The holiday rush was finally over. JC had gone home to be with his family for the first time in a long while, but he was still not really with them. There were all the usual family events: the whole Chasez clan gathering at his grandparents, seeing cousins that he had not seen for years, and the rest of the traditional Christmas celebrations. They must all be thinking that the fame has finally gone to my head, JC thought to himself. I hardly spoke to anyone. Mom kept asking me what was wrong, but.... He knew that there was no way to tell her, no way to tell any of them. Melissa and Rob had both called, but he had gotten Tyler and Heather to give them some kind of lame excuses. Tyler came to him later, demanding to know what was going on. The look on his younger brother's face almost killed him. He could tell something was up, but JC remained silent, withdrawn.
During all the talk last year, that the world might come to an end at the millennium, Lew had said that it was all just superstition. "Numerically speaking the real millennium is gonna be 2001 not 2000," he had said. He may have been half right. JC could see his world crumbling all around him. By New Year's Day, JC realized that he had reached his limit. He called Lance, asking if he would let him borrow his place in Orlando until he came back from Mississippi. Lance was, at first, reluctant, not believing it would really help JC to completely withdraw. After listening to his friend's voice, though, he knew JC was close to breaking.
JC found himself sitting alone in Lance's living room aimlessly flipping through television channels. The silence was suddenly broken by the ringing of his cell phone. JC trudged over to retrieve the phone he had left sitting on the hall table, "Hello?"
"Josh!" came the familiar voice. "What up, bro? Where the hell you been?"
"Uh ... Hi Rob. How's it goin?" JC said. He looked quickly around the room, almost as if expecting Rob to come around the corner any moment.
"Good ... good ... what about you? Damn ... you guys been on break for a month and I still haven't heard from either one of you! What up with that? Are you okay?"
"Y .. yeah, fine. Just been kinda busy and all. You know how it is." Still feeling a bit unsteady, JC leaned back against the wall. Oh Lord, how am I gonna pull this off? He's gonna see right through me. JC moved the phone away from his mouth to keep his sigh from being heard.
"Yeah, I know. But still ... you've never gone this long without calling me, even just to say 'wassup!' Melissa said you haven't called her either, what up with that?"
The sound of her name caused JC to tense up, his breath catching in his throat. "Yeah, I know," he said distantly, as he slid down the wall, ending in a crouch beside the table. "I'm sorry ... I know I should have, but I just haven't found the time."
"Josh, I know you.... And that ain't like you at all! Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, yeah I'm sure ... but, hey man, I've got another call comin' in. I'm gonna have to call ya back later."
"Sorry man, gotta go!" JC ended the call before Rob could
say another word. He looked at the phone sitting in the palm of his
hand, then turned it off and lowered the antenna by pressing it against
his forehead. Oh God! I know I need to talk to him ... and
Melissa ... but what if she hates me? I know if Rob finds out that
she'll find out, too ... they're too close, and there's no way I can lie
to them, they can read me too well. JC sighed deeply as he pushed
away from the wall to stand next to the table. Giving the phone a
final glance, he threw it onto the table; then made his way back into the
living room and flopped down on the couch. Sitting with his elbows
on his knees and his head in his hands, he rubbed his temples and his eyes.
I can just hide here for a while? No, of course that's not gonna work is
it? JC laughed halfheartedly to himself. I'm losin' it, I'm
already talkin' to myself. He grabbed the remote and returned to aimlessly
flipping channels trying to find some sort of distraction.
Okay ... that was totally fucked up! Rob thought
after hearing the phone click. What the hell was that? Aight
that's it ... time to call in the big gun!
A short time later, as Lance was studying the remains of dinner in his parent's kitchen, his cell phone rang. He told his mom and dad that this might be the important call he had been expecting. They both nodded and he left the room. "Hey, this is Lance," he said, answering it.
"Hey, Lance, it's me."
"Rob! How are ya man? Good to hear your voice."
"You too. I didn't disturb you, did I?"
"Nah, got me out of doin' the dinner dishes actually! So thanks!" Lance laughed as he walked down the hall to the deserted back room.
"Glad to be of service!"
"So what's up, man?" Lance asked, making himself comfortable on the sofa.
"Well ... I just..." Rob seemed to be struggling for the right word, which was extremely rare. "Is Josh okay?"
"Huh?" Lance managed as he quickly tried to figure out how he could possibly hide anything from his former lover.
"Well, I just gave him a call and he basically hung up on me!"
"Yeah, he said he had another call and hung up!" Rob told him. "I tried to call him back, but he turned his cell off or somethin'!"
"Oh man! It's not you Rob, trust me."
"Then what is it?"
"Uh..." Lance saw himself getting into trouble. Rob would see through any untruth he tried to offer and wouldn't let up until he got an answer. "He's just had a lot on his mind ... just been busy, you know."
"Riiiiight.... that's what he said."
"Well ... see ... there ya go then!"
"James Lance Bass."
"Yes, dad?" Lance offered with a smile which quickly faded.
"Lance, you know you can't lie to me ... don't even try it!"
"Don't you 'Rob' me, either! Something's goin on, now spill!"
Lance dropped his head and shook it in defeat. "Rob, it's a long story."
"Well, you're in luck! I like long stories and I've got plenty of time!"
JC had mulled over his conversation, or lack there of, with Rob, throughout the rest of the evening . He had not been able to come to any decisions and all the thinking ended up giving him a raging headache, which sent him straight to bed.
The next morning found him no closer to a plan of action. He spent the day camped out on the couch once more, occasionally making his way to the kitchen for snacks. On one such safari, he was sidetracked by a knock at the door. He jogged down the hall to the front door and opened it. His eyes grew wide as he felt himself choke back a gasp. "Rob?" he said with surprise.
"Sup Josh." Rob said, leaning against the doorjamb.
"Hey, man .... uhm ... sorry, but Lance isn't here. He's still at his folks' place." JC had trouble deciding whether he should open the door the rest of the way and let him in or slam it and run.
"I know." Rob watched the play of emotion over his friend's face, and he knew he was right to come.
"You do?" JC said, surprise written over his face.
"Yeah, I talked to him last night ... after you hung up on me yesterday?"
JC looked away. "Sorry."
"Look, Josh, can I come in?" Rob motioned toward the inside of the house.
"Yeah, sure," JC said, moving aside to let Rob enter. Rob stepped inside and waited while JC closed the door behind them, then walked into the living room. JC followed him, saying, "So, what are you doin' in town?"
"Eh.... the usual, some last minute recording and some publicity stuff for the new album," he said as he sat down on the couch and motioned for JC to do the same. "Josh...."
"Yeah?" JC asked as Rob's pause drew out.
"Josh ... Lance told me."
"He told you..." JC froze as he caught the pained expression on Rob's face. "What..." his voice fell as he looked away. JC closed his eyes tightly, trying to hold back the tears that burned beneath the lids. He wanted to just get up and walk away, but he owed Rob something ... they were best friends after all.
"I.... I'm sorry, Josh. And don't be mad at Lance, cause I made him tell me. Josh ... I don't know what to say. I.... Why didn't you just tell me? I know there's probably nothing that I can do to make it better, but I coulda been here for you," Rob said as tears formed in his eyes.
"I couldn't ... I didn't know how ..." he said, tears rolling down his face. JC was unable to face him, the pain evident in Rob's voice was surely mirrored in his eyes.
Rob sat with his hands gripped tightly in his lap. Though he wanted to reach out and bring JC into a protective hug, he could tell that JC was too close to breaking for that. There were things that still needed to be said. "Is this why you haven't talked to Melissa?"
JC cringed at the mention of her name. "I can't ... I can't face her. She'll hate me."
"Oh God, Josh. Is that what you think?" Rob's voice caught as his tears rained down his face. No wonder he's so torn up. How could he believe she would ever hate him for something someone else did to him? I can't imagine how this must be eating him up inside. He pulled JC around to face him, then into a hug. Rob could feel him trembling as he fought the emotions battling within. "Josh, she could never hate you. I know that for a fact!"
JC opened his mouth as if trying to speak, but no words would come.
"Josh, bro, you've got to see her. At least talk to her. She thinks she's done something wrong, that you don't love her anymore or something."
JC pulled back in his arms, a look of near agony on his face. "I love her so much ... I just couldn't bare to lose her."
"You won't," Rob said, pulling him back into the hug. "You've got to tell her, bro. She'll understand, I promise.'
"I will," JC nodded. "I just need to build myself up for it."
"Okay, but soon, please."
JC nodded. The two men eased apart, wiping their eyes.
"How 'bout I go out and get us some beer? Or something even stronger maybe?" Rob said, giving him a half smile.
"I thought you didn't drink?" JC looked at him quizzically.
"Well, I'll make an exception to the rule, just this once. Whatta ya say?" Rob rose from the couch, straightening his clothes and nodding toward the door.
"Sure, why not?" JC said. That'll give me time
to get myself together before he comes back. I doubt he's through,
but at least it didn't go as bad as I thought it might.
A short time later, the doorbell rang. "Did I lock the door on ya, Rob?" JC said, opening the door. His heart leapt then fell when he saw the person standing outside. "Melissa," he choked out.
"Josh!" she said, obviously surprised to see him.
He stood dumbfounded for a moment. "Melissa? Where did you...."
"Well, Rob said that Lance wanted him to pick up some papers, and he asked me to come get them. Then he drove off as I rang the bell ... I'm thinkin' he set us up."
"I guess you're right, cause Lance is in Mississippi," he told her.
The expression on his face scared her. He seemed nervous, upset, something, but what it was eluded her.
"C .. come in," JC told her as he opened the door wider. 'You've got to tell her, man. She'll understand, I promise,' Rob's words echoed in JC's head as he led her to the living room. He asked her to have a seat on the couch.
"So, where've you been, Josh?" she asked him, interrupting his internal debate. "You haven't called me in almost a month. Are .. are you okay?" she asked, touching his knee.
JC flinched as she touched him. Her expression told him that it hurt her when he pulled away, and that killed him inside. "I'm sorry," he told her. "I've just had a lot of stuff going on lately."
She looked at him with a frown. "Josh...."
I can't lie to her ... I don't know if I can face her ... but I can't lie to her either, he thought. "I'm sorry," he told her quickly, interrupting her. Just do it ... I can't stand the way she looks. She looks like she's hurting so bad, and I'm doing it to her. He was breathing heavily now, and he could feel the stinging tears that were threatening to rain from his eyes. "Melissa," he could barely choke out her name.
My God! What has him this scared to even talk to me? she thought. "Josh, what's wrong, baby?" she asked him, her fear and concern permeating every word.
"Last month ... when we were in LA," he started, struggling for every word, "we went to a club."
He wasn't looking at her, he couldn't. Is it that bad that he can't even face me?
"When we got back, w .. we split up ... I w .. went back to my room," he said, sounding like he could hyperventilate at any moment. "Th .. there was someone in my room. Sh .. sh .. she s .. surprised me," JC swallowed hard, he felt as though he were about to throw up. He was crying now, his tears flooding down his cheeks. "Sh .. she..." he was trying to get the word out, but it wouldn't come, "she ... r .. ra...."
It was so low she could barely hear it. What? What did he just say? A million thoughts ran through her mind. He couldn't have said that. It wasn't true ... it couldn't be. She wanted to scream, to run, instead she sat frozen ... staring into space, not that she could see anything.
JC glanced up at her warily, but wasn't able to read
the expression on her face. Was it horror, hatred, pain ... perhaps all
of them. He watched in abject terror as Melissa stood up and left the room.
When he heard the front door snick shut he curled himself into a ball on
the couch and cried even harder. What do I do now? How do I go on? I
can't blame her though, she's better off without me. She's better
After a while, JC managed to pull himself together enough to raise himself from the couch. He walked through the house and out onto the deck off the back. He stood for a moment, leaning against the rail watching the sun as it disappeared below the horizon. JC stood fixed, staring at the spot where the sun had disappeared. He jumped in panic as two arms came round his waist. He turned his head to find Melissa's tear stained face staring back at him.
"I .. I thought you left?" he choked out.
Melissa hugged him tightly, "Never!"
He placed his arms over hers and leaned back into her as his tears started to fall again.
"I'm sorry, Josh," she said through her own tears. "I shouldn't have run out like that. I needed a minute though."
"I ... thought I lost you."
"It's gonna take a hell of a lot more than that bitch to get rid of me!" she said, leaning her head against his shoulder and squeezing him tightly. "Josh, I love you. I don't know what I'd do without you. It kills me that you're hurting so bad. If I could, I'd take all the pain away."
"Oh, God! I was so scared of losing you. I don't know what I would do without you, either."
Melissa pulled herself up to place her head on his shoulder as she began to sing softly into his ear.
Cuando sientas tristeza ... Que no puedas calmar ... Cuando hayo un vacio ... Que no puedas llenar ... Te abrazarè †
Te harè olvidar, lo que te hizo sufrir ... No vas a caer ... Mientras que estes junto a mi †
Si siente un frio tu corazon ... Serè tu abrigo, tu ilusiòn ... Hasta ya no respirar ... Yo te voy a amar ... Yo te voy a amar †
Yo siempre te he amado ... Y amor, yo estarè ... Por siempre a tu lado ... Nunca me alejarè ... Prometo mi amor ... Te juro ante Dios ... Nunca te voy a faltar ... Tu corazòn ... No volverà a llorar †
He nodded and followed her inside.
They made their way to the living room and sat down on the couch again. JC put his head on her shoulder. "I love you ... you know that, don't you?"
"You've mentioned it once or twice," she smiled as she wrapped her arm around him, pulling him close. "You know what would be nice?"
"A fire to cuddle by."
JC raised his head and looked into her eyes, smiling. He reached for the remote on the coffee table.
JC shook his head, still smiling. He flicked the remote toward the hearth and it blazed up.
Melissa smiled at him, "You little devil you!"
JC curled his arm, wiggling his biceps for her, playfully suggesting his herculean feat.
"C'mere you," she said, pulling him down to her. He snuggled
into her and eventually drifted off in her arms.
About half an hour later, Melissa was also starting to dose as she and JC snuggled before the fire. A noise at the front door startled her, causing her body to jerk. She quickly turned toward the door, inadvertently waking JC. He raised his head and looked around in confusion, before he managed to focus on the door leading to the hall. "Hey Scoop!" he said, seeing Lance round the corner. "What are you doing back so soon? I thought you weren't coming back till later on this week?"
Lance's eyes were locked on Melissa for a moment, then turned to focus on JC. "Um ... yeah, I thought I'd come home early to take care of a few things. Hi Melissa, you two decide to have a party without me?" Lance said, throwing them a half smile.
"Hi Lance, glad to see ya!" Melissa said, with more cheer than Lance expected.
"Yeah, Scoop. We'd have invited you, but you were outta town and all," JC said, smiling at him.
"Uhm..." Lance stood for a moment trying to compose his next thought.
"She knows, Lance," JC said.
Lance turned to Melissa and she gave him a sad smile as she hugged JC tighter to her. The two heard an audible "whew" as Lance closed his eyes and exhaled. "Rob?"
"Did ya really have to ask?" Melissa said.
Lance shook his head and smiled. "I left first thing this morning. I was afraid he'd pull something like this."
"Come to pick up the pieces?" JC asked him.
Lance shrugged and said, "I was hoping I wouldn't have to. So, are you two alright?"
"Been better," Melissa half smiled, "but I'm glad he was able to tell me."
JC leaned his head against hers.
"I'm so sorry, Josh," Lance said. "It was all my fault ... he just has a way of getting stuff out of me."
"No," said JC, "it was all Rob's fault. God bless his ass."
"He is an ass!" Melissa said, laughing. "You know he just dumped me here!"
There was a knock on the front door and Lance went to see who it was. "Well, if it isn't the ass himself!" they heard Lance say. A few seconds later, he came back into the room with Rob in tow.
"Ass!" Melissa told him, trying to keep from smiling. "I am so never gonna forgive you for this!" Rob looked genuinely scared for a moment. "First, you lie to me saying Lance was here and wanted you to pick something up. Then, you just drop me off and leave me standing at the door all by myself! You bastard!" she said, biting her lip to stifle her laughter.
"Yeah!" JC agreed. "Is that anyway to treat my girlfriend?"
"I ... you ... uh..." he managed to stutter out.
"Yeah, and the way you weaseled me into telling you everything?" Lance said, with a pout. "Pushing all the right buttons just to get what you wanted? I thought we were friends?"
Rob looked back and forth between the three of them. He finally caught them as they were starting to crack. "Damn! Scared the shit outta me! Almost had me there for a sec!"
They all burst out laughing.
"Are you two okay?"
They nodded and Melissa kissed JC's cheek as if to prove the point.
"You scared the shit outta me, too!" Lance said, smacking Rob in the back of the head. "That was dumb man! It's all good though, I guess, since it all worked out."
Rob frowned as he rubbed his head. "Well, I had to do something."
"It was dumb," JC said as he got up and walked over to him, "but thanks, bro." JC smiled and hugged him.
"Well, I knew you were too much of a wuss to do it yourself," Rob said, smiling and returning the hug.
"And, you bastard ... you can't even buy beer!"
They all laughed, then Melissa came over and hugged him as well, kissing him on the cheek. "If you ever leave me like that again ... I'll kick your ass!"
They all laughed. "Well, I just drove around the block and then parked across the street to make sure everything went okay," Rob told her.
She looked at him open mouthed. "You are an ass!"
"I almost came and got you when I saw you come back out on the step," he said with a frown. "I was getting out of the car as I saw you walk back in. I'm glad it worked out ... well I knew it would, but you're both a little stubborn."
"Quit while you're behind, Rob," Lance told him as he grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the hall. "I think we'll just leave you two to what you were doing before we came in."
"Oh?" Rob said. "What were they doing before we came in?"
"Just come with me!" Lance said, dragging him out.
"We don't do that anymore!"
Lance shoved Rob out the doorway and down the hall as he shook his head.
"Those two are something else," JC said, shaking his head.
"Yeah, I know," Melissa said, smiling. "Come on, Josh, why don't we head to bed? You were already sleeping before Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumb Ass interrupted us!"
JC looked at her for a moment, then looked away, "Melissa, I don't think I'm ready...."
She silenced him with her finger over his mouth. "I'm not expecting anything, Josh. I know you're not ready for anything like that. We're just gonna sleep. If you're not ready for company, though, I understand. I'll just tuck you in," she said with a loving smile.
"I'm fine," he assured her, reinforcing it with a kiss. "I've been so worried about losing you. It'll be nice to have you here with me," he told her, leading her to the bed.
The two snuggled in under the blankets and JC placed his arms around her, pulling her close to his chest. "I love you," he whispered into her ear.
"I love you, too, Josh," she said, stroking his arm.
The two soon fell fast asleep.
Some time during the night, Melissa awoke, not sure why at first. She realized that JC's arms were no longer around her, then noticed his tossing. Melissa turned on the lamp on the table beside them. JC seemed to be having a nightmare. "Josh," she said, trying to rouse him. "Josh, honey, it's okay ... it just a dream, baby," she said, touching his chest.
JC woke with a gasp. He slowly sat up, still trembling from the disturbing dream. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's okay," she told him, rubbing his back. "It's ok ... shhhh.... Come on, lemme help you get this off," she said, tugging at his shirt. "It's soaked."
He grabbed her hands, clenching them in his fists. "Melissa ... don't," he said, his breathing ragged.
"What's wrong, baby? I don't understand," she said, trying to pull her hands from his.
He pushed her hands away from him, releasing them. Turning from her, he told her, "I'm not sure I want you to."
"Josh, you know I love you," she said. "Whatever's wrong ... it'll be okay."
JC sighed deeply, then turned his head toward her again. He stared into her eyes, looking for any sign of rejection, but finding nothing save love. He shut his eyes tightly, fighting with his fears, then simply nodded.
Slowly, Melissa pulled his shirt up, then used it to wipe the perspiration from his face. Tossing it onto the nearby chair, she turned back to him. Melissa froze as she noticed his chest. All she wanted to do was take him in her arms and cry at the site that greeted her. Down his pecs were eight claw marks, obviously from fingernails. They were fading now, but still painfully visible. She looked up at his face, but he turned away from her. So, that's why, she thought. "Are you okay now, Josh? Do you think you can get back to sleep?" she asked, rubbing the side of his face while gently pulling him round to face her.
He nodded, and she leaned in, wrapping her arms around him and kissing him lightly. He melted against her. Holding him close, she guided him to his pillow, then molded her body to his back. His body relaxed and his breathing slowed as sleep overtook him. Tentatively, she brushed her fingers through the light hair of his chest, tracing the marks. Fucking bitch! If I could get my hands on her right now, I'd kill her where she stands! But, right now, Josh comes first. "I love you, Josh," she whispered against his shoulder, then followed him into a peaceful slumber.