Chapter 19

“How you sparkle, how you shine,

How you rise above the darkest skies.”

                                    - “Sparkle,” Rubyhorse


            Justin turned to Hannah, a finger pressed to his lips.

            “Shhh,” he whispered. “First rule of pranks: you have to be quiet! It’s all about subtlety.”

            She peered at him, trying to stifle her laughter. “I’m sorry!”

            Justin sighed softly and looked at Lillian. “Amateurs. What can ya do?”

            Lillian opened the mini-refrigerator in Lance’s and Joey’s hotel room and carefully took out an item from the freezer. She shook her head mournfully, examining the container.

            “It’s not working yet!”

            Justin peeked over her shoulder to assess the situation. “Oh, come on. It’s alright. Just give it a few more hours.”

            Lillian shrugged and put the container of vanilla ice cream back into the freezer. “I hope you’re right. We don’t want them to realize that it’s actually frozen mayonnaise in there.”

            Justin snickered. “It’ll be so hilarious.”

            Hannah frowned. “How will we all be able to see them eat it? Just gather everyone in Lance’s room for no reason? That’ll be kind of suspicious.”

            “No, it’ll work perfectly,” Justin answered. “We’ll have a movie night in here, and then I’ll just say that I’m really in the mood for something cold, like ice cream. And then Lance will go get some, and we’re set!”

            She smiled, appreciating the simplicity of it all. “Nice.”

            “Thanks, I think so too.” Justin was practically preening, he was so proud of himself.

            Lillian nudged him none too gently in the side with her elbow. “Hey, smart stuff, I was the one who thought of the whole idea.”

            Justin paused to consider that. “Well…perhaps. But who was the one who stole a room key?”

            Hannah raised her hand. “That was me. I got it from Joey, remember?”

            “Oh, yeah.” Justin looked around the room. “Then why the hell am I here?!”

            Lillian turned to him and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re just so darn cute, that’s why. We’re the brains, and you’re the brawn and the beauty.”

            Justin smirked arrogantly. “You mean the booty.

            He immediately jumped up and began shaking it as he sang a little song. “I need a girl to ride, ride, ride, I need a girl to make my wife, I need a girl who’s mine all mine, I need a girl in my life!”

            Lillian rolled her eyes and quickly clapped a hand over his mouth. “Sweetie, first rule of pranks: be quiet. Second rule: keep your mind on the prank, not the booty.”

            He simply grinned slyly at her. “You know you want me. You want me and my booty!”

            “That’s right, I want you and your booty,” she said, pacifying him. She reached over and shut the mini-fridge door then grabbed his arm. “Now come on, we have to leave.”

            Hannah grinned as she followed them out of the hotel room, watching as Justin continued dancing and singing and Lillian attempted to get him to calm down.

                “I’ll see you later,” she called after them as she turned the other way down the hall.

            “Be ready for some fun tonight!” Justin answered before taking a grip on Lillian’s wrist and pulling her into his room.


*                       *                       *


            “Now, should we watch ‘Something About Mary,” or… ‘Something About Mary?’” Joey asked in all seriousness.

            Chris lightly smacked him on the back of the head. “No more Mary! Never again while I’m alive!”

            “Well, considering you’re already over the hill, I don’t have to worry too much,” Joey answered, laughing.

            “What about ‘Meet the Parents?’” Lance suggested, rifling through Joey’s collection of tapes.

            “Nah, saw that one too many times,” JC complained.




            “No one can act in that movie.”

            “’Say Anything?’”

            “Chick flick.”

            Lillian glared at Lance, who had offered that last comment. “Hey, I resent that. If I remember correctly, Chris was the one crying when we watched that, not me.”

            Chris turned defensive when everyone looked at him, their eyebrows raised. “It was a good movie! Plus, is it my fault John Cusack is just so damn endearing?”

            “Okay, moving on,” JC said, joining Lance next to the box of tapes. “’Forrest Gump.’”

            “Not in the mood for Haley Joel Osmont.”

            “’American Pie 2.’”

            “Never watching that again.”

            “’Romeo + Juliet?’”

            “I can’t understand what they’re saying!” Joey protested. “And Leonardo is a girl.”

            “Then I guess that means no ‘Titanic.’ What about ‘Fast and Furious?’”

            “Car porn.”

            “’Riding In Cars With Boys.’”

            “Boooring. Why does Joey have that movie anyway?”


            “Don’t even joke.”

            Justin threw up his hands. “Just decide on something!” If they couldn’t agree on a movie, the chances of eating the ‘ice cream’ were quickly fading.

            “Alright, calm down, J. How about ‘Office Space?’” JC offered, pulling the tape out.

            Everyone nodded, Justin especially eagerly. “Yes, yes. ‘Office Space’ is good.”

            “I have no objection to Jennifer Aniston in a movie directed by the creators of ‘Beavis and Butthead,’” Joey said. “Bring it on!”

            Justin, happy now that the plan was being put into action, settled down on one of the beds next to Lillian. The two of them exchanged a sly glance with Hannah, who was lying belly-down on the other bed next to Joey.

            Thirty minutes into the movie Justin began complaining. “Lily, I’m hungry!”

            She looked at him, smiling. “Well, I don’t have any food.”

            “Lance, I’m hungry!”

            Lance, laughing at what had just happened on screen, turned around. “I don’t have anything.” 

            “You always have some food. Go check!” Justin answered.

            Lance sighed and got up, walking the short distance to the mini-fridge. “Anyone else want anything?” He opened the door and checked inside. “All I got is some vanilla ice cream and water.”

            “I’ll take ice cream,” Hannah called out, helping out with the prank plot.

            “Me too,” Joey decided.

            The others nodded and Lance began scooping the ‘ice cream’ out. “It’s kind of soft,” he commented. “Maybe it’s the brand.”

            “Probably,” Justin agreed, a mischievous glint in his eyes.

            The Styrofoam bowls were passed out and everyone, with the exception of Hannah, Lillian, and Justin, immediately began digging in.

            The three of them watched eagerly, waiting for a reaction.

            “Hey-” Joey started. “It’s…pretty good. What brand is this?”

            “Breyer’s,” Lance replied. “You’re right. It’s kind of bland, though.”

            “Good enough,” Chris said.

            JC examined his ‘ice cream’ closely, his spoon poised to scoop some of it up. “If this is Breyer’s vanilla, where are the vanilla bean specks? Breyer’s always has vanilla bean specks!”

            “Stop complaining, Jace,” Joey answered. “It’s fine. Try it!”

            Hannah had been trying to keep a straight face throughout the conversation, but the sight of Joey stuffing his face with frozen mayonnaise was too much. She burst into giggles, attempting to hide them by pretending to have a coughing fit.

            “Are you okay?” JC asked, glancing over.

            “Oh yeah,” she reassured him, still having trouble containing herself. “Just fine.”

            Lance looked at her too, and his eyes narrowed curiously. It looked like she was about to laugh. His gaze darted over to Justin and Lily, who hadn’t touched their ice cream yet. Something’s up.

            “Alright, what’s going on?” he demanded, too accustomed to having the infamous L and J connection pull pranks on him to not realize something was amiss.

            Lillian was laughing now, but she tried to play it off. “No- nothing is going on! Just eat your delicious ice cream!” She couldn’t stop laughing, and soon Hannah joined her, her giggles turning into full laughs.

            “Justin, what’d you do?” JC questioned. The others had put down their bowls also.

            Justin sighed, looking at the two girls on each side of him who were practically rolling with laughter. “Man, I knew they would give it away.”

            He looked at his friends, who appeared very wary. “Well, the game’s up. You’re eating frozen mayonnaise.”

            The reaction was instantaneous.

            Lance jumped up and ran to the bathroom, shouting at the three pranksters while he rinsed his mouth out.

            “I just ate a bowl of mayonnaise?!” Chris exclaimed, looking disgusted. “J, you are dead.

            “Lily and Hannah helped too!” Justin reminded him as Chris grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and began guzzling it down.

            JC looked relieved that he hadn’t eaten anything. He threw the bowl away and looked at Lillian. “I can’t believe you tried to poison your big sis!”

            Hannah, who had finally subsided into small giggles, stared at JC. “Big sis?”

            “Hey, you be quiet,” he immediately shot back, looking slightly embarrassed that he had just shouted out Lily’s nickname for him. “And now it’s on. It’s the four of us against the three of you.”

            Justin snorted. “Yeah, I know I’m scared. Big sis.”

            Lillian was still laughing, and pressed her face against Justin’s shoulder, trying to calm down.

            Hannah looked at Joey, who still hadn’t reacted. In fact, he was eating the mayo and watching the movie like nothing had happened.

            “Joe, why are you still eating that?” she asked, disgusted.

            He shrugged. “I don’t see why it’s so bad. Mayo is just eggs and oil anyway. Maybe some sugar, and this would be perfect.”

            Everyone, having come back into the room, stared at him.

            “It’s good! Breyer’s ain’t got nothing on this.”



*                       *                       *


            Johnny Wright stood in front of the large group in the airport terminal, with Sondheim at his side. He was going over the itinerary for the Grammy’s that he had just passed out among the musicians, security, managing personnel, and the band.

            “Now, we’re going to have three rehearsals. The first is in the hotel, the last two are going to be at the Staples Center. These are all dress rehearsals, people, so be prepared. Also, I want good behavior. Stay up all night the day before the performance and come in slack-jawed the next day, I will have your head!” he warned. “Other than that, you’re on your own.”

            “I guess that means no strip joints,” Joey whispered to Chris, who rolled his eyes and shoved him.

            “So I expect no arrests or police calls until we meet tomorrow,” Johnny continued, not hearing Joey’s comment. “Be good, kiddies.”

            Joey jumped up as soon as the group began dispersing and ran over to the Starbucks across the terminal. “Caffeeeeiiine!” he shrieked, shoving his way to the front of the line.

            Chris was half a step behind him, just as eager for a pick-me-up.

            Justin yawned loudly, tired from the early morning flight. “Want to get something to eat?” he asked Lillian, JC, and Hannah.

            Hannah shook her head. “No, thanks, I think I’m going to head to the hotel and then look around a bit. I’ve never been to California before.” She was eager to get outside and see something other than the airport.

            Lillian smiled at Hannah. “I’ll come with you.”

            Justin nodded and leaned over to kiss Lillian on the forehead. “Alright, then I’ll see you later at the hotel. Have fun.”

            The two girls waved at him and began walking away.

            JC looked after them, his head tilted to one side thoughtfully. Lillian had just pointed to sign and commented something to Hannah, and Hannah was laughing.

            “Hey, are you coming, man?” Justin asked, prodding his friend.

            “Yeah, I’m coming,” he answered without thinking of the question. He paused. “Actually, J, I’m already full from that bagel on the airplane. Maybe I’ll tag along with Lily and Hannah instead. In case they get lost, you know.”

            Justin smiled. “Yeah, it’s really easy to get lost riding in a chauffeured car.”

            “Uh huh,” JC replied, already walking off. “Later, man.”

            He jogged to catch up with the girls, who were still laughing. Draping an arm over each one’s shoulders, he smiled. “So, where to first?”


*                       *                       *


            Dre moaned and clutched the side of the door as the car veered around a sharp right turn. “Jace, slow the hell down!”

            JC laughed and obligingly slowed to only fifteen miles per hour above the speed limit. “Don’t complain, Dre, I didn’t force you to come.”

            “No, Johnny made me come to keep your skinny ass out of trouble,” Dre shot back. He looked to the backseat, noticing the state of the two occupants in the back.

            “You’re making the ladies sick, Mr. Smooth,” he commented.

            JC checked the rearview mirror and saw that his bodyguard was right. He dutifully pressed his foot on the brake pedal, stopping his reckless driving.

            “Thank you!” Lillian exclaimed, pushing her hair out of her face. “You can be worse than Justin.”

            “Well, it’s not as bad as Lance’s granny driving,” JC defended. “Otherwise we’d still be trying to get out of the airport parking lot.”

            “So where are we?” Hannah asked, looking out the open window and taking in the warm air.

            JC shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

            “You don’t even know where you’re driving?” Lillian demanded.

            JC smiled blithely. “Oh, poor repressed lil sis. The best part of driving is the freedom. When you don’t have a certain place to go, you can be the most carefree.”

            She rolled her eyes. “Just don’t drive us to Tijuana, and I’ll trust your word.”

            Hannah leaned against the edge of the seat, staring at the passing scenery. Josh had apparently driven them to the suburbs of L.A., with little kids playing on manicured lawns and split-level ranches adorning the tops of hills. She sighed, wondering if this would be the best sightseeing on the trip. I came across the entire country to see this?

            Then her eyes drifted to the figure in the driver’s seat, and she amended her resignation. She was with the man she had adored since they were children, and they were on friendly terms, no less. That was a huge accomplishment, considering their recent squabbling. Plus, she was going to play at the Grammy’s. That was incredible in itself.

            But oddly enough, her feelings for Josh kept overriding the main reason she was there. More and more often, her mind would drift away from thoughts of perfecting the coda transition to daydreams of Josh.

            It was embarrassing, really. After all these years of supposedly maturing, she was still moon-eyed around him.

            JC glanced into the rearview mirror, checking to make sure the girls were still alive back there; they hadn’t made a sound for some time now.

            Lillian was flipping through a map she had found under one of the seats, apparently trying to figure out where he had lost them. JC almost laughed. You could always depend on Lily to be the responsible one.

            Hannah, on the other hand, seemed to be calm about the whole situation. She was leaning against the door and staring absentmindedly out the open window, and would have looked completely at peace if not for the tiny frown in her expression. He wondered what was upsetting her.

            What if I could fix it? What if-

            “Jace, man, check the dashboard!” Dre interrupted, pointing suddenly.

            JC looked down, wondering what was wrong. “Oh, damn.”

            “What? What’s wrong?” Lillian asked, raising her head from the map.

            He looked at her sheepishly in the rearview mirror. “We’re kind of low on gas.”

            “How low is kind of low?” Hannah questioned.

            Dre answered for him. “Low as in empty.”

            As if on cue, the SUV sputtered to a slow stop next to the curb.

            “JC!” three voices shouted simultaneously.

            “Oops?” JC offered. “I did it again?”

            “Okay, this is neither the time nor the place for that,” Lillian said, exasperated. “How is there no gas? We haven’t been driving for that long.”

            “The tank probably wasn’t full to begin with,” Dre explained.

            “Great,” Hannah exclaimed. “We’re lost, we’re bored, and we’re in suburbia!”

            “Hey, no biggie,” JC answered calmingly. “There’re houses everywhere. I’ll just go ask someone if they have a little gas to last us until the next gas station. It’s cheaper than calling a tow truck or something.”

            He climbed out of the SUV and walked towards the closest house, about twenty yards away. He personally didn’t mind being lost with no gas. The neighborhood was almost like his childhood one in Bowie, and with the same Brat it was like being thirteen all over again.

            He knocked firmly on the painted red door, then waited as he heard footsteps running to answer him.

            “Hi, sorry to bother you, but we have a problem with our car,” he said politely, smiling charmingly.

            The little girl who had opened the door looked up at him curiously. Then she opened her mouth and began screaming.


            “No, stop!” he exclaimed, shocked. “I’m not here to hurt you. My car is out of gas.” She continued to scream, getting louder and louder. “Hey, is your mom or dad home? Anyone?”

            He was just about to run back to the car, in case an angry and protective father came storming down the stairs with a shotgun, but the girl, just as suddenly as she had begun screaming, stopped.

            “You’re JC,” she breathed, finally giving her vocal cords and lungs a rest.

            “Um…yes. Hi.”

            “I love NSYNC! All my friends and me, we always listen to your CD’s and I’ve gone to two concerts with my big sister and I had a lot of fun even though I sat in the back and it was really hot and-”

            “Sarah! Who are you talking to?” a mature voice asked from inside the dark interior of the house.

            A middle-aged woman, obviously Sarah’s mother, appeared in the doorway. “Hello? Who are you?”

            “Hi, ma’am, I’m JC and I was just driving through the neighborhood but my car is out of gas and I’m a little lost,” he explained.

            Sarah’s mother smiled welcomingly. “Well, a good samaritan has to help those in need. I’m Linda Kelman. Come in and get out of the sun, and I’ll ask my husband for some spare gas.” She glanced outside at the SUV. “Are your friends waiting? Tell them to come inside, too.”

            JC motioned them to follow him and he trailed behind Sarah’s mother as Sarah continued to stare at him rapturously.

            Hannah was the first to enter the house behind him, and as her eyes adjusted to the difference of brightness she almost tripped over Sarah. “Sorry,” she apologized softly, feeling clumsy.

            The girl merely stood silently and gazed at the four new adults standing in her house.

            Hannah shifted uncomfortably as Sarah looked at her for what seemed like an hour. She had no siblings, so she wasn’t accustomed to being around children. Especially when they were screaming one minute and sizing her up the next.

            “Um, I’m Hannah,” she finally said. “Nice to meet you.”

            “My name is Sarah. Do you know NSYNC?”

            “We all do,” Hannah replied, gesturing to Lillian and Dre behind her. She turned to call Josh over, but he had already disappeared down the hallway and into the kitchen.

            “Come with me, look at my NSYNC things!” Sarah entreated, suddenly grabbing her hand and leading her up the narrow stairway.

            Hannah looked over her shoulder as she was pulled away, at a loss. Dre was moving to follow Josh, while Lillian was giving her an amused grin. Great. I’m stuck with the tiny teenybopper.

            “Okay, so this is the poster wall,” Sarah explained, launching into the grand tour of her pink and lavender bedroom. “The bottom is the older stuff, and the top has group pictures.”

            “Interesting…” Hannah offered. She took a step closer and examined one of the posters of Josh, sitting alone.

            “And these are my NSYNC bobble-heads,” the girl continued, leading her away from the wall and to the bookshelf. “My daddy got them for me last year. What do you think?”

            “They’re kind of creepy,” Hannah replied without thinking.

            Sarah giggled. “I think so too. At least the Lance one is.”

            “And over there are all the magazines about NSYNC,” Hannah guessed, pointing at the nightstand.

            “Yup. I’m their biggest fan in the world,” Sarah proclaimed. “I’m going to marry JC.”

            “How old are you again?”


            “Well, sounds reasonable to me,” Hannah decided wryly. She sat down on the soft carpeted floor after Sarah plopped down at the foot of the bed. Oddly enough, she wasn’t feeling awkward anymore. It really wasn’t that hard to talk to kids. Just no baby talk, and everything was fine.

            A cry came from somewhere down the hall, the noise drifting through the open bedroom door. Sarah jumped up. “That’s my little brother.” She ran out of the room and a moment later carefully walked back in, holding a baby in her arms.

            “This is Michael. He’s eight months old. Want to hold him?”

            Hannah stared at her and the offered baby. “I’ve never held a baby before. I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

            “No, he’s very calm!” Michael proved her words false with a scream that rang in Hannah’s ears. “Just hold him, please! My arms are getting tired.”

            She sighed. “Fine.” But don’t arrest me if I accidentally drop him. She held her arms out stiffly, unsure of what to do.

            Sarah handed Michael over and pushed Hannah’s arms into the right position. “See, it’s fun!”

            “Oh, definitely.” Hannah looked down at the still screaming baby. “Do you have anything to calm him down?”

            “Well, sometimes he likes singing. I mean, he likes people to sing to him,” Sarah explained. “Try that.”

            “Um, my singing will probably make him bawl even harder. That’s not my forte.”

            “Forte?” Sarah asked, confused.

            “Never mind. Look, I’ll hold him here and you go a bottle from your mom or something,” Hannah suggested.

            “A bottle from mommy?” Sarah’s face lit up as she suddenly remembered who was with her mom at that very moment. “JC!” She immediately bolted out the room, leaving Hannah to deal with the cranky baby.

            “Shhh, you’re making me deaf,” Hannah whispered. “That’s not good. I have to use my hearing in a couple of days.” She tried rocking him gently, but to no avail.

            Finally she gave up. “If singing will make you be quiet, then you asked for it. Don’t blame me for my voice.”

            She cleared her throat and began singing the only kiddie song she could remember. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, when you’re not happy, my skies are gray. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.”

            Amazingly enough, Michael had stopped crying and was now making little murmurs as he stared up at her.

            “Another verse? Same as the first,” Hannah said, smiling. She couldn’t help it. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”

            The door creaked and she glanced up, expecting to see Sarah with a bottle of milk. But behind the skinny child stood Josh, who was looking at her with a strange expression on his face. She had never seen him look that way before.

            “Oh. Ahem. I didn’t know you were there.” Josh simply continued to stare at her. “Sarah, is that the bottle? Good.”

            Sarah let go of JC’s hand and walked over to take her little brother back. “I’ll put him in his crib.”

            Sarah left with Michael, continuing the song where Hannah had trailed off.

            Hannah looked up at Josh before dropping her gaze to the floor. She could never hold her own against those penetrating blue eyes.

            “The car’s filled up. We’re ready to go now,” he said quietly before turning and heading downstairs.

            Hannah didn’t move from her position on the floor. She could feel her cheeks heating up. She knew her singing was awful. That it would never even sound passably good. So why had Josh been looking at her as if it was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard?


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