Chapter 21

“It's a beautiful day - the sky falls
You feel like it's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away.”

                        - U2, “Beautiful Day”



            “I drive myself crazy…with nothing to do,” Lance sang softly to himself, improvising some new lyrics. He glanced out the bus window and observed the empty road, then turned back to his friends, who were doing various things to keep themselves busy. The bus’s VCR was broken, so movies were out of the question. And there was absolutely nothing on TV to watch. It was a Saturday, after all. Golf was not made to be a spectator sport.

            “Man, I never realized you were such a cheater,” Joey commented, glaring at Chris.

            “What are you talking about?” Chris asked innocently. “I don’t cheat at cards.”

            “Oh yeah, sure,” Joey said sarcastically. “I guess that fifth ace just happened to ‘accidentally’ fall from your sleeve and end up in your hand.”

            “Yeah, that’s exactly what happened!” Chris agreed immediately. The groans and laughter of the others in the bus reached his ears, and he smiled mischievously.

            Justin was sitting next to Lance, his headphones on and the volume turned up. JC was sprawled on a beanbag, flipping through his ‘Source’ magazine, ignoring the odd glances Lillian had given him when he’d first pulled it out. And Lillian sat quietly at the little table in the makeshift kitchen, deeply immersed in a book.

            Lance started his song up again, and JC sighed exasperatedly and threw his magazine at him.

            “Here,” he exclaimed, “Maybe this can occupy you for a while. Just please stop singing that song. I’ve heard it for like the thousandth time already!”

            Lance laughed and eagerly turned the glossy pages, glad for something to do.

            “I’m going to get something to drink. You guys want anything?” JC asked, turning to everyone else. Justin shook his head, and Chris and Joey had started another game of poker, too worked up to reply.

            Lillian looked up briefly when JC opened the minibar and pulled a bottle of water out. He took a sip then sat down on the bench across from her.

            “What are you reading?” he asked curiously, glancing at the title of the paperback. “Dandelion Wine?”

            She lifted her glance from the book and nodded. “One of the girls in production gave it to me. Her mom’s an English teacher.”

            “Is it any good?” JC wanted to know, eager to hear of any good reading. He hadn’t read anything new for a while.

            “Actually, it is!” Lillian replied. “I didn’t really expect it to be, but it’s very moving. Nostalgic, kind of.”

            “What’s the plot?”

            “There’s not really a main one, except that it’s about the summer of this boy. But there are a lot of little plots. The whole book is a bunch of vignettes, tied together,” Lillian explained. “I’m almost done. Just a few more pages.”

            JC nodded and stayed put, drinking some more water. A few minutes later, she closed the book and slid it over to him.

            “Do you want to borrow it?” she offered. “I bet you’ll like it.”

            “Sure,” he smiled. “And after I’m done, we can talk about it.”

            “Sounds good,” Lillian agreed. “I’ll mess around with my laptop in the meantime.” She pulled it onto the table and opened it, needing to clean out the archive. It was taking up too much memory.

            JC set his water aside and reclined on the bench, getting himself comfortable. He opened the cover and turned to the introduction, and was soon involved in the book. The two of them settled into a companionable silence for the rest of the three hours that remained of the road trip.


*                       *                       *


            “This is sweet!” Joey crowed, running into the hotel room and jumping onto one of the king-size beds.

            “Get off my bed,” Lance ordered, pushing his friend away. “Go play on JC’s.”

            JC was staring out of the open balcony window, the breeze ruffling his hair. He turned around and grinned. “Joey’s right, this place is great. And I can’t believe we ended up right next to the beach. Who would build a stadium here? But hey, no complaints from me!”

            “We have to get out and hit the boardwalk,” Chris said, coming out of the bathroom. “It’ll be awesome. Especially during the night. All sorts of crazy and young people are out.”

            “Crazy and young women,” Joey added.

            “This beach vibe is too much,” Justin observed from the white sofa at the side of the room. “It just gets to you, you know?”

            “Yeah,” JC agreed, understanding completely. “Come on, let’s go ask Tim if we can go out tonight. We’ve been really good lately! He didn’t even find out about the water fight.”

            After some extensive arguing over the phone, a deal was made. They’d be allowed to wander the boardwalk with some bodyguards until midnight if they devoted an extra hour to rehearsal the next day. Of course, everyone had agreed eagerly.

            “Let’s get Lilypad,” Joey suggested. “People won’t notice five guys as much if there’s a girl there to distract them.”

            They got dressed in appropriate clothes, nothing glamorous like the outfits they wore for appearances and videos. Now, they were just a group of normal young men, with nothing unusual about them except for the sunglasses and headgear.

            On the way down to the lobby, Justin and JC stopped by to pick up Lillian. Justin rapped on the door impatiently.

            Lillian opened it and stared at the two standing in front of her. “Are you guys planning to do something tonight?” she asked, taking in the comfortable sporty-ness of Justin’s attire and the casual sophistication of JC’s.

            “Yup!” Justin grinned, grabbing her wrist. “Let’s go, the others are waiting downstairs.”

            “Guys! Didn’t you pay attention to the news? There’s supposed to be a storm coming in.”

            JC paused in bouncing on his heels. “Oh. Really? Well, that’s too bad. It’s gonna have to wait till we get back.” He took her other wrist and they dragged her out of the room, shouting to her roommate that they’d be back later.

            “Now come on!” Justin prompted, pulling her behind him as he raced to the elevator. “This’ll be fun. We can look at the souvenir shops and buy cotton candy and check out the locals.”

            Lillian perked up at the sound of junk food. “Cotton candy?”

            JC caught on quickly, and smiled slyly. “Lots and lots of cotton candy. Pink, and blue, and yummy,” he said, smacking his lips. “We’ll buy you all you want.”

            “Well let’s go then!” she said, taking holds of their arms and pulling them into the elevator.


*                       *                       *


            “I can’t believe you bought that,” Lance said, rolling his eyes. “Can you get any more tacky?”

            Chris shrugged. “I don’t know. The whole shell motif is pretty cool. Don’t you think so, Lily?” he asked, shoving the seashell figurine into her face.

            She took the small object in one hand, holding her third stick of cotton candy in the other. Slowly she examined it. It was a hula dancer made entirely of seashells, complete with glitter and jiggly eyes. “Um…sure,” she agreed, not wanting to hurt Chris’ feelings.

            “See!” Chris gloated, turning back to Lance.

            The three of them were standing outside one of the many tourist trap shops lining the boardwalk, and it was the fifth one they’d passed so far. It was also the fifth one they’d been in, and the fifth one Chris had bought something from.

            “You realize that these stores have the exact same things, only at different prices, right?” Lance wanted to know.

            “No, my friend,” Chris replied. “Each and every thing I buy is special. Because seashell souvenirs are like snowflakes. They’re both unique and very pretty.”

            Lillian burst out laughing, almost choking on her cotton candy. Lance hit her back firmly, and her coughs subsided. “Thanks,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a stupid simile before.”

            Chris scoffed. “Stupid…but true,” he shot back.

            Lance hid his smile at their conversation. He glanced around, wondering where the others had run off to.

            Just then, Joey came running towards them from further down the boardwalk with Mike trailing discreetly behind him. “Guys, come on! We just found an arcade! Justin and JC are already there, kicking some major butt.”

            They hurried towards the open building, noticing the large amount of teenagers inside. Luckily, most of them were guys, so they probably wouldn’t notice or care about the members from ‘N Sync in their midst. Wes was outside, and Mike opted to remain with him instead of going into the arcade. Joey led the way through the throng to a group that was gathering around a race car simulation. Sure enough, JC and Justin were the ones driving.

            The two were laughing as their friends started shouting and prompting them.

            “Come on, Jace, keep this turn tight and you’ll cut J off,” Chris said.

            “Stay in the lead man, just one more lap!” Lance exclaimed to Justin.

            Everyone groaned when the game ended, and JC shrugged. “Next time I’ll get you,” he promised Justin.

            “Anytime, buddy. I’ll be ready for you,” Justin replied confidently. He noticed Lillian standing there. “I’m on a winning streak. Maybe I can beat you now!”

            He ran over to a fighting game, Tekken Tag. “Here are some quarters,” he said, reaching into his cargo pockets and pulling out a handful of coins. “This should last for a while. At least long enough for me to finally win!”

            Lillian laughed and took the coins, putting fifty cents into the slot. “It’s not my fault if you get embarrassed in such a macho place.”

            “We’ll see about that,” Justin answered.

            They began their game, and soon another crowd had gathered. But instead of cheering for the previous winner of the racing game, they sided with Lillian.

            “Boy, she is kicking your ass!” one tall teenager shouted.

            “You gonna let a girl beat you?” another one asked, laughing.

            Justin let out a shout of frustration, but he wasn’t truly mad. He was having too good of a time to be in a bad mood. “Why don’t you try?” he asked the second teen that had laughed, stepping behind Lillian and leaving the joystick empty.

            “Fine, I will,” the sneering boy answered. He adjusted his visor and pulled out his quarters, then chose his character. “But tell her not to cry when I win.”

            “Why don’t you tell me yourself,” Lillian spoke up, glaring at him. “I’m not deaf, I’m a girl.”

            Various ‘ooh’s and ‘ouch’s emerged from the interested and entertained crowd around them.

            “Damn, Brian, she got you!” another high school boy shouted.

            “That’s gotta hurt,” Justin said appreciatively at Lillian’s comment, proud of her for defending herself. “Now just do what you do best,” he said, whispering in her ear. “You’ve had a lot of practice on me.”

            She laughed. She wanted to beat this jerk badly.

            “It’s go time!” Brian shouted, immediately jamming the buttons and yanking the joystick.

            Lillian calmly pressed her own buttons, smoothly handling the joystick. The fight was on.



            “What’s going on over there?” Lance asked, motioning to the dense crowd around the Tekken Tag machine.

            “I don’t know,” Joey replied, glancing over towards the shouts. “But it sounds like they’re having fun.”

            “Let’s go,” JC suggested, abandoning his pinball game and heading over to the large group. They pushed their way through the laughing and cheering boys, finally reaching the center of the action.

            “Damn it!” a tall guy wearing a visor shouted.

            “Yeah, that’s right! She beat you…three times!” Justin bragged, his arm around a flustered-looking Lillian. “You better apologize to the lady.”

            “Aw man,” he complained.

            “Do it, Brian!” a boy standing nearby prompted.


            “You already lost, might as well be polite. Unless you’re not just a loser, but a sore loser too,” Justin said, insulting the guy with a smile on his face.

            The jeering of “Do it” rose from the crowd, and Brian finally gave in. “Fine, fine! Whatever, man. I know when I’m beat.” To the amusement of everyone gathered, he dropped to his knees and bowed down to Lillian, who was laughing. “I recognize and am inferior to your Tekken Tag abilities, Queen of Arcades.”

            She started laughing even harder, then reached down and pulled him back to his feet. “Just remember that you should never underestimate a girl,” she grinned into his bashful face. He nodded.

            The lights flickered suddenly, and everyone glanced up. A message over the PA system came on. “Attention, patrons. Due to a thunderstorm heading our way, we’ll be closing early. Please leave quickly and head on home. We’ll be open tomorrow at our regular time.”

            “Man, just when things were getting exciting for once,” Brian’s friend complained. They tossed good-byes to Lillian and Justin and headed into the night. Soon, everyone was gone except for Lillian and the guys.

            “Wow, nice job,” Joey complimented her. “Way to earn everyone’s respect.”

            She rolled her eyes. “I never knew all I had to do to earn a guy’s respect was to beat him in a video game.”

            Justin laughed. “You were really something, Lillian. I’m proud of you.”

            She smiled shyly at him. “Thanks, Justin.” Their eyes locked for a split second, then Justin cleared his throat and turned away.

            “So what do we do now?” he asked. “We still have half an hour left, and I don’t want to go back to the hotel so soon.”

            “Yeah, I know what you mean,” Lance agreed. “Let’s just walk around some more.”

            They left the arcade and strolled down the boardwalk, noticing that even though a storm was coming, there were lots of people still outside.

            “Oh! Look at that!” Chris exclaimed, pointing at a small circular building. It was a Dairy Queen.

            “Ice cream! Let’s go!” Lillian urged everyone, getting excited because she had had to throw away the cotton candy when they went into the arcade.

            “Well…I don’t know,” JC said, pretending to be serious. He observed the two eager faces in front of him. “You kids have had enough junk food already. But I guess it won’t hurt.”

            “Yes!” Chris said, high-fiving Lillian. “I’ll go save a place in line.” He dashed off, leaving his bag of souvenirs with Lillian. She followed at a more sedately pace, with Justin accompanying her.

            “What’s in there?” he asked, motioning at the plastic bag.

            She handed it to him, and he looked inside. Then he recoiled in horror. “People actually buy these things?” he asked in amazement.

            “I don’t know about people,” Lance said, coming up to them. “But Chris buys them.”

            Justin shook his head. “I’ll never understand him.”

            They reached the line and stood behind Chris, who was fairly bouncing in anticipation.

            “Should I get…the oreo blizzard?” he asked. “Or maybe a double chocolate-dipped cone. Or the deluxe ice-cream sundae. I know, the banana split!”

            “Maybe you’re hyper enough already, and you shouldn’t get anything,” Justin suggested.

            Chris contemplated that. “Nah, that’s not it,” he said, rejecting the idea.

            The line slowly moved up towards the counter, and just as they were two people away from ordering, the windows slid closed.

            “They’re closing?” Chris exclaimed. “But why?”

            Thunder rumbled ominously, and he looked up at the now dense clouds covering the stars and moon.

            “Oh yeah,” he remembered. “That.

            JC stared at the sky. “I don’t know…maybe it won’t rain right now.”

            Seconds later, a fat raindrop hit him in the eye.

            “Okay, never mind. I take that back.”

            The rain came down in torrents, soaking everyone still outside. The wind had picked up, and was now a strong gust.

            “Shoot, we definitely have to get back to the hotel now,” Lance shouted over the storm to his friends. His hair and clothes were plastered to his body, just like everyone else’s.

            “But we’re too far!” Joey said. “It’s twenty minutes away!”

            “We can run,” Justin suggested. “It’s not like we’ll get any wetter.”

            Wes spoke up. “Justin’s right, we have to go now, even if there is a storm. Otherwise Tim will kill us.”

            “Get into two groups,” Mike said. “That way we won’t lose anyone accidentally.”

            They obediently divided up, with Mike following one group and Wes the other.

            “Alright, come on kids, time for some exercise!” Mike prompted from behind his group consisting of Justin, Lillian, and JC.

            Justin led the way, with a hold on Lillian’s arm to make sure she didn’t fall behind, and JC jogged along on her other side. After they had covered half the distance, she was getting a little tired. She wasn’t in the prime physical shape Justin and JC were, and her wet shoes weighed her down. To add to that, the cold rain on her skin was making her shiver a little.

            JC looked at her and saw that they needed to stop for a second. He signaled to Mike, and Mike nodded.

            “Justin! Let’s rest over here for a minute,” he shouted to his friend, motioning to the open garage of a hotel.

            Justin slowed down and pulled Lillian to shelter, and JC and Mike followed. He was out of breath too, even though he wasn’t that tired. It must have been the excitement and energy from the storm.

            “Okay, gang, we’ll stop here for five minutes, but then we gotta get moving again,” Mike called to them. He stood at the entrance to the garage and when Wes’ group approached them he waved them on.

            “I’m sorry,” Lillian apologized for slowing them down. “I’m not in the same shape you guys are.”

            “Don’t worry about it!” Justin said, waving the apology away. “We can’t all be macho hunks,” he laughed, flexing his biceps through his now almost-transparent shirt.

            JC ran a hand through his hair to get the excess water out. “Man, this night is really something.”

            “I know!” Justin quickly agreed. “I’m all hyped up. Running in a storm is pretty damn cool.”

            Lillian laughed. “Maybe this should be your next video.”

            JC contemplated that. “Not a bad idea, actually. It’d be fun to do this again.”

            “Don’t even start,” Mike warned him. He checked his watch. “Okay, break time’s over, let’s move out.”

            They began running again, but this time at a slower pace. Soon they were in front of the hotel, dripping wet.

            “Dry clothes, I need dry clothes,” Justin groaned, splashing through the gleaming lobby and leaving a trail of water on the marble floor as he made a beeline for the elevators. JC and Lillian followed carefully, trying to ignore the looks the other patrons of the hotel were giving them.

            As soon as the elevator doors slid closed, they burst out into laughter, holding their stomachs.

            “What? What happened?” Justin wanted to know.

            “You should have see yourself,” JC gasped. “Like a zombie, talking to yourself and getting their nice clean lobby all wet.”

            “The receptionist gave you this evil glare,” Lillian added, imitating the offended look.

            Justin smiled sheepishly. He looked down and saw that they were soaking the plush red carpet in the elevator. “Oops. I guess we’re gonna get some calls tomorrow.”

            “It was worth it though,” JC said, a grin on his face.

            “Definitely worth it,” Justin quickly agreed.


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