Chapter 30

“I found a picture of your smiling face

Bringing old memories that I had locked away.”

                        -Eva Cassidy, “Time Is a Healer”


A year later…



            “This tour is gonna crunk!”

            “Justin, two things. First, that word is so out. Second, you always say that about every tour,” JC responded, looking at his excited friend.

            “Well, our tours always crunk, so I haven’t been wrong yet,” Justin reasoned. “And a word is out when I say it’s out.”

            JC rolled his eyes. “Whatever, Curly.”

            Justin patted his newly grown in curls cautiously. “It looks okay, right?”

            “Don’t worry, “JC assured him. “The girls will go crazy.”

            Then the two of them paused in their conversation, noticing that the others in the conference room were staring at them impatiently.

            “Sorry,” they mumbled in unison.

            “Getting back to business,” Johnny said, “Here’s the tour schedule.” He handed a sheet of paper to each member of the band.

            Justin scanned the list and then paused on a certain name. “Massachusetts Institute of Technology? As in MIT?”

            “The one and the same,” Johnny affirmed. “Is there a problem? I mean, it is a college tour.”

            “No, no problem,” Justin assured him quickly.

            “Good, because this kind of tour is relatively unique. The public’s not expecting us to go on an album tour and then go back to back with a college tour. Usually it’s a tour, then a new record, followed by a tour for the new record,” Johnny said. “But I think this will really help with publicity and demographics. As your target audience grows up, you grow up with them. As they go to college, you go to college with them! It’s brilliant.”

            “Plus, all the fine honeys are legal,” Joey added, a wide grin on his face. He held up his hand for a high-five.

            His friends groaned, not obliging him.

            “What?” he asked. “What’d I do?”


*                       *                       *


            Justin was reclining on the couch, bouncing his leg up and down. He was excited, anxious, and nervous all at once. Excited because he always loved touring, anxious because he wanted it to be a success, and nervous because of that one stop at MIT. He knew full well who was at MIT.

            “Curly, what’s wrong?” Lance asked, sitting down next to him.

            “Man, why does everyone call me Curly again? Maybe I should shave it off, just to stop the nickname,” Justin said, avoiding the question.

            “Okay, sure why not,” Lance agreed, not distracted. “Now tell me what’s bothering you.”

            In response he pulled a piece of worn paper out of his pocket and handed it to Lance.

            “What’s this?” Lance inquired. He unfolded the paper and saw the familiar handwriting. Lily’s letter. “You still have this?”

            “Yeah,” Justin replied, a little offended at the sheer surprise in his friend’s tone. “What, you threw yours away?”

            “No, of course not. It’s just that the rest of us don’t carry ours in our pockets,” Lance explained.

            Justin shrugged and took the paper back.

            “Look, J, it’s obvious that you’re still a little hung-up over Lily. But why didn’t you call her or something?”

            “It’s not as easy as it sounds,” Justin said. “You don’t know what happened.”

            “Then tell me what happened,” Lance answered calmly.

            Justin sighed and fiddled with the paper in his hands. “I…we…”

            “You what?”

            “We kissed,” Justin finally said.

            “So? I saw you kiss her all the time,” Lance replied, not understanding what the big deal was.

            “No, we kissed. Like really kissed. On the lips,” Justin clarified, looking down at his lap. He didn’t even want to imagine what Lance’s reaction would be.

            “Oh. Oh!” Lance exclaimed, suddenly getting what his friend was saying. “What the freak, Justin, I can’t believe you never told anyone this!”

            “Calm down,” Justin urged him, not wanting the others to hear. “Stop shouting.”

            “Stop shouting?!” Lance almost screeched. “How do I stop shouting?! You kissed Lily, and you never said anything! And then you don’t talk to her for a year! How do I stop shouting?!

            Justin glared at him.

            “Okay, fine. I’ll stop shouting. But what the hell, Justin, what were you thinking?” Lance asked furiously.

            “I don’t know! That’s why I’m so confused right now!”

            “I still can’t believe you kissed her and never talked to her again,” Lance said, shaking his head. “I mean…wow.”

            “Hey, I did talk to her after the tour ended!” Justin protested. “I sent that card to her for Christmas. And I gave her those flowers for her birthday.”

            “J, you signed the card that Chris bought. You didn’t even attach a note for the flowers.”

            Justin searched for something to defend himself with, but it was true. He had only signed his name to the Christmas card and sent her anonymous flowers.

            “I did try to call her,” he said softly. “But whenever I made it to the last digit, I couldn’t do it.”

            Lance had never seen his friend so completely confused and bothered by a girl before. “Okay, let’s consider this rationally,” he said soothingly. “You and Lily kissed, and then I’m guessing both of you just avoided each other, probably because of nerves.”

            Justin nodded.

            “But then you keep her letter for a year, and in your pocket nonetheless. So what does that mean?”

            Justin looked up at his friend. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”


*                       *                       *



            “I don’t know,” Lillian cried out.

            “I mean, when you received those flowers for your birthday, it was reasonable to assume that they were from Justin. All the other guys sent other stuff, and who else would do it? So why didn’t you call him?” Karen asked.

            “I told you, I don’t know,” she said softly. “I tried to call, I really did. But it was so hard! The first nine digits were easy, but that last one…I couldn’t do it.”

            Karen sighed and sat down next to Lillian on the bed. She rubbed her shoulder comfortingly. “It’s okay, Lillian. Look, you have a chance to change the past. After class today I saw a notice in the commons area. It said that ‘N Sync are coming to MIT for a concert.”

            Lillian looked at her friend, startled. “Really?”

            “Yes, really. Go to the concert with me. You can see them again.”

            “No,” Lillian refused. “It won’t be the same.”

            “What are you talking about?” Karen demanded.

            “The reason I pushed Justin away in the first place was because I was so scared that we would grow apart eventually. And he said that wouldn’t happen, but it did. We haven’t talked for a year,” Lillian explained. “Things are different now.”

            “Take a chance,” Karen urged her.

            “The last time I took a chance, everything blew up in my face,” Lillian retorted. “I didn’t like it the first time, and I won’t like it a second time around. Just accept it. There is no possibility of Justin and me ever talking again.”

            “Fine then,” Karen exclaimed. “Keep telling yourself that. But if it’s true, it’s kind of odd how you never accept any dates, even though guys ask you out now. Who are you saving yourself for?”

            Lillian didn’t have a reply for that. She shook her head and looked out the window.

            “I’m going to buy tickets to the concert,” Karen said before leaving and slamming the bedroom door behind her.

            Lillian got up from the bed and went to stand next to the large bay window. Things had changed since last year. She and Karen had moved off campus to an apartment. Guys actually seemed interested in her. Her grades were high. But she wasn’t happy.

            It was true that she had turned down every date. That was because whenever she looked into a potential date’s eyes, she didn’t see the unique blue eyes she dreamed of every night. And until she could look into them again, she doubted she would be content.

            Lillian laughed sadly. It was too bad she couldn’t muster up the courage to do it. It was too bad her yearning was futile.


*                       *                       *


            “Lillian, come here. I want you to watch this,” Karen said, patting the space on the couch beside her.

            “What is it?” Lillian asked, obediently sitting down.

            “Just watch.”

            On the television, images of ‘N Sync at a concert appeared, accompanied by music and shouting. Then the picture zoomed in on Justin, who was grinning and singing his heart out.

            “This is the concert I taped last year,” Lillian realized. “Where’d you get this?”

            “I found it in one of the moving boxes we never unpacked,” Karen replied. “Bring back any memories?”

            “Too many memories,” Lillian bit out. “I left this unpacked for a reason.”

            She quickly stood up and went to the VCR, ejecting the tape.

            “Lillian, what are you doing?” Karen demanded, also rising from the couch.

            “I’m putting this where it belongs! Look, Karen, I was rejected, okay? I never told you this, but he kissed me one night.”

            Karen gasped. “He what?!

            “You heard me. And when he did, I was ecstatic, completely on cloud nine. But do you know what he said after he kissed me?”

            Karen had a sudden bad feeling about what had happened. “What did he say?” she asked with trepidation.

            “He said it was an accident, because he was drunk.” Lillian laughed, a tinge of bitterness creeping into her voice. “My very first kiss, with the very first person I loved, and it was because he was drunk. And that was the end of it. Everything turned awkward and two days later, we all went home.”

            “But Lilli-“

            “No! That’s what happened. Nothing you say can change that.” Lillian took the tape and went to the nearest wastebasket, throwing it in. “That’s where this tape belongs.”

            “I can’t believe you!” Karen burst out. “So what if he was drunk? If he was that drunk, he’d be unconscious on the ground, not kissing you. There must have been some emotion behind the kiss.”

            “There wasn’t,” she said flatly, walking back to the couch.

            “Why do you accept that so easily? You always say that the tour changed you, for the better. But you still act like the old Lillian. To be completely honest here, you’re being a coward.”

            “No, I’m no-“

            “And if you really love him, like you claim to, you are sure as hell not showing it! Love doesn’t mean giving up the first instant things turn uncomfortable. Stop being so damn angsty!” Karen practically shouted.

            “I never asked for your help!” Lillian yelled back. “I can handle this by myself!”

            “Well, you’re doing a fine job so far, huh?” Karen asked softly. “Fine. Handle it yourself. I’ll leave you alone.”

            She grabbed her keys off the kitchen counter and left the apartment, not saying anything else.

            As soon as the door closed Lillian allowed the tears she had been holding back since seeing the video again to fall. She rushed to the wastebasket and pulled the tape out. She stared at it, not knowing what to do.

            Finally, she put it back into the VCR. Curling her legs up to her chest, she watched the concert in its entirety, smiling tearfully whenever something on the tape triggered a memory for her.

            She wondered how the five of them were doing now. They had been too busy doing promos, charity events, and recordings to talk in-depth with her on the phone or leave anything more than a short note in her email inbox. Those appearances on talk shows and MTV were so impersonal and superficial; she couldn’t depend on them to gauge their well-being.

            I hope Joey’s not driving himself crazy trying to accomplish all of Chris’ dares. Is Lance remembering to take it easy and not work too hard? Does JC still go to mom-and-pop diners whenever he gets the chance, and does Justin still go ‘upstairs’ whenever he gets the chance?

            Now that she’d had some time to rethink things, she regretted shouting at Karen. All the emotion had been anger, but it wasn’t directed at her best friend. She was angry that Justin seemed so oblivious and indifferent, and she was mad at herself for still caring after all this time.

            It was time for closure.

            Lillian turned off the TV and raced out of the apartment, intent on searching for Karen. She needed to apologize.

            She left the doorway and promptly fell over a pair of outstretched legs. “Ouch,” she groaned.

            “Sorry,” someone whispered.

            Lillian got up and looked at the person sitting next to the door. “Karen? What are you doing?”

            “I was waiting for you to come to your senses,” Karen explained.

            “For two hours?” Lillian asked incredulously.

            “Well, it took longer than I thought it would,” Karen replied. She let a hint of a smile creep into her eyes.

            “I’m so sorry. You’re my best friend and I upset you because I’m so stubborn and stupid,” Lillian burst out. “I wouldn’t blame you if you abandoned me right now, because I deserve it.”

            “Abandon you? No way!” Karen disagreed. “It’s way too much fun living with you. My own little interactive soap opera.”

            “Am I forgiven?” Lillian asked, peering at her best friend with puppy dog eyes.

            “Yes, yes, you’re forgiven,” Karen said generously. “I should kill those damn ‘N Syncers for teaching you how to grovel so well.”

            Lillian laughed and helped her friend stand up. “At least I learned something, right?”

            “So you’re coming to the concert?” Karen inquired.

            “No, but I’ll compromise,” Lillian quickly said before Karen could protest.

            “Compromise? How?”

            “You’ll see,” she said, a plan already in her mind.


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