Chapter 17

And now the purple dusk of twilight time

Steals across the meadows of my heart

High up in the sky the little stars climb

Always reminding me that we’re apart.”

                        -Nat King Cole, “Stardust”




“Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

            “I’ll be fine,” Lillian insisted, nudging her concerned friend out the door. “I’m just tired. Go have fun.”

            Karen appeared to begin another protest, but the determined look in Lillian’s eyes forced her to be quiet. “Fine, fine. Just don’t get yourself all strung out over anything.”

            Lillian reassured her with a small smile and Karen finally left. As soon as the door was shut, Lillian hurried to grab her jacket from a nearby chair. She needed to get away from her room and civilization for a while. Everything was stifling her, and she was desperate to get away to her private place.

            Lance hadn’t called in the past week, and neither had anyone else from the tour. She assumed that they were busy, and had to rely on the internet and MTV to find out what was happening in their lives. Over the past few days she had practically become a television addict. She wondered how Justin was doing and how he was handling his emotions. Was he still angry? Or did he feel betrayed and hurt? She hoped that it was the first, because just imagining him sad made her ache.

            She trekked away from the hustle and bustle of campus nightlife and made her way to the one place she felt was hers. The glen. It was in the area of woods behind the library, and she had found it the first week of her freshman year. She had been completely stressed over the transition from high school to college, and had quite by chance wandered out one of the library’s back doors. Then she had wandered aimlessly, just grateful for some peace and quiet, until she had stumbled into a quiet glen in the midst of all the trees.

            A sigh of relief escaped her lips as she entered it again. It looked exactly the same as it did the very first day she had come. The same large oak still stood guard amongst the smaller saplings and graceful flowers. She could always count on the glen being a constant presence; it was the outside world that inevitably changed.

            Lillian immediately collapsed in the middle of the glen, making her jacket into a pillow on the soft grass. She relaxed her tense muscles one by one, and allowed the familiar sounds of the night envelop her. The stars and quarter moon shone above her, unobstructed by the reaching branches of the trees. She stared at them intently.

            The stars seemed dimmer than that night before. When she and Justin had made their wishes on a shooting star. ‘I wish that things could stay like this forever.’ Yeah, right. So much for that. She still wondered what Justin had wished for. It had seemed to trouble him. Did it still bother him?

            She let her mind drift without a purpose, and various thoughts flooded her conscious. What is he doing right now? Are Joey and Chris making him laugh? Maybe JC’s giving him some advice, or he’s watching TV with Lance. Maybe he’s doing what I’m doing, and trying to shut the world out of his thoughts.


*                       *                       *                       *


            Justin stretched languorously and directed his weary eyes to the dark sky above him. That’s strange. Why do the stars seem so faint? Maybe they’re as tired as me.

            He shook his head at his maudlin thoughts. I’m being a drama queen. The guys would love to see me now. But he permitted his mind to continue his sad wonderings. So many damn memories. That night Lillian and I sat outside the movie theater was the first time we actually got to talk. And just hang out. It was fun.

            He let out a groan and pushed himself up from the hotel balcony floor. He had to find something to distract him, or his every breathing moment would be filled with a radiant Lillian, quickly followed by the sight of her anguished face. He couldn’t stand it anymore.

            After a minute of contemplation he resolved what to do. I can stop thinking about her. Jeez, I’ve occupied myself before. I’ll just work. Put all my energy into the tour and the music. He nodded with his decision, and with all his strength pushed the last traces of Lillian out of his mentality.


*                       *                       *                       *


            “Put the damn camera away!” Joey shouted, exasperated.

            JC grinned. “Sorry, Joe, but I’m hooked on this thing. I did such a great job on videotaping Elaine, don’t you think?”

            “No! I was about to throw up! See, you have the hold the camcorder still,” Joey explained patiently. “Trick of the trade.”

            JC rolled his eyes and turned away. “I’m going to find a more interesting person to record.”

            He walked away from Joey and the buffet table and carefully kept the camcorder steady as he approached Justin and Lance sitting near the podium at the front of the press room.

            “Guys, look here and smile!”

            The two blondes glanced over and immediately gave their friend their most annoying faces.

            “Hey, stop that!” JC exclaimed at seeing Lance’s tongue lull out of his wide-open mouth. “And uncross your eyes, J. I’m gonna make a whole lot of money putting this up on eBay, so don’t do anything stupid that a paying fan would be interested in.”

            Justin and Lance hastily wiped the goofy expressions off their faces and smiled charmingly at the camera.

            “That’s better,” JC nodded approvingly, getting a few more seconds of footage before turning his camera off. He set it down carefully on a chair and took a seat next to his friends. “So when’s the conference gonna start?”

            Lance checked his watch. “About five minutes.”

            “I wonder what Tim’s going to say,” Justin said, swinging his feet over the edge of the low stage. He regarded the photographers and journalists milling around the room, busily chattering to each other. Usually he would stay out of the room until someone called them in to make a quick appearance and answer some questions, but he found that it was much more interesting to people-watch.

            “Probably something about the ‘pranks.’ And then he’ll just talk about the new album,” JC guessed.

            “Do you think he’ll say a lot about all the accidents?” Justin asked. He knew how Tim was strongly against bad publicity.

            “I bet he’ll just make up some completely bull explanation,” Lance answered. “Maybe he’ll distract everyone with the latest Justin-Britney gossip.”

            Justin groaned good-naturedly. “I still can’t believe the public refuses to admit that we broke up! When we were actually together they couldn’t do enough to ruin the relationship.”

            “Poor baby,” JC laughed. “It must suck to have your name continuously linked to a beautiful girl.”

            Beautiful girl. Justin repeated his friend’s words in his head. The phrase immediately brought a certain face to his mind, but it wasn’t Britney’s. It was obvious that his earlier plan wasn’t working at all.

            “What’s up?” Lance asked, noticing the thoughtful expression that had come over Justin’s face.

            “Lillian,” he replied before he could stop the name from escaping his lips. His slip registered on his face and he quickly rushed to cover it up. But his friends were too quick.

            “Lillian, huh?” JC grinned, nudging him in the ribs.

            Lance didn’t pounce on the slip like Justin had expected him to, and instead reached into his jacket. “Shoot, I never called her back!” He dialed her number frantically.

            “You never called her?!” JC exclaimed incredulously. “Wait, when was the last time you two talked?”

            “Um. . .” Lance paused, thinking back. “Before the party.”

            What?!” Justin shouted, causing all the people in the room to swing their gazes curiously over. He hastily lowered his voice. “You haven’t even told her about Elaine yet?”

            “Ah, no,” Lance replied sheepishly.

            “Oh my god!” Justin let out, grabbing the cell phone from Lance. “I can’t believe you forgot to call her back! She’s been left clueless the past few days! She doesn’t even know that her innocence was proven!”

            “Why didn’t you call her?” Lance asked quietly.

            Justin stilled at his question. “I-I don’t know. I was busy,” he defended.

            “You made yourself busy,” JC broke in. “Don’t deny it, you were trying to distract yourself. You think we didn’t notice how you suddenly threw all your energy into practicing the dance moves and belting out the solos at rehearsals? You have a strong work ethic, J, but not that strong.”

            Justin stared at his two friends. Had it been that obvious? He opened his mouth to explain, but was interrupted by a pat on the shoulder. He turned around to see Tim signaling them to get seated, because he was about to begin the press conference.

            ‘Later,’ Justin promised Lance and JC silently. He would tell them everything later.


*                       *                       *                       *


            “Hi, may I speak to Lillian?” Lance asked politely, tapping his foot as he leaned against the wall. Their conference had just ended, and everything had gone exactly the same as they’d predicted. Tim gave a brief explanation for the concert interruptions, then adeptly directed the reporters’ interest toward the new album and gossip. Now he was outside next to the parking lot waiting for the others to arrive at the buses.

            “She’s not here right now, can I take a message?” the woman’s voice answered him. It was probably Lillian’s friend. What was her name again? Kasey? No, Karen.

            “Is this Karen?”

            “Yes,” Karen replied cautiously, not knowing how this man knew who she was. “Who is this?”

            “It’s Lance,” he said. After no response for a few seconds, he moved to explain further. “Lance Bass. From-“

            “No, I know who you are!” Karen quickly interrupted. “I was just in a little bit of…shock, I guess. I’m sorry about that.”

            “That’s okay,” Lance smiled. “Anyway, just tell Lillian that I called, and that she should get in touch with me as soon as she can. It’s important.”

            “Will do, Lance.”

            He hesitated for a moment, then decided to just ask Karen. “How is she lately?”

            “Oh. She seems normal. As normal as anyone could be in this situation,” Karen offered. “At first she was understandably sad, crying a lot, not sleeping, you know. But she’s better now. She’s concentrating on school, mainly.”

            Lance nodded, even though he knew Karen couldn’t see him. “Good, good. Um, did she tell you much?”

            “Not really. Just enough so that I got the basic gist of things. But-“  She paused, wondering if she should tell Lance about the latest happenings.

            “But what?” he prompted, concerned.

            “Don’t tell her that I know this, but she’s empty inside. She tries to hide it from me, but you know Lillian. She can’t hide anything. For the past few days all she’s done is look for any ‘N Sync news in her free time. I don’t even think she knew about Justin and Britney breaking up until Access Hollywood announced it. But that’s her life now. If not school, then ‘N Sync.”

            “Well, Justin was having some major problems during that time, so I guess he was too preoccupied to tell Lillian that he and Brit broke up. But what’s so bad about school and ‘N Sync?”

            “I mean, that’s all she does now! As in she’s not eating much, or sleeping,” Karen explained with a worried tone in her voice.

            “Are you sure?” Lance asked, finally picking up on the problem. Not eating or sleeping? What the hell is she thinking?

            “Yes, I’m sure. You can tell she’s unhealthy just by looking at her! I don’t know, maybe I’m just being silly, but I can’t help it.”

            “Damn. Well, I’ll try to talk to her about it.”

            “Good,” Karen agreed. “Maybe she’ll listen to you. She refuses to tell me anything.”

            “Don’t worry,” Lance assured her. He saw Justin and Chris come out of the building, shoving each other around. “I gotta go now, nice to meet you.”

            “You too, Lance. I’m glad Lillian has friends like you.”

            “The same goes for you,” Lance chuckled. “See you later.” He ended the call and slid his cell phone into his jacket surreptitiously, but Justin caught the movement.

            “Who were you talking to?” he asked curiously.

            “Lillian’s friend.”


            Seeing that Justin wasn’t about to say anything else, Lance picked up the conversation. “When are you going to talk to her and explain everything?”

            “I don’t know,” came the curt reply. Justin looked at the pavement and refused to meet his friends’ gazes.

            “You’re gonna have to do it eventually,” Chris pointed out.

            “I will!” Justin defended. “I’m not stupid. I. . . just give me some time.” Besides, what am I supposed to tell her? I’m sorry I shouted at you and told you I hate you, now let’s be friends?

            “We’re not rushing you,” Lance explained, observing the anxiety on Justin’s face. “We can wait until whenever you feel ready. But I don’t know if Lily feels the same way.”

            “I doubt Lillian even cares that much,” Justin bit out. “Come on, we barely knew each other!”

            Lance exchanged a meaningful glance with Chris before turning back to regard his obviously lying friend. “Okay then. If that’s the case, I’ll stop bothering you.” He motioned to Chris. “Let’s go, we should get on the bus now.”

            Justin watched the two walk away from him, whispering to each other secretively. He almost called for them to come back, but managed to stifle the urge. Fine, if Lance is giving it up then I don’t have to worry about it anymore. But deep inside he wished he could tell someone about the confusing emotions wrestling within him.


*                       *                       *                       *


            She laughed excitedly. “It’s your funeral, Justin.”

            He stuck his tongue out at her playfully. “Whatever. I’m gonna beat you this time, I can feel it in my bones!” He grabbed her controller and yanked it out of its plug, then threw it to the back of the bus.

            “Hey, that’s not fair! You can’t unplug me!” Lillian exclaimed before jumping up to find the controller.

            Justin merely laughed wildly as his character finally managed to win the match. “What’s that you said Mr. Dreamcast? What? I won?! Well, I guess I did, didn’t I?” His laughter stopped when something hard hit him upside the head. “Ow!”

            Lillian smirked at his astonished expression. “Sorry, I didn’t mean for that Beanie Baby to hit you.”

            Justin picked up one of the Beanie Babies Lance had received from a fan. “Oh, you didn’t mean for it to somehow fly through the air and smack my head?” he questioned sarcastically.

            “Nope,” Lillian shook her head. “I just wanted it to fly. Your big head managed to get in the way.”

            His eyes narrowed, and flashed with a glint of mischief. “Who knew that Lillian likes attacking innocent boys with stuffed animals. I better tell Lance, he’ll lock all his Beanie Babies up for now on.”

            “Innocent?!” Lillian repeated incredulously. “You threw my controller in the back of the bus!”

            “No, I didn’t throw it. I wanted it to fly!” he said, widening his eyes innocently.

            “You’re going to get it now, Timberlake,” Lillian threatened.

            “Oh yeah? You and what army?” he laughed.

            “This army!” she cried, pulling her arms from behind her back and brandishing a whole collection of Beanie Babies.

            “Oh, sh-“

            “Don’t cuss!” she quickly interrupted. “Beanie Babies don’t like it.”

            Justin sprang up from his seat and held his hands up over his head just as the barrage of Beanie Babies hit him.


            Lillian sat up quickly, shaking her head to dispel the flashback. Whenever she tried to fall asleep her mind was bombarded with memories of the tour. She couldn’t stand thinking of those happier times now that they were definitely over, and because of that she had missed out on a week of sleep.

            She left her bed quietly, so as not to wake Karen, grabbed the phone and went into the hallway. She needed to talk to someone. And Karen had told her earlier that Lance had called.

            After dialing his number she waited patiently for him to pick up. One ring, two rings, three rings, four rings. Lillian counted, and grew disappointed. He was probably busy. She took the phone away from her ear and was about to hang up when a distant voice came over the earpiece.

            “Hello?” Lance’s familiar deep voice asked.

            A smile appeared on Lillian’s face and she quickly put the phone back to her ear. “Lance!”

            “Hey, Lily!” he exclaimed happily. “You’re calling pretty late.”

            “I’m sorry,” she apologized, walking to the end of the hall and pushing past the door to the stairs. She sat down on the first step. “I couldn’t sleep.”

            “That’s okay,” he yawned. “We’ve been kind of busy lately, because the new album’s about to come out and everything. Promos suck.”

            “Poor Lance,” she sympathized. “But I bet you’re having fun.”

            He laughed. “Damn straight.”

            They both quieted, each lost in their own thoughts. Lance was desperate to ask about her health and Lillian wondered how the rest of the group was holding up under the recent stress.

            Finally, Lance broke the silence. “Lily, you have to eat and rest.”

            “What?” Lillian asked, not following his train of thought. “I am eating and sleeping!” she defended, although she knew she was lying to Lance. Guilt flooded her, but she didn’t want to trouble Lance when he was already busy.

            “No, you’re not,” he answered determinedly. “Karen told me.”

            “Lance, it’s not your problem,” she whispered, suddenly tired.

            “It is my problem! Whenever one of my friends starts abusing their health, it becomes my concern! Come on, Lily, tell me what’s happening,” he cajoled her.

            He received no response for several seconds, but Lillian at last answered. “I can’t sleep because… because the memories just flood me. Either that, or I have dreams about it all.”

            Lance understood what she was saying, although it was vague. “What’s so bad about the memories and dreams?”

            “They’re not bad,” she explained. “That’s the problem. They’re so happy and shining, you know? And then I realize that they’re memories, and nothing else. They’ll never happen again.”

            Lance’s own heart dropped at hearing the anguish in her voice. “Sweetie, of course they’re happy, but that doesn’t mean happy things won’t ever occur in the future. And what about the dreams?”

            “They’re useless,” she said harshly. “There’s no point in sleeping when all I do is dream.”

            “What’s the problem with dreams?”

            She sighed. “They never come true.”


*                       *                       *                       *


            “Ya’ll gonna make me lose my mind, up in here, up in here, ya’ll gonna make me go all out, up in here, up in here,” Justin shouted exuberantly, drumming his hands on the table.

            JC lowered the camcorder, sighing. “J! Can you please just tell Mr. Camera what you like in a woman?”

            Justin shook his head stubbornly, turned the volume up on his Discman, and continued to recite the DMX lyrics. “Ya’ll gonna make me act a fool, up in here, up in here, ya’ll gonna make me lose my cool, up in here, up in here!”

            His friend waited a grand total of two seconds before snatching the headphones off Justin’s head.

            “Hey! I was listening!” he protested. Justin made a futile grab for the headphones in JC’s hand.

            “Nuh uh uh,” JC admonished, grinning. “You have to suck up to the camera first!”

            Justin let out a groan and fell back into his chair. “Why do I have to tell everyone what I look for in the opposite sex? That’s stupid.”

            “Actually, I figure that little piece of information will help this video drag in the big bucks. I’ll ask the others, too. Imagine how many girls will pay to know what their idol desires in women! Pay day,” JC explained. “For charity, of course.”

            Justin pondered over his reasoning for a moment. Then he nodded. “You’re right. Your ugly mug won’t get people flipping out the credit cards. For the sake of charity, I suppose I’ll help out,” he airily deigned.

            JC shrugged off the slight and quickly placed the camcorder up to his face again. “Okay, now just explain what you’re looking for when you see a girl. And be specific, none of that ‘Great personality and sense of humor’ crap you’re always spewing out to the magazines. Remember, this is a candid interview.”

            “You’re on Candid Camera,” Justin sang softly before lapsing into thought. What I look for in women. Hmm. “I guess I don’t really have any definite requirements. Obviously, I notice looks first, because I’m using my eyes after all.”

            “What looks?”

            “Um, that doesn’t really matter. It’s not like she has to be a skinny model type, or a really curvy babe. She just has to be healthy, and comfortable with her appearance. And shorter than me, because I’m insecure like that,” he added as an afterthought, laughing softly to himself.

            “What about Britney?”

            Justin gave JC a glare. “Do I have to answer that?”

            “Yes! Come on, I can always cut it out later.”

            “Fine, fine. Britney is beautiful, anyone can see that. But just because we went out doesn’t mean I always go for blondes with superstar good looks. She’s one of my best friends too, so personality is very important.”

            “Details, details!” JC demanded.

            “About Brit’s personality?” he asked, confused.

            “No, dumb-ass! About the type of personality you like.”

            “Oh. Lemme think. A good sense of humor. Like she can laugh at the ironic things that happen, even on a bad day. But she can’t be so raunchy and wild that it gets annoying. And she should be sensitive to the people around her. Be a good listener, and helping out with problems is a definite plus. She has to have her own mind, none of that ‘What do you want to do’ stuff. And she has to have morals. You know, someone I can bring home to mom.”

            “What about a quiet girl?”

            “A quiet girl? I don’t know. It’ll be harder to get to know her, that’s for sure. I don’t think I’ve ever been out with someone quiet.”

            JC smiled slyly. “Well, you know what they say about quiet girls. A whole lot of passion under a peaceful exterior. Still waters run deep.”

            Justin looked at JC incredulously. “And you’re telling me this why?

            “No reason,” he replied dismissively. “Well, that’s enough. I’ll go bother Chris now.”

            “You do that,” Justin responded, finally able to retrieve his headphones. He slipped them over his ears, sighing at the peace and quiet and closing his eyes. A small grin stretched across his face. Quiet girls, huh?


*                       *                       *                       *


            “Lillian, there’s a package for you,” Karen informed her friend, dropping the UPS box into her lap.

            “What is it?” Lillian asked, putting down her book and picking the package up cautiously. She had never received a package ever since her father had died. Who could be sending one now?

            Karen laughed, poking her friend playfully. “I don’t know, maybe if you open it we can find out.”

            “Oh yeah,” she replied, shaking the cobwebs out of her head. “Silly me.” She turned the slim white box over to read the sender’s address. There wasn’t one. That’s odd.

            After seeing that Lillian still hadn’t opened the package, Karen grabbed it away from her, frustrated. “Why don’t I open it,” she suggested, tearing into the cardboard. Seconds later, a piece of paper and a videotape were revealed. She handed the paper to Lillian to read and hurried to put the tape into the VCR.

            Lillian unfolded the paper and scanned the writing.


            Hey Lily(pad),

            Thought you’d be interested in knowing what we’ve been up to lately. Have fun!


            It was signed by JC, Lance, Chris and Joey. But she didn’t see Justin’s strong handwriting anywhere on the note. She gave a silent sigh of disappointment.

            “What’s it say?” Karen asked curiously. Her hand hovered over the play button on the VCR. Lillian read the short message out aloud. “Hmm. Interesting. Let’s watch, shall we?” She pressed the button and went to sit next to Lillian on her bed.

            They both stared at the screen in anticipation. Soon, a shaky image appeared.

            “It’s . . . a thumb,” Karen remarked flatly. “What the heck?”

            “Get your thumb off the lens!” a voice commanded. It was Joey.

            “Sorry,” another voice mumbled, before the thumb vanished. Lillian laughed at JC’s fumbling with the camera.

            “That was Joey and JC. And JC’s thumb,” she explained to Karen.

            “Oh,” Karen said, nodding. “JC isn’t that talented with a camera, is he? I think I’m going to throw up.”

            Thankfully, JC seemed to have found something steady to put his camera on because the images stopped moving. After some focusing, the smiling faces of Lance, Joey, and Chris came over the screen.

            “Jace, get over here,” Lance said, motioning to the couch they were all sitting on. JC was seen walking away from the camera and towards the rest of his friends. He managed to get situated after some shoving and arguing. Lillian and Karen smiled at each other upon seeing the friendly dispute.

            “Is it on?” Chris asked, staring at the camera.

            “I’ve been recording for five minutes already,” JC answered, giving Joey one last jab to the ribs before turning an innocent face to the camera. “Now let’s all say hi. Chris, you start.”

            “Hey Lily, it’s your favorite twenty-nine year old!” Chris said, waving at the camera. He turned serious, and shook a finger. “And hopefully your only twenty-nine year old. Anyway, I miss you and all the nights we spent together. You know what I’m talkin’ about!” he said, winking suggestively.

            “What is he talking about?” Karen demanded.

            Lillian laughed. “Movie night. Don’t worry, it’s not what you think. Very harmless stuff.”

            On the screen, Joey was shown smacking his older friend. “Moving on now,” he muttered, ignoring the kick he received in response and grinning at the camera. “Lilypad! You like the new color? No one here likes it, but personally, I love the blinding effect.”

            “Could his hair get any brighter?” Karen asked, observing the dazzling shade of yellow he had chosen.

            “Um…no,” Lillian replied after some thought. “But strangely, I find myself liking it.”

            “My turn!” JC called out. “How are things at MIT? Smartie. Go on wit your bad-ass self, girl!”

            Lillian groaned along with the others at his outburst. She turned to Karen. “You can not tell anyone about his fit of lameness.”

            “I promise,” Karen said, still laughing. “Who would have guessed?”

            “You’re not black,” Joey helpfully informed his friend. JC glared at him before turning back to the camera.

            “I have to beat Joey’s ass now, so I’ll let Lance talk.” Joey sprang up from the couch and raced off-screen, with JC in fast pursuit.

            Lance stared after them for a moment, resignedly shaking his head. “Sorry about that, Lily. So how’s it going? I hope everything’s okay. And if Karen’s there, tell her I say hi.”

            “Hi, Lance!” Karen responded, smiling. “What a gentleman.”

            “I have so many things to tell you. Important things,” Lance continued, stressing the word.

            “That’s my cue to leave,” Karen said, smiling. “I’ll see you later, Lillian.” Lillian gave a small distracted wave as her roommate left.

            What important things?

            “First,” Lance began, as if reading her mind, “All the concert ‘accidents’. We know you didn’t do anything. And Tim and Justin know, too. Let me summarize all the action for you, cliff notes edition. I guessed that Elaine had something to do with everything, so me and the guys came up with a plan. We threw an impromptu party in the banquet room of the hotel, and convinced Justin to come. Then we had another girl, Theresa, majorly flirt with him, while Chris maneuvered Elaine so she could get a good eyeful of Theresa getting up close and personal with her ‘Justy.’”

            “It was horrible!” Chris exclaimed, joining in with the explanation. “Elaine dancing…ugh!” he exclaimed, shuddering. “I can never look at a dance floor the same way again. My poor, poor virgin eyes!”

            “So anyway, back to what happened. Elaine blew up and pretty much attacked Theresa. And then Justin went crazy, because he had told Elaine that they were history,” Lance went on.

            Lillian looked at him in surprise. Elaine had said that they just had a fight, not that they’d broken up. Figures she’d lie about that.

            “Then Justin left the room and Elaine followed him. And here’s the fun part: JC went too. With a camera,” Lance grinned. “So JC videotaped Elaine messing with Theresa’s file. Caught red-handed.”

            “Yeah, it was great, Lily!” JC shouted, coming back to the couch with his hair messed up and his clothes wrinkled. “What a rush. I was like two feet away and she didn’t even see me!”

            “My ma raised me to respect all women, but damn, Elaine must be the only exception,” Joey said, looking as disordered as JC.

            “And when Tim came by later, we showed him the videotape and a copy of Theresa’s real file,” Chris said, picking up the story. “That’s what she did to you, too. So Elaine’s gone now. And we all lived happily ever after.”

            Lillian smiled, proud that they’d managed to think of such an elaborate plan to catch Elaine.

            “But it’s not as happily ever after as we’d like it to be,” Lance interjected. “There’s still an empty position on tour. And I think a certain someone could come back,” he suggested with a puppy face. The others quickly caught on and joined in, giving the camera the most pitiful looks they could.

            “Guys!” Lillian exclaimed, laughing at the four grown men pouting.

            “And I think Justin would be happy too,” JC added, getting serious. Lance nodded.

            “He’s been feeling down,” Chris said. “I’m sure he’d be happier if you were here.”

            “He’s not here right now because he’s sleeping,” JC explained. “J doesn’t appreciate my attempts to be a filmmaker, so we have to do this on the sly. But I did get some footage of him, for your viewing enjoyment. So let me present to you my very first video, ‘When Boy-Bands Attack—Bleeding Baby Blue’. It’s rated R, for some language and violence, so get the kids out of the room. Enjoy!”

            “When Boy-Bands Attack?!” Lillian repeated, doubling over in laughter. “Only you guys.”

            The picture faded to black and the theme music from ‘Masterpiece Theater’ played. Suddenly, the sound of a needle scratching a record was heard, then some rap music began. Lillian thought the song was vaguely familiar. A grin lit her face as she placed it. ‘Get Crunked Up.’

            As the song continued, the black faded away to an image of Justin dancing enthusiastically backstage, not realizing he was being caught on camera. Lillian smiled, seeing how he naturally moved with an inborn rhythm.

            “Getting crunked up?” JC inquired from behind the camera. Justin froze, then slowly turned around.

            “Is that on?” he asked, motioning to the camera. The camera moved up and down in a positive response. “Turn it off!” It moved left and right. “JC! I’m serious, turn it off!” Again, it shook back and forth. “Okay, that’s it. You’re gonna get it!”

            The camera was quickly dropped to the ground and landed on its side. She could hear JC laughing over Justin’s shouts. Suddenly JC’s face came into view, only inches away from the camera.

            “Help me!” he cried melodramatically. “He’s coming, he’s coming! Tell my parents and family that I love them. My time has come.” Then the image became static.

            For the next thirty minutes Lillian couldn’t stop laughing. JC and the others had really outdone themselves. There was footage of the rehearsals, and of the following concerts. The camera had caught some more private moments too, like Justin and Joey arguing over who deserved the last slice of pizza and Lance crank-calling the security guards. The whole video was priceless.

            Then the tone got serious. JC had taped Justin sleeping restlessly in their hotel room, explaining into the camera about all the day’s tiring events. Lillian wanted to run over and hug Justin, and let him rest for as long as he wanted. Poor guy.

            The four on the couch appeared again. “That’s the end. Hope you enjoyed it,” JC smiled.

            “Call us!” Lance demanded.

            “Yeah, I need your opinion on my hair,” Joey agreed.

            “So until next time,” Chris said, “Be happy. Remember, same bat time, same bat channel.”

            Some computer-created credits began to roll on the screen. Lillian grinned as she read them out loud. “Executive Producer: JC Chasez. Director: JC Chasez. Music Editor: JC Chasez. King of the World: JC Chasez. Hottest Member of NSYNC: JC Chasez.”

            She reached over to stop and rewind the tape, but Justin’s face suddenly appeared. She paused, curious. I thought it was over. She listened intently, suddenly realizing what Justin was talking about. His perfect girl. Lillian couldn’t help but do a mental checklist of herself, seeing if she had what Justin wanted. She really couldn’t tell.

            His face left the screen, and JC came on. “Just thought you’d be interested,” he smiled. “Later.”

            Lillian continued to stare at the blank screen even as the tape automatically began rewinding itself. She thought over what she had seen in the tape, and the effort JC especially must have put into it. “Thanks, JC.”

*                       *                       *                       *


            “Okay, and if we drain the burets and then add the excess to the flask, we should be able to find the value of acid!” Chloe exclaimed excitedly.

            Lillian regarded her lab partner, baffled. She blinked her eyes rapidly at the lab setup in front of her that kept going out of focus.

            “Lillian! Are you listening?”

            She shook her head as if trying to dislodge cobwebs. “Um, yeah, I’m listening,” she replied distractedly. Why aren’t those black dots going away? “It’s just that…I feel a little…”

            The glass buret crashed to the floor as Chloe rushed to where Lillian had collapsed.




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