One Dark Night

by Rob

Standard Disclaimer: This story is a complete work of fiction. The author does not know the members of *Nsync or any other celebrities who may just happen to appear in the following fictitious account, and certainly does not have the slightest clue as to their sexual orientation. Quite frankly, the author does not care, although one does always love to speculate! Again, the scenes that follow are taken solely from the author's overactive imagination, are most definitely not true, and do not make any implications about the sexuality of the persons named. On another note, if reading such stories that depict relationships between men is illegal in your area, you are under the age of 18, or viewing such stories is against any beliefs you may have, stop reading and go do something else. Last, but certainly not least, if you are looking for a story with tons of steamy sex scenes, stop reading. You won't find a lot of that here either. Now with that said, enjoy the show!!

Side Note : This chapter contains a song in French that I wrote a number of years ago. For those who want to know, there is a translation of it at the end of the chapter.

Last time...

"Jerrica! He's...crying, but I don't know if it's a good thing or not," Joey said as he wiped the tears from my eyes. "Will, I know you're upset. I know you're probably scared and confused. I know you think the world is against you, but it's not! Just snap out of it!" He shook me again, but it was to no avail.

Joey's words were helping stave off the seemingly inevitable. Every time his words would reach me, it pulled me back a little toward the real world.
Joey wants me back. He wants me.

He's a fool. He's blinded by love. He can't see the truth. You see the truth. Do it now, the voice said. Say good-bye and do it now!

I can't. I'm scared.

You're being selfish. If you really loved him, you'd help him help himself. Now do it and get it over with.

My self-destructive side, after years of battling, had finally won. Heaving a sigh in my head, as well as one audibly, I said and thought, "Good-bye Joey. I love you." Then, in a methodical fashion, I pushed my arms against the wood and forced my body off the dock toward the cold water below.

Chapter Sixteen: Puttin' It All Together

"Oh no you don't!" Joey yelled as he grabbed my arms, slowly hoisting my body back onto the dock with every ounce of strength he could muster. A slight feeling of déjà vu hit him as he recalled the scene with me down at the river back at my house. Different circumstances there, but it led Joey to wonder what my sudden fascination with water was all about. "Calm down, Will! Calm down!" I was struggling hard against him, still determined to do what needed to be done.

"Good Lord! What is he trying to do, kill himself? That lake must be forty degrees!" Jerrica said, running over to help Joey.

"That is exactly what he's trying to do," said a voice behind them. Doing their best to restrain me, they looked over their shoulders and saw Anne-Marie walking quickly down the dock. "I could sense his depression all the way from the car, it's that strong. What happened here?"

"Oh thank God you're here!" Jerrica cried. "I've been trying to call you for a long time now. Where were you?"

"I was at the hospital, until I felt I was needed here," my mother said. "I'm sorry about the phone. I had it turned off in the hospital."

"Wow," Joey said. "You could sense his feelings all the way from Montreal?"

Mom laughed. "No. That's not empathy, honey. That's parental instinct. Same idea, yet different. One day when you're a parent, you'll understand." Glancing at me still struggling, she sighed and said, "Come on. Let's get him away from the water."

"Why didn't we think of that earlier?" Jerrica asked Joey as they carefully hauled me back to the safety of the shore.

I wasn't squirming as much, but Joey refused to lessen the iron grip he had on my body until I was back to a clear state of mind. "Now what do we do?" Joey asked. Looking over at my mother, he said, "Ms. Williamson, isn't there anything you can do to help him?"

My mother shook her head sadly. "First of all, Joey, either call me Anne-Marie or Mom. Ms. Williamson is la chienne back at the hospital."

Jerrica gasped when she heard my mother call Grandmère a bitch. "Anne-Marie, what are you talking about? Are you saying she didn't have a heart attack?"

Again Mom shook her had. "Gas. Apparently she decided that, considering the fight we'd just had, she would try to teach us a lesson by hitting her emergency call button and then claim she was having a heart attack. She managed to have some gas pain at the same time, so it didn't look completely fake."

"But Josh said he heard one of the doctors say her heart stopped," Jerrica said.

"He was asking if it had, not saying that it did," Mom said.

"Uh, people, can we get back to something a little more important, like him?" Joey asked, motioning his head in my direction.

"Sorry," Mom said. "Anyway, Joey, to answer your question, there's not much I can do. He's fighting a battle with himself, and until he wins, as weird as that sounds, I don't think he can snap out of it."

"So, in other words, he needs to find a way—a reason—to overcome his self-destructive side?" Joey asked.

"I think you said it better than I ever could," Mom said.

"I've never seen him do this," Jerrica said in surprise. "Has this ever happened before, aside from the incident Joey was talking about earlier?"

"When did that happen?" Mom asked, turning to face Joey.

"When we first met, Sunday evening before last," Joey said. He began to explain the story of how we all met, skipping over quite a few details that were either unimportant or better to be ignored—like when Chris hit me—and told her about the internal struggle I went through to tell them I was gay. "I had never seen anything like it in my life. All of a sudden, he was, like, gone. The shell was there, but it was like the soul had momentarily disappeared."

"He was afraid to tell you because of what you might think of him?" Mom asked.

"That, and he wouldn't feel right not telling us at all, so it created kind of an endless loop. I don't know what snapped him out of it the last time," Joey said.

"I remember something similar happening when he was four, but I don't remember why. That time, I started singing to him and he came around."

"Think it'll work again?" Jerrica asked.

Mom shrugged. "I don't know. I'm hardly an expert on these things, but anything's worth a try. I would suggest something that is meaningful to him and you both. That would probably be more effective, but I'm just guessing."

Meanwhile, inside my head, the war raged on. I had no real clue what was going on right next to me; all I knew was that I wasn't dead yet, at least I didn't think so.

What's going on? Am I dead? I wondered.

No, you're not dead. What are you waiting for? the voice in my head yelled.

I'm trying, but I don't seem to be getting anywhere.

Someone must be stopping you. Probably Joey.

Joey, I thought, a warm, bubbly feeling starting to rise within me. He won't let me go. He would never let me go without a fight.

He's a fool and you know it, said the voice again, but it seemed to be a little less certain this time.

He is not a fool! I roared. He's funny, intelligent, caring, loyal, and incredibly cute...

The same could be said for a dog, you know, the voice said with malice.

That irritated me. Don't you dare go there!

"Any suggestions?" Joey said as he watched a frown come to my face. Whatever was going on inside my head at the moment had obviously upset me.

No one said anything for a moment until Jerrica began to sing.*

Le soleil se lève et tu y es.
J'aime cette idée que tu m'es près,
Mais il y a les temps que tu n'y es pas.
Y seras-tu pour moi?

Recognizing the song, having heard Jerrica and I sing it over and over again for weeks in practice for a foreign language musical competition back in high school, my mother joined in.

Je sais pas pourquoi tu es dans ma vie,
Mais ça me fait très heureuse, ah oui.
Je te dirai ne me quitte pas,
Si tu crois en moi.

Je ne te quitterai jamais,
Dans le futur ou le passé.
Je serai là tous les jours,
Pour toujours et toutes les heures.
J'espère que nous serous, nous pourrions,
Être des amis.
Je serai là pour toi.
Oh, je serai là pour toi.

Joey had no idea what on earth the lyrics meant, but he noticed it seemed to be having some effect. I was no longer struggling against him. In fact, I seemed to be rather calm.

The music was indeed having an effect. It took some time, but the words started to reach my subconscious where the war was raging.

You're right, the voice continued. Joey's not the dog. You're the bitch, right? It may seem all nice and simple now, but Joey's famous. Who do you think is going to wear the pants in this relationship? If you're thinking it's you, guess again.

Why, you... What's that? I wondered. I know that song, and I know that voice. That's Jerrica!

Hah! Another person you've done no favors for. My self-destructive side was starting to grasp for anything to maintain control, but it was slipping quickly.

Jerrica and I took our song and rewrote the lyrics. I can't believe she still remembers them. I had unknowingly begun to hum the melody along with their words, which Joey noticed immediately.

"I think it's working! He's humming the melody!" Joey said, which inspired them to continue.

Je sais les temps quand tu es triste,
Et je sais les temps que tu te fiches.
Je te dirai que je comprends,
Et maintenant,
Il pourrait que le monde (ne t'aime pas)
Alors ne le crois pas

Je ne te quitterai jamais,
Dans le futur ou le passé.
Je serai là tous les jours,
Pour toujours et toutes les heures.
J'espère que nous serons, nous pourrions,
Être des amis.
Je serai là pour toi.

Oh, je ne te quitterai jamais,
Dans le futur ou le passé.
Je serai là tous les jours,
Pour toujours et toutes les heures.
J'espère que nous serons, nous pourrions,
Être des amis.
Je serai là pour toi.

The words were becoming loud and clear in my head. I was slowly returning to the land of the conscious. I was now aware that I was being held—well, restrained—by someone, and that not only was Jerrica singing, but so was my mother.

Isn't that sweet. They're singing, said the voice.

They want me. They need me. Forget this. I don't care what you say. Nothing is worth killing myself over, and I'll be damned if I'm going to give Joey up this easily.

You're making a mistake! yelled my self-destructive side in a last-ditch effort.

No, the only mistake I made was getting to this point in the first place. If Grandmère dies, then it was meant to be. If Joey or Justin quit *Nsync because of me, that would be tragic, but that's their decision. I'm over this pity party. Get lost! It was as if I had slammed a door in my head, and in doing so, the world around me started coming into focus.

Joey, who was still holding me tightly in his arms, at least recognized the melody, considering that the song had a lot of airplay in its original version: I Will Be Your Friend, by Amy Grant. He had also managed to memorize the repeating line, "Je serai là pour toi," and mumbled it in my ear each time it was sung. He had no idea what it meant, but he was certain it was something good.

All of a sudden, he was surprised to discover that I was no longer humming the lyrics, but starting to sing.

J'y serai tous les temps pour toutes les raisons, ah.
Et je veux que, et je veux que tu saches.

Je ne te quitterai jamais,
Dans le futur ou le passé.
Je serai la tous les jours,
Pour toujours et toutes les heures.
J'espère que nous serons, nous pourrions,
Être des amis.
Je serai là pour toi.

I opened my eyes fully and the whole world instantly came into focus. A warm feeling washed over me—one of love, hope, and concern. I slowly turned, as well as I could with the way Joey was holding me, and looked into his eyes as I continued to sing.

Oh, je ne te quitterai jamais,
Dans le futur ou le passé.
Je serai là tous les jours,
Pour toujours et toutes les heures.
J'espère que nous serons, nous pourrions,
Être des amis.
Je serai là pour toi.
Je serai là pour toi.

Looking deep into Joey's eyes, I sang the last line, but in English. "I will be there for you." Joey, who was already a bit misty-eyed, started to tear up even more and pulled me back into a tight hug. After a minute or so, I squeaked out, "Joey? Can't breathe!"

"Oh!" Joey exclaimed as he loosened his grip on me. He then stared into my eyes and, noticing the usual sparkle that was typically present, he allowed himself to let go of me completely.

"What happened?" I asked, noting the headache that seemed to be rapidly forming.

"You went all space cadet on us, man," Jerrica said, her eyes also a bit teary, "and then you tried to throw yourself in the lake."

"I...I did what?" I asked. The battle I had fought inside my head was becoming blurred very quickly, and it was hard to remember what had happened. I knew what caused it, and I knew the war had been ugly, but I no longer seemed to be able to remember what happened to save my life.

"All of a sudden, you tried to push yourself off the dock," Jerrica said. "If Joey hadn't been right next to you, you'd have gone into the water."

"Not exactly swimming temperature, is it?" I joked.

"Are you all right?" Joey asked, the concern and worry evident in his eyes.

"I think so," I said, leaning against him. "It was weird. I was sitting on the dock, mulling everything over, and I remember kind of, well, arguing with the voice in my head about some things, and after that, I-I don't really remember now."

"What caused it?" Mom asked.

"Well, there was that whole mess with Grandmère," I began, and the mention of her caused a nasty look to appear on everyone's face, "and then there was the fight with Justin, and..."

"That boy!" Jerrica screeched. "So help me God when I get my hands on him..."

"Uh-uh," Joey said fiercely. "Get in line behind me. If anyone gets to pound him first, it's going to be me."

"No one is going to do anything until I get some answers," Mom said. "Now, what happened with Justin?"

Jerrica, Joey, and I nervously glanced between one another and then seemed to find something incredibly interesting on the ground to stare at. Finally, knowing that my mother wouldn't tolerate the silence forever, I said, "I kind of let slip a detail about myself that I shouldn't have and it caused a bit of a mess."

"You told them about yourself, did you?" Mom asked in a slightly amused voice.

"Well, I had to tell Joey, considering what you did to him at the hospital," I replied, glaring at my mother.

"What did I do?" Mom asked innocently, but the blush that was creeping onto her face told the real story. Guilty as charged.

"I had to explain to Joey how you figured us out," I began, "and unless I'm mistaken, someone told their current significant other as well, considering when I slipped he didn't seem at all surprised by it."

"Sorry," Jerrica said. "For some reason, I didn't think it would ever become a big deal. Chris didn't seem to think anything of it, except that to him it explained a lot of unexplainable things."

"I see," Mom said. "So you told them and I'm guessing Justin didn't take the news well?"

"He kind of flipped out on Rob," Jerrica said, "and called him a liar."

"What did you lie about?" Mom asked.

"I didn't. Well, not exactly. He thinks I lied to them because I didn't tell them, but what was I supposed to do?" I asked. "I had just met them, for crying out loud. If I had started getting into conversations about this stuff, they all would have freaked!"

"I wouldn't have," Joey said, putting his arm around me.

Heaving a heavy sigh, I looked over at Joey and said, "Thanks."

Joey returned the smile with one of his own and said, "Any time," as he planted a small kiss on my cheek.

"Ahem," Jerrica said, clearing her throat to grab our attention. "If we are all done being sappy and mushy now, can we get back to the matter at hand here, like how I'm going to knock Justin into next week?"

"Pardon me for asking," Mom said, "but why are the rest here? Jerrica, I understand. Joey, I understand. Chris, I even understand, since I think one of you mentioned that he is now your boyfriend?"

Jerrica turned a little red. "Um, yeah. It was just one of things that kind of, well, happened."

"Hopefully he's better to you than Alex ever was," Mom said.

Jerrica was visibly starting to turn angry at the mention of Alex's name, but before she could blow, Mom put a hand on her shoulder and said, "Sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. Just calm down. Remember, he's not here, but no one has answered my question about the rest."

No one was sure what to say, until I abruptly sat down on the ground and pulled my knees into my chest. "He came for me," I said quietly.

Joey knelt down next to me and replaced his arm back around my shoulders. "That is not your fault, Will," he began. "Justin made that decision on his own."

I started to say something, when all of a sudden images started to flash through my head. It was like a memory overload, and visions of the war that had raged on in my head started flooding back to me. I started to tear up again, which seemed to be par for the course that day, and I buried my head into my knees. "Yes, it is Joe! Yes, it is!"

"No, it's not," Joey said. "You didn't ask him to come up here. He came on his own."

"You don't understand!" I cried. "It is my fault. That's what made everything so bad. That's what prompted me to try to throw myself off the dock, if what you're telling me about that is true. I...I can almost see the war going on in my head clearly now, and I remember..."

"Remember what?" Joey asked.

"I remember the voice in my head telling me how it was obvious that I had wanted to kiss Justin at Mama Celia's that day. Logically, I thought that it would cause him to realize that he and I were never meant to be, and I certainly got nothing out of it, but my subconscious seems to think that there was some overwhelming desire on my part to do it—maybe just to see what it was like to kiss another guy besides you."

"Will, we've already talked about this," Joey said lightly, "and we talked about why you did it. You know that I didn't, and still don't, think any less of you because of it."

"At the end of that conversation with him, he said that he thought there was something, but that he understood that nothing could happen between us and that he would get over me. I took him at his word!" I yelled. "Obviously, all I did was give him some sort of false hope that things would change." Looking at Joey, I said, "Remember way back when I told you that having me around was only going to cause problems? Look at you now! I don't have to be empathic to sense the anger inside you, although it's kind of hard to miss that even amidst the other emotions going on inside you, but I can see it in your eyes as well. You've already said that you and Jerrica both are ready to go pound the living daylights out of him! I told you I was going to be trouble. That's why I had to try to leave you."

I could feel myself starting to become depressed again, and I was still a bit of a wreck. I didn't know yet about Grandmère's little stunt, as I was still stuck in my subconscious at the time, and the swirling mess inside my head was starting to rear its ugly head again. Joey, thank the heavens for Joey, instantly sensed the direction I was heading in and hurried to pull me back. "Will, don't go there! Am I angry with Justin? Yes. Do I feel like beating him up? Yes, but it's only because of what he's done to you. I know, for some reason, you feel like this is your fault, but you can't lay the blame completely on yourself. He has his own share of the blame to deal with, and I think the bulk of the issue lies with him, not you. You might not realize this, but he's been after you since practically day one. He and I even had a discussion about this once before, back in Baltimore, and he still took it upon himself to do this anyway. Look, *Nsync is not going to split up. I'm not going to kill him. I'm not particularly happy with him at the moment, but that will pass."

I could hear the sincerity in his words, and I could feel it in him too. Sniffling, I said, "I can't believe that I ever considered taking myself away from you. I love you Joey."

"I love you too, Will," Joey said, embracing me. After a silent moment, the two of us pulled apart and Joey grabbed my hand. "I want you to promise me that you will never consider killing yourself again." When I didn't respond immediately, he squeezed my hand hard and said adamantly in a loud voice, "Promise me!"

"Joey, you're hurting my hand," I said.


"I promise," I relented at last. I did mean it, and it was a promise I intended to keep, but at the moment, I would have said just about anything to get Joey to let go of my hand.

"Do you mean that?" Joey asked.

"No, Joey. As soon as you let go of my hand, I'm going to run down to the highway and play in traffic. Of course I mean it!" I snapped. I would have to be forgiven a little, but I was starting to feel serious pain.

Joey seemed a little taken aback, and it was only when he heard Jerrica cackling from the distant point where she and my mother had retreated to in order to give Joey and me a little privacy that he noticed what he was doing to my hand and let go. "Oh, I'm sorry Will!"

Shaking my hand, I said, "It's okay Joey, and I'm sorry I snapped at you. It's a reflex from hanging around Jerrica too much."

"Don't worry about it," Joey said as he once again took my hand in his, much more gently this time. "The thought of living without you in my life is almost more than I can even imagine." It was then that the mix of powerful emotions within Joey was finally too much for him to take, and that was when the floodgates opened. The realization that I had tried to kill myself in order to protect his friendship with Justin, and potentially their career, was more than he could handle. He too began to cry, the first time I could recall ever seeing him really and truly do so, and it was my turn to console him—a position I was more accustomed to being in.

He let go of my hand and turned away from me, but I wasn't about to let him be sad alone any more than he would have let me. "It's okay, Joey," I murmured. "It's okay. It won't happen again. I promise." I took his hand in mine and patted it lightly. "You want to be stuck with me? You got it. Just remember this the next time you ever get mad at me."

Through his tears, Joey had to laugh. I had this tendency to know just what to say to make him feel better. Now that the somber mood had lifted, the two of us sat next to each other and stared quietly at the unforgiving lake in front of us. For today, anyway, it was going to be victimless.

About fifty feet away, Jerrica and Mom watched the two of us with hopeful hearts. Finally, Jerrica broke the silence by saying, "Do you think they're going to be okay?"

Mom glanced over at Jerrica and smiled. "I think they're going to be just fine."

Inside the house, a lone figure watched the goings-on down by the lake. On such a cold, clear night, it was easy to hear much of what was said, and what had been said disturbed him. He hadn't realized what effect the argument with Justin, which he presumed to be the catalyst of the episode, had on me, nor did he know about some of the other things that had been said. So that's what this is all about! Josh thought to himself. Will had already tried to put a halt to this once, as had Joey, and he still persisted? Josh, who was trying to do good by his best friend was slowly having trouble maintaining his composure. He was a firm believer in love, and that love can make one do silly things, but Justin had already been rejected once by me, had been told to leave it alone by Joey, and Josh was having trouble understanding why Justin didn't get it.

Justin had gone into the bathroom to take a shower, and when he came back into the room, he quickly noticed that his friend, who had been in a fairly decent mood when he left, now seemed to have a dark cloud full of lightning bolts over his head. Justin approached with caution, and then tried hard to ignore the daggers that seem to be coming from Josh's eyes. Oh, if only looks could kill.

At last, Justin could no longer take the strained silence. "What? What is it?"

Josh's eyes narrowed, further annoying Justin. "What do you think?"

"Hell if I know. I'm not a mind-reader like Will is," Justin said hotly.

"He's not a mind-reader. He's empathic, and there's a difference," Josh shot back. "Justin, I can't believe you! He told you no!"

"Huh?" Justin said, trying to understand what Josh was talking about.

"Will! He told you no, but that wasn't good enough, was it?"

Oh no! Justin thought. He knows about what happened between Will and me at Mama Celia's! How did he find out? Trying to play it off, Justin said, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Yes, you do," Josh said, moving closer. "Your eyes are shifting. They always shift when you're lying. For God's sake, man. He's dating one of your best friends!"

"Josh," Justin said weakly, "can we not have this conversation right now?"

"Justin, do me a favor. Go tell Jerrica to come up here and room with me, because right now I'm so angry with you that I'm liable to do something I'll regret later."

"Fine," Justin said angrily, grabbing his clothes and suitcase. "I'd be happy to!" he yelled as he slammed the door behind him.

Moments later, Lance and Chris stuck their heads inside the door. "Everything okay, Jayce?" Chris asked.

Josh was still a bit flustered and was having trouble formulating a complete thought. "I...he...Will...oooh!" Josh yelled, kicking his bag with his bad foot. "Ow! Ow! Ow! Not smart!" Josh hissed as he sat down on the bed in pain.

"What happened?" Lance asked quietly.

"You don't want to know," Josh said morosely, shaking his head.

"Yes we do," Lance said. "We can't help if we don't know what's going on."

"All right," Josh said, "I'll tell you, but you're not going to like it."

Justin was downstairs making up the couch when all of a sudden a loud yell made him cringe. "JUSTIN!!!!!!!!" He knew the sound of Chris' angry voice anywhere, and if he wasn't mistaken, it sounded like Lance was yelling too.

Well, I guess everyone knows now, Justin thought sadly. I'd do everyone a favor and leave, but I'm not sure I know how to get back to the airport without getting lost. Well, I guess I'll just have to pretend to be asleep. Maybe I'll get lucky and they'll leave me alone. Justin turned out the light in the living room and crawled under the blanket. Soon, he fell fast asleep to a myriad of troubled dreams.

With everything that had happened, by the time Kate arrived back at the house it was too late to have a discussion with her, Mom, and Joey. Quite honestly, I was too tired to deal with that anyway. After a brief argument between Jerrica and Joey on whether or not I should be checked into the hospital myself—a prospect I would have fought with a vengeance if necessary—we decided to turn in for the night, since we all had early flights in the morning. Joey, who I originally assumed would go back to Orlando, informed me that he was coming back to Baltimore with me.

"What's the point in going to Orlando when I'm going to have to come right back up here on Friday for the concert in Richmond on Sunday?" Joey pointed out. "At this point, Johnny can go jump in a..." Joey trailed off a moment, realizing he almost said, 'Go jump in a lake.' Catching my eye, Joey blushed a little and said, "Anyway, I don't care what Johnny thinks. Besides, I don't want to hear him rant and rave about how I missed his ever-so important meeting today that he didn't even bother to tell me about."

An odd thought suddenly struck me. I abruptly turned around and said, "Joey? Don't you find it a little strange that Johnny called this meeting for today—a meeting in which not one of you showed for—and yet no one has heard a word out of him?"

"You're right," Joey said. "I wonder what he's up to?"

"I don't know," I replied, "but all of a sudden it makes me a little nervous. You know it's not like him to just sit back quietly."

"True enough," Joey said, "but I guess we're just going to have to wait and see. Do you think he knows where we are?"

"Considering the number of media at the hospital, yeah, I bet he knows where you are," I said with a sigh. "I wonder how they found out anyway?"

"Don't bother racking your brain for an answer," Joey said, "because no matter what we do, the media always knows."

The two of us fell silent while Joey got himself ready to go to bed. I packed up everything that had been lying out of the suitcase so we would be ready to leave as quickly as possible in the morning. Turning to Joey, I said, "I'll be back in a bit. I have a couple things to do downstairs, and then I'll be right back up."

"Are you going to be okay?" Joey asked in a concerned tone.

"Joey, I'll be fine. I'm just going downstairs! The worst that can happen is that I'll trip and break my leg," I said flippantly.

"Not funny," Joey said, glaring at me.

"Sorry," I said. "Just trying to lighten the mood a little."

Joey walked across the room and gave me a hug. "Look, you'll have to pardon me for being a bit overprotective at the moment, but if the roles were reversed, I think you'd find yourself doing the same thing."

With a grin, I looked up at Joey and said, "Joey, if the roles were reversed, you would only then begin to understand the meaning of the word 'overbearing.' Chances are, by the end of the tour, all of you are going to hate me."

"I could never hate you," Joey said.

"You've only been around me for a week and a half. Let's add a couple of months to that and see what happens," I said with a laugh and a mischievous twinkle in my eye.

My laughter was music to Joey's ears; it was something he hadn't heard out of me all day, and it was a sound he missed. It was then that he felt like I was truly back to normal, but this second flight of fancy of mine off into an unknown world kind of spooked Joey. Ever since they had arrived on my doorstep, I had been there for them at the times when they needed someone the most, and while I'd had my rough moments from time to time, Joey had regarded me as a pillar of strength to draw from. He had often called me perfect, a title I by no means was capable of achieving, and it was after tonight's events where Joey realized fully that, like himself, I had my own weaknesses to deal with. After all, I was only human.

"All right," Joey said, releasing me from his hold, "but don't take too long." He gave me a kiss on the cheek and went back to the other side of the room.

As I walked out the door, I stood there silently watching him. After everything I had put him through that night, he still loved me as much as ever. Casting my eyes toward the ceiling, I said quietly, "Thank you God for giving me Joey. May we be together forever."

Although my soft words had in fact reached Joey's ears, he didn't turn around to let me know he had heard me. He just smiled brightly, looked up as well, and said, "What he said. Amen."

I was in the kitchen grabbing a Diet Coke, as it had been hours since I'd had one and I felt like I was having withdrawals, as odd as that sounds, when I realized I needed to call Air Canada and get put on their standby list for the flight back to Baltimore. I picked up the phone and dialed, and we were about halfway through our conversation when the agent noted that I already had a ticket on the flight.

"Say what?" I asked in surprise. "How is that possible?"

"Yes, you and a Joseph Fatone," said the agent.

Joey! I thought. What a sweet guy, but I can't let him do that. "The flight looks really good, right?" I asked.

"Yes," replied the agent.

"He's trying to be nice to me to make sure I can get home. My grandmother has been in the hospital, and while I appreciate it, there's no need. If the ticket is refundable, can you cancel it and put me on the standby list?"

"Are you sure?" the agent asked.

"Positive. I'll deal with Mr. Fatone later," I replied.

"All right then. Give me a moment," said the agent as I heard a furious clacking of keys on the other end of the phone. In about two minutes, the agent came back and advised me that the ticket for me had been cancelled and then gave me the confirmation for my standby listing. I thanked him profusely for being so kind and hung up.

"Hopefully he doesn't get too mad at me for this," I said quietly before taking another sip of Diet Coke. It was bad enough that he had to buy a ticket for himself to go from Montréal back to Baltimore, but there was no way I could permit him to buy one for me as well, especially considering how unnecessary that was. I already had a standby ticket for Air Canada that I had purchased a couple of months ago, just in case this particular situation arose. My grandmother had been in bad health for a while, so I knew it would only be a matter of time before I would have to come up here anyway.

I finished my drink and tossed the can into the recycling bin. Turning off the kitchen light, I started to make my way back to the staircase when a sound startled me. At first I thought it might be the wind or something, but then I heard it again. It was slowly becoming more and more frequent, so I followed the sound until I discovered its source: Justin. He seemed to be having a bad dream, and he was tossing and turning, as well as he could on the couch I suppose, and had a horribly pained expression on his face.

I grabbed a chair from the dining room and brought it in to the living room, setting it down next to the couch. I took a seat and let my gaze wander over the man's body. For those who think I was checking him out, I wasn't, thank you very much. If nothing else, I was trying to figure out how a guy like Justin could ever find interest in a guy like me. I must have gotten lost in my thoughts a little, because I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard Justin start to mumble.

"Please forgive me Will. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have...I'm sorry. Please don't hate me. I love you, even if you won't love me that way."

I sat in my seat, absolutely floored. While none of this was exactly news to me, the admission of it, in those exact words, was a bit much for me to take. Furthermore, I was shocked that he would think that I would hate him! And the last words you said to him were to get out, said a small voice in my head.

Shut up and get lost! I am not dealing with you again! I thought wildly. Okay, so he had reason to think I hated him, but I was going to have to work hard to remedy that as quickly as possible. Reaching over, I stroked his hair a few times and said softly, "I don't hate you Justin, and I do forgive you. I think you know that already, but I'll say it often as I need to until you believe it."

As if by magic, or maybe my words had just found their way to his subconscious, Justin stopped thrashing around and fell into what seemed to be a more peaceful sleep. I sat there and watched him sleep for a while, until I felt someone's presence coming behind me. I immediately went on guard until I somehow realized it was Joey. I relaxed a little and waited for him to approach me. I felt his hand gently touch my shoulder and, instead of turning around, I placed my hand over his.

He bent over and whispered in my ear, "Whatcha doin'?"

"Watching. He looks so innocent when he's asleep, doesn't he?"

"Yeah, it's when he wakes up that the little terror comes out," Joey said.

It was hard to miss the anger building in Joey, so I calmly said, "Joey, don't. Not right now." I took one last look at Justin, who still had a peaceful look on his face, and then stood up, grabbed the chair, and took it back to the dining room. Joey followed me, and then I led him into the kitchen. "I know right now you and the rest may not see it, but right now all I see in Justin is a scared little boy who believes the whole world is coming to an end. I can feel the anger in this house; in fact, it's so strong I'm almost surprised you can't, and it's all directed at him." I walked back into the dining room and peeked around the corner to look at Justin again. "I don't know what to do with him. For some bizarre reason, he's developed this thing for me, and I haven't been able to shake him loose from it. I don't know why I thought that kissing him would make him see things differently. All it did is make things worse."

"You were trying to help, and I understood your logic," Joey said.

"Logic," I snorted. "That's the problem. I was using logic against something completely illogical and irrational."

"At least you tried," Joey said again.

"For whatever that was worth," I said. Glancing at Justin one more time, I said, "He thinks I hate him, and he thinks he loves me. He has at least recognized that the love he has for me, and the love I have for him, are entirely different."

"You love him?" Joey asked, astonished.

"Not like I love you, mon cher," I said, giving him a small kiss on the lips. "Kind of like how you love all of them, as a family. Love has no one definition, and it comes in different strengths. Do you love me the exact same way you love your parents?"

Joey took a moment to think about it. "No. It's different. I can't explain it exactly, but it is."

I smiled at him and said, "And now, I think he understands." I cupped Joey's face in my hand and said, "I know you're angry with him, and I don't fault you one nuance of that anger because you have every right to be angry with him, but before you even try talking to him, take some time to cool down a bit and think it over in your head. Remember, he's been your friend for a long time, and while he's made a mistake, or maybe a few in this case, he's still your friend. No one, not even me, is worth destroying your friendship over."


"No buts," I said firmly. "Now, if you want to continue this conversation, we'll do it upstairs. I need to make sure the doors are locked and that all the lights are off and such. Now go on!"

"Okay, but I expect you back in two minutes, or I'm sending out a search party," Joey said before kissing me on the forehead.

"Yes sir!" I said, giving him a small salute. Joey just rolled his eyes and headed upstairs.

I watched him leave, and then my eyes fell back on Justin, who was still asleep, or so I thought. As I went back over to check on him, I could sense a feeling of amusement coming from him. Obviously, he had heard Joey's and my conversation and found the end of it rather funny. Clucking my tongue, I said quietly, "What am I going to do with you?" Justin didn't move, but a small smile crept onto his face. Leaning in closely to him, I said, "It would probably be a good idea if you get some sleep. We have to be up in about four hours to go to the airport, and I'm not above using a bucket of water from the lake to wake you up."

Justin's eyes snapped open as he stared back at me. "How did you know?"

With a small smirk, I said, "How do you think? Good night."

Even though he knew that he should have expected it, it still amazed Justin that I wasn't upset with him. I was, well, friendly and nice to him; I had even defended him to Joey, to a degree. I had even said that I still loved him—a feeling he felt was mutual—although he knew that I felt differently about him than he had been feeling about me. Still, it was a notion he was willing to accept. He was done interfering with my relationship with Joey and was ready to move on. Now, all he had to do was win back the band's trust and, most importantly, mine.

I finished my check of the house and proceeded up the stairs. Turning off the light in the hallway, I wandered back into our room and shut the door behind me. Joey, who was still awake, watched me as I came in. Giving him a smile, I tapped the watch on my wrist and said, "Two minutes."

Joey grinned and said, "Thank you. Now get into bed. It's getting cold!"

"It is?" I said in a puzzled tone. "It's not that bad." Glancing over at the window, I noticed that it was ajar. "Of course, if you're trying to stay warm, it helps if you have the window closed." I walked over to the window and closed it. Turning to Joey, I said, "Or were you just trying to find a valid excuse to cuddle up with me in bed?" Joey didn't say anything, but the grin that seemed to be permanently etched onto his face told all. Leaning over, I whispered into his ear, "All you had to do was ask." In a louder voice, I said, "Well, move over then!"

Joey scooted over and I crawled into bed next to him. We lay there for about two minutes or so, just staring at each other. It wasn't so bad, really; we were kind of talked out anyway from the earlier events of the day. "You really are something," Joey said at last.

"Something good or something bad?" I asked.

"Something good. Something great. Something fantastically wonderful even!"

"And you are trying to butter me up why?" I asked with a smirk.

"Because you deserve it. Because I want you to know how special I think you are. I want you to hear it so much you can never forget it."

"Joe, if you're still concerned about me, you don't have to be. I'm okay, you're okay, and so is everyone else. It was a bad moment, but now it's over."

"I know. It'll just take me some time to get over, that's all." We lay silent for a moment before Joey said, "Will, can I ask you something?"

"Do you have to ask?" I said politely. "You know you can ask me anything. Just be prepared for whatever answer you might get."

"Why do you call me Joe?"


"Everyone else calls me Joey. You call me Joe. Why?"

"That's the burning question?" I asked. Joey nodded, waiting expectantly. "I guess I thought Joe was more becoming of you than Joey. It's Joey is a great nickname, especially for smaller children. I suppose I didn't see it as fitting for the man that you are. Um, if you'd rather I didn't, I'll stop."

"No!" Joey said quickly. "I'm fine with it. I just kind of always wondered, and when you put it that way, you've got a point. Joey does sound kiddish, doesn't it?"

"Well, I think you're stuck with it. That's what you've been called by everyone since Day One of *Nsync, I gather, and it's not going to change anytime soon. Take, for example, JC and Lance. Josh is always going to be JC to the rest of the world, and I don't foresee Lance being called James any time soon."

A sly grin quickly appeared on Joey's face. "Speaking of James'..."

I looked puzzled for a moment until I caught his drift. "Don't go there."

"Gee, if I'd only known you were James all this time, I'd have called you by your proper name."

"Joseph! Don't start with me!"

"Oh, so I'm Joseph now?" Joey said with a smirk.

"That's it. I'm not talking to you any more. Good night," I said as I rolled over on to my other side.

"But James..."

"Joe, I'm warning you!"

"Would you prefer I call you Jamesy?"

"Would you prefer to sleep on the floor?"

"How about I call you Willie?"

"If you keep this up, you're sleeping outside."

"Fine, fine. Whatever." The two of us fell silent, and I was just starting to drift off when Joey whispered in my ear, "Oh James?"

I grabbed my pillow out from under my head and whacked Joey with it. "Knock it off!"

In turn, Joey took his pillow and hit me back. "Hey, two can play this game," he said.

Jumping out of bed with pillow in hand, I said, "You want to pillow fight? Bring it on!"

The two of us started hitting each other with the feather filled pillows and were howling with laughter until our door suddenly burst open. In walked my mother, with Kate, Lance, Jerrica, Chris, and Josh in tow. "Qu'est-ce qui se passe? What is going on here?"

The two of us stood there, watching the flying feathers float slowly to the ground. Quickly glancing at each other, we said in unison, "Nothing!"

"Keep it down in here! Don't make me separate the two of you!" Mom said definitively.

"Yes Mom!" we chorused before bursting into gales of laughter.

"Children," I heard my mother mutter before leaving the room. The others just stared at us as if we had lost our heads before exiting quietly out of the room.

Before Jerrica left, she walked over to me, gave me a hug, and said, "It's good to have my best friend back." I returned the hug, and was probably about to say something equally as mushy when she said, "However, wake me up like that again, and I may have to hurt you. Good night guys." She then turned on her heel and walked out the door, closing it behind her.

Shaking my head, I said, "Only Jerrica." Looking at the floor, I bent down and started picking up some of the loose feathers, stuffing them back inside the pillow. Joey did likewise until the floor was pretty much clean. "Let's get some sleep, shall we?"

With a large yawn, Joey said, "I think that's a great idea." We both clambered into bed, Joey first, and soon he had wrapped me in his arms. I listened as Joey's breathing got deeper, and once I was sure he was asleep, I allowed myself to doze off as well. Morning was coming early that day, and the next day was going to be long enough as it was.

"Just five more minutes," Joey grumbled. "Please?"

"That's what you said ten minutes ago, and I was nice enough to let you have the extra five. Now haul your rear out of bed!" I said, tugging on Joey's arm.

"I don't wanna."

"Joe, come on!"

"Please, just five more?"

"Fine! Five more minutes, and then I'm coming back with Jerrica and a bucket of lake water."

Joey abruptly sat up and glared at me. "That's not even fair."

"Good. I see you're up. Now, let's get going. We have to be to the airport in an hour."

"And I was sleeping so well," Joey said with a sigh as he started to get out of bed, "and then the slave driver came and woke me up."

"'Gee, Will. I could never hate you,'" I said, mimicking Joey from the night before. "Still holding to that sentiment?"

"I don't hate you," Joey said, "and don't mind me. I'm not always this grumpy in the morning. How on earth can you be so perky at four o'clock in the morning?"

"Me? Perky?" I said with a laugh. "I've been up for over half an hour, and I had to run outside briefly. I think the cold shocked me awake. I am never perky in the morning." I thought about it for a second and said, "I'm almost never perky, period. Anyway, get up and get moving. We have to leave in fifteen minutes."

"All right, all right. I'm coming, I'm coming."

"Please! We don't need to hear about your sex life at four o'clock in the morning," Jerrica said as she waltzed uninvited into our room. When she caught the sight of Joey's incredibly shocked and embarrassed face along with the death glare coming from me, she burst out laughing. "Whew! Tough crowd. Anyway," she continued, turning to face me, "Anne-Marie said that if you're not downstairs in ten minutes, she's going to come up here and drag you both down there whether you are ready to go or not."

"We're almost ready," I said. "Now get out!" I pushed Jerrica out the door and shut it behind me. "Were she not my best friend..."

The shocked look had not faded from Joey's face, so I went over and gave him a big kiss on the lips. It took him a moment, but he then started to return the kiss back to me. "Now that is a much better way to wake up in the morning, you know," Joey said with a smile. "Now, when I get my hands on Jerrica..."

"Now there's a grudge match I'd like to see," I said. "The famous Joey Fatone versus the infamous Jerrica Andrews. Hmmm. I could make a lot of money on that. Thirty bucks a head, multiplied by a few thousand people, and yeah! I think it could work."

"You're just being silly now," Joey said as he got out of bed.

"I know. It's a gift. What can I say? Anyway, I'm going to go downstairs and check on la crise du jour. You'll be down in five, right?"

"Yeah. Five or less," Joey said as he started to put on some pants and a shirt. Then, after a second, he said, "What does that mean? La crise du jour?"

"The crisis of the day," I translated. "In my family, it's always something. It seems like my family can't function without some sort of chaos."

"You mean like your grandmother having gas pains and faking it as a heart attack?" Joey said.

If life were a movie, you would see birds outside flying everywhere when the calm was shattered by my ear-splitting yell of, "SHE DID WHAT?!"

"Uh, didn't you hear your Mom tell us that when we were down by the lake?"

"No!" I replied, infuriated that my grandmother had pulled such a stunt. "Everything between when I was throwing rocks into the lake and when I heard you all singing is kind of a blank. What do you mean she faked it?"

As per the norm of that day, our door burst open and Mom and Kate came running inside. "What's wrong? What happened?" Kate asked as she tried to catch her breath.

"I have just been informed that my grandmother is une grande vieille chienne," I said vehemently. To Joey I translated, "That means she's a big old bitch."

"Robért-James!" my mother yelled. "That is not a nice thing to say about your grandmother."

"I've heard that word before," Joey said thoughtfully. "You said the same thing last night."

Mom's face flushed a little. "Well, just because it's true doesn't mean you should call her that."

Lance and Josh stuck their heads in the door. "Everything okay in here?" Josh asked.

"Yeah. James is getting in trouble," Joey said with a twinkle in his eye.

"Huh? What did I do?" Lance asked in confusion.

"Not you, Lance," I said with a sigh. "Me. Remember my name is Robért-James? Only my grandmother saw fit to refer to me by the last half of it, because that was my grandfather's name."

"You wouldn't believe the argument I got into with her about that," Mom said. "I was only going to name you Robért, but she wanted you named James. Eventually I compromised just to shut her up."

"And since Joe heard her call me that when we were at the hospital, he has taken to calling me that just to annoy the heck out of me," I said. Turning to Joey, I muttered, "You are never going to let this one go, are you?"

"Not a chance," Joey said with a grin.

"So you have how many names now?" Josh asked.

I shrugged. "Not sure. What are we on? Forty? Fifty? I lost count. Might as well just start calling me 'Hey you' or something like that."

"All right already," Kate said. "We've got to go soon. Everyone get ready, grab your stuff, and park it by the door. If you want something to eat, get it now."

"Why are you all in such a rush?" I asked. "You're not leaving today as well, are you?"

"No. We're going back to Michigan in a couple days. We are, however, going with you to the airport," Kate said.

"You are?" I asked in surprise.

Kate nodded. "Yes. The four of us still have some things to talk about," she said before grabbing my mother's arm and steering her out of the room.

"Oh joy," I said, slowly sitting on the bed.

"What's wrong Will? You look like you're about to be tortured," Lance said.

I shook my head. "Not me. Him," I said, pointing at Joey. "You guys think I'm overprotective at times? Guess where I get it from."

"Something tells me it's going to be a long ride to the airport," Joey said, and I was definitely inclined to agree with him.

It didn't go nearly as terribly as I had imagined. Did we get grilled by Mom and Kate? Oh, you better believe it. I know they're concerned about me, and about Joey as well, but there were times where, in their line of questioning, I was ready to jump out of the car instead of answer. For those who might be wondering, I wasn't having a suicidal moment of any sort, although the fact that I had promised Joey that I would never try that again hadn't escaped me, but just because it seemed like a good idea at the time didn't mean I was necessarily of the mindset to act upon it. Even so, it seemed like the ride from Grandmère's house to Dorval Airport took an eternity.

By the time we arrived, I was ready to run away. Kate and Mom had managed to ask, it seemed, every possible embarrassing question I could have been asked. My face was bright red; boiled lobsters have had less color than I did. Joey seemed to take most of it in stride, and answered the interrogation as best he could. There were times when I just sat in the backseat with my arms crossed, glaring at everyone for this major intrusion into my life, but both my mother and Kate tend to be rather relentless, and neither was ready to give up until they got what they wanted. To be perfectly honest, much of the questioning was rather routine: How did we meet? How did we decide to get together? Then there were the other questions: Have we had sex? Were we going to get blood tests done? Were we going to be safe? As I said before, Joey was quite nonchalant about everything, and I wanted to evaporate on the spot. I had to wonder if I would be so calm and collected as Joey was if and when the roles were reversed?

Actually, it was at sometime around our arrival at the airport when that thought struck me. I realized that, for as much as Joey and the rest of the crew knew about my life, which at this point was an open book with some areas highlighted heavily for review later, I knew very little about Joey. Other than the fact that he was from New York, sang in *Nsync, and was incredibly sexy, I knew hardly anything at all. There was no doubt in my mind that if I asked Joey, he would tell me whatever I wanted to know, and there was also the fact that I could probably find ninety percent of his life plastered somewhere on the internet. The joys of stardom, I thought. Just think about what you're getting yourself into Will. There's always the possibility that you could end up as famous as Joey. Then it'll be your life everyone's digging into. I gulped at that thought and tried to push it aside. Even though I had been coerced into singing in front of many, many people, there was no guarantee that the American public, or even just the pop-listening group in general, would care anything about me or the rest of us. Fame is fleeting for most, and there was a greater chance that we would crash and burn than be any sort of success. Nonetheless, it was a challenge I was going to have to face head-on, and now my friends were about to be dragged into it, by their own volition of course.

Jerrica and the others had to return the rentals, but it wasn't long before they found their way to the terminal. Since we didn't have much time to get checked in, clear customs and security, and then go down to the boarding gates for our flights, we all said good-bye to Mom and Kate outside. Each of the guys and Jerrica gave them a hug, as the guys had officially adopted them as two more moms to their list of parents. When Joey gave Mom a hug, she started to cry. This startled Joey for a moment, but Mom said that it was because she was so happy that I had someone like him in my life. "He's very, very good at trying to be the rock, you know. I know there are times you lean on him when you need to, and I know he is very happy to oblige, but force him to lean on you too. He needs to know that you are there for him just as much as he is there for you," she said quietly in his ear. "I can see the sparkle in his eyes when you're around, and it's been a long time since I've seen my little boy this happy. Even after last night's episode, and I won't discount the severity of it, the fact that you are still willing to stick by him after that shows your true character and the obvious love you have for him." She paused for a moment, before embracing him hard again. "Merci. Merci beaucoup. Thank you so much for being the good person you are. I know you have a good heart, and so does he. I think, together, the two of you will make a lasting impression on this planet, whether others realize it or not."

Joey wasn't sure what to make of my mother's rambling, but he knew a compliment, especially a major compliment, when he heard one, so he thanked her for it and broke the embrace. "I do love him, Anne-Marie. I have from the moment I laid eyes on him. He's honestly the best thing that has happened to me, even more than *Nsync. I mean, what good is fame and fortune if you're alone?"

Mom chuckled. "You have a point. Besides, that stuff can come and go like the wind, but love has this tendency to stick like glue." She glanced over at me talking to Kate and said, "When he was born, I had kind of been hoping for twins. To be honest, after him, one was enough!" She and Joey both chuckled, and only stopped when they spotted me staring at them with a questioning look. "Anyway," she continued, "now I possibly have a second son after all. Have the two of you considered, um, tying the knot, so to speak?"

Okay, so maybe there was one question they failed to ask in the car, and it was the one that even Joey had trouble taking in stride. "M-m-m-married?"

"Well, that's the other name for it, yes."

"Uh, Anne-Marie, we haven't even known each other for two weeks yet."

"You can't blame a mom for asking, you know."

"There may come a time when we get to that, but I think this is just a bit too early to even be thinking about it. I know I love him, and that he loves me, but Jamesy made a good point in the fact that we haven't spent a lot of alone time together, and it would probably be a good idea to make sure we can stand to live with each other first."

Mom raised an eyebrow and said, "Jamesy?"

Joey burst out laughing. "That's my new nickname for him."

"Does he know about this yet?" Mom asked. "I don't foresee it going over well. The only person who ever called him James was his grandmother, and he never liked it much."

"He's so cute when he gets annoyed," Joey said with a grin. "I'll try it for a while, and if it really starts to bug him I'll stop. Of course, he might just decide he likes it after all."

"Like what?" I asked as I jumped into their conversation.

"Oh, nothing," Joey said, smirking at my mother.

"All right everyone, take care of yourselves. Give us a call later so we know you got home okay," Mom said, giving me another hug. Then, in a lower voice, she said, "Don't let go of him. Il est parfait pour toi."

"I think he's perfect for me too," I said, "and I have no intention of letting him go anytime soon, or at all really."

"Good. I'm starting to like the idea of a second son," Mom said with a twinkle in her eye.

"Second...son?" I asked slowly. "Do you know something I don't?"

"Possibly," Mom replied. "I know lots of things that you probably don't. Anyway, get going. You're going to miss your flight!"

I looked down at my watch and shouted, "Crap! We've got to get moving now! Come on everyone!" I gave both Mom and Kate a hug and kiss on the cheek before darting into the terminal.

We went down to the Air Canada ticket counter and each checked ourselves in. Joey was ahead of me and went up to the desk to check-in. After about a minute and a half, he turned around and glared at me. I wondered briefly what the look was for until it dawned on me that the agent had probably told him I had cancelled the ticket he bought for me and put myself on standby. He motioned me forward and I walked up reluctantly. "Why did you cancel your ticket?" he asked in a low voice.

"Because there was no need, Joe. I appreciate it, really, but there is no reason for you to pay all that money when you don't have to."

"Why didn't you talk to me first before canceling the ticket?" Joey asked.

"Why didn't you talk to me first before buying it?" I shot back.

"Will, you know I was just trying to be nice."

"I know, and that fact didn't escape me. I appreciate it, really I do, but it's bad enough that you have to buy a ticket for yourself, let alone one for me."

"It's only a few hundred dollars," Joey continued. "What's the big deal?"

My eyes widened a little. "A few..." Shaking my head, I said, "We'll talk about this later. Do you have your boarding pass?"

Joey nodded. "Yes. Right here."

"Good." I handed my American passport, standby ticket, and employee identification to the agent, who checked me in and handed me a boarding pass with a seat assignment. "Thank you very much." As we walked away from the counter, I said, "See? No worries."

Joey pointed at the seat number on my boarding pass. "Well, at least we're still sitting together. Jamesy, you didn't have to go to all this trouble over a plane ticket. Even if it cost a thousand dollars, I would have gladly paid it just to make sure you got home okay."

I shot Joey a nasty look. "Oh, you're not starting that business again."

"What? I think it's cute!" Joey said in a low voice.

I rolled my eyes. "Fine, JoJo. Let's go."

"JoJo?" Joey asked.

"If I get one, you get one."

"But JoJo? Come on!" Joey said with disdain.

"Hey, you started it! Now let's go. We have a flight to catch."

The ride back to Baltimore was uneventful. To my surprise, the only one who went back to Orlando was Justin. Jerrica, of course, was coming back to Baltimore with Joey and me, and I suppose I understood why Chris would come, but Josh and Lance were a bit of a mystery. Not that it bothered me in the least, mind you. I was a bit glad Justin didn't come with us; while I had forgiven him for yesterday's mess, I wasn't really ready to deal with him yet.

As for my new nickname, as much as I hate to admit it, it did grow on me a little. I had always hated it when my grandmother called me James. It's not that I wasn't proud of being named after my grandfather, but my grandmother had this tendency to expect me to live up to 'his name' because of it. For that reason, much of my life was often scrutinized by her with a fine-tooth comb. Often, nothing was ever good enough to live up the lofty goals that Grandmère had set for me, and while I'm sure she loved me no less, I could tell many a time that she was a bit disappointed in me. To add insult to injury, my announcement of my relationship with Joey was just the icing on the cake. If I hadn't completely disappointed her before, I had now. Granted, she would blame my mother for corrupting me, and the two of them would probably be at even greater odds from now until the end of time, but that was their issue now. The thought that my fight with her had set off a heart attack had taken a serious toll on me, but even still, she was my grandmother, and I still loved that wicked old witch nonetheless. My family was a bit on the small side, unless you count the very extended family, but I rarely ever saw them.

Anyway, it took Joey a little more time to finally accept the nickname I had given him, and I think that was because he decided fair was fair. However, no one else was ever permitted to use those names around us. To do so was cause for an instant tongue-lashing. Jerrica and Joey actually got into a ten-minute argument about it while we were walking to my car in the airport parking garage. Lance and Josh went to get a rental car since my car, again, couldn't hold all of us.

We arrived at my house a little after nine o'clock in the morning and practically passed out all over the house. While Josh's leg had gotten much better—he hardly needed the crutches anymore—he still pulled out the sofabed and proceeded to collapse onto it. Chris went upstairs to the room he was sharing with Lance and did the same. Lance went into the dining room and pulled out some paperwork from his bag; that boy was as much of a workaholic as I was. Jerrica went to her room and closed the door, presumably to take a nap as well. Considering we only had two hours before I had to leave for York, I was much in need of a nap. Joey came upstairs with me and, after setting the alarm, we both crawled onto the bed and fell asleep, fully clothed. As Joey wrapped his arm around my body, I fell into a nice, peaceful slumber, something I hadn't experienced in a while.

Two hours came and went, and we were right back up heading out the door. As we were about to walk out, there was a knock at the front door. Intrigued as to who could possibly be at the door, I answered it only to discover J.B. and Kimber on my doorstep. "Well, aren't you going to let us in?" Kimber asked.

"Uh, yeah. Come in. Come in. Hey guys! Guess who's here?" I yelled.

Joey walked into the room and, upon spotting Kimber, ran over and gave her a huge hug. "Kimber! It's so good to see you!" He turned to J.B. and gave her a hug as well. "What are you doing here?"

"We have work to do, of course!" Kimber said. Turning to me, she said, "Did you talk to the others yet?"

I shook my head. "No. It's been a rather trying time since we last talked," I said, briefly filling them in on the disaster that was the day before.

Both Kimber and J.B. rolled their eyes. "Mireille is a piece of work, that's for sure," J.B. said. "I always thought so. Even when we were younger, I always tried to be careful around her."

"Too bad I wasn't careful enough," I said with a sigh, "but what's done is done."

Jerrica and the others wandered into the room at that point, so I made some quick name introductions. Before anyone could say much, I hustled everyone out the door. Regardless of who was there, I still could not be late to dance class. I was already having kittens over what was presumably going to happen that day, and I didn't need M.F. breathing down my neck on top of it.

Joey rode with Lance, Josh, and Chris while Jerrica and the Benton sisters rode with me. The car was fairly quiet until we had made our way onto the Harrisburg Expressway and were on our way north toward York. "So Jerrica," Kimber said, breaking the silence and ignoring the quizzical look coming from J.B., "tell us about yourself. What are you interested in?"

Jerrica and Kimber started to have a conversation, and I knew where it was leading. I was just praying for no explosion from the passenger seat. "...and I like music," Jerrica was saying. "I play the trumpet, and I like to sing and act."

"You do?" Kimber said in mock surprise. "Have you ever considered doing it professionally?"

Jerrica blushed a little. "Yeah, but what are the chances of that ever happening? It's not like I'm going to run into a record producer or something any time soon."

"Uh, Jerrica?" I said lightly.


"They are record producers."

"Oh," Jerrica said. "Well, what are the odds?"

"We're forming a group of five with Robért-James here," J.B. said before catching herself. "Uh, I mean, Will. Sorry!" I just waved my hand dismissively and kept my eyes on the road. "Anyway," she continued, "we're looking for four more people, and he suggested you as a possible candidate."

"Me? Sing? Dance? Perform? Me?" Jerrica queried.

"You. Yes. Yes. Yes. You," Kimber answered in likewise fashion.

"Wow, I don't know what to say," Jerrica said. She sat silently for a moment before she whacked me in the arm.

"Ow! What was that for?" I yelped.

"Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?" she asked angrily.

"Does 'yesterday' mean anything to you?" I shot back. "It wasn't exactly foremost on my mind."

Jerrica's expression softened considerably. "Oh, right. Sorry." She sat back in her seat while Kimber and J.B. waited patiently. Finally, she turned around to look at them and said, "I think it would be a dream come true, but I don't know if I'm good enough."

"You are," I countered. "Once you get past your nerves, you sing beautifully."

"Not like you do," Jerrica said.

"I don't think anyone sings quite like I do," I noted, "and I don't think they'd want to either."

"Would you mind singing something for us now?" Kimber asked.

"I wouldn't know what to sing," Jerrica replied.

"Anything is fine," J.B. said. "We just want to hear you sing for about two minutes so we can get a good idea how you sound."

Jerrica racked her brain, but it was as if the normally extensive song list that was in her head suddenly had been erased. Grasping for anything, she finally settled on the only thing that came to mind. She began to sing Je Serai Là Pour Toi (I Will Be There For You), the song she and Mom had sung the night before. After a couple of minutes, I joined in and sang the rest of it with her, adjusting my pitch a little to better blend with hers. When the song ended, there was applause from the back seat.

"I have no idea what the words meant," Kimber said, "but that sounded very nice. You have a great voice Jerrica."

"Thanks," Jerrica said modestly.

"Well, that's two down," J.B. said, making some notes in her notebook. "Just three more to go."

We arrived at the Dance Academy at noon, giving us half an hour to spare. We wandered inside, and while the rest went into the dance hall, Joey and I went into the men's locker room. "So what do you think is going to happen?" I asked as I changed from my street clothes into the outfit I typically wore at class.

"Uh..." Joey grunted as he watched me undress.

I was stripped down to my boxers when I turned around and said, "Joey? Earth to Joey?" Joey continued to stare at my hair-covered chest, and my sense of self-consciousness was starting to set in. Don't do it Will, I thought to myself. Get used to this. It's okay. Everything is going to be okay. Quietly, I said, "Do you see something you like?"

Joey beamed from ear to ear. "I do," he said. Slowly, he reached out a hand and put it gingerly on my chest. He rubbed his hand over my chest and said, "It's soft. It's also darker than the hair on your head."

I giggled and shrugged my shoulders. "With skin as fair as mine, most of my body doesn't see much sunlight, and my hair gets lighter in the sun."

Joey nodded as he moved his hand over my heart, which was racing at a mile a minute. "You okay?" he asked.

"Yeah. I'm...fine," I stammered a little, keeping an ever watchful eye on the door. After another minute or so, I turned away from him and threw my other set of clothes on. "Well, we shouldn't keep the others waiting. Let's go!"

There was a look of slight disappointment in Joey's eyes, and I couldn't help but feel a tad guilty. However, I wasn't sure exactly how long or how far Joey thought we were going to go, and the fact that we had even gotten to that point, in a public place no less, was much further than I had really envisioned. Joey and I were definitely getting closer, and we were slowly starting to move toward an area that truly frightened me. I had no clue about Joey, but I was still a virgin. After all, Allison hadn't made it far enough in time to rob me of that. The premise of having sex with anyone was enough to worry me some, but with Joey? Yeah. I was terrified. How would I measure up? I wasn't even sure I had a clue of what to do or how to do it! I supposed I could probably procrastinate on that subject for a while, but there was eventually going to come a point in time where I was going to have to face that challenge, like it or not.

Trying to ignore such nagging thoughts in my head, Joey and I walked out of the locker room and nearly ran right over Karri and Mandy, who had just come in moments earlier. "JOEY!!!" Karri yelled as she ran toward him and nearly leapt into his arms. Giving him a kiss on the cheek, she said, "So, how was your first non-rev experience?"

Joey looked over at me questioningly. "Standby," I defined.

"Oh! Right! It was, well, interesting, to say the least," he said as he thought back to the mad dash for the airport in Orlando, the panic that ensued from the crazed fan on the flight from Los Angeles, and the stampeding horde of girls in Kansas City. "We did fine."

"Good!" Mandy said as she shoved Karri aside to give Joey a hug. "We were a tad worried about you when you didn't call us later."

"Whoops!" I said, looking slightly embarrassed. Then, I glared at both of them and said, "What? Am I invisible or something?"

Mandy whirled around to face me and said, "Oh, you think you deserve a hug from me after making me worry like that? Hmph!"

"Okay, fine then," I said, "but then I won't tell you about my surprise."

"Surprise?" Mandy and Karri chorused.

I knew that would get their attention. "Uh huh," I continued, "but I'm not saying anything now."

"Please?" Karri said as she gave me a big hug.

"Yeah, please?" Mandy said as she made it a group hug.

"Yeah, please?" Joey echoed as he joined in as well.

"Uh guys? Can't breathe!" I choked out as they started squishing me harder.

"Are you going to tell us or not?" Karri demanded.

"All right, all right! I'll tell!" I eked out. Everyone let go and I started to breathe normally again. "So not fair," I said, glaring at them.

"We've been taking lessons from Jerrica," Karri said with a sly smile.

"Why does that not surprise me in the slightest?" I wondered aloud. "Anyway, I have been requested to ask you both something important, and I'll need an answer from you by the end of class."

I paused for dramatic effect, which only made the girls edgier. "Well, spit it out already!" Mandy said.

"How would you like to join Joey and the guys on tour..."

"YES!!!" they both screamed at once.

" part of the opening act?" I finished.


"You heard me," I stated evenly.

"The opening act?" Karri asked.

"For *Nsync?" Mandy asked.

"Last time I checked, that was their name. You haven't changed it, have you?" I asked Joey with a wink.

"Not yet, but I suppose that's always an option," Joey replied.

"You want us," Mandy said slowly, pointing at herself and Karri, "to join the opening act for Joey and the others? On tour?"

"For heaven's sake, yes!"

Mandy and Karri looked at each other for a brief moment before turning back to me and saying in unison, "We'll do it!"

"Well, that wasn't hard, now was it?" Joey said with a smirk.

"Guess not," I replied. "Well, that's four down. The last is, of course, always the hardest."

"Four?" Mandy repeated. "Four what?"

"People," I answered. "It's a group of five people—namely myself, you, Karri, Jerrica, and 'person number five,' who I hope will be willing."

"And person number five is?" Karri asked.

I scanned the area around us and spotted who I was looking for. I motioned my head in his direction, and after Karri and Mandy looked over their shoulders, Mandy said quietly, "Tom? He's your pick for the fifth person?"

"Yeah," I said. "Why not? He's a great dancer, an incredible fiddle player, and he has a low voice, which is something we need. If he can sing, and wants to, then we have our five."

"What about me?" Karri asked. "I can sing pretty low myself."

"Hmmm. There's something I didn't know, but even still, it would be better to have a bass singer anyway, especially when you consider I don't exactly sing at the bottom of the vocal range myself."

"Really?" Mandy asked. "I've never heard you sing before."

"And if I had my way, you—nor the rest of the world—ever would. However, I no longer have a choice in the matter, so I'm just doing the best I can."

"So I'm assuming he doesn't know yet," Mandy said.

"Not yet, and to be honest I haven't figured out how to ask him without freaking him out," I said with a sigh.

"I've got an idea," Joey said as he started to make his way to the dance hall. "Just leave everything to me."

He ran into the hall, leaving the three of us to stare after him. "What do you think he's up to?" Karri asked.

"I have absolutely no idea," I replied, "but whatever it is, I hope it works."

Meanwhile, Joey was having a conversation with J.B. and Kimber, and after a good three or four minutes of discussing, they decided to put Joey's plan into action. Unfortunately, it was going to require a little help from M.F.—something Joey was unsure he was going to get very readily. Still, he had to try.

Locating M.F.'s office, he knocked on the door and was called inside. "Well, Mr. Fatone. I must say I'm a bit surprised to see you here still," she said. "What can I do for you?"

"Well, I kind of need a favor from you..." Joey said as he began to relate his idea to her.

It was already a couple of minutes after twelve-thirty and M.F. still hadn't come into the dance hall yet, which was highly unusual. She had no tolerance for tardiness whatsoever, so we all murmured softly about where she could possibly be. A moment later, she burst into the room and headed for her spot at the front of the class. Joey came in right behind and went to the back of the room. I tried to catch his eye, but he wasn't looking at me. I wondered if maybe Joey and M.F. had talked about something, but for now I wasn't going to find out any time soon.

"Quiet people!" M.F. shouted as she picked up her clipboard. "Now, we have much to do today, but I have a couple of notes first." She shuffled through some papers and said, "We have a dress rehearsal for this Saturday's show on Friday. On Saturday, please be here by ten o'clock for the performance at eleven-thirty. If you are late, it's an automatic ten minute punishment. You all have done marvelously, and I am proud of each and every one of you. Next, please remember to keep the locker rooms tidy when you leave. There are classes that come in behind you." She looked up and over in my direction briefly for a moment before saying, "And last, but not least, we again have some visitors today. You have already met most of them, but I would like to introduce Kimber and Jerrica Benton, from Starlight Music in Los Angeles. They are looking for someone to fill a fifth slot in a new group they are creating, and it was suggested by some in this room that they take a look at you. If you do not want to be considered, please come forward and I will put your name on this list."

I turned my head slightly from side to side to see if anyone was moving. I could see Tom out of the corner of my eye and prayed he wouldn't move. In fact, I suppose I shouldn't have been worried. His face lit up like a Christmas tree. I knew, from the sporadic conversations I'd had with him, that he loved to sing, dance, and act. He was a fantastic fiddle player, as he had shown us from time to time in performances our group had done, and he was also rather cute. Last I knew, Tom had a boyfriend, but when I mentioned him recently Tom's face fell and a dark look overcame it. My guess is that the two had some sort of falling out, but it might have been temporary.

I guess I knew why Joey had done it this way. When Kimber and J.B. approached Tom, he wouldn't be completely thrown off guard. However, in the process, they had gotten twenty-one other people's hopes up. My attention was brought back to the front when M.F. put in the tape for our routine and had us run through it. However, instead of facing her as we normally did, she had us turn around and face our tiny audience. This made me a bit nervous because I had been given a small solo dance number, lasting no more than forty-five seconds or so, and I was becoming self-conscious again about messing up. To my benefit, I suppose, I didn't have any time to dwell on it, because we began promptly.

J.B., Kimber, and the others watched raptly as we danced our hearts out. They were quite impressed with the little show and showed their sympathy when they could see the exhaustion that was starting to set in, having experienced it many times themselves. At the end of the class, before M.F. released us, she asked Kimber to come up and select the people she wanted to talk to. Besides Tom, whom she went to first, she also selected one of the other two guys left besides me and a dark-haired girl. The rest groaned a little in disappointment as they left the hall. Karri, Mandy, and I all decided to get cleaned up before making our appearances again, so we headed off slowly to our respective locker rooms. I heard the showers turn off as I walked in, and I watched as Sam, the fourth and last guy in our class, made his way to the row of lockers we used. "Tough break, huh?" he said to me as he got dressed.

"I guess so," I replied, not wanting to get into this conversation.

"They always go with the pretty face, you know?" he continued. "I would have loved to have done that, but I guess it was just not meant to be." He finished getting dressed, slung his bag over his shoulder, and walked out the door.

I started to feel guilty that Sam was so down on himself about not being 'picked,' and I didn't have the heart to tell him that the other two weren't really in the running anyway. I decided I really didn't like this deceptive method of talking to Tom, but at this point, what was done was done. Setting my regular clothes aside, I stripped down, wrapped a towel barely around my waist, and ran for the showers. I didn't want to take too much time, so I tried to clean up quick. I was so lost in what I was doing I failed to hear the locker room door open. I was in the middle of washing my legs and had my back turned when a voice behind me said, "Is this a private shower, or can anyone join?"

I was so spooked by the arrival of this other person that if I could have jumped out of my skin, I would have. I started to turn around and see who it was when, as usual for me many times, I had a klutzy moment and slipped on the tiled floor, landing with a hard thud on my rear. "Ow," I said as I rubbed my back. "Well, looks like that pain is back again," I muttered.

"I certainly hope you weren't talking about me," said the voice behind me. At first, because I was taken by surprise, I didn't recognize the voice's owner right away, but after the second time, how could I miss it?

Still sitting on the floor under the spray of the shower, I crossed my legs in a vain attempt to cover some of myself up and said, "Joe, what are you doing?"

"Well, I didn't get a chance to take a shower this morning in Montreal, and I figured since we were here and it was available..."

"And that's your only rationale?" I asked suspiciously.

"Well..." Joey began, "not entirely."

"And the rest of it is what?" I asked, still not facing him.

"I was kind of hoping that this would be a way for you to stop being so self-conscious, especially around me. You know I don't care how you look, and I just thought that if maybe you saw me with my clothes off, and you already had yours off, then that would leave nothing for you to be embarrassed or shy about," Joey admitted. "However, I don't want you to feel completely uncomfortable, and if my being here is doing that, I'll leave."

I remained silent for a minute, contemplating my next move. It was then that a sharp pain blazed up my backside from where I fell, so I said, "At this point Joey, I don't think it's going to matter much, because at the moment, I'm not sure I can get up without help."

"Oh good Lord!" Joey yelled, realizing fully that I wasn't just sitting on the floor, but that I had fallen to the floor. At that moment, there was no possible way for me to be bashful in any sense. I needed Joey's help in standing up on the slippery floor, and everything was kind of hanging out there already.

Just suck it up Will and be a big boy, I thought to myself. You knew this moment was going to come sooner or later. Why not now? Get it over with at the beginning. Besides, my inner devil prodded, you know you were curious about what was hiding beneath those jeans and boxers all this time anyway.

Joey was having similar thoughts. How is he going to react? Did I do the right thing? What is he going to think when he sees me? Will he be disappointed? More importantly, is his package really as big as I think it is?

"Uh Joey?" I said, snapping him out of his reverie. "Help?" I reached my hand back toward him, and as I turned, his body came into full view. I know that I have remarked on a number of occasions just how incredibly gorgeous Joey is, but this brought that term into a whole new meaning. Now I know what they mean by 'Italian stallion.' Giddy up, right? Okay, now hold on a second. Before you start wondering whether you've somehow managed to change channels by accident or something, just bear in mind that while I may be the sweet, quiet, gentle, naïve, and innocent guy that you've by now come to completely adore, bear in mind that I am still human and I know what I like. As for Joey, well, to say 'I like' isn't giving him far enough credit. I gazed at him as I watched the water from the shower hit his body and slowly cascade down it in little, tiny streams. From his broad shoulders, across his oddly smooth chest, down his stomach to his groin and legs, I was momentarily entranced. While I had admitted to myself a year ago that I was indeed gay—something I had zero doubts about—this was the first time I was actually this close to another man's naked body, and I was excited and nervous all at the same time.

I didn't have much time to cement that picture into my head because Joey leaned over and helped hoist me to my feet. Once I was standing, I backed up a little and looked at my backside, which was a bit silly because it was difficult to see much. I gingerly placed my hand on my rear end and realized that the pain seemed to be subsiding already. Maybe it was just the initial shock of the impact that had caused it to hurt so much. While I was doing my self-inspection, I wasn't the only one checking me out. As I had basically done with Joey, Joey's eyes wandered over my body, making mental notes of everything and paying particular attention to some areas more than others.

"My God you're beautiful," Joey said softly, his eyes still roaming over my body.

"You're sweet," I said shyly, "but I'm nothing special."

"Yes you are," Joey insisted. "Come here." Joey held out his hand to me, and as I took it, he pulled me toward him back under the warn spray of the shower. "You have to stop being so critical of yourself, Jamesy. You're not being fair to yourself. Remember, no one else's opinion of you matters more than yours...and maybe mine," he added with a grin. "Since I think you look fantastic, then where's the issue?"

"Oh JoJo," I said with a grin, "you sure know how to sweet talk a guy."

"About that name..." Joey started to say, but he was cut off when I kissed him. He continued to make attempts at talking, but finally gave up and kissed me back. Our bodies moved closer and closer to each other until skin met skin. I put my arms around his neck and he did likewise, our lower bodies rubbing against each other. There was a familiar feeling starting to occur in my groin, and I realized that this moment was having a similar effect on Joey as our hard-ons started to fight for space between our meshed bodies.

After a few moments like this, I pulled away from him and said, "I love you Joey."

"I love you too Will," he said before kissing me again. And I was right about that nice package you've got down there too, he thought.

Breaking apart completely, I said, "We need to hurry before someone comes to find us. Do you want me to wait for you in the locker room?"

"No. You go ahead. It'll look less conspicuous that way anyway," Joey replied.

"Okay. I'll see you in the dance hall," I said before giving him one last kiss as I went to leave the shower room.

"God how I love that man," Joey and I said in unison, although neither of us could hear the other since we were now in separate rooms. It was scary sometimes how very similar we really were.

I walked back into the dance hall a couple of minutes later and saw everyone sitting around having a conversation of some sort. J.B., Kimber, and M.F. were sitting at the back table on one side while their three 'candidates' sat on the other. Jerrica, Lance, Josh, Chris, Karri, and Mandy sat a few feet away having their own conversation as well. "It's about time you showed up," Jerrica said when I walked up to them. "We were starting to think you got lost. We even sent Joey in to find you." Glancing at my reddening face, she said, "I take it he did."

I couldn't think of anything to say, and as my face grew redder, it was enough for everyone to figure out that something had happened between Joey and me behind closed doors. "I'm thinking someone got lucky," Mandy said quietly.

"Knock it off Mandy," I muttered, "and get your mind of the gutter. We did not do that." Trying to change the subject, I pointed over at the other table and said, "So what's up?"

"Apparently you are," Mandy said, causing the whole group to erupt into howls of laughter.



"Why do I even bother with this group?" I asked myself aloud.

"Because you love us," Jerrica said sweetly, "and you know you're stuck with us, so you might as well just deal."

I groaned and rolled my eyes. She was right, of course, but that didn't mean I was in any particular mood to deal with them at the moment. I turned my attention to the other table and tried to pay attention to what was going on. They were having each person sing, and the girl, whose name I think was Jennifer, was absolutely terrible. I don't know if it was just nerves or what, but at that moment she couldn't sing in key if her life depended on it. Each of us had a pained look on our faces. Granted, we hadn't wanted her anyway, but the fact that she was embarrassing herself in this manner didn't seem right to me. Kimber quickly put a halt to it and told her that she wasn't quite what they were looking for, but that if she would give them her name and phone number, the next time they were looking for a dancer they'd let her know. Jennifer seemed a bit disappointed, but the potential prospect of a dancing job later seemed to make her feel better. She wrote down her information on a piece of paper and left the room.

The third guy in our class, Mike, was next. He sang fairly well, but it was quickly obvious that he was a tenor, and we were already quite well stocked for that vocal range. Kimber told him the same thing she had told Jennifer, and Mike seemed okay with it. He too wrote down his information and left the room. Now that only Tom was left, the rest of watched eagerly as he began to sing. He was fantastic! His soft, yet powerful bass echoed throughout the room, and it sent a few shivers up my spine. I had, of course, been right all along. He was exactly what we needed.

Kimber stopped him and with a wide smile on her face, she said, "Tom, you're just what we were looking for."

A look of surprise flashed across Tom's face. "Really?" he asked.

"Actually," I said, standing up, "we kind of already knew that, but we weren't sure how to say something to you without freaking you out."

"You mean, you wanted me all along?" Tom asked. I nodded and waited for Tom's reaction. He seemed to be overjoyed, and I was thankful that he didn't seem upset over the motions he had just been put through. "So who all is in this group, anyway?"

"Myself," I said, starting with me and pointing at the others as I went along, "you, my best friend Jerrica, Karri, and Mandy. The last two are contingent on whether or not they pass Kimber and J.B.'s singing test."

Karri and Mandy glanced briefly at each other and said, "Let's do it!"

They both shot out of their chairs and, after a moment, Karri turned to me and said, "We have to sing and dance, right?"

"Well, yeah. I think that's the whole point," I replied.

"Then let's do that!" Mandy said, grabbing my arm. "And you're going to help us!"

"I am?" I asked, a perplexed expression on my face.

"Yeah. Let's do one of our two 'fun routines,'" Karri said.

"Oh!" I said, starting to get a clue. "You really want to give them a show, don't you?"

"Why not?" Mandy said with a grin.

"Okay. What'll it be? Taylor or Belinda?" I asked, referring to music by either Taylor Dayne or Belinda Carlisle.

The three of us stared at each other for a minute before saying in unison, "TAYLOR!"

Behind us, Jerrica whispered to Chris, "Any idea what they're talking about?"

Chris shook his head. "No clue."

Taking the chair I vacated next to Jerrica, Joey came in and sat down. Glancing over at us, he whispered to Jerrica, "So what did I miss?"

With a huge grin, Jerrica replied, "I think the bigger question is what did the rest of us miss?" When a look of confusion crossed Joey's face, she clarified by saying, "In the locker room."

Joey turned absolutely pale. "Uh, n-n-nothing. Nothing at all."

"If it was nothing, then why are you st-st-stuttering?" Jerrica asked mockingly. When it seemed that no further color could drain from Joey's face, she said, "Don't answer that. There are some things that are better left unsaid, and there are certainly some things that I would rather not know about."

The color not only returned to Joey's face, but he started to blush a little. "What makes you think I would tell you anyway?" he asked.

"So something did happen?" Chris asked.

"That, my friend, is none of your business, and I am not going to dignify it with any further response," Joey replied.

Jerrica groaned. "You know, he's starting to sound like Rob, er, Will, more and more. He's turning into a clone."

"Just when you were beginning to think one wasn't enough," Joey said with a sly grin.

Turning their attention back to us, I had just finished putting a compact disc in the CD player, which contained the music—or karaoke—version of a number of songs. When Karri, Mandy, and I had first started taking this dance class, and subsequently began having practices at my house on Thursdays, we had created a couple of routines, courtesy of our self-appointed choreographer Karri, that we did just for fun after we practiced the stuff for class. I had never thought much about actually doing them in front of others, but all things considered, I decided why not? It would be fun, and it's not like we were actually performing this in front of thousands.

I turned the player on and flipped it to the correct track. I took my place between Mandy and Karri as the drum beat started. Once the music began, we started into our routine. It was a very fast-paced, upbeat, high-tempo dance, which makes sense, considering the speed of the music. I had never thought of this as being pop dancing, although I guess it was. Taking into account the fact that I always felt I had two left feet, I always thought I did fairly well with both the Irish dancing class and these little fun numbers as well. The biggest difference though, is that Irish dance was work; this was fun.

The moves were simplistic enough. It was mostly body movements and a few steps thrown in for good measure. It was nothing difficult. The hardest parts were remembering which moves came when and staying in synch with the other two. Since we weren't dancing to a track that had vocals, we were going to have to provide our own. No one had decided how that was going to be arranged, so we were going to have to wing it. Since neither was giving any indication that they were going to be first, I decided to bite the bullet and began to sing.

Hoo! Uh huh huh. Hey yay yeah.
Oh, I keep getting closer to the love I know
I'm ready and willing; getting out of control
You win and you lose some,
But if you stay in the game

Before you know it you feel the fire,
But don't get burned by the flame.
Oh, you'll find the answer any day

As I was singing, I watched Mandy and Karri's eyes bug out. They had never heard me sing before, and they certainly weren't prepared for my high pipes. Nevertheless, they continued through their steps and joined in on the chorus.

With every beat of my heart
I keep getting closer to you, oh ah
With every beat of my heart
Now I know we're getting closer
To love with every beat

Hoo! Uh huh huh yeah. ohhh

Mandy took the next verse.

Now, I just wanna know you more every day
And now it won't be long 'til I hear you say yeah yeah
Oh, I say that you do boy
It's just a matter of time

Oh, before you know it you'll feel the fire
And it's burning deep inside (deep inside)
Oh, you'll find the answer in his eyes. Yeah!

Karri and I joined in on the chorus, and both Mandy and I shot her a look that said she was going to sing something by herself even if we had to stop completely.

With every beat of my heart
I keep getting closer to you, oh ah
With every beat of my heart now
I know we're getting closer to love

With every beat of my heart
I feel you moving closer to me, oh ah
With every beat of my heart
Baby I know it's becoming reality
With every beat

Whoo hoo! Oh oh oh, yeah yeah.

During the sax solo, Mandy and I drifted away from Karri, leaving her center stage. When it was time for the lyrics again, both Mandy and I did nothing until we were sure Karri was singing. Then we joined in to backup her vocals.

Before you know it you feel the fire
But don't get burned by the flame (by the flame)
No, you'll find the answer any day. Yeah!

With every beat of my heart
I keep getting closer to you, oh ah
With every beat of my heart
Now, I know we're getting closer
To love

Now that each of us had a turn to sing lead vocal, I took back over and let the diva in me come out running.

With every beat of my heart (with every beat of my heart)
I feel you moving closer to me, (ooh, closer to me) oh ah
With every beat of my heart
Baby I know it's becoming reality

With every beat of my heart
I keep getting closer to you (ooh closer to you) oh ah
With every beat of my heart
Now, I know we're getting closer
To love with every beat of my heart
Yeah yeah
I feel you moving closer to me, oh ah
With every beat of my heart...

The music ended and I turned off the CD player. Turning to the others, I said, "So, think these two are any good?"

No one was paying much attention to me, because they were too busy laughing at the shocked looks on Karri, Mandy, and Tom's faces. "What on earth was that sound coming out of your mouth?" Tom drawled in his thick Irish brogue.

"Uh, music?" I said hesitantly. Here we go, I thought sadly. I was kidding myself before, and so was everyone else. I sound terrible, just like I always thought.

"I've never heard anything like it," Tom continued. "Granted, my experience with male singers were all guys with voices like mine."

"So, are you saying I sound okay or are you saying I suck?" I asked bluntly.

"Damn boy," Karri said, finally finding her voice. "It's no wonder that other guy wants you. You're unbelievable. Why haven't you sung in front of us before?"

"Yeah!" Mandy chimed in agreement. "Did you think we would have laughed at you?"

"Well, most guys want to sound like Tom, not me," I remarked.

Tom walked over to me and put his arm around my shoulder. "Sorry if I made you think I thought you sounded bad. I was just a bit caught off guard, that's all. Am I correct in assuming that's not the top of your range?"

"Not even close," Joey said, standing up. Even though Joey knew that Tom wasn't making a move on me, his jealous side was starting to kick in a little over the fact that Tom still had his arm around me. "I've heard him go much higher than that. I just want to know where you all learned to move like that?"

I was starting to blush again; it was something I had a tendency to do when people were talking about me. Pointing at Karri, I said, "Don't look at me. I have two left feet. Karri is the dancer extraordinaire around here." Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Joey staring at me, and then I realized he was actually staring at Tom. Uh oh. Better not get him started, I thought as I took a step away from Tom. "Oh, before I forget," I said, a thought occurring to me, "Tom O'Callahan, I'd like to introduce you to some friends of mine. That's my best friend Jerrica Andrews," I began, working my way down the line, "and I'm guessing you remember Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick, Lance Bass, and Josh Chasez?"

"Yeah, from last week," Tom replied.

"And you know these two knuckleheads," I continued, indicating Karri and Mandy.

"Hey! I resent that remark!" Karri said.

"Hey! I resemble that remark!" Mandy said with a laugh.

"And over there, of course, are the famous Benton sisters, J.B. and Kimber," I finished.

"Hi," Tom said with a wave. "Wow. I feel like I'm dreaming. Are you really serious about starting a group?"

"One hundred percent," Kimber said. "Now that we've heard all five of you alone, and some of you together, I think we ought to hear how all five sound as a group, so that way we at least know where we're starting from. If you please." Kimber motioned all five of us toward the floor in front of her.

Jerrica rose from her seat and walked over to us. We were definitely an interesting group of people: two guys and three girls; one redhead, one blonde, two brunettes, and one with black hair; an amazingly wide vocal range between the five of us. Even with that, I wondered whether or not this was something we could pull off. Individually, we all sounded great, but how would we sound together?

"So what should we sing?" Jerrica asked.

The five of us stared at one another uncomfortably until I had one of my many brainstorms. "Well, since we have one of the members of Jem and the Holograms here with us," I said, giving J.B. a knowing wink, "why don't we sing one of their songs?"

"Oh, and I've got the perfect one too!" Karri cried.

The five of us formed a huddle and collaborated a moment. We made our decision, and while Tom hadn't heard the song in a while and wasn't sure he remembered all the words, I told him just to make do as best he could. "Besides," I said, "after the first verse, it follows the same pattern. I think you'll catch on." Turning to our spectators, I said, "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first performance of, well, whatever it is we decide to call ourselves." I shrugged my shoulders and continued. "After all, this is only the beginning of us 'Puttin' It All Together.'" J.B. and Kimber began to laugh when they finally caught the meaning of my pun, considering that it was also the name of the song we were about to sing. Without further ado, I launched into the song by myself, with the others joining in after the first couple lines.

We're takin' the steps,
Makin' the moves
And puttin' it all together.

We're callin' the shots (callin' it)
Runnin' the show (runnin' it)
And puttin' it all together.

Side by side together (side by side together)
Standin' tall together
And full of pride together.
We're puttin' it all together!

Mandy and Jerrica joined me for the lead vocals on the next part of the song. As for Tom, maybe it was just hearing the first part that jogged his memory, because he seemed to have no trouble keeping up.

We're pressin' ahead
And dressin' it up
And puttin' it all together!

We're turnin' it on, (turnin' it)
Churnin' it out, (churnin' it)
And puttin' it all together!

Side by side together (side by side together)
Standin' tall together
And full of pride together
We're puttin' it all together (together)!

Side by side together (side by side together)
Standin' tall together
Full of pride together
We're puttin' it all, puttin' it all,
Puttin' it all together!

Everyone in the room began to applaud, including M.F. I think that's what got to me more than anything else. Having only dealt with her in my class, I never thought about her appreciating other types of music.

"You guys are fantastic!" J.B. cried.

"Outrageous!" said Kimber. "I haven't heard that song done so well since, well, when we did it!"

Josh, Lance, Chris, and Joey were in complete agreement. We all took a minute or two to hold various conversations with one another until M.F. whistled loudly. "No offense, but there is another class coming in at two-thirty."

I glanced at my watch and realized it was almost two o'clock. "Damn!" Looking over at Karri and Mandy, I said, "Did anyone think to call Mama Celia and tell her we were going to be late?"

Karri and Mandy shook their heads, but Joey said, "I did. I called her before class started. She expects us there by two-fifteen."

I breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness. I don't think she was kidding when she said we don't want her upset with us." Turning to Kimber and J.B., I said, "Okay, so we sound decent. Now what?"

J.B. reached into her briefcase and pulled out five sheets of paper. "I need you all to sign these. Don't worry. They're nothing major. These are 'Intent to Sign' forms, and by signing them, you are saying that you intend to sign with Starlight Music, but are under no obligation to do so. However, it does prevent you from signing with anyone else for ninety days, and it also allows us to act on your behalf and in your name when transacting business with others. We'll hammer out a real contract within the next week or so."

"Okay," I said, taking a pen from J.B. I signed and dated the bottom of the form and gave them both a big grin. "Well, looks like that takes care of that." I looked over at the other four, who suddenly appeared to be a bit hesitant. "What's wrong?"

"This is moving really fast," Karri said softly. "I know I was gung ho earlier, but now I'm suddenly not so sure."

The others chimed their agreement with Karri's statement. Trying not to sound pushy, I said, "I know this is fast, but we're not operating on a lot of time, I'm afraid. I assure you that Kimber and J.B. would never do anything to hurt any of us. They're like family to me and I trust them implicitly. Besides," I noted, glancing at Kimber, "if they did screw us over in some way, my mother would send my grandmother after them."

Kimber shuddered involuntarily, causing Jerrica to laugh. "Well, that's good enough for me," Jerrica said, walking over to the table. "Where do I sign?" Jerrica put her signature and the date on the document, and then turned to offer the pen to Mandy.

"What have I got to lose?" Mandy asked aloud, signing the paper placed in front of her. She offered the pen to Karri, who signed her paper as well.

Turning to Tom, Karri offered him the pen, and after what seemed like a quick moment of internal conflict, he sighed and took the pen from her. "Mandy's right. What have I got to lose? I'm in a dead-end job anyway." He signed the last sheet of paper, dated it, and handed it back to J.B. "Well, I guess it's official then," he said slowly. "Now what?"

"Now, we celebrate!" I yelled. "Mama Celia's, here we come!"

We hadn't taken more than a step or two when the door to dance hall burst open. Marching through the door was the last person in the world I wanted to see. "Fils de pute. L'ordure est arrivé."

"Huh?" said Joey, who was standing next to me.

"You don't want to know," Jerrica said, but when Joey raised an eyebrow, indicating he was waiting for an explanation, she translated my words for him. "He said, 'Son of a bitch. The bastard's here."

Joey cocked his head to one side and glanced over at me. "You don't like him much, do you?" Joey asked, trying not to laugh.

"Not hardly," I replied. We all stared hard at Johnny as he made his way across the room, and then, to our surprise, we noticed the person he had come with. It was Justin. "I thought he went back to Orlando?" I whispered to Joey, pointing at Justin.

"I did to," Joey whispered back.

Johnny walked up to me and, as evenly as possible, said, "Do you know what day it is?"

"Let's see. If I'm at dance class, and it's been five days since I've been here, it must be mercredi," I said, using the French word for Wednesday.

"What?" Johnny asked.

"You and I both know what day it is, Johnny," I said, glaring at the man. "What's your point?"

"You were supposed to have some papers due back to me yesterday," Johnny said, "and I don't have them."

"Well, you know, there were some more important things on my mind yesterday, like my grandmother. I recall telling you she was in the hospital, correct?"

"Well, yes, but..."

"And are you going to stand here and try to tell me that I should put your stupid little business deal ahead of the well-being and care of my family?"

"Well, no, but..."

"Then what are you trying to say, Johnny? That's kind of what it's starting to sound like, and I think that's rather callous of you."

"Well, I..."

"You know what? I'll leave you here to formulate a response, and when you think of one, don't call me. See you later. Let's go, everyone."

We all started to move toward the door when Johnny bellowed, "Wait just one second!"

"Wow. That was quick," I muttered.

"We had an agreement. Now, here are the contracts. Sign them," Johnny said, thrusting the papers at me.

"I'm sorry Johnny," I said, staring him straight in the eye, "but I can't. I've had a better offer—one I haven't been blackmailed into."

"You had better be careful making accusations like that, boy," Johnny said, glaring back at me.

"Boy?" I echoed. "Boy?" I stepped closer to him, looking him straight in the eye. "Let's get one thing straight. I don't like you, and you don't like me, but you will never disrespect me like that again. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"

Johnny stepped back a little, the expression on his face wavering. "I never..."

"Johnny, before you start lying, there were other people who heard our conversation at the restaurant," I said, still staring him down. "Now, I am sorry to inform you that I have already signed an agreement with Kimber Benton and Starlight Music, and I'm afraid that it's binding. It's out of my hands now. You'll need to talk to Kimber and J.B. regarding anything dealing with me." Then, giving him my best fake smile, I said, "Have a great day Johnny! It's supposed to be very nice out, and you look like you could use some air." I then took a couple steps to my right, walked around Johnny, and headed straight out the door, not stopping until I was safely on the other side.

Moments later, I was joined by everyone else, except for Kimber and J.B., who were now in the middle of an argument with Johnny, and M.F., who was trying to referee. My heart was racing a mile a minute, and I was in a state of disbelief that I had actually stood up to him—again—like that. I was generally a very passive person, and it usually took a lot to get me riled up, but Johnny's mere presence had a tendency to do that to me.

"Wow, Will," Josh said as he placed a hand on my shoulder. "I've never seen you quite like that before."

"Well, someone had to put him in his place, and I was afraid that if I didn't, one of those two would," I said, pointing at Joey and Jerrica who both blushed a little.

"So, are we going to eat or what?" Mandy asked.

"Let's go!" I said with a grin. I was starving, for one. Second, I wanted to see Mama Celia again, and I wanted to be as far away from Johnny Wright as I could possibly get.

As we were leaving, the scene inside the dance hall was heating up. "How dare you steal him from me!" Johnny shouted at Kimber.

"Steal him?" Kimber shouted. "He was never 'yours' to begin with."

"He and I had an agreement," Johnny shot back.

"Yeah. One you blackmailed him into," Kimber said. "How dare you use his relationship with Joey..."

"KIMBER!!" J.B. yelled.

"Oops," Kimber said, turning bright red and staring at the floor.

"Mr. Fatone and Mr. Robertson are together?" M.F. asked.

"Uh, yeah," Kimber said quietly.

"Ah. So I was right. I thought as much," M.F. said with a grin, "but your sister is right. You should be more careful about who you say that to."

"Anyway," Johnny said, trying to steer the conversation back in his direction, "it seems we are at an impasse."

"Will and the others have signed agreements with us," Kimber said, holding up one of their forms.

Johnny snatched the paper and ripped it up. "And that's what I think of your agreement."

"Will signed his earlier," J.B. said, stretching the truth a little. "That wasn't his, and since we have a document bearing his signature and you don't, I believe there is little you can do."

"But...but...we've already got plans made for their new song, and his opening act, and..." Johnny began to babble.

"We'll be more than happy to cooperate," J.B. said as she picked up her briefcase, "as long as the terms are fair. Now, we have other business to attend to. Good day, Mr. Wright. Ms. Brannigan, we'll be talking to you later today, all right?"

"I look forward to it," M.F. said with a smile.

J.B. and Kimber walked out, leaving a very angry Johnny with M.F. "They can't do this to me!" Johnny yelled.

Coming up behind him, M.F. said, "They can. They did. They have. Now, I have a class starting in twenty minutes, so I need you to kindly remove yourself from my premises, as you have no further business here."

"Fine!" Johnny yelled. "But none of you have heard the last of me on this. Not at all!"

M.F. watched as Johnny stormed out of the hall. Leaning against the table, she looked toward the ceiling and said, "Dear God. Please watch over Mr. Robertson and his friends, and help them in any way you can. Right now, I think they could use all the help from you they can possibly get. Amen." She closed her eyes, crossed herself, and then went to get ready for her next class.

To Be Continued...

So what did you think? The group of five is on its way, but what hurdles lay ahead for them? What kind of trouble could Johnny cause for our quintet, or for the guys of *Nsync? Why did Justin come to Baltimore, presumably with Johnny, and how did he get there? Joey and Will are moving closer and closer to one another. How long will it take before, well, you-know-what happens? Please, drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Well, it's done. It's also, now, the longest chapter to date. I don't know what it is with me and long chapters. It just seems to work that way. As always, I hope my latest effort was well worth it for you as the reader. Also, for those that are interested, I have started a second story, called The Glamorous Life, which I am co-writing with a very talented author and can also be found on my website.

Thanks to everyone who has written to me!! A special thanks goes out to my editors, Mandy and Dreamy, who keep me in line.

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Extra disclaimers: Song lyrics for "With Every Beat of My Heart "and "Puttin' It All Together" are protected under copyright by the original author and its recording label. No attempt to infringe on this copyright should be assumed or implied. Song lyrics for ";Je Serai Là Pour Toi" are my own. The characters Kimber Benton, Jerrica Benton, Aja Leith, Shana Elmsford, and Raya Alonso are creations of Hasbro.

Song Translation

Je Serai Là Pour Toi (I Will Be There For You)
Written by Rob © 1998

The sun rises and you are there.
I like the idea that you are near me
But there are times when you are not there
Will you be there for me?

I don't know why you are in my life
But it makes me happy, oh yes
I'll say to you never leave me
If you believe in me.

I will never leave you
In the future or in the past
I will be there everyday
Forever and all hours
I hope that we will be
We could be friends.
I will be there for you
Oh, I will be there for you.

I know the times when you are sad
And I know the times when you don't care
I'll say to you that I understand,
And now
It seems like the world (doesn't like you)
Well, don't believe it.
Listen to me.

I will never leave you
In the future or in the past
I will be there everyday
Forever and all hours
I hope that we will be
We could be friends.
I will be there for you

Oh, I will never leave you
In the future or in the past
I will be there everyday
Forever and all hours
I hope that we will be
We could be friends.
I will be there for you

I'll be there all the time for any reason, ah
And I want that, and I want that you know

I will never leave you
In the future or in the past
I will be there everyday
Forever and all hours
I hope that we will be
We could be friends.
I will be there for you

Oh, I will never leave you
In the future or in the past
I will be there everyday
Forever and all hours
I hope that we will be
We could be friends.
I will be there for you
I will be there for you.
I will be there for you.