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, nor intends to 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...

Jerrica and Josh both called out 'Good Night' as I left the room. I went upstairs and was about to enter my room when Joey stuck his head out the door.

"Hey Will? Can you come here a second?" Joey asked sounding confused.

"Sure," I replied. "What's up?"

I entered the room and froze. Sitting on top of the dresser were my old high school yearbooks, which I had conveniently forgotten were inside the top left drawer. I had stuck them there a couple years ago when I moved. Don't know why exactly, but I figured they were as good a place as any. I didn't have a whole lot of bookshelf space, so since they were treasured items I assumed they would be safe there. It never occurred to me that someone else might ever open it.

"Will, could you explain this?" Joey asked. He had opened my senior yearbook and was pointing to my picture. Underneath, it clearly read "Robert Williamson."


Chapter Six: Explanations/Driving Miss Jerrica

Thank goodness no one had a camera, because the look on my face would have been nothing short of hilarious. I was certain my face showed I had some conflicting emotions battling beneath the exterior, and anyone trying to read my expression would undoubtedly have difficulty in doing so. I honestly didn't know how to react. I was embarrassed, I was upset, I was angry, and I was scared. I did not want them to find out like this. Personally, I didn't think it was that big of a deal. Who I was then and who I am now are two entirely different things. In some aspects, I considered them to be two entirely different people. However, my past was still my past and I had to live with and accept that.

I looked at Lance and then I looked at Joey. Lance's face was expressionless - no help there. Joey was vacillating from confusion to anger. I shot Joey kind of a helpless look I really didn't know where to begin.

Sighing, I said, "I have a very good explanation for that, and it's kind of a long story. If you want me to go into this now, I will. I was going to tell you tomorrow, but if you want to hear this now, then go get everyone, because I don't want to have to go through this story twice."

Joey just looked kind of stunned. "Do you mean to tell me that this is you?" he asked a little bitterly.

"Yes," I said, staring him straight in the eye.

"Why? Why did you lie to us about who you are? We don't care what your name is. What else are you hiding?" he asked. I glanced over at Lance, looking for help, but none was forthcoming.

"Joey, first and foremost, I never lied to you. If you're still unconvinced, here's my driver's license," I said as I handed it to him. Pointing at the yearbook, I continued, "That is who I was." Pointing at my driver's license, I said, "This is who I am."

"I don't understand," Joey said, his eyes shifting from my yearbook picture to my driver's license. "I can't believe this. Just when I think I'm beginning to understand someone, I find out I know nothing at all."

"Joey, I'm the same person I was five minutes ago. We all have past history to deal with. Some people just have a lot more," I said. I moved toward Joey to give him a hug, but he stopped me.

"Don't. Please. Not right now," he said in a low tone.

I stopped, uncertain of what to say or do. Joey looked pained by this whole thing, and for the life of me I couldn't understand why. I peeked over at Lance, who was starting to resemble a statue as he hadn't moved or changed facial expression since the moment I walked in. I tried to catch Joey's eye, but he would no longer look at me. I was starting to get really frustrated.

"All right, fine," I said at last. "If you want to hear the whole sordid story, come find me and I'll tell you. If you don't, that's fine too. Just know that I would never intentionally try to hurt you or keep something from you. Also understand that I have had a lot of difficult times in my life and unfortunately these kind of explanations bring up memories I really hate having to relive." I was rather proud of the fact that I was maintaining my composure as well as I was, because inside I could feel myself going to pieces. I turned around and headed for the door. As I reached the doorframe, I looked over my shoulder and said, "You have to decide what is right for you. If you still think I am untrustworthy, let me know and I will call a cab to help you with the luggage so you can leave immediately. I don't want you to stay somewhere you are not comfortable." I paused momentarily, and then said, "Good night, you two."

I slowly closed the door and burst into tears. Letting my emotions control my body, I ran into my room and slammed the door. Throwing myself onto my bed, I laid there sniffling and letting thoughts run through my brain. This wasn't supposed to happen this way. It wasn't supposed to be this bad. Why do I screw up everything I touch?

I heard the sound of feet running up the stairs. Damn! I thought. Jerrica. I didn't want to face her then. I didn't want to see anyone. I needed to get out. I needed time to think. I opened the window and walked out on to the balcony. Looking down, my fear of heights started to kick in. I scanned around me and spied the trellis running up the side of the house. I leaned over the edge of the balcony and firmly grasped it. Oh God, I hope this thing can hold my weight, I thought as I swung my leg over.

I began to climb down when Jerrica's head appeared from over the railing. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" she asked.

"Nothing," I said nonchalantly, stopping my descent.

"Right, nothing. That explains why you're sneaking out the window," she said, putting her hands on her hips.

"Don't worry about it," I said, giving her a nasty look"Just forget about me and go to bed. Besides, if you really want to know, go ask Joey!"

"Rob, forget it. Come back inside. Whatever has happened, we'll talk about it. Don't start running away again!" Jerrica knew me too well, which sometimes put me at a disadvantage.

I ignored her and started to climb down further. I had taken one or two steps when a snapping sound could be heard beneath my feet. Next thing I knew, there was only air underneath me as I plummeted to the ground.

"Rob!!!" Jerrica screamed as I fell. I could barely hear her over my screams. It was only ten or twelve feet, but for me, it felt like I fell forever. I braced myself for the impending impact, and when it came, it hurt like the dickens.

"Ow," I said after I landed. I looked up and saw Jerrica's terrified face, and then everything went black.

"Damn!" Jerrica shouted as she stared at my unmoving body on the ground. "He better not be dead, because I'm going to kill him."

She turned around and came back into the bedroom. She had barely taken three steps when the door burst open. "What the hell is going on in here?" Chris asked. He came in, followed by Justin, Lance, and eventually Joey.

Jerrica started to respond when she saw Joey. "You!" she said angrily as she advanced upon him. Startled, Joey backed up against the wall. "What did you do to him?"

Joey looked confused. "What are you talking about, Jerrica?" he asked. "What did I do to whom?"

"To Rob...Will...whoever. Your boyfriend! What did you do to him? Your answer had better be good, because if it's not, I'm going to hurt you...badly," she said menacingly.

"Who's Rob?" Justin asked as Josh hobbled in the door.

"What's going on?" Josh asked.

"Your buddy here said or did something to my best friend. For some reason, it was bad enough that he felt he had to escape out the window. Unfortunately, the trellis couldn't support his weight and he fell." The reality of that incident seemed to hit her all of a sudden. "Shit! Justin, call an ambulance. Address is 13913 Briar's Run Road." She turned back to Joey and said threateningly, "You, I will deal with later." With that, she tore out of the room to rush to my side.

Everyone seemed a little stunned. Justin made his way over to the phone by the side of my bed and called an ambulance. The others just looked at Joey, who was now incredibly pale. "Joey, what's going on?" Chris asked.

Joey didn't answer. Why did I do that? he thought. I should have just let him explain. Hell, I don't even care what the explanation is. Just let him be okay. He pushed Chris aside and rushed out of the room after Jerrica. Lance, Chris and Justin followed, with Josh bringing up the rear.

Jerrica, obviously, was by my side first. She checked for a pulse and found one. Breathing a sigh of relief, she stared at me for a second and then smacked me across the face.

"OW! What the hell was that for?" I shrieked as my eyes flew open. I put my hand to my cheek and felt how tender it was from where Jerrica hit me.

"Good, you're awake," she said sweetly. "That was for being an idiot. I ought to slap you again for scaring the crap out of me, but I'll save that for a later time."

"How incredibly kind," I replied facetiously. I started to move, but a literal pain in my rear prevented me from continuing.

"Don't move. There's an ambulance on the way," Jerrica said forcefully. I knew better to argue, but that would take all the fun out of it.

"An ambulance? I don't need any stinkin' ambulance. I'm fine. Once the pain in my ass goes away, I'll be good to go," I said, glaring at her. "Oh yeah, that and the throbbing pain in my backside."

"I'm going to pretend that you were referring to actual pain and not me, because you will pay dearly for it if you weren't," she said with a half-smile.

"Whatever," I said, rolling my eyes. I was going to make another smart-aleck comment when I was interrupted by the sound of running feet. I looked up and saw Joey with Chris, Lance, Justin and Josh in hot pursuit. Joey regarded me with a look of deep concern, but I averted his eyes. I didn't want to deal with anyone at that time, especially Joey.

"Good, we're all here," Jerrica said when Josh arrived. "Now would someone please tell me WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE???"

I rolled my eyes again. "Quit being such a drama queen Jerrica. Good Lord. There's nothing to talk about. I did something stupid - I fell - end of story."

"Uh-uh. Sorry, buster. You're not going to get away with that. What's the story?" she pried.

I heaved a heavy sigh and looked up at Lance. I was surprised to see he was holding my yearbook and driver's license. I gave him a questioning look"I thought you might need these to explain," he said quietly, handing the two items to me.

"Ugh. Okay, sit down, all of you. I'm getting a crick in my neck from having to look up." I waited for everyone to have a seat and slowly sat myself up, grimacing as waves of pain coursed through my rear end. I took a deep breath and proceeded with my story.

Handing my driver's license to Justin, I said, "Tell me what you see there Justin."

He stared at it for a moment. "Well, other than a goofy picture," he said slyly, causing me to roll my eyes yet again, "not much. I didn't realize you were only five months older than me though!"

I laughed. "See. Sometimes wiser doesn't always mean older," I said, knowing he would understand what I meant. "Pass it over to Chris and Josh. Same question to you guys." Justin passed my license over to them. They both stared at it and had the same reaction.

"Am I supposed to see anything here, Will?" Chris asked curiously.

"Not really," I said. "I just needed to give you something to compare to. Now, this is my high school yearbook Look at the fifth picture from the end and tell me what you see." I passed it over to Justin. Chris and Josh crowded around him and stared it for a minute.

"Well, they certainly made you look good," Chris commented, "but they got your name wrong. If it were me I'd sue!" he laughed. His laughter was cut short by the serious look on my face. "What?" he asked.

"They didn't get it wrong," I said quietly. The three just looked at me dumbfounded. They looked over at Joey and Lance who remained expressionless. Apparently this was not news to them. They looked over at Jerrica who just nodded, affirming what I had said was true.

"I don't understand," Josh said. "How could both be correct?"

Sighing, I said, "I changed my name three years ago. Jerrica, bless her, has been very careful since she arrived to not let anything slip because she felt that this was something you needed to hear from me, not her. The guy in the yearbook is the person she knew when we were younger. That's the person I was born as."

I paused briefly to let that sink in before I continued. "My legal name at birth was Robért-James Frédéric Williamson. When I was younger, most people called me Robbie J, since it was shorter, and a lot of kids had trouble with the French pronunciation of my first name anyway. When I got older, I dropped the hyphenated first name and Americanized it so it was just Robert. My school transcripts still said Robért-James, but that was the extent of it. Most people called me Rob, shortening it even further, which is how Jerrica knows me.

"Fast-forwarding a little bit, you all recall the episode with Allison, right?" I asked. I was met with silent nods, so I continued on. "Jerrica said she never came back to school, which is true. She transferred to another high school right away, although I didn't know why at the time. After I told Jerrica what happened, I went home and told my mother. She was furious and pressed charges against Allison. The whole ordeal was quite embarrassing, but she was eventually found guilty of attempted rape."

All of a sudden I burst out laughing. Seeing the confused looks on everyone's face, I said, "She tried to convince everyone that I had tried to rape her, but that was shattered when her parents turned against her and told the truth. Honestly, I was a bit surprised, and when I asked them later, they said they wanted her to get help and that there was no sense in perjuring themselves.

Anyway, Allison probably would have gone to jail, but I asked the prosecutor during an interview that when she was convicted, because I knew she would be, that she be sent somewhere to help her deal with her issues. Quite honestly, I didn't think she deserved jail and I didn't want to think that I put her there," I said.

"Rob, she did it to herself," Jerrica said, rubbing my back. She hit a sore spot and I flinched. "Oops. Sorry."

"No problem. I have no one to blame but myself for that. Anyway, Allison didn't go to jail, at least not yet. The judge told her that had I not specifically requested she not go to prison, she would have. Instead, she was sent to a halfway house type thing where they work with people who have mental health issues like hers. That probably would have been the last of it, but her first week in the halfway house she assaulted a worker who pissed her off, and she ended up in jail because of it."

I took a deep breath before continuing into the hard part. "Once she was in jail, I started receiving nasty letters. If memory serves, one of the better ones is still inside that yearbook Flip to the B's. It should be on the same page as her picture. Look for Allison Bradshaw."

Josh did as instructed and took the well-worn piece of paper out and unfolded it. He scanned it quickly and gasped when he got to the bottom. "Holy crap Will. I'd be scared of her too!" he said as he passed the letter around.

I chuckled slightly. "Sad thing is, that is one of the tamer ones. I've tossed most of the rest. It didn't bother me so much when she threatened me personally. When she started threatening my family, and especially when she started threatening Jerrica, I started to get really scared."

Jerrica turned and looked at me in shock. "She threatened me? Why didn't you tell me that?"

"I didn't want to worry you if I didn't have to. Mom told your parents, and they said they would keep an eye on things and only tell you if they thought you were in any danger. Last I knew Allison was still in prison up in Ionia. You know, out on M-21?"

"I just can't believe you hid this from me," Jerrica said in an exasperating tone.

"I didn't want to, really. At the time, I just thought it was for the best. I didn't want you to always be looking over your shoulder. It was bad enough I had to do it. Don't think I was trying to play the hero or anything like that. I just didn't want you to worry," I said quietly as I hung my head.

Jerrica's face softened. "I understand. Go on. Continue."

"Let's see if I can speed through the rest of this. I had started writing during my senior year when I was going through depression. The fruit of that labor came to be known as The Cat and the Silver Chalice," I said, looking Josh right in the eye. It took a second, but recognition set in.

"Oh. My. God. You... You mean..." Josh stammered, glancing from me to Jerrica and back again. I just looked at him and nodded. "You're Robbie Williamson, the author?" His voice ended in a near squeak as he eked out the last words.

"Afraid so," I replied. "Enjoy the new book, by the way. You get to read it before everyone, well, except my publisher anyway."

Josh sat there in a state of shock. He couldn't believe that the person sitting in front of them was in fact his favorite author. It was a lot to take in.

"So what prompted the name change?" Lance asked, bringing me back to the whole point of the story.

"Right. Well, when it first went to print, I was still using my 'real name,' so to speak. Not long after the original release, it did really well and went to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. I did one interview on Good Morning America and Allison saw it. She started sending letters and making phone threats to my publisher. I started to get really scared, especially after she said she was going to hunt me down and kill me. I decided that since I was already publishing under Robbie Williamson, I couldn't change that without possibly damaging my sales. So, I changed my legal name to keep Allison from finding me. I inverted my first and last names and took a new middle name because, quite frankly, I happened to like the name Joshua," I said, giving Josh a big smile. He just grinned back at me.

"I stopped doing as many public appearances as I could get away with, which, to my publisher's dismay, has probably hurt book sales. I don't really care though. If it's a choice between them and I, I'm going to choose me every time. So, I became William Joshua Robertson, moved down here to Maryland, got a job, and that's the story in a nutshell," I said. It got very quiet. I wondered what everyone was thinking. Please don't let them hate me, I thought. Please, please, please, please, please.

Finally Justin spoke up. "And all this time I was hoping you were in the Witness Protection Program or something."

We all burst out laughing. I felt better now that they knew everything. That was the last of my secrets. I glanced at Joey who was looking at me intensely. Suddenly I felt a wave of guilt wash over me, but it wasn't mine. Joey felt guilty about what had happened earlier, and I couldn't blame him. Besides, even though he hadn't given me a chance to explain then, he at least gave me a chance in the end.

"Joey," I said softly, causing his head to perk up. "Don't." He gave me a confused look, so I elaborated a little. "Remember what I told Justin earlier? Same rules apply. Nothing has changed."

He looked me in the eye and started to sob. "I'm so sorry Will. Really. I'm sorry."

I looked at Lance and directed him toward Joey. He gave him a hug while I spoke"Joe, do not apologize. Do I look angry? I knew this was going to come eventually. I had hoped you would hear it from me first instead of discovering my old yearbook, but life doesn't always go according to plan." I started to get up slowly, and just as I stood, my eye spotted flashing lights entering the driveway. "Well, looks like the cavalry has arrived!" I said as the ambulance pulled in front of the house.

Jerrica ran over and brought the EMTs back to where I was. "So which one of you is the acrobat working without a net?" I heard a familiar voice say. Standing behind Jerrica was Tricia and her partner Eddie.

"Oh man. Can this get any more embarrassing?" I wondered aloud. "Hi Tricia."

"Will? Come on! Can't you guys go even one day without someone trying to kill themselves?" she joked lightly. She turned to Josh and said, "How's the leg?"

"In one piece," he replied with a sheepish grin. "Doctor says I should be back to normal in a couple of weeks."

"So," Eddie said from behind Tricia, "as my partner said before, who's the acrobat this evening?"

I raised my hand guiltily. "And yesterday it seemed like you were the one with all the common sense," Tricia said as she came over to examine me. Turning to Jerrica, she said, "It must be a guy thing." Jerrica agreed. I just rolled my eyes.

Tricia took my blood pressure and pulse while Eddie inspected my posterior. "Nothing seems broken back here," he said as he moved his hands around my posterior region. I winced a few times as he applied pressure to certain spots. "Looks like you'll have some bruising, but other than that, I think you'll be all right." He checked my head for any bumps and found none. "Did you hit your head?" he asked.

"Not that I recall," I said. "My large ass took most of the impact. Sometimes a little extra padding comes in handy." I patted my butt and winced as I hit a sore spot.

"Well, blood pressure and pulse are normal," Tricia said. "You probably ought to go to the hospital to make certain that everything is all right."

"Not a chance in hell," I said sternly. "You said I'm fine. I feel fine. There is no point in wasting those doctors' time on me when they can be helping someone with far more serious injuries."

"You wouldn't be wasting their time Will," Tricia argued. "That's what they are there for."

"I know, I know," I said. "I've wasted enough of your time as it is. How about this? I'll make an appointment to see my doctor in the morning and we'll leave it at that. If we have any other emergencies, we can always call."

"Yeah. Just remember to work with a net next time, all right?" she said smiling.

"I would do that, but I don't plan on there being a next time!" I said with a chuckle.

"All right Tricia. It looks like our work here is done," Eddie said as he started gathering their equipment. "Later all."

"Bye!" we all said in unison as we watched them get back into the ambulance and pull out of the drive.

We stood there silently for a minute before a wave of fatigue overcame me. "How about we all go to bed?" I suggested. It was now almost 1:30 in the morning and I for one was completely exhausted.

"Sounds like a good idea to me," Lance said as he handed back my yearbook and driver's license.

I pocketed my license and said, "Would you mind putting this back in the drawer for me?"

"Sure. No prob," Lance said as he walked back toward the house. Jerrica went with him, followed by Chris, Justin, Josh and Joey. I watched them go and then turned back to look at the full moon again.

"Darn you!" I shouted as I shook my fist at the sky. "You bring us together and tear us apart in the same day." I walked over to the swing I had put up between two trees and sat down slowly. Oddly enough, the pain in my backside was starting to subside. Staring up at the moon and stars, I began to sing.

Oh no!

I feel a loss, and it's got me kinda shook
I keep on searching but it's nowhere I look
Somethin' is missin'!

Something is missing in my life
Won't somebody tell me where it's gone
Something is missing in my life
Somebody tell me where I've gone wrong
With my life

I move around, keep goin' day and night
I'm lookin' for answers but they're nowhere in sight
Somethin' is missin'

On a bus or walking down the street
I feel lonely lost and incomplete
Whoa, whoa!

Somethin' is missin' in my life
Won't somebody tell me where it's gone
Somethin' is missing in my life
Somebody tell me where I've gone wrong
With my life

Somethin' is missin' in my life
Somethin' is missin' in my life
Somethin' is missin' in my life
Somethin' is missin'!

I sighed heavily again and stood up. Singing made me feel at least a little better, but not much. I turned to go into the house and walked straight into Joey. "Ow," I said, rubbing my nose. "Sorry," I mumbled. I wanted to keep walking, to avoid him all together, but my feet were now rooted to their spot.

"That was beautiful," Joey said at last.

"Ummm... thanks," I replied, not knowing what else to say.

"Were you singing that because of me?" Joey asked lightly.

I frowned slightly. My entire world didn't revolve around him, but I decided to ignore that since he happened to be correct in this instance. Furthermore, I didn't want to make matters any worse than they already were. "Yeah," I said softly. I turned away from him and fought back the tears that were coming to my eyes again.

I felt his hand on my shoulder but I didn't turn around. "Look, Will, I'm sorry I acted like that. It's just that..." He bit his lip as he tried to formulate a coherent sentence that expressed his feelings. "I was afraid that it wasn't real. I was dreading going to sleep tonight because I was afraid I would wake up in the morning and find out it was all a dream. When I discovered your yearbook, I wasn't snooping really. Honest!"

I held up my hand to stop him. "It's not your fault Joe. I forgot I put them there. You were just looking for a place to put your things away. I can't blame you." I paused for a moment and closed my eyes as I imagined how the scene unfolded.

"Let's see. Now, I figure you found the yearbooks and first debated about opening them. Then, you decided I probably wouldn't care and you wanted to see what I looked like in high school. So, you flipped it open and started scanning the pages. First you went through every year and went through the R's but found nothing. So you went back through again and started looking at every page and scanning the pictures. That's when you stumbled upon my picture under the name 'Robert Williamson.' At first you weren't sure if that was correct or not. Then you started flipping through the book and reading the notes people had written, which, of course, are all addressed to 'Rob' or some variation thereof. That concluded things for you, which prompted you to ask me about it. Am I close?" I asked, opening my eyes.

"How did you know?" Joey asked in amazement.

"It just fits, that's all," I said. It wasn't really cold out, but I started to shiver a little. Joey came forward and wrapped his arms around me.

"Will...Rob...whatever. I care about you. I love you. Honestly and truly. I don't care what your name is, and I don't care what your history is. I only care about you as you are," he said, kissing me on the lips.

I looked him in the eye and sang softly in my lower range.

I don't care who you are
Where you're from
What you did
As long as you love me

I leaned in and kissed him again. When we broke apart, he looked at me for a moment and burst out laughing. "What's so funny?" I asked.

"Do you know what you just sang?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye.

"I think so," I said, sounding confused. "Isn't that one of yours?"

Joey couldn't hold it in, as hard as he tried. He began laughing again, and started laughing even harder when I crossed my arms while I was waiting for him to finish. After a couple minutes, he stopped and said, "Sorry babe. Wrong group. That's the Backstreet Boys."

"Oh. Well, I can't tell the difference on the radio," I admitted.

Joey looked stunned. "Really?" he asked.

"Don't look so surprised Joe," I said. "To be honest, I'm not a big fan of *Nsync. Not because I don't like your music, mind you, but because I just never gave it much thought. It's not that I can't appreciate your music though, and you guys sound wonderful, but it's never been quite my style."

"Fair enough," he said. "It just makes it that much more of a challenge for me to convert you!" he said with glee.

"Oh boy," I said as I rolled my eyes. "Come on big guy. Let's go inside and get some rest. It's been a long night." I broke out of his grasp and grabbed his hand. As we were walking to the house a sudden thought occurred to me. I stopped and looked him in the eye. "Did you call me 'babe?'" I queried.

Joey looked a little embarrassed. "Is that bad?" he asked.

"It's not bad," I said, emphasizing the last word, "but I can think of a lot of other things I would rather be called than that."

"Sorry," he said shyly. "I'm not even sure what to call you now!"

"Well, you can always call me by my name," I said. When Joey still looked uncertain, I leaned over and said, "The name's Will. This is who I am. There is a part of me that is still going to be Robért-James, but that person is my past."

Joey seemed content with that answer and kissed me. "All right then. Is there anything else I shouldn't call you?" he asked.

"Not that I can think of. Babe, baby, and any derivative thereof drive me crazy. Anything else is pretty much fair game," I said, wondering what he was going to devise.

"Okay, I'll have to think about it," Joey said as he yawned widely. "Right now, it is time to get some shut-eye."

"That's the best idea I've heard all night!" I said as we walked inside. We went upstairs and Joey entered the room he was sharing with Lance. I entered my room and spied Jerrica laying on the bed waiting for me.

"Yes?" I said, knowing she had something on her mind.

"I know you don't like to believe this, but you really are a fantastic person," she said as I pulled off my shirt and pants and changed into a white t-shirt and sweats. Jerrica had seen me in my boxers numerous times, so I didn't feel shy about changing in front of her.

"Thanks for the compliment," I said as I slid into bed next to her.

"So, what do you want me to call you?" she asked with a little uncertainty.

"What are you most comfortable with? You can still call me Rob, I suppose, although calling me Will would make things easier since that is how people down here know me. If that's too hard, or too weird, it's all right. I'll manage," I said.

"It would be kind of hard. Can I just stick with Rob, or should I go all the way and start calling you Robért-James?" she said with a giggle.

"Do, and it will be the last time you did," I said with a grin. I rolled over to get some sleep when I felt something on my side. I looked up and saw Princess laying on me. "Well, I guess we're going to have some company," I said, but there was no response. Jerrica was sound asleep. "Well, good night darlin'. Good night cat." Princess just stared at me and then laid her head down. Within minutes, I joined them both in dreamland.

The next morning came all too quickly. I woke up around half past eight and found that I had acquired two more lumps during the night. Tigger was lying on my feet and Little Boo was lying in the crook of me knee. Princess was still on my side, and Jerrica was still asleep. "Okay," I said as I realized my side and feet were starting to go numb, "time for kitties to get off the bed." I tried to push Princess off, but she was not ready to move, so I picked her up and threw her off. She hissed at me on her way down to the floor. Upon landing, she stared at me as if to say, 'Don't worry. I'll be back.' She always was.

One down, two to go, I thought, looking at the two fat lumps at the end of the bed. "Okay, fat kitty boys off the bed," I said as I shoved Little Boo off. Unlike Princess, who views such an action with complete indignation, Little Boo and Tigger just take it in stride. I then grabbed Tigger and hauled him onto my chest. I hugged him and kissed him on his head. "Love ya, big guy," I said as I tossed him off the bed.

"Better not let Joey catch you saying that," Jerrica mumbled next to me. "He might get jealous."

I laughed. "Well, Joe is just going to have to learn to share me with the other two boys and girl in my life. Something tells me though he won't mind too much."

Jerrica smiled and rolled over. She was soon asleep again; she was never an early riser. Actually, neither was I, but for some reason I was wide awake. Might as well make breakfast, I thought. I got out of bed and shuffled my way to the door. I'm not exactly the most coordinated person in the morning, so I would have to be excused for tripping over the desk chair on my way out. I slipped into the hallway and listened for sounds of movement. Everyone still seemed to be asleep. I could hardly blame them. It had been a rough couple of nights, as the dull ache in my rear reminded me.

I went into the bathroom and relieved myself, then shed my clothes to take a shower. While I waited for the water to get warm, I opened the cabinet and grabbed a couple of Tylenol and popped them. I jumped into the shower and felt much better having the warm water flow over me. I finished quickly, got out, and toweled off. It was at that moment when I realized, stupidly, that I had neglected to bring a change of clothes with me. I was pondering what to do when the door burst open.

"Hey, are you done in...whoops!" Justin said as realized that I was the one in the bathroom and wasn't quite in a full state of dress. Fortunately, I was still holding my towel and managed to cover myself rather quickly. "Sorry Will! I... uh..." Justin started stammering.

"Ummm...Justin? Could you shut the door? You're letting all the heat out," I said quietly.

"Oh! Right!" he said as he finished walking into the bathroom and shut the door.

I rolled my eyes. "Ummm...I kind of meant for you to be on the other side of the door, but..." I trailed off. For some reason, the idea that there was another guy in the room with me while I was undressed turned me on a little. I was trying really hard not to blush, not that it mattered. Justin had turned red enough for the both of us. "Do whatever you need to do Justin," I said, breaking the uncomfortable silence. I'll just go over here and put some clothes on."

I walked over to the other side of the bathroom, and with my back to Justin, I quickly tossed my sweatpants on while still trying to manage the towel I was firmly holding in place. One of the biggest selling features of this house was its' large bathrooms, and in this particular instance, it came in handy. I heard the toilet flush and counted to ten. Figuring it was probably safe, I turned around to catch Justin having trouble with his zipper.

"Problem?" I asked with a slight grin.

"Yeah. My stuck...again!" he said as he yanked on his zipper.

"Stop, stop, stop," I said as I walked over to him. "You're either going to rip the fabric the zipper is attached to or you're going to bust the zipper." I put the lid down on the toilet and smirked at him. "Guy or not, you should always learn to put the toilet seat down after you flush," I said, eliciting another blush of embarrassment from Justin.

I sat down on the toilet and motioned or him to come over. He seemed rather hesitant. "What's wrong?" I inquired, frowning a little.

"I...well...I...uh..." Justin stammered nervously.

"Justin," I laughed, shaking my head, "all I'm going to do is fix your zipper. You have wardrobe people, right?"


"This isn't any different. I'm not hitting on you, for goodness sake. Besides, you don't have anything I've never seen before. Last time I checked, the equipment is fairly standard from one guy to another. Now come here!" Justin gave up and came over so I could inspect his zipper. I found the problem immediately.

"Ah. Here's the problem," I exclaimed as I pulled the zipper back down. I reached over and tugged on a small string that had gotten in the way. Snapping it off, I tested the zipper, which moved without any problem. I showed Justin the string and smiled. "Here's your culprit."

Justin smiled. "Thanks," he said.

At the moment, the door burst open. "Justin, aren't you done... What's going on in here?" Chris asked, eyeing the two of us suspiciously. I admit, from the outside it did look a little odd, with me sitting in front of Justin whose pants were unzipped.

For the umpteenth time that morning, I rolled my eyes yet again. "Doesn't anyone in your group knock?" I asked, eyeing Justin and Chris. Both looked at me apologetically. " up your pants!" I said forcefully under my breath. Turning to Chris, I said, "Justin's zipper was stuck. He had a string caught in it, so I fixed it."

"Oh, is that all? You know, someone walking in might have gotten the wrong idea," he said with a sly grin.

"OUT!" I yelled, throwing a towel at him. He just cackled as he shut the door.

"Oy vey. You guys are something else, you know?" I said as I got up.

"We know, but you love us anyway," Justin said with a smile.

"I do?" I asked playfully. "I love Joey, but as for the rest of you guys, the jury's still out on that one."

"What? You don't love us?" Justin asked, pouting and giving me the puppy dog eyes.

"Those don't work on me Justin," I said. "Jerrica's tried that too many times for it to be effective anymore. Now, you finish up here and I'll go downstairs and make breakfast."

"Oooh! I want pancakes!" Justin said as I walked out.

"We'll see," I replied as I shut the bathroom door behind me. I leaned back against it and shook my head. These guys were too much.

I opened the refrigerator door and peeked in. Hmmmm...running a little low on supplies here, I thought. I looked at my recipe for Mom's homemade apple pancakes and double-checked to make sure I had everything.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup white sugar
1-teaspoon baking powder
1-teaspoon baking soda
1-teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4-cup vegetable oil
2 apples, sliced

Looking back through the refrigerator and the cupboards, I noted that I did indeed have all the ingredients. "I had better triple everything, just to make sure we have enough," I said out loud as I began to haul stuff out. By the time I was done, I had to laugh. There was hardly anything left in the cupboard or in the fridge. "I am definitely going to have to go shopping. These guys are going to eat me out of house and home," I chuckled under my breath.

I grabbed a large skillet out from one of the bottom cupboards, and within minutes I was busy cooking. Soon, the smell of frying batter, cinnamon, and apples hung in the air. After a while, a large stack of pancakes had materialized on the plates next to me.

"Wow, that smells fantastic," a voice said behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw Joey standing there.

"Well, good morning sunshine," I said cheerily as I scooped the last pancake onto a second overflowing plate. "Would you give me a hand and take one of these over to the table?"

"Sure," Joey said, taking the first plate from my hands. He followed me over to the table and set the stack of flapjacks down, as did I. I was about to turn around when I felt a pair of strong hands on my shoulders. "You know," he said in a low voice, "you look even sexier without your shirt on." He ran his fingers over my chest, trying to make little designs in my chest hair.

It took me about two seconds to realize that I had been so caught up in my own thoughts and making breakfast I was naked from the waist up. My overwhelming self-consciousness kicked in and I pushed past Joey and flew upstairs into my bedroom. I dashed into my bedroom, slammed the door, and then braced myself against it. I was breathing pretty hard and was seriously flushed.

"What's wrong?" Jerrica asked as she swiveled around in my office chair, brushing her long blonde hair. "My God, you look like you're on the run from someone!" I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I just stood there looking petrified. Then, without a word, I threw myself onto the bed and buried my head under some pillows. I felt Jerrica's weight on the bed as she sat down next to me. "Hello? What is it?"

"Don't worry about it," was my muffled reply.

"Yeah, right," she said as she started to take the pillows off my head. When she got to the last one, I was clutching it tightly around me. She and I fought over it for a few moments before I finally relented and let her take it. "Look at me. Rob, look at me!"

Sighing, I rolled onto my side and stared at her. "Fine. I'm looking at you. Can I go back into hiding now?" I whined.

"Not until you tell me what you are hiding from," she stated, grabbing my wrist.

I remained silent for a moment. I was about to say something when there was a tentative knock on the door. I could hear Joey's voice coming from the other side. "Will? Is everything all right?"

My eyes widened, my face flushed, and I tried to roll over to bury my face into the bed, but Jerrica wouldn't let me. "Uh uh, no hiding," she said. Then, turning to the door, she called out "Just a second!" She looked back at me and said, "I don't know what's going on, but you are not going to hide from him." She stood up and walked over to the door and let Joey in.

Like a flash, he was at my side. "What's wrong?" he asked, but I couldn't quite bring myself to look at him. He looked over at Jerrica and asked, "What's going on?"

Jerrica shut the door and sat down on my other side. "That's a good question, and I'd like some answers," she replied, smacking me in the back of the head.

"Just leave me alone, okay?" I said quietly.

"Will, did I offend you somehow, because if I did, I'm sorry," Joey said, looking scared. I just shook my head.

"Would someone mind filling in the blanks here?" Jerrica asked with a confused expression.

"Well, he was making pancakes and I came downstairs. I helped him take them over to the table..." Joey was saying, but was momentarily cut off when I leaped off the bed.

"The pancakes! Damn!" I yelled. I ran to my dresser, grabbed a shirt, threw it on, and raced downstairs.

Joey and Jerrica stared at each other for a moment. "What was that about?" they asked in unison. They once again glanced at each other and burst out laughing.

"So anyway, before we find out what this last crisis is, finish telling me what happened earlier," Jerrica prodded.

"Oh...right. So, anyway, we put the food on the table and I found myself just staring at him. I don't know why, but just looking at him bare-chested kind of worked me up a little. So I told him how sexy he was and started rubbing his chest. Then he just pushed me out of the way and ran upstairs." Joey sighed. "I know he says I didn't offend him, but why would he react that way? Maybe I'm moving too fast?" He put his head in his hands and sighed again.

"Hmmm. You said he came from the kitchen?" she asked, her eyes half-closed while she was thinking. Suddenly her eyes flew open. "Wait. Did you say he wasn't wearing a shirt downstairs?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Remember when we were having that discussion yesterday about your new song, and Chris' suggestion?" she inquired.

"What about it?" Joey asked.

"What did I say in response to that whole idea?" she prodded.

"That Will wouldn't do it because he would be too nervous. That's just some form of stage fright though, right?"

"Maybe in a small way. Joey, you have to understand that while my best friend is a loving, caring, sensitive and wonderful person, he is also incredibly insecure at times, especially when it comes to his body." Jerrica sighed. "He's been overweight for a long time, and while he claims that he is comfortable with the way he is, you've just seen firsthand evidence that is all an act. He's lived here alone for so long he probably never thinks about what he is wearing at home. Now he has five new people here and he's slipping out of his comfort zone."

"I don't get it, I guess. He is such a good-looking guy," Joey said.

"I know that. You know that. To some extent even he probably knows that. The problem is he doesn't believe it. He's rather cynical at times and quite self-critical. He's got a lot of emotional baggage. Something also tells me that there is more to this story with Allison than he has told us. I would bet every dime I have she has royally fucked with his mind!" she growled.

"Whoa! Down girl!" Joey said with a laugh. "Okay, so he's got issues. He's not perfect. Hell, none of us are."

"Joe," Jerrica said, looking him straight in the eye, "let me be perfectly blunt about this. He likes you. A lot. He may even truly love you. However, I know him well enough to know that he probably thinks he isn't good enough for you."

Joey started to get a little upset. "How could he even think such a thing?"

"Hey, hey now. I'm not saying he said that, or that he has even thought that. What I'm saying is he thinks he's unattractive, and it's going to take a while for him to get over it. Now, it took a long time for him to get comfortable around me, and we've been friends for ten years. Don't expect it to come too quickly. However, if anyone can help him through this, I think you can." Jerrica patted him on the leg. "Now, how about we go track down some breakfast? I'm starving!"

"Sounds like a plan to me," Joey said, getting up. As they made their way downstairs, Joey lost himself in thought. So that's what that was all about. I guess I understand. No, he's not underwear model material, but he is really handsome. I guess I'll just have to prove to him that he is as attractive as I see him. Now, he was determined. He had an objective and he was going to see it through.

"Off the table!" I yelled, slamming my hand down on the table. Princess, who had been quietly nibbling on a pancake, darted away. "You know better than that!" I hissed at her. I went over and inspected the food. She had only "sampled" two, so I picked those up and tossed them out. Cats! I thought, shaking my head.

I grabbed some plates and set the table. I then got out some glasses and set out some orange juice and milk. Last, I brought out some silverware. Finished. Now, it's time to get these guys to the table before Princess comes back for a second helping, I thought. Peeking my head around the corner into the living room, I spotted Josh reading my book

"Well, I know you at least didn't stay up all night reading it," I said, walking into the room. Josh looked up at me and smiled.

"This is really good, Will. It's even better than the last one. I have about 70 pages to go still," he replied, his eyes never leaving the pages.

"Unfortunately, you are going to have to wait and see what happens, because it is time for breakfast. Now put the book down, get dressed, and be at the table in 5 minutes. That's an order!" I said with a slight smile as I headed back to the dining room.

Josh rolled his eyes. "Yes, mother!" he quipped.

"And don't you forget it!" I called back to him. Laughing, he finished the paragraph, placed a bookmark inside the book, and laid it down on the small end table next to the sofabed. He then shifted himself around with a little difficulty and sat on the edge of the bed. Grabbing his suitcase, he pulled out a clean shirt and a pair of sweatpants and pulled them on. Not exactly haute fashion, but at this point, who cares? he thought to himself.

Grabbing his crutches, he made his way into the dining room and sat down in his spot. Lance, Justin, and Chris were coming downstairs and took up their places at the table. I had set a glass of water down at my spot and was wondering where Joey and Jerrica were. Just as I was about to go back and find them, I heard the upstairs door close. They came barreling down the steps, sounding like a herd of elephants.

Joey took his seat next to me, and Jerrica, noting an open spot next to Lance, walked over to Justin and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Hey Jerrica, what's up?" he asked.

Jerrica pointed at the chair between him and Lance and, with as angelic a look as she could muster, said point-blank, "Move over."

Justin was caught off-guard, if only for a moment. "I don't wanna."

Jerrica leaned over and said quietly, "Don't make me hurt you!"

Justin grinned back. "Yeah, sure, right. You sit there. Lance has cooties."

Lance whirled around in his chair and gave Justin the evil eye. "I do not!" he exclaimed.

"Do too!" Justin shot back, laughing hard.

"Hey, you two have been hanging around each for years, so you're immune. Move over!" she said as she grabbed Justin under his arms, hoisted him out of the chair, and plunked him down in the next seat. "Why thank you, sir. You are most certainly kind," Jerrica said sweetly as she sat down in the now vacated spot.

"Didn't I warn you Justin?" I said with a chuckle.

"Next time, girl," Justin said in a low voice, "you and me are gonna rumble."

Jerrica just smiled. "Anytime, little man. Anytime."

"Okay you two. Settle down. Who would like to say grace?" I asked.

"I'll do it!" Joey volunteered. We all joined hands and bowed our heads as Joey spoke"Dear Lord, we thank you for this day, and thank you for the friendships you bless us with. We thank you for our successes and pray that all of us will continue to be a success in life. We thank you for bringing Will and Jerrica into our lives, as good friends are hard to find, and a good love even harder." He squeezed my hand as he said this, and I blushed a deep red. "Please watch over them as you have watched over us, and continue to bring happiness into their lives. Amen."

"Amen," we all said in unison.

"Chow time!" Chris said loudly as he grabbed a plate of pancakes. We all laughed and soon the table was buzzing with the sounds of happy chatter and eating.

"Wow! These pancakes are really good!" Josh exclaimed from the other end of the table. "What's your secret?"

"No secret. They're just buttermilk pancakes with apples and cinnamon added in. Glad you like them," I replied. I took a bite myself and had to admit I had outdone myself this time. Changing the subject, I said to no one in particular, "So, do you all have any plans for today?"

"Not particularly," Lance said. "Why? Did you have any ideas?"

"Well, I desperately have to go food shopping, and I'm going to need some help. I need two volunteers," I said, thinking how much stuff we were going to need.

"I'll go," Josh and Joey said in unison.

"All right. That solves that. What about you four?" I asked.

"I do have some shopping I need to do," Chris piped up quickly. "I need to hit an electronics store, like Best Buy or something. Know where one would be?"

"Yeah. There's one over in Security Square," I said. "It's not too far away and it's easy to get to. The mall is right across the street."

"Whoo hoo!" Justin exclaimed. Something told me that some stores were going to be very happy later on.

We finished eating and cleared the table. I loaded the dishwasher and put everything else away. Looking through the cupboards and refrigerator, I made a long list of items we were going to need.

"That's some list," Joey said, looking over my shoulder.

"Yeah, well, I have to make sure you guys are well fed. I don't want anyone from your management coming to hunt me down because you haven't been eating," I said.

"They're more likely to come after you for feeding us too much," Joey joked, patting his stomach.

"Then I guess I better start hiding then," I said with a snicker. "Hey Josh, you about ready yet?"

"Yes, sir!" Josh said as he came out of the bathroom.

"That was quick," I remarked. He had only been in there maybe 6 or 7 minutes.

"With being on the road so much, you learn to do everything twice as fast," Josh said, still toweling his hair dry.

"Everything?" I asked, looking between Joey and Josh with a raised eyebrow.

"Well, maybe not everything," Joey said, blushing.

Laughing, I went over to the door and grabbed my car keys off the hook."You guys about ready to go?"

"Almost. Just have a couple things left to do," Josh said as he ran into the living room.

I looked at Joey. "We're going to be here for a while, aren't we?" I asked.

"Yep," Joey replied with a wink.

Thirty minutes later, Josh came back into the dining room. "I'm ready!" he said with flair.

"About time! We were about ready to call out the dogs for you!" I said with a smirk. "Let's go. We've got work to do." I dashed off a quick note to Jerrica, giving her directions to the mall and then followed the guys out the door. "Time to get down to business!" I said as I hopped into the Saturn. We buckled ourselves in and I started the car. I lowered the widows and opened the sunroof. It was another gorgeous May day.

I pealed away from the house and down the ¼ mile drive to the road. We drove through the back roads instead of taking the highway - for one, it was faster, and second, it was a much nicer drive. Driving through steeplechase country, we passed some really large, old mansions that had been there for over a hundred years or more. Joey and Josh just stared as we drove past them. "Wow," Josh said from the backseat. "Some of the places are huge!"

For some reason I was a little puzzled. "What? You mean your house isn't that big?" I asked, half in jest and half in curiosity.

"Not hardly," Josh said. "Remember, I live in Orlando. It's growing so fast, there's not a whole lot of space there. Don't get me wrong, it's definitely good-sized, but it's not that big. Besides, what do I need a house that large for? For just little old me?" He sounded a little depressed when he said that. I knew life on the road had to be hard on all of them, especially when trying to maintain a relationship. This thought had occurred to me ever since Joey said he loved me. I kept wondering how we were going to make this work.

"We need some music," Joey said. He looked at my CDs. "How do you know what's on what CD?" he asked, looking over my collection of unmarked CDs.

I was going to say something, until I remembered that he hadn't been with us when we went out last night. "Well, I don't know which CD is which, but I do know what each CD has on it and in what spot. Some of them have the same songs, just on different tracks."

Joey just shrugged and popped a CD in. Within seconds, the first song began to play and the entire song list popped into my head. I turned up the volume as the instrumental song on Track 1 ended and a new song came on. By now I had gotten over my shyness about singing in front of these guys, so I just let loose and belted the song out along with the CD.

(Like a Dream) I appear to you
(Like a Dream) That is comin' true
(Like a Dream) I will lead you to a place you've never seen before

(Like a Dream) Where you're far from care
(Like a Dream) Music everywhere
(Like a Dream) Let me take you there and show you new worlds to explore

Follow the sound of my voice,
I'll give you reason to rejoice

(Like a Dream) I appear to you
(Like a Dream) That is comin' true
(Like a Dream) I will lead you to a place you've never seen before

(Like a Dream) Where you're far from care
(Like a Dream) Music everywhere
(Like a Dream) Let me take you there and show you new worlds to explore

Follow the sound of my voice,
I'll give you reason to rejoice

(Like a Dream) Baby, come with me
(Like a Dream) Life will be
(Like a Dream) Mmmmm,
Like a Dream!

As the song ended, we pulled into the parking lot at the Safeway grocery store. I turned off the CD player and pulled up to the front of the store. "Here you guys go," I said. They both just sat there in silence, looking at me. "What?"

"Ummm, nothing. Aren't you coming with us?" Joey asked.

"Not right this second. I have a doctor's appointment at 12:45, and it's now 12:15. It shouldn't take very long, and I'll be right back. Now, here's the list. Don't get too much junk, okay?" I said with a smile.

"Yes, mother!" Josh and Joey said in unison.

"OUT!" I yelled at them. They clambered out of the car, shut the door and waved as I drove off.

Joey started to go in to the store, but Josh just stood there, leaning on his crutches and shaking his head. "What's up man?" Joey asked.

"He's something else, you know that?" Josh said. "He has the voice of an angel, a heart of gold, he's a talented writer, and yet seems so reserved. I just can't figure him out."

"He's definitely something," Joey said with a grin. "Come on, we've got shopping to do!"

Jerrica turned the van into the parking lot and pulled into a parking space. "Well, we're here," she said as she turned off the engine. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Of course it is. By the time this is over, how on earth would he be able to say no?" Chris said with a sly smile. "Besides, this way, he and Joey will be able to spend almost all of their time together. Joey is a hopeless romantic and won't do very well knowing his boyfriend is far away. He'll be climbing the walls in a week!"

"I don't know," Jerrica said, sounding unconvinced. "This just seems kind of underhanded. I don't think he's going to react very well."

"Trust me," Chris said as he got out of the van.

"Yeah, that's what Custer said at the Battle of Little Bighorn, and look where that got him," Jerrica muttered under her breath.

They all piled out of the van and walked inside the store. They fanned out in all directions, perusing the aisles. "There something about an electronics store that jut makes my credit card sing," Justin said to Jerrica as they walked past a row of digital cameras.

"Uh huh," Jerrica replied, not listening to a word Justin was saying. She still felt uneasy about this whole idea, but prayed that the ends would really justify the means.

Half an hour later, they exited the Best Buy store with a number of purchases, one of them being a very large and heavy box. With some effort, it was loaded into the back of the van. Chattering excitedly, they all got in the van and went over to the mall across the street. All of the guys wore "disguises" of some form or another, including sunglasses. Jerrica thought they drew more attention looking like that, but she figured they probably knew what they were doing by now.

They went inside and roamed through the stores. Justin and Lance were like little children let loose in a toy store, running through the aisles grabbing at everything. They went into the dressing rooms carrying tons of clothing to try on. Jerrica and Chris just stood back and watched them go at it.

"How much of that are they actually going to buy?" Jerrica asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Justin will probably get most of it. Lance will get some things. He likes to try stuff on, but only buys things he's really interested in. Justin has more clothes than anyone I've ever met in my life!" Chris said with a chuckle.

While Justin and Lance continued to try stuff on and parade it for Chris and Jerrica, the two sat down on a bench and talked candidly, occasionally giving a word of appraisal to whatever outfit Lance or Justin had stuck themselves in. Jerrica still had some lingering doubts resting on her mind, and she voiced them to Chris. "I just don't know about this, Chris," she said. "Yes, it might work and you'll accomplish your goal, but at the same time you could alienate him from everyone, including Joey. What happens if he gets so upset he decided never to see you ever again because you tried to trick him?"

Chris looked dubious for a moment. "Well, you know him better than I do. Do you think he will react badly?"

Jerrica shrugged. "It's hard to say. We've kept in contact with each other over the past five years, but there are times where he seems so different from the person I knew, name change or not."

"Jerrica, I don't know of any other way. You've already said if we ask him, he'll say no. Justin can't sing that high. Hell, even I can't sing that high. The last time I tried I strained my voice for a week. It did not go over well. They don't want a female to do it. According to Lance, they want us to perform this in Charlotte, which is in three weeks. We were supposed to meet with our choreographers and voice coaches later this week to begin work on it. Last I knew, management hadn't figured it out yet either."

"Okay, I get it Chris, but why him?" Jerrica asked. "Aren't there other guys out there who can sing in the high falsetto range without killing their vocal cords?"

Chris sighed. "Probably, but we're running short on time, and to be quite honest, not only is he good, but if he were to travel with us, Joey would be in heaven." Lowering his voice, he continued, "He's been kind of funny for a while. Rather somber. I mean, when he has to be peppy and upbeat, like in public, he puts on a great front, but when it's just us, that sparkle in his eye is just gone."

"Hmmm. That's certainly one pro side, but there's another issue. Rob still works a full-time job, and last I knew, he didn't seem anxious to leave anytime soon," she said.

"Huh? I thought he was an author? Why does he work?" Chris asked in amazement.

"I think he only gets like 6% royalty on his books. I know part of that is because the other 10% they offered him goes to charity. He told me once that nothing is ever definite in the publishing world, and that he has to have a backup in case his books ever flop," Jerrica said.

"From what Josh was telling me a couple weeks ago, that seems so unlikely. His books have always gone to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. Anyway, he'd be paid well for performing. He wouldn't need to work again!" Chris said convincingly.

"I still don't know. Maybe it's just my pessimistic side, but something tells me that this is going to be bad. However, it will not be as bad as that shirt Justin is wearing," Jerrica said loudly.

"What? What's wrong with this?" Justin asked innocently. Chris and Jerrica burst out laughing. Justin was wearing a shirt that looked like someone had taken about seven different cans of paint and tossed it at a white t-shirt. The colors had started to blend together and many areas of it were a disgusting brownish color. "I think it makes a statement," he said haughtily.

"Yeah, it says Look at the clown,'" Chris gasped in between laughs.

"Fine!" Justin said as he stormed back into the dressing room.

"Boys!" Jerrica said, rolling her eyes. "Can't live with them, can't whack sense into them."

Chris turned and whacked her in the arm. "I heard that!"

"You were supposed to," she said. He's kind of cute, she thought to herself, and he's got a great sense of humor. Kind of reminds me of Rob...err...Will. Oh whatever! She shook her head. This whole different name thing was starting to confuse her. Shaking the thoughts out of her head, she looked down at her watch. "Hey guys, we need to go! It's almost two o'clock."

"Coming!" they heard Lance and Justin yell from inside the changing room. After five minutes, Jerrica grew impatient.

"Chris, go see what's taking them so long!" she ordered.

Chris went inside the changing room, only to come out moments later howling like a hyena. "Come here. You have got to see this!"

"Chris, I can't! It's the men's changing room...whoa!" she yelled as Chris grabbed her by her arm and dragged her inside. It looked like a tornado had ripped through. Clothes were absolutely everywhere. "What the hell happened back here?" Jerrica asked in astonishment.

"We kind of had a clothing war," Justin could be heard mumbling on the other side of the door. "Lance started it!"

"Me? What do you mean I started it? You were the one who threw that pair of jeans at me!" Lance argued.

"I don't care who started it. Just put yourselves together and let's go, all right?" Jerrica said. She hated to chastise them, but at the rate they were going, it would take all day to get out of there. However, that should have been the least of her worries.

"What is going on back here?" a voice said from behind them. Chris and Jerrica spun around to face a large, red-faced man who had his hands on his hips and looked incredibly displeased. The nametag, which had no name on it, indicated he was the store manager. "Why are there clothes all over the place? And you, young lady, what are you doing in the men's dressing room. Get out! Now!"

"But...I...uh..." Jerrica began, but she was cut off.

"Didn't you hear me? OUT! You too, buddy! Get out before I call store security!"

"Whoa, calm down," Chris said, trying to smooth the situation over. "We got a little out of hand, but we'll clean everything up. I think..."

"I don't care what you think. I'm going to have to pull someone away from their job to clean this up, thus inconveniencing other shoppers. Now, please leave."

Jerrica and Chris looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. Lance and Justin emerged from the changing stalls, fully dressed of course, each holding a stack of clothing in their arms. "You know, Justin, I was going to buy all of these, but suddenly I don't feel like it anymore," Lance said as he dropped them in front of the manager's feet.

"I feel the same way Lance," Justin said, also depositing his stack of clothes on top of Lance's.

The manager eyed them for a second, and then said, "I don't know who you think you are, but if you aren't out of here in three minutes, I will have you removed." He pointed toward the door and said, "Go!"

"With pleasure!" Justin exclaimed as he brushed past the man. Lance followed with Chris, and Jerrica brought up the rear.

As Jerrica was walking past the ornery manager, she said in a voice loud enough so only Chris and the manager could hear, "Wow...when the media gets hold of this: Department stores kicks out three *Nsync members. I'd be amazed if hundreds of teenage girls aren't down here protesting tomorrow." Just as she was about to exit, she turned to face the man, who had now turned an unhealthy pale color, and said sweetly, "Have a nice day...NOT!" The four ran out of the store and back to the van. Eyeing each other, they burst into laughter.

"That poor guy is going to have fits tonight!" Justin said with a smirk.

"You guys aren't going to do anything, are you?" Jerrica asked suspiciously.

"Nope," Lance said. "The fact that we might is going to drive that guy nuts. Hopefully that will teach him to get all the facts before yelling at people."

"No worries," Chris said, putting his arm around Jerrica. She immediately shoved it off and gave him a stern look Chris looked a little confused but played it off. "We should probably get out of here."

"I think that is a splendid idea," Jerrica said as she fished the keys out of her pocket. Walking around to the driver's side, she looked up at the sky and said, "When did I get nominated for group babysitter?" She opened the door and was greeted with a loud ruckus coming from inside. "Don't make me come in there and whoop some ass," she shouted as she climbed in. She was immediately hit in the face with a blast of water from a squirt gun. He face dripping wet, she frowned at them and said, "You suck. You all suck. I hate you all. Die!"

Lance, Justin, and Chris just looked at each other blankly. "What?" they all said in unison.

Jerrica shook her head, laughing. "Sorry guys. Had to be there. Now, please fasten your seatbelts. Return your trays to the upright position. Have your barf bags at the ready and hang on for dear life!"

Cackling, she started the engine, backed out of the parking spot, entered onto the main road and gunned the engine. Justin would later swear he saw his life flash before his eyes, and it included some really bad reruns of the Mickey Mouse Club. Lance said he wasn't sure how long it took to get back to the house; his eyes were closed the entire time. On the other hand, Chris said it was like riding a roller coaster and was amazed at how Jerrica took that one curve on the highway at 30 miles over the posted speed limit. And she thinks I'm the dangerous one?

I pulled into the Safeway parking lot and found a spot close to the front of the store. The doctor had said I would be fine, but there would be some bruising for a while. He was quite surprised that I hadn't been injured any worse than I was, and made me promise not to do any more acrobatics out the window.

I got out of the car and went inside. I wondered what the guys had been up to for the last hour. I had figured that, being the middle of a weekday, they were probably safe in being there by themselves, as most of the people who would recognize them were currently in school. I roamed around the store and eventually found them in the produce section. Joey was squeezing a tomato and Josh was sniffing a cantaloupe.

"Are we having fun yet?" I asked as I strolled up to them.

"Actually, yes," Josh said. "This may sound weird, but it's kind of nice to get out and do 'normal' things from time to time."

"I can believe that," I said. "Your life is kind of far from normal. I'm sure people say all the time how much they wish they could live your life, but at times I would imagine it gets kind of frustrating."

Joey and Josh both nodded. "Yeah, like not being able to go shopping without having to worry about getting mobbed by obsessive teenage girls!" Joey said with a chuckle.

"Don't worry darlin', I'll protect you," I whispered into Joey's ear. He gave me a big grin and went to put his arm around my shoulder. I stopped him and said, "Not here. Not right now. Later." He sighed and looked rather anguished. He knew I was right, but that didn't mean he had to like it any less. I turned back to Josh and asked, "So did you have any problems while I was gone?"

"Not particularly. We did have one little girl who was about seven recognize Joey, but she was really sweet and we gave her an autograph. Other than that, it's been rather quiet."

I breathed a sign of relief. "Good. I was a little worried about leaving you guys stranded here, but I also figured this was probably the best time of day to come, since most of your fan base is currently in school."

"Right," Josh agreed. "Good thinking."

"Now," I said, peering into the basket, "let's just see what we have here." I started looking through the items they had collected and began to sort through it.

"Good. Good. Okay. No, put this back. Good. Good. What do we need eight half-gallons of ice cream for?" I asked in amusement.

"Well, we couldn't decide, so we figured we'd just kind of get a whole bunch of different things and see what happens," Joey said.

"Banana chip swirl?" I asked, eyeing the box of ice cream in my hand. "Are you serious?"

"What? I happen to like banana chip swirl," Joey said in mock anger.

"Fine! Fine! Okay, you win. What other junk did you get? Pork rinds? Ugh!" I said in disgust. Joey and Josh just laughed at me. "You did get some healthy stuff, right?"

"Yes mother, we did," Josh said, rolling his eyes.

I peered further through the overflowing basket. True enough, there was a bunch of produce, meat, bread, milk, cheese, eggs, and so on. "Well, I think we have enough food here to feed a couple small armies or one very hungry singing group," I said with a smile. "Did you get everything on the list?"

Josh perused the list for a moment. "I think so. If not, we'll just have to come back!" he said. Who knew he would find such pleasure in something as menial as grocery shopping?

We pushed the cart over to the checkout line and, unless I misread her face, the cashier did not look thrilled at the sight of our overflowing cart. I smiled at her anyway as I ran my Safeway card and bankcard through the card reader and entered my PIN number. I then went and grabbed anther cart to put the groceries into. I came back and loaded the bags into the new cart. Eventually, all the groceries had been bagged and rung up and she announced my total. "The total will be $367.42," she said.

I watched as Joey went to pull out his wallet, but of course the computer system was faster than he was and the transaction was completed. "Here's your receipt Mr. Robertson. Have a good day."

"Thanks. Come on guys. Let's go!" I pulled the heavy cart behind me and headed for the exit. Joey went to put the other cart away while Josh walked with me.

"You didn't have to do that, you know," Josh said quietly as we exited the store.

"Do what?" I asked, looking straight ahead but glancing at Josh out of the corner of my eye.

"Buy all that food. After all, we are the ones who invaded your house. The least we could do is get the groceries," he said plaintively.

"No worries Josh," I said as we reached the car. I looked over at him and he had a slightly pained look on his face. "Remember what I said about guilt?"

"Yeah. I remember," he said, visibly relaxing. "Besides, I don't do anything I don't want to do. If I felt uncomfortable or had expected you to buy the food, you would have known ahead of time. If you really feel bad about it though, you can cook dinner for the next week!" I said with a grin.

"Deal!" he said. I popped the trunk open and we loaded the groceries inside. Soon, Joey arrived and we left for the house.

Once again, we needed music, so Joey turned the CD back on. One of my favorite Amy Grant songs of all time, I Will Be Your Friend, came on and I sung it with all the emotion I could muster. In the refrain of the song, I unconsciously grabbed Joey's hand and gave it a squeeze. The song soon ended and I had tears in my eyes.

"What's wrong Will?" Joey asked gently, turning the music down.

"Oh, I am so spastic sometimes, I swear!" I said as I wiped my eyes. Sensing Joey's worry, I smiled and said, "That's our song - Jerrica and I. I can't listen to it without thinking of her." I sniffled a little. "And to think we almost lost our friendship because we were both so stubborn..." I hated thinking about it, and while I knew that we were fine now, those times without my best friend were really tough. "Anyway," I said after a moment, "don't mind me. I'm just being silly. She and I are fine, I have you guys, especially you Joe, and I can honestly say I haven't been this happy in a long time."

Now it was Joey's turn to get emotional. "I feel the same way," he said as he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.

"Ummm guys, I am still here you know!" Josh said from the backseat.

"Sorry man!" I said with a laugh. "Okay, enough dwelling on the past. What happened to the music? Let's see. We need an upbeat song." I turned the sound back up and started flipping through the tracks. "Oh, here's one I found the other day. It was on one of those music compilation CDs. It's got a nice beat, but the lead singer has kind of a nasal voice. Other than that, they've got a great sound."

I flipped to track 16 and the opening strains of Bye, Bye, Bye came out through the speakers. Joey and Josh took one look at each other and burst out laughing. I turned the sound down and asked, "What's so funny?"

By now, Joey and Josh were laughing so hard, their faces had turned red and they almost seemed to be having trouble breathing. I pulled off onto the shoulder and waited for them to finish. I just sat there and glared at them, which made them laugh even harder. Finally, after about five minutes, Josh started to calm down.

"I'm glad you find me so humorous," I said in annoyance. "Now what is so hysterically funny?"

Josh started to giggle again. "Oh man, Justin is going to absolutely blow a gasket when he hears this one," Josh said before he burst back into laughter.

I stared at them blankly. "What does Justin have to do with anything?"

Joey stopped laughing and looked at me intently. "You really don't know our music, do you?"

"I thought I proved that last night when I completely embarrassed myself by thinking a Backstreet Boys song was one of yours," I snapped.

Joey didn't answer. Josh was still giggling in the backseat and I was fuming. I was about to say something else when I started to put two and two together. My face grew bright red and I said, "That's your song, isn't it, with Justin on lead vocals, right?"

My eyes darted between the two. They nodded, trying their hardest not to begin laughing. "Damn!" I exclaimed as I leaned my head against the steering wheel. "I guess I need to start listening to your music so I can at least recognize it," I said through gritted teeth.

Joey and Josh stopped smiling and looked at me with overt concern. "Hey. Don't worry about it," Josh said. "Remember what you said about feeling guilty?" I burst out laughing. My own words had come back to haunt me.

"All right, you made your point!" I said. "Now, we ought to get home before all that ice cream melts." I turned the CD back on and went to the beginning of the track. The guys joined in with me and we sang all the way home. I was kind of surprised how well I blended in with them.

Jerrica and crew had arrived back to the house about ten minutes before we had. They unloaded their purchases into the house, and then took the large box, which had proved to be a little difficult as it was kind of bulky, around the house to the backyard. Jerrica went inside and found a large orange extension cord while Chris began setting the equipment up.

At that same time, Josh, Joey and I arrived from the store. Seeing the van in the drive, I honked the horn, hoping it would bring some bodies out to help carry the food in.

"Shit! They're here!" Chris exclaimed. "Guys, keep them from coming back here!"

Jerrica rolled her eyes. How do I get myself into these messes? she wondered as she headed around to the front side of the house. She spotted my car and ran over. "Hey guys! What took you so long?"

"Sorry. My doctor's appointment ran a little long," I said. Jerrica eyed me suspiciously. "I'm fine, thanks to my buns of flab, which, apparently, make great shock absorbers!" I said as I whacked my rear end with my hand. "Ow! Note to self: don't do that. Anyway," I said as I turned my attention toward the car, "want to give us a hand and take the food inside?"

"Yeah, sure," she said as I popped the trunk open with my remote.

"Where are Lance, Chris, and Justin?" I asked.

"Right here!" Lance and Justin called, coming out the front door. "Chris is a little preoccupied at the moment, but he'll be along shortly."

"Whatever," I said, shrugging my shoulders. "Come on, we've got four gallons of ice cream melting in here!"

"Four gallons?" Justin echoed.

"Don't look at me," I said with a smirk. "Ask them!" I pointed at Joey and Josh, who looked a little embarrassed. "All right, let's get this stuff inside and put away."

With the six of us working, we were able to put all of the food away quickly. We had decided on taco salad for lunch, since it was quick and easy to make, so I set up the skillet and began cooking the meat. Justin and Lance set to chopping the vegetables while Josh grated the cheese. Joey had permanently attached himself to my backside, pulling me into a hug and staying there while I cooked the hamburger. He is so cute! I thought.

"Joey?" I said quietly. "Would you do me a favor and unload the dishwasher and put everything away?" It did need to be done, but my motive at the point was to detach him from me. I was kind of in an odd position, as he was a little bit taller than me, and I was starting to develop a cramp in my side.

"Huh? Oh, yeah. No problem," he said as he set himself to his new task.

Soon the meat was cooked, the vegetables were chopped, and the cheese was grated. We threw it all into a large bowl and mixed it together. Then, I dished some out into seven large taco shells and set out some sour cream and salsa. "Someone go tell Chris food is ready!" I said to no one in particular.

Justin ran out and grabbed Chris, and we all helped ourselves. We decided once again to eat outside, as it was such a gorgeous day. Joey, Josh and I set up lawn chairs on the grass while the other four sat at the table. We chatted as we ate, and Josh, to my dismay, recanted the incident about me not recognizing their song and how I had said Justin was nasal. He shot me an evil look, and I just sat back looking embarrassed.

"Sorry, Justin. It's true. If I had realized it was you guys I probably wouldn't have said it, but it's too late now. Besides, it's not a bad thing. For one, it gives you a unique sound. Second, I think it's kind of cute. Most of all, at least you don't sound like Fran Drescher!" I said with a grin. Everyone, including Justin, laughed at this.

Soon, we had all finished eating and were trying to decide what to do next. "I have an idea," Chris said.

"What's that?" I asked curiously.

"This," he replied as he wheeled a big piece of equipment around from the side of the table. It had a bunch of knobs and buttons on it and resembled an oversized speaker.

"And this is what?" I asked, looking it over.

"It's a karaoke machine. It would be kind of hard for all of us to go out somewhere, and management is kind of funny about us performing in public without them agreeing to it. So, I figured we could, you know, make our own little club here," he said. He stared at me, trying to gauge my reaction.

"Okay. This could be kind of fun. I just hope you aren't expecting me to sing!" I said with a laugh.

"Uh, yeah. You have to. As a matter of fact, I think you should go first," Chris said with a sly smile.

Everyone else cheered me on. What do I have to lose? I thought. After all, it's not like anyone else is going to hear this. I got up and walked over to the machine and picked up the microphone that was lying on top of it. I felt a little silly, but if you can't look silly in front of your friends, whom can you look silly in front of? I spotted Jerrica slowly trying to slip into the house, and I called out to her.

"Oh no you don't Jerrica! If I'm going to stand here and make myself look silly, so are you!"

Jerrica sighed. It wasn't that she didn't want to sing, although she thought her voice sounded terrible. She didn't want to be a part of any of this, for she knew what was yet to come. However, now that she had been caught trying to escape, she had no choice but to grin and bear it. She prayed that when all was said and done, her best friend would forgive her. She flashed Will a smile and sat back down.

Satisfied that I wasn't completely alone in this endeavor, I turned back to Chris and said, "Okay. What do I do now?"

He handed me a bunch of CDs. "Pick a song and then I'll set it up."

I looked through them. There were a lot of good songs, and I was going to have difficulty picking one I liked. As I perused the selection, I started thinking. These guys have heard my higher range. Let's try something a little lower. I handed the CD over to Chris and pointed to the track I wanted. His eyes widened in surprise.

"You sure?" he asked.

"Of course. Why not? I can do something other than slow ballads, you know," I said with a laugh.

He grinned sheepishly and popped the CD in. He flipped it over to the track I had indicated and paused it. "Ready?" he asked.

"As ready as I'll ever be," I said, feeling a pit in my stomach. What am I freaking out over? I wondered to myself. These guys don't care, even if I do sound horrible. I motioned for Chris to start. As I waited for the opening strains of Footloose by Kenny Loggins to begin, Chris nonchalantly hit the record button. It was time for phase one of his plan to begin.

To Be Continued...

So what did you think? Chris has got more than one plan up his sleeve. How is it all going to work out? Can Joey help Will see himself as the person he is, instead of the erroneous image he already has? Is this really the end to Will's secrets, or is there something else he's not telling? Please, 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 editors, Mandy and Dreamy. Thanks for all the two of you do! Thanks also goes out to Wildheart, who helps keep me inspired to continue writing.

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Extra disclaimers: Song lyrics used in this story from "Something is Missin'" and "Like A Dream" are copyrighted by Sony Wonder. No attempt to infringe on this copyright should be implied from this story.