Chapter 5

“I’m so inspired by you

That hasn’t happened for the longest time.”   

            -“For the Longest Time,” Billy Joel



            JC flipped his cell phone closed and shut his eyes, breathing in the cold air. Things had been getting worse and worse lately. His arguments with Bobbie were starting to wear on him. First she says I don’t pay her enough attention. Then she apologizes and says she loves me, and days later she’s worried we’re going to break up. And now she wants more commitment.

            He groaned and kicked the brick wall in frustration, relishing the sharp pain he felt in his foot. At least it lent some sense of reality to the whole mess, and gave him something else to dwell on.

            Worse yet, he had dreamed of a girl last night, but it hadn’t been Bobbie. His dream had focused on his childhood in D.C., and it had been so sunny and happy. All his old friends had been in it; Casey, Matt, Lindsey, even the neighborhood brat. Especially the neighborhood brat, actually. Her scrawny figure and dirt-smudged face had appeared constantly throughout the night. What was her name again? Hallie or something like that. No, it was Hannah. I think…

            He couldn’t even remember for sure. All he did know for certain was that those years were his most cherished memories. Just carefree and innocent, no one knowing that not even ten years later he would be in one of the most famous bands in the world. No one knew that he’d become to be known as the ‘serious one.’

            JC felt a sort of sadness in his chest. He hadn’t always been serious or withdrawn. Those traits had developed on their own. People thought they knew everything about him. They’d be surprised.


*                       *                       *


            Sondheim put his finger to his lips, and with his other hand continued to count the beat. The orchestra had all eyes trained on him, obediently finishing the song with no louder sound than a whisper of strings.

            He nodded in satisfaction and the musicians put their instruments down.

            “Good job, considering it’s only the first day. Everyone take a ten minute break.”

            Hannah sighed in relief and placed her bow on the music stand. Maybe now she’d be able to find Josh. She saw that Sondheim was talking to the band, but Josh wasn’t with them. Where is he?

            “Have fun?”

            Hannah turned around and saw Lillian sitting in the vacated seat next to her.

            “Tons,” she said, smiling. “What about you?”

            “It’s not much different from an ‘N Sync rehearsal, actually. Very repetitive,” Lillian observed.

            “Are your friends satisfied so far?” Hannah asked. “I kind of noticed that not all of them were paying too much attention while we were playing.”

            Lillian laughed. “Don’t worry, they’ll start paying attention as soon as they sing. Justin was enjoying it. And I think Lance liked reading his papers to some soothing music.”

            “What about Josh?” The words left Hannah’s mouth before she could even stop to think about them.

            Lillian looked at her strangely.

            “I mean JC,” Hannah quickly corrected. “I saw him leave.”

            “Oh, that.” Lillian shrugged. “It was a personal thing, nothing to do with your performance. Do you like ‘N Sync?”

            “I honestly never cared about their music one way or the other,” Hannah answered truthfully. “Not because I don’t like them, but because I had practically no exposure to them. Classical and pop music don’t often overlap.”

            Lillian nodded, understanding. “Even if you don’t like their music all the time, I’m sure you’ll learn to like them as people. They’re the best group of guys anywhere. I’m a little biased, of course, but still.”

            Hannah laughed. “Who is he, again?” she inquired, pointing at a dark-haired man examining an abandoned violin across the stage.

            “Chris Kirkpatrick,” Lillian informed her. “Chris!” she shouted. “Put that violin down!”

            He looked up at the two of them and grinned impishly.

            “Oh no, I am not liking that expression,” Lillian said in dread.

            Chris began ambling over to them, stopping every few feet to pick up an instrument and observe it closely. After several warning glances from the instruments’ owners and Lillian, he grabbed the electric tuner from the conductor’s stand and sat down with Lillian and Hannah.

            “Hey, check this out!” Chris said excitedly. “I can see what note my voice is.”

            “Shouldn’t you be talking with Sondheim?” Lillian asked.

            “Nope, our little meeting ended. He went to get some water,” Chris explained. “Now let’s play with this fun new gadget! I bet that my voice is an E.”

            “It’s not a toy,” Lillian protested. “No betting, put it back.”

            “Man, Lily, you act like JC sometimes,” Chris complained.

            She glared at him. “I’ll take that as a compliment. And I wouldn’t be saying things like that, because if word got back to JC he’d be pretty mad.”

            As if on cue, JC appeared and grabbed Chris. “Sorry, he escaped.”

            “I’m going to scream,” Chris threatened, holding the electric tuner up to his mouth.

            JC quickly clapped his hand over Chris’ mouth. “Don’t even try it. Now let’s go sit back down before Sondheim gets mad.” He smiled at Lillian and her friend and dragged Chris away.

            Hannah stared after him. He didn’t even recognize her. Maybe it was her glasses.

            Lillian turned back to Hannah to say something and caught the look on her face. Almost…wistful. Why did Hannah call him Josh? Only his family calls him that.

            “Do you know JC from somewhere?” she asked curiously.

            I know Josh from somewhere. I don’t know JC at all. Hannah wasn’t sure if she should tell Lillian the truth. She didn’t want her to go talk to Josh about it, but on the other hand she didn’t want to lie.

            Thankfully, before she could reply Sondheim came back onstage and tapped his baton on his stand, signaling that the break was over.

            Lillian left Hannah, unsatisfied. Now she was more than curious, she knew that something was up. She returned to her seat, wondering how she’d be able to find out more.

            “What are we doing tonight?” she asked Justin.

            He thought it over. “I think we’re going out to dinner with the guys. Does that sound okay?”

            She nodded and smiled. Perfect. “Can we invite Hannah?”

            “Fine with me,” Justin agreed.

            Lillian turned to the others. “Do you guys mind if I bring a friend along tonight? I’m sure you’ll love her.”

            Joey perked up at hearing that her friend was female. “Any lady friend of yours is a friend of mine,” he replied, a fat grin on his face.

            “The more the merrier,” Lance agreed. Chris nodded.

            “JC?” she asked, nudging him.

            He sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t even feel like going out tonight.”

            Lillian gaped at him. “But it’s your favorite restaurant! You have to go.” Seeing that he still looked unsure, she brought out the big guns. “Come on, sis! Please, please, please!”

            JC looked down at her pleading face. Justin’s been teaching her too well. The same exact puppy eyes. “Fine, fine! I’ll go.”

            Lillian smiled in satisfaction. “Good. I knew you’d change your mind.”


*                       *                       *


            “Hello?” Hannah asked, the phone cradled between her cheek and shoulder as she cleaned the strings on her cello.

            “Hey, it’s Lillian,” the voice on the other end greeted. “I got your number from the information files. Are you doing anything tonight?”

            Hannah examined a smudge on the gleaming wood of the instrument. “Um…no, I don’t think so. Why?”

            “I was wondering if you’d want to leave that hotel room of yours and come eat dinner with us,” Lillian explained.

            “Who’s ‘us’?” Hannah asked.

            “Me and the guys. Justin, Lance, Chris, JC, Joey. You know.”

            Hannah hesitated at hearing JC’s name. “I’m not sure. I have to practice,” she said, making up an excuse.

            “No you don’t,” Lillian immediately refuted. “I watched you at rehearsal and you were fine. Now tell me the real reason you don’t want to go. Is it me?” she asked self-consciously. Great, Lillian. The first person you meet and you’ve already annoyed her.

            Hannah shook her head emphatically, then realized that Lillian couldn’t see the action over the phone. “No, it’s not you, believe me.”

            Lillian sighed in relief. “Well, that’s good. What is it, then? The guys are all really nice, I promise. Don’t be intimidated by them.”

            “No, it’s not that either,” Hannah replied, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose. How could she explain?

            “If it’s not me or the guys, what other reason is left? The food is great, the company will be good, and it’ll be fun,” Lillian reasoned.

            I guess it’s about time I talked to Josh again. I can’t hesitate forever. “You’re right. I’ll go,” she assented.

            “Good!” Lillian exclaimed. “We’ll come pick you up in front of the lobby at eight. Dress casual.”

            Hannah hung up the phone and checked her watch. She had two hours before it was time to get ready.


*                       *                       *


            “Hi, sweetheart.”

            JC sighed at hearing the familiar voice over the phone. “Hey, Bobbie.”

            “So what did you do today?” she asked, the question voiced a little too perkily.

            “Nothing much,” he replied reluctantly. “We sat in on the first orchestra rehearsal, remember? After that we met with a few of the Grammy producers and coordinators, and then we dropped by for some interviews.”

            “Cool,” Bobbie answered. She paused awkwardly, then related what happened in her day. “Well, the editor gave me the thumbs up for my new article, which I was pretty happy about. She said it was interesting.”

            JC remained silent. He didn’t want to play this game. Pretend all you want, Bobbie, but this can’t smooth over our fights. We both know what happened.

            “JC?” she asked. “Did you hear me? Maybe the connection’s too weak. I can try to get better recep-“

            “Stop,” he interrupted. “I heard you just fine, and you know that. I don’t understand why you’re acting like this.”

            He heard her laugh nervously.

            “Acting like what?” she wondered. “Damn, Jace, sometimes I don’t get you.”

            “Maybe that’s the most important part here,” he said. “We’ve been together for over two years now, and you don’t ‘get’ me.”

            “What are you talking about? I was only joking, you know that. I love you, JC,” she explained. “Is something wrong? Are you tired?”

            He rubbed his hand through his hair in frustration. “No, I’m not tired. I’m…confused.”

            “Over what? Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll figure everything out soon,” she assured him. “Oh, I gotta go now. Get some rest, okay?”

            “Okay,” he whispered.

            “And I love you, baby,” she added, almost as if it was an afterthought.

            He hesitated for a split second, but the silence echoed over both their ears. “Love you, too. Bye.”


*                       *                       *


            Hannah sighed and took her headphones off, ending the sounds of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Then she sat back and examined the piece of paper in her lap.


            I’m so scared right now

            But I won’t show it.

            You have so much power over me

            And you don’t know it.

            You don’t even see me.

            I’m the invisible girl in the corner,

            The one in the dark

            I pass you on the streets,

            I go unnoticed.

            I smile at you tenderly,

            And pass from your focus.

            I’m the girl next door,

            The one in the back of the room.

            And you don’t even see me.


            Hannah shrugged. It wasn’t the best she’d ever written, but it was worth keeping. The important thing was that she’d managed to relieve some of her stress by writing it. She had taken up the pastime of jotting little poems down after arriving at Juilliard. Many of the other students could play instruments, but not all of them were able to write. It was her way of staying unique among hundreds of child prodigies.

            She remembered reading in the CD insert that Josh had written a few of the songs. Would he be proud of me?

            Looking up at the clock she realized that she would soon find out. It was time to meet Lillian in front of the lobby.

            Hannah took a bolstering breath, checked her appearance in the dresser mirror one last time, and headed out.


*                       *                       *


            “Is this the right hotel?” Lillian asked Lonnie, leaning forward from her seat in the SUV.

            He nodded. “The address is right.”

            Justin pulled Lillian back into the seat. “Come on, Princess, don’t be impatient. Just give her some time.”

            “Well, I’m impatient,” Chris spoke up. “I’m hungry! If we don’t get to the restaurant soon, Joey will have cleaned out the place.”

            “Wait, I see her,” Lillian said, pointing out the window. She rolled the window down and waved at Hannah.

            Hannah smiled and hurried over to the black SUV with the tinted windows. She climbed in and sat down next to the man who had been playing around at the rehearsal. What was it…oh, Chris. That’s it.

            “Howdy,” he greeted her.

            “Hi,” she greeted absentmindedly, noticing that the only other people in the car were Justin, Lillian, and a driver. Josh isn’t here. Is he coming? She didn’t know whether to be relieved or let down.

            Lillian turned around in her seat. “Chris, this is Hannah. You remember her from earlier. And Hannah, this here is Chris Kirkpatrick.”

            Hannah reached out to shake Chris’ hand, but the mischief in his eyes made her pause. “There’s not a joy buzzer in your hand or anything, is there?” she asked, only half-kidding.

            Chris scowled. “No! JC confiscated it from me after I shocked him on the a-“

            “Well, that’s enough of that!” Justin immediately interrupted. “Don’t worry, Hannah, you can touch him. We already searched him.”

            Hannah couldn’t help but laugh as Chris gave her a firm shake, all the while mumbling under his breath about ‘no respect.’

            “I hope you’re hungry,” Justin continued. “JC loves this restaurant. Nothing but perfect reviews from him.”

            “Is he coming?” she asked, trying to sound nonchalant. But then she adjusted her glasses, giving away her nervousness.

            “Yeah, he’s with Lance and Joey at the restaurant already,” Lillian answered, catching the small action perceptively. She smiled assuredly at Hannah.

            Hannah blushed at having been found out. Come on, you have to calm down. She gave Lillian a tiny, barely noticeable nod.

            “Lonnie, want to listen to some music?” Lillian asked, turning back around. Maybe that would help ease her new friend.

            “Oh, lemme choose!” Justin demanded, reaching forward.

            “Back away, little man,” Lonnie threatened, swatting his hand away. “I’m driving, I get to pick. Car rules.”

            “But you’re always driving!” Justin whined.

            “What a coincidence,” Lonnie drawled sarcastically. He turned the radio to a slow jazz station.

            Hannah watched in amusement from the back seat as Justin slouched back down and pouted. Then Lillian reached up and put her hand on his neck, massaging slowly. It was obvious to Hannah that for the couple this was a common occurrence, because Justin immediately leaned against Lillian’s shoulder, sighing in contentment.

            “Get a room!” Chris shouted. “How many times do I have to tell you?!”

            Well, that gives it away too.

            “Here we are, kids,” Lonnie announced, steering the SUV into a small parking lot.

            “Yay!” Chris exclaimed. “Food!” He hastily unbuckled his seat belt and launched out the door of the car before Lonnie had even parked.

            “That boy’s gonna get himself killed one day. And all I’m gonna say is ‘Thank the Lord,’” Lonnie said, shaking his head.

            Justin climbed out of the car and helped Lillian and Hannah out. “Thanks, Lon!” he called back.

            Then he turned back to the two girls. “Ready, ladies?” he asked, holding his elbows out.

            Lillian smiled and slipped under his arm. “Let’s go.”

            Hannah delicately placed her hand in the crook of his offered arm. She tried to take a calming breath. Ready as I’ll ever be.


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