Chapter 4

“Hope seemed like the summer birds too swiftly flown away.

Yet now I’m standing here with my heart so full I can’t explain.”

                                                -“Prince of Egypt”



He saw everyone slipping saddened glances at him. Didn’t they know that he could see them looking? It’s not like I’m proud of myself right now. And that guilt angered him more and more. It hadn’t gone away like he thought it would. He had hoped it would.

            Dominic, the tour’s new choreographer, called to the group to get stretched and ready because they would start soon. They were interspersed on the stage, rehearsing even though it was lightly drizzling today. The overcast weather matched everyone’s moods.

            “Okay boys, time to get going. I’m starting the Chicago remix on the four. One-two-three-and-“

            They all burst into movement, stepping and singing to the song. JC passed in front of Justin, who drifted to the back near Lance. As they stayed in place, Justin heard a shout of warning.

            Watch out? Watch out for wha-

            He heard a noise from over his head, and immediately jerked his eyes up to see what was happening. But just as he did, he was quickly shoved by Lance and he fell over. A split second later, one of the larger stage lights crashed where he and Lance had been standing. He felt his forehead with a delicate touch. His finger came away with a drop of red on it. The light must have barely nicked him as he was pushed out of the way.

            Pandemonium quickly broke loose.


*                       *                       *                       *



            “Hurry up, there’s been an accident onstage!”

            Lillian heard the call echo through the various work crews, and she joined the mass of people rushing towards the stage. An accident? What happened? Is anyone hurt?

            She sprinted to the stage and climbed onto it. The first thing she saw was Lance and Justin sprawled out on the floor, with a smashed light lying between them. People were surrounding the two shaken men, checking for any injuries. Oh no.

            Justin looked up and past the people gathered around him, pushing them away when they tried to help him up. “Elaine, calm down, I’m fine. Just give me some damn space.”

            His eyes surveyed the situation, and they fixed on Lillian. She was staring at Lance in shock, before she regained her wits and ran over to him.

            “Lance, are you okay? Oh my gosh. Come on, let’s get you backstage.” She continued to babble to him as she assisted him off the stage, not stopping even when her eyes fell upon Justin staring at her.

            Justin felt a little snubbed. She had completely ignored him. Why do I feel pissed off about that anyway? Isn’t that what I want?

            “Justin, let’s go. The medics want to check you,” Joey said, sticking his hand down to him. Justin looked at him for a few seconds, then at his hand. He knew what the action stood for. And he wasn’t going to screw his chance up again.

            “Thanks, Joey. For everything,” he said, grabbing onto his friend’s hand.

            Joey just nodded in understanding and pulled him up.

*                       *                       *                       *                       *


            “Are you sure you’re okay? And I don’t just mean physically.”

            “Lily, I told you, I’m fine. Other than some bruises, there’s nothing hurt,” Lance replied gently, trying to reassure her. She was more upset than he was about the close call, and was checking him over herself just to make sure that the medics had done their job. He was patiently resting in the dressing room backstage, mulling over the second accident to occur. Lillian was perched next to him on the couch.

            “You’re bruised? Are you certain? Let me see. Or I can go get something. Maybe an ice pack, your muscles could stiffen up, and then it’ll be hard dancing,” she babbled worriedly, putting her hands on him again to find his bruises.

            “Uh, unless you want to check out my ass, you won’t be finding any bruises,” he said smiling as she inspected his arms.

            “Checking out your-“ she repeated, confused, “Why would I look- oh. Oh! Okay, never mind then,” she finished blushing.

            He grinned at her. “It’s okay, really. I think both Justin and I came out fine. Don’t worry about us big, strong men.”

            “I know, it wasn’t that big a deal, I suppose. But you’re my friend,” she explained hesitantly. “And I’m just really grateful that you are actually my friend. I don’t want to see you hurt.”

            Lance couldn’t help but be touched by her feelings towards him. He never thought that she would be so happy, and surprised, to call him her friend. “Lily, I should be grateful that you allowed me to get to know you better. I’m fortunate to call you my friend, not the other way around. And besides, Lansten the Warrior can’t be hurt by a stupid stage light. Give me some credit! At least let me get in a fight with some ninja. So much more . . . what’s the word . . . manly, don’t you think?” he joked, attempting to lighten the atmosphere.

            She laughed. “Yeah, I can totally picture you. Lance, the southern gentleman, facing off with some random ninja who happened to sneak into the stadium.”

            “No no,” he corrected, “not some random ninja. A teenage mutant ninja turtle. I could take him! Make turtle soup out of him and serve him to the crew.” He punctuated his threat by pounding his chest with his fist.

            Lillian burst into giggles. “What, are you gonna rumble with Leonardo? He would so completely beat you. Not even a challenge.”

            “What are you, kidding me? Leonardo is the biggest wuss turtle alive! He’d be like the appetizer. Now, if Raphael and I faced off, that would be exciting,” he bragged.

            “Raphael?!” she exclaimed, before his other words registered in her mind. “Wuss turtle?! Leonardo is not a wuss turtle. He’s my favorite! The strong leader. Raphael’s just a rebel. He can’t even fight as well. What a pansy!”

            “You did not just go there. My ears must be deceiving me,” he said, pretending to swoon.

            She smirked at him. “Pansy. Pan,” she drawled out, “sie.”


            Justin walked into the dressing room to find himself in the middle of a shouting match. Between Lance and Lillian, of all people. What are they arguing about? Turtle pansies? I don’t get it. And why is Lillian in here anyway. She should be working.

            He voiced his thoughts. “Shouldn’t you be doing something useful, Lillian? You know, if interns actually still work nowadays.”

            At his words the room quieted, and Lillian lowered her eyes after he held her gaze for a moment.

            “Don’t worry about it, Justin. Thompsen knows she’s here, and he said it was okay. Everyone’s taking a break right now,” Lance answered for her.

            “No, he-he’s right. I should be helping the others right now. I’m going to go,” Lillian broke in. She got up from the couch and approached Justin, who was still in the doorway.

            “Excuse me,” she said as he continued to stand in her path. He glared at her for a few seconds, making her fidget, before he finally stepped out of the way.

            “Yeah, excuse you,” he added as she darted out of the room.

            “Jeez Lance, try to use some discretion when you choose your friends.”

            Lance’s expression got hard. “I do use discretion. I could say the same for you, anyway. At least Lillian doesn’t latch on to my damn arm 24/7. Like some people who will remain nameless.”

            Justin’s eyes blazed. “Don’t even start. It’s none of your business. Or anyone else’s. It only concerns me. But Lillian concerns everyone.”

            “No, she doesn’t. She is not a problem. I think she’s a great friend,” Lance snapped. Justin’s stubbornness and attitude was really getting to him.

            “A great friend, huh? Well, I think she’s boring, stupid, and too damn plain.”

            “What the hell, Justin! Maybe if you took your head out of your ass for one second you could actually see her the way we see her! I don’t know what’s wrong with you lately. You’re not even the same person anymore. Your mom didn’t raise you like that,” Lance finished, disappointed.

            Justin averted his eyes. He’s right. Why am I being such a jerk anyway. And I haven’t even called Mom yet.

            He took a deep breath as he thought over what he had done. He could see why his friends didn’t want to talk to him lately. He wouldn’t want to talk to himself if he was in their position. He was ashamed of himself.

            “You’re right,” he whispered. Lance jerked his gaze to him. He wasn’t expecting Justin to say that.

            What?” he asked. Maybe he was hearing things.

            “I said you’re right,” Justin replied loudly. “I don’t know why I’ve been such an asshole to her. And to you guys. It’s just that- I don’t know.”

            “It’s just that what?” Lance prodded.

            “I-I just feel . . . different. Like I have no one. No friends.”

            Lance opened his mouth to protest.

            “No, let me finish,” Justin cut him off. “Joey and Chris are always going off to pull a prank on someone.  JC seems really tired lately, so I can’t hang with him. He’ll just snap at me. And usually I would do something with you, but now you have Lillian. I don’t have anyone, anymore.” His blue eyes looked suspiciously bright.

            “Come on, J. You have all of us. You know that,” Lance rushed to assure his friend. “You’re right, JC is tired, because he’s getting adjusted to tour schedules again. He’ll return to normal after a few more days. And Joey and Chris would invite you to come along when they play jokes on people, but they’re usually tormenting the makeup people. And considering you’re . . . involved, I guess, with Elaine, they didn’t want to make you mad so you would ruin their fun. And Lillian and me. Of course we’re friends, but it’s not as if whenever I find someone new to talk to I just automatically ditch my old friends. You can always hang with us. But you don’t, because you obviously have something against her.”

            “Oh,” Justin mumbled, digesting what Lance just told him. “I thought she was taking my place or something. I know it sounds stupid, but I couldn’t help thinking it.”

            Lance came over and patted his shoulder reassuringly. “Don’t worry. No one’s gonna abandon you for other things or people. We came this far together, right? It would be pretty pathetic if we all fell apart now.” He smiled at his friend.

            Justin nodded, thinking about their conversation. “You’re right. I guess Elaine was affecting me. It’s like I’m in a black hole when I’m around her. Actually, her brain’s like a black hole. If she actually had a brain.”

            Lance laughed, understanding. “But I thought you guys were together. Considering that she’s always with you.”

            “No, she thinks we’re together. And I don’t have the time to sit her down and explain to her that we’re not.”

            “Haha, you’d probably need a drawing to get her to understand. ‘This, Elaine, is you taking a long walk off a short pier. This is what I want you to do. Got it?’ “ Lance acted out, talking as if he were a kindergarten teacher.

            Justin burst into laughter. “I wish it were that easy. But I can’t talk about it right now. I have to fix the mess I made.”

            Lance immediately understood what he was hinting at, and waved him away. “Go then. I need my beauty rest anyway. Gotta look good for the ladies tomorrow.”

            Justin just snickered as he quickly left the room.


*                       *                       *                       *                       *


            “What the hell is going on guys? How did that stage light fall all by itself? Was it not hooked up properly? Tell me!” Thompsen fumed to the tech crew surrounding him. Tim was going to have his ass for this, he thought, referring to the executive tour manager.

            They were all on the stage, checking the other lights to make sure they wouldn’t break off and fall. Lillian overheard two of her fellow interns talking about the incident.

            “I heard that the screw was loosened. And another one was missing.”

            “What are you talking about? You mean someone purposely rigged it?”

            “Hey, I’m not saying that. I just heard, that’s all.”

            Lillian was shocked. Did someone really rig the light? They actually wanted to hurt one of the guys? Maybe the screw was too old, and the grooves were worn away. And the missing one. That could have just been a careless mistake. But another careless mistake like that could seriously hurt one of the guys. Not wanting to think about the possibilities, she rushed over to Thompsen to suggest an idea.

            “Thompsen, maybe we should get a whole new supply of screws. In case they’re too old. And maybe we can hook up the lights with more attachments, to reinforce the screws. I think the eight-inch hooks we found yesterday could work well with some electric taping,” she blurted out without stopping to take a breath.

            “What? Oh, it’s you, Oswald,” he said after turning and seeing who had spoken. “Don’t waste my time. Do you think something as simple as that would work? If the answer was so easy, we would have thought of it yesterday,” he finished pompously, then presented his back to her again.

            “How could you have thought of it yesterday if the damn light fell today? I think her idea sounds good. It is simple, but apparently you weren’t clever enough to think of it,” another voice interjected.

            “Who said that?” Thompsen demanded, twisting back around. He saw Oswald still standing there, but this time there was someone behind her.

            Justin spoke up again. “On behalf of the rest of ‘N Sync, your employers, we would really appreciate it if we weren’t killed by malfunctioning equipment anytime soon. You better listen to Lillian if you value having a job.”

            Thompsen had flushed at the sight of Justin’s sudden appearance, and he turned a deeper red at his threat. “Yes, Mr. Timberlake. Go find the hooks!” he shouted to a worker passing by.

            Justin wasn’t finished. “And remember, Thompsen,” he added, “there are laws against gender discrimination in the workplace. I’d hate it if you happened to find yourself in the middle of a huge lawsuit.” His tone was intimidating, and Thompsen hastily nodded at his words before scuttling away.

            He turned to Lillian, who was staring slack-jawed at him. He gave her a stunning smile before walking off.

            What was that? Did he just smile at me? A real smile? Lillian quickly checked behind her to see if there was anyone else around. Her eyes fell on her roommate, who was standing a few yards away and staring in her direction. Oh. He was looking at Elaine. She couldn’t help but feel a little let down.


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