One Dark Night

Chapter Thirteen: Hitching a Ride

Jerrica opened her mouth to say something, and then she reached up and smacked Chris across the face before stalking out of the room. Chris stood frozen to his spot, completely in shock. That was not the reaction he had anticipated. He watched Jerrica leave as she headed up the stairs out of sight. Sighing heavily, he grabbed a stool and plopped down on it. I don't understand, he thought to himself. I thought she liked me. I thought that's what she wanted. He laid his head down in his arms on the counter and began to cry quietly.

From around the corner, I watched the events unfold. Jerrica had stormed past me without even looking in my direction, and my heart went out to Chris. I crept toward him as he slowly began to melt down. As I neared him, I was surprised when I heard him mumble, "Hi Will."

"Uh, how did you know it was me?"

Chris shrugged, still not looking up. "Don't know. I could just tell. I can always tell when you're nearby."

"Oh. Well, anyway," I continued, suddenly feeling a little uncomfortable, "I'd ask you how you were, but I already know the answer. Will you be all right?"

"I don't get it!" Chris exclaimed, lifting his head to look at me. "I thought she really liked me. I just don't get it."

"Chris," I said softly, pulling up a stool and sitting next to him, "she's only been out of a relationship for a week now, and she was with Alex for a long time. I think it's just a little too fast for her. Give her some time. She'll come around sooner than you realize."

"You always know what to say to make someone feel better. How do you do that?"

"Practice?" I said with a shrug.

"But how do you know she'll change her mind? She seemed pretty certain in her decision when she slapped me."

"That's her way," I replied. "When she gets pressured, she lashes out. Usually, it's me she takes it out on, though."

Chris laughed. "I bet." With a heavy sigh, he said, "I feel like such a fool. I'm so embarrassed."

"Don't be. There is nothing foolish about love. That doesn't mean it's any less painful when it doesn't go the way you want, of course."

"Of course," Chris said with a slight chuckle. "Only problem with me is that it never goes the way I want. I'm doomed to be alone forever."

"Now don't you start that," I said as I started to rub my hand over his back. "You are a fantastic person, and just because Jerrica's not ready right this second doesn't mean she won't be. I've seen the way she looks at you. She's just as crazy about you as you are about her." I bent over to give him a hug, and as I did, a strange feeling came over me. I couldn't place my finger on what it was exactly, but it felt like all the happiness had drained out of me.

I blinked a few times, trying to clear my head, and discovered Chris staring at me. "You all right?" he asked.

"Uh, yeah. Yeah. Fine. Now," I said, changing the subject, "what do you say we get out of this place and go find something to do?"

Chris shot me a surprised look. "Actually, we all were just talking about that a couple of minutes ago."

"Then it sounds like a plan. Did you come up with any ideas?"

"They want to go play basketball. Joey said you two went to some park and that there might be a court there."

"Yeah, there is. I'm not a big basketball person, so I have no idea how good it is. As a matter of fact, if you guys want to play, we're going to have to stop off at a store somewhere and buy one, since I don't have one."

"That's not a problem," Chris said with a smile. "Justin always keeps one handy."

I smiled back, but then it faded as I asked, "Are you going to be all right being around Jerrica?"

Chris slumped down on his stool. "I'll manage."

"That wasn't what I asked."

"That's the best answer I can give."

"Then I guess it will have to do for now." I patted his shoulder and wandered into the living room where the rest of the guys were. I couldn't help but grin as I thought about the prospect of Chris and Jerrica getting together. Honestly, I could think of nothing that would be better for those two than each other. My grin widened even further as I realized that for the first time in days, someone was having a crisis and it wasn't me.

We left the house just after noon. At my suggestion, Chris rode with Joey and I while the rest rode in the van. It took much convincing, but Josh was finally persuaded to ride with Jerrica after all. "If I die, just remember it's on your head," he said as he climbed into the van. I just laughed as I watched him take his seat, but it gave me a great idea for a birthday present for Jerrica---driving lessons.

It was my goal that day to keep Jerrica and Chris as far away from each other as possible---if not for their own sanities, then it was definitely for mine. Furthermore, I figured that if Chris decided he felt the need to open up, he could do so and have it reach Joey's and my ears only. As far as I knew, the only people who knew about the incident were, of course, Chris and Jerrica along with myself. I hadn't even told Joey; it wasn't because I didn't want to, but because I didn't feel it was my place. The entire trip to the park was ridden in silence. I glanced occasionally in the rearview mirror to check on Chris, but every time his eye caught mine he would hastily look away. After the fourth time, I gave up. It wasn't going to happen.

We arrived at the park after what felt like an eternity. I hadn't experienced such a strained silence since, well, a couple days ago, but at least then it was different. I was involved in that one. I had some sort of control over that one. Whoa. Who knew I was such a control freak? Anyway, we climbed out of the car and walked over to where, surprisingly, I watched Justin exiting the driver's side of the van. Catching my quizzical eye, he said, "Josh refused to get in unless I drove. Something about wanting to live to see tomorrow?" He began to grin, and I did the same. It was nice to know the tension between Justin and I was evaporating quickly. I had enough drama in my life without adding Justin to the mix.

After staking out a basketball court and setting up a lounge chair for Josh, we sat down and had a picnic lunch. It was very much like the picnic Joey and I had only a few days before, but this time we weren't alone. It was quite all right; we'd get some alone time later on, or at least I hoped. We sat around, laughing and letting our food digest, when Justin jumped up and said, "And now, it's time to play!"

I glanced over at Joey and shook my head. I absolutely stunk at basketball, and wasn't about to embarrass myself here. "Why don't you guys play. I'll just sit over here with Josh and play cheerleader."

"Oh, come on Will! Play with us!" Lance begged.

"Yeah, Will! Be a sport!" Chris chimed in.

"Besides, if you don't play, the teams will be uneven," Justin added.

Before I could say anything, Jerrica jumped in. "You guys obviously have never seen him attempt to play. It's hilarious! If my mom hadn't accidentally taped over it with a rerun of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, I'd have sent the tape I had of him playing into America's Funniest Home Videos."

"Har-dee-har-har," I said, sticking my tongue out at her. "I admit I'm not the best, but I'm not that bad. However, she's right. Whatever team I played on would be at a rather large disadvantage."

Before anyone else could argue, Joey said, "I'm not really up to playing at the moment. Why don't the four of you play two-on-two?"

"Whatever," Justin said. "Let's go. How about me and Lance against Chris and Jerrica?"

"NO!" Chris and Jerrica exclaimed in unison.

"Uh, you and Lance played together last time. Besides, if Jerrica beats you, you'll sulk about being beaten by a girl for a week and you know it," Chris said quickly.

"Fine! Okay! Can we just play already?" Justin shouted in frustration. "Come on Jerrica. You cover Lance while I cover Chris."

The four wandered out on to the court, and I finally let out the breath I had been holding in. Joey watched me with some slight amusement. "What? Were you afraid they were going to start fighting or something?"

"Not exactly," I replied. I was trying hard not to tell Joey what was going on between Jerrica and Chris, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. I didn't like keeping secrets from Joey, and I really didn't want to start now. Hopefully, the two of them would sort themselves out quickly. Changing the subject, I said, "How about we take a walk?"

Joey's eyes lit up. "Yeah!" he exclaimed. "Can we go back down by the river?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "Why not?" Looking over at the guys, I said, "Let me just tell Josh where we've gone, and then we'll head out."

"Sounds good. I'll meet you over there by the start of the trail."

I waved at him as he walked away. I watched him walk, taking in the sight of his backside as he went. I definitely got the cute one,I thought to myself smugly. Turning around, I went to let Josh know where Joey and I were going and then ran after Joey. Jogging up to him, I noted he seemed to be staring off into space. "Hey? What are you thinking about?"

Joey jumped and whirled around. "Oh. Uh, nothing really. Just kind of taking in the scenery." When he watched me raise my eyebrow, he further admitted, "I was thinking about us."

We began to walk down the trail toward the little brook we had gone to before. "Us? Anything in particular?"

Joey grinned. "Yeah, about how great it's going to be with you coming with us for the rest of the tour." He turned to me and flashed his pearly whites, but the smile immediately left his face when he didn't get the expected expression on my face in return. "Is something wrong, Will?"

I wanted to lie. I wanted to shake my head and say no, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Besides, Joey had quickly figured me out days ago and would know I was holding back. "Yeah. I know this seems like a dream come true, and believe me when I say in many ways it is, but I can't help but worry that this is just one big disaster in the making."

Joey stopped so suddenly it took me a moment to realize he was no longer walking next to me. I turned around to see a very upset Joey staring at me. "How can you say such a thing?" he spat. "How can you call this 'a disaster in the making?' I thought you loved me?"

I was so floored by what he said that it took me some time to formulate a response. "Huh?" I finally uttered. Eloquent, isn't it?

"I just don't get you sometimes, Will. One moment, you are the most romantic, sensitive, caring person in the world, and the next moment you say something so incredibly hurtful."

"Joe, I think you misunderstood me..."

"Apparently, there's a lot I don't understand!"

I smacked my hand to my forehead and muttered an expletive in French. "Joe, I wasn't talking about us, I was talking about the tour. Oy vey."

"You what?"


A look of puzzlement crossed Joey's face. "Okay, you've lost me."

"Joey, first and foremost, I do love you, and the fact that you would even question that scares the hell out of me. What I'm worried about is the tour, Joe. I've never really performed before, especially not in front of thousands of people. The last time I did any sort of public performance, I choked! If it happens again, it'll be embarrassment times a thousand!"

I sighed and turned away from Joey. I could feel tears begin to brim in my eyes and I was determined to not let him see me cry. "Will?" I heard him say from behind me as I felt his arm wrap around my shoulder. "Don't. Please. I know everything will be fine."

I sniffled a little and looked back at him. He seemed so strong at the moment, and I felt incredibly weak. "That's not the only thing that scares me."

"I didn't think so," Joey admitted. "What else is going on in that head of yours?"

I was about to answer him when something occurred to me. I began to giggle, which soon turned into outright laughter. Joey was looking at me as if I had completely lost my marbles. "I don't know how or why you put up with me," I remarked as I continued to laugh. "Yesterday I was panicked over what was going to happen when you left; today I'm panicked over what is going to happen with me on tour with you. I swear a day can't go by without me being in a tizzy over something!" Glancing over at Joey, I said hastily, "I promise I'm not usually this much of a wreck---just on days that end in 'y.'"

Joey laughed. "Isn't that all of them?"

"Pretty much, yes."

"Okay then. So...what was the other thing that scared you?"

Glancing up ahead, I spied the trail that led to our picnic spot from the time before. "Hold that thought for one moment. Why don't we go sit down by the brook first? Come on!" I grabbed his hand and dragged him behind me at a fast clip.

"Will! Will! Slow down!" Joey yelled between giggles. "All right! I give up. I'll come willingly!"

I let go of his hand and let him chase me down to the brook. When I reached the clearing, I spun around like Julie Andrews in the opening of The Sound of Music and belted at the top of my lungs, "The hills are alive, with the sound of music..." I collapsed onto the grass in a fit of laughter, and was swept up into Joey's arms a minute later.

"You are too much, sometimes, you know?" Joey said with a chuckle.

"I know. It's just one of the many things that makes me interesting." Then, in a calmer voice, I said, "Now on to the more important things." Joey just raised an eyebrow at me, but he didn't say anything in response. "Joe, I love you dearly, and quite frankly, I could see myself spending the rest of my life with you, especially if that's what you want. I...I also know that right now your career is incredibly important to you, and it is my goal to find some sort of fair balance between our relationship and your career. The biggest problem, of course, is the fact that because of your demographic base, you being gay is more likely to hurt than anything else. I'm just afraid that the more time we spend around each other in public means there are that many more chances we'll slip up somewhere. I don't want you guys getting hurt." As I finished, I waited for Joey to say something, but he remained silent. "I keep trying to tell myself I'm just being too paranoid, but..."

"Shhhh," Joey said, putting a finger to my lips. He moved his finger out of the way and put his lips on mine. "You said you love me, right? Don't say anything---just nod if you agree." I nodded, and he continued. "And you know I love you, right?" I nodded again. "We will work through this. When you told us that you were coming on tour, did anyone mention our relationship as being an issue?" I nodded again. "When?"

"That's the whole reason I'm coming in the first place, remember?"

"Let me clarify that. Did any of the guys mention our relationship as being a problem?"

"Not yet."

"Will, stop it. I know you make a sport out of worrying, but in this case, don't. If we have to cross that bridge at some point down the line, we'll do it together. All of us."

I just sat there shaking my head. "Like I said before---why you put with me, I will never know. I'm such a yenta sometimes."

"A what?"

"Never mind," I said with a grin. Trying to change the subject, I said, "Isn't it gorgeous out here?"

"Nice try Will. Just try to remember that you're not perfect, and that none of us expect you to be. I like you just the way you are"

"I know that, but I'll try to keep that in mind more often." Looking around, just to make certain there was no one nearby, I gave him a big kiss. "What would I ever do without you?"

"I would hate to find out," he replied with a grin. He leaned over to kiss me again when his cell phone began to chirp. "Damn! I thought I turned this thing on vibrate."

"No biggie," I said soothingly. "Who is it?"

Joey looked at the Caller ID. "It's from Johnny, but it's a page, not a call." He scratched his head for a moment, and then said, "I can't make heads or tails out of this, though. It's like it's written in some sort of code."

"Do you mind if I take a look. Maybe I can figure it out."

"Sure. Suit yourself." He handed the phone over to me and I quickly glanced it over. My eyes widened when I read what Johnny had sent.


815P - DCA



It looked like their down time was being cut short. One of the moments I had been dreading was finally here.

"Any idea what this means, Josh?" Chris asked, showing him his cell phone. The other guys were just as puzzled as Joey was by the cryptic message from Johnny.

"I haven't the slightest clue. Lance?"

"I'm not sure, but unless I miss my guess, eight-one-five-p probably means eight-fifteen tonight. The only thing that puzzles me is that the message is exactly the same except this part at the bottom," Lance said. "Mine says 4E, Josh's says 2E, Chris' says 2F, and Justin's says 4F."

"4F?" Jerrica said loudly. "See. I always knew Justin was a reject."

"Girl, what in the hell are you talking about?" Justin asked.

"Don't tell me you don't know what 4F means? Haven't you ever watched an old Bugs Bunny cartoon?" Jerrica inquired, staring at Justin in surprise. "It's an old military classification meaning 'unfit for service' or, in your case, REJECT!"

"Cute. Very cute," Justin grumbled while the others laughed.

"I don't know Justin," Chris said. "I think it fits you rather well."

"I am not a reject!" Justin yelled, starting to get upset. He didn't know why this bothered him all of a sudden. Being the youngest, he was used to being teased and usually took it fairly well, but for some reason, this irritated him to no end and he was not in the mood for it.

"Come off it Justin," Lance said. "You know we're just teasing, right?"

Justin sighed. "I know, but I'm just getting tired of it. You try being the butt of jokes for years on end and see how you feel."

"Hey!" Josh exclaimed. "You tease us all the time, and you expect to not get it in return?"

"That's not...I mean, I don't... Oh, forget it! Just forget it!" Justin screeched as he stormed off.

"Justin! I..." Josh started, but Lance cut him off.

"Just let him go, Josh," Lance said. "He just needs some time to cool down a little."

"I don't know Lance. You know how Justin gets when he's upset."

"He'll be fine. Just let him go."

Josh slumped in his chair as he watched his best friend walk away alone. He felt a twinge of guilt as he stared at the sky, hoping for some sort of divine inspiration to this problem.

Justin walked along a path, kicking a pebble with his foot. "They just don't get it," he grumbled out loud. "They don't understand, and they never will." He sighed heavily as he continued to meander down one set of trails. As he rounded a bend, he heard faint voices off to his right. Curiosity getting the better of him, he crept quietly down the path until he could hear the voices more clearly.

"Are you sure?" said the first voice.

"Positive. It looks like this party is over," said the second voice.

"I was afraid of that," came the first voice again. "Do you think the others got the same message?"

"I presume so. Man, with all that stuff we have back at the house, it's going to be a heap of fun to transport."

Justin was intrigued. He had no idea what the two people were talking about, but it definitely sounded interesting. He crept a little closer, trying to hear the voices more clearly.

"Tell me about it. It's going to take forever to get all of those guys organized," said the first voice. "With our luck, even if we left now, we probably wouldn't be ready in time. They don't move very quickly."

"Don't I know," said the second voice which, to Justin, sounded vaguely familiar. Had it not been a bit muffled by the distance and the trees between them, he would have recognized it much sooner. Justin moved a little closer still, trying to hear better, when he stepped on a dry branch, causing it to snap loudly.

"What was that?" cried the first voice.

"I don't know. It sounded like it came from the path."

Justin froze in his spot, not knowing whether he should flee or face the owners of the two voices. He finally decided to hightail it out of there, but he had barely gone ten yards when he heard someone call, "Justin? What are you doing?" Justin screeched to a halt and turned around to find Joey and me standing there---me with my hands on my hips and Joey nearly doubled over in laughter from the expression on Justin's face. I had to admit the scene was quite comical, but I was more interested in why Justin was there and what he was up to than anything else.

"Uh, nothing," Justin stammered, looking down at his shoes.

"Nothing, huh?" I replied with a smirk. "Doesn't look much like nothing. Looks like you were spying on us."

For the second time in the span of ten minutes, Justin couldn't seem to formulate a response. "I, uh, I wasn't...I mean..."

I walked over to him and put my hand on his shoulder. The second my hand made contact with his body I tensed up. Frowning, I said, "Justin, what's up? Don't worry. We're not mad at you."

"Don't worry about it. It's nothing."

I shot a concerned look over to Joey, whose expression was beginning to match mine. "Justin, you know that we can't help if you don't talk to us," he said.

"I don't feel like getting into it right now. Maybe later."

I wanted to keep questioning him until he relented, but I felt Joey's hand on my shoulder. Taking that as my cue to let it pass, I did---begrudgingly. "Oh, okay Justin. If you say so," I said in a careful tone. I hoped the unspoken part of my comment---This discussion isn't over yet---was understood. "So, what's our next course of action?"

"I guess we need to head back to the house and get ready," Joey said dejectedly.

"Ready for what?" Justin asked.

"To go back to Orlando," I said with a sigh. "Didn't you guys get a page too?"

Justin's eyes lit up. "Oh! Is that what that was all about?"

I nodded. "Yeah. When I saw it, I suspected that was what it meant, but Joey called Johnny to confirm it. You guys are booked on a plane tonight back to Orlando."

Justin's head drooped. "But I thought we were going to stay here for the whole two weeks!"

Joey and I glanced at each other, trying not to meet the other's eyes. "Yeah. We kind of thought the same thing," Joey mumbled.

We had made our way back to the basketball court, and our news was not well-received. "What the hell is he smoking?" Chris asked loudly.

I shook my head. "I don't know, and while I hate to be suspicious..."

Jerrica's eyebrows shot up. "Ha! You're suspicious of everyone and worry about everything!"

"That is not true!" I yelled.

"Is so!" she shot back.

"WHOA!" Joey yelled, jumping between the two of us. "As much fun as it is watching you two go for the jugular, right now is not exactly the best time, if you catch my drift."

"Sorry, Joey," we said in unison.

"Well, I guess if we have to go, we have to go. Did Johnny say why?" Lance asked.

Joey shook his head. "No. Just said it was urgent and that we had to come back today."

"I wonder what he's up to?" Josh asked aloud.

"No idea, but I get this feeling he's up to no good," Chris said bitterly.


The remaining part of the day progressed quickly. Before I knew it, the time had come to leave for the airport. Jerrica drove the guys in the van while Joey and I rode together in silence. He held my hand the entire time; at some points, he squeezed so tightly it hurt. At last, we arrived at Washington National Airport in Northern Virginia. There were still two hours before departure time, so we let the guys out so they could check in while Jerrica and I returned the rental car. I had to quietly promise Joey four times that I was coming back before he would let me leave.

We hurried as quickly as we could, but it felt like an eternity. As we were returning the car, I suddenly got an idea. "Jerrica, you know how to get home from here, right?"

Jerrica looked at me oddly. "Sort of. I think so. I just have to go back out to the Parkway and take that to the Beltway, right? I can get back from there."

I nodded. "Good. Here's my spare set of keys so you can take the car home."

"Huh? What about you? How are you getting home then?"

"I'm not," I said slyly. "I've suddenly had a change in plans."

"I don't want to go!" Joey exclaimed.

"I know you don't," I said quietly, "and keep it down. You don't want to attract attention."

"I don't care!" Joey said with a pout. "I don't want to go. I don't want to leave you!" Then in a softer voice, he continued, "And I can't even kiss you good-bye."

"No worries, Joe," I said with a smile. "We'll see each other sooner than you think."

"Even one day feels like forever."

"Man, you do have it bad, don't you?" Lance said, overhearing snippets of our conversation.

Joey and I blushed. "I guess so," Joey said. Turning to me, he said, "I'm going to try and fly back up on Monday, provided whatever it is that Johnny wants doesn't keep us down there too long."

I shot him a half-smile. "Now Joey, I don't want you going to great expense just for me. We'll see each other very, very soon. I promise." Joey started to protest, but I cut him off. "Hey, guys? It's seven-thirty. You still need to clear security and go to your gate. They'll be boarding in fifteen minutes."

"You're coming with us, right?" Justin asked.

I shook my head. "Can't. Only ticketed passengers through security," I said, pointing to the sign that essentially said the same thing.

"Oh. Right," Justin said with a dashed look on his face. Then, as an afterthought, he said, "You have all of our cell phone numbers, right?"

I held up my own phone and smiled. "Yes. Someone," I said, looking directly at Joey, "took the liberty of programming them into my phone for me."

Joey blushed again. "Just making sure," he mumbled.

I chuckled. "I know. Now scoot!" I started to push them toward the security checkpoint, and they eventually made their way on their own. Once they had cleared through and waved to me one last time, I turned to Jerrica and said, "That's my cue. I'll call you later." I gave her a hug and watched her walk out of the terminal.

Joey sat down in his seat and stared at the window. He was trying very hard to maintain his composure, but it was not working well. He was surprised how strong his feelings for me were, and why this first separation was hitting him so hard. He presumed it was because he had gotten used to me being there every day. He had trouble realizing that he had only met me a week before; it felt like we had been together for years. Joey was grateful that no one was assigned to the seat next to him. Lance and Justin were seated behind him, while Josh and Chris sat ahead of him in the bulkhead. There were only three other people in the first class cabin---an older couple with, presumably, their grandson who was approximately seven years old. They were ignoring the *NSYNC guys thankfully, because none of them were in much of a mood to talk to anyone.

Joey stared at the ramp workers wandering around the tarmac getting the flight ready for departure. In the background, he heard the purser say, "Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Northern Skies Flight 739 with non-stop service to Orlando, Florida. The captain has informed me our flight time will be one hour and fifty-nine minutes at an altitude of thirty-five thousand feet. Orlando weather conditions are partly cloudy with a temperature of eighty-two degrees Fahrenheit---twenty-eight degrees Celsius. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight to Orlando."

"Hmph!" Joey snorted. "No chance of that happening."

Leaning forward, Lance whispered, "Come on Joey. It's not that bad. Besides, you can call him when we get on the ground."

Joey's face lit up. "Hey! I can still call him right now!" He whipped out his cell phone and dialed my number. Soon, his face fell as he angrily hung up the phone.

"Something wrong?" Lance asked.

Joey sighed. "Voicemail. I don't understand why his phone is shut off. He never turns it off."

"Maybe he's in a bad spot and can't get a signal?" Justin interjected. "I'm sure when we get back home he'll be sitting by the phone staring at it waiting for you to call."

Joey didn't respond; he just nodded his head wearily and laid it against the window. He was so intent on not looking at or talking to anyone that he failed to see me walk onto the plane. I had called in to work earlier and had a friend of mine list me on the flight and check the flight load. She told me that first class was only half-full and that I was the only one on standby, which meant there was very little reason why I would not be able to get on. After the guys had walked through the security checkpoint I turned and made a dash for the ticket counter so I could check-in. I crossed my fingers and prayed that not only would the guys board as early as possible, but that the gate agent wouldn't call out my name in the terminal and spoil my surprise.

Fortunately for me, luck had been on my side that day, as no one knew that I was going with them. The gate agent had not called my name until ten minutes prior to departure which irked me a little, since I knew there were plenty of seats available. Nonetheless, I happily accepted my boarding pass and ran down the jetbridge. I glanced at my boarding pass and saw that I was assigned the aisle across from Lance. Well, that was not going to do. I knew I was the last one on, so if the seat next to Joey was still empty, then I was definitely sitting there.

I had to stifle a grin as I observed the guys in their new habitat. Josh was already half asleep as was Chris. Justin's head was bent down---what he was doing I have no idea---and Lance was staring straight ahead. The second I turned the corner his eyes locked onto mine and his jaw dropped. I quickly brought my index finger to my lips, and Lance just grinned. He poked Justin in his side, which caused him to jump. Justin lifted his eyes and caught mine, and his mouth broke into a huge smile. I gave them both a wink as I sauntered down the aisle, stopping at Joey's row. Clearing my throat, I said in a lilting British accent, "Excuse me, but do you mind if I sit here?"

Joey never looked up. "Sure. Whatever."

I gave Justin and Lance an odd look. I had a feeling he might be slightly depressed, but this surprised even me. "Much obliged," I said as I sat down. I fastened my seatbelt and listened for the door to close. Moments later, I heard the slam of the aircraft door---a sound that all airline employees love to hear. It means that no one is going to take us back off! I heard the sound of the pushback tractor rev up as the aircraft began to move backward onto the taxiway. I looked forward and saw a pair of eyes staring at me. Chris was just too much. I pointed at Joey and gave Chris a wink. He winked back and turned around. Turning to Joey, I said, "You all right?"

"Mm-hmm," Joey replied, still not looking at me.

"Okay, drastic times call for drastic measures," I muttered under my breath. I scanned quickly around me. The flight attendants were doing their safety demonstration, so whatever I was going to do would probably have to wait. Eventually, they finished and made one last pass through the aisle, making sure everyone was buckled in.

"Flight attendants, please prepare for departure," said the captain over the loudspeaker.

I smiled. That meant I had approximately two minutes before the plane took off. I looked around me one more time to make sure no one was watching, and then I leaned over and quickly gave Joey a kiss on the cheek.

"What the hell do you think---" Joey started to say as he turned around, but he stopped short when he saw my grinning face staring back at him. "Will?" he said in disbelief. "What are you doing here? Oh my God! I can't believe it!"

"Shhhh," I said quickly. "Keep it down."

Joey leaned over and gave me a huge hug. "How did you do this?"

"Do what?" I asked, looking confused.

"This," he said, gesturing at me. "You---here. I...I'm just surprised. Will, I'm not knocking that fact that you have done something so incredibly sweet, but you really shouldn't have spent so much money on a plane ticket. I know I was a bit depressed, but I would have been all right."

I couldn't help laughing. I tried hard, but it didn't work. "What are you talking about Joe? I didn't buy a plane ticket."

Joey was stunned. "Then, how did you get on the plane?"

I frowned a little. "Same way I always do. I called, put myself on the standby list, and since there was an open seat, I got on."

"Just like that?" Lance asked from behind us.

"Yeah. That's kind of how it works," I replied. "That's the joy of flying non-revenue. Sometimes you get on, sometimes you don't. To be honest, though, I have a fairly remarkable success rate."

"Non-revenue?" Joey said slowly.

Now I was really confused. "Yeah. You know, employee travel? I assumed you knew that was one of the benefits of working for the airline."

Joey cocked his head to one side as a light bulb went off in his head. "Oh. So that's what you do!"

I began to laugh. I pulled on my badge, which was attached to a retractable string, and showed him the goofy picture on my employee identification. "Yep. Afraid so. I work in reservations. That's where I've been running off to every night. Why are you all so surprised? I thought I told you this already?"

"No," Lance said. "I think you tried to once or twice, but you always got cut off by something."

"Well, now you know," I said. I would have said more, but I felt the plane start to move swiftly down the runway, so I sat back and waited for the plane to lift off. Joey had taken my hand in his, and as the plane started to leave the ground, I felt his grip tighten. "You okay, Joe?"

Joey nodded. "Yeah. I'm just not wild about takeoffs."

I gave him a small smile. "I understand. You do get used to it after a while. Half the time, I fall asleep before takeoff and don't even realize anything has happened until we're halfway there." Joey laughed, and we fell silent until the plane leveled off and the captain turned off the 'Fasten Seatbelt' sign. "So, do you like this surprise?"

"Absolutely!" Joey exclaimed. "Although I am curious about one thing." I raised my eyebrow and waited. "Okay, so you didn't buy a ticket. Exactly how much did this trip cost you?" I smirked as I leaned over and whispered in his ear. Joey's eyes widened as he sat back and looked at me. "Are you serious?" he asked.

I nodded. "Yep. It comes out of my paycheck. That way I never have to worry about having cash on hand for a ticket."

"You mean to tell me that they only charge you thirty dollars for this seat while they charge me eight hundred?"

"Hey! There are hardly any benefits for working for an airline. Don't knock the good one! Besides, you have two major benefits for that extra seven hundred and seventy dollars."

"Oh, this I have got to hear."

"First, you know you are getting on the plane. Second, the gate agents don't look at you like you are a worthless piece of trash." I stopped for a second, thought about that, and then said, "Well, you've got the first one anyway."

"So you mean you can get on any plane, any time you want, for practically nothing?"

"Yeah, on almost any airline too, as long as there is a seat available. Like I said, I have a great success rate, but I have been stuck in Los Angeles and Miami overnight a couple of times."

"That is so cool! Well, except for the getting stuck part."

"Well, it does come in handy sometimes," I said with a grin, "like now. I admit that if I didn't have the ability to do this, I still would have tried to find a way to get here."

"You're too much," Joey said with a laugh. "So, have you ever been to Orlando before?"

I shook my head. "No. To be honest, I've never had much desire to go to Florida."

"What?" exclaimed Joey, Lance, and Justin.

"You mean you've never been to Disney World?" Justin asked.

"Nope. That's what Disneyland is for. Nothing beats the original 'Happiest Place on Earth.'"

"It's not the same!" Justin said with disdain.

I just shrugged. "Guess I'll never know. Florida has never had much appeal to me. Everyone else wants to go there, which I suppose is one of the reasons I don't. Call me a non-conformist." Justin stuck his tongue out at me and didn't say anything further. I looked over at Joey, who was falling asleep. I stood up and grabbed a blanket out of the overhead compartment. I unfolded it and draped it across Joey, who just mumbled and turned over. I sat down, smiled, and closed my eyes. I slowly drifted off to sleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. Okay, so that's not true. I'm sure you can guess what I was dreaming of, or should I say whom?

A moment of turbulence shook me awake. Joey and the guys were still out cold, and I could hardly blame them. It was almost ten o'clock, which meant it was nearly time to land. As if reading my thoughts, the captain came over the loudspeaker and said, "Flight attendants, please prepare for landing." I debated about whether I should wake him up or not, but then I decided I would let him sleep. He looked so peaceful that I really didn't have the heart to disturb him.

The plane descended and had a soft landing. We started pulling into the gate and I nudged Joey until he awoke. "Are we there yet?" Joey mumbled.

"Yeah, we're here. Sleep well?"

"I slept, sort of. I have a major crick in my neck though. It would be nice if someone could, uh, massage it out for me."

"Was that a hint?" I asked slyly.

Joey nodded. "A big one."

"Well, we'll see about that later. Right now, how about we get off the plane, get our luggage, and get out here?" I said.

"I agree. What are you going to do for clothes Will? You didn't bring any bags," Joey asked.

"Yes I did. You guys have so many bags, I didn't figure you'd notice an extra one thrown in there."

"Good point. I guess we need to get Justin to start packing lighter."

"I heard that!" came Justin's voice from behind us.

"Good," I remarked. "All that loud music hasn't damaged your hearing yet."

"Whatever," Justin mumbled.

The plane came to a stop and the 'Fasten Seatbelt' sign was turned off. We all stood up and collected our things. I grabbed Josh's carry-on bags so he could focus on maneuvering with his crutches. We exited the plane into the nearly empty terminal and proceeded downstairs to the baggage claim area.

"So how long are you staying with us, Will?" Josh asked as we stepped onto the escalator.

"I have to be back to work on Tuesday evening, so I'll probably head back up either Monday night or Tuesday morning, depending on how the flight loads look," I said. As we entered the baggage claim area, I caught sight of a hotel advertisement and said, "Oh, that reminds me. I need to get a hotel room while I'm here."

All five guys stopped and turned to look at me. "What?" they exclaimed in unison.

"Absolutely not," Chris said forcefully.

"Don't even think about it," Justin said.

"We won't allow it," Lance said.

"I don't want to be in the way," I said meekly.

"Did you worry about us being in the way when you took us into your house?" Joey asked.

"Uh, no, but..."

"So why would you worry about it in reverse? Besides, you took in the five of us and Jerrica. There's only one of you. I think we can manage," Joey said decisively. Then, lowering his voice, he whispered in my ear, "Plus, I thought you'd want to spend time with me and see my house."

"Of course, Joe, but aren't you worried about what might be said if I'm seen going in and out of your house?"

"Will, they'd be more likely to talk if you were female. Being a guy, anyone will just assume that you are a friend of mine. No one has to know any more than that unless we decide to tell them."

I couldn't really argue that, and I was already starting to get tired, so I decided to give in. "All right. You win."

Joey smirked. "Did you honestly think I would let you stay at a hotel instead of with me?" I shook my head slowly. I admit, I had instigated this conversation deliberately. I guess it was just one more way of feeling out how Joey felt about me and my place in his life.

"No, I guess you're right. I shouldn't have... Oh, no!" I moaned, spotting someone I didn't want to see heading in our direction.

"There you guys are!" Johnny called, making his way toward us. "I was starting to wonder what was taking so long, but then I remembered JC's leg, and..." He fell silent when his eyes came to rest on me. "Will? How did you get here?"

Rolling my eyes, I said sarcastically, "I rode in the cargo hold with all the other poor animals. The ramp agents were kind enough to let me come up the stairs into the terminal instead of throwing me on the bag belt." The guys all tried hard to stifle their laughter, but the goofy grins were easily evident.

"Such an interesting sense of humor you have," Johnny said. "So, will you be staying in Orlando long?"

"No, just a couple of days. Figured I'd visit with some friends of mine on my days off," I replied, trying to remain polite. "Oh, I think our luggage is coming out over there. It's been nice talking with you Johnny."

"The pleasure was all mine. Is someone picking you up here, or would you like us to drop you somewhere? We have to take all of these guys home, and I'm sure they wouldn't mind a little delay," Johnny said, giving the others a 'Don't-you-dare-let-him-come'look.

"Of course not Johnny," said Josh with a huge grin. "We're in no hurry. We'd be happy to take Will anywhere he wants to go."

"Are you sure? I know you guys must be tired," Johnny said through gritted teeth.

"Absolutely," Lance chimed in. "We don't mind."

"All right then," Johnny said resignedly. "Where are we taking you?"

"How about back to Baltimore?" I asked with a sly grin.

"Works for me," Chris said quickly.

"Ditto," said Justin and Josh in unison.

Johnny looked at all of them as if they had just completely lost their minds. "I'm sorry, but I think that is a little too far out of our way."

"Will showed me the address," Josh jumped in, "and it's on the way to my house." Josh knew that, from the airport, Joey's house was on the way to his. Faking a large yawn for effect, he continued. "I'm starting to get tired. Can we go now?"

"Oh. Yeah. Will, why don't you help their bodyguards grab the bags and bring them out to the car. Thanks for the help. Let's go, you five." He then started to corral the five toward the door with little protest. He directed them to the car and stopped to give a couple of instructions to the bodyguards who had accompanied him. Once they all were in the SUV, though, four of them exploded at once.

"Johnny, that was rude!" Lance exclaimed.

"I can't believe you did that," Josh said angrily.

Justin and Chris were vociferous in agreement with the others. The four slowly turned to look at Joey, who had said naught the entire time. Joey's eyes had narrowed so much one could barely see his pupils.

"Well, let's go," Johnny said as he climbed into the driver's seat.

"Wait! What about our bags---and Will?" Justin asked.

"Oh, the guys will bring them later, and as for Will, they'll make sure he's taken care of," Johnny replied. He inserted the key into the ignition and turned on the vehicle. Before he could shift into gear, Joey threw open the door, hopped out, and slammed the door behind him. Rolling down the window, Johnny called out to him, "Joey? Where are you going? Come back here!"

Joey stopped, slowly turned around, and walked back up to the car. Staring Johnny in the eye, he said, "You know, you have done a lot of things over the years that I disagreed with, but I played it cool and let it pass. However, this time you have gone too far! How dare you treat Will like that?! I don't give a damn what you think of our relationship, but you will NEVER disrespect him like that again. Understand?"

Johnny sat in complete shock. None of the guys had ever talked back to him like that before. "Joey, I..."

"I said, 'DO YOU UNDERSTAND?' What part of that are you having trouble with?" Before Johnny could respond, Joey said, "You know what? Forget it. You don't have the brains to comprehend anything." Turning around, he stalked back into the terminal.

Looking back at the four remaining passengers, Johnny said slowly, "Well, that went well."

"Maybe I should go talk to him," Justin offered quietly.

"I think he needs some time alone," Josh said. With a heavy sigh, he said, "Let's go Johnny."

As they pulled away from the curb and headed for the highway, the four young men sat in stony silence, watching the world pass by. They felt like their lives were on a long roller coaster drop. Things just kept going downhill and were getting worse by the minute.

"The nerve of him," Joey grumbled as he walked back into the terminal. "And he wants Will to sign with him? I don't care what Johnny says. There has got to be a way to get Will out of this." Heading for the baggage claim, his temper flared even higher when he saw me loaded down with bags while their bodyguards lolled lazily near a luggage cart.

"Come on, man," one said to me. "We don't have all night."

"Yeah, hurry it up. We can't go home until we deliver all of these bags," said the other.

I had just stacked the last of the bags onto the cart when what they said hit me a like a ton of bricks. "What do you mean, deliver? Aren't they waiting for us outside?"

The two looked at each other and laughed. "Heck no. Johnny took them home already," the first guy said. "We're going to deliver these bags, and then we're going home."

A confused look crossed my face. "Oh. Well, I guess they had some important things that they needed to discuss in private," I said, shrugging my shoulders. "It's no big thing. Well, let's get these bags out to your car and load them up so we can go."

"Sounds good. Thanks for the help. You know, you've been so nice in helping us, I wish we could do something for you, like give you a ride."

I had started to pull the cart behind me, and I stopped so suddenly the cart ran into me. "What? Johnny said you were giving me a ride."

The two began to look uneasy. "No, he told us that we weren't allowed to. I don't know why. He just said you can't be in the vehicle."

I rolled my eyes and sighed deeply. I should have known that Johnny would never be that nice to me. "Don't worry about it. I'll call a taxi." I grabbed my bag off the cart and said, "Don't worry guys. I know it's not your fault. You both have a good night."

I started to walk away when I heard one say, "What? He's not going to help us load the bags in the car?"

I laughed to myself quietly as I continued to exit the terminal. I was just about to walk out when someone grabbed my arm and spun me around. "Hey! What are you doing?" I exclaimed. My expression changed when I saw it was Joey. "Oh. Hi Joe. What are you still doing here? I thought you all left?" I looked into Joey's eyes and saw the fury brimming behind them. "I would ask if there was something wrong, but I know better. What's up?"

"Let's go. We'll talk about it later," Joey said through clenched teeth.



"Okay," I said dejectedly. We went outside and caught a taxi. We rode the entire way in silence. I avoided looking at Joey, lest I try and say something that would upset him further. It seemed like eternity, but eventually we arrived at a rather large two-story house in a gated community. I could tell from the outside that it was much bigger than my house back in Maryland, but since I couldn't see how far back the house went, it was difficult for me to determine exactly how large it was.

We got out of the car and I paid the taxi driver. Joey shot me a funny look, but then he shrugged it off and let it go. I think he had finally come to terms with the fact that I was far too independent to allow him to pay for a lot of things even though he made considerably more money than I did. Joey had grabbed my rollaboard suitcase out of the taxi's trunk and watched me with slight amusement as I stared at his house. Sidling up to me, he said, "It's even nicer on the inside."

"Are you going to show me, or do I only get to use my imagination?"

"Come on in," he said. "Now I admit it doesn't have quite the homey, lived-in feel that yours does, but I hope you like it."

"Hmmm. Is this your way of telling me that my house is too small?" I asked with a laugh.

"No, no! I like your house. Actually, I think yours is more comfortable than mine. To be honest, I haven't spent a whole lot of time here. I've spent maybe five months here in the past year and a half."

"So even though it's home, it's not, right?"

"Yeah, kind of," Joey admitted as he inserted the key into the lock. He swung the door open, gave me a mischievous look, and said, "Welcome to my humble abode."

"Yeah. Humble," I said playfully as I entered the house. As I took in my surroundings, I felt like I had seen a house very similar to his before. It had a very open layout and had a tasteful, classic design to it. While it was quite large, it wasn't overbearing by any means, and it certainly didn't scream wealth and luxury. To be honest, if I had Joey's income, I probably would have wanted a house much like his.

We made our way from the entrance foyer down the hall to the living room. It was quite large and there was no real wall between it and the dining room. The only way to tell where one started and one stopped was by the required step down into the living room. "So what do you think?" Joey asked as I continued to take in my surroundings.

I smiled briefly. "It's wonderful. I like it a lot."

Joey beamed proudly until he noted that I was no longer smiling but staring pointedly at him. "What?" he asked.

"Come here and sit down," I said, taking a seat on the couch.

"Okay," Joey said slowly as he approached. Sitting down, he looked me in the eye and said, "Let me guess. It's 'later,' right?" I nodded, and I was quite pleased at how well we were communicating without having to actually speak. I've found over time that is one of the qualities I would always look for in someone I would consider dating. Maybe I'm just weird that way, but I like not having to routinely spell things out for people. "Look, Will," Joey started, "I know that things over this past week have been, well, weird, and I know that Johnny is taking advantage of you because of me. Believe me when I tell you that if I had a way to get you out of this, I'd do it, no matter what it takes." I tried to interrupt him, but he wouldn't let me. "However, under no circumstances does he EVER have the right to treat you like he did tonight, and I told him so. You are my boyfriend, I love you, and he is not going to disrespect you that way! Furthermore, from a business standpoint, it's completely unprofessional! I just can't understand why he would brush you off like that, then make you move all those bags by yourself, and then, after all that, take back his 'kind offer' to give you a ride. The nerve of him!"

I waited until Joey had calmed down a little before I put my two cents into the matter. "Joe, as far as Johnny is concerned, I don't care if he tells me to my face that he thinks I am the devil incarnate. I was surprised that he made his 'kind offer,' but I see now that it was a way to save face in front of the five of you. Had you all not been there, he probably would have ignored me. After all, I'm still a nobody as far as he's concerned. The only thing that upsets me is how upset he made you."

Joey smiled and leaned his head onto my shoulder. "You never cease to amaze me, you know?" he said as he gave me a small kiss.

Grinning back, I said, "I know. I think you've told me that before. Now," I continued, patting his hand, "don't worry about Johnny. He may be slime, but we'll deal with him and his antics as they come along. In the meantime, forget about him and just relax. Everything will be okay."

"All right Will. I'll behave, I promise."

"Good." I started to cuddle up to him when the doorbell rang. "Now who could that be?" I wondered out loud. Then, smacking my forehead, I said, "Duh! It must be the luggage. Do you want me to get it?"

Joey shook his head. "No, that's all right. It's my stuff, and you've lugged enough bags for this evening, wouldn't you say?"

"True enough," I said. "Why don't you get the bags while I use the little boy's room, which is...where?"

"Down the hall, to the right," Joey said as he headed for the front door.

I stood up and headed for the bathroom. After finishing my business, I was in the middle of washing my hands when I heard voices coming from the living room.

"Are you crazy?" shouted a voice.

"I didn't know he was coming Johnny," Joey said, "but I'm glad he did. What business is it of yours, anyway?"

"Anything that involves you is my business," replied Johnny, "especially when it involves you having a relationship with a guy!"

Joey was starting to become angry again. "You're wrong Johnny. My personal life is none of your business, and I would ask you to keep your nose out of it."

"What do you know about him, anyway?" Johnny asked. "You've only known him for a week, and you suddenly believe you are in love with him?"

"I am in love with him!" Joey shouted. "I know a lot about him. He's been nothing but honest with me ever since the beginning."

I felt a slight pit in my stomach. He was essentially correct, although there were some secrets that had come out over time, including me. Okay, bad pun, I thought.

"He's nothing but trouble," Johnny said emphatically. "All he can do is ruin the reputation you and the others have built for yourselves. How do you know he's not just after you for money?"

"Wait, wait, wait," Joey said. "Are we not talking about the same guy that you fawned all over when you heard him sing? Are we not talking about the same guy that you basically blackmailed into performing? Why the sudden change of heart?"

"Look, I'm sure that you think you have feelings for him, but you couldn't possibly develop the feelings you say you have in such a short period of time. Furthermore, while I don't trust him, he has the makings of a great performer, and that means money. If he goes over as well as I think he will, news will spread fast and your concerts will be filled to the rafters! Since I will be managing him, that means I stand to make a lot," Johnny said with a smirk. "Now, even though he will be on tour with us, I want the two of you to stay away from each other. I know! Why don't you go meet a nice girl and bring her along?"

I was still eavesdropping in the bathroom and I was really starting to get ticked off. If this idiot thinks he is going to be my manager, he's got another thing coming, I thought. I'd take anyone over him! I eased the door open and crept down the hall. I approached the end of the hallway and peered around the corner. Johnny had his back to me, and judging on what I had already heard, he didn't know I was there. Joey quickly spotted me out of the corner of his eye, and I motioned to him to pretend I wasn't there. I wanted to hear what other nice things Johnny had to say about me.

"A nice girl? So is that what this is all about?" Joey exclaimed. "You're just petrified about what would happen if the world found out I'm gay, aren't you?"

"Well, yes, to some degree. Your fan base is teenage girls, for crying out loud. I always wondered what would happen should this type of event occur, and what your fans would say. I'm sure that some would have issues, and you might pick up fans that you wouldn't have had before. However, if you're going to date a guy, couldn't you have at least picked a really attractive guy instead? Good Lord, I don't know how much more of this I can take."

Joey's eye caught mine, and I had heard enough. I walked out from my hiding spot in the hallway and said in a loud, clear voice, "So is that what you really think?"

Johnny whirled around and his eyes grew big in surprise. "What are you doing here?" Johnny asked. "I thought you were visiting friends?"

"And Joe is what? Chopped liver?" I retorted. As I walked down to the living room, I said, "Johnny, I know this is a lot for your poor little brain to take, so why don't I just fix this whole situation and make things much easier for you?"

"Well, I guess you're more intelligent than I gave you credit for," Johnny said with a smile. "I'm glad to see that someone is taking responsibility for this mess."

"Absolutely," I said, flashing him a smile. I walked right up to him and stared right into his eyes. He was a couple inches taller than me, so I had to look up to do so. Then, in a gruff voice, I said, "Get out."

Johnny took a step back and cocked his head to one side. "Excuse me?"

With a cheesy grin plastered on my face, I said, "You said you didn't know how much more you could take and wanted a solution. Now I'm giving you one. Get out."

"You can't kick me out of Joey's house," Johnny shot back, "you disrespectful little snot."

"This is as much his house as it is mine," Joey said evenly. "Now I suggest you heed his advice and leave before I throw you out."

"Fine. Be that way. This discussion is not over. Far from it. I want to see the two of you in my office tomorrow. While I can't force you to come, Will, I would highly advise it if you want what's best for your..." Johnny paused, looking over at Joey in disdain. "...boyfriend," he spat. Wordlessly, I walked down the hall to the front door, opened it, and waited. Moments later, Johnny appeared. He marched up to me and said, "And don't forget. Those contracts are to be on my desk on Tuesday or else!" He then stormed out the door, which I slammed behind him.

I slumped down on the floor in front of the door and buried my head into my knees. I hadn't been in Florida more than an hour or so and I was already in the middle of a mess. I could feel the weight of Joey's body as he sat down next to me and the feel of his arm as it wrapped around my shoulder. "I'm sorry," Joey said quietly.

I lifted my head and looked at him with a pained expression on my face. "For what? You have nothing to be sorry for."

"I let him in, didn't I?"

"He's your manager, Joe. Even if he is an arrogant creep, you can't shut him out of your life. Besides, how could you have possibly known he was going to act like that?"

"I didn't," Joey admitted, "but I still feel like I should have known better. Will, are you going to be all right?"

"Yeah," I said resolutely. "It's not the way I would have liked the night to end, but I guess it will have to do." Stifling a yawn, I slowly stood up and said, "I'm exhausted. Which way is the bedroom?"

"There is a guest room upstairs and down the hall at the end, across from my bedroom. If you'd prefer, you can stay in there. Or," he said shyly with some embarrassment, "you could always sleep with me." The words had no sooner left his mouth when he realized the double entendre of what he'd said. Blushing profusely, he said, "I mean, in the same room with me, know. Unless, ah...oh boy."

I couldn't help but smile as I watched Joey trip over his tongue. It was quite cute. With a smirk, I said, "Point the way, my good sir." I went to pick up my bag, but Joey beat me to it. I followed him upstairs and down the hall to his bedroom. He opened the door and allowed me to pass by him into the room. While it was definitely larger than my own bedroom back home, it had a familiarity to it nonetheless. It took me a moment, but I soon realized that while the furniture was different, it was arranged much in the same way as my own bedroom.

"So what do you think?" Joey asked timidly.

"Seems kind of familiar, don't you think?" I asked nonchalantly.

"So I'm not the only one who noticed. Kind of spooky, isn't it?"

"Nah. I think it's perfect, just like you," I said coyly.

"Why Will, you certainly do know how to be charming---and aggressive. That's a side of you I've never seen before. Do you realize you've done something tonight that all of us have wanted to do for years?"

"What? Act like a raving lunatic and throw that bastard out of the house? "

"The last part yes; the first part no. Stop being so hard on yourself. You and I both know what kind of person you are, and 'raving lunatic' is not on the list."

"I appreciate the compliment, especially considering you've seen Jerrica and me go at it with full steam," I said with a laugh. After mentioning Jerrica's name, something clicked in my head. "Oh, that reminds me. I need to call her and make sure she got back to the house okay."

I dragged out my cell phone and quickly dialed my house number. After about six rings, the line was answered with, "Will's Den of Debauchery, Mistress Jerrica speaking. How would you like to be punished?"

I rolled my eyes and burst out laughing. "You just love Caller ID, don't you?"

Jerrica ignored my comment and said, "What's up? Make it quick. I have a call on the other line."

"Oh? Anyone I know?" I asked suspiciously. "Maybe a boyband singer, perhaps?"

"Hey! Don't get jealous of me. You already have one. You can't have mine too!"

"Well, this is an interesting turn of events, considering what happened this morning."

"You weren't supposed to see or hear that, you know," Jerrica said accusingly, "but I guess it was for the best. Thanks for talking to him for me. You and I are even now."


"Who do you think pushed Joey to come find you earlier this week?" she said with a laugh. "You can thank me later. Now, if there isn't anything else important, I'm going to go."

"Fine, fine. I just wanted to make sure my car got home in one piece," I said with a smirk. "Now you two play nice. I don't want any panicked phone calls later tonight because you lost your temper."

"I never lose my temper, you brat!" Jerrica yelled into the phone, and then I heard a click in my ear. "Never loses her temper my foot," I muttered as I put my cell phone away.

"So what was that all about," Joey asked from behind me.

"Well, let's just say that you are no longer the only member of *Nsync who is unavailable," I said with a sly grin.

"Chris and Jerrica?" Joey asked knowingly.

"Chris and Jerrica."

I awoke with a start late the next morning. I glanced at the clock and realized it was already half past nine. I roused myself out of bed and went into the bathroom to make myself as presentable as possible. Joey was still asleep when I came back into the room, so I decided to go downstairs and make the two of us breakfast. I had just finished cooking when he joined me in a half-awake stupor.

"What time is it?" he asked between large yawns.

"Nearly ten o'clock," I replied as I scooped some eggs onto a plate for him. Handing him a cup of coffee, I took my glass of water and sat down at the counter with him. "Eat up, and then go get ready. We have a date with His Majesty later."

"His Majesty?" Joey wondered out loud. "Oh, you mean Johnny."

"Yeah, him," I said through gritted teeth. "He may think he's a little princess, but he should know that rule number one is to never mess with the queen." I took a large bite of my toast and looked up to see Joey nearly choking on his food from laughter. Realizing what I had just said, I mumbled, "I don't think that came out right." Joey was still laughing, so in my best impression of the Queen of England, I said haughtily, "We are not amused."

"Stop it!" Joey exclaimed. "If you don't, I'll pee my pants, I swear!"

"You were supposed to go before coming downstairs," I said, "and if you don't behave, then we're turning right around and going back to bed."

"Promise?" Joey asked with a playful glint in his eye.

"No. Now eat up. You may need all your strength later, in case I need you to restrain me from drop-kicking Johnny out a window."

Joey glanced at me with a curious look on his face. The way things had gone the day before, he wasn't sure whether or not he should take me seriously. Shrugging it off, he finished eating and ran off to get showered and changed. I knew it was going to be a long day, but how long remained to be seen.

To Be Continued...

So what did you think? It's been a long time coming, but Chris and Jerrica are finally getting together. I decided I couldn't put it off any longer. Also, did anyone notice the running joke about Will not being able to tell the guys where he worked? The reason was it set up the airplane scene in this chapter. If they knew, it kind of takes the wind out of the surprise, you know?

So what is in store for our hapless hero? Johnny has become a major thorn in Will's side---much more than he ever expected. He's given at least one reason for this change in attitude, but is there another reason why he suddenly believes Will to be a problem? What will happen at Will and Joey's meeting with him? What is really going on with Justin? He's become incredibly moody, and one has to wonder if it is just a bad case of puppy love, or something else? The chapters are going to start moving a lot faster from here, so tune in next time to find out what happens, and while you're waiting, drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Thanks to everyone who has written to me!! A special thanks goes out to my editors, Mandy and Dreamy, who keep me in line. A very belated thank you has to go out to a very good friend, Brogan, whose e-mails and advice have been truly helpful. Thanks a bunch.