Chapter 20

“Where can I find myself an idol
Somebody that I can look up to
Be big enough to hold me close in their arms
And never let me down.”

                        - “Idol,” Amanda Ghost



            “I’m never letting JC drive again.”

            Lillian smiled up at Justin. “It’s okay. It all turned out fine.”

            He sighed and looked down at the girl he held against his chest. “But it could have turned out worse. You all are just lucky that you got lost in a nice little neighborhood, and not South Central.”

            She snickered. “Yeah, I’m sure we wouldn’t notice accidentally driving into South Central. You know you’re worrying over nothing, Justin.” She poked his ribs. “You’re just bored and you want something to argue about.”

            Justin grinned. “Yeah. Arguing with you turns me on.”

            Lillian sat up and rolled her eyes. “Well, let’s go find something to stop your boredom.”

            He raised his eyebrows suggestively.

            “No, not that. You have to mellow out, Hormone Boy.”

            “I’m not Hormone Boy! That’s Joey!”

            “Then you’re his sidekick, Horndog,” she shot back, laughing.

            Justin stood up and pretended to look furious. “Horndog?! Did you just call me Horndog? You are gonna get it now, Princess.” He began advancing threateningly towards her.

            Lillian stuck her tongue out at him and bolted to the hotel room’s door. “You couldn’t get me if you tried, Horndog.”

            She reached for the doorknob but it turned in her grasp. She jumped away from the door as it swung open, narrowly missing hitting her.

            “Hormone Boy!” she exclaimed, seeing Joey standing in front of her and looking confused. “Help me!”

            “What help who now?” he asked, lost.

            Justin grabbed Lillian’s arm before she could run out into the hall and held on firmly. “Get her other arm, Joe.”

            Joey obeyed. “Why are we accosting Lilypad again?”

            “Because she called you Hormone Boy and me Horndog.”

            “I didn’t call Joey Hormone Boy. That was you, Justin,” Lillian argued.

            Joey laughed. “Horndog. That’s funny.” Lillian began laughing along with him.

            Justin glared at both of his immature friends. “Come on, Joey, it’s time to give Princess her comeuppance.”

            Joey shrugged. “Alright. I have nothing else to do. Stupid rules. No strip clubs.”

            They proceeded down the hall, dragging Lillian behind them easily.

            “This isn’t fair!” she protested. “I’m smaller than you! Ugh, JC is going to hear about this.

            In response, Justin clamped his hand over her mouth. “Don’t force me to get the chlorophyll.”

            She jerked her head away from his mouth. “Okay, first of all, it’s chloroform. Chlorophyll is the photosynthesizing pigment in plants. And second-“

            Justin put his hand back over her mouth. “This is what I get when I kidnap MIT students. Quiet, girl!”

            They climbed into the elevator. To Lillian’s relief, there was no one else inside to witness her ‘kidnapping.’

            “So what are we going to do with her?”

            Justin thought to himself. “We’ll…embarrass her…somehow…”

            Joey laughed. “Great plan, Horndog.”

            Justin glared. “You be quiet or you’re joining her.”

            They got off on the lobby floor and began making their way to the indoor pool, but were interrupted by a shout behind them.

            “Hey, what are you two doing!”

            All three turned around to see who was addressing them.

            “Oh, hi Johnny,” Justin greeted sheepishly. He took his hand away from Lillian’s mouth. “We weren’t doing anything.”

            “Sure, J. And I’m having an affair with Halle Berry,” Johnny replied sarcastically. “Now I’m sorry to interrupt your little escapade here, but we need Lillian in the conference room to help with some computer glitch. She is here on an internship, you know.”

            Justin sighed, watching his manager and his girlfriend heading down the hallway towards the hotel’s many conference rooms.

            “I’m so bored!” Joey exclaimed, grabbing his head. “Where is everyone?!”

            Justin paused to remember where everybody had gone. “Let’s see…Chris is on a conference call, going over some FuMan business. Lance is with Jace. I think they went to try on their clothes for the performance. Actually, Hannah went with them, too.”

            “Great. We’re the only ones with nothing to do,” Joey complained. “No women and no beer make Joey a dull man.”

            “I guess we can pop in on the fitting session,” Justin suggested.

            Joey perked up. “Yeah, we could! Besides, it’s always fun to laugh at the outfits they always make Lance wear. I swear, they’re out to get him.”


*                       *                       *


            “Lance, that looks so good!” Hannah exclaimed, watching him come out from behind the screen.

            Lance examined himself in the mirror. “Yeah, it actually does. What’s up with that?”

            Trish, one of the wardrobe managers, looked up at his question. “Well, Johnny told us how important this Grammy performance is going to be. He warned us: no fruity clothes.”

            Lance nodded. “Well, I, for one, am grateful for that. Why did we never wear tuxes for a slow song before?”

            “Because it’s damn uncomfortable,” JC answered, emerging from behind the other screen set up in the hotel room. He fidgeted with his tie, trying to straighten it out. “Trish, help me with this before I choke myself.”

            Hannah looked at him and took in his appearance. His tuxedo was similar to Lance’s, but the designs were different. Josh’s was a white silk, while Lance had on a dark blue coat with a duller sheen. They both looked incredible.

            JC took Lance’s place in front of the mirror. He stood still while Trish adjusted his tie and another wardrobe assistant pinned back the looser areas of the tux. Glancing up into the mirror, he caught Hannah staring at him. He caught her eye in the reflection and winked.

            “Like what you see?”

            She blushed and darted her glance away. “It looks nice.” Nice? Come on, Hannah, you mean incredibly sexy.

            JC laughed softly at her flustered demeanor. She really was a trip to tease.

            Hannah turned back to watch him as he struck up a conversation with Trish. She knew that he was just playing around, and that she shouldn’t take his actions and words at face value, but she simply couldn’t. Her emotions were overriding her usual common sense.

            She was still fixated on the way he had been watching her yesterday. His expression was completely unguarded, and it had made her feel so warm inside. But he hadn’t mentioned anything since then, not in the car and not today. She wanted to ask him about it, but she was too scared of what he might say. Knowing Josh, he would shrug everything off and pretend like it was no big deal. To her, though, it felt incredibly important.

            The door to the room flung open and the occupants inside stared at Justin and Joey as they burst in.

            Joey looked at his two friends in their tuxedos and his grin fell off his face. “Man, they don’t look stupid!”

            Lance rolled his eyes. “Wow, what a compliment.”

            “Poofu, you don’t look your usual goofy self!” Justin complained. “Trish, what did you do to him?”

            Trish looked up from her position next to JC’s leg, adjusting the hems on his pants. “I worked my usual magic. And actually, now that you two are here, you can try on your tuxes!”

            Joey shook his head, backing towards the open door. “Nuh uh. I didn’t come all the way up here to try on suits! Not my idea of fun.”

            “Well, that’s too damn bad,” Trish replied, grabbing his arm and swinging him behind a screen. She took a covered hanger and tossed it to him. “Put that on.”

            She handed another to Justin. “And that’s yours. Try it on.”

            Justin groaned, knowing he was stuck. “This day sucks.”

            “Come on, don’t you want to look good for your girlfriend?” Trish asked, raising her eyebrows teasingly.

            Justin raised his chin cockily. “I always look good for my princess.”

            JC coughed into his hand. “Bullshit! Ahem, excuse me.”

            Justin glared and would have attacked but Trish pushed him behind the other screen before the violence escalated.

            Lance and JC sat down next to Hannah on the bed, waiting to see how Joey and Justin looked.

            “What are you wearing for the performance?” Lance asked Hannah.

            “We’re getting the clothes an hour before today’s rehearsal. Sondheim was talking about dark blue dresses for the girls and white shirts and black pants for the men.”

            Joey came out from behind his screen, looking confused.

            Lance took one look at him and began cracking up. “What is that?!”

            “Trish, I think you gave me Chris’s tux!” Joey whined. He flailed his arms, showing how the sleeves were a few inches too short.

            “Stop moving, you’ll rip it!” Trish ordered, holding his arms down. “But at least the color looks good on you.”

            Joey stared at himself, confused. “It’s black.”

            “Hey, black is the year’s new black,” Trish explained.


            “Never mind. Just take that off and try this on one.” Trish handed him another covered suit, exasperated.

            Justin walked around his screen, pulling on the double lapel of his deep gray tuxedo. He looked at his similarly attired friends sitting on the bed. “See, the difference between me and you…”

            He spun around, showcasing his appearance. “…is that I make this look good.”

            “Oh wow! And the amazing this is, I totally did not expect to hear him say that,” JC exclaimed in mock surprise.

            “Yeah, the originality of that quip was stunning,” Lance commented dryly.

            “Shut up, Lansten. You know you were up all night looking up ‘quip’ in the dictionary,” Justin shot back.

            “ ‘Quip. Noun. A clever, usually taunting remark. Synonym: gibe,’ ” Lance recited, grinning.

            “I’ll gibe you,” Justin threatened, stalking closer to the bed. Once again, Trish had to step in the way and turn him away.

            Lance took advantage of Justin’s present distraction and raced behind the screen. “I get to change first!”

            Justin groaned. “No, I don’t want to wear this tux anymore! I mean, sure, I look hot, but it is choking me!” He paused suddenly, his gaze drifting over to the unoccupied bathroom. JC saw it at the exact same instant.

            “It’s mine!” they both shouted, darting over to claim it.

            JC had the unfortunate luck of having to get around the two beds and Trish. He got to the bathroom just as Justin ran in and slammed the door in his face. “Man!”

            Trish and Hannah shared an amused glance. “Working with them is like making little boys play dress-up,” Trish complained. She looked at JC, who was banging the door with his fist. “Why don’t you just change out here? It’s not like I haven’t seen it before.”

            JC raised his eyebrows at Hannah, questioningly.

            “I don’t mind,” she said, answering his silent question. She turned on the television, trying to distract herself from the image of a near-naked Josh standing ten feet away.

            Get a hold of yourself, Hannah! You are a grown-up, not some swooning teenybopper. She almost laughed out loud. If Sarah were in the room right now…

            JC quickly got out of the tuxedo and changed into his familiar and comfortable t-shirt and jeans. “Done,” he said, handing Trish the tux and walking over to shut the TV off.

            “Let’s do something more interesting,” he suggested to Hannah.

            She looked up at him. Something more interesting than you undressing? She felt her cheeks flood with color at her thoughts. “Oh. Um, yeah. That sounds good.”

            He regarded her curiously, wondering why she had suddenly begun blushing, but then shrugged it off. It was Brat. Sometimes she was in a world all of her own.

            They said their goodbyes to Trish and the other guys, who were still changing. From the noises coming from behind the second screen, it sounded like Joey was having considerable trouble getting out of Chris’s much smaller tux.

            “So what do you want to do?” JC asked.

            Hannah nudged her glasses higher up the bridge of her nose. “I don’t care. Anything.”

            “Let’s look around this hotel. I haven’t even been up past the tenth floor yet. And I know there are more than conference rooms on the ground floor.”

            She nodded. “Okay. This is a pretty huge hotel. Probably the biggest one I’ve stayed in.”

            “Nah, it’s all right. Nothing spectacular. There was this one hotel, in Germany, and it was like a national memorial or something. Our room was like an apartment. It had everything, even a baby grand next to the balcony. And the kitchen was…” He trailed off, seeing the look Hannah was giving him. He smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, I was getting carried away there.”

            She smiled back. “No, it wasn’t that. I was just thinking about how you’ve been to Germany and all around the world, and this is the farthest I’ve ever been from Maryland.”

            “Well, it’s not like I love hotel-hopping,” JC replied. “I live in hotels for practically ten months of each year. Permanence is not a bad thing, you know. I miss it.”

            “No, permanence isn’t bad, it’s boring. I compare my life to yours, or to Lance’s or Justin’s, and Lillian’s, and I realize that I haven’t done anything in these twenty-two years!” Hannah burst out. “It’s like, what have I been doing while you were out getting famous and rich?”

            JC shook his head. “No, that’s not true. There are two ways to be successful, in my opinion. One way is to start off big and end up on VH1’s Where Are They Now. And the second, better way, is to work hard for it so that by the time you are successful, you have enough experience to know what success actually is.” He looked at her. “Guess which one is you and which one is me?”

            She stared at him. “Josh, it’s not like that.”

            “Well, it feels like it. And every day I am scared that this is the day it’s all going to end. That’s why everyone calls it a dream, you know. Because you have to wake up sooner or later.”

            “That is not true,” she argued. “A dream is before it happens. What you have now is accomplishment. You have success. And success doesn’t just stop one day.”

            “I don’t have success,” JC said cynically. “Maybe Justin has success. And Lily definitely has it. But I am not successful. NSYNC, really, isn’t successful.”

            “Why is that?” she asked, bewildered. “The last time I checked, you are successful when you are happy and satisfied. When your dream comes true.”

            He mumbled something in reply.


            “I said, what if you’re not happy,” he repeated softly. “What would you call that?”

            She gazed at him. “I would say you’re lying to yourself.”

            He looked up, suddenly angry. “You know, you can’t just tell me that I should feel a certain emotion. It’s how I feel. I can’t change that to satisfy you.”

            She was taken aback at his outburst. She expected him to stalk away any minute now. But Josh continued to walk alongside her.

            “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you mad.”

            “No, it wasn’t your fault. I’m sorry for being so depressing,” JC answered. He laughed. “How did we get to this topic, anyway?” He looked around. “And how are we standing in front of the elevator? I thought we were going to look around.”

            “We looked around this hall, if that helps,” Hannah replied lightly, disguising her concern. She wanted to know how long Josh had been feeling like this. And she wanted to know how to fix it.

            He shook his head, bemused. “Whenever we talk, things just don’t turn out the way I expect them to,” he told her. “And I don’t know if that’s good or bad.”

            “Thanks,” she muttered.

            He laughed again. “The same old Brat.” He stuck his hands into his pockets and realized that his cell phone wasn’t there.

            “Shoot, I forgot my cell phone in Trish’s room. Let’s do this exploring thing later, okay?” He headed off before she could reply. 

            Hannah jabbed the elevator button, feeling a surge of frustration but she couldn’t explain exactly why. Maybe it was because Josh was in the habit of abandoning her on a whim. Or perhaps it was due to his retreat just as the conversation was getting interesting. Or maybe she was so upset simply because after twelve years, the two of them hadn’t made any progress after all. 


*                       *                       *


            I hate this. I am so sick of it.  

            Lillian read the note for what seemed like the thousandth time. ‘It’s almost time. You or him.’  And that was all. Almost an exact repeat of the last note.

            “I hate this!” she burst out, crumpling up the note and throwing it across her hotel room. She had hoped that whoever was writing the notes would lose interest or maybe even forget, but after a few days of peace they were back at it again.

            She hated feeling threatened and scared. She hated how this person knew where she was and how to contact her. And worst of all, she hated having to keep it all a secret from Justin. She wished she could throw all her faith over to him and let him handle it, but that would endanger him. She knew she would die before seeing him hurt.

            Almost time.’ Time for what? Nothing big was happening in the next several days…except the Grammy’s. Comprehension finally dawned on her. The person was going to make their move at the ceremony, and maybe even during the band’s pivotal performance.

            That realization infuriated her. Justin and the guys had worked so hard for Grammy night. They worried themselves sick over critical approval and recognition. And now this psycho was trying to stop them. By threatening her.

            “That is it,” she said out loud, jumping up from the bed and storming over to the door. She knew what to do now. She would show this freak how she responded to threats against the people she loved.


*                       *                       *


            Justin rolled over, burying his face into his pillow.

            “Justin,” Lillian whispered. She had let herself into his and JC’s room with the key he had lent her. She was finally done with everything.

            He frowned, still half-asleep. “What?”

            “I love you.”

            “Joey, if that’s you, I am going to kick your ass,” he mumbled, finally opening his eyes and squinting at the person next to his bed. “Princess? What are you doing?”

            She smiled in the darkness. “Just came to visit?”

            Justin moved over on the bed, lifting the covers. “Climb in. Be quiet, though, Jace is sleeping.”

            She obeyed and immediately snuggled against him. “I do love you.”

            “I know. I love you, too. Now go to sleep.”

            She listened to the slow, steady beat of his heart under her cheek. He was so innocent and adorable when he was sleeping. Like a little boy. She could feel him drift off to sleep again, and she gently stroked the short hair at the nape of his neck. She would take care of him.


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