This chapter is dedicated to my cat, Tigger, who sadly passed away on 09 May, 2004 after twelve years. You always were and always will be my little boy. Je t'adore beaucoup, et tu me manques. Je me souviendrai toi pour toujours.
I awoke with a start. I wasn't sure what it was, but something didn't seem right. I went to move my arm, which was draped across Jerrica's body, and as I moved it, I realized it wasn't Jerrica after all. My eyes, which were blurry from being asleep, sort of made out Joey's sleeping form beside me. Numerous thoughts and fears whirled through my head until I remembered what had happened earlier that morning. I smiled as I rolled onto my side, facing away from Joey, and listened to the sound of him breathing. As I started to drift back off to sleep, I felt the bed move as Joey rolled onto his other side, facing me, and pulled me close to him. Never before had I been in such a position, and I was fast deciding that I liked it. I relaxed and let my body slowly roll into his until we were spooned together. I had to force myself not to giggle as Joey laid his head on my shoulder. This is how life was meant to be, I thought as sleep overtook me.
I re-awoke an hour later to the smell of something burning. I glanced over at my clock and realized it was only seven-thirty in the morning. Groaning, I tried to allow myself to go back to bed when that word finally registered to my poor, sleep-deprived little brain. Burning? What would be... THE KITCHEN! I threw the covers off me and flew out of bed, leaving a very disappointed Joey behind. I heard him whimper slightly as I left, but at the moment I had more urgent matters to attend to.
I ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time. I jumped over the last four and landed in the dining room with a loud thud. What I saw before me had me completely astonished. Justin was at the stove, cooking some bacon and eggs. Lance was at the toaster, attempting to make toast. Chris had found my juicer and was making fresh-squeezed orange juice. Josh was sitting at the kitchen table laughing his ass off, and Jerrica was barking orders to everyone like a drill sergeant. My noisy entrance caught everyone's attention, and the look on my face must have been hysterical because everyone burst out laughing.
"What the heck is going on in here?" I asked.
"We're finger-painting; can't you tell?" Jerrica said with a sly grin.
I shook my head. Turning to Justin, I said, "Justin, I didn't know you could cook."
Justin laughed. "It's one of my better-kept secrets. My mother taught me. She said that while I may have room service and other people around to keep me fed while I'm on tour, when I get home, it's every person for themselves." On that note alone, Justin's mom earned one major respect point from me.
I turned away from Justin and sniffed the air. I continued to do so as I walked closer to the kitchen. Soon, my eyes fell on Lance, whose face had turned a rosy red color. "Ummm, Lance? What setting is the toaster on?" I asked, having discovered the source of the burning smell.
Lance looked at me sheepishly. "It's on medium-dark now. I had it on dark earlier, because I thought it would make things go faster, but Justin and Josh kept distracting me and I kind of forgot about the toast."
I couldn't help but laugh. "So why are you guys cooking breakfast? You could have woken me up; I would have gladly done it."
Justin scooped the bacon he was cooking onto a plate and then turned to look at me. "Well, for one thing, we figured you probably needed your sleep. Second, you've been cooking for us for the last three days, and we thought it was our turn to do the same for you. Third, I don't really mind doing it, as long as someone reminds me to keep Lance and Josh away from the kitchen." He cast his eyes over at Lance, who turned bright red again. "And last, we didn't want to, you know, ah, interrupt, in case, uh, well, you know..."
Having just woken up, I would have to be forgiven for being a little slow on the uptake. "Interrupt what, Justin?" I asked innocently.
Justin turned bright red and looked away from me. This caused Josh and Chris to burst into laughter. "Justin was going to come wake you up and ask you about breakfast," Josh began, "but he was afraid he might walk in on you and Joey..." He trailed off when he watched my jaw drop, which indicated I had finally gotten a clue.
"Umm...I...uh...oh," I stuttered, not entirely sure how to respond to that.
Jerrica cheered. "Good job Josh! I think you are the first person in history to ever make him speechless. It's kind of nice to be in the same room with him and have it be silent." She glanced over at me and giggled as she watched serious annoyance flash across my face.
"Jerrica dear," I said sweetly, "as you know, there is a small river in the woods behind the house. Might I make a suggestion that you take a flying leap into it?"
She was taken aback, if only for a second. "I would be happy to, but you're going to have to go ahead of me. You know the old saying: 'Ladies first.'"
"Well I just figured you'd be at home there, considering at the moment you look like a drowned rat."
A collective "Ooh" came from around the room. Jerrica cast me a nasty look, and was about to respond when Joey entered the room. "Jerrica, if you pick on my boyfriend, you're going to have to deal with me. Whatever you're going to say, don't. It's too early for fights," he said as he came up behind me and planted a kiss on the top of my head. "And Justin, remember that Will and I have only been together for three days. Maybe you guys are ready to jump in bed with the first person you see, but I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we're not ready for that step in our relationship yet. When we are, we might let you know." I was amazed at how well Joey had said what I had been thinking. There are times when that man just astounds me.
"I didn't know you were listening to us," I said as I kissed him back.
"You all aren't very good at being quiet. I could hear you from upstairs!" he said with a smile.
I shook my head as I walked over to Justin and stole a piece of bacon off the plate. I tried to catch his eye, but he refused to look at me. "Justin?" I said quietly, but I was met with no response. He scooped the last fried egg onto a plate and set the pan down on a cold burner. "Justin?" I said again, a little louder this time, but was still ignored. Finally having had enough, I grabbed his arm and said, "Come with me a second." He tried to resist, but I wasn't letting up. At last, he relented and permitted me to drag him outside.
I closed the door behind us and sat down on the step next to Justin. I was about to say something to him when I sensed we weren't alone. "Get away from the door, or someone is going to get beaten!" I yelled over my shoulder. There was a momentary sound of scuffling, and then everything went quiet. I looked at Justin, who had started to giggle. "Where do you think Jerrica gets it from?" I said with a smirk.
Justin smiled, if only for a moment, and then he looked away from me. "Justin, what is it?" Again, he wouldn't respond to me. Considering the history the two of us had over the past three days, this was rather unusual. I placed my hand on his arm and tried to tune myself in to his feelings. After a moment, I pulled my hand away and pulled him into a large hug. He tried to squirm out of my grasp, but I wouldn't let him go.
"Will? What are you doing? Let me go!" he said, still struggling against me.
"Nope. Not going to. You're just going to have to sit here and take it like a man," I said in as serious a tone as I could manage.
"Just let go of me!" he said again, but this time he wasn't fighting nearly as much.
"I won't let you go until you hug me back."
"Because I said so, because I'm older, and because right now you're acting like a dingbat."
"You heard me, and I'm waiting."
He finally gave up and gave me a quick hug before he tried to turn away. I still didn't let go of him. "You got what you wanted. Why aren't you letting me go?"
"Why do you think?" I asked. "You think I'm mad at you. You think I'm insulted. You think you've screwed up everything. Do you think I would throw away the friendship we've developed over a silly notion such as that? Look at me. Do I look mad to you?"
Justin finally met my eyes and shook his head. "No, although you should be."
"Look, there are some things in life worth getting upset over. This isn't one of them. Remember what I said about guilt?"
Justin rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm sorry I jumped to conclusions. I just thought..." He trailed off, not sure of how to phrase what his in his mind, so I finished it for him.
"You just thought that when two gay men get together, all they do is make hot, wild, passionate monkey love all night long?"
Never in my life have I ever seen someone turn so red before. Justin thought about what I said for a second, and it was obvious he was trying to not burst out laughing, considering this was supposed to be a serious conversation. He seemed to be able to subdue himself long enough to eke out, "Well, yeah, sort of."
I grinned at him. "Oh, and let me guess. That's what happens when two straight people get together, right?"
Justin shook his head. "Well, no, but I had heard a lot of things, and I just assumed they were true."
As sweetly as I could, I let go of Justin and said over my shoulder toward the door, "And I heard you guys were nothing but Backstreet Boy wannabes, but how accurate is that?"
Justin's eyebrows shot up to his hairline. I ignored him for a moment as I waited for the backdoor to fly open, which it did. Standing in the doorway was Chris, who had a most displeased look on his face. "What did you say?" he said through gritted teeth.
"I don't remember. My guess is though, that whatever it was wouldn't be bothering you so much if you hadn't been eavesdropping at the door. Now, if memory serves, the punishment was set at one beating." I stood up and took one step toward him, which caused him to turn and run back into the house. I looked over my shoulder at Justin, who finally could hold back no longer and was having fits of laughter.
"Will, you are too much," he said between giggles.
"Too much what? Too much fun? Too much of a brat?"
"Both," he said, which prompted me to swat him lightly in the arm.
"So, we okay now?" I asked after a moment's silence.
"Yeah, we're good," he replied.
"Good. Just know it would take something major, and I mean major, for me to get mad at you guys."
"What about Jerrica?" he asked with a sly grin.
"It would take something major for me not to be mad at her, but such is life, you know?"
"I HEARD THAT!" Jerrica called from inside the house.
Justin started laughing again. "Apparently she heard me," I said in a calm, even tone, which caused Justin to laugh even harder. "I think our discussion is over. Let's go back in." Justin watched me as I headed back into the house. "Lance! Step away from the toaster!" he heard me call out as I walked in the door.
Justin rolled his eyes and smiled. I wish I could find someone like Will, he thought to himself as he went inside. Then life would be perfect.
Josh eyed his watch and noticed the time. "Damn!" he exclaimed, jumping up from his seat at the table. "I can't believe it's that late already!"
Lance looked at his watch and his eyes bugged out as well. "We only have forty-five minutes to be there, and I don't think any of us are exactly raring to go."
"To be where?" I asked through a mouthful of slightly burnt toast.
Chris said, "We have to be at the recording studio at nine o'clock. Want to come with us?"
Joey's head perked up from the plate of eggs he was concentrating on. "Huh?"
Jerrica and I exchanged looks. "Sure. Why not?" I said, shrugging my shoulders. "I've never been in a recording studio before. Might learn something."
"Cool!" Chris said excitedly. "We need to move fast. You know how Eric gets when we're late."
Justin laughed. "No worries about Eric, Chris. If he gets out of line, Jerrica will take care of him." He glanced at Jerrica, who had turned a bright shade of red.
"I'm sure she will," I said, "but we probably shouldn't tempt fate. How long are you guys there?"
Lance read over the sheet of paper he had been handed the day before and looked it over. "We're in practice for an hour and a half, and then we have an hour of studio time. Why?"
"Well, I have to be somewhere by twelve-thirty. I just need to make sure I have enough time to get there is all."
"Oh. All right. I don't think that will be a problem," Lance said, still reviewing the schedule. "Anyway, we need to get moving." The guys got up from the table and went their separate directions to get themselves dressed. Jerrica went up to my bedroom and changed while I grabbed some clothes and did a quick five-minute run through the shower. Once I was dressed, I glanced at my watch again. Mentally calculating the amount of time it would take to get downtown, I ran downstairs and hustled Joey into my car while the rest went in the van. As I was entering my car, I noted that Jerrica was driving the van. I wonder if I should warn them about Jerrica's driving? I thought to myself. A small smile crept onto my face as I thought about it some more. Nah, I'll let them find out firsthand.
Joey shot me an odd look as I belted myself in. "What are you smiling about?" he asked suspiciously.
"Jerrica's driving," I said, trying very hard not to laugh.
"Well, let's just say those guys are in for the ride of their lives."
"Is she that bad?"
I nodded. "If you only knew. Let's just say there are times where she can, and probably has, put an Andretti to shame." Our attention was diverted momentarily by the sound and smell of rubber being ground into asphalt as Jerrica hit the accelerator on the van. I'm not entirely sure, but I could swear I heard screaming coming from the other vehicle as it raced down the drive. Shaking my head, I looked back at Joey and said, "Now aren't you glad you're riding with me?"
Joey nodded and laughed. "You better believe it dear." He placed his hand on my knee and gave it a small squeeze while I started the car. It never left that spot the entire way to the recording studio.
We were lucky, that's all I can say. We were lucky that we made it to the studio on time, and we were lucky that no one lost their breakfast on the way in, thanks to Jerrica. Lance, Justin, and Chris were prepared; they had ridden with Jerrica once before. Josh, on the other hand, had no clue what was about to happen and was quite pale by the time they arrived. I had tried to follow Jerrica, but I gave up after she cut off a semi and a school bus on the JFX. Joey and I showed up about four minutes behind the others, who were all picking on poor Josh when we got there.
"Hey guys! I see we made it...barely," I said, noting the time on my watch. Looking up, I saw Josh leaning on his crutches, mumbling under his breath. "Josh? Something wrong man?"
He continued to mumble for another moment before he would look at me. Finally, he said, "Yeah. Why didn't you warn me about her?" He pointed at Jerrica, who just waved me at me with a big grin on her face.
"Warn you? I didn't realize I needed to warn you about Jerrica. Was there something specific about her you feel I neglected to tell you?" I asked sweetly.
"You mean besides the fact that she drives like a maniac?"
"Oh. Sorry. I would have told you, but I figured that was something you really should find out on your own," I said, walking over to him and clamping my hand on his shoulder. "Besides, would you have believed me if I did?"
Josh laughed. "Probably not, but in the future, I'm riding with you!"
I chuckled when he said that, but burst out laughing when I saw the look on Jerrica's face. "I am not that bad!" she said with a frown.
"Not that bad?" I echoed. "Who's the one who received not one, not, two, but four speeding tickets the first year she was licensed?"
"Hey! None of those went on my record!" she retorted.
"Yeah, and why is that?" I said, glaring at her. She had gotten out of those tickets because her father worked for the local police department and everyone knew him.
"Ummm, so anyway," she said, changing the subject, "don't you think these guys need to get inside? It's, like, two minutes after nine."
"Right. Let's go," Lance said, leading the way inside.
The building itself was rather non-descript. It looked like your average, everyday office building on the outside. On the inside, it was well decorated and had a rather hospitable air. It seemed like whomever decorated the office was deliberately trying to make the people who came in feel welcome, and I liked it a lot. As I took inventory of my surroundings, Justin made his way to the front desk and advised the receptionist we were here. She issued temporary passes to the guys and, after much pleading and begging, to Jerrica and I. We thanked her and made our way up to the second floor.
Eric was waiting for us when we got off the elevator, and the red color of his face was a clear indication he was not happy with us in the slightest. "There you idiots are. Do you have any idea what time it is? I swear I ought to..." He trailed off when he spotted Jerrica. "Ah. I see we have brought Miss Andrews along. Nice to see you." Jerrica waved and grinned at Eric. He stared at her for a brief second when his eyes fell on me. "And who the hell... I mean, and who are you? I don't think we've met."
Eric held his hand out to shake mine, and I did likewise. "Uh, hi. I'm Will Robertson. I'm an old friend of Josh's. These guys have been parked out at my house for the past couple days."
"Josh?" Eric echoed.
"Yeah. You know, him?" I said, pointing to Josh.
Eric laughed. "Now why would you call him that? His name is JC. I would think, being friends, you would know that."
I could feel my whole face turning a little red. This felt way too much like the night when I first met the guys and went through that whole, incredibly stupid scene where I thought Josh and JC were two separate people.
"Eric, I didn't become JC until I started on the Mickey Mouse Club. I was Josh before that." He rolled his eyes and looked at me. I mouthed a silent "Thank You" to him and hoped Eric didn't notice it.
"Whatever," Eric retorted in annoyance. "You guys have practice. As for the two of you," he said, glancing at Jerrica and I, "I, uh, assume you will be joining them?"
"Well, if it's not too much of a bother..." I began, but Jerrica, wonderful Jerrica, jumped in and cut me off.
"Damn straight. You think I would drag my butt out of bed at seven in the morning to sit in the lobby?"
Eric half-smiled. "I suppose not. All right you five, get your asses in gear; we're wasting time. Come along you two." The guys went ahead of us and into the practice room. When they were safely out of earshot, Eric turned to us with an angry look. "Okay, get this and get it fast. As much as I don't want you here, the guys do, and right now their happiness is what's important."
"That, and you don't want me to get mad and kick your ass," Jerrica retorted with a menacing glare.
He was taken aback, if only for a second, and then Eric resumed his stony demeanor. "Yeah, that too. Now, while they are in practice, I don't want to hear a word out of you. Understand me? They have work to do, and they don't need you interrupting it."
Had Jerrica not had a firm grip on my arm, I probably would have found a way to excuse myself and left the building. After all, I didn't want to be somewhere I wasn't wanted. On the other hand, I was wanted there by the guys. I had better stop now before I confuse myself, I thought as I allowed Jerrica to drag me down the hall. We quietly entered the room and sat in two chairs set up in the back. Interestingly enough, they were about as far as one could possibly get away from the guys. Something told me this was deliberate. I wondered if this Eric guy somehow knew we were coming. Nah. That's silly. How could he know we were coming? I thought. I just met the guy five seconds ago.
I had brought a small bag with me, one I always carry with me every Wednesday and Friday, and as the guys began to go through a simple warm-up I pulled out a book and began to read. Jerrica reached into my bag and selected a magazine which she began to leaf through. It wasn't that I thought what the guys were doing was boring, but it was possible for me to listen to them and occupy my time in other ways simultaneously.
During that hour and a half, I heard them sing songs that I had heard before but never realized were theirs. As they were singing Tearin' Up My Heart, it took me a moment to realize I was humming along. Apparently I was humming too loudly, because all of a sudden everyone stopped singing and stared at me. I grinned sheepishly and held my book in my face, trying to deflect the smiles that passed between the guys. I was a little more conscious of what I was doing from that point on, but I once again found myself humming the melody during I Want You Back, Bye Bye Bye, and God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You. If the whole humming thing wasn't embarrassing enough, I further made a fool of myself when they began to sing Sailing and I fell out of my chair. I immediately recognized the lyrics from the old Christopher Cross song and was quite surprised to discover that they not only recorded it, but the fact that it sounded good! Call me a purist, but I have a tendency to prefer the original version of anything.
About fifteen minutes before the end of the practice session, three gentlemen entered the room and sat in chairs near the boys. Who they were was unknown to me, but when they entered I felt Jerrica stiffen a little. Somehow she knew them and I wondered how.
"All right guys," Tim Alazarian, their vocal coach on tour, said after cutting the guys off in the middle of This I Promise You. "Y'all sound really good, but I can tell there are some areas that need some tightenin' up." His southern drawl was quite evident in his speech, and I had to stifle myself every time he said "y'all." I don't know why, but for some reason, in my deranged little mind, I found it funny. He paced back and forth in front of the guys until he stopped in front of Joey. "And you," he said, waggling a finger in Joey's face, "you need to pay a little less attention to your girlfriend over there and more attention on where your cues are. You've missed a cue at least six times in the past hour."
Everyone looked in our direction, and if God were nicer to me that day, he would have let me sink through the floor and disappear. Such was not the case, so I had to endure the cold stares from the label management and the Cheshire Cat-like grins from Justin, Lance, Josh, and Chris. The moment their eyes met mine they burst into laughter. They knew who Joey was staring at, and it definitely wasn't Jerrica.
"Sorry Tim," Joey said guiltily, trying to shift the attention away from us and back onto him.
"Whatever," Tim replied. "Now, we have enough time to begin work on this new bit of music..." I had just started to tune everyone back out when I heard a collective groan go up from the front of the room. I perked my head up and paid attention to what was going on. What was abundantly apparent is that there were five very unhappy guys and one annoyed vocal coach. "What the hell is your problem?" he asked.
"Do we have to do this?" Chris whined.
"Yeah, do we have to?" Justin piped up, matching Chris' tone.
"Yes, we do. Now, I've gotten a copy of the music on tape so y'all can listen to it. We'll run through it a couple of times, and after that, we'll try having you sing along." Tim placed the tape in the cassette player and pushed play. After a moment, a lilting piano melody was heard throughout the room. Soon, the tempo began to pick up as percussion was added. I had to admit the beat was catchy, but I was surprised by how high up the octave range the melody appeared to be. Maybe I'm just not hearing it right, I thought.
After a couple of times listening to the music, Tim rewound the tape to the beginning. "Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, here's a broken down copy of the lyrics, each indicating your spot. Let's see. Chris, here's your copy. Joey. Justin. Lance. JC. Good. Now, let's give it a whirl and see what we hit. We're going to go all the way through this once, without stops, just to see where we are right now." Tim hit play on the tape and waited for the music to begin. Chris and Justin began to fidget as the music started. I looked on with interest. After all, how often did one get to see a popular musical act start a brand new piece?
I should have brought earplugs for this one. They weren't completely terrible, but it shattered any notion that I had that these guys might not have to work hard at perfecting their craft. For one thing, Chris, who had been given the lead vocals on this song, kept backing away from the high notes, as if he was afraid to try hitting them. Justin and Josh, who both had large sections of melody, tended to fall silent after Chris would miss a note or string of notes. Finally, the song ended and Tim shut it off.
"What the hell was that?" he thundered after a couple minutes of silence. "Are you sure you guys are *Nsync, because after that, you seriously could have fooled me." All five guys hung their heads and mumbled something inaudible to Jerrica and I in the back. It was a good thing she had grabbed my arm, because I was really starting to get mad at this guy. It's not like they didn't try, I thought as I seethed in my chair.
Tim ranted for a good five minutes before he made them do it over, and over, and over, and over until he became completely enraged at how bad they sounded and stormed out of the room, with the other gentlemen who came in following in hot pursuit. I glanced at my watch and realized it was 11:15. "I guess they're not going to be recording today," I whispered to Jerrica as the guys took a break and came back to talk to us.
"So, what did you think?" Joey asked, looking at both of us with a hopeful smile.
"Well, the beginning was great. You guys sound really good!" I said, hoping they wouldn't ask about the last song.
"What did you think of the new song?" Chris asked, staring directly at me.
I felt trapped. I didn't want to offend them, but I didn't want to lie to them either. "Well, uh, it was, uh, well..."
"Great?" Justin asked. I shook my head.
"Good?" Lance asked. Again, I shook my head.
"Bad?" Josh asked, which caused me to kind of shrug my shoulders.
"Terrible," Joey said flatly.
"Yeah, that's the one," I replied softly. Chris looked pained. "Sorry guys. I'm not going to lie to you. It wouldn't be right. Besides, I'm sure it will get better, especially after Chris learns not to back away from the high notes."
"I'm not backing away from the high notes!" Chris said as he crossed his arms and his lips formed into a pout.
"Yeah, you are Chris. You seem like you're afraid to hit them." I stared at him for a second and narrowed my eyes. "I think the more important question is, can you sing them?"
"Yes, I can! I'm just...not properly warmed up is all. Besides, do you think you could do better?"
He was baiting me, and for now, it was working. "I might be able to, but we're not here to listen to me. We're here to listen to you."
"Go on Will. Show him how to do it!" Justin said with a laugh.
"I don't know guys..." I began, feeling my self-consciousness starting to kick in. Were it just me, Jerrica, and the guys, I would have had no reservations about singing, but with other people possibly right nearby, I didn't feel very comfortable.
"Come on Will. Show this little twerp up," Josh said as he attempted to muss up Chris' hair.
"Hey! I am not little!" Chris retorted.
"Guys, if Will doesn't want to..." Joey began, but he was silenced by the cold stares coming from the other four.
I sighed. Even with Joey and possibly Jerrica on my side, I had a feeling I wasn't going to win this one. "Fine. I'll do it, just this once. Then you all promise to leave me alone?" I was met with a chorus of yeses, so I stood up and set my book down on the chair. "Do I get backup singers on this song, or is it a solo?"
"We'll sing with you," Justin said. "It'll be kind of nice. The first time all six of us have ever sung together."
"And if I have anything to say about it, it'll be the last time too," I said jokingly. Apparently my sense of humor was off that day, for every joke I cracked was met with silence. "Okay, anyway. Let's get this over with, shall we?" I picked up Chris' sheet music and glanced it over. I could clearly see the spots he had been having trouble with and admitted they were quite high for the normal male range. Nothing I personally couldn't handle, but then again most guys can't sing like me.
Chris started the tape and looked over Josh's shoulder to follow along. I listened to the piano introduction, took a deep breath, and began to sing:
Josh, Justin, and Chris joined in:
I looked over at Joey and flashed him a quick smile before we all jumped into the refrain.
I was rather impressed with how clearly I had hit the high note in the second to last line. As usual when I sing, I have a tendency to lose myself in the music. Had I not been paying so much attention to the music and lyrics, I would have noticed the four people standing in the doorway listening to us. No, instead I was paying far too much attention on trying not to miss my cue for the next solo lines I had.
I once again was rejoined by Josh, Justin, and Chris for the remainder of the stanza. As we sang, I could almost picture the dance moves that would probably end up accompanying this song whenever they did finally perfect it. I wondered how they were able to sing and dance at the same time; doing just one was enough to wear me out.
Again Joey and Lance joined us for the chorus. I was really quite surprised how small their parts were on this song. Granted, it was geared for the higher octaves, but one would think they would have found some way to include the two of them in more of the song than just the refrain.
This was the point in the song where they were undoubtedly going to put in a small dance number. The music had one of those annoying electronic dance beats behind it, and while I had to admit it was catchy, it wasn't exactly my style. I prepared myself to sing the next verse solo, and I had this nagging feeling the seven of us weren't alone.
The other five joined in to finish the rest of the song, and I kept glancing from Joey to the sheet music and back again. I saw that really long, high note at the end and wondered if he realized it was there. On all the previous run-throughs, Chris had completely avoided it altogether, so I didn't even realize it existed. Well, I'm just going to have to make do, now aren't I? I thought to myself. Chris definitely has his work cut out for him on this song. Not only does he have lead vocals all the way through, but most of it is in the upper range. Hope he either figures out how to do it or they rewrite this and step it down. My thoughts were beginning to distract me, so I stared at the sheet music in front of me and tried to ignore everything else.
The music ended and I breathed a sigh of relief. I had hit and held the high note for its full duration and didn't have a coronary at the same time. Justin and Josh both gave me a pat on the back, and Joey pulled me into a big hug. I was quite proud of myself, but was thankful I would never have to do it again. Our little celebration was broken up by the sound of applause coming from the doorway.
"Good Lord, I never would have believed it had I not heard it with my own two ears," one of the gentlemen who had come in earlier said. I turned bright red. Someone, or should I say some people, had been listening at the door and had now heard me sing in keys most guys would never dream of.
"Uh, Johnny, this is our friend Will Robertson. Will, this is our manager, Johnny Wright," Chris said nervously. Their whole plan centered on the next five minutes, and as far as he was concerned, I was a ticking time bomb. Either I'd go off, or I'd be a dud that wouldn't explode. He was expecting the former and prayed for the latter.
"It's, um, nice to meet you, I guess," I said meekly. The man came over, grabbed my hand, and shook it hard. "Sorry for taking up the guys time like that. I was just, um, showing Chris how I think it was supposed to sound, since he was having some trouble. Anyway, I've taken up enough of your time, so I'll just go," I babbled as I attempted to extricate myself from this nerve-wracking situation.
"Chris, when you brought me that tape, I swore you were pulling my leg. I guess I owe you an apology. You're right. He is perfect," Johnny said, looking at me.
I had gone over to my chair and was in the process of collecting my things when Johnny made his last remark. I froze for a moment, and then slowly looked up at the whole group as they stared back at me, waiting for a response. "I'm sorry. Did I hear you right? Did you just say 'tape?' What tape would this be?"
"A tape you or someone made of you singing. I have to admit, while it's obvious it wasn't professionally done, for an amateur the quality was quite good."
My mind reeled. How could anyone have gotten a tape of me singing? My mind contemplated numerous options, each one more outrageous than the next. Just when I was considering that someone had bugged my house, the obvious struck me. I looked over at Chris and stared hard at him. "The karaoke machine."
Chris wouldn't meet my eyes, but he nodded his head in affirmation. "Yeah."
I sat down in the chair, as my legs had started to become unstable beneath me. I couldn't believe it. They had made a tape of me singing! They knew how much I didn't want to perform! What on earth would ever possess them to do such a thing? The most burning question I wanted to ask eventually came out. "Why? Why did you do this?"
"Well..." Justin began, but he seemed unable to finish his thought.
"You see, Will, it's like this..." Josh said, but he too didn't seem to know what to say to me.
"Someone needs to say something and fast!" I said, standing back up again. I was starting to see red from anger; a dangerous sign if there ever was one. I scanned the sea of faces. Johnny looked confused, Josh, Lance, and Justin looked like they wanted to sink beneath the floor, Chris appeared sort of hopeful things would work out all right, and Joey looked as mad as I felt. Jerrica had recoiled into the furthest corner away from me. She had seen me lose my temper before, and even though it happened very rarely, it was not a pretty sight when it happened. She sensed I was about to blow, and truth be told, I was pretty damn close.
The air in the room was incredibly tense and silent. I think everyone was afraid they were in for a pounding if they spoke. Finally Chris, whether from determination or stupidity it is still unclear, found the nerve to respond. "Will, whether you believe it or not, you sound good. I'd swear that song was written for you. You love to perform, and you're letting one small incident in your past keep you from doing it. If we had asked you directly, would you have agreed?"
"Absolutely not," I said harshly. "I can't believe how incredibly hypocritical you are! All this time, you thought my intentions toward you guys were motivated by something other than just plain friendship. Now, I find out that instead of you having to be suspicious of me, it should have been ME who was suspicious of YOU!" I could feel my blood boiling in my veins. To be honest, this was the tip of the iceberg. I was ready to explode, and it was only a matter of time.
"But Will..." Justin began, but I cut him off.
"But what Justin? What do you want me to say? 'Thank you for putting me in the most embarrassing and uncomfortable position of my life?' Why couldn't you all just leave it alone?" Justin's mouth dropped open, but he said nothing further. Over the past couple days, I was the one who was always there to be his shoulder to lean on, and now I was berating him in such a manner I was probably making Eric look docile.
"Ummm, Rob?" Jerrica said timidly from the back corner.
"Oh, don't you start in on me. Did you know about this? Were you in on this too?" Jerrica sighed and nodded her head. I glanced at Joey who, even though I didn't ask it to him directly, nodded his head at well. Those two admissions hurt me more than the others combined. The two most important people in my life, my boyfriend and my best friend, had both plotted against me. Was there no one in this world I could trust any more?
I snatched up my bag and stormed toward the door. Justin started to move toward me, but one sharp look from me stopped him in his tracks. "Don't follow me, don't speak to me, and don't even think about me! Stay out of my way, stay out of my life, and get out of my house!" I shook my head. "You know, that night, I thought to myself about how my friends have always chided me about having too big a heart, but I ignored it because I thought what I was doing was the right thing. I don't even know what that is anymore, and it's obvious none of you ever did to begin with. I never should have stopped. I should have pretended I didn't see it and kept on going." I continued to the door and found my way blocked by Eric, who seemed to think he was going to stop me from leaving. On a normal day, I never would have done this, but I grabbed Eric and threw him to the side, causing him to fall hard onto his rear.
As I grabbed the door handle, I turned back to the now very shocked group and, with as sweet a smile as I could fake, I said cheerily, "Oh, and have a nice day," as I slammed the door hard behind me. I was quite fortunate that I was so blinded by my own rage that I ignored everything else going on in the room, because my heart would have broken further had I seen the tears in Joey's eyes as I went on my mini-rampage. This was not a side of myself most people were accustomed to seeing, and it usually came as quite a blow to their perception of me when it did. Jerrica, who was prepared for this possibility, was quite surprised I had remained as calm as I had. The last time I lost my temper, the object of my anger wound up with two black eyes and a broken wrist.
I stomped down the hall and, instead of waiting for the elevator, lest someone decide to come after me, I tossed the stairwell door open and ran down the stairs. Grabbing my visitors badge, I was about to throw it at the receptionist when common sense began to prevail. Instead, I handed it to her and ran out the door to my car. I sat down in the driver's seat and began to cry. I had gone from the top of the world to the bottom of hell in a single day, and right then all I wanted to do was throw myself in the harbor holding a sack of bricks. I sat back in my seat, looked up through the sunroof, and said quietly, "What have I done?"
The room was silent for minutes after I left. Eric had picked himself up off the floor and was now leaning against the wall, rubbing his behind from where he landed. Jerrica was now sitting next to Joey, who was softly crying to himself. At first, he had tried to push Jerrica away when she put her arm around him, but he quickly relented after she became insistent upon it. Chris and Justin were sitting together on a table, eyeing each other, noting the seriously forlorn looks on the other's face. Josh and Lance were doing the same in two chairs at the other end of the table, although they seemed less depressed than the rest of the crowd. Tim, Johnny, and the other Jive executive who was with him that day left the room after a few moments, deciding that this little episode was something they really didn't want to be involved in at the moment.
Everyone was lost in their own thoughts when Joey, without warning, stood up and marched over to Chris. "How?" he asked simply.
Chris looked confused. "How what?"
"How did you put that tape back together?"
Chris sighed. It was bad enough that Will had gone off on him, and now he had to contend with Joey too. "I didn't. I made five copies. I knew that you would have a change of heart and try to destroy it, so I made duplicates."
Joey stepped back, anger flashing in his eyes. His friend, one of his best friends, had cooked up this cockamamie scheme with little or no regard for the feelings of the people involved. Now his boyfriend had kicked them out of his life and it was all Chris' fault. Without thinking, he pulled his arm back and socked Chris in the jaw. Justin jumped in between the two in an attempt to prevent Joey from hitting him again, but there was no point. Joey had only planned on hitting him once, at least for now.
"Will may be enough of a gentleman not to do that, but right now I'm not. I swear, if he doesn't forgive me for any or all of this, not only will I come back and finish you off, I'll quit *Nsync!" He headed for the door, and as he was about to leave he turned around to give Chris just one more piece of his mind. "Oh, and the next time you decide you want to meddle with someone's fucking life, don't pick mine!" In copycat fashion, he stormed out and slammed the door behind him.
Everyone swarmed around Chris in an attempt to ascertain if he was indeed all right. Chris waved them off as he rubbed his jaw. "With everything I've done to Will over the past couple of days, one could say I've had it coming for a while now. Joey didn't hit me that hard; it more surprised me than anything else." He stood up and sighed. "I guess we better get back to the house and start packing then, huh? Hey Josh? Call the hotel we were at and see if we can get our rooms back."
Josh pulled out his cell phone and started to dial while Eric grinned at the predicament. The guys were now going to back in his sphere of influence and this whole mess would be over. No more missing guys, no more showing up late, and best of all, no more Jerrica. Things couldn't have gotten better, except for that whole incident with Joey punching Chris and threatening to quit. That was just side drama though. He was going to be rid of Jerrica!
"Josh, stop," Jerrica said. Eric's face started to fall when he heard her voice. "Will wasn't serious when he said that. It was just the anger talking. You guys only leave if you want to. He really would be furious if you actually took him seriously and left."
Eric cursed under his breath. Damn her! Damn that bitch! he thought. Finding his voice, he spoke up. "I don't know Jerrica. He seemed really mad. I don't think he would have said it if he didn't mean it."
Jerrica's eyes narrowed. "Look, he's my best friend and I know him better than he probably knows himself. Now Josh, put the damn cell phone away and forget about it. Yes, he's mad now, but by tonight he'll have gotten over it. He never stays mad long."
Eric could feel his control slipping away. "Why would they want to stay some place where they can be insulted and derided? They're better off staying back at the hotel."
"Why? So you can insult and deride them? Forget it. Come on guys. Let's get out of here." Jerrica headed for the door and opened it. When no one moved, she said loudly, "Now ladies! Let's go!" Slowly, the four filed past Jerrica out the door into the hallway. As Jerrica went to close the door behind her, she smiled at Eric and said, "Nice try Bubba."
She shut the door and leaned against it, closing her eyes. She had enough drama in her own life to keep her occupied; she didn't need anyone else's right now. She felt a hand on her shoulder and opened her eyes to see Justin staring at her with a worried look. "Do you really think he'll forgive us?" he asked, eyes filled with worry.
Jerrica nodded. "Yeah, he will. Don't expect it to come right away, and don't push him. It's been a really long time since he's been this angry, and it'll take a while for him to fully cool down. He's too level-headed to let this stuff bother him for very long." She then moved over to Chris and put a hand on his shoulder. "Yeah man, he'll even forgive you, although it might take longer than the rest of us. Just be patient with him. It'll happen, I promise."
Chris looked into her eyes and she felt her heart start to flutter. No matter how mad I ought to be at him for this whole mess, I just can't be angry with him, she thought. Maybe once this whole disaster is sorted out, I can find out if I'm really reading the signals I'm getting. She sighed. She felt like she was in the middle of a soap opera and someone forgot to hand her a copy of the script.
"Hey Jerrica?" Justin said timidly. "You don't think Will would break up with Joey over this do you?"
Jerrica sighed. Her best friend was rather unpredictable at times. There was no telling what he would do on that end. "I don't know Justin. Most of me says no. He's more likely to drive Joey away by trying to isolate himself than anything else. The only thing that concerns me is that Joey and Allison now have one thing in common."
"What could Joey possibly have in common with that heinous bitch?" Lance spat. Everyone's gaze shifted to Lance; all five mouths open in shock. It was unusual for him to say a bad word about anyone, and even more unusual for him to curse. "What? You've seen the letter she wrote to Will. I don't think that name is strong enough, but I'm not going to say what I really think."
They laughed briefly, if for no other reason it helped relieve some of the tension in the air, but it was over almost before it began. Looking at Lance, she said, "The one thing they have in common is they both broke his sense of trust. That's incredibly important to him, and while he's a very forgiving person, he may never be able to look at Joey the same way again." She sat down on the floor and put her head in her hands. "Why I agreed to go along with this, I'll never know. Not only have I helped put Joey and Will's relationship in jeopardy, but I've also put a major dent in our friendship. This is so not good."
She began to curse and hit her head against her hands. As Chris and Lance moved toward her to stop her self-assault, three sets of ears began walking away from the next corridor. They had overheard the entire conversation and were astonished to discover this new bit of information. Joey, *Nsync's Joey, the group flirt, was in fact gay and was dating the guy with the powerful set of lungs. It was incredibly difficult to believe, and what was more difficult was figuring out what to do with this information. As they walked away, the three men glanced at one another but said nothing. This was definitely going to take some time to figure out.
<h3>To Be Continued...</h3>
So what did you think? Well, it's finally happened. The tape has materialized, Will has found out, and it didn't go over well. Now he is mad at everyone, including Joey. What will happen with their relationship? Can Will ever forgive Joey? Who was eavesdropping on Jerrica and the guys, and what will they do with the information they've discovered? Tune in next time to find out! Please, drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.
Thanks to everyone who has written to me!! A special thanks goes out to my editors, Mandy and Dreamy. Thanks for all the two of you do!
Chapter Ten is coming soon. This chapter was actually much, much longer, but after some debate with my editors, I decided to cut in half. Therefore, my dear readers, the wait for Chapter Ten won't be quite so long. Hope the wait on this one was worth it!
Extra disclaimer: The song "One For Sorrow" is protected under copyright by the original author and its recording label. No attempt to infringe on this copyright should be assumed or implied.