For those of you who have complained
that I take too long to update this story, (and you're right I do) I have
good news. I've decided that since I'm so busy these days I can only
keep up with one of my stories at the archive. Obviously since I'm
writing this I've decided to keep Model. My apologies if any of you
were die-hard fans of Darker Path, though somehow I doubt anyone will really
care. Anyway the good news is, that with only one story to write,
updates should be more frequent. But that also means that I'm not
getting as much e-mail so I expect all of you to pick up the slack!
:-) It's firstname.lastname@example.org in case you didn't know. And
now it's time to find out if I can rectify the mess I made out of things
Disclaimer: This is a fictional story which is not
meant to imply anything about anyone. If you shouldn't read it then
Model Romance- Part Ten
Sunday dawned cold and gray in the City that Never
Sleeps. It was certainly a sleepless night for many people anyway.
Looking around the breakfast table at her haggard companions, Britney wondered
where to even begin. Lance and Nick seemed semi-happy at least.
It was nice that they had found each other, though they had managed to
cause what might prove permanent damage to Zack and Justin's relationship.
They both seemed to know this and that was why their own happiness was
somewhat subdued. The remainder of the Backstreet Boys seemed to
be in pretty good shape except that they were all looking pretty hung-over.
Christina was mercifully quiet this morning, probably plotting how to take
advantage of the situation.
It was in the NSYNC camp where the real damage could
be seen. Joey was wearing dark sunglasses and talking very quietly
and he was they only one of them that had slept last night. Or at
least passed out. Chris and JC had dark circles under their eyes
most likely caused by staying up all night. At least they were eating.
That was more than could be said about the reason that Chris, JC, and Britney
herself had not slept at all last night.
Justin Timberlake, object of who knew how many teenage
crushes, star of one of the hotest pop acts ever, recipient of numerous
popularity awards, and cultural icon to the MTV generation was as bad as
Britney had ever seen him. His eyes were not only ringed by circles
even darker than those under his friend's eyes, they were bloodshot and
lifeless. His skin was pale, his hair was matted, his clothes were
rumpled, and Britney suspected that the only reason he wasn't crying was
because he had run out of tears. He had cried and screamed last night
until his voice gave out, and then he had gone on sobbing soundlessly until
about 7 AM. He was staring into his bowl of cereal, occasionally
stirring the milk with his spoon, but he hadn't eaten one bite of it.
There had to be a way to stop this madness.
Actually Britney knew exactly what needed to be done, and she had tried,
god had she tried to make it happen. She must have called Zack's
apartment ten times last night and this morning. She had left half-a-dozen
messages. Finally at around 6:30 she had sent JC to go see if he
could find Zack. He had returned just half and hour ago unsuccessful.
Either Zack was not home or he was not answering his phone and his doorbell.
And now it was too late to do anything. The
tour buses were leaving in half an hour. All the luggage was packed,
the crews were gone. Their convoy was supposed to have gotten underway
15 minutes ago, but none of the performers had been able to get ready in
time. Britney sighed. Short of a miracle this was going to
be a very rough ride.
The phone had been ringing off the hook all night
and when the doorbell started ringing at 7:30 Zack had gotten fed up.
He unplugged the phone, through a pillow over his head and waited for whoever
was at the door to go away. He hadn't slept one wink last night.
Every time he closed his eyes he saw Justin's face. The whole thing
was crazy. He didn't know what to believe. Part of him knew
that he loved Justin and believed that love was returned. Or wanted
to believe. But so many years of hiding from himself and everyone
else and not being able to trust anyone had left him jaded. Trusting
was hard for him and when it seemed like the one person he thought he could
trust betrayed him, he ran. He couldn't bear the pain of finding
out for certain. By running he had left some hope in his mind that
things were different than they seemed.
It was that hope that had nearly convinced him to
go back to the hotel, but he was afraid. He was afraid the truth
would be everything he feared it was. Justin had seemed a little
too touchy on the subject of Nick. Afterall, as much as he wanted
to believe that he and Justin were connected in some very deep and powerful
way, the truth was that he didn't know the guy all that well. And
Justin hadn't tried to stop him from leaving. He was probably sitting
back at the hotel laughing his ass off.
Do you really believe that?
I don't know maybe.
You know damn well he loves you as much as you
So why are you still here? Go get him before
it's too late.
"Because I'm afraid," he whispered to the
darkened room. He cried softly for a long time and eventually fell
Justin was in physical pain. JC had worked
with management to rearrange who went on which bus. That was why
he was being herded onto Britney's bus now instead of his own. He
almost made it to the steps when Lance stopped him. JC and Britney
tried to push him out of the way, but he persisted.
"Justin, please. Listen to me for a minute.
I'm so sorry for what happened. I know I was wrong now. I'll
do anything to make it up to you J. Please forgive me? Or at
least don't hate me."
Justin slowly turned to face lance. Tears
were streaming down the older boy's face.
"There's no room in my heart to hate you right now
Lance," he said dully. "Maybe someday I'll stop hurting enough to
squeeze you in, but it's probably better for you if I don't."
He allowed himself to be escorted into the bus,
dimly aware of Nick leading Lance away, trying to comfort him. He
wanted to be angry with Lance, maybe even to hate him. He knew he
could never forgive him until he hated him, but what he said was true.
His heart burned with a pain that seared his soul. He had lost a
part of himself when Zack walked out of that hotel room. And he felt
empty without it. Now at last he understood. He had lost his
"...think we should put him to bed," Britney was
"No let's leave him on the couch. I'll go
get some blankets, maybe we can get him to watch a movie."
"I'm really scared JC. I've never seen him
"I saw something like it once. When we were
in Europe and he was away from his mom for the first time. He got
over it soon enough, but it was never this bad. What I don't understand
is why it is so bad. I mean they were only together for like one
"That the point JC. Can you imagine being
given exactly what you wanted in life for just one day and then having
it taken away?"
"I don't know are you leaving anytime soon?"
"Oh stop it. Not now."
"Yeah I know. First Justin. Then us."
"Right. So go get those blankets."
Britney came back into the front of the bus where
Justin was laying on the couch. He closed his eyes and pretended
to be asleep.
"Justin? You awake?"
She came over and sat down on the couch with him,
stroking his curly hair. He moved instinctively towards her.
"I thought you were faking."
"You know me too well."
"Yes I do."
"Maybe I should give in to all those rumors and
propose to you."
"Y'know there was a time when I dreamed about marrying
"Yeah me too. I've always loved you Brit.
You're like a sister to me."
"Eewww. You want to marry you sister?
"You know what I mean butthead."
"Why Justin was that an attempt at humor?
I was sure you days of laughter were over." When she saw the look
on his fac she frowned. "I'm sorry Just. I didn't mean to remind
"No I need to deal with it. It's just really
hard." He could feel the tears coming again. No, you are
not going to cry again. No more crying.
"I know. Do you need anything? JC thought
you might want to watch a movie."
"Just stay with me for a while."
"Oh sweetie of course I will."
She laid down next to him on the couch and hugged
him tightly. She felt so nice and warm next to him. Almost
the way Zack did, except softer and not quite so strong and secure.
Not him. Not the same. So much for not crying.
He cried softly against her and at some point Britney fell asleep.
That was how JC found them, curled up together on the couch.
"You trying to steal my girl already Curly?"
"Hey she was mine first."
"Yeah ok. Just let me know when you're done
with her. You wanna watch a movie?"
"I don't care. You pick it. As long
as you guys are here."
"Ok. You know it's gonna be alright."
"I know. Thanks Josh. I love you."
"I love you to Just."
The weeks that followed was not easy for anyone.
The tour played Boston and Albany to the same sold out and ecstatic crowds
they had seen in New York. Justin performed well. In fact he
threw himself into the music with more force than was normal for even him.
He became completely absorbed with it. When he wasn't rehearsing
or performing he was working on new songs or messing around with his guitar.
Every day he seemed more like the old Justin but every day Britney and
JC saw that far off look in his eyes. He looked lost. Even
though he seemed more like his old self to everyone else, those who knew
him best grew more and more concerned. He didn't cry anymore, at
least not where anyone could see him. True to his word, Justin did
try hating Lance and found that it didn't work very well so he just ignored
both him and Nick.
For their parts Nick and Lance were fairly happy.
The tour kept them busy and they had didn't get much time alone, but they
shared a room and managed to find a little time for "private moments."
Every night Lance begged God to let Justin forgive him, and every night
he fell asleep crying in Nick's arms.
Britney and JC found little time for themselves.
When they weren't busy with the tour they were usually spending time with
Justin. Or sometimes they tried to help Lance. They were together
often, but never alone and they had agreed not to share a room. Neither
one of them was ready for that.
Zack went to his meeting with the Jive records execs
on Monday, albeit with a great deal of apprehension. It turned out
his fears were partially justified. They did want him to join the
tour, but not until Thanksgiving in LA. They felt his growing popularity
would be good publicity for them and for him. They were still working
on his exact role they said, but it would be some sort of emcee position.
Maybe a few musical additions since he had shown some promise in singing.
As the weather turned colder so did his heart and as Justin moved further
West with the tour, so did the pain of losing him. He began reconciling
himself with the prospect of being alone forever.
In short, to the public everyone appeared better
than ever. On the outside even people that knew the teen stars thought
they were happy. Maybe they even fooled themselves. But the
truth was that they were all falling apart. And it all came to a
head a week before Zack was scheduled to join the tour in Los Angeles.
They were in San Francisco rehearsing for the concert the following day.
They were all working on some particularly tricky
choreography for the final number in which everybody was singing.
It was going to be a medley of songs, one from each group's album.
Backstreet was irritated because the set finished on "Bye Bye Bye" instead
of "Larger Than Life." Britney didn't really care who got their song
played last she just wanted this tour to be over so she could spend time
with her family.
Joey tripped on one of the tougher dance moves,
throwing everybody off.
"Nice one Joe," Howie said acidly.
"Screw you. I'm tired ok?"
"Come on guys don't fight," JC said wearily.
"Well I just think that if you guys get the last
spot, you should get your shit together is all."
"Hey Howie back off man," Chris said, coming up
"Why what are you gonna do about it?"
"Alright that's enough," Britney snapped.
"All of you stop with the macho bullshit and get back to work."
"Hey Howie," AJ called, "maybe they think they need
to overcompensate for Lance and Justin."
"So then I guess you're overcompensating for Nick
right Howie," Chris bit back.
"Well I got news for ya How. You're not doing
a very good job on your end," JC added.
Everyone was focused on the conversation now, especially
Justin, Lance, and Nick. Britney saw what was happening and prayed
that it wouldn't. She had to stop it.
"Guys please. Let's all just forget this.
"No wait a minute Britney," Nick said coldly.
"I think I want to here the rest of this conversation. Go on guys
I think you were talking about having to make up for having three fags
Realizing, what they had said and done JC, Chris,
Howie and AJ all looked down at their feet.
"Excuse me. I'll just get out of your way
so you have one less queer to worry about. Hey this is San Francisco
afterall. You can just dump us queers off here. I'm sure we'll
be perfectly happy out there with all the other fags. Then you can
go on living in your nice little heterosexual world and not worry about
it anymore." He walked off the stage angrily.
"Nick, wait a sec," Brian called after him.
He started to follow but Lance put a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"I'll go. You stay here. It's a gay
thing afterall," he said icily. He walked off deliberately in the
direction his boyfriend had gone.
Britney rounded on the remaining guys. "You
should be ashamed of yourselves! How could you possibly be so insensitive.
Howie, AJ, I don't know you very well but I had thought better of you than
that. Chris I do know you and I was sure you of all people were above
this. And YOU," she practically yelled swirling to face JC, "You
I don't even want to talk to. Now I am going to go get some lunch
and when I get back I hope that you will have thought of some way to fix
this." In a lighter tone she added "Justin do you want to come with
There was no answer. Justin was not there.
He had begun backing away from the fight as soon
as it started. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Did
they all hate him? Was that how he was thought of? As a liability?
A dirty little secret? Maybe it was time to give up this life.
If it meant hiding who he was and having everyone else resent having to
help him hide maybe it was time. He turned and walked slowly out
the side door of the concert hall. No one even noticed him go.
Justin wandered through San Francisco lost in these
thoughts. He didn't pay any attention to where he was going.
Eventually he came to a nice little out of the way cafe with tables set
up outside. It was a nice day considering it was mid November so
he sat down. The waitress brought him a menu after doing a double
take and he ordered some hot tea and a sandwich. When she came back
with his order she also had a piece of paper. He autographed it for
her and she let him be.
He took his time eating and enjoying the little
peace he had managed to find for himself. His thoughts naturally
wandered to Zack as they often did. Once again he entertained the
idea of going back to New York and trying to get him back. It was
no good though. He had finally gotten a handle on the burning pain
he had been feeling. Now it was just a dull ache at the bottom of
his heart. He still dreamed that Zack would come back to him, but
he didn't really believe it. When he had found out that Zack was
going to be joining the tour for the last few venues he had been happier
than he had been at any time since that awful night a few weeks ago.
Then he started thinking about how he had found out. It had been
passed down to JC by management, and as he told Justin gently, he also
let slip that Zack had agreed to it several days ago. Justin understood
then that if Zack was coming back for him he would have called to say so.
Or he would have suprised him in which case JC wouldn't have told him.
The point was that Zack had obviously made the decision
for his career, not for their relationship. It was probably better
for both of them anyway. His own schedule was so busy that he would
more time away from any boyfriend than he would with him, and Zack's was
much the same. That meant that they would hardly ever see each other
even if they made an effort.
But it still hurt. Deep inside he knew it
was wrong and late at night when he let himself dwell on it he still cried
for his lost love. At those times every fiber in his being told him
how wrong this was and that he and Zack were meant for each other.
In the morning it would pass and he would get up and lose himself in his
Justin looked around. A tall young man was
standing before him. For a second he thought it was Zack, but then
he sat that this young man had dark wavy hair and dark eyes. He was
attractive and tall. His tight-fitting turtle neck revealed a chiseled
body and his dark pants spoke of lean, strong legs.
"Excuse me," the young man repeated, "are you ok?"
"What? Yeah, I'm fine."
"Are you sure? I meant I don't want to pry
but I can't think of any reason whu you of all people would look so sad."
"What are you talking about?"
"Well I mean if I was a rich, famous, gorgeous pop
star, I wouldn't be sitting here looking like my dog just died."
"Oh. No I'm ok. Did you want an autograph
"Nah," he said with a laugh. "I think autographs
are dumb. I mean don't get me wrong I love you music. I think
you have a beautiful voice. Just the idea that by scribling something
illegible on a piece of paper it becomes valuable simply because of who
did the scribling. It seems ludicrous.."
"Yeah. It is kinda silly. Well I guess
you already know my name, but I don't know yours."
"My name's Sebastian."
"Nice to meet you Sebastian."
"Hey, I know this is none of my business since I
don't really know you and all, but why are you sitting here by yourself
looking so unhappy?"
"Oh it's a long story."
"I got time," Sebastian said. He helped himself
to a seat.
Justin smiled crookedly. He certainly wasn't
the typical fan. It was very refreshing in a way.
"He's not answering his cell phone and he's not
at the hotel," JC said.
"Did anyone see him leave," Chris asked.
"No," Britney replied. "Apparently he just
vanished into thin air. Security is searching the area, but it's
a big city."
"And we're sure he's not in the arena anymore,"
"No he didn't pull one of your little stunts Nick,"
Lance said affectionately, if half-heartedly.
"So now what," Chris asked.
"Now we keep looking," JC said firmly. "We
have to find him."
"I agree, you guys should all be out looking for
him. And don't forget to hide your faces and travel in small groups."
"Yes mommy," Chris said. "But what do you
mean 'you guys?' Aren't you going to help?"
"Yes, I'm going to help but not in the search.
One more person wont make much difference."
"They what are you doing," JC asked worriedly.
"To go get the one person that Justin will listen
to if, I mean when we find him."
"What! You're not!"
"I am JC, so don't try to stop me. Anyway
it's your fault that I have to go. You know damn well that he's been
bottling up his emotions for weeks. And you also know what happens
to him when he does that. JC you know how fragile he can be."
"Yeah but he's only been gone a few hours."
"Have you ever know Justin to be gone without telling
anyone for even one hour? In case you haven't noticed he is very
afraid of being alone."
"But I still don't see why we need Zack!"
"After this fiasco I doubt he's going to want to
talk to you and I have never been able to make him see reason. All
I can do is hug him and tell him it'll be ok. You're always the one
who has to pull him back together. Except that now it's your fault
he's gone. Who does that leave? Lance? I don't think
so! Nick? Even less likely. So unless you want to call
Lynn and tell her her son is missing there's only one other person that
you know he'll talk to."
"What makes you so sure he'll come," Lance asked.
"Because I think he still loves Justin as much as
Justin still loves him."
"And what if Justin wont listen to him?"
"He will. He has to. I'm leaving for
the airport in five minutes, I guess I'd better pack a bag. I'll
be back tomorrow morning one way or another. Just make sure you find
As she left silence fell over the group. None
of them wanted to voice the thought that was in everyone's head: "What
if we can't find him?"
Zack moved from pose to pose as the cameras snapped.
Inside his mind wandered. He often put his body on autopilot during
these photo shoots. It made them less boring. He had been thinking
about Justin a lot lately. Part of him really wanted to call him
and let him know he'd be in LA. But the truth was he was afraid that
Justin didn't want to talk to him. And he was afraid that Justin
did want to talk to him. Commitment was a scary thing.
If he was honest with himself he had to admit he
still wasn't comfortable with who he was. Being gay was new for him
and he wasn't sure how it worked. He loved Justin, that he knew,
and that was the most frightening thing of all. But it didn't really
matter because he had messed up his chance with Justin. The ship
of true happiness had sailed, and he had been left at the dock. Being
alone wasn't so bad really. It was easier to be alone. He didn't
need to worry about hurting anyone or being hurt. He would always
love Justin, but fate had not meant for them to be together.
When he agreed to join the tour in LA he had already
decided to try and be Justin's friend. He knew that even if things
had worked out they would never have seen each other because they were
both so busy. Long-distance relationships were almost impossible.
But long-distance friendships were easy enough.
His train of thought was interrupted by his cell
phone ringing. Erika, his personal assistant answered it.
"Zack's phone, can I help you? He's not available
at the moment can I take a message? Oh? And may I ask who's
calling? Ok, I'll tell him. One moment please."
"Who is it Erika?"
"A young lady named Britney," Erika said with a
knowing smile. "She says it's urgent."
Oh Erika if only you knew half as much as you
think you do.
"Ok, I'll take it." He turned to the photographer.
"Are we done?"
"Yeah I think I've got what I need. Thanks
"Anytime. Can I have my phone please?
"Zack? It's Britney."
"Yeah I figured. What's the problem?"
"We've got a small emergency and I'm coming to New
York. Can you meet me at the airport?"
"What? Why are you coming to New York?"
""I can't really explain it over the phone.
Just please, I need you to come to the airport."
"Well I'm not sure. I'm supposed to be on
my way to a meeting."
"Please Zack. It's really important."
"Ok Brit. Sure. But can't you tell me
"I can't right now. I'm on the runway and
the flight attendant is telling me to turn my phone off. I'm only
flight 1364, Delta. I'm coming into La Guardia."
"Alright I'll meet you at the gate."
"Thanks Zack. Bye."
"Bye. Erika would you please cancel my meeting
for this afternoon. Tell them I had an emergency to take care of
and I apologize profusely."
"Sure thing Zack," she said with an amused smile.
Zack changed his clothes and caught a cab back to
his apartment. He fixed himself something to eat, but he wasn't hungry
so instead he walked out onto the balcony. He could think of only
one emergency that would bring Britney all the way across the country to
see him. Something had happened to Justin. And in that moment
he was gripped by a paralyzing fear. Stronger than any fear of comitment
or rejection could ever be. And that fear ruptured the seals on his
heart and his emotions flooded out into his body. He loved Justin.
Loved him to the point where it hurt and the thought of something bad happening
to him was more than he could bear. Maybe it wasn't too late for
them to be together. On impulse he packed a bag before catching a
cab to the airport.
He arrived at the gate just in time to see Britney's
plane taxi in. He hadn't bothered to bring a hat or even a pair of
sunglasses so he had to sign several autographs, including one copy of
with his picture on the cover. Britney was one of the first people
off the plane, which made sense since she would have been flying first-class.
She was on her cell phone already. She saw him and started walking
"...you can't? Oh my god! Where is he?
I know that. Well just keep looking. I know you will.
She closed the phone just as she reached him and
threw her arms around him.
"I'm so glad you're here. Zack listen.
I'm sorry to drag you into this."
"No it's ok Brit. It's Justin isn't it?"
"Is he alright?"
"I hope so. He left rehearsal at about 12:00
San Francisco time. That was seven hours ago and no one has seen
"Oh god." He could hear the quiver in his
voice. He was blind with fear. What if he was too late?
If anything happened to Justin it would kill him. He needed to tell
him how much he loved him and needed him.
"I know." Britney's voice was shaky too.
No more than that. She was crying. "I didn't want to do this
to you. I know how much it must hurt."
"Sshhh, Brit. I told you it's ok. Come
on let's go find someplace more private to talk."
He lead her to a small restaurant in the airport
and to a dark booth near the back. He sat on the same side with her,
holding her while she cried.
"I just...I don't know where he is and I don't know
what to do. I shouldn't have left him, but I knew I had to get you.
I just knew it Zack. He still loves you. He tries to pretend
like he doesn't, but he does," she sobbed.
"He really does...love me?"
"Then let's go. I'm not going to lose him."
"I'm coming back to San Francisco with you.
I have all my stuff right here. Brit after I talked to you...I guessed
that you were coming because something happened to Justin. And it
scared me like nothing has ever scared me before. I've been running
from him and from myself because I was weak and afriad, and for that
I hope he'll forgive me. But all that I've gone through was nothing
compared to the thought of losing him for good. I do love him and
I want to be with him. No, I need to be with him."
"Thanks Zack. I know they'll find him or he'll
come back and then you'll be there and everything will be perfect again."
"Well maybe not perfect, but at least we wont be
"And thanks for giving me a shoulder to cry on too."
"Hey, you know you can't always be the strong supportive
one. I'll always be here for you. Are you sure you can handle
"Yeah, I'm so exhausted that I might actually be
able to sleep this time."
"Ok let's go then."
They got two first class tickets on the next flight
to San Francisco. Ironically it was the same plane that Britney had
flown in on just a short time ago. Unfortunately they had a layover
in Denver and wouldn't get back to California until 9AM the next morning.
Hopefully Justin would be back by then.
At 9:42 Britney and Zack's cab pulled up to the
hotel. At 9:46 they burst into JC's suite. And at 9:47 he informed
them that Justin was still not back. He had been out all night and
had finally come back to take a cold shower because he was falling asleep.
Lance and Brian were working on what to tell managment. Nick was
still out looking with Joey and Chris. Howie and AJ had fallen asleep
in JC's suite and been moved to their own rooms. Christina was still
out too. Presumably looking for Justin, although no one had talked
"Glad you could make it Zack. Let me get some
clothes on and we'll head back out."
"No JC you need to rest. Britney and I will
go look for him."
"Hey I'm no more tired than you two."
"Yes you are, we slept on the plane," Zack lied.
"Look this is my fault. I want to help fix
"Alright, I can't waste any energy fighting with
you. I'm just gonna go splash some cold water on my face."
"How is he," JC whispered when Zack shut the door.
"Not good. He was up all night. Didn't
sleep a wink. He's more of a nervous wreck than I am. God JC,
if we can just get those two back together I think everything will be alri..."
She was interrupted by a loud knock on the door,
which immediately opened to reveal Justin Timberlake, flanked by Christina
and a tall dark haired guy.
"Justin! Oh thank god you're back," Britney
exclaimed. She ran to give him a hug and then turned to Christina
hugging her too before she knew what she was doing. "Thank you for
"Oh I found him alright. I don't know if that's
a good thing though," she said warily. "I guess if you're back that
means you brought..."
"Zack," Justin shouted.
"Justin! God I'm so glad you're ok!
You don't know how sorry I am. But just give me...a...chance...and...."
Britney looked back and forth from Justin to Zack.
Why weren't they running into each other's arms? The she saw what
Zack would have picked up on immediately. The tall guy standing next
to Justin. Standing a little too close to be just a friend.
Holding Justin's hand.
"Zack, everybody," Justin said slowly, "this is
Sebastian. My new boyfriend."
I know I know! You hate me! I couldn't
help it, this was just the perfect stopping point. But don't worry
I'll get to work on the next part and it will be out very soon! E-mail
me and let me know what you think. In case y'all didn't notice I
wrote entirely in the third person as opposed to switching back and forth
from first to third the way I have been doing. I think I like this
new format better. It's less confusing. Hope to hear from you