Chapter Five
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

If I sing a song, will you sing along?
If I sing a song, will you sing along?
If I sing you a song, will you sing along?
Or should I just keep singing right here by myself?
If I tell you I'm strong, will you play along?
If I tell you I'm strong, will you play along?
If I tell you I'm strong, will you play along?
Or will you see I'm as insecure as anybody else?

The guitarist let rip with an electric riff onstage, and Nick closed his eyes for a moment before grabbing the microphone to belt the lyrics he'd written months ago in a secluded studio.

I wanna run forever, say whatever
Take a chance in what I believe in
I'm gonna have a tattoo
I'm gonna have an attitude
So tell my girlfriend that I'm leaving

"Here it comes," Keelia remarked with a sigh, and the rest of the group turned their eyes to the stage as Nick started to jump around.

"No one should ever have that much energy," Shane muttered with a groan. "It should be illegal."

"He has a caffeine drip," Jason informed them with a nod. Keelia frowned in curiosity.


Jason snickered and reached for another sip of coffee. "No..."

Keelia smacked him in annoyance. "Asshole."

He shrugged nonchalantly. "It's not my fault that you're gullible."

'Cause I'm free, yeah, to say what I wanna say
And I'm feeling that it's time to get away

"You know," Adia began, "he's really not too bad a musician."

"No," Shane agreed, "but may I remind you that we've been rehearsing for exactly a week now, and he's barely said two words to us since Keelia attacked him?"

Adia frowned, but her eyes remained fixed on the blonde figure in the middle of the stage. "Maybe he's just shy."

Keelia looked up just as Nick Carter gyrated against his microphone stand and arched an eyebrow skeptically. "Somehow, I doubt that."

Adia sighed heavily and turned her gaze to her friend. "Come on, Keels. My stage persona is hardly an accurate reflection of my offstage identity."

Keelia laughed at the long string of three-syllable words. "I think I agree."

Shane groaned. "I don't know, Dia. He seems like a different case. He's pretty isolated offstage. I mean, he spends more time with his manager than he does with his own band."

"He talks to them," Adia argued in a voice dangerously close to a whine.

"Yeah," Jason laughed. "When he's telling them what song to play next. Face it, Dia. The guy's your typical, arrogant pop star."

Adia shook her head. "I don't think so, Jase. Call me crazy, but there's something about him that makes me think that there's more than meets the eye."

Jason's brow furrowed in confusion. "You mean he's silent in a brooding sort of way?"

Keelia snorted. "Yeah fucking right. Have you read this guy's interviews? He actually thought 'unexpectable' was a word."

Adia shrugged. "So he got tongue-tied. It happens to the best of us. You can't tell me that we haven't made up our own words from time to time." She glanced pointedly at the rest before returning her gaze to the stage.

"We make up our own words," Shane consented, "but only when there isn't an existing word that fits. 'Unexpected' or 'unpredictable' could both easily replace the aforementioned atrocity."

Jason moaned in frustration and dropped his head against the back of the seat in front of him. "Can we stop with the fucking SAT vocab already? Y'all are giving me a headache."

Adia laughed and reached to ruffle his mousy brown curls. "Aw, poor Jason..."

"Damn straight."

Keelia sighed. "Tell ya what, Dia. We'll invite the guy to lunch with us again. If he refuses, I'm giving up hope. I don't think I've heard him string a full sentence together since we got here, and if I keep trying to socialize with him, it's just going to piss me off that he keeps ignoring us."

"Maybe he's intimidated," Adia mused. Shane choked on a mouthful of the Coke he'd been nursing.

"Intimidated? By what? We're an unknown indie group under a lesbian's record label, and he's gone multi-platinum in, like, fifty different countries. What the hell is there to be intimidated about?"

"There are five of us when Elena's around," Adia explained. "And there's only one of him. He's probably afraid to come strike up conversation. That, and we aren't the most softspoken group of people."

"You excluded, of course," Keelia chuckled. Adia blushed.

"Yeah, myself excluded. Seriously, though. We've been hanging out together for years and we all know each other pretty well. It's got to be hard for him to consider joining such a close-knit group of people."

Shane shrugged and replaced the Coke in the cupholder. "Whatever. I still think you're making excuses for him."

Jason, who knew Adia better than the others, leaned forward conspiratorially and grinned at her while Keelia and Shane watched the performance. "You're itching to get him into the studio, aren't you?"

She laughed. "You know me too well. I'd settle for getting inside his head at this rate, though."

"Because you're curious about him?"

"Because I'm selfish," she corrected. "I might not be as shy as I used to be, but I really don't like the idea of going on tour with someone I don't know at least as an acquaintance."

Jason nodded. "Yeah, I can understand that. This whole cross-country-by-bus thing is enough to make any sane person apprehensive. And, considering the fact that we're all insane..."

Adia rolled her eyes. "Thanks, Jase. So glad to know that you have faith in our mental states."

"Well, you might be sane," Jason admitted, "but Shane's slowly losing it, and Kiki never had it."

"And what about you?"

Jason burst out laughing. "I don't count, man. I voluntarily fuck myself up."

"Which really isn't healthy, by the way," Adia pointed out with a frown. "Do you know what weed does to your nervous system?"

Jason shrugged. "Destroys it? I've never been nervous and stoned at the same time..."

"You're incorrigible. Seriously, Jase, I worry about you sometimes."

Jason groaned. "Oh, God, I feel a lecture coming on."

Adia examined her surroundings quickly and realized that they weren't likely to be released from their padded leather captivation anytime soon. She decided quickly to use the location to her advantage.

"Jase, you know it's a bad idea when we're constantly in the public eye. What are you going to do with all that weed on tour anyway? You won't be able to smoke as much because you KNOW that Elena would kick your ass."

He grinned. "I know! I'll smoke up the Backstreet Boy!"

The heat from Adia's glare could've lit his joint for him. He winced visibly at the sudden burst of hostility from his closest friend.

"Maybe not."

"Definitely not," Adia agreed. "That's the last thing we need. He doesn't like us as it is."

"So you've sensed the hostility too?"

Adia laughed hollowly. "Jase, I'd be an idiot not to. It's not like he's made an effort to make us feel welcome thus far. I mean, I've gotten a warmer reception from the Jive general tour manager."

Jason squinted in an attempt to remember exactly who the Jive general tour manager was. "The heavyset asshole, right? Ani ripped him a new one?"

Adia laughed genuinely that time. "Yeah, the asshole with the new asshole." They continued to giggle for a moment before they returned their attention to the stage, which was now colored a bright red. The opening beat to "Blow Your Mind" sounded, and the stage turned a dark blue. Adia's eyes widened in excitement.

"That's so cool! They're fixing the lighting!"

Jason nudged her lightly. "Hey, Adia?"


"Is there a chance that you'll eventually decide to leave the silent Backstreet Boy to his funky lighting?"

"Yeah," Adia conceded, "but it's a pretty slim one."

Jason slid down in his seat and folded his arms over his rumbling stomach. "That's what I thought."

*      *      *      *      *

Four decorated plates sat side-by-side on the perfectly polished cherry wood table. The first held cold cuts of pinkish deli meats in concentric circles on a bed of lettuce. The second contained an assortment of lettuce, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, and avocado slices. The third was decorated with three loaves of bread; one white, one wheat, and one rye. The fourth offered a smorgasbord of cookies, brownies, and finger sandwiches. A large, silver bowl of buffalo wings served as the great divide between the first two and the second two.

He wouldn't have expected anything less from the record company. Luxury was Jive's defining characteristic, and he'd grown used to their ridiculous displays of wealth over the years. It was common knowledge that the crew would only consume half the food that had been prepared, but the food's existence was enough to prove that the label could cater to any and all requests. The display was supposed to be symbolic of Jive's approachable nature, but he'd always found it daunting.

The label was merely a collection of sycophants anyway. No amount of food could overrule that conclusion.

He lifted a plastic plate from the stack and began building a sandwich. Roast beef, turkey, lettuce, tomato, mustard. He glanced up to examine the desserts more closely, but his heart sank when he saw that Adia and her band were chatting loudly around the brownie tray. Well, Adia wasn't necessarily loud...it was more the drummer whose name he couldn't remember. The kid had decided to see how many brownies he could stuff in his mouth at once, and the lead guitarist was cheering him on. Keelia, the bassist--who scared Nick beyond God's belief--was attempting to stifle her laughter. Adia was carefully choosing the brownies for the experiment. All of it reminded him vaguely of his days with the Boys, but the label would kill him if he dared to do anything like that now that he was coming into his own as a serious musician. His manager, while friendly, was constantly reminding him that maturity onstage wasn't half as noticeable or as admirable as maturity on the sidelines.

The drummer tossed his hands up in victory as Adia ran out of brownies for his disposal, and the entire group erupted into laughter when he couldn't get his lips around the mess of chocolate. Inwardly, Nick wanted nothing more than to join the competition, but he didn't think he'd be much of an addition to the close-knit group--not to mention the fact that Irving Azoff would have a fit. Being mature sucks ass.

He sighed heavily and moved towards the vending machine for a Coke, stepping lightly around the laughter. Adia shot him a shy smile as he passed, but it was the purple-haired bass player who reached out and stopped him.

"Hey, Blondie, you got any meal plans?"

The lead guitarist rolled his eyes and moved forward. "Keelia, leave the poor guy alone and let us do the talking, okay? You're scaring him." He glanced up and grinned sheepishly. "What she means to ask, Mr. Carter, is if you'd like to join us for lunch. We managed to nab a corner of the place and everything."

The drummer grinned around a mouthful of brownie. "We promise to behave."

It was too much.

He smiled the meet-and-greet smile and ducked his chin ever so slightly. "I would, but I've got to meet with the suits about the next week of rehearsal. They're starting to figure out the lighting and the set design, and I'm supposed to approve of some of the newer ideas." The excuse sounded hollow, even to him.

The drummer swallowed, and the guitarist shrugged nonchalantly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Keelia slip the guitarist a twenty. When he looked up, Adia was smiling shyly at him.

"It's cool. We understand."

The lead guitarist cleared his throat and nodded. "Sure thing. Duty calls."

Nick sighed heavily, but the smile remained firmly in place. "Maybe next time?"

Keelia snorted, but Adia chuckled lightly. "Sure. Next time."

He walked away slowly, knowing that there would be no next time. He wasn't cut out for group activity anymore. Back at the catered table, Jason eyed Adia expectantly.


"We told you so," Keelia added, arching an eyebrow pointedly. "He's not interested in the likes of us."

Adia shrugged. "We'll see." They knew better than to argue with her. "Now, where's this corner table?"

"Sing Along"
music by Blue Man Group
lyrics by Dave Matthews