Chapter 9

“Sometimes I feel like I'm a prisoner
I think I'm trapped here for a while.”

                        -“911”, Wyclef Jean f. Mary J. Blige



            Hannah stumbled hurriedly around her hotel room, checking behind doors and peering inside the small closet. She silently berated herself as her panic rose. Idiot! How do you manage to misplace a cello?! Mom is going to kill me.

            She paused in the middle of the room and took a much-needed calming breath. “Okay, let’s think rationally. I had the cello at the rehearsal. And I remember wheeling out to get in the car with the guys. But after that…” She had no clue, having been too caught up in meeting Bobbie and being dragged off by Lance.

            “Oh no,” she moaned. “I won’t have an instrument to play at rehearsal tomorrow! Then I’ll get kicked out of the orchestra, and then-”

            A quick rap on the door interrupted her train of thought. Why would someone be here at twelve-thirty in the morning?

            She peered cautiously through the peephole and saw a massive black man. It was one of the ‘N Sync bodyguards. What’s his name again? she wondered, unlocking the door. Not Lonnie, not Mike…

            “Dre!” she remembered, opening the door and greeting him.

            He nodded, smiling at her. “You forgot this in the car, Miss Hannah,” he explained, holding her cello case aloft. “Thought you would want it back.”

            She let out an enormous sign of relief. “Thank you so much! I was going crazy trying to remember what I did with it. You’re a lifesaver.”

            His eyes shined and he shrugged those broad shoulders. “It was no problem at all,” he said, handing it over to her.

            Dre turned away from the door, ready to leave now that his errand was done.

            “Wait,” Hannah entreated, pushing the cello case quickly inside the doorway and following him into the hallway. “Are you JC’s bodyguard?”

            “Well, sometimes. We switch off,” he answered, looking down at her diminutive height curiously. “Why?”

            She bit her lip, thinking her question over. “Is…he’s okay, right?” she asked in concern.

            He tipped his head to the side, contemplating her inquiry. And also, contemplating her. Finally he nodded. “The kid’ll be alright. He’s got friends on his side.” Then he winked at her and left.

            Hannah stared after him, his words echoing in her head. He’ll be alright. He’s got friends on his side. She went back into her room thoughtfully, closing the door quietly behind her. A slow smile spread across her face.

            He will be fine. He’s got me.


*                       *                       *


            “Miss Hannah,” Dre greeted, tipping his head.

            She waved at him. “Mister Dre,” she answered, smiling.

            From her side, Justin nudged her. “When did you and Dre get so chummy?” he wondered.

            “I don’t know,” Hannah replied. “He helped me out last night. I completely forgot my cello in the car, and he brought it back.”

            Justin nodded, understanding now. “I see. Yeah, he and the rest of the security team have a habit of saving all our butts.”

            “Appreciate it, little man,” Mike suggested, overhearing Justin’s remark. “Or else one day that valuable butt of yours will be dead. And then how will I get my paycheck?”

            Justin glared at him playfully. “Little man, huh? I ain’t so little anymore, in case you haven’t noticed.”

            “Nope,” Mike answered flippantly. “Not much to notice, if you get my drift.”

            Hannah laughed at the comeback and Justin stalked back to the bodyguard. “Now you’re gonna get it,” he threatened. “I call this the ‘White Tornado.’”

            As soon as the words were out of his mouth he jumped onto Mike’s back, trying to put him in a chokehold. His shouts immediately filled the auditorium, showing how well the acoustics actually were.

            Hannah rolled her eyes and continued down the aisle to the stage, leaving Justin to wrestle with Mike. Obviously, with Lillian gone, Justin had reverted to his twelve-year-old persona.

            She walked by the curtains to the stage, and almost screamed when someone popped out of them.

            “Boo!” Chris screeched, his head a mere two inches away from hers.

            “Chris!” she exclaimed. “Do not ever do that again.” She punctuated each word by slapping him on the arm.

            “Ouch!” he whined. “That hurts. Literally and figuratively.” Then he caught sight of someone behind her. “Quick, pretend I’m not here. Joey’s coming.”

            Before she could reply, he had disappeared among the curtains again.

            Hannah turned around and motioned Joey to slow down as he climbed the stairs to the stage. At his puzzled expression, she pointed at the curtains and mouthed Chris’ name.

            He nodded in understanding, a broad grin stretching his face. Stepping slowly in front of the curtains, he drew back his fist and then punched as hard as he could.

            “Holy damn, that hurts!” came Chris’ loud shout. After some coughing and sputtering, he pushed the curtains aside and reappeared. “Who did that?” he demanded, looking from Hannah to Joey and back.

            Both of them immediately pointed at Lance, who was talking with Sondheim a few feet away.

            Chris gazed at them suspiciously. “You must think I’m pretty stupid…” Then he turned to Lance. “Lance! Why’d you punch me, you jerk?!”

            Hannah and Joey were reduced to immature giggles as he stormed off. “Well, that just made my day,” Joey said in satisfaction. “Thanks.”

            She laughed. “No problem. It was payback for scaring me earlier.”

            He smiled and saw JC and Bobbie sitting in the audience. “I think I’ll go bother the lovebirds,” he suggested before leaving the stage.

            Hannah observed the couple. She wouldn’t have chosen ‘lovebirds’ to describe them. They were sitting next to each other, but that was all they were taking part in together. JC was planted in the middle of his seat, his elbows propped on the armrests and one of his legs bouncing up and down. Bobbie was drinking a bottle of water and leaning away from him, her eyes scanning the room. Neither of them were talking.

            Body language can sure tell a lot.

            “What’s going on, you two?” Joey asked, sitting down behind them.

            JC looked over his shoulder at his friend. “Same ol’, same ol.’ You?”

            Joey shrugged. “Ate some cookies, almost got a girl’s number, punched Chris. The usual.” He turned to Bobbie. “Having fun so far? The orchestra hasn’t even played yet. Believe me, they are good.”

            She smiled at him. “I can’t wait. I just hope I don’t fall asleep or anything. I’m kind of tired today.”

            Joey nodded. “That’s understandable. You guys had a late date yesterday.”

            JC tensed at hearing about last night. It had not been one of his best ones. And frankly, he had no wish to talk about it. Thankfully, Sondheim was tapping his baton on his stand, getting the attention of the orchestra.

            “Shh,” he said. “They’re going to begin soon.”

            The graceful strains of the violins started softly, then picked up strength as the cellos and violas joined in. Finally, the basses charged in, rounding out the entire sound. The bows of the different sections moved in complete unison, and JC was hypnotized by the synchronization of the entire orchestra. All the musicians even swayed together, following the same rhythm.

            As his eyes traveled across the stage, they settled on Hannah’s bent figure. Studying her, she seemed completely immersed in the song. Her head was crooked down to the fingerboard of the cello and her eyes were closed. I guess she wasn’t lying about not needing her glasses when she plays.

            Almost as if in a trance, JC stared at the graceful picture she made, admitting to himself that it held a certain allure. There’s just something…classy about her. But come on, this is Brat! And she did shove me last night.

            “Jace, are you listening? What are you looking at?” Bobbie asked, nudging him insistently.

            JC looked at her distractedly. “What? Oh! Nothing, I’m just spacing out,” he explained, giving her a small smile.

            Bobbie turned her gaze to the stage. “Isn’t that Hannah over there?” She pointed with one well-manicured finger. “She’s pretty good.”

            He cleared his throat. “Um, yeah. She knows how to play.” He wished his girlfriend would stop staring at Hannah with such sudden interest.

            Bobbie continued to look at her with rapt attention. As the cellos began their solo, she whipped her head around to regard JC. “Do you think she’s pretty?”

            JC, who had taken a sip of her water, nearly choked. “What?” he burst out after coughing a few times.

            “Do you think Hannah’s pretty,” Bobbie repeated, peering at him strangely.

            He cleared his throat. “Um…yeah, I guess. She’s not ugly or anything,” he said cautiously, not wanting to inadvertently say something wrong. “Why do you ask?”

            She sighed. “I don’t know…”

            He remained silent, knowing that she would eventually explain.

            “You don’t think she’s prettier than me, do you?” Bobbie finally asked, twirling a strand of hair around her finger and avoiding his gaze.

            JC looked down at her bent head, understanding why she had asked now. She felt insecure. But compared to Hannah? I don’t get that part at all. He launched into boyfriend-mode.

            “Babe,” he said in a soothing voice, “I don’t think she’s prettier than you. Of course not. You’re my girlfriend, not Hannah. You’re always beautiful in my eyes. No one else matters.”

            “Really?” she asked, giving him a small smile.

            He nodded. “Definitely.”

            The small smile stretched into a grin and she quickly gave him a hug. “I love you, Jace.”

            He slipped his arm around her shoulders, remaining quiet.


*                       *                       *


            “Oh, shoot!” Hannah exclaimed. She turned to Lance, who was standing idly beside her. “Quick, you have to hide me.”

            He looked at her, confused. “Why? What’s going on?” He scanned the street, and saw nothing out of the usual. Only the rest of the guys signing some autographs and milling around with the few fans who had showed up after rehearsal, their security, and the musicians from the orchestra heading to their hotels and homes.

            “Just say that I already left, if anyone asks,” she instructed quickly before disappearing into a store across the street.

            Lance stared after her, still completely lost.

            “Scoop, just the man I was looking for!” Chris said, running up to him with a rolled up piece of paper in his hand. “You gotta help me out.”

            “Why? What’s going on?” he asked for the second time in the last few minutes.

            “Hannah, that’s what!” Chris shouted. “I just found out. You know how I wrote her telephone number all over the bathroom stalls? Well, now I know what she did in return.”

            Lance began laughing. He had almost forgotten about that. “Hurry, tell me! What’d she do?”

            Chris hastily unrolled the paper in his hand and held it out to show Lance. “Need I say anymore?”

            Lance took one look at the paper and immediately started laughing even harder. He grabbed the paper, examined it more closely, and dropped it on the ground as he cracked up again.

            Chris glared at him and picked it up quickly. “Calm down, man! Shut up before you catch attention.”

            Lance took a few deep breaths and composed himself with some effort. “Sorry, Keebler, I couldn’t help it.”

            “Why is everyone calling me Keebler?!” Chris demanded, throwing his hands up in exasperation.

            “Maybe because you look like an elf,” he answered.

            Chris shook his head and got back to the issue at hand. He rolled up the paper and slipped it into his pocket. “I can’t believe she defaced all my promo shots!”

            Lance sighed. “She didn’t deface them. She only drew a mustache and some horns on. Colored some teeth in. No biggie.”

            “And how’d she do it anyway? I thought Johnny kept all our pictures hidden away somewhere,” Chris continued, ignoring Lance’s barely reassuring comment.

            “Nope, they’re his responsibility but he usually lets security hold all the extra copies. Johnny has more than enough of our pictures,” Lance replied. “Hannah must have talked her way through security.” Plus, after all the pranks Chris has pulled on them, they were probably more than willing to help out.

            Chris slammed his fist into his palm. “She’s a sly one, I’ll give her that.”

            “How’d you get that picture?” Lance asked.

            Chris groaned. “I was over with Justin and Joey signing some autographs, and one of the girls handed it to me. She looked a little surprised, to say the least.”

            Lance chuckled, imagining the expression on the girl’s face. “That must have been vintage.”

            Chris glared at his comment. “Now I have to find all the other pictures that are floating around the city right now.” He paused, thinking something over. “Wait, aren’t the extra copies the ones we send out through the fan club?”

            Lance tried to remember. “Yeah, I think so.”

            “Oh, no!” Chris shouted in panic, the possibility of millions of girls around the country receiving the marked-up picture in the mail dawning on him. “I have to go now. See you later, man.”

            Lance waved as Chris ran off, looking for someone to take him to the hotel. Seconds later, someone tapped his shoulder.

            “Am I good, or am I good?” Hannah asked, grinning proudly.

            He nodded with appreciation. “You are damn good, girl. That was impressive. Keebler’s days of prank king are over.”

            Hannah smiled, amused that Lance had started calling Chris by the nickname she had accidentally begun. “Let’s go celebrate. There’s a Starbucks the next block down. My treat.”

            He agreed. “Hold on, just let me grab someone to come with us.” He turned around and headed over to Mike, Dre, and Wesley standing nearby.

            She nodded in understanding and waited for Lance to find a bodyguard to accompany them. She couldn’t even begin to imagine what life would be like if she had to be with a chaperone at all times. Lance and I are the same age, but our lives are completely different.

            Moments later, he stood in front of her, this time with Wesley standing behind him. “All set to go,” he announced.

            They walked down the sidewalk, trying to be as discreet as possible. As the sound of their shoes scraping the concrete became awkwardly loud, Hannah decided to make with the small talk.

            “So tell me how you guys met Lillian.”


*                       *                       *


            Hannah nodded, the aromatic and comforting smell of the coffeehouse wafting into her nostrils. She took a sip of her heavily-creamed coffee. “What a stroke of good luck,” she said after she put the cup back down. “If you hadn’t been messing around with Chris on that elevator, nothing would have even happened.”

            “Yeah, it’s crazy, huh?” Lance commented. “I wonder where we’d all be now if everything took a different path. Justin would be with Britney and I would not have to put up with all the pranks, I can tell you that much.”

            “You know,” she began, leaning forward across the small table that separated them, “I’m glad that you all met. From what I’ve seen, she helps Josh.”

            “Oh yeah, sure,” Lance agreed, immediately noticing how Hannah’s light gray eyes softened as the mentioned his friend’s name. “They’re pretty close. She calls him her big sister, actually.”

            Hannah laughed. “That’s adorable.”

            Lance shrugged. “If you say so. I think it’s…well, let’s not go into that.” He drank a little of his black coffee, effectively closing the discussion.

            “Are you sure you don’t want any?” Hannah asked, pointing at some cream and sugar. She glanced at the dark liquid he was holding. She couldn’t stand black coffee. It was way too strong.

            He waved the offer away. “No, I love it black.”

            She stared at him with interest. “It’s weird, I think.”

            “What? What’s weird?”

            “Well, we’re the same age, right?” she asked. After he nodded, she went on. “But we’re so different. You’re like a full-blown businessman. You even drink your coffee black! I think only my dad does that. And then on the other end of the spectrum, there’s me. It’s like I’m still a kid.”

            “No offense or anything, but you are a kid,” Lance responded, smiling. “This business really forces you to grow up quick.”

            “But you love it anyway,” Hannah said, not asking a question but stating a fact.

            “Of course. There are some downers, obviously, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Well, maybe becoming an astronaut. That would be sweet,” Lance decided.

            She smiled at him. “You know what I think you should do? Not just you, but all of ‘N Sync.”


            “You should prove how good you really are. Simply amaze all the critics. And also broaden your fan base,” Hannah answered. “I think it could happen.”

            Lance scoffed. “Believe me, we’ve been trying. Thanks for the support though.”

            She raised her shoulders thoughtfully. “I’ve got a few ideas.” Then she smiled. “All in due time.”

            He regarded her serious expression, wondering what she had in mind. Who could tell? She was definitely a lot harder to read than Lillian.

            “You know, from what you’ve told me, I wouldn’t have guessed that Lillian and Justin would be the perfect couple,” she said suddenly, almost as if she read his mind.

            “Love is a crazy thing,” he replied simply.

            She nodded slowly, contemplating his words. “That’s true. It’s very true.”

            Quickly finishing the rest of his coffee, he stole a glance at his watch. “Shoot, I have to get on a conference call in about ten minutes. I’ll see you later, alright?”

            Hannah nodded and waved as he left the Starbucks, Wesley trailing behind him.

            Well, this gives me some free time. Now I only have to figure out what to do.


*                       *                       *


Only ten years old

Fell in love with you

Everyone I told

Hoping you’d love me too.


It was simply puppy love

But I thought it was much more

I was sure that fate had nudged

You to knock on my door.


You were the boy next door

The closest I ever came to perfection

I was only the girl next door

Didn’t know I’d face rejection.


            Hannah put her pencil down and reread her words. Not entirely true, but it’s not bad. She quickly jotted down a couple more stanzas before flipping the notepad’s cover back to the front. Tossing it carelessly on the hotel bed, she stood up and stretched.

            The day had been uneventful, to say the least. After leaving Starbucks she had gone back to the concert hall, but everyone had already left. Then she’d returned to her hotel and spent the hours practicing the cello and writing.

            Four straight hours of practicing. Although to some it may have seemed a little extreme, she was more than used to the strenuous schedule. Talent hadn’t come on its own in this case. She examined her fingers, checking for any blisters. Thankfully, there were none.

            Across the room the phone rang. “Hello?” she asked, picking it up.

            “Hey there, sexy lady,” a sleazy voice said. “I’m looking for a good time tonight. You interested?”

            She rolled her eyes. “I don’t speak English.”

            “Huh? But you just-“

            “Sorry!” she interrupted before slamming the phone down. “I am going to kill Chris.”


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