“…Then he looked right through
As if I wasn’t there
And he just kept on singing
Singing clear and strong.”
-“Killing Me Softly,” Roberta Flack
“At the Copa, Copa Cabana, the hottest spot north of Havana! At the
Copa, Copa Cabana, music and passion were always the fashion, at the Copa, they
fell in loooove.”
“Shut up!” Joey shouted from his seat in the audience. “You
“His name was Rico, he wore a diamond. He was escorted to his chair,”
Chris continued, ignoring the heckling. He did a spur-of-the-moment mambo move
on the stage and flipped the microphone in the air.
“Trip!” Lance called out between spates of laughter. “I think the
orchestra pit misses you!”
“Get off the stage!” Joey added.
Chris pretended he didn’t hear their comments and turned back to look
at the musicians in the orchestra, who were either falling out of their seats
laughing or playing their instruments along with him.
“Come on now, everybody!” he urged, holding his mic out to Hannah.
All she could do was crack up and push it away. “You snooze, you lose! Come
on, J, back me up here.”
Justin gave in and joined him at the center of the stage. “And when she
finished, he called her over. But Rico went too far, and Tony sailed across the
bar. And then the punches threw, and chairs were smashed in two. There was blood
and then a gunshot, but just who shot who…” he crooned.
“At the Copa, Copa Cabana!” the two of them sang together, putting
their arms around each other’s shoulders.
In the second row of the audience Bobbie and JC sat, taking in the
spectacle. JC’s delighted smile stretched across his face as his eyes danced
along with the music.
“Man, I can’t just sit here!” he exclaimed to Bobbie before bolting
onstage to accompany his friends.
“…Her name is Lola, she was a showgirl,” he sang, joining in and
winking at Chris and Justin. “But that was thirty years ago, when they used to
have a show. Now it’s a disco, but not for Lola, still in the dress she used
to wear, faded feathers in her hair. She thinks she’s so refined and drinks
herself half blind. She lost her youth and she lost her Tony, now she’s lost
“At the Copa! Copa Cabana! The hottest spot north of Havana. Here at
the Copa, Copa Cabana, music and passion was always the fashion. At the Copa,
don’t fall in love,” all three of them finished together, hitting wild notes
as loud as they could.
Minutes later, as the laughter died down, JC looked around him to
appraise the aftermath of their impromptu karaoke session. Chris was down for
the count, having collapsed on the floor and panting. Justin was playing around
with the abandoned microphone.
“Check one, microphone testing. Check two, microphone testing,”
Justin intoned in a deep voice. “Anyone hear the one about the man who walked
into a bar?” He paused for a split second. “Ouch!”
Silence and discreet coughing greeted his joke.
“Ahem. Is this thing on?” he asked, tapping the microphone.
JC wisely took it away from him. “It’s on. You’re not,” he said,
escorting him off the stage.
Justin let out a sigh. “Dang! If Lily was here, she’d be cracking up.
She knows how to laugh.”
“At you,” Chris clarified, following them down the steps.
“Not with you. Only at you.”
Justin stared at him, his face unreadable. Then he lashed out and made a
grab for his older friend. Chris yelped and raced through the side doors, Justin
in quick pursuit.
“Those crazy boys of mine,” JC said jokingly, taking his seat next to
Bobbie. She shook her head, not smiling.
“What?” he wondered aloud, peering at her frowning countenance.
“Some people don’t know how to act their age,” she answered
succinctly, giving him a meaningful look. Then she flipped her hair over her
shoulder and crossed her legs.
“What?” he repeated, narrowing his eyes. “Wait, are you only
talking about Chris here, or are you implying that I’m being immature.”
“This is crazy!” JC exclaimed, throwing his hands up and sinking into
his seat. “We were just having fun. Is that illegal nowadays?”
She looked him in the eye. “Look, Jace, there are people around.”
He stared at her dumbly. “Um…yeah. And?”
“You’re twenty-five. Do you want word to leak out that you act like
“Act like what?” he demanded, tensing. “The last time I
checked, I was always like this.” He dragged his eyes away from her and
focused his gaze on a point on the wall. “Last time I checked, you liked the
way I am.”
She didn’t catch what he muttered. “What did you say?”
“Nothing.” He stood up quickly. “I gotta go sing now.”
He could feel her staring at him as he climbed back onstage to stand with
the rest of the guys, but he didn’t allow himself to turn around and
“Ready, everyone?” Sondheim asked. “Give me the cue.”
JC nodded and the five of them began the song a capella.
I remember you.”
As they each reached their note and held it, harmonizing perfectly, JC
brought his hand up, signaling Sondheim to begin conducting. He closed his eyes,
shutting away the sight of the audience and Bobbie, concentrating only on what
made him happy.
Hannah pulled her bow across the cello string, the rich sound filling her
ears. After putting some vibrato into the note, she stopped, coming to the rest.
She tapped her foot, impatient to begin playing again.
She always hated the times when the music required the cellos to stop
playing. It was near impossible to immerse herself in the music and then have to
stop playing altogether. Glancing around the stage, she drew back on her
conviction. Well, I guess there’s one good thing about the rests.
stood only five feet away from where she was seated, separated only by Lance who
was positioned beside him. She regarded her childhood crush with fascination as
he and Justin stepped forward, belting out their solos.
He’s so amazing. Even if she carried no bias for him, it would
still be true. Not only his appearance, but his voice, too. She couldn’t help
but feel a warm pride for him as he hit all his notes perfectly. If only I
could have that…
But that was out of the question. She only had to look into the audience
to know why. Bobbie is with him. And she’s beautiful. Hannah wasn’t
one to get down on herself, but there was no denying the fact that his
girlfriend was attractive. She wasn’t like Bobbie. She couldn’t be petite
and delicate like her.
She wasn’t that much taller, only a few inches actually, but something
about Bobbie just made her feel like an Amazon whenever she was around her.
JC stepped back, his solo done. He bobbed his head, listening to Justin
take over. Then his brow creased as he felt someone staring at him. It’s
not Bobbie. It was coming from behind him. Swiftly he opened his eyes and
turned around as the feeling got stronger, but the only people behind him were
His eyes rested on Hannah, who was playing her instrument with gusto.
Lance was looking at him curiously, and he shrugged, turning back around.
Justin laughed, lying against the headboard of the bed. “Are you
“Dead serious,” Lillian answered on the other end of the phone.
“Karen showed me after her little sister got it. The picture came in the mail
from your fan club, and she couldn’t stop laughing.”
“Chris is gonna be so pissed off,” Justin said with relish. “I
can’t wait! Lance told me about it yesterday, but I thought he managed to stop
the pictures from getting sent out. Damn, Hannah is good.”
“Wait, Hannah drew on the photos?” Lillian asked. “I thought
you did it.”
“I wish,” Justin replied, chuckling. “No, Hannah was the one. We
should recruit her, huh?”
“Definitely,” Lillian agreed. She checked her alarm clock. “We’ve
been talking for an hour and a half.”
“Really? Well, I miss you a lot,” he told her in a soft voice. JC
opened the bathroom door and came out, freshly showered and looking grumpy. Probably
another little argument with Bobbie.
“I miss you too, Justin,” she responded. He could hear the smile in
JC sat down on the other bed and motioned to the phone. “Lily?” he
mouthed silently. At Justin’s nod, he reached out, trying to grab it away.
Justin sighed. “Princess, there’s a very impatient boy waiting to
talk to you. I’m going to have to hand you over, okay? I love you.”
“Lily! I need help,” JC said without any hesitation as soon as he
held the phone up to his ear.
She laughed. “Obviously.”
He couldn’t help but crack a smile. “I’m a spazz, huh?”
“You sure are. But you’re still my big sis, so tell me what’s
JC looked at Justin, his brows raised, and Justin took the cue to give
him some privacy. As soon as the door closed behind him, JC began talking. “I
don’t even know where to start,” he said quietly.
“How about Bobbie?” Lillian suggested. “I kind of noticed something
off about you two.”
“There’s nothing wrong with us,” he snapped back immediately. It
was like a reflex action for him. Mention Bobbie, and he became some sort of
“I’m sorry,” Lillian apologized quickly. “I didn’t mean to
He heard the guilt in her voice and he groaned. Why am I being such a
bastard lately? “No, Lily, don’t apologize. You didn’t do anything
wrong. It’s just…I don’t see why everyone brings up Bobbie.”
Her silence on the other end of the line hung in the air suggestively.
“Because we love each other,” he said hurriedly. “We do.”
“Why do you sound so worried,” Lillian replied, phrasing her words as
a statement and not a question. He didn’t miss the implications.
“I don’t know,” JC answered, closing his eyes. “I’m worried
about our performance,” he said, changing the topic.
“Why would you be worried about that?” Lillian asked, going with the
flow of the conversation. There was no point in egging him on about Bobbie.
“You’ve performed at the Grammy’s before.”
“But never like this!” JC exclaimed. “I mean, there’s going to be
a full string orchestra backing us up. We’re going to sing a capella for a few
lines, too. What if we mess up? The critics will have a field day.”
Lillian listened to him sympathetically. She knew that JC never admitted
it to the public, but the critics’ opinion mattered more to him than he liked
to let on. “Jace, you love to sing. You love music. And it’s obvious to
anyone who knows you. All you have to do is take that love, and sing with it. It
will come across, believe me.”
He thought over her words. “You know, I think you’re right. I don’t
know when, but somewhere along the road, singing stopped being a passion and it
turned into a business.” He laughed regretfully. “I remember when I was on
the ‘Mickey Mouse Club.’ I got to sing and perform some of my favorite
The best performance, for him at least, was Richard Marx’s ‘Now and
Forever.’ A simple song, but it was magic.
“I think if you stop being so worried about other people’s views of
you, you can get the passion back,” Lillian reasoned. “You don’t have to
be strong all the time. You’re human, just like the rest of us.”
“I really love it, you know?” he responded vaguely, but making sense
all the same. “But when I sing for a crowd, when I perform, I look at all
those faces. And they always look so happy, just to hear the music. So I ask
myself why I feel so sad singing the music.”
She didn’t know what to say. She had never performed herself, so she
couldn’t even put herself in his place.
“Maybe it’s because even though I love the music, I don’t feel any
love myself,” he continued, not noticing her lack of response. “I just
don’t have that feeling of completeness.”
“But a lot of people love you,” Lillian argued. “Your family, the
guys, me, the fans. A lot of people.”
“I don’t mean that kind of love,” he answered forlornly. “The
fans…they don’t even know me. Of course I love you guys, but it’s
not the same thing. And you know that familial love is different from the love
that completes your soul.”
“Yes, I see what you mean,” she said softly. Losing her father and
mother had been painful, to say the least. But the thought of losing Justin…I
would probably die. “What about Bobbie?”
He shook his head, even though he knew she couldn’t see him. “I’m
not so sure about her anymore. Sometimes, it feels like she disapproves of me.
‘Don’t do this, Jace, stop being so that,’” he imitated. “It gets
She sighed, powerless to help him. “I don’t know how I can make you
feel better, except to tell you that I love you. You know that.”
“I do. I love you too, you’re my honorary little sis after all,” he
said. A little piece of guilt poked at him for causing her to feel distressed.
“Don’t worry too much about me, I’ll pull through.”
“Don’t always try to be a hero,” she cautioned him. “Write your
feelings out. That’s what I do sometimes.”
“Thanks, Lily. I’ll think about it.”
They hung up a few minutes later, one worried and the other feeling
JC rolled over on his side, nestling his head on the pillow. He vaguely
wondered where Justin had gone as he stared at the bright red digits of the
alarm clock radio. The numbers of the time were imprinted in his mind as he fell
“What’s that?” Karen asked, peeking over Lillian’s shoulder to
catch a glimpse of the picture.
“It’s a photo of me and Justin,” Lillian replied, showing her. It
was the third one she’d received so far, and the difference between this one
and the other two was that this last one was black and white. But once again,
neither her nor Justin seemed to be aware of the camera, and the same white
heart was drawn around their faces.
Karen frowned. “No offense, but it doesn’t look like the typical
lovey-dovey stuff he gives you.”
Lillian nodded. “I know. I noticed that too. I don’t understand it.
Why is he still sending me pictures of when I was in New York?”
“Any letter attached?”
She shook her head. “No, just the picture. When I was on the phone with
him the other day he mentioned a gift coming in the mail, so I guess that’s
why.” She sighed and put it in her wallet, where she kept all of the photos.
“Well, it’s the thought that counts, right?”
Karen regarded her friend. She knew that Lillian wasn’t disappointed
because she hoped for something expensive from her boyfriend. Rather, she wanted
a special memento. And I don’t really count weird little pictures as
“It’s okay, hon,” she reassured Lillian, patting her shoulder.
“He means well.”
“I know he does,” Lillian answered, giving her a small smile to let
her know she was alright. “It’s just that…why couldn’t he have chosen a
picture where we were actually smiling, or looking at the camera? It’s
Karen shrugged. “All guys are strange. Just be grateful he doesn’t
have backhair or something. Now that would suck.”
Lillian laughed and Karen smiled at her before going back to reading her
textbook. The room fell silent again, but Lillian couldn’t concentrate on her
lab calculations. She stared blankly at the paper, but a tiny, horrible thought
kept bothering her. I remember reading about how Justin always gave Britney
the most touching gifts. But he only gives me these small, impersonal pictures.
She tensed against the suggestion and tried to dispel it by shaking her
head, trying to clear her mind. But it still remained.
Maybe he doesn’t love me as much.
Joey looked up from the thin laptop he had borrowed from Lance to glance
at Hannah. “Um…I think in one of the practice rooms in back. Why?”
Her fine brows drew together. “Bobbie’s looking for him. She even
asked me if I knew where he ran off to.” She pointed across the
auditorium to the woman she was referring to, who was milling around on the
Joey sighed, turning his gaze back to the screen. “Trouble in paradise,
huh? Better get used to those two. It’s always a case of on-again,
Hannah pulled down the seat next to him and sank down thoughtfully. “I
don’t understand though!” she exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air.
“If they’re in love, like they say, they should act like it. And if they
don’t love each other, then why bother trying?”
“Maybe,” Joey mused, “if you’re desperate enough, or you want
love so badly, reality doesn’t even sink in. Kind of like you take what you
get, and don’t keep looking for something or someone better.”
She shook her head. “I would’ve thought Josh had better sense than
that. I mean, I know he’s changed since we were growing up in Bowie, but-“
“That’s just it,” Joey interrupted her, his tone exasperated
and annoyed. “JC has changed! Either people refuse to accept that, or they try
to turn him into something he could never be. And I, for one, am goddamn sick of
seeing one of my closest friends miserable. I’m sick of it!”
Hannah stared at him, her gray eyes wide, surprised at hearing an
outburst like that coming from someone who seemed so jovial and content. He held
her stunned gaze for several long seconds before biting his lip and breaking the
eye contact, resuming his typing on the laptop.
After a few moments of awkward silence Hannah spoke up again, not to be
deterred. “I want to know,” she began in a slow voice, “if you’re
talking about me here, or someone else.”
Joey shot a look at her, not an angry one but instead a masked
expression. It answered any questions she had in her head.
“I’m not her,” Hannah said quietly, hurt that he would imply
that. She sprang up from the seat, ignoring the sudden pain from bumping into
the stiff metal armrest. “I’m not Bobbie,” came her low whisper before she
retreated quickly away.
Joey sighed again, knowing he was wrong to peg Hannah with all the other
wrong women in JC’s life. But since that dinner a few weeks back, he had seen
the look in her eyes. The same glint that every gold-digging tramp has. He
was used to the type, that was for sure.
Then why did Hannah look so upset? Why did she look hurt?
He promptly finished his email to his father before closing the laptop and
getting up. He had made a mistake.
Hannah stepped heavily down the small side corridor of the building,
wondering what Bobbie could have done that would be able to turn someone like
Joey against her. I thought she was perfect. I guess not.
She walked on aimlessly, not worried about hurrying back to practice
because of the day’s extended lunch break. Besides, she didn’t feel like
going back onstage, where Joey would glare at her for offending him in some way.
Or even worse… What if the other guys thought the same thing of her?
What if all of Josh’s friends assumed she was someone out to take advantage of
The slow piano music coming from behind the closed door didn’t even
penetrate her mind until she was several feet past it. Pausing, she searched for
its source before heading to the door marked ‘Practice Room 4A.’
Not wanting to knock and interrupt the mournful strains of the piano, she
carefully turned the slightly rusted doorknob and slipped inside, biting her lip
when the hinges squeaked softly. The darkness of the room was the first thing
that overwhelmed her. How could anyone play without any light?
As her eyes adjusted to the change in light, she was glad that the
pianist had not stopped playing. The song continued on. She listened carefully
and identified the piece as Beethoven’s “Pathetique.”
Finally, she was able to make out the bulked figure of the piano and the
person hunched over the keys. Josh…of course. She approached him,
getting closer and realizing that his eyes were closed.
Go on, Hannah. Say something. But she couldn’t. The moment was
too intimate and beautiful to end. Instead, she stared at the faint blur of his
hands as he played, mesmerized at their sensitivity and quickness.
They’re amazing. He’s amazing…
JC let his fingers fall surely on the right keys, trusting his mind’s
eye to see in the dark as he kept his eyes tightly shut. “Pathetique” was
one of his absolute favorite pieces to play, because it could be simple and so
deep at the same time. The same way he could be sometimes. Not like anyone
But even as the spiteful thought rose in his head another voice
immediately refuted it. He knew it wasn’t true. He did have people who cared
about him. He just didn’t feel that way.
He played the last notes of the song, the excellent acoustics in the
small room echoing the music.
A faint creak sounded and his eyes opened quickly as he whipped his head around to look at the door, but no one was there.