Chapter 14

“The walls we build around us to keep out the sadness also keep out the joy.”-- Jim Rohn



            “Cheer up, Hannah, this isn’t so bad is it?” Lance asked, grinning sweetly at her.

            She sighed and looked at the booklet in front of them. “No, I guess not. It’s kind of disgusting, though.”

            “Blame it on Joey,” Lance answered, motioning to his friend who was rolling on the carpeted floor and cackling. “He’s the one who bought this game.”

            I love this game!” Joey shouted suddenly. “Whatever genius thought of the ‘Dirty Minds Game’ deserves…a Nobel peace prize or something!”

            All of the other people in the hotel room paused and stared at him.

            “Uh…” Justin muttered, “That makes no sense whatsoever.” He grabbed the thin black booklet in away from Joey and began reading aloud. “ ’I have delicious mounds. I have a split down my middle. I taste great in your mouth.’ Come on, this is just dirty! Guys, stop laughing!”

            Chris collapsed on Hannah’s shoulder, doubling over with laughter. “Oh, lemme guess what you are!” he exclaimed, waving his arm high in the air.

            “Remember, the object of this game is to guess the non-dirty answer,” Lance quickly reminded him before he heard something he didn’t want to ever hear coming from Chris’ mouth.

            Chris pouted and let his arm fall.

            “I don’t get this game,” Lonnie whispered to Dre. “Isn’t it obvious? It’s a banana split.”

            Dre groaned and shook his head. “Man, I don’t know why you even try.”

            “Okay, okay,” Joey said quickly, finally composing himself. “I think it’s my turn.” He grabbed the booklet back from Justin’s grasp and began reading in a voice that barely contained his excitement. “ ‘The more you play with me, the harder I get. I come in many different sizes and colors. You can move me any way you want.’ “

            “It’s a pe-“ Chris blurted out before Justin hastily clapped a hand over his mouth.

            “Come on, that’s so easy!” Lonnie said, exasperated. “It’s a Rubick’s cube. Duh.”

            Hannah looked over at his teammate, pursing her lips to keep from bursting into laughter. Dre buried his face in his hands, knowing a hopeless cause when he saw one, and the image of the huge man sitting Indian style on the ground as his shoulders shook with laughter sent her over the edge. She fell over, giggling hysterically, which set off everyone else in the circle except for Lonnie.

            “What?” he asked, not getting the joke. “Didn’t I get it right?”


*                       *                       *


            JC sat back in his chair and gazed at Bobbie from across the small linen-covered table. She smiled at him and went back to sipping her wine. How am I supposed to do this? She’s not that bad, when she’s not talking and everything. Maybe I can just forget about…Wait, Jace, you can’t go back now. Be a man and get it over with!

            As this inner struggle went on, his face became more agitated by the second. Bobbie put her glass down and looked at JC, concerned. “Are you okay, baby? Did you eat something bad? Here, let me get the waiter.”

            “No, wait,” he choked out, leaning over and pulling her arm back down. “I have something very important to tell you.”

            “Really?” she asked, looking excited. “Well, tell me then!”

            “I…” He hesitated and looked down at his hands. Now or never, man. Taking a deep breath, he raised his head and stared her straight in the eyes. “I think we should break up.”

            “You think we should break…” she repeated softly, as if the words didn’t register. Then he saw a light flash on behind her eyes. “You want to break up?! What?!

            Figuring that the hardest part was over, he nodded assuredly. “Yes. We don’t even get along that well anymore, Bobbie! In the past month, we’ve fought…” He counted their arguments mentally. “We’ve fought at least four times! That’s once every week! Do you think that’s a sign that our relationship is holding strong?”

            “But Jace,” she argued, “That’s only because we’ve both been so busy. You know that. Me with my writing and you with the whole Grammy thing.” She rolled her eyes as she emphasized the name.

            The whole Grammy thing?!” he repeated incredulously. “Okay, I’m going to just ignore that. And it’s true that we’ve both been busy. But that’s the way it’s always been. If we break up, we’ll both be a little less busy, right?”

            Bobbie stared at him, her jaw hanging open. She knew that she was losing this argument, but she refused to let him leave her. She scanned her mind, trying to think of a rebuttal that would convince him that he was just being silly.

            “Look, Bobbie, no hard feelings,” he reasoned. He sighed, thinking that he was being too harsh. “You can still be my date for the Grammy’s,” he offered reluctantly. “Are you listening to me?”

            She had turned to her side, rummaging through the sleek black purse that was hanging on the back of her chair. Then she pulled out a small notepad and practically threw it at him.

            “What’s this?” he asked in confusion, picking it up and flipping it open.

            “It’s what I feel,” she said passionately, wiping tears from her eyes. “Just go on a read it, JC. Read every word.”

            He skimmed the first few pages pretty quickly, not caring what tricks Bobbie was up to now. But then the words actually registered in his mind and he slowed down to pay attention to what was written. ‘I’ve waited forever it seems, for reality to come from dreams. And I’ve prayed endlessly for someone like you to need me.’

            “You wrote this?” he asked, quickly glancing up at her before going back to reading. He didn’t catch her look of surprise.

            “Um…yes. Yes, I did write it.”

            “This is good,” he commented wonderingly, not noticing her hesitation. “Really good.” He could feel the vulnerability in the poetry, and the sadness. Is this what Bobbie really feels? I didn’t know she could write like this. I can’t believe I’m such a jerk!

            “I had no idea you felt this way,” he said softly, finishing the last poem and gently laying the notepad on the table.

            “Well, I do,” she said, sniffling. “I love you, Jace.”

            “I…” He had no idea what to say. Technically, he had just broken up with her. But he had thought she was shallow and didn’t care about him one way or the other. But she can’t be shallow. No one shallow can write like this, with so much feeling. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he just didn’t give her a chance.

            “I just want another chance,” she whispered, as if she had read his thoughts.

            He stared at her, the candlelight softening her features and bathing her in a warm light. A second chance…

            He reached across the table and placed the notepad into her hand. Then he closed his bigger one around her fingers. “Alright. Let’s give it another chance.”


*                       *                       *


            The hotel room door creaked open and four heads whipped up to stare. JC walked in, looking slightly bemused. Ignoring the four pairs of eyes on him, he went to the closet and slipped his tie off, then took his shoes off.

            Justin grew impatient. “Well?” he prompted, breaking the silence. “What happened? How’d it go?”

            “Yeah, Jace, give us the good news!” Chris chimed in. “Who’s a free man now?”

            JC shook his head, a small smile across his face. “Not me.”

            “What?!” all four of his friends exclaimed. Justin jumped up and ran to his older friend.

            “Tell us what happened!” he demanded. “Weren’t you supposed to break up with Bobbie? Wasn’t that the plan?”

            “So much for that,” JC said, laughing. “It was crazy, J. Like, I told her that we were over. And then she pulled out a little notebook.”

            “What was in it, money?” Chris asked, only half-joking.

            “No,” JC replied, not picking up on the dig, “It was filled with poetry. And it was so amazing! Bobbie had written all these poems about me! To top it off, they were actually good.”

            “And then…” Joey encouraged, wanting to hear the rest of the story.

            “And then we decided to give our relationship another try,” JC said.

            “Oh,” Lance murmured, unable to keep the disappointment out of his voice. He knew it was mean of him to hope for a split between JC and Bobbie, but his friend just wasn’t happy with her. He knew it. But apparently JC didn’t.

            “Well, congratulations, I guess,” Joey offered, trying to look excited for JC. “That’s really great!”

            “Yeah,” Justin nodded, still looking a little confused. “Great.”

            JC nodded, glancing between the blank grins of his friends. He cleared his throat. “Well, I’m going to have a drink at the bar. Wanna come with?”

            Justin shook his head. “I have to call Lily. I think something’s up with her. She’s been acting so strange.”

            After the other guys made excuses to head back to their respective rooms, JC went to find Dre to accompany him down to the bar.

            “You’re looking happy, man,” Dre commented as they stepped into the elevator at the end of the hall.

            “I am,” JC answered, smiling widely as the doors slid closed. “I think everything’s finally turning out right.”


*                       *                       *


            “Can you please say something?” Justin pleaded. The silence on the other end of the phone was his only reply. “Dammit!”

            Lillian sat heavily on the hardwood floor of the front foyer, leaning her head against the cool paneling of the door. The phone was cradled loosely between her chin and shoulder, and she absentmindedly reached up with her left hand to adjust it.

            She sniffed and didn’t respond to her boyfriend’s muttered curse.

            “Lily, Princess, talk to me!” he demanded. “You have to tell me what’s wrong in order for me to fix it.”

            “I can’t tell you,” she whispered, her voice strained with the force of held-back tears. “And you can’t fix it.”

            “What? What are you talking about?” Justin asked, exasperated. He stopped pacing around the empty hotel room and flopped onto the bed. She didn’t answer again.

            He sighed. Their conversation had been following this pattern for an hour now. Actually, they had probably only had fifteen minutes of actual dialogue; the rest was silence. Okay, J, calm down. You can’t make her talk by shouting at her.

            “Sweetheart, I’m here,” he said softly, tenderly. “Even if I can’t fix whatever’s going on, I can at least listen.”

            Lillian reached down and picked up a piece of paper that was lying in front of her. She stared at it, her lips beginning to tremble from the sob caught in her throat. Quickly, she clapped her free hand over her mouth, trying to stifle the sound.

            “Are you there?” he asked. He frowned upon hearing a soft noise in the background. “What’s going on?”

            “I love you,” she blurted out tearfully.

            “Well, I love you too,” he responded, confused. “Princess, I’m serious; tell me what’s going on.”

            “I can’t, I just can’t,” Lillian said sadly. “Don’t worry, okay? I’ll meet you in New York in a week, remember? I can’t wait to see you again.”

            Justin gave in, accepting that she wouldn’t be disclosing any information now. “Fine. I’ll see you then.” He was frustrated and pissed that she refused to tell him what was wrong, and his words came out more curt than he would have wished.

            She was very perceptive, especially about things pertaining to Justin, and easily picked up on the terse undertone. Now he’s mad at me. But he can’t know. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

            “Lily, wai-“ he began urgently, needing to explain that he wasn’t angry at her, but rather that she couldn’t speak to him. But he heard a click over the phone, and knew that she had already hung up.

            He slammed the phone back into the cradle and closed his eyes. “Dammit.”


*                       *                       *


            Lillian let herself cry out her insecurities and frustrations for a few more minutes before composing herself and getting up from the floor. She placed the phone back on the kitchen counter and almost forgot to pick up the piece of paper that troubled her so much. But how could I even forget for a second?

            The picture was another in the style of the previous ones. Black and white, grainy, and a distant shot of her and Justin. The only difference was that there was another person in the picture.

            Britney, she thought a bit enviously. The sender of the photo had pasted a magazine cutout of Justin’s former love next to his figure, and crossed out her own with a white-out pen. In different circumstances, she probably wouldn’t have given the outrageous picture a second thought. But ever since her suspicion that Justin could never love her as much as he loved Britney, things had changed. This was only another coincidence of fate that hammered her doubts in.

            Worse yet, the photos were arriving faster and faster now. Only three days ago she had received another one. The whole situation was creeping her out. Even though she would have to face Justin head on in a few days, she was also glad that she wouldn’t be living alone anymore. Karen had left to attend her sister’s wedding. Lillian’s nerves were strung tight, and a change of scenery might help.

            The fact that it was pretty definite that the sender of the pictures wasn’t Justin didn’t help matters, either. Only someone in need of medical attention would do something like this.

            She glared at the picture before tearing it up into little rough-edged pieces, and threw them into the trashcan. Out of sight, out of mind. Justin can’t know about this.


*                       *                       *


            JC walked out of the hotel bar and turned the corner leading to the staircase. He felt so hyper, he needed to burn off the excess energy. Running up five flights of stairs should help. Dre had opted to take the elevator and wait for his charge on the fifth floor.

            As he sharply rounded the corner, he ran headlong into another person. He was larger, and the person fell back a few steps.

            “I’m sorry, are you okay?” he immediately asked, reaching out to steady the woman in front of him. Her dark hair was shielding her face as she bent down to pick up her handbag.

            “Yes, I’m alright,” she answered, grabbing the bag and pushing the strands of hair away from her line of sight. She looked at the man. “Josh.”

            “Hannah,” he replied, sounding and looking less than pleased to see her. “Why are you here? Isn’t there anyone else you should be pestering?”

            She rolled her eyes. “Sorry to disappoint you and your ego, but I don’t plan these encounters. It happens.” She glared at him as he still stood in her path, his arms crossed over his chest. “Now could you get out of my way?”

            He grinned evilly at her. He hadn’t forgotten the time she blocked him from getting drunk at the bar when he most needed it. Now it was payback time.

            “Hmm,” he said, pretending to be considering her request. “No.”

            “Oh, haha,” Hannah mocked. She wasn’t in the mood for this. The only reason she was at his hotel in the first place was to pick up the Grammy L.A. itinerary. “Come on, Josh, move. I have a huge headache. I need to go to my hotel and sleep.”

            He chuckled. “Imagine that. Poor baby is tired and wants to sleep.” He narrowed his darkened blue eyes at her. “Tough luck. Now you know how I feel. You give me a headache every day.”

            She gave him a fake smile, disguising the hurt that his words caused. “Please just move.”

He remained solidly in place, though, and she attempted to skirt around him.

            “Not so fast,” he said evenly, quickly grabbing her upper arms and holding her back. She was surprised that he had so much strength in his lean arms.

            The throbbing in her head increased, and she closed her eyes for a moment. “Josh, go away.”

He couldn’t have caught her at a worse time. While she had been upstairs, Lance had filled her in about the Bobbie situation. How Josh had been about to break up with her before something made him change his mind. And then she had discovered that the itinerary left no room for her to make a quick stop back home to see her parents. All in all, it was a bad day.

            “No,” he answered smugly. “I think we’ll just wait it out here.”

            She tried again to bypass his roadblock, but was easily stopped. His malice-filled grin and cutting eyes made something in her snap, and she let the floodgates down.

            Get out of my way!,” she shouted, deciding to simply barrel past him. It would have worked too, if her hanging handbag hadn’t tripped her. She landed hard against the wall, her shoulder now aching along with her head.

            Josh didn’t even help her, and instead looked passively at her plight.

            Hannah steadied herself. Why does he hate me so much? Why is he so eager to hurt me? The fact that he had been so polite before realizing the woman he had run into was her didn’t escape her wondering.

            Her head was hurting so much that she couldn’t even think, and she saw bright flashes of white light in the space in front of her. This headache was turning into a migraine. “Never mind,” she whispered in defeat, turning her back on him. “I’ll just go another way.”

            JC stood still, enjoying his triumph. He knew it was childish, but then again, so was she. But the tone in her voice was a little odd. And why was she walking so carefully?

            Against his desire, he sighed and caught up to her, grabbing her shoulder roughly. She immediately twisted out of his grasp.

            “Can you not maul me when I’m hurt?” she demanded.

            “What are you talking about?” he asked. “You’re not hurt.”

            She slipped her loose sweater off her shoulder slightly, showing him the bruise that was beginning to form. He looked from the bruise to her face, and back again.

            “Well, it’s not my fault you bruise so easily,” he bit out before thinking.

            Wordlessly, Hannah pulled open the door leading to the stairwell. JC admonished himself silently and pulled her back, albeit much more gently this time and being careful not to touch her shoulder.

            “What’s wrong?” he asked, curious and at a loss.

            “I’m sick of you hating me!” she exclaimed, before reaching up quickly to hold her head. “Ugh, it doesn’t matter. Can’t change what’s written in stone, right? Sorry, my head is just killing me.”

            JC stared at her, trying to process the random words and thoughts she was blurting out. I’m sick of you hating me? He looked at her downcast eyes and tousled hair, and the way she was now massaging her temples. Man, why am I such a jerk?

            “I don’t hate you,” he said calmly. The way she instantly looked up at him disbelievingly broke his heart. In those silvery eyes of hers he could see a glimpse of the innocent and pesky Brat she used to be, but even then he hadn’t hated her. They had known each other since…forever and a day.

            He sighed again. “Come ‘ere,” he muttered, gathering her close to him and giving her a gruff hug. She didn’t return the gesture, and just stood stiffly in his embrace.

            “I don’t hate you,” JC repeated. He smoothed her soft hair comfortingly. “Look, I don’t want you to walk alone to your hotel like this. I’ll go with you.”

            She opened her mouth to object.

            “No, no arguments. It’s safer this way. Come on,” he said, taking her wrist and pulling her along.

            Squinting her eyes at him, Hannah regarded him suspiciously. Since when did Josh start caring about my safety? “I’m not buying this. What’s the trick?”

            “There’s no trick!” JC burst out, defending himself. He spread his arms out in front of him. “See? There’s nothing up my sleeve. Now let’s go, before you collapse on the floor.” Before she could argue with him again he strode off, leaving her to no choice but to follow him.

            But she didn’t.

            He turned around, looking at her confused and wary expression, and his own softened. “Hannah, I swear I’m not trying to trick you or anything. I’m sorry.”

            “You’re sorry?” she repeated, wondering if she had heard his mumbled words clearly.

            “Yes, sorry,” Josh answered, nodding. Then he did something that made her melt inside. He smiled that old, confident and easy grin, and held his hand out to her. “We should get going now.”

            Hannah nodded, wanting to run over and shout with joy at finally being accepted, but she forced herself to walk over slowly enough to accommodate her headache. She gazed up at his strong profile.

            “Let’s go then.”


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