~*~ Every last word of the pages to follow is from an author's vast imagination and is therefore not supported in true reality. Although the characters to be featured are prominently factual, the numerous scenarios, situations, and events they will encounter throughout the course of the tale are not! Its principal objective is that of enjoyment and entertainment to you, the reader.

~*~ Underage reading or any other illegalities is not condoned nor encouraged in any way by said author. He also will not tolerate any form of plagiarism towards any of the words to come as they are his and his alone. Neither the author nor the Nifty Organization makes a profit from this, or any story, posted on their site. He does it of his own freewill.

~*~ Address any type of question and/or feedback to jc71883@hotmail.com, making sure to add a relation to the story on the subject line of the e-mail as to guarantee its reception.



Chapter Twenty-Eight

~*~ Dead Scream ~*~



It has become his staple when he is upset beyond his own capacity to throw himself so deep in his work that it is the only thing he can thing about. The incident with his father has happened almost a whole week ago and he is more upset now about it than he was at that moment. His mother Lynn has only tried calling her son a million times since then but he will not talk to her or anyone else right now. Work is what is most important. Justin is in full work mode and will not stop for anyone or anything. The last statement his father made to him protrudes in his mind and he will never get over it. Photo shoots, charity events, celebrity parties, and even golf games keeps each and every day full so that the R&B superstar does not have to think about it. Or process what his next move should be. The sentence is the only thing he is unable to get his mind off of however. No matter how much work sees him.

Even his relationship with Kobe Bryant is in a rut because neither has called the other since their fight that seemed to be ages ago now. A wayward text here and there barely keeps the pair connected but they are vague and not even worth sending. As of late, the industry has become his life and the once fun events that kept him busy such as parties and an afternoon of golf are gone now. Even they are tainted by work now and are not fun to attend. Work is everything. Another single is poised to be released at the request of the record label and Timberlake does not refuse this at all. Another interview is scheduled at the request of his publicist. Numerous photo shoots are in the works and Justin is even managing to get ad campaigns worth extreme amounts of money. This now means that commercials and even more photo shoots are in his not too distant future. There is no time to breathe or think.

The third single What Goes Around...Comes Around is already blazing radio stations across the country and there is pressure from his record company to produce a video to keep up with its hype. The song has a slight vindictive tone and Justin finds it far too easy to slip into that mindset because of where he is now in his personal life. His emotional state is in shambles and he is honestly unsure of how he is able to perform and keep up this fašade for the public as well as he has been doing for the past weeks. Nobody suspects anything. They never do when it comes to him. Even people who think they are close to him. His manager. His publicist. His agent. His managers at Jive. This makes the former N*SYNCer realizes that he is more of a celebrity now than ever before. Timberlake has finally crossed that threshold into the glamour of all the lies. The seductive lies that make it all real.

Sleep is a thing of that past for him. Justin burns the candle at both ends and has been doing it for so long that it feels like life now. Like there is no other way. It feels artificially natural to only run on chocolate bars and coffee and his own energy. Things do manage to get done with his own personal seal of approval though so at least some aspect of his tattered life is productive and not in ruin. The star does not want to think about his father and how much he hates him. He does not want to think about how Kobe completely ditched and dissed him that night they were supposed to be together. And how weak he was for giving into his sexual desires. The sparing text messages here and there are not enough. Another relationship is crumbling; it almost feels like his world is collapsing but he is too stubborn and hurt to accept all that is happening. Work is his escape. Being Justin Timberlake is saving his life.

A cold morning in Los Angeles is what he wakes up to but even that is unable to stop him. It is only a few minutes past four in the morning; he got in and went to sleep only three hours earlier. It is an early start for the second day of his video shoot. Solo shots will be today's target and Timberlake wants the day to drag on for as long as possible because he hates being in this house. The troubled star quickly brushes his teeth and does not even bother to look for something to eat as he rushes out the door. He cannot even remember the last time he had a decent meal. It has mainly been candy bars or a quick hamburger or coffee. He still refuses to take calls from his mother because, like he knew it would, her walking away from him is a great source of pain. Although she was only trying to get her ex husband back so they could work things out, the fact that neither ever came back forces Justin to relive it again.

The Sun is just setting on the west coast when the jaded superstar steps out of the set and is free. He stands by his car and waits for the Sun to completely set and darkness to blanket the sky before he gets in. His stomach is growling for real food but he wants a drink. Justin speeds home to get dressed. He does manage to fix a small salad and eat almost all of it before getting tired of the taste. His shower is long because the water crashing on his skin is a simple pleasure he cannot part with. It is weird but he is training his mind not to think while he is in the shower so he does not have to sacrifice it to deal with all the issues that plague his life. Timberlake chooses a black long sleeve Armani shirt and a pair of black casual jeans to go out in. The black shirt goes into his pants and the sleeves roll up to his elbows before he gets a pair of shoes on and leaves for the night. Justin does not want to work tonight.

Flashes burn his retinas and people are clawing all over one another to see him and get an autograph as well as their own personal pictures but he quickly ushers himself into the celebrity hotspot Area in downtown Los Angeles. Inside is as packed as outside as he navigates through all the people to get to the safety of the VIP section. Justin needs a drink badly and nothing is going to stop him from getting one. He will not drink to get drunk though, although the temptation has been there for weeks now. To drink it all away. He has never considered himself an addictive person, when it comes to substances anyway but he has been enticed by it more and more. Once behind the rope of the prestigious VIP section of Area, Timberlake heads to the bar and orders a drink right away. He is in his own world and could care less about the people around him. When a blonde walks up to him, he hardly takes notice.

"Hey bud," the heartthrob Chad Michael Murray greets him from behind.

"Chad---hey man," he smiles as the actor grabs a seat next to him. "It's been a while---"

"I know. A Heineken my good man," Murray addresses the passing bartender. "What's up with you?"

"Work and stuff. You know me---"

"Yeah," he looks at Justin. "Why are your eyes so red?"

"I don't know---I haven't been sleeping much---"

"Is everything okay?"

Timberlake quickly snaps back, "I wish everyone would stop asking me that! Damn!"

"Okay Justin."

"I'm fine."

"You don't look fine," the now worried Murray shortly responds shortly.

"Well I am."

Awkwardness and tension is now between them and Chad is really starting to worry about his friend. Justin looks like he has not been sleeping at all and his face looks thinner and gaunter than he remembered the last time and his eyes are a scary shade of red. Almost like raw blood. The only part of him that looks put together is his clothing; his short hair is even unkempt and out of place. Something is definitely wrong and by the looks of it, something serious. But he obviously has many walls and boundaries up so getting information from his will be hard. The young actor cannot push too hard because he does not want to scare Timberlake away but his nerves are killing him with worry and sadness. He would like to think that they have become close throughout their relationship but this situation makes Murray feel otherwise. He cannot stop looking at his obviously troubled friend in the club.

"Why are you looking at me so hard?" Timberlake faces him as his finger swirls on the tip of his glass.

"I'm not---"

"What do you want to say?"

Chad continues looking until, "You're different. You've changed."

"I don't feel different. Is that what you wanted to say?"

"Justin what's going on?" he tries not to sound redundant but it is hard.

"I don't know what you're talking about," the former boybander is cold and uncaring now.

"How much have you had to drink?"

"Look Chad---what's up with all the questions? Are you a reporter now?"

Tension and annoyance is replaced by the awkwardness from before and the hunky actor does not know what to do or to say to get the answers he needs. Justin is clearly different from before and he wonders what has changed or what happened to take the sweet and caring guy away and leave this short-tempered and disturbed one in its place. He finishes the beer and refuses to order another one because his mind is distracted and he feels cold. Even though they are in a club and the music is blasting everywhere, Chad cannot hear anything. Timberlake's sky blue eyes feel like they are looking through him and there is no warmness there. Only frigid and frightful cold. He feels uncomfortable. He wants to leave but he also wants to stay to see if he can get anywhere at all. It is a hopeless cause because the R&B singer has truly changed. But Murray is neither unable nor unwilling to give up on his friend.

"I want to help you," the One Tree Hill actor risks once again, being careful not to form any more questions in his mind even though every thought is a question.

"Help me---with what? I'm fine," he cynically responds.

"Justin---please talk to me. If not here then we can go somewhere else and talk."

"There's nothing to talk about friend. So we don't need to go anywhere---"

Murray tries a different approach with, "I hear you're shooting your next music video."


"Are you almost done?" he slips up but Justin does not seem to notice.

"It should be---I guess."

"That's good. You're working harder than me these days---"

Timberlake smirks, "If you say so. I'm gone. Busy day tomorrow---you know---"

"Oh---okay. Take care of yourself Ju---"

"Sure," the singing megastar superimposes.

He reaches into his pocket and rests a hundred dollar bill under the glass he was just drinking from for the bartender. Abruptly, the former member of N*SYNC jumps off the stool and does not even bother to make eye contact with his blonde friend again before he weaves out and around the masses of people to get out of Area. Annoyance is written on his face and his brain does not even remember the conversation with Chad Michael Murray. It is trying to block out all his negative actions ad stunts to keep him from going insane. The valet retrieves his car and he gets in and speeds away, not knowing where to go next. The alcohol provides Justin with a little more energy than before and he does not want to go back home. Timberlake instead drives through the chilly city to nowhere in particular. Maybe he will get lost and no one will ever find him again. Maybe that is the answer.

It is nearly three in the morning and Justin Timberlake is still driving around on California roads as if he is lost but with no such fortune. His body is now begging him for sleep as the ever so slight buzz from the alcohol is long gone but he is torturing himself by remaining awake and driving in his drowsy condition. He hates his father for what he did and said. Something a father should never say to a son. He grows more and more impatient with the basketballer Kobe Bryant as the days go by. The pair has not spoken to each other since the fight. Their relationship is hanging on by a thin thread. But Bryant has tried to call him on several occasions as of late and Justin is either honestly too busy to answer the call or his stubbornness forbids him from doing it. The lack of rest and positive emotions are taking a dangerous toll on the young star. He is getting far too caught up in his celebrity persona.

Timberlake is speeding home because he has finally given up for the night. He refuses to look in the mirror because his eyes are bloodshot and he is not even drunk. The mirror will reflect someone he does not know so he denies the reflection that satisfaction. His cell phone comes to life and he carelessly reaches into his pants for it while only one hand is on the wheel and he is driving as fast as he is. The small screen on the front of the device is lit displaying the name Kobe. Justin is skeptical to answer it so he just tosses the electronic device on his passenger seat. It becomes dead after connections fails and silence becomes prominent again. Justin will never see how immature he is acting right now; how immature he has been acting for the past weeks. His fight with Kobe and then the combination of his father's actions is a dangerous mixture and he is the only one suffering. The phone vibrates.

Please call me baby. I'm worried about you and I miss you. ľKB


He has not forgiven anyone and his self-destructive behavior continues to unfold without anyone have a clue about it or what is truly going on. To his manager, publicist, and agents his new unforgiving work schedule is making money so they do not take it into consideration too much about his bad habits. Time is money. One of the only few people that knows he is in trouble is Chad Michael Murray but they have not seen each other since that night at Area. Bryant senses something is wrong too but he will not give the baller the pleasure of a phone call. Justin thinks he wants to make his boyfriend suffer but it is the deprivation of his life that is making him think and act out all these disparaging thoughts. California is being painted red by him though and if his name was not on the tip of everyone's tongue before, it definitely is now. Timberlake has not had a full night of sleep in weeks.

The new video for What Goes Around...Comes Around is a critical success of course and he is applauded for making it more movie-like. He can also tap into Scarlett Johansson's fan base, seeing as she is in the video with him. It is a success just like the rest of his singles so far. They are all fighting with each other for the top spot. It is getting colder as Christmas approaches hastily and his mother Lynn has only been calling him every day to talk. He has nothing to say to anyone. Being betrayed by his father is something he has to learn how to live with again. But the former boybander will put it off as long as he wants to. Emotions only get in the way. Justin is surprised he has enough energy to tackle his day because he truly did not get any sleep last night. His day is full but there is an event specially planned for tonight. His manager scheduled him for a free concert at a Los Angeles hotspot. It will be fun.

Justin navigates through his day without much rest and food and his body seems to be getting use to the dangerous habits he is indulging in. Getting used to the neglect and not having their internal signals obeyed. Work is his life now and he makes a short break in the middle of his day to go to the gym. He has to look good for his show tonight. The few hours at the gym are intense because the star pushes himself harder than he ever has before. Running becomes addicting because it feels like he is running from his problems and it serves as protection for his battered soul. He sweats away energy he never had but he feels good as the adrenaline is feeding his body something far more powerful than energy. The adrenaline is his only high and escape from it all. It is better than food. Timberlake showers and changes quickly at the gym because he has a minor stop before having to be at the club.

An orangey mass in the sky sets below the Hollywood Hills and street lights come on like clockwork to guide everyone to where they need to be. No lights will ever be a problem in this city or most that he visits because something is always going on. After the charity event, the R&B superstar poses for some final pictures before he is ushered out of the venue and rushed to the next set. The only chance he gets to breathe is on the trip to the club which is across town but he hardly relaxes. Cell phone calls and text messages take up all his time and it is his entire fault. Timberlake's stubbornness and refusal to accept anything is destroying him. His refusal to sit down and cope with his emotions. The driver steers the car to a back alley and Justin enters the club through the back because everything is a surprise. Loud music immediately fills his drums as he walks hallways to get to his dressing room.

The makeshift dressing room, which is the club owner's office, is large and well-decorated. He meets with some members of the staff and they all do whatever they can to make him comfortable and also get his performance off the ground when he hits the stage later. While in the room, Justin tries to calm his aching nerves by breathing in deeply and closing his eyes. It is extra insurance that he will put on a great show and have as much fun with it as he hopes his fans will. The space is his own because he banished everyone so he could be alone to think and mentally prepare himself for his set out there. Timberlake quickly uses the bathroom and strips out of everything but his boxers to get himself ready. He will get himself ready today rather than having an overly large entourage doing it. The singing star is pulling up a pair of black jeans over his boxers when someone knocks at the door and enters.

"Mr. Timberlake---how is everything---" the club owner Niklas Armstrong enters his office but stops immediately. "Oh I'm sorry."

He smiles that signature smile of his, "Justin---and it's okay."

"I knew my office was going to be used as a dressing room but I didn't think it would be so literal---" he laughs and muses at the situation.

"I'm almost done---"

"Would you like me to come back?"

"No---I don't want to kick you out of your office. I just need to get my shirt," Justin assures as he reaches for a t-shirt to cover his naked torso.

"Okay then. I'm Niklas Armstrong by the way."

The two men shake hands after Timberlake manages to slip the shirt over his perfect upper body and smile again. The club owner informs him that everything is prepared for him to take the stage and also how he suspects that none of the clubs patrons knows what is about to happen. Armstrong is extremely debonair in his looks and attitude. He seems to be in his early thirties with jet black hair and brilliant blue eyes. His physique is trim and it fills out his suit to a tee. He sits on a nearby sofa as they continue to talk. Justin walks around the large space partly to calm his nerves but to all see if he is missing anything before the show. He does not even feel it yet but he will. This is supposed to be his time alone to warm up but the singer looks past it to continue talking to the owner of the office he just got dressed in. Nerves may subside that way and maybe he will forget what a mess his insides are.

"This is a nice spot you have Mr. Armstrong---" he comments as he warms his lungs up.

"Niklas---please. We are on a first name bases after all aren't we Justin?"

"I guess we are."

"Thank you. Thank you for agreeing to do this," Armstrong is polite and sincere.

"You're welcome. It's time to make all these other clubs jealous."

"Your fans will love it. I'll walk you to the main stage."

"Okay," the former N*SYNCer agrees after looking back to see if he has missed anything.

"Are you ready?"


He opens the door and Justin walks out and he follows. His heart has accelerated and is beating slightly faster than normal and it suddenly feels like a huge relief is lifted from his shoulders. It almost feels like an epiphany but it will never be that easy. His mind has simply trained itself to release all problems and stressors in the few precious moments before any performance. Good nerves are now flooding his blood and mixing with adrenaline as he walks to the set to perform a few new songs from his smash album. The music is loud and he reaches the final stop on his destination before actually stepping foot on the stage. A few tech guys surround the famous singer and outfit him with all the equipment he needs to produce sound. Justin clips the big mic box on his belt encircling his waist; the device hovers just there while cords run up the length of his back to reach his ear and the earpiece.

A quick sound check assures everyone backstage that he is ready to go on. A hat flipped backwards completes the look. Justin Timberlake steps behind curtains that will soon be drawn and everyone on the other side can see his silhouette. The club is completely quiet and its patrons look on in bewilderment and excitement as to what is about to happen next. To keep them in suspense just a second longer, the performance will start out with his newly released song. The music starts and it is only moments before screams are heard even with the curtains still cloaking his presence. All the club goers must have figured it out though so the charade is up. The curtains finally pull to either side of the stage and Timberlake steps out to be greeted by a sudden rush of energy and craze. He hears screams and he only smiles and waits for his cue. The surprise is a complete success as all the attention is on him.

Everyone is excited and dancing immediately as he starts his first of three performances of the night. He looks out into the crowd to see people fumbling with their cameras, digital ones and cell phones alike, to capture the moment in their reality. To show proof that this surprise concert is happening and they were there to witness it. The singer stops at the very edge of the elevated stage to reach out and touch his fans. They grab at his hand like it is money or jewels and scream only more. They love it. He sounds great and he looks great so the final product is stellar with everyone. The added energy from the sea of people keeps him sustained and he looks up onto the second floor of the club to see Niklas Armstrong observing him as well as the crowd's reaction to him. Their eyes only connect for a few moments. It is eerie but motivating all the same so Timberlake continues to do what he does best.

The pictures do not stop and his voice only gets better the more it is strained. He is surprised that most of the crowd is singing along with the new song. They know the lyrics already. Sweat already forms on his forehead and the very back of his neck. The tiny beads slip down his alabaster skin as he continues to perform for his fans. His hands feel warm. The conclusion of What Goes Around...Comes Around causes an eruption of applause but it is immediately silence by the beat to the second song: My Love. Justin knows everyone's eyes are on him and he does not disappoint anyone. The crowd, of course, sings along word for word along with him and he even points the mic to their direction as it goes on. T.I. is not here with him of course so he will just mingle with the fans as the rappers voice fills the club for his verse. It will be a smooth transition and like it will be if and when he goes out on tour.

The former boybander finishes his second set and everything seems to be going well on the exterior. Everyone is engrossed in him and perhaps it is all the attention but it has never been like this before. They all burst into a fit of hysteria when the notorious beat for SexyBack pulsates over the speakers and the singing star simply waits for his cue to begin. Movement is not like it once was as he stays in the middle of the stage and stares out into the oblivion that is becoming darker. The crowd's energy is at an all-time high. Justin starts to sing and even his voice sounds different now. A brush of heart swarms his face and he is hot and it is only isolated for a few seconds before it spreads like wildfire. His body feels like it is burning up and the R&B star can no longer make out the fans towards the back. Everything is darker, even for a club setting and his brain seems to be malfunctioning.

Timberlake gets into the first verse and allows the recorded track of his voice to take control because something is wrong. His body temperature alone is cause for panic and his face feels hot. Vision becomes narrower, blurrier, and incoherent as the own sound of his voice is being drowned out by nothingness. Only the first few rows of the crowd noticed how rigid the former N*SYNCer becomes with the performance though most dismiss it as part of the act. However, once the chorus is over and the lead-in is missed, Niklas Armstrong gets up from his balcony seat to see if a technical glitch has occurred. Justin instead feels a tightening sensation in his chest and his vision is completely blackened now. The stressed out megastar unknowingly drops his mic on the stage floor as his eyes rolls to the back of his head. He falls to his knees hard and then hunches over to the side without so much as a sound.

Armstrong immediately hops out of his seat and orders all of his large bodyguards to follow him down from to box to the set where the singer lays unconscious. The crowd goes wild with female screams and loud questions of confusion and pleas for help. Two tech managers immediately step on the stage to try and prevent the crowd from hopping onstage to help the fallen Timberlake and the pair of them keeps the masses at bay until reinforcement arrives in the form of more bodyguards. A call has already been placed to emergency rescue but the club owner personally calls again as he races to Justin's side. The human barrier manages to keep the stage clear when he arrives with a few members from his staff. Upon touching him, Niklas feels his burning skin and that his breathing is dangerously low for anything to survive. They are all panicked and he is nonresponsive on the floor.

Justin is not making any sound and his heart rate is plummeting into a bottomless abyss. An employee offers to move him from the sight of everyone but Niklas vetoes the final decision in the fear that it may disrupt something and make the situation much worse. He instead instructs some of his staffers to retrieve a set of makeshift curtains from backstage so everyone will stop taking pictures and to close the front curtains. He cannot be seen like this. Everyone scrambles quickly and only sounds in the club are from partygoers grasping for pictures or voicing their concerns. The security team stays in place to control the crowd while the new curtains block everyone's sight of the stage. His eyes do not flutter or move and another assistant returns from the owner's office with a pillow. He gently lifts Timberlake's head from the stage floor and rests a pillow under it for some type of support. No response.

"Where the hell is the ambulance?" Armstrong screams to no one in particular.

"They're on the way sir," someone he does not immediately see replies to his frantic question.

"He's burning up and barely breathing---"

He has never heard his club fall this silent before and it is an eerie sensation to say the least. He continues to sit on the floor next to the fallen celebrity as members of his staff look on in shock or fright or even confusion. He has to be strong for all of them so he orders everyone to remain calm and go back to what they are supposed to be doing with the exception of a select few people. They will help him secure Justin and make this as easy as possible. Armstrong is getting more worried as the seconds tear by and no paramedical team is invading his club to save this man. He orders one of his most trusted assistants to stay at Timberlake's side while he steps away. Emerging from the new curtains, he informs his head security team to stay in place and gives clearance to relieve anyone who causes any problems. Niklas walks to his office and slams the door behind him. He retrieves his cell phone and dials.

"911 what is your emergency?" an operator comes on the phone.

"This is the second call I'm making---" he tries to remain calm. "I need an ambulance right now!"

"Okay sir---please calm down and tell me what is happening."

"I need an ambulance. A performer has collapsed on my stage---"

"Okay. Are you anywhere near to the person who collapsed sir?" she immediately asks.

"No. His skin is burning and he is hardly breathing---"

"Is there a pulse at all?"

He loses it, "Get the damn ambulance here!"

Frustrated and more upset than anything else, he slaps his cell phone shut and a knock comes at his door. The assistant appears upon request and informs him that the paramedics have arrived. They both scurry out of the office and back to the stage to see what is going on. Once there they see a total of four men; two tending to Justin while the other two set up a stretcher. One of them orders everyone to back up but Niklas walks forward to see if everything is okay. His face looks so pale and he has not recovered consciousness as yet and everyone around is scared. They hook an IV into one of his forearms while another feeds him pure oxygen through a pump. He does not look good. His eyes flutter; it is a spasm though as two of the paramedics pick him up and places him on the stretcher. Once Timberlake is strapped in securely they wheel him out through the back of the club.


Charging through his opponents, Kobe Bryant runs the ball to score two points for his team as the game is officially starting. The crowd roars for him and feels far too good to refuse. The first bead of sweat glistens down his perfect brown skin as cameras follow his every move and flashes become as much a part of the game as the orange ball. Coaches on the sidelines pay special attention to the game because losing is not an option. The Lakers' season is great but they want it to be better and even the players are agitated that they are not playing at their best. He is secure with his game because he is forced to be but Justin has been on his mind ever since that night. Even when he is spending time with Vanessa. It is his guilt alone but he enjoys spending time with the singer more so than his girlfriend. So them not talking or seeing each other in weeks has the baller feeling desperate.

Bryant's arm is in playing condition, or so the doctors say but he does not feel it. Most of the pain is gone but it is still a strain and he is still in rehabilitation for it. Granted, it is the last few stages of the treatment but he is supposed to keep his wrist in a simple brace whenever he is not playing with it. It is to make sure everything remains healthy but it should be gone soon. It usually pains a little when a teammate passes the ball to him and he uses his injured hand to retrieve it, which he should not do, but the pain is not substantial enough for him to stop the game. Everyone seems to have forgotten about his arm. It is, of course, not their job to worry about the basketballer but it would be nice if they did. Since he is off the antibiotics and painkillers, he is back on the steroids. Shooting back for the first time is bittersweet because Kobe knows why he does it but he also knows how much Justin hates it.

His head has to be in the game though, no matter how much his heart wants Timberlake. He does not like playing games too late into the night but it must be done. It is his career after all. The Staples Center is crowded with talk and cheers and buzzers as the game gets going to find a winner. Bryant concentrates more and more as the steroids pollute his cardiovascular system to make him unstoppable. Still, no one knows anything but it is a risk as always. He could lose everything if things were to ever get out of hand but his na´vetÚ just might be that downfall. It feels good though so he refuses to give it up. They help him forget so it has become a staple. Kobe drives the ball and his now sweaty body straight into a trap but he manages to elude it. The baller sidesteps his competition and jumps for the shot but it is smacked out of his hand. The ball crosses the line and into out of bounds.

"Time---" one of the Lakers' coaches throws one of his hands in the air in pure frustration.

The teams separate and all walk off the court as the fans eagerly look on to see what will happen next. Sometimes the sideline and antics are more entertaining than the game itself. The Lakers huddle together and get drinks and towels to wipe their damp skin before preparing to listen to what is going to be said. It is clearly obvious that this time away from the game is not for the players to rest because coaches immediately begin to bombard their players with commands and trades to make their game run smoothly. Kobe sits at the edge of the bench and pays no attention to anything as he squirts water into his mouth. A towel is around his neck and he closes his eyes to try and calm his heart slightly. Of course, the camera follows and stays on him throughout his entire stay on the sidelines. It can be annoying at times but he just has to focus on his skills on the court. Everything else is trivial at this point.

"Bryant front and center!" the head coach gets the baller's attention for a personal session.

"Yeah coach?" Kobe asks, already knowing what he is going to hear.

"Bryant---what the fuck is wrong with you son?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why are you holding the ball?"

"We're winning coach---"

"That's not the fucking point! Pass the ball Kobe. Pass the damn ball!"

"I'll try," he says, irritated.

"Don't try---do it!"

It is the same thing over and over. He misses a shot without passing the ball and everyone jumps on him. It would be different if he made the shot they all know it. Bryant listens to the words because the team is already frustrated with him; it is not something unknown to anyone. Even the media has picked up on him and what they call his ability to dominate the ball. It is annoying but he does not care right now. He just wants the game to be over already so it will stop for at least a little while. It is of course the baskerballer's passion but all the media attention on everything else besides the game is disheartening and a nuisance. It is his time and he is in the zone so it is hard to change his game plan now. It is how he has been playing since he first entered the league. There is another time out but it is from the other side. He returns to the same spot with another bottle of water in his hand.

Kobe sits away from his teammates again and closes his eyes to focus on his game. The negativity should not be getting to him but it is. It does start taking a toll after a while. This game is different than any other before because his mind is somewhere else. His breaths calms down slightly during the break and he tries to refocus on his priorities but nothing is helping him. His mind is stubbornly avoiding the task at hand which is to win the game and give it his all. He is honest with himself in admitting that the steroids are the only reason he is doing well is this game. They are, essentially carrying the Los Angeles Lakers to victory in this battle. It is the first time since the baller has been on the drugs that he has had to actually depend on them to get him through a game. Something is wrong with him and sapping away all his concentration and focus. A whistle blows to signify gameplay again.

The game resumes with the clock slowly ticking down to end the first quarter. It is as before with Bryant keeping the ball to himself and only scoring a portion of the time. His head feels skewered and out of place with the rest of his body. His coaches look at him in anger and frustration because he refuses to cooperate and rely on the team that surrounds him. It is a pattern. A selfish pattern that seemingly no one can break. He refuses to lean on Justin whenever he has a problem to deal with and they fight about it. Kobe is too independent and will never ask for help, even when it is clear that he needs it. This is why he and his boyfriend keep fighting. He cannot change it or himself though; it is the only thing he knows. The issues are seeded deep within him and abandonment keeps it resentfully open and active. The steroids will carry him to victory this time but they will all think it is his game.

All eyes seem to be on him and every move he makes down the court of the Staples Center but he is barely aware of it. This is his worst game in professional basketball history although he is the only one to realize how bad it is because he is the only one inside his troubled head. It has come on almost all of a sudden to disrupt him and he does not want to play in the game anymore. Kobe's attempt to relax proves to be futile and he is so far consumed in his jaded mind that he does not even know the score of the game. The teammates are not as riled up as they would be if they were losing so that tells him what is going on in terms of the score. He can be absent from the match and still win, as proven by the drugs floating through his veins. It is the end of the first quarter of the game and both teams return for a short breather before they begin again. The shooting guard wants to go home. To be by himself.

"I see nothing has changed son," yet another coach approaches him and states.

"---I'm trying," he apathetically answers as he walks away.

"I don't know what to tell you---you don't listen to anyone Bryant."

"I said I'm trying coach---what more do you want?"

"You're not trying. How long have we been telling you that this is a team and not the Kobe Bryant show!" his coach tries his best not to lose his anger.

"I'm trying my best out there coach---" Kobe is visibly annoyed.

"I'm not trying to tell you what to do son---I'm just here to win a game."

"Me too---"

"Then act like it and start playing strategically."

His stubborn behavior allows him to hear the criticism but not to absorb it and make changes. It is something he definitely has to change but all the stress and problems in his personal life is sapping away everything he is. And his will to be a team player and play support to the other members of the Los Angeles Lakers. Both lives he is leading are becoming more and more entwined with each passing second no matter how hard the shooting guard tries to keep them separate. It is part of his reckless gameplay and attitude on the court today. Also, he misses Timberlake. Misses them talking or just hanging out with one another. And lying to Vanessa is on his consciousness. He does not deserve her or her love. Justin does not deserve this. There is something wrong with him. This is his punishment in life. He is torn between two people he really cares for and it is now starting to catch up with him.

The basketball superstar fastens his laces tightly to his shoe because they got loose before he is signaled back on the court for the second quarter of the game. There is still technically three quarters left and he wants it over already. His heart is racing and poisoning blood rushes through his veins to try and carry him to victory since his mind is so absent from the game. To silence everyone, Kobe passes the ball his first time since beginning the game and the pressure is off him. A teammate pats him on the butt for the great play as they are running up to defend their hoop from invasion of the large orange globe. He does not get turned on by it. He has found some of his teammates or even adversaries attractive or charming in the past but he would never even ponder trying anything. Strangely enough, athletes do not seem to have his interest. And there is definitely irony in his feelings towards his peers.

But then again, Kobe never thought he would fall for someone like Justin. He is so innocent and pure but he is also tough and protective when he needs to be. A rare combination that works so well for him and makes him even more attractive and alluring than he physically is. The singer is unlike anyone he has ever met before and it feels strange but scary too. It is throwing his focus off the game even more because he feels something different and dangerous deep inside. To get the cameras out of his face, the basketball superstar keeps passing the ball to his teammates; sometimes they are not even open or ready to receive it. The distraction manages to get him through most of the quarter. He was more aware in the last quarter than he is in this one. As time goes by, his mind drifts further and further away from his body, only leaving a small inventory of repetitive moves to keep up the charade.

When the buzzer sounds to signify the end of the quarter, it brings his mind that much closer to his body and everyone clears the court almost immediately. The players are always given the option to go back to the locker room or simply stay on the sidelines and Bryant decides on the latter. He knows that if he steps inside the locker room he will want to gather up his stuff and leave because today is not his day. This is not his game. A few of his teammates stay on the bench with him as they all watch their cheerleaders perform to rev up the crowd. The giant scoreboard above is transformed into a large television on all four of its sides and a local news program is blasting for everyone to hear. A male's voice fills the crowded stadium and Kobe does not pay much attention to it as a couple of his teammates are talking to him and he is listening but feels little emotion. It is like he is only a shell.

The voice booms on with, "On to breaking news just coming in now. Singer Justin Timberlake has just been rushed to an area hospital after collapsing on stage. Sources say he collapsed while singing one of his hit songs on stage at a downtown Los Angeles nightclub and was ambulanced to the hospital a short time later. There is no further word on his condition at this moment."

Kobe Bryant looks up at one of the giant screens and the words enter his ears and torment his brain. He suddenly feels as if he is paralyzed and cannot move as he simply stares at the scoreboard hoping more information will come back on the situation. But nothing does. The anchor has already moved on like he does not care about the singer or what is going on with him. He cannot even think straight and all the noise of the sports arena drowns out and subsides to the baller's fears. The cheerleaders are not dancing and his teammates are not taking to him and each other on their break from the game. Nothing is happening and he is tossed in a black hole to be by himself. Kobe is finally able to be by himself. He has to go. He cannot stay here, especially now and after this. Justin means a lot to him and he does not want him there alone. The Los Angeles Laker's mind is burning with questions and worry.

He gets up and of course the cameras follow him and he answers none of the questions from reporters when he makes his way to the locker room. It is annoying that the media is allowed on the court during halftime. Kobe walks down the steps and disappears behind two heavy metal doors to hear a whole new set of interaction. Players are talking on their phones, talking to various coaches or seeing any number of physical therapists the locker room boasts in order to be prepared for the second half of the game. They can get their muscles massaged and relaxed if they are tense to hopefully have a better second half of the game. Few notice his entrance but he walks to his locker to retrieve his phone. Justin would have called him or left him a text saying that he is okay and should not feel this way. Scared and lonely. There is nothing. There are no missed calls or unread text messages or unheard voicemails.

"Bryant," a voice thunders behind him.

"Coach---" the stressed out basketballer addresses without turning around or leaving his phone.

"What's going on with your game? You're not concentrating or---" he asks but it is not judgmental or condescending in any way.

"---I don't know coach---" Bryant's voice is soft and distracted.

"Look at me son---" his coach requests and Kobe turns around. "What's wrong?"

"I---need to go coach---"

"What---go where?"

"To the hospital. Something happened and I have to go."

"Is everything okay? Is it Vanessa? Is she alright?"

The taller man looks up and remains silent until, "Yes. She's in the hospital coach," he lies.

He ironically uses Vanessa as his crutch instead of his wrist because he knows that this will get the job done. If it were his wrist then they would want him to have it checked out here rather than excusing him to go to the hospital. Having his girlfriend in the hospital is his ticket to see Justin, as messed up as it sounds. He will deal with the consequences of smearing his girlfriend's name on his own time but having the singer in the hospital and him being here does not feel right. Bryant knows he will not be able to concentrate at all now when he does not know what is going on right now. Or even how his boyfriend is. Getting out of here is the only priority on his mind; some unforeseen force is making the baller stake his reputation and this game to get to where something wants him to badly be. It is confusing but the path cut before him is clear. If that even makes sense. And he will not stay here.

"I'm sorry son but you know it's against the rules to leave a game---" he easily comes out and states.

"I don't give a damn about the rules coach---someone I care about is in the hospital and I have to go," Kobe makes sure to keep his voice in check.

"The team needs you Bryant! You can't leave. It's against---"

"I'm not going back out there coach. Fine me or do whatever you have to do but I'm leaving now!"

Their voices are slightly escalated now and other players around them start to take notice of their conversation. Kobe feels all eyes are on him now and he hates it because he does not want anyone knowing his business. He cares less about the fine or other consequences that will happen to him if he leaves the game but he will not abandon Justin now. They need each other and the basketballer will not let that feeling torture him any longer. He zips up his duffel back and takes it out of his locker before slamming the metal door shut. Eyes follow his every move when he places the singular strap of the duffel bag over his muscular and sweaty shoulder and grips his phone tightly in his hand. More coaches are involved now in trying to talk him out of leaving the game and arena but he hears nothing and his mind only isolates one memory: Justin Timberlake. Deep down, it is the right thing to do.

The locker room door slams shut behind him as he can hear echoes of fans screaming and having a good time in the stands above him. They will not get the chance to see him perform anymore tonight but it is not like it was the beginning of one of his better games. His mind is heavy with words and thoughts as he attempts to sneak past everyone to escape without being bombarded with questions. Vanessa cannot know about this but it will only be a matter of time before he is figured out. Kobe will cross that bridge when he gets to it. The more both his lives tangle together, the more bridges he has to cross and sometimes even burn. It is hard and he is more confused now than he ever has been. Bryant tosses the bag in the trunk of one of his Lamborghinis and gets in to go to the unknown. Justin has to be okay. He just has to be. Fate would not be so cruel to him. To them.