Chapter 31

“I wish I could tell you I'm feeling better every day
That it didn't hurt me when you walked away
But to tell you the truth I can't find my way
And deep inside me I feel like I'm dying
I have to see you, it's all that I'm asking.”

                     -“Purest of Pain (A Puro Dolor)", Son By Four 



            “I am going to school you, bi-otch!”

            “You can talk smack, but you can’t do much else,” Chris retorted.

            Justin glared at him. “We’ll see.”

            “Okay…go!” Chris shouted.

            The two immediately burst into a frenzy of action. Seconds later, Justin was crowing in triumph.

            “Oh yeah, that’s right! You got owned! I am the master of disaster around here!” he exclaimed, throwing his fist up into the air.

            JC peeked into the back room of the bus to see what all the commotion was about. When he saw the scene in front of him, he sighed in exasperation.

            “I can’t believe you guys are still playing Hungry Hungry Hippos.”

            “Shut up, Jace, you just don’t appreciate the challenge of this game,” Justin said.

            “Yeah, it’s pretty hard to bang down a little plastic lever and collect little balls,” JC replied sarcastically.

            Chris started laughing. “You said ‘bang’ and ‘balls.’”

            “I wouldn’t be so amused if I were you, you just got beat playing a game for five-year olds,” JC pointed out.

            “Fine, you see how easy it is,” Chris challenged. “Three people can play, you know.”

            JC accepted the offer and sat down. “One game, I’ll show you how it’s done.”


*                       *                       *


            “That’s four in a row!” JC shouted in victory. “Take that,” he taunted, sticking his tongue out at a sulking Justin and Chris.

            “You shouldn’t have challenged him,” Justin muttered to Chris. “Look what you’ve done.”

            The door opened and Joey appeared. “You guys woke me from my nap,” he complained. Then his eyes lit up as he saw what they were doing. “Ooh! Hungry Hungry Hippos! Get in mah belly!” he shouted, sitting down at the last available hippo.

            “It’s four games for me, two for Justin, and one for Chris,” JC recalled. “I rule at this.”

            “Only because you’re such a spazz,” Chris commented under his breath.

            “What was that?” JC asked.

            “Nothing. I said I really love jazz.”

            The other three gave him a weird look but didn’t say anything else.

            “Okay, let’s get Game 8 started!” Justin exclaimed.


*                       *                       *


            “Guys, come on! There’s still time for another round. We only reached sixty-five games!”

            Joey groaned. “Shut up, JC. My fingers hurt so bad.”

            “I think I have carpal tunnel syndrome,” Chris whined.

            “No, that’s just your arthritis,” Justin said, laughing. Then he moaned. “Ow, laughing hurts my back. I’m in pain from bending over so much.”

            Chris giggled to himself. “You said ‘bending over.’”

            “Shut up!” the other three shouted simultaneously.

            A knock sounded on the door before Lance came in. He stared at his bandmates, who were all lying on the carpeted floor of the bus with the exception of JC, who was sitting cross-legged and playing Hungry Hungry Hippos alone, each one of his hands on separate hippos.

            “Okay…” he drawled out. “Why is everyone passed out? And Jace, why are you playing with yourself?”

            Chris burst out laughing. “Lance, you just said ‘playing with your-‘”

            Shut up, Chris!” all four of them yelled.

            “I meant playing by yourself,” Lance quickly amended. “It doesn’t matter anyway. Tim wants y’all to get off the bus and head into the hotel.”

            “Which college is it again?” Joey asked, sitting up.

            Lance began to answer him. “It’s-“

            “MIT,” Justin interrupted. “We’re at MIT.”


*                       *                       *


            “Remember, the meet-and-greet is after the concert. Take the pass and go where security tells you to, and when you get your stuff signed-“

            Karen grabbed Lillian’s shoulders and shook her slightly. “Calm down, girl! I know what to do, don’t worry. I give your note to Justin, and then I’m out of there. No biggie.”

            Lillian took a calming breath. “You’re right. I’m just kind of tense, that’s all.”

            “Are you sure you’re not going to come? I still have an extra ticket.”

            “No, I’m sure. Give the ticket to someone else,” Lillian replied. She took a step backwards and examined her friend’s appearance. “You look great.”

            Karen smiled. “Thanks. I guess I’m off now.”

            Lillian nodded. “Thanks, Karen. For everything.”

            Her friend waved and went to the door.

            “Wait, one last thing!” Lillian exclaimed.

            “What? I didn’t forget anything!” Karen said, exasperated.

            “Have fun,” Lillian reminded her, grinning.

            Karen laughed. “Not a problem. I’ll tell you how it went when I get back.” She waved one last time and left the apartment.


*                       *                       *


            “Chaos,” Tim groaned. “Pure chaos. I shouldn’t have accepted this position again. What was I thinking?!”

            “You were thinking you love us,” Chris said with a fat grin.

            Tim sighed. “I was thinking that I’m going to strangle everyone in this damn dressing room if wardrobe doesn’t get here soon.”

            As if on cue, a flurry of men and women rushed in, dragging behind them rolling carts of clothes.

            “Finally!” Time exclaimed. “What took so long?”

            “Sorry,” one of the wardrobe assistants said. “It took us awhile to get unload all the carts and clothes, the truck order was screwed up.”

            “Fine, fine,” Tim allowed. “Just hurry it up.” He left the room to supervise other concert preparations.

            Justin stared at his reflection in the full-length mirror, turned side to side. He nodded in satisfaction.

            “Hey, Lance,” he said to his friend who was standing next to him in the mirror.

            “What?” Lance asked, looking at Justin’s reflection.

            “I’m kinda nervous,” Justin confessed, feeling his heartbeat race and his palms get sweaty. He took a few deep breaths, jumping up and down to get the jitters out.

            “Everyone’s nervous. We’ve got a concert in half an hour,” Lance replied.

            “No, not just because of that. What if…what if Lillian’s here?” he asked.

            “Oh,” Lance said, seeing why his friend was so agitated. “Come on, J, don’t worry about that. Just perform your heart out, like you always do.”

            “Do you know if she’s coming?”

            Lance shook his head. “I have no idea, man. Sorry.”

            “It’s okay,” Justin answered, staring into the reflection of his eyes. “I’ll be fine.” I hope.


*                       *                       *


            Lillian stood outside the football stadium, watching hordes of excited college co-eds go inside. She hadn’t planned on coming, but she couldn’t resist. The guys were so close, she could feel it. The campus was thriving with energy that afternoon. How could she stay home alone? It was impossible.

            She couldn’t go inside though, because she had no ticket and would be thrown out by security sooner or later. Finding a bench, she sat down, ready to wait.


*                       *                       *


            “Did anyone see her?” Justin asked over the roar of the crowd, wiping the sweat out of his eyes.

            “Sorry, J, not yet,” JC answered.

            “Don’t worry, we still have half the concert left,” Joey assured him.

            Justin nodded, taking a quick drink of water. “You’re right.”

            A stagehand signaled to them. “Hurry up, time to get back onstage!”

            They ran out onto the stage, once again embracing the keyed up audience in their animated grins.


*                       *                       *


            Lillian checked her watch. Only forty-five minutes left. She bounced her leg, getting more and more anxious. Forty-five minutes until the concert was over. In forty-five minutes, she would know.

            She tapped her fingers on her knee distractedly, searching for something to take her mind off the subject.

            A soft rumble sounded above her. She looked up and saw that it was getting cloudy. Probably rain. At least they covered the stadium tonight.


*                       *                       *


            The five members of ‘N Sync waved for a couple more minutes at their audience before racing offstage and to the waiting hands of security.

            “Let’s go, guys, it’s meet-and-greet time,” Lonnie said, leading the way down one of the many tunnels in the stadium.

            JC turned to say something to Justin, but his friend was staring blankly at the space in front of him, too deep in thought. They hadn’t seen Lillian anywhere in the large crowd. JC sighed, turning back around. Come on, Lily, where are you?


*                       *                       *


            Lillian looked up, noticing that people were beginning to file out of the stadium doors. She stood up from the bench, not sure whether she should be feeling apprehensive or relieved.

            Well, at least I get to get out of this rain. Ten minutes before the concert had ended, the dark clouds above her had opened up and begun to drizzle. Since then, it had only gotten heavier.

            She brushed past the happy concertgoers leaving the stadium and caught a few of their comments of the concert. It sounded like they had really enjoyed it, to say the least. She smiled. Good for the guys.

            Standing in the crowded front entryway, she noticed that the nearby security guards were distracted, considering they were practically being mobbed by some eager fans.

            Should I…? Oh, what the heck. She stealthily sneaked past the guards and went in search of the meet-and-greet room.

            Looking around, she saw that luck was definitely on her side today. A group of girls with meet-and-greet passes were being led down a hall. Quickly, she stepped behind them and tagged along.

            She was so close to seeing them again. She couldn’t stop now. Seeing them in a magazine or on TV was nothing compared to seeing them in person, flesh and blood standing in front of you.

            After walking through some winding tunnels, they arrived at the room where the meet-and-greet was being held, already in progress. Lillian stopped at the edge of the door, not wanting to go in and have someone recognize her.

            She caught sight of Karen sitting in one of the back rows. The girl in front of Karen stood up to ask the band a question.

            “Is it true about you and Britney?” she demanded.

            All the guys looked to Justin, and he nodded without saying anything.

            “Okay,” Tim said, stepping forward from the front of the room. “That’s all the time we have for the questions portion. Now ‘N Sync will be happy to sign anything you want.”

            The fans in the room clamored to rush to the tables set up on the side of the room. Lillian saw that Karen had been able to push to the front of the autograph signing line.

            But something was bothering her. What’s true about Justin and Britney? She hadn’t heard anything about the two. Oh well, I’ll find out later.

            She pushed the thought out of her mind and observed Karen. Her friend was already in front of Chris, the first person sitting at the tables. Next she moved to JC, who smiled charmingly and asked her a few questions before signing her CD and handing it down the line to Joey.

            Lillian’s heart was racing. After Joey was Justin, and Lance was last. What if Lance recognizes Karen?

            There was no time to dwell on that, though, because now Karen was standing in front of Justin. Lillian stared as Justin gave Karen a polite, tired smile and took her CD. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion as Karen handed him the note Lillian had written, and his expression changed to one of surprise as he said something.

            Lillian wished she could hear what they were talking about.

            Lance smiled indulgently as young and very hyper girl was dragged away by her older college co-ed sister. He turned to laugh about it with Justin, and his jaw dropped when he noticed who was standing in front of his friend.

            “Karen?!” he exclaimed loudly.

            Karen? That name sounds kind of familiar. And actually, the handwriting on this envelope looks very familiar, too. Justin peered more closely at the girl in front of him. Karen…wait! Karen, Lillian’s roommate! If it was Karen, that meant Lillian had to be somewhere nearby.


*                       *                       *


            “Excuse me, but what did you mean when you asked whether it was true about Justin and Britney?” Lillian asked, seeing the girl who had voiced the question.

            “What? Oh, there were some rumors that him and Britney are together again,” the girl answered.

            “Yeah, damn it,” her companion added, laughing.

            The two of them walked away, leaving Lillian standing next to the doorpost, frozen.

            He had nodded. They’re going out again. Justin’s with Britney. Lillian felt like the world crumbling around her. He’s with Britney. They’re together. They’re dating. She breathed rapidly, her mind revolting at the idea.

            It was a mistake. It was a stupid idea to come here. It’s too late, Lillian. Justin’s with Britney. She shook her head, not wanting to believe it. But she had seen him nod with her own eyes.

            Not knowing what else to do, she took one last glance at Justin before bolting.


*                       *                       *


            Justin looked back and forth between Karen and the envelope. It was too much of a coincidence for him to be wrong.

            “But…where’s Lil-“ he began to ask.

            Suddenly out of the corner of his eye he spotted a small figure with dark hair dashing away from the door. Every fiber and instinct in his body screamed that it was her. It was Lillian.

            “What the fu-“ he bit out, jumping so abruptly away from the table and out of his chair that he almost overturned both pieces of furniture. Lance quickly steadied the table, gaping at him.

             Dammit! Lillian!” he shouted, vaulting over the edge of the table and racing out of the room in pursuit of her.

            This time Lance wasn’t ready, and the table tipped over unsteadily and crashed to the floor. No one was paying attention though, because they were too busy staring after Justin, completely stunned.



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