Chapter 1

“Late at night when all the world is sleeping,

I stay up and think of you.”

                                    -Selena, “Dreaming”



“This tour is gonna crunk!”

            “Justin, if you use that stupid word one more time I will crunk you,” threatened his friend sitting nearby. The two were sitting around a large oak table in one of the private conference rooms located in the Jive Studio building. The rest of ‘N Sync and the studio executives had yet to arrive, but Justin and Chris were easily occupying themselves in the meantime.

            “Sorry, Chris, but you got to admit, we are so gonna take it to another level,” Justin replied, not the least embarrassed about his excitement over the group’s new tour. They had worked so hard throughout the past six months, rewriting songs, re-deciding who would sing which part, and recording hours on end until every last note and harmony were perfect. And to everyone’s immense pride, this time around they were given artistic freedom. Meaning, they were able to write their own songs and lyrics to be included on the new album. It was a big and long-awaited step to distancing the group from the stereotypical boy-band image, and Justin could not have been happier.

            “Yes J, we are so gonna blow the lid off this Popsicle stand,” Chris mockingly said, imitating Justin’s words. At twenty-nine, he had been scared that their fame and fifteen minutes were up. However, knowing that ‘N SYNC were soon to embark on their first ever stadium tour and release a whole new album, he was comforted that he wasn’t going to fade into obscurity anytime soon. Still, he was twenty-nine, and appearances had to be kept up.

            “That’s right Calvin Klein, it’s time to blow this joint,” chimed in another voice. “I’m tired of the dull life. Time to get back on tour.”

            “Thank you, Joey, yes I am a good designer, and I agree. I’m getting all fat and lazy without hectic schedules and mind-blowing dance moves,” Chris said, answering the third member to arrive.

            “Fat and lazy? It doesn’t matter if we’re on a bus or in a studio, you’re always fat and lazy,” Joey retorted. He had just come back from a trip to the drugstore to experiment with some more hair colors before he decided on a permanent one for the tour.

            You’re always fat and lazy,” Chris mimicked. “Speak for yourself El Lardo.”

            Joey was caught thinking of a suitable comeback when JC and Lance slammed open the door of the room and interrupted his train of thought. They collapsed into the chairs alongside the others, panting for some unknown reason.

            “’Sup with you?” inquired Justin from his place at JC’s right. He was just about to stick a big wad of gum on the seat, but his intended target had to come on time. Well, relatively on time. JC was only ten minutes late.

            “Ugh, long story short,” answered Lance, “It involved a call to KFLA during traffic, perceptive fans in the other lane, and a chase through the parking lot.”

            JC finally spoke up, laughing as he said, “It was hilarious. Just like the ‘Bye, Bye, Bye’ video. Except Lance was driving, and he kept stopping at all the yellow lights. Even with those girls following us! Moron!”

            The others burst into laughter upon hearing this. Lance was notorious for being the most law-abiding citizen of them all. Maybe law-abiding wasn’t an extreme enough description. Something more along the lines of-

            “Granny Bass!” exclaimed Justin. “Oh dear, let’s see . . . I’m only going ten miles under the speed limit. Better slow down!” he said in a dead-on impersonation of a seventy-year-old woman.

            The others began laughing again, and Lance grudgingly joined in.

            The door to the room opened again, albeit this time much more slowly, and silence descended over the five men. The various managers and executives of the album and tour filed in stately, clutching their attaché cases, cell phones, and laptops. Johnny spoke up.

            “Alright boys, let’s get to business.”


*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *


            Oh my gosh, I have to call Karen. She won’t believe this!

            The petite girl rushed through the lobby of the technology building and ran down the large stone steps. A few people stopped to look curiously at the obviously excited girl, but she ignored their stares. They’d be running too, if they heard what I just heard.

            Lillian Oswald raced across the quad and into her dorm room in the Whooten Hall. She grabbed the phone as soon as she was in the room and as an afterthought went back to close the door. Tapping her foot impatiently, she counted the number of rings before her friend Karen’s answering machine picked up.

            “Hey, this is Karen and Mary’s room, we aren’t avail-“

            Lillian slammed down the phone, groaning in frustration. Where is she? Wait; maybe she just got out of class. She snatched her jacket from her bed and yanked open the door, only to almost run into the person she was looking for.

            “Karen!” she exclaimed. “Hurry up, I have the best news to tell you!” She took Karen’s arm and practically propelled her into the room and into the only chair free from books and clothes.

            Karen laughed as she allowed herself to be shoved into the chair. “What’s up?”

            “Well, today in class Mr. Lee-“ Lillian sat down on the bed. “Hold on, let me catch my breath.”

            Her friend smiled indulgently at her. It wasn’t often that she could see Lillian so worked up over something. If it was her, it would have been about a guy, but knowing her reserved friend, it was probably about her classes.

            “Okay, let me start again. Today in Tech., Mr. Lee said that he had chosen the group to intern this semester, and guess who was included?!”

            “Lemme guess, Larry Singer!”

            Lillian sent a quick glare at her sarcastic friend, before continuing in her good news. Larry was known around campus to be a slacker who depended on his father’s wealth to stay in college. “No . . .me! Can you believe that? I get to finally gain some experience. I’ve waited so long for someone to believe in my abilities and now I’m actually receiving a chance to prove myself. It’s like someone up there’s smiled on me!” Her radiant smile broke the planes of her ordinary face, and her whole appearance changed.

            Karen grinned proudly at the person she had met on the first day of college. She knew that Lillian had struggled hard to be where she was today, and she couldn’t be happier for her. “Well,” she said, “I know for sure that someone is smiling on you. Do you know where the internship is going to be?”

            Lillian paused for a moment. “Actually, Mr. Lee never told us. He said that for students of our caliber, the program would be top-notch. Wait, I remember now. He said that he would call us when he found out where we would be working.”

            As if on cue, the phone that had been slammed down in a hurry before now rang insistently. Lillian and Karen exchanged looks that seemed to say, Okay, that was a little odd. Lillian quickly reached over to answer whomever was calling.

            “Hello? Oh, hello Mr. Lee. I’m fine, thank you, and you? That’s good.”

            Karen rolled her eyes as she witnessed the small talk. That was Lillian, always remembering her manners even in such a wound up state. Finally, she heard that the conversation was getting interesting.

            “Oh you did? Where? What?! Um, excuse me, I meant . . .that’s nice to hear. Okay, first thing tomorrow. Thank you again!” She quickly hung up, and turned to her friend with her dark eyes shining. She was positively ready to burst, and even more excited than before, if that was humanly possible.

            “So,” prompted Karen, “What did he say?”

            Measuring out her words carefully to avoid shouting, Lillian replied, “Remember that poster I used to have? With the five guys on it?”

            “Yeah, ‘N Sync. Didn’t you throw that away? You said you were getting too old to be a teeny-bopper.”

            “Well, I’ll probably have to buy a new one now. Because I am going to be working as a technician on the new tour!” Having abandoned her attempts to be calm, she ended her sentence with a scream.

            Karen replied in the same manner. “Oh my gosh, you’re going on tour with five of the hottest guys in the country!” They grabbed each other, and together took a trip back to their boy-band worshipping days by commencing to scream at the top of their lungs.


*                       *                       *                       *                       *


            Don’t be homesick. Don’t be nervous. It’s all a state of mind . . . just a simple state of mind. Who am I kidding here? It’s ‘N Sync!

            Lillian almost screamed aloud again, before remembering where she was. The coach section of the plane heading to Florida was packed full, and she knew that the sleeping families and business people around her would not appreciate her expressing her feelings at this time. She remembered what Karen had told her right before she left to board the plane.

            ‘Go get ‘em girl! Show the world who you are and what you can do. And pick up a guy for me.’

            She giggled to herself, loving her friend’s flamboyance and encouraging words. She wasn’t strong like Karen, and certainly not as attractive. Most of the time she tried to keep herself busy, but it was during quiet moments like this that she would wish for some more confidence and poise. However, there was no use in being glum. It was best to keep her mind occupied.

            She pulled out her laptop and began to look through all the files about ‘N Sync she had saved and downloaded right before she had left. As she randomly opened a picture of the group, she found herself staring into Justin’s piercing blue eyes. It’s like he’s looking at me. Ugh, get real Lillian. He wouldn’t notice you even if you passed him in an empty hallway.

            Unhappily, she shut down her computer and stared at the seat in front of her. This was the real reason she stopped collecting ‘N Sync memorabilia and obsessing about them. She was knocked out of her love-struck daze when she looked in the mirror one day and knew that it was hopeless for someone like her to dream about such attractive guys, not to mention famous, successful, and lusted after by millions of beautiful girls around the country. It was a harsh reality, but unavoidable, and from then on she focused her thoughts on school. Never ‘N Sync, never college boys, but always school. And it was because of her hard work since then that she was in this position now. She couldn’t ever forget that.


*                       *                       *                       *                       *


            The frantic rushing between people and buses was hypnotizing. He could easily stare at the scene all day and try to figure out who everyone was and what they were doing. Sometimes when he had nothing else to do he liked to observe the people around him and attempt to place them. Did that gray-haired woman have grandchildren? Did she write them often? What about the young man, even younger than him. Did he have a girlfriend he missed back home? And that small woman, loaded down with papers and talking frantically into a cell phone. Was she happy with her job? This was an ingrained habit of his. People always noticed him, but he wasn’t always able to see them. Of course he saw them, but he meant in a deeper sense. He was staring at a caravan of shuttle buses that had just pulled into the large parking lot when he was interrupted.

            “Justin, get over here! You need to get your stuff and say good-bye, we’re pulling out soon,” came the call from across the bustle of the parking lot.

            He stood up leisurely, stretched his long body, and quickly headed over to talk to his mom one last time in person.

            “I’m going to miss seeing your face everyday, sweetheart,” Lynn whispered to her son. She unashamedly let her eyes water up as she took in his appearance. It looked like he was even taller than before, and when he returned he would probably be half a foot taller. His curly blonde hair was shorn short, and she wished she could be alongside him as it grew long again and would need a woman’s touch to tame.

            Justin bent down to hug his mother tightly, quietly whispering back to her. He didn’t care who noticed their actions, he was proud of the tight bond he was able to maintain with his mom. “Don’t worry, ma, I’ll call you. You know I’ll keep in touch. And tell the others I love them.” The rest of his family couldn’t make it that morning. After all, it was 4:30. The light hadn’t even broken over the horizon yet. He gave his mother one last hug before striding over to the guys to board their bus.

            Joey had already said good-bye to his family, and so had JC. Lance was still talking to his mom, and Chris was laughing at something his father was showing him.

            “’Sup boys! Time to get this party started!”  The solemnity had left his face, and now he was looking forward to sleepless nights, screaming fans, and sold-out crowds. Living the life of a superstar.

            Joey and JC grinned back at his enthusiasm. They couldn’t wait to leave either.

            “That is correct, JuJu. Gotta raise tha roof!” JC exclaimed.

            “Yeah, let’s piss off Smokey!”  Joey joined in. At the others’ blank stares, he attempted to elaborate. “You know, light it up. Start a fire . . . Smokey doesn’t like fire . . . never mind.”

            “Only you,” Justin said in a deep voiced imitation of Smokey the Bear, pointing at Joey, “can completely ruin a joke.”

            They all burst into laughter at the parody, and ran onto the second bus, screaming like a football team just entering the stadium. Seeing where their friends had gone, Lance and Chris quickly said their last good-byes and dashed after the others.



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