Chapter 16

“Pretend you're glad, my heart,
Although you're sad, my heart.
He mustn't know it.”
	-“Sing My Heart”


          Lillian sat tensely in her window seat, staring out of the tinted glass at the people waiting for their loved ones at the bus station. She searched for Justin. A glimpse of unruly curly hair, a man standing just a little above the others, a peek of broad shoulders, anything. But there was no sign of him.

            She controlled the sweeping disappointment and hurt that arose. After all, he could just be late. Or maybe he accidentally went to the wrong bus terminal. Or he could have stopped to get a bite to eat at one of the small snack stands. Knowing Justin, any of these were possible.

            Bolstering herself, she took a firm hold of her suitcase and stepped into the aisle of the bus, carried out the door and down the steps by the surging crowd. When the other passengers had dissipated enough, she was finally able to look around, trying to find a familiar face.

            “Lily!” a voice called out from behind her.

            She whipped around, an eager smile on her face. Justin.

            “I couldn’t find you in the crowd, sis,” JC explained, calling her by the affectionate nickname he had given her.

            Lillian looked up at his handsome face, but couldn’t muster up the appropriate enthusiasm. Although she was fortunate to have JC pick her up, deep down she wished it were Justin smiling at her, Justin’s handsome face greeting her. Now come on, Lillian, he’s probably busy with something. Don’t be so selfish. And she knew she was being childish.

            “Hey, big sis,” she replied, hugging him and pushing away her disappointment. “Thanks for meeting me here.”

            “No prob,” he answered, grabbing her suitcase and leading the way out to the parking lot. “Sorry Justin couldn’t be here.”

            “No, that’s fine,” she fibbed, waiting for Dre to pull the large black SUV up to where they stood. “Um, out of curiosity, where is he?”

            JC shrugged vaguely as he slipped on a pair of reflective sunglasses. “Don’t know. He called me up fifteen minutes ago, begging me to get my butt up here. He hung up before I could ask why.”

            “Oh.” Lillian tried to look cheery as she climbed into the SUV. “Hi, Dre, how’s it going?”

            “Just fine, miss,” he answered calmly, in his deep voice. “Ready to get out of here and see that boy of yours?”

            She nodded as JC climbed in beside her. “I’m ready.”


*                       *                       *

            “Get out!” Justin hissed, waving his hands at Joey and Lance.

            “Calm down, man, she’s not coming any time soon,” Joey replied, refusing to leave the hotel room. He reached over and took a gulp of the wine Justin had poured out on the bedside stand.

            “That’s not for you!” Justin cried out, grabbing the glass and putting it safely out of Joey’s reach. “Now go, because she might be early, you know.”

            “Not with JC picking her up,” Lance snickered. Then he paused and motioned to the wine bottle. “Hey, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you underage?”

            “Yeah, Lily’s underage, too,” Joey commented, looking at Justin suspiciously.

            “Don’t give me that,” Justin warned them. “When did you guys turn into prudes?”

            “Prudes!” Joey repeated, offended. “Why, I’ll have you know that I’m the farthest thing away from a prude! I’m a…unprude!”

            “That’s so not a word,” Lance said, laughing.

            “Well, then I’m a sexy man-beast!” Joey amended. “Yeah, baby, yeah!” He flexed his biceps, boasting, “I was almost arrested today, ‘cause I brought these guns to rehearsal!” Then he kissed his ‘guns.’

            Justin and Lance immediately burst out laughing. “Sorry, man,” Justin gasped out, “but I don’t think your guns are loaded.”

            “Shut up,” Joey shot back. “You’re just jealous. Mama told me so.” He stuck his tongue out and ambled over to the door. “Now I’m gonna see how long it takes before some lady-cop stops me and asks me for my number.”

            “Wait for me,” Lance exclaimed, jumping up to follow him. “You’re gonna need more than one watch to time that. Maybe I should bring my calendar.”

            Justin shook his head and slammed the door shut behind his friends. Finally. Then he turned around and found himself staring face-to-face at Chris. He’d forgotten that his older friend had been sleeping on the other bed.

            “Did I miss something?” Chris asked, rubbing his eyes.

            “Out, out!” Justin shouted, shoving Chris bodily out of the room. This time he checked the room to make sure all inhabitants were gone before slamming the door. Come on, J, not the time to get mad. He took a calming breath and surveyed his work.

            The flowers, roses, carnations, and lily-of-the-valleys, were in bouquets set throughout the room. All the lights had been turned off except for the one beside the bed, and two glasses of wine were waiting to be consumed. Everything was perfect.

            Now, all he had to do was wait for Lillian.


*                       *                       *


            “And then I read the words, and they were beautiful!” JC exclaimed, recounting his break-up and then make-up with Bobbie. “I mean, no offense to her, but I never thought she could think so…deeply. Coming from her, it was amazing.”

            Lillian nodded, smiling at her friend’s excitement. Sure, the ‘deepness’ of Bobbie was a little out of character, but if JC was happy then she had no qualms about it. It had been so long since he’d been this carefree.

            “And how’s Hannah?” she asked, curious to know what her new friend had been up to since she’d been gone.

            “Hannah?” JC repeated. His expression shifted from one of surprise and enthusiasm to something almost…tender.

            Lillian stared at him, engrossed in the change and even more fascinated by the words that came out of his mouth a second later.

            “Hannah’s great. We went window-shopping a couple of days ago. It was fun,” JC remembered, a gentle smile on his face. “It’s hard to believe it, but it was actually fun.”

            Lillian smiled at him, and patted his hand affectionately. “I’m glad.” And she was.


*                       *                       *


            She stepped into the dim room, smelling the fresh scent of flowers. “What’s going on-“

            “Princess!” someone shouted, grabbing her from behind. “Welcome back!”

            Lillian laughed. “Justin!” She turned around in his grasp and quickly wrapped her arms around his strong neck. “I’m glad to be back.”

            He grinned roguishly down at her and picked her up so that her face was level with his. “Well, I’m glad that you’re glad to be back.” He gave her a long kiss before setting her back down on the ground. “Now come and celebrate with me. I kicked all the guys out for you.”

            She allowed herself to be led to the middle of the room, where the flowers’ fragrance was even stronger. There were rose petals strewn on the floor and on the beds, and two wine glasses were set out, the liquid glistening under the single light.

            “Justin,” she whispered, turning back to look at him, “You shouldn’t have. I can’t believe you spent all this effort of me. I don’t deserve this.” All her doubts from before flooded her, and the guilt was too much. “You shouldn’t have.”

            He looked completely confused. Why was she crying? That wasn’t part of the plan. “Princess, I don’t understand. I love you. Of course you deserve this, and of course I should have.” She didn’t look at him, and instead sat down on the petal-covered ground, burying her face in her hands.

            “Babe?” he asked, scared and concerned. “Don’t cry. Lillian, stop crying! Please.” He laid his hands on her shoulders and began rubbing slowly. “Please don’t cry.”

            “I’m sorry,” she murmured after composing herself somewhat. “Don’t be mad or upset. I’m sorry.”

            He didn’t answer and remained silent, giving her time to calm down. If he had any doubt that something was seriously wrong, this had blown it away. He surprised her with flowers and wine, and she cried? No, something’s not right. And I’m going to find out.

            When she subsided into small sniffles, he gently nuzzled her cheek and neck. “I don’t know why you always say sorry when I’m the one who should always be groveling at your feet.” He remembered the many times he had been a jerk to her, and winced inwardly at the pain it had caused her and the pain it caused him now that he was mature enough to understand. In his most pitiful and cajoling voice, he asked her, “Will you tell me what’s wrong?”

            Lillian stiffened under his touch, and then shook her head. “I can’t tell you, because there’s nothing to tell.”

            Justin drew back and stared at her evenly. “Look me in the eyes and tell me that.”

            “No!” she exclaimed. “I told you many times. Nothing is wrong.”

            The stubbornness in her expression was what finally set him off. “The hell there is! Obviously, something is wrong, or else you wouldn’t be avoiding it so much. I’m not an idiot, Lillian, so don’t treat me like I’m one.” He surged to his feet and pulled her up with him. “Now face me, dammit, and tell me the truth.”

            She gazed up at his strong face and stared at the muscle tightening in his jaw, the darkness of his blue eyes. I love him. Even when he was this angry, she knew he wouldn’t hurt her. And she couldn’t hurt him, either.


She sighed as she caught sight of another envelope in the pile. The dark and cryptic handwriting was now familiar to her, though she would have given anything to forget about it entirely. Great, another creepy little picture, she thought, deciding to rip it open and get it over with.

            But it wasn’t another creepy little picture. It was a letter, if you could call it that. No greeting or closing, only four bold, black words: ‘It’s you or him.’

            There was no question in her mind of who ‘him’ referred to. The pictures had taken care of that. But though she was scared out of her mind and hurting in her heart, she knew what her choice was. It will be me.


            Justin studied her unique face, the one that he found himself dreaming of and missing every minute he was breathing. Tell me, he pleaded with his eyes. Let me help you.

            All of a sudden, Lillian smiled and raised her small hand to his face, smoothing the creases his frown left on his forehead. “I don’t ever want to hurt you,” she whispered tenderly, “Do you know that?”

            “I know,” he replied, kissing her fingers when they ventured close to his lips. “I love you.”

            Her smile grew, and it was wistful and loving and knowing at the same time. “I will never stop loving you.” She rested her head on his solid chest, hearing his slow heartbeat. “Can you hold me, Justin? I don’t want flowers or wine or elaborate plans. I just want to be held.”

            He obediently closed his arms securely around her, not understanding what was happening but having no grounds to argue on. “I’ll hold you forever,” he promised. “Until my dying day.”


*                       *                       *


            “No, you have to press this at the same time as jump!” Chris explained, showing Hannah the buttons on the Gameboy. She followed his directions, and he nodded in satisfaction. “That’s better. Wait, no, that’s wrong! What are you doing?!”

            “What is the point of this game?” she asked, exasperated. “Why do I even want to run around and catch Pokemon? I could just go out and get a life.”

            Lance laughed. “She’s got you there, man.”

            Chris glared at him and snatched the Gameboy away from Hannah. “Some people need to respect the talents of others.” He began playing where she left off with barely concealed excitement.

            Hannah sighed and leaned against the wall. “Are you sure you don’t want to head back to your hotel now?” Lance, Chris, and Joey had showed up in her hotel lobby as she was leaving the restaurant. That was three hours ago.

            “Yeah, we’re sure,” Joey decided. “It’s much more fun when we’re not getting kicked out of rooms.”

            She slanted a telling look at him.


            Hannah smiled at him, dispelling the slight hurt he felt. “I’m kidding, Joe. You can stay here, but don’t touch my personal things.”

            Joey dropped the purse he was rummaging through, turning red. “Sorry.”

            Lance laughed. “Don’t mind him. Joey likes to go through women’s purses. Kind of hard for him on the first date, but what can ya do?”

            “Shut up, jerk,” Joey muttered, to Lance’s delight.

            Hannah rolled her eyes as the two began bickering. And she thought Lance was the mature one. Where was Josh when you needed him?

            “Are you guys in there?” Josh’s voice came through the door, accompanied by a few short knocks.

            Speak of the devil.

            Hannah quickly went to unlock the door and let him in. “Thank goodness you’re here,” she burst out, ushering him in. “I was going craz-“

            “Nice to see you, too,” he said, winking slyly at her as he passed.

            She couldn’t help but blush. Stop that! she ordered herself, but to no avail. This teasing Josh was too new for her. “Um…thanks,” she said stupidly. Thanks?! What was that?!

            “Alright, guys, time to go. Justin finally unbarred the area,” JC reported, grabbing his friends’ coats from the ground and tossing them to their respective owners. His authoritative demeanor didn’t show his amusement at Hannah’s response to his wink. So sue me, I like to have fun with her.

            “Bye, Hannah,” the three ‘guests’ chorused as they filed out the door. She waved at them, smiling at their resemblance to dutiful five-year-olds but relieved that she could finally go to sleep.

            “Sorry about them,” JC said, grinning at her. “I tried to come as soon as I could.”

            She didn’t ask where he came from, because the answer would most likely be Bobbie. And she didn’t want to hear that right now. “It’s no problem.”

            He smiled down at her, his deep eyes shining. “Thanks.” Casually, he cupped her cheek in his warm hand. “I appreciate it.” Stroking his thumb softly, he winked one last time before leaving and closing the door behind him.

            She stared at the wood paneling, dumbfounded. What was happening to them? What’s happening to me?


*                       *                       *


            Joey trailed a little behind Lance and Chris as they left the hotel. He walked in step with JC. “I know what you’re doing.”

            JC looked at him in surprise. “What are you talking about?”

            “I don’t think you should tease her like that,” Joey replied. “It’s mean to just…lead her on like that.”

            JC’s eyes widened more. “You think it’s mean of me to lead Hannah on?”

            Joey glared. “Don’t act so surprised. I have a heart, too. And I know I’ve done things like that before, but I think that you shouldn’t do it with her. Hannah…she might not understand that you don’t mean anything.”

            For some reason, that last statement made JC more mad than surprised. “Don’t worry about it, Joe. It’s none of your business anyway.”

            Joey shrugged, nonchalant like always. “Alright. Just a suggestion.” He quickened his pace to join the other two.

            JC shook his head. Leading her on. Whatever.


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