Chapter 26

“You were all laughter then

And you were my light when it was dark

How did we lose our way, how did we fall apart.”

                        -All 4 One, “Smile Like Mona Lisa”



Justin stared at JC over the heads of the other dancers, but his dark-haired friend wasn’t the one who caught his attention. That person was nestled in JC’s arms. Lillian. She looks pretty comfortable, doesn’t she. And he had to admit, she looked good. The way the strobe light made her hair shimmer and how that dress managed to hug every curve but still appear modest. It’s not fair.

            He was trying to make her feel not exactly jealous, but interested enough to at least come over and talk to him. But that wasn’t happening at all. So far she had stayed by JC’s side, and didn’t even seem to realize what was going on.

            He sighed impatiently, wanting the slow song to be over so he could start having some fun again. Plus, his dance partner was practically bent on trying to suck on his neck. She was pretty and all, but it got on his nerves.

            Finally the song faded away and the DJ put on some dance music. Justin broke away from his partner, gave her a pained smile, and turned away to find someone to groove with.

            Another girl approached him, someone he recognized from wardrobe. She had some rhythm, and he began freaking with her, putting all his efforts into blazing the dance floor. Soon, the other people around them parted to create a circle, clapping along to the beat and cheering them on.

            He grinned, feeling the energy and pulse of the crowd course through him. Now this is what I like.


*                       *                       *


            JC ripped open the rest of his presents as Lillian sat beside him and laughed at his obvious enthusiasm. “I don’t even want to imagine what you’re like on Christmas day,” she commented.

            He grinned unabashedly. “I like gifts. So sue me.” He examined the Nike visor Marcelo had given him. “I guess he wanted me to have some space for my hair,” he joked.

            Lillian smiled. “How considerate of him.”

            He put aside the presents and turned to face her. “Tell me the truth now, dancing wasn’t so bad, was it?”

            “I guess not,” she admitted. “That was very clever of you, getting the DJ to play some Eva Cassidy.”

            “How could he refuse? I’m the birthday boy,” JC pointed out. He scanned the room again, looking for the rest of his friends. Joey was at the bar, stealing a sip from Lance’s drink. Lance was talking to Dominic and his back was to Joey. Meanwhile, Chris was dancing and watching Justin freak with various girls.

            Lillian noticed that JC was looking at someone and she turned to see what was so interesting. Oh. Well, at least he’s not upset anymore. Right?

            They watched as Justin stopped dancing, wiping a few beads of sweat from his brow. Then he left to join Joey and Lance at the bar and the crowd dispersed.

            Lillian, remember what you decided. Take a chance.

            “Um, I’m gonna go get some water,” Lillian said.

            JC regarded her, knowing why she had a sudden thirst. But he wasn’t going to interfere. Maybe she and Justin would finally make up. “Can you get me a margarita?” he requested.

            She nodded and went off, weaving through the excited people moving on the dance floor. After narrowly dodging a few swinging elbows she appeared next to Lance.

            “Hey Lily, having fun?” he greeted her, shooting a discreet look at Justin, who was polishing off a shot of vodka.

            She smiled at all of them. “Yes, of course I am. It was actually nice dancing.”

            “With JC,” Justin muttered under his breath.

            Lillian turned to him, not hearing what he had said. “What?”

            “Oh, nothing,” he lied blatantly. He signaled the bartender over and asked for another shot.

            She stared at him as he gulped it down and cleared his throat loudly.

            “Well, I’m gonna hit the floor again,” he announced, leaving without another glance.

            Lance nudged Lillian after she continued to follow him with her eyes. “Are you okay? You kinda zoned out there.”

            She shook her head, feeling deflated. “I’m fine.” I guess. “I think I’ll go sit down,” she said, excusing herself and heading back to the table.

            “Uh oh,” Joey mumbled.

            “What? What happened?” Lance demanded.

            “I think I made things worse. I…kinda suggested to J that he should forget about Lilypad and party tonight.”

            Why did you tell him that?” Lance exclaimed.

            “I just wanted to help. He blew my words out of proportion and now he’s completely ignoring her,” Joey explained, defending himself. “I didn’t want to see him so down anyway.”

            “Man,” Lance breathed. “Whatever. Maybe they’ll figure it out. They better figure it out.”


*                       *                       *


            “Where’s the margarita?” JC asked when he saw Lillian come back empty-handed.

            “The what? Oh! Sorry, I completely forgot,” she apologized quickly. “I’ll go back and get it now.”

            He laughed. “It’s okay, I can get it. Sit down and I’ll be right back.”

            She nodded and he left. She had to reconsider some things. Why did Justin ignore her? And why is he drinking? After hearing about my dad, I would have hoped that he would be a little more careful. But she supposed she deserved the silent treatment from him. That’s what she gave him for the past few days.

            Still, being on the receiving end was even worse than dishing it out. And she had been left with a stupidly eager smile on her face when he left abruptly. Well, what did you expect? Hugs all around? Knowing Justin, he doesn’t like being made a fool of. Of course he won’t forgive so easily.

            She continued to get deeper and deeper into her self-conversation, not noticing when someone plopped down in the seat next to her.

            “’Sup Lillian,” Justin said, barely even looking at her.

            And why would he look at her? He was occupied, his arm around a vivacious redhead.

            The girl nudged him and he stopped whispering in her ear. “Oh, my bad. Lillian, this is Theresa. Theresa, meet Lillian.”

            Lillian mustered a weak smile to greet Theresa.

            “Hi!” Theresa exclaimed, leaning across Justin. “You know, I was the one who helped trick Elaine. Remember Elaine?”

            “Really?” Lillian asked, any negative feelings toward the girl in front of her fleeing her mind. “I wish someone had told me earlier. I have to thank you so much for helping.”

            “It was nothing,” Theresa replied kindly. “I thought it was kinda fun, actually. You should have seen that bitch’s face. All splotchy and not a normal color at all.” She laughed and Lillian joined in.

            Justin rolled his eyes, not at all happy with the two of them hitting it off so well. I’m supposed to be making out and Lillian’s supposed to be jealous! Damn it.

            He caught his salvation in the form of JC, who was carrying a tray of shots and a margarita. His friend could distract Lillian so she would stop talking with Theresa.

            JC put the tray on the table and sat on the other side of Lillian. He greeted the new arrivals to the table and looked at Justin with a questioning gaze, but he received no answer.

            Alcohol. Good. Justin reached for one of the shots and quickly tossed it down before picking up another one.

            “J, man, take it easy,” JC cautioned. “Save some for the rest of the guys when they’re done dancing.”

            Justin shrugged. “I can handle myself. I’ve drunk before.” He handed Theresa a shot and then offered one to Lillian.

            “No, thanks,” she replied, pushing his hand away. She looked into his eyes, willing him to stop trying to provoke her. He knew full well that she didn’t drink.

            “Oh, sorry,” he apologized, sounding like he didn’t mean it at all. “I forgot that some of us are a little too high and mighty to actually touch alcohol.”

            “Justin, stop,” JC demanded, getting a feeling that Justin had already taken in more than his share of drinks that night.

            Lillian tensed at his subtle insult. “You know why I don’t drink. Don’t pretend it’s some stupid snobbery thing.”

            Justin ignored JC’s command, wanting to argue with Lillian and actually get some feelings out in the open. If he was drunk, screw it. He was out to draw blood.

            “Yeah, I know why you don’t drink. But that doesn’t explain why you’re such a damn prude,” he attacked.

            She could hear JC groan in the background but the roaring in her head drowned it out. “A prude? What is that supposed to mean?”

            “It means, Princess, that you don’t drink, you don’t cuss, you don’t smoke or do drugs. You don’t do anything that’ll mess up your ‘perfection.’ You’re too good to indulge in what the common people do.”

            “Excuse you, Justin, because if you’re trying to call me stuck-up or a snob, you’re pointing the finger at the wrong person. You were the one who didn’t like me at first glance because I was just a mere intern and you were the big and famous Justin Timberlake,” she argued.

            He scoffed and reached for another shot from the tray, but her hand quickly grabbed his wrist and stopped him.

            “You’ve had enough,” she informed him, using all her strength in her arm to hold his much stronger one still.

            Justin knew he could simply reverse the grip on her, but even in his alcohol-dazed mind he didn’t like the idea of hurting her physically. He had already done that before, and he had not been very satisfied with himself. Not like I’m feeling very good right now.

            “I don’t need you to tell me what to do,” he answered, knowing how childish he sounded but not being able to stop himself.

            Theresa sat next to them, completely at a loss of what she should do. JC moved the shots away before he grasped Lillian’s hand and pried her hold loose. Justin took his wrist back and glared sullenly at the both of them.

            JC let a breath out, hoping that the worst was over.

            “You guys are like my damn parents,” Justin said rudely.

            JC gave another small groan. No such luck. Now Justin was ragging on him, too.

            “You think that because you don’t drink, I shouldn’t either because we’re the same age,” Justin continued, looking at Lillian. “Technically we are, but in reality I know a whole lot more than you. I’m older than you in every aspect. It pisses me off, how you try to protect me. Not just with drinking, but with my own damn feelings.”

            Theresa stood up. “I shouldn’t be hearing this,” she said before quickly leaving.

            “Why do you want to protect me?” Justin demanded, not even noticing her absence. “I don’t need it!”

            Lillian looked down at the table, uncomfortable. Even though he was drunk, he still hit the situation straight on.

            “I-I don’t know why I try to protect you,” she finally replied. Because I’m stupid and I love you, and I don’t want you hurt. Because if you were hurt, it would hurt me even more.

            “You should try protecting Lance or JC, you like them so much,” Justin bit out.

            “Hey, just listen to yourself,” JC interjected. “Realize how ridiculous you sound right now.”

            “Shut up, Jace,” he responded. “I don’t sound ridiculous. I saw you two dancing to your special little Eva Cassidy song.”

            “That was between friends, and friends only,” JC explained rationally, trying to keep up with Justin’s ramblings. He wheeled from insults and anger to affront to badly disguised jealousy.

            “Don’t even try that excuse on me. I practically invented that.”

            “It’s true, though. We’re friends and nothing else,” Lillian affirmed. JC feels nothing like you. What I am in his arms is nothing compared to what I am in your arms. That’s what she wanted to tell him. But she didn’t.

            “Then maybe you and Lance have something going on,” Justin claimed.

            “We’ve been through all of this already,” Lillian replied. “I’m not going to keep arguing with you.”

            “Then it’s true!”

            “Justin, it is not true,” she said, trying to get him to be reasonable. “Look, if it will make any difference, I like someone else.”

            “And who would this perfect man be?” he asked, not believing her for a second.

            “Maybe when you’re sober I’ll tell you,” she answered. “You’re obviously not in the right state of mind to listen.”

            “Don’t assume what I can and can’t do,” he shot back.

            JC shoved his chair back and stood up. “We’re gonna leave you alone until you get some sense back.” He took Lillian’s arm. “Come on, let’s dance some more.”

            She gave Justin one last concerned glance before nodding and leaving the table. JC remembered to take the tray of shots with him.

            “I hope this doesn’t make him even more mad,” Lillian said, so worried that she didn’t protest when JC moved in close behind her to guide her movements.

            “Forget him, he’s drunk. People are different when they have alcohol. Don’t let him upset you,” JC replied.

            “I know, I’m trying. I shouldn’t have pushed him away in the first place. It was all a bad idea, and I didn’t know it would snowball like this.”

            JC decided to change the topic. “Hey, look how well you’re dancing,” he pointed out. “See, I knew someone who likes music so much couldn’t be a bad dancer.”

            “Yeah, Justin was wrong when he called me a prude. Prude my ass,” she said angrily.

            He laughed then looked at her proudly. “That’s right. Stop with the self-recrimination and blame J.”

            He swung her around and she smiled, for the first time enjoying dancing.

            From his lonely seat at the table Justin glared at them, willing them to stop having fun and pay attention to him. I’m supposed to be controlling this situation! They’re not supposed to be dancing together and laughing it up.

            “That’s it,” he muttered after watching them dance for two songs and get increasingly familiar with each other.

            He got up and pushed through the crowd, barely nodding in reply to the people talking to him as he passed. His destination was clear in his mind.

            He tapped JC’s shoulder before pulling him away from Lillian. “Let me dance,” he demanded.

            JC looked at him, twisted his head and noticed Lillian’s uneasiness, then turned back. “I can’t stop you. Just don’t do anything stupid, J, I’m warning you.”

            Justin nodded and pulled Lillian close to him as soon as JC left. “You didn’t dance last time,” he said, referring to the time they’d gone out for Lance’s birthday.

            She understood what he meant. “There wasn’t anyone to dance with.”

            He kept trying to drag her closer and she continued to pull away. He started getting frustrated, that feeling of inadequacy hitting him again.

            “You can dance with me,” he suggested. The alcohol made him switch gears from anger to self-pity in a split second. Damn, why do I become like this around her? Always feeling like I’m lacking in some way. She’d rather dance with JC than me. Maybe she doesn’t think I’m a good enough dancer.

            “You look good tonight,” he said out of the blue. Compliments always work.

            She simply nodded and murmured a thank you. At first her heart had leapt at the unexpected compliment, but then she remembered that he was drunk.

            Justin stopped talking and focused on her. She really did look good, that wasn’t a lie. But he couldn’t pinpoint why he suddenly started noticing her appearance. It’s that blueberries smell again. And her mouth…damn, I’ve always liked lips, but why are hers so interesting to me? Being so close to her, he couldn’t help but note how nicely her body fit against his. What is wrong with me?

            “Lillian,” he said softly, urging her to look at him instead of his shirt.

            She lifted her gaze and regarded him questioningly.

            He stared at her mouth, not being able to tear his eyes away. She’s so beautiful.

His steps slowed and unconsciously Lillian followed his lead and stopped dancing too. They didn’t notice that they were the only ones motionless in a sea of writhing bodies.

            “I…I just wanted to…” He broke off, leaning down to her.

            “You wanted to wha-“ she began, only to have him silence her words with his lips.



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