He perused the candy aisle with a third grader's ease, lifting and discarding snacks
as quickly as he caught sight of them. So far, his cart was full of Chex mix, Twizzlers, and a few Twix bars. He felt like
he was missing something, though.
He ducked as a bag of Baked Lays flew over his head. Even in
the truck stop, his tourmates were like children. Ooh, Oreos...
He grabbed a bag of the sandwich cookies as
a fairly large crash echoed throughout the small store. Apparently, Adia hadn't caught the bag of chips. He sighed and flipped
the bag of Oreos over, examining the calorie content.
So much for that diet, man.
With a sigh, he glanced
down at his slightly pudgy stomach and replaced the Oreos. He had to look good for this tour. The suits had definitely made
that much clear. As their words rang in his head, he dropped a few of the Twix bars back on the shelf as well.
Dude, they've got those cheese puff things that you like so much."
Nick flinched at the sound of Keelia's rough-edged
voice. He still hadn't gotten used to the girl with multi-colored hair.
"Cheese puff things? How can you call CHEETOS
'cheese puff things'? They're, like, the royal family of snack food."
Keelia rolled her eyes and hurled a bag of Cheetos
over the aisle. "Whatever, man. A simple 'thank you' would do nicely."
Shane stuck his tongue out, and Nick fought
the urge to giggle. I can't believe it. There are, like, ten other people in here, and they don't care at all.
are you doing?"
He looked up in surprise to see Adia Chamberlain standing behind him with a frown on her face.
She smiled gingerly. "Putting Oreos back on the shelf? What's that about?"
His eyebrows rose as he moved
his gaze from Adia to the cookies and back. "Well, um...they're...kinda high in fat..."
Adia raised a single eyebrow
and folded her arms across her chest. "Please tell me you're kidding."
He looked at her suspiciously. "What? They are!"
"So I can't afford to gain weight."
She cocked her head to the side. "You're a guy, man. You're
not supposed to care about that kind of stuff."
Nick rolled his eyes. "Believe me, I know." He shoved the package back
on the shelf, suddenly all too aware of her eyes on him. "I'm just not...I'm not like other guys."
Adia narrowed her
eyes at him behind her glasses. "I'm not so sure I believe that."
Before he had a chance to counter her, a screech
sounded from behind them and Keelia skidded to a stop, Cheetos in hand.
"Hey, you!" she hollered, pointing at Nick.
"You like cheese puff things?"
Nick eyed the orange bag as though it might bite him. "Umm..."
"Sure you do.
Take these. Hurry. Before Shane finds them."
That said, she threw the bag underhanded to him and ducked into the toiletries
aisle. He caught it easily, at which point Adia snorted.
"Oh, of course the guy can catch the bag."
shyly at her. "Hey, don't feel bad. That was a shorter distance."
She laughed lightly. "It's fine. Seriously, though,
you shouldn't have to worry about what you eat. You look fine."
Nick returned the laugh with a hollow one of his own.
"Fine, huh? That's nice, but apparently 'fine' doesn't sell records."
Adia sighed heavily. When she spoke again, her
eyes were downcast and her voice was quiet. "You're right, Nick Carter. 'Fine' doesn't sell records. Music does."
fucking right. If only. "Not necessarily. Not these days." Shut up, Carter. This isn't her problem. She was smart
enough to enter the business with people who didn't care what she looks like. Obviously.
He flinched as the comment
registered. Ouch. That was mean. Stop being jealous.
"You know, they can only sell you as a product if you
He looked up in surprise at her softly spoken advice. He studied her for a moment and realized that she
wasn't as shy as she had seemed the first day in the conference room. She didn't have the dominating presence that she acquired
onstage, but there was a quiet determination about her that made her a hard person to ignore.
shook his head when he caught sight of her curious expression. "It's not that easy." She opened her mouth to reply, but he
cut her off. She didn't need to hear any more of his industry sob stories. "What's the cover going to be tonight?"
smiled shyly. "What makes you think we've decided?"
He ducked his head and rubbed the tiny hairs on the back of his
neck, trying to figure out why he was so intimidated by this outlandish bunch of amateurs that suddenly had him doubting his
whole career. Suddenly? You've been doubting your career since they handed you the list of solo requirements, genius.
She laughed lightly. "We're doing a Matchbox Twenty song tonight. It doesn't have any bad words, I promise."
blushed at least ten shades of pink. "I didn't...I don't...it's just...Irving..."
She smiled gently. "It's okay, I
"Adia? You want that Snapple Apple crap?"
Adia looked up immediately. "Yes!"
chuckled as he made his way around the corner with a six pack of Snapple. "Sheesh, lady. Eager much?" He smiled warmly at
Nick. "Hey, man."
Nick gave a small smile and a curt nod in acknowledgement. He wondered silently if Jason knew that
he'd give a kidney to play the drums as well as Jason could.
"Nick was just asking about tonight's cover."
grinned knowingly. "Gotta run it by Irving Asshole before we go on?"
Nick blushed. "Nah, I just...he asked me to...I
Jason fought the urge to frown at the older man's reserve and turned his Cheshire grin instead to Adia.
"Did you tell him that Keelia picked it?"
Nick blanched almost immediately. "Keelia? The bass player? Sh-she picked
the cover song?"
Adia tried unsuccessfully to stifle her giggles. "Don't worry, Nick. She's not ALWAYS violent."
nodded his agreement. "Yeah. Of course, on the days Keelia decides to be nice, you can usually look out the window and see
Adia elbowed him. "You're gonna scare him, Jase."
Jason winked at Nick. "I like to think of it
as a warning."
Nick choked on his inhalation. "Don't worry, man. She...I don't think she likes me much."
arched an eyebrow. "Why would that worry me? That's the kind of thing that should worry you."
visibly. "I think I'm just gonna steer clear of her."
Adia frowned, her brow furrowing lightly as her brown eyes darkened.
"Nick, in all seriousness, you don't have to be afraid of Keelia. She's harmless."
"She's all bark," Jason agreed,
clapping Nick on the back as he brushed past him. "I'm gonna go check out, Dia. I'll see you on the bus."
casually at Jason and turned her frown back to Nick. "Does she really intimidate you?"
Nick chuckled lightly and ran
a nervous hand through his hair. "No offense to her or anything, but...she's kind of loud, and she's not always that nice."
smiled wryly. "She just doesn't make an effort to impress, that's all. She is who she is."
"And that's admirable,"
Nick agreed, thankful beyond belief that he'd finally managed to come up with a four-syllable word. "She just shocks you out
of your comfort zone, you know?"
Adia nodded. "Yeah, she kinda scared me when I first met her."
"How did you
Adia laughed gently. Her laugh was lilting, a dancing sound that made him smile. Normally, he would've been
worried that whomever he was speaking to was laughing at him, but not with Adia. She always seemed amused, but never ridiculing.
"Jason introduced us, actually. She used to recite poetry in the coffee shop where Jason played."
Carter. God, you're such an idiot. No wonder these guys quit asking you to do things! You can't even hold a conversation unless
you're whining about your million-dollar plight of a recording career.
"Yeah. I know it sounds cliché--the whole
coffee shop scenario, I mean--but there aren't many other places to play on a college campus, and it's hard to get a regular
gig in the city."
He looked up from the floor in surprise. "The city?"
Adia nodded shyly. "I went to college
in New York. Jason, Keelia, and I were in school together."
"Oh." Yup. Just fucking brilliant.
smiled. "Speaking of Jason, I should probably get back to the bus. I'll see you at the club?"
He frowned. "The club?"
sighed. "The club. Where we're playing?"
He chuckled. "Oh, you mean the venue."
Adia wrinkled her nose in shame.
"More business terminology, huh? Super. I don't know anything about this stuff. None of us do."
Nick shrugged, shoving
his hands in his pockets as they made their way towards the front of the store. "Yeah, well...just play it by ear, right?"
chuckled at the musical terminology. That, she did know. "Yeah. Play it by ear." She paused a moment as Nick began unloading
his items on the check-out counter. "And Nick, don't worry about your looks, okay? They don't count, but if they did, you'd
get a lot of points for them."
He blushed crimson, and not even his embarrassed hands could hide it. "Thanks."
And then she was gone. He watched as she sashayed gracefully towards the check-out counter and made polite
conversation with the sales clerk. When the bell rang, signifying her exit, his eyes followed her small frame to the bus.
climbed aboard. He reached over to the shelf again and picked up the bag of Oreos.