Lay down on my sheets tonight
And I'll rid the floorboards of lies that they told you
How closely they hold
If you could just learn to let them go
You could be home now *
"No, no, no...that's not right at
all. You need to go up a little at the end of that phrase. It's hopeful, not hopeless. Going down signifies
the same movement in mood, and I don't think that's what you're looking for," Nick pointed out, reaching a hand towards the
soundboard to adjust the dials.
"I liked it going down at the end. It sounded pretty."
Nick glared contemptuously
at the record executive that had joined the recording session for the day. Normally, Rhine was his project, but ever
since he'd agreed to supervise the production of her debut album, the label had hinted around at the presence of a new representative
in the studio. Asshole. I bet he doesn't know jack shit about music.
Rhine, ever the wiser, gave
the balding suit a small smile. "I believe Mr. Carter's right, though. It does give the song the wrong connotations."
you," Nick muttered angrily. "Now, let's go from the beginning of the phrase. I'm going to count off and then
cue the music."
Rhine nodded from inside the booth, and Nick followed his narration to the letter.
down on my sheets tonight...
She had started off as his pet project, the first artist on the label that he
could really sink his teeth into. From the moment he'd heard her sing, he wanted to do everything for her, from producing
the lead vocals to laying down the harmonies. Unfortunately, as nothing more than her representative, he wasn't allowed
any say in artistic direction.
He had solved that problem quickly. He'd been early to the first recording session,
made a number of helpful comments, and adjusted the board in such a way that her voice shined. Almost immediately after
hearing the demo, the label allowed him control over production. Usually, that was enough for Nick, but this particular session
was proving more and more difficult to endure.
You could be home now...
"No, no, no!" Nick
hollered, listening to the vocals. "Higher! I know you, and I know you have more range than that.
I want you to let the words float up. Let them fly. Let them fade into the heavens, for God's sake!"
was no reason to be getting this angry. He knew it. She knew it. Hell, even record label guy probably knows
it, Nick thought bitterly. With an exasperated sigh, he dragged the cuff of his sleeve across his perspiring forehead.
Rhine heaved a sigh, positioned her headphones, and started over.
Lay down on my sheets tonight
I'll rid the floorboards of lies that they told you
How closely they hold you
If you could just learn to let them go
could be home now
Nick grabbed his coffee cup with a shaking hand and chugged. When he set the mug
down, he was glaring again.
"Do you hear that? It's going up, yeah, but nowhere near where it needs to go."
He groaned aloud and cleared his throat, realizing that he was going to have to demonstrate. This is why you never
produce, Carter. Sooner or later, you're going to have to let the whole damn world know that you can't sing anymore.
this," he began.
You could be home now
For a moment, time stopped as the youngest Backstreet
Boy slipped into a falsetto and cruised up the scale. He let the last note fade to nothing more than a breath of air,
not bothering to acknowledge the looks of amazement around him as he finished.
"Okay, so that's not great,
but you get the fucking point. Let yourself feel it, for God's sake! It's a beautiful song, and I'll be damned
if you're not going to do it justice on my watch."
Rhine cleared her throat awkwardly, breaking the reverent silence
in the small room.
"That was...really good," she admitted softly. "Just right, I think."
me," Nick growled. "Just do it."
"She's not kidding," the exec cut in with a surprised smile. "I didn't
realize you could still sing."
Nick rolled his eyes in annoyance. Yup, I was right. Fuckwit knows
nothing about music. I used to be able to sing all of those notes. He paused for a moment to consider the
thought. Holy shit. I DID sing all of those notes. Cara's lessons are actually doing some good.
He shook his head in amazement. Good God...
"Mr. Carter?" Rhine asked tentatively. Normally,
she called him Nick, but he seemed especially angry today.
"Should we start the music again?"
blinked. "Huh? OH! Yeah. Here." He flipped a switch, and the music came pouring from the speakers
as Rhine leaned into the microphone and began to sing. He wasn't listening to her voice anymore, though. He was
staring in amazement at the way his hands shook against the knobs. His gaze drifted upwards to the screen that measured
the pitch and dynamic of the notes being sung, and the bars became a neon green blur as his mind raced.
He was pissed
for no reason. He was sweating. He was shaking. And, suddenly, he was groaning silently to himself.
I'm in withdrawal. The realization was enough to send him into a flight of panic. He had to get out of the
"That's great," he hollered, cutting off the recording. "Can we break for lunch, please? I don't
know about the rest of you, but I'm fucking starving."
He didn't wait for an answer. Instead, he yanked his
jacket off the back of his chair and high-tailed it out of the studio.
* * *
Lucy, decked out in a corset, bloomers, and a torn bathrobe, grabbed John Utterson's hand and led him forward to the
brass bed. When she spoke, her tone told only of barely-concealed amusement. "No fear, sir. You won't disturb
nobody. They're used to late visitors around here."
Cara and Trent immediately turned two frowns
towards the audience, searching in the dark of the house for Cal. As if on cue, the older man leapt onto the stage and
walked towards them.
"Cara, what are you?"
Cara sighed heavily, knowing the answer. "A whore."
you have an education?"
She groaned inwardly. "No."
"Do you speak properly?"
fucking slur your words so that the improper grammar sounds natural!" Cal snapped. "You kids are mighty talented, but
you're really, really, really slow on the uptake sometimes. Trent, Utterson isn't used to this, and he's horrified by
it. Quit looking like a little boy in a candy store. Now, resume your positions!"
On cue, the music began
again, and Cara and Trent wandered back to their places.
"Action," Cal bit out.
Lucy looked over her shoulder
with barely-concealed amusement, fighting the laughter that threatened to surface at her companion's expression. "No
fear, sir. You wonna disturb nobody. They're used to late visitors around here."
Utterson still looked
uncomfortable, his eyes darting back and forth as he stepped into the lamplight. At long last, his eyes focused warily
on the scantily clad girl in front of him. He cleared his throat. "This is from Dr. Jekyll. You ought to
leave London at once, tonight if possible." He handed Lucy the letter and watched apprehensively as she tore the envelope
and slid the handwritten note out of the pocket. She stared at the careful script in confusion for a moment before Utterson
reached out to her.
Reluctantly, a blushing Lucy passed him the slip of paper and bit her lip in anticipation.
"I regret more than I can ever express that my private misfortunes prevent me from ever seeing you again.
I have found in you a tender and loving light during these past dark days. I hope you will accept the enclosed as a
small repayment for the lesson you have taught me. Leave this place, I beg you, and begin again, secure in the knowledge
that I shall never forget you.
"Doctor Jekyll," Utterson finished reading with an air of finality. When
he looked up to return the slip of paper, Lucy smiled slowly and sadly. Her tone was reverent and remorseful as she
handed him the money that had fallen out of the envelope.
"He don't owe me nothin'. I owe him."
shook his head, refusing to make the exchange. "It is not my concern, but I beseech you to do as he asks. I am
sure it's for the best."
Lucy arched an eyebrow skeptically. "Then why didn't he come? Why did you?"
Lucy and Utterson dropped their proper fašades and groaned in unison.
"Oh, don't even," Cal muttered in disgust.
"You knew I was going to stop you. I always stop you. It's just a matter of time."
the truth," Trent mumbled. "What'd we do?"
"Not you," Cal corrected pointedly. "Cara. Lucy isn't
smart enough to be coy about Jekyll's position. She's angry, and she's petulant, and she's very much a child in the
face of a possible adulthood. On the one hand, she's grown up way too damn fast, but on the other hand, she's never
had someone treat her like an adult before, so she's never had to mature. THAT'S the emotion that you're trying to capture.
Cara, your character is a whore who's never had a decent relationship. She's not educated enough to read this letter,
let alone react to it properly." That said, he heaved a sigh and fell back into position, cross-legged downstage right.
"Do it again from the 'why didn't he come' line."
Cara and Trent reassumed their positions, and Cara's facial features
fell into a toddler-worthy pout. When she spoke, the words came in rapid-fire succession, angry and confused.
"Then why didn't he come? Why did you?"
They stood at a stand-off. Lucy's features were dark and demanding,
and she wielded her finger like a dagger in accusation. Utterson, on the other hand, looked deeply troubled with a furrowed
brow and pursed lips. At long last, the lawyer expelled a breath and offered Lucy a helpless look.
he is my friend." His voice was low, but poignant. Lucy's eyebrows rose from their frown as she considered the
"Yes," she agreed, turning her face to the vanity, "I suppose he's mine, too."
up imploringly. "Believe it."
Out in the audience, a head of long blonde hair swished from side
to side as long legs pulled together in a halt. "Man, Cal sounds like he's in my kind of mood today."
fell off of his perch on one of the back-row armrests. "Shit!"
From above him, there came a burst of raspy laughter.
Aaron noted with interest, however, that the raspy element had lessened a good deal. He could hear traces of his brother's
old girlish giggle, and the thought almost made him want to smile.
"Stop laughing! You almost gave me a heart
Nick arched an eyebrow in surprise at his brother's indignant expression. "You mean you aren't used
to me showing up at rehearsal by now?"
Aaron glanced over his shoulder long enough to level his brother with a breadbox
look. "In a word? No."
"But I've come almost every day!"
Aaron frowned at Nick's angry tone.
"Man, you're in a mood. What's going on?"
"Nothing," Nick muttered, taking his place in the seat beside Aaron.
"Bad day at the studio. I had to get out of there, or I was going to go postal on our pretty little label artist."
sighed heavily. "Who were you overseeing today? Some cute little pre-pop star chick that can't sing?"
Aaron's brow furrowed in a frown. "Really? I thought you liked her? Wasn't she the first
artist you've ever signed?"
Nick's eyebrows rose appreciatively. Man, he remembers well, doesn't he?
I hope to God he's forgotten what withdrawal looks like.
"Yeah, I like her, but she's having an off day, and
I'm a perfectionist. Add to that the fact that I didn't get much sleep last night, and..." His voice trailed off as
he began to watch the scene unfolding in front of them. "I just needed to get out."
"I'm sorry," Aaron offered
plainly. There wasn't much more he could say.
Nick shrugged. "No big deal. I have an hour of solitude
before I have to go back, and that's good enough. How's rehearsal going?"
Aaron chuckled as Cal stopped the
scene again. "Slowly. Cal's in a mood. He's picking on everyone today."
"But aren't y'all nearing
opening night? I'm sure he's getting antsy. Perfectionism is understandable this close to the performance," Nick
pointed out. Aaron rolled his eyes.
"Understandable, yeah, but that doesn't mean it's not annoying. Today,
he's just being nitpicky. He's made Cara run every musical number at least twice, and he won't let poor Trent
off the stage. At this point, everyone's so nervous that they're fucking up left and right."
"And you?" Nick
Aaron shrugged. "I'm used to pressure, but this is ridiculous. He had me singing nonstop
all morning, but he freaked out and sent me back into the audience when I started to go flat."
Nick looked up in concern.
"You started to go flat?"
Aaron dipped his chin in a scowl. "Of course I started to go flat! I was singing
for forty-five minutes straight!"
"Chill out, Aaron. I don't doubt your abilities as a singer, okay?"
heaved a sigh. "I know. I know. I'm just...I'm just worried about this enough as is. I know better
than anybody that I was really, really sick just two days ago. I don't want a relapse."
"You won't relapse,"
Nick stated firmly. "We'll make sure."
Aaron looked up just in time to see his older brother wipe the sweat
from his brow. "We?"
"Cara, Theresa, and I."
"Oh." He frowned at the way Nick's figure was shaking
in the dim light of the auditorium. "You okay?"
Nick turned in surprise at the simple question. Granted,
he and Aaron had been talking more of late, but his younger brother was still hard-pressed to discuss anything but work.
The personal inquisition was a welcome change, but an unexpected one.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Why?"
the apprehension that was forming a lump at the base of his throat. Just say it, Aaron. "You're shaking."
glanced down at his hands and flinched when he noticed his fingers trembling. "Oh." Fuck. "I probably
had one too many cups of coffee this morning."
Neither brother believed the lie, but Aaron was willing to stomach
it. "That's right, you said you didn't sleep well."
"Yeah, it's been a long week."
Aaron was just about
to inquire as to why it had been a long week when Cal's voice rang out.
"Aaron Carter, get your ass onstage!
We can't do the murder scene without you, seeing as you have the fucking knife..."
Aaron turned to his brother with
an apologetic smile. "That's my cue. Sorry, I've got to jet. Theresa should be somewhere in here, though."
shook his head. "Nah, it's no big deal. I'll move closer to the stage so I can watch."
"Suit yourself." With that, he jogged up the aisle and ducked into one of the doors leading backstage. Within
moments, he emerged from the wings in a trench coat, a top hat, and a long, blonde wig.
Nick sat in the audience five
rows from the stage, mesmerized by the visible changes in his brother's demeanor. He realized with a frown that he'd
never seen Aaron and Cara in a scene together before. This should be interesting...
Hyde lit a match and grinned wickedly. "Dearest Lucy..."
Lucy startled from her position on the bed. "Oh!"
frowned, his eyes darkening against the light of the match and its accompanying stage light. "What? You weren't
expecting me?" He spat the questions with telling contempt and disgust, and his hostile tone caused Lucy's eyes to widen
"No, sir." She spoke quickly and quietly, her shoulders rigid.
Hyde strode around the backside
of the bed, his hands clasped behind him and his eyebrow arched menacingly. His tone was eerily kind and calm, but there
were sinister undertones that chilled the audience. "Who else can I come to for sympathy?" There was a precious
pause as he rounded the corner and met Lucy's frightened stare. "Tenderness?" He sneered the word, then caught
sight of the letter on the bureau and frowned darkly. All kind pretense in his voice vanished. "What? You've
had another visitor this evening?"
Lucy gave a little gasp and tucked her arms around herself in an attempt to shield
herself from whatever ire Hyde was harboring. "No, not really, sir," she answered hurriedly. Hyde glanced at her
again, his tone patronizing.
"It wasn't the doctor himself, was it?" He paused to shake his head at himself.
"No, no, no. Henry Jekyll's such a very busy man."
Lucy looked up in alarm, but her voice betrayed
only quiet surprise. "You know Dr. Jekyll?" The absence of "sir" was barely noticeable.
Hyde smiled wickedly.
"Know him? Oh, we're close Lucy." He paused to lean in closer, watching in barely-concealed amusement as Lucy
leaned farther away. "Very close. We share everything, he and I." He chuckled bitterly,
his deep laugh heightening the tension of the moment. "Just as you and I do, my sweet."
In the audience,
Nick was frozen in fear. He had never seen Aaron act the part of Hyde, and he was thoroughly impressed with his brother's
ability to play the villain. However, the wide-eyed look on Cara's face and the smug smile on Aaron's made the scene
far too believable. Man, I hope he never gets angry with me again. He looks like he could kill Cara, and he's
supposed to be in love with her.
Aaron and Cara looked up in bewilderment as Cal's bark echoed
through the auditorium.
"Aaron, I know you enjoy tormenting poor Cara, but the laugh just sounds ridiculous.
We realize that you're patronizing her. You don't have to giggle like a madman to make it blatantly obvious, okay?
And that `just as you and I do' line has got to go. I know it was in the original script, but it fucks everything up.
That, and 'my sweet' just sounds fucking stupid..."
Aaron nodded, and Cara rotated her neck to loosen the muscles.
Prolonging the scene meant prolonging the tension, and her muscles had had enough.
"Start from the end of that line,
but remember to take it out. If I have to remind you tomorrow, I'm going to make you do the entire scene five times
In the audience, Nick's eyes widened at the threat. He'd been to enough rehearsals to know that Cal
could be brutal, but he'd never been witness to such drastic consequences.
Onstage, Aaron sucked in a breath.
"Good. Let's go from 'leave this place,' and I'll stop you when I'm ready."
"I have no doubt
of that," Aaron muttered. From the bed, Cara bit her bottom lip to keep from smiling at the comment.
curiously snatched the piece of paper from the bureau, his eyes widening angrily as he read the note that Utterson had delivered
only moments earlier.
"'Leave this place, I beg you'?" Hyde read in infuriated confusion. He turned an accusatory
gaze on a trembling Lucy, who was once again huddled in the far left corner of the bed. "You weren't planning on leaving
the city without saying goodbye, were you?"
Lucy gave a nervous laugh. "No, sir, I'm not going anywhere..."
lips curled in a sinister smile. "No...no! You're not going anywhere." He shook his head in agreement,
moving to sit on the bed. With one hand, he beckoned to the terrified Lucy. "Come, come!" He chuckled again
at her fear, but his voice was anything but amused. "Close. No, no, no, closer! Closer, yes..."
The last word was nothing but a low whisper, and the grin on his face was nothing if not maniacal. He reached around
Lucy's waist, pulling her closer to his chest as the music began. When he sang, the words were angry and distorted,
wide and laughing against the minor key.
Warm as the summer
Offer you their embrace...
melody was interrupted by a jerk of Aaron's figure, followed by a blood-curdling scream. Nick looked up in alarm to
see Cara's head thrown back, exposing the pale skin of her neck. Her head rolled to the side as her back arched, and
Aaron looked down in sadistic satisfaction as he yanked his hand back out into the open. Appropriately, Cara's body
curled forward from the forced of the motion, and Aaron jabbed his hand into her back again, sweeping her off the bed and
onto the floor with the force of his actions. She landed facedown with a thud, and he slid off the bed as her body spasmed.
Unfortunately for all involved, the God-awful singing continued.
They are there in his face...
Hyde kneeled down by Lucy's corpse and checked her pulse, his insane
smile widening when he felt nothing. Satisfied that he had murdered her, he threw his head back and cackled as he sang
the last lines.
Goodness and sweetness
And kindness abound in this place! **
The song ended
on a scream, but Aaron's eyes were fixed five rows back, where his brother sat, still angry and trembling in the dim light
of the house. He could barely make out two beads of sweat on Nick's brow. Fuck. He's hot, he's pissed,
he's talking a mile a minute, and he's shaking like a leaf. The last time he looked like that...
didn't allow himself to finish the thought. He didn't want to go there. Hell, he didn't need to go there.
Especially not onstage. With another cackle, he doubled over Cara's slumped figure, allowing his shoulders to shake
with more bitter laughter.
"And that's enough of that," Cal hollered, leaping into a standing position. With
a watchful eye, he circled his two stars like a predator, unwilling to admit that he was mildly impressed by the intensity
of their performance.
Nick watched in amusement as Aaron leapt to his feet and extended a hand to help Cara to hers.
Their microphones were off, but he was pretty sure he heard his younger brother ask their young friend if she was all right.
fell pretty hard..." Aaron continued with a frown, to which Cara laughed.
"Padded corset, remember?" she chuckled.
"It's like body armor."
Aaron seemed less certain, but was forced into silence when Cal began his usual rant about
achieving perfection before opening night. For the first time in a long time, neither star was listening. Both
were intently watching the former Backstreet Boy that had taken up a place in the audience.
"Cara?" Aaron whispered,
pulling her more closely to him to warm her shivering frame. She leaned gladly into his embrace, her brow still furrowed
at the sight of Nick.
He didn't want to ask because he didn't want to know, but there was a part of
him that desperately needed an answer. "Was Theresa right about Nick?"
She froze upon hearing his question,
and the wide-eyed expression on her face was every bit Lucy's.
"And Aaron, I know you're supposed to be pissed as
all hell, but you really can't throw Cara that hard or you're really going to kill her. At least toss her at
an angle where she can catch herself before she dies, okay? Your attitude is right, but the positioning is all wrong.
I know we've choreographed this fucking scene before! Now, get back on the bed, and let's see if you two can remember
what we decided a few weeks ago."
Cara never got a chance to answer Aaron's question, but she didn't need to.
Her tense shoulders had told him everything he needed to know. As he made his way back to the big brass bed, his eyes
remained firmly on his older brother.
I could be wrong about this. I want to be wrong about this.
But, dammit, if he's back in that boat, I need to be the solution and not the problem.
By the end of the scene's
re-working, Nick had slipped out quietly, Cara had fallen gracefully, and Aaron had decided to find and attend the next meeting
of Cocaine Addicts Anonymous.