Shit
like that has to hit you pretty hard."
Aaron laughed hollowly. "Actually, T, that was the problem. For a long time,
it didn't hit me at all."
"And then it hit you all at once," she finished. He nodded.
"Exactly." He struck the
cue ball and missed the desired target. "Your turn."
She expelled a sigh and moved towards the edge of the table to
set a bridge.
"Answer," Aaron fired back. "Wait. Maybe not. But you might as well ask me anyway."
obliged. "When it did hit you, how'd you deal with it?"
Aaron chuckled. "Big lawsuit. Big public declaration. Something
about disowning my mother. Ring a bell?"
"Yeah," Theresa conceded. "But then you retracted it. So, technically, you
didn't actually deal with anything."
"Yeah, I did. Believe it or not, announcing that kind of a lawsuit took serious
guts, T. Hell, have you met my mother?"
"No," Theresa muttered, "and I can't say that I want to."
Aaron snorted. "She won't come out here. We don't exactly talk."
"But you guys made up, right? That's what all of the
Aaron leveled her with a breadbox look. "You know better than anyone that shit like that doesn't
clear up overnight--especially not with my family. We most definitely did not make up, despite what the announcements said.
The first lesson of show business, babe, is that you can make the media believe whatever you want them to believe, and they'll
sure as hell report it."
Theresa frowned. "So what really happened? Why retract something that serious?"
shrugged, watching her shot from the corner of his eye as he stared at the floor. "I didn't have a choice. I guess I realized
that it wasn't right to deal with all of that in public."
He blew out a breath. "I'm not the
only kid in the family. What I do affects all of them, and the lawsuit just plain sucked. It was between Mom and I, but everyone
had to deal with it. Nick was in the middle of that disastrous solo thing, and Angel was trying to get a modeling career off
the ground." He paused for a moment, allowing the information to sink in. "Professionally, it wasn't just suicide--it was
homicide, too. BJ had been fucking around for awhile, putting a dent in the family reputation and all, and I just didn't want
to add to the trauma."
Theresa's brow furrowed in confusion. "BJ's the one that was arrested for possession of marijuana,
"Multiple times," Aaron laughed bitterly. "I see you and Cara did your homework."
She shrugged. "Your
He nodded his acknowledgement and moved to set up. Meanwhile, Theresa leaned against the wall, staring curiously
at his back.
"Whatever happened to BJ?"
Aaron shot, nudged the desired striped
ball into the corner pocket, and shrugged. "Beats the hell out of me." Upon seeing the look on Theresa's face, he sighed again.
"We don't talk much."
"How about Angel?"
Aaron grinned. "Did you see the last Victoria's Secret catalogue?"
I a girl?" Theresa rolled her eyes. "Duh."
"See the cover?"
"And flipped out accordingly," she laughed. "Why?"
my twin sister."
Theresa flinched. "Wow. She's, uh...well-endowed." Aaron groaned in response. "Do you guys keep in
He shrugged. "Once a week, I guess. It's kind of like you and your parents--you know, the mandatory phone call.
We're not nearly as close as we used to be. I mean, she'd have my back if anything ever happened to me, but we're hardly best
The whole situation reminded Theresa oddly of her relationship with her sister. "And what of your father?"
fought to keep from laughing. "Bob Carter? Speedboat captain supreme? No, Dad and I aren't exactly close. He's cool and all,
but he's not very paternal. He's a better drinking buddy. He's a great guy, but we don't really talk much. Dad has a lot of
misconceptions about the way things are with everyone. He lives in the dark, and he likes it there." He rolled his eyes. "If
he were any other way, he wouldn't have survived with my mother."
Theresa frowned uncertainly. "So all the rumors about him beating your mom were..."
"Totally fucking untrue,"
Aaron spat. "She's just a bitch. She wanted attention, and the quickest way to get it was to turn on Dad. It'd be a pretty
damn big lie to say that they got along well, but Dad wouldn't ever lay a fucking finger on her. He was more scared of her
than anything else. Dad's a simpleton. Mom...she's just a pain in the ass. Through Nick and I, she got a lot of money really
quickly, and she never figured out how to handle it."
"And your Dad never cared," Theresa finished. She had finally
begun to see a pattern in the actions of Aaron's immediate relatives.
"Hell no. The last thing Dad ever wanted was
money. He could live out on his boat for the rest of his life and not miss the real world at all."
Theresa smiled softly.
"So that whole boat racing campaign must've made him a pretty happy guy."
Aaron laughed genuinely at the memory of
his father's reaction to the racing campaign. "Nick made Dad's life with that. I'd never seen my father so happy."
grin broadened at the sight of the first genuine smile from Aaron in weeks. "Your dad sounds like a cool guy."
is," Aaron acknowledged with a nostalgic smile. "He's a great guy. In fact, he took really good care of me when all that shit
went down with Mom."
"So why aren't you guys closer?"
Aaron's brow creased, and he heaved a sigh. "Truthfully?
I think there's a part of me that can't forgive him for letting Mom do what she did. I realize he didn't have any control
over her--hell, none of us did--but it seems like he let her get away with too much. For a long time, I felt like she robbed
Nick and I of our childhoods, and he just let her do it." He glanced up long enough to lock gazes with his friend. "Don't
get me wrong, T. I love my dad. I just...I can't get over the fact that he didn't try to stop everything before it happened."
sighed in turn. "I guess I can see that."
Aaron chuckled. "Yeah. It figures, really. Dad and Angel are great people.
They turned out well despite everything that happened, but out of everyone in the family, I'm still closest to Nick."
the fact that he's a shit," Theresa interjected, and Aaron nodded.
"Yeah, despite that. Younger brother syndrome, I
guess. When I was little, I wanted to be just like him. When he started fucking up, I reconsidered idolizing him, but he's
still my big brother." When he met Theresa's gaze again, there were tears in his big brown eyes. "I know he's into all kinds
of shit now. I'm sure he still does some of the crap that screwed things up in the first place. He makes sucky decisions,
and he rarely puts his money where his mouth is. Hanging out with him now is just setting myself up to get hurt again, and
I realize that, but...I really miss the person he used to be."
Theresa nodded quietly and moved to make her shot. There
was nothing else to say.