Cara closed the door quietly behind her and heaved a sigh of relief upon
entering the dark, empty apartment. The space was clean and the lights were out and, for once, she felt like she'd gotten
a chance to relax. She glanced longingly at the leather couch in the middle of the room, but bypassed it on her way to the
kitchen. Relaxation was second on her to-do list that evening. First, she was going to get Tylenol.
Saturday night would consist of an evening out with her beloved fellow cast members, but she'd begged out of that evening's
festivities due to a massive migraine that had taken residence between her temples sometime between "No One Knows Who I Am"
and "Bring On The Men". By the end of rehearsal, her skull was throbbing, and her noticeably pale countenance had been enough
to convince Aaron and Theresa to let her take the car home. They'd politely inquired after her, but she'd waved them off.
After three weeks of the mess formerly known as Nick Carter, an evening alone sounded positively divine.
the phone rang before she ever had a chance to turn the lights on.
She really didn't want to answer it. Knowing her
friends, though, it could be important, and she'd never forgive herself if she missed an important call. At that thought,
Cara heaved a sigh and stumbled, exhausted and blinded, towards the kitchen counter. After a few moments of searching,
she found the receiver and answered the call.
She narrowed her eyes towards the phone
in confusion. "Um...didn't you call here?"
"Oh, yeah. Shit. Cara there?"
Against her better judgment, she answered.
"This is she."
"Oh, thank God." There was a sigh. "'Cause, you know, I'm drunk, and I figured that Theresa would SO
kick my ass if she found out I was drunk and calling here 'cause she's, like, scary-protective of Aaron and shit. And she's
also suspicious of me. Which doesn't help matters any." The voice lowered to a whisper. "She thinks I'm doing drugs."
eyes widened beyond recognition. It so figures that this would happen the one night I have a migraine.
duh. Who else would it be?"
She didn't bother to explain that he was the last person she had expected to hear from
that evening. With any luck, she could get to the root of the problem and fix it quickly enough that the headache wouldn't
worsen any. "Why are you calling?"
"I have a question."
Cara rolled her eyes in annoyance and dropped into the
closest armchair. "What?"
"What happens when you mix coke with alcohol?"
Cara frowned. "Are we talking, like,
rum and Coke?"
On the other line, Nick burst out laughing. "Hell no! Not fucking Coca-Cola. I mean coke coke.
Despite the suspicions that Theresa had voiced only two days ago, Cara's eyes widened immediately.
Shit. "Are you serious?"
"Why the hell wouldn't I be?" His speech was starting to slur. She figured she didn't
have much longer before he passed out.
"Nick, listen to me...did you take coke tonight?"
He burst out laughing again. "Well, fucking duh. Why? Surprise
you that the fucking perfect baby Backstreet snorts a line every now and then?"
"No," she answered curtly.
gonna lecture me?"
"I would, but I'm sure I wouldn't be saying anything you haven't heard," she sighed. That, and
I really don't have the patience for this right now. "Look, how much did you take?"
"HellifIknow," he slurred. "Lots. Felt good."
When Cara replied, her voice was dripping with sarcasm. "I'm
sure it did."
"But I couldn't go to sleep and I was tired so I drank because that makes me sleepy."
perfect. "How much did you drink?"
"Dunno." There was a pause on the other end. "Five lil' bottles from the minifridgythingy.
I still can't sleep though."
"Is that why you called?"
He exhaled into the phone. "Nah. I called 'cause I started
seeing real fuzzy."
Shit. She heaved a sigh and closed her eyes, massaging her temple with her free hand.
Suddenly, her raging migraine was the least of her problems. She was exhausted from the day's rehearsal, but she knew she'd
never forgive herself if she hung up on Nick. Against her better judgment, she decided to stay on the line until he went to
sleep, if nothing else. She knew enough about the situation to guess that he didn't need to be alone.
"Have you thrown
"Yeah." His raspy voice lowered to a whisper. "Don't tell, though. I puked on the carpet, and it's all brown
and icky. The maid's gonna be pissed tomorrow."
The mental image was enough to make Cara queasy. "Nick, you need to
drink some water and lie down, okay?"
Three thousand miles away, Nick Carter furrowed his brow in confusion and squinted
towards the mini-bar in his luxurious hotel room. "Um, Cara?"
"I can't see clear."
"Can you try to get to the mini-bar? There's probably a bottle of water in there."
"Yeah, but I'm all dizzy and shit."
leaned back and reached a hand around to massage her neck muscles. "Hon, you're dehydrated. You'll feel a hell of a lot better
if we can get some water in you."
"K. Jussa second."
She heard the thud of what she assumed to be the phone
on the bed, and a few quiet crashes as Nick moved around his Los Angeles hotel room. Aaron said he left to get away from
the pressure here. So why the hell would he call here on his first night away?
you're still there. I thought you woulda hung up by now." His voice sounded small and, for once in her life, she wasn't sure
what to say to make him feel any better.
"Do you want me to hang up?"
They sat in silence
for a moment. Cara began picking lint off her sweatpants. Nick ran a hand through his hair. Halfway down the length of his
locks, his fingers found a knot, and he groaned when the strands pulled against his scalp.
The groan startled Cara,
who was still bathed in the darkness of an empty apartment.
Nick grunted. "No." And then he started
laughing. "No. Fucking amazing how easy that is, right? Nick, are you okay? No. No. Fucking never. Absolutely not. Me, okay?
No!" The laughter grew drastically, and the frown on Cara's face deepened considerably.
Shocked that Baby Backstreet snorts cocaine?" He stopped laughing and allowed a tiny growl. "Fucking Theresa. I should've
been more quiet about it, but...fucking whatever. She's a bitch for bringing it up. None of her business. Why the hell'd she
have to say all of that shit in front of Aaron, anyway? Like he hasn't been fucked up enough already..."
in a breath, but remained silent.
"He's just...I mean, shit. Do you have any fucking idea what all he's dealt with?"
He didn't even pause to hear her silent answer. "Of course you do. You're a fan, and my mother just loved sending that shit
to the press. Hell, Aaron got off on it towards the end. Thought it was fucking fantastic that he could broaden his fan base
by airing the family's dirty laundry. I didn't want any part of it, though, you know? The fucking Backstreet Boys were bad
enough. Like I needed to stick my nose in family shit too. Not a chance in hell. Second I could move out of that place, I
was gone. It fucking sucks to live with your parents anyway. They're always in my damn business." He adopted an annoyingly
high-pitched, airy falsetto. "What the hell's wrong with you, Nickolas? Why're you dating that slut, Nickolas? Why don't you
lose some weight, Nickolas? You're killing your career." He snorted, which sent him into a small coughing fit. "Yeah, well,
fuck you too. But Aaron...God. He's still a mess. He thinks he's good at hiding it, but he's just shit outta luck now. Takes
too much to heart, y'know? He fucking cares too much. 'Course it's too late now, but...well...fuck it."
Cara sat silently
on the other end, listening to Nick's labored breathing. He was exhausted, drunk, and angry, and Cara knew that the combination
was likely to catch up to him eventually. Until then, she was focused on attempting to keep her heart from collapsing against
her rib cage.
She hated the ugly reality of the Carter family situation. She'd heard enough about it from Aaron, but
she could never hear enough to get used to it. Hearing the frustration in Nick's slurred, bitter words made her grateful for
her loving parents in Tennessee.
His voice was softer now, slightly hoarse, but she answered him hesitantly
He sighed heavily. "I'm really hurting him, aren't I? Aaron, I mean. Not fucking Kevin.
No one cares about Kevin anymore. He's got a wife and a kid to lecture day in and day out. Maybe he'll actually fucking take
notice of this one..."
She frowned at the sudden mention of Kevin's name. She'd heard him say it a thousand times before
in interviews and fan conferences, but that had been Nick the Backstreet Boy. She had long ago learned that Nick Carter and
Nick the Backstreet Boy were two different people.
She was beginning to wonder if either one of them was Aaron's older
"I didn't say that. Fuck, I'm drunk. Drunk and high is never good, is it?"
Cara allowed herself a hollow
chuckle as the image of Theresa passed out in an alleyway flitted across her memory. "Not in my experience, hon."
laughed at that. "Not in your experience, huh? Of course, it's probably pretty fucking limited. You're the good girl and all.
Can't tarnish the fucking image of the good girl." He paused for a moment, breathing heavily into the receiver. "You called
Cara's chest tightened as she tried to smile. "I'm from the south, remember?"
"Right. Double good girl.
I bet you've never seen anyone drunk and high before. Well...not if you were drunk and high. Makes it really fucking hard
to see." She heard the clang of glass against the phone and figured he was taking a sip of water. Good. He needs to rehydrate.
Her brow furrowed immediately. "What?"
"Don't tell Aaron. About tonight, I mean. He...fuck, Cara,
he knows I'm a mess, but he doesn't know that it's gotten this bad. It wasn't supposed to get this bad, dammit, but he doesn't
know. He doesn't need to know. He's got the musical, and he's got you guys, and if it weren't for me he'd be happy for the
first time since he became the fucking Prince of Pop, right?"
"What? You think I don't know I'm a
fuck-up? Cara, I'm strung out AND I'm drunk. I can't go to sleep. I called you to whine about my life because you're the only
person I know who doesn't completely despise me yet. I think that fucking constitutes failure, don't you?"
"Are you going to listen if I say no?"
He snorted indignantly. "Damn, you really are an optimist."
with a migraine," she corrected with a sigh. "Nick?"
"When did you start snorting cocaine?"
he answered immediately. "Fucking Black & Blue tour...oh, wait, you meant recently."
Her eyebrows rose
considerably at the new knowledge, but she quickly filed it away for later reference. They could have that discussion when
she knew he couldn't hang up on her. It wouldn't hurt for him to be sober, either.
"Yeah, recently. Because you weren't
strung out when you first got here. If you'd been screwing around then, Theresa would've been on you like white on rice."
she was the other night? In front of fucking Aaron?"
Cara chuckled. "That was nothing, Nick. If she'd seen you snorting
a line, things would've been much worse."
"Why's she so fucking high and mighty about it?"
Cara groaned. "She
was a junkie once, Nick. If anyone knows what addiction is like, it's Terry."
"I'm NOT an addict."
say you were," Cara replied softly. And she hadn't, either. She hadn't even considered that. She began to wonder if she should've.
"You misread my implication."
"Maybe you just didn't notice it," he snapped. "Fuck, my head hurts
too much to be thinking about hidden meaning."
Cara rolled her eyes and glanced in annoyance at the clock on the wall.
It was almost midnight now, and she knew the others would be back soon. She also knew that a phone call from Nick was the
last thing that Aaron needed. "Tonight will be nothing compared to tomorrow morning."
He snorted in agreement. "Ain't
that the truth. Fuck. Serves me right, though. I know I should've left the shit alone. It just..." He sighed, and his voice
softened a good deal. "Look, Cara, I'm not an idiot. I know I've fucked things up with Aaron. I see it every time I look at
the kid. He sees me as an obligation, not as a friend, and it sucks. It hurts too. I...I always counted on him as the one
sure thing in my life, you know? He's my brother. Even when all the family shit went down, I knew I didn't want to lose touch
with Aaron. He and I used to be so good together, and it just...I fucked it all up. I fucked it all up and it keeps getting
worse and I don't fucking know how to fix it anymore because every time I'm around him I feel like someone's sitting on me."
He sniffled into the phone, and she shivered at the thought that Nick the Asshole had finally been reduced to tears. "He hates
me, Cara. I don't know how to make him stop hating me."
She closed her eyes against the pain in his voice, willing
herself away from the ticking clock and the threat of Aaron's arrival. She wanted to comfort him, wanted to promise that Aaron
didn't hate him and that the problems between the two brothers would all be resolved eventually. She would've, too, but they'd
both know deep down that her consolations were inane. The truth was that resolution was far from possible, especially with
Nick in his current state of intoxication.
Somehow, she knew that the truth wouldn't be anymore helpful than the comforting
lies she wanted to tell him, so she settled for the most obvious answer.
"Maybe you should stop hating yourself first."