Part 2 of 5

Mike Ellis strikes again!

DISCLAIMER: The story that follows is a work of fiction. Some characters may be based on real people, but this story should not be considered accurate or truthful representations of any actual person connected with the members of *NSYNC or any other person.

WARNING: This story deals with sexual themes. If this offends you, read no further. If accessing this story causes you break any laws applicable in your area, read no further. If you are under 18 years of age, read no further.

THANKS: My thanks to MattHunter, DLS, and ScottyT for their help in improving this installment. Now that I know you guys work so cheaply, I'll be taking advantage of you again. :)

FEEDBACK: Send any comments, compliments, or criticisms to I'm trying something new with the spacing and the indentations: I hope it's still easy to read. And, after complaints about my other story being fattening, I'm keeping the eating in this one to a minimum. :)

I dedicate Part 2 to Dayse and all the other newer writers who rekindled my interest in writing these stories.



       "Can we take a break now?" Chris whined a little. He lifted his loose-fitting T-shirt and wiped a little sweat from his forehead.
        "Yeah, the old guy needs to rest." Justin was talking to the stage manager, but he was looking at Chris with a grin on his face.
        "Watch it, Curly!" Chris replied.
        The stage manager was saying, "Better than a break, we're done. We don't want you tired when the show starts."
        "Great!" Chris and Joey said simultaneously. Joey and JC were already headed to the table where Marc was sitting, more because of the bottles of water and juice in coolers on the table than because of the presence of their new assistant road manager. Chris stood where he'd been and watched Justin, who'd have to pass him to get to the table. Justin recognized the playful look in Chris' eyes and was making a wide, cautious circle around the older singer, confident he could elude him. But Chris feinted left, then headed right to catch Justin and wrestle him to the stage.

        Lance had been on the far side of the stage when the rehearsal had been dismissed and was still crossing the stage when he had to dodge to get around the two of them. "Hey," he said, "I thought he didn't want us tired when the show started?"
        "Well, I had to teach the kid that I'm not as old as he thinks," Chris said as he and a still laughing Justin stood and followed Lance to get something to drink.
        Still sitting on the table next to the cooler, Marc laughed at them. "Show 'im, Chris. Teach him to respect his elders."
        "Oh, now don't you start," Chris said as he opened a bottle of water.
        "Just how much older are you anyway?" Marc asked.
        Chris cut his drink short and said, "I'm 28."
        "See!" Justin kidded him. "He's ancient."
        "Yeah," JC added looking at Marc, "the only way to know how old Chris really is would be to slice him open and count the rings." Chris had been drinking again, but he started laughing and choked a little on the water. The other men had laughed at the joke, but they laughed even harder at Chris' near spit-take.
        "Well," Marc started when he'd stopped laughing, "I don't think 28 is so old."
        "How old are you, Marc?" JC asked. In the couple of days, he'd warmed a little to the newest member of the staff, and Marc had noticed. They weren't friends, Marc knew, but at least JC wasn't so silent around him..
        Marc grinned. "I'm 29. So are you gonna make 'old' jokes about me, too, now?"

        Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Dave, the group's road manager and Marc's boss. "So, did you guys get everything worked out?"
        "Yeah," Lance replied, "it didn't take long. We just wanted to smooth out a couple of things from the Portland show."
        "Well, be fine," Joey added as Dave looked at his watch.
        "We have just two hours before the show starts, so it's not worth it to go back to the hotel. You guys wanna stay backstage, or do we get you escorted back out to the bus?"
        "The bus," Joey said. "I wanna nap."
        "Yeah, me too," Lance added. They both looked expectantly at the other three singers.
        "I think I'm just gonna hang here," Chris said.
        "Yeah, there's a Playstation in the green room," Justin added, "and I'm gonna kick Marc's butt."
        "We'll just stay here," JC said. "I don't think I could sleep if I tried."

        "Excited about tonight," Joey grinned at him, "or about tomorrow?" He stretched out the word "tomorrow," and Marc knew that he was alluding to their first day in Denver when both Lance and JC were gonna be joined by their significant others. Marc may not have been a performer, but he'd spent the better part of four years traveling with groups. He had seen firsthand that free time on the road was rare, and that time to spend with someone you loved was even harder to find. Lance had talked to him a little while about the girl he had been seeing before the tour started, but JC hadn't brought it up. And he blushed a little when Joey did.
        "Uh, both," JC finally said with a shy grin on his face. The other men laughed good-naturedly. Dave lead Lance and Joey to find their bodyguards. Justin followed to retrieve his cell phone from his jacket in the green room, but only after making Marc promise to head back in a few minutes.

        "So how did you get roped into playing Just on the Playstation?" Chris asked Marc as he reached for a bottle of juice.
        Marc shrugged slightly. "I'm not sure. I just mentioned that I played, and he said I had to play him."
        "He's probably glad to have some new competition," JC began. "He got tired of playing against us a long time ago. We pretty much only play when he gets a new game."
        "Yeah," Chris laughed, "that's when he really acts like a big kid."
        "Well, of all of you, Justin's the one that has surprised me the most," Marc said. "The rest of you seem pretty much like I expected, but I kinda expected Justin to be the center of attention all the time. But he's not: he's just a normal guy. And when no one's watching him, he even seems kinda shy."
        The other young men thought about this for a couple of seconds, then JC said, "Justin can be the center of attention when he has to be, but he doesn't really like to do it all the time."
        "It gets really exhausting." Chris added, " And Justin doesn't really enjoy all the attention sometimes. None of us do."
        "Yeah, I can imagine," Marc nodded. "I don't think I could stand to be watched everywhere I went. Thank God I'm a nobody."
        "Yeah, but you're our nobody," Chris said, before he and Marc shared a laugh. JC just watched them, thinking that the other two had become friends in a very short time. Marc wasn't around much because of his duties for Dave, but since part of those duties involved being available for anything that came up at the last minute, he usually had some open time before every show to just hang out with the group.
         During those times, Marc had gotten to know all of the singers better, but he and Chris seemed to have the most in common. Though he took his job seriously, Marc could be very relaxed and laid back, and he shared Chris's sense of humour. And Chris seemed glad to have someone closer to his own age to talk to. It was Chris who'd initially invited Marc to spend time with the group after shows or to ride with them on their bus. Chris had even invited Marc to join the pre-show hackeysack game in Portland last night. Marc had had to decline to get some things done for Dave.
        Though Lance hadn't said anything at the time, he been glad that Marc hadn't joined them. He liked Marc okay, but this game was their routine, and Marc wasn't part of the group.

        "So are you guys excited about getting to Denver?" Marc asked.
        JC was shyly silent for a second, but Chris blurted, "Are you kidding? Five days in one place with only one show! We haven't had that much time off in a while."
        "Yeah, it's pretty rare," Marc said. "Even I get a whole day off on Tuesday to spend with my family."
        "Your family lives in Denver?" JC asked Marc, but it was Chris who answered.
        "Yeah, that's where he grew up, and his family and his sister still live there."
        "I have a brother too, but he lives in Houston," Marc said. "It'll be good to be at home and sleep in my own bed again. My apartment in Orlando has never really felt like home. Probably 'cause I've never spent much time there."
        Chris and JC nodded, and JC said, "My place is kinda the same way. We lived with Justin's parents for a long time, but now that I have my own place it still doesn't seem like home."
        "We should get some tickets for your sister," Chris changed the subject. "Is she a fan? How old is she? Is she cute?" With each question, he spoke faster, deliberating trying to be funny in an annoying way. "Is she single? Can she dance? Can she hang out with us after the show?"
        "Can she survive Joey flirting with her?" JC interrupted with a laugh.
        Marc was laughing too. "I'm more interested," he said, "in why Chris asked if she were cute before he asked if she were single."
        "Well, if she's not cute, I don't care if she's single," Chris explained with a laugh.
        The other two laughed more. "You are such a guy," Marc teased him, emphasizing the last word to make it carry with it all the negative stereotypes he was implying. "Women don't matter unless they're good looking."
        "Hey!" Chris pretended to be defensive, "like you two aren't the same way about guys..." The three of them were silent when they realized what Chris had let slip.

        Finally, Chris said meekly, "Josh, I..."
        JC interrupted him by putting his hand on Chris's arm. "It's okay, Chris," JC interrupted him.
        When he turned toward Marc, his smile was gone. "Marc, you would have figured this out tomorrow anyway when Paul meets up with us in Denver." JC had known this moment was coming, but he hadn't been looking forward to it. "Marc, I'm gay. I have a boyfriend in Tennessee who's coming up tomorrow to spend the week with me in Denver."
        JC was again surprised at his nervousness. From what Chris had just said, Marc was gay too—or at least bi—so he probably wasn't going to be judgemental. And, realistically, Marc's contract would keep him from endangering the group's careers if he wanted to. Yet JC was still nervous telling people that he was gay. How old will I have to get, he wondered, before this doesn't bother me anymore?
        Marc smiled reassuredly at the younger man. "I knew all that. Dave told me the first day that one of you was gay because he wanted to know if I had problem with it. I told him I didn't and that I was gay too. The other details I kinda got while I was confirming all the hotel and flight information."
        "So you're gay too?" JC asked him.
        "Yeah," Marc said. "I'm not with anybody right now, but I'm gay."
        JC turned back to face Chris. "And you knew he was gay?"
        "Yeah," Chris said.
        "How long have you known?"
         He directed the question to Chris, but Marc said, "I told him two days ago. We were talking about girlfriends, and I thought I should just explain pretty quick, before there were any misunderstandings."
        JC just looked from Chris to Marc, then back again. Finally he said, "You two are kinda scary, the way you answer for each other. And you both say 'yeah' way too much."
        "Yeah," the other men said, before looking at each other and laughing.

        That night, as the bus rolled them eastward across Utah, the five members of the group sat on their bus talking to Marc. The excitement of performing was wearing off, and exhaustion was taking its place. Soon they'd all be wandering back to the tiny bunks to sleep.
        "I am gonna enjoy having nothing to do tomorrow," Justin said.
        "You're not coming to the airport with us?" Lance asked him.
        "Dave didn't think it was a good idea," Justin shrugged.
        "Dave didn't want us to go," JC said. "He wanted Marc to pick them up, so nobody would see us. But I'm going." This last was directed at Marc, who just smiled.
        "I know. I know. I'm not gonna leave without you," Marc said.

        "I'm glad you know about JC being gay," Joey said. "All week I was worried about saying something I shouldn't."
        "You mean like I did?" Chris asked with a smile.
        "Why were you worried about that?" JC asked. "You knew he was gonna find out when Paul got here anyway."
        "I know," Joey explained, "but I knew you should be the one to tell him."
        "Well, at least Marc knows and he's crunk with it," Justin said. "It's all good now."
        "So," Joey began, "does this mean that you're gonna flirt with JC, and break him and Paul up, like in one of those horrible homo- fan fiction stories?"
        Marc laughed and said "no," while Lance just turned and looked at Joey. "What are you doing reading homo- fan fiction?" Joey didn't answer: he just put his arm around Lance's shoulders and gave him an exaggerated smile.

        "So, JC, have you started packing yet?" Chris asked him.
        JC looked confused. "Packing? What are you talking about?"
        "Well, it says in our contract that our tour can only have one gay guy at a time," Chris explained. "We took a vote, and we like Marc better than you." Then he ducked behind Joey in case JC threw anything.



        The rented van handled beautifully. It was already almost 10:30, so most of the commuter traffic was gone and Marc was having very little trouble getting to the airport. JC sat beside him—he'd called "shotgun" coming down in the elevator, but Lance hadn't seemed very interested in giving him much competition for it. Right now, he was sitting in the first bench behind the driver, staring sleepily out the window. JC, on the other hand, was fidgeting in his seat and changing the radio station every few seconds.
        Marc laughed at him gently. "You're awfully energetic. You're not excited or anything, are you?"
        JC grinned at the driver. "Yeah, I am. I get to see my baby today."
        "And spend four days with him..."
        "Yeah!" JC's grin was bigger.

        Marc glanced into the mirror, trying to see Lance but he was too far to the left. "What about you, Lance? Are you excited too?"
        JC looked over his shoulder at Lance. "He's just sleepy."
        "I'm excited," Lance said, but he began to yawn before he got out the last syllable. The older men laughed a little. "Hey, I may not be bouncing around," Lance defended himself, "and playing with the radio, but I am excited. This week is gonna be great."
        "Just wait 'til you see him and Shannon together," JC told Marc while still looking toward Lance in the second seat. "They really are cute, and it's sweet the way Lance waits on her and takes care of her all the time."
        Marc and Lance smiled. The radio began to sing "Show me the meaning of being..." when JC grabbed the tuning knob again. "Nope! Not gonna be listening to that." he said.

        Traffic had been light, but the reception room was fairly crowded. Thirty or forty people were milling about waiting to collect someone from the plane. Lance and JC hung toward the back wall, near the door. Both were wearing sunglasses, and JC had on a cap. Lance's hair was combed flat instead of spiked up, so he already didn't look like himself. Marc stood slightly in front of the two, separating them from the others in the room.
        The attendant kept glancing over at them. Marc had told him that he had a couple of VIPs, so that the man would be quick to help them if a crowd formed around them.
        But things were going smoothly. Those waiting in the room seemed more interested in finding their people and getting quickly out of the airport. Once the doors opened and the passengers began filing in, there were "hello"s and hugs and handshakes, but no one wasted any time: they were out the door to collect luggage and make their way to where-ever.
        Marc was watching the passengers as they emerged from the tunnel that connected to the airplane. He saw quite a few businessmen who would invariably lift their tightly clutched attaché chases and check the time on their wrist watches. There were a number of business women, two or three couples traveling with young children, and a half dozen cute guys who looked like they were coming home from college—almost all of these wore some kind of university or fraternity T-shirt and carried what looked (and smelled) like dirty laundry.

        In the middle of the crowd, Marc noticed a young woman traveling alone. She had improbably blonde hair hanging down over her shoulders, her bangs coming almost all the way to her eyes, which were huge and blue, like a baby's. She wore simple clothing—jeans and an oversized T-shirt—and carried a khaki-coloured canvas bag over one shoulder, but the logos the clothing and the bag carried proved they were simple but expensive. The woman looked around the room as if searching for someone, but she occasionally she glanced back down the corridor toward the plane, as if expecting someone to follow her. Maybe she's not traveling alone, Marc thought.
        Behind him he heard JC whisper, "There she is." Turning to catch a smiling Lance's gaze, Marc followed it straight to this woman. Lance could see her clearly, and she'd be able to see him as soon as this family moved out of the... There, they were gone, and she's seen the young men. With just one more quick glance back down the corridor, she made a beeline across the room to where Lance stood.
        "Hi, Honey," she said, her Southern accent heavy on just those two words. Lance's smile got even bigger, making him look goofy behind the sunglasses. He had his arms around her in second. When they weren't kissing affectionately, they were whispering things only they could hear.

        Marc glanced around to see if anyone was watching them, anxious now that they should be recognized. But he needn't have worried: the room was almost empty, and most of the people still in it were on their way out. Marc's glance fell on the corridor just in time to see yet one more business man step out of it, followed by a tall young man with very square shoulders and a grin on his face. His brown eyes were bright as he looked around the room, and his grinned seemed to widen as he looked at Marc. Then he started toward him.
        Marc wondered if he knew this guy, but he doubted it: he wouldn't have forgotten someone this cute. He was still trying to decide what to say when the guy stepped right past him and stood in front of JC.
        "You guys are easy to find," the young man said, still smiling. "Just look for the caps and the sunglasses."
        "Hey, Paul," JC said. "It's so good to see you." Then he hugged him, squeezing hard.
        For just a few seconds, Marc felt left out, with no one to hug. But it wasn't long before Lance and JC remembered they manners. His hand in the middle of her back, Lance turned the young woman toward Marc. "Shannon, this is Marc Torrance. He's working for Dave on this tour. Marc, this is Shannon Deals."
        "It's so nice to meet you," Shannon said, her smile wide and well-rehearsed. Her accent seemed a little heavier now, like she might have been purposely exaggerating it for Marc's benefit. "I hope your takin' good care of my baby here."
        "That's part of my job," Marc laughed, "but your 'baby' seems to prefer to take care of himself."
        "Not like Joey," JC's friend said behind Marc. "I bet you have to watch him every minute."
        Marc turned to look at him. "Not so much," he said with a grin. "I took all his Superman stuff the day I met him. As long as he behaves himself, he gets back it one piece at a time."
        "Marc, this is Paul Jaeger. He's..." JC paused, glancing around at the two or three straglers still in the room with them. "uh, a friend of mine."
        Marc shook Paul's hand. "Well, if you're a friend of JC's, I have a pretty low opinion of you already."
        Paul returned Marc's smile. "To tell the truth, I just pretend to be his friend so I can hang out with Justin."
        "All right, you jerks," JC interrupted. "Let's get the luggage and get out of here"

        The walk to the luggage carousel was a short one. Paul and JC fell in walking beside Marc, one on either side. It was a routine they'd worked out long ago, using whoever was available to separate them—just another ploy to keep from slipping up in public. A few steps in front of them walked Lance and Shannon. Her bag was now hanging from his shoulder, and they held hands as they walked. JC shot Paul a wistful glance, wanting to touch him too.
         At least Marc is cool with everything, he thought. There won't be any reason to pretend in the van.

        Lunch had been a little painful. Justin, wanting to be friendly, had arranged a big table for eight in the hotel's restaurant. The food had been really good—JC had been a little surprised at how hungry he'd been—and everyone was having a good time. The other guys really liked Paul, and they always made him feel welcome.
        Well, he reminded himself, everyone but Lance. Lance was polite enough—he was never not polite. But he didn't really approve of Paul, and Paul knew it. JC went back to watching Paul tell everyone the story of his flight from Memphis to Dallas, where he met the plane that had carried Shannon from Orlando.
        Sometimes he wondered how he'd ended up with Paul: they were very different. His boyfriend was quite a guy: cute, smart, charming and funny when he got the chance, serious and thoughtful when he needed to be. He knew that Paul was funnier than he was and a lot more outgoing. Sure, Paul had met these guys almost three months ago and he knew they liked him. But there's no way JC could have been this relaxed with someone who felt the way Lance did in the room. Not to mention Marc: Paul had just met him that morning and he was already was more relaxed with him than JC was.
        But Paul was unphased by any of this. He just went on with his story while everyone laughed. Lance and Shannon weren't really listening—they'd heard the story that morning in the van. Marc was listening to it again, JC noticed, but mostly Marc was watching the others listen to the story.
        JC looked around the table and sighed silently. It was a good meal, he thought, with good food and good friends. But JC couldn't wait to get away from the table and get Paul into bed.

        On his right, Lance was having similar thoughts about Shannon. They sat next to each other—something JC and Paul hadn't been able to do. This place was too public to be too affectionate, even if that had been the kind of thing Lance would do. But they had been holding hands since he'd held her chair out for her: the only times they'd stopped was to actually eat, and even then Lance had felt Shannon pressing her foot against his under the table after a few seconds.
        The conversation had been fun. Paul was funny, Lance had to admit, and any table with both him and Chris at it was going to have a fun time. Of course, there had been a couple of times when Chris had slipped in little jokes at Shannon's expense. Lance didn't think Shannon had caught on—she didn't know Chris like he did—but he'd have to talk to Chris about it later. It bugged Lance sometimes how the other guys had accepted Paul so easily when they were a little unkind to Shannon. Sure, Paul was a funny guy, but Shannon was great and the other guys didn't always give her a chance.
        Not that he'd been all that nice to Paul, Lance had to admit to himself. For a long time Lance hadn't had a problem with JC being gay, but now that he had a boyfriend it made it harder to ignore. At least Shannon was here this week too, Lance thought, so he'd be spending most of his time with her.

        The afternoon had been a little boring. After lunch, JC and Paul had disappeared into JC's room. For appearance's sake, Marc had reserved the adjoining room in Paul's name, but everyone knew that it was going to stay empty that week. Shannon had her own room too, and she and Lance had shut themselves up in there not long after the other couple's disappearing act.
        After the trip to the airport, Marc had been on his own time, but the guys had invited him to hang out with them. They'd spent some time sitting around the hotel's pool or swimming. A game of Chicken was over quickly: both Joey and Justin were taller than either Marc or Chris, and the two of them teamed together had had too much of advantage. Once the four of them were dry and dressed again, they'd had a little room service snack and watched a movie in Justin's room. Chris had suggested that they trash Lance's room instead, just to see how many days it took him to notice.
        Now it was almost five o'clock, and Marc kept glancing at his watch.

        "What are you looking at?" Chris asked him. "That's the third time you've looked at your watch in five minutes!"
        Marc grinned up at him. "Nothing much, except that I'm about call a cab. I've got to be at the 'rents' house by six. Since the movie's over, I think I'll just go now."
        "That's right!" Joey said. "I forgot you grew up here."
        "So why didn't you spend the afternoon with them?" Justin asked him.
        "'Cause they weren't home this afternoon," Marc explained. "My dad was playing golf, and my mother and Vanessa went to some baby shower. But I'm going over there for dinner, and I'll be there all day tomorrow."
        "When's the last time you saw them?" Joey asked.
        "Easter weekend,." Marc replied.
        "He flew home to meet his brother's new baby girl," Chris added. Then he looked at Marc doubtfully. "Amber..." he guess, "Amy..."
        "Amalia," Marc reminded him. "It was her mother's idea."
        "Dude," Joey laughed, "How could you forget a name like that?"
        "Hey, Scoop's the one who remembers everything," Chris defended himself. "I was hired to be the good-looking one."         "Excuse me?" Justin said. "Just who is it that the fans go crazy over?"
        Chris waved his hand dismissively. "Little girl fans," he said. "Women prefer me."

        Marc had an idea. "You guys want to come over to dinner?"
        "Is that a good idea?" Joey asked. "I mean, it's really last minute and all."
        "Well, if it were all seven of you," Marc began, "I wouldn't have asked. But I bet Mom can handle three extra people. I'll give her a call."

        "Will you two stop arguing?" Joey whispered as he shut the van's door.
        "Sure, as soon as Justin admits he's wrong," Chris grinned.
        "Yeah, like that's gonna happen," Justin said. "I have the fan mail on my side."
        "You're gonna have me upside your head, if you don't shut up," Joey retorted.
        The four young men—Marc in the lead—walked up the sidewalk and toward the house. It's a nice house: a bit old, maybe, but kept in good condition. The front yard was large, and Marc had had a lot of fun playing here when he was younger. Now the neighborhood was quiet, as most of the homes now housed parents with adult children, just like Marc's parents. The neighborhood had grown up and grown peaceful.
        "Hey, I have an idea," Justin said. "Marc's sister."
        Marc stopped and looked at him. "What about my sister?"
        "She's a girl, right?" Justin whispered. "And she's 23—between Chris and me. We'll let her decide which one of us is better looking to women."
        Chris shrugged. "Sounds good to me. Prepare to be heart-broken, Curly."
        "You just be glad you have your teeth in, old man."
        Marc just grinned and gave Joey a little wink. "This should be fun."

        Justin was being charming. "You have a beautiful house, Ms. Torrance."
        "Thank you," Marc's mother said. "It's more room than we need now, but we've been here for twenty-two years and no other place would feel like home." Evelyn Torrance wasn't the least bit flustered to have three such popular celebrities in her home. That was one thing Marc had always been proud of in her: she treated everyone with the same graciousness. Once the family had left a political fund-raiser where they'd met the governor, only to be accosted in the parking lot by an incredibly rude man picketing the gathering. Evelyn had spoken just as kindly and respectfully to the picketer as to the governor. But in both cases, Marc remembered with a smile, she'd gently but firmly told the men what she thought of their political shortcomings.
        If Marc's mother was dignified and gracious, his father provided a wonderful counterpoint. Mitchell Torrance was constantly smiling and making jokes. He seemed like a bit of a goof at first, but he was a smart, capable architect. But his philosophy had always been that people could be just as competent while having a good time.
        Kind of like now: she was showing Justin and Chris around the first floor of the house while he and Joey were laughing and mixing cocktails.

        Everyone managed to reunite at the entry hall just outside the dining room. Chris and Justin had seen all the photographs of the family that hung in the hallway, and Mr. Torrance and Joey came from the living room, each carrying two drinks. Marc and Chris took their drinks from them. Ms. Torrance and Vanessa would be having wine, and Justin was going to have a soft drink.
        "Well, boys, we can go into dinner now if you're ready," Mr. Torrance announced. "Marc, go get your sister."
        "No need," Vanessa said from the top of the stairs. "I'm coming down already."
        The three guests turned to watch her descend. She was wearing a simple, rose-coloured dress that looked wonderful on her. She was tall, slender and graceful, like her mother, and she had her father's thick, wavy brown hair. One hand on the bannister, Vanessa stepped lightly from step to step without looking down at the people watching her. Before she'd come halfway down, the young men had realized she was blind.

        "I hope we weren't too much of a bother," Justin asked, "inviting ourselves along like this at the last minute."
        "No, of course not," Evelyn Torrance told him. "I was curious to meet the men Marc is working for."
         Joey leaned back in his chair and put his napkin onto his plate. "This was a wonderful meal, Ms. Torrance," he said. He'd sat between Marc and Vanessa all evening, listening to the Torrances as they asked the usual questions about being a singing group on the road. Chris and Justin had competed a bit, telling stories that Joey had heard over and over already. He'd been more interested in the stories Marc and Vanessa had told about growing up in such a wonderful neighborhood—almost every house having children their own age, so there'd always been somebody for any kind of game imaginable.
         It had reminded Joey of his own neighborhood on Long Island. For the first time in a long while, Joey was a little homesick for his family.
        "And it's nice to eat home cooking instead of hotel room service," Chris said.
        Ms. Torrance shook her head. "I don't see how you do it: traveling all the time, living in hotels, sleeping in a bus. It must be hard."
        "It is sometimes," Chris told her, "but it's exciting too. We love to make music and we love to entertain people."
        "We're really lucky," Justin added. "A lot of people would kill to have jobs like ours."

        "Well, what do you big stars have to do tomorrow?" Mitchell Torrance asked.
        Chris and Justin grinned. "Nothing," Justin told him. "We have one entire day where we don't have to do anything."
        "Maybe you don't," Joey said with a grin, "but I plan to be busy sleeping."
        Beside him, Vanessa turned toward Joey. "Then you must be planning some serious fun for tonight." Joey noticed, not for the first time, how warm her smile was. Her eyes may not have allowed her to see, but they were a very warm dark brown that he found very easy to look at.
        "No definite plans," Joey said, glancing at Chris and Justin. "We just said something about going to some club."
        "Do you know any good ones, Marc?" Chris asked him.
        Vanessa laughed. "He knows them all: the good, the bad, and the 'what the Hell were we thinking?' of clubs."
        "Well then, come with us," Justin said to Marc. Then he glanced at Vanessa, unsure as to whether to extend the invitation to her or not.
        But Joey was sure. "You, too, Vanessa. Do you want to go out with us? We'll just listen to music and talk. Dancing is strictly optional."
        Vanessa reached over and found his arm. "I'd love to. I don't dance to a lot of songs, but I'll dance every slow one until you get tired of me."

        Marc grinned as he remembered something. "Before we go," he said, "didn't you have a question for my sister, Justin? Something about a bet you wanted settled..."
        Justin glanced around at the others, hesitating. Chris saved him.
        "We were arguing earlier about which one of us was, uh, more charming to women," he said, "and Justin said we should let you settle it."
        "Well, that's easy," Vanessa said. "I pick Joey."
        She couldn't see the smug look he gave Chris and Justin.