Chapter 14

“Tell me how I love you wins
Or how a broken heart can mend
Just tell me this is not the end
Please tell me now
How the fairy tale begins
Or how it was supposed to end
Please tell me that part again.”
	-Toni Braxton, “Fairy Tale”

 

            The day’s past events raced around endlessly in her beset mind. Not press charges . . . too much publicity . . . extremely disappointed . . . off the premises in thirty minutes . . . betrayed trust . . . hate you . . . never fuckin’ met you.

            The ugly word still made Lillian flinch, no matter that it was silent. To her, it screamed and accused her of terrible things. Sabotaging the tour. Intentionally harming the people who had confided in her. She still didn’t understand why she was being blamed for such horrible deeds. She hadn’t done anything, except yell at Elaine.

            She was standing stiffly next to the curb of the check-in lane of the hotel, waiting for an available taxi. Her bags had been hastily packed and were now resting at her feet. She took no notice of the furtive glances the people passing her sent her way. All her thoughts were focused on reliving the argument, over and over.

            She waved down a vacant taxi and opened the door when a voice stopped her.

            “Lillian! Wait, don’t go yet!”

            She couldn’t control the automatic leap of her heart at hearing her name. ‘Lillian.’ Only Justin calls me by my full name. Joyfully she turned around, thinking that it had all been a mistake and he had come to bring her back.

But as soon as she recognized the speaker, her emotions plummeted again. It wasn’t him. It was Lance. It would be the last time she would ever talk to him and stand face-to-face with him. He had been her first friend on the tour. No matter what he said now, she wouldn’t forget that.

            Lance quickly ran up to where Lillian had paused and shut the door of the taxi, waving at the driver to leave. Then he turned back to the trembling girl in front of him.

            “Lily,” he began, taking her arm.

            “I didn’t do anything!” she cried, frantically wiping the moisture still falling from her eyes. “I didn’t! Lance, you have to believe me! I was just in my room, writing an e-mail to Karen, when Justin came-, and he-, and then-“

            “Shh,” Lance whispered, stroking her hair soothingly. “I believe you.”

            She gazed at him through her watery eyes. “What?”

            “I believe you,” he repeated, pulling her down to sit with him on the hard concrete. “At first I wasn’t so sure about your innocence, but then I remembered something. Your file said that you were an expert in edifice infrastructures.”

            Lillian looked at him with surprise. “But I don’t know anything about infrastructures.”

            “I know you don’t. Don’t get mad at me, but I had checked your file after we first met. And there was nothing written about edifice infrastructures.”

            “Are you saying-“ she began, the meaning of his words dawning on her.

            “Yes, someone screwed with your file. To frame you, I guess. But I have no idea why. Anyway, I just realized that like ten minutes ago, and after I told the other guys I ran out here to stop you before you left for the airport. Now we can go back to Tim, and I can explain everything!” he said enthusiastically.

            “No, you can’t do that,” Lillian refused sadly. “My contract’s ripped up, and my orders were to be gone in less than half an hour. Besides, Tim won’t care. And neither will Justin. They’re convinced that I arranged all the accidents.”

            Lance peered at her face carefully. “What happened with Justin? The last time I saw him, he had locked himself in the bathroom and was screaming at us.”

            At his question, Lillian couldn’t stop from weeping her sorrows. She had hurt him. It didn’t matter that her own heart was shattered, he was wounded too. He always seemed so confident, but his words from before reflected his vulnerability. “He hates me,” she confided miserably, her voice weak from all the crying. “He said that he regretted ever knowing me, ever meeting me.”

            “Was it that bad?” Lance asked.

            She nodded quickly, then shook her head. “I don’t blame him. I betrayed him.”

            “How did you betray him?”

            “I did. I must have done something wrong.”

            Lance saw the red mark on her chin. “Did he do that?” he demanded, motioning to her face.

            Her hand flew to the area and gently touched it. She hadn’t even realized it was there. “Yes, but it doesn’t hurt,” she quickly defended his actions. “He was just angry,” she reasoned in a feeble voice.

            “Sweetheart,” he said, drawing her close to him, “Don’t protect him like that. He’s a big boy; he can fend for himself. But I’ll deal with that issue later. Right now I’m worried about you.”

            She sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder. “I’m tired. Sing to me,” she sleepily insisted, yawning.

            Lance chuckled, and good-naturedly complied. He might as well make her last moments on the tour enjoyable. It was all he could do right now. “What do you want me to sing?”

            “Something happy,” she whispered.

            He wracked his brain for a good song, and after some thinking came up with the perfect one. He leaned against a pole and pulled her down so that she could rest more comfortably on his chest. Then he began the song.

            “Smile though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking. When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by, if you smile through your fear and sorrow,” he gently sang in his low voice.

Lillian obeyed his words and smiled softly, recalling the touching Nat King Cole song. His chest vibrated under her ear with his soothing, melodic voice.

“Smile and maybe tomorrow,” he continued, “you’ll see the sun come shining through for you.” He paused, trying to remember the rest of the words.

“Light up your face with gladness,” another voice chimed in. Lance jerked his glance up to find JC crouching next to them. He opened his mouth to ask him what he was doing, but JC motioned for him to keep quiet, and he went along with his friend.

JC grinned at the tender scene before him. Lance had explained about the file in his room while Justin was still shouting in the bathroom, and after weighing the situation, he had come down with Joey and Chris to look for their missing friend. He sure didn’t doubt his decision now that he had seen Lillian’s distress himself. He gestured for Joey and Chris to join them in the song. He couldn’t believe that just a little while before, Justin had been the one vouching for her and they had remained obedient of Tim’s decision. She had comforted them before, and now it was their turn to return the kindness.

“Hide every trace of sadness,” he prompted, singing softly.

“Although a tear may be so near,” Chris added in his high tone, looking at Lillian’s sleepy figure. He plopped down on the rough concrete next to the others.

Joey grinned and brushed a strand of hair away from her face. “That’s the time you must keep on trying. Smile, what’s the use in crying?”

Lillian stirred and drowsily blinked her eyes at the various singing faces surrounding her. They finished with a gentle flourish, falling into harmony together.

“You’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile.”

Her heart swelled at both the hopeful lyrics and her sweet friends, but she couldn’t help but think that the song lacked the resonance of one noticeably absent voice.

 

*                       *                       *                       *

 

“So what do we do?” Chris whispered in an undertone to Lance as they watched Lillian’s taxi pull away from the curb. He kept a wide smile on his face and waved to her, not wanting to appear sad and therefore make her feel even worse.

Lance waited until the cab was no longer in view before he answered. “We figure out a way to find the real person responsible for all the shit that’s been happening,” he said determinedly.

“How are we supposed to do that?” Joey asked incredulously. “We don’t even have an idea of who could’ve done it!”

Lance shook his head. “Actually, I have an idea.”

“Who?” JC demanded curiously.

Lance smiled conspiratorially, and waved his friends closer to outline his plan. They stood in a tight-bunched circle, nodding their heads along in approval as they listened to his ideas and adding their own input as the many possibilities formed in their minds.

*                       *                       *                       *

“Movie night’s not the same,” Joey complained, throwing the remote control down in frustration.

“I know,” Chris added. “How did we get attached to Lily so fast? I still don’t understand.” He was sprawled out next to Joey on Justin’s vacant bed. JC nodded understandingly.

“Me neither. She’s not exactly the type of girl we usually go for in a friend. Especially not such a close friend. But I don’t know, I guess she surprised us all,” he shrugged.

“Kind of like a diamond in the rough,” Lance mused. “I didn’t think I would be getting in so deep either, when I first met her.”

“Diamond in the rough?” Joey laughed. “You’ve been watching way too many Disney movies. Why don’t you get on your magic carpet and see a whole new world?”

“Why don’t you make a wish upon a star for your life, because I’m gonna whistle while I work on fixing you a new face,” Lance retorted.

Joey brushed his comment away with a chuckle. “Whatever, man. Whatever.”

JC checked his watch. “We should get started. It’s already eight o’clock.”

Lance nodded and reached over to grab the phone. He dialed the main desk, and waited for someone to answer.

“Hello? Yes, this is Lance Bass from ‘N Sync. Can you do me a big favor? We’d like to reserve one of your banquet rooms for tomorrow night. I know it’s short notice, but I’d really appreciate it if you could make an exception for us,” he said in a cajoling voice. He listened to the response, and smiled. “Great! Thank you very much. I won’t forget this favor. Thanks again,” he repeated, placing the phone back in its cradle.

            “Okay, step one is over and done. Now we just have to get some sleep, and finish the rest tomorrow,” he announced.

            “Right,” agreed JC. “Gotta get ready for rehearsals tomorrow.” He pulled Joey off the bed and after waving good-bye to Chris and Lance, left the room.

            Chris turned the TV off and headed to the bathroom while Lance picked up the phone again. He had to know how Lillian was doing.

            “Hello?” came a subdued voice after several rings.

            Lance grinned into the receiver. “Lily, it’s me! How was your flight?”

            “Hi, Lance. It was fine. A little crowded, I guess, but no delays or anything.”

            Lance’s smile faded as he realized how odd her tone sounded. “Lily, were you crying a second ago?” he asked, concerned.

            “It doesn’t matter,” she replied after a pause.

            “Don’t do this to yourself,” he admonished. “You know you didn’t do anything wrong, I know you didn’t do anything wrong, and the guys know you didn’t do anything wrong.”

            She sighed. “We know. But Justin doesn’t know. And Mr. Lee was so disappointed when I talked to him. You should have seen him. He wasn’t mad, but the way he looked at me . . . I’ve never felt so badly before. Things just aren’t going too well for me today,” she said, attempting a laugh to alleviate Lance’s worries. It didn’t work.

            “Just wait. I’ve got things under control here. We’re gonna prove your innocence,” he said proudly.

            “Lance, don’t do anything bad,” she warned. “I don’t want you getting in trouble over me. It’s not worth it.”

            “Maybe one day you’ll realize it is,” he stated. “Anyway, Chris is about to come back, so I have to go now. Stop crying and get some sleep.”

            “Yes, daddy,” Lillian smiled. “I must have done something right to deserve friends like you.”

            “We should say the same to you,” he replied. “’Night, now. I’ll keep in touch. Sweet dreams.”

            After she hung the phone up, Lillian turned to stare out of her dorm window. It was a beautiful Friday night, and she could see other students walking around the well-lit campus, heading to various destinations. Karen was working late at the bookstore and hadn’t returned to her room yet. She didn’t even know Lillian was back. Her own roommate had left earlier in the week, having finally found an available room to rent off-campus.

            Lillian pulled the curtains over the windows, blocking the moonlight and streetlights and effectively drowning the room in darkness. It was too painful to see all the happy, laughing people. Just a day ago she had been one of them. And now she was alone once more, nursing a broken heart.

            With nothing else to do, she let the hot flow of tears start coursing down her cheeks again. The salty wetness ran over her face and into her pillow, dampening the cloth. Lance’s words from before were the exact ones Justin had said to her the first time they had had a real conversation. Sweet dreams. But she knew she would find no peace in her dreams tonight.

*                       *                       *                       *

 

            “Where were you?” the question demanded.

            JC yawned, pulling the sheets back from his bed and crawling under them. “Movie night. It’s tradition, I guess.”

            Justin looked at him uncomprehendingly. “It’s not tradition. It’s just something stupid we did before we realized one of us was a liar,” he said spitefully.

            JC merely turned off the light and replied, “Maybe if you keep telling yourself that, you’ll start believing it one day.” He rolled over to face away from the other bed and its sullen occupant, eager to drown himself in unconsciousness.

            Justin remained painfully awake, staring at the stucco ceiling above him, unable to escape reliving what had happened only a few hours before.

 

 

 

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