"And that's it for today, ladies and gentlemen! Let's have a round of applause
for our fantastic guests--Nick Carter and his supporting act, Adia Chamberlain!"
The obnoxious DJ pressed a button
on the sound board, and a burst of canned applause came tumbling through the headphones that Adia was still clutching tightly
to her ears.
Beside her, Nick shot the DJ a mega-watt smile and leaned into the microphone. "Thanks, man.
It's been a blast." He paused for a moment and scanned the audience, arching a single eyebrow suggestively. "Can
we hear it for this amazing audience as well?"
Adia's eyes widened as the large crowd of girls in the studio began
shrieking again. They'd been screaming off and on during the entire show, but the shrill pitch of their cheers still
shocked her. My God, they've gotten louder.
If Nick was in any way taken aback by the reception, he
didn't show it. He merely chuckled lowly into the microphone. "Dude, this is awesome," he marveled. "I might
have to take some of you ladies home with me."
"Maybe we could negotiate a trade," the DJ grinned. "I'll spare
some of my in-studio audience if you give me Adia."
Nick glanced over at her and pretended to consider it for a moment,
his eyes sparkling with laughter in the bright light of the production room. "Hmm..."
Adia knew she was supposed
to say something witty, something coquettish and flirty and charming, but the words wouldn't come. She could easily work a
crowd with a guitar in her hands, but the schmoozing game was new to her. "You'll be fine," Ani had told her earlier.
"Just keep bringing it back to the music." Inwardly, she sighed and tried to take her mentor's advice.
she didn't have to respond--Nick spoke for her. "Nah, I don't think so. I can't spare this one. She sings
a mean cover song, man. I can't let that go. The tour needs her."
"I tell you what, though," Adia chimed
in. "I can leave you the first official copy of my single. Does that serve as sufficient compensation?"
"I guess so," the DJ agreed reluctantly. He paused to cackle maniacally. "I'll just listen to it and think of
Adia smiled politely and fought the urge to roll her eyes. She wasn't sure how Nick tolerated these people
day-in and day-out. This guy's ridiculous. He doesn't care about the music. He just wants a bunch of gossip.
grinned in return. "Maybe, if you're really nice to her, she'll come back with the whole band and play a song or two
"It's a deal!" the DJ cheered. "Well, kids, thanks so much for joining us. Nick, man, it's
always a pleasure. You bring more chicks to my studio than anyone."
"I do what I can," Nick joked modestly,
winking at the audience and inciting another chorus of screams.
"Nick Carter, everyone! And that's my show
for today! Next up, we've got Domino with your workday three-play..."
A Jive representative and Nick's bodyguard
were waiting in the doorway to whisk both Nick and Adia away as soon as they'd shaken hands with the DJ. Elena appeared
out of nowhere, grabbing Adia by the hand as the group made its way down the studio hallway.
"Great job, kiddo.
Nick's got to go sign autographs for his adoring public, but you and the band have an interview with the local paper about
the joys of being the tour support, so I'm going to take you out of here."
Adia nodded her understanding, her eyes
wide. She was overwhelmed by the pace of everything, from the frantic screams of the in-studio audience to the quickly-growing
entourage surrounding her new friend Nick who, from the looks of things, was deep in conversation with Irving Asshole.
"Okay, chick, this is our exit," Elena prompted, wrapping an arm around Adia's shoulders. With a shake of her head,
Adia stopped staring at Nick and returned her attention to the task at hand. You're free now. You're going back
to your band. Try to focus. It's like Ani said. None of this stuff matters.
"Wait a second!" Nick
snapped from behind her. "I'll be right back." He sounded angry, but Adia knew better than to turn around when
Elena had a schedule.
All of a sudden, another hand found her waist, and Nick Carter spun her around to smile shyly
at her. "Hey, um...good job out there. I've got to go run the gauntlet, but I'll see you after the show...right?"
She couldn't believe it. Not five minutes ago, the man had been smirking confidently into an audience of a hundred screaming
girls. Now, he was smiling a shy, modest smile at her, his eyes flitting down to the floor every few seconds in embarrassment.
She silently wondered where his cocky, flirtatious demeanor had gone.
"Umm...sure," she rambled nervously.
Two or three people from the cloud around him had started yelling his name, and she hated the thought that he was getting
himself in trouble to be nice to her. Hell, who am I? I'm his opening act. He's a superstar.
wasn't sure why, but that realization seemed infinitely more important now.
When she glanced back up at him, blue
eyes locked brown, and he frowned.
"It...I..." He paused to take a breath. "Find me after the show?
Adia sucked in a deep breath and nodded, trying to muster a smile. It didn't matter, though.
By the time she finally managed to get her lips to curl, Nick's entourage had whisked him away again.
* * *
Adia expelled a breath of relief upon hearing Jason's voice.
The whole radio experience had shaken her more than she cared to admit, and the screams from in-studio audience members on
the way to the bus had only served to further rattle her nerves. She'd never heard her name screamed at such a pitch before,
but Jason's shout seemed to put everything back in perspective.
"Oh my God, it's the radio star," Shane deadpanned.
Adia looked up in surprise at the sarcastic tone, but she relaxed further when she saw that his eyes were smiling.
"Nah, she deserves a better title than that," Keelia argued, turning her attention from Shane to Adia. "Girl, you've
got more composure than fucking Abraham Lincoln. The things that fucking obnoxious DJ was saying to you...I'd have popped
him one. Hell, even Shane was ready to hunt him down."
Adia cast an amused glance in Shane's direction, and
the guitarist shrugged modestly. "What can I say? You're my little sister."
Adia smiled gratefully.
"You totally rocked it, though," Jason told her seriously. "Despite the fact that that guy was a complete ass on air,
you didn't give him anything more to work with. You stuck to your guns and kept bringing it back to the music, just
like Ani told you to."
Adia shrugged modestly. "I tried," she admitted, turning her attention to Elena.
"He didn't seem interested in the music, though."
"He gets better ratings if he reveals a scandal," Elena muttered
disdainfully, rolling her eyes. "Even with Nick there, though, he didn't get a chance to spread rumors. There
was a lot of innuendo, but you two dodged it very gracefully."
Adia chuckled hollowly. "I'm not sure 'graceful'
is an accurate description," she belied quietly. "I felt very out of my element."
"That's understandable, though,"
Shane argued protectively. "You're a musician first, Adia, and you're on Ani fucking DiFranco's record label.
You're surrounded by people who put the music ahead of commercialism. This is the first time the
"Don't short-change yourself, though," Jason cautioned seriously. "You did really well out
there. You came across as a confident young woman."
"I came across as a floundering young woman," Adia corrected
with a small smile. "Half of the innuendo...sure I tour with you guys, but you know me. I still don't know how
to respond to sex jokes. I definitely don't know how to flirt."
"Not really," Jason agreed with a laugh, "but
that's endearing, Dia. You came across as confident, sure, but the shyness is appealing too."
piped up. "It shows that you're not just another busty blonde who's more temptress than talent. You stood up to
that asshole as an independent woman selling music and a message. The rest of that over-commercialized bullshit doesn't
matter, and you came across as someone who knows that. As long as you keep presenting that kind of an image, you're
going to kick all of those chauvinistic radio personalities in the metaphorical groin."
Both males winced visibly
at Keelia's enthusiasm.
"What Keelia's trying to say," Elena interjected pointedly, "is that you bring a degree of
innocence to the table, and your lack of charm and finesse appeals to people because it makes you real." Having eloquently
ousted the over-enthusiastic lesbian of the bunch, Elena fished into her pocket and retrieved Adia's new cell phone.
"You did well. So much so that, from what I understand, a few people have called to congratulate you."
Adia's eyebrows rose in interest as she reached for the mobile. "Really?"
"Ten bucks says Ani called," Jason grinned. "Remember, babe, we come from the label that cares."
even try to conceal the smile that surfaced. "You certainly did get lucky in that respect. Righteous Babe is much
more music-centered than most of the labels out there."
"Yeah, well," Keelia snorted indignantly, "there's something
to be said for going indie."
Elena looked up expectantly at her charge's childlike voice and
tried not to smile at Adia's expression of confusion. "Yes ma'am."
Adia smiled sheepishly. "How do I
check my messages again?"
Elena bit her bottom lip to stifle her grin. "Call your voicemail, honey. It's
programmed into your phone. Just hold down the one key until it starts to ring."
Adia blushed as her male bandmates
snickered around her. "Right..."
"Leave her alone!" Keelia admonished angrily. "Just because she's above
the likes of newfangled technology doesn't mean you two have to be assholes..."
Shane covered his mouth with his
hand to hide his laughter. "I'm sorry, did you just say 'newfangled'?"
Jason burst into hearty laughter, and
Keelia let out a small scream of frustration.
"I hate boys!"
Adia began trekking towards the back of the
bus in order to hear more clearly, and Elena called after her to remind her that they had a full-band interview shortly.
Right. Full-band interview. How did we get so busy all of a sudden? We haven't even chosen the cover
song for tonight!
Adia had been thinking about the evening's cover song throughout the morning's interview, and
all she knew was that she wanted it to have something to do with radio. She'd planned to ask the others for suggestions,
but she was beginning to wonder when they would have time. Maybe we can do it during the interview...
she could think any further on the matter, an electronic voice interrupted her reverie to inform her that she had three unheard
"Adia, it's Ani. I was just calling to wish you luck this morning with
that obnoxious Karl guy. I heard his show yesterday morning, and he's basically an asshole, but I know you'll find a
way to keep him focused on the things that matter. Remember, no matter what happens on the radio this morning, you're
a musician first, and you've already got a number of fans that recognize and adore that in you. Your real statement
is onstage, and you make that one loud and proud night after night. This is like icing, baby. Sit back and enjoy
Adia smiled at her label manager's frankness and saved the message. Ani was famous for saying the right
thing at the right time, and Adia had the feeling that she might need to hear the wisdom of her mentor's words again and again
in the near future.
"Adia! We're on the bus, listening, and you rock. Ian even
said so. Keelia's all femmed-out on your behalf, too. It's kind of funny. Hurry up and stick it to that
guy so you can get back here and be adored by your amazing, wonderful band, ya hear?"
She rolled her eyes good-naturedly
at Jason's voice and deleted the message. If anything, he'll keep me sane while everything and everyone around us
is going crazy. He's so abnormal that he'll keep us all grounded.
it's me. I just wanted to let you know that Shane was cool enough to hold the phone up to the radio so I could hear
the majority of your radio thing this morning and...you were amazing, A. Just like I knew you'd be. I wanted to
clean that asshole's clock for making all of those catty little remarks in your direction, but you handled it like a pro and
kept bringing it right back to the music. You've gotten to be such a lady, A, and I'm so glad you're finally letting
people see all of the talent that I've seen for years. You're going to change the world, sis, and I'm so fucking proud
of you. I'm a little worried about how flirty that Carter kid seems to be, but Shane assures me that he's a shy guy
around the four of you. Just know that I've got your back no matter what. I'm always here for you...not that you
need it, though. You keep proving that you can stand just fine on your own." He paused to laugh, and Adia's heart
melted at the familiar chuckle. "Love ya."
She saved the message and flipped the phone shut long enough to
brush away the tears that had begun to pool in the corners of her eyes. God, I miss him.
She glanced up to see Jason hovering concernedly over her. "Yeah, fine. I just..." She shook her head in
an attempt to regain her bearings and held the phone up meekly. "Ace called and left me a message."
knowingly. "He's good like that."
"Yeah, he is," she agreed with an embarrassed laugh. "I owe Shane a
"Eh, he knows you appreciate him," Jason replied with a wink and a shrug. "Besides, he's up front
charming the rock reporter until you decide to make your entrance."
Adia nodded her understanding. "Did they
send you back here to retrieve me?"
"Nah, I came of my own volition," Jason grinned. "You looked a little shaken
up. I figured you might need a quick heart-to-heart before the critic starts firing questions your way."
tipped her chin in concession. "Yeah."
Her brow furrowed in confusion. "I
guess. This morning...it was weird, Jase. The innuendo, the jokes, the charm...I know it's a common game, but
I was quiet and asocial and I missed that part of college. I don't know how to make small talk, and I definitely don't
know how to flirt with people I've just met."
Jason's expression grew immediately serious. "You don't have
to, Dia. It's like Elena told you--you don't have to resort to social tricks to intrigue people. You've got enough
talent that your music speaks for itself."
"Sure," Adia agreed absently, "but does it speak for me?"
much as it has to," Jason volleyed pointedly. "You're not selling you, Dia. You're selling the music. You're
just a vehicle by which the music is brought to the people. The melodies will make their own impressions."
Adia paused for a moment to consider her friend's words.
"You know all this," Jason told her expectantly. "What's
really going on?"
She smiled amusedly. He's definitely my best friend for a reason. The smile
faded just as quickly as she continued to ponder the morning's events, though. "I don't know, Jase. I think..."
She trailed off uncertainly and met his gaze with apprehension. "I think I'm worried about Nick. He...he really
surprised me today."
Jason's features darkened immediately. "Oh? How so?"
"I don't know," Adia
sighed. "He was really different this morning. It's not even all that important, really. It's just that...ever
since we met him, I've seen him as this quirky, insecure shy guy with a lot of reserve and a noticeable lack of self-confidence."
She paused to furrow her brow. "Even onstage, he's very boyish in his performance. I mean, he definitely knows
how to keep an audience entertained, but he's very...genuine, I guess. I believe him. From his stuttering and
his perpetual blushing to his hip thrusts and his adrenaline screams, I believe him. I feel like, even though he seems
a little afraid of himself sometimes, he doesn't try to be someone else. He's openly imperfect, and there's very little
that seems fake about him."
"That seems like an accurate assessment," Jason agreed uncertainly. "What's
"He wasn't that quirky, insecure guy this morning. He was...sleezy, almost, you know? That
flirtatious, charming, funny guy that made all the little girls scream this morning isn't the guy I'm used to sharing a stage
with." She heaved a sigh. "It seems to me that there's a very specific kind of cocky, calculated conversation
involved in things like the radio show, and Nick was very, very good at playing that game." She glanced hesitantly up
at Jason. "He was too smooth. He was too smooth to be believable, and he was definitely too smooth to be as shy
and insecure as he seems when we're all hanging out on the bus together. I'm having a really hard time wrapping my mind
around the psychological dichotomy."
Jason arched his eyebrows expectantly. "Are you saying that you think
his 'shy guy' thing is an act?"
"I'm saying that I think my perception of things is skewed," Adia amended.
"I've been looking at him like he's a regular person, flaws and all, but...the schmoozing came almost too easily to him.
He said all the right things and cracked all the right jokes, and it became painfully obvious that he's a superstar."
She chuckled ironically. "He conducts himself with way too much confidence to be anything else."
his head to the side in curiosity. "I'm not sure that's fair, Dia. He sounds confident on the radio, sure, but
how many times have you seen him tripping over sentence construction in our dressing room after a show?"
heavily. "I know. I know. I just don't understand the change. I can't reconcile the two personalities.
And...call me crazy, but I really didn't like the guy he morphed into whenever the on-air light started flashing."
Jason studied her for a moment, chewing on the edge of a pen he'd managed to scrounge up. Finally, he pulled the pen
away from his mouth and dipped his chin pointedly. "So you've developed an aversion to your pop star pet project?"
rolled her eyes pointedly. "He's not a pet project, Jason. I wanted to make him feel more comfortable around us.
He seemed alone and unsure, and I wanted to pull him out of that shell because I've been there and I know exactly how much
it sucks to not be able to trust yourself."
"And now you don't want to do any of that anymore."
hollowly. "I think I came to the belated realization that he doesn't need me to."
"What, he doesn't need you
to befriend him? Why? Because he's good at schmoozing with a few radio DJs?" Jason arched a skeptical eyebrow
and tapped Adia lightly with his pen. "That hardly seems fair, Dia."
She frowned. "Jason...after what I
saw this morning, I'm not sure I want to get any closer to him. I don't do well with two-faced people. I may be
more tolerant than Keelia is, but ultimately, I don't like people that put on different masks for different occasions."
She wrinkled her nose in hindsight. "Especially not when one of those masks involves a lot of charm and excessive flirting."
chuckled. "It's funny that you express such a dislike for those kinds of people, you know?"
Jason began pointedly, "you present the same dichotomy, you know."
Her brow furrowed in offense. "I do not."
"Sure you do," Jason argued. "Follow me here, okay? You spent two years of college playing your guitar in the
bathroom of your tiny apartment because you couldn't stand the thought of anyone but Ace hearing anything you had to say or
sing. You wouldn't talk to anyone because you were so painfully shy that you couldn't spit an articulate sentence out.
Furthermore, you spent every class huddled down over your desk, scribbling away in a notebook so you wouldn't have to make
eye contact with anyone."
Adia breathed a measured sigh at the recounting
of her early college years. Jason's description was indeed painfully accurate. "What's your point?"
lot changed whenever you and I met Shane and Keelia in that coffee shop," Jason sighed, "but you didn't do a full one-eighty.
You're still every bit as shy as you used to be. You have a hell of a lot more confidence in your music, but you're
still apprehensive around people you don't know, and I know that that radio show made you more uncomfortable than Pamela Anderson
in a nun habit because you had so many people focused on you."
Adia knew better than to argue.
do it, Dia? How'd you get up in front of all of those people and sing that first open mic night? How'd you muster
enough confidence to pursue that reporter from the New Yorker? Are you honestly telling me there weren't any masks involved
Adia sighed heavily. "That's different, Jason."
"Really?" he prodded. "I don't see
how. Hell, Dia, yours is a physical transformation. You go from shy princess in PJs to sex goddess with a guitar--and
don't you dare try to tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about."
Adia smiled shyly. "That's performance,
though. That's just a stage persona. I couldn't do my job if I allowed myself to succumb to my usual level of
shyness all the time."
"Exactly," Jason agreed. "You ever stop to think that Nick might have the same problem?"
Adia flinched. "He's been doing this since he was a child, Jase."
"It doesn't change who he is, Dia.
That much experience has just given him that much more time to construct a persona."
She lifted her gaze and smiled
at him gently. "Okay, you have a point."
"Thank you!" he laughed. "Look...I'm not saying he's in the
clear, okay? Just hear him out. Hell, ask him about it tonight after the show. See what he has to say."
Her smile bloomed to full capacity. "He did ask me to find him..."
Jason rolled his eyes good-naturedly.
"Why were you worried again?"
Adia had the grace to blush. "You know me," she mumbled. "I worry about
"I know, but for now...let's go rescue the others from that reporter before they give Elena a reason
to worry, okay? Heaven only knows what they'll tell her if we leave them alone for too long."
and followed Jason to the front of the bus.
* * * *
Despite the crazy events of the day, the band's thirty-minute set went off without a
hitch. If anything, the tryst with radio had made Adia even more grateful for the return to the stage, and she reveled
in the familiar feeling of performance throughout the concert. She had originally intended to dedicate the cover to
her crazy morning with the DJs by choosing a fun, hard rocking, radio-themed song, but after must post-interview deliberation,
she and the other three had settled on a rendition of Robbie William's ironic "Radio." The disco beat had gotten the
crowd going in just the right way, and the satiric tongue-in-cheek lyrics were perfect for Adia's mood.
She had yet
to decide how long to tease Keelia for suggesting a British pop song as a cover, but she was glad that her friend had chosen
Now, however, the show was over and she was navigating through the maze of backstage corridors in a search
for her blonde tourmate. She'd decided to hang out with Jason and watch Nick's set from the audience, and she was having
quite a bit of unnecessary trouble finding their dressing rooms again. She was seconds away from calling Jason for help
when she ran smack into the lithe, suit-clad form of Irving Azoff.
"Mr. Azoff. Hi,"
she stammered nervously, wringing her hands. "I'm really sorry..."
The man brushed himself off and shot her
a tight smile. "Ms. Chamberlain," he acknowledged with a curt nod. "What are you doing running around backstage?"
"Looking for N...Mr. Carter, actually," she explained with a sigh. "You...you wouldn't happen to know where he is, would
Irving rolled his eyes and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Back that way. He's taking care
of some business at the moment. Try not to disturb him until he's finished."
Adia sucked in a deep breath for
courage and began jogging lightly in the direction Irving had indicated.
"Oh, and Ms. Chamberlain?"
whirled around expectantly.
"Walk. Don't run."
Feeling strangely like a delinquent child, Adia slowed
her pace and continued towards what she hoped would be Nick's dressing room. I finally get an album of my own, and
the hot shot Hollywood manager tells me that I can't run backstage. Man...
At long last, she caught sight
of a mess of people at the end of the corridor and heard the unmistakable sound of Keelia's voice ranting. She exhaled
in relief, and a small smile surfaced as she continued to close the distance between herself and the newfound dressing rooms.
I bet the others are still teasing her for picking
a Robbie Williams song.
She bypassed her own dressing
room for Nick's--which was, as usual, blocked by a throng of people. Adia wove her way to the front of the mass and
put on her best polite smile for the benefit of Nick's burly bodyguard.
"Ron?" she began tentatively. The man's
intimidating gaze immediately dropped to her.
"Miss Adia," he nodded.
"Is Nick there? He asked me
to come find him once the show was over..." She trailed off and smiled again for good measure. The bodyguard didn't
return her grin.
"He's busy with meet-and-greets. You'd best save it for tomorrow at rehearsal."
eyebrows rose in surprise. "Tomorrow? Why tomorrow? Isn't he going to be around this evening?"
The bodyguard arched a menacing eyebrow. "Mr. Carter needs his sleep much more than he needs to be fraternizing with
his fellow musicians, Miss Adia."
Adia's eyes widened at his cold tone of voice. "Of course," she replied generously.
"I understand that. I just didn't want him to think I'd forgotten his request," she finished, grappling for something
purposeful to say. "Could you tell him I came by?"
"Certainly. I wouldn't wait up for him, though."
He wasn't even looking at her anymore. Instead, he was surveying the throng of people with his usual face of stone.
Feeling slightly dejected, Adia turned and headed back to her dressing room.
Ron had treated her like he treated
every single one of the women that dared to shower Nick with attention, and that fact hadn't escaped her. In fact, she
felt humiliated by his staff of professionals. So I'm not a star. So I have breasts. Why does that deem
me unworthy of Nick's time? He asked me to come see him after the show!
As she shoved her door open, she
began to wonder if Nick had purposefully reneged on following through with his request.
"Back so soon?" Jason teased.
"I thought you and the Backstreet Boy had a date."
"He's busy," Adia replied with a small smile.
Shane repeated doubtfully. "He asked you to come find him. He should be waiting for you."
he's not," Adia sighed. "He's got a cloud of professionals swarming around his dressing room, and his bodyguard told
me in no uncertain terms that he would be unavailable for the rest of the evening."
"Sounds suspiciously like Irving
Asshole's work," Keelia remarked dryly. "Isn't that kid doing two tons of press already?"
"Well, we know he's
been making the radio circuit," Jason laughed. "Don't worry, Dia--I'm sure he just got stuck."
or maybe his new attitude got the best of him," Shane offered darkly. Adia turned to her brother's best friend in curiosity.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Shane heaved a sigh. "Dia, I really don't like the way he was acting this morning.
"Is obviously well-versed in handling obnoxious DJs," Jason finished warningly. "Leave him alone,
"No!" Shane argued. "I want to know why he thought it was okay for that asshole to say all of that
shit to Adia!"
Adia rolled her eyes as the two boys continued to exchange words and turned her full attention to
her belligerent bassist. "They're in rare form tonight, aren't they?"
"They have a point," Keelia admitted
with a pointed glance in Adia's direction. "The Carter kid was like an entirely different person this morning.
And now he's blowing you off to take care of business?"
Adia flinched as Keelia voiced her suspicions. "Keels,
we've known him for more than a month now. I feel like we should give him more credit than that."
Keelia pointed out, "and you know what? Maybe we shouldn't have."