Comforting Lie
Chapter Twenty-Seven
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

Cara walked onto the set in awe, full of a child's eagerness. When she stopped short in front of Aaron, displaying just the proper amount of surprise at his supposed grandeur, he fought the urge to smile at her infantile nature. God, to be that innocent again. "Good morning, Miss."

She gave a little curtsy in front of him, lifting her imaginary skirts. "Good morning."

He furrowed his brow and cocked his head slightly to the side as though trying to remember her name. "Miss..."

She sighed and answered definitively. "Lucy!"

His eyebrows inched a tad bit closer together in confusion. "Lucy?"

She expelled a breath exasperatedly and dropped her hands on her hips. "Lucy Harris? I'm the one that you and your friend met that night."

He cut her off immediately. "Oh, yes. I, um, didn't..." A pause. He was going to say he didn't recognize her in full dress, but his character was far too professional to make that kind of a remark. "Yes. I remember. Please, sit down."

She moved to one of the metal chairs on the stage and sat, bouncing happily on what was supposed to be a leather seat cushion. Aaron focused intently on polishing a tool from his medical tray so as to avoid laughing at Cara's convincing performance. He examined the tool closely before replacing it on the tray, allowing just enough time for Cara to get settled.

"What brings you here?"

Cara looked up confusedly, her tone gentle and inquisitive as she answered. "You said if I ever needed a friend..."

He finally turned to face her, eyebrows slightly raised in expectance as he cut her off again. "Yes, I remember."

Another sigh came from Cara. She paused long enough to pull down the collar of her sweatshirt, tentatively exposing the pale skin of her shoulder.

"STOP! For once, the lines were perfect. Aaron, you're actually looking contemplative, and Cara, you're doing a damn good job of acting like a kid in a toy store. I hate to interrupt this lovely scene, but I've got to stop this." Cal groaned and ran a hand through his brown hair before glaring at the brunette onstage. "Cara, you're a whore. W-H-O-R-E. Modesty went out the window a long time ago, sweetheart, and you really don't have any reason to be hesitant to bare the skin of one shoulder for Dr. Jekyll, here. Whether or not you remember, he saw you in the skimpiest of lingerie a few scenes ago, and he's not going to be embarrassed by the fact that you're uncovering a shoulder blade. You're fucking injured. Everyone, including the audience, is aware that this isn't a triptease, but even if it were, you wouldn't give a damn. Now, how many times are we going to have to go over this? Do I need to make you run lines completely naked so you're not embarrassed to bare your shoulders onstage?"

Cara flushed a deep crimson. "Um, no."

"Good. Not that Aaron would mind, I'm sure. Are you going to get the damn scene right this time? Can you act like a hussy?"

Aaron bit his lip to avoid snickering out loud as Cara sighed. "Yes."

"Good. Continue. Take it from 'you said if I ever needed a friend'."

The two onstage resumed their lines and reassumed their positions. Cara looked imploringly towards Aaron.

"You said if I ever needed a friend..."

He nodded ever so slightly, cutting her off. "Yes, I remember."

She reached over and jerked the collar of her shirt down over her shoulder, exposing half of her back in the process. Aaron's gasp was painfully audible to everyone in the auditorium.

"Good God!"

She gave a terse chuckle. "Pretty, isn't it?"

Aaron brought a hand to his mouth in surprise and frowned. "Who on earth would do such a thing?"

She rolled her eyes. When she spoke, her voice was dripping with Lucy's ever-present sarcasm. "A real English gentleman." Another terse chuckle. "Did a lovely job, didn't he?"

Aaron shook his head and turned back to his tools. "Just one moment."

Cara shifted in her seat and cast a bitterly pointed look downstage. "Some men are real skillful when it comes to causing pain."

Both characters paused for a moment while Aaron brought the medical tray over, fiddling for a moment with the towel there before looking curiously to the back of Cara's head. "You didn't go to the police."

She laughed hollowly. "The police." The comment was full of disdain, but followed by another short laugh. "A girl like me making a complaint about a man like him, a rich man? That's funny." Her expression turned contemplative as she looked out past the audience. "I won't forget his name in a hurry, though." She paused for just a moment, long enough that the continuation of the thought sounded dramatic. "Hyde. Edward Hyde."

Aaron gave a little jolt and looked up in surprise. He quickly shook it off and looked back to Cara. "Why come to me? You have family, don't you?"

Cara shook her head and spread her legs a bit so as to lean on one knee. "No. I ain't got no family." She glanced over her shoulder pointedly. "You gave me your card."

Aaron shook his head so as to clear it, banishing his sense of disbelief. "Yes. Yes, of course, I remember."

Cara smiled sadly at him. "I've never had someone like you be nice to me before."

 Aaron closed his eyes for a moment to get his bearings. When he re-opened them, he dipped the towel gingerly in an imaginary basin and pressed it to the back of Cara's shoulder. She sucked in a breath and winced as though the contact pained her.

When Aaron spoke, his voice was low with regret. "I'm sorry." A precious pause before he continued with conviction. "I'm so sorry."

Cara closed her eyes for a moment, pretending to revel in his touch. In all honesty, she wasn't thrilled to be doing this particular scene today. Ever since the talk with Nick, she'd been dead set on avoiding Aaron. He knew her too well for her own good, and she didn't want him to notice that something was wrong. She just wanted to fix the situation with Nick so that everything with Aaron could get back to normal.

With a regretful sigh, she opened her eyes and began to sing.

Sympathy, tenderness
Warm as the summer
Offer me their embrace

Friendliness, gentleness
Strangers to my life
They are there in his face

Normally, this was the kind of situation that she would discuss in great detail with Aaron. She loved Theresa to death, but from day one, Aaron had been the more sympathetic roommate. He listened more than he judged, and he was more patient than Theresa's no-nonsense attitude allowed.

She hated that Nick's needs distanced her so much from the man she'd come to call her best friend. Furthermore, she hated that she had to lie to Aaron to help his older brother. Numerous times in the past two days, he'd asked her what was wrong. She didn't have an answer for him. She'd had to brush him off, had to play it like he was making things up.

Goodness and sweetness
And kindness abound in this place

They both knew he didn't buy it. It wasn't a question of whether or not he bought it. It had become a question of how long he'd tolerate it.

Cara knew that the answer wasn't in her favor. Aaron despised bullshit, and she hated that she'd begun dealing it out.

"There, that should feel more comfortable."

The sound of his voice, low and gentle in her ear, startled her back into character. She gave a little laugh and allowed herself a nostalgic smile as she cast a glance in his direction.

"I feel like a lady."

Aaron turned to her in surprise. "You are a lady." His tone rang firm in the auditorium, and he permitted only a moment of silence before continuing. "A most extraordinary lady."

She wanted more than anything to talk to him. Aaron was young, but he was also wise beyond his years. She knew that he'd be able to offer her a new perspective, if not an alternative solution to the problem. Unfortunately, his connection was too deep, too emotional for her to risk taking his advice.

I am in love with the things that I see
In his face

He'd helped her out so many times. She felt as though she owed it to him to bring his brother back. She wanted Aaron to have a reason to smile again. She wanted him to know family in the sense that she did, to experience that unconditional love and support that came with blood relations. She wanted to create that security for him again, and she knew that, try as she might, she couldn't create it with just Theresa's help. She needed Nick.

And, because she needed Aaron, she was willing to handle Nick.

It's a memory
I know time will never erase *

She took his hand and kissed it gently, but he did her one better and bent down to her level. She tilted her head gently upwards and kissed him full on the mouth, allowing her lips to massage his for a moment before both of them pulled back. The music to "Someone Like You" had hardly begun to play when Cal shut off the
tape player.

"Okay, kids, centerstage." Cara and Aaron obeyed hesitantly. "Now, what do you think I'm going to say to you?"

Cara shrugged. She hated this question. Unlike the rest of the cast, she wasn't partial to doing impressions of Cal, and she would've rather had the criticism than the chance for self-improvement.

Aaron was entirely another story.

"Well, it was nice. Nice. And nice is good, I'll agree, but nice isn't GREAT. Unfortunately, people don't buy tickets to see nice. If you actually want to sell tickets to this show, you're going to have to be GREAT."

A ripple of laughter went through the scattered audience of cast members, and Cal allowed a small smile to creep across his features. He loved to play the role of the hardass, yes, but he loved his cast equally as much. Especially the quirky popstar-turned-teenager that had taken over the lead role in his musical revival.

"Close, kiddo, but no cigar," he laughed. "I was going to say that Cara needs to project more on 'Sympathy, Tenderness,' first off. It's a sweet little song, but it's not going to sound like a sweet little song if we can't hear it. Secondly, Cara, you've got to look like you're in love with Aaron, not like you pity him. I pity him too, and I pity the fool that finally falls in love with him, but you're not that smart right now. Wanna know why?"

Cara grimaced. "Because I'm a whore?"

"Bingo. You are, however, a whore with feelings, and that's why you've fallen in love with our strapping Dr. Jekyll here." Aaron puffed out his chest proudly, but Cal rolled his eyes. "Not so fast, kid. Your 'I remember' lines are way too fucking condescending. I know Cara looks like she's about three years old, but you can't talk to her like she's three. She knows a shitload more about life than your pretty little Dr. Jekyll, and he's smart enough that he recognizes that. You treat her like a lady, you hear?"

Aaron flinched. "Yes, sir."

"Wonderful. Now, I believe we have a beginning to rehearse. How many of you are up for 'Bitch, Bitch, Bitch'?"

The cast cheered from the audience. It was well known among both cast and crew that the song was a favorite.

"Good, I'm glad you're in the mood. Unfortunately, you've got to prove to me that you can do 'Fašade' first."

At that, a chorus of groans rang out.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't pay you to be pleased with my song selections. It needs rehearsal, and rehearsal it shall get. Now, quit your bitching and get up on this stage. You've got five minutes to assemble yourselves before I pitch a fit."

That said, Aaron and Cara vaulted off stage to make way for the rest of the cast. They started towards the doors to the lobby of the venue, but Aaron turned around for a brief moment .

"Hey, Cal?"

The director whirled around, his wrinkled Oxford shirt swinging solidly around his thinning frame. "Yeah?"

"Can Cara and I go grab lunch real quick?"

Cal glanced down at his clipboard and shrugged. "Don't see why not. Bring it back, though. I know you don't want to do any singing today, but I'm going to need you to run lines with Theresa here in a little bit."

Aaron nodded. "Thanks, man. We'll be back." He grabbed Cara's hand and pulled her gently through the double doors that separated the lobby from the auditorium. As soon as they slammed behind him, he heaved a sigh of relief. "Finally."

She laughed lightly. "Exhausted much?"

"Very much," he groaned. "That, and I'm starving. You want to make a run for the sandwich shop across the street?"

Cara shrugged. She couldn't very well explain that she didn't want to be alone with him just now. "Sure, let's go."

He nodded, and they made their way out onto the busy streets of New York.

*      *      *      *      *

Thankfully, Cara was able to avoid conversation until they returned with their food and sat cross-legged on a table in the lobby.

"So," Aaron began, studying his sub sandwich with the beginnings of a smirk. "That was some kiss out there."

It was an old joke of theirs, something to get through the romantic scenes with greater ease, but Cara still blushed a deep crimson. "Yeah, well..."

"You know, you could probably be a little bit more aggressive." He glanced up long enough to catch the look of horror on her face. He grabbed the sandwich with both hands and winked at her just before taking a bite. "Really go in for the kill."

"Don't talk with your mouth full."

Aaron chortled. "Yes, Mom." He paused to swallow. "Seriously, though, you might want to take more control there. Jekyll's supposed to be the submissive one. Lucy's the one into all that S&M stuff. 'Good 'N Evil' and whatnot..."

Cara rolled her eyes in annoyance. Having grown up in the more proper of southern neighborhoods, she was painfully modest, and the cast loved cracking sexual jokes at her expense. "There's a reason we're not singing that song." She paused briefly. "Speaking of not singing, why's Cal letting you off the hook today?"

"Point blank? I sound like shit today." Aaron sighed heavily. "You know Larkin's cold?"

Cara stifled a giggle at the pathetic expression Aaron was wearing. "Yeah?"

"I think I caught it. When I woke up this morning, I couldn't breathe through my nose, which is just slightly annoying. Add that to the fact that we've got opening night in less than two weeks, and you'll see why Cal was understanding when I told him that I didn't think singing would be a good idea today."

Cara frowned. "Yuck."

"Yeah, that's what I said."

Cara giggled. "I bet Cal's viewpoint was slightly different."

Aaron winked at her. "I think he said something along the lines of 'damn it all to hell,' but I could be wrong."

They shared another laugh and then a small, awkward silence fell over the pair. Aaron took a few more bites of his food and swallowed. Cara sipped her drink daintily, trying to think of a clever way to avoid Aaron's inevitable line of questioning. Finally, Aaron spoke.

"Okay, out with it."

Cara frowned. When in doubt, play dumb. "Out with what?"

"Don't bullshit, Cara. You know what I'm talking about. You've been weird for the past two days now. What's going on? Did something happen at home?"

She heaved a sigh of relief. Finally, a question I can answer honestly. "No, everything's fine at home. I miss my parents, but they're coming up for opening night, so that's hardly the issue."

Aaron nodded slowly, trying to avoid the pang of jealously that crept up his spine. No matter how close he and Cara got, he would always resent her for having the perfect family.

That wasn't the problem today, though. "Good to know. Wanna tell me what the issue is?"

"Not particularly."

He frowned. "Why not?" Usually, she had to pry to get information out of him. He wouldn't deny that he was difficult to talk to when he was upset. Cara, however, needed to talk to people. No matter how upset she was, she hated to be alone. He'd lost count of the number of times she'd crawled into his bed at night, wanting to talk about something that had happened that day.

"Look, A, it's not a big deal. Really."

He sighed. "It is if it has you all wound up over it. Are you and Theresa having a tiff?"

I wish. "No."

He was all out of options. "What, then?"

"Aaron, please. It's nothing. Just let it go."

He stifled a small smile at the petulant look on her face. Normally, having to question her to the nth degree would piss him off, but Cara got self-righteous so frequently that he found it amusing.

"Nick pissed you off again, didn't he?"

Cara sighed heavily, hating that she had to lie to him again. But Theresa's right. He's been doing a lot better since Nick's been gone. It's best to leave Aaron out of this mess. "How could he have pissed me off? He's not here?"

Aaron grinned. "Good point. So, technically, you have no reason to be in a bad mood."


Aaron burst out laughing. "Nice try, bucko. That was two weeks ago. Trust me, I've lived with you and T long enough to know when the cycle starts."

Cara winced at his honesty. "I feel like I should be disturbed that you know that."

Aaron shrugged. "First of all, I have three sisters who I did live with at one point in time. Secondly, I figured there had to be a reason that the freezer gets packed chock full of ice cream only two days before you two fill the bathroom trash with tampons."

"You know," Cara began, "most guys get infinitely squeamish whenever the word 'tampon' is brought up in everyday conversation."

"Yeah, but I'm not most guys," Aaron pointed out with a cheeky grin. "Now, do you want to tell me what's wrong?"

She sighed. Time to lie my ass off. "Actually, A, I'm not sure what's wrong. I know I've been quiet, and I know something's bothering me, but I'm not quite sure what it is." Using every acting technique she'd ever learned, she leveled him with a sad smile. "I'm kinda pathetic, aren't I?"

He laughed and reached over to hug her. "Aw, C...not at all. You're probably just sleep-deprived. I know you've had a hard few days, what with the return of the migraine and all. You're totally entitled to a few days of bad temper."

He pulled away before she could relax into his embrace, and she sighed heavily in attempt to hide her disappointment. "Thanks, A."

"Anytime. We should probably get back in there before Cal comes looking for us, though."

She nodded her agreement and began to clean up her side of the table. Grabbing the door handle, Aaron swung open one of the double doors and turned to face his friend.

"Hey, C?"

She looked up expectantly. "Yeah?"

"When you're ready to talk, you know where to find me."

He disappeared into the auditorium, and she let out a string of curse words. She should've known he wouldn't buy it. She'd bought herself some time, though. Nick was scheduled to come home the next day. With any luck, she'd be able to have an in-depth chat with the older Carter before the younger one demanded an honest answer.

She shook her head in frustration. This is all becoming way too complicated for me.

One more glance around the room, and she headed back into rehearsal, praying that she'd be able to right things between Nick and Aaron.

She just needed to right things between Nick and himself first. Before Aaron found out what was going on. Because if Aaron found out that Nick was using cocaine again, her dishonesty would be the least of her problems.

With that thought in mind, made her way towards the stage for the rehearsal of Act II.

* "Sympathy, Tenderness"
performed by Linda Eder
music by Frank Wildhorn
lyrics by Leslie Bricusse