Lance awoke, slowly, the pressure of JC's head on his chest finally impossible to ignore. Silently cursing JC's infallible nesting instinct, Lance rocked slightly until, with a groan, his bedfellow turned over. He glanced at the clock: it was almost time to get up.
JC was still asleep when Lance emerged from the bathroom. “Yoo hoo,” Lance sang, softly, as he bent over the bed: “time to get up.”
“We've got Regis, remember? And a bunch of other stuff. So it's time to get up.”
“Nuhh,” JC said. “Don't tease,” he added, after a moment.
“You'll say anything to get me out of bed.”
“You've got that wrong, Josh: I only sweet-talk you before I get you into bed.”
“Well … sometimes during, and after.”
“You're right,” Lance said, stooping to kiss JC on the forehead. “That's true.”
“Yeah,” JC replied, pulling the covers up. “So this is just a bad dream,” he continued, “and I'm going back to sleep.”
“'See you at breakfast.”
* * *
Justin sat up to watch the girl dress. Too bad they wouldn't be back in New York for awhile, because she was definitely a keeper, if only a casual way.
He stole a glance at his watch: it was almost time for breakfast. He cleared his throat: “So, do I have your number?”
“Yes,” the girl replied. She gestured at the bedside table. “I wrote it down for you. I … this was just the best night of my life. I want you to know that, Justin.” She lingered over his name, and Justin wanted to laugh. They always said the same things: “the best,” “see you again,” “love you.”
“Will I see you again?”
“I'll give you a call. We get back here a lot.”
She was almost dressed, which was good. She was kneeling between his legs, eyes expectant, and that was bad.
“We can't,” he sighed. “I need to get going.”
“I love you, Justin,” she whispered.
Her bottom lip quivered. Looking into her sad eyes, Justin felt jaded and weary, as if he hadn't slept in weeks. He always felt this way, at this moment, when the girl said: “I love you, Justin.”
“I'm sorry,” he replied, and the girl got off the bed.
“I know,” she answered, picking up her shoulder bag. “Thanks.” She turned at the door and looked back, and Justin felt his skin flush under her stare. “Thanks,” the girl repeated, before letting herself out.
* * *
“I'll be late,” Danielle called, loud enough to be heard over the sound of water from the bathroom.
“'Sorry,” Chris gasped, trotting out wrapped in a bath towel. “I'm just lousy in the morning.”
“I know,” she replied, smiling at her boyfriend. “And you're gonna be late in a minute, yourself.”
“Story of my life.”
“I'll see you later, OK?”
He kissed her, lightly, on the cheek. “'Bye, honey. 'See you at lunch.” After she left, Chris settled down on the bed and dialed Joey's cell phone.
“Hey, yourself. You sound chipper.”
“You know it. 'Went to bed at eleven.”
“What? With my dad in the same room? Of course. Hey – are you even dressed yet?”
“Stark naked, actually.”
“There's a surprise. We've got breakfast – come join us.”
“Is JC there yet?”
“No, he's not. You'll probably have to wake him.”
“Damn it,” Chris groaned. “OK. I'll be there soon.”
* * *
It was still dark when they arrived at the Live! studios. Makeup and PR people swarmed them until the room cleared for Regis. It was clear that the host knew little about *NSYNC: 'We aren't really his demographic,' Lance had quipped, to general laughter, when Johnny had brought up the offer of a group co-host spot.
Regis held several notecards in his hand. “Fine, fine,” he said, already wired half an hour before airtime. “We're all cued up, I think. Anything you don't want to talk about?”
“Can we go easy on Britney?” JC asked, rhetorically.
“Yo, we be talkin' 'bout my woman,” Justin replied, grinning at his friend.
“We'll talk about your necklace,” Regis continued, and Justin sighed.
“I haven't given it to her yet, and it's already in Page Six.”
“You could return it,” JC murmured. Regis glanced at him, and JC turned red.
“So, that's it. The AD will be along for you at 8:50.”
“Great,” Lance said, speaking for the group. “We'll be ready.”
* * *
“I was excellent, as usual,” Justin said, preening, and the others – even Joey's father – burst out laughing.
“You were a space cadet, as usual,” Chris amended, and JC nodded.
Justin let his hand fall over JC's. “You didn't think I was bad, did you?” His breath tickled, and JC relaxed against his headrest.
“No … but you were competing with me to be the group spazz.” He chuckled as Justin cuffed his arm.
“Fine,” Justin replied, turning to Chris and pouting. Chris pulled a longer face, to the general amusement, and Justin buried his head in his friend's lap.
“Aww,” Joey and Lance said in unison from across the car. Conscious of Mr. Fatone's presence, Lance struggled a little when Joey's arm wrapped around his shoulder, but Joey just pulled him closer and murmured: “When I get you alone…”
* * *
Danielle was late for lunch, but *NSYNC was even later.
“Sorry,” Chris called from across the restaurant, miming desperation.
She smiled. “Traffic?”
“No,” Lance replied, watching as Chris struggled with his overcoat. “They weren't ready for us. It took forever.”
“It's lucky it wasn't a photo shoot, or you would never have seen us,” JC added.
Chris sat with Danielle, of course, with Joey on his other side. JC was next, paired with Justin, who kept spearing morsels off Lance's plate. While they waited for the bill, Lance leaned over, his arm along the back of Dani's chair, and brushed Chris' shoulder.
“We need to talk,” he mouthed, and Chris nodded.
Joey was whispering in JC's ear, making him giggle, while Justin met Danielle's bemused gaze and winked.
* * *
They had a photo shoot, which meant that Chris could not take his girlfriend to the airport. “I'll call you tonight,” he said, his face close to hers, and she smiled, leaning forward for a final kiss.
* * *
Justin had to return calls, so he wandered off after the group shots were completed. Lance and Chris had their talk seated on a long sofa, and after JC's session with the photographer he ambled over and fell asleep against Chris' back. Later still, Joey lay down, his head on JC's hip, and took a nap, snoring softly.
* * *
In the limo, returning to the hotel, Justin had a lengthy conversation with Britney. Joey amused himself by playing with his friend's curls, his feet in Lance's lap. JC had simply transferred himself from the studio to the car, so his siesta continued, his nose pressed into Chris' shoulder.
* * *
“'We going out?” Joey asked, turning off the bathroom light.
“Oh, I think so,” Lance replied, stretching his arms over his head.
“We probably have time for this—” he grinned, as Joey crawled across the bed and into his arms.
* * *
They hit several different clubs, and by closing time everyone had paired off. Justin had gravitated to several curvaceous blondes before finding a secluded booth with Lance. JC managed to collect three girls to go home with, while Chris and Joey limited themselves to one each. JC took his harem back to the hotel in the limo; the others found cabs to share.
In their taxi, Lance kept giggling and butting his head against Justin's arm until Lonnie cleared his throat and he subsided, shaking with mirth, eyes closed. In the other cab, Chris whispered into his date's ear, his eyes locked on Joey, watching as his friend's hand slid past the hem of his girl's skirt. Once, as they passed beneath a streetlight, Chris noticed that Dre had turned around in the front seat, his eyes sympathetic.
By unspoken agreement, the after-party took place in Chris' room. No one demurred when Justin, soon after the room service arrived, announced that he was putting Lance to bed. “I'll try and come back,” he slurred, but JC waved him away, his arms full of an extremely friendly legal secretary.
Chris and his date chatted in the corner, watching the give-and-take of JC and his women. “This is why he's always tired,” he murmured, and the girl laughed knowingly.
Later, Joey took his girl into Chris' bedroom. They sat on the bed, talking, until finally she leaned forward and kissed him.
* * *
The knock on the door was firm. “Hey,” Chris said, easing the door open. “Party's over.”
The girl blushed, tugging her skirt down, and Joey grinned at Chris. “Sorry, man. We'll get out of your hair.”
Out in the suite's living room, JC was corralling his women. Joey and his date wandered in, and, suddenly ardent, he pulled her back for a lengthy kiss.
Then they were all in the hallway, and Chris was saying “Goodnight” to his girl. Joey glanced back at the scene in the doorway. “I'm gonna pack it in, too,” he told his date, watching as the door to JC's room swung shut. “'Night,” he added. “This was fun.”
“Oh,” she replied. “Well. Oh.”
He led her down to the elevator and pushed the button. The other girl smirked. “'Nighty-night,” Joey said, waving his fingers. He waited until the elevator door closed behind them before walking back to knock on Chris' door.
* * *
Lance lay on his side, watching Justin sleep. They all had their little games. Pretending to be drunk was one; pretending to hook up with groupies or in bars was another.
They had always pretended, because they all had secrets to keep. The group protected Chris and Joey, just as they watched out for Lance and Justin. Sometimes, when he was lonely, he might crawl into bed with Joey or JC, just as Justin would find Chris, or JC Joey or Justin. The games they played encompassed Dani and Dre and JC's trio; the ramifications eddied out, thanks to the media, so that the rest of the world played, too.
* * *
Chris sprawled across Joey, tracing designs on his lover's chest.
“I love you the best,” Joey murmured, and Chris laughed.
“I bet you say that to all the guys.”