The fourth in a continuing series of Aaron Carter fanfic.

Aaron Carter was slumming it—relatively speaking.

His time in The Fantasticks coming to a close, Aaron had made it his mission to take the subway to and from rehearsal each day, eschewing the peace and quiet of his towncar for the opportunity to inhale the raw chaos of New York City a few last times. O, the sights he saw down there!

A family of eight rushing into the train car amidst the Times Square crush, the parents holding the subway doors open so that their littlest child could toddle in on his own.

Young lovers, their eyes hazy, their hair a barely disguised post-coital mess, huddled together in the two-seat bench, as they enjoyed the final moments of an unexpectedly delightful first date.

The subway dancers, whose genuine love of performance reminded Aaron so much of his younger self that his mind was instantly transported back to those long-gone days, the ones before Nicholas and Pearlman had gotten their claws into him, before something new, a song, an impression, snapped him back to the present.

During these commutes (Imagine—him, a commuter!) Aaron reflected on the choice that had brought him back to the city, back to show business. Joining The Fantasticks had been a lark, perhaps, but an enjoyable one. He had learned how to charm an audience again, how to use their raw hunger for spectacle as a sort of fuel. Give them a song or a dance, and they paid your energy back tenfold. His creative passions, too, had been honed by the experience. For the first time in years, he was writing music again. And not only that, but the old shyness, the self-consciousness that had plagued every waking hour before... well, that too was gone. Aaron Carter had ideas, and he wanted the world to hear them.

And so he was leaving the boards to be trod upon by some other poor dreamer, and making his way out in the world once more. He had already amassed a sizable fortune from his business dealings, but ever since he had started planning the Afterparty tour, Aaron had felt as loose and free as the penniless hobos he had researched for his thesis. In his bones, he knew that nothing could stop him.

Until, that is, he had searched around the subway car for something to read. He had always felt slightly silly carrying The Economist, or Lapham's onto the train. Too ostentatious. In their place, he had developed the most curious affection for the free subway newspapers: Metro, am New York, even the L Magazine. True, peering over the shoulder of some other harried commuter to catch a brief glimpse of Cyrillic or Greek probably would have been the better bet, intellectually speaking (Aaron's non-Romance languages could always use some work) but there was something about the breezy optimism of the free papers that made Aaron feel like all was right with the world. If even a 15-minute subway ride could provide Aaron with a concise summation of the major issues of the day, well then, those issues probably weren't as depressing and intractable as they seemed.

But, as Aaron turned to the entertainment page of the latest am New York, he caught a familiar name, a name he had hoped not to see in print for a long, long while: his own. He read with a skeptical eye:

I recently received a news release promoting Aaron Carter's upcoming concert tour, which claims that Carter has now performed "450 shows on Broadway's 'The Fantasticks.'" However, "The Fantasticks" is in reality an Off-Broadway production that happens to play at a theater with a Broadway street address. By their logic, I too am appearing on Broadway since the office building where I work during the day is located on Broadway. Perhaps I am even eligible for a Tony Award!

The rage that struck him was enough to make Aaron rip the paper from its binding—had it had binding. It would have been easy enough to blame the mistake on an overly ambitious PR flack, but no, the final decision on the press release's language had been his, and his alone. Strangely enough, Aaron couldn't even remember the thought process that has led to his crucial erasure of the "Off-" in "Off-Broadway." It wasn't a mistake. He knew he was performing Off-Broadway, had loved and cherished the smaller setting, the opportunity to resharpen his skills in a more intimate environment. And, apparently, it had not been a conscious decision; that he would have remembered. The only answer then was to blame his subconscious. That made it even worse. Somehow, without even realizing it, he had become one of Them, part of the Hollywood crowd who saw the truth not as cold hard fact—as a solid, in other words—but instead as a sort of liquid, to be poured into the desired containers to fit whatever shape you needed it to be at the time.

The revelation disgusted him.

This was what he had fought against for so long. This was what he abandoned his industry, his talent, his family for. And now, after a few small shows, he had started to backslide just like that? Jesus, what would he be like if he achieved real success again? There was only one thing to do: Cancel the tour, return to New Jersey, and never step foot on a stage again. As luck would have it, the train was pulling into a station. Aaron burst out of his seat, and sprung up the stairs to street level two by two. Finally, sunlight, service. As he made the call to his manager, he couldn't help feeling like he was entering into battle for his very soul.

Forty-three seconds later, after his manager had shrugged him off the line with the usual demurrals, Aaron began to sob, first silently to himself, then so loud that even the tourists could hear.