Chapter Four
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

She lands on both feet
Won't take a back seat
There's a brave new girl and she's coming out tonight
She's gonna step outside
Uncover her eyes
Who knew she could feel so alive

"And so Keelia's being the audacious, outlandish, and highly offensive girl that she usually is, right?"


"Anyway, she turns to him and has the gall to ask him which song is his favorite, like he's memorized all of the songs on the album already when you know he just took one look at it and shoved it in his glove compartment."

Asa Chamberlain bit his lip to keep from smiling at his younger sister's self-deprecating tendencies. He'd heard his sister's songs before anyone, and he knew firsthand just how talented she was. He was sure that Nick Carter, Backstreet Boy or not, could appreciate the passion in Adia's songs. "I seriously doubt that."

"Then you're smarter than I am."

"Which would come as no surprise."


He chuckled lightly at her indignation. "Sorry, continue."

"Well, not only did he stop to consider her question, but he proceeded to choose the angriest song on the whole freaking album."

"And which song might that be?"

"Deny You."

"Is that the one where Shane has the wicked guitar solo?"

Adia grinned at the thought of Shane and his wicked guitar solo. "One of them, yes. It's the one that has the acoustic breakdown in the middle."

Asa's eyes widened with recognition. "The Linkin Park one!"

Adia chuckled lightly at the thought. Her brother could never remember song titles, so he had given each of her tracks epithets instead. For that reason, she'd given him a special copy of the album--one that had not only the actual titles, but the epithets written neatly on the front of the CD. He'd laughed upon receiving it, priding himself on the fact that he could already sing along to the majority of the songs. In more than one way, he'd been her very first fan, and for that, she would always be grateful to him.

"Yeah, Ace, the Linkin Park one."

Ace took a deep breath and let out a low whistle. "Wow. Sounds like the kid has even more issues than you do if he's got a penchant for that piece."

Adia rolled her eyes. "Thanks a lot, Ace."

"Anytime, kid. I wouldn't want that lovely ego of yours to grow too much while you're touring the country with a former boy band blondie."

Adia sighed heavily. "Honestly, Ace? I don't think it could grow. I'm too busy studying the Backstreet Boy to worry about his reaction to my music."

"Now there's a first," Ace intoned. His sister, while undeniably talented, had never been particularly sociable. While she was often intrigued by the music of other artists, she rarely took interest in other people; she was drawn towards this Nick Carter in a way that she hadn't been drawn towards anyone else that Ace could remember. "Any idea as to why this guy intrigues you so much?"

"Hell if I know. He just...something about his eyes, Ace. He seems lost."

"Lost?" She was good at this, his sister. Using one word that she felt encompassed the whole of someone's nature without taking the time to define it. It made her an artist, yes, but it often made conversation terribly difficult.

"He seems outgoing and friendly in all of the press he's done so far, but he's quiet and standoffish every time we meet in person."

Ace sighed. "Little Joni, I hate to break it to you, but the outgoing and friendly bit could just be his press face. He's a pop star, remember? It's part of his job to be conscious of his image."

"Yeah, but his silence speaks differently. Image-conscious doesn't necessarily mean self-conscious, but he's very, very self-conscious. At first I thought he had an attitude problem, like he found us too inferior to speak with, but I'm beginning to think that he's just insecure. The way he looks when no one else is paying attention...it's terrible, Ace. Keelia really hit the nail on the head when she described him as paranoid. He doesn't trust anyone, and it breaks my heart to see someone who's so talented and yet so alone."

"Funny. He sounds a lot like someone else I know."

Adia was quiet for a moment before her voice returned in soft, reassuring tones. "I'm not alone anymore, Ace."

He chuckled. "No, you're not. And believe me when I say that I'm proud of you for it, little sister. You've grown up a lot."

"I had some help."


"Yeah. The guys in the band have really been great about helping me through tough times," Adia returned with a wicked smile. It was uncalled for, yes, but she wasn't exactly fond of her past. If teasing Ace was required to change the subject, she wouldn't hesitate.

"Bullshit! Who introduced you to Shane, huh?"

"This really nice idiot I know who thought it would be a good idea to join the military and jet over to Iraq for a few months," she fired back.

"Ouch! Adia, are you mocking my tireless devotion to the establishment of international peace?"

Adia rolled her eyes at her brother's seemingly endless supply of sarcasm. "Ace, you know just as well as I do that this whole operation has more to do with our own interests as a nation than it does with the establishment of international peace. Iraq is just one Middle-Eastern country. The reformation of the Iraqi government hardly dictates the abolition of international hostility."

Ace bit back a smile at his sister's articulate views on politics. "Sis, even if I agreed with you, I wouldn't be at liberty to say anything."

Adia sighed heavily. "Man, we can't even have an intellectual conversation anymore! Remind me one more time why you wanted to join the military?"

Ace groaned. "You mean, other than the fact that I was in desperate need of financial backing?"

Adia rolled her eyes skyward, but fought to keep from smiling. She missed her brother terribly, but his phone calls were a Godsend. "Bullshit, Ace. You were getting through college just fine with financial aid."

"And then I decided to go to grad school," he finished. "Unfortunately, they aren't quite as generous with their funds."


He closed his eyes slowly and allowed himself a few brief moments of unguarded emotion, a few precious seconds in which the homesickness swallowed him in its warm, weighted folds. "The peace thing, Little Joni. I'm upholding the values that our parents smoked weed and bought records for."

"You know the sixties references are getting old, right?"

"Maybe," Ace allowed with a small smile. If anyone could call him on his shit, it was Adia. "They keep me from missing you so much, though."

"For what it's worth, I miss you too."

He smiled softly. "Thanks for that, sis. It's nice to know that I'll receive a warm welcome upon my return."

"From the band and me? Absolutely," Adia allowed. "I can't promise you anything regarding the Backstreet Boy, though."

Ace frowned deeply at the second mention of Adia's new tourmate. He didn't know Nick Carter well enough to jump to any conclusions about the man, but he was most definitely wary of Nick. The extent to which Adia had already become emotionally involved with the Backstreet Boy concerned him, for while he always frequented the social scene around him, Adia had never been one for excessive social interaction. For her to take interest in someone so quickly was entirely out of character.



"All due respect, sis, who's to say that Nick really isn't the asshole he's appeared to be so far?"

Adia sighed reluctantly. She knew her brother's logic well enough to guess where he was going with the question, but she wasn't about to admit defeat on the issue. "No one, Ace. I realize that. I've got a gut feeling about this, though. I really think he's a good guy entangled in public and personal pressure. He just needs some confidence in himself."

"Adia, hon, he's a pop star. Confidence is probably the last thing he needs."

"Any other kid, Ace, and I'd probably agree with you. This one's different, though. There's just something about him. He's begging for help, and it's not just in that single of his."

This time, it was Ace who sighed in resignation. He knew Adia well enough to recognize her conviction, and he knew that she wasn't about to be swayed where Nick Carter was concerned.

"You see too much of yourself in him."

When she responded, her voice was soft with realization. "Yeah, I guess I do. I just...I know where he's been, Ace. It sucks. To not even be able to trust yourself...there's no feeling worse. And, unfortunately for him, it's probably going to get worse before it gets better."

"What makes you so sure?"

"I've heard him sing. I know how talented he is. The boy's got a voice that could blow the world away if he truly took the time to cultivate it. However, I also know his label."


Adia smiled at the thought that she finally knew more industry terminology than someone else. "Record label. Nick Carter is a Jive Records artist. They're a good label, don't get me wrong, but, according to Ani, they're big into image and not much about the gravity of the music. She spent a lot of time after the initial meeting ranting about their insistence on creative control. They promote their artists well, but they don't allow their artists much room to grow musically, and Ani hates the commercialism that comes with working with them."

"And, of course, Ani is god." Ace didn't even try to hide his smile. Truth to tell, as much as he harassed his sister for idolizing Ani Difranco, he was thrilled that one of Adia's longtime idols had taken such an interest in her. Ani had given Adia many a shove forward, and Ace knew that he owed the older woman much for the tender, parental way she continued to guide Adia to the core of the music business.

"Shut up!" Adia shot feebly, too pleased with her relationship with Ani to protest much. "Seriously, though, she's gotten me this far. In my book, that could serve as qualification for sainthood."

"Eh," Ace returned noncommittally. "You're easy to please."

"True enough."

"Speaking of pleasure, though, you never did tell me how the requested performance turned out."

Adia's eyes lit up at the mention of the rehearsal. Regardless of nerves, her band members had come through for her, achieving new levels of talent with their renditions of the songs she'd played in coffee shops and clubs for so long. "God, Ace, you should have been there. We started well with 'Deny You,' but we totally kicked ass after that. 'Secret Life' had more bite to it than it usually does, and 'Baby of Mine' was just fantastic. For once in her life, Keelia played the bass lines without any hesitation, and every one of Shane's guitar solos just blew us away. He plays with so much passion..."

Ace grinned at the mention of his longtime friend. "He always did. The guy's got a shitload of talent."

Adia chuckled. "As corny as it sounds, I'm seriously glad he decided to share it with us. Keelia and I ham it up and act like his cheerleaders onstage, but he really is amazing. And Jason's drum solo went better than ever."

Ace had to laugh as pictures of Jason flitted across his memory. "Is he still as mellow as he used to be?"

"Even more so," Adia confided. "It drives Keelia nuts because she's so tightly wound. Of course, Jason's always been really laid-back. He plays the drums with so much fire, though, that it isn't hard to see where all the aggression goes."

Ace smirked knowingly. "Like you with the guitar and the keys, right?"

"Yeah, like me with all of the music. It's hard to be angry anymore once you've written it in stone with a few notes and a bit of melody."

"Articulate as always," Ace chuckled. "Press is going to be a breeze for you, dear sister."

"Other than the fact that I have to talk about my life with complete strangers?"

Ace blanched at the thought. He knew his sister well enough to know that her confidence came only after an emotional breakdown or a good length of time. "Good point."

"Ani says it won't be too difficult, though. Other than telling the stories behind the songs, there can't be too much for them to ask me that doesn't have to do with Nick Carter."

Ace frowned. "He's big news in the music business these days, isn't he?"

"Like you wouldn't believe. And all of his fans are female, so you know they're going to be interested in a gossip story."

Ace sighed. "Yeah, well, knowing you, romance isn't too likely to blossom between you and the rock star."

"That's precisely what Jason said."

"You know, for all the weed he smokes, the boy's got a pretty good handle on you and your tendencies," Ace pointed out with a smile, and Adia rolled her eyes good-naturedly.

"He knows me pretty well. We have been best friends since college, remember?"

"Remember?" Ace balked. "You met him at my best friend's coffee shop, babe! I was there when you two shook hands for the first time."

Adia smiled softly at the memory. "He's a good guy. I'm glad to have an excuse to bring him on the road with me. Nuts as the boy is, he'll keep me sane despite all of this industry craziness with which I'm about to be bombarded."

"I certainly hope so," Ace replied. "I love you, and no one's happier to see this happening than I am, but I do worry about those media hounds eating you up within your first week of heavy publicity and promotion."

Adia sighed. "Between you and me? I am too. I'm not exactly cut out to be a popular music figure."

"But you're a talented musician, Little Joni. They'll all scoot over to make room for you out there. Once they hear you play..."

Adia laughed. "Ace, I don't need an ego with you around."

He grinned proudly. "That's kind of the idea, kid. I'm the big brother. It's my job to support you."

"Right." Adia shook her head in amusement and closed her eyes, picturing her brother's chiseled jaw and floppy brown curls with a wistful laugh. "Hey, are you still planning on coming out to join us for a bit later in the tour?"

Ace sighed heavily, a surefire sign to his sister that the going had been far from easy in the Middle East. "I'm working on it, sis. I'm not promising anything just yet, but you know I'll do my best to get out there and see you make your magic, both on the crowds and the Backstreet Boy."

Adia smiled softly. "Thanks, Ace. Coming from you, that means a lot." She paused a moment, considering the circumstances surrounding the coming rehearsals with a sigh. "Do you really think I'll be able to get through to this guy?"

"Honestly? Hon, the fact that you're preparing to play for more than two thousand people each night for six months is a fairly good indication that anything is possible. I mean, four years ago, you wouldn't play outside the bathroom."

Adia flinched at the memory. "You make a good point."

Ace's expression brightened. "Of course I do! Seriously, though, you can do anything if you put your mind to it, kid. Even if it means that I have to be your Hallmark card, I'm not gonna quit reminding you of that, either."

Adia laughed. "Somehow, Ace, I can't quite picture you as a Hallmark card."

He grinned. "Work on it. In the meantime, though, I've got to go fight for world peace and figure out what we're going to cook ourselves for dinner, so I'll talk to you later."

"Okay." A frown soon replaced the smile as Adia pictured her older brother in the midst of an age-old conflict. "Take care of yourself, okay? I love you, and I don't want anything to happen to you, Ace. Quite literally, you're all the family I've got."

He smiled sadly. "I know, hon. I love you too, and I'm doing my best to be good out here so I can get back home safely. Trust me, okay?"

She laughed hollowly. "I do. Why, I'm not sure, but...I do."

"You take care of yourself too. Good luck with the Backstreet Boy."

Adia made a face at the prospect of penetrating Nick's obvious reserve. "Thanks. I have a feeling I'll need it."

"Brave New Girl"
performed by Britney Spears