say she takes it all for granted
well aware of all I have
think that I am disenchanted
-Mariah Carey, “Looking In”
Justin looked at JC in shock. “I can’t believe you knew where she was
and you didn’t tell me!”
“Sorry, J, but I’m neutral in this whole mess. Don’t get me
involved, I was just there to eat breakfast,” JC answered, unrepentant.
“You’re right, I didn’t mean to snap like that,” Justin amended.
“But I’m losing this thing!”
Joey laughed. “Oh no, there’s a female in the world who is immune to
the Timberlake charm.”
“I know!” Justin exclaimed, confused. “This has never happened
“Don’t worry about it,” Lance said. “Tomorrow’s JC’s
birthday. We’ll go clubbin’ and forget all our troubles.”
“Ah, I have taught you well,” Chris complimented Lance. “Clubs will
“And after that, we got our last concert,” JC remembered. “So
we’ll be busy.”
“Busy is good,” Justin decided. “And for now, I’m gonna get some
As soon as he left, Chris turned to Lance. “Five days left. Let’s
“Plan what?” Joey asked curiously.
“Our ultimate prank! Duh!” Chris replied.
“Isn’t it kinda cheap to spring a prank on them when they’re not
even talking?” JC reasoned.
Chris and Lance looked at each other, thinking that over. “Nope.”
JC sighed. “Let’s go, Joey. I don’t think we want a part of
Joey nodded and they left the room.
“Sucks for them,” Chris decided. “Okay, so I’ve been
Lillian surveyed herself in the bathroom mirror, checking her hair and
dress. The dress still bothered her, even though Joey assured her that it was
great. She could trust his judgment, right?
“Lance!” she called out, stepping away from the mirror and looking
for him. “Tell me if this looks okay!”
He paused in the middle of channel surfing and examined her appearance.
She didn’t look as dressed up as she did for his birthday, but she was still
beautiful in that unique way of hers.
“It looks great,” he complimented her.
“Really?” she asked, biting her lip anxiously.
“Yes,” he answered patiently. He had a feeling she was more nervous
than usual because things with Justin had been a little rocky lately. Not for
J’s lack of trying. “Don’t worry.”
She sighed. “I’m not worrying, exactly. I’m just…” She paused,
searching for a better word.
“Freaking out?” he supplied helpfully.
Lillian laughed despite herself. “That’s it. Freaking out.” She
turned around and went back into the bathroom to change out of the dress.
Lance continued to talk. “You know, you shouldn’t feel scared about
us abandoning you.”
She came out, clad in the usual jeans and t-shirt, and looked at him.
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” she said, giving a forced
“Yes you do,” he responded. “That’s why you’re pushing Justin
away, and not the rest of us. You love him so much you think it’ll hurt even
more if he leaves.”
“Don’t be silly.” She went over to the dresser to take her hair
down, keeping her back to him.
“I’m not being silly,” Lance persisted. “But you are, because
that’s the motive behind your actions. I don’t know why you’re so
paranoid, but no one's gonna leave and forget you. You’re one of our close
She shook her head, pulling a brush through her hair.
“And you should see the way you’re affecting Justin. He’s trying to
be friends with you, but you keep rebuffing him.”
“Lance, you don’t understand,” she finally said, setting the brush
down and turning to look at him. “It’s not my mission to hurt him. That’s
the last thing I’d want to do. But things will be easier this way. He
shouldn’t get too attached to someone like me, anyway.”
He gawked at her. “Someone like you? What the hell is that supposed to
mean? What’s with the reverse snobbery?”
“It’s not reverse snobbery!” she argued. “It’s the truth. He should
be with people like Britney, or at least friends he’s known since he was
small. It’s not right for me to be in that group.”
He threw up his hands in frustration. “I don’t know why you refuse to
believe in yourself! Have some confidence, Lily!”
She remained silent.
“See, you’re turning into that person I first met. I don’t want
that Lillian, I want the Lily we all love hanging with. You know what? I think
you’re doing this in order to protect yourself and Justin. But he doesn’t
need your protection! He’s all grown up now. And if you want to help him, this
isn’t the way to do it.”
Lillian stared at him, contemplating whether to lie to him. But it
wouldn’t work. “You know me too well,” she complained.
“So I’m right,” he concluded.
“Close enough,” she admitted. “But what am I supposed to do? This
has never happened before. To fall for someone and actually be able to get close
to him…only to be separated in the end.”
“You won’t be separated. You’ll keep in touch!”
“No, only for a little while. Our lives are too different. Eventually,
we’ll just drift apart. And I would hate that more than anything in the
world,” she explained. “And honestly, Lance, all of you have met many people
on your tours. How many do you still talk to?”
Lance didn’t have any comforting reply to that. It was true. They had
met lots of people, and they lost touch with practically all of them. But she
was different. “Well, you could at least give it a try. If you don’t take
that chance, who knows what could have been.”
His cell phone rang and he picked it up.
“Hello?” he asked impatiently. He didn’t want to interrupt the
conversation, but it could be something very important.
Lillian watched him as he nodded and hung up.
“I gotta go, Tim wants to work out some details about tonight,” he
explained. “Seriously, Lily, make sure you know what you’re doing.”
She nodded and he left the room. When he was gone and she was alone once
more, she sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. The heaviness in her heart
hadn’t gone away. But she supposed she was used to it by now, after a week of
The silence in the room was too loud. She reached over and turned the
clock radio on, in an effort to distract herself. The song blared out, and her
mind caught on the words.
“Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance, and when you
get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance,” she sang along. The
song was one of her favorites, but she had never really paid attention to the
actual message of it. She did now, though.
“Where’s Lance?” Justin asked, sitting in the lobby and idly
looking through his friend’s dayplanner.
“With Lilypad, I think,” Joey supplied. He was concentrating on
bouncing a small rubber ball on the carpeted floor. “Maybe checking out the
new dress I found for her.”
“Oh. I guess she’s not avoiding anyone but me, then,” Justin
exclaimed in frustration.
“Man, stop obsessing about that,” Joey complained. “Maybe it’s a
Justin looked at him disbelievingly.
“Okay, maybe not,” Joey amended. “But women! Who gets them, ya
“I thought I did, but that was obviously a stupid assumption,” Justin
said, shaking his head. He held his hand out and Joey threw the ball over to
him. “Sometimes I just wanna say, ‘Screw it, I’m gonna do what I want to
do and forget trying to win someone over.’” He tossed the ball back.
Joey caught it nimbly and lobbed it overhead for a few seconds. “Why
don’t you do it?”
“Because-“ Justin stopped. Why don’t I just do it? I
tried getting Lillian to respond, but she doesn’t. Maybe I should move on.
“I mean, the tour’s gonna end soon. Let the good times roll,
right?” Joey continued after seeing Justin didn’t have any response.
“Right,” Justin agreed. Then he said it again, but with more
assurance. “Right! It’s JC’s birthday, we’re gonna be surrounded by
women who will actually want to talk to me.” He reached out and grabbed the
ball in midair.
“It’s Lillian’s fault for just pushing me away like that. If she
doesn’t want to be friends, then I don’t want to either! I can get a girl to
respond to me, and I’ll show her that I don’t need her!” Justin was
getting really worked up now. He was sick of making a fool out of himself by
trying to win her over. It was a lost cause, he could see that now.
Joey peered at him. “Well, I’m not saying you should completely blow
her off,” he corrected, not liking that glint in Justin’s eyes.
But Justin either didn’t hear him or chose to ignore his words, because
he threw the ball over to Joey and got up from his seat.
“I’ll see you later,” he called out to his friend, rushing to go
back to his room.
Joey stared after him, bouncing the ball distractedly. “I hope I just
didn’t make things worse,” he said to no one in particular. The ball hit his
shoe and flew off into a potted shrub. He followed its path with his eyes.
“It’s the S, the L, the I, M,” Justin sang out in the hotel room,
trying another shirt on.
“Lemme tell you what I wanna do,” JC continued, carefully gelling his
hair next to Justin in the mirror. He hummed the next few lines along with the
radio, then belted out the chorus.
“Peaches and cream, I need it ‘cause you know that I’m a fiend!”
“Gettin’ freaky in my Bentley limousine,” Joey joined in. “It’s
even better when it’s with ice cream. Know what I mean, peaches and cream.”
“Oh girl I need it, I gotta have it, it’s always on my mind, know
what I mean, peaches and cream,” Justin crooned, shoving Joey out of the way
and grabbing a razor.
“I like it in my car, or even in my bed,” JC sang in a falsetto
voice. “Or baby on the stairs, know what I mean, peaches and cream.”
The three of them joined together for the chorus before cracking up
“Man, we should release a parody CD or something,” Joey suggested.
“’N Sync ‘N Stinks.”
That led to a spate of even more laughter. Eventually, they calmed down
and were able to speak again.
“My cheeks hurt from laughing so much,” Justin complained, holding
his face in his hands.
“My ribs hurt!” JC said between chuckles, still a little out of
Joey got up from his position on the bed and finished fixing his hair. He
turned around and presented the other two with his appearance. “How do I look?
Single and ready to mingle?”
“Fly enough to buy,” Justin assured him.
“Sweet enough to eat,” JC lisped, pretending he was a woman admirer.
“We’re gonna be some serious lady-killers tonight,” Joey
proclaimed. “Time to go all out for your day, Jace.”
“Damn straight!” JC exclaimed, getting more hyped up. “Let’s
leave a mark on this town.”
Justin, having resumed digging through a pile of shirts, finally picked
one out. “What do you guys think of this one?”
JC observed his selection. “What, no baby blue?”
“Nah, I’m gonna go for a more sophisticated look tonight,” he
explained, holding the white shirt up. It was a little formal, but paired with
his pants the whole ensemble was laid-back, although not to the extent of some
of his other clothes.
“I’m liking the silver UFO pants,” Joey contributed. He motioned to
his shoes. “And it’s weird, with the Timbs and all, but somehow it manages
to work together.”
“Yeah, none of that tight crap we usually have to wear,” JC
commented. “Good job, J.”
Justin took a bow. “Thank you, thank you. I try my best.”
“So now we’re all single, sexy, and free, making our own money,
let’s get going!” Joey shouted.
With answering whoops, Justin and JC followed him and sprinted out the
hotel room, JC remembering as an afterthought to lock the door. They ran to
Chris’ room and Joey practically threw himself against the door.
“Open up! It’s the party police, baby!” he cried, banging on the
Chris yanked it open before Joey could inflict more damage, and he came
out with Lance in tow.
“Party police? That’s the lamest thing I’ve ever heard,” Chris
said, rolling his eyes.
Joey shrugged. “You can get pretty lame too.”
Lance stepped between the two before an all-out brawl could begin.
“There’ll be time for this later. But now, we gotta get to the club!”
He led the way to the elevator, Joey and Chris still bickering behind
“You guys called the club, right?” JC asked. “To let them know
we’re coming and everything.”
“Yeah, don’t worry about it,” Lance assured him. “They said that
we can just come in the back door and hang with their usual crowd.”
JC nodded in satisfaction. “Sounds good.”
In the elevator, Joey suddenly stopped shoving Chris and looked up at the
others. “Hey, where’s Lilypad?”
“She’s meeting us there later,” Lance explained. “The crew’s
assembling the stage for tomorrow’s concert.”
“Well, she better hurry ‘cause we’re gonna tear the place up!”
Justin exclaimed. He was going to show everyone that he was through with trying
to persuade her. If she didn’t want to hang with him, he would find other
people who did.
They got off the elevator and headed out to the large black SUV waiting
outside. They piled in haphazardly and Justin immediately reached forward to
turn the radio on.
“Let’s turn this mother out!” Chris shouted, jumping in his seat
and almost hitting his head on the ceiling.
“Sit down back there!” Lonnie shouted, seeing Chris’ head pop up in
the rearview mirror.
Justin fiddled with the radio before finally settling on a rap station.
It was playing “My Baby” by Lil’ Romeo.
Chris burst out singing the woman’s part. “Oh Romeo give me a
“Too young, I don’t need a girlfriend,” Justin rapped.
“Walk me home from school anyway,” Chris continued, pretending to
blush and pat his hair.
“Aha, okay,” Justin responded, in perfect synchronization with the
“Oh Romeo, the cutest boy I know.” Chris rolled his eyes, acting like
he was about to swoon.
“I know, I know.” Justin grinned, flexing his biceps.
“So let me be your girlfriend,” Chris finished, grinning at his
friends’ laughter and sporadic applause.
“Make them elbows swing!” Justin shouted, imitating Lil’ Romeo’s
dance. His friends ducked out of the way to prevent getting elbowed in the face.
“Oh Lord,” Lonnie muttered to himself, trying to ignore the chaos in
The car drove around to the side alley and deposited the guys next to the
back door before leaving to find a parking space.
“Let’s make our grand entrance!” Joey exclaimed, running to the
door. “What time is it?”
JC checked his watch. “Eleven. Why?”
Joey shrugged. “Just curious.” He opened the door and ushered them
They stepped into the club, passing the bathrooms and going to the VIP
section that the manager of the club had set out for them.
As he walked past the dance floor JC caught a glimpse of someone
familiar. After sitting down he squinted through the artificial fog and flashing
lights. “Hey, is that Theresa? And it looks like Marcelo next to her.” He
looked around and noticed even more people. “And Dominic’s at the bar! I
wonder why so many people from the tour are hanging here tonight.”
Lance tried to urge him to the obvious. “Yeah, it’s kinda odd how
it’s your birthday and everyone from the tour is here.”
JC nodded, not catching on. “What a coincidence.”
His friends stared at him, waiting for him to realize what was going on.
“Wait,” JC burst out. “Oh! Oh…I get it.” A smile stretched
across his face. “Thanks guys!”
They laughed and hugged him individually, then Justin motioned to the
table behind him.
“And those are your presents. Man, Jace, I was getting worried that you
lost some brain cells or something. That took a while for you to figure out.”
“Sorry,” JC apologized, laughing at his own slowness. “I’m a year
older, you know how it is.”
Suddenly the music was turned down and the lights dimmed. Everyone became
“What’s going on?” JC asked, looking around.
Then Lillian and Tim appeared, holding a large cake in front of them. It
was frosted over and a picture of JC had been copied onto it. Surrounding the
picture were the frosting signatures of all his friends. In the cake were
Joey began to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and everyone else joined in,
until the whole club was filled with the sounds of the simple song.
The cake was laid down in front of JC, and the light from the candles
illuminated his delighted face.
“Happy 25th birthday!” Lillian exclaimed. “With one
extra candle for good luck.”
“Make a wish and blow them out!” Justin encouraged his friend.
JC thought for a second, then blew at the candles. But they didn’t go
out. He tried again, but they continued to burn brightly.
He heard Chris snicker.
“Very funny,” he said. “How much do I have to bet that this was
“That’s not true!” Chris said, immediately defending himself.
“Lance and Joey helped too.”
“Guilty as charged,” Lance confessed.
“This,” JC said, motioning to the candles, “Is your responsibility
“Man,” Joey complained. “Now we have to put out twenty-six trick
candles.” Fortunately, someone handed him a glass of water and they dropped
the candles in one by one.
“Finally, we can cut the cake,” Justin said, rubbing his hands
together in anticipation. “I love cake. Cake is good.”
JC took the cake knife that Tim gave him and cut the cake into many
slices. Eventually, everyone had their own piece to enjoy.
“Thanks guys,” JC said, looking around at the people surrounding him.
“I had no idea this was gonna happen. You’re the best.”
“Well everyone, enjoy this night,” Tim announced, “Because you all
deserve it. I’m heading back to the hotel, so don’t party too hard.”
They smiled innocently.
“Bye Tim. Thanks again.” JC grinned, waving at him.
Tim left, muttering about crazy kids under his breath and left.
“He’s gone, turn up the music!” Joey shouted. After the bass was
loud enough to shake the floor he nodded in approval and ran out to the dance
floor with Justin following him.
Lillian sat down in Joey’s vacated seat next to JC. She handed him a
wrapped object. “I was about to give you a necklace, too, but I know how much
you like your Leo one. So I made this instead.”
“Lily, I told you not to buy me anything,” JC complained.
“I didn’t buy it, I made it,” Lillian corrected him. “Just open
JC laughed and obediently unwrapped it. “A videotape?”
“I went around interviewing people, asking them about you. And
there’s also little messages in there from the band, Tim, Marcelo, you know
them and they’re in it,” she explained.
“Wow, that’s so cool,” JC answered. “I’ve taught you well with
She laughed. “Exactly.”
Lance handed him another present. “It’s hard to top that, but this is
from me and Chris.”
JC eagerly opened it and the wrapping paper fall aside to reveal a
collection of CDs.
looked through the titles. There were the four other Eva Cassidy albums, the
Bjork CD he hadn’t been able to buy yet, and a compilation of Miles Davis’
“This is sweet!” He was in awe. Three of his most favorite artists,
and their best CDs too. “Very impressive, guys. Thanks.”
Lance and Chris shrugged his thanks away.
“Just glad you like them,” Lance replied.
“And if you’re through with us, we’ll be hitting the dance floor
now,” Chris said, giving JC a pat on the back before departing with Lance in
“So how are you liking your birthday so far?” Lillian asked, seeing
the large grin on his face.
“I’m absolutely loving it,” JC proclaimed. He surveyed the scene
before him, with familiar faces occupying every corner of the club. After taking
it all in he turned back to the only person left at the table with him.
“That’s a pretty dress, by the way.”
She looked down, as if she forgot she had been wearing it. “Oh, Joey
picked it out for me again. I like it, too.”
They sat there, not talking for a while. JC continued to observe the
people socializing and dancing and Lillian was looking at his new CDs.
JC saw Justin near the center of the dance floor, surrounded by three
women and appearing to have the time of his life. Well, at least he isn’t
upset anymore. But would Lillian become upset at seeing him?
“Lily, come dance with me,” he invited, hoping to distract her.
“Oh no, that’s okay,” she immediately refused.
“Come on! It’s my birthday, you have to do whatever I say,” he
argued, putting on his best pout.
“I don’t dance, it’s just not me,” she maintained.
“You don’t dance,” he repeated in disbelief. “How do you not
dance? What about a slow dance? That’s not hard, it’s just moving back and
forth on each foot, really.”
“JC, if you haven’t noticed, the DJ isn’t playing any slow songs. I
doubt you want to have a slow dance to Ludacris.”
He thought for a response to that obvious fact. I got it. Grabbing
the CDs from Lance and Chris, he raced off before Lillian could ask what was
Lillian saw him head straight to the DJ’s booth and hold out a CD. Oh
no, is he doing what I think he’s doing? Soon, the opening guitar chords
of ‘Fields of Gold’ from an Eva Cassidy album streamed over the speakers. Yes,
he’s definitely doing what I thought he was doing. Darn.
JC came back over to her and held his hand out. “It’s a slow song
now. Let’s go.”
She just couldn’t turn him down. “Only one dance,” she said,
allowing herself to be pulled to the dance floor that was now filled with gently
She stood stiffly in his arms at first, not used to being so close to a
member of the opposite sex other than her father, Lance, and Justin, who had a
tendency to be very affectionate. Eventually, though, she relaxed and let the
beautiful strains of the song carry her.
He hummed along softly, having fun. He liked to fluster her, they all
did, and he knew this was without a doubt doing exactly that. His eyes scanned
the other people nearby and he caught sight of Justin, who was looking right at
them. Maybe this’ll fluster someone else too.