Cara burst into the pizzeria twenty minutes after the scheduled meeting time. Her
dark brown locks were secured in a messy ponytail, and the collar of her sweatshirt hung asymmetrically, leaving a shoulder
exposed. Her purse was slung haphazardly over her shoulder, the flap banging unclasped against the body. She saw Nick's tired,
amused figure almost immediately and hurried over to his corner table.
"Hi. Sorry I'm late. Rehearsal ran over because
Larkin couldn't remember her lines."
He took in her appearance and bit back a rugged smile. "It's fine."
looked up, blew her bangs out of her face, and furrowed her brow in concern. "Is everything okay?"
Nick laughed lightly,
hollowly. "I feel like I should be asking you the same question. You look..."
Cara cut him off immediately. "I'm fine.
It was a long day." And the last thing she wanted to do was discuss the long day's events with Nick Carter.
the feeling," Nick muttered. He gestured sheepishly to the pie on the table. "I ordered already. I figured that everyone likes
Actually, I'm not supposed to have dairy. "Of course." Cara sighed and, against her better judgment,
grabbed a piece and took a bite. "Man, this is good..."
Nick smiled knowingly. "It is, isn't it?"
waiting for me."
He shrugged. "No problem. Thanks for meeting with me."
She looked up in surprise. "No, I meant
thanks for waiting to eat."
He blushed. "Oh...yeah, well. I can be a gentleman sometimes. I'm trying to be better."
arched an eyebrow in curiosity. "Yeah, about that...what's going on?"
Nick took a careful sip of his iced tea and sighed,
allowing his shoulders to slump as he curved his back into the booth. "Things kinda came to a head last night."
brow wrinkled in concern as she leaned forward. "How so?"
"My..." He trailed off when he realized that he didn't know
what to call Esmerelda. She hadn't really been a friend--well, not in the way that he and Cara were friends, at least. She
hadn't been a drug dealer either; that was Jason. She'd been more than someone to dance with, though. "This girl I know...she
died last night," he finished lamely.
Cara's brown eyes grew dark. "Someone died? How?"
he answered honestly. He knew that much. He just didn't know what all she'd had by the time she finally went under.
leaned farther over the table and lowered her voice. "With what?"
He flinched. "I don't really know. She was...well,
she'd had a lot of everything. We were kinda having a party."
Cara rolled her eyes. "Some party." The concerned expression
quickly returned, though, and she glanced at Nick worriedly. "Are you okay? That must've been hard, watching her go."
shook his head quickly. "It...it wasn't like that."
"What happened, then?"
He gulped nervously and stared at
the table. When he spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper. "We kinda...well, I think we slept together. But when I woke
up, she was dead."
Cara leaned back against the booth and brought her hands to her face. Her chest rose and fell beneath
her arms, and Nick watched as she swallowed forcefully.
"You think you slept together."
He wanted to reach out and tell her that it hadn't been as bad as it sounded, but he knew he'd be lying. He'd done a lot of
things that he wasn't proud of, but he couldn't remember a time that he'd felt quite so low. He'd never been afraid to look
at himself in the mirror quite like he was now. He hadn't ever taken things to the extremes that had been reached the night
He'd definitely never seen someone die.
"I...I was kinda drunk."
Cara dropped her hands and gave
him a breadbox look. "Drunk?"
He winced. "And stoned."
Her eyebrows rose. "You had weed and alcohol
in your system?"
His voice was whisper-soft and full of shame. "And coke."
Cara's eyes widened to twice their
size. "Holy shit." She shook her head slowly. "You're lucky to be alive, you know that?"
He laughed bitterly.
"After waking up and seeing her like that? Yeah, I know."
Her surprised expression faded quickly to one of
sympathy. "Oh, hon...I'm sorry."
He shook his head. "No, don't be. I...I put myself in the situation, right? My fault."
cocked her head to the side. "Did you know this girl very well?"
He shrugged. "Kinda. We met when I first came down
here. She...she helped me relax a little bit. Her people were kinda like the guys I used to hang out with before..." He didn't
want to go there. He wasn't sure if he was ready to recount everything that "before" entailed. "Well, before," he finished.
people." The disdain in her voice was obvious. He sighed.
"Yeah, party people. They hooked me up."
He shrugged again. "I don't know. About a week and a half ago? Not too long. I..." He shuddered. "I know I should've
left it alone. Hell, I knew then that I should've left it alone. I just..."
He moved to run a hand through
his hair, forgetting momentarilythat it was secured in a ponytail. "There's so much pressure here. Every time I look at Aaron,
I feel so fucking guilty..."
"Because there's so much he doesn't know?" Cara asked. Nick laughed hollowly.
wish. More because I've made his life a living hell."
The younger woman frowned from across the table. "How? Nick,
I know you think Theresa and I hate you, but I promise we haven't said anything about this to Aaron. He...he needs to relax.
With all due respect, having you here is hard enough on him without him knowing that you're doing drugs."
bitterly. "Not like it would matter."
"Nick! Of course it would matter! Aaron loves you a lot, okay?"
eyebrows rose in surprise. "I know that. Believe me, I know that. Sometimes I think Aaron is the only family I have. I just..."
He shook his head as he trailed off. "I've already put that kid through the ringer. I don't think the drugs would surprise
him all that much."
Cara frowned, recalling the many discussions she'd had with Theresa on the subject. "Why not?"
She frowned. "What?"
"You honestly don't know, huh?" Nick closed his eyes and rubbed a hand over
his face in embarrassment. "Well, see...this isn't exactly the first time I've tried cocaine."
Cara's eyes widened
as she recalled their earlier conversation. "That's right. You said something about starting it during the Black &
Blue tour last time."
Nick winced. "You've got a good memory."
"Not good enough," Cara muttered. "I watched
a crapload of Backstreet Boys specials, and I don't ever remember seeing you high. AJ, yes, but not you."
hollowly, trying to ignore the pain it caused him to hear AJ's name. "I was more discreet about it than he was."
frowned in curiosity. "Did everyone know what was going on?"
Nick nodded slowly. "Yeah, they knew. Everyone knew."
AJ went to rehab. How did you stop?"
Nick stared at her long and hard, trying to find a reason behind the deep-set
concern in her dark brown eyes. When he spoke, his voice was soft and shamed. "I didn't."
"But you had to! You were
clean when you first ended up here. I mean, you were obviously smoking pot in nightclubs, but that's different. It's much
Nick nodded his agreement. "Yeah. I was done by the time I showed up here. But back then..." He
gulped, trying to swallow the lump in his throat. "I didn't stop when AJ did."
Cara's voice was whisper-soft with realization.
"You got worse."
"It was the only way to handle things," Nick mumbled. "It just...everything sucked so much by then."
needed it to cope," Cara finished. Nick nodded sullenly and took a bite of pizza.
"But if you
didn't end up in rehab, how'd you quit?"
Nick sighed heavily. "Oh, I ended up in rehab eventually. No one heard about
it, though. By that time, we were done making music."
Cara gave a small gasp. "That's why you quit."
countered bitterly. "That's not why I quit. That's why Kevin kicked me out."
It had been years since he'd even said
the older man's name. He'd forgotten just how bitter it tasted.
"Because you wouldn't kick the habit," Cara murmured.
Nick wiped his mouth with his napkin.
"Something like that." He allowed himself another bitter laugh. "They'd tried
everything else, too. They told my mother, my father...fucking everyone knew about it."
"So when did you quit?"
leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, trying desperately to fight against the onslaught of memories that threatened
to surface. "When the guys told Aaron." He bit his lower lip to keep it from trembling. "The look on his face...fuck. They
told him right there in front of me. Right there. And then he looked at me with this God-awful face, and I just...I
couldn't do it anymore." He sucked in a breath and leveled misty blue eyes at Cara. "I never wanted him to look at me like
that, Cara. I never wanted my brother to see me as a failure." He heaved a sigh. "But you know what I realized last night?"
shook her head slowly, gently as she reached for his hand across the table.
"He's been looking at me like that ever
since. I checked into rehab, thinking that I'd get better and he'd look up to me again, but it never happened. It just got
worse. Now, it's like he expects me to fail."
Nick shook his head. "No, it's okay. I get it, all right?
Believe me, between you and Theresa, I know I've screwed up. He doesn't even..." Nick paused to swallow forcefully. When he
spoke again, his voice was barely above a whisper. "He won't even look at me anymore."
"He loves you too much to watch
you hurt yourself," Cara explained quietly. She knew how Aaron must feel. She'd been there.
"Again," Nick finished
with a sigh.
He nodded. "What, you think he didn't go through it the first time? I was in rehab for
fucking twelve weeks, C. That's three months. Aaron had to go through it. Hell, he was the only one who cared enough."
frowned deeply. "What about the other Boys?"
Nick sucked in a breath and hissed it out slowly. "What about them? They
were gone by then. I..." He sighed. "I did a number on all of them. From what I understand, you get to a point where you just
can't watch anymore."
Cara nodded her understanding. She'd been there too.
"Looking back..." He coughed, trying
to get his bearings. He could already feel renegade tears slipping between his eyelashes. "They did everything they could
do. It's not like they didn't try. It just...the fact that they left...I couldn't..." He shook his head. "I didn't know what
to do. It hurt. Of all the people in the world, they were the last people I expected to up and leave. My family, yes, but
not the fellas. We stuck by each other." He laughed hollowly and looked up at her with sad, sorry eyes. His baby voice pinched
her heart. "I guess everyone has a breaking point."
"Except for Aaron, huh?" Cara answered quietly. Nick smiled.
AC hung in there. He read all these books on addiction, studied all these sites on the web. He even found this organization
called Cocaine Addicts Anonymous." Nick didn't even try to fight the tears this time. They fell of their own will. "Once I
got out of rehab, he went to the meetings with me. He'd sneak out while he was on tour, just so he could find out what to
do to help." He leaned forward and dropped his head in his hands. "Fuck, Cara, who am I kidding? He's never going
to give me another chance. He's given me too many, and I keep fucking them up. Every damn time, I screw him over. I mean,
shit. No wonder he has no faith in me."
Cara shook her head in amazement. "Nick, you don't have any faith in yourself."
the problem, huh? Poor kid. It took him so long to realize that he couldn't do anything to help." He sighed heavily and buried
his fingers in his hair. "He tried like hell, though. I hate thinking that he blames himself."
Cara sighed heavily.
"Man, and to think that Theresa and I spent so much time and energy trying to make sure he didn't know."
her a painfully grateful glance. "I appreciate that. I'm sure he does too."
"Sure," Cara muttered. "But all this time,
we've been trying to save him the pain, you know? The pain of having to watch someone you love battle addiction. We've been
trying to save him from..."
"Something he's already gone through?" Nick finished with a chuckle. "Yeah, that's about
"That's terrible," Cara whispered. "No wonder he's so worried about you."
Nick looked up in surprise.
Cara's eyes widened in disdain. "Of course he's worried! Why wouldn't he be?"
suddenly shy. "I don't know. I guess I just always figured that he hated me."
Cara reached across the table to take
Nick's hands in her own. "Oh, honey...we've been over this, remember? Aaron doesn't hate you. He doesn't understand you sometimes,
and he doesn't feel like he's helped you, but he definitely doesn't hate you. You're his brother."
Nick scoffed. "When he needed me the most, when all of the family shit went down, I was knee-deep in drugs."
up at him pointedly, but her voice was soft when she spoke. "He still needs you, Nick."
Nick looked up in surprise.
"The show, you mean."
"Among other things, yeah." She frowned, remembering the scene from earlier that morning. "Which
reminds me...how did you end up with the David Hasselhoff version?"
"I bought it after you guys told me the story,
when I was trying to be good. I bought the soundtrack too. I just..." He trailed off, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his
hands. "I wanted to know more. I felt bad because he's my little brother, you know? I should be totally obsessed with this
show by now."
"But you guys don't work that way," Cara countered. Nick's hollow laugh returned.
"Yeah we do.
Aaron used to drive my mother crazy listening to Backstreet Boys records."
"That makes two of us," Cara muttered dryly,
and Nick cracked a smile.
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
Cara cocked her head gently to the side. "Sorry
"For screwing it up with the guys. I mean, I know we had a good thing going. I know you..." He swallowed
around the lump in his throat. "I know you liked the music. I'm sorry I fucked up."
Cara sighed heavily. "I appreciate the apology, hon, but...I think Aaron needs
to hear it more than I do."
Nick winced. "Shit, Cara. I don't want to tell him about this. I don't...she fucking died,
Cara. She died in my arms. Aaron's got enough reasons to see me as a failure, okay? I don't want to hand him any
more." He heaved a sigh of his own. "Besides, it's like you said. You and Theresa have spent a lot of time trying to keep
it from him."
"You weren't exactly discreet, though," Cara pointed out quietly. "I mean, if he's seen you like this
before, he must recognize the signs."
Nick shook his head slowly. "No. He doesn't want to recognize anything. He's
sick of dealing with my shit, and I don't blame him." He tugged his hair loose and ran a hand through it. "He shouldn't have
to deal with it again. I mean, hell, I'm the one who fucked up, right? I should be the one to fix things."
a skeptical eyebrow and took the opportunity to lean back. "Like you fixed things the last time we had a heart-to-heart?"
I called you from LA?"
Cara rolled her eyes. "Nick, that wasn't a heart-to-heart. You were strung out on cocaine and
you couldn't see straight. I bet you don't even remember the conversation."
That's probably a pretty accurate
"I'm talking about the car ride."
Nick's brow furrowed in confusion for a moment before his
blue eyes lit up in understanding. "Oh! God, no. That was...I got scared. I...shit, Cara, someone died this time, okay? I
kept looking at her, thinking that that could be me, and while I'm one hell of a disappointment now, if I died, I'd never
get the chance to rectify that. I'd never get to make things up to Aaron." He shook his head. "That's the most important thing,
you know? Despite all the stupid shit I do, I really do love the kid. I'm not doing it to hurt him." He sucked in a breath.
"I just...I want to get better, C. I don't want him to look at me like that anymore."
Cara nodded gently. "What can
I do to help?"
Nick sighed. "Honestly? Keep talking to me. Keep talking to Aaron."
Cara smiled softly. "He loves
you a lot, you know."
"Yeah," Nick breathed. "Yeah, I know."