Chapter Three
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

What can I do but feel the weight I'm underneath and grit my teeth
How do I deal with you?
How do I deal with me?
When I don't even know myself or what it is you want from me
How do I deal with love?
Why do I have to choose?
Got everybody telling me what the hell I have to do
How do I deal with us?
How do I know what's real?
When I don't even know myself or what it is I feel
How do I deal?

He glanced down thoughtfully at the CD in his hands. The album's cover was plain; just a burned CD-R with the title and artist scribbled across the front in what he'd come to recognize as Adia Chamberlain's handwriting. It had arrived promptly in his mailbox a week and a half before. He'd opened the package calmly, unsure of whether or not he'd discover anything more about his opening act by its contents. She'd packed the CD with a handwritten note explaining each track in a sentence or less. Her handwriting was meticulous indeed, but nowhere as impressive as the words she'd used to describe her music.

The CD had been in his walkman since the day he received it.

He stuck the disc back in the player and pressed play, letting the music of the first track rush through his headphones. It was a fast number with a ripping guitar solo and powerful vocals that he'd come to love. The first time he'd heard it, he'd been shocked that such a shy, quiet thing could be so painfully honest in the first track of her record. Of course, as the album progressed, he'd grown less and less shocked as he grew more and more impressed with her command of language and chord structure. She didn't know much about touring technicalities--Whittier had made that plenty clear--but she knew an incredible amount about music.

Within seconds, she had started to sing the words that had long been ingrained in his skull. "Secret Life" was an aptly titled piece on the pain of private existence, and he'd been able to relate all too well. As the song tripped into the chorus, he could close his eyes and see her explanation of it.

The first single. It's a brutal description of the faces we choose to hide and an examination of that which we're so determined to protect.

Seeing the big words, he'd cringed. I mean, shit. If things like that come easily to her, doing press with her is going to be a bitch. I'd be lucky to spell all of that without any mistakes.

And that was just the first song on the album. The rest had left him curled up in the corner of his couch, holding a whiskey with his eyes closed. The music was incredible, yes, but the lyrics had caused him to do far more soul-searching than he'd bargained for.

A friendly hand on his shoulder finally brought him out of his melody-induced reverie. He looked up to see Irving standing behind him and pulled the headphones off his ears and around his neck.


"Hey. You gonna come out and watch the new kids rehearse?"

He looked up as soon as his manager entered the makeshift dressing room at the rehearsal venue and nodded. "Sure thing. Wouldn't miss it for the world."

Irving glanced down at the walkman in Nick's hands and frowned inquisitively. "What're you listening to, man?"

Nick smiled. "Adia's album, actually."

"What'd I tell ya? Isn't it great?"

Nick almost chuckled with the thought that "great" almost trivialized the experience he'd had when listening to it for the first time. He was ceaselessly shocked at how moving her words were. "It's amazing. For as shy as she was at the initial meeting, she's got a surprisingly hard edge to her songs."

Irving nodded his agreement. "Well, we should probably go see how she brings it to the stage. Rumor has it we even get to meet her band today."

Nick arched an eyebrow. "Really?" Truth be told, he was slightly frightened to meet her band. He remembered all too well the eclectic nature of her entourage at the meeting, and he could hardly imagine how unique her other friends were.

He and Irving continued to make small talk as they moved from the dressing room to the audience of the venue, but as soon as they reached the velvet seats of the small auditorium, conversation ceased. Both men were too amazed by the transformation that had obviously occurred to continue chatting.

Onstage, a very different Adia Chamberlain was adjusting her microphone. Her brown hair was loose and long, dropping in waves to her mid-back. Her former poncho and turtleneck had been replaced with a tee-shirt and close-cut jeans. She was wearing a guitar around her shoulders, and as she reached to place the microphone back on the stand, Nick could see her triceps ripple. He gulped, but not before she spoke softly to the technician in the back of the venue.

"Umm...maybe it's just me...but this seems a little too loud. The balance is going to be off."

Nick frowned in confusion. The sound didn't sound loud at all to him. He figured that, at the current volume, the drums and guitars might even overshadow her.

The raven-haired bass player nodded her agreement and stepped up to her microphone, her buckled combat boots thudding loudly against the wooden stage. "She's right. You aren't gonna hear shit from us. She looks little, but she sings pretty loudly."

Nick frowned more deeply upon examining the bass player. She was tall, with purple streaks in her straight black hair and large holes in her indigo jeans. Her black tee-shirt read "I'm out of bed. What more do you want?" in bright green. He sighed heavily and acknowledged that she could probably eat him for dinner, given the chance. She reminded him eerily of the lawyer that had graced the conference room only two weeks prior.

Adia rolled her eyes and shot a meaningful, albeit amused, look at her friend. "Thanks, Keelia."

The drummer, a childish-looking boy with messy brown hair and a wrinkled tee-shirt, looked up from his place and adjusted the bill of his trucker hat so he could see over the cymbals. "Hey, Kiki? What do you say we leave Dia to the technical shit and focus on our instruments?"

The one dubbed Keelia stopped tuning her bass long enough to flip him off. The drummer laughed.

"Thanks, babe. You're number one in my book too."

The lead guitarist, a kid of medium height and sandy blonde curls, rolled his eyes and gave the other two band members a stern look. "You guys need to knock it off, okay? Save the bickering for later. As it stands now, that Carter kid is going to be here in a few minutes, and we need to make a good impression."

Nick couldn't help it. Despite the seriousness of the situation and the amateur nature of his fellow performers, he had to smile at their concern. It said a lot about their work ethic that they were focused on impressing him. Well, musically, maybe. As far as the appearances go, I'm only minutes away from handing my stylist over.

Before he could arch a skeptical eyebrow, the redhead manager who had introduced herself as Elena Powers vaulted onto the stage, clad in ripped jeans and a tank top. Her dreds were tied into a ponytail, giving her a semi-professional image from the front. From the back, however, she looked no better than the misguided teenagers who had so recently taken the stage.

"We done tuning yet, kids?" Elena shot a meaningful look at the lead guitarist. "That Carter kid stepped into the audience a few minutes ago, and I think he's about ready to see what you can do."

The drummer winced. "Well, shit. So much for the good first impression idea."

Adia bit her lip to stifle a smile. "Don't sound so depressed, Jason..."

He dipped his head pointedly in her direction. "Come on, Dia. Weren't you the one going on and on about how the music should speak more loudly than any actions?"

The lead guitarist looked up with a grin. "Yeah, that's our Dia. Always preaching high morals and idealistic notions in the midst of a compromising business endeavor."

Nick blanched as the man smirked at the young brunette that had taken centerstage. Shit, it's not just her. They all talk like that.

Adia chuckled. "Yeah, yeah. In twenty years, Shane, you won't even remember the business endeavor. You will, however, remember my high morals and idealistic notions."

Shane groaned. "Tell ya what, Adia. If I still remember them all twenty years from now, I'll call you up just so you can say you told me so."

Adia grinned. "Brilliant." That conversation now concluded, she turned her full attention to her manager. "So you say Nick Carter's here already?" Elena nodded, and Adia sighed. "Okay, guys. Time to get to work. Anybody have a preference for the first song of our first official soundcheck-slash-rehearsal?"

The two boys shook their heads, but Keelia grinned mischievously and hollered down into the front row. "Hey, Carter kid!"

Nick looked up in surprise. He wasn't exactly fond of the bass player so far, but she definitely had balls. "What?"

"You played Adia's record yet?"

Nick almost laughed aloud. Had he listened to the record? Hell...maybe ten thousand times. Or more. After the first hundred times, I lost count.

"Yeah, I've heard the record."

Onstage, Shane handed Jason what looked like a twenty-dollar bill, and Nick fought the urge to gulp as the bass player leered at him.

"You got a favorite song?"

Amazed by her audacity, Nick had to clench his jaw to keep it from unhinging. He closed his eyes for a moment, allowing himself to mentally run through the tracks on the album, when the perfect track finally came to him. It was a fast, angry number, and he'd loved it from the moment he'd heard it. He could still recall what Adia had written about it. This is about the strength we all wish we had without knowing that it's already within our possession.

Unfortunately, he still had trouble picturing the song as Adia's. He was anxious to see whether or not she could bring a poignant ire to the stage.

"Deny You," he called back, and Adia's eyebrows rose. Keelia looked to their lead singer for approval, and Adia nodded despite her frown. Even from six feet below, Nick knew she was studying him.

"Deny You it is," Keelia fired to the rest of the group. They nodded their understanding, and Shane shouldered his electric while Jason gave the drumsticks a good twirl.

"On my count?" he called, and they nodded again. "One, two, three..." Shane closed his eyes and bopped his head to Jason's beat as he began to pluck out the melody on his electric guitar. Adia was facing them, her body moving slightly with the music as she watched her boys. They remained that way for two bars, however, before Jason abandoned his cymbals for the snare and bass drums, cuing Keelia on the bass. Shane opened his eyes long enough to grin at the raven-haired guitarist across from him. Jason winked at the two and nodded towards Adia, who had ripped the microphone off the stand and was now completely immersed in the powerful music as she let loose with the opening lyrics.

I've gotten tired
Just rolling around, trying to find the ground
And I'm losing all of my control

Your crossfire
Sparks are everywhere, ashes in my hair
And I'm trying not to let 'em show

Amazed. It was the only word he could think of to describe his reaction, and he knew immediately that it was painfully inadequate. The shy, reserved girl from the conference room had disappeared completely, revealing a sexy, sensual, and extremely angry female in her place. Watching Adia, it was clear that she had written the entire song on her own. Her arms were alive, her hands in her hair, possessed by frustration. Her eyes were wide at first, then narrow slits; her body crumpled and unfurled like an angry flag in the wind. She reminded him of Fiona Apple and an angry AJ.

He shuddered at the thought, but he was too enthralled with her performance to look away.

But I'm getting exasperated
Of picking up the pieces of the things you hated
And all this time on you that I've wasted
Is starting to take its toll

Shane fell into the pre-chorus guitar solo, and Adia glanced over her shoulder to keep tempo with the rest of her band. Jason's eyes were closed, and his teeth gripped his bottom lip as he pounded out a pivotal point in the music. All eyes moved to Keelia as she plucked a four-note combination leading up to the chorus, and the four band members exchanged a nod in unison before Adia whirled back around to face her imaginary audience.

Open your eyes
And watch me defy you
Just weave your lies
And watch me deny you
Your pitiful sounds are wearing me down
And there's no getting through
Take back your blue
Your midnight too
I'm hitting the back door
As I deny you

It wasn't until the end of the chorus that Nick realized he had his eyes closed. Something about Adia's voice had forced him into another time and place, and once again, her words were ringing true in ways that he didn't particularly care to acknowledge. Truth to tell, they were words he'd been wanting to say to many people for quite some time.

He smiled slightly at the thought that listening to the words seemed to satisfy him for now. He chuckled, too, because Keelia the bass player had been right--Adia's voice would've drowned them out at a higher volume. She had an amazing voice. Not necessarily because she found pitch perfectly or because she was capable of outstanding vocal acrobatics, but because her voice touched him emotionally. She sang pain as carefully as she wrote it, with a painstaking accuracy. The rich mezzo soprano tone breathed life into the song. The lyrics were touching to begin with, but Adia's voice enhanced it to the point of perfection.

Fatigue, it plagues me
Nightmares invade my sleep, I've got no dreams to keep
And your voice is in my bedclothes

You figure-eight me
You circle broken hearts, you scream into the dark
And you shelter me with arrows

Nick had to laugh at the smile on Keelia's face. The girl looked positively ecstatic to be performing that particular song, and he could've sworn he heard her shouting to Shane about how much she "loves that fucking line!" He admitted without hesitation that he agreed. Adia was an impressive performer, yes, but she was brutal with words.

He loved it.

She looked directly at him as her voice caressed the next stanza, and the sultry look in her eyes surprised and intrigued him. As she sang, he couldn't help but wonder where the song had come from. Watching the passion with which she sang her lyrics made him want to know the story behind them.

For the first time in his life, he was struck not with lust for the girl in front of him, but with the desire to know her.

But I'm feeling kinda tempest-tossed
Your love comes at too great a cost
And I'd rather accept my loss
Than fall right down your rabbit hole

He wanted to know what man had possessed her to write such angry lyrics, wanted to know how many relationships she'd been in to write such heartbreaking music. He wanted to know if she loved with the same abandon she allowed when singing. He wanted to know if she was always as quiet and reserved as she'd been when they'd first met.

Mostly, he wanted to know how she could be so honest with herself all the time.

Open your eyes
And watch me defy you
Just weave your lies
And watch me deny you
Your pitiful sounds are wearing me down
And there's no getting through
Take back your blue
Your midnight too
I'm hitting the back door
As I deny you

Adia backed away from the center of the stage, moving instead towards Keelia, who was stationed stage right. The girls exchanged a few words and a smile as Shane took Adia's place, and Jason altered the tempo of the piece for a moment before returning to the normal rhythm. Nick was ready to applaud them for a song well done when Shane let rip with a highly impressive guitar solo.

Elena let out a whoop of approval from her cross-legged position down stage right and the other two girls applauded jokingly as Adia moved forward again. She exchanged a wink with Shane, and both Shane and Jason stopped playing as Adia swung her acoustic around and began to strum along with Keelia's bass.

Your spiraling is beautiful when seen from far away
Your bloodshot eyes bleed tired tears to get you through the day
Your bedroom's filled with broken trust, your closet lined with pain
I called you out of the thunderstorm, but your lips made it rain

Jason started to play again with a soft cymbal beat, and Adia closed her eyes and leaned her head closer to the microphone.

I'm rolling in the splinters on your floor
That whisper words of romance, blood, and gore
You're pounding all your surf into my shore
I don't think I can take this anymore

Jason counted off, and Adia swung the guitar to her back as Shane took control of the song, offering a glissando before jumping into the chorus again.

Open your eyes
And watch me defy you
Just weave your lies
And watch me deny you
Your pitiful sounds are wearing me down
And there's no getting through
Take back your blue
Your midnight too
I'm hitting the back door
As I deny you

The instrumentals continued for a few moments, and Adia's serious look bloomed into a megawatt smile as she watched her bandmates over her shoulder. At long last, Jason gave her a nod, and she yanked the microphone off the stand, pulling it close for the last line.

Listen for the back door...

Adia gave a silent countdown from the front of the stage, and all of the instruments stopped on cue in one final display of musical power. When the song ended, all four musicians were grinning, and Elena jumped up and began clapping immediately.

She wasn't the first to applaud, though. Nick had beaten her to it.

Jason looked up from his drumset with a grin and raised his eyebrows inquisitively. "Hey, Adia? It was good?"

Adia chuckled. "Yeah, Jase. It was good."

Elena's jaw dropped. "Good? GOOD? It was fucking awesome! I'm so proud of you guys..."

Shane rolled his eyes. "Oh, Lord. Now she's going to get all maternal on us."

Keelia gladly returned Elena's hug, but gave the woman a warning look. "Powers, we've gotta keep going. Unfortunately, that's only, like, one-fifth of our actual rehearsal."

"Unfortunately?" Jason hooted from the drum box. "Who the hell are you kidding, anyway, girlfriend? You know you love it up here."

"Not as much as that one," Keelia laughed, gesturing towards a beaming Adia. "Ain't that right, chick?"

Aida shrugged. "Well, you know...it's kinda fun..." The rest of the band members groaned as Adia giggled to herself. "Brilliant! We should do another one. Right now."

"Works for me," Shane agreed. Keelia grinned widely.

"Me too." That said, she turned her evil grin towards Nick. "Hey, Carter kid! You got any more requests?"

As he ran over the track list in his head, he couldn't help but think that he wanted to hear them all.

"How Do I Deal?"
performed by Jennifer Love Hewitt
* "Deny You"
lyrics and music by ME
copyright 2003