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...

"Well...," Justin started. He was looking at me kind of oddly, as if he was unsure what my reaction would be to whatever he said next. "I don't know about the rest of the guys, but, if it's not too much of an imposition, I'd kind of like to stay here."

I froze. Stay here? With me? The other guys looked at each other and nodded, including Chris. They wanted to stay here?

"That's a great idea! No one knows we're here. It's quiet and secluded. We can finally truly relax without having to worry about being mobbed when we go outside!" Josh exclaimed. Then he looked over at me and his face fell. "Ummm...that is of course, if you want us to stay Will."

All eyes turned to face me. Oy vey. What I had been half wishing for had suddenly come true. What do I do? On the one side, I liked having them there and didn't want to disappoint them. On the other side, I wasn't exactly prepared to have five guests for two weeks.

I suppose I had remained silent for too long, because the others were starting to fidget. At last Lance spoke up. "It's all right Will. I know we kind of threw you on the spot, and we'll understand if you don't want us to stay." Lance was so nice, and Justin was pouting at me. He looked so cute, yet so silly at the same time when he did that. Josh and Joey were giving me the puppy dog eyes, and Chris had his hands clasped together praying. Five against one; you figure the odds.

I did want them to stay. I guess we'd just have to make it work out somehow. "All right guys, you can stay," I said. The guys started to cheer, but I held up my hand to stop them. "However, I wasn't really prepared to have five guests for the next couple weeks, so I'm going to need your help. We'll need to go shopping for a lot of groceries. We'll also need to pick up some extra linen for the beds. As far as the bedrooms go, sorry Joey, but I'm going to have to kick you out of mine. I want my bed back!" Joey blushed at that, while Chris and Josh laughed. Justin and Lance just looked at each other with a knowing expression. "As for the other two rooms, do whatever you want, if you guys don't mind sharing. There is the futon downstairs along with the hide-a-bed in the couch, so I think we'll be able to make do, don't you think?"

Everyone nodded and started talking over each other about how great it was going to be to finally be able to relax over the next two weeks. I sat back in my chair wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. "Well, welcome to my home guys," I said quietly as I took another sip of Diet Coke I had a feeling this was going to be a long couple of weeks, and who would have known that in that time, my life would change forever.

Chapter Four: Revelations

My head was spinning. What have I gotten myself into? I wondered. I did want the guys to stay, but at the same time, I was one step below near panic because of it. What am I so afraid of? Oh yeah, I remember. They'll find out my little secret, hate my guts, and there is no one around to hear me scream. I shook my head, trying to clear it of all the negative thoughts. I had been watching way too much late night television. I continued to sit there and stared off into space. My eyes began to lose their focus and voices became muted. I couldn't move. I had a vague idea of what was going on around me. My mind was so conflicted that it began to shut the rest of me down slowly. It was as if my brain was trying to run through molasses. The first few steps were easy, but it would become progressively more difficult the more steps it took The little voice in my head kept trying to tell me everything was all right, but it too became softer and less pronounced.


Your cheek hurts, the little voice inside my head told me.

Why does it hurt? That doesn't make any sense. It could only hurt if someone did something to it, I answered. I thought back upon this a little while later and recalled how funny it seemed that I was answering the little voice in my head.

Someone did. Your friends are worried. You need to snap yourself out of this, right now!

I don't want to! I roared in my head. It's safer in here. Besides, friends? What friends? I don't have any real friends and never will.

You know better than that. Now, pick yourself up and move on. After all, you're really starting to scare that cute guy Joey. You don't want to hurt him do you? At that thought my eyes immediately regained their focus, the sounds around me became crystal clear, and someone was shaking me. Hard.

"Will? Will! Will, come on!" Justin was yelling at me as he shook me. I grabbed his hand, which surprised him causing him to jump, but he never let go of me.

"You know Justin, if you keep shaking me like that, I'll be the first person in history to have motion sickness in their dining room," I said weakly.

Justin just stared at me with a scared expression on his face. The rest of the guys were crowded around me, staring at me as well. It was starting to get on my nerves. "What?" I finally said after a very awkward pause.

"Will, is everything all right?" Lance asked tentatively, seeing that I was starting to become upset. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, springing this whole thing on you."

I sat there a little dumbfounded. I was so conflicted inside, but I really didn't want to hurt these guys. They seemed so caring and friendly, most of the time. Living in this old house by myself was kind of lonely. It would be really nice to have other people around. I took a deep breath, letting the air flow through my lungs. I breathed in and out like this a couple more times before I answered Lance.

"Lance, understand that what just happened has nothing to do with you," I said, knowing it was only half-truth. "At some point I will be able to explain, but not right now. Is that all right with you guys?" They nodded. We all sat in silence for a minute when, out of nowhere, I whispered quietly, "How long?"

Joey, who had pulled himself up as close to me as possible without sitting in my lap, cocked his head to one side. "How long what, Will?" he asked.

I sighed heavily and replied, "How long was I gone?"

"About 10 to 15 minutes I guess," Josh answered from across the table.

"Yeah," Justin chimed in. "We're not really sure when it started, because we weren't really paying attention, but..." His voice died away. He began to feel guilty about not paying more attention to me, and I could see it in his eyes.

"Justin!" I barked at him. He shrunk back a little impulsively, trying not to look me in the eye. "I want you to look me in the eye and promise me you will not feel guilty for anything that happens in this house. This is not your fault. Besides, all guilt does is lead you down a path of internal conflict, which in turn can bring you down a path you don't want to follow if you're not careful, as you just saw."

Four pairs of eyes swung from Justin to me with mouths open. I looked confused at first, but then I realized that my mouth had been running so fast, my brain didn't have time to censor it.

"Oy vey," I said, burying my head in my hands. "I am such an airhead."

Joey put his arm around my shoulder, and I felt another pair of hands around my other shoulder. I looked up to see Justin's face. "What's wrong Will?" he asked with great concern. "What do you have to be guilty about?"

I sighed. I had to tell them. I had to tell them everything, whether I liked it or not.

"Well, I don't know where to begin," I stated slowly, trying to figure out the best way to drop the bomb. My eyes kept wandering to the door as my mind contemplated possible escape routes. Have to be prepared for worst-case scenario, you know, I heard in the back of my head. Ugh. I did not want to think about that.

I gently moved Joey's arm off my shoulder, and then Justin's. I stood up and said, "Why don't you all go into the living room while I clear the table, and then we'll sit down and have a discussion."

I watched as a battle ensued within their minds. I could see it in their eyes, but no one made motions to argue. They all just stood up and proceeded to the living room, except for Lance, who hung back for a moment.

"Will?" he asked as I started to clear the table.

"Yes, Lance?" I said, not looking up.

"Are you really all right with us staying here with you? Even though you said you were, your body language indicates otherwise. I know we sprung this on you, and I don't want you to feel guilty because you think you have to make us happy."

I looked up at him and smiled. These guys were so darn adorable sometimes. I don't know exactly what I would have expected them to act like had I met them under any other circumstances, but there was nothing really about their personality that screamed 'I'm a big pop-star so bow down before me.' I chuckled slightly at that thought, then proceeded to answer him. "Yes, I'm okay with you guys being here. However, this is something that is not easily explained and is going to take some time. Go have a seat in the living room while I finish this and then I'll join you in a moment."

"How about instead I help you clean up?" Lance offered as he started collecting plates and silverware. I was going to decline, but the look he gave me told me he was not about to take no for an answer. "You know, Will, I think you are the coolest guy we have ever met. The way you just accepted us as people, instead of famous people, really means a lot."

I had finished clearing the table and had started loading the dishes into the dishwasher. I thought about Lance's words and it kind of made my heart glow with warmth. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to carry me past the doubts in my head. You're going to tell them everything, and they'll drop you like a rock. Those words echoed in my head and my stomach started to churn. I started feeling hot and dizzy, and was lunch revisited. I leaned over the sink, threw up and collapsed.

My eyes fluttered open to five incredibly concerned faces. I looked past them at the ceiling and realized I was in my bedroom. How had I gotten here?

"Oh thank God he's awake. Another five minutes and I was calling an ambulance," I heard Josh say.

I started to sit up, but a wave of dizziness overcame me and I laid back down. "Just stay lying down for a minute," Joey said as he applied a cool cloth to my forehead. I did as he instructed and just stared at the ceiling. I knew there was no way we were leaving this room without the whole story coming out. I was slowly resigning myself to this. I was just praying that it didn't go nearly as badly as I had imagined in my mind.

After about three minutes of pure silence, I pushed Joey's hand away and sat up. Everyone backed up and gave me a little breathing space. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. My throat hurt from all the stomach acid. I finally eked out a small "Water please," which sent Justin barreling out of the room. In a moment, he returned with a glass of water, which I drunk greedily. Finally washing some of the stomach acid out of my throat, I found myself able to speak a lot more easily.

"Okay guys, have a seat," I said, motioning them to the chairs and the bed. Justin, Joey and Lance took a seat at the end of the bed. Josh sat in the recliner in the far corner of the room while Chris sat backwards in my office chair. "I haven't been a hundred percent honest with you," I said, looking straight into Lance's eyes. Lance just stared back with no expression, waiting for the rest of what I was about to say before passing any judgment on my words.

"You asked me earlier if I wanted you to stay here, and I meant it when I said I did. However, I did have some reservations. First, as I already mentioned, I am hardly prepared to play host to you five for the next two weeks."

"Will, I..." Joey started to say something, but I held up my hand to stop him.

"Joey, please let me say everything I have to say, because if I get interrupted again I don't know if I'll have the courage to finish." Joey looked a little dejected, but he yielded the floor back to me so I could finish my speech. "Now, that is one obstacle I know you can guys can assist me in getting over. I am certain we can make it work; it'll take a little bit of planning to accomplish. Besides, I really like having other people in this big old house with me, especially really great people like you guys. You honestly have no idea how much the friendship you all have given to me thus far has meant to me."

I paused as I tried to let the words I was going to say next formulate themselves into a coherent thought. As I was ready to speak I felt something drop in to my lap. I looked down to see a pair of beautiful green eyes staring at me. "Wonderful timing Princess," I murmured to the five-pound ball of fur. The cat just stared at me and purred. She always knew when I was feeling down and, as usual, came to console me.

My attention was brought back to the matter at hand by Lance clearing his throat. "Sorry guys. This is my cat Princess. None of you are allergic I hope?" The guys shook their heads. "Good. There are two others, Tigger and Little Boo. They are a little more skittish, so you might not see them as often." I stroked Princess' head and sighed, knowing I had stalled long enough.

"There is one other thing that has bothered me. I've kind of lied to you. It's nothing I've said...actually, it's more what I didn't say." I definitely had everyone's attention, and right now I just wanted the Earth to swallow me up whole. I began to tear up and my voice started to waiver. "You all have been so nice to me. Yes, even Chris, whose actions while unpleasant are understandable. He was just trying to protect his friend, which is admirable. However..."

I started to cry. I don't why or how, it just happened. Justin scooted up the bed and went to give me a hug when Princess, who I can only imagine believed that these guys were the cause of my distress, turned and hissed at him. He backed up and looked from her to me, unsure of what to do. I looked up at him and laughed. "See, you have Chris to protect you. I have Princess, and believe me when I say I think she is the more dangerous of the two to cross!"

Everyone laughed while Princess buried her head into my lap. The laughter soon died away and the serious looks returned. I sighed and said to myself, "Okay Will, just out with it." I turned to face the five and said, "Chris wasn't wrong. Not by a long shot. No, I'm not a 'piece of trash,' as he so delicately put it, but his assumptions were correct." I took a deep breath and said the words that no one else had ever heard out of my mouth in my short 22-year existence. "I am gay, and there is no sense in me trying to hide it from you any longer. I've been fighting with this internally ever since Justin's announcement, and as you can see, it has taken a heavy toll on me already." Out of the corner of my eye, I watched everyone's reaction. Chris' mouth was wide open in apparent shock. Josh just continued to watch me as if I had told him the sky was blue or something else similarly mundane. Justin was staring at his shoes and not looking at me, so his reaction was hard to gauge. Lance was beaming from ear to ear, and Joey... Joey just looked stunned, but not necessarily in a bad way.

I decided I needed to finish this little conversation as soon as possible, so I just stated my final thoughts and hoped that everything would be all right. "I don't know what that means to you, if anything. I have accepted that this is who I am and I am slowly becoming comfortable with that. I just can't sit here though and let you guys come stay with me when I know that something like this could cause some serious discomfort for someone. I would always hope that you would be completely honest with me, and it would be completely hypocritical if I were not doing the same. So that's it. Decide what you want to do and let me know. Understand that whatever decision you make is perfectly acceptable." I turned to Justin, who was still staring at his shoes. "Remember what I said Justin. Do not feel guilty about anything. Your feelings are whatever they are, and you should never mask them or feel guilty about them. Decide what is right for you, for all of you, and then go from there."

With that, I stood up and strode out the door, closing it behind me. I rushed downstairs and threw myself onto the couch in hysterics. Five wonderful people had walked into my life, and here I was pushing them out the door because of an attack of conscience. At the same time, though, I knew I couldn't lie to them, even if it was only a lie by omission. I had too much respect for them and myself for that. Maybe it won't go so badly, I thought to myself. Right now only time would tell.

The silence in the bedroom was deafening. The boys just stared at each other as my words slowly sunk in. For some, the fact that I was gay didn't bother them at all. It was that fact that I was bothered by their possible bad reaction that floored them. They never viewed themselves as being in any way intolerant. There was, however, Chris' outburst earlier...

"Well I personally don't care one way or the other," Lance said, breaking the silence. "Will is a wonderful person who has done nothing but open himself up for us. He is who is he, and regardless of whether he is gay or straight has no bearing on my opinion of him. Actually, considering the fact that he told us in spite of what he knew the possible outcome could be is very admirable in my opinion. You guys saw how hard that was for him. I hope that his revelation doesn't change how you think of him. If it does, then I feel sorry for you."

Lance sat back with his arms crossed scanning the room, waiting for the next person to respond. After a minute, a small voice said, "I agree with Lance." Lance turned to the owner of the voice, Justin, and smiled at him.

"So do I," Joey said. He's gay! Thank God! Well, that's one less hurdle to jump now, Joey thought to himself.

"Doesn't bother me a bit," Josh said. "As a matter of fact, since we're currently doing revelations, I might as well tell you guys my little truth too. I'm bi."

"You're what?!?!" Chris exclaimed, finally speaking up at last.

"Bisexual," Josh said matter-of-factly. "Would you like me to explain what that means in further detail Chris?" He was starting to become a little agitated at his friend's tone of voice.

Chris sighed. "Great. Okay, fine. Does anyone else have anything they want to reveal about themselves? Might as well get it over with now so I can get all the shock out of my system at the same time."

Joey, Lance and Justin just glared at Chris. Josh, however, was becoming quite hot over this issue. "Chris, what is your problem?" Josh spat out. If looks could kill, Chris would soon be kicking the bucket at any moment.

"JC, save it!" Chris retorted. "Don't even bother with the speech. I don't need it. I...oh forget it!" Chris began to tear up, and upon his realization of this fact, jumped out of his chair and ran out of the room. A moment later, the sound of a slamming door could be heard.

"Shit!" Josh exclaimed as he slouched back into his chair.

"Well, this has certainly been an informative day," Justin mused. "We find out Will is gay, JC is bi, and then there's Joey..." His voice trailed off as Joey immediately turned around and shot Justin a death stare.

"Joey?" Josh said, looking confused. "What about Joey?"

Joey wanted to evaporate from his spot right then and there. Yes, Justin and Lance already knew, and he knew Josh wouldn't care, but this was not the way he wanted him to find out. Resigned to having to tell Josh sooner than he had planned, Joey looked into his friend's eyes and said, "I'm gay too." Nervously, he ran his hands through his hair a few times while he waited for Josh's reaction.

Josh didn't even flinch. "Oh, is that all? I was wondering when you were going to finally tell me."

Joey was flabbergasted. That was hardly the response he had expected. "What do you mean?" Joey asked.

"Joey, gaydar hardly ever lies. Besides, I watched you checking out our host from the minute we met him at the accident site until just a moment ago. If he is ever in the room, you almost never take your eyes off of him for one second. Personally, I think it's really sweet. So does he have any clue you feel this way about him?"

Joey had now moved from flabbergasted to stunned. Was he really that obvious? As if Josh was reading his mind, he said, "You weren't really obvious Joey. I just know what to look for. Besides, I had my suspicions about you for the last six months or so."

"Six months? You've known for six months and never said anything?" Joey asked.

"Joey, this isn't exactly the kind of subject you just ask someone about. I knew that when the time was right, you'd tell me. Besides, as you can plainly see, none of us care one way or the other." Josh slowly eased himself out of the chair and hobbled over to Joey. He sat down and pulled Joey into a hug. "Look at me," he said. Joey slowly turned his head and looked into Josh's eyes. "Joe, I love you for who you are, not who I think you should be. You are my brother, remember? Yes, it's not by blood, but by choice, which is as strong a bond as any other. It's like Will said. 'Do not feel guilty about anything. Your feelings are whatever they are, and you should never mask them or feel guilty about them. Decide what is right for you...and then go from there.'"

Joey burst into tears, not of sadness but of happiness. His friends loved him for him, regardless of his sexuality. His momentary look of happiness was soon replaced by a renewed look of sadness. "But what about Chris?" Joey asked. "You saw how upset he got by JC's revelation. What is he going to do when he finds out about me?"

"What would you expect me to do?" a voice said from across the room. Joey immediately broke apart from Josh's embrace and looked up to find Chris standing in the doorway. Joey stared hard at Chris, trying to discern his feelings from the look on his face, but was unable to do so. Chris walked into the room, closed the door, and retook his place in the office chair.

"I'm sorry guys for my outburst. This is just a lot to process, and I didn't handle it very well. Look, who you are is who you are, and I love none of you any less for being who you are. While I admit the whole idea doesn't sit too well with me, I'll get over it. JC, I'm sorry I yelled at you. It was uncalled for. Joe, I love you like family. You should never feel like you have to hide anything from me. I just want you to be happy. As for Will..." Chris trailed off, trying to come up with the right words to say.

"Chris..." Joey started to say, becoming angry.

"Joe, let me finish. I have a lot to apologize to Will for. I have to apologize for hitting him, for thinking less of him than I should have, and for not trusting him. What he did up here took a lot of courage. He obviously really cares about our opinion. He literally made himself sick agonizing over whether he should tell us or not. He is a very honorable person and we are lucky to count him as a friend."

To say that the other four were completely floored by Chris' speech was a major understatement. Chris has done a complete 180 in a very short period of time. "Chris, are we sure this is you and not a very good alien replica or something?" Josh asked in an amused tone.

"Of course it's me," Chris laughed. "No alien replica could ever look as good as the original!"

The others laughed. The tension in the air was broken and life felt, well, almost normal again. "Come on guys, let's go talk to Will," Josh said finally. "If past behavior is any indication of how he is probably reacting right now, he's probably on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We had better go and rescue him from himself."

They all stood up and made their way to the door when a shout from downstairs momentarily stopped them in their tracks.

"Oh my God! What are you doing here?" Will's voice rang out in surprise from downstairs.

The guys just glanced at each other. This didn't sound good at all.

I had been trying hard to contain myself. I knew things would probably be all right, but the not knowing was slowly killing me. I had cried so hard, so quickly, I had soon run out of tears and had reverted to dry sobs. Slowly, I managed to calm myself down and my breathing had gone back to normal. I heaved myself off the couch and wandered toward the bathroom. I paused for a moment at the bottom of the stairs listening for anything that might clue me in on what was happening, but I couldn't discern anything from the muffled voices. Continuing into the bathroom, I flipped on the light and shut the door. I looked in the mirror, and what was staring back frightened me a little.

My eyes were red and puffy. My skin was a pasty pale color. My hair was completely disheveled. I looked horrendous. "I just can't have this," I said out loud. I went over to the shower stall and turned the water on. A nice warm shower would make me feel better, I thought. I shucked my clothes off onto the floor and proceeded to get in to the shower. Before I got in, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Clothes do a great job of hiding what you have, but when you are naked it all hangs out. I grabbed my stomach and thought, Thirty pounds. If I could just lose thirty pounds I would be so much more attractive. It'll never happen. I'll be fat forever. I sighed as I stepped in to the shower. My self-destructive side at work once again.

The warm water cascaded over my body and felt wonderful. I squeezed some body gel into my hand and began to rub it all over my body. It felt great. I could literally feel my frustrations and tensions washing away. I just stood there and let the water flow over my body. Soon, the water started to turn cold, so I shut off the water and stepped out. As I reached for a towel, I once again felt as if I were being watched. I grabbed the towel slowly and put it around my waist. I silently made my way to the door and threw it open.

There was no one there. I chided myself on being so paranoid and shut the door. I turned around and nearly jumped out of my skin. Sitting on the sink was Princess, watching me with unwavering eyes. I burst out laughing. So this is my Peeping Tom, huh? I thought. I picked the cat up and snuggled her close to my body. "You gave me a bit of a fright, darlin'," I cooed at her as I stroked her soft fur. "I know, you don't care as long as I pet you, you selfish little thing." I set her back down and got dressed.

I exited the bathroom and made my way down the hall back to the living room when I heard a door upstairs slam. That's not a good sign, I thought. I looked at the clock and realized it was almost 4:30 in the afternoon. Where has today gone? I went into the living room and picked a book off my bookshelf It was called The Cat and the Canary, written by a new author, Robbie Williamson. He had started this new series of mystery novels, and each one had made their way to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. No one knew much about the author, though, as he never gave interviews and rarely did book tours. I settled myself into the couch and began to read.

It didn't last very long, as I was disturbed by a timid knock at the door. At first, I wasn't sure if someone had actually knocked or if I was just imagining things. I started to return to my book when I heard the knock again. This time I was sure someone was at the door, so I got up to investigate. Normally I would have just flung the door open, but having the guys there made me stop and think for a moment. For all I knew, someone could have found out where they were, even out here in the middle of nowhere. No, I had to be more careful.

"Who is it?" I asked through the door. I got no answer, but heard what sounded like a choked sob from the other side. Throwing caution to the wind, I threw open the door, only to be surprised but what, or should I say whom, I found on the other side.

"Oh my God! What are you doing here?" I exclaimed. I ushered them into the house and sat them down on the couch. I was about to say something else when the sound of ten pairs of feet and two crutches thundered down the stairs.

"Will, is everything all right?" Lance asked, coming to a stop in the doorway with the other four in tow. They stopped short when they realized that there was someone new in the house. "Ummm...oh boy."

I looked from the guys to my guest and back again. This made for a slightly awkward moment. No one was supposed to know the boys were at my house, and now someone knew. However, my guest broke the tension by saying, "Aren't you going to introduce us? Not that I really need to be introduced to them, mind you, but they might like to know who I am."

I stood up and motioned for the guys to come over. "Guys, this is my best friend Jerrica Andrews." Josh's eyebrows shot up in recognition of the name. "Jerrica, this is Lance, Justin, Chris, Justin, and Josh. Of course, you know them better as..."

"...*Nsync," she finished for me. "Duh, I already knew that. What I want to know is..."

"...why are they here?" I responded. "It's kind of a long story, but let's just say we kind of ran into each other."

Jerrica rolled her eyes and blew some strands of blonde hair out of her face. Jerrica was definitely attractive, although she had gained a couple pounds since I had last seen her. Otherwise, she looked the same as always. 5'7", blue eyes, shoulder length blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, and a grin that could light up a lighthouse.

"Ran into each other? What did you do, run them off the road or something?" Jerrica grinned at me, but her smile turned to shock when I remained silent. "Oh no, you didn't. You ass! Haven't I been telling you for years you needed to slow down?" She smacked me in the arm, which prompted me in turn to smack her back in the same spot.

"I did no such thing you brat..." I began. Within moments, the two of us were arguing with each other at full volume. This continued for some time, until the sound of someone clearing his throat caused us to pause. We turned and looked at the guys who seemed a little confused at the scene unfolding before them.

"Wait, did you say she was your best friend?" Joey asked uncertainly, "Because you don't really act like it."

Jerrica and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. "I'm sorry guys. I didn't have time to warn you. We really are best friends," I said, putting my arm around Jerrica's shoulders, "but one of our favorite things to do is fight. Neither of us takes it personally. We've been best friends since the seventh grade and are comfortable with each other. Besides, we kind of enjoy it. We both burn off any frustration we have and focus on what makes our friendship important. So, the next time this happens, because it will, just ignore us and wait until we're done."

The guys seemed to visibly relax much more after telling them this. They all moved to take seats around the living room while Jerrica and I reseated ourselves on the couch. Just as we sat down, she swatted me again. "So you've been holding out on me, huh? Here you are traipsing around with celebrities when I thought you were lonely." She pouted at me, and then caught me off guard when she said, "Tu es une chienne, tu sais?"

I stared at her with my mouth open. She had just called me a bitch! Oh, she was in for it now. "Qu'est-ce que tu m'as dit? Je ne suis jamais une chienne. Vas à l'enfer."

She smiled back at me and responded to my comments in English instead of French. "You heard what I said to you. Yes, you are a bitch sometimes, and I am not going to hell unless you are coming with me."

I just rolled my eyes, looked at the guys and said, "Here we go again."

Lance looked intrigued by our little interlude. "I didn't know you spoke French. Now that I think about it, what does your license plate mean?"

I laughed. Unless you knew some French, you would have a hard time reading my license plate, especially since a letter was missing. (It reads SUVIENS) "It says 'souviens', which means 'remember,' although there is a letter missing since you can only have seven letters. It was close enough for me."

I turned back to Jerrica and narrowed my eyes at her. "What?" she said, looking puzzled.

"What the hell are you doing here? Showing up unannounced. What's going on?" I knew something was up, and I had a fairly good idea what it was.

"Why do you always suspect there is something wrong? Can't I just come visit a friend because I can?"

"Yes, but considering the fact that you would had to have driven here from Michigan, not knowing whether or not I would even be home, tells me that something is up. Did you...?"

"Yes! All right? Yes. Are you happy now? Don't you even dare say I told you so."

"I wasn't going to..."

"Yes you were. I know you were. The sad truth is, you were right." Jerrica leaned over and buried her face in to my shoulder.

The boys glanced at each other, completely clueless as to what was going on. "Ummmm Jerrica? I think if you are going to continue this conversation, we need to fill these guys in on what is going on. Do you want to or do you want me to?"

She looked up at me and sighed. "You know, I just don't care anymore. Go ahead. I'm too tired to think about it.' She buried her face back into my shoulder and started to cry. I had only seen her cry twice before in my entire life - the day her dog died, and the day she fell of the stage during drama practice and twisted her ankle.

"All right guys, here's the Reader's Digest® version. Our senior year of high school, I went through a nasty bout of depression, which no one, not even myself, realized. She had a boyfriend who was also an acquaintance/friend of mine. Unfortunately, I found myself in the middle of their relationship, which was a place I did not want to be in. They had a nasty breakup, and her now ex-boyfriend blamed me for everything. He even tried to run me over with his car at work. We all worked at the same place and it made life very difficult. Not soon after, Jerrica met a new guy who she started to fall in love with. At the time, because of this whole mess with the ex-boyfriend, it kind of put a strain on our friendship. Remember I was also going through depression, so I wasn't always the most civil person to her especially. Her new boyfriend was seriously overprotective and decided he didn't like me from the very beginning."

I sighed, recalling the memories, the hard times, and most of all, the near dissolving of our friendship. "There were two big problems there that I don't think either of us realized at the time. One was the fact that Jerrica had told him at some point that I had asked her out once, which is true. Our parents thought we would make the cutest couple, and I eventually gave in to the pressure and asked her. She said no, which was okay. I vaguely remember saying something afterwards to the effect of, 'Good. That's the answer I was hoping for.' It would have been too weird. We were close, like brother and sister. It never would have worked. After all, we fight so often we probably would have broken up before the relationship even started.

"However, Alex, her new boyfriend, took that one moment in history as a perceived threat to his relationship. That, and the fact we were always together, made him even more nervous. He made it very clear that he didn't like me and that he was going to block me out of her life as best as he could. Well, it almost worked. After graduation, Jerrica and I didn't speak for nearly a year and a half. One day, I couldn't stand the silence any more and sent her a three-page apology letter. We talked it out over e-mail for many months and reconciled our friendship.

"The second problem is that Alex is very possessive. He kept trying to restrict the amount of time she was around any guy, let alone me. I knew he didn't like me, and I had hoped that when I moved down here to Baltimore it would ease his mind since I was no longer around her. It didn't. Anytime she brought up my name, he would get very angry. I told her I was concerned about how possessive he was, and that it would make her life very difficult over time if this kind of behavior continued. I also told her one day she would either get sick of it and leave him or he would get insanely jealous and leave her."

I quieted at the end of that last thought and looked down at her. "Which was it?" I asked. She didn't respond, but she didn't need to. "You left him, didn't you?" She nodded. "Oh honey, I'm sorry it didn't work out," I said, cradling her in my arms.

"Will, do you want us to leave you alone for a bit?" Justin asked, getting up from the chair he was sitting in.

"Will?" Jerrica asked in a confused voice. I just shot her a look She interpreted it correctly, because the confusion cleared from her eyes. Well, there's another conversation I'm going to have to have. At least this one will go more easily than the last one, I thought to myself.

Jerrica lifted her head off my shoulder, rubbed the tears out of her eyes and said, "Absolutely not. You guys are guests in his home and I am not about to let you chase yourselves out of here because of me. Oh, and Justin?" Justin, who had been making his way out of the room, turned and gave Jerrica a questioning look"If you leave this room I swear I will kick your ass into next week. Sit down!"

Justin cocked his head slightly to the right while Jerrica's words sunk in. Then a smile slowly crept to his face. "You think you can take me, huh, girl?" he taunted.

"Careful Justin. You don't want to mess with this one!" I exclaimed, trying my best not to laugh.

"Yeah, listen to the boy, you twit. I don't want to have to go into hiding from your fans because I messed you up so badly." Jerrica was trying to maintain a serious look on her face, but it was fading fast.

"Curly, knock it off," Chris called from the other side of the room. He turned to Jerrica and said, "Damn girl, I like you already!" Everyone laughed while Justin pouted as he went back and took his seat.

"So Jerrica, you've known Will since seventh grade, is that right?" Josh asked with a glint in his eye. "You must have some incredibly embarrassing stories about him."

Jerrica smiled and looked at me. "Don't you even dare," I said in my most menacing tone.

Her grin got even wider. She caught my eye and gave me her most innocent look"Would I do something like that?"

I looked from her to the guys and back at her. "YES!" we all shouted at the same time. She was a little taken aback but this sudden outburst, but she took in stride. She crossed her arms and pouted.

"See, now you've got them all against me," she whined.

"Come on Jerrica," Josh urged. "You've got to have at least one good story. Any good relationship stories?"

"Yeah, when did he tell you that he was gay?" Justin asked.

I gasped. I could have sunk through the floor right then. These guys were the first I ever told about my sexuality. I hadn't told anyone else yet. Not my parents, not my friends, not even Jerrica. Damn, damn, damn, damn DAMN! This was not going to be good at all.

Justin, having realized he let the cat out of the bag on something he shouldn't, ran out of the room. I motioned for Lance to go after him. He got up wordlessly and went to bring Justin back in to the room. Jerrica just sat there stony-faced, not looking at anyone. I looked up to see Lance dragging a protesting Justin behind him. He brought him over to the chair he had been sitting him in and forcibly sat him down.

"I'm sorry Will. I really am. I didn't know..." Justin began rambling. I held up my hand to stop him.

"It's okay Justin. Really. You didn't know that you were the first to find out about me. You logically concluded that the rest of my friends and family would already know, but they don't. Jerrica," I said, turning to her, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. I figured it was something better said face to face than over e-mail. If that was wrong I'm sorry, but..."

I was cut off as she pulled me into a hug. "My God, you know I don't care. I wish it had been you to tell me, but it's okay. Besides, I've always suspected for years. I know you always said you were more sensitive because of growing up with your Mom and Kate, but I always wondered about you. I guess I never thought much about it after you started dating Allison." When she mentioned my ex-girlfriends name, I shuddered. Jerrica's eyes flew open as she realized why I had done that. "Oops, sorry. I forgot."

Again, the guys of course looked lost. I just looked at them and said, "Allison was an old girlfriend; my first actually. We had a lot in common, or so I thought. We had dated for about two years when she decided that we should move our relationship to the next level. That may have been fine for her, but I wasn't going to have any part of that. I had decided a long time ago that before I was going to have sex with a woman, or anyone I guess, that I was going to be fully prepared for whatever consequences could possibly come. Even with protection, I knew that anything could happen. I was definitely not ready to be a father at sixteen, and I wasn't ready to take that chance. Unfortunately, she didn't agree with me.

"Oh, at first she said she did. She said she understood. One night we were at her house just cuddled up on the couch watching television. It was a stormy night, and she had always been afraid of thunderstorms. We were there by ourselves. Her parents had always trusted me, so they didn't think much of it. Well, anyway, there was a particularly loud crash of thunder as the storm passed over the house. Allison has been drinking a large glass of orange juice, which she promptly spilled all over me. I was slightly annoyed, but I laughed it off. She offered to throw my pants in the washer, which I agreed to. She had seen me in my boxers before, so I didn't think much about it. She came back a couple minutes later and curled up next to me on the couch. She started kissing me, and I kissed her back. She must have thought that was enough permission to do what she did next..."

My voice trailed off as images of that night flashed through my head. Jerrica, sensing I might not be able to finish this story, jumped in. "She had complained that she was hot, so she took off her shirt and pants, leaving her in her underwear and bra. He became a bit uncomfortable, but this guy here is always putting himself out and ignoring his feelings just so other people feel more comfortable." She patted my shoulder as she spoke, and I just rolled my eyes.

"The power soon went out, leaving them half naked in the dark. He told me that the next thing he knew, Allison had literally ripped his underwear off of him and was sitting on top of him. Now understand that Allison was in great shape and really quite strong. She was holding him down and rubbing herself against him. He started yelling, but of course there was no one around to hear him yell. He struggled to get her off of him, but it wasn't working very well." She paused, looking at me. I had hung my head in shame. I hated that she had overpowered me, and looking back I realized there were a number of things I could have done to prevent the situation from continuing, but at the time I felt completely helpless.

Jerrica continued. "This next part is slightly graphic, so if anyone wants to leave, there's the door. If not, you've been warned." No one moved a muscle; all eyes were intent on Jerrica. "She started playing with him, occasionally sucking on him, and telling him that he was going to be a good daddy to her baby, since she had stopped taking birth control some months before. She continued to play with him, teasing him, and slowly slid her underwear off. At some point in time, he doesn't remember when, the power had come back on. The lights had already been off because they were watching television in the dark, so there wasn't a whole lot of added light when it came on. Anyway, he says that she leaned over and told him to sit back and enjoy the ride. He continued to struggle against her and started yelling for her to get off him. As the story goes, just when she was about to mount him, the door opened and Allison's parents rushed in and flipped on the lights. They had heard him screaming from the driveway. Needless to say, things did not go well.

"He says he doesn't remember a whole lot of what happened right after that. He had passed out from exhaustion and fear. When he awoke, his pants were back on him and he was sitting in between Allison's parents. They said they understood what happened and were not angry with him. After all, it was he who was screaming 'Get off' and not she. He just got up, thanked them, told them "Please tell Allison that I never want to see her again, ever," and walked out the door. He drove over to my house and burst into tears, telling me everything. He eventually went home, but didn't go to school for a week. The next day I went to school and ran into Allison, since we both had drama class first period. We were out on stage with most of his friends rehearsing a scene for the play we were in."

Jerrica paused for a moment to check on me. I was softly crying. These memories were very painful and I hated reliving them. The next part surprised me though. Jerrica had never told me this part. It was times like these that I was so glad she was my best friend.

"Anyway," she continued, "Allison strutted over to me and said, 'You know, your best friend is one great fuck. He and I had such a fabulous time last night.' I just stared at her and said, 'Really? That's interesting because he tells a very different story. I already told him he should prosecute you for attempted rape, especially since you are eighteen and he is only sixteen.' That's when she slapped me. 'He'll never prove it,' she told me, but she now looked scared. She knew I knew what happened, and that her parents knew the whole truth. However, no one slaps me and gets away with it, so I started beating her up. The teacher, Mrs. Jackson, came in and split us up and asked us what was going on. I told her that Allison had tried to rape him the night before, loud enough so that everyone could hear me. Mrs. Jackson got a funny look on her face, said 'I don't see anything' and walked away. I turned back around to face Allison. Everyone crowded into a circle looking incredibly pissed. She pushed her way out and ran away. No one has seen her since."

Jerrica finished and looked at me. I was still crying, but at the same time I was proud. I was so proud of how she had stood up for me and defended me to that heinous tramp. "Wow, darlin'. Why didn't you ever tell me any of that before? No wonder everyone was so nice to me when I went back." My attention diverted from her to the guys, who just sat there in silence.

"Guys, I'm sorry. I know this is not what you were expecting to hear, but again, it not only helps me get over it, but it helps you better understand why I am such an emotional train wreck sometimes."

"It's all right Will," Lance said. "That kind of thing is hard to deal with, and I'm kind of honored you feel so comfortable with us to tell us something so personal."

The other guys nodded in agreement. Joey looked a little troubled, and as much as I wanted to ask him what was on his mind, I decided against it. "Well, folks, I don't know about you, but dinner is sounding really good right about now. What do you say we fire up the barbecue and have dinner outside?"

"Oh, I could go for a big juicy hamburger right about now," Justin said.

"Me, too!" said Chris.

"Ditto!" Lance chimed in.

"Sounds good to me!" Josh said, easing his way out of the recliner.

"Food sounds good," Joey said.

"Food always sounds good to you Joe!" Justin said jokingly I don't know why I did it. To this day I don't know why I did it, but after he said that I reached my hand out and whacked him upside the head. "OUCH! What was that for?" he asked, turning to me.

"Be nice Justin, or you get to do dishes for a week," I said harshly.

"I was just kidding. Sorry Will," Justin replied dejectedly. He started to walk away, but I grabbed his arm and pulled him back. I gave him a hug and said, "Look, I shouldn't have done that. Just remember that what you say and what you mean aren't always interpreted by people the same way. Joking around is fine, but remember that people who are overweight tend to be very sensitive about it. Now, my guess is Joey will probably never say a word to you about this because he is your friend, but I watched him wince when you said that. Just be a little more careful, okay?"

"No problem Will. Thanks for telling me. To be honest, I never noticed. I'll have to watch that a little more carefully." He smiled at me. "You know, the way you look out for us, it's as if you are our guardian angel. You're not going to like, sprout wings or anything are you?" He looked at me with as serious a face as he could muster, but it didn't last long. We both laughed and headed out to the backyard to see what kinds of trouble the other guys were creating.

Just as I was about to go out, I felt someone tug on my arm. I turned to see Jerrica standing in front of me with her hands on her hips. "We need to talk," she said matter-of-factly.

"I know we do," I said. "Can't this wait until later?"

"All right, fine. We'll do this later, but we are going to talk about this, so don't even try to escape me."

"I won't. I promise we'll talk. Right now, though, let's go have some fun."

Boy, did we have fun. I set up the mosquito tent over the picnic tables and dragged some folding chairs out. I also grabbed a stool for Josh to prop his leg up on. Next we got out the grill and about 10 pounds of beef. Soon the smell of hamburgers was in the air. I had pointed Justin in the direction of my shed, which housed a volleyball net and ball. The previous owners had installed it six years ago before they moved out. I thought it was a perfect way for these guys to burn off some energy. So Justin and Joey had set up the net and began a game of two on two - Justin and Chris versus Joey and Lance. Raucous laughter could be heard all over the backyard as the boys ran themselves ragged. Apparently they were all pretty bad players, but they managed somehow.

I had dubbed myself chef extraordinaire, so I maintained the grill. Everyone was definitely going to have plenty to eat. Between the ¾ pound burgers and the grilled ears of corn, I think everyone would be quite stuffed by the time dinner was over.

Josh, who was unable to play volleyball because of his leg, went back inside to read a book As he was about to sit down on the couch, something flashed in the corner of his eye. He spun around to find nothing there, but was for some reason attracted to the bookcase on the wall. He looked over the selection and was amazed to see a number of Robbie Williamson books. Josh was quite a fan, but nothing like this. It seemed Will had not only every copy of the books in hardcover and paperback, but Josh also saw a few titles he didn't recognize. He saw one was a British import; it had never been released in the United States. Another one was the latest book in his The Cat And... series. I thought this wasn't due to be released until next month, Josh thought.


Josh spun around in surprise, nearly dropping the book in his hand. "Oh, hi Jerrica."

"Hi yourself. I see you've stumbled upon his book collection."

Josh looked a little nervous. "Yeah. He has a lot of Robbie Williamson books I thought I was a big fan, but he seriously puts me to shame." He laughed a little and flushed.

"Yeah, and Robbie is really a nice guy. If anyone deserves this kind of success, it's him."

"You KNOW Robbie Williamson?" Josh said in shock. "Wow! What's he like? No one seems to know much about him. His books have been selling like crazy though. I started reading The Cat and the Cleaner and couldn't put it down. It wouldn't have been so bad had I not picked it up two hours before show time. I managed to finish it with ten minutes left before we were supposed to be onstage. Needless to say, I heard about that one for a week." Josh laughed at the memory. "Do you think that maybe the next time you see him you could get him to autograph a copy for me?"

Jerrica gave him a mischievous smile. "I'll do you one better. I don't know if you knew that Robbie lives here in Maryland. I'll see if I can get him to stop by sometime. How does that sound?"

Josh's face lit up like a kid in a candy store. "That would be excellent! Do you really think he would?"

Jerrica burst out laughing. "Whoa buddy. I thought you would have learned the hard way about acting like an obsessed fan?"

Josh immediately froze, looking incredibly guilty. "Sorry I got excited. Even us celebrities sometimes get a little star-struck at times."

"No problem, guy, no problem," Jerrica replied. She rubbed her hands together and chuckled to herself. This was going to be interesting.

I had been slaving away over a hot grill for the last half hour and was definitely in need of a rest. I went inside and grabbed my portable radio and brought it back out with me. It was definitely time for some music. I switched on the radio and twirled the dial to 101.7. Music began to play and I resumed my cooking. There had been a few good songs on, but I had refrained from singing, lest I embarrass myself. That was until one of my favorite songs came on the radio. Then I just couldn't help myself.

About the same time, the volleyball game broke up and the guys started heading over in my direction. Not paying any attention to anything other than the food and the music, I began to sing in key:

"Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends

I was about to begin the next verse when I was surprised by someone's voice jumping in. I turned around in shock to find Joey singing the lower melody. Too late to hide my embarrassment at being caught singing, I figured I might as well finish the song and sing the duet.

"Just a little change
Small, to say the least
Both a little scared
Neither one prepared
Beauty and the Beast"
I joined in.

By now we were attracting the entire household. Justin and Lance were standing behind Joey in wide-eyed amazement. Josh had come out and was sitting on the back step, and Chris came and sat next to him. From the corner of my eye I saw Jerrica standing in the back doorway leaning against the doorframe with her arms crossed. She had the world's biggest smile on her face. She was definitely up to something. I just knew it.

"Ever just the same
Ever a surprise
Ever as before
And ever just as sure
As the sun will rise
(Whoa, whoa, whoa, oh.......)
(oooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...whoa whoa whoa whoa)

"Ever just the same
Ever a surprise
Ever as before

Ever just as sure
As the sun will rise
(Oh, oh, oh)

"Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song
Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong"

By this time Joey and I were both looking into each other's eyes, and I could see something there I hadn't seen before. Love, or something like it. It scared the hell out of me, and as soon as we were done I was going to make as graceful an exit I could and run like hell.

"Certain as the sun (certain as the sun)
Rising in the east
Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the Beast

"Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the Beast
(oh oh, whoa oh oh)

(ooh ohh ohh ohh)

"Beauty and the Beast"

The song had ended, but I barely noticed. Joey's eyes were locked with mine and I couldn't feel my feet. The sound of applause brought me back to Earth. I immediately looked away from Joey and flushed. Is it really hot out here or is it just me? I thought. I looked at everyone's faces, which ranged from shock to wide grins. I smiled at everyone and said in as steady a voice as I could manage, "Would someone watch the grill? I'll be right back."

I took off my apron and tossed it onto ground as I made my way around the side of the house. Once I turned the corner, I broke into a run. I ran around the front side of the house and darted in to the woods. I cut my way through the tall trees until I found the path I was looking for. I traipsed along that path until it connected with the trail that led to my thinking spot. Man, if there was ever a time I needed to think, now was it.

"Wow. Did you know he could sing like that?" Josh said, turning to look at Jerrica.

Jerrica nodded. "Yeah, we used to be in theatre together, remember? He always complains about the way his voice sounds, but I don't think he has ever stopped to listen to himself. Let me tell you something though. That is nowhere near the top of his range. I also know he can go as low as Joey was singing, and probably lower. I remember one time we had singing auditions for a show, and he and I went to audition together. I think we had to sing something fairly mundane, like 'Happy Birthday.' Anyway, I started out singing in like the key of Q or something like that while he was on key. He immediately adjusted himself to match whatever key I was in so I didn't sound so bad. Well, neither of us got cast, although I think part of it was he got nervous when the singing coach asked him to sing up the scale. When he got to the higher notes, instead of just hitting them he backed off. There were like 60 people in the room and he got scared at what they would think I suppose."

"My God, he hit notes I don't think even Curly can hit," Chris said. Justin turned beet red. He was very proud of his voice, and his tenor was what stood him out from the group. However, now that he thought about it, so what? Will sounded great.

Everyone had laughed as Justin blushed at Chris' comment. All except one.

"Joe? Earth to Joe. Come in Joe," Lance said, snapping his fingers in front of Joey's eyes.

"Huh?" Joey said in a half daze. He had been staring into those delicate blue eyes and lost himself in them. He hadn't even realized that Will was no longer standing in front of him. He felt someone shaking his shoulders, and he slowly came out of his daze and looked at Lance. "What?"

Lance just stared at his friend. Oh yeah, he's got it bad, he thought. "Welcome back to the land of the living Mr. Fatone. How was your trip?"

Joey just stared blankly at Lance. It took a moment, and then his face flushed bright red as he darted past Chris, Josh, and Jerrica in to the house. Jerrica looked surprised as he rushed past her. "What was that all about?" she asked.

Before Lance could stop him, Justin piped up, "That big lug is in love with your best friend and is scared to admit it to him."

"JUSTIN!!" Lance and Josh yelled. Justin at first didn't understand why they were yelling at him. Then...

"Oh. I'm thinking I shouldn't have told you that," Justin said meekly.

"No worries Justin. You didn't have to tell me for me to figure that out. Besides, it's obvious he loves Joey as well. Anyone could see that. Now, we just need to put the two together. I'll be right back." With that, Jerrica spun on her heel and went off in search of Joey.

"Justin, sometimes I swear we can't take you anywhere," Jerrica heard Lance say as she made her way in to the dining room. Poor guy is going to get some hell now, she thought to herself. Walking in to the living room, she found her target. There was Joey, lying on the couch with his face buried into a pillow.

"Joey?" she called softly. "Joey?" There was no movement from the couch. All right, we'll do this the hard way, Jerrica thought. She reached over, grabbed his side, and yanked him off the couch, causing Joey to collapse into a heap on the floor.

"What the hell?" Joey yelled as he collected himself up off the floor.

"Just what do you think you are doing?" Jerrica demanded.

"What does it look like?" Joey retorted. "Besides, what I do is none of your business."

"Like hell it's not! Anything that concerns my best friend is always my business. Now, it's obvious that you like him and that he likes you, so what are you going to about it?" Jerrica crossed her arms and stared hard at him. There was only one answer to this question, and he had better get it right.

"I don't know!" Joey said in an exasperated tone. "I want to tell him so badly, but I just can't bring myself to do it. What if he says no?"

"Hello?? Earth to Joey. You saw the same thing we did. He loves you as much as you do him. One of you is going to have to be the bigger man and do something about this. Now, I don't know anything about your past history, but I do know his. After Allison, he never dated again, at least as far as I know. He is incredibly fragile when it comes to relationships, and as unfair as it may seem, you are going to have to take the first step here. He won't. End of story. Now, go find him. I suspect you already know where he is."

"Yeah, I do," he replied. "I'll go find him."

"Good for you. By the way," she said as Joey headed back out the back door, "good luck to you, and be gentle with him."

"I will," he said, smiling. He was going to tell Will the truth. He had to do it. It was now or never. He ran out the back door and in to the woods. Josh, Justin, Lance and Chris watched him disappear in to the woods, then turned back to look at Jerrica.

"They are going to make such a cute couple," she said happily. The guys just glanced at each other with a smile. They hoped this would turn out well.

Joey ran through the woods down the trail he had once traveled before. This time he knew where the roots were and sailed over them with ease. Nothing was going to delay him in finding the one he loved. The one I love, he thought. I like the sound of that. Soon, he reached the river, and turned to his right. It was starting to get dark, and he was momentarily blinded as he turned to face the setting sun. Shielding his eyes, he made his way to the rock overlook where he knew Will would be. Just as expected, Will was sitting on the rock singing to himself, oblivious to his surroundings. Joey slowly made his way to the oak tree where he had found Will earlier and sat down. Away from the radio and everyone else, Will's voice sounded more pure and angelic than it had when Joey had sung with him. He cupped his head into his hands as he listened to Will's voice carry over the water.

"Seasons come, seasons go
But you're always there in my heart.
Raindrops fall, breezes blow
But you're always there in my heart.

Photos fade, years have gone
But you're always there in my heart.
Time goes by, life goes on
But you're always there in my heart.

You're a part of me, as I am of you
I can't leave you behind.
You're a part of me, and whatever I do
You're always on my mind.

Through the years, joy and tears
You're always there in my heart.
Always near, ever dear
You're always there in my heart.
Always there in my heart!"

Joey was stunned. The raw emotion that came through those words was like nothing he had ever heard before. To him, it was like an angel's choir singing, with the lead angel sitting right in front of him. Without thinking, he began to applaud.

I had been completely lost in thought as I sang, just letting all of my emotions pour out of me. By the time I finished, I had little emotion left in me. I always found singing to be therapeutic, and this time was no exception. However, my thoughts were grounded the moment I heard someone clapping behind me. I jumped and whirled around to find Joey there with a huge grin on his face. I wasn't really sure what to say or do. I hadn't been expecting an audience.

He moved toward me and I unconsciously took a step backward. Big mistake. I had been standing on the edge of the rock, and when I stepped back there was nothing there but air. I started to lose my balance, and in doing so overcorrected. I felt my body start to fall backwards in to the air. I grasped for whatever I could get my hands on, which was the edge of the rock. "HELP!!!" I yelled at the top of my voice.

Joey was momentarily rooted to his spot. He watched me step back and slip. He watched me fall. Then he heard me yell. He rushed over to the edge and looked down at me. "Well, are you just going to stand there and stare at me or are you going to help me?" I said exasperated. My hero, I thought. I'm about to fall into this murky brown water which has God knows what in it and he just stands there and stares at me. Granted, I wasn't likely to be injured from the fall. There was only about a five-foot gap between my feet and the surface of the water, but that didn't mean I was in the mood for a swim.

"Hold on Will!" Joey yelled. He ran over and grabbed for my hand. "Grab my hand!"

"I can't. I'll fall. Joey, I don't like this!" I yelled. I looked down and saw something slithering in the water. That did it for me. I don't do insects and I certainly don't do anything that slithers. I shrieked at the top of my lungs. "JOEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

The next thing I knew, I was being pulled by my arms back onto the rock where I instantly passed out from too much adrenaline in my system. When I awoke, my eyes were looking directly into Joey's.

"I'm sorry Joey. I didn't mean to scare you like that. Thank you for rescuing me. My knight in shining armor," I said softly, sitting up.

"It's okay Will, really." He placed his hand on my chest and felt my heartbeat, which was going a mile a minute. "You all right?" he said with great concern. "Something freaked you out, and I don't think it was the fall."

"There was something in the water," I said. "I don't do snakes, I don't do bugs, and I don't do whatever was in there. They all creep me out." I was still shaking a little. It may be an irrational fear, but it was my irrational fear.

Joey wasn't sure if I was shaking because of fear or cold, but he decided to wrap me in a hug anyway. The moment his arms were around me, I relaxed. I liked being in his arms, maybe too much. All my fears seemed to float away as long as he was holding me. Oh, this is wonderful, I thought. I never want this to end.

We sat like that for about twenty minutes at least, with Joey wrapped around me. I finally turned to look at him. We met eye to eye. "Thank you again," I said quietly. "I don't know what I would have done without you tonight."

"Shhh. No thanks needed," he said in a low voice. "That's what friends are for."

Still looking into his eyes, I saw that sparkle I had seen before when we were singing. It was a look of love and caring. I was falling fast. It was only a matter of time. We moved closer together, if that was humanly possible, and continued to gaze into each other's eyes. Our heads slowly moved together until our foreheads rested against each other.

"Will?" Joey said breathily.

"Yes, Joe?" I replied.

"I think I'm in love with you." With that he leaned forward and kissed me. At first, I wasn't sure what to do, but my thoughts were quickly tuned out of my head as I closed my eyes and kissed him back. We stayed like that for a minute at least until my lungs signaled my brain that air was required. I broke the kiss and looked him straight in the eye.

"I think I love you too Joey," I said quietly. I leaned back in and kissed him again. My mind was a flurry of thoughts. I told him I loved him, and he loves me!! Oh, this is too good to be true. Pinch me, I must be dreaming. I love him. I do love him, with all my heart. It was true. I did love him. I meant what I said. Every word. I didn't want to think about anything else at the time. All I wanted was to stay there wrapped in Joey's arms forever, and as far as I was concerned, a tornado couldn't move me from that spot. I snuggled in closer to Joey as we sat and watched the sun set on the river. For the first time in many years, I actually felt safe and protected. I hadn't felt that way in a long time. I could stay like this forever, I thought.

Joey looked down at me and smiled. I could stay like this forever, he thought to himself.

I slouched down into his lap a little and pressed my head against his chest. I listened to his heartbeat and smiled. I hadn't been really happy in a long time, and happiness had finally found me. It was a dream coming true. Just never let it end, I thought as I drifted off to sleep.

Joey watched me as I fell asleep. "You are an angel," he said quietly. "My angel. Thank you for rescuing me." He laid his head down on top of mine, and soon he too was fast asleep.

To Be Continued...

So what did you think? It finally happened! Joey and Will have confessed their love for each other. Will it develop into a lasting relationship? That is the next question. Are all of Will's dirty little secrets out in the open? What else is he hiding? How will Jerrica's arrival impact this whole situation? We shall only have to wait and see what happens next. Sorry it took so long, but this chapter really didn't want to end itself. Besides, I think if I allowed one more chapter to go by without Will and Joey getting together I was bound to get some hate mail! Speaking of mail, drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Thanks to everyone who has written to me!! A special thanks goes out to my editor, Mandy, who keeps me in line, and Rye, whose story provides me some well deserved reading when I'm procrastinating, and whose e-mails are nothing short of interesting. To everyone else, keep writing me, and I'll keep writing this story!

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Extra disclaimers: Song lyrics used in this story from "Beauty and the Beast" and "Always There in My Heart" are copyrighted by Sony Music and Sony Wonder respectively. No attempt to infringe on this copyright should be implied from this story.