Copyright © 2005-2018 Rob. All Rights Reserved.
Joey's tone surprised me. What on earth did he think Justin and I were doing?
"Well?" he asked again. "What's going on here?" Joey crossed his arms against his chest and waited for some response. I looked at Justin, whose eyes wouldn't meet anyone's, and then back over at Joey.
"Hey Joe? What's the yelling all about?" Lance asked as he walked in to the room with Chris and Josh right behind. He spotted me sitting on the bed with Justin and his jaw dropped. "Oh shit." By this time both Chris and Josh had made their way into the room and saw the same sight. Josh looked slightly amused, but Chris was pissed and his face showed it.
He pushed past everyone and marched up to me. I stood up and faced him with my best 'I'm not afraid of you' look"I knew it," he sneered at me. "I knew you would be nothing but trouble. To think that for a second I actually thought you were better than the rest of the scum that crosses our path." He turned to face Josh and gave him an I-told-you-so look Then he turned back to face me. "My God you disgust me," he sneered. I went to reply, but was cut off by the instant pain of Chris' fist connecting with my jaw.
I sat down on the bed rubbing my jaw, unable to speak while the pain subsided. At that point Justin finally found his voice. "Now hold on one God damned second!!!" The four looked at Justin in surprise. It wasn't very often when Justin would raise his voice, especially to his fellow band members, and when he did, everyone knew there was hell to pay by the time he was finished. Justin got up off the bed and glared at Chris. "How dare you? HOW DARE YOU DO THAT?"
"Justin, I don't know what the hell this piece of trash has done to you, but..." Chris' voice faltered as he caught the look in Justin's eyes. I stood up with my fists clenched. No one was going to call me a piece of trash in my home and get away with it.
"Chris, you have got to learn to ask questions first, you know. What the hell do you think happened in here? Pull your damn minds out of the gutter, all of you! First of all, I thought you all knew me better than that. Second, I would think you'd know Will better than that, after all he has done to try to help us."
Justin sighed, and then turned to look at Joey. "The reason I didn't answer your question right away Joe is because I was embarrassed. I had a nightmare about all of you being dead and started yelling. Will came up here and sat with me while I calmed down. Also," he continued, glaring back at Chris, "notice that he and I are also fully clothed. Besides, what makes you think Will is gay? You're making assumptions that have no basis." I flushed as Justin continued his rant. He had no idea how close to the truth he really was. "For one, I think you owe him a major apology. If Will accepts it, he's a bigger man than me, because right now I'm about this close to killing you with my bare hands."
Chris looked over at me, and the expression on his face indicated he was trying to find the right words. The pain from his punch started to clearly register in my head, along with everything Chris had said earlier. Whatever he wanted to say, I was in no mood to hear it. I looked over at Justin, who was still fuming, and then over at Joey, Lance, and Josh, who appeared to still be processing this latest scene. Suddenly, I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic in that room with all of them, so I made my way for the door.
"Will?" Joey said hesitantly as I pushed past him. I ran down the stairs and out the back door, with Joey in pursuit. "Will! Will come back!" I heard Joey yelling from the back porch as I ran across the back yard and in to the woods. Like hell I'm going back, I thought. Like hell.
"Well now what?" Lance asked as he and Joey sat down at the kitchen table. Joey just shrugged. He couldn't believe he had gotten jealous of Will sitting with Justin, and now there was no way he would ever win Will's heart, gay or not. His eyes roamed over the table, noting the soaked newspaper and the turned over glass of orange juice. He stood up and went over to the sink to grab a sponge to wipe up the mess. As he passed the refrigerator, he noticed a note on the front:
Joey's heart sank even further. Will really was the world's sweetest guy, and he and the rest of the guys had just chased him out of his own house. He took the note off the refrigerator and handed it to Lance, who scanned it quickly. He looked up at Joey and said, "And Chris thought he was trying to take advantage of Justin? It looks like he was trying to bend over backwards to have us take advantage of him!"
Joey nodded as he picked up the overturned glass and the newspaper. He placed the glass in the sink and went to throw the newspaper away in the trash. Just as he was about to drop the paper into the wastebasket, something caught his eye. It was a little smudged from being soaked in orange juice, but he could still make most of the words out. It was a classified ad for two tickets to the guys' concert in Richmond in three weeks, and Will had marked the borders of it with tons of stars. He walked back over to Lance and showed it to him.
"Look Lance!" Joey exclaimed. "It looks like Will was going to try and get tickets to our concert in Richmond. Hasn't that been sold out for weeks now?"
"Yeah," Lance replied. "Looks like he was considering paying this person $300 for a ticket too." Lance closed his eyes and thought for a moment. He then opened them and looked at Joey. "Hey, Joey, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Joey laughed as he walked over to the phone on the kitchen wall. "I'm way ahead of you Scoop. Way ahead of you."
I didn't stop running for 10 minutes. I was nearing the edge of the property line, so I decided to go sit in my thinking spot. I figure if it's good enough for Winnie-the-Pooh, it's good enough for me! I wandered down to my favorite spot on a little rock overlooking the small river that flowed behind my house. It was quiet and secluded. Best of all, no one else knew about it. Not that it was difficult to find, mind you. You just take the trail that led from my backyard through the woods to the river, and then headed west until you found it.
I sat down and just stared at the river and let my myriad of thoughts overwhelm me. The tears I had been fighting back finally overpowered me and started to flow freely. I couldn't believe this had happened. I hadn't been on such a roller coaster since the last time I went to Cedar Point. Only this time it was my emotions that were on the ride, and they were starting to succumb to motion sickness. I went from being on top of the world to bottom of the barrel and back again.
My head was running around in circles. I didn't know what to think any more. These guys had seriously screwed with my head. My emotions were a mix of sadness, anger and frustration. It was slowly boiling inside of me, and when I thought I could take it no more, I threw my head back and let out an earth-shattering scream. After about a minute, the tension inside me broke and I reduced myself from screaming back to simple blubbering again. I felt a little bit better, but all of this emotional hysteria had taken a lot out of me. Besides, I hadn't slept since I got up yesterday. Fatigue finally overpowering me at last, I got up and trudged over to the grassy knoll under a large oak tree right behind the rock overlook. I knelt down and sprawled out flat under the tree. I hoped that by the time I awoke, *Nsync would have vacated my house and I could go back to my mundane boring old life.
It could have happened that way, had someone not been searching for me and overheard me scream.
"It's all set," Joey said as he hung up the phone. "There'll be two tickets and all-access backstage passes waiting for him at the box office in Richmond." He smiled at Lance, who was looking at him intently. That look was making Joey a little nervous. "What?"
"What's going on Joey?" Lance asked.
"What do you mean?" Joey replied, looking innocent.
"There's something different about you... I just can't place my finger on it."
"Ummmm... I lost weight?"
"No, that's not it. It's something bigger than that. I don't know how to explain it. It's kind of like you've had a happiness transfusion. You've been in a funk ever since we started this tour, and this is the first time I've really seen you smile in a long time. Now out with it."
"It's nothing. Really. Can't I just be in a good mood?"
Lance thought for a moment. Then an odd thought struck him. He looked Joey right in the eye and said the words Joey did not want to hear. "You like him, don't you?"
Joey was stunned. He couldn't be that transparent, could he? His mind reeled, searching for an answer. It wouldn't have helped, as his throat had closed up. What could he say? It was the truth, and he hated lying to his friends. At the same time, if news of this ever leaked out, all their careers could be finished in the blink of an eye. He looked at Lance who was staring at him intently, waiting for a response. However, one look into Joey's eyes was enough confirmation for Lance. Lance grinned at Joey, who pulled up a stool and sat down. He was going to have a lot of explaining to do.
"Joey, it's Okay. Really. It doesn't bother me one bit. Besides, I've had my suspicions for a while now."
"Huh?" Joey finally managed to croak. Lance had suspected him? How long had this been going on?
"After your last three girlfriends lasted no longer than a week, I began to wonder. When the last one told me you threw her out after she brought up the idea of having sex, I really started to wonder. Then, when I saw you eyeing Will, I had pretty well validated my thoughts. The giveaway, though, was the jealous look in your eye when you saw Will sitting on the bed with Justin. That, and the fact you never took your eyes off him for one second."
Joey sighed and slumped a little. "It makes no difference now Lance. Even if he is gay, he'd never like me anyway, especially not after Chris popped him." Joey started to get angry. Yes, he had been a bit jealous, but when Chris hit Will it had taken all of Joey's willpower not to haul Chris off and beat him to a pulp.
Lance got up and put his arm around his friend. "Never say never man. If you give up, you'll regret it for the rest of your life because you never tried. If you try and it doesn't work, then it wasn't meant to be."
Joey looked up at Lance, his eyes brightening a little. "You're right," he said. "I hate to admit it, but you're right. God I'm terrified though. What if he says no? What if he's not gay? I don't know if I could take the rejection!"
"Joey, just get off your ass and go find him and get it over with," Justin said as he entered the room. He had overheard the last couple minutes of conversation, and Joey's self-conflict was starting to drive him crazy.
Justin's statement startled Joey, enough to cause him to fall off the stool. "How much did you hear?" Joey asked in a panicked voice.
"Enough to realize why you were so angry earlier. Joe, Will is a great guy. If he were gay, he would be crazy not to fall head over heels in love with you. If you're worried about my opinion, don't. I don't care if you are gay, straight, bi, purple, orange, or green. All that matters to me is that you are happy, and if Will makes you happy, then I am all for it." He offered Joey his hand so he could pick himself back up off the floor. Justin continued, "Look, as far as I am concerned you are my brother, and nothing is going to change that." Justin pulled Joey into a big hug and whispered into his ear, "Now go find him."
Joey broke their embrace and ran out the back door. He was going to find Will, even if it took him the rest of his life to do it.
"Don't say it JC. Don't even say it," Chris said as he plopped down on Lance's bed. "I know that I overreacted..."
"Overreacted? OVERREACTED? Chris, you never even gave the guy a chance to say anything!" JC was pissed at Chris for his latest foray into the world of stupidity, but he was also used to the man's sudden outbursts. JC hobbled over to the bed and sat down next to Chris. "Why did you have to hit him Chris? Why? What did that solve?"
"I don't know Okay? Damn! Make one dumb mistake and the whole world condemns you." Chris threw himself back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Why did I hit him? he thought. Yeah, I was upset, but it's not really like me to hit someone.
As if reading his mind, JC said, "I don't understand it Chris. It's not like you to just hit someone. I don't know what is going on with you man. Sometimes, it's like I don't even know you at times."
Chris sighed. You don't know me as well as you think. No one does.
JC grabbed his crutches and stood up carefully. "It's obvious you have some things on your mind, and I'm guessing you're not ready to discuss them with me. Just know that if and when you are ready to talk, I always have an open ear." JC shot Chris one of his killer smiles, turned, and headed out the door, leaving Chris alone with his thoughts.
Joey was running like he had never run before in his life. He had crossed the backyard and had found the trail into the woods. He was certain this was the direction he had seen Will running in when he left the house earlier. The trail itself was obvious. It was well worn, but was quite treacherous to the inexperienced. There were numerous tree roots sticking up out of the ground and Joey had already tripped twice so far. At first he had been taking the trail at a more leisurely pace, until he heard a scream that sent chills up and down his spine. What the hell was that? he thought to himself. Oh my God. Please don't let that be Will. Afraid that his new friend was in distress, Joey charged through the forest as fast as his legs could carry him.
Upon reaching the river, Joey scanned the area looking for signs of life. He looked over the riverbank and the placid water below. It wasn't very far, maybe 10 feet or so to the water's surface. He stood there for a moment praying that Will, or maybe someone else if it wasn't Will, hadn't fallen into the water. Well, if I don't find Will soon, I'll call the police to search the river. Joey shuddered at the thought. Here he had met the most wonderful man...to be honest the most wonderful person in his entire life. The idea that quite possibly the last thing he had ever done was insinuate that Will was anything less than honorable made Joey feel horrible. He shook his head, trying to clear the nasty thoughts from his mind. He's fine. I'm sure he's fine.
He decided to wander along the bank for a while. Turning to his right, he rambled along the bank of the river, occasionally picking up a stone and throwing it in to the water below. Up ahead, he could see a large rock jutting from the bank out over the river. Maybe if I stand on that, I'll be able to get a better view of the area downriver, Joey thought. He jogged in the direction of the rock when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something...no, someone lying face down underneath a large oak tree. "What the..." Joey started when a look of recognition appeared on his face. There was no mistaking that body for anyone. It was Will.
Approaching slowly, Joey tried to assess Will's condition as best as he could. He was definitely breathing. There wasn't any visible blood, nor any bruises except from where Chris had hit him. Joey relaxed a little, knowing that Will was all right. Why was he screaming though? He knelt down next to Will and just watched him for a while. He must be exhausted, Joey thought. He hasn't slept all day. Closing his eyes and feeling the warm sun shine down on him, he thought about what he would eventually say to Will, whenever he worked up enough nerve to say something.
Joey started to mumble under his breath the thoughts that crossed his mind. "Will, I don't know how to say this... No, no. Ummmm, Will, have you ever...? No, that would sound stupid. Will, you know how when.... No." Joey sighed. This was not going to be easy. He sat down, crossing his legs, and tried to 'center himself' as he had seen so many times on television. Hey, if it worked for them, it could work for me too! Joey laughed silently. He felt a little silly, but since there was no one else around, what did he have to lose? He closed his eyes again and tried to clear his jumbled mind. His thoughts only seemed to get louder though. Hoping that breathing more deeply would help, he began to inhale as deeply as he could, hold it, and exhale. He did this for a couple of minutes, until he sneezed...loudly.
I awoke with a start. I had been dreaming of the fight in Justin's room, replaying it constantly in a continuous loop. It started from the moment Joey entered the room until when I left. Then it would just start all over again. I have no idea how long I had been asleep for, but I could have sworn that toward the end someone was calling my name. I'm not sure what woke me up, but as I awoke, I felt someone's presence there. I debated for a moment if I should move or just lie still. For all I knew, it could be a wild creature, or worse, Chris coming back to finish me off. Deciding I would never know unless I turned around, I flipped myself over and practically landed in someone's lap. Looking up, my eyes slowly traveled up this person's body until I met the most intensely brown eyes I had ever seen. What is Joey doing here? I wondered.
Joey looked at me and smiled. Instinctively I smiled back, but then my face darkened. I got up and backed away from him. Standing there, I crossed my arms and stared at him. He just stared back at me, but he had completely let his guard down. I could sense through his body language that he was trying to tell me he wasn't here to start a problem. However, my suspicious nature overlooked that. Finally I broke the silence. "Can I help you with something Mr. Fatone?" I said rather icily. If Joey had known me better, he would know that me calling him by his last name was a bad sign. I only do that if the situation requires formality or if I am incredibly pissed off.
"Yeah, umm... Are you all right Will?"
"I'm fine, not that I understand why it is any concern of yours. I figured you and your friends would be gone by now." I hated that I was being so cold to him, and I would chide myself privately for weeks after this, but I had already allowed them to hurt me twice. I wasn't ready to throw myself in for a third round. Not just yet.
"Will, listen. I..."
I cut him off. "Why Joey? Why is it every time I try to be nice to you people you all just throw it back in my face? What is it you want?"
"Will, I know what just happened went rather badly..."
"Badly? Badly is an understatement. I can't believe that you actually think that little of me! You all have been through a lot of hell and anxiety in the past 24 hours, and all I have tried to do is make it easier. Do you honestly think I would try to take advantage of you at one of the lowest moments of your lives?" My voice continued to get louder as I felt a major rant building.
Joey remained silent for a moment. Then he looked at me and said calmly, "Will, I'll only continue to have this conversation with you if you promise to let me finish."
It was like a light switch that someone had flicked off. I felt my anger start to deflate as I uncrossed my arms and sat down. I looked up at him and motioned for him to do the same. "Care to join me?" I asked.
Joey sat down and sighed. I looked at him, trying to catch his eye, but he wouldn't let his eyes meet mine. "Will, I'm sorry," he said, his voice breaking a little. "You tried so hard to be friends with us, and we have given you nothing but grief. Maybe we didn't want to believe it. We've had so many problems over the years, it's become incredibly difficult to spot true friendship when it happens."
I waited for him to continue, and when he didn't I spoke up. I was much calmer now and had lost all of the venom in my voice. "I understand that Joey, but that's no excuse. If you were that concerned about what was going on with Justin, you should have asked first instead of making snap judgments. You then would have avoided this whole mess and we would be back at the house instead of here."
Joey looked up at me, and for the first time I saw tears in his eyes. I cocked my head a little in surprise. He was really torn up about this! Forgetting all my anger, I stood up and walked over to him. He glanced up at me and turned his eyes downcast. I sat down next to him and put my hand on his shoulder. I felt him flinch a little at my touch, but he made no motions to move my hand away. "I really am sorry this happened Will," Joey said quietly. "Lance, Justin and I think you are a great person, and I'm sure JC feels the same way. As for Chris, well..." Joey trailed off. His feelings for Will were strong, as was his friendship with Chris. How was he going to balance the two? Joey's eyes started to tear up again. This was never going to work.
"Joey? Joey? Hey, look at me." I reached over to his face and slowly turned his head to look at me. "Joey, I forgive you. I forgive all of you."
Joey's eyes opened in amazement. "Even Chris?" he asked tentatively.
I laughed. "Yes, even Chris. Although I will tell you that if he ever hits me again, you had better leave the room, because I am going to kick his ass into next week!"
Joey started to giggle at the thought, which then turned into outbursts of laughter. The mental picture was quite amusing. After a minute or two, his laughter subsided and he took on a more serious face. "There is something that is still bothering me though," he said, looking slightly troubled. "As I was coming out here to find you, I heard what sounded like screaming. I thought someone was hurt or something. What happened?"
I shot him a puzzled expression, and then my sketchy memory kicked in. I smiled and replied, "Have you ever had one of those days when you would say to yourself 'I'm so mad I could scream'?"
"Well... I did. Felt better too afterwards."
Joey looked at me intensely for a moment, and then swatted my arm. "You scared the crap out of me!" He got up and stared at me. "I thought you were hurt, or being killed, or only God knows what." He was only playing angry with me, but I missed it.
"Hey, I'm sorry I scared you," I replied as I stood up, "but you weren't supposed to hear that anyway." Joey turned and walked over to the edge of the river, picking up a stone and throwing it in. Watching him, he looked so sad. At first, I thought he might think I was still upset with them, but that idea was pushed aside to a fresh idea that had dropped in my head. Maybe he's just lonely. It was just him and the guys, all the time. There wasn't much time for friends of any sort, and certainly not enough to have a relationship. And I thought my life was hard, I thought.
I walked over to Joey and put my arm around his shoulder. He spun around and embraced me, burying his face in my shoulder. I was so surprised I didn't know what to do. I finally decided he, like Justin earlier, just needed to be held, so I hugged him back. We stayed that way for about five minutes until I felt Joey start to move away. Breaking our embrace, Joey just looked at me as if he wanted to say something but couldn't find the words. He took a deep breath and said, "Will, thank you. Thank you for being you. Thank you for being there when we needed you. Most of all thank you for being our friend. You have no idea how much that means to me."
I smiled. It was very touching and I knew it was heartfelt. I probably would have responded with something equally as mushy when my stomach interrupted us with a loud growl. "Hey Joey?"
"What do you say we go back to the house and get something to eat? I'm starving!"
"Food? I can do food." Joey said. "I can always do food."
I chuckled. "Yeah, you and me both. Come on. Let's go back to the house. If I remember correctly, there is a big thing of ground beef in the refrigerator, two boxes of spaghetti in the cupboard, and some spicy homemade spaghetti sauce in the pantry."
"Pasta? Man, I love pasta, and that sounds excellent! It's one of my favorite things to cook."
"Cook?" I echoed as we began our return back to the house. "You cook?"
'Yeah, I like to cook. The other guys think it's kind of weird since we can eat pretty much whatever we want wherever we want and have someone else do it. I personally find it kind of relaxing and fun. Take a little of this, a little of that, and the next thing you now, you have a meal everyone is drooling over."
"Wow. I never knew. Well, that settles that then. I have just appointed you assistant chef. However, please don't drool in the food. That's just disgusting." I started laughing again while Joey just glared at me. Secretly though, Joey was thrilled. He was going to get to spend some time with Will doing something Joey loved to do and Will was no longer mad at them. Now if he could just get himself to take that final step...
It took some time, but Josh finally made it down the stairs. Using crutches wasn't easy. At first, he had tried to come down on the crutches, but he started to lose his balance on the first step and gave up that idea. After some moments of agonizing over what to do, he sat down on the first step and slid down with his crutches in tow. When he finally reached the last step, he stood up and realized he had another problem. He needed to use the restroom, which was upstairs, and he was now downstairs. It was enough to make a grown man cry. Well, almost. As he gazed up the mountain of stairs in front of him, he failed to notice Justin walking up behind him.
"Something wrong Josh?" Justin asked. His reply was a wide-eyed look"What? Why are you looking at me like that?"
Josh's surprise turned into a grin. "Sorry Curly. It's just been a long time since you called me Josh, and it kind of surprised me."
"Why does that surprise you? It is your name. Yeah, I know we usually call you JC, but I figure since Will calls you Josh, it seemed silly for us not to do the same. I'm also assuming you asked him to, since I don't think that is something he would take upon himself."
"Yeah, I did. Like I said, I just hadn't heard you call me that in a long time. Besides, I like the fact that my friends have a different name for me than the rest of the world, right Curly?" Josh grinned as Justin blushed over being called by his group nickname. His grin was soon tempered by yet another memo to his brain from Mother Nature. He turned back to look at the stairs and sighed again. He prayed he'd make it before he had an embarrassing accident.
"Uh, Josh? I hate to sound like a broken record, but is something wrong?"
Josh's eyes darted between Justin and the looming stairs. Frustrated by his predicament, he figured he might as well tell Justin. Two heads were usually better than one in trying to figure out a solution. "Yeah. Ummm... I kind of have to go to the bathroom, and it's a little difficult to get upstairs with this leg, and it's kind of urgent if you catch my drift."
Justin looked a little confused. "Why do you need to go upstairs? There's a bathroom down the hall on the left."
Josh's eyebrows shot up almost completely into his hairline. "Oh thank God!" he said, giving Justin a hug. Pushing him out of the way, he made a beeline for the bathroom. Justin watched him go and chuckled silently to himself. When the five of them were together, life was never dull.
Justin continued on upstairs. He had planned on grabbing a CD out of his duffel bag. The house was too quiet and needed some music. Entering his room, he sat down on the bed and grabbed his duffel bag and began rummaging through it. Just as he found the CD he was looking for, his cell phone began to ring. It, of course, was also somewhere in the duffel bag. Instead of trying to dig for it, he dumped the entire contents out on the bed. Finding it, he checked the number on the caller id. It was his mother.
"Justin? Are you all right baby? Is everyone okay?" came the panicked voice of Lynn Harless.
"Yeah, Mom. We're fine. Why?"
"I just got a call from Johnny," she replied. Johnny Wright was their manager back in Orlando. "He told me you guys were in a car accident this morning. What happened?" Justin laid back on the bed and sighed. He knew this was going to come at some point, and he was trying to find a way to keep his mother from overreacting.
"Mom, it's no big deal. We got lost on some back roads and the roads were wet. We came upon an unmarked sharp curve and lost control of the car. The paramedics came and checked us all out. Other than Josh, who has a sprained ankle, the rest of us are fine." Justin prayed that this explanation was enough to satisfy his mother. If it wasn't, she would be on the first plane to Baltimore.
"Josh? Oh, you mean JC! Is he going to be all right?" Lynn always worried about the boys. She felt like the other four were own, besides Justin.
"Yes Mom. The doctor told him to stay off the leg for a couple of weeks and he should be back to normal."
"All right. Anyway, Johnny said that everything is going to be cancelled for at least the next couple weeks and rescheduled at the end of the tour. Right now, the first non-cancelled date is going to be the concert in Richmond on May 26th. So, it appears you now have a couple weeks free time. Are you all going to come home?"
"I don't know. This is news to us, so we'll have to talk about it."
"I understand. Where are you guys anyway? I tried to call you at the hotel and was told you weren't there. You aren't getting yourselves into trouble now are you?" Justin rolled his eyes. No matter how old he got, his mother always treated him like a child.
"Of course not Mom. We're in Baltimore. Well, somewhere outside of Baltimore. I'm not really sure exactly. It's kind of out in the middle of nowhere. We're staying...uh...with a friend of Josh's." Justin hated to lie to his mother, but that was a much easier explanation than the truth.
"Oh, all right then. Now you behave and tell the others I said the same. If you do decide to come home, please let me know as soon as possible. I love you honey."
"Love you too Mom. Bye." Justin hung up the phone and breathed a sigh. That was close. Too close. The last thing he needed was his mother swooping in and making life difficult. He set his phone back down on the nightstand and proceeded to go back downstairs. As he exited the bedroom, he ran in to Chris in the hallway. The two just glared at each other for what seemed like eternity before Chris brushed past Justin and ran in to Lance's room and slammed the door. Justin sighed. First his mother and now Chris. Could things get any more hectic around here?
It had been a fairly quiet walk back to the house. Joey seemed to have something on his mind, and I had my own issues to deal with. Occasionally, Joey would turn to look at me as if he wanted to say something, but when my gaze would meet his he would immediately look away. I wanted to get to know him better, but at the same time I was worried that I might say the wrong thing and push him away. Will, how do you get yourself in to these messes? I pondered as we exited the woods and started across the backyard. It doesn't matter. We'll have a nice lunch, the guys will leave, and that will be the end of the story. Period.
We reached the back door of the house and Joey, ever the gentleman, opened the door for me. I stepped inside cautiously, wondering what type of war zone I might be walking into. The house was fairly quiet. Josh was camped out in the recliner reading a book. Lance was at the kitchen table poring over some notes. Justin was laying on the couch flipping through a magazine listening to music on his Discman. Chris was nowhere to be seen. I breathed a small sigh of relief. I knew I couldn't avoid him forever, but right now I didn't want to see him.
We walked in to the kitchen and said hello to Lance. Lance looked up and smiled at us both. Catching Joey's eye, he looked between him and myself with a raised eyebrow. Joey just shook his head, causing Lance's smile to fade. Either nothing at all happened or something had gone wrong. Since Joey didn't look completely miserable, Lance speculated that Joey hadn't broached that topic with Will yet. He hated to see his friend so unhappy. Lance hated to get in the middle of other people's problems, but he had this feeling that if Will were gay, that those two would make a great pair. First things first, Lance thought to himself. I need to find out a little more about Will.
In the meantime, as Lance was plotting to bring the two of us together, Joey and I began out culinary experimentation. I was never one to go by recipes exactly. Oh sure, I followed them to a degree. I just think cooking is more fun if you add your own flair to it. I got the meat out of the refrigerator and directed Joey to the spaghetti noodles in the cupboard and the sauce in the pantry. I grabbed a pot and pan out of the lower cupboard and filled the pot with water. I washed my hands, went over to the stove and placed the pan on top. Grabbing a plate, I sectioned out a large piece of ground chuck and began adding seasoning to it. Some garlic powder, some onion powder, some black pepper, some Italian seasoning. This was going to be a masterpiece by the time it was finished.
"Hey Will? How many jars do you think we'll need?" Joey said, sticking his head out of the pantry.
I stopped for a second and did some rough calculations in my head. Figuring these guys would be large eaters, I knew we were going to need at least two boxes of spaghetti. "Grab two Joey, just in case."
I returned to my duty of rolling the meatballs and throwing them in to the pan. At the same, I started heating the water for the noodles. Joey came back with two large jars of my favorite homemade spicy Italian spaghetti sauce. These guys will think they died and went to heaven after this dinner.
"Hey Joey, will you watch the meatballs and the noodles while I run and change? I've been in these clothes far too long." Quite honestly, I felt horribly unattractive and was thankful I couldn't see how bad I looked
"Sure. No problem. Be quick about it though. If you take too long, these guys will devour everything and you'll still be hungry!" Joey joked.
I ran upstairs and entered the room Joey was using, which was also my bedroom. I grabbed some clean clothes and a towel and ran in to the bathroom. I took a quick but necessary shower, which helped me relax some. Turning of the water, I reached around the shower curtain for the towel I had laid on the toilet seat. I dried off my face and removed any extra soap or shampoo that might get into my eyes. I opened the shower curtain and about fell over from shock. The bathroom door was cracked open and someone was peering in! I had been semi-covered by the towel, but the idea that someone would have such a blatant disregard for my privacy was unbelievable!
Getting angry, I wrapped the towel around myself, stepped out of the shower, and marched over to the door, intent on confronting my peeping tom. I flung the door open, but there was no one there. I looked up and down the hall, but there was no one there either. I shut the door and finished drying myself off. I started getting dressed as my mind wandered. Maybe I was imagining things. Maybe I just need a nice long nap. As I finished getting dressed, a stray thought crossed my mind. Maybe it was the ghost! I burst out laughing. Yes, that must be it. I had a ghostly peeping tom in my house. I combed my hair, brushed my teeth, and did a last once-over in the mirror. Well Will, this is as good as it is going to get. I scooped up my dirty clothes and towel, walked back over to the bedroom and deposited them in the hamper. With this mission accomplished I headed back downstairs to see what kind of disaster my kitchen was now in.
I shouldn't have worried. Not only was the kitchen still immaculate, but also lunch was ready and the smell of garlic hung in the air. It smelled wonderful. Joey spotted me coming down the stairs and waved at me. "Hey, you're just in time to help me set the table!" He had a huge smile on his face. Cooking definitely seemed to be an enjoyable pastime for him.
Instead of just setting the table, I decided to have a little fun. I stood in the entrance of the living room and looked at the lump named Justin lying on the couch. "Oh Justin?" I called. No response. "Justin?" I called a little louder. Still no response. I marched over to him and peered down at him. He had his eyes closed and was deep into the music. "Justin?!" I called a little louder. No answer. All right then, I thought. I guess we're going to have to do this the hard way. I bent over and scrutinized the Discman in his hand. Finding the dial I wanted, volume, I turned it all the way to the left and jumped back. Justin's eyes popped open and he threw his headphones off his head.
"What are you trying to do, make me go deaf?" Justin yelled, glaring at me. I burst out laughing, causing Justin to narrow his eyes his eyes at me. "What is so funny?"
It took me a moment to regain my composure. "Sorry Justin, but you don't need any help from me in going deaf. You're already there! I called your name three times and you never answered."
Instead of getting mad, his face broke into a wide grin. "What'd you say sonny? I didn't hear ya." Justin said in his best old man voice.
I grabbed a pillow from the couch and threw it at him. "Come on old man, it's time for lunch and it's your turn to set the table."
Justin followed me into the dining room pouting. "But I did it last time," he whined. "Make Lance do it."
"Justin! Set the table!" Joey yelled from the kitchen. Dejected, now that he had been ganged up on, Justin went into the kitchen and grabbed some plates. He went back out to the table and began setting six places for the guys and I. Lance put his paperwork away and smiled at Justin as he watched him set the table. Justin stuck his tongue out at him, and as he passed by Lance, he bent over and whispered, "Thanks a lot!" Lance stifled a laugh. He knew Justin enjoyed the teasing.
I walked back into the living room and headed over to where Josh was in the recliner. He looked up at me from his book and smiled. I returned the smile and said, "Hey Josh, lunch is ready. Want a hand getting up? That chair can be a little too comfortable sometimes and it sucks you in."
"Sure, thanks," Josh replied. He grabbed my hand and I pulled him out of the chair. Grabbing his crutches, he hobbled over to the kitchen table and took a seat at one end, next to Lance. Justin took a seat to Lance's right, and I grabbed my usual seat at the other end. Joey sat down to my right, across from Justin, which left one empty seat for...
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "I should go tell Chris lunch is ready."
Joey jumped up out of his seat. "Do you want me to go tell him Will?" He didn't want to see any more fighting today, and he was afraid more for what Will might do to Chris than the other way around.
"No, that's Okay, but thank you though." I could see the concern in Joey's eyes. "Don't worry. I wont kill him. I promise." I raised my right hand into the Boy Scout hand sign. "Scout's honor." Joey just rolled his eyes, and the other three laughed.
I ran upstairs and stopped at the door to the room Lance was using. I knocked softly and received no response. I knocked again, but there was still no answer. Taking a chance, I slowly eased the door open to see Chris lying face down on the bed. I walked halfway into the room and called out to him. "Chris? Lunch is ready."
Chris' head shot up from the pillow. He turned to look at me, surprise evident on his face. His eyes were puffy and red, as if he had been crying. What could he possibly be crying about? I wondered. He stared at me for a moment and then buried his face back into the pillow. "Go away!" he yelled through the pillow. "I'm not hungry. Besides, what would you care?" Ooh. If that's not déjà vu, I don't know what is.
I sighed. I didn't want to argue with him. "Chris, if you're upset over what happened this morning, don't be. You're not the only one that overreacted this morning. I don't want to be angry with you, and I continue to hope that one day you and I can be friends. Just know that I accept any apology you want to give, whenever you want to give it. No hard feelings, Okay?"
I waited for a response, but there was none. I turned to go back downstairs when I was halted by Chris' voice. "I'm sorry Will. I shouldn't have judged you, nor should I have hit you. I was wrong, and I apologize."
I gave him the biggest smile I could muster and held out my hand. He grabbed it and we shook I looked him right in the eye and said, "Apology accepted. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to go get some lunch. If we hurry, we might still be able to lick the pot clean after those three have eaten everything!" Chris laughed, and I felt all warm and fuzzy inside. This is how it was supposed to be.
We both came downstairs and took a seat at the table. Lance said grace and we started serving ourselves. Besides the spaghetti, Joey had grabbed a loaf of bread and made a bunch of garlic toast as well. I had gotten some glasses out of the cupboard and a 2-liter of Sprite for the guys along with my usual Diet Coke. The guys became silent as they watched me pile a large helping of spaghetti on my plate. Oy. Now what?
"Is something wrong guys?" I asked. I was beginning to wonder if I had a booger hanging out of my nose or something equally gross like that.
"We were wondering what the point is in drinking a Diet Coke if you are going to eat that much spaghetti?" Justin piped up. I flushed. The fact that I was carrying a lot more poundage than I should be hadn't escaped me or anyone else. I had become fairly comfortable with my weight and myself over the years, but it always stung a little when someone pointed it out.
"Justin!" Lance, Chris, and Josh yelled in unison. Joey just rolled his eyes. It's not like Justin is one to speak. He has twice as much on his plate than Will does.
"No guys, it's all right," I said, narrowing my eyes at Justin. He slumped down a little in his seat, embarrassed that he had called so much negative attention to himself. "I can't hide the fact that I am overweight, but I'm comfortable with who I am and how I look Do I strive to be a better person? Of course I do. Do I want to drop this excess weight? Of course I do. I would hope that how I look means nothing in how you regard me, as it shouldn't." I stopped and took a drink before continuing. "Oh, and to answer your question Justin, my mother has drunk Diet Coke for the last 15 years. When you grow up drinking diet soda for so long, the regular stuff is too sweet to be tolerable."
With that said, I dug into the spaghetti. It was fabulous, as I knew it would be. I finished chewing and swallowed. I turned to Joey and praised him for a job well done. "This is fantastic Joey! You did a great job on lunch." The others agreed, and Joey beamed.
As we ate, I started to feel a little sad, knowing that the guys would probably have to go back to the hotel in an hour or two. It was nothing short of interesting, that's for certain. There was just a small part of me that didn't want it to end. I had so few friends down here, and it was kind of nice to have an instant set of five friends hanging around. I guess some of the others were having the same thoughts, and it was Lance who broke the silence.
"So guys, does anyone know what is going to happen now? I know everything was cancelled for today and tomorrow, and I haven't had a chance to call Johnny and find out what our next scheduled appearance is supposed to be." Lance had pulled a Palm Pilot from his pocket and was studying it intensely.
Justin had forgotten about his phone call with his mother, and Lance's statement jogged his memory, which nearly caused him to choke. Lance reached over and patted his back. Justin finally swallowed and took a long drink of Sprite. "Oh, I almost forgot," he said. "I talked to my Mom earlier."
"You did?" Josh said. "When?"
"About an hour ago. Johnny called her and told her about the accident. She, of course, flipped out, but I reassured her we were fine. By the way, if anyone asks, we're staying at a friend of Josh's," he said, pointing at Josh. He then shrugged his shoulders. "It was easier than telling her the truth. No offense Will."
"None taken," I replied. He was right. It was easier to lie than say they were staying at the house of the guy who helped them the night before.
"Anyway, Johnny said we're cancelled until the Richmond concert at least, so we've got a free couple of weeks," Justin finished. The guys looked at each other.
"So what are you all going to do with your free time? Go home?" I asked.
"Well...," Justin started. He was looking at me kind of oddly, as if he was unsure what my reaction would be to whatever he said next. "I don't know about the rest of the guys, but, if it's not too much of an imposition, I'd kind of like to stay here."
I froze. Stay here? With me? The other guys looked at each other and nodded, including Chris. They wanted to stay here?
"That's a great idea! No one knows we're here. It's quiet and secluded. We can finally truly relax without having to worry about being mobbed when we go outside!" Josh exclaimed. Then he looked over at me and his face fell. "Ummm...that is of course, if you want us to stay Will."
All eyes turned to face me. Oy vey. What I had been half wishing for had suddenly come true. What do I do? On the one side, I liked having them there and didn't want to disappoint them. On the other side, I wasn't exactly prepared to have five guests for two weeks.
I suppose I had remained silent for too long, because the others were starting to fidget. At last Lance spoke up. "It's all right Will. I know we kind of threw you on the spot, and we'll understand if you don't want us to stay." Lance was so nice, and Justin was pouting at me. He looked so cute, yet so silly at the same time when he did that. Josh and Joey were giving me the puppy dog eyes, and Chris had his hands clasped together praying. Five against one; you figure the odds.
I did want them to stay. I guess we'd just have to make it work out somehow. "All right guys, you can stay," I said. The guys started to cheer, but I held up my hand to stop them. "However, I wasn't really prepared to have five guests for the next couple weeks, so I'm going to need your help. We'll need to go shopping for a lot of groceries. We'll also need to pick up some extra linen for the beds. As far as the bedrooms go, sorry Joey, but I'm going to have to kick you out of mine. I want my bed back!" Joey blushed at that, while Chris and Josh laughed. Justin and Lance just looked at each other with a knowing expression. "As for the other two rooms, do whatever you want, if you guys don't mind sharing. There is the futon downstairs along with the hide-a-bed in the couch, so I think we'll be able to make do, don't you think?"
Everyone nodded and started talking over each other about how great it was going to be to finally be able to relax over the next two weeks. I sat back in my chair wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. "Well, welcome to my home guys," I said quietly as I took another sip of Diet Coke I had a feeling this was going to be a long couple of weeks, and who would have known that in that time, my life would change forever.