Chapter 22

“I hear your voice in the wind

I feel you under my skin

Within my heart and soul

I wait for you.”

                        -Lara Fabian, “Adagio”



            “Ugh, rehearsals suck,” Justin groaned, coming into the hotel room. After the extra hour and a half, Dominic had made him stay longer to practice some new moves. He was still sweaty, and as soon as the door shut behind him he yanked his wifebeater off. He looked at the other occupants in the room. “What are you guys doing?”

            JC looked from the half-naked Justin to the staring Lillian, and back to Justin. “We’re just talking about a book.” He nudged Lillian on the bed beside him, who was still in a stupor.

            “Oh! Yeah, a book,” she said, dragging her eyes away from Justin’s torso. It’s just skin. Not a big deal. And all those muscles aren’t a big deal either.

            Justin shrugged and went into the bathroom to take a shower. When they heard the water turn on, JC regarded Lillian closely.

            “What? What’s wrong?” she asked, uncomfortable under his gaze.

            “You like Justin!” he sang, laughing.

            Lillian rolled her eyes. “Good job, JC.”

            “You want to kiss him!”

            “So getting back to the book-“ she began, to be cut off by his singing again.

            “You think he’s gorgeous.”

            “Stop with the ‘Miss Congeniality’ lines! We never should have watched that on the way to Las Vegas,” she exclaimed, throwing the paperback at him.

            He caught it easily, and tossed it back. “Don’t deny your passion!” he burst out in a melodramatic voice.

            “I think you’re more excited than I am,” Lillian observed dryly.

            JC leaned across the expanse of the king-size bed and propped his chin on his hand. “So, girl, come on! Dish!”

            She started laughing at his eager expression. “I would never have thought I’d find a big sister among ‘N Sync. Fixing each other’s hair. Gossiping about guys.”

            “I’ll take that as a compliment,” JC decided. “So tell me!”

            “There’s not much to say,” Lillian shrugged. “He’s amazing.”

            “Oh come on! You have to be more specific than that. Don’t girls like to talk about body parts? What parts do you like the most?”

            “I am not sharing anything concerning body parts,” Lillian stated adamantly.

            “Okay, I’ll tell you about what I like, and then you can tell me about the parts you enjoy!” JC offered. “I like-“

            Lillian quickly interrupted him. “I don’t want to hear this. You’re crazy!”

            “Ah,” he breathed. “Crazy…like a fox!”

            “And very, very hyper tonight,” she said.

            “I can’t deny the truth!” JC laughed. “But seriously, I am pretty curious about the whole ‘thing’ going on between you two.”

            “There isn’t any ‘thing.’ Even though sometimes I wish there were,” Lillian admitted quietly. “But I already decided that nothing will ever come of this, and I should just be thankful to have met him and be his friend.” No matter that it’s hard to remember that sometimes.

            JC groaned in disappointment. “Lily! That’s boring! Why don’t you fight for him?”

            “Because it’s stupid! Besides, why do you care so much? I would have thought that you’d support Justin being with Britney, considering they’re both your friends.”

            “Nah, I know they’re too much like brother and sister sometimes. Plus, the same industry and professions can ruin a relationship. It’s like a cop being married to a cop. Why would you want to live with your job every hour of your life?”

            Lillian listened attentively. “Oh. I guess that makes sense.”

            “And the reason I care so much is because I think it would work between you guys. He’s never known someone like you before.”

            “And when you say ‘like me’ you mean someone unglamorous and boring.”

            JC shook his head. “No! You have to stop insulting yourself. What I mean is, someone down-to-earth with a good sense of humor and no ulterior motives in wanting to know a celebrity. Just for the sake of friendship.”

            Lillian immediately argued with him. “It wouldn’t happen, JC. We’re not alike. Justin needs someone beautiful and popular and bubbly. It’s the type of woman who would balance him. He deserves that person.”

            “He deserves whoever makes him happy. And you two have a lot of fun together.”

            “We’re friends, nothing more.”

            JC sighed, seeing that he was getting nowhere. Who would’ve thought Lily could be so stubborn? “Fine, fine. But if you wanna talk, just call me, your big sis!”

            Lillian laughed. “Okay, sis.”

            Oddly enough, at that moment Justin chose to walk into the room. He froze at the last bit of their conversation. “Okay…I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear Lillian call JC her sister,” he said aloud to himself.

            “Shut up, J! It’s private!” JC retorted.

            Justin snorted. “Just make sure you keep it private. I’m gonna go look for a basketball hoop. I think someone said there was one in the back lot.”

            “Hey, I have a great idea!” JC burst out before Justin could leave the room. “Why don’t we come with you? I wanna play, too. And Lily can watch.” He ignored the exasperated sigh from Lillian in the background.

            Justin mulled over the suggestion. “Alright. It won’t hurt to practice beating you in some one-on-one.”

            “Come on,” JC urged Lillian, putting the book aside and tugging her to the door.

            “Hold on, let me go find Lance,” she said. “I’ve been kind of neglecting him lately, and maybe he’ll want to watch too.”

            “Hurry up,” Justin responded, already down the hall. “You don’t want to miss any of the action!” The elevator opened and he ran in, with JC following him.

            Lillian went next door and knocked softly. After no one answered, she put her hand on the doorknob and found that it wasn’t locked. She pushed the door open and stepped into the silent hotel room. Where are Lance and Chris? They said they were going to be reviewing the new wardrobe shipments.

            “Hello?” she called out. “Lance? Chris? Where’d you guys go?”

            After surveying the dark room she shrugged and turned to leave, only to run into something solid and warm.

            “Oh my gosh!” she screamed in surprise.

            Lance started laughing hysterically. “I got you, I got you!”

            The door opened behind him and Chris stepped in. He looked at the howling Lance and Lillian, who was holding a hand to her chest. “What? What happened?”

            “I scared Lily,” Lance said in between his laughter. “Her face…priceless, man!”

            “Lance, shut up!” Lillian exclaimed, smacking him on the shoulder. “That was so immature!”

            His only response was to crack up even more.

            Chris shook his head. “I leave you alone for one minute, Lansten, and when I come back you’re frightening little girls. Shame on you.”

            “Thank you, Chris,” Lillian smiled at him.

            He continued on. “I mean, you should have had the decency to wait until I got back so I could have been in on the plan. At the least you could have made sure I was in the room so I would be able to see her face!”

            “Chris, you’re asking for it,” she muttered.

            “Sorry, Lily, we’re a team now,” Lance grinned, motioning to Chris and himself. “You and J wanted to pull pranks on me, so now I’ve found someone to get my back.”

            “You just wait. We’ll get you both when you’re least expecting it,” Lillian warned, narrowing her eyes. “And now that I’m so mad at you, I won’t invite you to watch Justin and JC’s basketball game.” She stuck her tongue out at them playfully.

            “Basketball game?” Chris asked with interest. She nodded. “Well let’s go then!”

            “Nope. You can’t come anymore.”

            “Who’s gonna stop us?” Lance wanted to know.

            “I am!” Lillian declared.

            Chris and Lance exchanged a look, then turned back to Lillian with evil glints in their eyes.

            “Hey,” she protested. “What’s going on?”

            They slowly began walking towards her.

            “Guys, stop! Wait a minute, don’t even try-“

            Her objection was cut off as they picked her up bodily and ran out of the room.


*                       *                       *


            You are so dead!

            Justin, who had been about to check the ball to JC, paused and looked up towards the shout. “That sounded like-“

            The metal door to the back parking lot banged open and Lillian appeared, carried squirming in the grasps of Lance and Chris. They were trying to quiet her down, but to no avail.

            “I will not shut up! I can’t believe you carried me through the whole hotel! And don’t tell me that I’m attracting attention, Chris! Maybe if you hadn’t decided to lug me all the way down here, I wouldn’t be shouting right now!”

            Justin and JC looked at each other, and both of them tried to stifle their laughter.

            “Ow!” Lance exclaimed. He promptly let go of Lillian’s feet and rubbed his side, and she was finally able to stand on her own.

            “That’s what you get! Don’t try it again,” Lillian glared, pulling her arms away from Chris.

            JC ambled over to the three. “Now, now. What happened here?”

            “Daddy, she kicked me!” Lance whined.

            “Whatever, Lance, it was your fault!”

            “Children, let’s all calm down. Tell me the whole story.”

            They obediently recalled what had happened, interrupting each other when someone lied or strayed a little too far from the truth. Finally, JC held up his hands.

            “I’ve decided that this is all Lance and Chris’s fault. I give Lily permission to take revenge on all y'all's asses.”

            Lillian laughed and high-fived JC. “Thanks.” She turned to Chris and Lance. “Take that!”

            Justin came over and put his hand on her shoulder. “The L and J connection’s coming for you,” he said to the two. “But for now…let’s get back to some ball!”

            JC grabbed the basketball from Justin and dribbled to the hoop, executing a graceful lay-up.

            “Oh no you didn’t!” Justin shouted, running over to his friend. “Okay, these will be the teams. Me and Jace, against Lance and Chris. And Lillian’s ref.”

            “Sounds a little uneven to me,” Lillian commented. They turned and stared at her. “Hey, I watched Challenge for the Children!”

            “Fine, fine,” Justin assented. “So much for an easy win. How about…me and Lance, versus JC and Chris.”

            “That’s better,” Lillian agreed.

            After a few minutes of smack-talking, the four finally began the game. Lillian stood watching on the sidelines, smiling softly. She couldn’t be luckier.


*                       *                       *


            Lillian stared out of the bus window, her eyes looking at the other cars but not seeing them. The music in her ears drowned her mind, and everything surrounding her faded. Suddenly, someone snapped the headphones.

            Startled, she looked up to see who it was.

            “Justin. Do you want your CD player back?”

            He sat down next to her. “Nope, just wanted to know what you’re listening to that’s so interesting. You looked zoned out.”

            “Oh. Well, here’s the jewel case.” She gave the plastic case to him.

            He read it. “Eva Cassidy?”

            “Yeah. JC’s mom sent him the CD, and he let me borrow it in return for the book. I think you’ll like it, too. She’s amazing.”

            Justin flipped through the insert in the case, and stopped on a page. He read the words, then looked up. “She died?”

            Lillian nodded sadly. “A few years ago. She was really famous locally in DC, which was probably why Mrs. Chasez knew about her. But now she’s popular in Europe, and she’s becoming more famous here.”

            “That’s sad,” Justin observed. “To become famous after your death. You wouldn’t even realize what an impact you’ve made.”

            “I guess she made music to satisfy herself, and not the rest of the world. Sometimes it's enough,” Lillian mused.

            Justin nodded, then looked pensive. He ran his finger along the edge of the page, not even seeming to realize what he was doing.

            Lillian immediately noticed his slightly furrowed brow and thoughtful eyes. “What? What’s wrong?”

            He sighed. “I was wondering…” he began, before trailing off.

            “Wondering?” she prompted.

            “I know this sounds kinda weird…but- I don’t know,” he said awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. How would he say this?

            “Tell me,” Lillian urged him.

            He looked at her concerned gaze and tried again. “Well, I guess…” he paused, then figured it would be better to ask all at once. “Am I stupid? Like, do you not respect me?” After the words rushed out, he peered up at her expression.

            “Stupid?” she repeated, surprised. “But Justin, why would you think that? Of course I respect you!” Respect was nowhere near the strongest thing she felt for him.

            “I said it was gonna sound strange. Forget about it,” he said, trying to avoid the subject. He moved to get up from the seat, but Lillian quickly took his wrist and pulled him back down.

            “No, let’s not forget about it. Why do you think I don’t respect you?”

            Justin looked around the bus, and saw that no one would overhear their conversation. Lance and JC were sleeping, he knew, and Joey and Chris were deeply engrossed in a video game. It was safe to talk.

            “I just get this feeling that you don’t think I’m as smart as other people,” he admitted softly.

            “What other people?” she asked curiously. His vulnerable expression was breaking her heart.

            “Like, you don’t talk to me on an intellectual level,” he went on, avoiding her question. “We just joke around. We’ve never…discussed things.”

            Lillian thought over his words. What did he mean? Discussed things? Then she caught on. “You mean discussed books. Or exchanged CD’s.”

            Justin was a little shocked that she’d figured it out so quickly, but relieved too. He nodded slowly. “Yeah.”

            “Look, it’s true that JC and I like to talk. I hadn’t really known him that well before, and we’re pretty similar. But that in no way means that he’s smart and you’re not.” She took his tanned hand in her smaller one carefully. “I think you’re a wonderful and intelligent person.” At the very least, she added in her mind.

            He gazed at her. “Really?”

            “Yes, really! We’re the same age, right? Well, look what you’ve done with your life already! You write your own songs and vocal arrangements, you’re involved in lots of charities, you have your own charity named after you, and let’s not even get into the phenomenon that is ‘N Sync,” she elaborated, smiling gently at him.

            He chuckled, but then became sober again. “But that’s what the public sees. I want to know what you see.”

            Lillian paused to think of how to phrase her words. “I see…the most amazing person I’ve ever met, and will probably ever meet. I know that you love your friends and family deeply, and will do anything to protect them. I know that the guys look up to you, even though you’re the youngest.”

She stopped to see his reaction, and noticing that he was staring down at his lap she continued.  “When I look at you, I see a person who is an old soul, someone who has grown old so young. You want to be loved and appreciated, which you are. But sometimes you feel insecure, so you like to make jokes and lighten the mood. In a way, you’ve become the entertainer. When there’s a dull moment, everyone looks to you to provide some fun. But you don’t like how you’re expected to be happy and go-lucky every moment of your life. And when a joke fails, you feel like you’re a disappointment.”

            Justin stared at her in amazement. How did she know so much?

            She carried on with her description, not noticing his intent look. She was speaking from the heart now. “You’re a private person too, but of course this lifestyle wars with your personality. You act like you love the limelight, which you do, but not all the time. You just want to be alone at times.

             “You’re intimidated by all the interviews and public appearances because you’re thrown into strange environments with people you don’t know. But people expect you to be smooth, so that’s what you act like. You’ve become a little cynical, so you try to distance yourself, even though it’s hard for you.

             “And you’re frustrated over lots of things, I bet. No one would ever think you’re stupid, because you’re the exact opposite. You always think and plan, and wonder what everyone else is thinking. You’re full of contradictions, but that’s what ultimately makes you human and interesting, and it’s what separates the façade from the person. It’s what makes m-…I mean, your friends and family, love you.” She stopped talking, and let go of his hand.   

            Did I just say all of that? she wondered, flustered.

            They sat in silence, each thinking deeply. One worried, and the other contemplated.

            How was it possible? How did she know? He couldn’t believe it. He hadn’t thought anyone knew his jokester persona was just an act sometimes, or that all the public situations scared him.

            “Lillian,” he said, his voice soft, “That’s incredible.”

            “I-I’m sorry. If I intruded or offended you. Because I didn’t mean to! I just wanted-“ Her explanation was silenced when he placed his hand over her mouth.

            “Can I talk now?” he asked. After she nodded, he smiled and removed his hand. “You didn’t intrude at all. And how could I be offended? It’s weird. I’ve never heard myself be described so well.  It was a little scary.”

            “I’m sor-“ she began again.

            “No, don’t ever apologize. I should be thanking you. In fact, I will thank you. Lillian, thank you so much for showing me that I’m not stupid, or not deserving of respect.” This time, he took her hand. “It’s uncanny. You know so much about me, but not what people usually know. You know who I am, and not my stats or hobbies or pet peeves.”

            She shrugged, trying to take the attention away from herself. “You get used to being able to read people when you’re invisible.”

            “Invisible? What do you mean?” he asked, confused.

            Invisible because the person I love doesn’t notice. Because we’re so alike, but he doesn’t even realize it. Because the hurt makes me want to fade away sometimes. “I don’t know. Just acting a little angsty, don’t pay attention,” she said instead.

            “Are you sure?” he inquired, not wanting to tread in unfamiliar territory. “Because we’re friends, and I want to listen.”

            She shook her head. “I’m fine. Here, why don’t you listen to the CD? Try tracks one and ten, they’re the best I think.”

            He slipped the headphones on, and she rose to leave. “Where are you going?”

            “I was just leaving you alone to listen,” she responded hesitantly.

            He simply tugged her back down next to him. “Come on, sit with me. I want some company from my friend!” He slung his arm around her shoulders.

            She nodded, and allowed herself to be pulled into his loose embrace. Your friend.

            Justin closed his eyes as he became more involved in the flowing music, and his breathing slowed. The music was amazing, just like she’d said. It carried him somewhere he’d never been before, and floated him away from his worries.

            He felt Lillian relax more against his side, but he didn’t detect her shaky sigh, full of unspoken emotions.


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