Joey stared at the silent phone in his hand as he rested his head against the seat in front of him. "Hey Joe, check out this car. They’ve painted all the windows." Lance laughed.

"Huh?" Joey asked as his cheeks burned bright red. He quickly tucked his phone away as his stomach sunk. He felt an overwhelming sense of dread, in the time it took him to buy those flowers he’d potentially ruined a friendship… or two.

"The windows. On the car. What time zone are you in?" Lance laughed again and shook his head. He pointed out the tinted window at the little car driving beside them with all of the Nsyncers names painted on the windows.

"Yeah… check that out." Joey forced a smile, then cleared his throat and sunk low in his seat.

"You okay?" Justin asked with a concerned look.

"Uh huh." Joey mumbled, and pulled his walkman out to cover his ears. He turned the volume up and turned sideways on the seat so that his feet were stretched in front of him and his back was against the window.

Justin continued to stare at Joey for a minute before he turned to Lance, "What’s up with him?"

"I don’t know." Lance shook his head. He covered his mouth as he yawned, then stretched his arms out in front of him. "Maybe he’s sick or something."

"He better not be, that’s the last thing we need."

"Joey being sick?"

"Joey infecting everyone else." Justin laughed as they pulled into the parking lot of the arena. As soon as the car headed for the back of the parking lot, the handful of fans that were there already realized who was in there.

When the car stopped the security met them and opened the door as the guys stepped out and waved to the fans. Joey waited in the an for a second as he put his walkman away and ran his fingers through his hair. He took a deep breath then smiled brightly as he stepped out of the van and waved at the fans lined up to greet them. Joey smiled for pictures and signed countless programs and CD cases before being ushered into the back of the arena.

They had a couple hours before the meet and greet to kind of kick back and get ready so Joey found a quiet corner and hid out with his walkman and a magazine. Lance and Justin went to wardrobe to check out the new arrivals then out to the recreation area to play some video games with some of the crew.

 

Elizabeth rested her arms on her kitchen table as her inside tied themselves in knots. The flowers were from Joey? She took Joey’s breath away? She stared at the phone in her hands, and couldn’t catch her breath. How does one deal with something like this? It was like everything was made crystal clear for a second, the way Joey had been acting, his crankiness and everything… and then just as soon as the clarity came, everything got more cloudy than ever. What the hell was she going to do now? She loved Joey dearly, he was one of her best friends in the world, but… but this was totally different.

Beth held the phone for another minute before dialing the number she knew by heart quickly. She took a deep breath as she waited for someone to answer and when they did she almost cried with relief. "Mom?" She asked softly.

"Beth? What’s wrong, honey?" Her mom asked sweetly.

"Those flowers weren’t from Chris." Beth explained.

"Who were they from? Do you have an admirer?" Her mom smiled and placed another piece in the puzzle she was working on.

"Joey sent them." Beth frowned. "Shit mom, what am I supposed to do?"

"What? Joey sent them? With that note?"

"Yeah." Beth sighed and laid her head on her arms.

"Wow… I didn’t know he… he felt like that."

"Well shoot mom neither did I." Beth groaned and closed her eyes. "What do I do though? I mean, I’m going out with Chris…"

"Honey I can’t tell you what to do here."

"Well yeah but how do I do this and not hurt Joey? I mean, he’s serious. This isn’t one of his jokes, you should have heard him on the phone."

"You’ve talked to Joey already?"

"Yeah kinda. I called him to see what I should do about Chris because I thought Chris sent them and I was freaking because it was just too much, and then he told me that he sent them and… sheesh mom I don’t know."

"Did you talk to Chris yet?"

"No… but shit what am I supposed to tell him? Do I have to tell him anything? I mean, if I tell him that Joey sent me these flowers with a message that made my heart ache and that that’s why he’s been acting weird… I mean, that’s just going to make things worse." Beth shook her head and frowned.

"It’d be worse if he found out some other way."

"But nothings going to happen between me and Joey. We’re friends and that’s it. I’m just afraid that if Chris finds out then it’s just going to make things weird between them and I don’t want to do that."

"Aren’t things weird now?"

"Yeah, but Chris just thinks it’s because Joey’s hormonal or whatever."

"He is… for you."

"Mom!" Beth covered her eyes and tried not to laugh. "Come on, be serious."

"I am being serious." Her mom said as she slid another piece into place.

"I just don’t want to hurt Joey, mom. I can’t think of how this can turn out without Joey getting hurt."

"He’s already hurt honey, having to watch you and Chris must kill him."

"Thanks, I feel tons better." Beth grumbled.

"Well… I’m just being honest."

"So I should break up with Chris and sacrifice my happiness for Joey’s?"

"Do you really think Joey would be happy if you broke up with Chris?"

"If he thought he had a chance maybe."

‘You think he’d be happy breaking up his two best friends?"

"I don’t know mom."

"He really won’t be happy either way, and he’s going to get hurt either way. If you break up with Chris to date Joey, he’ll-"

"Mom, I’m not going to do that…"

"I know, I’m just saying, he’ll feel bad every time he sees Chris, and if you break up with Chris and don’t date Joey, he’ll feel terrible for breaking you two up for basically nothing. And then if you keep seeing Chris, well… you already know that hurts him."

"Great, so I’m screwed either way."

"You’re not honey, he is."

"I can’t be happy knowing Joey is miserable."

"You’ve been happy so far."

"Well yeah but I didn’t know Joey felt like this." Elizabeth sighed and stood up to pace the room. "I mean, I thought he was just being grouchy because he was my friend first or something."

"I think you should talk to Joey, Beth… tell him what you told me."

"Which part?" She smiled slightly and played with the cord on her drapes.

"The part about not wanting to hurt him, and how it seems to you that he’ll be hurt no matter what."

"How do I do that though mom? Why is he making this so hard?"

"He’s not making it hard, not on purpose. He told you how he felt. Joey was just being honest with you sweetie, that’s really a very good thing."

"I know." Beth sighed. "I’ll have to give him a call before the show tonight."

"No honey, this is one thing you can’t do over the phone." Beth’s mom shook her head and slid the last piece into place. "You have to be there to see his face… you know that."

"I can’t watch his face if I have to hurt him mom." Beth shook her head as tears rose in her eyes. "I don’t want to do this at all."

"I know you don’t, but that’s the only way you’ll be able to resolve anything. Go talk to Joey and explain to him how you feel."

"Okay mom…" Elizabeth mumbled, knowing that’s just what she had to do.

"You gonna be okay hon?" Her mom asked a minute later.

"Yeah."

"Okay, then I’m going to get going, I’m meeting Kathy for lunch."

"Lunch? It’s after 4."

"Not in California it’s not." She laughed. "I’ll talk to you later Beth, I love you."

"I love you too mom. Thanks."

"Your welcome hon."

Elizabeth hung up the phone and sighed before she picked it up again to make flight reservations. She could see her frequent flyer miles climbing as she booked a flight out for the next day.

 

 

Elizabeth went from never going to see Joey on the road, to going out to visit the tour every couple of weeks. It was insane but she’d made some good connections, and it was those connections that got her into Joey’s hotel room where she planned on waiting until after the show.

She killed time by writing out what she planned to say on the pale green hotel stationery, but each time she’d sigh and wad it up, tossing it carelessly towards the trash can. After three hours she gave up hope of actually finding the right words, and flopped face down on the bed to watch some MTV. She sat through most of "Real World - New Orleans" before her eyes drifted closed and she tuned the sound out.

Joey yawned and pushed the door to his hotel room open, after countless attempts with the room card key. He grumbled under his breath as he stumbled over the backpack placed right inside the door. Joey kicked his shoes off as he rubbed the side of his face with his right hand, then wiped his make-up covered hand on his already dirty jeans. He walked into the bathroom, pulling his sticky shirt over his head. He clumsily turned the water on in the shower and continued to undress himself as the door swung shut.

Joey stood under the stream of lukewarm water as he soaped himself up and shampooed his hair. He felt covered in grit and grime after a half dozen photo shoots, an impromptu game of basketball and a show. Joey stepped out of the shower onto the thin bathmat and slowly dried himself off with the fluffy green hotel towel. He wrapped it around his waist as he stood at the counter and brushed his teeth.

Joey rubbed his eyes as he walked into the main room of the hotel and reached into his suitcase for a clean pair of boxers, which he pulled on quickly after he dropped the towel on the floor. He thought of picking it up and tossing it in the shower, but that would require effort he just didn’t have.

That was when he noticed that the TV was on. He didn’t remember turning it on at all that morning before he left, he frowned as he sat on the dark bed.

"Eeeeouw!" Bethy screeched as she felt her hair being yanked out at the roots. Joey had seated himself on her curls without realizing she was even there.

"Whoa! What the hell?!" Joey jumped up as he reached for the lamp on the nightstand and turned it on. Beth sprang from the bed, rubbing her head delicately.

"Joey!" Beth frowned, seeing her friend reaching for the phone, undoubtedly to call security.

"Jesus! Bethy?! What are you doing here? Shit, you almost gave me a heart attack." Joey placed one hand on his chest as he placed the phone back on the cradle.

"Joey I… I came to talk to you." She said softly as she sat back on the bed.

"Bethy…"

"I didn’t want to do this over the phone." She explained. Joey remained standing as Elizabeth sighed and straightened her shirt. "Don’t you think we should talk?"

"Yeah… no… Bethy, I don’t even know any more." He shook his head, then sat beside her. "But right now… right now I am so tired, and so confused… Bethy I don’t think tonight would be a great time to talk." He rubbed his temples and hung his head.

"Joey, we have to."

"Can we do it tomorrow?" His bloodshot and swollen eyes looked up at her, and she saw the fatigue in his face. "I seriously can not even function right now."

"We have to talk about this." Elizabeth said a minute later.

"Tomorrow?"

"You’ll be busy tomorrow." She stood her ground.

"I can get out of my morning stuff." He covered his mouth as he yawned.

Elizabeth and Joey sat there in silence for a minute just staring at each other. "Are you sure?" She finally asked.

"Yeah." He nodded. "Does um… does Chris know you’re here?"

"No." She shook her head slowly.

"Then here, you take the bed. We’ll talk in the morning." Joey snatched one of the pillows off the bed and tossed it towards the short couch by the window.

"Joey…"

"What?" Joey pulled a spare blanket out of the tiny closet and unfolded it as he sat on the couch.

"You’re six feet tall, you’ll never fit on that couch." Beth laughed quietly and looked at the couch, which would actually be considered a love seat.

"I’ll manage." He yawned and curled his legs up to his chest as he lay down.

"Joey come on." Elizabeth shook her head and pulled the blanket back on the bed. "I’ll take the couch."

"Knock it off Beth, just take the bed." He was tired, and getting grumpy.

"Joe, you’re half dead, you need a good nights sleep. If you don’t take the bed I’m going to sleep on the floor right there by your couch." She threatened.

Joey sat up and glared at Beth, why was she making such a big deal about this? All he wanted was to go to sleep and forget that she was even here. "Fine." He mumbled as he tossed the pillow back at the couch and flopped down on the edge. He reached off and flipped the light off, sending them into darkness.

"Thank you." Beth whispered with a small smile. She’d won that one. Elizabeth sat on the edge of the bed for a minute as Joey tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable on half of the bed.

The couch really was tiny, but the alternatives weren’t looking much better. Elizabeth sighed and kicked her shoes off before curling up on the short couch.

 

 

Bright and early the next morning the phone beside Joey’s head rang with a shrillness that reached new levels. Elizabeth sat up and rubbed her stiff neck as Joey blindly fumbled for the phone. "Yeah?" He growled into the phone. "Hey Jace, I feel like shit. Can I catch up with you later?" He asked with his raspy morning voice. "Yeah, I’ll meet you guys at the studio thing. Okay, thanks man." Joey hung up the phone and groaned as he pulled the blankets up and over his head.

"Joe?" Elizabeth asked softly.

"Not now Beth, give me a half hour." She could barely hear him from under the covers.

"Okay." She whispered as she stretched her arms over her head and stood up to move her cramped legs. She pulled a chair over to the window and opened the curtains just a few inches to let the silver early morning light in. Elizabeth sat in silence and watched as the morning fog burned off of New Orleans.

True to his word, thirty minutes later Joey rolled himself out of bed and hauled himself to the bathroom where he cleaned himself up and pulled on his jeans from the night before. He came out and sat in the chair across from Elizabeth wearing only his jeans. "So…" He started slowly, as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

"So Joey…" Beth took a deep breath. "What happens now?"

Joey sat and stared at her for a minute, trying to formulate in his mind what to say next. He’d played this scene over in his head hundreds of times, but at the moment of truth, not a thought came forward. "That’s your call, Bethy." Joey said.

"It really isn’t Joe." She shook her head slowly and scooted her chair closer to the table. "You… you sent me those flowers, and that… that note… and well, Joey how did you think I would react?"

"I don’t know." He said honestly. "I didn’t think that far ahead."

"To be honest I don’t know how I should react. I mean, we’ve been friends for… close friends, for so long I just never thought that you…"

"I never thought either." He shrugged.

"I don’t want to hurt you Joe, you know that. I would never do anything to intentionally hurt you." Elizabeth whispered as tears sprang up in her eyes.

"I know." He said softly as he shifted his gaze to his hands in his lap.

"But Joey, I just don’t see how to get through this without you getting hurt." Beth shook her head and wiped her eyes quickly. "I mean, I can tell that just seeing me with Chris hurts. I understand that now. But what can I do? Break up with him? I don’t think that would help."

"I’m not some fragile little doll Bethy." Joey said with a frown.

"No, I-"

"I can handle seeing you and Chris together. Give me some credit."

"Well I just - you’ve been kind of… edgy around us lately."

"There’s more going on in my life than you and Chris, Bethy."

"Then tell me about it! Joe, I haven’t talked to you, I mean really talked to you, in so long. I miss that. I miss you."

"I’ve been here." He said softly.

"You haven’t." She shook her head. "Not the Joey I know and lo-" She stopped, cutting the word off quickly. "Love." She completed her thought.

"Beth…" Joey shook his head and sighed. "I think you’re making this a bigger deal than it is."

"How can you say that? I mean, you… when I read that card it sent chills through me. I knew that whoever wrote that really meant it, really meant more than that."

"Yeah, but you thought it was Chris." He mumbled quietly.

"It doesn’t matter who I thought it was, the words still had the same effect."

"I did mean it." He looked up at her quickly. "I do mean it. You take my breath away Bethy. No one else one Earth has ever done that to me, and you have." He gave a short laughed and shook his head, "And I went and hooked you up with my other best friend."

"But I-"

He cut her off and said, "It took that to wake me up. I’ve been looking at you and not really seeing you for the past couple years. In my mind you were stuck at that awkward stage between teenage geek and gen-x knock out." Joey reached out slowly and tucked a stray curl behind Beth’s ear, "I don’t know how I missed it before, Bethy, but you… as cliché as this sounds… you’re everything I never knew I always wanted." He smiled sadly as Beth sat there stunned, her ears ringing with the sound of Joey’s voice.

"I’m seeing Chris, Joey." Elizabeth whispered as she averted her eyes, gently moving away from his touch.

"I know." Joey whispered. "But you don’t love him."

"I practically just met him." She said quickly as she caught his eye.

"I’ve said my piece Beth. You will always be my best friend, and so will Chris, no matter what happens." Joey said as he traced his finger down her cheek. "That much won’t change."

"Joey, I-" He silenced her quickly as he placed his lips over hers and gently kissed her soft lips. They were as satiny as he had thought they might be… and just as sweet. It took a second for Joey to register that Elizabeth wasn’t pulling back.

 

On to the next part…

 

 

Copyright © 2000 Amy Lynn