One Dark Night

Chapter Eleven: Letters

While I was downstairs raving like a lunatic, it was a very different scene upstairs in my bedroom with Joey and Justin. The silence in the room upstairs was as deafening as the noise downstairs. It wasn't very difficult for Justin and Joey to hear what was going on; if I didn't live so far apart from my neighbors they would have heard me too. After about five minutes of listening to me yell my head off, Justin, who was sitting on my bed, lost it completely and burst into tears. Joey, who had been sitting in my office chair, jumped up and rushed over to him. "What is it, Justin? What's wrong?"

"'s nothing," Justin mumbled, quietly enough that Joey had to strain his ears to understand him.

"Yeah, right. Stop trying to spare me your feelings and tell me what's wrong."

Justin sighed and flopped backward onto my bed. Staring at the ceiling, he said, "Will is never going to forgive us. Ever. We have screwed up so royally that nothing is going to fix this. It's obvious he hates us. I don't know what we were thinking, listening to Jerrica. He told us to get out and we should have."

Joey wasn't sure what to say. He didn't want to say too much, knowing that I wanted to be the one to say it, but at the same time, his sense of loyalty to his friend and bandmate was eating at him. Thinking for a moment, he asked, "Do you really believe that? Knowing what you do about him, do you really think he meant it?"

"Yes. No. I don't know!"

"Justin, listen to me. He doesn't hate you. I don't think he has the capacity to hate anyone. He doesn't like what we did, and he trusts us a little less because of it, but to hate isn't his style."

Starting to tear up again, Justin said quietly, "I don't know what I'd do if he didn't want to be my friend anymore. I finally found someone who listens to me and treats me as a complete equal, who wants nothing from me and wants me to be who I really am. I know it sounds crazy, but ever since we started this group, that's the kind of friend I've been looking for. Now that I've found it, we've gone and screwed everything up."

"What do you mean Justin? We listen to you and treat you like an equal."

"No! You don't!! No one listens to me! Every idea I have is 'stupid' or 'childish.' Just because I'm the youngest doesn't mean I don't have a brain, Joey! It doesn't mean that I don't have good ideas! No one has ever bothered to listen to me, really and truly, before Will came along. Not only that, but do you know that he knew how I felt without me even telling him?"

Joey smiled. It was one of those many things about me that amazed him. "I believe it. I don't know how, but he always knows how we're feeling, and often what we're thinking. If I didn't know better, I'd almost say he was psychic."

"I don't know what it is either," Justin said, a smile briefly crossing his face before disappearing just as quickly, "but I don't want to lose him."

"We won't," Joey said. "I promise."

"You know what it is, Joey? He makes me feel valuable, like I'm worth something. He sees past the 'boyband exterior,' the glitz and glamour, and sees plain old Justin Timberlake, the kid from Tennessee. I haven't had a real friend in so long, I've almost forgotten what it's like."

"What about Josh?" Joey asked.

Justin smiled. "Josh? He's a great guy and a good friend, but it's not the same. Josh is always off on his own, writing music or something. More often than not, any time I go to talk to him, I either can't find him or he's too busy for me. Will is never too busy for me." Justin stood up and walked over to the window and opened it, climbing out onto the balcony.

"Justin? What are you doing?" Joey called out as he stood up, following him.

Justin, however, was no longer paying attention. He had slowly caught himself up in his own little world. "You know, I don't know what I'd do if I lost his friendship. I'd almost rather die first." He looked over the ledge to the ground, staring at the same spot I had fallen to a couple days earlier.

"Justin, come inside and we'll talk some more about this, okay?" Joey said evenly. Justin obviously wasn't in a rational frame of mind, and being on the balcony was probably not a good idea. Justin didn't answer. He seemed preoccupied with staring at the ground below. Joey slowly made his way toward Justin. "Justin, please come inside."

Justin sighed. He didn't want to go back in. He didn't want anything to do with this place anymore. Somewhere, deep inside him, he knew he had some sort of feelings for me and it scared him. He was pretty sure he wasn't gay, but every time I was nearby Justin felt this warm, fuzzy sensation flow through him. He didn't know what to do, but he knew that no matter what happened, the end result was nothing but trouble. After all, I was dating his best friend.

Or was I? For all Justin knew, the two of us had split. People have broken up over far less. A small smile crept to Justin's face. Things might not be so bad after all. Turning around, he looked at Joey, who was now three-quarters of the way across the room. Joey had been moving slowly in order not to spook Justin, lest he do something stupid like jump.

"So Joey," Justin said at last, "I'm assuming you and Will are no longer together, right?"

Joey froze. Where is he going with this? he wondered. Finding his voice, he replied, "Actually, we talked it out and he has forgiven me, especially since I did try to put an end to Chris' plan."

Justin's face fell. "He...he forgave you?" Justin stammered. Damn! he thought. I should have known, unless... unless it's all in Joey's mind! Maybe he just hopes that Will can forgive him, but hasn't. "Are you sure?"

At first, Joey tried to read more into that statement than he thought he should, but he shrugged it off. "I'm sure. We had a long talk, and I think we've patched things up, at least as best as we can for now."

"What about us?" Justin asked plaintively.

"That I don't know for certain, but I'm sure he'll forgive you over time."

Their attention was diverted momentarily by another yell from downstairs, although this time they couldn't be certain who it was.

"Or not," Justin said sadly. Turning away from Joey, he looked over the balcony again to the ground and came to a decision. He needed to leave. He had to get out now. The trellis method hadn't worked well for me, but Justin was considerably lighter, for one, and he wouldn't stop no matter what Joey said. He started to make his move and went to reach for the trellis.

"Justin! Don't!" Joey shouted as he rushed toward the window, knocking over the lamp on the nightstand next to the bed. "Crap!" he exclaimed as he looked at the broken pieces.

"Can't anyone in this house move around without breaking something?" he heard me say, followed by the sound of feet running up the stairs.

"Double crap!" Joey said to himself as he glanced between the door and Justin who, also hearing my voice, momentarily froze with one leg over the railing.

Suddenly the door, which had only been cracked open slightly, burst open. Joey looked at me with a forlorn expression on his face; there was no easy way to explain this scene. He watched as my eyes widened in shock. After a brief moment, my voice rang out as I exclaimed, "Justin? What the hell are you doing?!"

Joey backed away from the window, nearly tripping over the broken lamp, and sat back down on the bed as I climbed through the window out onto the balcony. Justin, for what it's worth, looked terrified. Not because he was in the process of doing something stupid, but because I caught him the process of doing something stupid, and my opinion was, for some reason, incredibly important to him. Justin was unsure of what to do. Even more than before, he wanted out of this situation, but now that I was there, he felt his desire to escape slowly subsiding.

I didn't have any idea what else to say to him and, given the awkwardness of the situation, I did the only thing I could think of -- make a joke. "You know Justin, I never considered myself a trendsetter, but if I was going to start one, this isn't the one I would have picked."

Justin giggled and started to maneuver himself back onto the balcony. As he went to swing his left leg back over, his foot got caught in the railing, causing him to slip. He started to fall as I rushed to grab his right leg, which was still within my reach. "Joey!! Come help me!" I yelled as I held onto Justin with all my might. I wasn't sure I could pull him up by myself, and in order to even try would require me to change my grip on his leg, which was something I wasn't willing to do. As I slowly started to pull him up, Joey crawled out onto the balcony and grabbed Justin's other leg. Together, we hoisted him back up and set him down on his own two feet. The three of us crawled back inside my bedroom to find the others standing in the doorway with bewildered expressions on their faces. "All right! Everyone out!" I said loudly, shooing everyone from the room. "Not you!" I said, grabbing Justin by the arm. "You and I need to have a little talk."

Soon it was just Joey, Justin, and I left. "You know, as much as I like Tricia and Eddie," I said, referring to the EMTs who had been at the crash site and came when I fell, "I don't like having to see them in an official capacity. Please, never scare me like that again! Heaven forbid anything were to happen to one of you!"

Justin's eyes widened briefly, and then he grabbed me and pulled me into a tight hug. Soon his body was wracked with sobs as he buried his face into my shoulder. Glancing up, I looked at Joey and, as if he were reading my mind, he got up and silently left the room, closing the door behind him.

Once Joey had gone, I turned my attention to Justin, who was still in a fit of tears. Guiding him to the bed, I carefully sat both of us down. Justin had shifted positions and had now buried his face in my chest, still sobbing. I rocked him gently and let him continue; something told me he needed to do this. After some time had passed, Justin finally calmed down and began to mumble something completely inaudible to me. Gently, I pushed his body away from mine and lifted his chin until his eyes met mine. He may be a cute pop star most of the time, but at that moment he looked terrible. "What's going on Justin?" I asked softly.

Justin mumbled something again that I couldn't understand. The look of confusion on my face eventually clued him in that I didn't catch what he said, so he repeated it, this time louder and more clearly. "You hate us."

Whoa. Should have seen that one coming, I thought. Taking a deep breath, I said, "Justin, I don't hate you. Yes, I was angry with you, but that doesn't mean I hate you."

Justin flopped backward onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. "Yes you do," he said. "I heard you yelling downstairs. That doesn't sound like someone who wants to be friendly."

For some reason, as skewed as his view was on this situation, I could see his point. "Justin, as I said before, I was angry, but I had also decided I was going to forgive you guys. You had good intentions...I think."

"How could you forgive us for this? After what we did? I wouldn't forgive me."

Hmmm. Déjà vu. "Like I told Chris when he said the same thing, that's why it's a good thing I'm me and not you." I paused for a moment, choosing my words carefully. "Justin, why are you beating yourself up over this? Yes, you made a mistake. We all make mistakes. I'm sorry you heard the argument downstairs. I asked Joey to bring you up here because I didn't want you to hear it. See, even I'm not perfect."

Oh, but you are, Justin thought to himself. In more ways than you can imagine. "So you really do forgive us for this?" he asked in a childlike voice.

I smiled warmly at him. "Of course. I love you guys. You're like family, and I wouldn't trade you for anything. No, not even you!"

Justin laughed. I always managed to make him feel better. "Will?" he asked hesitantly.

"Yes, Justin?"

"Would you sing something for me?"

"Huh? Why?

"For one, I like hearing you sing. Second, my mom always used to sing to me when I was feeling down, and I always felt better afterward." He turned away from me and looked down at his feet. "Although, I guess if you don't want to, it's okay."

Ouch. Guilt trip alert! Placing my hand on his shoulder, I said, "All right. One song, but I have to make it quick. I have to go soon." I glanced at my watch. It was almost five o'clock.

"Go? Go where?"

"To work. Have to make a living somehow! Now, what to sing? Oh. I know." I stood up and went to grab my office chair. I placed it in front of Justin and sat down. "Let's see. Now how does it start? Oh right."

Imagining the intro beat in my head, I began to sing:

The boy you saw before, that's not the real me.
The boy who made you sore, that's not the real me.
The boy with his nose in the air,
Who put you through such agony.
That's not the real me.
Oh, that's not the real me.

Oh, no!

How could I be so unkind?
I'd have to be, out of my mind!

A boy that's mean and cruel, that's not the real me.
A boy who plays the fool, that's not the real me.
If ever I don't seem to care,
Just look into my eyes and you'll see
That's not the real me.
No-o, that's not the real me.
No, that's not the real me.

As I ended the song, I leaned over, looked into Justin's eyes, and said quietly, "And don't you ever forget that."

Justin smiled and started to lean toward me. Soon his face and mine were only a few inches apart. All of a sudden the air went from being calm and pleasant to incredibly tense. Justin had started to move his face closer to mine when I abruptly stood up and said, "Well, I hope you feel better now Justin."

Justin sat back, slightly dumbfounded at what he had tried to do. "Yeah," he mumbled. When he saw me cock my head to the side, an indication I wasn't buying it, he flashed me his killer smile and said, "Much better. Thanks, Will. You always know how to put a smile on my face."

I raised an eyebrow. There was something going on inside that head of his, but what it was, I had no idea. Furthermore, I didn't have the time to investigate it. I had to be out the door in five minutes. "Okay, Justin. I'm glad you're all right," I said in an 'I-don't-believe-a-word-of-it-but-what-can-I-do' tone.

Walking over to my closet, I went to go change my shirt when I suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious. What am I flipping out over? Justin has already walked in on me and practically seen me naked! Besides, there's no time for shyness right now. That, and he's not my boyfriend. Why should I care what he thinks? Having properly justified things to myself, I rooted through my closet, found what I was looking for, and changed shirts.

Justin was watching with great interest. The morning he walked in on me, he had been so embarrassed he didn't really pay much attention to my features. At that time, I was just some guy who had bailed them out of a bad situation. Now it was in some way different, in a way Justin couldn't seem to explain to himself. As I pulled my shirt off, Justin bit his lip. Well, aside from being a little on the heavy side, he actually has a nice body. With a little work, he could be one serious hottie. Justin considered his last thought for a moment. Did I just say that? Did that thought really just run through my brain?

I finished changing and turned around, catching Justin staring at me, his eyes a little glazed. For a second, I wondered why he would be staring at me, but then I decided he was just off in space and happened to be looking in my general direction. I wandered over to him and waved my hand in front of his face. "Earth to Justin. Come in Justin." His eyes slowly shifted upward, finally meeting mine. "Nice to have you back," I said lightly, causing a sheepish grin to come to his face.

Oh crap! Did he catch me staring at him? Justin wondered. Shifting the attention away from what could be a seriously awkward and embarrassing moment, he said, "Now, give me a hug and get out of here. You don't want to be late!"

I looked down at my watch. It was definitely time to head out. "Well, there goes the idea of eating here. I'll have to pick something up on my way in," I said with a small shrug. Justin grabbed me and pulled me into a hug. I hugged him back, and as I started to pull away, I realized Justin wasn't letting go. "Uh, Justin?" I said quietly.

Justin looked up, his eyes locking into mine. "Yeah?" he whispered.

"I have to go."

"Oh. Right." He let go of me reluctantly, and as I stepped back from him, I saw a sad look in his eyes. What on earth is that all about? I wondered.

I headed for the door, and as I was about to walk out, I turned to him and said, "Before I go, two last thoughts. The first one is never forget that I love you guys. You're my new family, and I never want anything bad to happen to you." Justin shot me a suspicious look and I laughed. I knew what that look meant. "Yeah, even Chris. He reminds me of someone else I know and love who is strong-willed and has a tendency to jump into situations headfirst without completely thinking it out."

Justin looked confused. "Who? Me?"

I laughed. "Well, I suppose you could fit that description, but I was referring to Jerrica."

Justin smirked. "Yeah, that girl is something else."

"What that is," I replied, "remains to be seen." I looked down the hall to see if Jerrica was nearby. It was better that she hadn't heard that last remark, not that it mattered much. I would have said it to her face anyway. Friendships like ours are always interesting.

"And what was the second thing?" Justin asked, bringing me out of my thoughts.

"The second? Oh yeah!" Narrowing my eyes, I said, "You're grounded from the balcony until further notice. No excuses."

Justin's eyes widened for a moment and then he burst out laughing. "Okay, but what about you? Shouldn't you be serving the same sentence?"

A mischievous look flashed through my eyes. "Well, Justin, when one is the prison warden, you get to make all the rules." Justin chuckled at that remark, but halted when my expression turned more serious. "Besides," I continued, "if I fall off the balcony, and believe me when I say once was enough, I have no one to blame but myself. If you fall off the balcony, your management would probably come after me with a lawsuit!" Justin remained silent. I had a point. "Now, promise me you won't go out there anymore."

"Yes mother, I promise," Justin said in a somewhat defeated tone.

"Be thankful I'm not your mother," I replied as I opened the door and stepped into the hall. "You'd be asking for a new parent in days. Now, be good and I'll see you tomorrow." I closed the door behind me and leaned against it. These guys were something else, that's for certain. I wondered how long I'd be able to retain my sanity with them staying with me.

On the other side of the door, Justin sat on the bed, staring at the closed door. He thought about what I had said, about how I loved him and the guys. Normally, Justin wouldn't have thought much about that, as he believed the word 'love' was thrown around way too easily in today's society. However, when coming from me, Justin felt that I meant it. He could feel how true the emotion was when I said it, as if it were something tangible. It made Justin's heart glow with warmth every time he heard me say it. Flopping back onto my bed, he stared at the ceiling. After a moment, he whispered quietly, "I love you too, Will."

Running down the stairs, I grabbed Joey, who was in the middle of a conversation with Josh, and planted a big kiss on his lips. He was stunned, if only for a moment, and then returned the kiss back. Before that moment could go too far, I broke it off, grabbed my keys from the key hook, and ran out the door, calling 'good-bye' to everyone as I left.

I jumped into the car and headed toward work. It was rather surreal. Life was like living in a fantasy world when I was at home, but when I went to work, it was as if none of this ever happened. It was like waking up from a great dream. A large part of me was becoming afraid that one night I would arrive home only to find them gone, to discover that I had imagined everything, to find out my life was as dull and boring as it always had been.

But it's not! I thought, chastising myself mentally. This all is happening. This is not a dream. You deserve to have good things like Joey happen to you. I sighed loudly. Was I going to do this every day?

Attempting to clear my head, I focused on the road. I swung through a fast-food place to grab a bite to eat, and then continued on into work. I arrived with a few minutes to spare and headed in, making sure to stop by the time clock to swipe my badge so I couldn't be counted as late. I wandered onto the reservations floor and mumbled a hello to Mandy and Karri who, while sitting next to me, didn't say much in response. To be quite honest, I wasn't much in the mood for conversation. Something told me it was going to be a long night.

While I was battling my way through another tedious eight-hour shift, wishing I could be at home instead, Joey was sitting at the kitchen table wishing the same thing. This odd feeling had been nagging at him ever since he left my bedroom when I had my talk with Justin, and he desperately wanted to talk to me about it. He had paced the path between the dining room table and the phone in the kitchen so many times he was beginning to wonder if he might wear a hole in the floor. He kept debating whether or not he should call my cell phone and leave a message for me to call him back. Joey had picked up the phone at least four times; once he had even dialed the number and let it ring, but hung up when my voicemail answered. No, it's only going to drive him crazy, and he has to focus on what he's doing...whatever it is that he's doing. Joey smiled slightly. I have to remember to ask him where he works at some point.

Joey lost himself completely in his thoughts. Today was such a whirlwind of emotion, and it seemed that every time something good happened, something bad came and smacked him in the face. It was supposed to be a nice, calm morning, he thought. Then came the fight. Then we made up. Then came the incident at the dance studio. Then we went to lunch. Then there was the downstairs argument, and then everyone made up, and then... and then... and then... The list just kept going. For every good, there was a bad. Justin tried, in a roundabout way, to throw himself out a window, but then Will came and prevented it from happening.

I know, I should be thrilled that everything is back to normal. I should be happy that no one is mad at anyone else, but there's something that just doesn't seem right. Joey sat in complete silence for a moment before mentally slapping himself. What am I so worked up over? I know. It's probably because I came so close to losing Will today that I'm becoming paranoid about everything. Joey suddenly burst out laughing, causing him to earn a strange look from Lance and Chris who were sitting at the other end of the table. He blushed a little and looked away, hoping the two wouldn't ask him what caused the sudden outburst. Truth be told, he wasn't entirely sure he could adequately voice his thoughts and feelings anyway.

Joey got up from his seat and checked his watch. He was amazed at how the time had flown, for it was already quarter after eleven. He politely excused himself from the table and headed upstairs to go to bed. Normally Joey would have been raring to go for another few hours, jumping from party to party or bar to bar, but after a few days in the country at my house, he was surprised at how quickly he became sedated. Those things, only a week ago, seemed so important to him, but now he didn't care if he went to another wild party a day in his life. "It's probably because what I was looking for at those parties found me instead," he said out loud as he climbed the stairs. "I don't need to look for someone anymore."

He reached the top of the stairs and proceeded down the hallway. When he reached the end, he started to go into my bedroom and stopped. He backed up, turned around, and went to go into the room he was sharing with Justin. He placed his hand on that knob and then stopped. He backed up again and stared at the wall between the two doors. His eyes darted from side to side, glancing at each door from the corners. This was another dilemma. He didn't know where to go!

He stood there for about five minutes, trying to make up his mind, when Jerrica suddenly burst out of my room, nearly knocking Joey over on her way to the bathroom. "Oh, hey Joey! Sorry about that," she said as she collected herself. "What's going on? Why are you standing out here in the hallway looking like a lost puppy?"

"Um, I, uh, well..." Joey stammered. How do I explain this one without sounding like an idiot? he wondered. Deciding that since this was Jerrica, after all, he could probably just say it without feeling too dumb, especially since she was the one who forced him to go after me in the first place.

"Well?" she asked again, an impatient tone creeping into her voice.

"I, uh, don't-know-which-room-to-go-into," he said rapidly in a hushed tone.

Jerrica cocked her head to one side, unsure if she heard Joey correctly. "Say that again?"

Joey sighed. It was embarrassing enough for him to say it once, and now she wanted him to say it again? Taking a deep breath, he said forcefully, "I don't know which room to go into."

Jerrica arched an eyebrow and suddenly burst out laughing. It was short-lived, for she immediately stopped when she received a nasty glare from Joey. "I'm sorry for laughing Joey, really. I never considered that, after last night, that this might suddenly become an issue."

"Well, I don't know what to do. I mean, I liked being close to him, listening to him breathe as he slept. I know that sounds silly, but..."

"It's not silly Joey. In fact, I think it's sweet. As I said, I hadn't really thought about it much." She fell silent for a moment, thinking over what to do. Suddenly, it occurred to her. "I have the perfect solution."

"You do?" Joey asked incredulously.

"Yep. I know just what to do. You," she said, pointing a finger into his chest, "are going to sleep wi... uh, in Will's room." Whoops. Careful Jerrica, she thought. You almost said 'with Will.' With a small smile, she continued by saying, "And I will go sleep in your room."

Joey smiled as he thought it over. It seemed like a great solution, but then... "Wait. Wait. What about Justin?"

Jerrica grinned evilly. "What about Justin?" she said innocently.

"You and he are going to sleep in the same bed?"

"Hell no! That boy is going to drag his ass downstairs and crash with Josh! That room is mine now!"

Joey laughed, but he knew that there was no point in anyone arguing with her about it. Once Jerrica made up her mind, that was it. "Well, I hope Justin is willing to see things your way," he said as he watched Jerrica walk past him toward the bathroom.

Jerrica reached the doorway and, before going inside, turned around and flashed him a toothy smile. "You say that like he has any choice in the matter, Joey. Now go to bed! I'm guessing you'll want to be awake when he gets home." She smiled again and then disappeared into the bathroom.

Joey grinned. She's definitely a character, but that's one of the many things I like about her, he thought. Poor Justin. This is the third bed he's been shuffled to in the last three days. Justin had swapped rooms with Lance the previous night because, according to him, Chris was snoring too loudly and he couldn't stand it anymore. Now he was going to have to move again.

Chuckling to himself, Joey went into my bedroom and closed the door. Shedding his clothes, he put on a pair of sweatpants and a shirt, turned off the lights, and crawled into bed. He lay there, letting happy emotions flood over him. Yeah, life is good now. Great career, good friends, loving boyfriend. What could possibly screw it up? He turned over to lay on his side, and just before he was completely asleep, his eyes popped open and he sat straight up in the bed. "Justin," he said, realizing where the source of his paranoia was coming from. Throwing himself back against the pillow, he stared at the dark ceiling and said loudly, "Damn!" This is not good. This is definitely...not...good! Glancing at the clock on the nightstand, he noted it would be another four hours before I would arrive home. No sense in worrying about it now. I just have to make sure I talk to him tomorrow. Joey closed his eyes and settled in. Soon, he fell into the most fitful sleep he had ever experienced in his life. It was so bad, in fact, that he shouldn't have bothered at all.

I was fortunate to get an early-out from work a little after two in the morning, so I made my way home as quickly as possible. I was absolutely exhausted; I had been up since seven-thirty, I had a major argument with my boyfriend and his bandmates, my dance instructor attempted to kill me by dancing me to death, and then I had the whole drama back at my house -- first with Chris, Jerrica, and the other guys, and then later with Justin.

"Justin," I said out loud, shaking my head. "That boy never ceases to amaze me." As I drove along, I kept having this nagging feeling in my head that something was different about Justin -- something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I tried to push it out of my mind, but it kept pestering me every now and then as I made my way home. When I arrived at the house, I pulled into the garage and shut off the car. I got out, closed the door, and listened. The air outside was still and everything was silent. I stayed there for a bit while I let my eyes begin adjusting to the low light, and then I quietly proceeded into the house. Carefully, I opened the door, scanning the kitchen and dining room for movement. Unlike the night before, Josh wasn't there this time to surprise me. I could hear his steady breathing coming from the next room. As I walked by, I noticed there were two lumps on the bed instead of one. Intrigued, I crept over to the sofabed and peered down at the two forms. One, of course, was Josh. The other was Justin. What's he doing down here? I mouthed silently. Shrugging my shoulders, I turned around and headed upstairs. This wouldn't be the first time things happened in my house without my knowledge, and I knew it wouldn't be the last either.

I wandered down the hallway and entered my room, easing the door closed behind me. Slipping off my clothes, I put on my usual ensemble of sweatpants and a t-shirt and went to crawl into bed. As I lifted the covers, I jumped backward in surprise. Joey was, once again, in my bed. The fact that he was there didn't bother me really; it was the fact that I had been expecting Jerrica instead. I had, to some degree anyway, conquered my fear of sleeping in the same bed with him, and knew that the only way I would become more comfortable with it was to do it -- continuously. Throwing my hands up in the air with a 'what the hell' type expression on my face, I climbed into bed. It took no time at all before I fell asleep, a blissful state I wouldn't realize for long.

My weight on the bed registered to Joey's conscious brain. It took him a few moments to wake up, and once he was at least half-alert, he rolled over so he could face me. I was definitely asleep, and as much as Joey hated to disturb me, the thoughts that were weighing on his mind troubled him enough that he felt he needed to talk to me then. He reached over and gently nudged my hip with his hand. When this elicited no response on my part, Joey repeated his actions, but this time much harder. When I groaned a little, Joey said quietly, "Will, wake up."

"It can't be time to get up yet. I just fell asleep," I grunted, shifting positions to better resituate myself to fall back asleep.

"Will, wake up. I need to talk to you."

Lying still, I slowly opened one eye and stared at him. "No offense, mon cher," I said with a sigh, "but unless this is critically important, i.e. someone is either hurt, sick, or dying, can it please wait until morning?" With that said, I closed my eye and rolled onto my other side. "Besides," I continued, "if I don't get some sleep soon, someone might get hurt, and I would prefer it not be you."

Joey leaned back against his pillow and stared at the ceiling -- something that was becoming a fast hobby of his. As much as he wanted to get his thoughts off his chest now, to be reassured that everything really was all right, he realized that it could wait until morning. It wasn't like I was going anywhere any time soon. He glanced at me and, upon noticing that I was out like a light, laughed quietly. I was obviously incredibly tired, and Joey felt a small pang of guilt that he had tried to interrupt my much-needed sleep. Settling himself back in, he rolled onto his side and pulled his body next to mine, wrapping one arm around my torso. Closing his eyes, he fell into a deep, peaceful sleep, one much better than he had experienced before. Apparently, all he needed was me. Isn't it nice to be needed?

The early morning light shining through the window woke Joey up around quarter to nine. He and I hadn't changed positions at all during the night, so he was still pressed up against me upon waking. He gave me a gentle squeeze and kissed the top of my head. As usual, I was dead to the world, oblivious to my surroundings until I woke up. Considering how little sleep I had gotten over the past couple of days, a freight train could have rumbled past my bed and I wouldn't have noticed. Joey decided not to bother trying to wake me up -- for one, it would be futile, and number two, if he did somehow manage to wake me, I would not be a happy camper by any means.

He got out of bed and padded down to the bathroom. As he went to open the door, it was flung open and he found himself face to face with Justin. The hairs on Joey's neck and arms stood up, and the sudden adrenaline rush he felt immediately woke him up from his half-awake stupor. He could feel himself getting angry. For some reason, he wanted to tear Justin's little body to shreds, but... he didn't. Instead, he faked a smile, said good morning to Justin, and pushed his way into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. Placing the seat and lid down on the toilet, he sat down and placed his head in his hands, staring out the bathroom window toward the backyard. Thinking out loud, he said, "Why am I like this all of a sudden?" He sighed, stood up, and began pacing around the room. "I don't get it. It's like I'm jealous or something. Why should I be jealous of Justin and Will being friends?" He mused over that for a moment, and then continued speaking his thoughts. "I know. It's not because Justin wants to be friends with Will. I think it's more than that. Justin has always wanted anything someone else had. Now that I have Will, Justin wants him too." He slammed his fist into his hand as he punctuated the end of the last sentence.

Sighing again, Joey sat back down, staring off into space. He began to feel a little guilty about suspecting his friend, his longtime friend at that, would ever consider trying to steal his boyfriend away from him. Besides, there was a small possibility that he was overreacting, wasn't there? Yet, there was something in Justin's eyes when he looked at me, or so Joey thought, that seemed out of place for someone Justin should only consider a friend. "I'll just have to keep an eye on him," Joey said at last. "After all, it's not like I have that much to worry about. Justin can pursue Will all he wants, but I know he would never leave me for him!" Joey tried to imagine Justin and me together, and the picture sent him into fits of laughter. The idea that Justin might even make an attempt was humorous enough as it was. Joey knew that I loved him with all my heart, and that he had nothing to worry about. Still, there was something disquieting about the whole concept, and that left Joey feeling a tad troubled. He decided that he would still talk to me about it, after I had fully woken up and was coherent enough to process words consisting of more than four letters. Smiling to himself, he did his business in the bathroom, washed his hands, and walked back into the bedroom. Crawling back into bed, he cuddled close to me. A little too close. Not realizing I was lying right on the edge of the bed, when he pushed his body into mine, I subconsciously rolled slightly away from him... and right off the bed.

"Ow!" I said as I opened my eyes, finding myself staring at the hardwood floor beneath me. "What the heck?" Turning my head to the side, I glanced up and looked at Joey, who had a mortified look on his face.

"Uh, good morning?" he said hesitantly.

I scowled briefly at him, and he flinched as if I had physically smacked him. My face sobered for a moment, and then I began to chuckle. It soon turned into outright laughter, which caused Joey to have a perplexed look on his face. Shaking my head, I stood up, crawled back on to the bed, and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Now this is how I like to be woken up," I said with a smile. "The other way is much less comfortable."

"It was an accident, Will. I swear! I didn't mean to..." Joey began, but I put my finger to his lips, causing him to halt his tirade of apologies.

"It's okay, mon cher. Do I look mad? It was just surprising, that's all. I figured it was an accident. Besides, it serves me right for lying so close to the edge of the bed."

Joey relaxed and laid back against his pillow. I leaned over, kissed him on the cheek again, and then ran out of the room. I reappeared a few moments later, having been to the bathroom to relieve myself and brush my teeth. Launching myself on to the bed, and half onto Joey as well, I kissed him hard. After a split second of being stunned by my overwhelming and unexpected attack, he quickly joined the little make-out scene as a full contributor. Things continued like this for at least a couple of minutes when I suddenly pulled back from him. Joey gave me a questioning look, which equally rivaled the look I was returning.

"What's wrong Joey?" I asked, at last, staring into his eyes.

Joey's eyes narrowed a little and his left eyebrow raised. "Huh?"

Pulling further away from him, I sat upright and asked him again, "What's wrong?"

"You mean besides the fact that you're sitting there, I'm sitting here, and we're not trying to find each other's molars with our tongues?" he said wryly.

"Joey, you're not fooling me for one second. What is it? Are you going to tell me, or do I have to have it tickled out of you?"

"Would you? Would you please?" Joey said with a smirk.

Rolling my eyes, I said, "Fine. Be that way. I'm probably going to need reinforcements, so let me go grab Jerrica, Justin, and the guys..." I trailed off, noting the sour look on Joey's face when I mentioned Justin's name. I studied him intently for a moment, then got up, walked over to the door, and closed it. "All right, you and I are not leaving this room until you come clean, so out with it."

Joey sighed, rolled onto his side facing away from me, and replied, "There's nothing wrong Will."

It was, from my standpoint anyway, a good thing Joey was facing away from me, because I darn near started to lose my temper. "Joey, as you may recall, yesterday we had a big explosion regarding hiding things and not telling the truth. Are we really going to go through this again?"

I must have struck a chord somewhere, because Joey turned back over and looked at me with tears in his eyes. "I... I..." I rushed over to the bed and cradled him in my arms. "I'm so ashamed, Will. I don't even know why I'm feeling like this, it's just that... Oh God, this is embarrassing."

"It's all right Joey," I said. "There's no need to feel embarrassed. You should always feel free to tell me anything."

He looked into my eyes and said, "I'm jealous...and I'm petrified."

This announcement took me by surprise. The fact that something was wrong wasn't very hard to pick up, not even in the middle of a make-out session, but this was not what I was expecting to hear. "Jealous of who? Petrified of what?" I asked softly. As the words came out of my mouth, the answer hit me. "Justin?" Joey nodded, and then buried his head into my chest. "Why are you jealous of him?"

"I know this doesn't make any sense whatsoever," he said, his voice muffled by my shirt, "but you've spent so much time with him lately, and it's not that it's a bad thing or anything, but I've seen the way you look at him, and I've seen the way he looks at you, and believe me when I tell you they are not the same."

"You're right. It doesn't make much sense. I mean, if you want me to spend less time with Justin..."

"No, it's not that. Obviously, there is something in you that Justin needs, like a big brother or something, and that's fine. The problem is..." His voice trailed off.

"The problem is what?" I asked.

"The problem is that while you see him platonically as a family member, I think he is beginning to view you as potential boyfriend material."

It took a moment for the words to sink in. "What?" I said in a half-shriek. "Joey, that's...that's...not possible. I mean, Justin's straight!"

"Or at least he's very good at acting the part."

I sat silent for a while, just trying to think. I admit that Justin had been acting very oddly over the past couple of days, including the 'near kiss' that had happened before I left for work hours ago. It was just a picture I couldn't fathom. Justin, falling in love with me? I thought. Please! Even if I had wanted him, he would be so far out of my league, I would never bother. Joey's far enough out of my league to begin with, but stranger things in life have happened. Stroking Joey's hair, I said quietly, "You never have to worry about me leaving you, Joey, as long as you want me. I don't play games with people's hearts, and I'm not about to start any time soon."

"So what are you going to do about Justin?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "What do you want me to do?"

Joey sighed deeply. "I don't know," he said hesitantly, "but I know that right now, that boy is making me incredibly nervous. I damn near lost you once, and I'm not going to have that happen again, especially not to Justin Timberlake!!" He practically shouted Justin's name, and he began to rise from the bed, his hands quickly balling into fists.

"Whoa buddy!" I said, gently pushing his body back toward the bed. "First things first. There is no need in getting upset over something that right now is just a suspicion. Besides, you trust me, right?" Joey nodded. "Well then, we'll just deal with Justin one moment at a time. Now, don't worry about him trying to take me away, because it's not going to happen. Just calm down, relax, and remember that he is your friend as well as your co-worker, and you need to be able to get along with him. After all, there is always a small chance that you may be reading too much into it. Considering what happened yesterday, I'm not the least bit surprised that you would be protective of our relationship, and see many things as a potential threat that aren't. To be honest, I might be a little more surprised if you didn't."


I raised my hand as if taking an oath. "Promise. Would the psychiatrist of this nuthouse ever lie?"

Joey laughed, and then leaned forward and gave me a small peck on the lips. "Nope. Never," he said with a grin.

"All right-y then. Now that that's out of the way, how about you turn around, lie on your stomach, and I massage some of that tension out of your back?"

Wordlessly, Joey took off his shirt, laid on his stomach, and waited for me to begin. When he didn't feel my hands on his back, he turned his head to look at me and gave me a puzzled look. I had been so transfixed by the sight of his naked torso that I had completely zoned out. Gently, he shook my arm and called my name. "Will? Will? Come in Will."

Blinking, I shifted my gaze to his face and eloquently uttered, "Huh?"

"Um, are you okay?"

"Uh, yeah, yeah. I'm fine. Now, what were we doing?"

"You were going to massage my back?"

"Oh! Right. Uh, lay back down and, uh, I'll get started." I was starting to blush, as if my skin needed any more red in it.

Joey smirked at me. "I'm guessing that you like what you see?"

I blushed an even deeper red, if that were possible. Joey seemed to be getting a kick out of that, since his body was shaking from silent laughter. Rolling my eyes, I pushed his shoulders down onto the bed and began to knead his back muscles. Soon, it became apparent that he had fallen asleep. Still a little tired, especially after such a rude awakening, I laid down beside him and snuggled in close to him. Using his arm as a pillow, I soon found myself back in the land of Nod.

Like all great things, this moment of blissful slumber was not to last. We had been asleep for approximately thirty minutes when we were awoken by the sound of loud music coming from downstairs. It was shut off almost as suddenly as it had started, and the sounds of laughter and giggles filtered up the stairs. Resigning myself to my now awake state, I gave up and got out of bed for good that morning, dragging a semi-awake Joey behind me. We went downstairs, hand in hand, and began our day. There wasn't much on the agenda, so everyone split up to find something to do. Jerrica, Chris, Josh, and Lance decided to go to Washington, D.C., while Justin, Joey, and I decided to hang around at home. Well, more accurately, I decided to stay home because I had a ton of things to do, and while Joey would have liked to have gone to DC with the rest, there was no way in hell he was going to leave me alone with Justin. Again, it wasn't that Joey didn't trust me -- that was something he had zero doubts about -- but Justin was suddenly an unknown, and Joey wanted to make sure that Justin was within his sight at all times.

The others left in the van about ten-thirty, and I began what appeared to be a futile attempt to clean the house. It's not that it was dirty, but it was becoming quickly obvious that these guys were not used to having to pick up after themselves. The sink, which I could have sworn yesterday was empty, was now nearly full of dirty dishes, the floors needed to be mopped, the carpets needed to be vacuumed, and a multitude of other things. At first, I refused to let Joey or Justin lift a finger, as I somehow saw this as a personal task, but between them and three rambunctious felines continually getting underfoot, I set them to work at last. It probably took longer with them helping than it would have if I had done it myself, but they seemed more than happy to do it.

It was really quite bizarre, now that I think about it. For every task that I set Joey or Justin to, they went to it with as much gusto as they could muster, and worked as quickly as possible. I was beginning to wonder if they were trying to compete with each other for my attention. When I praised Justin for the good job he did on mopping the kitchen and dining room floors, he, as I later found out, shot Joey a big grin behind my back and laughed. Joey said from that point on, it was war. Every time he and Justin were in the same room, they worked quietly, never speaking to one another. If I entered the room, Joey would grab me and give me a kiss on the lips, making sure that Justin was watching. Justin would continually put his arm around my shoulder or give me a hug from time to time, especially if Joey was in the room, which annoyed Joey to no end. As usual, I was in my own little world, so I didn't think much about any of it.

Joey and Justin were busy cleaning the living room when I announced that I was going upstairs to clean the bathroom, one of my least favorite tasks. As soon as I was out of earshot, Joey turned to Justin and said, "Just what the hell are you up to?"

Justin slowly turned around and raised an eyebrow. "Whatever do you mean Joey?" he asked innocently.

Joey got right into Justin's face and said evenly, "I don't know what game you are trying to pull, Timberlake, but it ends here. I can't stop you from being friends with Will, nor do I want to, but remember that he is my boyfriend, which means... NOT...AVAILABLE...FOR...YOU!"

Justin stepped back away from Joey, eyes wide. Stammering, he said, "I don't... I mean... I never... I, uh, Joey, are you crazy?"

Joey crossed his arms and glared at Justin. "And just what do you mean by that?"

Walking across the room in order to put a little more distance between himself and Joey, Justin said, "Joey, come on. Me, interested in Will? That's not possible! For one thing, I'm not gay!" At least, I don't think so, Justin thought, but if I am, I definitely want a guy like Will.

"If you're not, you sure have a funny way of showing it, considering how you've been hanging all over him all day," Joey hissed.

He and Justin stared at each other in silence for a couple of minutes, eyes locked onto the other's. Justin finally said, "Look, Will is a great guy, and I'm not about to stop being friends with him because you've suddenly developed this jealous streak. So, you just need to get over yourself." Then lowering his voice a little, he continued by saying, "And if I did want him, you would never stand a chance." With that, Justin stormed out of the room and out the back door.

Joey sat down in a chair and began to tear up. "What have I done?" he asked aloud after a minute.

"What? You've forgotten your task list already?" I said, coming into the room. "Where's Justin? Did he go outside?"

Joey jumped at the sound of my voice. "Uh, yeah. I think so," he replied, quickly trying to cover up the fact that he had been crying. It was no use, for I had already seen his puffy eyes.

"Do I even want to ask?" I inquired lightly.

"No, you don't. Let's leave it at the fact that I've been an idiot," he said glumly. I had this vague feeling I knew what it was about, but I decided not to press Joey on it. Besides, if it had anything to do with our conversation that morning, I didn't want to know.

From that point on, I didn't see much of Justin the rest of the day. Karri and Mandy dropped by about quarter after two for our usual Thursday practice session. Having met Joey already, they greeted him like an old friend. When Justin walked into the room, the two became a little star-struck, as this was the second celebrity they had met in two days. Even though they knew the guys were at my house, one could probably cut them a little slack. However, just like with Joey, the girls calmed down fairly quickly and were chatting with Justin as if he were only the boy next door.

It took me a few minutes, but I was finally able to drag the two of them away from Justin so we could move on to the reason they were here. Moving the table from the dining room to the living room, I rolled out our practice mat so we wouldn't damage the floor and put in a tape. We began our practice, with Joey and Justin as an occasional audience, although never together at the same time, and we were still going at it when Josh, Chris, Lance, and Jerrica arrived home. At that time, we were practicing the finale, so we weren't paying much attention to what was going on around us. When the music ended and we stopped, the four of them burst into applause.

"Oh my God!" Karri shrieked upon realizing that the other three members of *Nsync were watching her, and here she was flushed bright red and dripping with sweat. Grabbing Mandy, the two rushed for the upstairs bathroom, slamming the door behind them.

I burst out laughing. "Never a dull moment around here," I said out loud.

"Especially not with these five guys around," Jerrica said in agreement.

"HEY!" Josh, Lance, and Chris said in unison.

Jerrica and I began to laugh, and the other three joined in. Joey came into the room, asking, "What's so funny?"

Before anyone else could respond, Jerrica said, "You guys. You all are hysterical. You should give up singing and be stand-up comedians."

The confused look on Joey's face caused everyone to laugh even harder. Joey just shook his head and walked over to me, attempting to give me a kiss on the lips. I placed a hand on his chest and pushed him gently away. He gave me an odd look, so I said, "It might be a better idea if I go take a shower first."

Joey nodded. "You're right. Good idea."

As I was heading into the downstairs bathroom to get cleaned up, I overheard Josh say, "Damn. Is there anything that boy can't do?"

I chuckled at that statement. From the bathroom, I called, "Yeah. I can't run a four-minute mile, but other than that..." The sounds of laughter were once again heard. Before I closed the door, I yelled out, "Would someone please move the table back into place?"

I heard something that sounded like an, "Okay," so I closed the door and hopped in the shower.

While I was getting cleaned up downstairs, Mandy and Karri had quickly done the same thing upstairs. What normally took them forty minutes on an average day took them ten that day. I can only guess the reason was that they wanted to spend some time with all the guys, something most girls would have given their right arm to do.

They had run halfway down the stairs and then, in order to not seem overly eager, walked down the last couple of steps. Striding into the room, they sat down on the couch and stared at everyone. All five guys were now in the room -- Justin had entered at some point in time during our absence -- and the two were beside themselves. Dealing with one *Nsyncer at a time had been hard enough, but having all five of them together was almost impossible.

The eight sat for a long time without speaking until, breaking the silence, Joey said, "Mandy? Karri? Are you all right?"

Mandy and Karri turned to look at each other and laughed. "Of course Joey," Mandy said. "We were just waiting for you to introduce us, silly."

Joey rolled his eyes. Grinning at Mandy, he said, "Okay, fine. Whatever." Pointing at each of the girls, he said, "Mandy, Karri, this is Chris, Josh, Lance, and Jerrica." Catching Justin's eye, he added, "Oh, and that's What's-his-face Timberlake."

Justin's face darkened quickly. "The name is Justin," he said tersely.

Joey returned the look. "Right. Anyway, guys, this is Mandy and Karri. As you've no doubt guessed, they're friends of Will's and are in his dance class."

"Hi," Mandy and Karri said in unison. Then, turning to Jerrica, Karri said, "Jerrica? As in 'the girl who couldn't stand Will but ended up as his best friend' Jerrica? As in 'the girl who locked him in a closet for an hour' Jerrica?"

Jerrica grinned. "Yep. That's me!"

Karri jumped up and ran over to shake Jerrica's hand. "It's nice to meet the only person who has ever been able to keep that boy in line," she said with a smirk.

"Well, I do what I can," Jerrica said. "Besides, whoever would have thought he'd find a way out of the closet?" She laughed again, but it was cut short by the shocked looks on Justin, Chris, Lance, and Josh's faces. "What?"

"Ix-nay on the oset-clay," Chris whispered.

Jerrica looked confused for a second, and then the light bulb went off in her head. "Oh. Oops," she said, turning bright red.

Mandy and Karri passed a knowing look to each other and, turning to Joey, Mandy said with a grin, "So Joey? How are things coming between you and Will? Has everyone patched everything up?"

"You know?!" Jerrica and Chris said in united astonishment.

"Um, duh? Doesn't everyone in this room?" Karri said. "Although, if we didn't, Jerrica's lack of subtlety would have provided a great clue."

"Sorry!" Jerrica said, glancing at Joey.

"Don't worry about it," Joey said. "Just remember that was is said in this house stays in this house, at least for now, all right?"

"Yes, mother!" everyone chimed.

"Uh-uh. That's Will's title, not mine!" Joey said with a laugh.

He was interrupted by a knock at the door. "I'll get it," said Josh, who was the closest. Opening the door, he found the local letter carrier standing on the doorstep. "Can I help you?" he asked.

"Yes," the woman said, holding a stack of letters and indicating a small box at her feet. "This box and these two letters were sent registered mail. I need a signature."

"Oh. Right. Here you go," Josh replied, signing the slip. "Thanks," he said, taking the letters out of her hand. "Could someone get the box?"

"I got it," Chris said, grabbing the box off the doorstep.

As he closed the door, I walked into the room. "What's going on?" I asked, still toweling my hair dry.

"Mail call," Josh said, handing me a stack of mail.

"They brought it to the door?" I asked. "That's odd. They usually just stick it in the mailbox at the road."

"Some of it came as registered mail," Chris said, indicating the box in his hands. "This came from..." He looked down at the return label on the box. "Sanderson House Publishers in Boston?"

Before I could say anything, Josh jumped in and said, "That's Will's publisher. I remember seeing their logo on the title page of each of his books, like this." He ambled over to my bookshelf and pulled a book down. Flipping it open to the second page, he showed them the Sanderson House logo at the bottom of the page.

"You're right," I said. "Tony Sanderson is a great guy and one of my very good friends. This would be my monthly fan mail, plus anything else they decide they want to throw in there. Once he sent me an encyclopedia, the S volume no less, with a note that read 'Since I'm sure you have nothing else better to do, edit this for me and send it back by next week.' I called him up to see if he had gone completely nuts, and he just laughed at me for five minutes. I was not amused, but that's his style."

"Sounds like he's quite a character," Joey said, coming over to give me a hug and a kiss now that I was no longer hot and sweaty.

"That he is," I said. "So, let's see what's in the mail. Bill. Bill. Bill. Bill. Bill." Looking up at everyone else, I said, "No matter what happens in life, the only thing that is completely dependable is the arrival of the bills." Everyone laughed, and I continued to sort through my mail. "Bill. Junk. Junk. Letter from Mom." Eyeing the rest of the group, I said, "I think I'll read that later."

"Oh, come on! I want to hear what your Mommy wrote to you!" Chris said with an evil glint in his eye.

"Yeah! Read it!" Lance said with a laugh.

"Read it! Read it! Read it!" everyone chanted, causing me to turn bright red.

"Fine! I'll read it! Sheesh!" I said, opening the envelope. I scanned the letter quickly and laughed. "Are you sure you want me to read it?"

"Just go on," Justin said. "It can't be that bad."

"Suit yourself," I said. Clearing my throat, I began to read the short note from my mother.

Mon Cher Robért-James,

Comment ça va? Kate et moi, nous allons très bien. Il faut que nous allions au Québec la semaine prochaine, parce que ta grand-mère n'a pas la bonne santé. Elle est allé a l'hôpital deux journées dernières à Montréal, alors nous irons tout de suite.

J'espère que tout est bien avec toi. As-tu parlé avec Jerrica récemment? Elle est venue ici hier pour te chercher. Je lui ai dit que tu habites encore dans le Maryland, près de Baltimore, non? Je lui ai donné ton adresse. J'espère que c'était d'accord d'en faire.

I had to laugh. My mother is so funny sometimes. Of course, Jerrica beat her letter here, so I guess it didn't much matter.

Nous t'adorons beaucoup, et nous te visiterons dans un mois ou deux. Oh, si tu vois Jerrica, raconte à-t-elle qu'Alex lui trouve.

Gros bises,

I looked at the last line and my voice faltered.

P.S. As-tu entendu qu'Allison pourrais quitter la prison bientôt? Sa mere m'a appelé vendredi.

I finished reading, and folded the note back into the envelope, my face incredibly pale. When I scanned the letter, I had failed to read the postscript. Jerrica's face was equally pale, having heard what my mother said in respect to her. Joey became concerned when he heard my voice break, and how troubled I looked. However, some of the guys failed to notice this. Instead, they chided me because I read it verbatim instead of translating it to English.

"Hey! No fair! We can't understand that. Joey, is that what it really says, or is he playing with us?" Chris said.

"I guess so," Joey said, "but I don't understand any of it. Will, what does it say?"

I froze. The concept purported in the last sentence sent shivers up my spine. If what my mother said was true, my life was about to turn into a living hell.

"Jerrica? Are you all right?" Josh said, noting the frightened look on her face. "Will? What's going on? What's in that letter that has you two so shook up?"

I was becoming too numb to speak, so I handed the letter over to Joey and indicated that he give it to Jerrica. She took the letter from him and scanned it again. She said, "My French is a little rusty, considering I haven't been over to his house in a few years, but I think I've got most of it." Clearing her throat, she began to translate:

My Dear Robért-James,

The fact that my mother, of course, used my real name set everyone to giggles. Karri and Mandy exchanged blank looks, which meant another set of ears I would need to explain to. Were I not still so disturbed by the end of the letter, I probably would have blushed.

How are you? Kate and I are well. We have to go to Quebec next week because your grandmother is not in good health. She went to the hospital two days ago in Montreal, so we're going as soon as possible.

Everyone turned to me and their eyes shown with sympathy. "Sorry to hear that man," Lance said. "I can see why you're upset."

"It's not that," I said at last. "It gets worse."

Jerrica continued:

I hope that you are well. Have you spoken to Jerrica recently? She came by yesterday looking for you. I told her you still live in Maryland, near Baltimore, right? I gave her your address. I hope that was okay.

"Yeah, and you beat her letter too. At least it was you she gave my address to and not..." I trailed off, thinking about the end of the letter again.

We love you a lot, and we'll come visit in a month or two. Oh, and if you see Jerrica, tell her Alex is looking for her.

Jerrica stopped reading and sighed. She hoped my mother didn't tell him she came down here. Looking at Chris, she could tell he was starting to get upset. She wasn't entirely sure why, but if she was right in her suspicions that Chris was falling for her, if Alex ever did show his face, he would definitely face Chris' wrath.

Finishing the letter, she said:

Hugs and Kisses,

P.S. Have you heard that Allison may be getting out of prison soon? Her mother called me last Friday.

I shuddered when I heard Jerrica say it. If Allison got out, I knew she would not rest until she found me. Joey came over to me and enveloped me in a huge hug. For the first time in a while, I was starting to become incredibly frightened. I knew it was only a possibility, but the chance of that possibility ever coming true was disheartening enough. Trying to shift the subject to something happier, I said, "Well, for something a little less dramatic, let's see what else we have."

Moving to the next envelope, I saw the return address was the Baltimore County Court. Intrigued, I opened it and scanned the letter. "Damn!" I shouted, crumpling the letter and throwing it at the wall. I sat down on the sofa next to Jerrica and held my head in my hands.

"Now what?" Josh asked, concern evident in his voice.

Joey walked over to the crumpled piece of paper and opened it back up. He read aloud:

Dear Mr. Williamson,

We regret to inform you that, due to an error in mail handling, during the fifteen-day window allotted for objections to naming changes under Maryland State Law, we received one concerning your request. However, this objection was not discovered until last week. In light of this, we have no choice but to revoke the name change bestowed on you. You must cease using your new name until a new petition has been filed with the County Court and has been re-approved. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. Please retain this letter as proof of the revocation. If you or anyone has any further questions regarding this case, please call us and reference the case number listed at the top of the letter.

Judith Martin
Baltimore County Court Clerk

"Name change?" Mandy said, at last, eyeing me carefully.

"Yeah. I had it changed so that witch Allison couldn't find me," I said. "Well, this makes life difficult."

"Couldn't you just re-file like it says?" Justin asked quietly.

"I could, but in the meantime, I have a lot of documents that suddenly have the wrong name on them."

"We might be able to get a hold of one of our lawyers over at Jive," Lance offered, "and see if they can't expedite things a little."

"That's all good and well," I said, "but there's still that objection window to get around. Speaking of which, I wonder who objected to it and why?"

"Who cares Will?" Joey said. "Don't you want to get everything straightened out so it's back to the way it was?"

I paused for a moment, and the answer I gave surprised even me. "To be honest, Joey, there's a part of me that is tired of hiding. Remember when I said that Robért-James was my past and Will is my future?" Joey nodded, recalling that statement. "There's a part of me that doesn't want that. There's a part of me that doesn't want to have to hide." Lowering my voice, I said, "There's a part of me I don't even know anymore."

"So what you're saying is..." Josh began.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm starting to go through an identity crisis. Sheesh, if you thought you all were confused, you can't even begin to imagine!" Sighing, I pushed this thought out of my head and relegated it to another task I would have to do later. Looking at the box, I said, "Dare I even open it?"

"Go on Will, uh, um... We, uh, do still call you Will, right?" Josh asked, a look of confusion on his face.

"Yeah. Do that," I said quietly.

"Anyway, open it. If it's fan mail, that should at least brighten your day somewhat."

"Well, it can't get any worse," I said as I stood up, slitting open the top. Grabbing the first envelope, which was addressed to Robbie Williamson in care of my publisher, I read the letter quickly. My eyes widened, my stomach started to churn, and I passed out on the floor.

"Will!" Mandy cried as she watched me slump to the floor. She and the others rushed over to me, but Joey blocked their way.

"Give him some room!" he said, backing everyone away. Grabbing the letter, which had fallen out of my hand onto the floor, he read it and exclaimed, "Damn!" Tossing it onto the couch, he scooped me up, which is not an easy feat I assure you, and slowly carried me upstairs.

The others glanced at each other, wondering what had brought this on. Spying the discarded letter on the couch, Lance picked it up and read out loud.

Hey Bastard,

My parole hearing is next Monday. Can't wait. They all think I'm a sweet little princess, but what the fuck do they know? As soon as I'm out of here, your ass is mine. I will hunt you down, wherever you are. One of the great things about being in here is that you pick up a lot of great skills. My cellmate has given me great instruction on how to use a .38. She used one when she held up a liquor store last month. Guess you and I will find out together whether or not I'm any good.

See you in Hell asshole,


Except for a brief moment when Karri nearly twisted Joey's arm, no one was allowed in to see me. Karri forced me to call out sick that night, something I have never done, and stay at home. I tried to sleep, but every time I closed my eyes I would start having nightmares and would wake up screaming. I told them that everyone would be better off staying in a hotel that night or they would never get any sleep, but they all refused to leave. Mandy and Karri had the day off, so that was nothing for them to worry about. The girls crashed with Jerrica in her room, and Joey held me all night long. I was surprised that he never tried to kiss me or do anything else in that mien; he was a perfect gentleman.

I awoke before sunrise the following morning. As I had been all night, I was still being held in Joey's strong arms. I sighed contentedly. If I never had to leave this position, I would be happy forever. That's not how life works, though, so I dragged my rear out of bed and went downstairs. I hadn't eaten in quite a while, so I was ready to eat something, anything, at this point. I trudged downstairs and was surprised to find Justin awake at the table, nursing a cup of coffee. When he spotted me he jumped up and ran over, pulling me into a tight hug. I hugged him back, and then went in the kitchen to grab my first Diet Coke of the morning.

Sitting back down at the table, I sipped my drink while Justin methodically stirred his coffee. Glancing up at me, he said quietly, "I'm sorry you're going through so much junk all at once Will. Sometimes bad things happen, but they aren't usually all delivered by the United States Postal Service."

I laughed, if only to mask the other emotions I was feeling at the time. "No kidding. Have you ever had a time when it felt like the whole world was against you?" Justin nodded. "Most of this week has been like that for me, especially the last two days." I saw Justin cringe a little, knowing that part of that was their own doing. "However," I continued, "that old saying 'whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger' is probably true. I'm not dead, at least not until Allison finds me, so I'm probably stronger from it."

"Don't ever say that again!" Justin said loudly, causing me to jump. I shushed him, knowing that Josh was asleep in the next room, and he did quiet down, but the nasty look on his face never wavered. "I want you to get that idea out of your head right now!" he said sternly.

"I'm sorry Justin, but this whole thing has me freaked out. Besides, if you don't believe me about Allison, let me show you the letter I received from her yesterday. It's probably around here somewhere," I said, scanning around me for where the letter might have gone.

"If you're looking for it, it's sitting on the counter over there with the rest of your mail. Lance read it to us after you passed out, so we all know what it said. Yes, Will, she's creepy, and to be honest, if I were you, I would be terrified. However, you can't give up on living until your life is over. You have to forget about her and continue leading your life. For all you know, she might not get out."

"Well, I'm going to make every effort to make sure that doesn't happen. I have the number of her social worker in prison. I got it after the last time she threatened me. I'm going to call her and send her this letter by overnight mail today. Hopefully, they'll submit it as evidence as to why she shouldn't be released. That way, I can go another few months of easy breathing." Standing up, I walked over to the wall separating the dining room from the living room and leaned my head against it. "I just hate feeling like this, you know?"

Justin got up and walked over to me. Putting a hand on my shoulder, he said, "I'm sure. It's not fun, but you just have to make the most of it." He pulled me into a hug, which I graciously accepted. It was great knowing I had friends like these.

Smiling, I said, "Justin, when did you get so smart?"

He laughed. "Ever since I started hanging around you."

"Wow. Who knew I was such a good influence?"

Justin was still hugging me, and I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable. Before I could send a signal from my brain to my feet to move, I felt Justin's lips on mine. My eyes widened in shock and I managed to break out of his grasp. "What...what..." I spluttered, trying to piece a coherent sentence together. Not that it would have mattered much, because the next thing I knew, Joey was there, and he looked incredibly pissed.

"What is going on here?" he thundered.

"Joey," I pleaded, "please keep it down. People are still trying to sleep. Besides, I'm sure it's not what it looks like."

"It looked like Justin and my boyfriend were kissing, and I don't care who hears me!" he said, fuming.

"Or it might be exactly what it looks like," I said under my breath. Turning to Joey, I said, "Joey, I didn't..." I wasn't able to get any more of my apology/statement out because he cut me off.

"I know YOU didn't Will, but HE did!" he thundered.

"Joey, you're overreacting," Justin said, but when his eyes met the steely glare from Joey, he backed down.

"Will, go sit down. My ex-friend and I here have to have a little talk," Joey said, stepping in between us.

"But Joey, I..."

"Go!" he shouted.

Slowly I shuffled over to the table and sat down, my mind too muddled to think. I had no idea what was going to happen between these two, but I prayed it wouldn't be disastrous. As I sat down, I heard Josh's voice coming closer. "What the hell are you guys doing? Do you know what time it is?"

"Fuck off Josh. This is between me and this asshole here," Joey spat, causing surprised looks among the three of us. Joey only swears a little more often than I do, which is hardly ever. He wasn't just mad -- he was furious.

Josh backed up a little and said, "Guys, whatever it is, there's no need to argue, especially at quarter to six in the morning." Disgusted, he went into the living room and turned on the stereo in hopes of drowning out the two combatants. Oddly enough, the song was rather appropriate for the moment.

Every place you go, everywhere you turn
Someone else is movin' in,
And they're makin' time
And it's gettin' underneath your skin,
Whoa, whoa!

Doesn't it hurt?
Jealousy, baby!
Doesn't it burn?
Doesn't it consume your soul?
Makin you lose control,

"No, this bastard and I are going to have it out right now. He's been after Will for the past couple days, and the minute my back is turned, here he is kissing on him like I don't exist. I've had my suspicions for a while, and I even warned him earlier today, but he went ahead and did it anyway. Now he's going to pay," Joey said with a snarl.

Nothing to be said,
Nothing to be done
Someone else is in your place,
And you won't forget it
And it's hittin' you right where you live

Whoa, whoa!

Doesn't it hurt?
Jealousy, baby!
Doesn't it burn?
Doesn't it grab hold of you?
Breakin' your heart in two

All at once, you're wild and runnin',
Runnin' blind
Revenge, revenge, revenge
Is the one thing on your mind,
Whoa, Whoa!

"Joey, don't!" I said, flying out of my seat. Later, I would tell myself that the first rule of thumb in a situation like this would have been to dive at Justin's legs and knock him down. Instead, I jumped right in between them, right as Joey's fist was heading for Justin. Since I managed to wedge myself between the two, Joey's fist connected with the side of my head instead of Justin's face, its original target. I caught Joey's eye, who was completely horrified at what had just occurred, and then I blacked out.

Doesn't it hurt?
Jealousy, baby!
Doesn't it burn?
Doesn't it consume your soul
Makin' you lose control
Jealousy, jealousy, jealousy,

Both Joey and Justin peered down at me, and then Justin said, "I'd hate to be you when he comes to." He then sauntered out of the room while Joey knelt down on the floor next to me, trying to wake me up. This was certainly not the way Joey had wanted to start out the morning, and as far as I was concerned, I've definitely had better.

To Be Continued...

So what did you think? Can Will get through a whole day without something happening to him? No worries folks, as usual, Will is very forgiving, so don't worry about Will and Joey's relationship. What really is going on with Justin? Is he truly interested in Will, and how are Will and the other guys going to handle that? What is going to happen with Allison? Will she get out of jail after all? Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Thanks to everyone who has written to me!! A special thanks goes out to my editors, Mandy and Dreamy, who keep me in line. Sorry, this chapter took so long, but life got in the way again. Doesn't it know I'm on a deadline??

Song lyrics are protected under copyright by their owners, in this case, Sony Wonder. No attempt to infringe on this copyright should be implied from this story.