Joey vacillated from anger to hurt to deep resentment and back again. He was angry with everyone for what happened, he was hurt that he had upset me the way he had, and he resented Chris for dreaming up the whole scheme in the first place. He was so mixed up he couldn't think clearly. The ghost was right, he thought. I betrayed Will's trust and now I've probably lost him for good. He placed a hand on his head and rubbed his temples as he felt a headache start to form.
Deciding what he needed was some fresh air, he walked outside to the parking lot. He arbitrarily scanned it, if for no other reason than to figure out where exactly he was, when he spotted my car still parked at the far end of the building. At first, he debated whether or not he should try to talk to me, in part for fear of getting his head bitten off, and in part because he didn't have an explanation for this whole mess that sounded very good. There was no way he could defend himself, for he had played his own part in the entire debacle. Even though he had tried to short-circuit the plan by destroying what he thought was the only copy of the tape, he realized he should have told me what was happening then instead of praying the whole thing would go away by itself. Joey, you are such an idiot, he thought, but you are going to make this right. Looking wistfully in the direction of my car, he gritted his teeth, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. He'll listen to me. I'll make him listen to me if it's the last thing I do.
He approached my car with slight trepidation. Half of him prayed I wouldn't be there, which meant no possibility of an altercation, while the other half prayed I would be there and would be receptive to listening to him. When he was finally close enough to see inside, he realized I was there. Taking another deep breath, he made up his mind and approached. He stood outside and stared at me for a couple of minutes. When I didn't look at him, he knocked on the window.
I was rather lost in my own little world, so the first time he knocked didn't even register to my brain. Usually I am more perceptive than that, and on a normal day I would have known Joey was coming before I could see him. This time, I was blocking everything around me. It was as if some part of me believed that if I shut out the world around me, I might wake up and discover it was all a dream. Joey knocked again, a little harder and louder this time, and I still didn't notice. Getting frustrated, Joey, who thought I was ignoring him, opened the passenger door, which I had stupidly left unlocked, and sat down in the seat next to me. At that point I couldn't block his presence any longer, so I slowly turned my head and stared at him, showcasing my tear-streaked face and puffy eyes. I wanted to grab him, hold him against me, and apologize for acting like such an idiot over something so stupid, but my pride and arrogance took over as my face turned stony. Jerking my head away, I stared forward and said icily, "What do you want?"
He was dumbstruck by my coldness. I suppose he probably should have expected it, but it hurt him nonetheless. Overcoming his nerves, he finally found the courage to speak. "Will, I don't know where to begin..." he said as he went to place his hand on my knee.
I blocked his advance in mid-air. "Don't touch me, Mr. Fatone." It may have been eighty degrees outside, but the temperature in the car easily went down forty degrees as my chilly demeanor lashed out.
"Mr. Fatone?" Joey said with a nervous laugh. "When did I become Mr. Fatone?"
"The minute you went behind my back and plotted against me. More precisely, the minute I found out about it." Joey remained silent. I looked at my watch and noted it was a little after 11:30. "Now, if you will excuse me, I have a dance class to go to, and I am currently running late. If you would kindly let yourself out," I said, motioning to the door.
"But Will, we need to talk. This is important," Joey pleaded.
"I can't sit and wait. Now either get out or put your seatbelt on!" I barked as I started the car.
"Will, I..." Joey began, but I cut him off.
"Five seconds, Mr. Fatone. IN OR OUT?" Joey sighed and reached behind him to grab the seatbelt. Once I heard it click into place, I threw the car into gear and drove out of the parking lot. As we passed the door entrance, I saw Jerrica and the other guys standing on the sidewalk. Just the sheer sight of them riled me up as I felt waves of anger coursing through my veins. Joey's presence wasn't helping any, but there was nothing I could do about that. I had just created that problem all by myself.
I navigated the Saturn through the hustle of downtown Baltimore at lunchtime. While the world was loud and noisy outside, inside the car the silence was deafening. I refused to look at or speak to Joey. Every moment I felt the urge to start forgiving him, the magnitude of what occurred hit me and I began to get angry. After mentally cursing about forty people to painful deaths due to driving stupidity, I finally reached the JFX and began heading north to my class in York. As we reached the city/county line, the silence started to irritate me. As calmly as I could manage, I said, "So, you wanted to talk? Talk."
Joey was staring out the window, watching the world go by. After a few moments, he said quietly, "I don't like you like this, Will. This isn't you. I don't know who it is, but this isn't the Will I know."
The comment struck me as funny. "Maybe you don't know me as well as you think."
"I think I know you better than you would believe."
"Well, Mr. Fatone, if you know me so well, then why didn't you see this little episode coming then? Did you honestly think for one second that after being tricked by people I thought cared about me, I would turn around and say, 'Oh, yes, please do whatever you want with my life?' Did you think I would say that, especially after I told you numerous times I didn't want to do this?"
"Will, it wasn't supposed to happen this way. In fact, it shouldn't have happened at all."
"Well, at least you and I now agree on something." I was still seeing red, but it was slowly fading into shades of pink. "I'm assuming that there is an apology buried somewhere in these explanations and excuses?"
Joey looked over at me and then burst into tears. "I'm so sorry Will. I am. I really am. I tried to stop it, honest I did. I didn't know that Chris had a second tape. I thought there was only the copy I destroyed. I didn't know anything about the meeting with Johnny or the setup this morning. Please believe me Will. I would never do anything intentionally to hurt you. I... I... I love you too much for that. Please forgive me Will. Please?"
I was only half-listening to Joey babble, but the important parts rang clearly through my head. Suddenly, a whole lot of things made sense. The fight between Chris and Joey over the tape. The push by Chris to get the two of us away from everyone else the day before. The way Joey tried to intervene when I didn't want to sing earlier. The angry look on his face when Johnny mentioned the tape. It all made perfect sense, and I suddenly felt like a major heel.
Looking over my shoulder and seeing a clear highway, I jerked the car across three lanes and pulled onto the shoulder. I put the car in park, turned off the engine, and got out. Slamming the door behind me, I walked to the back of the car and hoisted myself onto the trunk. I began to cry as I realized how incredibly stupid I had been. I couldn't believe Joey followed me, after all the nasty things I said. As I hung my head in shame, I heard Joey get out of the car, walk back to where I was sitting, and hoist himself onto the trunk next to me.
"You probably shouldn't be doing this," I said. "Heaven forbid some fan recognizes you trying to comfort me on the back of my car on the side of the freeway."
"Don't care," he replied. "Screw them all. Right now, the only thing that matters is you and I figuring out how to fix this."
"I don't think we can," I said quietly, which caused Joey's eyes to grow wide.
"What are you saying Will? Are you...saying you want to break up with me?"
I shook my head. "No. I'm saying I'm giving you the chance to let go of me before I really hurt you. I've done enough damage as it is, and I can't permit myself to inflict you with any more hurt or pain."
Joey looked surprised. "You? What have you done? You were upset. That's understandable. I was too. I was so mad I hit Chris..."
My head shot up from its place in my hands. "You did what?"
"I, uh, hit Chris. Socked him in the jaw. Also told them if we couldn't make things right I'd, um, quit."
"Damn! Now I've really gone and done it." I hopped off the car and turned to face him eye to eye. "Joey, get rid of me. I'm not worth causing any rifts in your group, or even worse, splitting you up. You've only known me for four days. You've known them for years! Take my advice, just this once. Drop me like a rock and forget you ever met me. In the end, you'll thank me for it."
"Fuck no!" Joey exclaimed. "You didn't cause this mess, they did. You didn't ask them to tape you. You didn't ask them to trick you. You didn't ask them to do any of this. How is any of this your fault?"
"It just is. It always is." I looked down at my feet as a thought occurred to me. "That fight the other night between you and Chris, that wasn't a Janet Jackson tape was it? That was me, right?"
Joey nodded as he slid off the car. "Yeah. I was trying to keep this whole mess from starting. I figured if I destroyed the tape, that would end it. Who knew the bastard made copies?"
"Joey, why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you just tell me about this whole thing from the start?"
He stared off into space, not looking me in the eye. "I assumed that the less you knew, the better. There was no point in upsetting you over something that may have been a complete non-issue." He then turned his head to face me, and with a small smile, he said, "And I see I'm Joey again."
I laughed, mostly because his comment caught me off guard. "Yeah. I'm no longer pissed off at you. You see, I call friends by their first names. I refer to people properly only if the situation calls for it, or I feel they no longer have earned the privilege of being called by their first name. I have to be really mad for that to happen."
"Well, now I'll always know when you're mad at me," Joey said with a slight laugh.
"You had better hope I am never mad enough at you for that to happen again."
The smiles that had begun to creep on our faces disappeared rather quickly as we fell back into silence. Finally, Joey asked hesitantly, "So am I forgiven?"
"Mostly," I said, walking back to the car and leaning against it.
"Mostly?" Joey echoed. "What does that mean?"
I tried to put my feelings into words as best as I could. "Joey, you guys broke my sense of trust, and that takes some time to put back together. I'm no longer angry with you. In fact, had you done nothing to try and protect me through this whole thing, I wouldn't be speaking to you at all." I sighed deeply. That sounded rather callous, but it was true. "Joey, I love you, and I know deep down in my heart that you would never do anything to deliberately hurt me." I reached out and grabbed his hand, holding it in mine. "Just give me some time, all right?"
Joey smiled his first real smile since the disaster began. "I can live with that, I guess. Again Will, I really am sorry this all happened, and I promise that it'll never happen again." He pulled me toward him and embraced me in a big hug. He put his head on my shoulder, and I soon felt tears falling onto my shirt.
I tried to pull back from him, but he wouldn't let go of me. "What's wrong, mon cher?"
"The ghost was almost right. I almost lost you. I don't know what I would have done with myself if I had actually lost you. I'm just so happy we're okay again." He paused for a moment, and then said, "We are okay again, right?" He lifted his head and looked into my eyes.
I gave him a big grin and said, "We're okay." He leaned in to kiss me, but I stopped him. "Not here. Not outside." I just held him for a few moments before something he said really registered in my head. "What ghost?"
Joey seemed to be a little embarrassed. "Well, you know how last night I was, well, you know, a little, how should I put it...?"
"Hysterical?" I offered.
"I guess that'll work. I saw a ghost. He told me my betrayal would be known and I would lose everything dear to my heart. I knew that meant you, but I guess it didn't occur to me how it would ever happen..." Noticing the slightly pale look on my face, Joey asked, "Something wrong Will?"
I shuddered a little. This was just too creepy. "I saw it too, yesterday, before I went to work. It said the ones who loved me would betray me. It didn't make any sense to me then, but I guess it does now." I grew silent for a moment and then, looking at my watch, I gasped when I noticed the time. "Damn! Now I'm really late! Come on Joe. We really need to get a move on." I wrestled myself out of his grip and got back into the car. Joey followed, a little more slowly. Once he was in, I started the engine and fastened my seatbelt. "Joe, make sure your seatbelt is on and hold on tight. I picked up a few tricks from Jerrica over the years, and now we're going to put them to good use."
Joey opened his mouth to say something, but by then I had already thrown the car into drive and stomped on the accelerator. We soon were flying down the Harrisburg Expressway at eighty-five miles per hour. Joey closed his eyes and clutched the armrest between the seats. He, thankfully, made no comments about my driving skills at that time; while I had forgiven him pretty much for the disaster that happened earlier that morning, I was still on the edge of becoming irate and anything could push me over.
I was thankful the police weren't out in force that afternoon, or my butt would have been busted. Joey did open his eyes now and again, and as we crossed the state line into Pennsylvania, he broke the long silence we had endured since our roadside reconciliation. "Will, where exactly are we going?"
"York. I have a dance class at twelve-thirty, and if I am late, I will be in so much trouble!" My body began to ache as I remembered what happened the last time I was late.
"Trouble? For being late to a dance class?" he queried.
I nodded. "Yeah. My instructor is really good, but she's incredibly tough. Getting on her bad side is not recommended. However, she has somewhat cured me of the problem of having two left feet," I said with a laugh. Joey chuckled, and then the two of us fell silent for the rest of the drive. Once again, he went to put his hand on my knee, but this time I didn't block it. To be quite honest, it almost felt like a part of me was missing during the time it wasn't there.
We arrived at the York Dance Academy and I pulled into the first available spot. I hopped out, tossed Joey my keys, and said, "Come pick me up in an hour."
"Can't I come in and watch?" he asked with a slight whine.
"I would say yes, but keep in mind that this class is full of mostly twenty-something females who would all recognize you in an instant. Do you really want to go through that? Besides, if a disruption was caused because you were there, my instructor would never let me hear the end of it. It's better that you don't come in."
"But...but..." Joey stammered. I was running too late to stop and listen as I grabbed my bag and ran inside the building. When I walked in, I was immediately accosted by my two best friends since I had come to Maryland, my co-workers Mandy Reinhardt and Karen Wolfe, who was usually called Karri.
"Where the hell have you been?" Karri yelled as she grabbed and my arm and pulled me to the side. "Are you crazy cutting it this close? You know how M.F. gets when someone is late!"
"I know, I know, but you would not believe the morning I've had. It's so surreal, I even have a hard time believing it." I reached into my bag and pulled out my tap shoes, replacing them with the sneakers I had on my feet.
"I bet I can top whatever happened to you," Mandy said with a sigh. "I ran into Jimmy again today," she began, referring to her ex-boyfriend of four days, "and he's still obsessing over me. He still doesn't seem to understand that we aren't together anymore. It took me an hour to get rid of him. Do you know how embarrassing it is to have someone hanging all over you like that in public, especially when you have to keep telling him no over and over?"
I shook my head. Her last boyfriend, if you could even really call him that since they were only sort of together for four days, was as dense as an unabridged dictionary. "I don't even want to imagine," I said, "but my morning seriously beats that by a landslide."
"So what happened?" Karri asked, pushing her long, dark brown hair behind her back. Karri, like Mandy, was also very attractive. She was slightly taller than Mandy at five-foot, nine inches and was a bit heavier, but you'd never think about it looking at her. Her hazel eyes sparkled when she was either in a good mood or in the middle of a heap of trouble.
I shook my head. "No, you'd never believe me. There's no point."
"Come on," Mandy and Karri said in unison. They goaded me for almost a minute before I relented.
Taking a deep breath, I started to relate my tale to them in my standard supersonic speed that always happens when I get flustered. "Fine. You want to know? I'll tell you. I was driving home from work Saturday night, and you know how I always take the Beltway home? Well, it was blocked off by an overturned semi, so I had to cut through the city and take the back roads. On the way, I witnessed an accident happen out on Mountain Forest Road, you know, where the nasty curve is? It turns out in the SUV were none other than the guys of *Nsync. One of them was hurt and went to the hospital with another one of the guys and the rest went back to my house. They had nowhere else to go and their car was hauled off by a wrecker! Then, my best friend Jerrica from Michigan shows up on my doorstep while the guys are there and we all become 'fast friends.' Next thing you know, one of the guys has a thing for me and he ends up becoming my boyfriend.
"In the meantime, they have this song that management proposed that apparently none of them can sing because it's too high. So, they decided that I should lend my vocals to their song. So they tricked me into recording a tape of myself singing and presented it to their management, all without my knowledge. This morning, they take me down to the recording studio and, once again, pressure me into singing for them. I did, since I thought we were alone. Turns out their management guys were listening on the other side of the door and also thought I was 'fabulous.' After we finished singing, they burst into the room proclaiming how perfect I was and how they never would have believed it had they not heard it for themselves. This one guy also said something to the effect of how he thought the tape they had brought him was a joke, but now it seems it's all for real. That's when I kind of blew up and stormed out.
"Then, it seems, that my boyfriend socked the guy whose idea it was after I left and threatened to quit. Then he came chasing after me, and after I finally calmed down enough to think rationally, we ended up talking the whole thing out on the shoulder of I-83. I had kind of had a revelation, pulled the car off to the side of the road, and got out, thinking he wouldn't follow me lest he somehow get noticed. It didn't work, and I'm guess I'm glad it didn't. Anyway, we've made up, but I'm still annoyed with the rest of the crew. They probably hate my guts now, considering the things I said when I left the recording studio an hour ago." I finally stopped talking and looked up at the two, whose mouths were now hanging wide open. "So, um, that was my morning. I think it kind of tops yours in the bad department, at least by a little bit."
Karri and Mandy looked from one another to me and back again. It seems my little rant was still attempting to be processed by their brains, and it wasn't sinking in very quickly. Finally, both of them exploded with questions at the same time.
"Wait. Stop. Hold the phone. Did you say boyfriend?" Karri asked.
"Did you say you met *Nsync?" Mandy asked.
"Did you say boyfriend?" Karri asked again.
"Wow. I can't believe you met them, and you said they're staying at your house?" Mandy said, excitement building in her voice.
"DID YOU SAY BOYFRIEND?" Karri asked for the third time, very loudly.
"Yes!" I hissed, glaring at the two. "I said boyfriend, all right? Well, now that I've said that, I guess I ought to tell you I'm gay, although I'm thinking you've probably figured that out from the boyfriend remark." I paused for a moment, and then glaring at Karri, I said, "Oh, and thanks for telling everyone else in a three-mile radius that little tidbit of information."
Karri looked slightly embarrassed, but she recovered quickly. "Will darling, you are quite welcome. You know I am always more than happy to oblige." She batted her eyelashes at me, and then said, "Why didn't you tell us?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "I don't know. I guess it didn't seem that important to me. It doesn't in any way change who I am. Besides, I only really figured it out for myself a year ago. That, and it's not one of those things most people shout about from the rooftops."
Mandy put her hand on my shoulder. "You know we don't care, at least I don't."
"Me neither," Karri agreed. "We already know what kind of person you are. Besides, I bet Mandy finds it refreshing to know that she doesn't have to worry about you chasing after her."
"Yeah, I did always wonder why you never tried anything with me. Guess I should have figured it out long ago," Mandy said, shaking her head. Changing the subject, she said in a low voice, "So are you telling us that one of the guys in *Nsync is gay and that you two are dating? You were right. I don't believe it."
"Which one is it?" Karri asked. "I bet it's Lance. He always did seem too pretty to be a straight boy."
I laughed. "All right you two. Enough about my personal life. We have exactly five minutes to be on the dance floor or M.F. will be back here to kick our rears."
"Come on Will!" Mandy pleaded. "Just tell us who it is. We won't tell, I promise! You can trust us!"
Just when I was about to rebuke them for prying into things that were really none of their business at the moment, I heard the door open behind us. I turned around and, the moment I saw who it was, the color drained from my face. It was Joey.
Karri and Mandy glanced at each other and then stared at the stranger in the doorway. It took a few moments before recognition set in. Between what little information I had given them and the current look on my face, the two did the math and put one and one together. "Oh...my...God," Karri stammered. "I never would have guessed in a thousand years."
Mandy was having the same thoughts. "No way. No way. No way! Are you serious?" she shrieked.
I buried my face in my hands and shook my head. I was stupid to tell these two, no matter how good of friends we were, anything about my relationship with Joey, and here I had inadvertently outed him. This glaring error in judgment suddenly made the events earlier that morning seem inconsequential in comparison.
Joey came all the way in and let the door close behind him. Walking slowly up to me, he said, "I know you said not to come in, but I didn't know what else to do, and I was afraid if I drove around I would get lost..." He trailed off when he noticed the stares coming from Karri and Mandy. "Uh, hi ladies," he said nervously with a small wave.
The two girls were dumbstruck. Neither had been this close to a celebrity before, especially one of Joey's fame. I was about to tell him to go before anyone else recognized him when the room began to fill with people. They had come to investigate what Mandy was yelling about.
"Oh my God! Oh my God! It's Joey Fatone of *Nsync!" came a female voice from the back of the room. The small throng of people began to surge forward. Instinctively, I threw myself in front of him and flattened him against the wall. The crowd of people, which didn't amount to more than twenty, stopped a foot or so away from me, gaping at Joey as if he were on display.
"All right you piranhas, back off," I snarled. Known for being rather reserved and amicable, my tone shocked most of the group. They began to back away slowly until there was a little more distance between myself and Karri and Mandy, who had placed themselves in front of the crowd. "Okay, yes, as the eagle-eyed people of the group have noticed, we have a visitor today. Joey is an old friend of mine, and he asked to come watch. Now I hope you are all considerate enough to give him his deserved space. After all, when one of you becomes famous, think about how you would want to be treated."
"Yeah!" Mandy and Karri chimed in. It was a little scary sometimes how very alike, yet different, those two could be.
"Besides," I continued, "you and I both know very well that M.F. will have kittens if we have a scene in here." The others all laughed at the mental picture.
"Uh Will? Who's M.F.?" Joey asked.
"She's our dance instructor. She's the one I was telling you about earlier. She can be a very nice person, but she's dangerous to cross. Kind of like me at times, but with a much shorter fuse," I said with a grin.
"What does M.F. stand for?" he asked.
Before I could respond, the group, in chorus, said, "Mother Fucker!"
I rolled my eyes and laughed until I heard that familiar Irish brogue from the very back of the room. "Excuse me?" she said in a sharp tone. "I can't begin to think you were referring to me that way, now were you?"
"Shit!" I muttered under my breath, realizing we had been caught.
"You get five minutes for that class," she said, causing everyone to groan, "And I heard that Mr. Robertson. You get an extra three for your mouth. I'm surprised to hear that kind of language come from you. You must be hanging around those two too much." She pointed at Karri and Mandy, who just pouted. "Now, you three get a move on. I want you on the floor in three minutes. No excuses."
"Yes Sister," we droned in tones of annoyance.
"Don't start that 'Sister' junk with me. You two already have five minutes, and you sir have eight. Do you want me to add more to it? As you can see, I am obviously not in a convent anymore." She spun on her heel and marched out the door. "Move it!" she called as she walked out.
Once she was gone, I sighed and leaned back against Joey, who I had forgotten was there. When my body rested against his, I jumped away in surprise. "Sorry Joe. I forgot you were behind me."
"No problem," he said with a laugh. "So that's the famous M.F., huh? So what does it really stand for, and what was all this 'Sister' stuff about?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
Karri, Mandy, and I burst into laughter. "It stands for Mary Frances, but to call her that is like asking to be run over with a tank. Her full name is Mary Frances Brannigan, but she prefers M.F. As for the 'Sister' remark, she was a nun in Ireland before she came over here to the States," I explained. "As you have just seen for yourself, she can be rather harsh, thus earning her the other nickname. Combine that with the initial of her last name, and you can imagine what other name we have for her." I glanced at Karri and Mandy and grinned. "Come on girls! We have work to do!"
The two of them scampered off to the dance floor, leaving Joey and I alone in the room. I breathed a heavy sigh as I looked into Joey's eyes. Pangs of guilt washed through me as I thought back to what I had done. "Joey, I have something to tell you. I didn't exactly mean for it to happen, but it just kind of all came out."
Joey eyed me cautiously. He knew that I was still a volatile bundle of emotions, and that anything he said might be misconstrued and set me off. "I'm sure it's not that big a deal, whatever it is."
The fact that he trusted me more than I was trusting him at the moment killed me. Taking a deep breath, I said, "Karri and Mandy know, Joe."
He cocked his head slightly and then frowned. "Know what?"
I sighed. "Everything."
"What do you mean 'everything?'"
"You. Me. The accident. The guys. The fiasco this morning. Everything. Most importantly, they know about you and I. I didn't tell them directly, but I did give them a brief overview of the past four days, including the fact that I was dating one of you guys. Of course, by admitting that, I had to tell them I was gay. I didn't tell them it was you, but when you came inside, they put two and two together and figured it out." I felt tears coming to my eyes. Damn! I hate being such an emotional walking disaster, I thought. I looked down at my feet and then back up at him. He had the right to look me in the eye, and I wasn't about to take that right away from him. "This is what I meant earlier. Staying with me is only going to make your life difficult."
Joey stared into my eyes for a few moments and then said, "Will, do you trust them?" Without hesitation, I nodded. "Well, if you trust them, then so do I. No, you can't run around telling the whole world about us, at least not yet. However, there are going to be some people you have to tell because it would be impossible to hide it from them. Now, get your butt out on the dance floor before M.F. comes in and squashes you like a bug. To be honest, I like you in one piece."
"Good point," I said as I hurried out to the floor. I couldn't believe he had taken that so well. I fully expected him to at least be somewhat angry with me. Shows what I know, I thought. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Joey still standing there, looking a little unsure of himself. "What are you waiting for, mon cher? Let's go!" We walked out onto the floor and I motioned Joey to a couple of chairs at the back of the room. "Go have a seat over there. Class only lasts for about an hour."
Before I could walk too far, Joey bent over and whispered in my ear, "What kind of dance class is this?"
Giving him a big smile, I said, "Just watch and see. I think you'll figure it out."
Joey rolled his eyes and took a seat in one of the chairs while I scurried over to my place on the floor between Karri and Mandy. M.F. took us through our normal warm-up routine and then we began class. She was showing us some new steps, and between Joey smirking at me from the back plus my usual distractions from Karri and Mandy, I ended up on my rear end a few more times than normal. After forty minutes of practicing the new steps, M.F. called our attention and said we would be practicing part of our routine for the next show. We assembled into our proper order and waited for the music to begin. If Joey had any doubts about what we were doing before, there would be no mistaking it now.
One thing I had to say that was great about taking this class was that it allowed me to work out any frustrations I had physically, and today I had a ton to work with. As the music was started, the sound of the flute intro allowed me to relax a little and think about what I needed to do. Then, as if someone flipped a switch, my body went on auto-pilot as we began to dance. The sound of the fiddle made the whole scene come alive with energy as the noise of twenty-five pairs of tap shoes became a synchronous harmony. It never ceased to amaze me how good we actually were. Maybe one of these days we could develop a show that would put Riverdance to shame.
At the end of the class, we were all exhausted. Just when we were about to break and go home, M.F. said in a loud voice, "Just where do you think you all are going?" We all cringed. We had hoped we could sneak out without the punishment today, but luck was not on our side. "If my memory is correct, you have some punishment to do, some more than others," she said, looking at me. "Get in line!"
We assembled in a straight line, just as we were when the routine practice ended. M.F. put a tape in the cassette player and pushed play. The punishment tape, I thought glumly. To anyone else, it sounds like nice, upbeat music. To us, it's the sound of death by dance. The music began slowly and we started to dance, once again in synch with each other. However, on this tape, the tempo began to pick up, and as it did, our tempos had to pick up to stay consistent. By two and a half minutes in, our feet were nothing but blurs. By four minutes, it was obvious some people were starting to miss a step or two as they tried to keep up with the consistently fast beat. At the precise five minute mark, most of the people around me collapsed on the floor. I had no such luck, for I still had three minutes to go. I closed my eyes and tried not to pay any attention to the burning pain shooting through my legs and feet as I willed myself to keep going. After eight long minutes, I fell to the floor, panting heavily.
M.F. nonchalantly shut off the tape and walked over to my side. "And maybe next time you'll remember to keep certain comments inside your head," she said. "On the upside, you have gotten much, much better. I'd say you're at the top of the class. Now, be good and I'll see you on Friday." Chuckling to herself, she stepped over me and wandered away, leaving me lying on the floor, too tired and sore to move.
Joey, Karri, and Mandy soon appeared at my side, looking down on me with apologetic looks. "That woman is a maniac!" I gasped.
The three of them laughed. "Man Will," Joey said as he and Mandy reached down to help me up, "if I ever thought Wade was tough, he's a mouse in comparison to that one." Noting the confused expression on my face, he clarified by saying, "Wade is our choreographer."
I nodded my head in acknowledgement as I was slowly lifted to my feet. "So you three, is it time to go get something to eat or what?"
Mandy laughed. "There's never a wrong time for food," she said as we headed toward the locker areas on the other side of the entrance hall.
"Amen!" Joey and I said in unison, which prompted more laughter from the four of us.
"I thought that was usually my line Mandy?" I said with a small pout.
"You looked like you could use a day off," Mandy said, smiling.
"I always need a day off!" I exclaimed. The four of us parted company, going our separate ways into the respective locker rooms to get changed and cleaned up before we headed off to our usual after-class restaurant. I had to admit that this last hour had been therapeutic - I had told two of my friends the truth about me, they didn't disown me, and I had worked a lot of my frustrations out through physical exercise. At that point, I almost believed I would be able to face Chris and crew without blowing up. I hoped I was right.
The three cars pulled into the parking lot at Celia's Italian Ristorante. We all got out and grouped up next to my car. Glancing at Joey, I said, "Are we sure this is a good idea? We don't want a scene anywhere near like what happened at dance class."
We all pondered this for a moment until Mandy had an idea. "What if we get a hat to cover his head? Maybe that will help make him less noticeable? I have one in my car."
"We could ask for that table in the back instead of where we usually sit," Karri suggested. "Besides, you know Mama Celia would get worried if we didn't show up."
Karri had a point. Since the three of us had started taking this class last September, every Wednesday and Friday we found ourselves here. It was like clockwork. We had only missed once, due to work constraints, and Mama Celia was frantic. We got a tongue lashing on Friday for it, and ever since, if we weren't going to show up, she made us promise to call her.
We decided that with the hat on his head and sitting him with his back to the restaurant in the far corner, we might be able to have lunch and have Joey not be noticed. We went inside and, true to form, Celia was waiting for us at the greeter's stand. "There you three are!" she said with a slight Italian accent. "I was wondering what was keeping you!" She looked us over for a moment and then said, "You got punishment again today, did you not?" The looks of surprise on our faces caused her to laugh. "I thought so. I will not ask what you did; it is probably better that I do not know." She laughed heartily. "So, your usual table, my children?"
"Actually, we were hoping we might be able to get the table in the back corner today," Karri said. "We have a guest and we'd like some privacy." Looking around the busy restaurant, she continued with, "Well, as much privacy as we can get in here."
Celia smiled. "Sure. You are lucky I still have it open. You know your table is always open for you, but almost everything else is full. Come along." We followed her through the restaurant to the back table and seated ourselves. We did get a couple of odd looks from people as we passed, and I hoped that Joey wasn't actually recognized for who he was. Celia, who was an older, stocky woman with black hair that was speckled with silver, handed a menu to Joey and walked away.
"Did she forget to bring more menus?" Joey asked in surprise.
We eyed each other and laughed. "No," Karri said, "we've been getting the same thing here for the last nine months. After a while, they just stopped bringing us menus. What's the point? Besides, why mess with perfection?"
Joey chuckled. "I guess you have a point there." He looked over his menu and shook his head.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Everything looks great. I can't decide. What are you all getting?"
"I'm getting the fettuccini alfredo, Karri is getting the lasagna, and Will is getting the manicotti," Mandy said.
"If you want to get something else, we'd be happy to share. We usually do anyway," I said. Joey thought about it and decided it was a good idea. Settling on the chicken parmigiana, Celia came back and took his order and ran off to the kitchen to get it started.
The four of us became rather quiet and stared at each other. It was unusual for Karri, Mandy, and I to not be talkative; one of us was always running at the mouth about something. Finally, Joey couldn't stand it anymore. "All right, someone say something! This is ridiculous."
Mandy was the first to speak. "Sorry man. I guess we just don't know what to say. It isn't exactly every day you meet someone famous and find out one of your best friends is, well, ummmm..."
"Just say it Mandy," I said in an exasperated tone. Mandy still looked uncertain, so I nodded to Karri, who was sitting next to her, and she whacked Mandy upside the head.
"Ow! What was that for?" Mandy yelped. I gave her a serious look and she blushed. In a lower voice, she said, "Gay. All right? There, I said it."
Karri asked, "So is what Will said true? About how you two met?"
Joey looked at me suspiciously. "I don't know. What did he tell you?"
"Something about an accident, and somebody going to the hospital."
"Yeah, it's true. Josh hurt his leg in the accident and had to go to the hospital. Chris went with him. Since our SUV was damaged, Will gave us a ride to his house to call a taxi. We were all so tired that we just collapsed when we got there. Will gave up his rooms to let us sleep while he went to the hospital to check on the guys. I don't think he finally got to sleep until later on that afternoon." He gave me a big smile. "My angel came and rescued us."
"Angel?" Mandy echoed.
I answered that one. "Apparently, when I went inside the car to check on them, I had to turn on the overhead light to see. From where Joey was laying, the overhead light was right over my head and gave me, in his words, an angelic glow."
"That's when I knew he was right for me," Joey said, taking my hand underneath the table and giving it a squeeze.
The table became silent again. After a few moments, Mandy said, "I can't believe you're gay Joey. Of all of the guys, you were one of the last two I would suspect, considering how much you flirt with the girls."
"Provides great cover, doesn't it?" he said with a grin. His face suddenly turned serious as he said, "You two know that you can't say anything about this to anyone, right? Not until we're ready to tell the world."
For some reason, that concept had never crossed my mind. I was beginning to see Joey as part of my life in the future, but the fact that he was an internationally famous pop star had a tendency to elude me. I struggled to think of something to say when Celia came with the food.
"Wow! That was fast!" Joey exclaimed.
"We only had to make yours," Celia explained. "Theirs was already done."
The look on Joey's face was priceless. "I told you we get the same thing every time Joey. They know we're coming, so they just make it before we get here." Turning to Celia, I said, "Thanks Mama Celia. You're the best!"
Celia smiled and walked away, leaving us to our food. The one great thing about Celia's restaurant is that there is no such thing as small portions. There was always a ton of food, and we never had to worry about leaving hungry. As usual, Celia brought us extra plates and we began to serve ourselves from the three plates set in front of Karri, Mandy, and I. It took Joey a moment, but he caught the hint and began helping himself to something from each plate. His plate of chicken parmigiana was passed around, and we decided in the end that we had a new favorite. We liked having lunch this way. It was like a potluck supper where no one had to cook.
The conversation topic shifted away from Joey and I to Mandy and Karri. Soon we were regaled with tons of anecdotes from their lives, most of which were quite funny. As we finished eating, Joey set his napkin on the table and sighed. I looked at him quizzically. "You know, I've missed this," he said. "I miss being able to go out with some friends and just hang out without being mobbed all the time. Most of the time, I can't even finish a meal because I keep getting interrupted by fans."
Karri clucked her tongue sympathetically. "I bet it's hard, but I suppose it comes with the territory, right?"
"Yeah, but it just gets so old," Joey said with a sigh. I could imagine how difficult it must be to do many things I took for granted. I was sure there were many times he wished he could just do things like a normal person and not be bothered by the rest of the world.
Celia came by our table and brought the bill, which I quickly paid. Joey looked like he wanted to protest, but he was silenced by the glares coming from Mandy and Karri. Once Celia left, Mandy said, "It's Will's turn to pay today. We take turns. We figured out it was easier that way than having everyone trying to divide the bill amongst ourselves. If you hang around long enough, it'll be your turn."
Joey looked to me from the corner of his eye for confirmation. When I nodded, he relaxed slightly. Soon Celia returned with the receipt, a pad of paper, and a pen. "Mister Joey, I beg your pardon," she said quietly, "but would it be too much of a bother to ask you for your autograph?"
His eyes widened in surprise. "You recognized me?" he said in a slightly panicked voice. He scanned the restaurant to see if anyone was paying attention, but the rest of the people seemed to be too preoccupied with their lunches to notice us.
Celia smiled warmly and placed her hand on his shoulder. "No worries dear. No one else knows. I have four daughters who all have your posters, how you say, plastered, on the walls and ceiling. What kind of mother would I be not to notice? My daughters would never forgive me if they found out you were in here and I did not ask." When Joey didn't respond right away, her face fell a little. "No. I should not have asked. I am sorry. I was not thinking. You are probably tired of being asked that all the time."
Quickly, Joey replied, "Miss Celia, I would be honored to sign some autographs for you," as he took the pen and pad from her hand.
"What is this Miss Celia stuff?" she said in her usual booming voice. "It is Mama Celia, and you do not forget it!" Joey blushed as he finished signing the autographs for her. When he was done, he handed them back. Celia then bent down and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Before she stood back up, she said, "Mister Will here is a very fine boy, and the two of you look darling together. You be good to him, or Mama Celia will be angry with you. Ask my children; you do not want Mama Celia angry with you!"
Joey and I both went wide-eyed. "Mama Celia, how...?" I began, but she cut me off.
"A mother always knows two things, my dear: she knows when she is being lied to, and she knows true love when she sees it. Whether it is obvious to the rest of the world or not, I can tell there is a real, true love between the two of you, and I pray you never let anything destroy that." We still had puzzled looks on our faces, so she answered the unasked question burning in my mind. "It was nothing you said or did outright. It was the small things most people don't pay attention to. The eye contact. How close you two sat to each other. The way you spoke to one another." She paused for a moment, and then said, "Well, that is not entirely true. The two of you holding hands under the table was a big clue."
I was a little worried. If Celia picked up on it, who else might do the same? I wondered. And I can't believe I held his hand in public. Oh Will, you are such an idiot.
Joey gave Celia a big smile. "Don't you worry, Mama Celia. I'll never do anything to hurt him. Never." As he said that, he was staring right at me. I took the hint. I was no longer mad at him anymore. To be honest, I was quite glad to have my Joey back.
We had said good-bye to Mandy and Karri and left Mama Celia's. On our way home, I began to get nervous. I had said a lot of mean, nasty things to those guys before I left, and I was petrified by the thought of having to face them. As I turned onto Briar's Run, I pulled the car to the side and stopped.
"What's wrong Will?" Joey asked.
"I can't do this. I can't do this. I can't face them."
"Yes you can," he said soothingly. "It'll be okay. I'll be right behind you."
"I can already feel myself starting to get angry, and I hate that. I just know I'm going to walk in that house and say something I shouldn't."
"You're right. You will."
I spun my head around in surprise. "Say what?"
He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. "If you believe you will, you probably will."
I had to laugh. "When did you get so smart?" I asked jokingly.
"I think it happened about four days ago. I met this really intelligent, wonderful guy who made me see the world a little differently." He leaned over and gave me a long, deep, passionate kiss. "Do you know how long I have been waiting to be able to do that again?"
I sighed. I had missed the feel of his lips on mine, and I knew it was my fault he'd had to wait. "Joe, I'm so.." I started to apologize for everything, but he grabbed my arm forcefully, causing me to gasp in surprise.
What shocked me the most was how angry Joey looked. "Don't you dare start apologizing for something that is not your fault. You had every right to be angry. Besides, remember what you keep telling us about guilt? I am not going to let you beat yourself up over this. You are allowed to be mad. They...we...did something that violated your sense of trust. Like I said, I'll be right behind you, but you can't run from them or this problem. You're going to have to face it."
He was right. I hated that he was right. I was going to have to face everyone, whether I liked it or not. Resigning myself to the task at hand, I took my foot off the brake and pulled back onto the road. I turned into the drive of my house and spotted the van up ahead. Just the sight of it made me angry, for its presence meant that the group was home. I pulled the car into the garage and turned off the engine. "Well, here goes nothing," I said with a sigh.
We got out of the car and entered the kitchen. Sitting at the dining room table were the last people in the world I wanted to see. All eyes turned to me, and all I could do was stare back. Lance, who was sitting in his usual spot, broke the ice by saying, "Hi Will, how's it going?"
"Things are just lovely, Mr. Bass." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jerrica cringe slightly. She had been trying to figure out what kind of mood I was in, and I just confirmed her suspicions - I was still mad.
I took a moment and sized up each person, trying to get an idea of what they were feeling. When I got to Justin, I could tell he was borderline distraught. His eyes had lost their sparkle and he looked absolutely miserable. Turning to Joey, I said, "Would you please take Mr. Timberlake upstairs to my room? I'd like to talk to the others separately." Joey nodded and walked over to Justin, who just stood up wordlessly and left the room with my boyfriend in tow. Once I heard the door close upstairs, I turned my attention to the others.
"Will..." Jerrica started to say she stood up, but I cut her off.
"Miss Andrews, please SIT DOWN."
"Yep. He's pissed," she said as she sat back down in her seat.
"Thank you for that stunning observation," I said coldly. I grabbed a stool from the kitchen and brought it into the dining room. I was not about to sit at the table with these people.
"Uh, Will?" Josh said quietly.
"Yes, Mr. Chasez? What is it?" I narrowed my eyes at him, which caused him to slump back in his chair, deciding that speaking at that point was a really bad idea.
"Never mind," he mumbled, looking embarrassed that he had drawn so much negative attention to himself.
I sat there and stared at them for what felt like an hour, but in reality was closer to five minutes. Finally, taking a breath I said, "Would someone please explain to me what happened this morning?"
Everyone's eyes darted around the room, with them all eventually falling on Chris. Sighing heavily, Chris said, "It's all my fault Will. They really had nothing to do with it. It was my idea, my doing, and if you're going to be mad at anyone, it should be me."
I smiled slightly. The boy did have a conscience. "Oh yes, Mr. Kirkpatrick, I am quite mad at you over this whole thing, but I think what I need to find out is exactly why this happened. Why you felt the need to deceive me, to run around behind my back and make decisions for me you had NO RIGHT TO MAKE!" Houston, we have ignition and are ready for lift-off. Every time I tried to calm myself down, I would get all riled up again.
"I don't really know where to start," Chris said quietly.
"Like most stories, one usually starts at the beginning," I replied curtly. "Although my guess is I can pretty much fill in the gaps I don't already know."
They all looked at one another, hanging their heads. "We are sorry Will. We shouldn't have tried to trick you into this," Josh said.
"I know you're sorry, but are you sorry because of what you did or are you sorry that you got caught?" I retorted. The anger inside of me was boiling to the surface. I could literally blow at any moment.
"Will..." Josh began, but I cut him off.
"Do you have any idea how embarrassing this all is for me? I've now just made a fool out of myself, not just in front of you guys, which is bad enough in its own right, but in front of your management too. Even if I did change my mind," I said, noticing the hopeful look on Chris and Lance's faces, "and don't count on it any time soon, they'd never take me now, especially after that little stunt."
Chris' hopes were dashed. He hated that I was right, but he knew that there was no way Johnny would put up with Will after a scene like that. "So Will, are we forgiven?" he timidly asked.
I almost laughed. "Forgiven? Forgiven??" I had to catch myself before I exploded. Jerrica cringed, waiting for the death knell to fall. I stood up and walked over to Chris. Leaning over so that we met eye to eye, noses practically touching, I said, "If you were me, would you forgive you?"
Chris sighed. "Probably not."
Grinning slightly, I said, "You should be thankful you're not me then." Standing up, I went to my usual seat at the end of the table and sat down. "For this disaster, you are somewhat forgiven." The four started to speak at once, but I held up my hand to silence them. "I'm not done yet."
Jerrica looked at me blankly. "Huh?"
"I said, 'I'm not done yet.' Would you like me to explain the meaning of those words to you?"
Jerrica raised an eyebrow. Turning to the other three, she exhaled a deep breath and said, "Okay. He's back to his normal, sarcastic self."
I rolled my eyes. "Look, if you guys want me to do something, the direct approach is the best approach. It's going to take me some time to completely forgive you all for this. You guys seriously broke my trust in you, and that's not a fast or easy thing to rebuild. I would be lying if I said I wasn't seriously disappointed, but I suppose I'll get over that eventually as well."
"We understand," Lance said. "Will, we're really sorry. You are a good friend to us, and we seem to keep doing our best to screw it all up. I guess we probably did deserve to be screwed by all those people we thought were friends. They were just doing to us what we probably would have done to them."
"Hey!" I barked. "No one gets to have a pity party at this table today except for me." Taking a deep breath, I said, "You know, I may get mad, but it doesn't mean I don't care." I waited a moment for that to sink in before I continued. "The point is, no matter how angry I may get, I do care about you guys, and short of trying to kill me or something similar, you would be very hard pressed to find a way to destroy our friendship. Understand?"
I waited for a response, but instead of getting a verbal acknowledgement, I was nearly tackled by Jerrica as she rushed to give me a big hug. "Oh man, I thought I had screwed up so badly," she said. "I thought you might never speak to me again."
Smirking, I replied, "Oh, and I thought that was always your biggest dream: me silent."
She rolled her eyes. "It is, but only when you're not mad at me."
I was going to make a sarcastic remark back, but it was said for me by Josh. "I thought he was always mad at you?"
Jerrica and I locked eyes and burst out into laughter. He had a point. "Touché!" she said. Lance, Josh, and Chris came over and joined in the hug. Chris made a determined effort to keep himself as far away from me physically as he could, and as far as I was concerned, I thought that was a great idea.
When they all finally let go of me, I sat back down and stared at them. These guys were too much. I began to wonder how I ever lived such a quiet, boring life without them. Lance looked over at me and asked, "So how are things with you and Joey?"
At the mention of Joey's name, anger briefly flashed through my eyes. "Oh yeah, the OTHER thing we have to talk about." Everyone stared at me in surprise. My voice had rediscovered its hard tone.
The others sat down slowly, never taking their eyes off of me. "Will, you and Joey are still together...right?" Josh asked hesitantly.
I didn't answer immediately, which Lance took as a no. His eyes welled up with tears. "Oh my God!" he exclaimed. "What the hell have we done?"
He jumped out of his chair and began to head for the stairs when I called out to him. "Lance, freeze!" He stopped and spun around slowly, his eyes refusing to meet mine.
"Will, I can not permit you and Joey to break up over something that's our fault. Joey would never forgive us. Even worse, we could never forgive ourselves. Besides, there's something you need to know."
I sat back in my chair and put on my best puzzled expression. "Oh? What would that be? Besides, what Joey and I do in our personal lives really isn't your business."
Lance grew quiet, not knowing what else to say. Will needs to know that Joey, from soon after the beginning, defended him the entire way, he thought. He has to know that Joey tried to stop everything. He has to know it wasn't Joey's fault. He has to know.Lance had to tell me everything. He couldn't live with himself otherwise.
"It's not Joey's fault!" Chris burst out, saying what was on Lance's mind. "He tried to stop me! Repeatedly! I wouldn't listen. I was too wrapped up in what I wanted to listen to anyone else because I thought I was right. Don't blame Joey for any of this. Please Will? It's not his fault!"
Chris looked like he was on the verge of tears. I stood up and walked over to him once again, this time putting my hand on his shoulder. "I already knew that Chris, and Joey and I are fine," I said softly. "If you're thinking we broke up, we didn't. Yes, it came pretty close on more than one occasion, but we have worked through this and things will be all right."
"Really?" he asked, his voice cracking a little.
"Really," I replied, grinning as I saw a smile slowly creep onto his face. "However, should you guys ever do anything that comes in the middle of our relationship, expect to find yourselves thrown in the river." Narrowing my eyes at all of them, I said gruffly, "Literally. Do you understand?"
Everyone nodded their heads and then pounced on me for another big hug. This time, Chris was right next to me, squeezing me in one of the tightest bear hugs I have ever experienced. Something tells me I don't have to worry about him anymore, I thought happily to myself. I think he's learned his lesson. I don't entirely trust him, but I don't think he'd be stupid enough to pull a stunt like this again.
Breaking myself from the mass of bodies in the middle of my dining room, I brushed my clothes back into place and suddenly realized that the round of apologies wasn't over yet. "Uh, guys? While we're on the subject of apologies..."
"How many times do we have to say we're sorry? Sheesh!" Jerrica said loudly, rolling her eyes.
"I wasn't talking about you!" I shot back. "I was talking about me."
"YOU??" they all chorused.
I nodded slightly. "Yeah, me. No matter how angry I get, you did not deserve what I said to you earlier."
"You were mad Will. We understand that," Josh said. "We all say things we don't mean when we're mad."
"I know," I said, "but that's not a good excuse. I am at least thankful you didn't take me seriously when I told you to get out of my house!"
"Actually, we did," Josh said, causing my eyes to widen a little. "Jerrica talked us out of it. I was in the middle of calling the hotel when she stopped me, telling us that you didn't mean it and would be madder if we did leave."
I laughed. "She's right. I would have, but at myself, not you guys. Thank goodness for best friends," I said, looking in Jerrica's direction. She didn't respond, but she blushed heavily. "Now, if you will all excuse me, I need to go talk to Justin...privately."
"Okay Will. Go ahead. I don't know how we're ever going to make this up to you," Lance said with a sigh.
"Well, starting dinner would be nice," I said with a smile. "I do need to leave for work in..." Glancing at my watch, I rolled my eyes. "Less than two hours."
"Will, why do you work? It seems like your books sell well enough, from what Josh has said," Lance asked.
"I don't know about the music industry," I replied, "but in the publishing industry, if your next book flops, you're going to have a heap of trouble. Not everyone can be as successful as Stephen King!"
"So where do you work anyway?" Chris asked.
"I work for..." I was cut off by a loud crash from upstairs. Shaking my head, I said, "Can't anyone in this house move around without breaking something?" I turned and ran up the stairs. Upon reaching my bedroom, I threw the door open and what I saw astonished me. "Justin? What the hell are you doing?!"
So what did you think? Will has forgiven Joey and the guys, but is this the end of the issue? Three more people know about Joey and Will. Are they able to keep a secret, or is there potential for trouble brewing on the horizon? What is up with Justin, and what has he done that has freaked Will out so much? 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, who keep me in line.