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!!

Last time...

The tyrant let us go a little after one o'clock. I was thrilled. That was an extra hour and a half of sleep for me! As soon as M.F. released us, I carted J.B. and Kimber out the door. I have no idea how M.F. managed to come up with so many routine ideas in such a short span of time, but I was duly impressed. Nonetheless, I was incredibly exhausted by the end of the time, and it was a shortened day to boot. I had J.B. drive us back as I was not really in any condition to drive. I told her that if she needed directions, just to let me know. We had barely left the parking lot before I fell asleep.

I was shaken awake about half an hour later, as J.B. needed help getting from the highway to the house, especially since Briar's Run isn't signposted at the intersection and is easy to miss. I managed to stay awake long enough to guide her home, and then I made a beeline for the house. I waved to the guys, who were in the process of getting ready to leave themselves, and bolted upstairs. For my sanity, J.B. changed her reservations to fly out early the following morning so I didn't have to worry about wasting necessary sleep time in taking her to the airport—a very considerate gesture on her part.

I walked into my room to find Joey had made the bed, lain some sleepwear out for me, and had folded the covers back on my side of the bed. He had turned on some soothing music on the radio and had even set my alarm for five o'clock. I was so incredibly floored by such a simple, yet sweet, action that I didn't know what to say. Joey came up behind me and handed me a single red rose. "Come here," he said, guiding me to the bed.

He sat me down and proceeded to take off my shoes and socks. He then had me stand up so he could take off my shirt and pants. I felt a little silly having him undress me like this, but I wasn't going to argue. It was truly the nicest thing anyone had done for me in years. Once I was down to my boxers, Joey rubbed his hands over my shoulders and proceeded to kiss me deeply and passionately. I was willing to let that go on forever, but Joey broke the kiss off and had me get dressed in the t-shirt and sweats he had lain out. He then had me crawl into bed and tucked me in. "Get some sleep," Joey said quietly before he pulled the curtains across the windows. He sat my cell phone on the nightstand next to the bed and said, "I'll try to call at five minutes after five, just to make sure you're awake."

I never heard him. I was already asleep.

Chapter Eighteen: Tom's Confessional

"BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!" my alarm clock shrilled right at five o'clock. Groaning, I rolled over and kept hitting the alarm clock until I finally managed to shut the alarm off.

"It can't possibly be time to wake up yet," I grumbled as I tussled around in bed, trying to get back into a comfortable position. I had just barely startled to settle in when my cell phone went off. "What the hell?" I grumbled as I reached for it. "Hello?" I said in the middle of a yawn.

"Well, good afternoon sleepyhead," came Joey's cheerful voice.

"What's so good about it?" I countered.

"Well, someone's grumpy," Joey said with a laugh as I started to sit up in bed.

"Sorry," I said resignedly. "I'm still really tired and just want to fall back asleep."

"I know it's going to be a hard couple of weeks, but it will get better. I promise."

"I'll hold you to it then," I said, a small smile appearing on my face.

"So, are you out of bed yet?" Joey asked, and as if he could see the look on my face, he began to laugh. "You're not, are you."

"No, and if I had my way, I'd stay right here until tomorrow."

"Come on. Get up and get going. You know you're going to be mad at yourself if you're late."

"You're right, and I hate that," I grumbled. "As much as I hate being reminded of my boring life, it's an unfortunate necessity."

"Well, it's not really necessary," Joey said. "I could always..."

"Don't go there! Please, don't go there. I think you can already guess what my answer to that is."

"Yeah, I think I do. Anyway, onto a different subject, the guys were thinking about taking the girls and Tom out to a club tonight, if that's okay with you."

"Of course," I said automatically. "Just because I have to go to work doesn't mean you all can't go out and have fun."

"Really?" Joey said incredulously. "You don't have a problem with it?"

"Not at all," I replied. "Why? Should I have a problem?"

"Well, some people might have issues with their boyfriend going out to a club without them."

"I don't. I trust you implicitly, Joe."

"You do? After what happened with me and the other guys and the tape...?"

"Yes, Joe, you made a mistake, but I realized a couple of things. First, holding any sort of grudge about that is counterproductive. Second, and most importantly, anyone who is willing to stick by me after watching me practically self-destruct like I did back in Montréal is deserving of my trust. So, yes Joe, please go have a good time. Just do me one favor?"

"What's that?"

"If you guys aren't going to be home before I get home, give me a call and let me know so I don't worry."

"I think I can handle that. Hey, I have to get back to work, so I'm going to have to let you go. Have a good day at work. Love ya, Jamesy."

"Love you too, JoJo. Don't let her work you too hard." I could hear Joey laughing before he hung up. I eased myself out of bed, glanced at the clock, and realized I was already starting to run late. Dashing for the bathroom, I tried my hardest to make myself look semi-presentable before running back to my bedroom, throwing on some clothes, and then dashing out the front door. As I drove to work, I felt a bit jealous that everyone was going out and having a good time without me, but I also reasoned it wouldn't be fair to ask them not to go just because I couldn't. Sighing, I resigned myself to the task at hand that night—a very long night at work.

The club was jumpin', that's for sure. The music was loud and everyone was having a good time. Well, almost everyone.

"Joey, come on man! Have some fun!" Chris said, tugging on Joey's arm.

"I am having fun," Joey said morosely. "Can't you tell?"

"Dude, Will wouldn't want you to sit here and sulk," Chris said. "He'd want you to have a good time."

"I know," Joey said. "I just feel kind of bad being here having a good time while he's at work."

"Did he ask you not to come?" Chris asked.

"No," Joey replied. "He told me to come. Actually, he was a bit insistent on it."

"See! He wants you to have a good time! Now lighten up and have some fun!" Chris said with a smile. "Here, have a beer."

"Uh, thanks," Joey said before taking a drink. "You know, you're right. We're here to have fun, and I'm going to have fun. Enough of this moping around. Let's go."

Joey followed Chris onto the dance floor and met up with Jerrica and Lance who were dancing with each other. The group then spread out around the floor, dancing with a number of people and just having a good time. As the night went on, Joey slowly slipped back into his old element—dancing with as many ladies as he could and getting progressively drunk.

Around one o'clock in the morning, Chris and Jerrica were standing against a wall chatting when Jerrica glanced over at Joey who was in the middle of a rather 'provocative' dance with a young lady. "Chris, look over there and please tell me I'm not seeing what I'm seeing."

Chris glanced over at Joey and his face fell. "I... I'm sure he's just doing it for show. People expect it from us."

"Chris, he's leading her on!" Jerrica exclaimed.

"Nah. As much as these girls love to dream, they know they are never going to leave with us at the end of the night, and you know he would never do anything to compromise his relationship with Will. Besides, if there are any press watching, and there usually are, it's not bad for him to look overwhelmingly heterosexual."

"If you say so," Jerrica said, "but I still don't like it. It feels like cheating to me."

"It's not like Joey is kissing her. Then again..." Chris trailed off as he watched the girl kiss Joey right on the lips.

Jerrica turned and started to get really mad. "How dare he? How dare he do this to Will?" She took a couple of steps toward Joey when she watched him push the girl off of him and start yelling. The absolutely crushed look on the girl's face made Jerrica feel a bit better.

"I was going to try to tell you she kissed him," Chris said, "but things were starting to get a little dull and I figured a fight might be interesting."

"Brat," Jerrica said, lightly punching Chris in the shoulder. "You would have let me make a fool of myself?"

"Nah. I knew Joey would probably do that and that you would calm down. Now come on! Let's go back out there and dance!"

Jerrica relented and allowed herself to be drug onto the dance floor. Her overwhelming protective nature over me had kicked in hard, and while she thought of Joey now as family—a brother-in-law, for all intents and purposes—I was still her first priority, and she was having difficulty shaking her rising suspicions about Joey. While he claimed to be gay and completely in love with me, there was a small part of her that wondered if that was indeed the case. I guess I'll just have to keep my eye on him, she thought.

I wandered in the door a little after three o'clock. I was able to scoot out early, and I was ready to sit down and relax. If I didn't know better, I would have thought it was a full moon. The passengers were rather cranky and by the end of the night I was not in a very good mood. Nonetheless, I felt the stress and tension slowly slip away as I took a seat on the couch. I glanced at the clock and hoped Joey and the others were having a good time. I figured they would probably be home soon, and I was, in a way, kind of glad that I had beat them home. It would be nice to spend a little bit of time with Joey before they all headed off to bed.

"Hey Josh!" Lance called. "There's a party going on not too far from here. Want to go?"

Josh shrugged. "I don't see why not. What time is it?"

Lance looked at his watch. "About three o'clock. I figure we head over, hang for a couple hours, and then go back to the house? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to call it a night yet."

"Fine with me. Let me go find the others," Josh said as he wandered back onto the floor.

After conferring with Chris, Jerrica, Justin, Mandy, Karri, and Joey, they decided that going over to the party sounded like fun. "It's too bad Tom went home early," Justin said as they walked out of the club. "He's a lot of fun."

"Yeah, he said something about wanting to get a couple hours of sleep before facing M.F. in the morning," Mandy said. "Now that I think about it, I'm a bit inclined to agree with that sentiment. I got a decent amount of sleep earlier today, but I'm not looking forward to dealing with her all day."

"Oh, you'll be fine," Chris said.

"I guess," Mandy said. "I hope M.F. will cut the practice short due to our scheduled class today. We do have a performance tomorrow, after all."

Karri agreed. "This is going to be a long weekend."

It was now a little after four and the guys weren't home yet. I was starting to become a little nervous as Joey hadn't called. I picked up my phone and stared at it, debating whether or not I should call him when J.B. walked in.

"Good morning," she said as she pulled her luggage behind her. "Why aren't you in bed?"

"Good morning to you too. As for why I'm not in bed, I'm supposed to be taking you to the airport, remember?"

"Oh, I forgot to tell you. I decided to call a shuttle service to take me so you wouldn't have to," J.B. said with a smile. "I figured you could use the rest."

"I appreciate that," I said, "but it's not necessary. It's no big deal. Besides, I was going to wait up for Joey and the others, but they're not back yet. I'm starting to get a little worried."

"Robért-James, I mean Will, I'm sure they're fine. They are adults, after all. What sort of trouble could they possibly get themselves into?"

"Considering the fact that five of them are incredibly famous and that their fans have been known to go completely berserk when they're nearby? You're right! 'What sort of trouble could they possibly get themselves into!'" I said sarcastically, mimicking J.B.

"Okay, okay," J.B. said, throwing up her hands in the air and admitting defeat. "You've got a point. Have you called Joey?"

"Not yet," I replied. "I don't want to seem overbearing."

"Being concerned is not being overbearing. What time were they supposed to be back?"

"No set time, although I did ask Joey to call me if they weren't going to get home before I did."

"Well, there you go then," J,B, said. "Joey hasn't called you, so that means you should call him, if for no other reason than to put your mind at ease that they are all okay."

"I guess you're right. I just don't..."

"...want to seem overbearing," she said in unison with me. "Yes, you've said that already. Now call him!"

"All right, I'll call! Sheesh!" I picked up my cell phone, paged through the entries, and called Joey's cell phone. After a few rings, it connected me to his voicemail. "Joey, it's Will. It's a little after four, and I haven't heard from you, so I thought I'd give you a call to make sure you were okay. Call me back. Bye." Hanging up the phone, I slightly shrugged my shoulders and said, "Voicemail. That's kind of odd. He usually leaves it on."

"Well, don't start having kittens yet," J.B. said. "There could be any number of reasons for that. Just wait a little bit. I'm sure he'll call you back."

"Yeah," I said half-heartedly. For some bizarre reason, I had this feeling that something wasn't quite right. It didn't seem like Joey to just not call me. Of course, it was possible they had just lost track of time. Yeah, that's it, I thought. They'll be home soon.

Joey, Chris, and Mandy stumbled out of the party around five o'clock. The rest of the group was already waiting for them on the front lawn.

"Well, this was definitely some night," Chris said as the three got into one of the two vehicles the group was using to get around. Neither Lance nor Mandy had alcohol that night, so the two of them drove back to the house.

"I agree," Joey said, his speech slightly slurred. "I haven't partied like that in a long time."

In the front seat, Mandy and Jerrica, who were riding with them, laughed. "You two or going to have one serious hangover when you wake up," Mandy said.

"I cut myself off a long time ago," Jerrica said. "There's nothing worse than a migraine in the morning."

"Amen to that!" Chris said.

The car fell silent as they made their way back to the house. They pulled into the driveway behind Lance and the others and quietly made their way toward the house.

Noticing the lights were on, Lance said, "It looks like Will is awake."

"What time is it, anyway?" Jerrica asked.

"Quarter to six," Lance said.

"Dang. We've just barely got enough time to get washed up, change, and then head for dance practice," Karri said glumly. "Now I'm kind of wishing I had gone home when Tom did."

"I agree," Mandy said. "Today is going to be hell, indeed."

The group slowly shuffled through the garage into the house through the kitchen door. Walking into the living room, they found Kimber sitting on the couch and me standing in the center of the room, my arms folded across my chest and tapping my foot impatiently.

"Uh, hi Will," Josh said. "How was your night?"

"MY night? Oh, it was fine. Fine. And what about you all? More importantly, where have you been?" I asked as sweetly as I could.

"We went out to a club," Lance said. "Didn't Joey tell you that?"

"Oh, yes. He told me THAT part, but if I recall correctly, don't the clubs close around two or three? That means you have two hours unaccounted for, doesn't it?" I asked, staring at Joey.

"Well, we want to a party that was nearby after that and..." Justin began, but the look on my face after this bit of news caused him to fall silent.

"I see. Jerrica," I said, turning to her, "why don't you and the girls run upstairs and get ready? We need to leave in a few. Joey, I need to talk to you outside for a minute."

"Uh, Will, I'm kind of tired and..."

"Joey, now please," I said, walking toward the front door. "Kimber, I'll meet you in the car in a moment."

"Okay," she said as she passed a perplexed and not completely stable Joey who was still reeling from all the alcohol he had consumed that night.

As I held the door open for Joey to walk through, I heard Chris say, "Well, it's obvious who has the balls in that relationship."

Glaring at him, I called out, "Yes Chris, and we know Jerrica has them in yours. Good night." I slammed the door behind me only to turn and nearly walk right into Joey.

"No offense Will, but whatever this is about, can we make it quick? I seriously need to lie down."

"Don't worry. I'll be done in a minute," I said, preparing myself for what I was about to say. "Joe, do you remember the one thing I asked you to do earlier today when you said you were going out tonight?"

Joey shook his head. "No. Actually, most of tonight is kind of a blur at the moment."

I was starting to get annoyed and was about ready to chew him out when I said, "You know what? Forget it. Just forget it. Go to bed. I'll see you around sometime."

I started to walk down the steps of the porch to head for the garage when Joey grabbed my arm. "Will, what's the matter? There's something wrong; I can tell."

"It's not important Joe. Don't worry about it. Go sleep everything off and I'll talk to you later."

I admit my tone was a bit condescending, and while Joey was rather drunk, it was hard to miss my tone of voice. "And what is that supposed to mean?" he asked with a hard edge to his voice.

"Look, I'm glad you had a good time, and it's obvious you've had too much to drink. Now, why don't you go lie down and get some rest, and when you're feeling better, then we can finish this conversation."

"What's wrong with right now?" Joey asked. "You've obviously got something on your mind, so just say it!"

"You want to know what's on my mind?" I asked, my eyes boring into his. "Fine! I'll tell you! Do you have ANY idea how much I've been freaking out these last two hours? The one thing I asked you to do was call me if you were going to get home late. That was all I asked of you, but did you do that? No! So, I thought that maybe you had forgotten. It happens. I forget stuff all the time! So I called your cell phone, and you didn't answer. I called you SEVEN times Joe, and not once did you answer. I called the others, and no one answered. So here I am, waiting for you to get home and praying that you all are okay while you're out getting absolutely smashed and doing who knows what else!"

"So you're pissed off because we went to a party?" Joey asked incredulously.

"Not because you went," I replied, "but because you didn't tell me you were going and that you were going to be late. All I ask for is a little common courtesy here."

"Look, I forgot, okay? I'm sorry. Is that what you want to hear?" Joey shouted, glaring back at me.

"Are you sorry because you made a mistake, or are you sorry that you're getting yelled at?" I shot back.

"Will, I am not a child, so don't treat me like one!"

"THEN STOP ACTING LIKE ONE!" I yelled. Joey took a step back and stared at me, a shocked look appearing on his face. "Look, as much as Josh and Justin like to kid around with me, I am not your mother and it isn't my job to take care of you. I also know right now that you are unable to see any other point of view than your own, so I am just going to leave this conversation here and let you think for a while about why it is I'm so upset. Maybe, after some time, you'll understand. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a rehearsal to go to."

I spun on my heel and started to walk away again. As I turned the corner, I looked over and saw a rather sulky Joey watching after me. Even though I went into that whole scene intending to have it out with Joey, I did try to circumvent the fight until he backed me into a corner. Joey and the others had scared me quite a bit, yet at the same time, I had to wonder if the problem wasn't so much them but my own insecurities catching up with me.

While I went to the garage to get in the car, Joey went back inside and ran into Jerrica, who was headed toward the garage as well. "I just don't understand him sometimes," Joey said with a sigh. "He's all upset because I didn't call him to tell him we were going to be late. How stupid is that?"

"Oh, is that what he was yelling about?" Jerrica asked. "Yeah, that doesn't surprise me."

"You don't think that's a little silly? We were only a couple hours late."

"True, but during that two hours, he was probably worrying himself sick. Oh...crap! I'm probably going to hear more than I want to about this one on the way to rehearsal," Jerrica groaned.

"I made a mistake. It's not that big a deal," Joey protested.

"Whatever, Joey," Jerrica said, shrugging her shoulders. "Then I guess you and he will have to work it out."

"He seemed pretty mad," Joey said with a sigh.

"Did he call you by your last name?" Jerrica asked.

Joey shook his head. "No. That's a good thing, isn't it?"

"Then he's just annoyed. Give him some time and things will be fine, I'm sure. After all, if he can forgive that little rat for what he did, this is hardly a big deal in comparison."

"You mean Justin?" Joey asked.

"How many other rodents do you know?" Jerrica grumbled. "Now I had better get going, because if we're late, you-know-who will never let me hear the end of it."


"No, worse. Your boyfriend."

The car ride to York was a bit tense, I'll admit. Jerrica and the girls rode in the backseat while Kimber rode up front. No one said a word to anyone the entire way there, which was just fine with me. I was still annoyed with everyone for the little stunt they had pulled that morning and, considering my fight with Joey already, I wasn't in the mood to get into it with anyone else, especially Jerrica. It was safer that the two of us avoided each other, otherwise an explosion was likely.

J.B. had left a little after five, so Kimber switched off to stay with me, the everlasting nervous wreck. To tell you the truth, I admit Joey had a point. They were only two hours late, and they were adults for heaven's sake, but nonetheless there was something about that whole episode that frightened me. Maybe it was their fame? Maybe I was worried that they would be mobbed? No, I think I was more worried that he would find someone else better than me and leave. "Damn," I muttered as we pulled into the parking lot at the Dance Academy.

"What?" Jerrica asked from behind.

"Nothing important," I replied. "Just acknowledging my incredible stupidity, that's all."

"You've just now figured it out?" Mandy asked.

"Mandy, right now is not a good time to go there," I shot back as I threw the car into a parking spot, shut off the engine, and hopped out.

"Someone's a bit touchy today, aren't they?" Karri said, rolling her eyes.

"You have no freaking idea," Jerrica said as she watched me turn the corner and go inside the building.

The whole group of them followed me—at a safe distance, mind you—inside the building and went to the locker room except for Kimber who went to find M.F. I was already in her office, going over the song placement for the show's layout that I had devised during some slow moments at work. Kimber, M.F., and I went over it and made some adjustments where they thought necessary. I also had a CD of the songs that the group was going to cover along with much of the sheet music of the original songs Jerrica and I had written over the years. I also pointed out the spots where I thought it might be good to incorporate some Irish dance—M.F.'s forte—into the show, and she heartily agreed. Last, but certainly not least, she told me that she was going to cut our practice short because of dance class. Once class was over, we were free to leave for the day, especially since our class' show was the next morning.

Tom was already in the hall and was stretching on a mat in a corner. I shouted hello to him and waved; he smiled, said hello, and waved back. After a couple of minutes, the girls wandered in. The alcohol they had consumed was starting to catch up with them—Jerrica and Karri looked like hell, and Mandy wasn't much better even though she'd had nothing alcoholic to drink the night before. Sadly, I didn't have much sympathy for them as I was still a bit perturbed about the whole situation, especially since my episode with Joey could have been easily avoided if he had just done what he promised. Trying to ignore those acrimonious feelings, I just stood against the wall until M.F. came in and we got to work.

While we were in rehearsal, Joey and the boys tried their best to sleep off some of their previous night's lingering effects. When Joey woke up at noon, he had a pounding headache. He quickly found out that Justin did as well, and Chris and Josh weren't nearly as bad off. Lance found the whole thing to be quite amusing, and since he hadn't had anything to drink the night before as well, he could see the humor in it.

"Well, at least someone is getting some enjoyment out of this," Justin grumbled as he plunked himself down at the table.

"Here, drink some coffee and chill out," Lance said, pushing a cup toward him.

"Thanks," Justin said as he accepted the cup. "Remind me never to do that again."

"I have. Many, many times, in fact, yet somehow you always manage to do it again," Lance noted.

"Yeah, yeah," Justin grumbled as he took another sip of coffee.

The two sat in silence until they were quickly joined by Chris, Joey, and Josh. "Anyone else feel like hell?" Chris asked.

"I do," Joey said, "in more ways than one."

"How so?" Lance asked.

"Well, the hangover's not helping," Joey began, "but I think I've managed to piss Will off again, and I don't understand why."

"What happened?" Chris asked.

"Well, he got all upset that we didn't call before going to the party, and then we started fighting. It just got worse from there until he finally walked away. I don't get why our being late upset him so much. It was just a couple of hours."

"Very true," Justin chimed in, surprising Joey a little. These days, they didn't agree on much. "I think he was overreacting, from what it sounds like."

"Yeah," agreed Chris. "That's not anything to get all worked up over."

"Did he ask you to call him before we went?" Lance asked thoughtfully.

"Uh, yeah, kind of," Joey said guiltily, "but I forgot."

"Why did he want you to call?" Lance pressed.

"To make sure we were okay or something like that. Oh, and to keep him...from...worrying," Joey said slowly, something inside his head starting to click.

"Far be it from me to make any attempts at trying to analyze someone like Will, but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say the reason he was mad was because you promised him you would do something that you didn't, which in turn caused him to worry for reasons unknown, and then when you did indeed arrive home safely, all that panic and anxiety converted itself into anger," Lance said, causing eyebrows on all four guys to rise.

"Been taking lessons from Will, have we, on how to be a psychiatrist?" Josh joked.

"Nah. I just know what it's like to chase after all of you for years," Lance replied, rolling his eyes.

"We're not that bad!" Justin said.

"Wanna bet?" Lance replied before bursting into laughter.

Joey, for his part, didn't need Lance's explanation for he had come to that conclusion on his own. At least he understood now why I was upset, and he felt a bit stupid too. Sure enough, as soon as he had sobered up a little, everything became much clearer. He also felt really bad for yelling at me the way he had. He knew well enough that it didn't take much to get me to start worrying over something, and it was very easy for me to worry about him. Feeling like a first-class heel, he said, "I've got to go."

"Go where?" Josh asked.

"York. I need to talk to Will," Joey replied as he started to head for the door.

"Aren't they in rehearsal right now?" Chris asked, noting the time on the clock.

"Yeah, but they're about to switch over to their dance class. Remember, they have a show tomorrow morning. I might be able to catch him in between when they switch back to their rehearsal after their class is over."

"We're coming with you," Justin said. "We can go to Celia's afterward, right?"

"I suppose so, although it wouldn't be quite the same without Will and the girls," Joey said.

"Or Tom," Josh noted. He and Tom had a rather lengthy and interesting conversation the night before, and Josh decided very quickly that Tom was someone he wanted to get to know a lot better.

"Speaking of Tom," Joey said as he went to get Jerrica's car keys, "I noticed the two of you spending quite a bit of time together last night. Is there, uh, something you want to tell us about?"

"Like what?" Josh asked innocently.

"You know? You and Tom?" Joey said with a small smile.

Josh burst into laughter. "Me? And Tom? Yeah, right. Besides, how do you even know he's gay?"

"Well, is he?"

"I didn't ask and he didn't say, but I think you're right," Josh said.

"So are you interested in him?" Justin asked.

"Why? So you can try and steal him away if I am?" Josh snapped suddenly.

"You just aren't going to let this go, are you?" Justin yelled. "Look, I did something incredibly stupid, I know that. I have to live with that for the rest of my life! Besides, if Joey and Will can forgive me, then why can't the rest of you?"

"Uh..." Joey started to say before thinking better of it.

"What?" Justin asked, turning to face Joey.

"I haven't exactly forgiven you yet. I no longer feel like doing bodily harm to you, well, most of the time anyway, but it's going to take me some time to work through this."

"That, and Will would hound you for days if he found out you two weren't playing nicely," Chris said with a chuckle.

"That too," Joey admitted.

Justin narrowed his eyes at Joey. "So right now you're just pretending to be nice to me for Will's sake?"

"Justin, don't blow this out of proportion. Put yourself in my shoes for a second and maybe you'll understand. Things will get better, but you have to give it some time. I'm sorry that I'm not anywhere near as forgiving as Will is, but you're just going to have to accept that. Now, I'm already in enough hot water as it is, and before I get myself into any more, I have to go."

As Joey headed for the door, Josh called out," No offense Joey, but it might be a good idea for you to put some pants on!"

Joey looked down to discover that he was only wearing a pair of boxers. "Whoops! That would have been a bit embarrassing!" he said before dashing upstairs to our bedroom.

"Well, Will might have gotten a little kick out of it," Josh said with a sly grin.

While the other four were having their discussion, Lance sat there quietly and assessed the dynamics of the group's current state. Once a close-knit, unshakeable group of guys, the rift that had quickly developed worried him. While he knew that I would never let Joey and Justin duke it out, so to speak, up to the best of my ability, Lance figured that I would probably be able to contain Joey's current animosity toward Justin only up to a certain extent. After that, it was anyone's guess.

However, he was snapped out of his thoughts when Justin said, "So I guess the rest of you are never going to forgive me either, right?"

"If Will can forgive you, I can," Chris said. "All things considered, I think his opinion should count for a lot since he was the one in the middle."

"I agree," Lance said. "If Will can forgive you, I can too."

Everyone looked at Josh, who had an uncomfortable look on his face. "I want to forgive you Jus, I really do, but now, after all this, I find it hard to look at you the same way I used to," he said forlornly. "I'm sorry."

"So am I," Justin said as he headed for the stairs and left the room.

As soon as Justin was out of earshot, Chris turned to face Josh. "What the hell are you thinking?!"

"I'm sorry Chris, but I'm not going to lie to you or him about how I feel. Justin has always been my best friend and I thought I knew him really well, but now it's like I don't know anything about him at all. I never thought he was capable of doing something like this," Josh said with a sigh.

"Look, I know this isn't easy to deal with right now, but just remember that we go back on tour in two days!" Lance exclaimed, his frustrations with the whole mess starting to get to him.

"I'm well aware of that, but this is something that Justin and I will have to work out on our own," Josh said, slowly rising from his seat. "Now, I'm going to go get ready."

"We should probably do the same," Lance said as he got up and headed for the stairs.

"Yeah," Chris said as he followed. In his mind, though, he was a bit troubled. Was this a sign of the end?

Tensions were fairly high in each car, at least to begin with. Since Joey didn't want to be anywhere near Justin unless he had no choice, and Josh and Justin were in the middle of an argument, it was quickly decided it would be best if Josh and Joey rode together while Lance, Chris, and Justin went in a different car. The latter group said nothing the entire way, but Joey and Josh had barely made it to the highway before the tension broke and the two started talking animatedly to each other.

"Joey, I don't know what to say," Josh said at last. "I never thought Justin could act like this before." Joey remained silent, but his grip on the wheel tightened. "He's not the person I thought I knew. Every time I look at him I see someone different, like he's a complete stranger. It feels like whatever strains of a friendship we have are about to collapse."

Joey mulled this admission in his head and then chose his words carefully. "Josh, I'm working hard on trying to put this behind me and move on. I'm trying very hard to make amends with Justin, but I admit it's not easy. Were it not for Will, I probably would have written him off by now, but Will, whether I like it or not, made a couple of very good points. We have been friends for years, and we can't let something like this destroy our friendship, and along that line, the group. Will may be forcing me to be nice to Justin, but in the end I think it's for the best. I just have to let this anger and resentment go, and maybe, once we get back on the tour, things will go back to normal."

"I know you're right Joey, but what you've said is truly easier said than done," Josh remarked.

"Don't I know it. Every time I see Justin I just want to wring his neck, and believe me when I say I've been tempted to do it a number of times, but the serious scolding I would get from Will prevents me from doing it. You know, I don't think I've ever cared about anyone in my life as much as Will, and I almost find it funny how his opinion influences what I do. I never would have thought twice about something like that before."

"My friend, you have definitely found love, if I'm not mistaken," Josh said with a smile. "I wish you and Will all the best, you know. I admit I'm a tad jealous, but I'll deal."

"Jealous? Of me?" Joey asked incredulously. "Why on earth would you be jealous of me?"

"Because you've found someone and I haven't," Josh said resignedly.

"I always wondered about that, considering how the fans fawn all over you and Justin."

"That's all so fake. There's no real emotion there. Everyone I meet wants me because I'm famous. Will barely even recognized us and he still fell for you."

"That did make me feel a bit more at ease right from the beginning," Joey said, "but I know the right person will come along. Like I said earlier, what about Tom? Any possibility of sparks going on between you?"

"I don't know. I really want there to be. God, how I want there to be! He's so cute, and funny, and nice, and..."

"Okay! Okay! I get the picture! I like Tom too, and hopefully he's right for you, that is if he wants to be right for you."

"We'll just have to wait and see, I suppose."

"You'll find out soon enough. Besides, with Will working on him, things may come to a head sooner than you think," Joey said absent-mindedly.

"What do you mean?" Josh asked, cocking his head to one side.

"Well, Will thinks that there is something wrong with Tom, like something is troubling him. You and I both know how he knows that, so let's not get into it. Anyway, knowing him, he's not going to rest until he finds out what's up."

"Are you sure it's a good idea for Will to meddle in Tom's life like that?" Josh asked.

"Do you want to be the one to get in his way and try to stop him?" Josh thought about it for a moment and then shook his head. "I didn't think so, and don't look at me! I know better. Besides, I think Will knows what he's doing, and if he doesn't, then I guess it will be one major lesson learned on his part."

"That almost might be fun to watch," Josh said with a small smile. When Joey shot him a quizzical look, Josh said, "Well, Will does have this tendency to like getting his way."

"Don't we all?" Joey asked. "Besides, Will does also have this tendency to be right most of the time."

"Yeah." Josh fell silent for a moment before he said, "So, do you think things will ever be the same between all of us?"

"At some point in time, yeah, but it's going to be a long, hard road," Joey said. "I told Justin the same thing."

"Who ever would have thought that it would be a guy that would come between us?" Josh mused. "Always thought it would be a girl."

"Promise me you will NOT say anything like that around Will!" Joey pleaded. "He's already touchy enough about this mess. I don't want it to get any worse!"

"Don't worry Joey! I won't. It was just a random thought, that's all."

The two fell silent again and didn't say much the rest of the way to York. In his mind, Joey was trying to figure out not what to do about Justin, but how to get himself out of the mess he had gotten himself into earlier that morning.

We had just finished our class and my mood had lifted quite a bit. Heavy exertion often did that for me. By the end of class, I had all but forgotten my fight with Joey. Tom, Karri, Mandy, and I went to get cleaned up while Jerrica had a discussion with M.F. and Kimber. Since she wasn't in our class, she got to sit out the last hour while M.F. worked the rest of us over to exhaustion. My stomach was growling, and I was looking forward to going to Celia's for lunch.

After a quick run through the showers, Tom and I met the girls and Kimber and started to head out the door. Just as I was about to open the door, I was knocked over by a rather large person rushing through the other direction.

"Oof!" I said as I landed on my rear. "Watch where you're... Oh, hi Joe."

"Will!" Joey shouted as he bent over and offered me a hand so I could pull myself to my feet. "Sorry about that! I was just trying to catch you before you finished your dance class and went back to rehearsal."

"Oh, we're done for the day. M.F. let us go early because we have a performance tomorrow. Anyway, we're headed to Celia's. I'm assuming you want to come with us?"

"Yeah. The others are outside. We were going to head there after you and I, well, talked," Joey said quietly.

"About what?" I asked.

"You know. This morning?"

I stared at Joey for a second before it clicked in my head. "Oh, right. Sorry. I had forgotten about it."

"You had?"

"Um, why don't we go ahead to Celia's and meet you there?" Kimber suggested.

"Good idea. Here are your keys, Jerrica," Joey said, handing them over.

"Right. Uh, let's go everyone," Jerrica said, ushering the group out.

Once everyone had left, Joey and I looked at each other, neither exactly sure what to say or where to start.

"Why don't we go?" I asked, gently guiding Joey out the door. As we walked outside, I glanced upward. "Looks like it's going to rain soon," I commented.

Joey looked up and said, "Yeah, I guess so."

We remained silent until we got in the car. We belted ourselves in and I started the car. Once we were on the way, I glanced over at Joey and tried to figure out what I wanted to say. After a minute or so, I finally said, "Joe, we're being silly here. I'm sorry I yelled at you this morning. I should have controlled my temper better than that."

Joey's eyes widened in surprise. "Why are you sorry? You had every right to be upset! I promised you I would do something I didn't do, which in turn made you worry about us needlessly. If I had just called you, it never would have happened."

"Joe, I think the reason I flipped out is my general insecurity about losing you to someone else," I admitted. "There was no need for me to worry in the first place. You are an adult, after all, and I trust you implicitly. For some reason I just keep thinking I don't measure up, you know?"

Joey sighed. "Will, I know all of this, and I don't know what I can say or do to show you that you are good enough. I would hope my saying so would be enough."

Ouch, that hurt, I thought. Trying to get off that subject, I said, "We just need to find a way to deal with the small stuff. Explosive arguments aren't going to get us anywhere."

"Very true," Joey agreed. "I just hope you can forgive me for being an idiot."

I burst out laughing. "Joe, if anyone in this car was an idiot, it was me."

"So are we now going to argue about who was the biggest idiot?" Joey asked with a grin. "How about we agree that we both made some mistakes and let it go at that?"

"I think that's the smartest thing that either of us has said all day!" I exclaimed.

Joey leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. "By the way, I just have to tell you," he said with a smirk, "that you are very, very cute when you get angry."

I blushed bright red, which caused Joey to laugh. "My dear sir, you certainly have a way with words," I said coyly, pitching my voice to sound like a sweet, southern belle.

Joey laughed. "You and I both know I haven't got anything on you in that department."

"Tu es si gentil," I replied. "You are too kind."

We pulled into the parking lot at Celia's, and as I turned off the engine, Joey glanced over at me and asked, "Will? Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

I cocked my head to one side and said, "Besides that one? Okay. Shoot."

Joey rolled his eyes and said, "Very funny. Anyway, I was kind of wondering..."

The fact that Joey trailed off concerned me a little. "Wondering what?"

"Well, a couple of things actually. First, what does Kate think of me?"

I was a bit taken aback by his question, considering it came out of nowhere. "Kate? I guess she likes you. I didn't have much of a chance to ask her. It seemed like every time I was around her there was some drama going on. Besides, what's not to like about you?"

Joey blushed. "You're sweet. Well, I just kind of wondered considering your grandmother's opinion of me."

"I can honestly assure you that there are no two people more different than Kate and Grandmère. Besides, isn't one of my grandmother enough for this world to deal with?"

"That woman is certainly something," Joey said dryly.

"What that something is remains to be seen," I noted. "Why this sudden interest in what my family thinks of you? Aside from Grandmère, the rest of my family will love you, I'm sure."

"Just wondering how I would fit in, I guess. Oh, that brings me to question number two. Would you be willing to teach me some French?"

"Of course Joe," I said, "although I'm curious as to why you ask."

"So I can finally understand what you're talking about half the time."

"Oh," I said, slightly surprised. "I guess I do wander off a little, don't I?"

"Not that often, but it would be nice to know what is being said, especially when you talk to your mother about me when I'm standing in front of you. That, and I would love to be able to hold my own in an argument with your grandmother."

"I don't know if you could hold your own in an argument with my grandmother, regardless of what language it's in!" I said with a laugh. "However, if you want me to teach you, I'd be happy to."

"Thanks," Joey said. "Not only that, but I could talk to you about things when the others are nearby and not have them understand. That could prove to be useful at some point in time."

"Well, except for Jerrica, anyway," I pointed out.

"Oh, yeah," Joey mumbled. "Forgot about her."

"Really?" I said in mock astonishment. "I try to all the time, and yet it never seems to work." We both got a good laugh at Jerrica's expense, even though she didn't know about it, and as the laughter started to die away, an odd thought struck me. "Um, Joe, while we're on the subject of family..." The rest of the words were on the tip of my tongue, but I had no idea how to say them exactly.

"Go on," Joey prodded.

"What have you told your family about me?" I asked at last. It was a question that had been weighing on my mind for a couple of days now, and there never seemed to be a proper moment to ask.

Joey turned away, trying to hide the severe embarrassment on his face. "Um, well..."

"You haven't told them, have you?" I asked as gently as possible.

With a huge sigh, Joey turned to face me and shook his head. "I haven't spoken to my mother since the night we arrived at your house. I don't know how to tell her, to be honest. You see, my family is very accepting, but I don't know if even they would accept this."

"Joe, I'm sure your parents will love you no matter what," I said quietly.

"At least you knew going in that your parents wouldn't care. I just don't know about mine."

"Don't feel like I'm trying to force you to tell them. Like you told me, tell them when you're ready. Hopefully, your mother isn't empathic like mine!"

"Not that I'm aware of," Joey said, "but wouldn't it just be my luck if she was?"

"Like I said, Joe, whenever you are ready to tell them, just know I'm behind you. Be forewarned, however, that since Johnny knows, we're going to have to be on our best behavior, or else he might 'slip' to your parents. I think the sooner you tell them, the easier your life will be. We might want to make it seem like your parents do know while we're around Johnny, just to throw him off the trail. We already know he is capable of blackmail."

"You're right. You're absolutely right. I wouldn't put it past him, either."

I was about to respond when there was a knock on the window. I turned to see Mandy's face pressed against the glass. Rolling my eyes, I motioned for her to move away and opened the door. "You're going to clean my windows now, right?"

Mandy laughed. "I don't do windows."

"Very funny," I said.

"So, are you two going to sit out here all day or what?" she asked.

"We're on our way in now, actually," Joey said as he opened his door and got out. "We were just finishing our discussion."

"Is everything okay now? Life really sucks around here when you two argue," Mandy said, "or so Jerrica says. Anyway, Mama Celia was starting to worry so I got sent out here to check on you two."

"We're coming, we're coming," I said as I got out of the car. Joey and I shut our doors and followed Mandy inside. "We weren't out here that long, you know."

"It was long enough for the others to start flipping though," Mandy remarked.

"It's not my fault they have no patience," I grumbled. Behind me, I heard Joey snicker, which caused me to chuckle lightly.

We followed Mandy to our table and sat down. It took a mere five seconds before Karri and Mandy had engaged Joey in a conversation about something, so I politely excused myself and went and sat down next to Tom, who was sitting by himself.

"Hi Will," Tom said quietly.

"How come you're sitting over here?"

"Was just needing a moment to myself," Tom replied.

"What's going on Tom?" I asked. "You've been in a weird mood these past few days."

"It's nothing," Tom muttered.

"Yeah, right," I said, completely unconvinced. "If I have to drag it out of you, Tom, I will, but whatever is bothering you isn't going to go away unless you talk about it."

Tears started to well up in Tom's eyes. Turning his head away from me, Tom said, "What makes you think I want to talk about it with you?"

I was taken aback for a moment, but I quickly recovered. "It's obvious you need to talk to someone about it, and since I'm currently available, I figured why not? Besides, isn't that what friends are supposed to do for each other?"

"I can work through this on my own," Tom said, "and when did we become friends? I'm just here because you all needed a low voice for your group."

"Tom, don't sell yourself short. Yes, we needed a bass voice, and we could have held real auditions or done any number of things, but we wanted you. You're a marvelous talent, you have a great personality, and you are someone I want to get to know better. As for being friends, I guess that has to be a mutual decision between two people, but I've already made up my mind. If you want my friendship, you have it. If not, then..." I trailed off, not sure of what else to say. "Look, I'm sorry if you think I'm pushing too hard, but I just want to see you happy, and right now you look like you're on the edge of being totally miserable."

Tom looked up and stared at me for what seemed like eternity, and then he started to laugh. When my eyebrows shot up in surprise, he began to laugh even harder.

"What's so funny?" I asked.

"I'm just thinking about poor Joey putting up with you when you get all determined like this," Tom said between giggles.

I wasn't sure how to take that exactly, but since his mood was starting to brighten a little, I let it pass. "So what's the story Tom?" I asked, bringing the conversation back around to its starting point.

Tom immediately stopped laughing and the pained look returned to his eyes. After what seemed like an intense moment of internal conflict over whether he should confide in me or not, he said, "Promise me something?"

"What's that?" I asked.

"Promise me anything I tell you stays between us. Don't tell Joey or any of the others."

I sighed lightly. I hated keeping anything from Joey, but between my insatiable curiosity and my overwhelming need to play the mother hen, I agreed. "Okay," I said at last. "If that's what you want, then my lips are sealed."

"Really?" Tom asked incredulously. "You won't even tell Joey?"

"Not if you don't want me to," I replied. "Consider it like doctor/patient confidentiality."

"Wow," Tom said softly. "I...I'm just surprised. Not a lot of people would be willing to do that."

"Hey, everyone has stuff they would prefer others not know, including me," I said, "and there are times when I have to confide in someone where I don't want others to know about it."

"True enough. Well, here goes," Tom said. "I found my boyfriend Michael in bed with another guy."

I heard the words leave his mouth, but it took a little bit of time for it to really sink in. "Say what?" I asked. "Did you just say...?"

Tom nodded slowly. "Yeah. I was just as shocked as you are."

"But things seemed to be going so well for the two of you!" I exclaimed. I had met Michael a couple of times when he came to pick Tom up from dance class and I had thought highly of him, at least until now anyway.

"I guess he decided I wasn't enough for him. Maybe I'm not good enough for anyone."

"Tom, don't even go there," I said fiercely. "No one around here is allowed to wallow in self-pity except for me." When Tom shot me a curious look, I said, "If you think you have issues, you have no idea."

Tom sighed. "It's hard to feel good about yourself when something like this happens."

"I'm sure Tom, but remember that you are among friends here, and we all care about you. Like I said, we wanted you along with us, and we like you for who you are, not just for what talent you have."

"That's sweet of you to say," Tom said, "and I'm trying hard to believe it. It'll just take me some time to figure myself out."

"And you will," I said. "You'll meet some other guy who will make your heart do flip-flops, and then you won't even remember what's-his-face anymore."

"Think so?" Tom asked as his gaze wandered past me and fixed on something behind me.

I looked over my shoulder and followed Tom's gaze as it settled on Josh. A big smile appearing on my face, I said, "Yeah, I think so."

Tom and I smiled at each other knowingly for a moment before the smile faded from his face. "I don't even know what the hell I'm thinking," Tom said, shaking his head. "It's not even a remote possibility."

"What's not?" I asked, suddenly confused.

"'s nothing," Tom said with a sigh. "Just a dream that will never come true."

"Which would be what?" I pressed.

"Don't worry about it," Tom replied.

"Tom, by now you should know that I'm not about to give up any time soon. I think it'll be easier on you if you just tell me."

"All right! Don't get your knickers in a knot!" Tom grumbled. "Man! I thought me Mum and Dad were bad, but I'm starting to think you're worse."

"Have you been talking to Jerrica?" I asked with a laugh. When Tom shot me an odd look, I said, "No, seriously. What has she been telling you about me? All of it bad, I'm sure."

"Nah, not at all," Tom assured me. "Anyway, let's just say that I think I'm falling for someone, but after this last mess and the one before..."

The way Tom trailed off like that caused me to give him my full, undivided attention. "What mess before?"

"Damn! I am such an idiot!" Tom cursed under his breath. Staring at me for a moment, I could see the battle waging behind his eyes over whether he should continue his thought or not. Deciding that telling me would be easier than the persistent fight that would ensue, he relented quickly. "This isn't the first time this has happened to me," Tom mumbled.

"You mean that he's done this to you before?" I asked, the shock evident in my voice.

"No, not him," Tom replied. "Someone else."

"Oh Tom," I said sympathetically, extending a hand to him. "I don't know what to say other than I'm so sorry this has happened to you. You don't deserve this."

"Thanks Will," Tom said, a small smile appearing on his face. "You know, I have to tell you that I am just absolutely floored that all of you want me, of all people. I've gotten used to rejection so much that I find it difficult to think that anyone would want me for anything." He noticed my eyebrows rise, so he expounded a little on that. "Besides Michael and Andrew, my ex-boyfriend before Michael, there is also my family who, while they haven't disowned me, are largely indifferent to me. You see, homosexuality and Catholicism don't exactly go hand in hand. Don't get me wrong—when we're around each other they are perfectly civil, but I can see it in their eyes that they are seriously disappointed in me."

"I understand," I said automatically, thinking back to my mess with Grandmère earlier that week.

"Do you now?" Tom shot back, the bitterness clearly evident. "From what I've been told, your mother is a lesbian. How could you possibly understand?"

I was momentarily taken aback by his tone, but I dismissed it as quickly as it came. "I do. My grandmother, la grande chienne that she is, currently hates my guts at the moment because I'm gay. When we were up in Montréal on Tuesday, I kind of let my relationship with Joey slip to her, and let's just say that things did not go well."

I started to tear up a little, remembering the fight and the downward spiral I had fallen into as a result. Tom squeezed my hand and said, "Will, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have jumped all over you like that."

"No, no. It's quite all right. You didn't know."


"Stop!" I said quickly, holding my hand up. "You've apologized, I accepted, and we're done. Let's not turn this into a marathon apology session, okay?"

Tom laughed. "Agreed. Now, I am curious about one thing," Tom said, changing the subject. "What does 'la grande chienne' mean?"

I burst out laughing. "That's my current pet name for my grandmother," I said, rolling my eyes. "Literally, it means 'big bitch,' and the way she's been acting lately, I think it's quite proper."

Tom's eyes bugged out a little. "Ouch. Harsh words, my friend."

"Well, if the shoe fits..."

The two of us fell silent for a bit until my stomach rumbled. "We should probably join the others and get something to eat, huh?" Tom asked.

"Good idea. You know Tom, I'm glad we talked. We should do this again some time."

"Agreed," Tom said as he stood up.

"As to your other dilemma," I said with a sly smile before glancing over my shoulder at Josh, "let me see what I can do about that."

Tom frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh, nothing. Nothing at all," I said with a Cheshire cat-like grin. Before Tom could respond, I spun on my heel and went back to the table with Joey, Karri, and Mandy. The matchmaker in me was ready to play.

As I sat down, Joey spotted the grin on my face. "Dare I even ask what the two of you were up to?"

"It was nothing. We just had a little chat, that's all," I said, glancing over at Tom and flashing him a big smile. "Anyway, I'm hungry. I think I'm going to go over and see if Celia has a salad back there."

Multiple sets of forks clattered on their plates. "Salad? YOU?" Jerrica shouted. "When was the last time you ate a salad?"

"You mean one that didn't come back to visit a second time? In about five minutes from now, give or take," I replied curtly. "What? What's wrong with salad?"

"It's not exactly, um, something you're known for eating much of," Karri noted.

"Well, I need to start paying attention to what I eat," I remarked. "I have to lose some of this gut," I continued, pointing to my stomach. "You-know-who said so."

"Who?" Mandy asked.

"Never mind. It's too involved to get into," I said. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to find Celia." I stood up and made my way to the kitchen. As soon as I was out of earshot, the others started to whisper.

"What on earth is that all about?" Jerrica hissed from the next table.

"Beats me," Mandy said, "but something is going on."

"No kidding!" Karri said. "Does he actually think we'll be able to eat all of this by ourselves?"

Everyone turned to stare at Karri. "What?" Mandy asked, raising an eyebrow. "Who cares?"

"Well, we shouldn't let it go to waste! Starving kids in Africa and all, you know."

"Okay, can we please focus here?" Jerrica said. "Why do I get the feeling that he's up to something?" Turning to Joey, she said coyly, "Oh Joey?"

"Yes, Jerrica?"

"You know something, don't you?"

"Do I now?" Joey asked innocently.

"You DO know something!" Jerrica said. "What's going on Joey?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Joey said determinedly.

"Joey, don't make me hurt you. Just spill it."

"Even if I do know something, and I'm not saying I do, I wouldn't be at liberty to say anything anyway."

"You know," Mandy interjected, "there is more than one way to get information out of people. Will is up to something, and we're going to find out what!"

"What am I up to?" I asked as I rejoined the table with my salad. Celia had been quite surprised that I had requested it, but nonetheless she fixed it for me.

"Uh, who said you were up to something?" Karri asked.

"Mandy did," I replied, "and I'll have you know I'm not up to anything. Well, at least I don't think so, at any rate."

"Whatever you say Will," Mandy said in a disbelieving tone.

"Suit yourself," I replied with a shrug, "but if you just accept it, you'll go a lot less crazy than if you keep trying to figure out what it is I'm supposedly up to." Turning to Joey, I said, "You know, I'm not sure I can handle three months of them."

Joey laughed. "They're tame in comparison to those four!" he said, pointing at the other guys.

"Hey! You're no picnic yourself!" Chris shot back.

"Boys! Boys! Please be nice to each other!" Celia called from the kitchen.

"Yes, Mama Celia!" they droned automatically.

In the meantime, I had started to dig into my salad which, for a salad, was quite good. As I ate, Joey put an arm around my shoulder and gave me a sideways hug. I looked up at him, and he flashed me a smile and a wink. He knew that this was not my preferred meal choice, but I didn't have a choice. The weight had to come off, one way or another.

We all finished eating, lolled around for a bit, and at long last finally decided to go. I was seriously tired by this point and needed a nap, so I let Joey drive us back to the house. I suppose many things may have transpired during the drive back to my house, including the world nearly ending for all I know, but since I wasn't awake for it, it's not important, now is it? Actually, I don't even remember leaving the parking lot at Celia's, to tell you the truth. One minute I had just gotten into the car, and the next thing I knew Joey was shaking me awake at the house.

I trudged up the stairs and asked Joey to wake me at five o'clock. It was as he was getting ready to leave when something about that didn't seem right. I had just lain down when a thought struck me. Sitting up in a panic, I said, "Joey? Aren't you supposed to be at practice with M.F. right now?"

"No, she cancelled it. Said something about too much work to do in getting ready for tomorrow. Besides, it's not like we were learning anything new really. She just wanted to see our routine for the shows and offered a bit of advice in a couple of spots. Otherwise, it was mostly just to make sure we hadn't forgotten anything."

"Oh, thank goodness!" I said, lying back down as I waited for my heart to return to a normal rhythm. "Last thing I need right now is M.F. pissed off over something."

"Shhh. Less talk, more sleep," Joey called from the doorway. "I'll be back in a while."

As Joey closed the door, I rolled over and fell asleep. Looking back, I wish I hadn't, but at the time I could think of nothing else I wanted to do. How was I supposed to know that a nightmare was brewing in my head?

I woke up in a cold sweat. I glanced over at the clock and noticed it was quarter after five. Joey was sitting on the bed next to me watching with a concerned look. "Will, what's wrong? I've been trying to wake you for the last ten minutes!"

"I...I don't know," I said. "I guess I had a bad dream," I said softly.

"Care to tell me about it?" Joey asked as he put an arm around me.

"I don't even know if I can explain it," I said as I pushed his arm off me and hauled myself off the bed. "No offense intended by that, but I do have to get ready to leave." Joey nodded, but said nothing. He seemed to want me to continue, so I tried my hardest to convey the images that had gone through my mind into a coherent form.

"It doesn't make much sense," I continued. "It's like flashes of different scenes that aren't connected in any way." I stopped for a moment and pondered on that last statement. "Actually, they do have one thing in common. A lot of unhappiness."

"For whom?" Joey inquired.

"Me mostly, but others as well. I don't think it's much to worry about, to be honest. My subconscious, as you well know, has this tendency to get the better of me at times and run away with itself. I'm sure it's just having an overactive moment and has decided to take me along for the ride," I said with a sigh as I grabbed some clothes out of the closet.

"But you're not entirely sure?" Joey asked.

"Heck if I know. I would never ask someone to try to make any sense out of my subconscious mind, let alone me! There is always a theory that the subconscious can, in the right state, help predict the future, but I can well assure you that I'm not psychic. Being empathic is bad enough. People already think I'm enough of an oddball to begin with without knowing that, so adding a crystal ball wouldn't help much," I grumbled. "Besides, I don't need a crystal ball to know that there is a lot more unhappiness lying in wait for me in the future."

"Are you always this pessimistic?" Joey asked with a roll of his eyes. "I have to admit this isn't a side of you I'm fond of. In fact, I think it's the only side of you I don't happen to care for. I don't know why or how it is that you've come to have this seriously degraded self-esteem problem, but so help me God I will find a way to cure you of it!"

"How noble," I mumbled under my breath.

"Say what?"

"Nothing. Forget it." I stripped down to my underwear and started to get dressed. Unfortunately, Joey started getting in the way when he kept pushing my shirt away from my head. "Joe! You're not helping!"

"Oh, I thought I was helping by keeping you undressed. I like you better that way."

"I'm sure you do, but the rest of the world likes me better with my shirt...on!" I yelled as I tried to snatch my shirt of his hands. Darn him for being taller than me. Even if it wasn't by much, it still put him at an advantage.

"They just haven't come to appreciate your natural beauty like I have," Joey said with a smirk.

I snorted. Then I burst out laughing because I actually snorted. Rather than say the self-destructive, condescending remark that had come to mind, I just said, "If you say so Joe."

"I do, as a matter of fact." Looking down at my shirt, he said, "You know, I think I'll keep this."

"You do that," I said as I went back to my closet. Pulling out another shirt, I said, "I guess I'll just wear this instead."

As I pulled my shirt over my head, Joey's face fell. "Oh all right. Go ahead and put your clothes on so you can go to work. I wish you could stay here instead, though."

"Well, I might get lucky and be able to come home early. It's happened before, and since we have the performance tomorrow, I don't have to go to York at six in the morning! I'll be able to come home and, uh, get some proper sleep," I said with a wink.

Joey grinned. "Well, you better not waste any more time here. The sooner you get to work, the sooner you can come home!"

"And just a moment ago I thought you didn't want me to leave. Now you're pushing me out the door! Can't you make up your mind?"

Joey formed his lips into a pout. "Now you're going to pick on me?"

"No one else seemed to be volunteering for the job," I said with a grin.

Joey sat down on the bed, grabbed a pillow, and chucked it at me. "Go on! Get going or you're going to be late."

"Yes sir!" I said as I gave him a small salute.

As I turned to walk out the bedroom door, Joey called out," What? I don't even get a kiss good-bye?"

"Are you sure you deserve one? Aren't you the one who just threw a pillow at me?" Joey started to pout again, causing me to laugh. "Oh, all right. Come here."

Joey launched himself from the bed right into my arms. In his arms was my favorite place in the world, and each time I found myself there, I never wanted to leave. "Go on now. I'll see you later tonight."

"See you," I said as I walked back out the door. As I headed downstairs, my mind shifted away from the momentary euphoric state it had gone into, which was rather common when I was around Joey, to the melancholy one it had been in during my dream. I couldn't make much sense out of it, but the overwhelming depressed emotion that ran rampant was hard to miss. I tried to focus my thoughts on the blurred mental pictures that had traipsed through my mind, but it was hard to pin most of them down to something conclusive. There was something about a child, that much I could figure out, but who was the child? Was it me? Was it someone else? Why was I dreaming about it?

There were other things as well. There was a group of people looking very forlorn, dressed in black. I guessed it was probably a funeral, but I didn't remember ever having been to one before. Maybe it was a repressed memory?

Then, the most horrible of all—and the most vivid—was the image of Allison, pointing and laughing maniacally. If there ever was a major fear for my subconscious to prey on, it was that one. Having a pissed off ex-girlfriend was one thing; having a pissed off out of her mind ex-girlfriend who seemed bent on destroying you was something else entirely.

I shook my head, as if trying to shake the thoughts from my mind. I didn't have the wherewithal to deal with that stuff at the moment, but at the same time it made me wonder if this wasn't some sort of clue I was supposed to be understanding. Get a grip on yourself Will, I thought. You are NOT psychic!

"Will, are you okay?" Josh asked, coming up to me as I finished coming down the stairs. I guess I had a bit of a dazed look on my face. "You look kind of spaced out there."

I had to laugh. "Can't hide anything, can I?"

Josh frowned. "Seriously. Is everything all right?"

"I...Uh...yeah. Everything's fine," I said, plastering a smile to my face.

Josh rolled his eyes. "Now try telling me something I'd believe."

"All right, all right!" I said with an exasperated sigh. "I took a nap, had a bad dream, and it's kind of weighing on my mind."

"Oh," Josh said. "I see. Anything you want to talk about?"

"Uh," I stuttered. Looking down at my watch, I noticed the time and said, "Sorry Josh. I have to run to work!" I rushed past him and shouted over my shoulder, "See you in the morning!"

Josh watched me run out the door, and as soon as I was out of sight, he sat down at the table and pondered my actions. "Mandy was right," he mused. "Will is up to something, but what?" He continued to sit there and think until he said aloud, "I think Joey and I should have another little talk." Something was up with me, and Josh was going to find out what it was.

To Be Continued...

So what did you think? Did Will's dream mean anything, or was it just an overactive subconscious? Will Josh figure out what is going on with Will? Will Josh and Tom discover that they have possible feelings for each other that extend beyond friendship? Will Tom be able to put aside his past hurt to pursue that possibility? Will Josh and Joey be able to put their suspicious natures aside and finally forgive Justin once and for all? Please, drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Another chapter done! Isn't it great? Sorry about seemingly falling off the face of the planet, and I promise the next chapter will be forthcoming much more quickly than this one! I know there's no music in this one, but there just seemed to be nothing to sing about. 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: The characters Kimber Benton, Jerrica Benton, Aja Leith, Shana Elmsford, and Raya Alonso are creations of Hasbro.