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...

"If I have to sing one more note, I think my voice will give out," Mandy said.

"Well, considering how much singing you and Will are doing, I'm not surprised," Karri said.

"What are you saying?" Mandy asked.

"Just that you two seem to have more solo time than the rest of us. I mean, Will I understand, but you?" Karri said.

"Are you jealous?"

"No, it's just that it seems a little out of balance, that's all."

"Uh, we haven't gone through all the songs," I said, coming up behind them. "Actually, we only went through, like, six of them."

"It was more like ten, but who's counting?" Karri said. "Anyway, whatever."

"Well, if you'd rather not do this," I began, "you can always leave. Contract isn't final yet."

"Nah. Don't mind me. I'm just having a moment. You understand what it's like, right Will?"

"And that's supposed to mean what?" I asked.

"Uh, nothing. I mean, um, well, just that—oh, forget it! Man, are we all uptight today or what?"

"Nope. Just you," Mandy said before stalking off.

I sighed. "We've barely started and we're already fighting. This is so not good."

Chapter Twenty: Feeling Lost

Since I was rather adverse to the idea of Johnny really having any clue as to where I lived, I asked the guys politely if they minded driving themselves and their stuff back to Baltimore rather than having Johnny or Eric or whomever come get them. Yes, I knew that they already had my address, but they would still have to try to find the place without directions, and the thought of them getting lost in the back roads of Baltimore County made me laugh.

The guys had arrived back at my house in good time and silently packed their bags up to leave. They had told Eric that they would be back at their original hotel by three o'clock that afternoon, and considering how long it had taken Justin to get ready, they were already going to be pushing their luck getting there on time. Fortunately, it was a Saturday, which meant very little traffic, even for downtown Baltimore.

Joey had to take a moment and stare at the empty living room before he shut the door. He kept telling himself over and over again that this was not good-bye, but jusqu'à la prochaine fois—until next time. Hearing Lance call his name, he turned, ran down the stairs, and across the yard before getting into the car. He sighed inaudibly as Lance drove my car down the drive. Since there wasn't enough space in the car that they had rented on Wednesday for all of them and their stuff, I had offered to Joey use of my car. I would ride with Jerrica and Mandy and pick it up on our way down to work.

After some minutes of silence, Lance asked the other occupants—Joey and Josh—a question. "So, are either of you ready to get back to the ol' grind?"

"In some ways yes, and in some ways no," Josh replied. "I love performing and all, but for a moment there, life actually seemed, well, normal. It was kind of nice."

"Yeah," Joey agreed. "No hordes of screaming fans, no life scheduled down to the last minute, no Eric breathing down our necks."

"And Will," Lance interjected.

"And Will," Joey repeated. "Can't forget him." After a moment of silence passed, he said, "Man, I miss him already."

"Sad, isn't it Lance?" Josh said from the backseat, trying desperately not to laugh. "It only took an hour or so for Joey to become completely pathetic."

"Knock it off, Josh," Joey retorted as he rolled his eyes.

"Ouch. Someone's touchy," Josh said, but the smile on his face hadn't wavered. After all, the good-natured prodding that the five often engaged in wasn't taken seriously by anyone. "Keep that sullen look on your face, Joey, and maybe Eric will take one look at it and decide to leave us alone."

"We can only dream, right?" Lance said. "At least we have one way to finally keep that man in line."

"Jerrica, or the threat thereof," Josh said. "I thank God every day for her for that simple reason."

Joey muttered something inaudible at the mention of Jerrica's name, and neither Josh nor Lance dared to ask Joey to repeat himself for neither was really sure they wanted to know what he had said anyway. "So Lance," Joey said, attempting to change the subject, "what's the schedule for the rest of the day?"

"Well," Lance said, "we have to check in with Eric once we get to the hotel, and Josh has an appointment with the doctor, and..."

"Doctor?!" Josh exclaimed. "What's this about a doctor?"

"Uh, hello? Dude, you have to get cleared by the doctor before you can go back to performing," Lance replied.

"I'm fine," Josh said. "I don't need a doctor to tell me that."

"Sorry man," Joey said. "I don't think you get a choice in the matter."

Josh sat back and grumbled, not happy about the prospect of having to see the doctor, especially since doctors often meant needles.

The three remained silent the rest of the way to the hotel, lost in their own thoughts as they prepared themselves mentally to get back to life on the road. As the rural scenery gave way to the urban sprawl, things began to feel like they used to. The five guys of *Nsync on the road—alone—and yet at the same time, not. There were many people around them, and the five were, usually, a cohesive unit all to themselves, but there wasn't anyone else. If they weren't from the record label or Johnny's team of people, then they were nothing but a passing blur. Granted, Joey met a lot of nice people over the years in many different places, but even when he had tried to take a moment to get to know someone, he was yanked out of the situation before it could go anywhere. It was by sheer dumb luck—in Josh's case, bad—that he had been thrown into my path, so to speak, but there was a part of him that wondered, even with two solid weeks of bonding, if it was enough to keep his fragile relationship with me stable and lasting.

Of course it is, you nut, Joey thought to himself. Stop thinking like that. It's just what Johnny wants—to see the two of us split up before it hardly ever started. I wouldn't give that man the satisfaction. As he thought, Joey unconsciously clenched his fists, and when the cars pulled into the hotel parking lot a moment later, Joey's anger began to escalate. The normally levelheaded, easy-going one in the group was already getting agitated at the thought of seeing and having to deal with Eric, and the two hadn't even said one word to each other yet.

"Miss Wolfe? Is there a problem here?" M.F. said loudly, walking over to Karri.

Karri, whose mind had been elsewhere, jumped and immediately snapped to attention. "Uh, not at all. Nope. No problem here."

"Then why do you keep missing your cues?"

"Give me a break. We just got this music a couple of hours ago. I'm not a robot," Karri grumbled, "and besides, it's not like there's much for me to learn anyway."

"Excuse me?" M.F said. "Do you, or do you not, recall that this is a group, and there is no 'I' in group! Why don't you go over to the corner there with Miss Benton and the tape player and do five?"

Karri crossed her arms and stared into M.F.'s green eyes. "No," she said at last. "I'm not going to do it."

"Ah. We want to make it longer now, do we? How about seven minutes?"

Karri hesitated slightly, but then refocused and stood her ground. "You don't scare me, Mary Frances. I'm not doing your stupid punishment."

M.F. moved in closer until her nose was almost touching Karri's. "Ten minutes, and if I hear one peep of complaint out of you, I will make your life a living nightmare."

Karri stared back at her, defiance completely evident in her eyes. "You do that already," Karri retorted. "Why should now be any different?"

The corners of M.F.'s mouth were beginning to twitch, and I could swear I could see her eyes turning red with fury. "Uh, M.F.?" I said timidly. "Do you mind if I talk to you for a moment in private?"

"Mr. Robertson, I am busy right now. Could you please stifle yourself until I am done?"

I'm going to regret this, I thought to myself. I know I'm going to regret this, but... "It's rather important," I persisted, "and I don't think it should wait."

I could see the battle waging in M.F.'s head. Should she divert any of her attention toward me, the source of her interruption, or should I be ignored so as not to release the lock she had on Karri? "Mr. Robertson, I am not going to repeat myself again. BE QUIET!"

Oooh, girlfriend just rattled a nerve , I thought in annoyance. After making a split second decision, I marched over to M.F. and Karri and pushed Karri out of the way. "Sorry Karri, but since politeness is obviously out of the question here, I suppose I need to be a bit more direct." Glaring at M.F., I said, "Ms. Brannigan, your office, right now."

"My, we are a bit impertinent today, aren't we?" M.F. said. "When I am through with Ms. Wolfe, then I will deal with you."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Did that sound like a request to you? It wasn't." I reached over and grabbed her arm. "NOW."

"Let go of me Mr. Robertson, or I may be forced to do something we'll both regret."

Dropping her arm, I said, "With pleasure. After all, since you were acting like a four year old, I figured that meant I was going to have to treat you like one. Does this mean you are ready to lose the attitude and act like an adult again?"

M.F. took a step back and regarded me with a puzzled look. At first I had a bit of trouble deciphering what the look meant, but soon the look of puzzlement turned into a smile. "I'm impressed, Mr. Robertson. You do have a backbone after all."

I figured that was the closest I was ever going to get to a compliment from M.F. these days, so I took it for its implied value. "Of course I do. Now, as I was saying, your office please."

"Fine. Take five everyone. I shall return shortly."

The two of us walked to her office, neither looking at the other. Once we were behind closed doors, the two of us sat facing each other, both completely silent. At last, I broke the silence by saying, "Well, that was certainly an interesting performance out there, now wasn't it?"

M.F.'s eyes narrowed as she stared at me. "So," she said crisply, "what did you want to discuss with me?"

I leaned forward and said, "It's obvious that we are having some—how should I put this—personality issues within the group already, and I wanted to talk to you about some solutions in resolving them."

"You mean Miss Wolfe?" M.F. asked.

"Primarily her, at least for the moment, but I see other potential for problems. The biggest issue is that there is so much focus on me, the others may feel like they are getting lost to the background, and I don't want that. I need your help in finding a way to make sure that everyone feels like their contributions are not only valued, but are also brought to light."

M.F. leaned back in her chair and folded her hands together. "And exactly how do you suggest we do that?"

"Well, I know Karri is concerned about the vocal breakdown for the songs, so I was thinking maybe we should review them and see if we can't reshuffle the vocal assignments a little. Plus..." My voice faltered a little, not knowing how well M.F. would take my next suggestion.

"Plus what?" M.F. asked, her voice losing a little bit of its hard edge.

"Plus, I was thinking that maybe, possibly, Karri could become an assistant choreographer?" I suggested timidly. "Look, she's a really good dancer, and I think it would make her really happy because then she would feel like she was, you know, really making a significant contribution, and I don't want it to sound like I don't think you're capable or anything..."

"Mr. Robertson, please slow down!" M.F. said with a slight laugh, halting my babbling tirade. I looked at her in surprise. There was actually a small smile on her face. "Believe it or not, I actually like your idea. Considering the nice routine that you all did on Wednesday, which I am guessing Miss Wolfe created, I am quite impressed with her talent. As for the vocal division, I think that should be taken up with someone a little more familiar with the subject, like Miss Benton?"

"Is everything okay in here?" Kimber asked as she stuck her head in the door.

"We were just talking about you, as a matter of fact," I remarked as the rest of Kimber's body made its way through the door.

"Nothing bad, I hope," Kimber said with a small smile. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but the others thought I had better come back here and make sure Will was still alive."

"I'm fine, as you can see, but since you're here, the three of us have some things to discuss," I said as I began to lay all of my ideas out on the table.

As per my instructions, Lance set the spare set of keys I had given him to drive the car down to Baltimore underneath the driver's seat. The quintet started to try to carry all of their stuff to the hotel entrance as best as they could when a stroke of genius hit Justin. "What are we doing?" he asked aloud as he set his stuff down and began to jog toward the front of the hotel. "Why don't I just go get a cart or something so we can wheel this stuff in?"

"Sounds like a bright idea to me," Chris said, "and the fact that it came from Justin..."

"Shhh!" Josh hissed from behind. "Justin's still really touchy, and I promised Will we'd be on our best behavior around him."

"I didn't," Chris said.

"And you don't think that if you start ragging on Justin, that Joey won't tell Will, and that Will won't tell Jerrica, and that the next time one of them sees you that you won't get either pounded into a pancake by Jerrica or lectured to death by Will?" Josh asked.

Chris shivered. "I'm not sure which is worse," he said with a laugh. "I think I'd almost rather face Jerrica."

"Yeah, so then she can take care of you afterward," Lance said with a sly grin.

"Hey, isn't making up the best part of fighting?" Chris said, smirking mischievously.

A moment or two later, Justin returned with a luggage cart. "You would not believe how much coaxing it took for me to get the bellhop to let me bring the cart out here. You'd think the thing was made of gold or something."

"Porter," Joey said quietly. "I think the correct term for his job is 'porter,' and as far as he's concerned, the cart is made of gold. How do you think he makes his money? By getting tips from the people whose bags he brings in. If you use his cart, not only is he not getting a tip from you, but his cart isn't available to someone else who might tip him."

"Oh," Justin said thoughtfully. "Good point. Well, I guess we'll just have to tip him well once we get inside."

"I think that would be a splendid idea," Joey said as he started to load bags onto the cart.

Out of Joey's earshot, Chris leaned over to Lance and whispered, "If we're not careful, next thing you know, Joey will take your place as the responsible one in the group."

Lance smiled. "And it's about time too," he mumbled under his breath. He had been nicknamed 'Scoop' because he always knew what was going on within the band, but it was a tiresome role, and he was more than happy to relinquish it to someone else. He just never expected that it could possibly be, of all people, Joey!

Eric sat in a chair in the meeting room, impatiently tapping his foot. It was nearly ten after three and his face was slowly turning different shades of red and purple. He was absolutely certain that the guys were late on purpose, especially since they had met up with the Wicked Bitch of the East, as Eric liked to refer to Jerrica. However, he knew that she wasn't always going to be around, so there would be times where he could start to reassert his dominance over the group. He just had to be cautious about how he did it, for he knew, according to Johnny, that he would be seeing much more of Jerrica in the coming weeks than he would ever want to see for the rest of his life.

At quarter after three, Josh sauntered into the room with a wide smile on his face. "Wassup Eric?" he called across the room.

"Good afternoon JC," Eric said in a low, menacing voice. "Where are the others?"

"Oh, they're just bringing in the stuff," Josh replied, never taking his eyes away from Eric's. "So, did you miss us?"

"'Miss' is such a strong term," Eric said stiffly. "Did I notice your absence? Yes."

"Glad to know you care so much for us," Josh said with disdain.

"I would have missed you more if one of you could actually tell time for once."

"Why? Are we late?" Josh asked sarcastically.

"Don't play with me, Chasez," Eric snarled.

"Play? Are we playing games today?" Josh continued. "Can we play Monopoly? I get to be the racecar!"

Josh's manner was really starting to get on Eric's nerves. He was about ready to blow when someone else walked in the door. "You're late!" Eric yelled as Justin made his way in the room, followed momentarily by Chris.

"It took longer than we thought to get packed," Justin said with a shrug. "Be thankful that we're here in one piece."

"Speaking of one piece," Eric said, taking his eyes off the boys and glancing over to some paperwork lying on the table in front of him, "JC, you need to go into the room to my right. There is a doctor in there waiting for you."

Josh gulped. "D-Doctor?"

"Yes. He needs to look at your leg. Get moving!" Eric said loudly with just a hint of satisfaction. There was nothing he enjoyed more than seeing a look of panic on their faces. Granted, it was only one person instead of all five, but for right now it would have to do.

"Do you want someone to go in with you?" Justin asked. "Maybe Lance or Joey?"

Josh studied Justin for a second and interpreted the unasked hint. "I was hoping you might," Josh said with a smile. In his mind, he rationalized that, if nothing else, when word of this reached me, it would shut me up for at least a few minutes, but deep down he was rather glad to see his friendship with Justin getting back on track.

"Of course," Justin said, returning the smile. "Let's go."

As the two of them passed Eric and exited the room, the last two stragglers, Joey and Lance, came into the room. "So there you are," Eric said coldly, his glare transfixed on the last two. As usual, Eric could see that his steely glare was making Lance nervous, but Joey would not be moved. Joey stared back with harsher intensity; so much so that for once it made Eric a little nervous.

"We're here," Joey said, never breaking his eye contact with Eric. "So now what?"

"Have a seat," Eric said, motioning to the chairs surrounding the table.

Chris and Lance both took a seat immediately, but Joey didn't move a muscle. "I'll stand, thank you very much," Joey said coolly as he folded his arms across his chest.

"Sit down. I insist," Eric said, a harder edge this time to his voice.

"I said, 'I'll stand,'" Joey growled, and the look of slight surprise on Eric's face felt like a victory to him.

"Very well then," Eric said as he narrowed his eyes at Joey. "Suit yourself. This will be a short briefing regarding the schedule for the next two days as well as the two week extension of the tour due to the, uh, mishap of late."

As Eric prattled on, Joey tuned him out. I wonder what Will's up to right now? he wondered. I wish I could see him tonight. I wish I had thought to make arrangements to call him before we left, but since I didn't, I'll just have to take my chances and see if I get lucky. Otherwise, tomorrow will be a new day.

It took a considerable amount of time, but once it was all said and done, I felt we had reached a well-rounded compromise. The division of the vocal parts was a little less me-heavy and a bit more equitable all around. I hoped that Karri would be more pleased with the new distribution of vocals. Besides, it's not like she wasn't going to have her hands full enough already assisting M.F. with choreography anyway. As it were, I was a bit uncomfortable with how often I was going to be center stage on vocals anyway, so I was completely happy with this decision.

When we walked back into the hall, Mandy ran over and practically tackled me. "Oh my God! You're alive!" she cried as she hugged me.

Tom, Jerrica, and Karri snickered behind us. "Of course I'm alive," I said. "What? Did you think she was going to kill me and leave witnesses?"

"No, we just figured she was coming back to finish off the rest of us," Karri said.

"Is that so?" M.F. asked, and the five of us involuntarily jumped back a couple of feet.

"Well, uh, I mean..." Karri stammered, her once-found determination completely dissolved.

"Let me be the first to assure you that while I have a lot of bark, I don't have a lot of bite," M.F. said, a small smile appearing on her face. "I'm so used to dealing with people who have no drive or passion to dance that I have to be a little, well, pushy."

"A LITTLE?!" Tom, Karri, Mandy, and I chorused loudly.

For the first time since I had ever met her, I actually saw M.F. blush! "All right, all right! So I'm very pushy."

"Look, M.F., we understand. We really do. However, in the future when it comes to our practices for the show, can you tone it down a bit? After all, I think it's obvious that we have 'the drive' and 'the passion' to do this," I said.

"I'll try," she said. When we all raised an eyebrow, she said, "Hey! That's the best I've got. Take it or leave it."

"We'll take it!" we all said quickly before bursting into laughter.

"Now that this part is settled," Kimber interjected, "I wanted to discuss some things with you all." Kimber turned on her heel and went over to the table in the back of the hall. Looking over her shoulder, she said, "Uh, coming?"

"Oh! Uh, yeah," I said, shaking my head. Kimber may have been an adult, but she was still Kimber nonetheless. If I didn't know better, I would have sworn she dyed her hair red to cover the blonde beneath.

We all sat down at the table and stared at Kimber and M.F., who were whispering to each other. "So, M.F. and I have been discussing some things, and we wanted to talk to you about some changes we're going to make."

"What kind of changes?" Jerrica asked, cocking her head to one side.

"For example, the choreography for this show is taking a lot of time and effort, and between this and my other classes, I'm having trouble getting it all done. Therefore, I was hoping that one of you would be able to assist me? Maybe you, Miss Wolfe?" M.F. suggested.

Karri's eyes widened in surprise. "Say what? Me?" She then looked over at me with a questioning glance. I just shrugged my shoulders and motioned my head back at M.F. "Well, I suppose I could do that."

"Good!" Kimber exclaimed. "Now, as I was listening to you sing, I decided that something seemed a little off, so we're reworking the vocal arrangements."

Mandy cocked her head to one side. "They are? I mean, I know we're sounding a little off, but we only just got the music today." She then turned to look at me. "Unless, of course, this decision of yours was prompted by someone else," she continued, raising an eyebrow. I felt my cheeks flush a little, which was a dead giveaway, but I hadn't really expected to keep what was said in the meeting quiet. It was going to be an issue of how well I could play it off without someone getting pissed off.

"Yeah, I kind of mentioned something to Kimber," I admitted. "The vocal arrangements are too heavy on my side, and too light for others. If I have to sing as much as I am currently slated for, my voice will give out before we're done each night."

Karri rolled her eyes. "Right. Sure. You're just doing it because I had a momentary hissy fit. I told you before. I'm fine."

"Granted, that is was started it, but I realized that you were right. We're a team, and that means we share the work as evenly as possible. No one is more important than anyone else, not even me. The problem, of course, is that between the heavy promotion of us as a group, me as a solo artist," I said, rolling my eyes, "and whatever Tony has in store for me as an author, there is going to be a lot of focus on me in particular. I hope that everyone can handle that."

"Duh," Mandy said. "Were it not for you, none of us would be here. Besides, you're not the type who is inclined to get a big head."

"Right," Jerrica said. "You're more the type to stick his head in the sand."

"Are you calling me a chicken?" I asked loudly, turning to Jerrica and staring her in the eye.

"If the wings fit..." she said, a smile forming on her face.

"Excuse me?!" I shouted as I stood up, knocking over my chair.

"Uh oh," Mandy said. "Here they go again."

Jerrica stood up and started arguing with me. The two of us slowly moved away from the table as our voices got louder. The others just sat there and stared at us, shaking their heads. "You know, if I have to put up with this for the next three months, I'm liable to kill one of them," Tom stated seriously.

"Nah," Mandy said. "I just keep waiting for it to come to blows."

"I don't think that'll happen," Karri said. "That's not their style."

"CHILDREN!!" M.F. yelled, stopping Jerrica and me in our tracks. "Can we please get back on track here?"

"Okay," Jerrica and I mumbled, a bit dejected that we hadn't finished our tirades.

"Now, let's review the show's outline and how we're planning to rework the vocal distribution," Kimber said. "Please feel free to interject your comments and thoughts at any time."

The seven of us buckled down and started discussing our thoughts and ideas freely, with each person's suggestion considered and debated. An hour away, however, it was a completely different scene.

"For the last time, I don't care what the doctor says!" Eric shouted. "JC has to dance, and that's final!"

"But Eric," Lance protested. "The doctor said that Josh has to stay off his leg or he risks it fracturing."

"The whole show will be destroyed if he's not onstage," Eric continued.

"I will be onstage!" Josh said. "That's the whole point! I just won't be able to dance for another couple weeks."

"Do you have any idea how stupid that will look?" Eric asked. "It'll look absolutely terrible."

"So then cancel and reschedule the shows until he can dance," Justin said.

"Not an option," Eric said. "Johnny said that we've lost a lot of money from these last two weeks, and we can't wait any longer."

"So you want me to risk hurting myself," Josh said angrily.

"If you don't dance, then you violate your contract," Eric said as he stood up. "Think about that." He then turned, walked out of the room, and slammed the door behind him.

"Damn!" Josh yelled as he stood up and shoved his rolling chair against the wall. "Now what do we do?"

"I don't know Josh, but we can't let you dance; not until we know for certain that you won't hurt yourself," Chris said sympathetically.

"But if I don't, then we've got a whole different set of problems," Josh said with a sigh. "Why does this stuff happen to me?"

"You're not alone, man," Justin said as he stood up and place his arm around Josh's shoulder. "We're in this together. That's how it works, remember?"

Josh smiled briefly before his face returned to a frown. "I just don't know what to do," he said sadly.

"Read the contract," Joey said quietly.

"What?" Justin asked.

"I said, 'Read the contract.' There has to be some provision in there about what happens when one of us gets hurt. I don't believe for one second that he can force Josh to dance while he is injured, and I bet there is more to the story than he is telling us," Joey said.

"I bet you're right," Chris said. "Lance, do you have a copy somewhere?"

"Yeah, on my laptop," Lance said, "but it's incredibly long. It'll take forever to find what we're looking for."

The whole group sighed. They glanced at each other, pondering what to do, until a tiny voice made a suggestion. "We could always split it into parts and skim over it," Justin said quietly.

Josh's head perked up. "Come again?"

"Uh, never mind," Justin mumbled, turning away from the others.

"No, no, no!" Josh exclaimed. "Say it again. You may be on to something here."

Everyone was looking at Justin now, and that made him a bit nervous, but nonetheless he said his piece anyway. "Well, I was thinking if we split the contract up and skimmed over it, then it wouldn't take so long. We're only looking for one thing, so it shouldn't be too difficult to find."

All of a sudden, a light bulb went off in Lance's head. "That's a great idea Justin, although it's still a bit time-consuming. However, I have an even better idea, thanks to you." Justin, who thought Lance was about to jump all over his idea, smiled when Lance made his last remark. "Since the contract is saved on the computer, I can just have the computer search for key phrases, like 'injured.' That should cut the search time down from a few hours to a couple of minutes."

"Now we just have to find time to do it without Eric finding out," Chris said.

A loud noise could be heard from the other side of the door, which caused Joey to roll his eyes and plop down into a chair. "Something tells me he already knows, the little rat," he said in annoyance. "On the plus side, at least he knows we don't plan to give up. Maybe then he'll make this easier than it's already promising to be."

"Eric? Make anything easy?" Josh exclaimed. "Not on your life."

Lance looked down at his watch and sighed. "Guys, I think we ought to get moving. We're supposed to be on the bus in twenty minutes."

"Lovely," Chris muttered. "And so it continues."

"So does everyone understand the drill?" Kimber asked cheerfully. All of us nodded our heads slowly. We were completely exhausted, and it was only four o'clock. We still had another hour to go, and I didn't think I'd be able to move or speak again for as long as I lived.

"Can we have a break?" Mandy whined. "Even a little one?"

Kimber mulled this over in her head for a moment before agreeing. "All right, but it's going to be a working break. I want you to go over and see Shana so she can take your measurements. She wants to get started on some designs right away."

"Cool!" exclaimed Mandy, Karri, and Jerrica. "Clothes!"

Tom and I exchanged looks. "Girls," we said in unison as we rolled our eyes and shook our heads. The girls, who had absolutely no energy only seconds before, were off like a flash to Shana's side. Tom and I, not nearly as enthused as they were, strolled over at a much more leisurely pace.

As we were walking over, Tom said, "Will, I want to thank you for increasing my part in the show. I don't feel so much like a backup singer anymore."

"Tom, it's like I told you at Celia's the other day. You have a marvelous voice, for one, and we are all in this together. Oh, and just so you know, if I ever get sick, you get to be my fill-in," I said with a smile.

Tom froze. "Huh?"

"Well, any time I get sick, my voice gives out. I go from a three-octave range down to less than one most of the time. So, in any places where it's plausible, you'll sing instead of me. It most likely won't be the same songs though," I added hastily, "since you definitely can't get near the high notes, but there are spots where you could sing instead of me, and come to think of it, maybe we ought to review some of those and make them permanent."

"I, um, uh, okay," Tom stuttered.

"Don't look so worried Tom," I said, trying to assure him. "It won't be as terrible as you think. Trust me."

"If you say so," Tom said, but I knew he wasn't at all sure about what I had just said. Thinking about me hitting so many high notes freaked him out a little, especially since he knew that he couldn't even dream of touching half of them.

I left Tom's side and went over to my bag. I figured I'd check and see if there was any possible chance that I could find a way to go into work late that night. If not, I was in for some hell. M.F. had left just enough time in the schedule for me to go from work to practice and back to work again. I was praying with all my soul that the weeks of leave I needed desperately would clear, or else I was going to have another set of issues I didn't want to face to tackle head on.

I picked up my phone and noticed that I had voicemail. Wondering whom it was from, I called and picked up my messages. There was only one, but it was the kind of news that I needed. "Hi Will, this is Tina at Northern Skies. I just wanted to let you know that all of your weeks of leave have cleared through September except for the week beginning on the twenty-ninth of June and the week beginning on the third of August. Just a reminder..."

The message babbled on about health benefits, shifts in seniority date in regard to pay increases, and other things I could care less about at that point. I got my leave, and it was effective today! Thank you God, I thought joyfully. Wait until I tell Joe! He'll be so excited when I get home... My thoughts trailed off when I suddenly realized that he wouldn't be home. It figured that the first night in what seemed like a long time when I would be able to spend quality time with him, he was gone. I sighed heavily, stuffed my phone back into my bag, and traipsed over toward Shana. I only made it about halfway before someone else intercepted me.

"If I didn't know she was over there, I'd guess your best friend died judging by the look on your face," Aja said lightly.

I tried to smile, but it wasn't forthcoming very easily. "Well, I just found out that my leave at Northern Skies has been approved, but that it doesn't much matter tonight. Joe is in Richmond and I'm here."

"Are you always going to be this depressed when he's gone?" she asked.

I shook my head. "I don't think so. It's just that, well, there's been so much going on this week I've barely had five seconds to talk to him. I mean, we've basically been in the same space at any number of times, and yet we've said very little to each other." I stared at my shoes for a moment, took a deep breath, and plastered a cheesy smile on my face. "But I can handle it. I'll see him tomorrow."

"Don't think for one second you're fooling me, mister," Aja scolded. "I know better. Besides, if you're off today, why don't you just go to Richmond? How far away is it?"

"The way I drive, about two hours, give or take a few minutes."

"There you go then. Why don't you go down and see him?" Aja suggested.

I was starting to get excited about the idea when reality kicked in. "I don't think it'll be possible, Aja. He's with the band and their whole crew, and I highly doubt that Johnny and/or Eric are going to be sympathetic to Joe wanting to see me, considering the events of late."

"Who says you have to tell them?" Aja said with a mischievous grin. "Joey has a cell phone, right?" When I nodded, she continued. "Well, call him up and tell him to meet you somewhere else, or see if you can get a room at the same hotel he's staying at. He'll be more likely able to catch up with you if he doesn't have to leave the hotel, and less inclined to get in trouble that way."

"Good idea. Maybe Jerrica and I can go down tonight. I can use her for extra cover, and also to help keep Eric at bay if necessary. I just have to get her to go along with it," I said.

"You think she'd say no?" Aja asked.

"Not seriously, but she might in the beginning just to mess with my head."

Aja rolled her eyes and walked away. I turned and went back to my bag to get my phone. I had a call to make, but not to Joey. I was going to let him be surprised. It was more fun that way.

The bus had finally been loaded, everyone was boarded, and the group was on the way. After about half an hour, everything felt typical. No longer did things seem out of the ordinary or special. This is how life normally was: on the bus one day, somewhere else that night, on the bus the next day, and so forth. Just when Lance was almost beginning to wonder if the last two weeks had really happened or not, his phone rang. A little surprised, wondering who would be calling him, he grabbed his phone and looked at the Caller ID. A small smile spreading to his face, he motioned to those who were paying attention that he was going to the back of the bus to answer the phone and then walked away.

In a hushed whisper, he answered the phone. "Hey man! How's it going?"

"I'm stuck with M.F. How do you think? Brutal, as usual," I said with a small laugh. "Why are you whispering?"

"Johnny's on the bus with us," Lance replied. "Need I say more?"

"NO," I said, a hard edge to my voice clearly evident.

"I thought not," Lance continued. "So why are you calling me? Not that I don't like hearing from you or anything."

I laughed. "Two reasons actually. Number one, I figured if I called Joe, it might draw attention, and second, I'm planning a little surprise for him and Chris and need your help."

Glancing around to double check and make sure he was out of earshot, Lance said, "Okay, sure. What's up?"

I briefly explained what had happened a few moments ago and Aja's idea. "So, that's the idea anyway. What do you think?"

"I think it's a good idea. Joey's been a bit melancholy since we left York earlier, and Chris is kind of off as well. Actually, all of us are. I think it might do us a little good, and do Joey and Chris a lot of good," Lance said. "Of course, you'll have to maneuver around Johnny, though."

"See, this is why I keep people who are smarter than me around. I just have to see if the hotel you are staying at has any extra rooms and book them. That way, no one has to leave the hotel and make Johnny suspicious, and even if I do run into him, there's not much he can do if I'm a registered guest other than tell me to stay away from your floor."

"I would advise not running into Johnny," Lance warned. "If he knows you and Jerrica are around, he'll keep the five of us under lock and key."

"No kidding," I said. "Anyway, I just need to know where you guys are staying."

"At the Marriott on Broad Street," Lance said. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted someone moving in his direction. "Listen, I have to go. Bye!" Before I could even say another word, he had already hung up.

I stared at the phone for a minute in surprise. "Well, I hope he didn't get busted by Johnny," I said with a sigh. "Things would be so much better if that fils de pute wasn't messing things up all the time."

"Oh Robért-James?" Jerrica called in a singsong voice. "Shana said it's your turn."

I debated about giving her a piece of my mind over the 'Robért-James' crack, but I let it go. I needed Jerrica to be as agreeable as possible right now.

"I'm coming!" I called back as I again stowed my phone in my bag. I ran over to Shana, who was talking to Raya, and apologized. "Sorry. Got caught up in something for a moment."

"No problem," said Shana, giving me that smile that could melt even the most frozen heart. There was a silent strength to her that many people found comforting, and it was one of the many things I liked about her.

As Shana took my measurements, I listened to the conversations going on around me. Tom was talking to Mandy about a fiddle competition he had won not that long ago, Karri was talking to M.F. about some dance moves for a variety of songs we were doing, and Jerrica was just being a pain in my ass as usual.

"Would you go away for a couple minutes until I'm done?" I asked through clenched teeth.

"Someone's really touchy today, isn't he?" Jerrica said playfully.

"If you don't be nice to me, I won't tell you about my surprise," I said, knowing that would drive Jerrica bonkers until I told her.

"What? What is it?" she exclaimed.

Right on cue, I thought smugly. I knew Jerrica too well, and her reactions to most things were rather predictable. "I'll tell you when I'm done," I said, "which probably won't be for a while."

"You're done," Shana said as she stood up from her kneeling position while measuring my inseam.

"Oh. Um, are you sure?" I asked, wanting to make Jerrica sweat as long as I could.

"I'm sure," Shana said.

"You didn't forget anything?" I asked, trying to get her to catch my eye, but she instead turned her back to me to write some figures on a sheet of paper.

"Not at all," Shana replied. "Everyone is done."

"Oh," I said, a bit dejected. Just when I had the perfect opportunity to annoy Jerrica, it was snatched away from me. My life just sucks like that sometimes, but what can you do?

"So?" Jerrica asked, grabbing my arm and yanking me halfway across the gym. "What's the surprise?"

"We're going to Richmond," I said evenly.

Jerrica's face went blank. "What's so surprising about that? I already knew that, you jerk! We talked about it earlier when the guys were here."

"We're going tonight," I said, waiting for it to sink in.

"You mean... You and I... Tonight? That means... Whoo hoo!" Jerrica exclaimed, drawing funny looks from everyone else in the room.

"Way to be low-key," I said.

"Oh shut up you," Jerrica scolded, but the smile on her face could not be missed. "But how is this possible? I thought you had to work tonight?"

"My leave time for this summer got approved, minus a couple of weeks, but I'll deal with those at another time. We just have to endure the last," I began, checking my watch, "forty-five minutes of this session, and then we are out the door. We'll have Mandy stop by the house so I can throw some clothes into a bag before we go and pick up my car downtown."

"Oh, this is going to be so much fun!" Jerrica cried. "I can't wait!"

"Whatever it is you can't wait for, Miss Andrews, it will have to wait until after five o'clock. Until then, you are mine," M.F. said as she came up behind us. "Now, let's get moving. We do not have any time to waste, you know."

"Yes, ma'am!" Jerrica shouted, giving her a small salute before running to the other side of the hall.

I was trying hard not to laugh, but a stern look from M.F. killed all of the humor inside me. "I, um, think I'll be following her now," I said before dashing off in Jerrica's direction.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have one more song to go through before we call it a day," Kimber said. If you will pull out your music again for Rev It Up, we'll go over the music a couple more times and then start going over the dance moves.

The five of us groaned. Even with the momentary excitement that got Jerrica's adrenaline pumping, she had already come crashing back down to fatigue. "Must we?" Karri whined.

"Look, I'll make you a deal. Do this for me now, and we'll start practice an hour later tomorrow," Kimber said.

"Sounds good to me," I said. That would be an extra hour for Jerrica and I to get back up to York. In all my excitement about going to Richmond tonight, I had forgotten about rehearsal for tomorrow. Oh well. We'd have to check out of the hotel at four in the morning for the drive back up, but it was going to be well worth it in my mind.

"Heck yeah!" said the girls, and their sentiment was echoed by Tom.

"All right then," Kimber said. "Let's begin. I think it starts off with you and Tom, right Will?"

"Uh, yeah. Tom, um, count of three?"

"Okay," Tom said as he looked back at the sheet music in front of him. Since I had written the song some time ago with Jerrica, I didn't need the music. I had long since had the song committed to memory.

"All right then. One, two, three..."

Hurry up! We're all ready,
and all you need to bring is yourself.
Gonna go slow, take it steady,
'Cause there's no room for nobody else.

Tom and I started into the bridge, with the girls providing backup.

Sun is high, Sky is blue.
It's so bright, we're just waiting for you
(We know what you're doin')
Sun is high, Sky is blue.
It's so bright, we're just waiting for you
We know what to do.

So rev it up, I said (Don't waste time)
We know where we're goin'.
Rev it up! No lead (The coastline)
Where the wind is blowin'.

He-e-e-e-y, yeah. Hey! Hey!

Mandy and the girls jumped into the next section, this time with Tom and I providing backup vocals. For ease, a lot of songs were going to be divided this way so that no one person was singled out or focused on more than another. It seemed like the best solution to me, especially since it provided more opportunities for everyone to sing. Plus, if I were to get sick, like I was telling Tom, then he would already know the music and be able to run with it by himself.

Give it up Mr. Blue Sky.
Speeding right on into the bay.
Everybody wave as we drive by.
To the beach where we're gonna stay.

Sun is high, Sky is blue. (ahhhhhh)
It's so bright, we're just waiting for you.
(We know what you're doin')
Sun is high, Sky is blue. (ahhhhhh)
It's so bright, we're just waiting for you.
We know what to do.
We know what to do.

So rev it up, I said. (Don't waste time)
We know where we're goin'. (It's all right)
Rev it up! No lead. (The coastline)
Where the wind is blowin'. (It's all right)

We let Mandy run a little free with this song by giving her the 'heys' all by herself while the rest of us sang the other part. Every now and again I was willing to nurture her inner diva.

He-e-e-e-e-y, yeah (Rev it up I said)
We know what you're doin'. (Hey)
We know what you're doin'. (Hey)
Rev it up! No lead. (Hey, yeah)
We know what you're doin'. (Hey)
We know what you're doin'. (Hey)

This was the part where Tom would grab his fiddle and play this section—by his request, of course. We were going to try to find someone else to do it, but Tom insisted, and we were more than happy to let him. It was one less person to hire, and I knew that Kimber and J.B. were incredibly budget-sensitive. Anyway, I wouldn't be able to dwell on that much, since this was also the section where the rest of were doing an Irish dance number, and even though that whole part would only last a whole thirty-five seconds, later on as I did it more often, there were times when I thought it would never end. What's worse is that it's not even the end of the song!

(Hey Hey Hey Hey)

Do do do,
do do do do do do do,
do do do do do do,
do do do do do do do

Do do do,
do do do do do do do,
do do do do do do,
do do do do do do do

We know what to do.
We know what to do.

To end the song, one person from each gender—in this case, Mandy and myself—would sing the lyrics while the others provided backup. This again was a brilliant idea of mine: have us split the songs into sections by gender in the beginning, and then merge the two at the end. It would be a different pairing for each song, so everyone would have a turn. By default, Tom would get to sing a little more often because the girls outnumbered us three to two, and I deferred to him more often in group songs because of the amount of time I was going to have to focus on other songs.

So rev it up, I said. (Don't waste time)
We know where we're goin'. (It's all right)
Rev it up! No lead. (The coastline)
Where the wind is blowin'. (It's all right)

We know what to do.
We know what to do.
We know what to do.
We know what to do.
We know what to do.

"Not bad at all, you guys," Kimber said as she clapped. M.F. joined her in the applause, and I actually started to feel pretty good about the whole thing. Maybe, just maybe, we could actually pull it off.

"Now, let's move on to the dancing," M.F. said. "We'll start with something easy, since we don't have much time, so let's look at the Irish dance section of that song."

Tom moved off to the side, since he wouldn't be dancing during that time while he was playing the fiddle, so it would just be the remaining four of us. Karri, Mandy, and I shrugged our shoulders and approached M.F., but Jerrica hung back a little.

I could sense that Jerrica was nervous about something, so I went over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"Nothing! Nothing at all!" Jerrica said quickly.

"Honestly now," I said, giving her the eye, "who exactly do you think you are trying to kid?"

"Darn you," Jerrica grumbled. "I told y'all I don't know how to do that."

"And that's why you are going to learn, starting today!" Karri exclaimed. "Come over here."

Jerrica glared at me for a second and then slowly made her way over to Karri's side. "Okay, I'm here. Now what?"

Karri stared at her for a second before breaking out into a smile. "I'll be honest. It looks harder than it is. Once you get the basic steps down, the rest comes easily."

"Easy for you to say," Jerrica grumbled.

"Come on. Just work with me here," Karri pleaded.

"Fine, fine!" Jerrica relented. "Just stop begging."

"Good!" Karri said. "Now, just watch my feet, and then when you think you're ready, do what I do. All I'm going to do is the same step over and over."

"O...kay," Jerrica said slowly.

"Now then, here we go!" Karri took a couple steps away from Jerrica and then began to do a standard step as slowly as she could. I was amazed at how easy Karri made it look. She definitely had promise as a choreographer and a teacher as well.

I would love to say that Jerrica picked up the steps immediately and that life was perfect, but that would be giving her far too much credit. She tripped over her feet more often than not, and Mandy and I did the best we could to try and steer her in the right direction, but it all seemed to be for naught. Just when we were all about to give up, she finally got it, and the rest of us were all incredibly thankful, since M.F. was refusing to let us leave until she did.

"Okay folks! Let's blow this Popsicle stand!" I yelled as I dashed for my bag and then herded Jerrica out the door. I had just gotten to the parking lot when I realized that my car was in Baltimore and that Mandy was driving. "Whoops! Forgot Mandy was driving!"

"I was going to tell you that," Jerrica said, "but it's more fun to watch you make an ass out of yourself."

"Thanks ever so kindly," I retorted as I trudged back inside.

Meanwhile, the others were still in the hall laughing out our departure. "When do you think he'll realize I have the keys?" Mandy asked with a smug grin.

"Soon enough," Karri said. "I've never seen someone that happy to go to work before."

"Who? Him?" Aja asked as she walked up to the group. "He said something about getting some sort of leave?" she asked aloud, trying to remember my exact words. "Anyway, it was something like that."

"Hmmm," Mandy mused. "I wonder if Karri and I had anything clear as well?"

"Only one way to find out," Karri said as she pulled her phone out of her bag that she had collected from the table where Shana had been measuring us earlier. Karri dialed the number for the office and waited for someone to pick up. When someone did, the conversation she had was brief, but by the end, she was all smiles. "Well, it's official," Karri said to Mandy. "We got leave as well!"

"So we don't have to go to work tonight?" Mandy blurted out.

"Nope!" Karri exclaimed. "That means we get to finally get some sleep!"

"Well, congratulations you two," Tom said. "I think you are deserving of it."

"You and us both!" Mandy agreed. "You know, since we're now off tomorrow, we ought to find out if there is any possible way the guys could hook us up with tickets to their show tomorrow in Richmond?"

"I don't know," Karri said with a shrug. "I thought I heard somewhere that it was sold out."

"Never say never," Kimber interjected. "I know the perfect way to cajole some tickets out of Johnny Wright."

"Yeah right," Tom snorted. "Like that man wants to do us any favors."

"I can be very persuasive," Kimber said. "So am I making that seven more tickets or eight?"

All eyes turned to Tom, who was starting to look a little uncomfortable. "Well," he said slowly, "I really want to go, but I wouldn't know how to get out of work. I mean, I suppose I could call in sick, but..."

"That would be a lie, and you don't want to do that," Mandy finished. "I understand that, but you know you'll be sorely missed."

Tom smiled and, before his brain could catch up with his mouth, he said, "Make it eight!" Five sets of eyebrows shot up, so Tom clarified by saying, "I'll find a way to get there! Don't you worry!"

"You ought to just quit," Karri suggested.

"I really should," Tom said. "My boss has been on my case lately anyway. Besides, no matter what happens with this, I would never go back there, so what do I have to lose?" The entire group remained silent while Tom worked through the thoughts in his head. "All right. Since that's settled, does anyone have a phone I could use?"

Karri handed hers over and watched as Tom called and quit right there on the phone. As he hung up, Karri said, "Well that was easy."

"I don't think my boss ever liked me," Tom admitted, "so that was really no big surprise."

"Maybe it's better that you leave then," Raya said quietly from behind everyone. In fact, the way she had snuck up behind everyone caused them to jump in surprise. "You shouldn't have to work somewhere that you're not wanted."

"You mean like Will?" Mandy asked. "And don't sneak up on me like that!"

"Sorry," Raya apologized.

"Yeah, although Robért-James seems to believe he has no choice in the matter," Shana said as she joined the group, "I think a part of him really wants to do this."

They all became rather silent after that; no one was really sure what to say after that. "So you said seven in the morning, right Kimber?" Tom asked.

When Kimber nodded, Aja said, "Wow. I hope Ro—, uh, Will and Jerrica make it back from Richmond on time."

"What are you talking about?" Kimber asked.

"Will and Jerrica decided to go down to Richmond tonight to see the guys. Apparently, Joey and Chris miss them already," Aja stated, and was answered by some snickering from Mandy and Karri.

"Well in that case," Kimber said as she began to pace while thinking, "maybe we should just move our rehearsal down there? I bet Johnny would have no problems with letting us use his space."

"Uh, are we talking about the same guy here?" Karri asked.

"Yes," Kimber said, "and I like I said before, don't underestimate me! You wouldn't believe how persuasive I can be."

"Just don't get on her bad side!" Aja warned. "She has the temper of a four year old."

"Very funny," Kimber retorted. "Anyway, let's keep this a secret and surprise Will and Jerrica."

"I think it's a good idea. Do we have any idea where they are staying?" Raya asked.

"No, but here comes Will. I bet we can find out in a moment," Mandy said.

"Let me ask," Karri whispered to Mandy. "You know if you do it, he'll figure out we're up to something."

"We're always up to something," Mandy retorted. "How would this be any different?"

"Good point," Karri said, "but let me do it anyway."

"Suit yourself," Mandy said with a shrug.

A couple seconds later, I joined up with them. The fact that they had all become quiet and were staring at me made me wonder what was up. "Uh, what did I do?" I asked.

"We were all just wondering how long it was going to take you to figure out that I'm driving?" Mandy asked.

I laughed. "Yeah, well, I kind of got excited about something, so I forgot momentarily."

"Yeah, we heard you're going down to Richmond tonight," Karri interjected before Mandy could say anything further.

I glanced over at Aja, who then turned away from me so as not to look me in the eye. "I see someone has been blabbing things," I said with a small smile. "And no Aja, it wasn't a secret, at least not from all of you, so don't worry." I turned to face Karri went I sensed a slight uneasiness from her. It was obvious she wanted something but wasn't sure how to ask. This ought to be interesting, I thought.

"Anyway, you're going to be back in time for rehearsal, right?" Karri asked.

"Yeah. Seven in the morning is going to make for one quick trip. Let's just hope that the police aren't out tonight," I replied.

"Do you want me to look in on the cats tonight? If so, I'll need to know where you're staying," Karri said.

I cocked my head to the side slightly and contemplated her words. Her uneasiness seemed to be growing, so it was obvious that there was a hidden agenda behind finding out that information. Besides, Karri had never volunteered to watch the cats while I was out of town for days or even weeks at a time before, so that she would offer now made the whole situation that more bizarre.

"I'm sure the cats will be fine," I began, and then I decided to jump into what I believed could be the only rational explanation for this conversation. "However, if you wanted to know where we were staying so you could come down too, all you had to do was ask."

Karri's mouth dropped open, as did those of a few others. "Dude, you are no fun sometimes," Mandy said, shaking her head.

"How did you...?" Tom started to ask, and then he thought better of it. "Wait. I may not want to know, so I'm not going to ask."

"So?" Karri prodded.

"We're staying at the Marriott on Broad Street, I hope. That's where they are, but who knows if there will be room available?" I said.

"Well, we'll just have to find out then, won't we?" Kimber said, jumping into the conversation. "Let me work on that while the rest of you get going. Make sure that I have all of your cell phone numbers before you leave, please."

Kimber already had mine, and Jerrica didn't have one, so once she got Mandy's the three of us left. Once in Mandy's car, we chatted about going down to Richmond and seeing the guys in concert. It actually wasn't a bad idea to begin with, considering we were going to be going on before them. It would be handy to know what we were playing up to.

Mandy decided to stop by her house and pick up some spare clothes and other items for her and Jerrica, and then to my house to grab some items for me. We stopped by the hotel to pick up my car, and then drove over to the Northern Skies office to leave Mandy's car there. That way, Mandy didn't have to worry about something happening to it, since all of our co-worker friends would keep an eye on it.

We made the drive down to Richmond in great time. Kimber called as we were passing through Fredericksburg to let us know that the Marriott did indeed have rooms available. Even with the concert being sold out, it wasn't close enough to summer for the area to be too busy. Kimber had made reservations for five rooms: one for herself and Raya, one for Aja and Shana, one for M.F. and Karri, one for Mandy and Jerrica, and one for Tom and I. She said that this would be included in the tour expenses that she was submitting to Johnny, so not to worry about paying for the room.

I was in heaven. I was going to get to see Joey, and I mean really get to see him, for what seemed like the first time in a long time, plus I was going to get a real night's sleep for once. The day couldn't get any better.

Arriving at the hotel, I went inside to get us checked in. As I somehow figured, there were problems initially, but those were cleared up and we were issued our room keys. Of course, that was the easy part. Meeting up with the guys would be a bit more difficult. I figured between Eric and Johnny, those guys would be under lock and key tonight. Then again, I should have considered whom I was dealing with. Turns out that sometimes, things are just destined to go your way.

By the time we dragged our stuff upstairs and tossed them in the rooms, it was nearly eight o'clock and I was already about to pass out dead on my feet. However, that would have defeated the original intended purpose in coming down to Richmond in the first place. My first problem, though, was going to be how to figure out where Joey was. I knew the front desk would never tell me where they were, or that they were even there for that matter, and with good reason. I'm sure that, over the years, *Nsync has had issues with people trying to break into the hotels and even their rooms to try to get near them. For privacy, they would have to have strict orders about who can get access to their room areas.

Just as I was plotting on how to go about doing this, there was a timid knock at my door. Wondering briefly whom it was—knowing full well that Jerrica would never do anything timidly—I went over to the door and opened it. Standing outside my door was Lance, and man was I ever glad to see him!

"Come on in!" I said, grinning from ear to ear as I ushered him into the room and then gave him a friendly hug. "How did you know what room I was in?"

"I called the front desk and asked," Lance said with a shrug. "Unlike us, they don't care who knows where you are."

"Now don't I feel special," I said sarcastically.

"Just you wait buddy," Lance said. "Enjoy this now, because in a couple of months, it'll be the same for you, and then you'll wish life was like this instead."

"So that means you want to quit singing and go back to Mississippi?" I asked with a wink.

"Uh, did I say that?" Lance replied with a laugh. "Hey, not all good things come without consequences you know."

"Tell me about it," I said. "So, what's the word?"

"Well, you were right. Johnny has expressly forbid us from leaving the hotel. Something about making the fans wait until tomorrow to see us and blah, blah, blah. It didn't make a whole lot of sense to begin with, and I thought it was a bit silly, but there's not a whole lot we can do about it. Anyway, no one else knows you're here yet, and the others are bored out of their skulls already. I guess we got a little spoiled by being at your house. Even when we weren't doing something, we didn't feel like we were caged in either. Does that make any sense?"

"It makes perfect sense, actually. Now, I've got an idea. Call me in half an hour, because by that point the rest of the crew ought to be here."

Lance narrowed his eyes at me. "What are you planning?"

"Oh, nothing much. Just a little get together of sorts," I replied.

"Having a party, are we?"

"Yep, and y'all are going to be the guests of honor!"

"Y'all?" Lance queried. I had to laugh for two reasons. The first one was the perplexed look on Lance's face was quite amusing to begin with, and second was realizing the fact that Lance, even though it was unspoken, had a point. Using slang of any sort was a bit out of character for me.

"Yes, y'all," I said. "Now leave me alone while I plan this out. I don't have much time, which means I'm going to need Jerrica's help." With a sigh, I said, "This ought to be interesting."

"Where's Jerrica?" Lance asked.

"In the next room. Lucky me that the doors are adjoining, huh? Hang on a second and I'll get her," I said as I headed for the door. The adjoining rooms each had a door on their own side, so that if I wanted to, I could leave my door locked or unlocked so Jerrica and Mandy could come and go as they pleased, if they wanted to, and I could do the same. Her door was locked, so I pounded on it and yelled, "Hey beast girl! Open the door!"

I could hear Lance laughing behind me. "Beast girl?"

"Lance, I assure you there are some things that are just better off left unexplained," I said as I pounded on the door again.

"I'm coming you twit!" I heard Jerrica say from the other side. "Don't get your undies in a knot." I heard the deadbolt on her door slide and within seconds Jerrica was staring me in the eye. "What the hell do you want?"

"I was just trying to let you know that we had company," I said sweetly.

"Oh!" Jerrica exclaimed, looking only slightly embarrassed. "Sorry you had to hear that Lance. I didn't realize this idiot had someone over."

"I will never understand you two," Lance said, "nor am I ever going to try. Listen, Will has some planning to do and said he needs your help. Do me a favor and try not to kill him in the next half hour. I don't want to have to try to explain that to Joey, thank you very much."

"Me? Kill him?" Jerrica said with grand exaggeration. "Surely you jest."

"Whatever," Lance said with a smile. "Now get to work. You don't have much time." With that, he left the room, leaving me alone with Jerrica.

"So, we have some party planning to do. Go grab Mandy so we can get going."

"Who died and put you in charge?" Jerrica asked.

"If I told you that, I'd have to kill you, and I don't want to have to explain that to your mother," I said. "Or mine," I added quietly.

"Ha, ha, ha!" Jerrica laughed facetiously. "You are so funny! NOT!"

"Knock it off you two," Mandy said as she came through the door. "I'm not playing referee today."

"Yeah, so stop being a pain in the ass," I said to Jerrica.

"Yes, mother!" Jerrica said, rolling her eyes.

"I'm going to get Josh for starting that," I mumbled as we made our way out the door.

Almost half an hour later, Jerrica, Mandy, and I burst through the door to my room loaded down with bags. We had bought a number of standard party items: chips, pop, an assortment of finger food, and some healthy stuff... The last part is only because Mandy insisted, mind you. I assure you it wasn't on my list, believe it or not, but I had to agree with her in the end that it was a good idea.

I set my bags on the floor and turned on the light. I almost fell backward when I realized there was someone else—or rather I should say some people—in the room. "Whoa! How did you guys get in here?" I asked as Tom, Karri, and the others started laughing at me.

"It's my room too, remember?" Tom said with a mischievous grin as he waved his room key.

"Oh yeah!" I exclaimed as he light bulb popped on. "So now explain to me why you guys are sitting here in the dark."

"Just thought we might try to give you a heart attack, that's all," Karri said with a smile.

"She definitely has been taking lessons from you," I said to Jerrica, who chuckled evilly.

"It's all part of my diabolical plan, you know," Jerrica said.

I rolled my eyes and walked further into the room. "So, are you all going to sit on your duffs all day or are you going to help me set up? We don't have all night, you know!"

"Let's do it!" Raya exclaimed as she ran over to help me with some of the bags.

I was astounded. It took barely ten minutes to get both Jerrica and Mandy's room and the one I was sharing with Tom ready for a party. This was going to be one of the best nights I had had in a long time. I couldn't wait to see the look on Joey's face when he saw this.

"Come on guys. It's not that bad," Lance said as the other four moped around in his room. "I'm sure we can find something to do tonight."

"Like what?" Justin asked. "Eric and Johnny both said we aren't allowed to leave the hotel."

"So then we find something to do here," Lance persisted. "I heard there's supposed to be a party going on in one of the rooms right below us."

"Yeah, and what are we supposed to do? Just walk in uninvited?" Chris asked. "Of course, we are *Nsync after all. Who wouldn't want us at a party?"

"Well, I think we should go check it out, nonetheless. It's better than staying cooped up in here," Lance argued. He looked at his watch and realized it was already time to get the guys downstairs.

"Well, I suppose I'm game if you are," Justin said at last.

"What about the bodyguards?" Chris asked. "How are we supposed to get past them?"

"They have a meeting with Eric in a couple of minutes. The only one out there is Mike, and you know he won't say anything," Lance said. Actually, getting them all to go to a meeting with Eric was Lance's idea, and he was surprised how quickly Eric had jumped on the idea.

"Yeah, Mike's cool," Josh said, "but I still feel kind of funny about crashing a party in someone's hotel room."

"Actually, we were invited," Lance said. "Well, I was invited, and I'm sure they won't care if you guys come too."

"This could be a disaster," Joey said, speaking up for the first time. "How do you know who they are? You know how crazy fans can get, especially at a party."

"I know, but just trust me. I know everything's going to be okay," Lance pleaded.

"All right, all right. You win Lance," Josh said.

"Yeah. Let's go," Chris said.

"I'll stay here," Joey said. "I don't really feel like going."

"Sorry man. It's all of us or none of us," Lance said. "We're a group, remember?"

"But..." Joey started to object, but Lance stopped him.

"Look at how excited Justin is. Do you want to be the one to tell him no? Besides, I thought you were trying to get along better with him. Wouldn't this be the perfect way to show Will how hard you're trying?"

Joey grunted. "Fine. Let's go."

The five exited the room and made their way down the hall with Mike closely on their heels. Lance pushed the button on the elevator and when the doors finally opened, he motioned for everyone to get inside. No one said much as they went down to the next floor, and as they started to walk down the hall behind Lance, were a bit surprised by how quiet the floor seemed.

"If someone really is throwing a party, you'd never know it by how quiet it is out here," Joey remarked.

"Here we go, Room 1013," Lance said as he knocked on the door.

They waited for a moment before the door finally opened. "Hi guys! Good to see you!"

"MANDY??" exclaimed Josh, Joey, Justin, and Chris.

"That's me!" Mandy said with a grin. "Come on in!"

"Wait, wait, wait!" Joey said. "If you're here, does that mean..."

Joey's words were cut off when I pushed Mandy out of the way. "Are you guys going to stand out here all night or are you going to come in?" I asked. I spun on my heel and walked out of the doorway and through the adjoining door into Jerrica's room. As I expected, Joey was not too far behind me.

"But...I thought you had to work tonight!" Joey exclaimed when he caught up with me.

"I got my leave from work, so we thought we'd come down and surprise you," I said nonchalantly. I was about to say something else when my lips were blocked by a passionate kiss. I was so caught off-guard that for a few seconds, I think I forgot how to do this, but eventually I was able to get myself together enough to reciprocate. "Wow," I said when we broke apart. "Ça, c'est incroyable!"

Joey smiled. "If that means you think that was incredible, you haven't seen anything yet."

I smiled and placed my hand on Joey's chest to block him from coming in for seconds. "You are correct on the translation," I said, "but remember that we do have company."

Joey turned to see Jerrica, Mandy, Tom, and all the others watching us. "Uh, hi," he said, blushing furiously.

"Okay, now that we have embarrassed the lovebirds fully, let's have some fun, shall we?" Jerrica yelled as she went to turn the radio on.

"Shall we get our party started?" I asked Joey as I held out my hand.

"Definitely!" Joey replied as he grasped my hand. Joey was definitely in better spirits now. Every time I entered the room, to him, it seemed like the sun parted the clouds and shone brightly. Before you start laughing, think back to the first true love of your life and then try to admit you didn't feel the same way. Can't, can you? I didn't think so.

We partied for what seemed like hours, but at last it was starting to get late. "Wow, it's almost midnight," Josh remarked as he plopped down on one of the beds and sprawled across it. "I'm having a ton of fun, but it's starting to get late."

"You're right about that," Kimber said, "and these guys have an early morning. Seven o'clock, remember?"

Karri, Mandy, Tom, Jerrica, and I groaned. "Yeah, we know," I said.

"I guess that means we should get going, huh?" Chris said as he laid his head next to Jerrica's.

"Probably, but we'll se each other tomorrow, and then pretty soon, it'll be every day!" Jerrica said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster.

"Well, I guess we'll see each other later then," Chris said as he gave Jerrica a tender kiss on the lips.

"Yeah," Jerrica whispered. It had been a while since she had last kissed someone, and she had forgotten how nice it felt.

"Before everyone goes," Kimber said aloud, "I think we have time for just one more thing." Everyone turned their attention to Kimber who pulled out a guitar.

"What? Are you going to sing us a bedtime story?" I said jokingly.

"No, you are," Kimber replied as she stuck the guitar in my hands.

"Uh, I am?" I asked, a bit confused as to where this had come from.

"Why not?" Kimber replied. "You know how to play and everyone here knows how wonderful your voice is. Why don't you sing something?"

"I don't get the choice to say no, do I?" I asked as I took the guitar over to a chair and sat down.

"Nope," Kimber replied.

"They're out to get me. Every single one of them," I remarked to no one in particular as I sat down and started to tune the guitar. "Do you guys really want to hear me sing?"

"YES!" came a thundering chorus from the rest of the room.

"Okay then!" I exclaimed in surprise. "A song it is. What to sing though?" I racked through my memory trying to decide on something when my eyes fell on Joey who, though he was smiling, was obviously not happy that this little reunion of hours was incredibly short-lived. It was at that moment when a thought occurred to me.

"Well?" Jerrica asked a bit impatiently.

"I think I have the perfect song. This one goes out to all of you, and is just a friendly reminder that no matter how lost you may you feel, there is always a road leading to home."

"That was rather corny," Jerrica commented, but Chris whacked her on the arm and shushed her.

Holding in my laughter at this display, I took a breath, strummed the guitar, and began to sing.

Sunny days and starry nights
And lazy afternoons
You're countin' castles in the clouds
And hummin' little tunes
But somehow, right before your eyes
The summer fades away
Everything is different
And everything has changed

If you feel lost and on your own
And far from home
You're never alone, you know
Just think of your friends
The ones who care
They all will be waiting there
With love to share
And your heart will lead you home

Funny how a photograph
Can take you back in time
To places and embraces
That you thought you'd left behind
They're trying to remind you
That you're not the only one
That no one is an island
When all is said and done

While I was singing, no one heard a key slide into the lock and the door silently open as two figures crept in the door.

If you feel lost and on your own
And far from home
You're never alone, you know
Just think of your friends
The ones who care
They all will be waiting there with love to share
And your heart will lead you home

There'll come a day
When you're losing your way
And you won't know where you belong
They say that "Home is where the heart is"
So follow your heart
And know that you can't go wrong

If you feel lost and on your own
And far from home
You're never alone, you know
Just think of your friends
The ones who care
They all will be waiting there
With love to share
And your heart will lead you

If you feel lost and on your own
And far from home
You're never alone, you know
Just think of your friends
The ones who care
They all will be waiting there
With love to share
And your heart will lead you
Where you belong
I know your heart will lead you home

As the others started to clap, someone from the doorway began to clap more loudly. All eyes turned to the doorway and were shocked to discover Johnny and Eric standing there.

I immediately jumped to my feet. "How did you get in here?"

"We let ourselves in. The people at the front desk were most kind in giving us an extra key to your room when we voiced our concerns to them that the members of our band went missing. Of course, they bent over backward to assist in locating you. Once I figured out that you all were here, it wasn't very hard to figure out where these boys went," Eric said with a devilish grin.

"Johnny, get out!" Chris yelled as he tossed a pillow at the man's head.

"Now that wasn't very nice, was it Eric?" Johnny asked the other man.

"You know, you'd think that, considering we're going to be around so much and opening for this group, Johnny and Eric would be a little nicer to us," Tom said.

"No way. They like being bastards too much for that," Jerrica said, standing up and glaring at Eric who cowered behind Johnny.

"Ah, Miss Andrews, so good to see you again. Now, I had better see five boys back in the rooms upstairs in five minutes, or things are going to get rather unpleasant around here." Johnny went to leave when he turned around again and said, "Oh, and Will. You really do have a beautiful voice. I am quite impressed." Then he turned around and was out the door.

"I really, really hate that man," I said through clenched teeth,

"You and everyone else," Justin said. "Well, I guess we better get going."

While everyone was starting to say their good-byes for the night, I made my way over to Josh and asked, "And whom are you rooming with tonight?"

"Joey. Why?" he asked suspiciously.

"Well, I was just thinking maybe we could trade rooms for tonight."

At first, Josh seemed a bit confused, but then the light in his head came on. "Ahhhh... I get it. No problem. I don't mind rooming alone."

"Uh, I'm not rooming alone," I said. "I'm rooming with Tom. Thanks Josh! You're the best!" I said, giving him a quick hug.

"Whoa, whoa! Wait a minute!" Josh exclaimed, grabbing my shirt as I tried to make a getaway. "What do you know?" Josh asked.

"What should I know?" I asked with a smile. "Besides the fact that you're attracted to Tom?" I said quietly.

"Let me guess. Joey told you?" Josh asked.

"Actually, no. I figured that one out on my own," I said. "So, on that note, I'll go get my bags and take them upstairs."

"Uh, first, Johnny is going to pitch a fit when he sees you, and second, I'm not so sure about this."

"Don't worry Josh. Have I ever steered you wrong before?" When Josh shook his head, I said, "I'm not about to start either. As or Johnny, he only said he wanted to see five boys upstairs, and last time I checked, I still qualified in that department."

"You are a brave guy, Will," Josh said.

"Sometimes, you just have to fight for what you want. I'll bring your bags down in a bit." As I started to walk away, I turned, flashed Josh a huge smile, and said, "Hopefully, you'll thank me in the morning."

Josh shook his head. Yet again, I had gotten what I wanted whether he liked it or not, but this time he was actually looking forward to the events to come. Maybe, possibly, things would go exactly the way he wanted them to. That night could be the start of something new and exciting. He almost couldn't wait.

So what did you think? Will Josh and Tom finally see the sparks between them and figure out what the others already know? Can Will find a way to keep everything in control without losing his mind? What will happen in the weeks to come? 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 I've said that before too!) 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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The characters Kimber Benton, Jerrica Benton, Aja Leith, Shana Elmsford, and Raya Alonso are creations of Hasbro. Song lyrics used in this chapter are protected under copyright by the original authors and their recording labels. No attempt to infringe on these copyrights should be assumed or implied.