been awhile since I first saw you
It's been a while since I could stand
On my own two feet again.”
-“It’s Been Awhile,” Staind
“I wanna order now! Please let me order!” Joey begged, almost
bouncing in his chair from impatience.
“Calm down,” Lance admonished him, grabbing his friend’s shoulder
and giving him a firm yank. “We have to wait for everyone else to get here.
You know that.”
“It’s a stupid rule,” Joey retorted, throwing his menu down and
picking up the little glass container full of soy sauce. “Why did we make
“Because last time we went out to eat you decided to empty the
kitchen,” JC reminded him. “You only have yourself to blame.”
Joey scoffed. “I didn’t empty the kitchen! I just…ate
everything. Big deal.”
Lance rolled his eyes discreetly. “Uh huh,” he mumbled under his
breath. “’Big’ being the word.”
“What was that, Poofu?” Joey demanded.
“Nothing, nothing,” Lance drawled, trying to ignore the quiet
snickers coming from JC.
“Well, all’s I’m saying is, if they don’t get their butts here
soon, I’m going to drink this soy sauce,” Joey continued. He held the sauce
up to eye level. “It can’t be that bad. Just like sugar…only kinda
“Put it down,” JC warned him.
“I don’t know,” Joey mused. “It’s the same color as Coke. Maybe
if I held my nose shut…”
“I brought the ladies!” a shout proclaimed.
“Thank god,” Lance breathed. “Just in time.”
Joey put the soy sauce back on the table and looked up to greet the new
arrivals. Justin was dragging a small table over to make room for everyone, and
Chris was grabbing some chairs from the side of the private dining room. Lillian
stood next to a young woman with glasses, whispering to her.
“Hey!” Joey said, eager to meet any new female. “I’m Joey.”
The woman nodded at him, smiling shyly. “I’m Hannah.”
“Here you go,” Justin offered, pushing one of the wooden chairs
“Thank you,” she replied, sitting down.
Justin nodded and went to help Lillian get seated from across the table.
Hannah watched quietly as the people around her exchanged smiles and
greetings. Lonnie, who she guessed was a sort of bodyguard-friend, had joined
another large man at a separate table a few feet away. Chris, after retrieving
the chairs, ran over to the extra seat next to Joey and sat down, helping
himself to Joey’s water.
Her gaze took in the sight of Lance and Lillian, who were mulling over a
copy of the menu while Justin looked on from behind Lillian’s shoulder. And
She didn’t have to look far to observe him. Fate was weird, because she
was in the seat right next to him. He hadn’t noticed yet, though, because he
was laughing over something Chris had said.
To any other person, they looked like a group of close friends taking a
break from their young lives to eat at a Chinese restaurant together. Which,
essentially, they are.
Hannah didn’t feel right in including herself in the group. She was
just a guest, really. The chemistry that hovered over the rest of them didn’t
expand to cover her.
She thanked a waiter who placed a glass of water in front of her and
picked it up, sipping slowly. Glancing around the room, she took notice of the
typical Asian decorations adorning every corner. Red fans and golden-framed
mirrors were hung on the walls, and the lighting was dim to create more of an
She wasn’t surprised at the smallness of the restaurant, or the fact
that it was one of Josh’s favorites. He had always loved Chinese food, and
when they were small he would brag about how he had learned to use chopsticks so
quickly. And he had preferred the tiny, roadside restaurants to the large and
modern joints that sprung up. ‘All hype and no food,’ he would always
“Everyone, let me introduce you to Hannah,” Lillian said,
interrupting her thoughts.
Hannah smiled and saw from the corner of her eye as Josh turned to look
at her. It would be any minute now. He would recognize her. She nudged her
glasses up and stared into those blue eyes, easily drowning in their depths like
she had done twelve years ago.
“Hi, it’s nice to meet you,” he said politely.
The smile remained pasted on her face as he turned back around to ask
Joey something. He’ll turn back any second now. He has to. It’s
impossible that he forgot me…right? But the seconds passed torturously,
and she continued to smile at his back.
“Hannah, I’m sorry. What was your last name again?” Lillian asked,
not noticing what had happened.
“Coverly,” she whispered.
“That’s right! I knew it started with a C. Sorry. Everyone, Hannah Coverly,”
Lillian elaborated. “She’s the first cello in the orchestra.”
“And she went to Juilliard,” Justin added, nodding matter-of-factly.
He laughed as Hannah gave a sigh and Lillian smiled proudly.
JC’s brow creased and he stared into the air for a second. Hannah
Coverly. This feels like deja-vu or something. He swiveled in his seat and
gave the girl next to him a glance. She was already staring at him when he
Coverly, you come home right now! It’s time for dinner, and no more playing
“Go on, Brat, your mom’s calling,” Casey said. “Time for that
baby food! Oh, yum!”
She scowled at him and the rest of the jeering boys in front of her.
“Yeah, you would know.”
Josh laughed, the sound echoing in the night’s darkness and joining
with the chirps of crickets. “Sorry, Brat. You gotta go.”
Hannah gave an angry sigh and brushed the sweat off her forehead with the
back of her hand. “Fine. But all of you will get it tomorrow. Don’t call me
He laughed again and punched her roughly on the shoulder. “Sure
She raced off through the grass and he stared at her rapidly disappearing
figure in the dusk, feeling something between exasperation and affection. But
more exasperation. She was Brat, after all.
Hannah gazed into Josh’s eyes, pleading for him to remember her. Then
it finally happened, as if in slow-motion. She could see as the blue in his eyes
cleared and recognition dawned on him.
“Hi, Josh,” she said quietly, waiting for his reaction. I missed
you so much. I can’t believe I’m talking to you right now, face to face.
A smile stretched across his lean face. “Brat! How’s it going?” He
reached out and knocked her on the shoulder.
…want to kill you. She gaped at him, not quite willing to
believe her ears. Twelve years apart, and the first thing he said to her was
‘Brat.’ Not ‘Hannah,’ but ‘Brat.’ No one had called her that in so
long, and the old hatred of the nickname quickly came back.
“It’s Hannah now,” she answered icily.
He looked at her. “It’s JC now,” he replied evenly.
“Um…guys?” Joey asked tentatively. “You wanna fill the rest of us
Hannah turned away from him and saw that everyone else at the table was
watching them with interest. “We-“
“She hung around when I was small,” JC interrupted. “Our own
She gave him a warning glance. “Don’t even start.”
“When’d you get glasses, anyway?” he asked, ignoring the word of
“When you stare at sheets and sheets of music, your eyes aren’t what
they used to be,” Hannah explained, exasperated. Great. First he calls me
Brat, and then he asks when I started wearing glasses. Not even anything like
‘It’s good to see you again’ or ‘You’ve grown up.’
you were childhood friends, then?” Justin asked.
“Kind of,” Hannah responded hesitantly.
“Not really,” JC said at the same time.
The two immediately scowled at each other.
“Excuse me, I have to wash my hands,” Lillian said, standing up. She
looked meaningfully at Hannah and raised her eyebrows.
“Um…me, too,” Hannah quickly agreed, catching on. She followed
Lillian out of the small room.
JC stared after the two ladies, shaking his head. “Man, talk about a
blast from the past,” he murmured.
“Wait, I’m not following this at all,” Chris spoke up, completely
confused. “If you’re not friends, then what were you?”
JC shrugged. “I don’t know. She followed me and my friends around.
Like a major tomboy, you know what I mean? Always trying to play with the boys
and stuff. Our parents were friends, so I kind of had to let her tag along. We
called her Brat. She sure hated that.”
“She still does,” Lance observed. “You don’t like her?”
“It’s not that I don’t like her,” JC explained. “It’s
just that…I don’t not like her.”
“Wait!” Chris exclaimed again. “What?! I am not getting
this. At all.”
“He’s saying that she was annoying when they were kids but he
didn’t hate her or anything,” Justin clarified. “Remember how we told you
about Christina when we were on the ‘Mickey Mouse Club’? How she was this
pesky little kid? Like that.”
“Oh. I guess I understand. Barely,” Chris answered.
“I don’t know,” Joey interjected. “I think she’s kinda cute.”
“Christina? I suppose…” JC said.
“No, idiot! I meant Hannah!” Joey replied, rolling his eyes.
“Although now that you mention it, Christina’s not too bad either.”
JC decided to ignore the last part of that comment and focus on what his
friend had said about Hannah. “Cute? I’m not too sure about that.”
“I’m with Joey on this one,” Lance decided. “I can see something
“Yeah, she’s not like my Princess,” Justin added, “But there’s
a certain quality.”
JC scoffed. “If you guys had known her when she was ten, you wouldn’t
be saying stupid things like that. Cute. Whatever.”
A waiter appeared by the table. “Ready to order?”
Joey grinned at him, pulling open the menu with relish. “Well, let’s
start with appetizers.”
“You knew him? And you didn’t tell me?” Lillian almost screeched.
“I can’t believe it!”
“I’m sorry,” Hannah said, trying to calm her new friend. She walked
to the end of the small bathroom, peering under the two stall doors to check if
anyone else was in there. Luckily, it was empty. “I didn’t even know if
he’d remember me.”
“Well, he remembered you,” Lillian said. “No doubt about that.”
“Too bad he remembered ‘Brat’,” Hannah answered. She sighed. “I
always had the biggest crush on him. It was horrible.”
Lillian perked up at hearing that. “Crush? How so?”
“I would follow him around all day, trying to play with him and his
macho guy friends. I was such a cry-baby! No wonder I got a bad nickname,”
Hannah said with regret. “Anyway, to make a long story short, he won a talent
contest and left for the ‘Mickey Mouse Club’ a few weeks later. And that was
the end of that.”
Lillian nodded, not missing the trace of sadness in her voice. “That
must have been devastating.”
“And the odd thing is, he was the reason I began playing the cello in
the first place. I saw him singing and dancing on TV, and I thought that music
was the way to go. So I picked up an instrument.” Hannah paused, remembering
how badly she had wanted to be good at playing the cello. Just so she could
maybe see Josh again one day. And this was the day. Too bad things didn’t
exactly go as I had hoped.
“So this was the first time you saw each other in years, huh?”
Hannah nodded. “Pretty much.” She gave an angry sigh. “I still
can’t get over the fact that he called me ‘Brat,’ and then he punched
“Well, not so much a punch. More like…a strong nudge,” Lillian
Hannah gave her a look.
“You’re right. He punched you. What a jerk,” Lillian quickly
corrected. “But I’m sure he was only caught up in the moment of seeing you
again. JC’s not usually like that with women.”
Hannah remembered how he acted with Lindsey. Like a perfect gentleman.
“You’re right. I’m being melodramatic.”
“We’ll go back out there and you’ll see how he is now,” Lillian
assured her. “Very sophisticated.”
“Joey, we’re not in a Japanese restaurant. There is no wasabi
whatsoever,” Lance pointed out.
Joey shrugged. “So sue me for trying.” He grabbed a bowl of rice and
helped himself to some more. “Man, Jace, you were right when you chose this
place. Good food.”
JC smiled proudly. “I am an connoisseur of all things good and fine.”
“Speaking of fine,” Justin drawled, slipping his arm around Lillian
as she sat down at the table again.
She blushed and ruffled his hair. “Not exactly, but thank you
“Anytime,” he answered, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.
JC stared at the two of them for what seemed like the millionth time in
the past few days. How are they so happy? What am I doing wrong? He
caught himself before he could get too depressed and did a little mental shake.
“So how have things been?” he asked Hannah who had just returned to
her chair beside him. Small talk could take his mind off more trying matters.
She smiled at him, relieved that he was talking to her. “I’ve been
alright. I love playing the cello, so I’m glad I got a position in your
JC nodded, understanding her passion for music. “I think it’ll be a
whole new experience to perform with a live orchestra. And at the Grammy’s,
nonetheless. Maybe ‘N Sync will get some recognition from critics.”
Hannah was about to answer him when Chris’ laugh pierced the air and
“Come on, Joey, you have to finish it all!” Chris exclaimed between
cackles of laughter.
“Man, lay off him,” Lance admonished, but he still couldn’t
restrain himself from laughing along with his friend.
Joey’s face was puckered and he looked like he was about to throw up or
pass out. “Water, please,” he gasped, holding his hand out.
JC quickly gave him his glass.
Hannah watched in fascination as Joey gulped all of the water down before
he sat back and sighed in relief.
“Never again, Chris. Never again,” he said with resolve.
“Alright, boys, what just happened here?” JC asked. “I don’t even
know if I want to find out.”
“Chris dared Joey to put soy sauce, duck sauce, and hot peppers in his
water, and then drink all of it,” Lance reported, still smiling. He took the
abandoned drink and passed it down the table.
“No, that’s not true!” Chris interrupted, seeing JC give him a
warning glance. “There was fish in there too.”
“Ew, Joey, that’s sick. Why’d you even do it?” Justin asked,
picking up the half-empty concoction and smelling it cautiously.
“Twenty bucks,” Joey explained, an expression of ‘duh’ on his
Everyone groaned with the exception of Chris, who smiled knowingly.
“Guys!” Joey protested. “Come on! Twenty bucks. How could I
pass that up?”
Hannah looked at Lillian. “Wait. And they sold how many
JC swirled the merlot in his glass, watching the red liquid shine in the
light. There was only a little bit left, and he quickly downed it in one
swallow. It had been a good dinner. Apart from the Chris and Joey incident, of
course. Then he smiled. Even that was pretty interesting.
He placed the glass back on the table and looked around at his friends
surrounding him. Joey was cracking open all the fortune cookies with Chris’
help, searching for the best fortune. Lance and Lillian were laughing as Justin
related a story to them, imitating the people in it. And last is Brat…I
She was sitting quietly and watching Justin do his imitations, laughing
every so often. JC observed her unobtrusively. He had to admit that she didn’t
look half bad. The mousy brown hair from before was cut shoulder length and was
now a darker, more classic shade of brown. Although not scrawny anymore, she was
still slender, but had filled out considerably. He tried to peer more closely at
her face, but her hair had come untucked from behind her ear and now shielded
Well, she’s not a kid anymore. But he wasn’t sure about the
Brat part. Hannah had been relatively subdued the whole night, at least compared
to how she had acted when they were kids. No insults or loud comments at all.
Hannah laughed again as Justin finished his story with enthusiasm. From
what she had seen so far, he was a wonderful person. Lillian sure was lucky. But
she deserves it. She paused, feeling like someone was watching her.
Looking up abruptly, she saw JC turn away quickly and say something to
Joey. She shrugged. Other than a few comments, he hadn’t said anything more to
“Okay, everyone, ready to go?” Lonnie asked, appearing at the end of
They stood up in a flurry, talking and laughing. Outside in the typical
New York wintry cold, Hannah felt strangely warm. Granted, the night was chilly
and everyone held their coats close to their bodies, but the amiability
emanating from her new friends was amazing. For the first time in what seemed
like ages, she was completely comfortable in a large group of relatively new
She shook her head. It was odd.
“Okay, how are we gonna do this?” Chris asked, looking from the two
SUVs to the group gathered in the parking lot.
“We’ll drop Hannah off,” Lillian said.
Justin nodded his agreement, holding Lillian close to his body to protect
her from the cold.
“You wanna come?” he asked JC.
All eyes turned to JC and after a few seconds he shrugged. “Fine with
me. If it’s okay with Brat.”
Hannah scoffed. There goes the warmth. “I don’t care,” she
replied, climbing into the car.
JC laughed at her affront. He always got a kick out of teasing her. And
it managed to distract him from other things troubling his life. Like Bobbie.
He followed her into the SUV.
“See you back at the hotel,” Justin called to the others before
closing the door behind him.
“Don’t be such a dork, Josh,” Hannah replied. She ignored his
smirking face and turned to Lillian and Justin. “Thanks for inviting me along.
I had a good time.”
“Sure!” Lillian answered, smiling. “We’ll see you tomorrow at the
Hannah nodded and waved as she headed back into the hotel lobby. As soon
as the SUV pulled away from the curb, both Lillian and Justin turned to glare at
“What?” he asked, putting on an innocent expression.
“You know what! Don’t even try to pretend like nothing happened,”
Justin accused. “Stop me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Hannah
appreciated your jerkiness tonight.”
JC gave a sigh of exasperation. “Oh, come on, J! She’s used to it.
This was nothing compared to what Casey used to do when we were small.
Hannah’s got a tough skin. Don’t worry about it.”
“But she’s no different from any other female,” Lillian argued.
“If you treat them with respect, she deserves the same!” She couldn’t
understand how JC could be the utmost gentleman with fans and the public and
then become a sophomoric jerk to a childhood neighbor.
JC looked at his two friends, not understanding why they were getting on
his case. Hannah was Hannah. The little pesky tomboy. She had been able
to handle the teasing twelve years ago, so she was more than capable now.
“She’s not a baby. If she has a problem with me, she would have said
“Uh, moron, she did say something,” Justin replied. “I
counted at least five times when she reminded you that her name is Hannah and
“And that’s leaving out the number of glares,” Lillian added.
JC rolled his eyes and looked out of the tinted window, trying to dismiss
the two critical gazes he was receiving. “Can we not talk about this anymore?
I was actually enjoying this night, and you know that I can’t do that much
Lillian turned back around in her seat, suddenly feeling a little guilty.
It was true that JC had been troubled lately, mainly because of Bobbie problems.
He had actually looked carefree at dinner, for once.
“You’re right,” she assented. She tugged Justin’s arm and he left
JC alone with some reluctance. “The restaurant was pretty good,” she said,
changing the subject.
“Yeah. I’m glad you liked it,” he responded, grateful that Lillian
had understood. “It sucks that you’re leaving soon. There are so many more
restaurants I want to show you.”
“Well, college is college. I can’t put it off,” Lillian said with
“I hate it when you leave,” Justin complained. He pouted and laid his
head on her shoulder. “Why can’t you quit school and become my personal
Lillian laughed. “And what does that job entail?”
Justin grinned, all sorts of wicked ideas running through his mind.
“Well…there would be daily sponge baths and neck rubs, cooking my food,
doing the laundry, and of course worshiping the perfection that is the
“Wow,” JC breathed sarcastically. “Forget Lily, hire me!”
“Yeah, I’ll pass,” Lillian decided. “I’m sure JC would make an
excellent personal slave.”
“Sorry, but I don’t swing that way,” Justin answered, moving his
JC was about to make a joke but the ringing of his cell phone stopped
him. “Hello?” he asked, although he had a feeling he already knew who it
was. He didn’t even have to check the caller ID.
Justin nudged Lillian as he overheard a woman’s high voice come from
the phone. “Guess who,” he muttered.
“Bobbie?” she mouthed back silently.
He nodded. “Who else would it be.” Before, he hadn’t really cared
about Bobbie and JC’s relationship one way or the other, deciding that JC
could make his own choices about women. But these constant calls were really
starting to annoy him. And I’m not even rooming with Jace. Joey must be
Lillian was getting more and more of a bad vibe from Bobbie. If this
woman could fluster the usually tolerant JC and manage to change Justin’s
initial impression of her, something had to be up.
The silence in the car was stifling, and JC’s voice sounded
self-conscious to the other three occupants around him.
“Can we listen to some music, Lonnie?” Lillian asked.
The sounds of jazz quickly flooded over the speakers.
“Oh, yes, I love sax,” Justin said, laughing. “Especially sax on
the beach. Sax is good anywhere, anytime. You know what I’m talking ‘bout,
Lonnie shook his head, trying to suppress his smile. “Sure thing,
little man. Sure thing.”
“Because whenever I hear it,” Justin continued, “I get so excited.
It’s so hot. And on the beach, it’s wet too. I love sax when it’s hot and
Lillian clapped her hand over her mouth, trying to stop her laughter.
“Who’s with me?!” Justin shouted. “I love sax!”
“Justin, be quiet,” Lillian urged him, her cheeks hurting from
holding in the laughter. She darted a quick glance at JC, who had a hand over
his other ear in order to hear Bobbie better.
“And let’s not even start with pianists,” Justin said, lisping like
Janice from ‘Friends’. “Oh my gawd.”
That was it. Lillian burst out laughing and Lonnie’s massive shoulders
shook with his chuckles. Justin looked at them, grinning proudly.
“Who is that?” Bobbie demanded.
“Nothing, babe. Just Justin being an idiot,” JC replied, rolling his
eyes. He reached out a smacked his friend on the back of his head.
“No, I heard a woman laughing,” Bobbie persisted. “Why is she with
“Bobbie, that’s only Lillian. She’s a friend. Calm down,” JC
“Well, I’ll meet her soon. I’m dropping by on Thursday,” Bobbie
informed him. Silence was her only response. “JC! Did you hear me?”
“Yes, yes I heard you,” he quickly answered, coming out of his daze. Why
does she have to visit? Then he caught himself. Wait, why am I even
asking that? I should be happy that Bobbie’s coming! I should…but
“So I’ll come to the concert hall that day, okay? I have to go now,
I’ll see you then.”
JC ended the call and looked at the seat in front of him, where Lillian
and Justin were now discussing something quietly, their heads touching. Then he
glanced at the empty space next to him. Things had been like that lately.