Chapter 6

“It's 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 that, anyway?”

            “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 tangy.”

            “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 behind her.

            “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 Josh…

            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 atmosphere.

            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 complain.

            “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 turned around.

            Hannah Coverly…


             “Hannah Coverly, you come home right now! It’s time for dinner, and no more playing outside!”

            “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 Brat!”

            He laughed again and punched her roughly on the shoulder. “Sure thing…Brat.”

            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. I…

            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 in?”

            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 brat.”

            She gave him a warning glance. “Don’t even start.”

            “When’d you get glasses, anyway?” he asked, ignoring the word of caution.

            “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.’

            “So 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.”

            JC nodded.

            “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 there.”

            “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?” Lillian asked.

            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 me!”

            “Well, not so much a punch. More like…a strong nudge,” Lillian reasoned optimistically.

            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 anyway.”

            “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 orchestra.”

            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 interrupted them.

            “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 face.

            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 albums?”


*                       *                       *


            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 mean Hannah.

            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 his view.

            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 her.

            “Okay, everyone, ready to go?” Lonnie asked, appearing at the end of the table.

            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 people.

            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.


*                       *                       *


            “Later, Brat!”

            “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 rehearsal.”

            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 JC.

            “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 something.”

            “Uh, moron, she did say something,” Justin replied. “I counted at least five times when she reminded you that her name is Hannah and not Brat.”

            “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 anymore.”

            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 some regret.

            “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 assistant?”

            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 Timberlake.”

            “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 eyebrows meaningfully.

            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 going insane.

            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, right Lon?”

            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 wet. Mmm.”

            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 you?”

            “Bobbie, that’s only Lillian. She’s a friend. Calm down,” JC pleaded.

            “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 I’m not.

            “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.



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