"Hey, Jus," JC said, sitting backstage after their sound check.
"Yeah, Josh?" Justin responded. "You need something?"
"No, I was just wondering if you got Melinda to arrange the tickets for your friend Mac."
"Yep, all taken care of. She said they're already at the window waiting for him."
"Good. Did you leave him some passes, too?"
"Uh ... no, I didn't think about that."
"Well, why not? I'd like to meet him."
"Yeah, us too!" the other guys echoed.
"I dunno," Justin shrugged. "I just didn't think about it I guess."
"I don't think the blood was going all the way to the top at the time," Chris said with an evil grin.
Justin blushed a deep crimson and slugged him in the arm saying, "SHUT UP!" as the others laughed at the exchange.
"Seriously, man," JC said, "bring him back. We'd love to meet him, especially with the way you've been acting about him."
"Are you sure?" Justin asked with concern for his friend.
"Yeah," JC said, smiling warmly. "It's been a while since
you've seemed this excited about anyone."
Mac arrived at the arena a little while after the Will Call windows opened and joined the line. He looked around and found himself surrounded by teenage girls as far as the eye could see. There were a few parents scattered here and there, but he was certainly feeling like a sore thumb. As he reached the window, the man behind the glass asked him for his ID and the name of the person who had reserved the tickets.
Mac thought for a second, glancing around at his surroundings.
He swallowed hard and said, "Um ... Mr Timberlake?" The man gave him a
look that said something akin to 'yeah right', but he looked up the information.
With a surprised look, the man found the ticket and handed it out to Mac.
As Mac turned he noticed the girls behind him mumbling and giggling while
passing quick looks between themselves and him. "Ladies," he said as he
nodded his head to them in passing.
Lew showed the security officer at the front doors of the arena his pass, then quickly placed it out of view under his shirt and exited the arena. He was greeted a few seconds later by the shrill screams of some girls to his right. He glanced in their direction and his eyes grew wide. The look of surprise was replaced by one of bemusement as he saw Mac being swarmed by a throng of girls. He jogged over to him trying to contain his laughter. Wading through the girls, he grabbed Mac by the collar and pulled. Mac came toward him stumbling backward, the look in his eyes somewhat like that a trapped animal. It quickly turned to relief when he recognized Lew. The two ran for the arena door with the girls following close behind. As they neared the door, Lew pulled his pass back from beneath his shirt and flashed it for the guard, who promptly opened the door to let him pass. "He's with me," Lew yelled. The officer nodded and smiled as he stopped the girls and closed the door safely behind them. Another security officer inside the arena stopped them for a moment until Lew pulled out a pass and handed it to Mac telling him to place it around his neck.
"My God! All I said was Mr Timberlake!"
Lew burst out laughing. "Welcome to their world!" Lew finally managed to control himself and told Mac, "Sorry about that. Justin was a little distracted last night when he was getting things set up for you."
Mac smiled and followed him through the arena to the backstage area. "Oh would you stop! It was not that funny!"
"OH YEAH IT WAS!" Lew told him through his laughter. "You should have seen your face!"
Steve walked up behind them just in time to see Mac punch Lew in the shoulder.
Okay, Steve thought to himself. "Hey Lew, what's up?"
"Oh, nothin' much," Lew said, doing his best to control the fit of giggles. Lew opened the door to the playroom as he said, "Justin just about got my friend here killed!"
"Wha ... What did I do?" Justin asked. His eyes lit up as they came to rest on Lew's friend. "Mac! You made it."
"Barely!" Lew said, doubling over as he burst out laughing again.
"All I did was say ... Timberlake!" Mac said with a wounded expression.
"Well that was your first mistake," Chris said.
"You said it OUTSIDE!" Joey chimed in. "Man, you gotta death wish or somethin'?"
Everyone joined in Lew's laughter as Mac tried to defend himself.
"With all my military training, including training to avoid capture behind enemy lines, I wasn't prepared for that!" Mac said. "What I wouldn't have given for a sidearm out there."
"Oh God, man," Justin said, "I am so sorry!"
"Nah, it's okay," Mac assured him, "but you do that everyday?"
"We usually have sense enough to take security with us, especially right outside the arena," Lance said.
"Man, I don't know how you do it!" Mac said. Justin just shrugged. He still looked a little uncomfortable, it was obviously bothering him that he was responsible for the situation. "Well, it's all good. I survived and I'll know to come prepared next time! Think shark repellant would work?"
Justin finally smiled, realizing that no harm was done. "Oh man! I'm sorry, guys this is Mac, Mac this is the guys!"
"Good one, Justin!" JC laughed. "Hey Mac, I'm Josh. Nice to meet ya," he said offering his hand. Mac took his hand, and then the rest of the guys went around introducing themselves.
"Glad you made it back here in one piece," Chris told him.
"Yeah, man, Justin's been talking about you all morning," Joey said, "wouldn't have wanted something to happen you before we got the chance to meet ya."
"Ignore them," Lance said, "we usually do!"
"HEY!" Chris and Joey yelled.
"I'll keep that in mind," Mac laughed.
They talked a while longer, the guys exchanging knowing glances as they watched Justin and Mac. Justin was smiling just that little bit more than usual, and it was the genuine smile that was sometimes a rare commodity. Someone came to the door and told them that it was just about time for them to head to the meet and greet. They all told Mac they'd see him after the show. Justin paused for a moment to look into Mac's eyes as he shook his hand. He gave it a gentle squeeze before releasing it to follow the others.
Lew and Steve looked at one another and chuckled as Mac seemingly stood transfixed staring after Justin. "Hey Steve," Lew said quietly.
"Yeah, man, what's up?"
"I just wanted to remind you to keep an eye out tonight during the show."
"Yeah man, no prob, already ahead of ya," Steve told him. "I'm gonna keep an eye on him, and get the camera off if need be. A close up of Jus'll distract 'em if all else fails," he told him with a wink.
Lew patted him on the shoulder and nodded. Then he turned to Mac who was still looking off in the direction the guys had taken. "Earth to Lieutenant Mackenzie!"
"Come on, they're gonna be busy for a while. We might as well head out front and grab our seats. Hey, Steve, can you tell the guys we went on out front when they get back?"
"Will do!" Steve said as he waved to them.
"So that was Joey's brother, right?" Mac asked as they crossed into the arena. Lew nodded. "That's pretty cool that he gets to travel with them like that."
"Well, he works for his pass," Lew said smiling. "He usually does the emcee job and then he directs all the stuff you see up on the big screen during the show."
"Oh, wow! That must be great."
"Yeah, he does a great job from what I've seen. That's not his most important job though."
"Nah, that's smackin' Joe around when the need arises," Lew said with his best straight face. Mac immediately burst out laughing gaining the odd look from those near them. "Are you trying to get us killed?"
"What?" Mac said trying to compose himself.
"Put that thing away if you wanna get to enjoy any of
the show," Lew laughed, pointing to the pass around his neck. Mac shook
his head, laughing as he hid the pass under his shirt.
The meet and greet went well, though there were a few close calls when some of the girls wanted to give JC a hug or seemed just a little too excited. He hung in there and kept the smile firmly affixed to his face. They made it back to the playroom with no problems. Just before Justin walked in to join the others, Lonnie pulled him aside.
"Hey Jus," Lonnie said, "is everything okay with Josh? He seemed kinda tense during the meet 'n greet."
"Uh ...Well," Justin replied, "he's still a little shaken up by the stuff that happened the other night."
"I can't tell you how upset we all are about that girl gettin on the floor."
Justin put his hand on his shoulder, "Man, we know you all did everything you could. We can't tell you enough how much we appreciate what you guys do for us. We'd be lost without you."
Lonnie smiled bashfully, "Man, you're gettin' all mushy. But seriously, if there's anything ... and I mean anything ... we can do for Josh or you guys, you let me know."
"You got it, Big Guy!" Justin said as he bear hugged him. "See ya after the show!"
All too soon, the guys were dressed and ready to go on. Minutes before the show, just after all their pre-show rituals, the guys huddled together.
"Josh, it's not too late," Lance said. "We can stop the show anytime you need to."
"Yeah," Chris broke in, "Are you ready for this?"
"Guys, I'm gonna be okay," JC said. "Just do me a favor, okay?"
"Anything," they said, almost in unison.
"Stay close and STOP worrying so much. You're making me feel like an old lady you're helpin' across the street."
The joke broke the tension that had been building in
the atmosphere. JC looked around the circle of his closest friends, pausing
to look each one in the eye. "Yeah, I love you all, too," he said. "Now
... LET'S GO!"
The show started out well, just like the dozens and dozens of ones before it. Lew and Mac sat in their seats in the second row. While Lew had seen the guys perform before, this was the first time he had actually seen their show as an audience member in well over a year. As for Mac, it was the first performance he had been to, so he was bopping his head to the music and dancing along with the rest of the crowd.
Though the guys were still worried about him, JC appeared to be in the groove. He even seemed to be getting tired of hearing 'you okay?' during every break. When "I Thought She Knew" came up in the set, everything seemed to be going really well. Justin counted the beat out and they all fell into the music, the words weaving themselves around the men. As always, singing a capella drew the guys closer together, it was the trust and bond they formed by depending so much on one another to carry the song. There was one glaring difference tonight, though, none of them could have known how those familiar words would affect JC.
JC heard the words coming so beautifully from Justin and with no choreography or music to distract from them, the meaning behind those words hit him hard. Melissa! JC thought. His verse came upon him faster than he would have liked. "I thought she...." He tried to get the next word out, but his throat closed around it making it come out as a whispered plea.
The guys worked to calm the panic inside each of them and looked to Justin who controlled the tempo of the song. He motioned to them to hold the note, giving JC just enough time to gather his strength to finish his verse. It wasn't near his best performance, but he hadn't let the guys down.
In the audience, Lew cringed as he heard the strain in their voices. He gripped the seat back in front of him tightly, fighting the urge to run, to help, to scream, to do anything but just stand there doing nothing. Mac noticed as he tensed up, but said nothing. With a clenched jaw, Lew looked away from the guys on stage. Closing his eyes and leaning his head back slightly, he took a deep breath trying to calm himself. Opening his eyes, he was greeted by a huge close up of Justin on the large screen above them. Steve's words came back to him and he almost laughed despite his fear and concern.
The guys moved through the rest of the song doing their best to make everything seem natural. Just as the lights fell in the arena, JC broke and ran. The guys, after half a beat, all followed him as the sound of their prerecorded skit started.
They rounded the corner backstage to find JC crouching against the wall, panting, with his head between his knees. He was near hyperventilating as he apologized over and over.
"It's okay, bro," Justin said kneeling beside him. "We got through it."
"Alright, that's enough," Chris said. "I'm gonna tell 'em to stop the show, now."
JC grabbed his arm, "NO! We can't do that!"
"Are you sure you're gonna be able to make through the rest, Josh?" Lance asked him.
"Yes. I'm okay," JC told them. "I just got caught up in the words ... that's all. They kinda hit home. I'm gonna be okay, I promise ... just gimme a few."
"I don't like the idea of you goin' back out there if you're hurtin', Josh," Joey told him. "But if you're sure you're okay ... I'm with ya, bro."
JC nodded again and took a deep breath. They then headed
off for their wardrobe change for the next song.
The guys stood backstage as the videotaped "Millionaire" segment ended leading into "Just Got Paid." Justin and Chris both gave JC a questioning look. He shot them a smile and a nod just before heading for his mark. The song went well, but Josh stayed noticeably down stage from all the girls in the club scene. The rest of the songs went great, and they were all visibly relieved.
Later during "Digital Get Down" the fortunate placement
of Mac's seat became obvious. He was seated directly in front of Justin.
Justin shot a wicked smile in Mac's direction as he slowly pumped the floor,
eliciting a blush from Mac and squeals of joy from the girls seated around
him. Viewing the scene, Lew was trying his best to keep from falling to
the floor in a fit of laughter. Mac promptly punched him in the arm, gaining
a laugh from Justin as he finished the song.
"Okay, so now what?" Mac asked as the concert drew to a close and the lights came up.
"Well, we'll just wait here for a few while the arena clears out a bit, I guess" Lew told him. "So what'd you think of it?"
"Even better than I expected!"
"Well, the guys are leaving now so they can head back to their hotel, probably already gone. Once we get a clear shot at an exit, we'll head out to your car and I'll get you in over there. Sound good?"
They reached Mac's car and climbed in. Mac started it up and put it in reverse, then looked behind him to begin backing out of the space. He was met by the view of the longest stream of cars he had ever seen. "Um ... This could take a minute. Or two!"
Lew looked behind them and started laughing. "You know, parking at the intersection like this wasn't all that bright."
"Yeah, well it was much easier to pull into the space!" Mac said as he put the car back in park.
Lew listened for a moment and then said, "You know, I think Joe was right. You do have a death wish."
"You might wanna turn that down or off. I mean the guys don't have a problem with it, they actually like most of it ... but they might go off on you," Lew laughed pointing at the mass of fan filled cars outside.
Mac gave him a confused look until he stopped to actually listen to what was playing. The second verse of the Backstreet Boy's "Get Another Boyfriend" started and he laughed. "Shuffle play?"
"Not me you have to convince!" Lew laughed.
"That bad, huh?"
"I've heard unfortunate stories of death threats," Lew half joked.
"That's just dumb."
"Tell me about it! The guys are almost embarrassed when they hear about crap like that."
Mac shook his head, then got serious, "Do you think it went well?"
"The concert? Great as usual, and I loved the holiday stuff."
"No," Mac said, rolling his eyes. "Do you think I made a good first impression?"
"On who?" Lew asked, feigning ignorance.
Mac sighed, "You know I really hate you!"
"On the guys! Do you think they liked me?"
"Well, Chris and Joe loved you. You gave 'em someone else to pick on for a little while." The statement was greeted by a prompt smack on the arm from Mac. "Josh and Lance, yeah. And Justin ... most definitely."
"You sure? I mean, they didn't really say much."
"They didn't have to. Lance doesn't joke around that much with people unless he's really comfortable around them. And Josh ... well to most people he's just JC. He introduced himself as Josh, which also says a lot about how he reads Justin's impression of you."
Mac looked at him for a second, then turned to stare out the window as a broad smile spread across his face.