Well the last chapter was so late that I thought I'd try to get this one out a lot sooner. Besides things are going to start to get interesting. Thanks for all the e-mail I hope to keep hearing from all of you.
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This story is not meant to imply anything about the sexuality of anyone in it (myself included). I have no knowledge of the private lives of the members of NSYNC or any other celebrities that show up in this story. After all it is just a story, and is a work of fiction. If you shouldn't read this then don't.
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A Model Romance- Chapter Three
Ah New York! They call it the city that never sleeps. Now I wasn't sure about the city, but I certainly wasn't sleeping very much. Since the story of my "relationship" with Britney hit the tabloids the phone had been ringing off the hook. I had my phone numbers changed and luckily no one had staked out my apartment yet. On Friday I had my interview with People. They asked all the standard questions about my childhood, my family, my plans for the future, and of course Britney. I told them that there had been no plans made for me to do any further work with Britney (which was technically true). I guess someone did their homework because they had somehow found out that I had an interest in singing and that didn't help my case. In the end I had to tell the truth, or at least close to it. I did want to explore a career in music, but not for a few years. I once more denied having any sort relationship beyond friendship with Britney Spears and the interview moved on. Actually other than that, the whole thing was a very positive experience. After the interview they shot some pictures and then I headed back to the office for my afternoon photo shoot. Lunch had become something of a luxury lately and today it was one I had to do without.
I made great time on the way back. I guess I got one of those really good limo drivers that they save for VIPs. In fact I had a full fifteen minutes before I had to be in the studio. I grabbed a diet coke and an orange and headed for my office. My "office" was a source of endless amusement for me. All the full-time models had one, and no one ever used them. The room was small and very simple. There was a desk with one of those big leather swivel chairs that makes you seem important. Behind the desk was a window with a lovely view of the next building over. There were two other chairs in the room. A had put a few pictures on the wall, including the first ad I had ever done. That was it. David had offered to move me into a nicer office but I declined. What was the point in wasting a nice office on someone who might spend two hours a week in it? I sat down in the chair and began peeling my orange. As I was eating it I noticed the mail had come in. There was almost never anything worthwhile in my mail. Most of the important stuff went to my agent or my apartment. Today however there was a very nice envelope addressed by hand in a very elegant script. It looked like an invitation.
* * * * *
Orlando, three days earlier
The noon sun was hot even in late October. It beat down upon him, draining his energy, making his bare chest slick with sweat. Beneath him the asphalt of the basketball court was like a bed of hot coals. Forcing himself to forget the heat, he summoned his remaining strength and maneuvered around his opponent. He pivoted, aimed and shot. The ball left his hands and passed through the hoop with a satisfying swish. Justin Timberlake turned to face his adversary and smiled.
"Looks like you lose again old man. Wanna try one more time?"
"Nah, don't want to wear you out. I'll let you off easy," JC said. He almost never beat Justin in basketball anymore, and he had learned to lose with grace. "I'm gonna go jump in the pool and cool off. You commin?"
"Ooo, I hope that invitation is open to me too, Mr. Chasez."
JC and Justin both turned to see Britney leaning against the back door of Justin's house.
"Hey Brit. I almost forgot you were coming over. How long have you been there?"
"Long enough to see you beat JC yet again." Turning to the older of the two guys she added, "will you ever give up?"
"Hey this game wasn't my idea. But you know me. I'll never turn down a challenge. Now I'm going to get in the pool before I die of heat stroke. You're welcome to come as always."
"Well I would, but I didn't bring a suit."
"When has that ever stopped you," JC asked with a mischievous grin. "Oh wait I forgot, you have a boyfriend now. A model no less."
Britney smacked him playfully as he walked by. She admired him from behind as he continued down the path to the pool. He was pretty cute.
"Is he really your boyfriend?"
Startled by the sudden question she turned back around. Justin was looking at her. There was something about him that was not quite right, as if he was afraid of the wrong answer.
"No, he's not." She said examining her friend carefully. I told you that before, remember? Zack and I are really just friends at the moment."
"I know. It's just that everybody's talking about it and"
"And nothing. I think I would know if I was going out with someone. If I was you would be the first to know."
"So do you think, I mean, is he interested? Are you?"
"I'm not really sure what I feel. I know that I really like him, but I'm not sure what he wants. I guess I could see us together, maybe." As soon as she had said that she wished she could take it back. Justin looked crushed.
"Oh. So you think he likes you."
Britney looked at Justin again. Not that long ago the tabloids had been saying they were together, but Justin was gay and…then it hit her. Justin was gay.
"Ah ha! Now I get it. You have a crush on him. That's what this is all about. You're trying to find out if he could be gay!"
"What? That's ridiculous! I am not."
Justin don't try to lie. You're really bad at it. It's ok really. But why him? I mean you could probably get any cute gay guy you wanted."
He sighed. There was no way to hide things from Britney. She knew him too well. "I don't know why. I just…when I look at him I feel something. Like we're connected somehow. Like I need him. And I want him to need me too."
"Do you have any idea how ironic this is? How many teenage girls, guys too for that matter, do you think have fallen for you? And now you've gone and done the same thing: fallen in love with someone you've never met."
"No! It's not like that. I swear Britney, what I feel his deeper than that. I can't explain it, but it is."
"Ok. Fine. He's all yours. So what are you going to do anyway? Fly up to New York and seduce him?"
"I hope that was a joke. I could never do that. I've never been able to seduce anyone. Not that I've ever tried, it's just not me. I don't really know what I'm going to do. I checked our schedule and we're not going to be in New York for a while. Not until Thanksgiving."
"So why not just wait. Oh, never mind I forgot who I was talking to."
"Yeah, if I have to wait that long I'll go nuts. Maybe you could…"
"No. Don't even say it. I am not going to fix you up with him. You don't even know if he's gay or even bi!"
"Yeah but he's a model. Aren't most male models…"
"Justin you really do live in your own little world. I hate to remind you of this, but he did invite me to dinner that night. Who knows where it would have led if I hadn't gotten so trashed? Just because he acted like a gentleman doesn't mean he's gay." Once again she was wishing for a rewind button on her life. She had really hurt Justin. There really was more to this than a simple crush. She knew she should try to fix it, even if she would regret it later. "Justin I'm sorry. There's nothing to say that he isn't gay. I mean he could be, and if you want I'll help you. I just don't know what I can do."
"Thanks Brit. You're the best, you know?"
"Yes I know."
"What we need is a way to get him down here. Wait a minute! Jive is throwing that big party next week! You know the one to announce that mini tour we're doing with you and the Backstreet Boys. I think Christina is gonna be there too. You heard she signed with Jive right? You could invite Zack to come as your date. We'll have the after party here and see where it goes."
"Why do I have a feeling that I'm gonna regret this. Oh well, at least I get a hot date out of it. It'll give the tabloids more dirt too." She sighed and gave Justin a hug. "But for you it's worth it."
Justin hugged her back, holding her tightly. "Thanks Brit. You're the best."
"I know. Ewww! Now I'm all covered in sweat. Go take a shower. I'll take care of getting Zack down here. Just make sure you remember invite everyone else to your little after party. We don't want him to know it's a setup.
* * * * *
New York, the following Friday
I opened the envelope and sure enough it was an invitation. It read: "You are cordially invited to be the guest of Miss Britney Spears on Friday the twenty-seventh of October at nine o'clock PM for a party to celebrate new beginnings." It went on to say that the party would be at the Jive studios as well as leaving the RSVP information. I was a little surprised. Britney wanted me to come down to Orlando to be her date to some party? That seemed a little weird. You would think she could find a date down there, unless…unless she really was looking for a relationship. Just then my cell phone rang.
"Hi Zack it's Britney."
"Oh Britney! Hi. I just got your invitation."
"Really? Great. That's why I was calling. Listen Zack, I'll get right to the point. I know that this seems to be a big step, but it's not really what it looks like. I just want to repay you for treating me so well when I was in New York."
"Oh, yeah. Well it's not really necessary. I mean you don't need to go to all this trouble."
"It's no trouble at all. Of course if you don't want to come…"
"Um, no not at all. I would love to come. I'll book a flight today. Hey, my grandmother lives near Orlando, maybe I can make a weekend out of this and go visit her."
"Yeah, that's a great idea. Stay the whole weekend! Oh, I almost forgot. After the party we've been invited back to Justin's house for a little post-party celebration."
"Timberlake. You know, from NSYNC?"
"Yeah. A party at Justin Timberlake's house. That sounds…great. So I'll see you next weekend then ok? I hate to do this but I've really got to run. I'm late for a photo shoot."
"Ok. See you next week then. Bye."
"Bye. And thanks."
I hung up the phone and sat back in my chair. Suddenly I remembered the dream I had had over six months ago, the dream of a dark night and the comforting embrace of Justin Timberlake. I started thinking about what had made me decide to become a model.
`You wanted to be with him.'
The thought came unbidden from some secret vault deep inside me. I had pushed those thoughts away, locked them up and thrown away the key. And down there along with those thoughts was that realization I had one dark night in April. But I would not think it. I had come too far to go back now. I had my career, I had money, fame, and a date with Britney Spears. I had everything I had ever wanted.
"No," I whispered to myself. "I will not do this."
I took several deep breaths and shoved aside those nasty thoughts. They were from my old life and that was where they would stay. I looked at the clock and realized that now I really was late for my photo shoot. I dashed out of my office and started to run. About half way there it hit me that they couldn't start without me and there was no point in showing up all hot and out of breath. I slowed to a quick walk. By the time I got to the studio I had forgotten all about what I had been struggling with in my office. That was not part of my life now.
After the shoot I stopped by David's office to get his take on the whole Britney thing. He was on the phone when I got there.
"Yeah. That's what I said. Well I know, but I'm telling you this kid has it all." He looked up and saw me standing in the doorway. "Ah. There's my little gold mine now! I'll call ya back Tim. Hey what's up Zack?"
"Not much. I hope I didn't interrupt anything important."
"No, just talking business. What can I do for you?"
"Well you remember Britney right? You know how we kind of hit it off and now these stories are everywhere. And yes they are still not true before you even ask. But anyway, she invited me to this party in Orlando next weekend."
"The Jive party? On Friday right?"
"Yeah. How did you know?"
"Well I have some friends high up in the company. I'm actually going too, so why don't you fly down with me. I'll arrange a hotel room for you and everything. Though with any luck you won't need it." He winked at me and laughed at the confused expression on my face.
"So you think I should go then?"
"Of course you should go! It's a party! More importantly it's a record company's party and those are always the best. So we'll fly down Friday afternoon. I'll have a car pick you up from your place at 4:30. Better make sure you clear your schedule. Wouldn't want to miss any of those fabulous shoots."
"Yeah right. That would be a pity. Ok, well I guess it's settled then. Have a good weekend, I'm gonna get out of here."
As I left if occurred to me that I hadn't really gotten any of the advice I'd been looking for. On the other hand, my problem appeared to be solved and I wouldn't have to pay for the trip. The weekend was fairly average. On Monday I remembered I wanted to visit my grandmother while I was down in Florida so I asked David to see if he could get me a car for Saturday. He said it would be taken care of. The rest of the week flew by. Before I knew it, it was 4:00 on Friday and I was still trying to get packed. In truth I had everything ready except what I was going to wear to the party. I figured it would be hot in Florida so I finally decided to wear a light blue tee shirt and a lightweight black suit. On impulse I added matching blue socks to complete the outfit. At 4:30 the limo arrived and I headed off to the airport. By 6:00 David and I were on our way to Orlando in his private jet. The flight was smooth and uneventful, but there was congestion at the airport and we didn't wind up landing until 8:30. We were obliged to change into our party clothes on the plane. After that we hopped into a waiting limo and headed right to the party.
David had not been kidding about record companies throwing the best parties. It was outside on the studio grounds. They had erected a gigantic tent in the middle of a large grass lawn. All the trees were strung with white Christmas lights and paper lanterns hung from wires lining the path towards the tent. The inside of the tent was no less impressive than its massive exterior. At one end was a large stage with big speakers at either end. There were other speakers placed all around the tent. I guess being a record company meant making sure your parties had the best sound. In front of the stage was a dance floor and around and behind that were lots of tables with elaborate centerpieces. It looked like there was room for 500 people to sit down. And to service all those people were six bars placed around the edges of the tent. The caterers had set up their own tent next to the large one and they were now serving hors d'oeuvres that looked and smelled absolutely wonderful. As was expected the party was a media circus. The limo had dropped us off at the studio building so that Britney and I could make a grand entrance together. There was lots of clapping and cheering and far too many winks and nods. It was as if everyone was saying "I told you so" to everyone else. I followed my date to a large table near the dance floor.
"I'm really glad you could make it," Britney said smiling. "Listen, I have to go backstage and get ready for the opening, I'll be back in a little while. With that she was gone. I looked around for David or anyone else I might know, but I didn't see anyone. So for lack of a better option I headed to the nearest bar and ordered myself and Jack and Coke.
* * * * *
Justin had been a nervous wreck all day. In truth he had been a nervous wreck ever since Britney told him that Zack had agreed to come to the party. He was starting to have doubts about whether or not this was a good idea. In all likelihood Zack was perfectly straight. 'He probably came down here to get some from Britney', Justin thought sourly. Just then Nick Carter popped his head in the door.
"Hey Justin, we're on in five. You ready?"
"Yeah Nick. I'm ready."
"Hey you alright? You look bummed out.
"No, I'm fine."
"Good. Glad to hear it. After all how could we not be happy I mean we are sexy bitches," Nick yelled in his best Austin Powers imitation.
Justin smiled slightly and followed his friend to the stage.
* * * * *
I was just finishing my Jack and Coke and entertaining thoughts of a refill when suddenly the lights dimmed and everything got quiet. A spotlight popped up and shone on a man on the stage. I assumed he was someone important from Jive.
"Ladies and gentleman, I'd like to welcome you all. Now I'm not one for long speeches and I know you didn't come here to listen to me so I'll keep it short. As you know there's a lot of competition that goes on between some of our tops groups here at Jive. But we want you to know that we're all just one big family, and so in the spirit of the holidays I am pleased to announce that we will be sponsoring a new mini tour. All the proceeds from this tour will be donated to various charities for the holidays. Ladies and gentleman, coming to select venues across the country this holiday season we will have Christina Agulera, Britney Spears, NSYNC, and the Backstreet Boys. They will be performing live onstage together with both old and new songs. And now I invite you to join me tonight for a sample of what is to come."
With that he stepped down and the spotlight shutoff. Music started playing. I soon recognized it as Britney's "Crazy." Then I heard Britney's voice singing the first verse. What I was not prepared for was that when the lights came up for the chorus there was Christina Agulera singing with her. Christina took the second verse and they sang the rest of the song together. When they finished the crowd was on its feet clapping and cheering. Britney came down off the stage with Christina right behind her.
"Christina, I'd like you to meet Zack. Zack this is Christina."
We exchanged greetings and sat down. It took a while for the applause to stop and I started talking to Christina while we waited. It was funny, I had had her pegged for an airhead, but she was actually very personable and witty. We stopped talking as the next song started. It was NSYNC's smash hit "Bye Bye Bye." The song reminded me of something, but I quickly pushed away the thought before I could remember what it was. And there was NSYNC on stage. I noticed Justin was wearing a baseball cap low so it covered his face. He was halfway through the second verse when JC suddenly yelled out.
"Hey! Wait a minute stop the music." He walked over to Justin and looked him up and down. "Justin you look taller than usual. And you don't sound quite right either. What's going on?"
"I'll tell you what's going on JC," said Justin's voice from across the stage. "I decided to try something new."
And there was Justin, curly hair and all, standing with the other Backstreet Boys. The music started to play to "Larger Than Life."
"But wait a minute," JC yelled over the music. "If you're there. Who was singing with us?"
"That would be me," said Nick as he pulled off the baseball cap he had been wearing while posing as Justin.
Justin did a great job of that screaming laugh that starts off the song. JC pulled off a look of utter shock that was almost believable. By that time the Backstreet Boys were turning up the volume and singing. Nick ran over to join them. Lance, Joey and Chris looked at JC for a minute, shrugged and ran over to join the music. JC threw up his arms in mock frustration and then with perfect timing belted out the second verse of the song. As I watched them I turned to whisper something in Christina's ear, which made her start to giggle. She punched me playfully on the shoulder and smiled. I smiled back and then turned back to the band. What I did not see was that Justin had been watching me during that exchange. After that his voiced dropped out a little and his dancing was a bit off. But nobody seemed to notice. There were plenty of other voices on stage. He had already sung his verse.
Adoration, amazement, euphoria. Those were just a few of the words that the media used to describe the crowd's mood after NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys finished their song. When they were done they came down and started to shake hands and "mingle." Brian, Howie and Chris seemed to be particularly good at working the crowd. They made their way around to see everybody. The rest of the guys split up. AJ, Kevin, and Joey grabbed their dates and headed for the bars. Lance, JC and Nick came over to our table and sat down. Britney made all the introductions.
"Guys, this is my date, Zack."
"Hey Zack nice to meet you," JC said with a smile. "We've heard a lot about you."
"All good I hope." I smiled back and shook everyone's hands.
"So, do you like being a model," Lance asked. He actually seemed to be curious, not just making polite conversation.
"Yeah I do. I mean it can be a bitch at times, but most jobs are. I just really enjoy being in front of a crowd or a camera. It feels natural, y'know?"
"Yeah, that's like us. We love to be in front of an audience."
"Some of us like it so much we never stop performing," JC said, jabbing Nick's arm to emphasize the last three words.
Nick stuck his tongue out at JC and turned to me. "You'll have to forgive JC. He's just bitter because he's not as young as he used to be."
I laughed and continued to joke with the guys. After a minute I noticed Britney and Christina were looking neglected. "Well somebody really ought to smack me. I'm being a terrible date."
Nick immediately jumped up and made as if to hit me. I pushed him lightly and stood up.
"So my dear. Can I get you a drink?"
"Why yes I'd love one. But just make it a bottle of water. I don't want a repeat of our last date."
"Sure thing. Anybody else want something?"
"Yeah," Nick said. "Bring me back something."
"You'll need to be a little more specific than "something" my man.
Nice flashed me a mischievous grin. "Surprise me."
"Ok, but just don't complain if you get something you hate."
JC jumped on that one. "Don't worry, as long as it's wet and has alcohol in it Nick will drink it."
I walked off before I could here Nick's comeback. I ordered two Jack and Cokes and Britney's water. I shoved the bottled water in my pocket and grabbed a drink in each hand. On my way back I happened to pass the rear entrance of the tent. All the lights had been turned off on that side when the performance started. Coming out of the night was the sound of someone sniffling. Curious, I walked outside to see if I could help whoever it was.
It was a new moon and a cloudy night, so as soon as I stepped outside the tent I was enveloped by the darkness. The faint light coming from the doorway was just enough for me to make out the silhouette of someone sitting on the ground by the wall of the tent. As I moved closer and my eyes adjusted to the dark I could make out the dark figure's features better. The mop of curly hair was a dead give away. By then he had become aware of my presence. He jumped up and when he saw my face I could see his shock even in the dark. For a minute we just looked at each other, then I decided that since I had stumbled on him, the first words should be mine.
"Hi Justin. I'm Zack."