Chapter 23

“Baby just hold me, simply control me

Because your arms, they keep away the lonely

When I look into your eyes

Then I realize

All I need is you in my life.”

                        -Alicia Keys, “Never Felt This Way”




            How’s everything? Sorry that I haven’t written you any e-mails lately, but life back on tour is pretty distracting. I was worried that the other people working here would act awkwardly towards me, but nothing bad happened. I just kind of fell into the regular grind again. The guys are the same as before…optimistic, happy, funny. I’m allowed to spend more time with them, I think because Tim and Thompsen are feeling some guilt over the false accusations. Or maybe they don’t consider me a threat to the single statuses of some of the guys.

            I’ve been having a great time. And Justin and I are having some more heart-to-heart conversations. Can you actually believe that he thought I didn’t respect him? Or worse, that I thought he was stupid! The look in his eyes was so self-conscious. I guess when you’re constantly known for singing and looking good, intelligence doesn’t become an important trait to the public. But that wasn’t the most surprising thing. What I did next was even more of a shocker. I practically spelled out my feelings for him! I don’t know what came over me, but I just began this type of character analysis of him, and I couldn’t stop. Haha, maybe I’ve been watching too many romantic shows and movies. That would make sense.

            I think he felt better though. I hope he did. But this platonic relationship is becoming hard to handle. Everything I do seems to emphasize the ‘buddy’ feelings he has for me, while I just fall deeper and deeper in love. What a messed up situation, huh? You can always count on Lillian to get into the most exciting adventures! Sorry for that sarcasm. I promise to write something more upbeat next time! 

                                                                                    KIT and love always,



She read the email over and nodded satisfactorily. Hopefully, Karen wouldn’t mind too much that it sounded a little glum. Lillian would definitely remember to give some details of the concert and the hotel water fight in her next email.

            “Why such a downer?” came a voice from behind her shoulder.

            Surprised, she immediately whipped around to see who it was.

            “Chris! You shouldn’t be reading my email!” she reprimanded him, but faintly relieved that it hadn’t been Justin. At least Chris knew of her feelings for his friend, and he didn’t mind them.

            Chris shrugged. “Then you shouldn’t be typing it when people are trying to get some sleep,” he whispered, motioning to his bandmates who were all taking quick naps on the bus.

            “Touché,” she murmured. “I thought you were asleep too.”

            “I was, but I got thirsty,” he explained, showing her his soda. “Did you really have such a deep conversation with Justin?”

            Lillian nodded. “A couple of days ago.”

            Chris sat down next to her. “I’m just curious, but why exactly do you like him so much? I mean, we all saw the hostility running between you two when you first met.”

            “The hostility was from him, not me. I like ‘N Sync, remember?” she reminded him.

            “True. But how could you love someone who didn’t even remotely like you before?” he asked. “I know it sounds kinda harsh, but it was what happened. I know some psychology, so it’s not the usual thing that happens.”

            Lillian couldn’t deny that Justin had no affection for her in the beginning. “At first, I was upset that he had supposedly turned out to be such a jerk. I mean, this was not the Justin I saw on TV and was used to admiring. So I fought back to his rudeness, in a way. But however it happened, he stopped with the cut-downs and glares, and turned civil.”

            “And things turned out great,” Chris concluded.

            “In a way. I never forget that he was so mean before. How can you ignore the time your celebrity crush insulted you?”

            He laughed. “I know what you mean. I would be traumatized if Mya made fun of me.”

            “But we’ve all moved on since then. Like, I would hope to assume that his and my personalities balance each other out. We get along now, at least.”

            Chris nodded. “You guys definitely get along. I think J likes having someone normal around to keep him reminded of the real world. He started getting kinda cynical before.” He paused, then grinned at Lillian. “But please don’t compliment him anymore! He’s getting such a big head from your gushing.”

            She laughed softly. “Sorry, but he really needed it at the time.”

            “Maybe he needs you,” Chris answered, wanting to give her something to think about. He patted her head with one last departing smile and went to wake everyone up from their naps. Time to get ready for a photo shoot.


*                       *                       *


            Justin took the bag from Mike and peered inside.

            “Is this what you wanted?” Mike asked.

            He nodded and pulled the contents of the bag out. “Exactly what I wanted. Thanks, man.”

            Mike tipped his head and went off in search of Lonnie, leaving Justin alone in one of the stadium's seats.

            Justin looked at the cover of the book. Dandelion Wine. JC wasn't done reading it yet, so he figured he should just buy it instead. He didn't understand why, but he had an inexplicable urge to prove to Lillian that he was smart and worthy of the description she had shared with him.

            It had been disconcerting at first, because she seemed to know so much about him while he knew practically nothing about her. Part of that was due to his being a celebrity and her being a college intern, but they were friends. And in his eyes, friends were supposed to know everything about each other.

            She liked the book a lot, so maybe reading it would give some insight into her personality. He already listened to the Eva Cassidy CD, and it was amazing. It had blues, gospel, pop, and jazz. A whole array of musical genres. So Lillian obviously didn't limit herself to listening to rap and hip hop. In fact, she was a lot like him. He knew he appeared to be only interested in the kind of music on BET, but he appreciated most every genre.

            We're friends, but she's turning out to be more interesting than I thought. It was a little mean, but it was true. Who would have known that Lillian loved to laugh, read classic novels as well as watch TV in her spare time, and ruled at video games. Definitely not him.

            He smiled softly to himself. He hadn't known all of that before, but he was glad he could get to know her better now.


*                       *                       *


            "Where'd J run off to?" Joey asked, holding a bottle of Gatorade in his hand. "Why doesn't he have to practice too?"

            "For the last time, Dominic already made him stay late a couple of days ago to get the steps perfect," JC explained.

            "Oh yeah," Joey said, remembering. He scanned the stadium and caught sight of Justin sitting in one of the front row seats. "There he is! What is he doing?!"

            Lance and Chris joined the two at the edge of the stage.

            "It's called reading," Lance explained slowly. "People do that sometimes, you know."

            JC snickered and Joey glared at his blonde friend. "Shut up, Lansten. I know that he's reading. I mean, why is he reading? Shouldn't he be...I don't know...eating or something?"

            Chris rolled his eyes. "No, Joey, that's just you."

            JC quickly stepped in before Joey could lunge at Chris. "Let's stop with both the Joey and Justin bashing. Joey, for your information, J's interested in reading the book Lily recommended."

            Joey nodded, understanding. "I see. The book Lilypad recommended. It makes sense now."

            "Give him some credit, he's not a moron or anything," Chris said. "I think it's good that he's doing something educational."

            "Plus, it's fine if he wants to impress Lily. It'll keep him more grounded," Lance added. "Usually girls are trying to wow him, not the other way around."

            "He's whipped," Joey responded. At seeing the looks his friends gave him, he quickly elaborated. "But it's cute, all the same."

            Chris put his arm around Joey's shoulders. "Isn't it though? And just think- one day, Uncle Chris will teach little Joseph how to read, too!" He laughed and ran off the stage, with Joey in pursuit after him.

            Lance and JC looked at each other and sighed simultaneously. "Let's go sit with Justin," JC suggested. "They won't be done for another thirty minutes, at the least," he said, referring to the other two.

            Lance agreed and they went to join their younger friend.

            “Need any help with those harder words? You know, the ones with three syllables?” Lance asked Justin, sitting down next to him.

            Justin looked up from the book and sneered at Lance before turning back to continue his reading.

            Lance sighed. “What’s so amazing about this book that’s gotten everyone so worked up?” he asked JC.

            JC shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s easy to relate to, I guess. It deals with death, change, summer, childhood. Lots of nostalgia in that book.”

            “Well, nostalgia’s all fun and good, but can we please get a move on? I’m hungry, and Chris and Joey will be starving after chasing each other around,” Lance said, pulling the book out of Justin’s grasp.

            “Hey! Didn’t your mama raise you better than that?” Justin asked, grabbing it back. “Just taking people’s things against their will. Kinda rude.”

            “Come on Tennman, I’m getting hungry too. You can read when we get back to the hotel,” JC offered. He yanked the book away and closed it before handing it back to Justin.

            Justin grumbled good-naturedly. “Fine, fine. Let’s go get some grub.”


*                       *                       *


            Justin stood outside in the comfortable night air. Summer nights were the best. Not too hot, and not cold either. Just the right climate for relaxing in. He turned and opened the bus door.

            “Guys, I’m gonna be upstairs,” he called to his friends. After hearing their answering shouts, he went to the back bumper of the bus and climbed on top of it. Then he hoisted himself up onto the roof of the bus, or ‘upstairs,’ as he liked to call it.

            His own place to be alone. He was never able to stay out there for a long time, only around forty minutes at the longest. That was the time it took to get all the buses loaded and ready to hit the road. But those forty minutes were a relief. He was able to feel like he owned the world, and he could see the sky better and think more clearly.

            He used to sit on the roof of his house when he was a kid, and he still loved that feeling he got whenever he was alone and gazing at the world above and below him.

            Justin stretched out on his back and pillowed his head on his folded arms. The best feeling in the world.



            Lillian headed back to the bus, humming a song softly. She had forgotten one of her bags, so she had gone to retrieve it. I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream. I know you, the gleam in your eyes is so familiar a gleam.

            From the top of the bus, Justin felt the vehicle shake slightly as something was loaded onboard. He could hear the faint tune of an old song. Who would be humming a ‘Sleeping Beauty’ song? Nudging close to the edge of the bus, he peered over to see who it was. Lillian. Well, duh. Who did you think it was, Chris? He shook his head and called down to her.

            “What?” Lillian asked, looking around for the voice. She finally gazed up and saw Justin’s face peeking from the bus roof. “Justin? What’re you doing?”

            He grinned at her. “I’m just thinking. Wanna come up?”

            “Oh. Um, I guess, if you don’t mind company,” Lillian answered. “How am I supposed to get up there?”

            “Get on the bumper, and I’ll help you up,” he instructed her. She nodded and went to the back of the bus. He stood up and walked over, rocking the bus slightly.

            “Now what?” she asked, looking up at him nervously and perching carefully on the bumper.

            “Here,” he said, reaching down with his hand. “Just grab on and I’ll pull.”

            She obediently followed his directions and soon found herself on top of the bus.

            “See? That was easy,” he smiled. “Before we sit down, let’s piss the guys off a little.” He jumped up and down a few times, effectively moving the bus.

            They laughed as they heard shouts and bangs coming from the inside.

            “Okay, that’s enough. Come sit with me,” he requested, plopping down onto the roof and stretching his legs in front of him.

            Lillian sank down next to him. “Nice place you have here,” she complimented, gazing up at the sky.

            Justin nodded. “I think it is. Everyone needs to be alone sometime, you know? To think or dream. Whatever.”

            She agreed with him. She had her own private place back at MIT, so she knew exactly what he was talking about.

            The two of them lapsed into silence. Then Justin began humming “Once Upon a Dream.” Lillian looked over at him and blushed. She didn’t know he’d heard her.

            “Why Disney?” he asked her, grinning. She could see his white teeth in the darkness.

            “I don’t know. Just in a Disney mood, I guess.”

            “Disney mood?” he repeated. “What, like huge castles and beautiful princesses and a handsome prince?”

            “And a happy ending,” she added. “There’s always a happy ending. It didn’t matter what happened to the princess, whether it was a curse or a gender barrier or an evil relative. In the end, she always finds a prince and they love each other and are happy forever.”

            Justin stared at her. “So that’s what really matters, huh?”

            “Of course,” she answered matter-of-factly.

            “What about this princess?” he inquired, nudging her gently. “Is she gonna find her prince and live happily ever after?”

            She laughed softly. “I don’t know.” I’ve found the prince, but I’m not sure about the happily ever after part yet.

            “Well, if you’re not sure about what’s gonna happen in the future, tell me what’s in your past. You know so much about me. Now I want to know about your life.”

            “What are you interested in?” she asked.

            “Let’s start with the basics. You know, stuff that goes in a profile. For example, birthday, siblings, likes and dislikes.”

            “Well,” she began, “I was born on September 25th, the same year you were born, but you’re a few months older. I don’t have any brothers or sisters. You already know what I like, and I don’t like fake and mean people.”

            Justin snorted. “Come on, be more specific than that. You have to have a really weird pet peeve, everyone does.”

            “Fine, fine,” Lillian sighed. “I hate it when guys have nail polish on. That’s so disgusting!”

            He laughed. “A real prince would never wear nail polish, right?”

            “Exactly,” she agreed. “Is that the end of the interview portion?”

            “Nope, I’m not done yet!” he answered. “Where were you born? I wanna know about your childhood.”

            “I was born in one of the many Massachusetts suburbs. It was like the place in ‘American Beauty,’ but not as messed up. It was actually pretty normal,” she recalled, picturing her old neighborhood in her mind. The large oaks lining the quiet streets, the colonial style houses, and the customary white picket fences. “But that was before my dad lost his job and we had to move to some more affordable housing.”

            “Like what?”

            “We relocated to the less affluent part of Boston. There were some odds and ends my dad could do there, so he could support the family. I was about ten when that happened.”

            “What about your mom?” Justin wanted to know. His mom was so important in his own life, he couldn’t imagine Lillian’s being any different.

            “She separated from my dad and they divorced about two years before we moved,” Lillian responded, her voice flat.

            “You didn’t stay with her? I thought most children went with their mothers, not their fathers.”

            “Not this time. She didn’t want anything to do with me. I think I wasn’t enough of a girl for her. I was never into the dolls and dresses, I liked to build legos and read books. That’s what probably led to MIT.”

            Justin looked at her with an unbelieving expression on his face. “Not enough of a girl? That’s crazy.” Her mother sounded like a total prick.

            Lillian shrugged. “I would have preferred to stay with my dad anyway, so it didn’t really matter when she left. Or so I thought. In ninth grade, we found out that she had a rare form of melanoma. My dad and I didn’t have too much money at the time, so we had to save up before we could fly to California and see her. But it wasn’t fast enough, because the day we were supposed to leave news came in that she died that morning.”

            Lillian paused and fought the haze of memory to remember that day. The bags were packed and laid out on the small kitchen’s creaky floor, and she had been finishing the toast her dad made for her every morning. Then the phone rang and they had received word of her mother’s death.

            The next moment was crystal clear to Lillian. Her father had hung up the phone and relayed the message to her in a simple sentence. Then he’d gone into his room down the hall and closed the door and turned up the radio. Lillian remembered sitting alone at the little round table, the crumbs of toast on the plate in front of her and the pieces of luggage, still waiting next to the door. That instant in time was a snapshot, stored in her mind to never be forgotten.

            “I…I guess she meant more to me than I thought,” she finally said, her throat tight. “And to my dad, too. Because I couldn’t stop crying for a while. And after the tears stopped, I wasn’t the same. The grades dropped from A’s to C’s because I just lost the motivation.

            “Then how’d you get into MIT?” Justin asked.

            “Well, while I was becoming a delinquent, my dad was turning depressed. Not just sad, but clinically depressed. I didn’t even notice it until the end of sophomore year in high school, when I caught him drinking in the bathroom. He reeked of liquor.”

            “Damn,” Justin murmured.

            “This was the person I could always depend on, through thick and thin,” she continued. “And there he was, lying on the bathroom tiles and nursing a bottle of Heineken in his arms. My perfect impression of him burst, but he was still my father and the only family I had. It was my turn to take care of him. And in order to do that, I had to be successful. So I worked hard and the grades went back up, and I got some part-time jobs to help with the income.”

            “Wow,” Justin breathed in admiration. He couldn’t even begin to wonder the effort and dedication it took to recover from seeing a beloved parent reach pitch bottom. And even more, Lillian took on the role of parent and was forced to grow up in an instant. “But then everything turned out good, right?”

            She shook her head sadly. “Things were fine for a while. A year and a half passed, but it seemed so much longer. I guess that’s what happens when you take care of your recovering father. He did recover, though. No longer depressed, and he didn’t depend on the bottle anymore. And that’s what makes me mad the most. When he died, he was sober and relatively happy. But the person who was driving the other car was under the influence, and he crashed right into my dad in the middle of an intersection.”

            “Shoot,” Justin whispered. What else was there to say?

            “So that’s why I really hate drinking, in case you were wondering why back at that club. It killed my dad, and he wasn’t even able to see me graduate and actually make it in this world!” she exclaimed with emotion. “I would have wanted to give him that comfort- that his daughter was a survivor and could carry his love with pride. Even through all the hell we stuck together.”

            Justin heard the tears in her voice. Quickly, he moved next to her and put a comforting arm around her. “Shh,” he said softly, trying to sooth her. “I know he saw you graduate and become a beautiful person. Maybe you don’t always feel or see him, but he’s there. Trust me, you’re not alone anymore.”

            Lillian quickly wiped her eyes and shrugged out of his embrace. She laughed shakily. “I know this sounds like a lie, but I hate crying. But these past few months, I’ve done an awful lot of it. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

            Justin smiled. “Nothing’s wrong with you. Maybe it’s Joey. He brings out the worst in people.” He looked at her and caught a glimmer of a smile. “Come on, let me see that brilliant smile of yours.”

            Obediently she smiled, her eyes shining up at him.

            He laughed approvingly. “Good, that’s what I like to see.”

            A bang emitted from the roof of the bus. Justin looked down and sighed. “That means it’s time to get down. Here, I’ll help you off.” He nimbly climbed back down and then assisted Lillian in reaching the ground once again.

            “So I guess you know my whole sordid past now,” she said.

            “Yeah, I guess I do,” Justin concurred.

            "Justin, please don't tell other people about this. I don't want anyone's pity."

            He nodded his agreement. Suddenly, he pulled her close and kissed the top of her head. “You’re a real trooper, you know that?” He smiled softly and disappeared inside the bus.

            Lillian stood staring after him, thinking. Then she smiled too, blushing, and boarded the bus.


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