Chapter 3

“The very first time you said my name

I knew it would never sound the same

Something about me is changed forever.”

                                    -Christopher Cross, “Swept Away”



“Damn it, why can’t we get this stupid combo down?!” Justin exclaimed to his friends. They had been redoing the pivot-spin-slide step for what seemed like forever, but one person always fell out of the ending stance or stumbled. He was sick of practicing it over and over. It was so simple, but maybe they were all a little rusty from their break.

            After another failed attempt, he turned to JC and snapped, “Right there! You always shift your weight to the left. Don’t do it!”

            JC bit back a curse, then told Justin to calm down. “Just because you’re having problems with your groupie girlfriend doesn’t mean you can take it out on me. I know what I’m doing wrong, but I know what you’re doing wrong too. So check yourself before you start messing with me.”

            Justin regarded him with a glare, then stalked off to the other corner of the stage. JC rolled his eyes and shrugged to the other guys who had witnessed the whole scene.

            “It’s ok, man. He’s been mad this whole day. God only knows why. Just let him blow off some steam,” Chris suggested.

            Lance nodded in agreement, and Joey offered another explanation.

            “It’s just ‘cause he’s not getting any. That ditz he’s been hanging with is holding out,” he snickered. “Poor guy.”

            Lance groaned at his disillusionment, and JC laughed. He didn’t like Elaine that much, now that he’d been able to get to know her better. That was a mistake. In a way, he did sympathize with Justin. He’d be going crazy too, if he had a permanently attached arm ornament.

            “JC,” he heard someone say, accompanied by a light tapping on his shoulder. He twisted around to see Justin standing there.

            “Hey, J,” he said, not wanting to press any issues.

            Justin looked at his older friend uncomfortably, and quietly proffered an apology. “I’m sorry about my blowup before. Things just aren’t working out for me today. I didn’t mean to piss you off, too.”

            JC grinned back at him. “It’s okay, buddy. You’re right, one hormonal hottie is enough for this group.” He reached out and gave Justin’s hand a quick clasp, before turning away to regard the others.

            “Okay, now that we’re all kosher,” he said, getting in place for the choreography, “time to get bi-zay!”

            They all returned to their opening stances as the music blasted at full volume out of the stereos surrounding the stage. Lillian was captivated by their close camaraderie. Lance is lucky to have such good friends. I’m thankful enough to know Karen, but he’s got four Karens. She gazed over to the group as they effortlessly worked through the complicated moves from her place behind one of the giant speakers, where she was in the middle of double-checking the wiring and plugs.

            Suddenly, a high-pitched blare pierced the air and cut off the music track. Everyone within a fifty-yard radius immediately covered their ears from the noise. Being closest to the speakers, the boys on stage grabbed their heads and fell to their knees, closing their eyes. Lillian had been right next to one of the largest speakers, and she automatically cringed from the sound. It sounded like hundreds of nails scratching a chalkboard, amplified. After the blare died away, she stood next to the speaker, stunned.

            Justin pulled his hands away from his ears cautiously, before realizing that the noise had gone away. His ears were still ringing, however. What the hell was that?!

            Lance spoke up, also wondering what had just happened. “I think some of the sound equipment is screwed up. Maybe one of the speakers is turned up too high or something.”

            Justin’s angry gaze, at the mention of “speakers,” swung towards the only person who had been around the speakers when the noise had started. Just when I thought a bad day couldn’t get any worse. Can’t even work a stupid speaker. How do these people get hired, anyway. And I can’t believe this happened right when we were dancing perfectly.

            He saw the diminutive girl standing right next to the speakers, and narrowed his eyes at her figure. Lance noticed where he was staring, and saw that his blue eyes were trained on Lillian, the girl he had met earlier. His fuming, extremely pissed off, blue eyes.

Uh oh . . .

            “Justin, wait,” he said, trying to grasp his sleeve as he brushed by.

            Justin simply shrugged his arm off and continued his pursuit. “Hey, what the hell do you think you’re doing?!” he shouted at the already pale Lillian. “Are you trying to deafen us all and end our careers or something? Get your damn head out of your damn ass and fix it!”

            He saw how she had blanched and retreated a couple of steps as he had approached. Like a whipped animal or something. In his eyes, her actions only managed to lower his opinion of her. He remembered seeing her once talking to Lance in the hotel. She seemed timid. Not at all the type of person he respected.

            “I-I was just checking the equipment,” she stuttered out. “I’m not exactly sure-“

            “Then you obviously weren’t doing a very good job of checking the equipment, were you? What experience do you have with this type of operation, anyway?” he asked condescendingly, sneering down from his height into her wide-eyed gaze.

            “I’m an intern. F-from MIT,” Lillian explained, trying to calm her heart rate down. It was racing at what seemed like one hundred miles an hour. She flinched when she heard the stutter leave her mouth. She had controlled that bad habit since high school, and now it had to resurface just as she was face-to-face with the one person she used to worship. I can’t believe this is happening to me.

            “Oh! An intern,” Justin repeated with disdain. “I see. I guess they’re just handing them out to anyone on the streets nowadays, huh? Anyone with absolutely no talent, no brains, and sure as hell no looks.” Shit. That last part was kinda harsh. Maybe I should apologi-

            Who do you think you are?!” Lillian exclaimed. Sure, he was Justin Timberlake of ‘N Sync, but that didn’t mean he could just rip into her on a whim. And about something that wasn’t even her fault. “I’m so extremely sorry that my appearance and existence don’t satisfy your celebrity status!”

            Screw the apology. It’s on now. “Hey, even if I weren’t a celebrity, I’d still be able to figure out how to work a damn speaker. Obviously you can’t. Tell me what got you this position. Was it your daddy’s money, princess?”

            Lillian’s eyes clouded over. She could feel moisture building up. Not now, please not now. You can’t cry in front of him. How would he have known about Daddy?

            Lance and JC had neared as their arguments escalated, and after hearing Justin’s last question Lance let out a curse.

            “What?” asked JC. He didn’t see what was so bad about the question. Well, of course it was bad, but he didn’t understand how it could affect the girl so much.

            Lance turned to him and explained. “Her father's dead.”

            Their appearance had gone unnoticed by both Justin and Lillian. Lance saw Lillian’s watering eyes and stepped in between his old friend and his new friend to intervene before she was reduced to crying in front of a crowd.

            “Hey Justin, it’s no big deal. Thompsen just told me that one of their controls was accidentally turned up too high. It wasn’t the speakers, or Lillian,” he said, eyeing both the squared off opponents cautiously.

            Justin was still staring at Lillian, and seemed not to hear what Lance told him. What’s wrong with her? Is she gonna cry or something?

            “Lillian, huh?” he questioned, working the name out with his tongue. Pretty name. Too bad the same can’t be said for the person.

            Lillian could feel three pairs of blue eyes on her, and she couldn’t stand it anymore. “I have to go. I really am sorry about messing up your rehearsal. I just- never mind,” she murmured. She climbed down from the stage and hurried away, keeping her face hidden as she weaved through the curious crowd that had gathered near the scene.

            “Wait, Lillian, it wasn’t the speakers!” Lance called out after her, trying to make her understand that she hadn’t done anything wrong. “Lillian!”

            “Forget it, Lance. I don’t think she wants to be in public right now,” JC said quietly from behind him.

            “I know, I know. I just wanted to try,” he said, turning back to him. His glance caught on Justin, who was standing in the exact same place as before, but looking confused now instead of angry. Just who I wanted to see right now.

            “Justin,” he bit out, “What the hell is up with you?! Why don’t we just paint ‘Ass’ all over your forehead, because that’s what you’re acting like today.”

            Justin felt guilty, but he sure wasn’t going to admit it. “It’s not my fault your little friend can’t handle some responsibility. And it’s not my fault she can barely hold her own in an argument. You would think that someone who’s lived that long would have developed some defense. I mean, come on!”

            JC interjected. “Justin, in my opinion, it sure as hell is your fault. Lillian didn’t do anything wrong. Except maybe accidentally attract your attention.”

            “Fine! Let’s just all side with little Lillian,” he said mockingly. “Just abandon your old friend. This wasn’t my fault. I’m leaving.” He stalked off the stage and headed in the opposite direction Lillian had run off to. He would definitely avoid her from now on.


*                       *                       *                       *                       *


            What is wrong with me? I can’t believe I said those things. And in front of so many people. Lillian was sitting in the middle of her bed in the empty hotel room. She was already dressed in her pajamas, but she had been unable to sleep for an hour. Elaine was still out, probably with Justin.

            It’s not his fault. I could see that he was already having a bad day. I should have been extra careful. And he didn’t know about Daddy. He didn’t mean it that way. There is a lot of pressure on him right now. I shouldn’t have made things worse by shouting.

            A knock sounded at her door, interrupting her thoughts. It’s probably Elaine.

            She walked over to the door and peered through the peephole. It’s not Elaine. It’s-

            “It’s Lance. Can I come in, please?”

            Lillian immediately unlocked the door and allowed him to enter. He had been very nice to her since the first night they’d met, and she thought that they were becoming fast friends.

            “Sure, come on in,” she said, holding the door wide open for him.

            He brushed past her, smiling gently. “We were wondering if you wanted to do something tonight. You know, to get your mind off . . . things.”

            Lillian, despite her glum mood, couldn’t help but smile back in response. He really was sweet. But, “I’m not sure. I mean, I’m already dressed for bed,” she said, motioning down to her white shirt and flannel pants.

            “Oh, come on. You can change in five minutes. Besides, we really want you to hang with us. We’re so bored!”

            “Who’s ‘we’?” she wondered.

            “The guys! Me, Joey, Chris, JC.”

            Lillian was confused. “Why would they want to talk to me? I made their friend mad. Really mad.”

            Lance grinned, explaining. “Actually, he was already really mad. And we know it wasn’t your fault. Justin can be moody sometimes. It was just bad luck, I guess. And besides, everyone wants to meet the person who put Justin in his place. Well, before you apologized.”

            “Really?” she asked hesitantly.

            “Yes, yes! Really! Now come on, I’ll be in the hall. I’m giving you five minutes, starting . . . now!”

            Lillian raced to get dressed.



*                       *                       *                       *                       *


            “Best episode ever!” Joey exclaimed triumphantly.

            “No way, you are so off. The best episode was with Joshua Jackson. And of course No Refund,” Chris argued. After Lance had arrived in their room with Lillian in tow, they had all settled in for a Saturday Night Live marathon. Joey had paid some poor bodyguard to tape all the episodes they requested.

            Chris turned to look at Lillian, who was sitting between Lance and JC on the other bed, with a happy smile on her face. “Lily, what do you think? Joshua Jackson,” he said enthusiastically, “or the Rock,” sounding bored.

            She had to grin at his amusing behavior, and the nickname he had anointed her with. She was glad Lance had convinced her to join them tonight. It was overwhelming at first, but the experience was similar to hanging with middle school boys. Four extremely attractive, overgrown middle school boys.

            “Well, personally, I didn’t think either were very good. No, let me explain!” she said as they both groaned in disappointment and disagreement. “The old ones are better. You know, with Chris Farley, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler. And of course the classics. With Belushi and Steve Martin.”

            Chris and Joey contemplated this, then nodded their heads slowly. “Very wise, my son,” Joey said sagely. “You are now a true master.”

            “The little cricket is ready to spring free of the cage,” Chris chimed in.

            “Um, thank you, I guess.” They grinned at her, then turned their attention back to the TV.

            Lance had enjoyed the little exchange. He knew inviting her was a good idea, and he was glad that she was appearing to come out of her reserved shell a little bit. Who would have guessed that quiet Lillian was a closet SNL freak? And when she was laughing so much, she didn’t look anything like the person others thought her to be. If only Justin were here.

            At that moment, Justin breezed through the door and into the room. As soon as she saw him, Lillian’s face lost its smile and he could feel her body stiffen next to him. And when Justin saw who he was next to, his expression turned tense. Damn, spoke too soon.

            JC had been alternately flipping through a car magazine and listening to the conversations around him, and he also noticed that the atmosphere of the room had suddenly changed. He glanced up, and saw the reason why. Justin. Please don’t make a scene, please don’t make a scene . . .

            What is she doing here? Can’t I get any peace anymore?! Justin saw all the eyes turned to him, and he smirked back. I can be the better person here.

            “Nice to see you again, Laurel,” he said, purposely mistaking her name. He strode over to the chair at the other end of the room and slipped his headphones on, turning up the volume until it drowned out the television.

            “It’s Lillian,” she whispered, but his attention was already elsewhere. JC patted her arm comfortingly, and she shrugged away Justin’s slight. I can be the better person right now.

            Everyone, with the exception of the silent figure in the darkened corner of the room, immersed themselves back into what they were doing before. A “Jeopardy!” parody was on, and those were always funny.

            Justin glared from his position apart from the others at Lillian. She was where he was supposed to be, nestled in the heart of the group. He saw her laughing along with Chris and Joey, and smiling at Lance. JC nudged her and showed her a picture of the newest BMW model, asking for her opinion. Damn it. He jerked his chair around to face the window, instead of the glowing picture that was presented before him.

            Noticing Justin’s reaction, JC smirked to himself. It wouldn’t be long before Justin finally gave in and joined them. At first, he wasn’t sure if it was smart to bring Lillian to their room. She might have still been traumatized from Justin’s comment about her father from before. He had asked Lance if she actually told him about her father herself, because she didn’t seem like the type of person to give away personal information so quickly. He had admitted that he looked up her background file after meeting her and it listed her father as deceased. Later when he tactfully asked her about it she explained that he had been in a car accident.

            He listened attentively to Lillian’s opinion of the model he had pointed out to her. Her appearance belied her personality. Under that tentative and plain exterior existed a bright and personable girl. And he couldn’t help but notice that Lance was right when he said that her smile was radiant. He saw her sneak a glance to Justin, and smiled silently to himself. He knew she was attracted to Justin. Every girl that came in contact with him was attracted to him. Sometimes he envied that quality his friend had, but then he realized the drawbacks. Like Elaine. Definitely a drawback. At first everyone liked Elaine, but after she called their room every minute to check on Justin . . . things were bound to change.

            Lillian threw another furtive look at Justin’s shadowed body. It really is amazing. Me, sitting with ‘N Sync in a hotel room. After shouting at Justin Timberlake. Karen wouldn’t believe me if I told her. She saw Justin’s shoulders heave as he let out a loud sigh. He was probably a bit bored. Staring out of a darkened window wasn’t very exciting.

            I really should apologize to him. Not for messing up rehearsals, but for shouting at him. We’ve all had our bad days. JC had gotten up from the bed and was now showing the others the picture of his dream car. No one was paying attention to her. Now was the time to act. Come on, don’t be a coward now.

            She got up and quietly walked over to where he was sitting with his eyes closed. Standing next to him, she said his name softly.


            No reaction. He couldn’t show any reaction. Maybe then she would leave him alone. Little Lillian was ruining the night. She was intruding on his time with his friends. They accepted her, even though she had no looks to speak of and had insulted him before. He reached to his CD player to turn the volume up higher.

            She tapped his shoulder lightly. Ugh, can’t she take a hint?! Does she want to piss me off again? He continued to ignore her, and kept his face expressionless.

            Lillian was determined to make amends. She didn’t like to be on uneasy terms with anyone. Especially when a simple apology could fix the situation. Exasperated with his stubbornness, she finally reached over to lift his headphones off.

            She hadn’t made any more attempts to engage his attention. He was relieved. He didn’t know how he would react tonight. Elaine had been so damn clingy, and he regretted ever dancing with her. She had taken the gesture a little too seriously, and now thought they were an item. Unexpectedly, he felt a touch at his headphones. What the hell. He reacted swiftly and slapped her hand away from him and surged to his feet to confront her.

            “Can you leave me alone for one second and stop being an annoying pest?!” he shouted in Lillian’s face. “It’s not enough that you come in here and invade my personal space and monopolize all my friends’ time, but you have to keep bothering me when I want some damn peace and quiet!”

            His outburst drew the attention of the others, who had been in a heated discussion about what color car was the best.

            Lillian tried to stay composed, and forced out her apology before her courage left her. “Justin, I-I only wanted to apologize for shouting at you earlier today. I wasn’t trying to annoy you. Or invade your space.”

            He lowered his face close to hers, and said tersely, “I don’t want an apology from you, Lillian. I just want you to get the hell out of my life.” He turned away from her, effectively dismissing her.

            His gaze regarded Lance. “Lansten, try to keep your strays out of the room. Especially the ugly ones.”

            Lance just looked at him in disappointment as Lillian ran from the room.


*                       *                       *                       *                       *

            She wiped her tears away roughly and pressed her cheek to her pillow, hiding her crying from Elaine. You should be used to this sort of thing from that sort of person. Why is it any different this time around? She knew why it was so different. It was because she had harbored a tiny hope inside of her, believing that Justin would turn out to be the wonderful person he had appeared to be on TV and in magazines. Even at the rehearsals and earlier tonight she had made an exception for him, defending him from herself. Because he was having a bad day.

            But she couldn’t forget his cutting comments about her. She had nothing going for her. He didn’t want to accept an apology from her. She was a charity case. It’s not because he’s having a bad day Lillian. It’s simply you. It’s your fault. It’s always your fault.


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