Chapter Eight
His Prelude
Her Prelude
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen

It's leaving time again
I'm headed out with all my friends
It's a roll of the dice
I've never thought twice
About the way I've been spending my time
Trying my guts out for every dime

Working in an office building tall
Don't know who's next to you at all
But being out here
The blood, the guts, the beer
Is a test
Only time will tell
It brings you close, man
Closer than hell

"Come on, baby, we can work through this. You and me, right? We said we were going to try the distance thing before we decided to call it quits..."

Adia glanced up from her novel and sighed heavily. She didn't like butting in, but Keelia had been on the phone with Cypress for an hour now. Even the bus driver knew that the relationship was a sure-fire failure. If Cypress didn't want to try, nothing was going to happen, regardless of how determined Keelia became.

"Cypress. Honey. I love you. A few miles and months aren't going to change that."

Jason strolled down the aisle, whistling an old Stones song. He was sick and tired of the drama, and he was more than willing to serve as the distraction that finally ended the phone call. He caught Adia's glance and winked at her, plopping down beside her on the couch.

"Whatcha readin'?"

Before Adia had a chance to answer, Keelia let out a heavy sigh.

"I know it's hard. I miss you too. But it's been almost a week already. That has to be a good sign, right? The time's moving quickly."

Jason leaned over with a sad shake of his head. "You know, if I didn't know Keelia, I'd think she was a model girlfriend. I'd have kicked this girl to the curb ages ago, but KiKi hasn't even blown up at her yet."

Adia winced. "I hate to say it, but..."

"What do you mean? When the hell have I ever been unfaithful to you? We've been breaking up and getting back together so often that I haven't had TIME to be unfaithful!"

Jason nodded knowingly. "Ah, there we go. I was starting to wonder whether or not someone had sedated her this morning."

Adia stifled a giggle.

"Yeah, well fuck you too!"

Both couch occupants grimaced at the volume that Keelia's voice had suddenly acquired.

"Damn, that girl can yell..."

They looked up to see Shane wandering towards them. Jason held a finger to his lips to shush the guitarist before Keelia had a chance to hear another sarcastic comment.

"You know what? I don't have time for this right now. Hell, I don't have the patience for this right now. I'll call you after the show."

With that, the bassist shut her cell phone off and hurled it towards the bunk area, letting out a scream of frustration with the clank of the cell phone against the floorboards finally sounded. "Dammit, I am SO sick of dealing with her!"

Shane perched leisurely on the arm of the sofa and smirked knowingly. "Trouble in paradise?"

Keelia leveled him with a withering glare. "Shut up."

Adia furrowed her brow in concern and closed the book she'd been reading. "What's going on?"


Jason arched an eyebrow skeptically. "Nothing? No offense, hon, but that sure didn't sound like 'nothing' to me."

Keelia groaned. "The usual. She's pissed and PMSing and mopey and I'm just sick of dealing with her shit. She's so caught up in what she wants from the relationship that she fucking forgot that there are TWO people involved."

Shane rolled his eyes. "Now you know what it's like for us boys all the time. You girls are so freaking moody..."

Keelia resurrected the glare. "Times like these, I don't wonder why you're single."

"That was harsh."

"It was not! I'm fucking pissed off, and all you can do is whine about how you're too stupid to understand women!"

Jason exhaled forcefully. "Okay, kids, settle down."

"And you're one to talk, you stoner. I bet you've never even had something that resembled a serious relationship!"

At that, Jason's eyes narrowed. "Low blow, KiKi..."

"And Adia, don't even look at me like that, because I know for a FACT that you've..."

Jason reached out and pulled Keelia into a bear hug to shut her up. He had a pretty good idea of where she'd been going with her comment, and he knew better than to let Keelia tear Adia down. Keelia would feel too guilty later, and he wasn't sure that Adia could handle it.

"Enough, babe. Really. Chill out for a sec, okay? You're among friends here. None of us think Cypress is all that stable either."

Adia nodded slowly. "Yeah, Keels. We've got your back regardless, okay?"

"Thanks, but I'll be fine." Keelia rolled her eyes, yet remained subdued as she shoved Jason off of her. "Is there anything we need to do as a band, or can I go break shit in the next room?"

Adia stifled her smile. "Well, we do need a cover song for this evening."

"That's a no-brainer," Keelia mumbled. "Untouchable Face."

"Normally, I'd totally agree, but there's a slight problem with that song," Adia began.

"Yeah," Jason groaned. "It's got the word 'fuck' in it, and, much as it pisses me off, Adia's right when she said that we need to develop some popularity before we start throwing four-letter words around onstage."

"I'm sorry, Keels," Adia offered with a frown, "but we really don't want to lose our slot on this tour."

The bassist grumbled. "I know. I know. But I'm in a seriously shitty mood, and I really want to play an angry break-up song."

Shane shrugged. "We've got plenty of 'em at our disposal. Most prolific musicians are painfully unhappy anyway. Trust me, I'm sure there's another break-up song that doesn't use the word 'fuck'."

"Not a good one," Keelia muttered angrily. Adia groaned.

"That's definitely not true. What else could we play?"

"She's Got Issues?" Jason offered with a grin. Keelia cheered.

"That'd be so fucking funny..."

Adia flinched. "Talk about scarring the teenagers."

"Oh, come on," Keelia retorted. "Like they're not having sex already? Puh-lease..."

Shane sighed heavily. "Much as I hate to say this, I'm gonna have to side with Adia. Let's see what else we can think of before we resort to the Offspring."

But Keelia was already singing to herself. "I don't know why you're messed up...I don't know why your whole life is a chore..."

"Keelia, stop. We get the point," Jason asserted. "Anyone else got any suggestions?"

"She Fucking Hates Me," Shane chuckled. "Not that it's a realistic suggestion, but wouldn't that rock?"

"Yeah, that would kick ass," Adia grinned. "Unfortunately, we have management regulations to comply with."


The group sat in silence for a moment, searching for inspiration on the floor of the tour bus. Keelia began flicking the edge of her chair in frustration, and Jason leaned over onto Adia with a sigh.

"Man, there are no good break-up songs anymore..."

"I've got it!"

Everyone's eyebrows rose a good inch or so at Adia's unexpected outburst, but Shane was the first to speak. "You've got it?"

"Matchbox Twenty," she smiled. "Their song, 'Leave,' is absolutely perfect for this kind of situation."

Jason's brow furrowed in confusion. "It is?"

She winked at him. "Think about it, Jase. Think about the lyrics."

Shane sighed. "Man, I wish I actually remembered the lyrics. That'd be nice."

As if on cue, Adia's gentle soprano began to echo along the aisle.

It's amazing
How you make your face just like a wall
How you take your heart and turn it off
How I turn my head and lose it all

It's unnerving
How just one move puts me by myself
And there you go just trusting someone else
Now I know I've put us both through hell

Keelia's perturbed frown slowly gave way to a grin of her own as the music behind the lyrics began to play in her head. She was so enthralled, in fact, that she took up the melody when Adia stopped to glance expectantly at the rest of the band.

I'm not saying
There wasn't nothing wrong
I just didn't think you'd ever get tired of me
I'm not saying
We ever had a right to hold on
I just didn't want to let it get away from me

Jason began a slow drumbeat on the edge of the sofa as Shane picked up the melody with closed eyes, singing with Keelia's rough-edged alto.

But if that's how you're gonna leave
Straight out from underneath
Then we'll see who's sorry now
And if that's how it's gonna stand
When you know you've been dependent on
The one you're leaving now
The one you're leaving out *

Adia smiled softly at the group of musicians in front of her. Times like these, she knew exactly why she'd chosen them to join her while she bared her soul before an audience every evening. They weren't playing for the power or for the profit, the fans or the influence. They were playing for the music.

She frowned momentarily when she realized that Nick wasn't quite as lucky as she was.

"So this cover works, huh?"

Keelia looked up and smiled for the first time all afternoon.

"Yeah, Dia, I guess this cover works. Do you mind playing a break-up song tonight?"

Adia laughed lightly. "For you, Keels? Never."

"Long as you're not breaking up with us, anyway," Jason added with a grin. At long last, Keelia laughed.

"Yeah, right. I keep extra Midol too ensure that that won't ever have to happen."

Shane wrinkled his brow in a frown. "Is that your way of inferring that we have PMS?"

Keelia smiled politely. "Oh, I'm sorry. Did I infer? I meant to say it straight out."

Jason rolled his eyes. "You're lucky I like you, lady..."

And Adia smiled, because at that moment, there was no place in the world she would've rather been.

*      *      *      *      *

Nick Carter adjusted his headphones and abandoned his sketch book to stare out the bus window at the open road as it rushed by him. For three hours and counting, he had been awake and relatively unamused by the miles and miles of farmland they'd been driving through. Before, he'd been content to sit, stare, sketch, and think. Now, he was mind-numbingly bored.

When he had toured with the Boys, he used to love driving days. Bus rides with the Boys meant Nintendo tournaments, snooze-fests, and lots of laughter. If he ever got bored, he could fill a sleeping Howie's open mouth with random objects or pick a fight with a groggy Kevin. If one of them was on the phone with a significant other, the other four would engage in inhumane amounts of cooing and catcalls. And if all else failed, he could always sleep the boredom off.

He'd slept the boredom off until mid-afternoon. He'd poked shy fun at his bodyguard until the older man warned him to keep quiet. He'd sketched until his fingers hurt and analyzed some of his favorite albums until all of the lyrics started to blur together. He had no more excuses and no more entertainment. It was time to face the facts.

Nick Carter was lonely.

Maybe it was because his worn copy of Adia's Out Loud CD had finally reached the heart-wrenching ballad. Maybe it was because he finally had time to think about the fact that he was all alone in the business for the first time since he hit puberty. Maybe it was because he'd just completed a beautiful sketch of a cubist guitar and realized he had no one to share it with. At any rate, the combination of "Tears Like Water" through his headphones, an empty traveling space, and completed artistry beneath his fingers was making him more homesick than he'd ever been before. And he didn't even like home!

With a labored sigh, he flipped the page of his sketch book and began tapping the eraser end of his pencil against the blank surface.

The tour was a week closer to being finished. It had been a good week, too. The reviews were better than he had expected, and the critics seemed to love Adia as much as the label had hoped they would. The covers had continued, naturally, but Irving was no longer lecturing the group. Of course, Irving wasn't lecturing the group because Nick assured him the second evening that his opening acts had come to him for approval.

That was a lie, but it didn't matter. It satisfied Irving, and Nick liked the thought that he'd helped his fellow musicians. Now, if only he could force himself to initiate conversation with them...
Adia and the drummer, Jason, had made it easy for him. They offered a kind word every time he passed them, even if the encounter was only a few seconds long. He had yet to figure out the other two, however. The bassist just seemed like a hostile person by nature, but he was getting distinctly negative vibes from the lead guitarist. For whatever reason, the musician seemed to hold a grudge against him, so Nick made a point of steering clear.

The hostility from the bassist and the guitarist didn't dim his attraction to Adia, though. The lead singer continued to surprise him with every performance, taking her vocals and initiative a few steps further than Nick would have expected. The covers especially piqued his interest. "I Want You To Want Me" had been brilliant, but the succeeding covers were just as alarmingly poignant.

The second evening, Adia had dimmed the lights for a one-guitar rendition of "The Rainbow Connection" while the rest of the band sang along from the drum box. The crowd had cheered at the familiar tune, even going so far as to wave a few lighters before security threw a fit.

The third show's set gave way to a sweeping remake of "Because the Night," an old 10,000 Maniacs tune. The lighting crew had improvised with a collection of blue and purple bulbs, and a breakdown in the middle had the entire crowd singing along. Immediately following the sing-along was a painfully effective guitar solo, followed by an impressive drum solo. He'd noticed then how Adia seemed to be extremely fond of showcasing the individual talents of her eclectic little group.

The fourth set was interrupted by an energetic but intense cover of Cyndi Lauper's "I Drove All Night," complete with a bass solo. Of course, Keelia's bass skills had paled in comparison to Adia's powerful vocals. She had held her notes like a seasoned veteran, displaying more breath control than such a petit girl should have. He had been impressed, to say the least.

Not nearly as impressed, though, as he was when she brought down the house with Alanis Morissette's "Your House" on the fifth night. She'd done the song completely a cappella under the heat of a single stage light, singing with enough passion to silence his audience.
She'd definitely silenced him. He had stood in the wings, just staring open-mouthed as the sleeves of her peasant blouse billowed to the beat of the song.

When she'd left the stage, he had made a point to congratulate her. She had merely smiled.

God, he wanted to be that nonchalant again. He wanted to be that talented and that carefree.

He wanted to make that kind of music again.

"Hey, boss?"

He looked up expectantly and pulled a headphone off as the bus driver's voice permeated the fog of the album's second and final ballad. "Yeah?"

"The kids radioed in to say that they're stopping for gas soon. Do you want to brake alongside them?"

He fought back a smile. The kids. That's what the older members of the crew had taken to calling them. Their playful way of wreaking havoc at rehearsal had made them quite popular among the roadies. Even sound check was relatively interesting when the opening act was around.

"Sure, let's stop. I should grab something to eat, anyway."

"Works for me, boss. I'll let you know when they start to pull over."

"Thanks, man."

With a sigh, he replaced the headphone and smiled softly. In five minutes, he would feel awkward and subdued, yes, but at least he wouldn't be lonely anymore.

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