Comforting Lie
Chapter Twenty-Six
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

"God, it's been too long since we've done this."

"You aren't kidding."

"Yeah, it's a shame that we're about to see Dr. Jekyll and crew eat up all our free time."

Aaron groaned aloud. "If our so-called free time was the only thing they had to feed off of, they'd fucking starve."

The joke was lame, yes, but the group was too exhausted to recognize it. Fortunately, their laughter died down long enough for Larkin to raise her martini glass. "I'd like to propose a toast."

The rest of the group obediently raised their glasses, a myriad of colors and concoctions above the round table they'd chosen to occupy for the evening.

"To the last semblance of a social life among us. May it rest in peace along with our dignity."

They clinked glasses amidst more laughter, and Aaron groaned. "I don't know about the rest of you, but my dignity isn't really resting peacefully."

"Yeah, Cal seems to be a fan of beating the dead horse," Theresa agreed with a thoughtful sip of her martini sour.

"You're telling me," Trent muttered with a sigh. "After today, I think I could probably fit the entirety of my ego in a thimble."

Tabitha cast a sympathetic frown in her boyfriend's direction. "I'm sorry, baby."

Theresa chuckled. "I'm sure Cara's got a thimble if you'd like to test that theory." Trent rewarded her with a glare. "Oh, come on, man. Have a sense of humor."

"I had one," Trent fired back, "but it didn't fit in the thimble."

Rob groaned loudly. "Enough about the thimble, man. I tell ya, if he's not prattling on about Tabitha, he's off on some random tangent that makes no sense..."

"Sounds kinda like someone else I know," Aaron muttered. He took a sip of his beer to hide his smile as Rob groaned.

"Man, someone's always got to be a smartass."

"Better a smartass than a dumbass," Larkin pointed out with a grin. "Isn't that what Cal said earlier this afternoon?"

"He's not too fond of a smartass either," Theresa sighed. "I found that one out on the first day. The man does NOT like sarcasm when he's trying to rehearse."

"Maybe he just doesn't like your sarcasm," Rob fired with a mischievous grin. Theresa rolled her eyes in annoyance.

"Yeah, that must be it..."

"You know," Kyle mused, "I keep thinking we ought to invite him to one of these little get-togethers, just to see if he's as uptight offstage as he is in rehearsal."

Larkin made a face. "You know, as fun as that sounds, I think I'd rather not. I endure enough of Cal's berating in rehearsal. I don't need him lecturing me during my off hours as well."

"What makes you think he'd lecture us in the middle of a seedy bar in Manhattan?" Aaron asked with a grin. Larkin groaned.

"The same thing that makes me think that he'd never be seen in a seedy bar in Manhattan: freaking common sense, boys."

Trent chuckled. "She has a point, kids."

"Which is a rarity in itself," Theresa retorted. "I could probably count on one hand the number of times we've said something productive tonight."

Rob feigned surprise. "You mean we actually said something productive? My God. We should've written it down or something. That's the kind of thing that makes history."

"Cal would've been proud," Kyle added with a cheeky smile. Larkin turned to him with a skeptical expression.

"What is it with you and directors, man? Are you always this obsessed?"

Aaron grinned broadly. "Nah, he's just bitter because he's not having sex with this one."

Kyle stuck his tongue out. "Yeah, well, Aaron's only bitter because he's not having sex at ALL."

"He's not the only one," Theresa muttered with a groan. "Some of us are equally as bitter."

"You know," Rob began with a grin. "If you ever want some help in solving that problem..."

He didn't even get a chance to finish before Theresa leveled him with a glare. "No."

"You sure?"

The answer came without pause. "Positive."

He shrugged and reached for his beer. "Suit yourself."

Trent, sensing the sexual tension that had suddenly arisen--what was up with Theresa and Rob these days, anyway?--switched the topic of conversation immediately.

"So, two weeks."

A chorus of groans sounded immediately, but Larkin was the first to speak. "Anyone else got their heart in their throat?"

Aaron slammed a hand against the table. "So THAT'S why you've been off-key lately!"

"Bastard," Larkin fired back, but she was smiling. "You know I caught that God-awful cold..."

"As long as you don't give it to us," Aaron replied with a laugh. "I have enough trouble staying alive as is. This musical is going to kill me eventually."

"Wouldn't surprise me if it did," Kyle chuckled. "You put more into this thing than any of us."

Aaron shrugged. "I've got to, man. You guys have been in other shows before, but the last thing on my Broadway resume was Seussical. I've got a hell of a lot more to prove. I mean, you heard that terrible Jimmy Neutron song. My career is by far the most incriminating."

"That, and it doesn't give you enough credit," Tabitha said quietly, sipping on her wine cooler. "You're a lot more talented a musician than your previous records indicate."

Aaron snorted. "What album review did you snatch that from?"

Tabitha smiled shyly. "It's true, Aaron. You really are a talented kid. I know we all did our share of teasing in the beginning..."

"Still do," Trent interrupted with a grin, wrapping an arm around his girlfriend's shoulders. She leaned into him and laughed.

"Yeah, but it's all in good fun. We're still awed when you open your mouth and sing stuff like 'Confrontation'."

"Nice to know that I'm singing it now," Aaron retorted. The group laughed, and he allowed a small smile to grace his features. "Thanks, though. You guys did give me a lot of shit in the beginning, but it's nice to know that I've made a positive

"You have," Theresa admitted, draining her martini sour. Aaron's eyebrows rose in surprise.

"Thanks, chick. That means a lot, coming from you."

"Why?" Theresa laughed. "Because I gave you more shit than anyone else?"

"You're forgetting Cal," Rob pointed out with a grin. "I think he probably gives Aaron more shit than the rest of us combined."

"True," Kyle allowed, "but Cal treats all of us like we're incompetent. Even Cara."

"And Lord knows that she's a talented balladeer," Larkin tossed in. "I mean, even when we were in the chorus of 42nd Street together, she still used to wow the directors. She's got an amazing voice."

"She almost lost it, you know," Theresa began. The others turned to her in immediate surprise.

"Who, Cara?" Rob cried in disbelief. "No way!"

"Yes way," Aaron threw in with a smile. He knew this story already. "She may be a saint now..."

"Especially compared to me," Theresa threw in with a bitter laugh.

"But she kinda jeopardized herself with a wicked lifestyle way back when, according to the story," Aaron finished. "The way she tells it, she partied a little too hard a few times."

"She did," Theresa confirmed. "Girl was just dying to rebel against her wholesome Tennessee upbringing."

"Whoa, hold up," Larkin muttered. "Didn't you grow up with her?"

"Yeah," Theresa sighed, "but my family was a mess, so I had an excuse to turn to the dark side. I was wild in high school."

Somewhere around the table, a chorus of "Real Wild Child" sounded and was thoroughly ignored.

"Why does that not surprise me?" Rob mused.

"'Cause you've spent your whole life obsessing over the wild ones," Theresa shot back.

"To no avail," Trent added with a smirk. He liked Rob, but the man was often an easy teasing target, even for Trent.

Rob rolled his eyes. "I thought we were talking about Cara?"

"We were, before you interrupted," Larkin laughed. "T, you wanna clear up the offhand comment?"

Theresa sighed. "Right, so anyway, Cara got to college and kind of let loose. We went to NYU together, and she hung out with my crowd. We'd go drinking every night, and I was being a dumbass, getting into cocaine. She was right behind me, which I still feel bad about. One night, she did a line and got really, really drunk on Malibu Coconut rum. I wasn't watching her--I was too fucked up by
that point--so I didn't notice how much she was drinking. Anyway, I had sex with my boyfriend in the bathroom and then decided that it was time to go home. I grabbed Cara, we headed back to the dorms, and she headed straight for the bathroom."

Kyle flinched visibly. "Ooh, alcohol poisoning..."

"Exactly," Theresa sighed. "She puked her guts out. I'd never seen anyone so sick. She was dizzy, dehydrated, and dry-heaving. I was strung out, so watching her was freaking me out. She pulled her head out of the toilet bowl long enough to tell me that she'd be okay in this breathy, high-pitched voice, and that's when I knew to call an ambulance."

Aaron buried his head in his hands. "God, I hate thinking about this."

Theresa paused long enough to chuckle hollowly. "Why? You've heard this story, like, fifty times by now..."

"It still gives me the creeps. I don't understand how you two can be so calm about this shit."

"We were really, really stupid," Theresa intoned sadly. "And I spent a lot of time freaking out at the hospital, so I've done my venting."

Larkin sighed. "That, and you probably don't remember a whole hell of a lot."

"No, I definitely remember," Theresa laughed. "Cara doesn't remember shit, but I definitely remember. I've never been so scared in my whole life. I knew I was screwed up, but I had no idea that Cara was following in my footsteps. She'd always been the good girl, you know? I guess it never occurred to me that I could corrupt her."

"Yeah," Trent agreed. "She definitely doesn't seem like the type that could be corrupted."

"I'll second that," Aaron muttered. "In fact, she gets pretty 'holier than thou' occasionally."

"She's getting better," Theresa countered. "She's not as bad."

"It doesn't sound like she has the right to be," Tabitha said softly. Larkin gave her a sad smile.

"Honey, none of us have the right to be. We've all done shit that we're not proud of."

Rob exhaled forcefully. "Can we not talk about past errors? I don't know about the rest of you, but I kinda want to know what happened to Cara."

The others nodded their agreement, so Theresa reluctantly continued. Despite the stoic act she so desperately tried to pull off, the incident really had bothered her--still did. Her eyes focused on the center of the table, and she expelled a sigh.

"An ambulance came. We took her to the hospital. They hooked her up to a few machines, took a few tests, and gave her an IV to re-hydrate her. I flipped through a magazine that I didn't read, and when I turned the last page, the doctor came out and told me that she'd singed her vocal chords."

Everyone grimaced simultaneously. The idea didn't exactly sound appealing.

"Great," Larkin muttered. "Now I'm afraid to throw up."

The comment did enough to ease the tension that Theresa's story had created. "It's not something that happens all that often. She'd just thrown up so much at once that the overhaul of acid had sent her larynx for a loop. Two weeks of silence, and she was perfectly fine. It did give her quite a scare, though, and that was the last time I saw her do cocaine."

"I'll bet," Trent muttered, shuddering at the thought. "Sounds like it shook her up quite a bit."

"Yeah," Theresa sighed. "She got into the theater group after that, and she didn't hang out with my crowd again until I started having serious problems."

Theresa's addiction was old news within the small group of friends. She'd been typically straightforward upon their first post-rehearsal get-together to dispel any rumors. She's also been up-front with Cal about the matter, but he had yet to make a derogatory comment about it during rehearsals. He was a perfectionist, yes, but the cast was quickly discovering that he was also fairly parental.

It was an odd combination, especially for a Broadway director, but they weren't complaining.

Theresa sighed heavily at the silence and stood up. "I'm going to grab another drink. Does anyone else want anything?"

Aaron gingerly set his empty beer bottle back on the table. "Another beer would be great."

She nodded. "It would be, wouldn't it?"

He laughed and handed her the necessary amount of money. "Sorry."

She shrugged. "No problem. Anyone else?"

Larkin looked up. "Sex on the beach?"

Theresa grinned knowingly. "Great choice, babe. I'll get right on that."

Everyone else groaned at the joke, but Larkin gladly handed over a five-dollar bill. "Thanks."

"Anytime," Theresa replied nonchalantly. "I'll be right back."

She moved swiftly through the dark, smoky room, trying to hide her smile as she heard the cast break into laughter behind her. She was glad that they were back to joking. She knew that the story about Cara had been a little dramatic for the evening, and Cara probably wouldn't appreciate it being told, but she wanted to take the heat off of Aaron. She wanted to remove the focus from the musical and the Backstreet Boy. For once, she wanted the group to bond as people and not as members of the cast. She felt relatively guilty for using Cara as a way to do that, but she knew that her friend would eventually understand. Besides, Cara understood more than anyone the need to keep Aaron relaxed.

Though they hadn't had a replay of "The World Has Gone Insane," Aaron had been throwing himself into the rehearsals as a way to distract himself. Cara was good about keeping him calm offstage--the two had always been close--but the others were afraid that he'd eventually crack under the strain of performing. Cara was worried that he'd have an emotional breakdown first. Theresa, on the other hand, was just worried.

She heaved a sigh and stepped up to the bar, flagging the bartender down with a sultry smile.

"One beer, one martini sour, and one sex on the beach."

He grinned at her. "Coming right up, baby."

On a good day, she would've given him an earful, but her mind was occupied that evening. With a sigh and a wave, she turned around and rested her forearms on the bar behind her, watching the crowd casually. The bar was a sketchy place, but they'd gone with the intention of having fun and listening to underground music. Now, looking at the people grinding against each other out on the floor, she figured she'd probably go dance after another drink. Maybe, if she played her cards right, she could get Aaron to come with her.

"So you'll never guess who gave me a ring the other day."

She turned immediately, thinking that whomever had made the statement was speaking to her. Instead, she caught sight of a tall, lanky guy and a scantily-clad blonde. Lovely.

"Probably not."

"The Backstreet Boy. Wanted to stock up for a trip to LA."

"No shit?"

"No shit. Called me up like it was nothing and asked for the best. You really did a number on him, you know that?"

The blonde laughed, and Theresa's stomach lurched. "Oh, I know. It was fun at first, but he really is a good kid."

"They all are in the beginning."

"Yeah, and then I send 'em to you and you screw them over."

The lanky one chuckled. "That's my job, baby. It's how I make a living." He paused, and Theresa moved slightly so that she could get a glimpse of their faces. "You starting to crush on this one?"

The woman shrugged. "He's a lost soul, man. I like the idea of saving him."

"With coke."

Another shrug. "A little of it never hurt anyone."

Theresa bristled at the thought.

"So he called you, huh?"

"Yup. Coming back in town in a few nights."

"I'll have to find him."

The lanky man laughed again. "Don't go doing anything stupid, okay? I know you like this one, but he's a high-profile client. You gotta be careful, or we could really get screwed."

She smirked in response. "I'm always careful."

He laughed. "Sure. Listen, here's what you asked for. I'll see you later."

She took the small plastic bag from him and slipped it between her breasts. "Thanks, Jason."

He shrugged. "Anytime, Esmerelda."


Theresa jumped at the sound of a man's voice behind her and whirled around. "Yes?"

The bartender frowned at her. "Your drinks, lady. You okay?"

She took a deep breath and nodded. "Yeah. Rough night."

He chuckled. "I know how that goes. Go dance it off, ya hear?"

She nodded. "Yeah, I plan to. Later." That said, she grabbed the drinks and headed back towards the table, her heart beating wildly against her rib cage. She'd seen a good number of drug deals in her life, but there was something different about that particular interaction. So not only is Nick doing coke, but he's getting it from a woman who has a thing for him. Fucking fantastic.

"T! Man, girl, we were beginning to think you'd run off with the bartender!" Aaron teased. His smile faded, however, when he saw how pale she was. "T? You okay?"

She offered him a wan smile. "Fine."

"You sure? You look a little pale..."

She waved a hand in dismissal and set the drinks on the table, trying to ignore the looks of concern that the others were giving her. "Yeah, it's nothing. I'm going to head to the restroom real quick, okay?"

Aaron nodded, brow still furrowed. "Okay. But if you feel dizzy or anything..."

She laughed lightly, trying to remain as normal as possible. She was freaked out, yes, but Aaron definitely didn't need to know why. "I'll tell you, I promise. It's just a little bit of a headache. I'll be fine."

He expelled a breath, and she knew that he was satisfied for the moment. With a wave and a smile, she wove her way through the crowd and towards the pay phones in the back. Two quarters later, and the phone was ringing in her ear. She took a deep breath and counted to four, practicing the triangle breathing she'd learned a long time ago, but her heart was still pounding in her chest. She didn't release a sigh until the ringing ceased.


"Cara, thank God."

Cara's voice was soft, but confused, and Theresa knew immediately that her friend's headache hadn't gotten any better. I thought she was going to bed?

"Terry? Aren't you supposed to be at the club?"

Her next sentence came tumbling out. "Cara, Nick's getting coke from a blonde woman named Esmerelda. I was right."

Cara sighed heavily. "I know."

"What are we going to do?"

Her friend groaned. "Right now, hon, you're going to go back and enjoy the rest of your night out. We can talk about this later."

Theresa's eyes widened angrily. "Look, Cara, I know you don't feel well, but this is kind of serious, don't you think?"

"T, I really need to go right now. I've got Nick on the other line."

Theresa didn't think Cara could've surprised her any more. "Oh. Wow."

"Yeah. We'll talk later. Can you keep everyone at the club for a bit longer?"

"Sure." If Cara could get a long-distance Nick on the line, she was pretty sure she could stall for awhile. "No prob."

"Thanks, hon. I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Yeah, sure," Theresa mumbled. There was nothing else to say. She carefully placed the payphone back in the cradle and moved slowly towards the booth. They were laughing again when she arrived.

"Hey, Aaron?"

Aaron looked up in surprise at Theresa's somewhat feeble tone. "Yeah?"

"Can we dance?"

He laughed and began scooting out of the booth. "Only if you're really sure you can handle me."

Theresa gave him what she hoped to be a convincing once- over. "I don't think that'll be a problem, babe."

If Cara could handle Nick, she could definitely handle Aaron. She just hoped she wouldn't have to do it for too much longer. Frankly, she wasn't sure how much more they could take.