Aaron took a deep breath and tried to calm his nerves. Cal had called the night before to tell him to be ready for an hour-long
rehearsal of his solo. He'd been practicing the piece religiously to the point that he could sing it in his sleep, but he
knew that the criticism would come regardless. It didn't bother him anymore. Cal ragged on the entire cast, and Aaron had
found that, at times, the criticism was extremely helpful. Honestly, he wasn't all that worried about the private rehearsal.
He'd performed many times before, and they were a far stretch from opening night.
He was, however, nervous about
the fact that Nick was coming in that night, and he wouldn't be there to receive him. More specifically, he was worried about
the fact that he wouldn't be there to control his two roommates when Nick did arrive. They had been understanding about the
matter from the beginning, but he still wasn't sure how they'd react to his older brother. He wasn't even sure how he'd react
to Nick, and he'd spent the past week talking to him every day. If anything, he still wasn't over the shock of Nick's enthusiasm
about the whole trip. He cringed as he remembered the conversation he'd had with Nick the day after Cara and Theresa gave
their permission for Nick to spend the trip with them.
"Talk to me."
"Aaron! Hey, man, what's up? Did you talk to your
Aaron rolled his eyes at the term, already annoyed by Nick's attitude. "Roommates, Nick. They
aren't my girls."
"Whatever. You can't tell me that you've been living with them this whole time and
there's no sexual tension in that house."
Aaron gritted his teeth, and took a few deep breaths in an attempt
to keep from losing his temper already. His voice was firm when he finally spoke. "It's a apartment, and there isn't
any sexual tension. Treat them with respect, Nick."
"Yeah, yeah. What'd they say?"
Aaron inwardly relented, knowing that any argument with Nick was beyond useless at that point. For a moment, he couldn't help
but wonder if he'd regret the decision to let Nick stay. "They said yes."
His brother let out a loud
whoop on the other end of the phone, surprising Aaron beyond belief.
"No way, dude! That's awesome! So,
it looks like the Nickster is coming on up to stay with you. Little bro, it's been too long."
definitely been awhile," Aaron agreed. Of course, at the rate they were going, he wasn't sure he'd mind if he had to
wait a bit longer. He couldn't remember the last time he'd actually enjoyed a conversation with his older brother.
"I am so psyched! This is gonna be da bomb, baby. We can hang out, you can show me the city, I can meet those
beautiful girls you've been sharing space with..."
Aaron made a face as Nick continued to ramble about all
of the things they could do together. "Nick, man, I've got to go to rehearsal during the day, remember?"
Nick's response was quick. "Even better then. We can hang out at night. Live the vida loca, and all that jazz."
Aaron rolled his eyes, grateful for the fact that Nick couldn't see him. "Dude, aren't you a little old
to be livin' la vida loca?"
Nick's laugh was a raspy version of his old high-pitched giggle. "Aaron,
man, take it from me. You're never too old for a good party."
Aaron forced a chuckle. "I'm not too
sure about that, Nick. I mean, I don't think I've hit a party since we started this musical."
settled, then. We'll go exploring together."
Aaron relented again, suddenly feeling exhausted from the effort
of being civil. "Look, man, I've got to go. I'll talk to you later, ok?"
"Yeah, see ya, bro.
And just you wait--you're gonna have the time of your life!"
Aaron flinched again, having forgotten about those last words. The time
of my life, huh? Great... With a heavy sigh, he surveyed the room that Nick would be staying in, trying to memorize the
way it looked when spotless. He was well aware that Nick had changed, but he doubted that his brother was any cleaner than
Yeah, it's spotless. Now you've got to prepare Cara and Terry for the prick's arrival. He winced.
Oh, they're going to hate me when they realize how much I wasn't kidding during all of those complaint sessions.
Terry?" he yelled, stepping out of the guest room and into the den. "I need to talk to y'all..."
Cara poked her head
out from her room. "'Y'all'? When did you start saying that word again?"
"Since he started talking to the infamous
Nick Carter again," Theresa retorted dryly, emerging from her mess of a room. She looked pointedly at Aaron. "You rang, roomie
Aaron chuckled lightly. "Yeah. We need to go over a few things really quickly so that y'all know what to
do when Nick gets here."
Theresa smirked. "And there he goes with the 'y'all' again." She clucked her tongue in disapproval.
"A, what has this guy done to you?"
Aaron laughed nervously, trying to relax himself. "You know what? I don't think
I want to know."
Cara smiled wryly. "So, you were going to brief us, right?"
Aaron paused a moment, choosing
his words carefully. He definitely didn't want to insult them, but he didn't want either of them to lash out at Nick either.
He didn't have the patience to play peacemaker, and with his older brother's recent outlook on life, Aaron was almost afraid
that he'd join his roommates if they chose to argue with Nick. Of course, they used to put me in my place all the time...
"I didn't say I was going to brief you," he said with a light laugh. "Just, well...there are some things about
Nick that are a little different from the Baby Backstreet image you're used to picturing."
Theresa rolled her eyes
and waved a hand in the air dismissively. "A, you've told us all about him, okay? We know he's a shit, we know he drinks,
we know that he smokes, and we know that he isn't allowed to go out until you've gotten back. We'll watch him."
we'll be nice about it," Cara added seriously, casting a pointed gaze in Theresa's direction. "We know that you won't be here,
and that's cool. You've got to trust us."
Theresa batted her eyelashes innocently. "Come on, A," she teased, wrapping
an arm around his shoulders. "Are we that hard to trust?"
Aaron chuckled. "Terry, girl, if you've got to ask..."
removed her arm, lifted her other arm, and folded them both across her chest while she lifted an eyebrow skeptically. "Don't
you have a rehearsal to get to?"
Aaron sighed, knowing that he wasn't going to get much further with either of them.
If anything, he figured that Cara would be able to tame Theresa to the point that they would both act civilly towards Nick.
"Yeah, I do. Call me when he gets here, okay?"
Cara nodded. "Do you have your cell on?"
Just for good measure,
Aaron waved it at her and began walking out the door. "Don't forget to call. Be nice to him. If he starts to act like an ass,
just grin and bear it..."
"You're going to be late," Theresa said seriously, looking at her watch for emphasis. "We'll
be on the watch for pretty boy, okay? Relax!"
Aaron laughed at the pretty boy crack. "Thanks, guys. I really appreciate
this. And I do trust you two, contrary to popular belief."
Cara laughed. "Good to know, A. Weren't you going?"
Aaron returned with a cheeky smile, and the door slammed shut behind him. Both girls turned to each other and flopped onto
the couch. They sat staring at the ceiling for a moment in silence. Finally Cara looked up.
"Do you intend to take
any crap from the bigger Carter?"
Theresa smirked at the comment. "We know he's older, C, but we don't know anything
about him being bigger..."
She was rewarded with a groan. "I'm serious, Terry. I don't want to be the only one telling
him that he can shove his cigarettes right up his ass before he acts like he owns the place."
Theresa was silent for
a moment. "No, I'm not going to take that 'I'm a pop star' shit that they try to pull. I didn't take it from Aaron, did I?"
"According to him, his brother's a lot worse."
Theresa laughed. "C, according to Aaron, he never had an ego
in the first place. I doubt older Carter is really all that bad."
"I really hope he isn't," Cara admitted, still studying
the ceiling tiles. She'd never admit it aloud, but a small part of her was still a Backstreet fan, and she hated the thought
that things had gone bad among them all. She really did love their music.
"For what it's worth, I hope not too. If
he acts like an ass, though, there's no way in hell that I'm gonna grin and bear it."
Cara cracked a smile. She was
close to Aaron, but she'd grown up with Theresa, and she loved the woman like a sister. The tough attitude was something that
she depended on. "Yeah, me neither."
"Good, so we're in agreement. We won't take shit from Mr. Pretty Boy Backstreet."
Cara burst out laughing at the nickname. "Terry, I'd pay you five dollars just to hear you call him that."
smirked from her end of the couch. "Oh, I will. Maybe not the first time I see him, but I will. And then I'll tell him that
Aaron's prettier, just to see A get all worked up about it."
Cara smiled knowingly. "He won't, though. He'll just
Theresa stroked her chin thoughtfully. "You know, you're right." She pause a moment. "Ah, well. Maybe Nick'll
get worked up about it."
"I'll bring my camera," Cara laughed. Theresa smiled in satisfaction.
We don't have enough pictures around this apartment anyway. We need some Kodak moments, dammit."
Cara shrugged. "Well,
T, I guess you'll just have to create them yourself."
Theresa grinned and shifted so that she was facing Cara. "We
are pure evil, you know that? Poor Aaron thinks we're actually going to be nice to the guy."
Cara smirked. "Oh, we'll
be nice if he's nice. If he's not nice, though, Aaron's not going to be a happy camper."
"I don't think Aaron's going
to be a happy camper anyway," Theresa said seriously. "If he thinks that he can change Nick back or whatever this easily,
he's living in a dream world."
Cara had to laugh at that, knowing that such a thing wasn't entirely unlike their friend.
"Aaron's always living in a dream world."
"True," Theresa agreed with a grin. Before either could say anything else,
however, the doorbell rang. Cara and Theresa exchanged apprehensive glances before they both stood up. Finally, Cara looked
at Theresa, biting her lower lip nervously.
"Do you want me to get that, or do you want to do it?"
sighed. "In all honesty, I'd rather do it together. God forbid one of us actually gets stuck alone with the guy before Aaron
Cara nodded, taking a deep breath as they advanced towards the door. "Deal." She reached the door first
and undid the lock, pulling it slightly open so that she could see the person on the other side. When she finally identified
the figure before her, she had to suppress a gasp. That cannot be Nick Carter...
His hair, which had been
pulled back into a tight ponytail, was a dirty blonde and had grown to be longer than it had ever been. Judging from the length
of his ponytail, Cara guessed that it rested a few inches below his shoulders when left down. His ears were still pierced,
and he was sporting the old diamond studs he had worn during his Backstreet days (Aaron had lost the earrings around age sixteen,
explaining to Cara later that he'd felt more masculine without them). His skin was tan and rougher looking, with a bit of
stubble around his chin and above his upper lip. His frame was still tall and built, covered loosely by a pair of jeans, Red
Wing boots, and a button-down shirt. There was a faint smell of cigarette smoke about him, adding to the roughness of his
image. Cara sighed heavily and cocked her head to the side.
He turned his head to look at her, and her breath caught in her throat.
He may have looked completely different, but his eyes were the same piercing blue that they had always been, though they looked
a bit colder than she remembered. God, he looks so different than in all the pictures...
gave her a slight nod. "Yeah. You one of Aaron's girls?"
Immediately, Cara could feel her patience thinning. Aaron
had always referred to them as the roomies or the "guys," but never as his girls. She knew him too well to think that he would
use such a phrase, so she knew that it had come from Nick. The knowledge did not reflect favorably on her guest.
live here, if that's what you mean," she answered tersely, trying to keep the edge out of her tone. He smirked.
I have the right place then." Without any further introduction, he pushed open the door and walked in, surprising Cara beyond
belief. "Y'all live here?"
"That we do," came Theresa's voice from behind Cara. She'd escaped to make the call to
Aaron, who had promised to hurry rehearsal along and save them from his brother. If anything, she seemed more offended by
Nick's comment than Cara had been. She closed the distance between herself and Nick and offered her hand. "I'm Theresa."
turned around in surprise and clearly looked her up and down before offering his hand in return. "Nick Carter," he greeted
her, shaking her hand firmly. Cara, not one to be left out, moved to stand next to Theresa and offered her hand as well.
Cara," she added lightly. Nick removed his hand from Theresa's grasp and gave Cara a once-over as well before shaking her
hand. She wasn't surprised that his hand felt rough, much as the rest of him looked.
"Nick. You the one he calls 'C'?"
She nodded. "Yeah, that's me. Aaron should be back in about an hour, but he said to stay here. Could we get you something
to drink, or do you want to get settled?"
Nick's eyebrows rose in interest at the mention of a drink. "Where's the
liquor? I could definitely use a drink. Damn, that flight was long..."
Theresa's gaze hardened. "We may have beer
in the fridge, but I wouldn't be surprised if we don't. There's some OJ in there, though."
He pulled a flask out of
his back pocket and nodded his approval. "Yeah, that'll do. Bring it on in here."
Cara's eyes widened at his audacity.
"Or you could go to the kitchen and get it yourself. After all, if you're going to be living here, you're going to need to
know where things are, don't you think?"
He thought for a moment, then sighed reluctantly. "Yeah, okay. Lead the way."
The two girls walked into the kitchen side by side, catching each other's gaze for a moment to roll their eyes. It
was clear that Aaron's older brother had not made the best first impression. As soon as they arrived at the kitchen, Theresa
jumped onto the counter and began swinging her legs back and forth. Cara, on the other hand began unloading dishes while Theresa
gave Nick directions.
"Cups are in the cabinet to your left. OJ's in the fridge. When you're done, rinse it out and
set it in the sink, and whoever's got dish duty will do the rest."
Nick nodded to show he understood before looking
at each of them in turn, pouring his orange juice into a glass and dashing it with a bit of liquid from his flask. "So which
one of you has dish duty tonight?"
Cara cracked a knowing smile and glanced at Theresa. "Actually, Aaron's got dish
Theresa fought back a giggle. "Yeah, prepare for the ultimate whining display. He actually got out
of it the other night, so he's going to be even worse."
Nick's surprise was obvious. "Aaron does the dishes?"
gaze swiveled to Nick and her brow furrowed. "He lives here, doesn't he? Why wouldn't he do the dishes?"
"Well, I mean, he's got you two..."
Theresa snickered. "Yeah, like we'd do the work for him. No thanks. He lives here,
he pulls his share." She looked Nick over with a satisfied smirk before nodding. "You will too, you'll see."
smiled charmingly at her, and Cara was surprised to find herself fighting the urge to gag. "Oh, but I'm the guest," he teased,
and Theresa laughed.
"Are you going to be here for more than a week?"
Nick nodded hesitantly, unaware of her
intentions as he sipped his screwdriver. "Yeah."
"Then you'll have chores, just like everyone else." She smirked again
at his surprise. "What? You think we'd let you off 'cause you used to be a superstar?"
Nick's expression turned sour
at the mention of his former occupation. "No."
Cara nodded her approval. "Good, 'cause we won't. Can you do laundry?"
Nick frowned lightly and tilted his head towards the ceiling. "I think I remember how..." He trailed off and looked
at Cara suspiciously. "Why?"
Cara laughed. "Oh, you can help do that, then."
"Why wouldn't I know how to wash
my own clothes?"
Theresa and Cara shared a knowing smile. "Aaron didn't," Theresa answered. "He does now, but that
boy is dangerous around a washer."
Nick chuckled to himself and pulled a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his
shirt. "He's a dangerous boy in general," he allowed, grabbing a lighter from his back pocket. He began to light the cigarette,
but Cara's glare and Theresa's voice stopped him.
"Are you crazy?"
He looked at both of them in turn, obviously
Theresa rolled her eyes. "You can't smoke in here. That's nuts."
Nick dipped his chin and
cocked his head to the side, challenging her for a reason. "Why not? There's nothing wrong with needing a smoke."
God," Cara muttered in disbelief, trying to control her temper. She wasn't sure why he angered her so much; she was usually
a fairly peaceful person. Quite the contrary, Theresa was the girl with the explosive temper. Cara and Aaron had spent countless
evenings listening to her rant. When Cara glanced in her friend's direction, she could see Theresa's frown of concern. Yeah,
Terry, I don't know why I'm so worked up either...
"Cara's allergic," Theresa answered with a nod in Cara's direction.
She was surprised when Cara spoke in her own defense.
"Besides, you're a vocalist, right? How can you sing and smoke?"
Nick shrugged. "Don't sing too much anymore."
Cara's glare was hard and even. "Yeah, well, we do. If you want
to smoke, do it somewhere else."
"You got a balcony?"
Theresa shook her head. "Man, you might as well just
quit. There aren't any places to smoke in this building."
Nick laughed, but he frowned when neither girl laughed with
him. "You're serious?"
Cara nodded. "She's dead serious. Why would we live in a building that allows smoking and sing
on Broadway? You can't do that."
"So why do I have to quit?"
Theresa wagged a playful finger at him. "It's
bad for you, you silly pretty boy. Toss 'em."
Nick rolled his eyes at her nickname and her insistence. "I'll talk
to Aaron about it later."
Cara snorted indignantly. "He'll tell you the same thing."
Theresa laughed, waving
her hand dismissively. "Let him see for himself. He doesn't believe us."
Nick leaned against the counter tiredly.
"So you don't have any alcohol, you don't allow smoking, and according to AC, you don't party too much either." He sighed
pityingly and studied them for a moment. "What's wrong with you people?"
Cara's eyes blazed. He'd been in the apartment
for merely a half-hour, and she was already prepared to bite his head off. Some first impression.
for once, was much more casual about the whole situation. "We're kind of tame," she admitted with a laugh. "You know, we have
movie nights and ice cream outings and dinners with the rest of the cast."
Nick nodded. "That's right, y'all are in
that musical. Jekyll & Hyde, right? Who do you play?"
"I'm Lisa," Theresa said with a smile, "and Cara
is..." She flipped her hair and lowered her voice dramatically, casting a seductive pose. "Lucy."
Nick studied her
again, shaking his head slowly. "You don't look like a Lucy," he said, taking another sip. Cara rolled her eyes.
that what acting is supposed to be about?"
Nick nodded, continuing to study Cara while he nursed his screwdriver.
Something about her had him curious. Theresa seemed easygoing enough, but he felt Cara's hostility towards him, and he wasn't
used to such rejection from women. In all honesty, it made him curious to see how far he could push her during his stay in
New York. She already seemed to loathe him.
"Yeah, I guess so. I was just saying...you look too conservative to play
"Oh, she'd surprise you," Theresa said with a laugh. "Cara's far from innocent."
"Only onstage, though,"
came Aaron's voice from the doorway. "We can't really corrupt her past that point."
"Innocence can't be lost, A,"
Cara teased, relieved at his entrance to the point that she was quoting Jewel lyrics. "It just needs to be maintained."
job you've done..." Aaron began, looking over his brother for the first time in a long time. Nick looked much differently
than Aaron had pictured him, and the alterations caused him to hesitate. Nick, on the other hand, grabbed his brother in a
tight bear hug, nearly crushing him. Aaron returned the hug carefully, trying not to notice the smoke smell, and looked imploringly
at Theresa and Cara over his brother's shoulder. It seemed that he and his brother were about the same height, finally.
I cannot believe I'm actually looking at you," Nick mused with a smile, looking his brother over as he held him at arm's length.
Aaron's hair was still cropped and tousled, but he was no longer the lanky little kid he had been before. He wasn't necessarily
muscular, but his muscles were toned enough to make him look intimidating when he wanted to be. He was still thinner than
Nick, though, and he looked softer and more approachable than his older brother.
"Same here," Aaron said indifferently.
He wasn't sure what to make of the change in Nick, but he reached around to tug his older brother's ponytail in typical younger
brother fashion. "Some of this hair needs to go, bud. If you're using girly hair ties to keep it out of your face, then you
need a trim."
Nick laughed. "Part of the image, little brother. I've gotten used to it." He frowned for a moment.
"Is it true that we can't smoke in your building?"
Aaron nodded. "Yeah, definitely no smoking. Hate to tell you, but
you might as well quit." Behind him, Theresa and Cara stifled laughter at the predicted reaction. Nick glared at them before
turning back to Aaron.
"AC, if I quit..."
Aaron rolled his eyes. "If you quit, we'd all be better off, including
you. If you want to live here, Nick, you're going to quit smoking."
Nick rolled his own eyes in return. "I'm not going
to get a say in this, am I?"
Cara smiled sarcastically from her position on the countertop behind Aaron. "We could
always find you a hotel room."
Nick sighed. "Fine, I'll quit."
Aaron nodded. "Good." He paused to study Nick,
trying to smile for his brother's sake. "Seriously, though, it really is good to see you. How've you been?"
"Good. Really, really good. I never realized how much fun the single life could be, you know?"
As the two men continued
to talk, they didn't even notice the two women slip out of the room. Cara, however, had had enough for one evening and needed
to vent. Theresa wasn't far behind her, somewhat aware of the situation they had on their hands. She knew that they had crossed
a big bridge by getting Nick to quit smoking, but it hadn't even been accomplished yet. Having finally seen him, she could
hardly believe that Aaron still had any hope left. However, she knew Aaron well enough to know that he wouldn't dare give
up. So we're going to have to help him out and back him up. Even though there's no way in hell this is going to happen,
we have to try to bring back Nick the pretty boy Backstreet member. Theresa groaned at the thought, pulling Cara's bedroom
door open to follow her friend.
They definitely had their work cut out for them.