The music stopped with a high-pitched jolt from the tape player, and the
audience of cast members burst into raucous applause. Amidst whistles and catcalls, Aaron and Cara stared at each other, frozen
by the gravity of what had just occurred. Both looked positively terrified until Cal's voice began to echo through the auditorium.
two on stage turned to face him, eyes wide and mouths agape.
"I see you had the same reaction." And then the unthinkable
happened. Cal laughed. "Aaron, man, I never thought I'd live to see the day when you'd turn 'Dangerous Game' into soft porn,
but that was a nice transformation. There was so much sexual tension in here that I was getting antsy. That kiss isn't scripted,
but...fuck, kid, feel free to improvise that. I think you scared the shit out of Cara, but it worked. Worked like a charm.
I'm...I'm fucking impressed, kids, and that doesn't happen often. Cara, I don't think I've ever seen you play Lucy with so
much turmoil. That was fucking BRILLIANT. I'm not sure either one of you knows what the hell just happened, but...wow. Just
wow. Damn." He shook his head.
Somewhere after the third wow, Cara regained the ability to blink. She sucked in a generous
breath and stepped out of Aaron's embrace, looking expectantly at Cal.
"Am I done?"
He chuckled. "In more ways
that one, apparently. Grab Trent on your way to the lobby."
She gulped, nodded, and made a break for it. Aaron, meanwhile,
shoved his hands in his pockets and sighed heavily.
Aaron looked to his director expectantly.
got enough voice left to run lines with Trent for the next scene?"
Aaron shrugged and cleared his throat. He'd rather
use whatever he had left to talk to Cara, but he knew from experience that Cal wouldn't go for that. He closed his eyes for
a moment and nodded.
"Yeah, I'm fine."
Cal arched an eyebrow skeptically. "Great. But if you start to feel off,
then get your ass offstage. I'd rather you get ridiculously ill NOW so we don't have to take breaks between takes for you
to puke your guts up during the performance, okay?"
Aaron nodded. "Yeah."
"Brilliant. Trent?" The lanky brunette
jogged up the orchestra stairs obediently. "Let's run it from the scene in the lab where Utterson meets Hyde."
two boys nodded, and Aaron slumped forlornly into the waiting armchair as the techs wheeled the lab set onto the stage. Trent
took one good look at Aaron and shook his head.
"You know we're gonna talk later, right?" he asked quietly, but expectantly.
laughed hollowly. "Can't wait."
* * *
Cara had been hoping to get out of the auditorium without running into any
of the cast members. Unfortunately, her hope was in vain; Theresa was waiting for her at the doors that separated the stage
from the lobby.
"What the hell just happened in there?"
Cara gulped and allowed herself the luxury of spitting
the one phrase that had been dancing around her consciousness for the past five minutes. "Aaron kissed me."
rolled her eyes. "No shit, Sherlock. I saw that part. What I didn't see was whatever led up to that. What the hell
motivated him to do that?"
Cara expelled a sigh and closed her eyes. "I don't have a clue, T. Your guess is as good
"So you guys haven't been going behind my back with this physical stuff?"
Cara's eyes widened. "Hell
no! T, look at me! Do I look like I expected that?"
Theresa smirked. "Definitely not."
"Don't smile like that.
It makes me think that you ENJOY my pain."
Theresa laughed lightly. "I wouldn't exactly call kissing Aaron Carter painful,
Cara. Need I remind you of your little crush a few years ago?"
Cara's response was deadpan. "NO."
Cara sighed. "But, T, it wasn't Aaron Carter. I wasn't kissing Aaron Carter. I was kissing Aaron, the goofy kid
who came to live with us while he proved himself as a veritable musical act. Aaron is like my best friend. Aaron Carter is
still some pre-teen singing sensation that puts a bunch of lucky girls through puberty."
Theresa winced. "You know,
as strange as that sounded, I actually understand where you're coming from."
"Of course you do! For God's sake, Theresa,
"But you enjoyed it," Theresa countered with a smile. Cara groaned.
"Truth to tell, T, I didn't
have time to. He shocked the hell out of me with that kiss. He'd been overly sexual throughout the entire song, but I wasn't
expecting him to kiss me."
"That makes two of us," Theresa sighed.
"I mean, has he been sending signals my way?
Should I have noticed something?"
Theresa shrugged. "C, with all the shit Nick's been putting us through, I think we'd
be hard-pressed to notice anything that didn't involve cocaine."
"You've got a point." Cara sighed heavily and rubbed
a tired hand over her face. "I just wish I knew what was going on in Aaron's head. I haven't had any time to really talk to
"That, and we've been avoiding him so we can deal with Nick," Theresa added. "Fucking Backstreet Boy."
the thing, though, isn't it?" Cara mused. "He's not Nick Carter, Backstreet Boy, either. He's just Nick, the screwed-up older
Theresa sighed. "Personally, I liked him better when he was some pretty poster boy for the pop wave."
rolled her eyes. "You and I both, babe."
"So what are you going to do about Aaron?"
Cara heaved yet another
sigh. "I have no idea. None. He shocked me today, and I've got to go eat dinner with Nick tonight, and I have NO idea how
I'm going to manage to do either without pissing off one of them."
Theresa frowned and held up a hand. "Whoa, halt.
You're going to dinner with Nick tonight? Is this, like, a date or something?!"
Cara took one look at Theresa's horrified
expression and burst out laughing.
"What? Cara, it's not funny! I know you want to help him out and all, but you don't
have to date him! Especially not when his brother is apparently crushing all over the place..."
Amazing how easily
Cara sobered after that remark.
"Relax, T. It's not a date. I woke up this morning to find a barely-coherent older
Carter sprawled out on the couch watching David Hasselhoff ruin Jekyll & Hyde. He said he had a hard night. Said
he wants to get his life together. Said that he wanted me to teach him 'No One Knows Who I Am,' and then Aaron hollered for
me and we agreed to meet for dinner so we could discuss the reconstruction." She furrowed her brow meaningfully at her friend.
"I'm just trying to help him out, T. When you get right down to it, his behavior hurts Aaron more than it hurts anyone else.
If I can help Nick put his life back together, then maybe Aaron'll stop hurting, and then it'll all be worth it."
that he doesn't find out we've been hiding all of this from him," Theresa added with a pointed glance. "I mean, shit. If he
finds out about Nick and the cocaine, we're totally fucked."
Cara groaned. "No joke."
"So what's your excuse
Theresa expelled an exasperated breath. "When Aaron asks me where you are. After that display
in there, you know he's going to want to talk to you. What do I tell him?"
Cara groaned. "Beats me. Make up something."
with a friend?"
Cara chuckled. "Yeah, right. All of my friends are in the musical."
"Dinner with a relative?"
frowned. "Wouldn't I have mentioned that earlier?"
"Dinner with an old friend from college?"
Cara sighed. "I
guess that could work. I don't know. You're good at lying...like I said, just make something up. I'm going to scram before
Aaron has a chance to come looking for me."
With that, she headed out the door and onto the streets of New York.
* * *
At long last, Cal tired of harassing Aaron and Trent, and Cara was called
back onto the stage to run lines with the rest of the girls from the Dregs. As the director hollered instructions about poses
and intonation, Aaron and Trent ducked backstage and ventured down into the rec room Aaron had previously discovered. When
the door shut behind them, Trent turned an expectant gaze to his younger friend.
"Okay, man, out with it. What the
hell happened out there with Cara?"
Aaron groaned. "Man, I don't know..."
Aaron rolled his
eyes in annoyance. "Come on, man! You saw the expression on my face. I was as shocked as she was."
Trent cocked his
head to the side skeptically. "Not for the same reasons, though."
"No," Aaron agreed with a soft chuckle. "Not for
the same reasons."
"You've been thinking about doing that for awhile."
It was an observation, not a question,
and the nature of the remark wasn't lost on Aaron.
"Yeah, I have been. Was it obvious?"
"Before today? No. Cara
wouldn't have been so shocked if you'd been obvious."
The younger man flinched at the memory of his friend's face.
"Man, she was shocked, wasn't she?"
"Shocked?" Trent laughed lightly. "Dude, she was scared shitless. I don't think
she knew what the hell was going on. None of us did. We were sure all the sexual stuff was part of the act until you actually
hauled off and kissed her. Hyde wouldn't have done that."
"No," Aaron agreed with a small smile. "But I would."
did," Trent corrected.
"Do you regret it?"
Aaron laughed. "Man, I don't know. I won't
know until I talk to Cara. Whether or not I regret it depends on her reaction. If she flips shit, I'm going to regret it.
If she reciprocates..." Aaron trailed off to wink at his friend. "Well, that's a different story."
"Tell me about it,"
"Yeah, you would know, huh? How long have you and Tabitha been dating, anyway?"
The answer came
immediately. "Ten and a half months. Almost a year."
Aaron shook his head in amazement. He could probably count on
one hand the number of relationships he'd had that had lasted longer than a month. "Wow."
"You think that until you
find the right girl. With Tabby, the time seems to pass too quickly, you know? Like it's never enough."
"Yeah. And you guys are still in the stage where you can't freaking keep your hands off of each other."
broadly. "Between you and me, bro? I hope that never stops. She's fucking amazing."
"Yeah, you two are good for each
There was a long pause before Trent dared to venture into more dangerous territory. "Thinking about Cara?"
expelled a breath. "Kinda. I've always thought she was amazing. I just...never really saw her as accessible, I guess."
"And you do now?"
"We're closer now," Aaron pointed out. "We've been friends for awhile, we're living together...we
know each other a lot better. Hell, I know what she looks like when she first wakes up. I've got a handle on her idiosyncrasies
and everything. Before, if I'd made a move, it would've been total uncertainty; I could've walked into the world's worst situation.
Now, it's different because I know that I like her for who she is and I'm kinda confident that things could work between us."
is dangerous too, though," Trent pointed out. "If you guys try to have a relationship and it doesn't work, you could end up
screwing up your friendship."
"That's what I'm worried about," Aaron admitted. "As a friend, I love Cara to death.
She's been wonderful, especially with Nick being in town and everything. I don't know if we could ever be IN love with each
"But you're willing to try?"
Aaron chuckled lightly. "Well, if I wasn't willing, I wouldn't
have kissed her."
"Between you and me," Aaron added with a wink, "she's a damn good kisser, too."
rolled his eyes. "Great."
"Hey, man, no complaints. We have to watch you and Tabitha every day."
"Yeah, that's true. Not that we have the same kind of vibe going that you and Cara had onstage today, but..."
mean the soft porn vibe?"
"So you knew exactly how physical you were being?"
Aaron grinned. "Of course, man!
Normally, I wouldn't have acted on all of those impulses, of course, but DayQuil does funny things to you."
what you're going to tell Cara?"
Aaron shrugged. "Something along those lines. She knows me well enough to know that
the majority of that display was way out of character." He paused for a moment. "The kiss wasn't, though. I think that's what
threw her for a loop."
"Among other things," Trent retorted. Aaron grimaced.
"Yeah, I was kinda sexual up there,
"Understatement," Trent deadpanned, and the two men shared a laugh.
"She knows I like messing with her,
though. She's so freaking conservative..."
"Which you find attractive."
Aaron looked mildly offended. "Of course! Man, I've seen and dated the other
kind of women. The loose ones. They just...they aren't worth it. A girl who's been around the block that many times isn't
worth it to me. I don't care if they're willing to put out. It just doesn't appeal to me anymore."
Trent nodded thoughtfully.
"Yeah, I know what you mean. After awhile, you just want someone to settle down with."
Aaron looked up in surprise.
"That's not meant to say that I don't want to have lots of sex..."
Trent burst out laughing. "Man, do yourself a favor,
"DON'T give Cara that disclaimer."
Aaron chuckled. "Yeah, I hear ya. She's too sweet and
Trent heaved a sigh. "How long have you liked her, dude?"
"Honestly? Since Nick came to town and
I got to see Cara try and get him back on track. She's so patient with him and he's such a shit...but for a little bit, he
was better, and it was all because of her. She's got a way with people. It's cool to see."
Trent nodded his agreement.
"Just make sure you don't expect her to be your Superman. She may have worked wonders with you, but that doesn't mean she
can do the same for your brother."
Aaron sighed. "I know. Believe me, I know. It's just the fact that she tried."
she still trying?"
The younger man shrugged. "Hell if I know. I try to avoid Nick. After T accused him of taking cocaine,
I washed my hands of it. I just...there's only so much I can handle where Nick's involved."
"What if he really is taking
coke? Would you want to know?"
Aaron bit his lower lip and stared forlornly at the floor. "I don't know, man. Before,
I would've said yes, but now I really don't know."
* * *
"Larkin, I want you sleeping on that script tonight. I don't care if you
have to learn by osmosis, but I want your lines fucking PERFECT by tomorrow. Aaron, you need to go straight to bed with a
cup of tea. I know you're a trooper, but you need to get better, and it needs to happen fast." The aforementioned cast members
nodded sagely, and Cal heaved a satisfied sigh. "Okay, kids, you're free to go. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning."
dismissal was followed by the usual rush of cast members up the aisles, but Aaron stayed back for a moment in an attempt to
"A? You ready to head out?"
He glanced up to find Theresa staring at him expectantly and sighed.
"I guess so. Where's C?"
Eating dinner with your brother so they can talk about his coke addiction. "She ran
into an old friend from college while she was getting lunch today, and they agreed to meet up for dinner."
in confusion. "Why aren't you with her?"
Theresa chuckled bitterly and convincingly. "We didn't exactly run with the
same crowds in college. I doubt I'd be welcome."
Luckily, Aaron seemed to accept the answer. "Man, that sucks. I really
need to talk to her."
"Yeah, you do," Theresa agreed pointedly, tossing an arm around Aaron's waist. "However, you
need to explain this shit to me first. What the hell happened onstage this morning?"
Aaron sighed. "I'm not really
sure, T. That's why I need to talk to Cara."
Yeah, you and your brother both. "There will be plenty of time
for that later, babe. For now, let's get you home. We're going to pump you so full of herbal tea that you'll piss an entire
ocean before opening night."