As usual, Cara was the first person up the next morning. Despite the dark rings
around her eyes and the perpetual exhaustion that tugged at her eyelids, she was up from the first ding of the alarm clock,
grumbling about early hours as she pulled the covers off her tall, tired frame.
Rubbing her eyes gingerly with her
fist, she stumbled into the kitchen to start the coffee maker. Normally, she would've chosen tea over coffee, but her exhaustion
was extensive enough that she needed as much caffeine as she could get. After a brief break to wash her face and brush her
teeth, she returned with an eager, empty cup and a slightly heightened sense of consciousness. She was just securing her hair
in a ponytail when an equally groggy Aaron padded across the kitchen tile. He glanced up long enough to make eye contact with
Cara, and both of them froze.
His voice was hoarse, sleep-thick, and tinged with regret. She sighed and
cracked a small smile for his benefit.
Aaron cleared his throat, tugged his blanket more tightly around
him, and looked at his friend with pleading eyes. "Listen, about yesterday..." He trailed off, waiting for her response. He
knew Cara well enough to know that she usually accepted his prompts.
She didn't say anything though, and he expelled
the breath he'd been holding on two pain-stricken words.
Cara's brown eyes widened in surprise,
something Aaron took as a good sign. "You're sorry?"
"Well, yeah," the younger man admitted sheepishly. "I totally
disregarded your boundaries, completely ignored your penchant for privacy..."
"Yeah," Cara interrupted with a laugh.
"Yeah, you did. But I didn't exactly stop you."
Aaron's brow furrowed in confusion. "I didn't give you a choice. I
"You were wonderful," Cara chuckled.
Aaron's bushy brown brows lowered on his tanned forehead. Huh?
He was positive that the mass amounts of Robitussin had fried his more valuable brain cells.
"You mean you're not mad?"
sipped her steaming mug with a small grin. "No, I'm not mad!" He heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank God."
"Why would I
Aaron waved a hand in the air absently as he searched for a mug of his own. "Boundaries, privacy..."
Cara reached across the counter and handed him an NYU coffee cup. "And, A, you weren't at all disrespectful. You were in character."
flickered across the younger man's features that worried her. "Oh."
"I wasn't in character," he admitted
lowly. "Not at the end of the song, anyway."
Her voice was sympathetic and whisper-soft as she placed her hand over
his. "I know."
He looked up in surprise at the physical contact. "You know?"
She chuckled. "I know. And Aaron?"
blinked. He was sure that his sinuses were screwing with the synapses in his brain. This is too good to be true. She...God,
she's not even angry!
"I'm not sorry."
They locked gazes across the tiled island, studying each other more
intimately than they had previously.
"Sorry about what?"
The moment ended abruptly as both turned towards the
raspy voice at the other end of the kitchen.
"Nothing," they answered in unison.
Nick shrugged. He wanted to
know, but he knew better than to pry. He was just glad that Aaron was talking to him again. "Okay. Hey, do you two mind if
we make some toast?"
Cara flinched at the thought of the toaster, and Aaron stifled a smile.
"Not at all, man.
Go for it."
Nick looked up at his younger brother in surprise. "Thanks." He reached above the refrigerator for the
bread, turning his back to Aaron and Cara. Had he turned around in time, he would've seen them sharing a look that said that
the previous conversation was far from over.
It had just begun.
* * * *
The door to the auditorium creaked open, and a lone figure peaked out from behind
the doorjam. With a deep breath of apprehension, the figure allowed the door to close behind him and directed all attention
to the dialogue onstage. He had been worried about his entrance being a disturbance, but the sound did nothing to distract
the professionals onstage.
Onstage, Tabitha's Lady Beaconsfield and Theresa's Lisa were engaged in a battle of verbal
prowess and barely-disguised hatred, one that was apparently mediated by Rob's Sir Danvers.
"Lisa assures me that Henry
Jekyll is impeccable husband material," Rob began in a paternal tone.
"Well, for a start, it is less than impeccable
to be late to one's own engagement party," Tabitha sneered. "It shows a remarkable lack of style."
Rob trailed off as he went to greet the other engagement party guests who had decided to make an entrance.
on style should never be made by those who have none," Theresa muttered. A laugh from stage left demanded her attention, and
she turned willingly towards Trent's smile.
She moved towards him, pulling him into a hug. "Mr.
Utterson, thank you so much for being here."
Trent's John Utterson chuckled. "You're a graceful breath of fresh air,"
he replied kindly, releasing her towards Kyle's Simon.
Theresa turned again, stopping short when her character took
notice of a very smug-looking Simon. Both actors immediately adopted surly expressions.
Lisa Carew, can this
What kind of man is this you've taken?
Can you not see the kind of life that this would be?
You are mistaken
to awaken before it's too late
Before you forever determine your fate
Kyle grabbed her hand and arched
a threatening eyebrow, but Theresa immediately retracted the hand and shook her head. Her strong soprano rang out in the auditorium
as she responded.
Simon, you knew I had to be free
What I choose to do
Is decided by me...
What in the hell are you doing here?"
It took a moment for him to realize that the hiss wasn't part of the scripted
onstage banter. He sighed heavily and offered a tentative smile in Cara's direction, never taking his eyes off the stage.
thought...I guess...I wanted to see," he finished lamely.
"See what?" she hissed, her voice dangerously low.
he answered quietly. "You, Theresa. I wanted to see the musical. I wanted to see what you guys go through."
Nick heaved another sigh, finally turning his attention away from the scene in front of him.
"Cara, I really do want to turn things around, okay? I'm not fucking it up this time. I really want to be better, and that
involves being supportive of Aaron."
The younger woman frowned uncertainly. "Okay..."
"So here I am."
sucked in a breath. "Wow."
Both returned their gazes to the stage, where Lisa Carew and Simon Stride
were engaged in a dance of elusion. When Cara spoke again, her voice was soft.
"What do you think so far?"
laughed lightly. "Well, I've only been here for a few minutes, but I'm seriously surprised at how well Theresa plays a lovesick
"Shocking transformation," Cara agreed with a smile. The conversation was interrupted by Theresa's gentle
soprano and Aaron's accompanying entrance.
I'm not the weak young thing you're seeking, Simon
obedient, and sweet
I'm not the protégé to waste your time on
She held the note in a
measured vibrato as she caught Aaron's eyes across the stage.
In Henry's eyes I see
What I am meant to be
The touching scene between the two was interrupted immediately by the raucous laughter of two other cast members,
both of whom seemed content to tease Henry Jekyll about his prolonged entrance.
Henry Jekyll, you're a devil
have robbed us of London's most lovely girl
The other slapped Aaron on the back jovially as he took a breath.
could turn to drink, when I stop to think
Lisa's marrying a doctor instead of an earl
Both of the guests
looked at each other with remorse, singing the next line in perfect unison.
Poor girl **
stepped out of the wings just as Dr. Jekyll managed to brush off the obnoxious men, and Nick sucked in a breath of anticipation
from the audience when he realized that Aaron was about to recite his lines.
"Ah, the late Dr. Jekyll," Rob boomed.
looked up with a charming smile, and all signs of the flu vanished from his face. "My apologies, Sir Danvers."
Danvers smiled easily, shaking the hand that Dr. Jekyll offered. "Forgiven. More like Lisa, I'm willing to anticipate you.
But are you sure we oughtn't invite your wedding guests for the day after the ceremony, just to make sure the groom is in
His expression spoke of stifled laughter and casual teasing, both of which Dr.
Jekyll greeted with a knowing smile.
"Never fear, sir, I'll be there. The six weeks `til the wedding," he began with
a grin and a wink, "will be the longest of my life."
Nick watched in amazement as the two continued to banter
back and forth. He remembered all too well the previous evening's image of his brother doubled over in a hacking cough, and
he was incredibly impressed at the transformation. He hardly recognized the calm, composed actor in front of him. Additionally,
Aaron recited his lines with an ease that implied he was not only practiced, but naturally talented. He had a knack for timing
and an impeccable delivery.
An elbow nudged him in the ribs, and he jumped at the unexpected contact.
good, isn't he?" Cara asked with a grin.
"Really good," Nick agreed quietly. "He must be feeling better."
Cara scoffed. "He's just on a bunch of drugs."
"Cough meds," Cara amended. "That, and he's got enough
tea in him to piss a river." She clapped Nick on the back gently, missing his surprised countenance entirely. "You'll hear
the inconsistency when he sings, though."
Nick jumped at the loud baritone voice, but Cara remained
calm and collected.
"Cal," Cara answered with a grin.
Nick closed his mouth long enough
to listen to the forthcoming rant.
"Aaron, what the hell is going on up there? This is your girlfriend's FATHER, not
your fucking frat buddy! You can't act like an ass in front of this guy, okay? Jekyll's determined, yes, but he's also in
love with Lisa, and he's not enough of a dipshit to screw that up. And Rob? I know this is a whole different ball game for
you, but you're a DAD. Fucking act like it, okay? You can't grin and giggle at the thought of your daughter having sex with
Onstage, Aaron and Rob nodded thoughtfully and re-positioned themselves. Out in the audience, Nick gulped.
Cara, get backstage. Lunch break's over, doll. It's time for you to be a whore again."
Cara laughed lightly from Nick's
left. "That's my cue," and away she went.
"Start from the Lisa/Jekyll dialogue. I'm sick of this scene."
watched in amazement as everyone but Theresa, Aaron, and a sitting observer cleared the stage. The sitting character leaned
back on its hands and groaned. "Okay, go. And please, dear GOD, don't make us do this scene more than twice today."
fell over the crowd as the scene commenced.
Aaron stepped tentatively away from the wings, a smirk playing on his tired
features. "Miss Carew?"
Theresa turned with barely-concealed amusement on her face. "Dr. Jekyll!"
his chin ever so slightly, playing the part of the embarrassed husband-to-be with deadly accuracy. His entire demeanor was
that of a man in the doghouse. "Are you angry with me?"
Theresa's Lisa rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "No."
smile tugged on the corner of Dr. Jekyll's mouth, but his tone was stern. "You should be."
Lisa's eyebrows rose in
surprise. "I'm just happy you're here!"
Dr. Jekyll rolled his eyes. "Well, I try never to miss any social occasion
attended by Lady Beaconsfield. Tell me, is there a Lord Beaconsfield?"
"He died thirty years ago," Lisa answered in
a voice dripping with regret.
"Sensible fellow," Dr. Jekyll deadpanned. Lisa's laughter bubbled forth with a schoolgirl's
ease. Dr. Jekyll grabbed her hands, adopting a pleading expression. "Dearest Lisa, you realize you're setting yourself up
for a lifetime of these aggravations."
"Yes, I realize that."
He continued doggedly. "I cannot live by the same
old clock other people do."
Theresa's Lisa arched a single eyebrow. "I realize that, too."
"And in all good
conscience, I must advise you, I love you far too much to have you suffer the sort of life I have to offer," Aaron finished,
wrapping a tender arm around Theresa's waist. The contact had initially been uncomfortable for the two friends, but they'd
learned to tease each other with facial expressions.
Theresa's face offered no such humorous expression. Instead, her
brow furrowed in concern as Aaron took a deep breath to sing and prayed that his voice worked in the ways he so desperately
I must go on with the work I'm committed to
How can I not when my theories are true?
will prove if I'm ever permitted to
Things are not wrong just because they are new
Theresa forced herself
not to react at the painfully raspy baritone that bubbled forth, instead interrupting the tirade with her gentle soprano and,
with her eyes, pleading Aaron to put an end to the song. He does NOT need to be singing.
Always have done, always will do
And your dreams are mine
I will always understand, however hard the path
Our lives will intertwine
She held the note with a powerful vibrato, pulling away from his
embrace long enough to look him in the eye. Aaron took a breath and frowned deeply, delivering the next line with a clearer
tone, but lacking strength.
Who knows where my work will lead me?
Theresa interrupted again,
returning to his arms with fervency.
Nowhere where you will not need me
Another deep breath,
and Aaron was trying to ignore the urge to cough and the blinding glare from Cal.
Lisa, please, I beg you
Theresa caught the concern on Cal's face and shot him a desperate look.
Just don't leave
me on my own
Aaron closed his eyes and tightened his grip on Theresa's waist, hoping to summon enough energy
to hold his next notes.
What, by God, am I supposed to do? ***
Nick had found a seat in his
state of trance and was now watching in amazement at his brother's transformation. Gone were the days of kiddie rap and the
occasional sappy tween ballad. Somewhere down the line, the little prince of pop had developed a voice that--even now, when
he was so obviously ill--gave his brother chills. The clarity wasn't full force, but the expression was more than enough to
make up for it.
Apparently, the director didn't share Nick's opinion, because the music ground to a halt.
Nick not been so concerned, he would've laughed at the way Theresa and Aaron immediately jumped apart.
are you doing to yourself?"
Both Carter brothers hung their heads, trying to ignore the accuracy of the question.
man, I want an answer. What are you doing to yourself?"
Nick looked up in surprise when he heard the barking cough
he knew to be Aaron's.
"Man...I have to do this. We have to do this. The performance..."
"Isn't going to happen
if you don't shake this thing," Cal interjected pointedly. "Your co-star over there is shooting me looks of death because
I've still got you on this stage, and I'm beginning to think she might have a point."
Nick's heart constricted when
he saw Aaron's face fall.
"Don't get me wrong, Aaron. You're kicking ass out here, especially for someone with a fever,
but I can't in good conscience let you go on singing this song. I know you're trying to put in your hours. I know how much
this musical means to you, because it means equally as much, if not more, to me. I just..." Cal trailed off and shook his
head. "I can't let you do this to yourself, man. I need you in top form for this thing, and while you're not doing a bad job,
you're definitely not doing the job I know you can do."
Aaron groaned. Unfortunately, the groan turned quickly into
"Look, kid, you know your lines. You know your songs. For once, you and Theresa aren't acting like the other
has cooties or something." A ripple of laughter went through the audience. "I know I'm a hardass, kid, but I have a heart,
and listening to you sing like that is just ripping me to shreds."
"Cal," Aaron began quietly, "I need to be here.
I don't..." He shook his head and rephrased. "I can't be at the apartment alone right now."
"No," Cal agreed,
"because, like it or not, we have a show to put on, and it's a show that people are going to pay to see. You're going to go
through the motions, put your arms back around Theresa, and let her finish this song. HOWEVER, you are NOT going to sing.
If I so much as hear you humming, I'll have your ass in a taxi faster than you can say 'Take Me As I Am,' understood?"
rolled his eyes. "But that doesn't help us work..."
"Do you want me to have Cara talk to you?" Cal interrupted. The
auditorium fell silent as everyone waited for Aaron's response. Finally, the younger man groaned.
then," Cal finished. "We'll start from where we left off."
"Can I at least run lines?" Aaron grumbled. Cal sighed in
"Go ahead, kid, but the second I hear you cough, I'm sending you into the audience and the Dregs girls
onto the stage."
Both men faced off for a moment, each glaring at the other. Not surprisingly, Aaron was the first
to relent. Cal dutifully cued the music, and a perturbed younger Carter took his place behind his blonde roommate.
this all began
We knew there'd be a price to pay
Too late now to turn away
We have come too far
I know we'll find
Aaron broke away and moved downstage for his own verse. He reached out a hand to the balcony, fully
prepared to pantomime the song, when another voice rang out in the stillness.
Sometimes I see past the horizon
of my way
Where I am going
But where's the prize I have my eyes on
Where there is just no knowing
two cast members onstage froze when they saw that Cal was the one singing Aaron's part. They'd heard him do everything. They'd
heard him yell, scream, cry, run lines in perfect sync with the group, but they'd never, ever heard him sing.
made his way back towards Theresa, he grudgingly admitted that the director wasn't half-bad.
And when despair
tears me in two
Who can I turn to but you?
You know who I am
Take me as I am
From the audience, Nick
felt tears well in his eyes as his silent brother mouthed the words along with the director. Theresa and Aaron shared an embrace
and a tender gaze, but the words of the song were enough for Nick to imagine that he himself was singing them to his brother.
in my eyes
Who do you see there?
Someone you know, or just a stranger
If you are wise
You will see me there
is the only danger
Theresa held Aaron in her arms with the patience of a mother as she sang her lines, trying
desperately to comfort him in the only way she knew how. She couldn't help thinking that Cara would've done a better job,
but she let the music flow through her anyway, hoping that it would serve as consolation for the hug she knew he'd rather
Both were entirely unaware of their guest.
Love meaning me
Love meaning you
make that one dream come true
You know who I am
Take me as I am
As the two-part harmony arrived, various
other voices from the cast could be heard singing along.
We may not always do what we desire
Still we can
set the world on fire
Give me your hand
Give me your heart
Swear to me we'll never part
You know who I am
sang his lines quietly along with everyone else, Theresa serving as a powerful echo.
This is who I am
is who I am
The rest of the cast faded away, however, leaving Aaron and Theresa to finish the song in quiet
but perfect harmony.
Take me as I am ****
The whole audience of cast members erupted into applause,
whistling as Theresa squeezed Aaron tightly. Once the applause died down, though, Cal's voice boomed over the stage once again.
that's it, man. You're done for the day. Into the audience."
Aaron grinned cheekily at the director, his arms still
wrapped around his shorter friend. "And if I told you that I really, really enjoyed your singing?"
happened. Calvert Holland blushed.
"Flattery isn't going to keep you onstage, kid."
"Not even if it inspires
that lovely shade of pink you're wearing?"
Theresa stifled giggles in his arms, and Cal himself looked to be stifling
"You're going to be wearing some black and blue if you don't clear the wings, kid."
"Okay, okay, I'm going..." That said, he let go of Theresa and vaulted off the stage and into the orchestra pit. Cal stared
threateningly down into the audience.
"While I'm up here, does anyone else want to get a dig in?"
No one dared
to answer. They knew better than to tease him when prompted.
* * * *
Aaron weaved his way through the seats slowly, searching for the familiar backpack
he'd come to carry to and from rehearsals. He didn't immediately find the backpack, but he did run smack into a wall of chambray
"I'm so..." He looked up and choked on his apology. "Nick?!"
The older Carter swallowed forcefully and cracked a small, tight-lipped smile.
"How'd you get here?"
Nick frowned. "I drove?" He tried to ignore the way Aaron's expression was turning
"How long have you been here?"
"Since the engagement party," he answered truthfully. Aaron groaned.
So you saw everything."
"Yeah," Nick admitted quietly. However, his eyebrows rose in contradiction when he saw the
crestfallen look on Aaron's face. "Wait, man, it wasn't like that. You're...you're really good up there."
was soft enough that he sounded sincere, and it was Aaron's turn to raise his brow in surprise.
Nick affirmed. The brothers shared a small smile.
Aaron wiped his hands on his torn jeans. "You, um...you want to go
grab lunch or something?"
Nick shook his head sadly. "No. I mean, thanks, but I should probably be getting back. I've
been gone over an hour."
"Wow, yeah," Aaron replied immediately. "You should definitely be getting back. I um..." He
shook his head and looked directly at his older brother, locking brown with blue. "Thanks. For coming, I mean. It...it means
Nick grinned, and for a moment, Aaron caught sight of the smile that once graced a thousand posters. "Sure
thing, man. I can't wait until opening night." His expression turned serious. "I'll be here then, too."
It wasn't much, but it was a start.