After a late night of partying, both JC and Justin agreed that Jennifer would be a great asset to the group and Chris would have a blast with her. Joey was the only one who voiced an opposition to it, for purely selfish reasons of course. "Chris can find someone else, let me have this one."

"This isn’t an auction." Dayna sighed as they rode up the elevator.

"Four thousand dollars!" Justin shouted from the back of the elevator, sending a ripple of laughter through the small space.

"Save me JC!" Dayna pleaded as she collapsed into his arms in a dramatic swoon. "Save me from these psychos!"

"I’d have to fire you to get you away for good." JC laughed.

"That’s okay." Dayna closed her eyes and pretended to sob into his chest. "You can support me, right?"

The others in the elevator cracked up as the doors opened and they filed off, "Yeah if I quit you’ll support me too, right Jace?" Justin laughed.

"Keep dreamin’ kid." JC laughed and draped his arm over Dayna’s shoulders. They stayed behind the pack as the others went to their separate rooms, "Do you ever have those moments where you forget who you are?"

"You’ve lost me." Dayna shook her head and squeezed his side as she put her arm around his waist.

"Tonight has just been one of those nights that I didn’t feel like ‘JC Chasez’, ya know? Like I forgot who I was until we stepped off the elevator. I was just a guy at a club with his buddies and his girl."

"Do you miss that?"

"I forget what that’s like." He said honestly as he pulled his key card from his pocket with his free hand. "Do you want to come in?"

"It’s late." Dayna said softly as she looked toward her own empty room at the end of the hall.

JC propped the door open with his foot and gently used his finger to tilt her chin up, "Do you want to come in?" He asked in an even softer tone. She didn’t answer for a moment, so he raised his eyebrow at her and smiled as he nodded into the room, "Inside? With me? Earth to Dayna?"

"Y-yeah." She smiled.

"Yeah?" He asked as he continued to hold the door open, just waiting for her to step inside. She quickly sidestepped him and went into the room; half expecting it to be different than any other time she had been in his room.

As she looked around the slightly cluttered room she could feel herself relax, this was the same old room and the same old JC she had always known, and she had nothing to worry about. "It’s a mess." He muttered as he walked up behind her to hug her.

"It’s perfect." She laughed softly and turned her head to kiss him. He would always be just a guy with her. A guy out at a club with his buddies and his girl… with a dirty room and minty lips.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dayna woke to an empty room in the morning and she rolled over in the sheets and onto a flat piece of paper, "You’re fired. Consider yourself saved. (at least until this afternoon – no psychos!) … there’s a surprise for you under my pillow – if you haven’t already found it. – JC"

She smiled and lifted the pillow to find a bag of M&M’s, "You’re a nut." She laughed and shook her head, but wasted no time in opening the bag. JC’s watch sat on the nightstand, so she picked it up to check the time. "Oh man." She yawned and rolled onto her back, careful not to spill any of her ‘breakfast’. It was after ten in the morning, she hadn’t slept in that late in a while and she mentally raced through her calendar for the day to make sure she hadn’t missed anything crucial.

After convincing herself that she wasn’t going to get fired, for real, for missing something important, she hauled herself out of bed and into the shower where she used the soap and shampoo that was in there. She realized as she was lathering up that she would smell like JC for the rest of the day, and she didn’t mind at all. She took her time drying off and braiding her hair, then pulled on her clothes from the night before to run down the hall to her own room to dress for the day.

By the time she made it down to the vans to head over to the studios she was dressed in her shorts and a FuManSkeeto shirt Chris had donated to the "Dayna needs cooler clothes" fund so long ago. On the way to the studio she read over the set list for the studio time and tried to mentally picture the outfits they’d be wearing to try to match their hair styles with the mood of the music. Once at the studios she was dropped by the entrance where she checked in at the gate and told to have a pleasant day.

"Where am I set up?" Dayna asked as she dropped her sunglasses on her nose. She looked at the little map drawn on the set list but couldn’t figure out where she was, nevermind where she was supposed to be.

"Who are you?" A random stagehand asked.

"Dayna. The hair girl." She smiled.

"For…?"

"Excuse me?"

"We’ve got four sections of talent here, whose hair girl are you?" he seemed put out by al the questions she was asking.

"Um, Nsync." She looked around for a familiar face, but saw no one.

"Sound stage 3." He pointed down a wide driveway. "All the way at the end, the building with the big 3 on the side."

"I can just go in?"

"That’s not my call." He shrugged and turned away.

"Well thanks." She mumbled as she headed in the direction he pointed. When she got to the soundstage she pulled the door open and was immediately faced with Lonnie.

"Hey Miss Dayna!" He laughed and held the door open for you, "How’s it going?"

"Pretty good, how’s it going over here?"

"Eh, well it’s going. The boys are in there goofing around as usual. I swear, someone needs to cut off their caffeine and sugar supply for just one day." He shook his head and shut the door behind her as she moved her sunglasses to the top of her head.

"I’ll second that." She laughed. "Can you point me in the right direction? Where’s my room?"

"Ahh, right down that hall, straight across the stage here? You see that dark hall? Just to the right of that there’s one that has like three doors."

"I’m down there?"

"Yeah, you’re name is on the door and everything." He laughed.

"Awesome. Now if you can round up a few of the kids and send them on back, I’ll be set." She laughed and took a few steps backward.

"I’ll see what I can do." Lonnie waved as Dayna turned around and made her way across the stage to the hall and down to her room.

The sign on the outside said "Hair – Dayna" but scrawled underneath were a couple choice nicknames the guys had so thoughtfully added, "Day Day", "Daynanator", "Mistress of Hair", and the one that could only be from Justin, "Miss THANG".

She laughed and pushed the door open then flipped the overhead lights on and sighed. All of her things were there technically, but nothing was in its place. Dayna took a couple minutes to get everything where she wanted it before the first guy bounded through the door.

"Hey there you." Justin smiled and kicked the door shut. He tossed his magazine on the little couch and fell into her chair. "Am I first?"

"Yep, lucky you."

"Cool, buzz it." Justin said with a broad smile.

"Yeah." Dayna scoffed and reached for the water bottle.

"I’m serious." Justin raised his arm to block the water. "Just shave it all off. It’s just hair, it’ll grow back."

"I’m not shaving your head."

"Come on Dayna just shave it."

"Absolutely not. I’m not going to be the one every girl in America hates for shaving off these magic curls." Dayna put her hands on her hips and refused to move.

"Then give me the thing and I’ll do it."

"Justin, no." Dayna shook her head. "I can’t let you do it."

"It’ll grow back."

"Tell me why you want to do it and I’ll think about it."

"Dayna…" He whined. When she didn’t respond with anything other than a raised eyebrow he sighed and began talking, "All those girls out there go nuts for me because of my hair. I mean, they don’t care about anything but the fro. Or the baby fro, whichever level I’ve got it at it’s all about the hair."

"Uh huh."

"So cut it all off."

"You think cutting it all off will make people not talk about it?"

"It’ll be easier to take care of, girls will stop grabbing at my hair in crowds, I’ll stop being fro-boy… come on. If I don’t like it I’ll let it all grow back, that’ll only take a couple months."

"I swear Justin, if I shave it off and you go ape shit on me, I’m going to knock you out."

"I won’t."

"Swear?"

"I swear." Justin sat back in the chair as Dayna picked up the clippers.

"Now how short are we talking here? You don’t want it like, bald right? More like a marine cut?"

"Not even that short, just… I don’t know just buzzed. Fuzzy."

"You want to be fuzzy?" Dayna laughed and adjusted the settings on the clippers.

"Sure."

"This isn’t something that can be fixed in a couple minutes. If I do this now you’re stuck with it." Dayna gave him one last warning before she turned the clippers on.

"I know." He smiled and closed his eyes as she made the first sweep of the clippers. His hair fell to the floor in tiny brown ringlets and left behind a soft, short path. Dayna worked her way around his head and cleaned up his side burns and around his ears, then brushed his shoulders off and sighed. "Are you done?" Justin asked cautiously.

"I’m done. And if you hate it then you suck." Dayna stood back with her hands on her hips.

Justin slowly opened his eyes wider and wider as he leaned toward the brightly lit mirror, "Holy shit…" He whispered.

"You can’t be mad." She said quickly as she pointed at him in the mirror. "You swore."

"I – I’m not." Justin’s mouth turned into a slow smile as he ran his hand over the top of his head. "I love it." He jumped out of the chair and tore the little nylon cover off of his shoulders. "It’s awesome Day, thank you."

"Man that’s going to take some getting used to." She laughed as he threw his arms around her.

"Jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick! What’d you do to him?!" Chris shouted as he walked into the room. He knelt to scratch his leg but didn’t take his eyes off of Justin. "Shit I’d hate to be a part in that bet."

"He told me to." Dayna immediately became defensive.

"Boy… you’re going on national TV tonight looking like that?" Chris asked as he tentatively reached out and touched Justin’s hair.

"Stop." Justin frowned and smacked Chris’ hand away.

"What were you thinking?" Chris laughed. "No, I mean it looks cool and everything it’s just…" He snickered. "I can tell you right now the internet is going to be slow like molasses tonight with all the girls on there going ‘Oh. My. God. Did you see Justy Wusty’s hair?!’, I can’t imagine what a field day they’re gonna have."

"Justy Wusty?" Justin made a face as Joey bounded into the room.

"I like that." Joey laughed out loud then stopped in his tracks, "Or you know, Baldy Waldy works just as good."

"I warned you." Dayna gave Justin a look.

"Shut up Joe."

"I like it." Joey shrugged and grabbed a seat in the empty chair in front of Dayna. "Just don’t weed whack me and we’ll be fine." He mumbled under his breath, slouching in the chair.

 

"You couldn’t pay me enough." Dayna smiled at him in the mirror as Justin sat on the couch and Chris busied himself on his phone in the corner.

"Hey Day?" Justin ran his hand over his newly buzzed head.

"Yeah?" She spritzed Joey’s hair with water and ran a comb through it quickly.

"I was watching ‘Friends’ last night and they did this thing where Monica drew this like… I dunno a diagram thing of the sex points on a chick? And she was saying there were like, seven of them?"

Dayna laughed lightly as she tossed her comb onto the counter and ran her hands through Joey’s hair, "Okay?"

"So is that for real?" Justin asked.

Joey laughed with his eyes closed as Dayna massaged his scalp, "Well, yeah." She nodded and tried not to laugh out loud herself.

"Seven?" Justin asked with a frown.

"Well I never stopped to count, but that sounds about right." Dayna smiled at Justin in the mirror.

She watched as he creased his forehead in concentration, counting on his fingers as he touched various parts of his upper body. "What’s he doing?" Joey whispered.

"He’s trying to count the female erogenous zones."

"He’s trying to get seven?" Joey laughed softly.

"Yeah." Dayna whispered back.

"Sheesh." Joey started ticking off zones on his fingers and Dayna lost count when he hit eighteen.

"Hey Day?" Justin asked as she wiped her hands on her towel to reach for the hair drier.

"Hmm?" She smiled and tried not to laugh.

"Okay… don’t laugh. But where are they? I mean, really?"

"Jeez, come here. I’ll draw it for you." Chris hopped over the back of the couch with a black marker in his hand. "Here." He grabbed the magazine Justin had been looking at and stopped at a perfume ad that showed the woman’s entire body, clothed.

"Shit he’s letting Chris show him?" Joey snickered as Dayna started the drier.

She styled Joey’s hair and marveled at the end results then turned her attention back to Justin and Chris sitting on the couch behind her. "So see? Seven. At least. One, two, three, four, five, six and well… of course seven. I mean that one’s a gimme." Chris pointed each one out on the unsuspecting perfume model.

"Hey!" Dayna frowned and left Joey alone in the chair. "Time out."

"What? I’m wrong?" Chris asked as he looked up.

Dayna looked at the marked up woman and then stared at Chris, "No you’re not wrong, but how come when we were dating you only knew about two, four and seven?"

"At least he knew where seven was." Joey pointed out the obvious.

"I’d be worried if he hadn’t." Dayna raised her eyebrow.

"Hell I knew where seven was." Justin laughed.

"I’ll bet JC knows where seven is." Joey smirked.

"Seven what?" JC asked, as he innocently walked into their conversation.

"Nevermind." Dayna laughed and tossed the magazine at Justin. She sat JC in the chair and began to work on his hair. He came prepared with slightly damp hair so all she had to do was run her finger through it, add the gel and dry it a little. Dayna debated cutting it a little, but decided that it could go another week or so without looking too shaggy.

"Here, let me show you something." Joey fell onto the couch beside Justin and grabbed the magazine. He flipped through to find the picture again and grabbed the marker from Chris’ mouth. "Lookit, see here’s eight, nine and ten."

"Whoa, that’s one?" Justin looked up with raised eyebrows.

"You bet it is." Joey nodded passionately as he marked a few more on the model. "And check this out, if you do a five, eleven then seven… that’s the ticket."

"Joey, don’t potty up his mind." Dayna frowned.

"What are they talking about?" JC asked as he caught her eye in the mirror.

"Erogenous zones." Dayna sighed.

"Ahh." He blushed and casually glanced over at the couch where the others were crowding around Joey and his magazine. "Maybe I should go offer my input." He sighed and placed his hands on his knees to stand up, "Are you done?"

"I’m done." Dayna sighed. "Please don’t get them started again…"

"I’m not." JC laughed and brushed his hair out of his eyes. He shoved Chris over and sat on the arm of the couch to get a good look at the picture while Joey made a little mark around her knees. "Hang on, her knees?"

"Joey…" Dayna sighed.

"The backs of her knees." Joey nodded.

"Dude Joey, when I’m with a girl the last thing I’m thinking about are her knees." Justin shook his head.

"You get them at eye level and I promise you anything you do to the backs of her knees is good." Joey shook his head. "Take my word."

"Why would her knees be at – " Justin started.

"Hey!" Dayna raised her voice. "Female in the room!"

"So can you confirm this?" Joey asked with a raised eyebrow. Suddenly all eyes were on her and her cheeks flushed pink. "The knees."

"Well I don’t know, I – " She started.

"May I?" Joey cast a glance at JC.

"May you what?"

"Show her the knees." Joey gave Dayna a daring smile while waiting for JC’s answer.

"By all means." JC laughed and extended his arm and his girlfriend.

"Hey now…" Dayna began to protest. Joey dropped to his knees in front of her and dropped his head around the back of her legs while his hands gently grabbed her calves. His tongue played circles around the back of her knees and she suddenly felt weak. "Jesus Joey…" She tried to sound annoyed as she reached to pull his head away, but he just laughed and brushed his goatee over the side of her knee. "Enough."

"See?" Joey rocked back on his heels and smiled smugly at Justin and Chris who had their jaws somewhere near the floor.

Justin cleared his throat, "So yeah, knees. Twelve."

"Where’s Lance?" Dayna asked loudly, trying to get the boys back on track.

"He’s getting his mack on with Patty." Justin laughed.

"I’d say he’s at around… 3 right now, maybe a little 1 and 5." Joey nodded as the others cracked up.

"Jesus." Dayna sighed and rolled her eyes as she went back to her chair to pick up a little.

"What?" JC asked as he followed her. The little laugh he gave at the end of his question denounced any concern he might have been trying to show.

 

"You guys are acting like sex crazed lunatics." She shook her head.

"You say that like it’s a – " JC started.

"Stop." She reached out and covered his mouth with her hand. "Stop that little comment right there." She tried to keep a stern expression but a small smile escaped. "Can’t you be the normal one today? Please?"

"Mymanma." JC mumbled from behind her hand.

"What?" She dropped her hand to his shoulder.

"I am normal."

"Then act it." Dayna shook her head and kissed him quickly. "Go get ready and please behave like a gentleman. You know that James Taylor is a really great guy who wouldn’t go for all this kidding around stuff."

"Which is why they’re getting it out now."

"They? As if you had no part?"

"We… which is why we’re getting it out now." He kissed the tip of her nose. "I’m going to go get all dressed up now. I’ll see you later."

"Bye." Dayna shook her head as she watched JC pull the door open.

JC stepped out as Lance rushed in, "Sorry I’m late." He panted as he fell into her chair. "Hey Day."

"Hi." She smiled and turned the chair around so that he was facing the right direction. "So what are we doing tonight? Do you want me to trim it up a little?"

"It’s up to you." He shrugged, and that was why Dayna adored him. He let her do whatever she wanted.

"That’s what I like to hear." She laughed and reached for her tiny scissors. He had some stray hairs around his neck that needed to be snipped, but other than that he was looking good. She worked his hair into the sloppily stylish look and marveled again at her masterpiece.

"What are they doing over there?" Lance asked softly.

"They’re listing a woman’s erogenous zones." Dayna sighed.

"Yeah? All of them?" He caught her eye in the mirror.

"Oh man… not you too."

"What?"

"They all think they know all of them."

"It’s impossible to know them all. Especially when each girl is different." Lance shrugged. "There actually aren’t that many that are universal."

"Spare me the gory details." Dayna covered her ears with her hands.

"Am I done here?" Lance asked as he reached to touch his hair.

"Yeah. And how come you guys always do that? I’ll finish with your hair and the first thing you do is touch it? Just leave it alone." She swatted his hand away.

"We know it annoys you." Lance laughed as he stood up from the chair. He brushed the tiny hairs off his collar and looked at the back of his hair with the little hand held mirror. He smiled his approval and smoothed down his eyebrows before hopping over to the couch where Joey and Justin were still sitting.

"You guys need to go get dressed." Dayna sighed as she cleaned up her station.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Justin waved her off as he leaned over and watched Joey tap the magazine in a sequence she didn’t even want to think about.

Lance casually sat on the armrest beside Joey and looked over his shoulder. "Hey, you forgot one." Lance grabbed the pen from Joey’s hand and removed the cap.

"Did not." Joey looked up at Lance like he was crazy.

"Did too." Lance laughed.

"Lance, I think I know my women. I didn’t forget any." Joey shook his head.

"Yeah you did." Lance scoffed as he reached over and drew a quick circle.

"Her armpits? Nasty Lance, no wonder you get no play." Justin laughed and snatched the pen out of his hand.

"Her shoulders." Lance slapped the back of Justin’s head. "Nice haircut by the way."

"Shoulders?" Joey asked.

 

"Yeah." Lance shrugged.

"How did I miss that?" Joey asked as he carefully looked over the model’s picture, to make sure he didn’t miss any others.

"Kids! Come on, don’t make me call your father at work! Go. Get. Dressed." Dayna slapped her hairbrush against the counter. She laughed and threatened to throw the brush at them.

"Guy man, our mom is the meanest mom ever." Justin pouted as he closed the magazine and stood up. He and Lance sulked toward the door side by side.

"Danny’s mom lets him look at chick pictures all day, and he never has to get dressed." Lance whined. Justin laughed as they left the room and it echoed down the empty hallway.

"Shit!" Dayna whacked herself in the head, "Where’d Chris go? Dammit I’ve been waiting to talk to him and when I finally see him I forget." She sighed. "Joe, where’s Chris?"

"He went out to the bus."

"To the bus? Why?" Dayna asked as she rubbed her head where she hit herself.

"He brought the wrong suit jacket in with him." Joey shrugged. "So he went out to get it."

"And it’s on the bus?"

"Want me to say it in German?" Joey asked sarcastically as he raised his eyebrow.

 

"Can you?"

"Er ist auf dem bus." Joey stuck his thumbnail in his mouth. "Italian?"

"Sure." She smiled, daring him to respond.

"È sul bus."

"Damn. Any more?" Dayna asked with a surprised look.

"French? Il est sur le bus."

"Joey, how – "

"Portuguese too, Está na barra-ônibus."

"How do you – why do you know that?"

"Phrase books." He shrugged as he stood up.

"You memorized phrase books?"

"No." Joey stretched his arms over his head and scratched his stomach, "But ‘it’s on the bus’ is something I say like fifty gazillion times a day, so learning it in other languages breaks the monotony of saying ‘it’s on the bus’ every time."

"You’re odd."

"Perhaps." Joey shrugged again and laughed. "So Chris is on the bus. Getting his jacket, which is also… on the bus."

"Got it, thanks." She waved as he ducked out the door. Dayna dropped her brushes into her kit and headed out to the buses to catch Chris before he had to go back in for their taping. She asked Lonnie which bus Chris had escaped into and she was directed to the first bus in the row.

She trotted down to the bus and knocked quickly before she pushed the door open, "Hey Chris, I've got a great girl I want you to meet. The other guys have met her and we all agree you should go out tonight." Dayna hopped up the steps to find Chris in the middle of changing his clothes. "Why are you changing in here? I thought you just left the wrong jacket in here?"

"No, I forgot the wrong suit out here. I had the right jacket inside, which doesn’t do me a lot of good when the rest is out here." He explained.

Dayna frowned and shook her head, "Okay so this date… you’ll be done here around what? Three?"

"Actually, I can't tonight. I have a date." Chris explained as he zipped his pants.

"A date? No you don't." Dayna frowned and shook her head.

"Believe it or not, I am completely capable of finding a date on my own." Chris sighed.

"Dammit Chris, you go out with skanks." She huffed and flopped down on the messy couch. She brushed a stack of video games to the floor then crossed her arms over her chest, "So maybe I haven't had the best of luck finding you quality dates but they've been a lot better than ones you choose yourself."

"Ha!" Chris laughed, "Please, so far you've hooked me up with a lesbian, a psycho stalker chick, a mooch and a mother of three." He counted them off on his fingers.

"You’re exaggerating." Dayna rolled her eyes.

"They might as well have been." Chris shook his head.

"You’re counting the ones that you didn’t even go on a date with, that’s not fair."

"Dayna…" He sighed.

"Well what about Kim? Or Celeste? They were good."

"Yeah, they were fine. Okay so two out of what? A hundred? Not a great track record." Chris tucked his shirt into his pants and sighed, "Besides, I'm going out with someone you hooked me up with, so quit your bitching."

"You're what? Who? The only one I came here to hook you up with is Jennifer, and I only just met her this week."

"First, you spend way too much of your free time trying to find me a date. And second, this is someone from before."

"What? Who?"

"Maddie."

"Maddie? I've never hooked you up with a Maddie." Dayna frowned and stood up to help him with his collar.

"Yeah you did. Back when we were here for the Grammy's."

"No, that was Emily the lesbian."

"The girl who did your nails or whatever? Your day at the spa. That was Maddie." Chris brushed her hand away and turned around. "And we're going out tonight."

"Maddie?" Dayna whispered under her breath as she thought back several months. "Oh! Madeline?"

"Yeah." Chris reached for his jacket and headed for the door. "I think I like this one."

"I didn't know you kept in touch, I thought she wasn't down for the whole celebrity thing?"

"We didn't really keep in touch." Chris pulled the door open and stepped down, "But when I got back to LA I thought I'd give her a call, you know, see what's up."

"Wow... so where are you going?" Dayna followed him down the steps where they met up with his security guard, then walked side by side back into the studio.

"Just out to dinner."

"Where?"

"Yeah, I'm just gonna tell you where we're going so you can stalk me? Forget it. We're going somewhere nice, lets just leave it at that." He laughed as Trey pulled the door open and they walked into the empty hall.

"Well what time are you going? I can come over and get you all dolled up." Dayna said hopefully. This one had potential, and she wanted him to look as nice as he could when he went.

"Six, and I don't need any help getting myself ready. I'm 29, I can tie my own shoes."

"Oh come on Chris, please?" Dayna playfully tugged on his coat sleeve.

"Let me do this one, if I need help curling my hair or whatever, I'll call you." Chris walked down the hall to the brightly lit studio where the film crew and the other guys were waiting.

"Promise?" She laughed.

"Sheesh, yeah I promise. Let me go to work now." Chris pushed the door open and left Dayna standing in the hall by herself.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Shortly after six that night Dayna left her room in search of real food. Her first stop was the craft room at the end of the hall but all she found there was left overs from breakfast piled next to mounds of junk food. "Hey Nora, do you know if we have real food?" She asked the only other person in the room.

"Call room service." Nora smiled.

"I did, there's like a 45 minute wait and I'm starving." Dayna frowned.

"You can always try the bus, unless they're being stashed at the venue." She shrugged.

"Dangit, I think they are." Dayna sighed. "Isn't there a restaurant in the hotel or something? Fast food up the street maybe?"

"There's the posh little Italian restaurant off the lobby, but it looks expensive. And I didn't see any fast food when we drove in last night." Nora shrugged again, "Sorry, I'm running off old bagels and fritos from the machine."

"Lovely." Dayna laughed and shook her head, "I guess I'll just call up and wait the 45 minutes. Thanks anyways." She smiled and stepped back into the hall where she almost ran into Chris. "Whoa, what are you doing here?" Dayna asked as she grabbed Chris's arm.

"I'm late, come on."

"You're like, twenty minutes late." She checked her watch.

"I know, let me go so I'm not later." Chris frowned and tugged his sleeve from her grasp.

Dayna watched with a scowl as he stomped down the hall to the elevator and angrily punched the down button.

Chris shoved his hands in his pockets as the elevator stopped at the lobby level and he stepped out. He forced himself to take a deep breath before going into the restaurant; the recording had not gone well and he was in a bad mood. He had called to cancel the date, but there as no answer at her home so he grudgingly trodded down for dinner.

"Hi, I'm supposed to meet someone, can I just go look around?" Chris asked the host at the little podium. He was still wearing the suit from the taping that afternoon and he was sure he didn’t look his best.

"Sure." The man nodded as Chris brushed by.

His eyes swept over the room, but he didn't see anyone he recognized. He was about ready to turn and leave when he saw Maddie step out from behind a pillar with her purse in her hand. She scanned the room quickly, then continued toward the alternate exit through the front of the hotel.

Chris suddenly had to remind himself to breathe; he seemed frozen in place as he watched her reach for the brass handle on the door. "Is that your guest?" The host asked, following Chris's gaze.

"Yeah." Chris said quickly as he sprang into action. He crossed the restaurant in a few short steps and reached the door before it had finished closing. "Maddie?" He asked loudly as he stepped out into the cool evening air.

The sidewalk was empty as he looked left and right down the street. Chris couldn't stop the feeling of falling as he walked quickly around the corner to the tiny parking lot, "Maddie?" He called again.

He spotted her then, reaching for the driver’s side door of her little red car. "Maddie! Wait… wait a second." He ran up and stopped with his hand on the trunk of her car. "Listen… I’m sorry I’m late. I know that's not a great first... uh second... impression..."

"No, not really." Maddie squinted at him as the setting sun reflected off her car. "Maybe this was a bad idea."

"No… it’s not. Come on back inside." Chris smiled and nodded toward the front door.

"That’s okay." She shook her head and slid the key in the lock as her pale hair fell across her cheek.

Panic tickled his insides as he thought of her leaving, "Wait, Maddie please come back inside. I’m sorry I’m late, it’s been one hell of a day and I was just lagging. Let me make it up to you?"

"It’s okay Chris. I know you have a really busy schedule, I don’t want to cut into that." She pulled her door open, but hesitated before getting in. "Call me when you have some actual free time, maybe then we can work something out."

"No, wait." Chris reached for the car door to hold it open and his hand brushed hers. "Come on, I messed up, I know that. Can you please just come back inside? I really want to do this right."

"Doing it right would include showing up on time, not a half hour late."

"Nah, I was only 26 minutes late." Chris tried to make a joke and to his surprise she actually smiled. "Can I use my ‘get out of jail free’ card?"

"No." She shook her head, but held her smile.

"What about if I buy you a car?"

"I can’t be bought."

"Can you be leased?" Chris gave her a cautious smile as he raised his eyebrow. "Because I just wanna hang out for tonight and you know… if things work out we can talk about the option to buy, and if not… then you know…" He shrugged.

"You can trade me in?"

He laughed, "I was thinking you could trade me in for an upgrade, but sure… I could trade you in. However you wanna word it."

"Coming from anyone else that could be considered offensive." She said slowly after a moments thought.

"But coming from me it’s not?"

She shook her head and slammed her car door with her keys still in her hand, "No."

"Will you come on back inside? Please? Pretty please with a Beemer on top?"

"I don’t want a Beemer." She laughed. "How about a Mustang?"

"I can do that." Chris nodded and reached for her hand as a feeling of relief washed over him. Her hand was in his and he wasn’t planning on letting go. He tugged her gently and she followed him, reluctant at first then more sure as she fell into step beside him.

They entered through the street entrance and explained to the host that their table was ready, they had simply stepped outside for some air. "So what were you doing that made you late?" Maddie asked with a slight snap as they took their seats at the table where she had waited for him.

"I uh… we taped a special performance for a James Taylor tribute thing that’s being aired next week. It didn’t go as planned at all, and I was… well, I was crabby after so I had a venting session and when I was done I realized how late it was and I went to call you to reschedule but you had already left, so I came down here in time to see you leaving… and now here we are."

"A James Taylor tribute?"

"Yeah." Chris sighed and looked down at his jacket. "I didn’t even change, so when you see it I’ll be wearing this." He sat forward in his seat and removed his jacket.

"Did you perform one of his songs?"

"Yeah, we did three actually. Which is part of the problem. We were supposed to do one, but then they coordinators said they hadn’t decided who they wanted to sing each song so we had to do three and when they go to air it that’s when they’ll choose which version is played."

"They can’t play all three?"

"No, because other performers might be doing them also. It’s basically a mess, and then of course since there will be footage that’s not used our management had to get in on it because if those tapes…" He looked up quickly and shook his head, "You don’t really care about all of that though." He smiled quickly and took a sip of his water. Having spent so much time looking at the menu, Madeline knew what she wanted when the waiter appeared a moment later. Chris skimmed the menu and chose the first thing that looked good, then closed the menu and returned it to the waiter.

"So which songs did you do?" Maddie asked when they were alone.

"We did "Everyday", "Her town too" and "How sweet it is". They’re all really good though, so…" He shrugged.

"’Her town too’, is one of my favorites." Madeline smiled and seemed to relax. "I hope they choose that one."

"Yeah, me too." Chris nodded and cleared his throat, "Just keep talkin’ man… make her stay through dinner at least." He thought to himself. "So… I’m really sorry I was late. I’m not usually – okay yeah, I’m usually a few minutes behind." He blushed quickly, "But not usually a half hour."

"Twenty six minutes."

"Right." He smiled and licked his lips. "Is there a way to get back on your good side?"

"Yes."

"How?"

"Stop apologizing." She laughed softly and unfolded her napkin in her lap.

"Okay, one more time then I swear I’m done."

"Fine."

"I’m really sorry." He leaned his elbows on the table to make sure he had eye contact.

"It’s okay." She nodded and he smiled, her eyes were an odd color that mixed all of the colors of the ocean into one.

"You have interesting eyes." He said under his breath as he squinted at her.

She blinked suddenly and looked down at the table cloth, "Interesting?"

"Well they’re green and blue and gray kind of. It’s like I can’t tell what color they are."

"It depends on what I’m wearing."

"Yeah but just looking right now at first I’d say blue, but then as soon as I say blue it’s like, well wait maybe they’re green."

"When I wear black people swear they’re slate blue."

"Weird."

"I’d give anything for plain brown eyes."

"I’ll have to find a way to work out a trade." Chris smiled as their food arrived.

"Your eyes for mine?" She laughed and carefully turned her warm plate in front of her.

"Sure." He shrugged and sat back in his seat to eat his own dinner.

"You would look odd with light eyes." She said a minute later.

"I look odd anyways." He shrugged.

"Who told you that you look odd?"

"No one had to tell me anything." He laughed, a usual response for him.

Maddie wiped her mouth and tilted her head to the side, "I think you look fine." She shrugged and shook her head as she smiled.

"Well thank you." Chris’ ears turned pink with the compliment.

"Wow… look at you blush. This could be an interesting night if I can make you blush that easily." She laughed lightly and set her fork aside.

Chris wished there was a way to stop from blushing but once the blood reached his cheeks there was nothing he could do to stop it; so he changed the subject, "Okay so tell about you. It’s my turn to listen to maybe I can embarrass you."

"I don’t embarrass easily." She warned as he wiped his mouth and placed his napkin on the table.

"Ah ha, we’ll see about that." He laughed and rested is elbow on the table, anxious to get her talking so that he could stop himself from babbling on and on making an even bigger fool of himself.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris watched her talk through dessert and was amazed at how well he could listen when he was absolutely speechless. He’d never found himself at a loss for words but he could not think of anything he could say that would add to the conversation, and he wouldn’t want to interrupt her. She was simply talking about school, and he was utterly and completely entranced.

"Have you thought about college?" She asked suddenly, snapping him from his daydream.

"Hmm? Oh yeah." Chris nodded as he stirred his now melted vanilla ice cream. "Yeah I was in college when this whole thing started. You know, Nsync and all that stuff."

"Would you want to go back?"

"Yeah, I liked school a lot. In fact, I was a psych major too." He’d paid close enough attention to hear that she was majoring in child psychology.

"Were you a good student?" She smiled, "Or were you one of those goofballs that always made fart sounds and oogled the girls?"

Chris laughed and shook his head, "In high school? Yeah I was kinda the class clown. I grew up a little for college though."

"Really?"

"No, not really, I was pretty much the annoying guy in college too. But I got good grades." He smiled and took a bite, hoping he wouldn’t dribble it down the front of his shirt. Maddie laughed and he thought of that corny song, "If every word I said could make you laugh, I’d talk forever…"

"I can picture that." She took a tiny bite of her key lime pie. "That’s good though, you know? You keep yourself young that way." She wiped her mouth quickly and smiled, "I mean, at our age you gotta do what you can, right?"

"Our age? How old are you?" Chris pushed his small silver bowl aside and placed his napkin on the table.

"I’ll be 29 in November." She crinkled her nose. "I’m getting old."

"You’re really almost thirty?"

"I’m almost twenty nine." She corrected him with a delicate laugh. "There’s a difference."

"I never would have guessed." Chris shook his head. "You uh… you look great."

"Thanks." She gave him a half smile coupled with a strange look. "I think."

"No, I mean that as a compliment. Not that thirty year olds are old or anything, I mean… I’m rounding that corner here pretty soon myself." He sighed. "I’m just saying I’d have guessed you were early 20’s, and with you being in school…" He shrugged and realized that he should have stuck with listening. Talking simply opened his mouth wide enough to stick his foot in it.

"I was never a good student in high school." She shook her head. "But I was a great cheerleader. Too bad I followed everyone’s stereotype though, I was the ditzy blonde cheerleader." She ran her fingers through her honey colored hair.

"Ahh." Chris laughed.

"Anyways, I thought that’s what we were supposed to do you know? Just cheer and you’d get good grades, but I was wrong." Maddie sighed and took another small bite. "I cheered with girls who are now cardiologists, Olympic trainers… one’s even a mayor up in Washington State." She shrugged. "So… a couple years ago I looked at my life. I had come to LA to make it big in the bizz, and that didn’t work. Turns out you have to be able to walk and talk at the same time for most acting parts, and I freeze up in front of cameras." She laughed and Chris sympathized, he knew that fear. "So anyway, I was doing hair and nails, working at a salon earning pretty good money, but it’s not what I wanted to do." Maddie smiled and drew a squiggly design in her whipped cream with her fork, "So I registered at USC, I graduate in June."

"Wow, that’s awesome." Chris said, truly impressed. "I’d love to go back and get my degree."

"You should go then."

"I don’t have time right now." He sighed and leaned back in his chair causing his foot to bump hers. "Besides, I’m almost thirty."

"Age doesn’t make a difference." She shook her head, "I think you’d be a great student. I can see you looking all studious in your glasses, a backpack, maybe even a cardigan."

"No cardigan." Chris shook his head, "No way. I’ve gotta draw the line somewhere."

"Anyway, if that’s what you want to do, then you should."

"I just can’t right now. We’re touring eleven months out of the year practically, I barely have a night to myself, forget about trying to fit a class or homework in there."

"Maybe after all this."

"Yeah, maybe." Chris frowned slightly and looked down at his bowl, then traced his finger around the edge to collect the condensation on his finger.

"Whenever that is." Maddie added quickly.

"Yeah." Chris forced a smile and looked up, "I know what you mean. It can’t last forever."

"Maybe not the same, no."

"Nah, not at all. Which will be fine with me. I could use a year or two off, I just need to think about what’s gonna happen after you know? I can’t live off this forever."

"True."

"Well… sheesh I probably could, I’d just have to budget it real well." He smiled.

"Yeah, stop buying all those cars and houses."

"Those are investments." He said with mock defensiveness.

"Oh sure." She rolled her eyes and laughed.

"I have one house and two cars. But I only have two cars because I can’t make myself get rid of my crappy old Honda." He smiled as she set her fork down and took a sip of her ice water.

"Sentimental value?"

"Lack of motivation to sell." Chris chuckled lightly.

"Ahh I see." Maddie swept her napkin over her lips one last time and set it beside her plate.

Chris tried not to stare as she carefully ran her hand over her hair, trying to inconspicuously straighten it, "This is fun." He said softly.

"What?"

"This." Chris looked around the table. "Sitting here with you."

"I… thanks." She blushed as she glanced at her watch. "It’s getting late."

"Do you have to go?" Chris asked with a sense of urgency.

"No I uh… I don’t have to go, I just… I know you’re busy."

"I’m not that busy." Chris smiled and reached for her hand. If he could just keep her at the table and talking maybe this fluttery feeling in his stomach would go away.

"They’re going to need this table." Maddie smiled and looked toward the front of the restaurant.

"We can move to the bar." Chris raised his eyebrows. "We can get some Pepsi’s straight up, on the rocks." He laughed and nodded toward the dimly lit bar across the way.

"Um… okay. Yeah, let’s do that." She nodded and looked around for their waiter. "Where’s the waiter? We need the bill."

"It’s being billed to my room." Chris shook his head and scooted his chair back.

"You don’t have to cover the whole meal." Maddie shook her head as she reached for her purse on the floor by her feet.

"Don’t sweat it, I’m the retard who showed up late." Chris shook his head and offered his hand.

"Then at least let me leave a tip."

"No… come on." Chris reached into his back pocket and pulled two twenties out of his wallet. He set them beside his plate and nodded toward the exit. "It’s covered."

"Chris, really. You don’t have to foot the bill for everything. Just because I’m a student doesn’t mean I’m broke." Maddie smiled and allowed him to pull her from her chair.

"I didn’t say that you were broke." Chris smiled and licked his lips to keep from kissing her. Something inside had been telling him all night that Madeline was different, that this was the kind of girl he needed to take it slow with no matter how much it killed him. "If it’ll make you feel any better, you can buy our drinks."

"Okay." She smiled as he squeezed her hand and led her across the restaurant to the quiet bar off to the side. They pulled up two seats at the end of the bar and ordered their drinks, "Do you drink?" Maddie asked.

"Yeah sometimes." Chris nodded. "I mean, when I go out or whatever I’ll have a few drinks, but that’s about it. I don’t sit at home on Saturdays with a case of beer or anything." He laughed and toyed with the straw in his soda.

"I went through my drinking phase early, by the time I was like, 22 I was done drinking." Maddie grinned and dropped the lemon wedge into her drink. "I have maybe one or two drinks a year, and we’re not talking drink drinks, I mean I’ll have a wine cooler at a summer picnic and a glass of champagne on new years." She shook her head.

"Man you’re livin' on the edge." Chris laughed with his hands up in front of him. "You need to slow down."

"I’m a lightweight though, that single glass of champagne makes me tipsy."

"So I’m guessing a shot of whiskey would just…"

"Lay me out flat." Maddie laughed and shook her head. "I guess it’s a good thing I don’t really like drinking huh? I’m more of the ‘designated driver’ type."

"Yeah, I know the feeling." Chris nodded, and tried to think of other ways to keep her talking. "So tell me about you."

"I feel like I’ve been talking all night." Maddie blushed and looked down at the ice swirling in her cup.

"You have." Chris nodded while he mentally kicked himself. This was the perfect time for him to be a gentleman and all he could do was be his old sarcastic self. "But that’s good. I get tired of talking about me."

"You could always talk about someone else."

"Yeah? Who else could I talk about?"

"The guy with the curls." Maddie shrugged.

"With the… Justin?"

"Yeah."

"You want me to talk about Justin?"

"Well if you’re tired about talking about yourself, sure. I’m sure you’re tired of listening to me talk."

"No I’m not." He shook his head then took a drink of his soda. "I’m interested, really."

"My life is boring."

"Your life is awesome. I’d love to just follow you around for a day or something."

"Yeah, real exciting." Madeline rolled her eyes and cleared her throat, "So the girl from before, I’m sorry I don’t remember her name… was she really your ex girlfriend?"

"She still is my ex girlfriend." Chris smiled as she laughed softly. "That’s Dayna… she uh, she means well."

"And you really let her hook you up with just random people?" Maddie laughed. "I mean, it’s not like I mind or anything, but that just seems weird."

"We’re friends." Chris shrugged. "I’d let Lance hook me up with a girl if he ever left any for me. Dayna’s like one of the guys."

"Yeah but you’ve never been in love with one of the guys, or kissed them, or… whatever."

"Well no." Chris laughed and blushed. "But still."

"Yeah but those feelings change things. I think it’s cool that even after the relationship was over you guys could still be friends."

"We didn’t have much of a choice, she was working our tour."

"Do you know how many hairdressers would kill for her position? She would have been easy to replace if you really wanted to." Maddie shook her head. "And I really don’t mean that in a bad way, she does a phenomenal job."

"No I know what you mean." Chris nodded. "But she knew the routine, she knew the lifestyle, she knew all of us and what we liked and didn’t like. We’d already broken her in, it would have been a giant pain in the ass to try to "train" someone else to come in and do what we wanted."

"That’s understandable." Maddie nodded. "So what happened there?"

Chris shrugged, "Nothing, she still has her job."

"No I mean between you two." She explained. Chris didn’t say anything for a minute, "I’m sorry, that’s not really any of my business."

"No, it’s okay." Chris smiled. "I’m trying to think of how to put this so that it makes sense and doesn’t make me sound like a juvenile."

"I’d say it’s a little late for that, I’ve been introduced to the 9 year old inside." Maddie laughed.

"True." Chris matched her laugh and shook his head, "Well, I was too immature for her and she was too mother-ish for me. You know? She was more into the serious quiet times and I was more into making wet toilet paper bombs and dropping them from my balcony." He shrugged as if that explained everything.

"Nice."

"Yeah well, that’s just how she is."

Maddie laughed and took a sip of her coffee, "So you’re always hyper?"

"Not always." He disagreed. "But when I’m around her I guess I am." He smiled across their glasses at her and caught this look of on her face that he never wanted to go away. She was interested in what he was saying, and not just for the celebrity aspect of it.

"Who was your second grade teacher?" She asked out of nowhere as she took a piece of ice in her mouth, then bit it in half.

"My… second grade?" Chris laughed and gave her a look, "Why?"

"Second grade is a pivotal time in your childhood and what you thought of your second grade teacher explains a lot about you." She smiled and gave a short laugh, "We just covered it a couple weeks ago, I’ve been anxious to try it out."

"Um… okay." Chris smiled and concentrated. "Second grade I guess that would have been Mrs. Whitehall. She had red hair."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, and she always had those little white flower things on her desk."

"Like daisies?"

"No, the filler stuff. It’s not even really flowers… what’s that called?"

"Baby’s breath?"

"Yeah." Chris nodded. "Weird, I haven’t thought about her in forever."

"Did you like her? I mean, was she a good teacher?"

"Yeah." Chris nodded. "I mean, I was what? Seven? She was as good as any teacher I guess. She would always have graham crackers for the kids who didn’t bring snacks."

"That’s sweet."

"Yeah." Chris said softly as he pulled on his lip, the taste of graham crackers teased the back of his throat. "Weird…"

"Can you relate what she taught you to how you are today?"

"Yeah." Chris nodded and took a sip of his soda to try to get the taste out of his mouth, "Yeah I guess I can." The graham crackers she gave him were sometimes the only thing he ate all day, if anything she taught him that a little bit of caring can go a long way. "That’s really strange though, what other tricks do you have up your sleeve?"

Madeline smiled and ran her finger along the rim of her cup, "I don’t have any more tricks." She shook her head. "But come on, tell me about you."

"I’m Chris, I’m a Libra, I like tacos, I bite my nails, I’m afraid of heights, I collect records, I’m five feet nine inches, my favorite holiday is Halloween…"

"Be serious." She laughed at him and placed her hand on his arm.

"Ahh, see that’s where I have a problem."

"Try." Maddie left her hand where it was as he cleared his throat softly.

"What do you want to know?"

"If you could have 24 hours to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?"

"Am I famous?" He asked with half of a frown.

"Not if you don’t want to be."

"I’d fly you to Vegas and marry you, then get a suite in the Luxor." Chris heard the words before he realized he had actually said them out loud and tried desperately to suck them back in, but it was too late.

 

"Are you famous or not?" She asked, completely unfazed.

"Uh, no." Chris blushed and shook his head. "The tabloids live for shit like that."

"Then how can you afford a suite at the Luxor?"

"I’ll rob a bank on the way."

"Why would I marry a felon?"

"Because you’d be a felon too." He thought quickly.

"Why? What did I steal?"

"My heart." He managed to keep that little bit from slipping out, "My uh… you drove the get away car."

"Chris?"

"Yeah?"

"You’re a very interesting person." Maddie laughed delicately and leaned onto the bar as she fired more questions at him.

Chris took turns talking and listening for the next few hours with Maddie, never wanting the night to end. But as the restaurant cleared out and the bar lights dimmed, he knew it was getting close to the end of the date, "It looks like they’re closing…" Chris said softly as the waiters began to take the linens off the tables in the dining room.

"Yep." Maddie smiled as she looked around.

"We should get out of here." He checked his watch and whistled, "Considering it’s after two."

"Ouch, and I have to work tomorrow." Madeline cringed and scooted off the chair.

"I’m such a bad influence, keeping you out late on a work night." Chris chuckled lightly as he lifted her purse from the back of the chair and slid it up her arm.

"Thanks." She said softly, surprised at the simple action.

"You’re welcome." He smiled back as he took her hand. "Hey thanks for not kicking us out." He raised his voice to be heard by the bartender who had faithfully brought them fresh sodas all night. Chris waved as the bartender looked up and laughed, "Goodnight." Chris nodded as they left the bar.

"So I uh… I had a nice time. Thanks for talking me into staying." Maddie watched their feet hit the floor in unison.

"Thanks for agreeing to stay." Chris smiled as they walked towards the elevators. Asking her up to his room was never an option as they said goodbye, "We’re only here for another two days I think, but if you like to uh… I’d like to see you again if I can."

"Sure, I can do that." Maddie smiled. "I’m working tomorrow, so I don’t know what uh… what time you were thinking, or whatever."

"I don’t know." Chris laughed almost nervously. His suave demeanor had left him a long time ago. "I’ll have to check my dates, can I call you at work?"

"Yeah, that’s fine. Just let whoever answers know that I need to be interrupted." Maddie smiled and shifted her feet as the elevator dinged and the doors slid open.

"Okay." Chris nodded and looked at the open and empty elevator. "I’ll talk to you tomorrow then."

"Okay." She laughed at his nervousness and leaned in for a quick hug, brushing her lips over his cheek as she did so. "Good night."

"G’night." Chris said with his heart pounding in his ears. He stepped onto the elevator and pressed the button for his floor, then leaned back against the mirrored walls. "Too good to be true." He thought to himself as he bit his lip for the billionth time that night, proving to himself that he was in fact, awake.

Chris stepped off the elevator to the surprise of the security guard posted in the hall, "Hey." He smiled and waved as he reached for his room key.

"Late night?" The guard asked as he cracked his knuckles against his thigh.

"Yeah." Chris couldn’t keep the smile from his face. He knew the guard was thinking he’d scored big time, but he didn’t care. "G’night." Chris considered knocking on Dayna’s door on the way to his room, but decided against it when he saw that it was almost two thirty in the morning. He continued down the hall where he unlocked his door and let himself into the dark room. Without turning the lights on he kicked his shoes off and fell face first onto the empty bed, the days events collapsed around his shoulders as he closed his eyes and fell asleep with a small smile curled on his lips.

 

Next....

 

Copyright © 2001, Amy Lynn