Aaron coughed loudly, a phlegm-filled, bone-rattling cough that made his lungs
constrict and every part his body tremble. "T, where is she?"
Theresa turned concerned eyes towards her charge for
the evening. "At dinner, A. We've been over this. Eat your soup."
Aaron pushed back the bowl of Ramen with a frown.
"Not hungry," he pouted. "I want to know why she's not back yet."
Theresa glanced discreetly at her wristwatch. She
was wondering the same thing.
"You know Cara. She likes to talk. She probably just got caught up in some story about
the drama director or something."
Aaron looked at her doubtfully. "Right."
"Really! She was every teacher's
pet, man. I'm sure she's got a shitload of good stories."
Aaron rolled his eyes and coughed again, making both him
and Theresa wince at the awful barking sound. "Terry, you're a kick-ass actress, but you're a fucking terrible liar."
rolled her eyes in return. "Aaron, finish your soup so we can go to bed, okay?"
Aaron shook his head as he swallowed
another painful spoonful of Ramen. "I told you, T, I'm not going to bed until I get to talk to Cara."
a skeptical eyebrow. "Man, the way you sound now, she's not going to let you say much."
"She's not going to have a
choice," Aaron retorted. He choked on the next spoonful of soup when another thought crossed his mind. "Fuck, T...you don't
think she's avoiding me, do you?"
Theresa heaved a tired sigh. Finally, a question I can answer honestly.
"No, A. She's not avoiding you. I'm sure she's just now glancing at the clock and realizing that it's time for her to come
home if she wants to be functional tomorrow." She paused to raise an expectant brow. "Now, do you want to be functional
Aaron made a face.
"I could always tell Cal that you didn't heed his instructions..."
wouldn't do that."
Theresa dipped her chin pointedly. "Try me."
Aaron let loose with another back-breaking,
rib-ripping cough. "T, I really need to talk to Cara."
"She'll be here in the morning!" Theresa cried in frustration.
"You can talk to her then!"
"We won't have enough time."
"You won't have time tonight either," Theresa pointed
out. "You're going to bed."
Aaron stuck his tongue out at her. "Am not."
The older woman rolled her eyes in annoyance. "You are so immature."
was about to reply when the door to the apartment creaked open.
"Sorry I'm so late."
Both diners looked up as
Nick's raspy voice echoed through the foyer. Theresa set her spoon back in the bowl and turned in her chair so she was facing
the older Carter.
"Nice of you to show up," she retorted. "How was LA?"
It took Nick a moment to remember that
the trip had only ended a day before. God, it seems so long ago. "It was fine. We got a lot of stuff done, shot a
nice little video..." He trailed off when he saw Aaron pulling forlornly on the Ramen noodles that were left in his bowl.
He fought the urge to frown as his talk with Cara re-presented itself. "The usual. How was rehearsal?"
"It was rehearsal."
"It sucked," Aaron finished hoarsely before breaking into a coughing fit. The dry, hacking sounds
continued for at least a minute, causing Nick's brow to furrow in concern.
"You okay, Aaron?"
The younger man
was still coughing, so Theresa answered for him. "He caught Larkin's cold."
Aaron chanced a glance at his older brother
and was surprised to see genuine sympathy etched across Nick's face. Man, he actually cares? What the hell happened to
him over the weekend?
"Are you taking any medication?"
Aaron coughed one last time to cover the fact that
he was taken aback by the question. "Yeah," he answered quietly. "Shitloads of Robitussin. I'll be fine."
slowly and tentatively, obviously still worried. "Just...take care of yourself, okay? You should be in bed."
watched in silent confusion as Nick continued to study him. Older brother and younger brother locked gazes for a moment, both
trying to decipher the other's thoughts. Aaron was painfully impressed by his brother's sudden concern, and Nick was berating
himself for not noticing his younger brother's pain. God, how did I not see what I've been putting him through?
outburst shattered the silence.
"Thank you! I've been telling him for the past half hour to get to sleep."
I've been telling you that I need to talk to Cara," Aaron snapped. Theresa was about to reply when Nick interjected.
"Hell if I know," Aaron snorted. "She hasn't been home all night."
He was too frustrated by Cara's
absence to notice the look that passed between Theresa and Nick.
"She'll be here soon," Theresa murmured. Nick nodded
ever so slightly in affirmation.
"Well, I'm going to go ahead and get to sleep," he announced quietly. "Long day tomorrow."
ya," Aaron muttered. Nick turned upon hearing his brother's scratchy tenor.
"Feel better, A. Try to get some sleep."
would've replied, but the door to Nick's bedroom closed before the younger Carter could inquire as to the sudden concern.
He re-directed his curiosity to Theresa and lowered his voice to a whisper.
"What the hell was that all about?"
shrugged lightly and busied herself with the dishes. "Beats me. Maybe he decided it's time for him to start being a brother."
snorted at the prospect of Nick having any kind of epiphany. "Yeah right."
"What? It could happen."
her a doubtful look. "Yeah, LA is nice, Theresa, but it's not a miracle city. I don't think a weekend there would've changed
him that much."
"Maybe you shouldn't think about it," Theresa volunteered. "Maybe you should just be glad that he seems
"Definitely not," the younger man muttered with disdain.
"Because then, when the
shit hits the fan and he doesn't care, I'll just end up disappointed again," Aaron explained quietly. He doubled over with
the force of another hacking cough, grimacing as the burst of air tore at his throat. Theresa hopped up onto the counter and
reached for the bottle of Robitussin, but Aaron waved her off. "I'll be fine," he choked out. "I just need to go to sleep."
where have I heard that before?"
Aaron rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Going. Are you sure you've got dishes and stuff
Theresa smiled softly. "Yeah, I'm good. Get some rest."
Without another word, the younger man trudged
off towards his bedroom with a glass of water and a frown. Only seconds after his bedroom door closed, the door to the apartment
opened quietly and Cara slipped silently through.
Theresa was scrubbing the dishes with such ferocity that she didn't
hear the door close. Her thoughts were still with Aaron. She'd noticed the softer look in Nick's eyes when the older man entered,
but she had also noticed the defeated look in Aaron's. Theresa hated the thought that, even though Cara might have managed
to get through to Nick, Aaron had already given up. Whether or not she wanted to admit it, she'd been exactly where Nick was,
and she didn't know what she would've done if Cara had given up on her.
She jumped in surprise when Cara's purse hit
the counter beside her.
Cara sounded so exhausted that Theresa's brow immediately furrowed. "Hey yourself.
How'd it go?"
Cara looked up blankly. "How did what go?"
The brunette sighed. "Oh, that.
That went fine."
Theresa frowned at Cara's listlessness. "What did you think I was talking about?"
that," Theresa mimicked. Cara shot her a disparaging look, and she chuckled. "Not quite, hon. Aaron is a subject for another
day. I want to know what's going on with the Backstreet Boy."
Cara dropped her coat on the counter and positioned her
arms on the tile, dropping her chin in her hands. "You were right about him."
"He's definitely been
doing coke. Lots of it."
"And? We already knew that."
"And it's not the first time," Cara added quietly.
eyebrows rose. "Oh. Wow."
"Yeah, that was kinda my take on the matter," Cara agreed.
"Why was he passed out
on the couch this morning?"
"His drug dealer died last night."
Cara had thought about that for a while. Nick's
cryptic way of introducing the girl into conversation had piqued her interest, but it was the matter-of-fact description of
his late friend's condition that served as ample evidence as to this particular girl's place in his life. After a hardcore
brainstorm during the drive home, Cara was positive that the perky blonde Theresa had described and Nick's deceased friend
were one in the same.
"She died," Cara intoned softly. "And keep your voice down. Aaron's going
to hear you."
Theresa obeyed immediately, lowering her voice to a tone slightly above a whisper. "How did she die?"
do you think?" Cara fired back in an equally reserved tone. "Overdose."
"Everything," Cara countered
with a sigh. "Apparently, they were drunk and stoned too."
"Mankind," Theresa muttered, letting out a low whistle.
"He sure knows how to party."
"He's feeling the effects now, though," Cara interjected with a sympathetic voice. "Hell,
T, she died in his arms."
"He took it pretty hard," Cara added quietly. "He...he's done a
lot of shit, T, but I don't think he's ever seen anything like that before."
Theresa laughed lowly, bitterly. "Two
years of addiction, babe, and I haven't seen anything like that either, thank God." She sucked in a breath. "Man, I don't
know what I would've done if..."
"He doesn't want Aaron to find out," Cara whispered.
Theresa glanced up long
enough for a meaningful look to pass between the two women. After a moment, she allowed a slight nod. Neither spoke, though.
There was nothing else to say.
Finally, Cara heaved a sigh. "I'm going to bed."
Theresa heaved a sigh in return.
"I'm right behind you, babe. But C?"
"Do me a favor."
Cara glanced over her shoulder, eyebrow
raised expectantly. "What's that?"
Theresa's voice softened. "Talk to Aaron in the morning, okay? I understand that
there were bigger things going on tonight, but that kid was a complete and total wreck. Had Nick not walked in, he would've
worried himself sick." She paused for a moment. "Well, sicker. He doesn't want to screw things up with you."
her friend a look that let the blonde know that the timing of Nick's entrance was no mistake. "I know."
to want an answer," Theresa added gently.
"I know that, too."
Normally, Theresa would've dropped the conversation
then and there and called it a night, but she was far too exhausted to consider social graces. "So are you going to give him
what he wants?"
Cara laughed hollowly. "What he wants..." She shook her head gently, Nick's words from the evening
ringing in her ears. "Right now, I'm just trying to give him his brother back. One step at a time." She trailed off. She didn't
have to say anything more.
Theresa smiled to herself and trudged towards her bedroom.