Chapter 16

“Within my heart

I know I will never start

To smile again

Until I smile at you.”

            -Ruth Lowe, “I’ll Never Smile Again”



            “Come in!” Chris called out. “It’s not locked!”

            Tim entered the hotel room, a somber look on his face. In his hands was a manila folder. He looked around the room. “Good,” he said, “You’re all here. Listen up now, because I’ve got some good news and bad news.”

            “Bad news first,” Lance immediately requested.

            “Okay, the bad news: we still can’t find the music. But good news is that it’s being shipped to us and it’ll be here by the end of the day.”

            “That’s all?” JC asked. “Not a big deal.”

            “No, there’s more. Let me tell you the good news first. Your friend from before, Lillian, wasn’t responsible for all the things going wrong on the tour. She’s innocent.”

            His attentive audience burst into cheers at hearing Tim acknowledge what they had already known, except for Justin. He merely stared at him with a focused and slightly panicked gaze.

            “But here’s the bad part. It turns out that the real person behind everything is also one of your friends, from what I’ve seen. It’s Theresa Williams. We were checking her background, and apparently she has distant connections with Lou Pearlman. I don’t know how we didn’t notice that before.” After delivering his news, he waited anxiously for their disappointed response. However, they didn’t appear disappointed at all. In fact, they seemed a little satisfied.

            “What’s going on?” he immediately questioned, suspicious.

            “Why don’t we figure that out together?” Lance said, and motioned for him to watch the TV. As soon as everyone was paying attention, he pressed ‘play’ on the VCR. A shaky recorded image, obviously from a camcorder, appeared on the screen before the person shooting the film managed to keep his hands still.

            “Way to not hold a camcorder,” Joey shot at JC.

            “Hey, just wait a sec. It gets better!” JC responded eagerly.

            The camera zoomed in on a bus, as well as the person at the door of the bus.

            “That’s Elaine!” Tim burst out, recognizing the girl from makeup. He was shushed by Justin and he quieted down to watch the rest of the tape. Justin was staring in rapt attention himself.

            On the film, Elaine was jimmying the lock of the bus before she went inside. The camcorder followed her, bouncing with JC’s steps. It finally settled down again, and JC was apparently at the front of the bus now. Elaine opened a filing cabinet and grabbed a file, then left the bus without once glancing in JC’s direction. The the image turned black.

            Tim continued to stare at the TV in astonishment. “What the-“ he began before JC cut him off to explain.

            “After you said Lillian was the one causing all the ‘accidents’, we didn’t believe you. And Lance went so far as to figure out a way to find the real person responsible. It’s Elaine.”

            “And here’s the real copy of Theresa’s file,” Chris added, pulling a xeroxed piece of paper out.

            Tim quickly read it. It didn’t have anything about her connections to Pearlman.

            “But how?” he asked.

            Lance answered him. “Well, I had checked Lillian’s file when we first met. The second time I saw it, I noticed that it said she was an expert in edifice infrastructures. But it hadn’t said that before. And I remembered how Elaine was never very civil to Lillian. So I put two and two together, and we thought of a plan to prove Elaine’s guilt.”

            Justin spoke up. “I don’t get it. How’d you videotape her? Did you follow her around the whole day?”

            “No, we just managed to make her mad enough to do something stupid. We got her jealous of Theresa last night, remember? And then JC videotaped the rest,” Lance said.

            Both Justin and Tim nodded, understanding now. Tim grabbed the tape and headed for the door, calling out behind him, “Come on, it’s time to have a little chat with Elaine.”

            They followed him with relish to Elaine’s hotel room.

            She opened the door at Tim’s quick knock. She smiled at them, quickly masking her surprise at seeing all of them in front of her. “Anything wrong?”

            Tim pushed past her and put the tape in the VCR. “Just watch,” he ordered.

            Elaine gave him a puzzled glance, not understanding his abrupt attitude or the glares of the others. She obediently looked at the TV.

            Justin observed her dispassionately as her face turned red, then became paler and paler. He could see the panic settling in. The morbid feeling of satisfaction at her distress registered in his mind, but he didn’t care.

            “I can explain,” she immediately began.

            “Don’t even try,” Tim ordered authoritatively. “Pack up your things, because I want you gone in twenty minutes. Security will escort you to the airport. And we’re not going to press any charges because the only thing the tour doesn’t need right now is bad publicity, but we’re sure as hell getting a restraining order.”

            Elaine looked to Justin for assistance, but his closed face offered none. She nodded, knowing that she had no way to slip out of this mess. Not with so much evidence against her.

            Tim took out his cell phone and flipped it open angrily. “Get your bags together, I’m calling security to wait outside your room. Try to escape and you’ll be spending some quality time from the inside of a jail cell.” He went to the door and everyone but Justin followed him out.

            After they were alone, Justin turned to Elaine, his eyes blazing. “Tell me why, Elaine. Tell me what insane reason compelled you to cause all the accidents, and then frame everything on Lillian. Explain to me why you decided to make everyone’s life hell, especially Lillian’s. Do you know what you did?!” he demanded furiously into her scared face. His voice was low and ominous. “You made me lose my temper with her. It’s because of you that I shouted at her until she cried, dammit. So tell me right now, why the hell did you do it.”

            Elaine recovered and smirked at him, ignoring the rage she could hear in his voice. “Well, I’m glad she cried. She deserved it, you know. You’re supposed to be with me. We were the most beautiful couple. At first I just wanted the tour to be called off so you could spend more time with me. Then you would have paid more attention to our relationship. But you never cared, because Lillian distracted you. And I don’t know why, because she’s just an ugly little freak. So I had to get her out of the picture. Theresa needed to go too. Just another person to get rid of,” she finished, beaming without any guilt.

            Justin shook his head, and backed a step away from her. He didn’t trust his own restraint right now. “You’re sick,” he stated. “If you try to come near me, the guys, or Lillian, I won’t even care about the publicity. You’ll be arrested and convicted so fast you’ll think it was just a dream. But you’ll never wake up.”

            Elaine glared at him but didn’t offer a retort to his threat.

            “And it’s not just a threat,” he added, standing next to the door with his hand on the doorknob. ”It’s a definite promise. But if you want to test it, go ahead. No skin off my back.”

            He yanked open the door to see Todd and Mike waiting outside. They entered the room and Justin went into the hall, slamming the door behind him. 

*                       *                       *


            “What do you think is going on?” Joey asked curiously. Justin hadn’t followed them out the hotel room, and he’d been gone for several minutes now.

            “I don’t know,” Chris responded. “Probably ripping her a new one.” He was glad Justin had never gotten that enraged at him before. Sure, sometimes he would shout at him, but he had never been on the receiving end of seeing his friend really mad.

            “I haven’t seen him that pissed in a long time,” JC agreed. “Damn.” They all knew that Justin shouted a lot, but not when he was seriously angry. When that happened, he became terrifyingly quiet and everyone was smart enough to avoid him for a few hours.

            “I guess things are back in place now,” Joey attempted to offer optimistically, but he didn’t feel like his words were true.

            “Yeah,” Lance answered, sounding equally unenthusiastic. “Everything’s right again.” 


*                       *                       *


            It felt strange, performing in front of an audience of screaming fans oblivious to all the action that had taken place only a day before. They kept expecting something to go wrong during the concert, before remembering that Elaine was long gone.

            None of the guys sang or danced the best that night, but Tim and Dominic understood the situation and didn’t get on their cases about it.

            “And we’re ‘N Sync! Thanks for coming,” they shouted before quickly running off the stage and grabbing towels to wipe away their sweat.

            “Nice job,” Tim commented. “Hurry up, we gotta board the buses now. We’re behind schedule. You can take showers on your bus.”

            Everyone was herded onto the awaiting caravan of buses and they managed to leave the stadium in under fifteen minutes.

            “I got dibs on the bathroom,” JC shouted, hurrying to the back of the bus. Joey and Lance went to change out of their sticky concert outfits, and Chris followed them, wanting to find his CDs.

            Justin was left alone sitting on the couch. He rested his head against the window and stared at the road flying underneath the bus’ tires, mesmerized by the passing lines. His thoughts turned to Lillian again. It seemed that he would think about her whenever no one was around, and it was strongest at night. This time though, he felt even more tormented.

            She was innocent. She didn’t do anything wrong. And I still shouted at her. I told her I hated her, and that I wished we never met. Why? It’s not true. But she doesn’t know that.

            He remembered how distressed she had looked when he claimed he hated her. He had wanted to hurt her as badly as she had hurt him. Too bad it worked so well. The words had extinguished the light in her eyes. But he had continued to press her until he had the satisfaction of seeing her cry. And when she had finally broken down, he had left her alone to defend herself against Tim, Elaine, and Thompsen. Like leaving a lamb in a den of wolves.

            I don’t hate her at all. I shouldn’t have tried to force myself to hate her just for the sake of my ego. And look where I am now. He regretted letting his temper take control of him. He hated himself.

            It was all his damn fault. Elaine’s lies had tricked him, but in the end he was the one who had hurt her. He had ruined all their good memories. A soft smile curved his mouth as he remembered how much fun the two had had when they pulled a prank on Lance. It had happened the day after their expedition to the club, when Lance had been nursing a splitting headache.


            “Okay, you already replaced the stuff, right?” he asked excitedly.

            Lillian grinned at him, giving him the thumbs up. “Done. Shh, here he comes now!”

            They crouched down around the corner of the backstage hallway, suppressing their laughter as Lance came into view. He approached the snack table, clutching his pounding head. His face looked relieved as he spotted a bottle of aspirin sitting next to the water bottles. Gratefully, he grabbed it and popped out two pills, swallowing them quickly. Then he reached for a water bottle and swiftly twisted the cap off. It exploded.

            “What the-?!” he exclaimed in shock.

            Not able to hold their amusement in any longer, Justin and Lillian burst out laughing. Lance was covered in soda. His hair was flattened against his scalp, and his clothes were drenched.

            His eyes narrowed as he heard his friends cracking up. “Oh no you didn’t,” he began, stalking towards them.

            “Classic, Lance! Your face was classic! Haha, didn’t you notice the bubbles?” Justin laughed. “You know, I don’t think water usually has bubbles in it.”

            “Very funny, guys. Sprite. Oh, that is hilarious,” Lance growled, his threatening posture ruined by soda dripping onto his face. “You must’ve shaken that bottle for five hours.”

            “No, just one,” Lillian answered, a grin on her face. The grin quickly fled when Lance made a swipe at her. She shrieked and dodged out of the way of his sticky hands.

            “Come here!” he yelled, reaching for his two immature friends in vain. They raced down the hall, the walls echoing with their high-spirited shouts.


“J,” a voice softly called out.

            He turned around in response, not caring that Lance could tell how upset he was at recalling that happier time. “Yeah?”

            “Shower’s free,” Lance offered, feeling helpless at seeing his friend confused and ridden with guilt.

            Justin got up from the couch and nodded, then quickly headed into the bathroom. He ignored the concerned looks his friends gave him, only able to concentrate on the scorn he felt for himself.


*                       *                       *


            The cool breeze made her shiver slightly, although it wasn’t that cold. But I’m cold inside. Lillian hurriedly crossed the sidewalk and entered her dorm building, clutching the various papers and assignments she had missed while she had been on the tour. Her teachers had figured that now she was back, she might as well get buried in schoolwork again.

            When she had left the tech building, some other students were outside milling around. When she neared them, one girl had broken away from the group and questioned her about ‘N Sync.

            “Did you really go on tour?” she had asked in disbelief.

            “Yes,” Lillian had replied slowly, not knowing what the girl wanted.

            “Oh. Did you meet Justin?!”

            “No. I never met any of them,” she lied, not wanting to continue the conversation anymore.

            If she had admitted the truth, the girl would have persisted and asked her about all the guys. And Lillian wanted to hold them close to her own heart. If she told other people about her experiences, the memories would feel tainted. They wouldn’t be special anymore. That was why she hadn’t even told Karen much. Those few short weeks on the tour had been the happiest weeks of her life, after she had found her friends. She had been living in a daze of contentment and pleasure, not even realizing how lucky she was. But now that it was over, she could only remember their faces and words.


            “I can’t believe this! Where is he?!” Justin rushed out of his room, wearing only his boxers and looking extremely angry. He strode over to another door.

            Moments later, Lillian burst out of her room and ran down the hall, fuming. “That jerk. I am going to get him for this.” She headed straight for the room down the hall.

            Too caught up in their annoyance to notice each other, they slammed their heads as they both reached for the doorknob.

            “Ow!” Lillian exclaimed, quickly grabbing her head.

            “Sorry,” Justin mumbled, also feeling his skull delicately. Then he forgot about the pain as he took in Lillian’s appearance. “Uh, why are you wearing a robe?” He didn’t think that Lillian owned anything as feminine as that robe.

            She blushed in embarrassment and attempted to cover herself, but then ran her eyes swiftly over his half-naked body. His half-naked, very muscular body. “Maybe I should ask why you’re violating some public exposure laws.”

            He remembered his own state of undress and colored slightly. “That’s not the issue here. What’s important is killing a certain someone.” He yanked the door open and they rushed in to confront the guilty party.

            “Lance! You’re dead!” they both cried in unison.

            Lance looked at them innocently, and gestured to himself as if saying, ‘Who, me?’

            “Give me back my clothes!” Justin demanded, grabbing his friend’s arm.

            Lillian pushed him out of the way and took Lance’s arm herself, shaking insistently. “Where are my clothes?” she asked. “This is so not funny!”

            Lance easily escaped her grasp and backed away, laughing uproariously. “I don’t know, Lily, it seems pretty damn funny to me! I should have gotten a camera. This is priceless! You should see yourselves. Jeez, Justin, you could have at least borrowed some of JC’s clothes! We’re not at a nudist camp, you know.”

            Justin’s eyes narrowed dangerously and he stalked his older friend threateningly. “I know we’re not at a nudist camp, smartass. But someone, and I won’t mention names, Lance, decided to steal my clothes while I was in the shower!”

            “And mine too!” Lillian added, pushing Lance none too gently onto the bed he had cornered himself against.

            “Well I didn’t think it was too funny when I had a major headache and my two little buddies caused soda to spray all over me,” Lance retorted, still snickering. “It’s called revenge, children.”  He stuck his tongue out at his enraged friends, enjoying his moment of glory.

            Justin and Lillian exchanged looks, and then turned back to Lance with sly smiles.

            “Revenge, huh?” Justin repeated evilly. “Hmm, Lillian, I wonder what that means.”

            She grinned at Lance with wickedness. “It means,” she answered, “Our friend here is going to find himself the victim of a major pillow beating.” She raced to grab a pillow before Lance could reach it, and swung at his head with all her might.

            “Ouch! Lillian, that actually hurt!” he whined. “Kind of.”

            Justin stole the other pillow and jumped on Lance, shoving it into his face. “How do ya like that?! Tastes good, huh?”

            “Get off me, this is so unfair!” Lance whined through the cotton and feathers in his mouth. Justin paused and inched the pillow away.

            “What was that? I couldn’t hear you too well, maybe something was blocking your mouth.”

            Lance took the opportunity to shove him off the bed, and Justin landed with a loud thump. As he was occupied trying to regain his senses, Lance yanked the pillow away and began swinging at his defenseless friend. Lillian jumped in the fray and beat at Lance’s back with her own weapon.

            The sounds of screaming and laughter reverberated throughout the room. Feathers managed to escape their cases, and they floated leisurely down, covering the three people who were too busy squabbling to notice the artificial snow shower blanketing them.


            Lillian smiled forlornly to herself as she recalled the fun they’d had that day. It had been perfect. Everything had been perfect with them. But good things never lasted long, especially for her. I wish. . . What did she wish? So many things all at once. That she had realized her happiness would have ended abruptly. Then she could have prepared herself for the shock of emotions. Maybe that she had the chance to gain more of Justin’s trust. Their tentative friendship had barely been given a chance to flourish before it was cut viciously short.

            There’s no use in wishing now, Lillian thought as she fumbled with the keys to her room, blinking through the haze of tears. What’s the point? It’s too late. She wondered if she’d ever be warm again.


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