"Another ending to another show," Jason laughed. Shane frowned curiously at the
"Isn't it 'another opening to another show'?" he asked, recalling the Broadway song. Jason just shrugged.
he agreed, turning an amused ear to the loud music that drifted backstage. "Man, Carter kid seems like he's really going at
it tonight, huh?"
Adia heaved a sigh at the thought of Nick. She'd certainly enjoyed the previous evening, but her
usual thoughts of him had been replaced with music business musings. She'd done the entire show with the same charisma, the
same in-your-face attitude, but she'd kept a closer eye on the audience. After the talk with Ani that afternoon, she suddenly
felt it necessary to monitor the crowd's reaction to her music. A small smile flitted across her features as she realized
that she was looking for fans now.
Jason nudged Adia lightly, bumping her shoulder with his. "Is it just me, or is
he screaming more than usual tonight?"
Keelia cast a dark look in Jason's direction, mimicking his nonchalant tone.
"Is it just me, or do we have more important things to worry about than how much the Carter kid is screaming?"
dropped down into one of the armchairs in the dressing room with a heavy sigh. "Man, you aren't kidding." He scanned the faces
of his band members carefully before continuing. "What are we going to do, guys?"
"Hell if I know," Keelia groaned.
"I hate the thought of going commercial, but I can understand how it would be a good thing." She paused to take a deep breath.
"I mean, on the one hand, it would suck to get pigeonholed before the album is released, but on the other hand, it would be
kind of cool to play good music on some slick late-night TV show."
Adia glanced up in surprise at the smile in her
friend's voice, but Jason was the first to jump on it.
"Why, KiKi, did I just hear you sound excited about the fruits
of mainstream music?"
Keelia rolled her eyes in annoyance. "You know what, man? Forget it. I was trying to be serious
Adia cleared her throat softly. "No, you're right, Keels. I agree. Most of my hesitation is a result of
the exposure that comes with commercialization." She winced at the thought of paparazzi. "I mean, for what it's worth, I don't
want a bunch of cameras following me around either."
Shane glanced up in barely-concealed amusement. "Wasn't the fact
that she didn't want to be famous part of Norah Jones's appeal as an artist?"
It was Adia's turn to roll her eyes.
"You have to admit," the guitarist began, leaning forward and placing his elbows on his knees, "that Elena
knows you pretty well. If you had to be typecast, the kind of image she was describing wouldn't exactly be a terrible portrayal."
know that," Adia sighed. "I'm just...apprehensive, I guess."
They were silent for a moment, but Adia cracked a small
smile when she recognized Nick's rambling as an introduction to "Do I Have To Cry For You?" As soon as the acoustic guitar's
chords began to echo across the venue, she titled her head in an attempt to hear him better. Her gaze fell on Shane, and she
laughed lightly when she saw him doing the same.
"I love this song," she admitted softly. Jason's arm found its way
around her shoulder, and she could feel his chuckle in the vibrations of his abdomen.
cuts to the quick," Keelia remarked quietly from the make-up table. "It's simple enough to be painful."
curiously towards their young singer. "Dia, didn't he write this one on his own?"
Adia smiled warmly. "Yeah, he did."
She didn't say more than that. If anything, Shane's curiosity would give him an excuse to talk to Nick.
broadened at the thought of her super-serious Shane and perpetually nervous Nick engaging in musical discussion. She hadn't
spent that much time with Nick, all things considered, but she knew enough to know that he'd love her band.
guys talk about music when you get together?"
Adia's eyebrows rose in surprise. She'd expected the question at some
point, but she definitely hadn't expected it to come from Keelia. She looked up to meet the woman's gaze.
"We did that
first night." Her gaze drifted to the floor, and she tried unsuccessfully to suppress the smile that threatened to surface
when she remembered how earnest Nick had been. "He mentioned something about me being articulate, and we started on a discussion
about the meaning behind the lyrics." She paused thoughtfully. "Actually, he wanted to know the inspiration behind 'Deny You.'"
looked impressed. "He's a smart kid, huh?"
"He's definitely perceptive," Adia agreed. "I mean, not everything on the
album is autobiographical, and the fact that he picked one that was says a lot about his intuition."
"A man with intuition?"
Keelia scoffed at the notion. Jason leveled her with a pointed look.
"Guys can be sensitive too, KiKi. I ran into the
kid after the show last night, and he's painfully shy when he's not onstage."
Keelia rolled her eyes. "Shyness doesn't
"No," Shane agreed, "but the fact that he thought to ask about 'Deny You'..." He trailed off and
shared a smile with Adia. "I wonder just how well he knows your music, Dia."
Before, Adia would've modestly dismissed
the question, but she had enough evidence to know that such a denial wouldn't be effective. "Well enough," she mused. "He
seems to like it."
"No surprise there," Keelia laughed. "It's a damn good record."
"And for Keelia AND the Backstreet
Boy to say that," Shane chuckled, "you know it spans genres."
"Which means it could be a commercial success, right?"
Jason asked with a grin. "Doesn't that mean that a move to radio would be beneficial?"
Adia grimaced at the return
to serious discussion. She'd much rather discuss Nick than the commercialization of her career. Thankfully, the screams from
outside provided her with the ultimate distraction.
"Hey, listen," she grinned. "He's doing another encore."
four bandmates listened carefully as the opening notes of "Right Here Waiting" began to echo through the venue.
Marx," Shane recalled with arched eyebrows. "Impressive. Whoever thought that the Backstreet Boy would chance another cover?"
snickered. "I just hope he remembered to run it by Irving Asshole first."
"It's not like the song has any bad words
in it," Keelia laughed. "Man, we're a bad influence."
Adia shook her head in amusement. "Hardly. A little bit of 80s
music never hurt anybody."
"I don't know if I agree with that," Shane joked. "No kidding," Jason groaned. "I've got
four words for you, Dia: Hungry Like The Wolf."
The aforementioned female grimaced. "Point taken." She paused for a
moment to listen to Nick's vocals and grinned. "Nick picks good 80s music, though."
"Yeah, he does," Keelia agreed
reluctantly. "He picks the kind of stuff that even I can stand."
"That's what he's good at, though, isn't it?" Shane
remarked with a sigh. "He knows what'll keep the masses happy."
Adia's eyes widened with realization. "He knows the
masses..." She shook her head incredulously. "You know what?"
She laughed out loud. "I can't believe
I didn't think of it before." That said, she looked up at the other three members of her band with a grin. "We should ask
Nick about making the move to radio! I mean, he's been in the business since forever, right? He could tell us firsthand what
Shane nodded thoughtfully. "You're right. He definitely has enough experience."
"Hell, he's sold
how many million records?" Keelia put in. When the other three turned to her in pleasant surprise, she laughed. "What? I might
not like pop music, but I can acknowledge that he's been successful with it. The kid might not dress like it, but he's got
to be insanely rich by now." Suddenly, a mischievous grin crossed her face. "We should yank him in here after the show."
sighed. "I'm not sure we can. Aren't the busses leaving right after the show tonight?"
"Even better," Keelia replied,
a Cheshire's grin crossing her face. "We'll invite him on the bus."
"It's an overnight drive," Adia pointed out with
"So?" Keelia asked. "We have two extra bunks."
"They're covered in stuff," Adia countered. It wasn't
that she didn't want Nick on the bus with them--more that she didn't want to scare or overwhelm him. She'd gotten the surprise
of her life before the show when Nick had stopped her for a five-minute conversation backstage, and she loved that he was
finally comfortable enough to chat casually with her. Hell, it took him long enough to warm up to me, and I'm the most
soft-spoken. He's going to freak out if he's thrown into a bus with all four of us.
"He could always sleep on
your bunk with you," Jason responded, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. Adia blushed a deep crimson.
exactly how loud her voice had been, she heaved a sigh and spoke more softly. "No, it's fine. We can clean out one of the
"If anything," Shane offered, "we could ask Ian to pull over for a bit, and he could switch busses."
He was Adia's guitarist, yes, but he was also her brother's best friend, and he knew for a fact that Ace would have a coronary
if he found out that Shane had let his little sister spend the night in bed with a Backstreet Boy.
"Aw, come on, Shane,"
Jason teased. "Don't you want to see our little Adia get some action?"
Shane leveled the younger man with a glare.
"Yeah," Keelia laughed. "Regardless of whether or not Shane wants to see Adia get laid, Ace would
kick his ass if anything happened on Shane's watch."
Adia rolled her eyes. "Would you guys stop? Nothing is going on
between Nick and I. He's just a really sweet, really shy person. He needs a friend, and I need to know the people I'm touring
Shane shrugged. "As long as he's not insanely arrogant, he's welcome on the bus."
Jason burst out laughing
at the thought of an arrogant Nick. "No, man, Dia's right on this one. He's so shy that it makes me hurt. When we ran into
each other last night, he was stuttering like crazy."
"He was also looking for Adia, though," Keelia pointed out with
a laugh. "Besides, we all know that he's scared of us."
Shane leveled Keelia with a doubtful look. "He's not scared
of us, Keels. He's scared of you."
"Rightfully so," Jason muttered. "You scare the shit out of me."
heavily as Keelia reached over and smacked Jason--hard. "Guys, if we drag him on the bus, you all need to promise to be nice
to him." She dipped her chin pointedly, looking to each of her bandmates in turn. "I know how you guys can get, and he's nervous
enough as it is, okay? Give him some time to get comfortable with us before you start freaking him out."
he'll want to come with us," Shane pointed out with a laugh. "For all we know, he thinks we're a bunch of freaks and doesn't
want to be in any way associated with anyone but you."
Adia arched a doubtful eyebrow. "I hardly think that's the case,"
she returned with a laugh. "Quite the contrary, I think he actually likes you guys. He's just shy."
"We're about to
find out," Jason interjected with a chuckle. "Judging by the screams out there, I'd say that the show is over now."
Adia nodded. "I wonder how Ani liked it."
"I guess we'll find out soon," Shane shrugged. "Isn't she riding to the next
city with us?"
Adia flinched. "Man, I'm not sure. We were so caught up in talking about 'Secret Life' on the radio
that I forgot to ask Elena."
The corners of Keelia's mouth curved in a smirk. "Ani and Backstreet Boy on the same bus...man,
that'd be a riot, wouldn't it?"
"It'd mean that we have to clean off both extra bunks," Jason grumbled. "Not that I
don't love Ani, but we have a lot of shit up there."
"We'll find somewhere to shove it," Adia assured him with a laugh.
"If all else fails, we'll just shove it all under the bus and call it a day."
"I'm certainly ready to call it a night,"
Shane remarked. "I'm exhausted."
"I'm right there with you," Jason agreed with a yawn. "Between the talk about radio
and the intensity of that show, it's been one hell of a day."
Before the band could compare further notes on the cause
of their exhaustion, a soft rap on the door silenced them.
"Come in!" Adia hollered, fully expecting Ani to burst through
the door. When Nick's blond head peeked through the opening, her eyebrows rose in surprise. "Hey."
He cleared his throat
and smiled lopsidedly. "Hey. Mind if I come in?"
Keelia cocked her head to the side pointedly. "What, did you miss
the first invitation?"
"It's all those screaming girls," Jason intoned with a laugh. "They fuck with his hearing."
was about to join in the teasing, but he changed his mind when he caught sight of the glare Adia was shooting them. Instead,
he offered Nick a small, reassuring smile. "Come on in, man. Join us."
Nick's lips curved upward in a small but grateful
smile. "Thanks." He slid through the door and closed it behind him before backing into the make-up counter and leaning against
it gingerly. "Um...you guys did well tonight."
Jason looked up with a surprised smile. "Thanks, man. You too. The crowd
was loud as hell during the encore."
Nick ducked his head modestly, examining the carpet of the dressing room. "Thanks,"
he said quietly.
Adia recognized the look all too well, and she hated it enough that she was determined to make him
more comfortable. "Still think 'Do I Have To Cry For You' is too simple a song?" she asked teasingly. Nick glanced up in surprise,
but his modest smile was accompanied by a blush when he finally locked eyes with her. He shrugged.
"I'm just glad the
fans like it."
"They should," Shane remarked lightly. "It's a good song."
Nick's eyebrows rose in pleasant astonishment.
Praise from Adia had been wonderful, but praise from her talented and unreachable band was almost too good to be true. "Thanks,"
he said sincerely. "Really." He paused to chance a smile at Shane. "That means a lot coming from you guys."
Jason asked with a laugh. "I mean, the approval of all those teenage girls is definitely worth more."
sure," Nick agreed, "but it's...it's another thing for a fellow musician to like it, you know? You guys..." He trailed off
and glanced up tentatively. "You guys are really talented."
"Maybe so," Keelia remarked off-handedly, "but you're the
one getting radio airplay."
Nick's eyes widened at the hidden suggestion. "Are you kidding? Y'all could blow me out
of the water. Have you guys even sent 'Secret Life' to radio yet?"
"That's actually what we wanted to talk to you about,"
Adia began. Nick's eyebrows immediately rose.
"You wanted to talk to me?" As soon as the words were out of his mouth,
he flinched. Way to look like a loser, Carter. Thankfully, Jason responded before the situation could get too awkward.
yeah, man! You're the pro! We're just a dressed-up coffee shop quartet. When it comes to the ins and outs of the industry,
we're about as clueless as Fat Joe in a Jenny Craig."
The comment halted Nick in mid-protest. He tried to stifle the
laughter that threatened to surface at the absurdity of the comment, but his attempts were in vain. Thankfully, the rest of
the group was snickering just as loudly.
"Honestly, Jase," Adia laughed. "Where do you come up with this stuff?"
grinned wickedly at her. "Do you really want to know?"
Adia wrinkled her nose. "Probably not..."
Shane interjected in annoyance, "not all of us are clueless about the music industry."
Jason laughed. "You're right,
Shay, I'm sorry. Two of us are clueless. One of us has a by-the-book business education and the other only knows what she
needs to know to avoid the mainstream like the plague." His mischievous glance moved to Nick, at whom he winked knowingly.
"Our Keelia here doesn't swim so well with the other fish in the sea."
"Maybe I just swim in a different sea,"
Keelia fired back.
"And I don't have a by-the-book business education, I have a degree," Shane corrected pointedly.
Adia rolled her eyes.
"Enough, guys. Nick still has no idea what you're talking about."
The "guys" mentioned
looked up to find that Nick was indeed staring at them with guarded uncertainty. Shane was the first to cave.
sorry, man. We're having a bit of a professional dilemma, and we were thinking that, being an artist yourself, you'd give
good, music-centered advice."
Nick fought the urge to let out an ironic laugh. In his opinion, he'd been in the business
far too long to have maintained his "all about the music" mindset. Adia seemed to have misinterpreted his silence, though,
because she sighed.
"You don't have to if you don't want to, but it'd help to hear your opinion."
He was blindsided.
Four extremely talented musicians--three, of whom he was deathly afraid--were asking him for career advice. They were treating
him not only as an equal, but as someone who could shoot straight with them where the suits curved the line.
He looked up in surprise at Jason's question. The drummer barely managed to conceal his smile of amusement.
"You okay, man? You look like you're somewhere else entirely."
Nick smiled wanly. "Just thinking."
advice you know you want to give our little bar band?" Keelia asked sweetly. Despite the teasing smirk on her face, Nick could
feel his insides freeze as soon as she locked gazes with him. Man, I'm pathetic. Since when I am afraid of a female bassist?
Hell, MY band has a female bassist. He bit his lip out of nervousness, but released it just as quickly in hopes of maintaining
a somewhat dignified exterior. Maybe it's the purple hair...
"I guess," he agreed quietly. "I just...I'm not
sure how much help I can be."
Adia smiled reassuringly at him. "I'm sure you'll be more help than we've been to each
other," she chuckled. "I think we need to hear an opinion from someone who can look at things objectively." Her eyes, unshielded
by the usual glasses, rose to meet his, allowing him a good, long look at her face and figure. "You know, we need someone
who's not quite so close to the dilemma."
He gulped. He could handle offstage Adia pretty well by now. They'd had two
in-depth conversations and a couple encounters that included casual chitchat. She challenged him, yes, but he definitely didn't
feel threatened by her. He considered her to be his ally against the quickly-growing superficiality of the music industry.
woman standing next to him, though, was a far cry from the girl that had padded into the concierge in the worst-looking pair
of slippers he'd ever seen. The woman standing next to him was clad in a pair of leather pants and a pale pink peasant blouse
that accentuated her ample curves in all the right ways. Her hair was pulled back from her face on either side, revealing
the same eyes that had reached his soul from the glossy confines of photo paper.
Her eyebrows rose hopefully, and his
stomach dipped. Shit. He didn't do well with pretty girls. In general, they scared the hell out of him. Pretty, talented
girls like this one were so far out of his league that he could already feel himself stuttering.
It's just Adia.
Just Adia. Adia with the fuzzy pink slippers and the oversized, unmatched pajama pants.
"I...I..." He sighed heavily,
trying to regain his composure. Why didn't I notice her earlier? "I have to get to my bus. Overnight trip."
we thought about that," Jason agreed, "but we've got an extra bunk. You could just grab a few things from your bus and chill
with us if you want." When he saw the hesitation on the older man's face, he had to laugh. "Don't worry, man, we'll make sure
you have fun. We won't pick your brain ALL night."
Good. There's not much to pick. He pursed his lips together
in apprehension. "I don't know..."
Adia's smile faded with his uncertainty, and Nick groaned inwardly when he realized
how much his heart dropped at her disappointment.
"You don't have to if you don't want to," she told him honestly.
"We just thought that..."
"That you'd be anxious for an evening without Irving Asshole breathing down your neck," Keelia
supplied with a mischievous grin. The more she saw of this shy, modest, hesitant Nick Carter, the more she liked him. She
was pleasantly surprised by his lack of ego. She was even more surprised when he directed a nervous smile towards her.
hadn't thought about it that way," he admitted with a light laugh.
"Now you have," Shane jumped in. He'd seen the dejected
look on Adia's face whenever Nick hesitated, and he was determined to keep Ace's little sister happy. If that meant getting
the Backstreet Boy on the bus, then he'd do it gladly and quickly. "Come with us, man. If we drive you absolutely insane,
you can switch back to your bus at a rest stop somewhere."
"I don't think that'll be a problem," Nick chuckled, running
a hand through his hair. He couldn't image himself being bored or annoyed with such talented people. Hell, he'd already spent
upwards of ten hours talking with Adia about...well, nothing.
"Good, then it's decided," Shane asserted. "We'll see
you on the bus in ten."
That said, he gave Nick a nod of friendly acknowledgement and headed out of the dressing room
with his gig bag slung over his shoulder. Keelia let out a low whistle and winked at Nick.
"We like to let him think
he runs things," she confessed with a roll of her eyes. "Unfortunately, he goes overboard sometimes."
Nick wasn't sure
what he was supposed to say, so he offered a small smile instead.
"Whatever," Jason shrugged. "He always gets this
way when we have a business decision to make. He was the same way all through school."
"That's true," Keelia agreed.
"We were constantly bitching at each other about it."
Jason laughed loudly at the thoughtful look on the bassist's
face. "KiKi, you're constantly bitching at everyone about everything."
The two continued to bicker as
they headed out of the dressing room and down the hall, leaving Nick and Adia alone in the room.
Nick cleared his throat
awkwardly. "We should probably get going," he said softly. Adia glanced up at him with obvious concern.
have to come, you know. Shane can be forceful sometimes, but he's not going to coerce you into joining a business discussion.
If you just want to go back to your bus and relax, that's okay." Her gaze drifted to the floor, and she laughed lightly. "The
band is full of interesting characters, but I know they can be...a bit much sometimes."
Nick frowned deeply at her
tone of voice. Most people wouldn't have noticed anything wrong with the inflection, the laugh, or the softness, but he knew.
He'd spoken the same way too often not to notice. Adia's insecure? Since when?
"Hey," he prompted. As expected,
she looked up intently, meeting his eyes.
"I do want to come," he told her honestly. "I'm just..." He trailed off and
sighed. "I say stupid things sometimes. Everybody in your band is so smart...I guess I'm afraid that I'm going to embarrass
the hell out of myself," he admitted with a shy laugh. He reached up a hand to rake through his hair again, but she caught
his wrist with her slender fingers.
"What'd I tell you before?"
He scrunched up his nose in thought. "That I
don't suck at deep conversation?"
She threw her head back and laughed. It was a delicate, musical sound, but he especially
loved the way that her eyes were sparkling when she dipped her chin back down to smile at him.
"That too," she agreed
with a chuckle, "but you're not stupid. You're a far cry from stupid, and your experience allows you a depth of knowledge
that none of us have been privy to. We really could use your help."
Nick smiled softly and nodded. "Okay. Let me run
to my bus to pack an overnight bag and alert security, and I'll see you in a bit."
Adia nodded in return. "Good deal."
He started to leave, but she called to him just before he made it through the doorway. "And Nick?"
She liked the way
that he turned all the way around to look at her. "Yeah?"
"Don't be nervous," she grinned. "We really are just a bunch
He cracked a small smile and resumed his departure. Yeah, but you're a bunch of talented, intelligent
dorks, and THAT'S what scares the shit out of me.