One Dark Night

Chapter Fifteen: Il Y A Toujours Une Crise (There Is Always a Crisis)

It was not one of my better trips. I was already exhausted, for one, and things, as it always seems is the norm in life, didn't go the way I wanted them to. Thankfully, Joey and I managed to get to Montréal without rolling a flight, but by the end my nerves were a bit rattled. In Los Angeles, we arrived at the airport with plenty of time. We checked in and were put on the standby list. The agent at the ticket counter smiled warmly at me; something I was not accustomed to seeing at four-thirty in the morning. I asked her how the flight looked, and she said that while it was fairly full, she didn't foresee any trouble getting on the plane, especially since we were now traveling on an emergency priority due to my grandmother's condition.

When our flight was called, I waited patiently for the gate agent to call us. The flight was indeed quite full. I mentally started counting the number of people boarding, bearing in mind the capacity of the aircraft. As more and more people boarded, I started to get a little nervous. I knew, as a last resort, that I could always run back to the counter and purchase a standby ticket for the non-stop Air Canada flight at quarter to ten, but then that meant he and I wouldn't be able to travel together unless he purchased a one-way ticket at a cost of twelve hundred dollars---something I would not, no, could not, ask him to do. It turned out that wouldn't be necessary, much to my immediate relief, but that was just the beginning. The gate agent finally called us and, much to my dismay, there were only two seats left on the plane: one in first, and one in coach. I didn't like the idea of sitting apart from Joey, but I decided that he was a big boy after all, and what was the worst that could happen on an airplane? The agent ran our boarding passes and handed them both to me. She had sat me in first and Joey in coach. Since, in my mind, that wasn't an option, I grabbed Joey and hustled him toward the aircraft door. After having our boarding passes run, I handed Joey my first class boarding pass and proceeded to the far back of the plane. Taking my spot in 48B, the middle seat in the last row of the 757 we were on, I tried to settle myself in for what was probably going to be a very uncomfortable flight.

Joey was having issues of his own. He still wasn't a big fan of takeoffs, and while he seemed to handle them better when I was sitting next to him, that was no longer the case. He was still uncertain about the whole standby deal, and was worried that something might happen to cause him to get kicked off the plane without my knowledge. All I had time to tell him was to be polite and not ask for anything unessential from the flight attendants. When flying as an employee, the goal is to try to be as invisible as possible.

It seemed invisible was not an option that morning. We were just about ready to leave when news of a small commotion in the front part of the aircraft made its way back to 48B. My heart leapt into my throat and began to beat rapidly. Please don't be Joey. Please don't be Joey, I thought as panic started to set in. It seemed that, whatever the fuss was, it was short-lived. I assumed that if Joey was involved, he would have had someone come back and find me. Eventually, I felt the plane push back and I calmed down some. Given that I had three hours of alone time, save the fact that I had a person on either side of me, I opened up my notebook and began to write down some notes for my next book, The Cat and the Missing Star. Regardless of what happened in the rest of my life, Tony still wanted updates on the continued progress of each new book, and as of yet, I hadn't had much to tell him. That reminds me, I realized suddenly, I need to have Kimber contact Tony. My guess is that he'll want some part of this whole mess.

I continued to jot down notes and wrote a few sentences here and there. I had a rough idea in my head about what was going to happen, but trying to formulate those thoughts into coherent sentences was something entirely different. After two hours of work, my brain had pretty much ceased all but vital functions, so I stuck my notebook back into the shoulder bag that I typically carried all of my book notes in. I lay my head back and closed my eyes, hoping that I might possibly drift off for a few, well-deserved minutes of rest. Like I could ever get that lucky. The woman on the window kept shifting in her seat, so she would elbow me fairly often. The man on the aisle would start to snore obnoxiously every time he drifted off. I just sat there, twiddled my thumbs, and stared at my watch as I counted down the remaining minutes of the flight.

Upon arrival in Kansas City, since I was in the last row, I had to wait for everyone else to get off the plane before I could finally try to catch up with Joey. As soon as I was able to deplane with my bag, I darted up the jetbridge into the gate area and scanned wildly for Joey, but couldn't find him anywhere. I was about to become frantic when I felt someone tapping me on the shoulder, causing me to nearly jump out of my skin. I whirled around to find Joey standing behind me.

"There you are," I said in relief. "I was worried something might have happened to you."

"You sped right past me on the plane," Joey said. "I was a bit surprised you didn't see me sitting there."

"I was kind of on a mission to find you," I said, slightly embarrassed. "I assumed you had already deplaned, so my focus was getting off the plane and coming after you."

"Well, I guess I found you instead," Joey said with a laugh.

I smiled, and then looked at him questioningly. "Any idea what happened when we were leaving Los Angeles? There seemed to be some commotion at the front of the plane. You weren't involved in that, were you?"

It was Joey's turn to look embarrassed. "Sort of, but it wasn't my fault!" he said as we started to walk away from the gate.

I held up my hand to stop him while I checked the monitor for the gate information. "Gate 60," I said with a sigh.

"And we're where?" Joey asked.

"Gate 31. Our gate is actually right across from us," I said, pointing out the window, "but it's all the way around the circle. We had better start walking. We've only got forty-five minutes." We started to walk at a brisk pace and had gone about three gates when I said, "Anyway, you were saying?"

"Saying what?"

"About leaving Los Angeles?"

"Oh, right. Well, I took my seat, and the girl sitting in front of me recognized me and started flipping out. From what I gathered, she and her family were going on vacation to somewhere in Florida. Anyway," he said, shaking his head, "I think she was about fourteen, and kept telling me how she loved me, and could she have my autograph, and so on. I asked her if she had a pen, because I didn't have one, and when she realized she didn't, she burst into tears. Then, the stewardess..."

"Flight attendant," I corrected.

"Right. Flight attendant," Joey said. "Anyway, the flight attendant comes over and asks what's going on. The girl is in, like, hysterics, and everyone is staring at us. All I could think was, 'they're going to kick me off this plane.' So, I quickly explained to her what happened, as best I could, and she pulled out a pen and a pad of paper from her pocket. I gave the girl her autograph, which caused her to quiet down. Then, and I'm not sure why, the stewardess---I mean, flight attendant---asked me for my boarding pass. I pulled it out, and that was when I realized you had given me yours." He gave me an odd look, and I just glanced down at the floor sheepishly.

"Sorry. I just figured that if one of us had to sit in the cattle section, it might as well be me. Besides, it costs less for me to fly in first than for you," I said, not thinking.

Joey stopped and turned to face me. "How much is this costing you for me to travel?"

"Joe, don't worry about it. I'm not."


"About a hundred and forty dollars."

"For all of it?"

"Each way."

Joey seemed to mull this over in his head before he said, "I'm going to pay you back for this."

"Joe, like I said, don't worry about it." Then, in a lower voice, I said, "As far as I'm concerned, what's mine is yours." Seeing that Joey still seemed to have some issues, I said, "I guess, if it will make you feel better, you can give me some money for this, but I'm not expecting it nor asking for it. I don't want to fight about money."

Joey laughed. "You know, in my last relationship, that's all we did---fight about money. That time, though, it was me who footed the bill for everything while she went on spending sprees."

I could just picture it in my head, and I felt bad that Joey had been taken advantage of. "I don't think that will be an issue with me," I said with a smile. "I admit I'm a bit frugal at times, but I've been that way my whole life. Don't get me wrong. I know how to be extravagant and can blow some dough as well as the rest of the world." Then, as an afterthought, I said, "Especially if it's for someone I care about." Sensing the atmosphere was starting to get too mushy for my taste, and in public too, I said quickly, "So what did the flight attendant want with your boarding pass?"

"I guess she was curious about who I was, to generate such a fuss like that. So she looked at my boarding pass, and then she got this odd look on her face. She squatted down next to me, pointed at the code '4N' on it, and said quietly, 'I know who you are, but I'm curious about something. Why do you have someone else's boarding pass, especially one who is traveling standby?' I told her that you were my friend and an employee, that you had gone to sit in the back, and that we were going to visit your grandmother in the hospital. I fudged a little and said that she was like a parent to me, and that since I had trouble getting a ticket for the flight, you offered to let me go standby with you, and that you thought I should sit up front instead of in coach. She thought it was sweet and then wouldn't leave me alone the whole flight!"

"I bet I know why she wouldn't leave you alone," I said with a sly grin, "and it's not because you're famous."

"Huh?" Joey said with a puzzled look.

"She probably thought you were cute," I said slyly, and then continued in a very hushed tone, "and who could blame her?"

Joey turned bright red and lightly whacked me in the arm. "Stop that!" he said through gritted teeth, but the grin on his face couldn't be ignored.

"No!" I exclaimed. "That would be no fun."

We fell silent as we continued to walk around the long circle to our gate for the flight to Montréal, and as we approached the gate, I heard the gate agent call my name and Joey's. It took about five seconds before the shrieking started. Apparently, there was a girls hockey team that was on its way to Montréal to play in some tournament, and the mention of Joey's name set them off into a frenzy. We hadn't quite reached the gate area yet, but I wasn't taking any chances.

Looking wildly around me, I grabbed Joey's arm, spun on my heel, and took off for the nearest men's restroom. We had barely gone ten steps when I heard a young girl's voice shout, "There he is!"

"Ay, Dios mio!," I exclaimed, my eyes widening as I watched the surge of girls heading for us. "Run!"

I pushed Joey in front of me as we dashed for the men's room. We barely made it, and I could hear the groans from the group of girls outside. Joey ran into a stall and locked it; not a bad idea, considering that some of those girls might not take the taboo of entering the opposite gender's restroom as a deterrent. We waited for a few minutes before I heard Joey whisper, "Do you think it's safe?"

"I have no idea, but I guess I had better go check. Besides, I'm guessing the gate agent was calling us to give us our seats, and the flight should be just about ready to board."

I wandered out of the restroom and was immediately accosted by a young girl, who couldn't have been more than thirteen. "Where is he? Where is he?"

I gave her a puzzled look and said, "Where is who, and why are you grabbing my arm?"

"Joey Fatone! I saw you go in there with him. Where is he? Oh my God, he is soooo cute. I wonder if he has a girlfriend?"

Giving her a hard stare, I said, "Miss, I have no idea what you are talking about. I ran into the bathroom because I saw a stampeding horde of people who were once young ladies heading in my direction, and I felt it best to not get trampled. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go check in for my flight." The girl glared at me as I walked away, and I shook my head as I thought about my first encounter with an obsessed group of fans. That was definitely going to take some getting used to.

I walked up to the desk and gave her my name. A guilty look immediately appeared on her face as she said, "I'm sorry about that. I didn't recognize the name at first, and didn't realize that would happen. Please tell Mr. Fatone that I apologize."

I gave her a smile. "I'm sure he knows this stuff happens, and that it was a mistake. Besides, it was my silly idea to have him fly standby. I guess we've just gotten really lucky so far."

"Why is he flying standby?" she asked.

I explained the story to her, using Joey's slightly embellished version instead of the complete truth. When I was done, I asked, "Now, how do we get him on the plane without inciting a riot?"

She seemed to muse over this for a moment, and then said, "That group, if I recall correctly, is in the back of the plane. I'll board them first, and then you all should be able to board without too much of a problem. I stuck you in the bulkhead, so you can get on last, if you'd like, and also get off first when you reach Montreal."

"That's really nice of you," I said, a bit impressed by her efforts.

"I just felt kind of bad about what happened. It was an honest mistake, I assure you." Then, looking at her watch, she said, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some cattle to herd." I giggled at her little joke; there were times when the boarding of an aircraft felt a little like rounding up livestock.

I headed back to the restroom to find Joey, who had ventured out of the stall. "The flight is boarding, and they are putting those girls on first. Thank goodness this is a 757 and they are way in the back. Since we're sitting in the bulkhead of first class, we can hopefully be most of the way through customs in Montréal before they get there."

Joey still seemed a bit shaken and nervous, but he nonetheless followed me out of the bathroom to the gate, where, indeed, all of the girls had boarded as well as many other passengers. I handed the gate agent our boarding passes and we made out way down the jetbridge. Stowing my bag in the overhead bin, I had Joey sit on the window while I took the aisle. The flight attendant came over, and I'm assuming he had spoken with the gate agent because he asked Joey if he would like something to drink. "Would you like some champagne?" he asked.

"Sure," Joey said automatically. "That might be good."

"And you sir?" he asked, looking at me.

"Diet Coke, please," I replied, trying to settle into my seat.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"It's okay," I assured him. "I don't drink, so Diet Coke is good for me."

"All right," the flight attendant said in a surprised tone. Considering that all drinks in first class are free, I guess he was a little taken aback that someone would turn it down.

As soon as he was out of earshot, Joey turned to me and said, "You don't drink?"

I shook my head. "No. Don't care for it, and besides, it often makes people act silly, foolish, or stupid. I have enough trouble not doing that sober, let alone drunk. Besides, I don't like the taste of the alcohol itself, and while I'm sure it is an acquired taste, it's one I never bothered with. It doesn't bother me if other people drink," I said, sensing Joey's feeling of awkwardness, "as long as they do it reasonably and responsibly." I stopped for a second and said, "My God, that almost sounded like a lecture."

"I know what you meant, and don't worry. This will be my only one."

I didn't get any further into that conversation because the flight attendant came back with Joey's drink. Unless I was mistaken, he was subtly flirting with Joey. All the alarms on my gaydar were going off loudly, and were it not for the fact that he had to move out of the way to let the last few passengers board, I might have gotten really annoyed with him.

The aircraft door was still open, and recalling my earlier thoughts from the last flight, I pulled out my cell phone and called Kimber. I only reached her voice mail, so I gave her Tony Sanderson's number in Boston and told her it might be a good idea to get in contact with him at some point. I hung up and turned off my phone as we got ready to depart.

Other than the takeoff, which still made Joey jittery, the flight itself was uneventful. There was some bad turbulence as we crossed over Lake Michigan which freaked Joey out a little, but he made it through that as well. We arrived into Montréal just before four o'clock that afternoon, and once the aircraft door was open, we hightailed it out of there and made our way to the customs area.

Unlike in the United States, where the passengers are separated into two groups---citizens and everyone else---it wasn't that way in Canada. Therefore, Joey and I queued together in the same line and waited for our turn to see the immigration agent. Joey and I had both filled out our customs declarations on the plane, so while we were waiting, I dug into the front pocket of my bag and pulled out my Canadian passport. Joey, who had just finished digging out his American passport, noticed mine and said, "Wait a second. I thought you were an American?"

"I am. I'm also Canadian. I'm, uh, Americanadian," I said, chuckling at my own joke.

"How is that possible?" Joey asked.

"I was born in California, which makes me an American citizen by virtue of where I was born. I'm a Canadian citizen because my mother is a Canadian citizen. Therefore, I hold citizenship in both countries and carry a passport for each one. Each country requires I present their passport upon arrival, so I have to have both when I travel between the States and Canada."

"Oh, I understand now," Joey said. In his mind, he was adding this latest piece to the puzzle that I was to him. He seemed to learn something new about me every day, and the next piece always seemed to come as a rather large surprise.

At that point, it was Joey's turn to go up to the desk. On the plane, I had written out some information for him that he would likely be asked: length of stay, reason for trip, where he was staying, and so forth. It's always a gamble when one goes through immigration on whether or not the authorities will decide to cause you problems that day. They seemed to be having a longer than normal discussion, which caused me to start worrying that there might be a problem. I saw Joey hand a piece of paper to the immigration official, who then handed him his passport and customs form and directed him to the customs hall. I found out later that the immigration official happened to be an *Nsync fan and had asked for Joey's autograph. What are the odds?

I breezed through customs much more quickly than Joey did, considering I was holding a Canadian passport. I hurried to catch up with Joey, and then we exited the area into the main area of the terminal. We had barely gone five steps when I heard a voice calling my name.

"Will! Joey! Over here!" someone to my right hissed. I turned and was surprised to see, of all people, Jerrica waving at me.

"What the hell?" I said aloud as I tapped Joey's arm. "Joey, any idea why Jerrica's here?"

"Not a clue," Joey replied, "but I'm guessing we're about to find out."

We walked over to Jerrica, who quickly grabbed our arms and said, "It's about time you two got here."

"Jerrica, not that I don't always enjoy your company," I began, "but what the heck are you doing here?"

"I'll tell you in the car. Come on. Chris and Josh are waiting."

"They're here too?" Joey asked as we headed for the door.

"Yeah," Jerrica replied. "We were about to go get a rental car when we realized that your flight had landed. Besides, we figured it would be better if you drove, considering the fact that you know your way around this city and all the signs are in French. Knowing my luck, I would forget what "Arrêt" means and run a stop sign."

"Fine. Whatever. Let's go," I said hastily. The longer we stood there, the longer it took for me to get some answers.

Meanwhile, Justin and Lance were just arriving into Montréal on their flight from Orlando. As the flight had been sold out, Josh and Chris had to take an earlier Air Canada flight, which was just as well. Chris had gotten Jerrica a ticket on an Air Canada flight from Baltimore that arrived about the same time as theirs, and they met up inside the customs hall. Justin, who had no clue that Lance was coming, was quite surprised to see him on the plane. They were assigned aisle seats across from each other, and when Lance sat down, Justin immediately began to interrogate him.

"What are you doing here?" Justin hissed.

"Thought I'd take a break and go visit a friend," Lance said wryly.

"Don't you think Will has enough to deal with besides you?" Justin asked hotly.

"I would think the same question could be applied to you," Lance replied. "I don't know exactly what you're up to, but you're acting crazy."

"I am not acting crazy. Will is my friend and he needs me."

Leaning across the aisle, Lance whispered, "What? Joey's not enough?"

Justin looked away for a moment, and then turned to Lance and said, "It's different."

Lance stared into Justin's eyes and confirmed his suspicions. Justin was falling for me in a bad way. "Justin, don't do this," Lance pleaded. "It's only going to cause problems."

Justin stared hard at Lance and said pointedly, "I have no idea what you are getting at. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to try to catch a nap." He then shut his eyes and ignored all attempts by Lance to talk to him.

Lance was frustrated. He knew what Justin was up to, but couldn't figure out how it had happened. As far as he knew, Justin had never given any suggestion he was interested in guys, and furthermore, he was interested in a guy, namely me, who was completely unavailable. To further complicate matters, I was dating one of his best friends, which made matters even worse. After repeated attempts of trying to talk to Justin, Lance gave up and settled himself in for the flight.

"And that's all we know," Josh said as I navigated the car onto Highway 520.

"So all Justin told you was that he was coming here?" I asked, not sure I truly understood what was going on.

"Right. Gave no real explanation why; just said he was coming and that was it," Josh said. "Or, at least that's what Lance told me he said."

I shook my head as I contemplated everything, only taking a moment to mumble a bad word in French at the guy who cut me off as I tried to get onto Highway 13. "How am I going to explain all of this?" I wondered aloud, keeping a watchful eye for my exit to Highway 40. It had been a while since I had been back to Montréal to visit my grandmother, and a lot had changed over the years.

"How are you going to explain what?" Chris asked.

"Why all of you are here," I replied. "Jerrica, I can explain. She's practically a member of this family anyway, so her being here isn't that unusual. Joey, I can explain, although I don't know if I was quite ready to have this conversation with my parents so soon, but c'est la vie. Then there are the rest of you. How do I explain why you, Josh, Justin, and Lance are here?"

"Once you tell them about Joey, you can tell them that the rest of the guys are a part of your harem," Jerrica said, giggling.

"Jerrica!" I yelled. "Ça ne m'aide pas maintenant!"

"Sorry! It was just the first thing I thought of," she said weakly, noting that her joke hadn't gone over with anyone else in the car.

"What did he say?" Chris hissed at Jerrica.

"That I wasn't helping," Jerrica said, rolling her eyes. "Good grief. Lighten up a little people. Your mom and Kate are not going to care. You know that," she said to me.

"They're not going to care that seven people have mysteriously dropped into the house when they were only expecting one?" I said with a laugh. "I thought you knew my mother better than that by now. She's not big on surprises." I fell silent for a moment before a thought occurred to me. "When are Justin and Lance arriving at the airport?"

"I think their flight was about thirty minutes behind yours," Chris said.

"Why didn't you say something?" I exclaimed. "We could have waited for them!"

"If Justin can decide that he is going to come up here without asking you first, then he can figure out what to do when he gets here," Chris said firmly. "Besides, Lance is with him, poor guy. They'll make do. If Justin is smart, he'll call you and ask where to go."

"Well, at least he has the name of the hospital. I wonder if I told him which campus it was?"

"How many are there?" Jerrica asked.

"Five, but Montréal General is the main campus. If they ask for directions, hopefully they'll get sent there," I said.

We rode for a while in silence until Josh finally asked, "Will, where are we going?"

The scenery had started to change from urban to rural as we headed west out of the city. "My grandmother's house," I replied. "We might as well ditch all of this stuff, and to be quite honest, I'm not quite sure if I'm ready to deal with my family just yet."

"Aren't they expecting you to go to the hospital?" Joey asked.

"Yeah, but it's going to have to wait. Jerrica, do me a favor and call my mother's cell phone," I said as I handed it back to her. "Tell her we're going to the house and that we'll be along later."

"And how do you want me to explain to her why I'm here?" she asked.

"I'll leave that to your imagination," I said, "and please don't say anything that's likely to get me killed later, okay?"

"Would I do that?" she asked innocently.

"Yes!" chimed Joey, Josh, and Chris.

"Traitors," she muttered as she paged through the entries in my phone book. Finding the number she wanted, she dialed the number, and after a few moments, the line answered.

"Allô, Robért-James? Où es-tu?" my mother asked.

"Anne-Marie? It's not Rob. It's Jerrica, and we're in Montréal. We're heading out to the house to drop some things off."

"Oh, Jerrica!" my mother exclaimed. "How nice to hear from you. You came with him, did you? I'm a little surprised, but that's all right. We have plenty of space. I'm guessing you went down to Baltimore for a visit?"

"Yeah," Jerrica said, "and then he got your letter and phone call. I told him I was coming along for moral support, whether he liked it or not."

My mother laughed. "He's lucky to have a friend like you," she said, "whether or not he's willing to admit it."

"I know," Jerrica said. "I'm one of a kind."

"One of what kind is the question," I said from the front seat.

"Shut up you," Jerrica said. "Oh, no! Not you Anne-Marie! Your brat of a son is picking on me."

"Tell him I said to be nice, and that he's in trouble for not calling me first before deciding to go to the house. I would have preferred he come directly to the hospital, but I'm guessing you're probably already too far away to turn around at this point."

"I have no idea where we are, but I think we're out of the city," Jerrica said, glancing out the window.

"You're more than halfway there," said my mother. "Tell Robért-James to call me as soon as you get to the house. The door is unlocked, but he knows where the spare key is. I need to go. Au revoir."

"Au revoir," Jerrica replied before hanging up the phone. Handing the phone back to me, she said, "Anne-Marie says you're in trouble for not coming to the hospital, to call her as soon as we get to the house, and to stop picking on a perfect angel like me."

"I highly doubt she said that," I said, glaring at her in the rearview mirror. "And if she thinks I'm in trouble now, just wait."

Lance and Justin had to wait a long time to get through the now busy customs hall, but eventually they made their way out and went to the rental car company's booth in silence. Neither had said nary a word to each other the entire time, yet the two kept exchanging furtive glances at one another. When they arrived at the car rental booth, Justin was about to tell Lance to get his own car, but then he decided that two heads were probably better than one, especially since neither of them understood a lick of French, and whoever was doing the driving would need the other to help navigate.

After acquiring directions from the car rental agent, the two set off for the hospital. It didn't take them long, and after a minor misdirection, they reached the hospital. Parking the car, they went inside and headed for the information desk.

"Hi. We're looking for Mrs. Williamson's room," Justin said to the nurse working the front desk.

The nurse cocked her head to one side and said, "Je ne comprends pas. Je ne parle pas anglais."

Lance and Justin looked at each other with blank looks. "I don't think she understands us," Lance whispered.

"It appears what we have here is a failure to communicate," Justin said. Turning back to the nurse, he said slowly, "Does anyone here speak English?"

"Un moment, s'il vous plait," the nurse replied before going back into the office. A moment later, she returned with a young gentleman in tow, speaking quickly and pointing at the two young men.

The gentleman came over and said in a thick accent, "Hello. My name is Dr. Charles Jeansonne. Can I help you?"

"Uh, hi. You said your name was Dr. Johnson?" Justin asked.

"Close enough," Dr. Jeansonne replied. "What can I do for you gentlemen?"

"We're friends of Mrs. Williamson's grandson, and we were looking for her room."

"Mrs. Williamson? Do you know what she is here for?"

Justin's face went blank. "I have no idea. I know she's been here for a few days. Like I said, her grandson is a good friend of ours, and he was quite upset."

"I'm sorry sir, but this is a large hospital and it will be very difficult to find her without more information. I wish I could be of more help." Before either Lance or Justin could say anything further, the doctor turned around and walked away.

"Great. Now what do we do?" Justin asked.

"Well, we have two options. We either sit and wait for Will to find us, or you call him," Lance suggested.

"I'm not calling him," Justin said adamantly.

"Then I guess we sit," Lance said with a sigh.

The two found a couple of seats in the lobby and sat down. Lance cupped his head in his hands, wondering what possessed him to follow Justin like this. Here he was in another country---in an area where he didn't speak the language---with one of his best friends who had to be completely out of his mind. Furthermore, he knew that Johnny was going to be pissed at them for skipping the meeting. They had only been in Québec for a little over an hour and a half, and already things were a mess. Lance decided he would give it an hour, and if they hadn't figured anything out by then, he was going to call me, regardless of what Justin thought.

We had turned off of Highway 40 and proceeded down a couple of two-lane roads. As we entered the village of Vaudreuil-Sur-Le-Lac, I said, "I hope everyone thought to bring a jacket. It might be May, but there is almost always a stiff breeze off the lake." Glancing at Joey, I said, "Don't worry. You can use mine. I usually run around without one most of the time anyway."

"Cute little town," Josh said as we drove through. "Is this where she lives?"

"No, she lives out on L'Île-Cadieux. We'll be there in about five minutes or so."

We drove across the short bridge onto the island, and eventually turned down the drive to my grandmother's house. It had been built in the 1700s and had been in her family for generations. Maybe that's where I discovered my affinity for old houses in the middle of nowhere. It was a large, rambling house---much larger than mine---and was situated a few hundred yards from Lac des Deux-Montagnes, or the Lake of the Two Mountains.

"It's only been half an hour since we left the airport, and it feels like we're in the middle of nowhere," Josh said.

"No kidding," I said, "but the house is almost right under the flight path for Dorval airport, so that's a bit of a reminder that Montréal isn't far."

We got out of the car and were immediately hit by a blast of cold wind. I could see Josh and Chris start to shiver a little; Jerrica was prepared, as she had been here once before, and it didn't seem to bother Joey much at all. I was used to cold weather, having lived in Michigan for so many years.

"Dang it's cold out here!" Josh exclaimed.

"I did warn you," I said. "It's worse on this side of the island, which gets the brunt of it. Come on, let's go inside."

We ran up to the house and let ourselves inside. It was still just as I remembered, as it had been a couple of years since I had last been up to visit. It was a mix of modern and antique; it was quite up to date in modern style and appliances while retaining much of its Old World charm. It had four bedrooms and two bathrooms, the second one having been installed four years ago as an attempt to raise the value of the property. Since my grandmother was staying at the hospital, I presumed---in this instance correctly---that Mom and Kate would be staying in her room. Sure enough, I found their bags sitting at the end of the bed. Upstairs were the other three bedrooms, which were ready to accommodate guests at a moment's notice.

"So, where should we stow our stuff?" Jerrica asked.

I did the math in my head and realized that one of the rooms was going to have to have three people. "Good question. There are three rooms and seven of us. Either someone is going to have to sleep three to a room or someone is going to have to sleep on the couch."

"I'll take the couch," Jerrica offered. "It's just for one night, and that way no one will have to sleep on the floor."

"Great. In that case, we'll take our stuff upstairs," I said. "Josh, do you want a hand with yours?"

"If you don't mind," Josh replied. "I'm moving around a lot better now, but it wouldn't be a bad idea."

"Okay," I said. I grabbed his bag along with mine and raced up the narrow steps.

Behind me, I heard Joey say, "I could have taken one of them."

"Don't bother," Jerrica said. "He's always going to try to do it himself, so unless he asks, and he probably won't, the only way he's going to let you help is if you force him."

She was right, of course. I was so used to doing things myself that I never bothered to ask anyone else for assistance. It never occurred to me that Joey might take it personally. Oops.

Lance was getting restless. It had been almost an hour and he had been sitting there, twiddling his thumbs while watching Justin stare at the ceiling. He debated about what he was going to do when his stomach rumbled. Jumping out of his chair, he said, "I'm going to see if I can find something to eat. I'll be back in a bit."

"Whatever," Justin mumbled.

Lance wandered around the hospital until he found a directory which, thankfully, was in both English and French. He took the elevator to the fourth floor and picked up a sandwich in the cafeteria along with a cup of coffee. He sat down at an empty table next to an attractive young, blonde lady who appeared to be in her late twenties or early thirties. He took off the plastic wrap that encased the sandwich and took a bite, chewing methodically, followed by a sip of coffee. Neither was very good, but it was definitely better than nothing.

He had been sitting there for about five minutes when the woman said to him, "You all right?"

After hearing so many people in the past hour passing by babbling in French, to hear someone speaking English surprised him. Turning to face her, Lance said, "Yeah, I guess."

The woman smiled brightly at him, her blue eyes sparkling. "I'm sorry if I startled you, but you looked like you might need someone to talk to."

For the first time all day, a smile crossed Lance's face. "That's okay. It was just a little startling to hear someone say something I understood for once."

"I know what you mean," the woman said. "I have a very basic grasp on the language, but I'm far from fluent. My partner and her son both speak it, so I kind of rely on them to help me out when I have no clue what's going on." She looked away briefly for a moment, and then continued. "Like these past two days. Anne's mother hasn't been doing well, and no one seems to know what's wrong with her. Every time the doctor comes in, the two of them chatter back and forth, and I only catch, like, every fifth word. After he leaves, she seems so drained by the whole thing, I hate to ask her about it. When I do, she just says 'They don't know' and leaves it at that."

There was something about this conversation that struck a chord with Lance---something that seemed vaguely familiar. He knew the chances were slim at best, but he decided to give it a shot. If he was right... "By the way, my name is Lance. Lance Bass," he said, extending his hand out to her.

"Oh! Nice to meet you Lance. My name is Kathryn Ashford, but everyone calls me Kate." The two shook hands, and then Kate said, "So, Lance, who are you visiting here?"

"My friend Justin and I are visiting another friend's grandmother," he said. "His mother seemed to be quite distressed about it, so he was supposed to be on his way here. He told Justin about it, and Justin thought it would be a good idea if we came along for moral support. The only problem is, he's not here, and we have no idea how to find his grandmother's room." So this woman's name is Kate! I wonder if this is Will's mom's partner? Lance wondered.

Kate beamed at Lance. "This guy is lucky to have friends like you. He didn't come with you?"

Lance shook his head. "No. We came from Florida, and he was in California at the time. Will told Justin he was leaving around six-thirty, and for some reason when I called the airline I was under the impression that his flight was supposed to arrive before ours, but when we got here, I didn't have time to check and see if his flight arrived."

"I wonder if your friend Will and Anne's son were on the same flight," Kate speculated. "He was coming from California too, I think, although Anne talked to Robért-James earlier, and he went out to the house instead of coming here first."

Lance was right! This was the Kate! What are the odds of this happening? he thought happily. "Actually, Kate, they're the same person. Well, at least I know he's here somewhere."

A look of confusion crossed Kate's face. "They are?"

"Yes!" Lance exclaimed. "Didn't he tell you about changing his name and all that?"

Kate's eyes shifted back and forth for a moment before she said, "Oh, right. I remember now. He told us he was changing his name after he got some nasty letters from Allison." Kate looked at her watch and, noting the time, said, "Listen, Lance, it was great talking to you, but I should probably go. I expect I will see you again once Robért-James gets here. If you see him before I do, Mireille is in room D9-114. If they only went to the house to drop stuff off, then it should be about forty minutes or so before they get here."

"Thanks Kate," said Lance. "I'll see you later." He watched as Kate dashed off, and he relaxed in his seat. Mystery solved, Lance thought, but I wonder why she ran away so quickly?

I ran into the hospital with my entourage, for lack of a better word, in tow. I checked with the information desk and proceeded up to the ninth floor. Kate had called a little earlier to inform me that my friend Lance was already there, which probably meant that Justin was with him. Kate didn't ask me why they were there, and I didn't ask how the two had had found each other. Mostly, I was just concerned with how I was going to explain everything and not get yelled at.

I had gotten off the elevator and was about halfway down the hall when I was suddenly pulled into a huge hug by someone from behind. "Es-tu arrivé," my mother said from behind me.

I turned around and returned the hug. "Yeah, I'm here," I said, trying to gauge my mother's emotional state. She was all over the place---far from the usual norm---so I decided I had better be careful with what I said, lest I upset her.

"Why did you go out to the house instead of coming here directly?" Mom asked, switching from French to English. "You know she's not well!"

"Je sais, maman," I said. "I know. I just needed a minute to get myself together before coming down here. I figured going out to the house and dropping the stuff off was sufficient. It's not that far."

"I wish you would have told me. Thank goodness Jerrica called, or else I would have been frantic. Where is she, anyway?"

"I'm right here," Jerrica said from behind her.

"Oh, ma petite Jerrica," Mom cooed. "It is so good of you to come."

"No problem," Jerrica said. "Mireille is like my own grandmother. I would have wanted to be here anyway."

Behind Jerrica, Chris coughed, causing my mother's attention to shift away from Jerrica and on to the three young men behind her. "And who are these gentlemen?" she asked, looking back at me.

"Mom, these are some friends of mine. This is Chris Kirkpatrick, Josh Chasez, and, uh, Joey Fatone," I said, pointing at each in turn. "Guys, this is my mother, Anne-Marie Williamson."

"It is nice to meet you," Mom said, walking over to shake Chris' hand. "Please, call me Anne."

As she moved over to shake Josh's hand, Jerrica pulled Chris aside and whispered in his ear, "I bet you five dollars she figures out Joey is Will's boyfriend before he ever says a word to her."

Chris shot her an odd look. "How do you figure that?" he asked.

"She's empathic," Jerrica replied. "They both are. At first I found it a little creepy, but you get used to it, I suppose."

"You know, that suddenly makes a lot of things make sense," Chris said as he stared at me. "I always thought it was weird how I knew he was in the room before I ever saw him."

"You get used to that too," Jerrica said with a grin.

"So why didn't he say anything?" Chris asked.

"What? And have people think he's more of a freak than he already is? The only way he'd tell you was if you confronted him on it, and I wouldn't suggest it." She paused for a moment, and then said, "So, is that a bet?"

Chris mulled it over in his head and said, "Sure, why not?"

She glanced over Chris' shoulder at my mother, who had moved on to Joey. Joey was smiling, but it seemed, to her, to be a bit forced. She's gonna nail him, she thought smugly.

The two shook hands, and as they did, the smile on Mom's face started to fade. Like Jerrica, I was watching this meeting with great interest. I prayed that my mother would like Joey, because I was going to have to tell her that night, whether I liked it or not. As I watched her face fall, I knew something was up. Don't let her have figured it out yet! I screamed in my head. Please don't let her have figured it out!

My mother slowly dropped Joey's hand and stared hard at him, which was making Joey even more nervous than he had been to start with. This hardly went unnoticed by Mom, who quickly sensed his nervousness before she came in contact with him. She also noticed his eyes tended to shift between herself and me. After a moment or two, she smiled brightly and pulled Joey into a big hug. Whispering into his ear, she said, "Welcome to the family, Joey. Take care of my little boy." Before he could react, she broke the embrace, turned to me, and said, "Your grandmother is waiting for you. Why don't you, Jerrica, and Joey go in to see her? She's a bit temperamental right now, so hopefully an unfamiliar face in the room will keep her calm."

Mom then grabbed my arm and nearly dragged me down the hallway. The moment she touched me, I knew she had figured it out. "So, what do you think of the guys?" I asked.

"They seem really nice. Your other friends, Justin and Lance, seem nice too." She glanced around her, and then, in a low voice, said, "I really like Joey. I think he'll be really good for you. We do need to talk later about this, though." As she watched my shoulders sink, she chuckled lightly and said, "Don't worry. It's nothing bad. Besides, did you honestly think I wouldn't figure it out? You should give me more credit than that. Like I said, we'll talk about this later, just the four of us."

"Four of us?" I queried.

"You, me, Joey, and Kate. You didn't think I would leave her out of this discussion, did you?"

"No. I was just hoping you would say Kate and not Grandmère," I replied.

"There are many appropriate conversations to have with your grandmother," Mom said lightly, "but this is not one of them. That, and it's none of her business anyway what you do with your life and who you fall in love with. If you decide to tell her, that's your business, but she won't hear it from me, I promise. I've already fought this battle with her many times over the years; I hope she has learned something in that time and won't treat you the way she treated me."

She leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks Mom," I said, kissing her on the cheek in return. She went off to find Kate, leaving me alone with Joey and Jerrica, who had only been a few steps behind. Jerrica was sort of guiding Joey, who seemed to be in a complete daze. "Is he all right?" I asked.

"I think so," Jerrica replied, shrugging her shoulders.

"How did she know?" Joey mumbled. "How did she know?"

"I suppose I should sit down with him and have a little talk," I said, indicating a nearby bench.

We made our way over to the bench, but never made it that far, as we were intercepted by Justin and Lance. "There you all are," Justin said as he gave me a hug. "We thought you got lost."

"Hi Justin. Hi Lance," I said, giving Lance a quick, friendly hug. "Please don't think me rude, but do you mind if Joe and I have a moment to ourselves?"

"Oh, sure," Lance replied. "Come on Justin, Jerrica. Let's go." He then grabbed Justin's arm and pulled him away from Joey and me over to where the other three guys were standing. Jerrica, true to fashion, just shrugged her shoulders and followed.

I sat Joey down and took his hand in mine. "Joey, the first thing you have to understand is that there are some aspects of myself and my life I like to keep buried. Of course, if I was really smart, I wouldn't have told Jerrica half the things she knows, but it's a bit late for that, I suppose," I said with a slight chuckle, but Joey's eyes never left mine. "My mother is empathic, and to a degree, I guess I am too. She can read other people's feelings and emotions. She sensed you were nervous, and considering you kept looking at me the entire time, she figured it out. Don't worry Joe. She likes you, and she thinks you'll be good for me. Don't ask me how she figures that, but I'm inclined to agree with her."

This was a lot of stuff for Joey to take. He always knew there was something special about me, and he knew that I had this knack for sensing his mood, but this was a little unreal. "Is she a mind reader like you are?" Joey asked quietly.

I tried very hard not to laugh, but I wasn't very successful. "Joey, I can't read your mind any better than I can read my own, which isn't saying much, I assure you. There's no science to it, and, to be honest, it's a gift we all possess. More often than not, it's referred to as the human 'sixth sense.' Some of us," I said, pointing in my mother's direction, "are much better at using it than others. As for me, I tend to find it to be more of a burden than anything else. Not only can I sense what other people are feeling, but I oftentimes end up feeling what they do as well, and a lot of the time it's not by choice. I have almost no control over it, and it really gets quite frustrating when I start crying for no good reason!" I said as I began to tear up. "See? Like now. I'm crying and I have no idea why!"

Joey pulled me into a hug and held me until my tears started to subside. There was a happy feeling deep inside of Joey, and I did what I could to latch onto that to calm me down. After a minute or so, Joey released me and said, "Do you feel better now?"

I nodded my head. "Yeah. I should have known a hospital would probably cause this to happen. At least if it happens again, you know why." I sniffled a couple of times and took a deep breath. "Joe, most of the time, I just get lucky, and a lot of times I'm wrong. I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner, but I was afraid it might freak you out."

"Why should it?" Joey asked. "If everyone is to some degree, then it shouldn't bother anyone, and it certainly doesn't bother me." He gave me a warm smile, and then said, "So if you can receive other people's emotions, can you send yours out as well? The reason I ask is that, from time to time, I get these brief flashes of, emotion, I guess, when you're around. Like the time when we were watching movies and I was lying with my head on your leg. Every so often, I would fell unexplainably happy. It wouldn't last for very long, and sometimes it would go away as soon as it came. I'm guessing that was you?"

I shook my head. "I don't know. I guess it's a possibility. Chris said something similar about always knowing when I was nearby, but I didn't understand what he meant. Like I said, it's not deliberate. Either time, I guess it happened without me ever knowing it. I just keep getting weirder and weirder as the days go by."

"You're not weird. You're perfect," Joey said lightly, "and I wouldn't trade you like this for anything. It's just another thing that makes you special."

"Oy, is it getting mushy in here or what?" I joked. "Seriously, I appreciate the compliment. Now, let's grab Jerrica and go say hello to my grandmother. I'm going to warn you though---this could get ugly."

"You make her sound like a nasty person," Joey said as he stood up.

"She's not a nasty person, per se," I said as I too stood up, "but she's highly opinionated, and nobody else's opinion matters but hers as far as she is concerned. She can say some pretty mean things, and considering she's been cooped up here in the hospital for the past few days, I would expect her to be in rare form tonight." I wandered over to Jerrica who was in the middle of getting a kiss on the cheek from Chris. Shaking my head, I glanced over at Joey and, with a grin, said, "Okay, break it up. We've got places to go, people to see, things to do, et cetera, et cetera."

"Bastard," Jerrica muttered, glaring at me.

"Takes one to know one, doesn't it dear?" I said playfully. Before she could respond, I said, "Now get your rear into gear so we can get this over with!"

I spun on my heel and headed in the direction of my grandmother's room. Behind me, Jerrica sighed and gave Chris an apologetic look. "The brat calls. I'll be back in a bit, and don't forget. Five bucks!" Grabbing Joey's elbow, the two followed behind me at a slower pace. "If I were you," she said, "I would try to say as little as possible. Grandmère isn't like the two of them, but she's quite sharp nonetheless. She's always been suspicious of him and the fact that he's never had a relationship outside of Allison. She's petrified that he'll turn out to be what he is: gay. Don't give her any reason to suspect there is something going on between the two of you unless Will says something first." She paused for a moment, and then said, "You know, there is still something really weird about calling him that, but at least I'm trying!"

"And you're doing a fine job. I'm sure he appreciates it," Joey said.

"The only problem is, I have to remember which name goes with which group of people. It just gets more and more confusing by the day," she said with a sigh.

They finally reached my grandmother's room, and I was already standing at the door tapping my foot impatiently. "Okay," I said, "if we're lucky, we'll be in and out in five minutes." I opened the door and called out, "Bonjour, Grandmère! C'est moi, Robért-James."

"Ah, James. Entrez!" my grandmother called back.

"James?" I heard Joey inquire behind me.

"Don't...ask," I said forcefully out of the corner of my mouth. Putting on a fake smile, I walked all the way into the room and over to my grandmother, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Grandmère, it's so good to see you. How are you feeling?"

"How do you think?" Grandmère replied. "I've been in this stupid bed for days. I'm ready to go home."

"I know," I said, "and as soon as the doctor thinks you are okay to leave, you will go home."

Grandmère smiled lightly at me and then turned her attention to the other two people in the room. "Who's that?" she asked.

"Grandmère, you remember my friend Jerrica, right?"

"Mireille, it's good to see you again," Jerrica said, coming over to the side of the bed and giving her a light hug.

"I wasn't talking about you, Jerrica dear, although it is good to see you too, and you can call me Grandmère if you like. I don't mind," Grandmère said with a smile. "I was talking about this young man who is hiding over in the corner."

"Uh, hi Mrs. Williamson," Joey said nervously, stepping forward a few steps. "My name is Joey, and I'm a friend of your grandson's."

"Hello, uh, Joey, is it?" she asked. When Joey nodded, she said, "It's nice to meet you. Why are you here?"

Joey's throat went dry while he tried to quickly think of something. There was something about the woman's steel grey eyes that seemed to bore right through him. "Well, when, uh, James," Joey said, the unfamiliar name having difficulty rolling off his tongue, "heard that you weren't doing well, he seemed rather upset by it, so Jerrica and I offered to come with him for support."

Grandmère seemed to buy this and smiled at me. "Oh, were you worried about me?"

"Yes, Grandmère. You're the only grandmother I have, and I'd hate to lose you."

"Well, you're not going to lose me any time soon," she said adamantly, "but while we're on the topic of losing things..." She turned and stared hard at Joey. "Young man," she said, "I'm sure you are a nice fellow, but spiky hair, a beard, an earring, and is that a tattoo?" Joey turned red with embarrassment. Things that had seemed so innocuous until now were suddenly a problem. "My boy, you are going to get nowhere looking like that, and I don't think it is a good idea for you to be hanging around my grandson. Isn't that right James?" When she received no response from me, she turned to face me and said, "Isn't that right?"

Like Joey, my mouth too had gone dry. I was trying very hard to control my temper, and I was starting to fight a losing battle. We had hardly been in the room two minutes, and she was already ragging on Joey and trying to dictate my life, again! "Grandmère," I said slowly, "I think Joey likes the way he looks, and I have no problem with it. How he looks should not be used to judge his character."

"You know, your grandfather was a nice, clean-cut boy, and it's the nice, clean-cut boys who get good jobs and have nice families. Isn't that what you want? Do you even have a girlfriend?" I immediately shook my head no, and then chastised myself inside for doing so. I should have nodded and lied. That's what I should have done. "Well, why don't you and Jerrica get together? You've been around each other for so long!"

"Uh, with all due respect Mireille," Jerrica began, "I don't think Rob and I mix very well in that regard. We're content being best friends and nothing more."

"All right, fine," Grandmère said, "and his name is James, dear, not Rob. He was named after my late husband, you know. Anyway," she continued, looking back at me, "I would think it would be best if you didn't hang around with---Joey---over here. Looking like that, I'm sure he'll be nothing but a bad influence on you."

I was quickly losing my temper, and it wasn't long before I was about to blow. "Grandmère, that's enough."

"My dear, I think I am a better judge of people than you are. After all, when you are as old as I am, you learn what type of people are the good sort and what kind are not. I don't think he is good for you, and I think you should learn to have better judgment in the people you associate with. Now take that other friend of yours I met. What was his name? Lance? Again with the spiky hair, but aside from that, he was a nice, clean-cut fellow."

Jerrica had already started to slowly back away from the bed toward Joey. When she had finally reached him, she grabbed his arm and muttered, "Stand back. One of them is going to blow, and my money is on Rob."

Joey stared helplessly at me as he stepped back. He wanted to jump in and defend me, but he was afraid of saying the wrong thing. "So what do we do?" he whispered.

"Just wait until it happens," Jerrica said, watching the two of us with interest.

"So tell me, what is it specifically about him that bothers you so much? There must be something," I said angrily.

"He's trouble and I know it," Grandmère said. "I can spot a loser a mile away."

That one went right to every nerve in my body. Eyes blazing, I said loudly, "Grandmère, Joey is my boyfriend and you have NO RIGHT to say such things about him! HOW DARE YOU? So what if he's not perfect? I'm not, and you definitely aren't!"

Grandmère's jaw dropped, and I was too angry to pay much attention to the impact the words coming out of my mouth were having. I heard a collective gasp from Jerrica and Joey, but it was too late now. I had already said it. "Qu'est-ce que tu as dit?" Grandmère asked quietly. Then, more loudly, she said, "QU'EST-CE QUE TU AS DIT?!"

"Uh oh," Jerrica said. "Here it comes."

"You heard me! How dare you act like that!" I yelled, "and if you're going to fight with me, at least have the courtesy to do it in English so the rest of the room can understand you."

"Je n'en ferai pas," Grandmère said, indicating she was not about to do anything I asked of her. "C'est pas importante qu'ils nous comprennent."

The two of us then starting bickering back and forth in French. My resolve to get her to speak English had waned too much, and I was going to battle with her any way I needed to at that point. The shouts had attracted attention from outside the room, and Lance, Justin, Josh, and Chris came running inside. "What's going on?" Josh asked. "What are they saying?"

Everyone looked to Jerrica, who appeared to be a little uncomfortable. "I'm not sure," she stammered. "I know Mireille said that it wasn't important that we understand what they were saying, and after that, they kind of went into overdrive. They're speaking so quickly, I can't make heads or tails of it. The little bit I do catch doesn't make any sense."

Grandmère and I had fought for another two minutes or so when my mother came bursting into the room with Kate in tow. My mother soon joined in the argument, and Kate stood back with the rest of the group. "Any idea what they're saying?" Jerrica asked Kate.

"Not a one," Kate replied, shaking her head, "but I have never seen Anne-Marie this angry in a long time."

Not more than thirty seconds had passed when I finally yelled, "Fine! If you want to be like that, then I hope you lead a very happy life without Joey and me in it, because at this point, I never want to see you again!" I ran around the bed and stormed past the group of spectators out of the room.

Behind me, I heard Josh say, "Now that I understood."

My mom glanced over at Joey and said, "Joey?" When she had his attention, she motioned her hands in my direction. Joey took the hint and left the room to find me.

He didn't have to go very far, as I was sitting on a bench in the hallway a couple of rooms down. Joey didn't need to be empathic to figure out how I was feeling; it was written all over my face. He didn't know what to say or do, so he just put his arm around my shoulder and sat there. Things were bad enough already, and they got worse when, from out of nowhere, a swarm of nurses and doctors flocked to my grandmother's room. All of the guys, Kate, and Jerrica were pushed out of the room, and suddenly I saw my grandmother's bed being wheeled down the hall with Mom right behind.

I glanced up at the group, who had slowly come over to us with puzzled looks on their faces. "What was that all about?" I asked quietly.

No one seemed to know anything, until Josh said, "I heard one of the doctors say something like, 'Sewn cur set are and tay,' but I'm not sure if I'm remembering that right, and I know I'm not saying that right."

I sighed heavily. "Close enough," I said. "The doctor said, 'Son cœur s'est arêté.' It means 'her heart stopped.' She's had a heart attack."

"Oh Rob," Jerrica said softly, her eyes brimming with tears. Sitting next to me, she pulled me into a hug, and Joey embraced both of us together.

"Why don't you all go home," Kate suggested, "and we'll call you later if we have any news."

"I think that's a good idea," Lance said. "Let's go guys."

My whole body felt numb as I stood up, and my legs tried desperately to give out on me. Joey and Jerrica both caught me as my knees started to buckle, and I clutched onto Joey. I started to cry again---my own tears, this time---and we slowly made our way out of the hospital. If I thought my day was bad enough already, it was about to get worse. It seems the press somehow got wind of *Nsync's arrival in Montréal and, as I found later, had been chased away from the lobby after some rather mean-looking security guards came after them. Nevertheless, many reporters were camped out on the sidewalk awaiting our exit, and the minute they saw us, it was pandemonium.

"JC! JC!" one of them called. "What are all of you doing here in Montreal?"

"Lance! Are you here to put on a surprise concert or something?"

"Justin? Is it true you came up here to get away from Britney Spears?"

"Joey! Who is that young man and why is he hanging all over you?"

The entire group was content to ignore the media as we made our way to the parking structure, but the last question had to be answered before someone in the press decided to draw their own conclusions. I was not in any right state of mind, so I let go of Joey's arm, yelled, "Allez! Vous êtes des vautours, tout le monde!" I then ran through the crowd and dashed into the parking structure.

The French-speaking press were not amused by my comments and continued to press on. Finally, Jerrica said, "Look at yourselves! He's right, you know. You are acting like a pack of vultures! Now, y'all are lucky we're at a hospital, because if some people don't back off in the next five seconds, you're going to be thankful the ER is right inside."

The press stopped moving forward, intimidated slightly by Jerrica's glaring eye, but that didn't stop them from continuing to pepper Joey and the others with questions. Finally being able to take no more, Joey held up his hands and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, and I use that term very lightly, that guy is a very good friend of ours whose grandmother has been in this hospital for some days now, and we thought it was best for us to come along and show him our support. His grandmother has only moments ago just suffered from a heart attack, and as I'm sure you can understand, he is quite distressed by the whole ordeal. Now, if you will excuse us, we are going to continue to be the good friends we are and be with our friend in his time of need." They then began to push through the crowd, which quickly dispersed, and made their way into the parking structure.

They reached Lance and Justin's car first, and Lance said, "Joey, why don't you and Jerrica go with Will, and we'll follow. I think he needs both of you right now."

"Are you all going to be okay following us?" Jerrica asked.

"If we're following Joey, yes. If we're following you, not a chance," Josh joked. The others laughed, and Jerrica stuck her tongue out at him. Truth be told, they needed a little bit of levity at the moment.

"Come on Joey," Jerrica said, again grabbing Joey by the arm. "Let's go find him."

I was already at the car and was sitting on the trunk, my head buried in my hands. I was bawling quite freely now, and it broke Joey's heart to see me in such distress. He came up to me and started to give me a hug, but I pushed him away. "We can't," I whispered between sobs. "We can't."

"Yes we can," Joey said as he tried to hug me again, but once again I rejected his advance.

"No," I said pitifully, shaking my head. "No."

Joey looked over at Jerrica for help, but she shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. She didn't know what to do either. "Will, come here," Joey said firmly, wrapping his arms around me. I tired to push him off me again, but this time he persisted. He could be just as stubborn as I was, and after a minute of fighting, I finally relented and let him hold me. He slowly slid my body off the car as I buried my face in his shoulder and cried hard. Jerrica came up behind me and joined in, wrapping her arms around me from behind. Moments later, the other four pulled up in their car with Lance at the wheel. Lance pulled in to the spot next to where I had parked and everyone got out. They too came and joined in the now group hug, wherever they saw fit. Justin tried to get as close to me as he could, but it was rather difficult since both Joey and Jerrica were blocking him most of the way.

At last, my tears quieted and I began to catch my breath. My head was spinning a little and I needed to be anywhere but there. I started to break away from Jerrica's grip on me, and the rest of the group broke apart. Only Joey refused to let go, and it took about thirty seconds of normal breathing before Joey finally let go of me. Pulling the keys out of my pocket, I said clearly, "Well, I guess we better go."

Joey snatched the keys out of my hand and said adamantly, "You are not driving."

"But..." I started to object, but Joey would hear nothing further.

"Will, you're a wreck right now, are in no condition to be driving, and that's final!" he said. Tossing Jerrica the keys, he said, "Jerrica, you drive."

"What are you trying to do? Kill me?" I said with a half-hearted laugh.

"Oh, sure. Everyone pick on me," Jerrica said, but she was silenced by an evil glare from Joey. "Right. Let's go then." Jerrica climbed into the front seat while Joey steered himself and me into the back. "If you can direct me to the highway," Jerrica said, "I can get us the rest of the way."

Both cars pulled out of their respective parking spots and made their way out of the parking structure. After paying the parking fees, I directed Jerrica to the highway and then fell silent. Joey held me the entire way back, but the car was quiet the entire time.

We had been back at the house for over an hour, and I had been sitting in the bedroom Joey and I were using by myself the entire time. I had asked him to leave me alone, and surprisingly, he did so, although it I would guess it was against his better judgment. I had lain on the bed for about fifteen minutes or so, and then had paced the room for another forty-five. Needing a breath of fresh air in more ways than one, I went over to the window and opened it all the way. There was hardly any breeze, which in this case was a good thing since the room I was in faced the lake. I sat down on the ledge next to the window and stared at the lake outside.

I was beside myself. The last words I said to my grandmother were that I never wanted to see her again, and if she died, I wouldn't. The fact that I had been so callous toward her tore at me, yet I was still angry with her over the way she treated Joey. Neither of them deserved what was said, especially Joey, but what I said to Grandmère couldn't be taken back right now. I sighed heavily and took solace in the one thing that always made me feel better: singing. I had to let some of the emotions in me out, and it was often a good way to do so.

At the same time, Joey peeked in on me as he had done every fifteen minutes or so. He felt that it was his way of making sure I knew he was there without invading my space. He presumed that I would probably know that he was nearby, but he was mistaken in this case. I was too wrapped up in myself to notice anything about the world around me. He watched me as I gazed out the window, and then was surprised when he heard me start to sing.

How could you know that behind my eyes a sad boy cried?
And how could you know that I hurt so much inside?
And how could you know that I'm not like the other boys and girls?
I'm carrying the weight of the world.

Justin had come up the stairs and was about to head over to the bedroom he was sharing with Josh when he heard Joey quietly call out to him. Joey motioned him over, so Justin went to investigate. Joey pointed at me inside the room and smiled. I had just climbed off the ledge and had walked to the center of the room, completely oblivious I was being watched as I sang the next verse and spun around in a circle, once again à la Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.

So can you get me out of here?
Take me away.
We'll jump in the car.
Drive 'til the gas runs out and then walk so far
That we can't see this place anymore.
Take a day off,
Give it a rest,
So I can forget about this mess.
If I lighten up a little bit,
Then I will be over it.

I finally spotted Joey watching me and motioned him inside, but it didn't cause me to stop singing. Instead of singing to myself, I sung to Joey instead.

I'm playin' the role of the happy boy but no one knows
Inside I'm alone, but I would never let it show.
I get everyday too much work and not enough play.
Over and over it's always the same.

But you can make everything okay.

I poked a finger into Joey's chest as I sang the last line. I gave him a broad smile, the first real one it felt like I'd had all day, and grabbed Joey's hands to dance with him. Justin, little twerp that he is, decided that was the perfect time to go round up the rest of the house to come watch.

Take me away.
We'll jump in the car.
Drive 'til the gas runs out and then walk so far
That we can't see this place anymore.
Take a day off.
Give it a rest.
So I can forget about this mess.
If I lighten up a little bit,
Then I will be over it.
Over it.</div >

I let go of Joey's hands and let my body and hands "talk" while I sang the rest of the song.

And when the world is closin' in,
I can leave it all and just walk away.
I can always start all over again.
I am closer to a better day!

I belted the note and held it, which was just about the time when the rest of the house showed up to peek through the door. They all grinned as they heard me sing. This was no longer a new or amazing occurrence for them, but the fact that it was happening so soon after a catastrophic afternoon had to be a good sign. What did surprise them was not only that this was a song they hadn't ever heard before---and it was one they fast decided they liked---but that Jerrica had begun to sing it along with me.

Take me away.
We'll jump in the car.
Drive 'til the gas runs out and then walk so far
That we can't see this place anymore.
Take a day off.
Give it a rest.
So I can forget about this mess.
If I lighten up a little bit,
Then I will be

I swept my arms wide and then grabbed Joey, pulling him toward the window. As I continued to sing, I gestured outside to the dark lake and star-studded sky and hoped that he took the hint that I was no longer just singing words, but truly begging him to do what the lyrics said. I wanted out. I wanted to be far away from Montréal. I wanted to go back to Baltimore, to Los Angeles, to Orlando, to anywhere but here!

Take me away.
Take me away.
Take me away.
We'll jump in the car.
Drive 'til the gas runs out and then walk so far
That we can't see this place anymore.
Take a day off.
Give it a rest.
So I can forget about this mess.
If I lighten up a little bit,
Then I will be
If I lighten up a little bit,
Then I will be over it.
Over It.
I am over it.

My voice faltered a little on the last line as I stared out at the clear night sky. Jerrica gazed at me sadly as she watched Joey pull me into a hug while the two of us just stared out the window. Chris noticed the melancholy look on her face and asked, "Is something wrong Jerrica?"

Jerrica sighed. "I don't know. It's been a long time since I've heard that song."

"It's a good song," Josh, the resident lyricist, said. "Who is it by?"

"Us," Jerrica replied, not taking her eyes off of me. "He wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music. He wrote it during the whole legal mess with Allison, and after it was over, I haven't heard him sing it again."

"When you put it that way," Lance remarked, "It almost sounds like a..."

"...cry for help." Justin finished.

The group had a renewed sense of sympathy for me which, collectively, made its presence known to me. I slowly turned around to find the lot of them watching Joey and me. When my eyes met theirs, they all looked a little guilty, but I could hardly be upset with them. They were only trying to be supportive.

I waved them in and went to close the window, as it was starting to get a bit chilly inside. Both Lance and Josh came over to give me a hug, which I accepted without argument. Justin hesitated for a moment, making eye contact with Joey, but then he decided that he didn't care what Joey thought and gave me a hug as well. Chris and Jerrica gave me a group hug, and the outpouring of emotion and support from them nearly brought me to tears. Then again, there wasn't much that day that didn't.

Everyone took a seat where they could find one. Joey, Josh, and I squeezed onto the bed; Lance and Justin both found a chair to sit in, and Chris and Jerrica took a seat on the floor. "That was wonderful," Josh said at last. The others murmured in agreement.

I blushed a little. "Thanks," I said. "It's just a little song Jerrica and I wrote years ago. Nothing big."

"But it is!" Josh said. "It was wonderful, but I'm sensing there is a reason why you picked that song in particular tonight?"

"And I'm supposed to be the empathic one," I mumbled.

"What??" shouted Lance, Justin, and Josh.

"Oops," I said, closing my eyes and whacking myself in the forehead. I had forgotten they weren't privy to that conversation I had with Joey, and I guessed quickly that Jerrica had told Chris. "I'm kinda, sorta empathic. I can pick up on other people's feelings and, unbeknownst to me, I can apparently send mine out as well."

"You know, that explains a lot," Justin said. Turning to me, he said, "And all this time, you never told us? I even asked you once, and you lied to me!"

"Uh, Justin..." I started softly.

"I never thought you would really lie to us, Will," Justin said vehemently.

I didn't know whether to be angry or upset. I could feel tears starting to form in my eyes, and the voice that I had discovered only minutes ago to sing had suddenly disappeared. All I seemed to be able to do was shake my head.

"What did he say exactly?" Joey asked pointedly.

"Well, I asked him how he always knew what I was feeling, and then he said that it was because he had been there before," Justin replied, "but that wasn't true, was it?"

"I have been there," I whispered softly, so softly, in fact, I wasn't sure I said it out loud. I sniffled a little and said in a slightly louder voice, "Justin, you left out the part where you said, 'It's kind of creepy, you know?' What was I supposed to do? Creep you out more?" My voice started to rise as anger started to set in. "We had only known each other for not even twenty-four stinking hours yet, and the fact that you stuck around even after you heard my tales of woe with...with..." Saying her name still made me shudder, but I forced it out nonetheless. "With Allison surprised me. I told you about my sexuality and you still stayed. What would you have thought if I told you that? You would have thought I was off my rocker and hightailed it out of there."

I stood up, my hands starting to shake from the anger building inside of me. "I didn't tell Jerrica until we had been best friends for what? Four years?" I asked, looking over at her for confirmation. She just nodded slightly, not saying anything to interrupt me. Unless we were in the middle of an appropriate fight, she knew better than to try to stop me when I was in the middle of a rant. "If I had my way, none of you would know. Jerrica found out because I was in the middle of a depression and needed a confidante besides my mother, and even then, it slipped out accidentally. If my mother hadn't acted the way she did today, none of you would know unless someone," I said, glaring at Jerrica, "decided not to keep her big yap shut." Jerrica stared at the floor with a guilty look on her face. Looking back at Justin, I said defiantly, "In my eyes, Justin, I never lied to you, but you can call it as you see fit. I would never lie to you unless I thought doing so would protect you in some way. However, since once again I have been deemed untrustworthy and a liar by someone..." I could almost feel Joey cringe behind me, as it was he who had made the accusations the last time. "I said it before and I'll say it again. If you don't trust me, there's the door. You have a car. You know where the airport is. GO!! I'm not stopping you! Here, I'll even open the door for you! As for the rest, if anyone chooses to stay here, I'll see you later." I yanked the door open and ran out of the room.

All eyes turned to Justin, who was beginning to look quite upset. "What just happened here?" he asked quietly.

"You happened!" Joey said fiercely as he stood up and took a step toward Justin. "You and your damn mouth!"

"Joey, sit and calm down," Jerrica said as she too stood up.

"Back off Jerrica," Joey warned. "Don't get involved."

Jerrica marched over to Joey and pushed him onto the bed. "When I say sit, I MEAN SIT!!" Joey's eyes went wide but he made no movement against her. He quickly decided that, for as angry as he was, Jerrica meant business and he already knew that she was not one to be taken lightly. Content that Joey was going to stay put for a moment, she turned to Justin. "And you!" Justin squirmed a little as he could feel Jerrica's wrath coming. "Oh, don't think you're safe, boy. You know darn good and well that I'm a worse force to be reckoned with than him. What in the hell possessed you to say that? After everything that's happened today, you thought now would be a good time to put him on trial?"

"I didn't mean..." Justin began, but it was useless. Like myself, you just have to wait until Jerrica's done before you try to talk. Otherwise, it just adds fuel to the fire.

"You didn't mean what? You didn't mean to upset him more by calling him a liar? What did you think he was going to do? Dance the rumba or something?"

"The rumba?" Chris said aloud accidentally, but he clamped his hands over his mouth when Jerrica's glare briefly turned on him.

"Whatever! Now, you listen and listen good, you little twit, because I'm only going to say this once. As usual, once he cools down he'll forgive you, but I'm not nearly so nice. You do anything, and I mean ANYTHING LIKE THAT AGAIN, I WILL MAKE SURE YOU CAN NEVER HAVE CHILDREN, BECAUSE I WILL RIP YOUR DICK AND BALLS OFF WITH MY BARE HANDS! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME???"

Justin cowered away from her in terror. There had been a few instances over the years where he had feared for his life, and this was fast becoming one of them. "Y-Y-Yes," Justin stammered weakly.

"GOOD! Oooh!" Jerrica let out a disgusted groan. "I'm out of here. I'm going to see if I can do some damage control." Without saying another word, she turned and left the room.

The guys of *Nsync glanced at each other and then over at Justin, who was still shaking. They had faced some pretty formidable people over the years, especially Eric, but Jerrica wasn't kidding when she said she was a force to be reckoned with, and a fairly dangerous one at that. They sat in silence for a moment before Lance said, "Justin?" When he saw Justin jump, he said, "I'm not going to bite your head off, I promise. I would just like some answers. Why are we all here?" Justin seemed a little confused by Lance's question, so Lance clarified. "Josh, Chris, Jerrica, and I are here because you made some decision that you needed to be here too. I think I know why, but I want to hear it from you."

"I'm sorry," Justin said shakily. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for this to happen. I didn't mean to call him a liar. It's like my mouth was on auto-pilot. I don't even know where those words came from!" Justin slid off of his chair onto the floor as he continued to ramble, pulling his knees to his chest. "I was just so shocked when he said that, and I felt a little hurt that he hadn't told us sooner! Believe me guys! I would never want to hurt him. I...I love him too much for that, and all I wanted was for him to love me too."

It took about five seconds before Joey jumped off the bed and stared hard at Justin. "I should have known. You always want what you can't have, Justin. I told you before to keep your hands off of Will, but did you listen? I ought to pound you, but between Jerrica's threats and knowing that the chances of Will speaking to you anytime in the immediate future aren't too good right now, I'd say you've had enough. However, this isn't over Justin. Not by a long shot." Like Jerrica and me before him, he quickly left the room in his own fury.

Once Joey left, the room went back to being silent. It stayed that way for what seemed like eternity, until Josh finally said, "Jus?"

Justin was softly crying to himself, having been berated by myself, Jerrica, and Joey, and he was not really ready for a fourth round. Nevertheless, he figured if they were going to yell, better do it all at once instead of waiting for it to hit him later. Sniffling, Justin said, "Go ahead and say it Josh. Might as well."

"Look, I don't necessarily agree with your actions, especially when you called Will a liar, but I don't fault you too much for coming here. Love makes us do crazy things at times, and if you truly believe or believed you were in love with him, it actually makes a lot of sense.'

"It does?" Lance, Justin, and Chris said in unison.

"Yeah. Love is blinding, you know, and I believe him when he says he didn't mean for this to happen. We often say things we don't mean when we find out things that shock us. Look at what happened today with Will's grandmother."

"Yeah. If she dies, he's never going to forgive himself," Lance said sadly.

They all thought about what emotional agony I must have already been going through, how Justin had made it worse, how grateful they were that they weren't in my shoes, and how they didn't envy Jerrica and Joey, who had appointed themselves to look after me. Noticing the clock on the wall as it was about to strike ten, Josh stood up and said, "Well, there's not much we can do about anything now. Let's all go to bed. We have seven o'clock flights to catch. Justin, let's go."

"Okay," Justin said quietly as he allowed Josh to lead him out of the room.

As soon as Chris heard Josh and Justin's door shut, he said to Lance, "What are we going to do with him?"

Lance shrugged. "I don't know, but we're going to have to figure something out fast, because life on the road is going to be hell if he and Joey are at war."

"No kidding," Chris said as he walked over to the window. Staring out at the starry sky and the calm lake, he said, "If there was ever a time I could use Will's advice, now would be it."

It was a sweet sentiment from Chris, and I would have been pleased to hear it under normal circumstances, but, as Joey and Jerrica found out quickly, I was not capable of giving or receiving advice on any level. A creature of habit, it didn't take the two of them very long to find me sitting on the dock by the lake. I had a handful of pebbles sitting next to me and I was methodically tossing them haphazardly into the lake. When the two spotted me, they called out my name and ran toward me, but I just ignored them. The cold breeze off the frigid lake was beginning to make me feel as numb on the outside as I was starting to feel on the inside, and I was, at the moment, perfectly content with that.

Everything is such a freaking mess, I thought as I continued to throw the pebbles into the lake. Why can't I be normal? Why did I have to be gay? Why did I have to fall in love with Joey, of all people? Why did I have to tell my grandmother, for crying out loud? That was stupid! STUPID!

I left the world of reality as I once again started to go to war with the voice in my head, just as I had done the day the guys arrived and announced their desire to stay with me. I had gone to war with myself over telling them I was gay, and that had worked out well, but this was different. I was slowly slipping into a suicidal depression, and it was no longer a matter of being scared over whether or not someone would accept me for who I was, but I was beginning to question whether or not there was a reason for my continuing to exist at all.

You're right, that was stupid, the voice in my head said. Incredibly stupid. You know that if she dies, it's all your fault.

I didn't mean to! I cried. It wasn't supposed to happen like that!

But it did happen like that, the voice continued, and it's all on your head. If she dies, it's on your head. You know why Justin came up here, don't you? He came up here to get you, and if Joey and Justin can't get along and the band breaks up, that's on your head too.

I had nothing to do with that! I thought indignantly. That is not my fault!

So whose fault is it? Joey's? My self-destructive side was getting cockier by the minute. Did you, or did you not, kiss him behind Mama Celia's? Did you think that would prove something? Did you think that would magically make him realize he's not gay? You just wanted to kiss him, didn't you? You've been leading him on this whole time!

NO! It's not true! I screamed in my head. It's not true! It can't be true. I love Joey too much for that.

Do you? Do you really? the voice cackled. If you loved Joey so much, then why did you kiss Justin? You know you enjoyed it. Don't deny it.

I didn't. I swear I didn't. I was trying to get Justin to realize he can't love me, and I hoped he would see it was just a fleeting moment. He said he would get over it!

Looks like it backfired, the voice said. All you seem to bring to people is misery.

By this time, Jerrica and Joey were running down the dock toward me. They were a little worried that I hadn't answered them, and once they arrived next to me, they became even more worried. I was no longer throwing pebbles into the lake, I had closed my eyes, and my breathing had become a bit labored.

The look of concern that immediately appeared on Jerrica's face set Joey to worry. "Is he okay?" he asked.

Jerrica's eyes met his, and for the first time since he had met her, he could see fear and panic in her eyes. "I don't know," she said. "I'd like to think he's meditating, but the pained expression on his face seems to throw that notion out the window."

Joey's mind flashed back to that first night at my house when I had a similar experience, and the fear he'd had when they couldn't immediately snap me out of it. His state of panic rose when he concluded I was probably having the same problem. "I think he's fighting with himself," Joey said. "That's what happened the last time. He was so worked up over telling us that he was gay when we asked to stay at his house with him that he did this. It's no wonder though. This has got to be twenty times worse than that."

Joey was right on all levels, but I didn't really hear him. I was too busy fighting with the voice in my head. It's kind of funny really. Last time it was trying to help me. This time it was bent on destroying me, and it was starting to succeed. I continued to fight with it, but my resolve was starting to weaken. I'm a good person. I am. I don't bring people misery.

Look at your grandmother. Look at Justin. Look at Allison. Yeah, Allison. You destroyed her life completely.

She brought that on herself, I thought. That wasn't my fault.

You could have said nothing. Life would have gone on just fine, but you had to blab about it to Jerrica and your mother and the courts and everyone. You wanted her life destroyed, just like everyone else's. It won't be long until you destroy Joey's too. As a matter of fact, it looks like you've already started.

The voice struck a nerve. What do you mean, I've already started?

He's already threatened to quit once. As soon as he and Justin become at odds with one another, one of them will go, and then the whole band falls apart. The best part is that it's all because of you.

My resolve to fight was shattered at that moment. Maybe the voice was right after all. I couldn't hurt Joey. I couldn't destroy his life. "I can't hurt him," I murmured. "I can't."

"Jerrica!" Joey shouted as he tried to get her attention. She was trying desperately to call my mother, but she kept getting no answer. "Jerrica! He said something!"

"What did he say?" she asked, rushing over to his side.

"He said, 'I can't hurt him.' Hurt who? Will!" he shouted as he shook me again as he had been doing off and on for the last few minutes. "Snap out of it!"

Inside my head, my destructive side was pushing me ever closer to the edge. He believes he loves you too much to let you go willingly. He's so loyal, he won't just walk away. Of course, you could always resolve that problem quickly.

What do you mean? How? I asked.

Take yourself out of the picture. Completely. In such a way that you'll never hurt anyone again.

You mean...kill myself? I groaned inside my head and vocally as well.

"Have you reached Anne-Marie yet?" Joey asked Jerrica, who was still frantically dialing.

"No! I've called the hospital twice to page her or Kate, but no one is coming!"

"Keep trying!" Joey shouted. He was at a complete loss at what to do. If it was a physical battle, he could jump in and protect me, but there was no helping me when I was fighting an internal battle. Joey just prayed that I would be okay at the end of it. "Come back to me, Will. It's okay. Everything will be all right. Just come back to me. Come back."

Joey needs me, I thought happily, the first happy thought I'd had in who knows how long. Joey's voice was slowly seeping into my brain, and it was as if his words were putting up a barrier between my destructive voice and the rest of me. I need to go back to Joey.

Why? So you can ruin his life more? He's better off without you and you know it. Just go. Just slip right off the dock and into the water.

But the water's only two feet deep, I thought. What good will that do?

The lake is cold. Even if you don't drown, you'll go from hypothermia.

I don't know...

Do it before someone tries to stop you, or do you want to mess up everyone else's life? You've already doomed Allison to a life of misery. What's a few more? Joey doesn't need happiness.

Yes, he does. Joey deserves to be happy, I thought sadly, not noticing the tears that were coming to my eyes. He deserves to be happy whether I'm around or not.

"Jerrica! He's...crying, but I don't know if it's a good thing or not," Joey said as he wiped the tears from my eyes. "Will, I know you're upset. I know you're probably scared and confused. I know you think the world is against you, but it's not! Just snap out of it!" He shook me again, but it was to no avail.

Joey's words were helping stave off the seemingly inevitable. Every time his words would reach me, it pulled me back a little toward the real world. Joey wants me back. He wants me.

He's a fool. He's blinded by love. He can't see the truth. You see the truth. Do it now, the voice said. Say good-bye and do it now!

I can't. I'm scared.

You're being selfish. If you really loved him, you'd help him help himself. Now do it and get it over with.

My self-destructive side, after years of battling, had finally won. Heaving a sigh in my head, as well as one audibly, I said and thought, "Good-bye Joey. I love you." Then, in a methodical fashion, I pushed my arms against the wood and forced my body off the dock toward the cold water below.

To Be Continued...

So what did you think? This has to be the hardest chapter I've ever written, and the scary part is that this ending was unintentional. I'm still not sure where it came from or how it manifested itself, but it sort of seemed to fit all of a sudden after I went back through and read it. Now, before the hate mail starts, don't worry. I plan for this story to go on for a long time, so you can make some good assumptions about whether or not Will is going to be all right. There are still some other unanswered questions though. Is Will's grandmother going to be okay? Is the press going to give the guys any more trouble, and do they suspect anything? What do Will's parents have in store for him and Joey, and how are they going to react when they find out what has just happened? Will everything go as planned in Baltimore the next day? Please, drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

I'm a little surprised I got this chapter out so quickly, especially since this is the longest one to date. I went out of the country for a week right after I posted the last one, so I think I made great time. Now to get Chapter Sixteen started! Also, for those that are interested, I have started a second story, called The Glamorous Life, which I am co-writing with a very talented author. 

Thanks to everyone who has written to me!! A special thanks goes out to my editors, Mandy and Dreamy, who keep me in line. Thanks also to my good friend Brogan, who keeps me inspired.

Extra disclaimers: Song lyrics for "Over It" are protected under copyright by the original author and its recording label. No attempt to infringe on this copyright should be assumed or implied.