Chapter 27

“I could lose my heart tonight
If you don't turn and walk away.” 

                        -Selena, “I Could Fall In Love”




             Lillian was in shock. Her mind was frozen, and only her senses were registering. His lips were soft, much softer than they appeared. And they were skilled. It may have been her first kiss, but she knew when the kisser was experienced. The subtle musk of his cologne mixed with a tinge of alcohol and a smell that was unique only to him, and it struck her nose delicately. She felt so warm.

            Justin stopped moving his lips against hers and lifted his head slowly. He opened his eyes and regarded her. Her eyes were still shut and her face was lifted expectantly, the expression dreamy.

            He shook his head and stepped away abruptly, all of a sudden feeling horribly sober.           

            “Justin?” she asked dazedly.

            He took another step backwards. “I…shoot, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.”

            “But I don’t-“

            “I’m sorry,” he repeated quickly. “I don’t know what-“ The words halted while he tried to think of an explanation. “Just…damn it!”

            He spun around and disappeared through the crowd without another word, leaving Lillian staring after him.

            She raised a finger to her lips, still stunned that the impossible had just occurred. He had kissed her. It had been positively…What’s a good word? Delicious. That’s it. Completely delicious.

            Slowly she made her way off the dance floor, bumping into people as she walked. Where had he gone?

            Eventually Lillian found herself at the table again. But no Justin.

            “Problem?” JC asked, halting his conversation with an excited looking Lance.

            “I, uh…” She observed their impatient expressions. “No, no problem. Don’t let me interrupt.” She smiled absentmindedly and left them to their gossiping, hearing Lance say something about a ‘hot production assistant.’

            Where could he have gone? The bar’s empty, he’s not with his friends, and the line to the bathroom is a mile long. What other place is left?

            She mentally smacked herself. Well, obviously. She hurriedly made her way around the throngs of people near the restrooms and exited the club through the back door.


*                       *                       *


            What the hell is wrong with me? Why’d I do that? It was so stupid to kiss her! Another part of his mind rebelled. But it felt so right.

            “No!” Justin exclaimed, the word echoing off the brick walls of the alley. “Dammit!” In frustration he kicked an empty beer can lying next to the overflowing dumpster. He watched as it bounced down the alley and clanged noisily when it hit a wall.

            He sighed and crouched down. That bit of physical aggression had helped a little. But still…I’m an idiot! Such a big moron!

            The metal door to the club banged open and he kept his gaze trained on the pavement. Please be the bartender throwing out some trash. But just listening to the person’s approaching steps proved his hopes wrong. He knew it was Lillian.

            “Justin,” she called out softly. “What are you doing?”

            He straightened and turned to look at her. “I’m thinking.”

            She stepped closer to him, her pulse racing. It seemed like her romantic dreams had finally come true. He had kissed her. And not on the cheek or forehead like he had done before. Oh no, this was right on the lips. That has to mean something, right?

            “What are you thinking about?”

            He bit his lip. “What just happened in there. That’s what I’m thinking about.”

            Lillian laid her hand on his shoulder, thinking he was nervous. “Justin, it’s okay,” she encouraged him.

            He moved out from under her hand. “Yeah, it is okay, right? Because I’m just not feeling right tonight. Maybe it was all those shots.” He nodded hurriedly, the excuse making sense. “I guess I couldn’t handle it as well as I thought I could.” He let out a laugh, a fake and gratingly loud one.

            But she didn’t notice how hollow it sounded. Her mind was still digesting the words. ‘Not feeling right…all those shots…’

            She shook her head, the haze of desire suddenly dissipating. It added up. He was intoxicated and had no idea what he was doing. She had seen it before, and apparently she had just become a naïve and stupid victim of it.

            He hadn’t kissed her full on the lips out of love or passion. It was out of drunkenness. Your first kiss, Lillian, and it’s from someone who’s drunk. Figures.

            Well, she still had a tiny trace of pride to salvage. “Yeah, I guess so,” she said, laughing weakly. “If that’s settled then…” A minuscule tinge of hope crept its way into her tone, begging him to differ.

            Justin grinned quickly, grateful that their confrontation had been resolved so easily. “Yup, it’s settled!”

            Lillian nodded, feeling empty. “Okay then. Great.” She darted one last furtive glance at him, but seeing that he was staring blankly at the night sky she sighed and went back inside.

            As soon as the door slammed shut he jerked his head around to look at it. Yeah. Great. He shook his head and pulled out his cell phone to call Mike. Maybe he could pick him up early.


*                       *                       *


            Justin groaned, burying his face deeper into the soft pillow.

            Chris let out a happy sigh. “Ah, yes. The best part of letting go of all inhibitions- Hangover City! Everyone’s favorite vacation spot. The plane ride over is sweet and smooth, but the return trip is hell.”

            “Very clever,” Justin muttered, his mouth feeling like it was stuffed with cotton. He turned over and squeezed his eyelids shut.

            Chris strolled around the perimeter of the room, yanking the curtains and blinds open as he went. He smiled to himself as each ray of the morning sunlight managed to strike Justin right in the face.

            “Stop, man!” Justin complained, quickly clapping the pillow over his head.

            “Stop? But I’m just getting started!” Chris exclaimed in a chipper voice. “We have lots and lots to do today. First on the agenda is breakfast. And then it’s time for the ‘Rolling Stone’ photo shoot that got delayed. Remember that? Next, we have to talk over some pyrotechnic junk with Thompsen, because JC got the bright idea that today being our last concert and all, we should go out with a bang…literally. And after that, the fun will really begin.”

            “Oh Lord, kill me now.”

            “You silly sleepyhead,” Chris admonished. “I know what will wake you up!” He ran over to the door and yanked it wide open. “JC! Lance! Joey! Guess who needs help getting out of bed?!”

            His holler reverberated in Justin’s sensitive ears. “My freaking ears!”

            He felt something jump onto the bed, jolting his already aching head. “My freaking head!”

            “Maybe his medulla oblongata is making him ornery,” a deep voice remarked.

            “B-b-but Mama says d-dat all dem teeth and no toothbrush makes him ornery,” someone else answered in a perfect imitation of Bobby Bouchet.

            The pillow was wrenched out of his grasp and the light from the window hit him in the eyes full on. “My freaking eyes!”

            Somebody’s head suddenly appeared and blocked the offending sun.

            “Who is that?” he asked, confused and only half awake.

            “It’s your freaking friend,” JC said dryly. “Now get outta bed.”

            Chris, from his position on the bed, shoved Justin off and flopped down on it. “I claim this bed for the empire of Chris,” he announced.

            Justin shook JC’s supporting arm off him and made his way to the bathroom. He immediately reached for his toothbrush to get that nasty taste out of his mouth. After scrubbing for ten minutes he decided that it was enough.

            “Remind me why none of you are nursing huge hangovers,” he said, stumbling out of the bathroom and looking for some decent clothes to wear.

            “Well, I for one had more than enough drama just seeing you drunk,” JC replied. “So I kinda stayed clear, except for that one margarita.”

            “I was dancing,” Chris explained.

            “Too busy flirting,” Joey admitted.

            “Checking out a cute production assistant,” Lance said, grinning.

            “Great. So I get to be the one with a massive headache on what seems to be our busiest day since the first day on tour,” Justin remarked. He pulled out a shiny baby blue jersey and winced, quickly stuffing it back into the bag. “Blue, blue, blue! Everything in my wardrobe is blue!

            “No, you definitely have some navy shirts somewhere,” Chris assured him.

            “Moron, navy is dark blue,” Joey muttered.

            Chris balked at the insult. “Hey, who’s the fashion designer? That’s right, me! So trust me when I say that navy is apart from the whole blue color spectrum!”

            Lance looked at him oddly. “What?”

            Chris paused. “I don’t know what I just said.”

            Finally Justin found a gray sweatshirt and a pair of warm-up pants. He pulled them on hastily. “Okay, let’s head down to the lobby,” he suggested, leading the way out the room.

            “Well he’s pretty eager,” JC noticed.

            “Obviously. Where there’s a lobby, there’s some Advil sitting somewhere nearby,” Lance pointed out.

            They followed Justin, snickering as he ran into various potted plants and corners. JC had filled them in on their friend’s less than stellar behavior at the club last night, and they figured he had no one to blame but himself. After all, no one forced all the shots down his throat.

            The four of them watched with interest from around the banquet table as Justin alternately shoveled cereal into his mouth and swallowed Advil. He was able to finish three bowls in record time.

            “Amazing,” Chris commented in an Australian accent. “Here, we’ve just observed the feeding frenzy of the endangered creature referred to as the ‘Boy-band Boy-toy.’ With just a few left in the world today, they are highly sought after, but manage to continue astonishing people with their poor manners.”

            Justin burped, ignoring his friend. As long as he could feel his headache going away, he’d be fine. And half of the day would be spent outside, away from the other people on the tour. Which, in his case, was a very good thing.

            “Ready to head out?” he asked, standing up.

            “My god, it speaks!” Chris exclaimed, still keeping his Crocodile Hunter persona.

            “Oh, haha,” Justin responded sarcastically. “Everything is laugh-a-minute around here.”

            “You can thank us for it later,” Joey said, grinning. “But for now we gotta head downtown.”

            Chris ran out of the banquet room with Joey trying to tackle him, and JC and Lance followed at a more sedately pace. Bringing up the rear was Justin, munching on a handful of Frosted Flakes.

            As they passed the elevators, several people stepped off one elevator. Lillian, staring at the ground, was the last one out. She felt like someone was watching her and she quickly looked around.

            Her searching gaze fell on Justin, frozen in place. Maybe I should say something. At least wave to him, Lillian! She began to raise her hand hesitantly but he turned around to catch up with the others before she could greet him.

            She sighed. So that’s how it was going to be. Well, this was what she deserved for attempting to protect his feelings, and hers.


*                       *                       *


            “Justin, you’re gonna have to smile sooner or later. You stick out like a sore thumb right now,” the photographer commented, observing the five men in front of him.

            “Sorry,” he mumbled, obediently putting a fake smile on his face.

            The photographer sighed. “Better, I guess. Hold still everyone.”

            They let out a collective breath of relief when the last shot was taken. After thanking the photographer they left the studio and piled into their SUV.

            “At least they didn’t make us wear all that glitter, like last time,” Lance pointed out.

            “Still, all the flashes hurt my eyes,” Justin complained. “I feel my headache coming back.”

            “Man, your bitching is giving me a headache,” Chris said. “It’s a hangover! Get over it. Whose fault is it anyway?”         

            Justin scowled and turned to look out the window. But he couldn’t deny the truth of Chris’ words. He had been whining since he woke up. And Jace and Lillian had tried to warn him about all his drinks.

            Lillian. Damn. That morning he had been staring at her in the lobby. When she’d turned to look at him he just bolted, not wanting to dwell on what had happened the night before. The only good part was that it seemed like no one else had noticed the kiss, which he was grateful for. If the guys had seen him, there would be no end to their questions and curiosity.

            Why’d you do it? That’s the first thing they’d ask. And he didn’t even have an answer for it. He had said that it was because he was drunk. But he wasn’t that far gone, that he would just kiss one of his friends who happened to be an attractive girl.

            And she was attractive. There was no denying that. He couldn’t believe he thought she was ugly a few months ago. Since then, his definition of ‘attractive’ had been widened. No more of that blonde, skinny, blue-eyed, big chest crap. Lately, small dark-eyed brunettes had become more appealing. Provided they had substance.

            Justin paused. Why am I thinking about this anyway? There’s no way we would ever become a couple.

            A small part of his mind argued with him. Well, why the hell not?

            He frowned. Because we haven’t known each other that long…but it seems like we have. And my mom hasn’t even heard of her…though my friends love her. She’s different…but it makes her even more special. She tried to push me away…only in order to protect me.

            Any other person would see the pros and cons and make an obvious decision. But he just didn’t know.


*                       *                       *


            Lillian listened attentively as Thompsen explained how the mini fireworks display would be executed that night. They would practice it once and work out any errors before doing it for sure at the concert.

            On the other side of the stage, the band was taking a break from their rehearsal. Chris had dared Joey to eat a whole box of Krispy Kremes as fast as he could, and Joey hadn’t been able to refuse the challenge.

            “Come on, Joey, only three more left!” Lance exclaimed, egging his friend on.

            “Here, let me help,” Chris offered. He grabbed one of the donuts and stuffed it into Joey’s face.

            Joey tried to shout at him, but his mouth was full of pastry. He gave himself a second to swallow the food and compose himself before lashing out at Chris, who was laughing hysterically.

            “Get back here you jerk!” he shouted, beginning to run after Chris. Then he stopped suddenly and bent down, holding his stomach. “Oh man, that was not a good idea.”

            Lance rolled his eyes and helped Joey sit down. JC snickered at what had just happened and looked over at Justin, expecting his younger friend to be cracking up.

            But Justin only managed a small smile.

            “J, what’s up with you?” he asked. “Usually when Joey makes a fool out of himself you can’t stop laughing. And don’t tell me you still have a headache, because you were dancing just fine a minute ago.”

            “I was an asshole last night,” Justin answered. “It was your birthday and everything, and I got drunk and insulted you and Lillian.”

            JC shrugged, knowing that these things could happen. “I’m not holding anything against you. I’ve been a moron after drinking too.”

            “I don’t even recall half the things I said,” Justin continued. “All I remember is-“ He broke off. All he remembered was that he said some stupid things before kissing Lillian. But he couldn’t tell JC about that last part.

            JC raised an eyebrow, noticing that Justin had trailed off. “Whatever, that’s in the past now. I’m not mad at you…at least I’m not mad anymore. As long as you give me a birthday present, I’ll be happy,” he joked.

            Justin smiled genuinely for the first time that day. He could always count on JC. “Thanks, Jace. Don’t worry, you’ll get your present soon.”

            “That’s all I ask, man,” JC replied, grinning and pulling him in for a quick hug.

            After breaking away JC looked around, seeing that Joey had turned an odd shade of green.

            “Hey, maybe you should go to the bathroom or something,” he suggested.

            “Good idea,” Joey moaned.

            JC rolled his eyes and went over to help him. “Come on,” he said, propping Joey against his shoulder. “One step at a time.”

            Lance turned to Justin after the two had left. “Feeling better now?”

            Justin nodded. “Definitely. When will Joey learn to stop accepting Chris’ dares?”

            Lance laughed. “Hopefully never. It’s too funny.” Then he looked at Justin with a mischievous glint in his eyes. “And soon, you’ll learn not to mess with me and Chris in the pranks department.”

            Justin widened his eyes. “Oh, is that a threat? ‘Cause I don’t know, I’m not feeling too scared right now.”

            “You will. Trust me on that one.” He scanned the people running around the stadium and spotted Lillian holding some extension cords. He pointed to her. “And we’ll get that one too.”

            “Nah, our pranks were always better than yours,” Justin replied, staring at her.

            “So how’s the L and J connection doing?” Lance asked, observing the way Justin looked at her.

            Justin dragged his eyes away from her as another crew member near her whispered something in her ear and she laughed. Her smiles and laughter always lit up her face. “It’s not doing so good,” he said. “Not too good at all.”


*                       *                       *


            Moments after Phillip had stopped by, Lillian was still laughing. He had joined the tech crew about halfway through the tour, and never failed to make a wisecrack about Thompsen whenever he saw Lillian.

            After plugging the extension cord into a set of fireworks streamer bases, she headed back to do the same to the four other stations that were set strategically around the stadium.

            Today was the third day left on tour, and the last two were the take-down days, when all the equipment was packed away and sent to wherever they had obtained them. The last paycheck would be given out, and after a meeting given by Tim, everyone would head off to the airports and bus stations and go back to their normal lives. At least until the next tour.

But she wouldn’t have a next tour. This internship was a one-time deal. And I guess our friendship was too.



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