Chapter Thirteen
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

I won't be so hard on me today
I start to take myself so seriously
Shouldn't be so hard just to be effortlessly
It shouldn't be so hard to keep it together
It shouldn't be so hard to say the right things to you
It shouldn't be so hard just to be effortlessly

As the stage lights went out, Nick ducked backstage to wait for Adia. He couldn't see a thing for the darkness necessary for the set change, but he was hoping to at least hear them coming through. After a minute or two, he moved towards the dressing rooms in hopes of catching her there.

"Hey, it's the Carter kid!"

Nick spun around in surprise upon hearing his new nickname, but his hopeful countenance gave way to a barely-there frown when he recognized Jason's boyish grin.

"Why the deer in headlights look?" Jason teased easily, reaching up to clap his boss on the back. "You searching for something?"

"Someone," Nick admitted quietly, ashamed at the way his voice shook when he spoke. When am I going to learn to relax around these guys? "Do you know where Adia is?"

"'Course," Jason shrugged. "Girl high-tailed it to the bathroom as soon as we hopped offstage. She's not used to performing in mini-skirts, and the thing apparently squeezes her bladder more than normal, so she had to go BAD. Either she fell in, or she drank enough water to fill a bathtub before we went on tonight. Both are pretty probable," Jason admitted with a chuckle. Upon seeing Nick's sheet-white pallor, though, he frowned. "That's probably too much information for you, isn't it?"

Nick swallowed forcefully and offered what he hoped was a polite smile. Jason saw through it immediately. Damn, he's uncomfortable.

"You got a message you need me to give to her?"

"A-Actually, yeah," Nick admitted quietly. He cleared his throat in annoyance. Dammit, Nick, get it together. "Could you tell her I said thanks?"

Jason arched his eyebrows in surprise, but decided to have a little fun with his tour mate anyway. He didn't know much about Nick Carter or the Backstreet Boys, but if the kid was going to be hanging out with Adia, then Jason wanted to make sure that his ego was in the right place.

"Thanks for what?"

Jason had been expecting a snappy comeback, but he didn't get it. Instead, Nick sucked in a deep breath, and his eyes widened in horror at the thought that he had misinterpreted Adia's intentions where the cover song was concerned. Shit, now he thinks I'm some sort of egomaniac. He opened his mouth to undo the damage caused by his assumption, but Jason's tentative smile came first.

"Listen, man, I'm sorry...I was just messing with you. I'll give her the message, okay?"

Nick closed his mouth and nodded, trying to regain a regular breathing pattern.

"I appreciate it."

"Anytime," Jason laughed. "And chill out, okay? You've done, what, a thousand of these shows? You're a fine performer. No need to be so damn nervous."

Nick smiled lightly and amusedly at Jason's reassurance. He has no idea.

"Thanks," he answered simply. Jason nodded and jogged back towards the dressing room. Nick, on the other hand, took a deep breath and jogged back up the stairs to the stage.

Another show...

*      *      *      *      *

Adia stepped out of the bathroom wearing an oversized tee-shirt and pajama bottoms, drying her hair with one of the hotel's terrycloth towels. Because Nick was booked for more than one show in the current city, the label had been nice enough to put them up in a hotel. Although Adia and her band were sharing a suite, they were thrilled to have extra space to themselves for a night. Adia especially appreciated the endless supply of hot water.

"Feel better after a shower?"

She looked up in surprise at the sound of Jason's voice. "Yeah, thanks." She paused to frown. "What are you still doing up?"

"Couldn't sleep," he shrugged. "KiKi and Shane hit the hay right after you hopped in the shower, but I've been up reading."

Adia smiled softly. "Good book?"

Jason held up the cover of The Da Vinci Code. "Should be," he responded cheekily. "I stole it from your stash on the bus."

Adia's eyebrows rose, and she set the towel down in favor of conversation. "It's pretty good. It's not the best piece of literature I've ever encountered, but it's definitely entertaining. It moves quickly, at least."

"Yeah, I've plowed through a good hundred pages while you wasted away under the faucet in there," he teased warmly. She blushed.

"I was a little sore from sleeping in that bunk. It'll be nice to spread out tonight."

"I know the feeling," Jason laughed. "It was a good show, though, right?"

"Definitely a good show," Adia smiled. "I think the cover went off well. Irving didn't drop by for a visit, at any rate."

Jason's eyes widened at the memory of his brief encounter with their headlining act. "Oh! Speaking of the cover..."

Adia looked up immediately. "Yes?"

"You'll never guess who I ran into in the hall after our set."

Adia rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Nick?"

Jason chuckled. "Good guess. He said to tell you 'thanks' for the cover song."

Adia looked mildly impressed. "So he did figure out that it was directed towards him."

"Yeah," Jason admitted, "but I messed with him a bit before acknowledging it."


He laughed. "I know, I know. I just...Shane's right, you know? If he's going to be hanging out with you, we want to make sure he's got his head on straight." He paused to look meaningfully at his best friend. "I know you're an eternal optimist, Dia, but the guy really did come off as a bit of an egomaniac at first."

Adia dipped her chin expectantly. "And now?"

Jason sighed grudgingly. "And now, I think you might be right about him. I pretended for two seconds not to know what he was talking about when he said to thank you, and he looked like nerves had eaten him alive. He really is just incredibly insecure." He paused for a moment. "Well, either that, or he's one hell of an actor."

"Doubtful." Adia's tentative expression faded to a smug smile. "Hate to say it, Jase, but...I told ya so. He's just shy."

"Maybe so," Jason admitted reluctantly, "but it's a little hard to believe. I mean, he's an internationally acclaimed recording artist. You'd think that he'd have some sort of ego to go with his reputation."

"I know what you mean," Adia agreed, "but his label has instilled in him some fear of failure. He's entertaining this misconception that, in order for him to succeed on his own, he has to be perfect."

"And let me guess," Jason continued sarcastically. "Their expectations begin with his appearance instead of the music."

"Unfortunately, yes," Adia affirmed with a sad sigh. Her brow furrowed as she recalled Nick's words in the diner. "Jase, he's so worried about his weight that he won't eat after a certain time at night. Getting him to order something at Waffle House was a struggle." When Jason's eyebrows rose, she threw up her hands and continued incredulously. "Hell, Jase, he counts calories! That's not normal!"

Jason frowned. "Not that I'd know anything about how he's supposed to look, but...he doesn't seem overweight to me."

Adia shrugged. "Me neither, but I've never been much good with fashion trends."

Jason bit back the smile that threatened to surface when he remembered what a struggle it had been to get Adia into that evening's miniskirt.


He looked up with what he hoped was an innocent expression. "Nothing."

She narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously. "Right."

"Seriously! It was nothing."

Adia shook her head. "I know what you're thinking, Jason, and I was serious. I'm not wearing another miniskirt."

He batted his eyelashes at her hopefully. "Please, Dia? We won't make you count calories!"

Adia shot him a glare. "I don't need to count calories."

Jason silently agreed that she had a point. Adia wasn't stick-thin by any means, but she had only enough meat on her bones to call herself a proper woman. She was normal, and nothing dictated that she be any more or any less than that.

"No, you don't," he conceded with a laugh.

"Neither does Nick," Adia muttered. Before she could say anymore on the subject, though, the room phone rang, startling both of the room's coherent occupants. Their gazes immediately moved from the phone to the clock, and both groaned in unison.

"Who on earth would call us at this hour?"

Jason shrugged. "Probably Elena wanting to know what's going on tomorrow. No one else knows this number, right?"

Adia looked doubtful. "I guess not..." She silently prayed that Irving Asshole hadn't found a way to reprimand them for the punk cover.

The phone rang again.

Jason glanced at Adia expectantly. "Aren't you going to answer it?"

She was too tired to argue with him, so she crossed the room and picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

She heard a throat being cleared, and then a raspy, tentative voice on the other end.

"Um, hi...is Adia there?"

She furrowed her brow in confusion at the unfamiliar sound. "This is she."

"Oh...hi." The caller paused to clear his throat. "It's Nick...Nick Carter."

Her brow un-furrowed fairly quickly in her surprise. "Oh, hey. What's up?"

When she looked up, Jason was frowning at her. "Who is it?" he mouthed. She held up a finger, signaling for him to wait a moment.

"N-not much. I, um..." On the other end, Nick rolled his eyes at his own inability to speak to his opening act. "I didn't wake you up, did I?"


He swallowed forcefully, hoping to stomach his nervousness. "Oh. Good." Come on, Carter. Say something. Anything. "Thanks for the song tonight."

Adia smiled in barely-concealed amusement and decided against telling him that Jason had already delivered his message. "You're welcome." Another moment, and her quiet voice spoke again. "You inspired me."

"Really?" He hated how hopeful his voice sounded.

"Yeah," she replied softly.


Adia cleared her throat uneasily. "Nick, not to be rude, but..."

"Do you want to play cards?" he blurted. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he was rolling his eyes in disgust. Man, I've reached a whole new level of dorky. Cards? What the hell? Do I even own a deck of cards?

On the other end, Adia's eyes narrowed uncertainly towards the receiver in her hands. "Um..." She sighed heavily, trying to ignore Jason's hands, which were waving wildly in front of her.

"What does he want to do?" Jason whispered. Adia grudgingly placed a hand over the mouthpiece and acknowledged him.

"He wants to play cards."

Jason's eyebrows shot up appreciatively. "He's smart. He had a good time the other night, and he's trying to keep you interested."

Adia still looked unsure, but Jason was insistent. "Dia...GO!"

The imperative was enough to remind her that Nick was waiting for a response on the other end, so she bit her lip apprehensively and, for lack of a better response, restated the question. "Cards?"

Inwardly, Nick groaned. Fuck, it sounds even dumber when she says it. "Sorry. I'm bored and I can't sleep and I figured that maybe you couldn't sleep either so we could not sleep together as opposed to both being bored...not that you're bored, of course, because you probably have a million things to do, but..."

She wasn't sure what it was, but something about the cute, nervous way he was rambling made him more endearing that enigmatic. You want to get to know him better, right? Here's your chance. "Sure."

Nick's eyes widened in surprise at the affirmative answer. "Really?"

Adia chuckled at his boyish tone. She wasn't used to socializing with strangers by any means, but Nick's stumbling, unsure nature made her feel more at ease. Hell, he seems more nervous about this than I am. "Yeah, really." She toyed with the idea of inviting Jason along, but decided that Nick would be twice as nervous if she brought a guest. "Where should I meet you?"

Nick was about to rattle off his hotel room number, but thought the better of it. He didn't want to come across as though he was propositioning her. Of course, there wasn't really anywhere else for them to meet unless they used her room, which would inevitably involve the rest of her band, and Nick didn't want that. He was nervous enough with Adia.

He sighed petulantly.

Adia glanced tentatively towards the door and sighed with him. "How hungry are you?"

Nick groaned inwardly at the mention of food, but the rumble in his stomach proved that he could probably stand to eat.

"I could eat."

Adia smiled slowly at the reluctance of his admission. "There's a concierge lounge by the elevators that has a few vending machines. Would you like to meet there?"

Nick knew that his bodyguard would be furious about him wandering the hall of the hotel unguarded at one in the morning, but, for once, he couldn't care less. He was far too relieved to have found a suitable meeting place.

"That sounds great," he agreed with a small smile. Now he just had to find a deck of cards. "I guess we can, um..."

"I'll see you soon," Adia chuckled, saving him the trouble of stuttering through another response. Without further ado, she replaced the receiver and turned to grin at Jason. "We're going to play cards at the concierge."

Jason didn't bother to bite back the laugh that threatened to surface. "Sounds like a plan." He paused for a moment, watching as Adia slid into her big, pink and purple, furry slippers. "Those are hideous. You know that, right?"

Adia shrugged. "They're comfy."

"They don't match those red plaid PJ pants either. I'm assuming you know that, too."

She leveled Jason with a doubtful look. "Jase, when have I ever cared a lick about fashion?"

He grinned. "You have a point. Carter kid isn't exactly smooth with the ladies, is he?"

That inspired a frown from the younger woman. "He's really shy. Sometimes he stutters. He's sweet, though." She paused to wiggle her toes, making Jason laugh. "Honestly, he's got to be lonely. I've never really seen him talk to anyone other than Irving."

Jason sighed. "I guess you're right."

"Like I said earlier," Adia intoned, sliding her key card off the dresser in front of her, "he just needs a friend."

"You think you can handle being friends with an internationally renowned pop star?" Jason asked doubtfully.

Adia just smiled.

*      *      *      *      *

She was like a drug. Initially, he hated the way he felt around her, but he loved talking to her. Just the few conversations they'd had had meant more to him than the thousands of fans that came to his show every night. He was doing well and the reviews were looking good--for once in his life--but she was the only person who didn't want to know whether he wore boxers or briefs or whether or not his solo efforts were going to mean the end of the Backstreet Boys.

Instead of wondering how much weight he'd lost, she wanted to know what his songs were about. Instead of wondering whether or not he and Britney Spears had been getting it on backstage at the latest awards show, she wanted to know what made him tick. He'd spent years and years with girls who wanted to know how hot he would look in whatever shirt they'd chosen for him, but Adia just wanted to know what he thought.

About everything.

Truth to tell, he loved it. He was flattered beyond belief that someone would be interested in his psyche before his physicality. He was thrilled to spend time with someone who measured his intelligence before the length of his member when it accidentally stood tall during a show. He was honored that his lyrics had intrigued her, and he was moved by her concern for Nick Carter the person.

He was moved, touched, whatever, but it also freaked him the hell out, and THAT was why Nick Carter the person was pacing the concierge lounge like an angry pigeon, an old deck of cards tucked securely in his back pocket.

"You know, you're going to wear a hole in the carpeting if you keep that up."

The statement was ridiculing, but her voice was soft in its amusement, so Nick knew better than to take offense when his startled gaze rose to greet her. Normally, he would've tried for some kind of sassy comeback, but Adia had the uncanny ability to render him stuttering or speechless, so he smiled softly instead.


She laughed lightly. "Hey." She took in the sight of his damp hair, tee-shirt, and baggy sweatpants, and her smile widened. "Tonight wasn't a dress-up occasion?"

He blushed gracefully under her scrutiny. "We weren't going out," he explained quietly. "If you're embarrassed, I can change..."

Adia frowned lightly. "Why would I be embarrassed?"

Inwardly, Nick groaned. He could hear Howie's words from earlier ringing in his ears. "She's a challenge." Man, truer words were never spoken.

"I don't know."

She smiled gently. "In case you didn't notice, I'm not exactly sporting designer wear."

He'd noticed. He'd been embarrassed. He wasn't used to girls being so blatantly open with him, but for the second night in a row, Adia had shown up wearing large tortoise-shell glasses, a huge tee-shirt, oversized flannel PJ pants, and long, wavy hair. This time, however, the hair was wet and her feet were covered in ridiculously loud slippers instead of Nike footwear.

He reached a hand around to scratch the back of his neck. "Yeah, well..."

Adia wiggled her feet for his downcast eyes. "Like the slippers?"

She bit back the laughter that threatened to surface when his eyes widened. She wasn't sure what it was, but something about Nick made her feel much bolder than usual.

"They're, um..." He paused, struggling to find a word that wouldn't offend her. "They're fluffy." Oh, dear God, Nick. Fluffy? Find a fucking thesaurus tomorrow, would you?

Adia grinned. "Jason tells me they're hideous."

Upon seeing her amusement at the matter, a perplexed Nick visibly relaxed a bit. "Well, they don't exactly match..." he admitted with a tentative breath.

Adia shrugged. "True, but they're pretty comfy." Her impish side got the best of her for a moment, and she lifted one leg in the air, stretching her foot towards Nick teasingly. "Wanna try 'em on?"

He balked, staring at the shoe as though it would grow jaws and attack him. Adia burst out laughing.

Usually, Nick would've been horribly offended, but he was too intrigued by the ease with which Adia could laugh at herself.

"It's okay, Nick," she told him with a small smile. "I know I'm not a fashion icon." She paused for a moment to study him, and he blinked nervously under the heat of her gaze. "It doesn't embarrass you, does it?"

Nick heaved a sigh and decided to be honest with her. He gestured to the coffee table in the sitting area. Rather than sitting at one of the large, stiff armchairs surrounding it, Adia sat cross-legged on the floor. Nick carefully followed her lead, secretly relieved to be able to kick back.

"It's different than what I'm used to, I guess."

Adia nodded gently, furrowing her brow in concentration as she watched him shuffle the deck of cards he'd retrieved. She knew from the absence of stuttering that they'd finally reached a point in the conversation where he felt more comfortable and less self-conscious with her. "And what are you used to?"

"I don't know," Nick shrugged, his gaze fixed on the cards. "Lots of lipstick, bustiers, mini-skirts, skin-tight jeans. M.A.C. make-up in tons. Girls that know how good they look and aren't afraid to flaunt it. Girls who'd do anything to sleep with me."

He said it so matter-of-factly that Adia knew he wasn't being arrogant. In fact, there was a tinge of bitterness in his voice that made her wonder if he was even flattered by their obviously vain attempts.

"I'm not trying to sleep with you," she said pointedly, her tone measured in equal parts resolve and reassurance. Nick glanced up to meet the eyes he could still feel on him, and the sadness in his baby blues surprised her greatly.

"I know."

"You make it sound like that's a bad thing," she said gently. Nick's eyes widened in fear at her perception.

"No! Gosh, no. It's just...it's different." He chuckled bitterly. "It's been a long time since someone has just wanted to talk to me."

Suddenly, Adia was the nervous one. "Well, we are touring together, and I figure it's always good to know the people you're going to be living with, regardless of how enigmatic they might immediately seem. I mean, I know you don't know me very well, and I don't know you either, but I've always found that fellow musicians make the easiest friends because they understand the most fundamental parts of

Nick's shaky smile steadied quickly, and his eyes sparkled warmly in the dim light of the lounge. "No need to justify," he told her honestly. "It's nice. This..." He stopped to gesture to the two of them. "This is nice. I mean, I know I suck at deep conversation, but I really do enjoy it."

Adia's eyes stopped darting back and forth, and her brow immediately creased in a frown. "Nick. Stop."

He glanced up tentatively. "What?"

She sighed heavily and reached for the deck of cards, which he carefully handed her. "You do not suck at deep conversation."

He expelled a frustrated breath. "Sure I do. I'm not articulate by any means. I never know the right words, and I know I stutter a lot."

Adia shrugged. "That makes you shy, not stupid." She glanced up quickly. "What do you want to play?"

They agreed on a quiet game of war, and she relinquished the cards to Nick, who dealt them quickly before resuming the conversation.

"I know I'm not stupid..."

"Do you really?"

Adia's calm interruption surprised him not because she'd halted his train of thought, but because she'd asked the most important question--the right question--so quickly. He was quiet for a moment.

Did he know? He thought he did. There was always the more logical voice inside his head telling him that he was a person of fairly sound intelligence. Somewhere along the line, though, he knew the voice had been quelled by the other, louder voices of his friends, co-workers, and superiors. Sometimes he played dumb, and he wouldn't deny that. Other times, though, when he was actually trying to be serious and was having trouble finding the words that would correctly convey whatever idea he was trying to get across, they were always quick to tease him.

His eyes widened slightly with the realization that he'd eventually stopped trying to be serious. Instead, he'd started believing them.

"I guess I don't," he admitted quietly. Adia arched a single eyebrow skeptically, but her voice stayed soft.

"You guess?"

He raised his chin defiantly at the unexpected critique of his diction. "You don't mince words, do you?"

She smiled softly, elusively. "I'm a songwriter, remember? It's my job to get to the heart of the matter."

"Do you do this to all of your friends?"

Adia winked at him ever so slightly. "Only the ones I like." She had no idea where the audacity was coming from, but she was pleased to note that all of the uncertainty had fled from his tone. Maybe, sooner or later, he'll learn to be that comfortable around me all the time.

He paused for a moment, considering the answer, and returned her small smile. "You ask a lot of hard questions."

"You inspire a lot of them," she volleyed quietly.


"See?" she pointed out with a smile. "I told you you weren't stupid. Half of America still has trouble putting that word in the right place."

Nick chuckled bitterly. "Words in the wrong place. Story of my life," he remarked. It was, too. The fellas never failed to remind him that he knew very little about the English language.

"You don't give yourself enough credit," Adia commented lightly.

Nick sighed in defeat. He liked Adia, yes, and he was slowly starting to warm to her despite her intense nature, but he'd had enough psychoanalysis.

"Can we not talk about me for a change?"

Her eyebrows rose in surprise, but her tone registered nothing but casual agreement. "Sure. What do you want to talk about?"

"You said your parents died," Nick began tentatively, watching her expression for any noticeable changes. Nothing registered. "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

Adia smiled slowly at the thought of her family. "Yeah, I have an older brother, Ace."

Nick couldn't help but smile at how happy she looked. "Good guy?"

Adia's grin widened. "Understatement. He's everything to me. After my parents died, Ace really took control of everything, and his steadfastness helped me through it. If it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't be in music at all," she admitted with a laugh. "I'd still be in the bathroom of our apartment, playing guitar for the bath towels."

Nick wrinkled his nose at the thought. "Sounds like a waste."

"It would've been," Adia agreed. "Ace introduced me to Shane, though, and I played in Shane's coffee house for awhile."

"That's where you met Jason and Keelia, right?" Nick asked carefully. Adia nodded, pleased and surprised that he'd remembered.

"Yup. Technically, I owe my entire band to my brother, but we don't tell him that." She paused to wink at Nick. "Wouldn't want his ego to get out of control, you know."

Nick smiled amusedly at the way she'd opened up about her brother. "Sounds like you two are close."

"We are," she agreed. "I mean, family's important, right? He's pretty much all I have left, so we make it a point to stay tight."

Nick silently wished he could say the same about his own family. "That's cool. Is he coming out to see you at some point?"

"I wish," Adia sighed. "I miss him a lot."

Nick frowned lightly, remembering the way his parents and siblings would travel with him when he and the fellas first started out. "Where is he?"

"In Iraq," she muttered darkly. "In searching for the appropriate funding for his higher education, my dear brother decided to join our devil of a military so that he can finally benefit from these insanely high taxes."

His eyebrows rose ever so slightly when he heard the angry undertones in her voice. "Not a fan of the Bush regime?" he asked gently.

Adia's laugh was bitter. "Understatement. Let's just say that I hope some Democrat kicks his sorry southern ass in the next election and pulls us out of this."

Nick winced at the venom in her tone. He didn't know too terribly much about politics, but he knew enough to know that the next election would be an interesting one. "How long has your brother been out there?"

"A little under a year," Adia sighed. "I love him, and I understand his reasoning, but the selfish part of me really, really wishes that he'd throw in the towel and come home."

"Yeah," Nick breathed, unsure of what else to say. He'd never really faced the possibility of losing one of his family members to war, and he knew that it was a delicate enough subject that he really did run the risk of saying the wrong thing.

Adia seemed to realize that the topic was uncomfortable for him, because she sucked in a deep breath and smiled tentatively across the table. "How about you? Any brothers or sisters?"

"Yeah," Nick smiled, thinking of his mess of siblings. "Four, actually. Three sisters and one brother."

"All younger?" Adia asked quietly. Nick nodded.

"Yup, all younger."

She let out a low whistle. "Man, your house must be like a circus."

"It was when I was growing up," Nick admitted with a light laugh. "We're all older now, though, and my parents are divorced, so no one lives in the same house."

Adia looked up from her cards in surprise. "How does that work?"

Nick shrugged. "My brother's in the business and my sisters are halfway there. Everyone's focused on their careers at this point."

"No big family reunions?" she prompted gently. For some reason, Nick's family didn't seem to inspire in him the same happiness that Ace brought her.

Nick laughed bitterly. "Hell no." He glanced up when she didn't continue and noted the frown of confusion on her face. A heavy sigh replaced the bitter laughter. "My parents don't exactly get along," he told her sadly.

"I'm sorry," and he knew that she meant it.

He shrugged again, but his answer was achingly honest. "Me too."

"Are you close to your brother?" she asked tentatively, hoping to avoid a sore spot. Adia knew from Nick's relaxed figure that he was becoming more at ease with conversation.

He grinned at the thought of Aaron. "Oh, yeah. We're like two peas in a pod. He's a great kid."

"How old is he?"

"Fifteen," Nick answered with a laugh. "And God help us all when the kid actually gets his drivers license. I'm thanking my lucky stars that I'm going to be on tour while he's doing driver's ed."

Adia chuckled. "He sounds like he's quite a character."

"Oh, he is," Nick agreed with a twinkle in his eye. "One time in Europe, he and I decided to ditch our bodyguards. We were in Paris, right? And no one spoke English. We were trying to find our way to Notre Dame because he'd just seen that Hunchback movie, and he wanted to ring the bell."

Adia cringed at the thought of two teenagers in the sacred cathedral. "Oh, no..."

Nick burst out laughing. "Oh, yes. Anyway, we find this bus that claims to take you straight to the church, right? What we didn't know was that said bus actually offered a tour of the whole city, not JUST Notre Dame Cathedral. So we hop on this thing expecting to be gone for a few hours. We get to Notre Dame, hop out and spend a lot of time just running around the church and checking out the sights. We tried to get up to the bell tower, but some humongous security guard stopped us and threatened to kick us out. Well, we get out, and..."

"The bus is gone?" Adia guessed with an amused smile.

"Good guess," Nick nodded. "So we decided that we'd try to find our way back to the hotel using our God-given sense of direction."

"Oh, no."

He shook his head in amusement as the memories came back to him. "While we were running all over Paris looking for the hotel, security was running all over Paris looking for us. We finally managed to get on the right metro line, but once we got to the hotel, we couldn't get in because our management had roped the place off. Everyone thought we'd been kidnapped," he admitted with a laugh. "We had a blast, but my parents were pissed."

Adia giggled. "Oh, man, I bet they'd been worried sick. Two teenage boys in a non-English-speaking country?"

"Yeah, well," Nick chuckled. "We made it back all right. We weren't allowed out of the hotels for the next week or so, but we had a hell of a lot of fun while it lasted."

He scooped up the last pair of warring cards and laid down, frowning when Adia didn't reciprocate. When he looked up from the table, though, her grin was sheepish.

"Game over."


"I'm out of cards," she admitted with a laugh. "You win."

Nick frowned in surprise. Despite his earlier nervousness, he'd relaxed enough to enjoy the conversation, and the distraction of the card game had kept him from second guessing himself. His first instinct was to propose another game, but he glanced down at his watch when he remembered his radio spot the next morning. Man, I fuckin' hate morning radio...


Adia cocked her head to the side uncertainly, but the smile was still in place. "What? Not used to winning in war?"

"That too," Nick chuckled, "but it's almost four in the morning. I had no idea we'd been in here that long."

Adia's eyebrows rose in what looked to be pleasant surprise. "Yeah, no kidding." She shook her head incredulously, but her gaze returned quickly to Nick. "Man, we've both got to be up tomorrow, too."

Nick's eyes widened with interest. "Why do you guys have to be up?"

Adia smiled in anticipation. "Ani's coming tomorrow. Apparently Righteous Babe has some things they need to discuss with us."

Nick wrinkled his nose. "Sounds like fun."

She shrugged. "Our label's cool, and Ani's really laid back about everything. I'm sure it's nothing big." She narrowed her eyes at Nick teasingly. "We're probably in trouble with your label."

Nick rolled his eyes at the mention of Jive Records. "Join the club, man. I'm always in trouble with the label."

"Really?" Adia frowned. "You seem like you follow all their rules to the letter."

Nick pursed his lips ironically. "They have a lot of rules," he countered cryptically. From his look of barely-concealed disgust, Adia knew better than to press him.

"I should probably let you get to bed, then." When his eyes moved back to the floor shyly, her brow furrowed in concern. Man, he's a fragile flame. "This was fun, though. I'm glad you called."

He smiled shyly, sliding the cards back into their case. "Me too."

She returned his smile warmly. "Get some sleep. I'll see you at rehearsal tomorrow."

"Sound check," he corrected without thinking. Everyday words escaped him, but the terminology of the music industry was firmly embedded in his subconscious.

"Same difference," Adia laughed. "Goodnight, Nick."

The goodnight. It was an awkward moment. It'd been a long time since he'd been "just friends" with a girl, and he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do. Hug her? Kiss her on the cheek? Offer to walk her to her room?

He glanced up for a signal, but she was already gone. Surprisingly, she seemed to understand his predicament, and she'd made it easy for him.

He smiled at the empty doorway and shook his head in amusement. "'Night, Adia."

lyrics and music by Sister Hazel