"Is this really necessary?" CarrieAnn asked again.
"Hmmm, let me think about that for the twelfth time," Mathilda pretended to think. "Well let's see, yes. Yes, Carrie, for the twelfth time it is necessary so shut your mouth and quit your yammering."
Carrie grumbled under her breath while Mathilda finished fussing with her.
"There," Mathilda declared. She stepped away and turned her friend to face the mirror.
"You know, that look of total satisfaction in your eyes is really scaring me," Carrie told her.
Mathilda sighed. "Carrie, do you trust me?" she asked.
"Yes," Carrie replied immediately.
"And do you think I'd do anything to you that you wouldn't approve of?" Mathilda questioned.
"Yes," Carrie rolled her eyes.
"Okay, make that: do you think that I'd do anything to you that would make you look terrible?" she clarified.
Carrie hesitated. "No," she admitted.
"See? So just look in the mirror," Mathilda finally ordered. "Yes, I know, you look fabulous and you love it. No need to thank me, darling, it's all for you."
Carrie examined her reflection critically. "Did you have to go so heavy on the sequins and glitter?" she accused. "I think I look more like a glitter bug than a 'beautiful singer'—" she rolled her eyes at this. "—for a band, you know? I mean, not that I don't like it," she added hastily. "But really?"
"Yes," Mathilda punched one of her shoulders playfully. "Now man up, girl, and let's go see your rock star."
Any protests CarrieAnn made about Nick being called 'her rock star' were drowned out as she was hustled onto the bustling New York street.
"Hey, pretty lady."
"Hey yourself, freak," CarrieAnn retorted with a smirk.
"Well, ouch," Kenneth said, putting a hand to his heart. "And here I was trying to be nice."
"Oh, Kenny," CarrieAnn laughed. "There isn't a nice bone in your body."
"You wound me, darling," he sobbed dramatically. "And it hurts. Right. Here." He thumped his fist on his chest twice.
"Carrie, it's good to see you again, my dear."
CarrieAnn plastered a smile onto her face. "Hello, Papa Ceela. How are you?" she asked the band's manager, Kenneth's step-father.
"I'm very well, thank you, and you?" He gave her a hug.
"That's nice," the man patted her shoulder. "So I hear you and your little friend here are going to be singing for us tonight?"
CarrieAnn glanced over her shoulder at Mathilda. "Yeah, I guess we are."
"Good, good." He smiled warmly at her. "It's been too long since I've heard your angelic pipes, CarrieAnn, let them sing out loud tonight."
"Of course, Papa Ceela," she agreed. "When have I ever been known to do otherwise?"
"This is only too true." Ceela spotted Nick over her shoulder. "And here comes the dashing Nicholas, no doubt to whisk you away, saving you from my dreadful babbling."
"That's nonsense," CarrieAnn scolded. "There's nothing dreadful about you, Papa Ceela."
"You are too kind." With a kiss on the cheek and a wish of good luck, Ceela disappeared from sight into the bar.
"Well, that went well," CarrieAnn reflected.
Nick reached them. "What went well? Was that Ceela I just saw talking to you?"
"Yeah, he came over to say hi and to wish me and Thilda good luck."
"Oh," Nick looked unconvinced.
"Nick?" CarrieAnn craned to get a better look at his face. "Is there something wrong?"
"What?" Nick's gaze snapped down to hers. "Oh, no, no problem. It's just –" Nick hesitated. "Be careful," he said finally. "Being on tour – it went to Ceela's head. He's gotten greedy and he's not the same guy he was before. I know it sounds messed up saying that about an old man, but he is messed up. He tried to screw us over in Italy. He damn near succeeded."
"Screwed you over how?" Mathilda queried. CarrieAnn just tilted her head, examining him carefully.
"He tried to take all of our money, saying it was rightfully his and that we were skimping on his paychecks and it wasn't like we couldn't earn more anyway."
"I can't believe Papa Ceela would do that," CarrieAnn argued. "I mean, it completely goes against everything you stand for as a band. How did Kenneth take it?"
"He took it pretty hard," Nick admitted. "He still won't talk about it much. At least not to any of us. It's kind of a closed discussion. Maybe you would have better luck…" He sounded doubtful.
There was an awkward pause.
"Is Nate -?"
"Do you think-?"
"You go first," CarrieAnne said.
"No, you," Nick replied. "You started talking first."
"Okay," she agreed slowly. "So, um, are Nate and Nat still going out?"
"Yup, they're still thick as thieves," Nick replied cheerfully, smirking slightly.
"Really… good for them." CarrieAnne complimented finally, ignoring the jealous burn in her chest.
"I guess so." Nick shrugged. "Though, you know, every time I see them, it kills me. That should have been us, Carrie."
"No," Carrie shook her head even as her heart leaped into her throat. "You know we could never be like that, Nick. We would have fallen apart the first time I saw some idiotic foreign girl drape herself over you. I couldn't have handled the nagging mistrust, and you couldn't have handled the jealousy. So no, it wouldn't have been us. Ever. I'm glad at least they had their chance though and I'm glad it worked out for them at least."
"Sorry," Mathilda butted in, a little hesitantly. "I don't mean to encroach on what is obviously a very touchy subject, but um, who are 'Nate and Nat'?"
"Nate's the drummer," Nick told her.
"And Nat's his girlfriend," CarrieAnne supplied. "Short for Natalia."
"Actually, now it's wife," Nick corrected. "They got married in Venice while we were on tour."
"Really? That's so sweet." Carrie sighed wistfully. "Remember when we wanted to get married in Venice?"
"Yeah, well, since they did, it's like 'been there, done that', and where's the fun in that?" he asked, his mouth twisted in slight jealousy of their friends.
"Yeah…" They trailed off into silence.
"She plays in the band sometimes too," Nick added.
CarrieAnne raised an eyebrow at him . "Really? Since when?"
Nick shrugged. No big deal. "Well, she learned a bunch of stuff on the tour to add to what she already knew, and they sorta took it from there."
"Oh," Carrie wasn't sure how she felt about that. "Cool." After a moment she asked, "Why wasn't I ever invited or allowed to play in your band occasionally? Was I not good enough for you?"
"CarrieAnn, you know that wasn't it at all." Nick snapped. "We all asked you – heck, I even begged once – and you always said no. So don't go trying to pin this one on me, baby, cuz it ain't working. You didn't even want to come tonight, you're only here because Mathilda made you come."
"Sorry." She apologized shortly. "I know it's not your fault. Of course it's mine. I don't even know why I'm here tonight. I don't want to sing for your stupid band. You're right, as usual. The only reason why I'm here is because Mathilda made me come. Not for you and most certainly not for me, but for her. Because she is my friend, because she is the only one who's been there for me like a stick in the mud, and because she's a freaking single mother of two who left her children with their father, who she doesn't trust completely by the way, so she could come witness my mental breakdown. If it weren't for her, I would tell you to go suck yourself. But she is here. So I won't. Say thank you to her then leave." CarrieAnn deliberately turned her back on him.
Nick huffed a breath and ran a hand through his hair. "Look, baby, I'm sorry. Really, I am. I didn't mean to… I don't know. But just so you know, even though you don't want to be here tonight and you're only doing it for Mathilda, I'm glad you are here, and I'm going to pretend at least that you're here for me."
"Awww," Mathilda sighed. "That's so sweet and romantic. CarrieAnn, don't be a fool and accept the boy's apology."
Carrie threw a glare at her friend. "Fine. I accept your apology, Nick," she threw over her shoulder.
Nick's face fell behind her back. "Alright then. I'll see you on stage in a few."
"Whatever," she muttered. "And I'm not your 'baby'!" she shouted after his retreating back.
Mathilda stared after said retreating back. "Will you be alright here on your own for a few minutes, honey? I have something I need to take care of."
CarrieAnn smiled wearily and slumped a little. "Sure, I'll be fine. You go do whatever it is you need to."
"Thanks, doll," Mathilda patted her cheek affectionately and raced off after the bass player.
Carrie sat on a bar stool and swiveled around to face the bar. "Beer please."
"Make that two on me," a disembodied voice and hand holding money floated into her perception.
She turned to face the hand's owner. He was tall with a chiseled jaw and all those other movie star good looks qualities. Her face relaxed slightly. "Hello, Jake."
"Hey, CarrieAnn, long time, no see." The keyboard player grinned at her.
"No kidding." Carrie hopped off the stool to give the guy a hug. "How've you been?"
"Oh, you know," he smirked. "Same old, same old. Different girl every week, the usual."
Carrie smacked the side of his head. "Jake!"
"Gotta love me, babe," he said spreading his arms out at his sides. "C'mon, you can't honestly tell me you didn't miss me!"
"I didn't miss you," CarrieAnn deadpanned.
His face fell an iota. Carrie laughed. "I'm just kidding, you nincompoop, of course I missed you, little brother."
"Long lost brother I've never heard about because someone's BFF never told me about him?" Mathilda was back.
"Sorta," Carrie chuckled. "He's not really my brother, like as in flesh and blood. He just acts like my little bro so I treat him like it."
"She treats me awfully," Jake teased.
"Do not!" Carrie slapped his hand away from her thigh. "I treat you like the best damned thing in this whole world."
Jake nodded solemnly. "She does. Truly, it warms the cockles of my heart."
Carrie made a disgusted face. "Ugh, I don't want to know about the 'cockles of your heart.'"
Jake laughed and grabbed one of the beers the bartender had set down. He swung his legs around on the stool, turning away from the bar. "Well, I'll see you in a few minutes then," he said as he kissed her cheek. He nodded at Mathilda, "Nice meeting you…?"
"Mathilda," she supplied. "I guess we weren't properly introduced yet, so I'm Mathilda Larson, I'm the secretary of the law firm where CarrieAnn works," she introduced herself, holding out her hand.
Jake grabbed it and shook it. "Nice to meet you, Ms. Larson, I'm Jake Dasson, the keyboardist of the band, but, you already knew that, right?" He winked.
"Jake!" CarrieAnn acted scandalized. "I am very sorry, Ms. Larson, I don't know where my brother got his manners."
Mathilda played along. She pressed a hand to her chest and gasped, "Well, I never. Such rudeness, no wonder why I don't come to these hovels more often. Well, it's back to the Upper East side for me!"
Jake laughed again and shook his beer bottle at her. "I like her," he said to Carrie. He shook his head as he walked away, still chuckling.
Carrie smirked. "On a good day."
Mathilda snorted. "How often does a guy that chill have bad ones?"
"Not often," CarrieAnn admitted with a grin. "So where'd you go?"
"Nowhere," Mathilda replied nonchalantly. "I just had to talk to a couple people."
"People like who?" CarrieAnn shot back.
Mathilda hesitated and bit her lip like she was thinking hard. "You know, I don't really know. I just told the first person I found what I needed and they pointed me in the right direction."
"Well, what did you need?"
"Nothing, nothing," Mathilda brushed her off.
"Well fine then," Carrie grumbled, put out. "Be like that, don't tell me."
"Fine, I will be." They didn't talk for a moment until Mathilda broke the silence between them. "So you grew up with the band?" she asked.
"Kind of." The lawyer took a swig of her beer. "I grew up in the same neighborhood as Nate, Nat, and Ken."
"But not Jake or Nick?"
"No, Nick lived in the same area, but I rarely saw him and he tortured me endlessly whenever we were over Ken's house the same time. I didn't meet Jake until high school. I had gone to a private school up until that point. After I graduated eighth grade, I switched over."
"Why?" Mathilda's question was incredulous.
Carrie shrugged. "My parents didn't have enough money."
"Oh," Mathilda nodded sagely. She understood money problems.
Carrie continued, "So Nate, Nat, Kenneth, and I were all best friends and then Nate and Nat did the whole best friends, girl-next-door love thing. That was rough. Especially the argument parts. But eventually they cooled down."
"And became the two annoying love birds they still are today," Nick added from behind her.
"Don't you have sound check to do or something?" Carrie asked, annoyed.
"Done and somebody wanted to see you," he replied with a smirk.
Carrie swung around in her seat to face him. Her eyes widened when she took in the couple standing next to him. One was a tallish-average height guy with brown hair and hazel eyes. Next to him was a tiny, Filipino girl with huge dark eyes and straight dark hair who was practically bouncing on her toes in excitement.
Nate smiled at CarrieAnn warmly, but slightly warily. "Hello, CarrieAnn."
She smiled back at him. "Hey, Na- oof!"
"Sorry," Nat apologized, pulling back slightly. "It's just, I haven't seen you in, like, forever! I missed you so much!"
"I missed you too," Carrie said sincerely. The girls hugged again. When their hug was over, Carrie pulled Mathilda over by the arm. "Nat, this is Mathilda. Thilda, this is Natalia and over there is her boyfriend, er… husband, Nathaniel."
Nat took one look at Mathilda and jumped on her for a hug too. Nate watched his wife with amusement and took the less dramatic approach. He nodded at Mathilda in greeting. "Hey."
"Hey," she replied just as cooly.
There was a screech from the microphone. "Sorry, sorry," Kenneth apologized. "But if the missing half of our band and our two new singers could get up here any time soon so we can start the show…? K, thanks, bye."
"'K, thanks, bye'?" Carrie repeated. "He is such a priss."
"You know what they say," Nick rolled his eyes and smirked. "Some things never change."