Hey people! I'm back! In case you're a new reader, I have a story on the archive called "In Synchronicity" which ended 31st Dec. Go check it out if you liked this one.
Welcome to Chasing Chasez, Chapter 1. The title explains it all, I think. So, ladies and gentlemen, enjoy.
Dedicated to Joey, whose birthday it was, and to Justin, whose birthday is yet to be. And to Benji, the only guy I know who disputes the date of birth on his own birth certificate.
Disclaimer: I do not know 'N Sync personally, and claim no knowledge of what they do and who they are. This is a work of fiction.
Questions and comments and feedback most welcome to Will at email@example.com because hotmail's a bitch.
CHASING CHASEZ, PART 1
"I miss ya. So near, yet so far," I sighed into the cellphone, flicking aside the curtains of my hotel room to catch a bit of the Los Angeles cityscape.
"Now you're a true citizen of the world," said my girlfriend in an amused tone. "When you consider a distance of over a hundred miles, near."
"It's only San Diego, Britney." I tried to keep the whine out of my voice without much success. She was doing a show there, while I was here laying down some vocals for 'N Sync's upcoming album with JC. The rest were due to fly up later in the week.
"Well, I'll be meeting you in two days, darling. Think you can hold out that long?" she teased.
I gave an exaggerated sigh. "Oh, I'll be counting the minutes," I smiled into the phone, knowing that's what she wanted to hear.
I had the satisfaction of hearing her giggle softly. But I was at least half-serious. I craved company and attention almost everywhere I went, and right now in LA, I had only JC and my cellphone and it pissed the hell out of me.
"Miss ya darling," I said absently. Again.
"J, has anyone told you that you're extra-mushy when you're bored?"
"Well can you blame me? There's only Josh for company and you know him--if he's not sleeping he's daydreaming about some melody or fingering his keyboards. Or possibly fingering himself," I laughed nastily, glancing at the connecting doors between his suite and mine.
"Justin Randall Timberlake!" came the shocked response, as expected. But it served only to make me laugh harder. "Whatever. Go shopping or something. You're in LA for heaven's sakes," she said.
"Britney! Do you hate me or something? You know Josh isn't allowed to shop for himself anymore...remember the roadkill rag he wore to the VMAs? Or the patchwork pants for the AMAs. Or--"
My tirade was cut off by the ringing of the bedside phone. I frowned at it, debating or not to take the call. I hated being interrupted when talking to her--as if Igot in touch with her often enough as it is.
"Hold on a sec, Brit," I said, reaching for it. It could be Mom calling and saints preserve me if I wasn't there to--
"Justin here," I said into it, holding the cellphone against my chest.
There was a pause. I was prepared to slam down the phone in disgust when a small voice I barely recognized spoke up.
"Josh? What's up? I'm on my cell with Britney," I said curtly, hoping to settle this soon.
"Oh. I'm sorry."
There was an uncharacteristic pause. This would usually be the part when he'd ask me to give my regards to her and hang up. It wasn't the first time he'd interrupted us.
But he didn't. Something definitely was up, then.
"No, it's okay, what's up, Josh?" I softened my tone a bit this time.
"Could--could you come by my room? I--I need..." his voice, already soft, trailed away to nothingness.
"Sure. Sure, Josh, I'll be along in a sec. Josh?" I said with some alarm. I heard a click on the other end.
"Brit?" I spoke quickly into my cell. " Looks like I'll have to call you back. That was Josh."
"Speak of the devil, eh? Are you guys going shopping then?"
"Is that all you have in mind?" I said with some exasperation. Honestly, that girl...
"No, of course not," she purred. "I've always got space for an image of a special someone in my mind. A special naked someone."
That never failed to get my blood racing. Damn but she could sound really sexy when she wanted to. Which, thankfully, was often. Not that we could do anything about it...as we had told the world, we were still virgins and fully intended to remain so till marriage.
"Well, hold that thought darling. I gotta go now. Josh, he--I dunno what's up with him."
"Okay. Call me tonight, then?"
"As always. Bye Brit. Have a great show."
I waited until she hung up, before starting towards the connecting doors, mulling over JC.
He'd been his usual clueless, dorky self all along the trip. This was already our second day in LA, and this morning's session at the studio had been realtively good. After lunch, JC had gone to take a nap, leaving me to call Britney. What could have gone wrong along the way?
I knocked on the door. "Joshy it's me." No answer. I knocked again, louder this time. "Josh, open up." I tried the knob, and it swung open at my touch.
The room was almost pitch-black, the curtains drawn tight against the afternoon sun. Evidence of Josh's nap, no doubt. I squinted in the darkness before making out his hunched form at the foot of his bed, staring into space, seemingly oblivious of my entry.
"Josh?" I said his name again, stepping closer as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. I saw the faint light of his cellphone glowing between his cupped hands, noticing that it kept dialing a certain number. "Josh, you're freaking me out here," I said nervously.
Slowly, he turned his head towards me. I drew a sharp intake of breath as I saw hie furrowed eyebrows, the tortured eyes.
"He's not answering the phone, Jus," he whispered brokenly.
"Who? Who's not answering?" I took the phone out of his nerveless fingers, peering at the name displayed.
D, it said simply. And underneath the display it flashed "redialing...no answer...redialing..."
"Who's D, Josh?" I asked, puzzled.
"You know him, Jus," JC's voice was hoarse, and contained more than a hint of desperate urgency. "Tell me he's still there. Tell me he can't be gone!"
" I need more than an initial, Josh. I can't help--"
"Dylan! Dylan Parker!" he cried, running his fingers through his disheveled hair. "He can't be...dead, Jus..."
I frowned in thought. I could think of no Dylans who could affect my best friend this way. Unless...
"Dylan Parker? From Nashville?" I said incredulously. Then the gravity of JC's words hit me even as he nodded slowly, dropping his head into his hands. I sank onto the bed next to him in a daze.
My god. I hadn't thought of Dylan in years. Ever since I left Tennessee for 'N Sync, in fact. I remember they used to be tight, back when Josh and I were in Nashville after the Mickey Mouse Club, but I didn't recall JC ever mentioning him. I didn't even know they still kept in touch.
"Josh," I turned to him, holding him by gis shoulders. ":Tell me what happened. You received a call? Or what? You said that he'd...he was..." I swallowed hard.
Josh turned a pained face to mine. He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath, composing himself. When he opened them again, he stared at the ceiling as he spoke.
"I got a call from his sister. She said--she said there had been a boating accident and--he--this morning--he was...gone. Gone," the last was said in a whisper as he continued to stare upwards.
I let my hands fall away from JC in shock. I used to know this guy, albeit briefly. We were doing some solo stuff back in Nashville, hung out sometimes together, and now he was gone?
I looked at JC, who was frowning even harder, if that were possible. I could see that he was more deeply upset than I ever knew him to be. And that frightened me a bit.
I patted his back awkwardly, murmuring "I'm sorry," to him. I wasn't used to being the strong one, the comforting one. There was always someone older around whenever one of us had problems--Chris the eldest, Lance the spiritual--and JC himself, the one who always knew the right thing to say and make me feel better.
But I didn't know what to say or do now. So I kept stroking his back like he was a puppy and repeated those damn words. Not that my actions seemed to be helping him anyway. He just sat there frowning, his mouth turned down at the corners, every single muscle bunched in tension.
"He was--" JC choked a bit on the past tense he was using. "He was a strong swimmer, I remember. How--how could he have drowned, just like that, Jus? How?"
I cleared my throat. What on earth do I say to that?
"Umm...accidents happen, Josh."
JC's head whipped around in anger as my eyes widened at the implication of my own words.
Oh fuck, there I go again, speaking without thinking.
"Josh, I didn't mean--"
"I know you didn't. I--" he broke off again, and stared back into the darkness while I just sat there like the huge fool I was.
"Uhh...what else did his sister say?" I asked carefully, thinking that it was a safe question. If only to fill the silence.
"She asked me to go back...to say say my last goodbyes," said JC, his voice thick with emotion.
"God, Josh. I'm sorry. God." Shit, I needed to expand my sympathy-vocabulary.
"I've got to go back to Orlando. It's the day after tomorrow."
Now that hit me. Dylan Parker, living in Orlando all this while? Right under our noses? And JC knew but never said a word of it to me? What the--?
Josh. We've got to be here the day after tomorrow. The rest of the guys are coming to do the track, and the studio's booked months in advance. You know how hard it was just to slot us in," I said quietly.
Again JC looked at me, incredulity etched on his grief-stricken features. "Are you out of your mind? Dylan's dead, and you think I'd care about a stupid recording?"
God, Josh really had to be deeply affected to say something like that. He always took his duties, and above all, his music--seriously. He was always the one who'd insist on keeping to the schedule like it was one of the commandments.
"Josh," I said slowly, making sure he understood what he was saying. "I'm sorry for Dylan, I really am. I--well, I knew him too, only I didn't know how close you two really were."
He shot me an inscrutable look, but I went on anyway. "But we've got to be practical here. If we leave everything now we could be held back for months and we can't afford that."
"I don't believe you, Justin. I called you--I thought you'd at least understand, support--"
"Aw no, Josh, don't say--" I started to protest as Josh stood and glared down at me with a look so cold I lost my voice.
"You can do whatever you want, Justin Timberlake," the ice in his voice cut through me like a knife. "But I'm leaving on the next flight to Orlando. Let me make that clear to you. And you, management, the studio and the whole damn world can fuck itself for all I care."
I stood up as well, too stunned to stay anything, really, as he walked over to his dresser and collapsed into its chair. I felt totally inadequate. JC was the absolute soul of propriety, he'd never swear if he could help it, and never around me, much less at me.
"Just...leave me be, Justin. Please, just go," he said wearily, rubbing his forehead with the heel of his palm. His shoulders trembled, and I just knew he was suffering like nothing I'd ever seen before. I stretched out an arm to touch him, but he shrank away from me.
I stood there uncertainly for the longest while, before deciding to just go back to my room. I flung myself on my own bed, thinking hard. Damn, I had just seemed to make matters worse for him. I ran through our conversation in my head and grimaced. From his point of view I did come off like a complete and utter idiot, only quoting the business side of things while all I'd meant to do was try and be rational and think things through, like he and Lance always cautioned me to. Guess it was a bad time to put it into practice.
I reached out and grabbed my phone and my organiser...I had more than a few phone calls to make.
After what seemed like ages of being transferred, or put on hold, or talking to clueless secretaries, I got everything I wanted to do done. I packed my stuff quickly and took a quick shower. Then I squared my shoulders and knocked softly on JC's door.
He looked worse than before, if that was possible. The frown on his face seemed to be taking up permanent residence on his face and the scowl he had when he saw me didn't help any. Then his gaze traveled down to the bags at my feet.
"What's this?" he asked softly, his stern gaze quickly turning puzzled.
I took a deep breath.
"I called up management and the recording studio. I invoked family emergency for you and they said they'd arrange another time for us, maybe early next month. I also got Lance tot ell the guys what happened, and that we're heading home. And--" I paused, looking carefully at JC's face. "I've managed to get two seats for the next flight out. But we've gotta be at LAX by the hour." I released my breath explosively. "So did I do good?" I couldn't help but add eagerly.
I had my answer as Josh worked his mouth in surprise, although no sound came out. I smiled a little and gently took him by the arm back inside his room.
"C'mon, Joshy. I'll help you pack."
It wasn't much later that we were settled in our seats on the plane, waiting for take-off. JC had been quiet the whole way, and I left him to his thought, even though I had about a million questions to ask.
All of a sudden, then, he turned his big blue eyes to me, apology written all over his face.
"J, I really can't find the words to tell you how much I appreciate you doing all this."
"I waved his apology away. After all, it was my fault that I seemed like a piece of shit earlier. But I wasn't about to remind him of that.
"Hey--that's what's friends are for," I sang to him softly with a smile, feeling a quick surge of triumph as I saw his frown ease into a tiny grin of his own--at least for a little while.
"Yeah well, after I threw you out, I just sat there, you know...thinking up some pretty horrible stuff about you," he confessed with a grimace. God, he's so sweet.
"Forget it. I mean, I know I came off more like a money-minded business partner more than a friend back there, but that wasn't my intention, I swear."
"I know now. And another thing. I think it's really great, really big of you to come back with me. You didn't have to. I know you had plans to meet up with Britney later this week, and you were really looking forward to seeing her. I'm sorry for costing you that."
My smile froze in place at that. Oh, fuck, Britney! I hadn't even thought of her at all. I looked over at JC. He had bent over to my seat, his sad, sweet face looking up at me with wide trusting eyes.
"She'll understand, she will," I said to him brightly, hoping wildly that she would. "But I'm gonna be wright with you to ride this one out, Josh. Brit and I can meet all we want for the rest of our lives but you need me now." I made a fist and playfully hit his arm with it. "And if you apologize one more time, Chasez, I'll personally chuck you off this plane."
Josh smiled and nodded. He leant back closed his eyes. I watched fondly as his face smoothened a bit, and didn't even notice as our hands crept into each other's, each seeking comfort in the other's presence.
"I want to go to Dylan's place now," he said to me as soon as we cleared Orlando International's arrival hall.
"God, Josh, it's after midnight..." I said tiredly. It had been a long day, but my best friend seemed relentless. Somewhere during the flight, he'd seemed to have withdrawn into a hard, silent shell not even I could penetrate--nothing like the mess I found earlier this afternoon. And he hadn't even slept a wink, which was unusual...most of the flight he just stared out the window, a blank look on his face.
"Go home, Jus. I'll be fine. I--I just need to do this right now," he said, his jaw set obstinately. I rolled my eyes, recognising that look. He wouldn't be changing his mind about this.
"Fine. Then I'm coming with you too," I declared, hefting my bags. I cut him off just as he was about to draw breath to protest. "No, Josh, if you really think I'm gonna abandon you after we've come all this way you've got something else coming."
JC just looked at me a moment, then he nodded. "Okay. tell you what, we'll head back to my place, dump our stuff and take my car. That is, if you really don't mind..."
"Josh-u-a! Just because there ain't no plane for me to throw you out of doesn't mean I still won't kick your ass. Will you take me for granted already?" I said plaintively.
That elicited an actual laugh from him, and he clapped a hand on my shoulder. He was standing very close to me now, and when I looked up into his eyes, it was just the two of us, two friends so close our relationship was beyond description, and I just knew he was going to say something deep and profound. I held my breath in anticipation.
But someone jostled against us, and his head turned away. When he looked back at me the moment was lost. So he just clapped me on my shoulder again.
We eventually went ahead with his suggestion, and soon he'd pulled his Jeep up in front of a nondescript, whitewashed house, very near our own neighbourhood, actually. Yet another surprise, but I merely bit my lip in frustration.
I looked over at JC. He was not looking good at all. His knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel so tightly. and he looked like someone who was likely to be sick at any moment, so green was his face. I was about to ask him if he was up to it when he took a deep breath, straightened himself and got out of the car.
I got out as well and looked up at the house as JC strode up the pathway briskly. There were lights on the top floor, so at least we wouldn't be disturbing sleepy, grieving relatives. I stood next to JC as he rang the doorbell. His hand was shaking violently, so instinctively I put an arm around him and stood closer to him. He didn't object, and even leant against me as the door opened.
A tall, blond woman greeted us. She couldn't have been much older than JC, but right then her puffy eyes and tired face aged her considerably. She looked at JC, her lips trembling, then flung her hands open.
JC pushed me away, and stumbled into her embrace. My heart went out to the both of them as Josh soothed the sobbing woman--Dylan's sister no doubt. I could not help but notice the stunned, faraway look he had in his eyes, staring at nothing. And the expression on his face was as if the nothingness was staring right back at him.