Chapter Ten
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

You're laughing out loud
At the thought of being a lie
And I was wondering
Could I just be you tonight?

Adia Chamberlain was bored.

The show that night had gone well, and the cover had gone off without a hitch. Irving had approved (for once), and Nick had stopped to compliment them quickly before he took the stage. He'd even poked his head in afterwards to pass on a thumbs-up from the general tour management team.

They'd been driving for a little over an hour now, though, and Adia's band members were already fast asleep and dreaming. The show, while good, had been exhausting--hell, the whole schedule was exhausting--but Adia wasn't tired. She'd written in her journal, surfed the 'net for concert reviews, done a little Backstreet research, and pondered a cover for the next show. She had even written a lengthy letter to her brother, Ace, updating him on the Nick situation.

She had nothing else to do but stare out the window, and she was already sick of watching buildings go by. She was ready for some kind of distraction. With a sigh of apprehension, she headed towards the front of the bus to chat with the driver.


The elderly man glanced at her with a grin. "Hey, Adia. Can't sleep?"

She chuckled lightly. "Nope."

"I was waiting for you to come up here. You've been scurrying around back there for awhile now."

She sighed heavily. "Yeah, I know. I was trying not to make too much noise..."

Ian chuckled. "You're fine. The others are still fast asleep, yeah?"

She chortled. "Understatement. If they weren't snoring like they are, I would've thought they were dead."

The older man clucked his tongue sympathetically. "It must've been an exhausting show tonight."

"It was," Adia agreed, "but it was a good show."

"Aren't they all?" the bus driver laughed. Adia blushed, which increased the laughter that much more. "Listen, lassie, there's a Waffle House coming up on our left in about five minutes or so. Why don't you call the Carter boy and see if he wants to make a joint stop?"

Normally, Adia would've balked at the thought of disturbing the Carter boy for a midnight tryst at the local waffle joint. She would've freaked out at the thought of attempting to carry on a conversation with him all by her lonesome. She definitely would've hesitated before she grabbed the handheld CB and pressed the talk button.

Of course, Adia had never been quite this bored before.

"Just press that button there and ask for Jim," Ian explained with a wink. "He'll tell you whether or not Nick is awake."

Adia sucked in a breath and pressed the indicated button. "Jim?"

There was a short pause before another voice echoed through the speakers. "This is he."

"Jim, this is Adia Chamberlain, how are you?"

Ian stifled the laughter inspired by Adia's polite tone of voice.

"Doin' well, sweetheart, and yourself?"

Adia chuckled lightly. "I'm actually a bit hungry. I was wondering if Nick was awake."

"I believe so. Just a sec." Another long pause, and then he returned. "Yes ma'am, he is. He's back there starin' out the window. What's up?"

Adia heaved a sigh. "Ian and I were going to stop at Waffle House for a bit, and we were wondering if you and Nick were up to it."

Ian smiled softly at her inclusion of him in the midnight outing. More often than not, the musicians he traveled with considered him to be a part of the bus; they weren't disrespectful, but they didn't really treat him as an equal either. Ever since their departure, Adia and her band had treated him as a friend, and he was constantly impressed by their ability to remain so personable in the face of impending fame.

"I think that sounds like a good idea, Miss Adia. Let me holler at the kid."

She noticed immediately that Jim was the only other person she'd met who didn't refer to Nick as "Mr. Carter." It was refreshing, to say the least. Maybe he really does have a personal side.

Of course, she was immediately reminded of their conversation in the truck stop a few days prior. She couldn't help but think that there was more to "Mr. Carter" than anyone allowed.

"Miss Adia? He's up for it. We'll meet y'all in the parking lot in a few minutes."

"Thanks, Jim." She smiled and replaced the CB. With a wink to Ian, she headed towards her bunk for a jacket and a pair of slippers.

*       *       *       *       *

"Hey, Nicky, you up for a Waffle House run?"

Nick bit back the smile that threatened to surface at Jim's familiar nickname for him. He'd been traveling with the bus driver since the Black & Blue tour, and Jim was a constant reminder that he was still a boy.

"Sure thing. Why, is there one coming up?"

The bus driver chuckled. "Yup. That, and your little tourmate radioed in to invite us along on her outing."

There was a pause while Nick considered the information. "You mean Adia?"

"That's the one."

Nick was surprised, to say the least. Despite their conversation in the truck stop, he still saw her as incredibly shy. "She radioed in to invite us to Waffle House?"

"She did indeed," Jim laughed. "Seems she wants some company, and the rest of her band's in bed."

Nick certainly had no objections to a midnight meeting. He'd been anxious to get her one-on-one since the first concert, but he hadn't had the courage to approach her. He had a feeling he'd be much more comfortable with offstage Adia than he was with her performance persona. After all, he wasn't lusting after offstage Adia.

"Awesome. Is she still on the line?"

Jim chuckled warmly. "Yeah, I've got her on hold. Should I give her and Ian the go-ahead?"

"Yeah, definitely. I'm kinda hungry myself," he admitted shyly. Jim's chuckle, once again, became a full-out laugh.

"No surprise there," the older man grinned. "I'll tell them to saddle up."

Nick shook his head at his driver's southernisms and went to pull on a pair of baggy jeans and a sweatshirt. He didn't know much about whatever city they were wheeling through, but he was almost positive that it would be cold outside, and he didn't need to get sick.

He stared at his reflection in the mirror for a few moments before applying the usual hair gel. By the time Jim announced their arrival at the fast food eatery, he was fully dressed and ready to go. As he padded down the steps of the bus, the older man laughed at him.

"Man, you're all dressed up, huh? Worried about impressing the lady?"

Nick rolled his eyes, but the blush on his cheeks allowed that he was doing just that.

"Don't look now, son, but I don't think she had the same idea."

He looked anyway. Adia emerged from the bus steps in what appeared to be baggy clothing, giggling about something with her bus driver.

"She's not very conventionally pretty, is she?" Jim remarked. Nick, who had been thinking the exact same thing only seconds ago, suddenly felt the need to defend her.

"Have you seen her onstage?"

Jim chuckled. "No, but it probably wouldn't surprise me. They can make any plain Jane a knockout these days with enough make-up."

"It's not that," Nick interjected with a frown. "It goes beyond that, man. She's not gorgeous, but a lot of it is because she doesn't want to be."

"She doesn't want to be, or she doesn't need to be?" Jim asked with a wink. Nick's eyebrows rose slightly at the question. He hadn't considered it from that standpoint before.

When he finally met up with Adia at the door of the restaurant, he let his eyes roam over her slowly. Her long brown hair hung in waves down her back, but her thick-framed, cat's-eye glasses obscured the view of her deep green eyes. She was clad in a large, gray hooded sweatshirt over an equally large Alanis Morissette tour tee-shirt, with purple plaid pajama bottoms peeking out from underneath. Her shirts went down to her knees, and her pajama pants brushed the floor. The outfit seemed to swallow her whole, but there was a casual air about her that he envied greatly. Jim is right. She doesn't give a shit about being beautiful.

"Man, you weren't anywhere near sleep, huh?" she chuckled, looking him over. He blushed.

"Well, I figured I'd get dressed..."

She glanced down at her own clothes with a sheepish smile. "I thought about it," she admitted with a grin. Nick laughed nervously and reached to open the door for her. "Thanks."

He'd been planning on closing the door behind them, but Adia reached out to hold it open for Ian and Jim. "Are you two going to join us?" she asked with a smile. The two elders exchanged looks and shook their heads.

"Nah, we'll let you young 'uns have some time alone to bond," Jim chuckled. "Ian and I haven't gotten to talk in awhile."

Adia chuckled politely, but Nick immediately recognized that Jim was trying to set him up. He wasn't sure why. Looking at Adia allowed that she wasn't exactly his type. Of course, one thought to her performance persona allowed that his type could probably stand to change.

He sighed heavily and coughed to clear the awkward silence. "We'll go grab a table, then."

He and Adia quickly found a small table in the corner of the diner, and an elderly lady immediately came out and offered them two menus.

"What can I get you kids to drink?"

Nick nodded to Adia, signaling that she could go first. He wasn't always the most polite of boys, but Kevin had definitely taught him how to treat a lady. She smiled shyly.

"I'll have a glass of iced tea."

The waitress nodded and turned her attention to Nick. "How about you, kiddo?"

Nick glanced hastily at the menu. "I'll have a..." Coke. "Water," he finished lamely. Something with no calories and the ability to flush out his system.

"Good deal," the waitress agreed with a smile. "I'll be right back with that. If y'all have a question about the specials, just give me a holler. My name's Linda."

Adia bit back a smile at the woman's prominent southern accent and chanced a glanced at Nick's serious countenance.

"Still feel like you needed to dress up?" she teased quietly. He blushed.

"I would've felt weird in PJs," he admitted shyly. "Just...unpolished, you know?" As soon as the words escaped, he flinched. Fuck. Now I've probably offended her.

To his immediate relief, she started laughing. "You're a better person than I am," Adia said with no remorse. "I don't have the energy to stay properly polished. I know only that I'm comfortable in PJs, and that's all the thought I give to the situation." She chuckled dryly. "I suppose I might be better off if I actually considered fashion, huh?"

"You do have a fashion going, though," Nick pointed out. "You know, that whole feminist thing..." He grimaced. That definitely didn't come out right.

He opened his eyes in time to see Adia arch an eyebrow. "Feminist and unpolished, huh?"

He knew it. He knew he'd trip his words up the first time he had a decent conversation with her. Something about her comfortable attitude was intimidating. She wasn't perfect by any means, but she clearly had no problems with herself.

"I...it's not...see..."

She laughed again when he started stuttering, a lilting sound that made him smile despite his embarrassment. "Nick, it's all right. I'm just teasing you. I realize that it's not proper to wear bedclothes in a restaurant." I just don't care. She thought about saying it, but knew that the idea would be foreign to him. He'd spent his whole life answering to public standards, and the effects of such standards on his perception were becoming more and more apparent.

He cracked a small smile. "Sorry. I'm not really articulate..."

"Sure you are," Adia countered. "You're a songwriter, aren't you? I've heard `Do I Have To Cry For You,' and that was nothing if not painfully eloquent."

He frowned. "Painfully eloquent?"

"You're honest," Adia clarified. "Your words are simple, but they hit home in a way that four-syllable, intellectual vocabulary wouldn't."

His eyebrows rose appreciatively. He hadn't thought about it that way. In fact, he'd felt like his simple words paled in comparison to Adia's strong diction. "Thanks," he said quietly, almost reverently. Somewhere deep down inside, he could feel the fragments of his ego blinking back sleep and suppression.

"You're welcome," she replied demurely. "I'm assuming the song is personal?"

She didn't know where the boldness was coming from. Usually, Adia was terribly shy with everyone, but she supposed that she had come to view music as a safe topic. In music, everyone was exposed. She stared at the surprised look on Nick's face and wondered absently if the music left him exposed as well. He certainly looked it, biting his bottom lip and picking at his fingers.

"Yeah, it's personal," he admitted softly, eyes downcast. His thoughts moved immediately to Adia's poignant explanations of the tracks on her album, and he felt compelled to explain further. "It was...I wrote it about this girl I dated for a long time." You wrote it about a girl? No shit, Nick. God, at least try to sound somewhat intelligent. "She and I were biding our time. We knew that the relationship was over, and we knew that we were destroying each other slowly, but I think we were just staying there because we were too afraid to break up. It was..." He paused, searching for the right word. "It was familiar."

Adia smiled gently at his earnestness. "Familiar like PJs?" she asked with a sympathetic chuckle.

He allowed the corner of his mouth to curl in a half-smile. He hated talking about relationships gone bad, and he was grateful for Adia's sense of humor in what could've been a painfully serious conversation. "Familiar like your mother's hand against your ass," he muttered.

"I'm sorry," and the apology was genuine. There was a tone in her voice, a sympathy there that lacked pity and breathed understanding. He looked up from his lap with a sad half-smile.

"Me too."

"I'm sure writing the song helped," she continued lightly. He immediately nodded his agreement.

"Definitely. I don't know...there's something about writing..."

"It gets everything onto paper and out of your system," Adia finished knowingly. "Self-cleansing with a cheap pen and a pad of legal paper."

"Yeah." His voice trailed off as he thought of the satisfaction that came with finishing a song. Adia was right. There was definitely something to be said for getting things out of your system. "It's like, once they're set to music, they're no longer on your chest."

"Naturally," Adia agreed. "You give the emotional burden a new home, free up chest space so you can breathe a little more easily."

He nodded absently, staring at the seriousness that lurked behind the light in her eyes. He wondered what emotional burdens had caused her to pen the angry lot that littered her album. Before he could ask her, though, the waitress reappeared at the table with their drinks in hand.

"Tea for the lady and water for the kid," she chirped cheerily. "What can I fix you two to eat?"

"I'll have a waffle with eggs and sausage," Adia answered politely. Nick noticed the way her voice rose slightly in pitch. So she does have a public face. The waitress nodded and turned her attention to Nick.

"And what can I get you?"

"A piece of toast would be great," Nick smiled. Both the waitress and Adia stared at him in surprise.

"Wimp," Adia fired immediately. When Nick directed his furrowed brow to her, she had the decency to blush. "I mean...you aren't even hungry enough to eat a whole waffle?"

He winced. "I shouldn't...midnight carbs and all that."

Adia balked. She couldn't help it. She'd spent her life with boys, and she had never met one that was so concerned about his physical image. My gosh, he's like a girl. "Are you for real?"

Nick sighed heavily and tried to keep the crimson from his cheeks. No, I'm not for real. That's the problem, dammit.

The waitress, Linda, smiled at him and looked him over pointedly. "Baby, believe me when I say that you ain't got nothin' to worry about."

He chuckled lightly, grateful for and embarrassed by the elder woman's honesty. He liked hearing that he was attractive--who didn't?--but he hated being regarded as a piece of meat. He glanced at Adia, and she was frowning at him.

"You know, one waffle isn't going to kill you. If you're not hungry, don't eat, but if you are..." she trailed off. "With all the jumping around you do, I don't think it's going to make much of a difference."

He squinted at the menu, trying to calculate calories. The waffle did look pretty good. That, and I really am hungry.

"You know, you don't have to finish it," Linda teased. Finally, Nick conceded.

"Okay, the waffle sounds good," he agreed, handing her the menu. When he glanced back across the table, Adia gave him a small smile.

"Don't worry about it, okay?" She paused. "You know, you're more weight-conscious than any guy I've ever met."

Suddenly, Nick was on the defensive. "I have to be, okay? My weight fluctuates easily, and my metabolism sucks. I'm not one of those people who can just eat what they want all the time. I have to watch myself."

Adia nodded reluctantly. She probably would've pressed the issue if she'd known him better, but she didn't, and she knew that his problems with weight were none of her business. "As long as you don't allow it to keep you from satisfying your nutritional needs..."

"It's just a personal struggle," Nick mumbled. "We all have them. Like the emotional burdens that we write out in songs."

Adia smiled ironically. "Yeah, I guess you're right."

He wasn't sure whether it was the lighting or the privacy, but something about Adia was making him feel bolder than usual. "So you know my burden. What's yours?"

Adia frowned gently. "My burden?"

"Yeah," he reiterated quietly. "I mean, I've heard your album. Quite a few times, actually. Your music is...well, it's not a lot like you seem to be. It's really angry. I mean...there's just..." He sighed, knowing that his words weren't articulating the thoughts he wanted to express. "Aggression, I guess?" God, I need to get a dictionary.

Adia chuckled lightly. "I hadn't thought about it, but I guess you're right. I don't tend to write when I'm happy," she admitted with a small smile. "I'd rather be off being happy, you know?"

He nodded, taking a sip of his water. "Yeah, I guess I can see that. Just..." He paused, searching for the right words. He didn't want to screw this question up. "Don't you...don't you feel weird showing people such ugly parts of yourself?" Ugly? What the fuck? God, Nick...

To his surprise, Adia shook her head. "Not at all. I think there's a certain beauty in anger, actually. The passion behind it, the energy it takes to care that much about something--I'd rather see people getting angry than people being indifferent. Anger at least indicates an awareness of the problem and the need for change." She paused for a moment, chewing thoughtfully on a piece of ice. "That, and I like to think that music can make anything beautiful. Stereotypically ugly feelings become much less ugly when they're set to mode and meter."
He was suddenly thankful for Kevin's impromptu music theory lessons. "I guess...I guess I agree."

They sat in silence for a moment, Adia drawing idly on the table's surface with her index finger while Nick found a spot on the wall to stare at. He was sure that she was thinking about how stupid he sounded. He was sure that she was offended and too afraid to show it. Of course, that doesn't make a lot of sense. She wasn't afraid to walk in here in her PJs. She wasn't afraid to nag me about eating.

In truth, Adia was thinking about how sad it was that Nick had so little faith in himself. He's obviously a smart kid, and he's insanely attractive, but he doesn't feel it. Who in the world planted all of this insecurity in his head? He stumbles over his words like he's afraid of being berated every time he opens his mouth.

She was, however, inwardly pleased that he seemed willing to have a deep discussion with her. It warmed her to know that her band had been wrong about him. He really is just unsure of himself.

"Can I ask you a question?" he asked softly. The moment she saw the apprehension on his face, she smiled reassuringly.

"Sure thing."

He took a deep breath and lifted his gaze to meet hers. When he spoke again, his voice was whisper-soft. "What is 'Deny You' about?"

Adia's eyebrows rose in surprise. She'd had people ask her direct questions about her music before, but no one had been able to figure out which songs were autobiographical and which ones were merely exaggerated emotions. She was impressed that he'd recognized the personal investment she had in that song.

"Good question," she began. "It's about the resistance of a memory and its accompanying ideals."

He frowned deeply, trying to digest the vague explanation, and Adia sighed.

"I'm sorry. You gave me a fairly in-depth explanation of 'Do I Have To Cry For You.' I owe you the same." She paused. "My parents died when I was younger. In order to compensate for their absence, I basically redefined myself according to my assumptions as to who they wanted me to be. I spent a lot of time letting my idea of them and their expectations dictate who I was and what I would become, but I got exceedingly frustrated with the lack of positive feedback regarding my development."

Nick gulped at the stretch of big words and complication. Yeah, I was right. She's going to kick my ass when we do press work.

When she saw the look of bewilderment on his face, she realized she was talking herself out of specifics. "I was trying to please two people who were both deceased and fabricated, and I got angry when I wasn't successful."

"But you couldn't have been successful," Nick countered quietly. "They weren't...they weren't there to...to approve of you."

"Exactly," Adia smiled sadly, "but I was letting that need to please them destroy me."

"So you had to destroy your idea of them," Nick finished. The song's history surprised him, to say the least. First of all, he'd had no idea that Adia was an orphan. Secondly, he'd had a very different idea of who was being denied.

"You look like you weren't expecting that," Adia remarked gently. To her relief, Nick chuckled. She couldn't help but think that he had a beautiful smile.

"I guess my perception of it was a lot different."

"That's the idea," Adia explained. "I'm vague for a reason sometimes. I think that the beauty of music is that, if you write the lyrics correctly, both they and the emotions behind them become universal."

Nick laughed hollowly. "Yeah, I guess anger and frustration are pretty universal."

"So is self-preservation," Adia argued quietly. "The anger is important, but we can only deal with a bad situation for so long before we force ourselves out of it for survival's sake." She looked at him meaningfully. "It's the same in your song."

He rolled his eyes. "My one serious song."

"Not all good music has to be serious," Adia countered pointedly.

"But what if you have more serious stuff to say?" Nick wondered aloud. Since traveling with Adia, he'd started to hate the careless nature of his album. It was poppy and preppy and he hated the way it went down so easily when her album had been so damn difficult to swallow.

"Sometimes we have to wait until we're ready to say it."

"Could I Be You"
lyrics and music by matchbox twenty